Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Lauds Points Us In The Right Direction Every The Morning (LOH 6)

In my latest discussion on the Liturgy of the Hours we take a look at Morning Prayer, also known as Lauds.  One may pray the Office of Readings first, which traditionally has been prayed in the middle of the night, but Lauds is specifically designed to start us on our daily journey.

The Structure of the Office

"The Birth of St. John the Baptist" by Giuliano Bugiardini
    First, a few words on the structure of this office.   If it’s the first office of the day we start with the Invitatory; otherwise, as in the other offices, we start with “Lord open my lips/and my mouth will proclaim your praise” followed by a “Glory be . . . “.   This is followed by the psalmody where, unlike the Office of Readings, where there are three psalm readings, we find two psalms with an Old Testament canticle of comparable length in between.  All three are followed the “Glory Be”, and are bracketed by antiphons.  The particular reading and antiphons follow a four-week cycle, and there may also be other antiphons for particular times, such as Holy Week or Easter.

     Next comes a brief scripture reading, normally only a couple of verses.  These vary more widely by the season (there are different readings for Advent, Christmas Season, Lent, Easter) and, often by particular Holy Days.  This is followed by a three-part responsory, which also varies according to the liturgical calendar.  For Today, Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time, the responsory is:
I will bless the Lord all my life long
                - I will bless the Lord all my life long

With a song of praise ever on my lips,
                -  all my life long

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
                - I will bless the Lord all my life long

     The Canticle of Zechariah (called the Benedictus from it's first word in Latin) always follows the responsory.  This Gospel Canticle is the song of praise proclaimed by Zechariah after his voice has been returned to him at the naming of his son, John the Baptist. It is also preceded and followed by antiphons determined by the liturgical calendar.
     The office ends with a series of intercessions and a closing prayer which, yet again, accord with the season or Holy Day.

Our Daily Orientation

     I have always appreciated the way in which this office “orients” me at the beginning of the day.  Any morning prayer or offering should be expected to direct our attention to our relationship with our creator, of course, and Lauds certainly does that.  In addition to that, the canticles are passages that we might not ordinarily see: the Canticle of Hannah, for instance,(1 Samuel 2:1-10), a precursor to Mary’s Magnificat; a canticle from the prophet Habakkuk, chapter 3, that includes the evocative line “decay invades my bones”; or the triumphant song chanted by the Hebrews after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1):

            I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant,
            Horse and chariot he has cast into the sea . . . .

This last is reputed to be one of the oldest (at least in its present form) passages in the Bible.
     But the office of Morning Prayer does even more.  It does not just orient us as individuals to God: It orients us to the whole scope of Salvation history.  For instance, every Friday the penitential Psalm 51 opens the office:

            Have mercy on me God, in your kindness.
            In your compassion blot out my offense.
            O wash me more and more from my guilt
            And cleanse me from my sin.

This prayer and others in the Office remind us of the fact that on Friday we focus in a special way on Christ’s suffering for our salvation. When we faithfully pray the Divine Office we always start our day knowing how that day fits in the Big Picture, throughout the week and throughout the liturgical year.
     We also start our day with a specific celebration of the liturgical season, or a particular solemnity or saint’s day, which has a much greater impact than if we should happen to remember it (or not) at some point during the course of the day.  The overall effect is that it brings us out of ourselves and unites us in prayer with the entire Church, which is saying the same prayer throughout the world, and which lives the same faith throughout time.  What better way to greet the new day?

Below are some resources for anyone interested in exploring the Liturgy of the Hours -

Websites: – This was the first website I encountered with the text of the LOH.  It does have the full text of all the daily prayers, although, at least in the free version available online, many of the translations are not the approved ones.  They do say that the translations in the App version are the standard ones. – Full texts of all the prayers, which are designed so that they can be printed as booklets for group prayer – but you need to buy a subscription to gain access to most of the site. – My favorite LOH website.  It contains the full approved translations of most of the canonical hours (although there is only one hour for Daytime Prayer).  There are also audio versions of each hour which include recorded hymns and recitation of the prayers, either spoken or chanted.

There are various one-volume books entitled Christian Prayer that contain most of the Liturgy of the Hours.  The best choice available is this one [here], although it is not complete (particularly the Office of  Readings), and hasn’t been updated since 1976.  I prefer this one [here] from the Daughters of St. Paul, which contains everything except the long readings from the Office of Readings (which are available from the websites above).  It also dates from 1976, however, and, even worse, seems to be out of print.

The Gold Standard is the four-volume Liturgy of the Hours [here].  It’s all there, but it involves a sizable financial investment (well over $100 for the whole set)

What Is Man That Thou Art Mindful Of Him? (Worth Revisiting)

This past Monday we made our first beach visit of the year.  It was much too cold to go into the water yet, even though it was a warm day.  Nonetheless, it put me in mind of this Worth Revisiting (I think) post, first published on June 24th last year. To enjoy the work of other Catholic bloggers,please visit Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at and Allison Gingras at

            When I look at the Heavens, the work of thy fingers,
            The work moon and the stars which thou hast established;
            What is man that thou art mindful of him,
            And the son of man that thou dost care for him?
            Yet thou hast made him little less than God,
            And dost crown him with glory and honor.  (Psalm 8:3-5)

The author's feet, Pine Point Beach, Maine, June 2014
Yesterday morning at the beach with my family, enjoying some beautiful early summer weather, I was reminded of a hymn we sometimes sing at Mass: “There is a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea.”  Standing on the edge of the ocean we can find its vastness overwhelming: we can feel very, very small in comparison.  Sometimes when we look up at the heavens and think about the immensity of the universe , we can almost feel physically overwhelmed by it, as Edna St. Vincent Millay describes it in her poem “Renaissance”:

            So here upon my back I’ll lie
            And look my fill into the sky.
            And so I looked, and, after all,
            The sky was not so very tall.
            The sky, I said, must somewhere stop,
            And – sure enough! – I see the top!
            The sky I thought, is not so grand;
            I ‘most could touch it with my hand!
            And reaching up my hand to try,
            I screamed to feel it touch the sky.
            I screamed and – lo! – Infinity
            Came down and settled over me;
            Forced back my scream into my chest,
            Bent back my arm upon my breast . . .

     How much more humbling than the vastness of creation is the infinite God who created it?  How can we not feel absolutely insignificant by comparison?  As I’ve said before, it’s not so much the existence of a creator-God that is so difficult for us to believe, it is that such a God could possibly even notice something as small as ourselves, much less love us.
     That’s part of the wonder of the Incarnation, which we just celebrated this past Sunday in the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16): God put himself on our level (to the degree that he can), he gave us a human face to gaze on, and in taking on human form sanctified humanity.  “If God is for us,” Saint Paul asks, “who is against us?” (Romans 8:31)  It is Christ Incarnate that allows us to feel the boundless immensity of creation not as an infinite indifference swallowing us up without a second thought, but the embrace of infinite Love, because by lowering himself to become man, and by suffering and dying for us, Jesus showed us in the flesh that, truly, “God is Love”(1John 4:8). Let us thank The Lord.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Has Pascal's Wager Really Been "Debunked"?

The Wager

Blaise Pascal
     Is it true that Pascal’s Wager has been “debunked”? Most informed Catholics will be familiar with Pascal’s Wager, which is an argument 17th century Catholic Philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal developedin his Pensees.  Pascal says that we all have to make the choice to believe in God or not.  There are four possible outcomes to our choice: if we choose to believe and we are right we experience endless bliss after death, if we are wrong we experience nothing at all, we simply cease to exist; if we choose disbelief and we are right we likewise experience nothing after this world, but if we are wrong we suffer eternal damnation.  Belief is clearly the best bet, because we risk nothing and stand to gain infinite joy, whereas disbelief gains us nothing even if we’re right, and costs us absolutely everything if we’re wrong.
     It’s a simple a straightforward argument, and it seems pretty obvious.  You wouldn’t think that there was room for much “bunk” in it.  And yet the New Atheism’s evangelists of nothingness claim to have shown it to be an empty shell.  You can find websites created by self-proclaimed debunkers which present the main anti-Wager arguments (along with a fair amount of neo-atheist snark).  One such site, for instance, takes three main lines of attack:

1)      “It assumes that there is only one religion”, thus we are presented, not with two clear choices, but with a myriad of choices. This objection, which has been around since Pascal’s time, is traditionally known as the argument from inconsistent revelations.

2)      The second, as we shall see, is not so much an argument as an unsupported opinion: ‘Also, the second problem is that it assumes that the possibility that the Christian doctrine that “everyone is going to hell unless they become a Christian and accept Jesus as their Savior” is a realistic and significant possibility.  Perhaps they think it is even as probable as the possibility that there is no God.  However, based on the arguments in this book and in others linked, it should be clear that that probability is pretty much zero by now.’

3)      ‘Finally, few, if any, disbelievers disbelieve out of choice . . . Most disbelievers disbelieve simply because they know of no compelling evidence or reasons to believe . . .’ and  ‘Even if you said all the right prayers and attended church regularly, that would still not be the same thing as believing from the heart, and any real God would obviously see straight through that.’

    Let’s get the second out of the way first because, as I observed above, it is not a serious argument.  Our unbelieving friends make a sweeping assertion and offer no proof other than inviting us to read their book.  Sorry guys, your opinion isn’t proof of anything.  And if the quality of their argument here is any indication, I doubt that I’ll find the rest of their book any more persuasive (and I’m willing to bet I’ve heard all those “arguments” before, too).  This is no more than an attempt to dismiss the case before it can be litigated.
    Number one at least has the virtue of being an actual argument, one that was first raised, in fact, in Pascal’s lifetime (just as an aside, if Pascal’s Wager is “old and outdated”, as the debunkers assert, isn’t their counter-argument as well?).  Pascal himself dismissed it as an attempt to derail the argument, rather than an attempt to get at the truth, adding “But if you desire with all your heart to know it, it is not enough; look at it in detail.”   What he says next points up the main weakness with this objection: “That would be sufficient in philosophy; but not here, where everything is at stake.”  His wager is not an exercise in formal logic, nor is a metaphysical proof, nor is it an attempt to offer a comprehensive answer to all the possible possibilities raised by religious belief. He is offering it as a guide to making a real decision of which path to set out on, confident that a seeker who is sincerely looking for the truth will, ultimately, find it.
    Consider the following analogy: suppose you’re driving down the road and you come to a T intersection.  A sign pointing to the right says “Jerusalem”, the sign pointing to the left says “Danger: Bridge Out.”  If you take the left road, you might find yourself driving into a river, or maybe the bridge will have been repaired, or there could be ferry service, who knows? If you take the right, there might be an unexpected landslide, or you might miss another turn and get lost, or you might get eaten by a lion; there are an endless variety of things that might happen.  Nevertheless, you can be reasonably sure that if you want to get to Jerusalem, the right hand turn is your best bet, while the left will, at best, take you somewhere else, or at worst get you killed.  That’s what Pascal’s Wager is about, it’s about that initial decision to commit yourself to finding God, or to turn away.  If you choose God, you will still have an endless series of further choices and decisions ahead of you, even if you are sure that the Catholic Church is the True Church.  And remember, Pascal doesn’t promise that you will find salvation if you choose God, only that you might, whereas if you choose to reject the possibility of God you definitely won’t.  The argument from inconsistent revelations does nothing to change that.
     The third argument is a variant of the argument from inauthentic belief (briefly, that Pascal’s Wager is arguing for the outward appearance of belief, as opposed to actual belief).  Like the first, it misrepresents what the Wager is really saying, and misunderstands what Catholics have traditionally understood by “belief”.  It starts out, as does the debunkers' second argument, with an unsupported assertion: "few, if any, disbelievers disbelieve out of choice", followed by another, “Most disbelievers disbelieve simply because they know of no compelling evidence or reasons to believe.”  Not only do they provide no proof whatsoever for either of them, the two statements are, in fact, contradictory: if nobody chooses to disbelieve, then what does evidence have to do with it? In any case, they don’t say reasons and evidence don’t exist, but “they know of no compelling evidence or reasons to believe”.  The word “compelling” means persuasive, and implies that they do have a choice either to accept or reject the evidence on offer. And as it happens, according to polling data, 8 out of every 10 Americans do find the same evidence “compelling” enough to believe, so it would seem that whether or not it is "compelling" is in the eye of the beholder, in which case we all do have a choice; or maybe believers don’t have really choose either, in which case, why try to “debunk” anything, since none of us, apparently, have any control over our beliefs?  I have no choice but to believe this argument is simply incoherent.
    That leaves us with the argument that following the outward form of religious observance without “believing from the heart” would not count as real belief, and “any real God would obviously see straight through” it.  Like many fallacies, this point contains enough truth to make it appear plausible at first glance, because insincere belief is, of course, false belief.  

     Part of the problem here is that this objection misrepresents what a Christian means by belief, in the same way that the secular world misunderstands what is meant by “love”.  The modern secularist sees love as primarily an emotional effect, or even as pure emotion, and therefore something that happens to you, not something you do.  In the Christian view, Love is a decision of the will, informed by the intellect, and ideally supported by the emotions, but the emotional part is the least essential.  It is therefore possible to love, truly love, someone whom you heartily dislike if you sincerely desire what is best for them, without regard for your own self-interest. Genuine belief is likewise a conscious choice and a movement of the will.  Emotions are a very unreliable guide to actions, but often serve to support and reinforce the will.  Very often we find that our emotions change (sometimes slowly) following a firm decision on our part, especially if we change our habits or practices to go along with it. Countless people have experienced such emotional changes after switching political parties, for instance, or changing some other allegiance.  In fact, it is very often the emotional attachments that what keep people from switching long after they see solid reasons to do so, and it’s only after they decide to act that the emotions follow.  
    Pascal believed (as Catholics and many other people traditionally have) that reason, not emotion, should govern the will, but that emotions were the main obstacle for most people, certainly for those who claimed that they wanted to believe but could not. Accordingly, this is his advice to such people:

Learn from those who were bound like you . . . Follow the way by which they began: that is by doing everything as if they believed, by taking holy water, by having masses said, etc. Naturally, even this will make you believe and will dull you. -’But this is what I am afraid of.’ - And why? What have you to lose?

    Of course, Pascal was depending not only on the natural tendency of emotions to follow a firm will, but also the working of God’s grace on those who are sincerely seeking Him, even if they are not yet sure that they have found him.
    Now, our atheist friends might point out that they don’t believe in God’s Grace, and our emotions don’t always do what we want them to do.  True enough.  But it also doesn’t matter.  Notice that Pascal isn’t offering a counter argument above so much as advice to those might be hesitating, because the argument from inauthentic belief isn’t really an objection to Pascal’s Wager at all.  As I indicate in the“T intersection” analogy above, the Wager is solely concerned with whether it is wiser to choose a road that leads toward God, or one that leads away.  The choice itself is just a beginning, and is the same whether or not there might be difficulties or further choices along the way (as, in fact, we should expect there will be).
    The simplicity of the choice is what gives Pascal’s Wager its persuasive power. You can find critics who present much more formal and complicated discussions than the self-proclaimed debunkers cited above, but they are all variations of the same old arguments presented here, all of which have been around since Pascal’s day, and all of which rely on making his Wager something it is not.  They all have to do with raising questions about the certainty of Eternal Salvation, but that is, of course, why it is a wager in the first place, because there is no certainty in this world.  But what’s the worst that can happen if you gamble on God?  What’s the worst if you take the other path?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Veni, Creator Spiritus & Weekly Round-Up for Pentecost Sunday 2015

Juan Batista Maino, Pentecostes
     Today is Pentecost Sunday, on which we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Disciples in the Upper Room in Jerusalem; we also take this as a special opportunity to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in our own lives, often by praying or singing the ancient hymn "Veni, Creator Spiritus" ("Come, Creator Spirit").  In the moving clip below we see the College of Cardinals calling upon the Holy Spirit in this way, not at Pentecost but at another time when the aid of the Third Person of the Trinity was required: the last Papal election.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Your love.

Weekly Round-Up, Pentecost Sunday 2015

The academic year is drawing to a close, and bloggery needs to take a back seat to more immediate responsibilities.  Nonetheless, I did manage to post a thing or two:

Wednesday - “FeedYour Mind And Soul: The Office of Readings (LOH 5)”  How you can enrich your prayer life and also expand your Biblical literacy through the Office of Readings (the fifth installment of my series on the Liturgy of the Hours for lay men and women). 

and “Hidden Law,Society, and Catholic Teaching”  The informal “laws” created by family, relationships, and religion often govern our lives much more effectively than laws imposed by the state. 

Thursday - “Quick!What’s The Summit And Source of the Christian Life?” We lose more than we might realize when we lose reverence for the Eucharist 

Friday - “AbortionMyth # 14” If ‘a woman and her doctor’ told you to jump off the roof, would you do it? 

Haydn's The Creation, Day 2 & Weekly Round-Up of posts

     Here's another selection from Haydn's magnificent oratorio The Creation.  In he first part is (And God Made the Firmament) in which the music represents the separation of water from the land and the the first storms (you'll know the storms when you hear them).  The second part is a beautiful soprano aria (The marvelous work beholds, amazed, the glorious hierarchy of Heaven) in which the Heavenly Host praises the creator and his work.

Weekly Round-Up, Pentecost Sunday 2015

The academic year is drawing to a close, and bloggery needs to take a back seat to more immediate responsibilities.  Nonetheless, I did manage to post a thing or two:

Wednesday - “FeedYour Mind And Soul: The Office of Readings (LOH 5)”  How you can enrich your prayer life and also expand your Biblical literacy through the Office of Readings (the fifth installment of my series on the Liturgy of the Hours for lay men and women). 

andHidden Law,Society, and Catholic Teaching”  The informal “laws” created by family, relationships, and religion often govern our lives much more effectively than laws imposed by the state. 

Thursday - “Quick!What’s The Summit And Source of the Christian Life?” We lose more than we might realize when we lose reverence for the Eucharist 

Friday - “AbortionMyth # 14” If ‘a woman and her doctor’ told you to jump off the roof, would you do it? 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Abortion Myth # 14

MYTH: “Abortion should be a decision between a woman and her doctor.”

TRUTH  Involving a “doctor” doesn’t change the nature or reality of abortion; it is still the intentional taking of innocent human life, which is never morally permissible, not even with a doctor’s assent. Also, why doesn't the child's father have a say . . . or the child?
Hippocrates: doctors must not abort

-          Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, which for over 2,000 years had the following clause:

I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.  Similarly, I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy.  In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.

Unfortunately, this clause has been removed in recent years at medical schools in the United States and Western Europe, because so many doctors are now doing what the oath forbids..

-          Very often the only doctor involved is the abortionist himself or herself, who frequently does not even speak to the mother before, during or after the “procedure”.

-          We quite rightly expect fathers to take responsibility for their children when they are allowed to live; should we deny them the right to protect their unborn children from death by abortion?

-          Fathers of aborted babies often undergo great suffering; see “Men Hurt Too” [here] on the Priests For Life website and FatherhoodForever [here].  Shouldn’t they have a say in the decision?

-          The aborted child, who is most directly affected by abortion, has no say at all.

The idea for the arguments above comes from Randy Alcorn’s Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments.


Essential Pro-Life Resources:

Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments (link)  

The Elliot Institute (link)  

National Right To Life Committee (link)  

Care-Net (link)

The Nurturing Network (link

Priests for Life (link)

To See The Entire Abortion Myths Series Click HERE 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Quick! What's the Summit and Source of the Christian Life?

     And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him.”Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  -Matthew 22:35-39

We have Company

Pope Francis at Easter Mass
     Years ago when I taught at a Catholic high school in New York State I was the faculty moderator of the student newspaper.  On one particular occasion I had brought some of the students on the newspaper staff on a trip to another school, which had at one time been a convent school, and still had a number of the good sisters in residence.  We were casually conversing in a hallway when an elderly nun began furiously shushing at us as she pointed to an open doorway.  Looking through the door I noticed, for the first time, a tabernacle on the far wall with a red presence lamp glowing next to it.  We were standing in front of the chapel, and sister wanted us to quiet down out of respect for Christ in the reserved Sacrament.  When I recounted the incident to my lovely bride, she told me that the exact same thing had happened to her a dozen years or more before when she had visited the same school as a student.  Whether it was a sort of tradition there, or the same sister had made a life’s mission of hushing boisterous guests in front of the chapel I don’t know, but the incident has stuck with me.
     I was reminded of this incident yet again the other day, in fact, when I saw this post [here] on Michael Seagriff’s blog, in which he recounts his sadness at the disrespect shown Our Lord at a Church he attended while travelling.  He says:

The loud chatter and laughter before and immediately after the end of Mass each day made silent prayer an enormous challenge if not an impossibility.  The conduct of those present gave no visible evidence that His Presence among and within them was of much importance.

I think he hits the nail right on the head here. If we knew that an important man or woman were in the room with us – the President of the United States, for instance, or some other high-ranking official – would we carry on as if he weren’t there?  And wouldn’t he command at least as much of our attention as our friends? Surely when the Lord and Creator of the Universe is in the room with us (as He is in the consecrated Eucharist), we should show even greater deference.  In fact, shouldn’t we by all rights fall to our knees in awe-struck silence? And yet what Michael Seagriff describes above is all too common; he could have been describing a church I know near me, but the same thing happens, often to a lesser degree, just about everywhere I know of (to a much lesser degree, I must admit, where the Mass is being offered in the extraordinary form).

Maybe sometimes we should "sweat the small stuff"

     I’m not just being the President of the No-Fun Club here (although I do bear that title, and proudly); the issue of reverence before the Holy Sacrament, and at Mass in general, is no small matter.  We’ve all heard some variation on “God doesn’t care what I’m wearing/ doing, etc. . . .  He just wants me to be there . . . He’s a big Guy, he can take it  . . . blah,blah,blah”.  God’s not the problem: no amount of irreverence, in fact nothing we can do at all, can harm Him.  The problem is that it’s bad for us to disrespect God, we are not honoring and obeying our Heavenly Father, the One who told Moses “Take off your sandals, the place where you’re standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).  It’s right to behave differently in the immediate presence of God.
     There’s also another problem, as Michael indicates when he says “The conduct of those present gave no visible evidence that His Presence among and within them was of much importance.”  If you asked them, I’m sure the chatterboxes from the back of the church would insist they had enormous respect for the Divine Presence in the Tabernacle, and they would probably mean it.  We Catholics know, however, that mind, body, and spirit all work together.  “The Word became Flesh” (John 1:14) John the Evangelist tells us, and the Apostle James assures us that “Faith apart from deeds is dead” (James 2:26). We cannot separate what we do from what we believe, and if our behavior says, not just to others but to ourselves, that being at Mass is no different than being at a business meeting or a cocktail party, sooner or later we’ll believe it.  And that is why, after all, we have all the “smells and bells”, beautiful churches and colorful vestments, because we flesh and blood mortals need tangible signs in order to absorb spiritual realities.  Why else should the Word become Flesh? Why else have sacraments?

Summit and Source

     The spiritual reality we’re meant to absorb when we’re at Mass, of course, is the True Presence of Jesus Christ.  The first commandment is to love God (see the quote from Matthew's Gospel at the top of the page); loving our neighbor is similar to that, but subordinate. Our purpose in going to Mass, then, is not to meet our friends but to meet God Himself, face to face, and even to take him physically into our bodies.  That’s a big deal.  We need to know it, to feel it, and to live it.  The Vatican II fathers tell us that the Mass is the “summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; and at the same time, it is the fountain from which all her powers flow” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 10). Isn’t that worth asking your friends to wait a little while?
     I don’t doubt that most of the natterers in the pews intend no disrespect.  Most have been mislead by an elite group of liturgical ideologues who really do want to de-emphasize the Divinity of Christ, and have been acculturated to a societal ethos that has made a fetish out of informality.  We all need to do our part to model appropriate reverence, and educate others (recall that “Instructing the Ignorant” is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy; this definitely qualifies).  We should also encourage our priests, many of whom apparently think that lay people are put off by reverence, formality, and the like.  Share with them resources like this post [here] from Fr. John Zuhlsdorf on ways to improve the celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass; I’m willing to bet that any church that followed Fr. Z’s advice from this article would be bursting at the seams.  The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and our profound encounter with Him in the Mass, is too big to ignore.
(An earlier version of this Throwback appeared on August 27th, 2014)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hidden Law, Society and Catholic Teaching

(An earlier version of this post first appeared in March 2014. Please visit the linkup for Worth Revisiting Wednesdayhosted by Elizabeth Reardon at, and Allison Gingras at

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure . . . 

Bl. Mother Theresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul II
     I’ve heard it said that once you need to pass a law prohibiting something, it’s too late.  In other words, it is better if less formal, more personal factors like family, religion, custom, etc. prepare people to want to do the right thing beforehand, rather than having the state or some other external authority come in to clean up the mess afterwards.  
     This seems to be the thesis of a discussion by columnist Jonah Goldberg about (among other things) what he refers to as “Hidden Law” [link].   He describes it as the intricate complex of customs, attitudes, prohibitions, licenses, etc., that arise from culture, family, and shared experience that shape, and are shaped by,  the vast majority of our interactions with each other.   It is not imposed (directly, anyway) by any official authority, particularly not the state, and is far more effective than any formal laws or statutes for maintaining an orderly and prosperous society.  Leftists are particularly prone to deny or try to override this law, but such recklessness is by no means limited to the left.  Goldberg is arguing (as I have in other places, here for instance, albeit using different language) that we disregard this Hidden Law at our peril.

The Dignity of the Human Person

    Jonah Goldberg is a secular commentator, and I do not share all his views or concerns.  I take serious issue in particular with a passage he quotes from Jonathan Rauch that uses assisted suicide as an example; I may be na├»ve, but I’m not convinced that there was a long tradition of doctors “helping people to die”, at least not in the sense he seems to mean.  Also there is a huge (decisive, in fact) difference between letting someone die and causing them to die (and let me add that letting them die by withholding food and water is in fact causing them to die). 
     Having said that, it’s very helpful to understand, in a particular way for Catholics, this idea of the Hidden Law.  It illuminates not only much of Catholic teaching, but also helps us to understand some important ways in which God interacts with His creation.  The concept of the Dignity of the Human Person, for instance, is inseparable from our gift of Free Will, and from our right to exercise it within appropriate bounds, which we see formulated in the importance of Conscience, in the Principle of Subsidiarity, the right to form associations such as labor unions and fraternal groups, and so on [link].  We can see that the Church has long recognized in the working out of all sorts of individual human decisions something very similar to what Goldberg means by Hidden Law (with the important addition, in the Catholic understanding, of the importance of God’s Grace).

"The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27)

     One thing that comes through, both in Catholic teaching and the secular understanding of this unwritten law, is an emphasis on human individuals, not on things, institutions, or programs; it relies on people, properly prepared to conduct their own lives and to order their relations with each other.  I see a correspondence in the way God is revealed both in Sacred Scripture and in His Church.  God always seems to act through individual people, doing their human best (in most cases) under His guidance. In fact, he Bible is all about people, that is, individual persons, starting with Adam and Eve, through Noah, Abraham and the other Patriarchs, David and the other kings, Elijah and the prophets up through the God-Man himself, Jesus, with whom we are explicitly called to have a personal relationship.  Jesus (born of a woman, Mary) chooses to act through his Apostles, whose names are all carefully preserved, and whose authority has been personally handed on to their successors, the Bishops.  A constant feature of the formal passing on of authority from the earliest days has been the laying on of hands, one man physically touching another.  Furthermore, a very large part of Catholic practice has always been the Cult of the Saints, whose individual lives are held up for emulation and who are called upon, individually and by name, to intercede for us with the Father.  It amazes me how many people I know personally who have met Saint John Paul II or Blessed Mother Theresa (very often they have met both), and this in a church of one billion people.  Isn’t it interesting that the Catholic Church, probably both the largest and oldest existing Institution in the world, depends so much, and focuses so much, on individual human beings?
     It’s for this reason that I have become increasingly distrustful of a reliance on programs and structures, and of those who put their faith in man-made solutions rather than the action of God’s Grace working  through those who love him.  There is certainly a place for such things, but in a supporting role, not a leading one.  Jesus says: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).  If it's true that it's an inversion of right order to give a Divine Institution such as the Sabbath precedence over people, how much more so it must be of merely human institutions.

Feed Your Mind And Soul: The Office of Readings (LOH 5)

St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

 In today’s post on the Liturgy of the Hours we are taking a look at The Office of Readings.  This office was traditionally called Matins, and took place in the middle of the night, where it was considered to be the first office of the day.  In the reformed Liturgy the Church has untethered it, so to speak, from any fixed time so that it can be said at any time of day.
     We should take this independence from an appointed time as a sign of how important the Church considers this office to be: she wants us to have every opportunity to pray it, regardless of the hour.  It is different from the other offices in that it contains fewer prayers and much longer scripture readings; not only that, it includes non-scriptural readings from the Saints and from magisterial Church documents. The result is an office whose rewards are not only spiritual but educational, and the whole of which is greater than the sum of the parts.
     Let’s first take a look at the structure of the Office of Readings. When it is not preceded by the Invitatory [link], it begins as do the other offices:

            God, come to my assistance.
`           Lord, make haste to help me.
            Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
            And to the Holy Spirit:
            As it was in the beginning, is now,
            And will be forever.  Amen.

     The Psalmody comes next, consisting of three psalm readings, each either a complete psalm or several verses from a longer one, preceded and followed by brief antiphons.  After the psalmody and a very brief verse and response we find the first reading, a scriptural reading normally in the range of 500-600 words long; these are normally arranged so that very large portions of the various books of the Bible are covered over a period of a week or two.   After a short responsory there is a non-Biblical reading, often from the Fathers of the Church, sometimes written by the Saint whose feast falls on that day.  After another short responsory there is a closing prayer; on important feast days and Sundays the closing prayer is preceded by the ancient hymn of praise Te Deum (see below).
     These long readings are one of the treasures of the reformed office.  If I were not praying the Office, I doubt I would have found the time or occasion to read so much of books such as Esther or Revelation.  But there’s more to it than that.  This isn’t simply reading: it’s very much like the practice of Lectio Divina in which we are not only taking in the words of Holy Scripture, but also offering up them up to God.  One result of the liturgical prayers and the psalms in the first part of the office, in addition to being themselves an offering of prayer, is that they put us into a sort of “prayer state” in which we are receptive to the words of scripture in a way that just doesn't happen when we are reading in an ordinary way.
     The non-Scriptural readings also deserve a special mention.  There is an impressive variety of authors to teach and inspire us. To take a random sample, on the ten days from March 19th through March 28th of this year there are readings from: St. Bernadine of Siena, St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Irenaeus, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Basil the Great, St. Leo the Great, St. Theophilus of Antioch, Tertullian, and St. Gregory the Great.  It is unlikely that I would have assembled this list of writers on my own, very unlikely indeed that I could have chosen such consistent quality of selections.  Although they are not inspired in the sense that Holy Scripture is, they all have the approval of the Church to which Christ granted authority to act in His Name on Earth.  While none of the authors above is infallible (and Tertullian, for one, actually ended his life a heretic), we know that the passages we find in the Office of Readings are free from doctrinal error; more than that, they are not only endorsed by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, they are offered to us as part of her daily liturgy as nourishment for both our mind and spirit.
     I have found the Office of Readings to be an unexpected source of enrichment over the dozen or so years I have been praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  With the internet resources that are available today it is easier than ever to do.   

To read the whole series go here.

See also:

You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord: we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you.

To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.

The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.

Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you:
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.

You, Christ, are the King of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.
When you became man to set us free
you did not spurn the Virgin’s womb.

You overcame the sting of death,
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.

We believe that you will come, and be our judge.
Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Haydn, The Creation: Chaos & God Created Heaven and Earth

     Here is the opening from Haydn's masterpiece, The Creation. This clip contains the overture, a musical evocation of Chaos, followed by God's Creation of Heaven and Earth. The Chaos section may not sound quite as chaotic to us as it did to audiences at the end of the eighteenth century, accustomed as most of us are to dissonant syncopated music, but this is still a powerful musical experience (listen for the Creation of Light c. 6:20), all the more so when we listen with the Biblical account in mind. If you'd like to know more about The Creation, there is a nice description of the work here on Wikipedia.

     Also, for those of you who feel up to little reading after enjoying some Papa Haydn, I've included my Weekly Roundup of posts from the past week below . . . no extra charge.  Have a Blessed Sunday!

Weekly Roundup From Principium et FinisNisi Dominus

May 12th – “The Invitatory Psalm: We Are Called To Relationship With God” Every day, the Liturgy of the Hours begins with an invitation from the Lord who Loves us 

May 13th – “’Doing' The Truth In Love” It seems there’s always more than meets the eye when we look at God’s Word in the Scriptures

May 13th – “Is Raul Ready To Repent?” Cuban dictator Raul Castro says he likes Pope Francis so much, that he might even return to the Church.  I suppose stranger things have happened . . .  

May 14th – “St. Matthias: The Church’s First Decision” This year St. Matthias’ Feast day falls on Ascension Thursday, but even when it doesn’t, there are some interesting connections between the two

May 14th – “Teenage Werewolves And Other Mythical Beasts: A Catholic View” We all must go through our teens to get to adulthood, but modern “teen culture” points our young people in a very different direction    

May 15th – “Why Jeopardy Doesn’t Know Judas” You know you’re in a post-Christian culture when none of three adults chosen at random can name the betrayer of Jesus 

May 15th – “Abortion Myth #13” Pro-abortionists insist that legal abortion is essential to women rights, but the truth is that abortion exploits and demeans women