2 January 2018


Reports indicate that, at the end of last October, an antipodean Cardinal Archbishop [ACA in what follows] ordered his Novus Ordo parishes to omit, on a certain Sunday, the Old Testament Reading and the Epistle and the associated psalmody from the Sunday Mass; to replace the normal proclamation of the Gospel with a reading in the style of the Lectio Divina; and to have that Gospel delivered by a lay person: all of which is contra legem. The ACA justified his order in these words:
"The lectio divina initiative is a way the Archdiocese is responding to the plea of Pope Francis to make the Sacred Scriptures better known and more widely diffused. He has reminded us that we can take creative initiatives in our parishes so that we can become 'living vessels for the transmission of God's Word'".

I am not aware that PF has legislated for what the ACA ordered. I therefore suspect that the ACA is claiming that his own 'initiative' is not precisely what PF has formally mandated, but, as we learned to say in the last century, "in the spirit of" PF. So having lived for half a century under the grim and mendacious "Spirit of the Council", we now, apparently, have got to live with the added encumbrance of the Spirit of PF.

It appears that "creative initiatives" trump Law. I'm rather uncertain how this is a true expression of the words of Sacrosanctum Concilium paragraph 22.

In one contemporary sense, of course, the ACA has a good argument. 'Law' has had a very bad press in this pontificate. It is forced to parade down the lexical catwalk in company with terms like 'rigid' and 'pharisaical' and 'quibbles' and 'clericalism' and 'closed hearts'. All good clean fun and I'm sure PF feels a lot better after getting all that nonsense off his chest. But the truth is that Law functions as a protection against tyranny; a shield against arbitrary rule. Of course bullies know better than the Law; of course tyrants are acting solely in the better interests of their subjects when they themselves break the Law or order that it be disobeyed within their bailiwicks. But if the Law guarantees to Christifideles laici that they are entitled to hear an Old Testament Reading and an Epistle at Novus Ordo Sunday Mass, then the Law is giving the humble occupants of the pews a protection against all and every one of those who know infinitely better than the pewfodder what is good for them, and who are happy to deprive them of their rights and protections.

I doubt whether PF and the ACA and most other prelates are consistent in their antinomianism. I have little doubt that, when it suits them, they are fervent in their enthusiasm for the Law. PF, for example, has not, to my knowledge, suggested to bishops that they need not be rigid or pharisaical about submitting their resignations when they reach the statutory age. There have been examples of bishops, not in the pontifical favour, who have had their resignations accepted with somewhat discourteous rapidity within days of submission. The system currently in place in our poor suffering Latin Church appears to be "I need not obey the Law because I am grand and I know best; but those below me need to submit to it. Indeed, if I tell them to do something contra legem, they even need to submit to that as well".

'Law', in this sense, is simply lawless tyranny, vis sine lege.

Nor do I find attractive the view sometimes put forward that the Roman Pontiff, being the Supreme Lawgiver, is therefore himself above the obligation to obey the Law. Most legal systems do not encourage the idea that legislators are ipso facto themselves exempt from the Law. If one of our Members of Parliament were charged with embezzlement, I doubt if our courts would accept his plea that his status qua legislator exempted him from prosecution. Yet PF invites the cameras of the oikoumene in to film him breaking the Law on Maundy Thursday by washing the feet of those whom the rubrics exclude.

My dear Father, God rest his soul, would have called such conduct 'brazen'. But he did not live to understand the 'Catholic System' as this pontificate presents it. There are times when I wonder if I do. Indeed, whether I even want to understand it.


Liam Ronan said...

"Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?
This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down — and you're just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake." Robert Bolt "A Man for All Seasons" (1960)

Thomas Beyer said...

What an excellently patrimonial meditation on the beloved Father's point. Well done.

JARay said...

Indeed, I too would give the Devil the benefit of the Law. The quote which Liam Ronan has posted above is well known to me and indeed who could not be moved by the logic it displays.

Savonarola said...

"Reports indicate ... "! If you checked this for yourself, I dare say you would find the reality is quite different - just another manufactured storm in a traddie teacup, the usual fake indignation. The legal principle that hearsay is not evidence holds good generally I think.

Liam Ronan said...


You say "The legal principle that hearsay is not evidence holds good generally I think."

I was a judge for 20 years. There are many exceptions to the hearsay rule, i.e. 'excited utterance'; admissions against interest; historical records; dying declaration, etc.

Hearsay can be considered as evidence, I assure you.

Greg said...

No so. I live in the specific Archdiocese and "lectio divina" replaced the Gospel and was justified as described.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

I think it would be appropriate if "savonarola" were to withdraw both the content and, in particular, the unpleasant tone of his intervention. Unless, of course, he would like to "check for himself" and prove that the "reality" is not as he "dare say".

I had in fact checked the matter as well as I could.

Of course, "savonarola's" assumption that the story was the "usual fake indignation" bears with it the implication, which "savonarola" can hardly now evade, that the Cardinal Archbishop concerned did behave improperly. "savonarola" is hardly now well-placed to say "The story is true and the prelate behaved properly".

Marianne said...

I also live in the Archdiocese described - the Archdiocese of Wellington, New Zealand. What is described is correct in every way. We managed to find a parish not taking part, some others escaped across into the next Diocese.

Marianne said...

The account given is by Fr Hunwicke is quite correct. I also live in the Archdiocese indicated. Some of us found a parish not co-operating (at least at the Mass we attended) and some others travelled across to the next Diocese (and had a wonderful time I believe). All fun and games in Mordor.

Richard Chonak said...

Here is a shortened form of the epistle we heard a few days ago. Perhaps we can propose it as an option for the next Lectionary edition:

A reading from the first letter of the apostle John.

[Brethren,] sin is lawlessness.

The Word of the Lord.

Peter Aiello said...

The Roman Pontiff is the Supreme Lawgiver? I thought that we were not under law but under grace.