Church as Assembly: Modernism, or a Traddy Idea Whose Time Has Come?

I’ve seen some Modernist-sounding* texts that use the word “assembly” to avoid the word Church. Instead of addressing the congregation, the priest (er, “presider”) addresses the “assembly of the People of God.” Etc. In Hebrew and Greek, the word we translate as Church does in fact mean “assembly.” I surmise that the people who prefer “assembly” do so because they think the word has a more democratic connotation than the hierarchical “Church.” One thinks of the expression “popular assembly.” Implicit in such a usage is a critique of “liturgy as court ritual,” a critique that has been debunked elsewhere.**

Now, one of a Traditionalist or even just plain orthodox-with-a-small-o persuasion might object to this usage of “assembly.” He might advance any number of arguments, the premises of which we don’t share with the people who push for the “assembly” understanding of the Church, and he might cite a bunch of Church documents, originally written in Latin, that no one who has a job has time to read. In these scenarios, I look to my mentor in evangelism and apologetics, Vin Lewis of All Roads Ministry (https://www.allroadsministry.com/). Vin would say to use the simplest, most direct, most memorable argument that requires the least specialist knowledge (such as Latin, Greek, and Hebrew). So, with that in mind, here is how I would respond: Continue reading

St. Sebastian: Bastion of Catholic Identity

This post is inspired by a homily that the parish priest at my home parish in Illinois* preached about a month ago. The Rio Olympics were in full swing, and the priest commented on American gymnast Simone Biles. He related that Biles, a Catholic, had a devotion to St. Sebastian and lit candles to him. I subsequently found out that St. Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes and of Rio de Janeiro, where the Olympics were held. The full name of Rio de Janeiro is São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, which in Portuguese means St. Sebastian of the River January (the Portuguese first landed there in January). This got me thinking about St. Sebastian’s role as an icon and bastion of Catholic identity.

Here are the basics of St. Sebastian’s story. He was a Roman soldier who was martyred during one of the persecutions inflicted on the Church by the Roman Emperors. He was sentenced to be tied to a tree and shot through with arrows. He miraculously survived the arrows, so he was clubbed to death. The Christians buried him in catacombs outside the city of Rome that have been called St. Sebastian’s Catacombs ever since. Now a basilica in St. Sebastian’s honor stands over the catacombs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Sebastiano_fuori_le_mura). Here’s a photo I took of St. Sebastian’s martyrdom as depicted on the ceiling (!) of the nave of the Basilica of St. Sebastian’s Outside the Walls:

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St. Sebastian became very popular in the Middle Ages for a number of reasons**. Here, I’ll focus on just one: the all-out awesomeness of his martyrdom. I think in many Catholics’ mind, the martyrdom of St. Sebastian is the template for their own perseverance in the face of persecution and temptation. If you think of it, his martyrdom is very reminiscent of Our Lord’s Crucifixion. He was bound to a tree, with his face to his persecutors, as they pierced his flesh. He is the patron saint of grit-your-teeth-and-take-it.

Continue reading

The Theology of the Rational Soul

This is a (partly) cranky post, about the theological and philosophical sediment of Pope St. John Paul II’s Papacy. It’s inspired by a post at Just Thomism about a contemporary Catholic theologian’s (?) attempt at theodicy. The author of the post points out that not all divine actions are best explained in terms of love. Some are better explained in terms of intellection.

I attribute the sentimental exaggeration of “love” to Pope St. John Paul II’s so-called “Theology of the Body” (TOB). This “theology” (this usage seems wrong; shouldn’t it be “theological school” or something like that?) seems to place the image and likeness of God primarily in the body. Traditionally, the Church has said this image and likeness resides primarily in the rational soul. Continue reading

Matrimony of Desire and Lifestyle Ecumenism

“For they shall sow wind, and reap a whirlwind, there is no standing stalk in it, the bud shall yield no meal; and if it should yield, strangers shall eat it.” Osee (Hosea) 8:7

Once upon a time, a Feeneyite* writer — Charles Coulombe, I think — made some remark about Baptism of Desire. The remark went something like, “Have you ever heard of Matrimony of Desire? Doesn’t make sense, does it? Neither does Baptism of Desire.” In other words, neither implicit nor explicit desire for a sacrament realizes that sacrament.

Except that is what Pope Francis seems to think. The canon law requirements for sacramental matrimony don’t matter — that’s just legalism. The vast majority of marriages that would pass the canon law definition are actually null, while cohabitations are valid marriages. Why can’t we extend this type of rationalization to any type of relationship at all, heterosexual or not? It’s about grace, not hard and fast definitions, right?

I’ve seen this attitude called “lifestyle ecumenism.” It follows pretty logically from religious ecumenism, the type promoted by all Popes since St. John XXIII. Continue reading

Ecumenical Ironies

Resolved: Some of the most intense grassroots ecumenism takes place between Catholic Young-Earth Creationists and Protestant Young-Earth Creationists. I think the Catholic side here is the one that is more indebted to the Protestants in terms of specific arguments, historical studies, etc. But precious few in the episcopate or the Vatican want Catholics to be open to *that* kind of influence from Protestants. No, Modernist “Catholics” are supposed to dialogue with Modernist Protestants.