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Tom McMahon responds today to a question Brian Coyne put to him a couple of weeks ago. He argues signs and ritual are important but only if they have meaning. The sacraments of Trent have lost their meaning to most of the population today. He writes "every generation writes its own response to Jesus … its own gospel".
Yes, I believe in signs and ritual, only if they have meaning!
Central Control (Brian Coyne) has put red flares on the "railroad track" as he throws down the gauntlet saying: "At some stage though we're going to have to tie the old man down and ask him: 'now Tom, we know you want to rip the rug out from just about every sacrament there is but we presume you still believe in signs and ritual? What is sacramental in the present age? Don't we require some structure?'" ….. and Tom comments: are we not probing and re-examining, aka "rip the rug" or replacing old track with new ideas that correspond to today's scientific, medical, and theological updating?
I keep in mind Michael Morwood saying: "We are living through the greatest shift ever in Christian thought…". Yes, I believe in signs and ritual, only if they have meaning. All human life is filled with special and ordinary signs; sign is the human way of communication. Marriage with its humanness is one of the signs that is here to stay; the olive oil used in four Trentan sacraments has lost its impact message in modern society, olive oil having little meaning to the young who eat at McDonalds's. I encourage care and attentive concern as one deals with what the early Christians called MYSTERION. What and whom did Jesus hold sacred?
The problem with ritual and institutionalization is repetition can cause (in modern culture does cause) the "sign" to lose its original meaning and become unflavored, particularly if the minister becomes careless, bored, and loses faith; age alone can do that. (Gospel: if the salt looses its flavor it is good only to be thrown out.) The laity are on their own here as the hierarchy has too much power invested in the old system and its medieval symbols. In the midst of medieval confusion, Trent premised its sacramental system on the ordained male priest; 400 years later the priest has lost his glow and the day of the lay person has arrived. I remember clearly my seminary training that sacraments are for humans … "sacramentum propter hominem". Black liquid petroleum oil has a far greater meaning to society today than the above-mentioned olive oil, yet no one wants to mess with the goo sacramentally; the only way the clergy will get involved in black oil is through the stock market. Too many pastors have deteriorated into CEO's who oversee the institutional material business; in my 54 years since ordination I rarely meet a pastor who was an educator. An educator was one of the most valued positions of early Christianity; it was only in 1127 c.e. that the institution declared the priests as tops on the religious totem pole.
Educating people is a demanding task, particularly when people have learned something (carved in Stone … forever) when they were five- or six-years old. I am reminded of the man who protested Mass being said in English; he commented "if the Latin Mass was good enough for Jesus at the Last Supper it is good enough for me today". The task of education has fallen to the laity ( means duty) and too often the arrogance of the pastor blocks good education by the non-ordained. Example world wide was given by none other than recent and present popes who have stifled the wisdom of such as South America's Leonardo Boff and untold others who attempted to bring truth to the people. Too often if a priest today tries to educate, people who still come to Sunday mass get up tight and shut their ears fearful of change or the bishop will chastise him for rocking the boat, the old Vatican One boat. At best the priest will be called a communist/ When I returned home from a youth tour that included Russia in 1967 conservatives said I went there as an agent of the Russian Government and that John the 23rd has been secreted to Moscow for a lobotomy …. Scout's honor on these stories.
Fr Duffy (in the movie played by Pat O'Brien), was made famous as the chaplain of the 91st Division in World War One; he first fled Dunwoddie Seminary in New York to Notre Dame University and then to the Army as he was harassed by Rome when he gathered local priests in his room for post-seminary education. Rome has never wanted a well-educated clergy. They do all the teaching; their blockbuster "education" on birth control was a stick of intellectual dynamite to the complacency and trust of the educated catholic.
Re-reading the pre-Vatican II thinking...
Hey, Central Control, let's review a bit, perhaps re-reading some of the fundamental ideas already expressed in my past commentaries. Let's start with the Baltimore Catechism's definition of a sacrament and some quotes from SIGNS OF LIFE, 155 mini pages, 1953, by Francois Louvel OP and Louis J Putz and the SACRAMENTAL SYSTEM, 83 mini pages by C.C. Martindale SJ, 1928. These are seminary library books and they contain the core pre-Vatican Two teachings; reading them is like taking a time warp trip, for me back to the 1930's. Their reasoning is scary for me with a matrix in the fears and ignorance of the Black Plague of the Middle Ages. The Council of Trent confected the major sacraments using symbols understood by clerics of that era; much of Church teaching is re-action to crisis (Infallibility and the French Revolution) that developed as the church matured and crossed into diverse cultures. I smile when I read reformer slogans like "take back our church" — the people are getting a hold they never had before and the bishops are crafty as they continue to appeal to fear and negativity. Look at the case of Bishop Robinson and how the American bishops blindly condemned him.
"An outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace" I recall this well from my 1930's grade school education, a post-French Revolution definition copied into the American Baltimore Catechism of 1885. It is the "instituted by Christ" that stands out to be unacceptable to my modern mind; historically the seven sacraments I knew as a boy are selections by the bishops of the Council of Trent, 1500 years after Jesus and 450 years ago — careful choices selected amidst medieval superstitious ignorance and monastic theological educational bias and chaos … and a bit of Thomas Aquinas. I highly approve of Trent's sacraments for that time and place; I question them in the age of modernity.
Tell me if you see a connection between LAST RITES/EXTREMEUNCTION/ANNOITING OF THE SICK to the historical Jesus? (Chapter 5 verse 14, Epistle of James, Jerome Commentary: "suggested place of origin Jerusalem, Syria, and even Rome", written more than likely after the Hill of Calvary with Jesus long dead. I trust that early Christian communities fashioned ideas based on Jesus' conduct and basic teaching, attributing these practices to Jesus as they saw the community of faith as the extension of his life, they being the post resurrection Body of Christ (the church).
Limited in space I choose to copy and comment on only page 60 of THE SACRAMENTAL SYSTEM as C.C. Martindale, 1928, addresses the theology of the sacraments. Taking a defensive stand Martindale says:
"Certain critics of the Catholic Faith practice are never tired of denouncing the sacraments as pieces of 'magic'. It is seen by now at every point how wrong they are. A magical transaction would be of the following nature. I repeat a formula, or perform an act, like 'open sesame', or sticking pins in a wax figure of my enemy, either without knowing why, or merely because someone whom I consider to know why tells me to. Automatically, an effect takes place, such as a door opening, or the sickness and death of my foe. All I have to do is carry my part through with mechanical accuracy. In the use of a sacrament, first of all, the rite means something; it is a sign. Further I use that rite because Christ, the Son of God appointed it and told me to use it. Further I do so not because there are any mechanical consequences attached to it, but because it is the cause of Grace, a purely supernatural thing of which God alone is the origin and the giver. Again he who administers to me that rite does not do so in any private capacity, nor because he has the key to certain spells or pieces of esoteric knowledge but because he acts as the Church's minister, and she acts in him, and Christ acts in her."
So ends this clip. Martindale goes on and on with theologies that are heavily questioned today … such as the Mystery of God, ex opere operato (the automatics of grace and sacraments), grace – a supernatural thing?, definition of Church, Son of God?, Jesus told me so, and the reactive, defensive negative posture of the whole (hardly Vatican Two's positives). Please re-read Martindale's wording and ask yourself if Jesus would have encouraged this type of stand. The piece supports male clericalism and destroys any possible dialogue. This is what I came out of seminary believing in; I heard the Voice of the Spirit when John the 23rd spoke and how the people of the pews were taking this message. I believe every generation writes its own response to Jesus … its own gospel.
To be continued…
Tom here in San Jose. I did purchase my ticket to Sydney, departing May 1 '09, bargain price on Qantas, and I hope to meet a few of you Aussies … and break some bread and have some dialogue. 22/11/2008
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What are your thoughts on this commentary?