Pope Francis Not Catholic Enough

I was saddened by Scoop’s comment yesterday.

I personally have given up on going to or giving money to the Novus Ordo Church in the US and will have to do with a parish visit every now and then when a Traditional Mass is available. And I would never have thought of doing such previously but things have devolved so rapidly here in the US. I am grateful that I can do this in accordance to Canon Law; being exempt from my Sunday Obligation in lieu of my age and my physical constitution.

Although he and I have not always agreed, I have never for one moment doubted the depth and steadfastness of his faith, which is why reading this heartfelt cry made me sad. I understand, as many will, his reasoning. It raised in my mind the subject of tradition and change.

Living things change, it is the pre-eminent sign of life; what does not live begins to decay or, at best, can be embalmed in preservatives; but Christianity lives, which means it changes.

Every time the Gospel is preached something changes, every time someone turns to Christ they are changed. The Apostles did not celebrate the Liturgy  as established at the Council of Trent, indeed, they did not even read the Gospels in their Churches, and they certainly did not have statues of Jesus or Our Lady, white, brown or yellow. Wherever the Apostles went, they encountered a local culture, and as we see in Acts, they brought the Good News into that context and changed it; but they also adapted to local conditions. There was no insistence on a one-size fits all model, and those who, like St James and the church in Jerusalem, tried to insist on one, failed to get their way. Had they done so, it would have been, as St Paul knew (which is why he was so passionate about it) far more difficult for the Faith to have spread as it did. There were those who disapproved, and no doubt those who turned away sadly because they thought they had much to lose (as Jewish Christians did in terms of family contacts if they ate with Gentiles). But the pattern set then continued, and it was, and is, one of continuity and adaptation.

Thus, as far back as we can trace, Christians have met to break blessed bread and share blessed wine in memory of the Last Supper and as a sign of the Resurrection. The early Church argued, as the modern one has, about what “in memory of me” meant, and whether, and even how, the bread and wine became the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ; but whether literally, symbolically or as a memorial, Christians have gathered in communion from the earliest times. In some traditions bread and wine have always been distributed, in others it has from time to time been held that since the Lord in fully present under both species, bread alone is sufficient. In some traditions there has been a continuous tradition of the bread being just that, an actual loaf; in others, a wafer has come to represent that bread. Having communed in both ways, I have to say I prefer bread, but having been denied the Lord for so long, I will take and eat whatever a priest has consecrated.

From earliest times Christians have wanted to know more about Jesus. The Gospels originated as a response to this need. They have also argued and disagreed about matters, and the letters of Paul, John, Peter and Jude originated as part of the attempt to deal with the questions asked and answered by the first Christians. Fierce arguments flared about the day of the Sabbath and the date of Easter, and Christians argued about whether celibacy was mandatory for all, or just for priests, or even for them, taking their evidence from where they found it, or claimed to, in Scripture.

The question of what was and was not Scripture also exercised Christians from very early on. When St Paul wrote that every word of Scripture was “God-breathed” he did not add “and that includes what I have just written to you, so behave and stop arguing with me.” But from very early on, contrary to modern myths, there were only ever four Gospels accepted, and those are the ones we have received. Originally in Greek (although some see behind the Greek traces of Aramaic), in the West they came to be translated into Latin, and fairly quickly St Jerome’s Vulgate became the accepted text. No doubt there were those who protested that this was not the same as the Greek, but in the West for centuries, the Vulgate was the Bible, and when locals began wanting it in the vernacular, there was opposition, just as once it was in the vernacular, later generations protested attempts to modernise the language. But all these changes were in response to changed contexts, and contexts have not ceased to change. Brought up on the King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer, I have to admit to loving them both, and though I am well aware of the various deficiencies time and scholarship may have shown up, they still stir my imagination and my heart in a way the modern Catholic Missal and the New Jerusalem Bible fail to match; but for others, those texts I love so much, are obstacles to understanding and belief, and since no one has ever seen fit to elect me Pope, I accept what the Church tells me.

We like what we are used to, and for some of us the process of adaptaing to change is painful, especially when that change does not seem to be one for the better. This is where one can only pray for our priests, bishops and the Pope.

The Church is universal, but local; we do not live in the universal or worship there; we do that locally. There has to be unity, but within that there has to be diversity, just as there has to be commonality and independence; continuity also involves change. And here lies the problem.

As we see at the moment with some of the rhetoric of “Black Lives Matter”, there are interest groups who will always assert that their views have to have precedence, and if that means that other must be made to do as they want, so be it, because in their eyes what they want is the right thing. But as Christians we are called to a higher vision of the human condition, recognising as we must that such assertions are manifestations of our fallen nature. We are called to humility and self-restraint. We are the branches, not the vine, and the latter is not to be defined by the former. As Dean Martyn Percy has commented: “There seems little understanding than an unfettered claim to act freely can become antisocial, or even unethical. Great freedome comes with great responsibility.” (Percy, Thirty Nine New Articles, p. 31).

Obedience is the hardest of Christian virtues. Of only one thing can we be sure, that if it is of the Spirit, change will last, and if not, then not.