23 April 2020

Renewing your vows

Yes ... the Novus Ordo  suggests that we renew our Baptismal Vows before Confirmation and annually at the Easter Vigil; priests are required to renew priestly vows at the Chrism Mass; married people reaching significant anniversaries ...

I am.genuinely unsure what I think about all this; or how strongly I think it. Let me make a prosecution case.

All these renewals renew vows or commitments made before sacraments which indelibly mark the soul (or, in the case of Marriage, set up an unbreakable union which can omly be broken by the death of a partner). They are not soluble by fiat or consent or desuetude.

Is there not a risk that people might think they are renewable in the sense that a professional qualification may be renewable?

Is there not a risk that people of weak or faltering Faith might agonise over whether they want, or are able, to renew them? So that the Easter when one didn't go to Church and renew one's vows might come to seem the occasion when I ceased to be obliged by them ... when, so to speak, they gently walked out of my life.

In a sense, we renew our Baptismal commitment every time dip our fingers in the Holy Water Stoup. But this meaningful and elegant symbol is not structured so as repeatedly to set a stark black-or-white choice before our elective capacities. And we renew our fidelity to our Baptism when we go to Confession.

S Paul once told the Roman Christians that the End was was nearer "than when you believed" [hote episteusate]. In English, that makes it sound as if the believing was something one used to do in the past! But the Apostle used the aorist tense, which ... roughly ... points to a single past action. So S Paul is here referring to the momentary action when, having professed pistis, one was baptised into the Body of Christ and, having shared His Death and Burial, one entered upon His Resurrection life.

And that single event, which is unrepeatable, abides for all eternity.

Just as God's Covenant with Israel, to which His People have so often been faithless, is a rock-solid permanency rooted in His faithfulness.

We should think of these states as Acts of God rather than as acts of revocable human choice. I am not a Christian / a priest / a husband only on those occasions when I feel like it. The old Anglican 1662 Form of priestly Ordination put it beautifully bluntly by using the words of the Lord to His disciples, as in the medieval pontificals, and then adding a temporal specificity to them:
Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven etc...

I am afraid that all this emphsis on Renewing runs the risk of smuggling into our responses a fashionable modern subjectivity as well as modern notions of personal autonomy.

Does it?


PDLeck said...

This is a post I wanted to write but am so glad you have. For a long time I have been arguing against these unnecessary renewals but have felt like the lonely voice in the wilderness. I do hope you don't mind that I shall be in future arguments citing this post to support my position.

Evie said...

"Renewing your vows" is sentimental rubbish. It is, however, big business. In Los Angeles, there is a mini-industry devoted to helping couples renew their vows. They will arrange for a "pastor", a suitable location (the beach?) or more likely the ballroom of a Marriott hotel) and a big after-party at which music from the era in which they got married, will be endlessly played. If the couple had the misfortune to have married in the 1970s, they will set up a discotheque at the venue, and play the greatest hits of the BeeGees and Donna Summer. The couple and their friends can relive their youth! That's what it is all about, isn't it? Feeling young again. Renewing your baptismal vows makes you feel like a baby. The local parish priest can pour some water over your head the way your hairdresser would, or dunk you in the closest swimming pool.

And what would priests who renew their vows have to go through, if left up to the vow-renewal consultants? Will they drag his old seminary professors out of retirement? His old classmates? The bishop who ordained him? What would that after-party look like?

David said...

There is a section on renewal of vows in Father Frederick Faber's "All for Jesus." Chapter 8 (Praise and Desire), Section 7 (Practices...), Paragraph 4.

It's much too long to quote in totum, but here are a few excerpts:

"It is another instance of the artifices of God’s love. Just as He allows us to offer to Him the mysteries of Jesus, as if they were our own, so does He allow us to offer to Him our own vows again and again, and thus to multiply His own glory and our merit many times by the same action."

"We learn from St. Mary Magdalene of Pazzi how acceptable this renewal of vows is to God. She says, “As often as promises made to God are renewed, a renewal of union with God takes place, and the beloved soul acquires more or less union with Him, according to the state of perfection in which it is at the time, and to the degree of charity it has. ... "

"St. Francis Xavier used to renew his vows frequently, and said that whenever he did so, he felt his youth renewed as an eagle’s; and he often told his brother Jesuits that a daily renewal of their vows was one of [323] the best defences against the attacks and snares of Satan."

"All this will apply in its measure to the renewal of good purposes and heroic desires. Thomas à Kempis tells us in the Imitation to renew our good purposes every day, and excite ourselves to fervour as if we had only been converted to-day..."

Of course none of these are logical proofs or refutations of what you've said. I merely provide them as a possible sampling of the "sensus fidelium" on the subject. And of course to share the thoughts of one of the greats of the "Anglican Patrimony!"

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Owing to the new book of blessings it is more that quit possible that the Holy Water Stoup of an N.O. Parish contains wholly water.

StMichael said...

I do not see the danger in thinking, because we renew our vows on solemn occasions, that these vows are dissoluble.

Further, on taking certain kinds of public office in the Church, such as receiving a Mandatum to teach theology or at ordination, it is an ancient tradition that those receiving the office are required to profess their faith. I do not take it that renewing a profession of faith made at baptism (as all these people taking ecclesial office have been baptized) makes it optional for them to profess the faith or makes it the case that their vows are temporary.

If one has a problem with the Easter Vigil renewals, I'm not sure how you would make sense of these other (very sensible) public professions of faith.

Richard Down said...

Father - you have just spelt out just what I have been thinking some years now - thank you

william arthurs said...

In the terminology of marketing and advertising, these ceremonies would be understood as attempts to dispel "buyer's remorse".

In the C of E, every man is his own Pope, so a few years ago I splashed out on some fancy red slippers, a purchase which I almost instantly regretted despite the visual joke it provides. Only since we have been confined to our homes, have I truly accepted that they were not a waste of money after all, as I have been wearing them all day, every day.

William Oddie in The Roman Option alluded to the possibility of buyer's remorse suffered by converts from Anglicanism to Catholicism. From memory, I think he quotes a senior figure in the Church saying "You'd be out of the frying pan, into the fire." Well, times have changed since then: we have the Ordinariate; and we have PF.

Father Wilson said...

I frankly wonder, Father, whether the baptismal vows being renewed actually exist. When I am presiding at the Baptism of an infant in the new rite, the point comes when, addressing the parents and godparents, I say, "If your faith makes you ready to accept these responsibilities, renew now your own baptismal promises." And, prompted by me, they do.

In the traditional rite I am addressing the infant being baptized. The godparents respond for the child throughout. They pronounce the vows of Baptism for the child. The child's baptismal vows then come into being. The little tyke, now a child of God, has something to renew at Pentecost and Confirmation.

But no one pronounces the baptismal vows for the child in the new rite. The parents and godparents renew THEIR OWN baptismal vows -- which are probably nonexistent if they themselves were baptised after 1970, in the new rite.

When, on Easter Sunday, I exhort the people to renew the vows of Baptism, I am quite aware that only those baptized as infants before 1970 OR baptized as adults have any vows to renew! -Fr Wilson

Fr PJM said...

The renewal of Baptismal vows is not just some new-fangled, Bugninian thing. The great St Louis de Montfort used to ask or invite his penitents to renew their vows of baptism.

Frugifex said...

Whenever I am asked: “do you want to renew your wedding vows” I reply: “no thank you. Mine are still valid.”

E sapelion said...

I don't see a great problem here, apart from the initial renunciation of Satan (or of Sin) most of this is assent to the Apostles Creed. The current OF Missal encourages the use of the Apostles Creed during Lent and Easter, so the sentiments are expressed in these words regularly by the congregation.
There is problem, which is that people are often just reading these things off the page rather than expressing what is in their hearts. I have heard that clearly shown up particularly by the 'Renewal of Baptismal Promises'. People have their noses in a missalette, both forms of the renunciation are shown , with a discreet OR between them, so last year when our celebrant used the first option, and then after the third renunciation moved to 'Do you believe in God ... ', most of the congregation was flummoxed, and thinking "why is he not saying what is written in front of my nose?". The consequence was a virtually inaudible response, so that the celebrant stopped and said "You don't seem very sure of that, I'd better ask again" - sheepish laughter, and a very clear strong "I do" at the second time of asking. I think it was salutary for them.

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

Our gracious Sovereign Lady, on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, was presented with the suggestion that she might, at the service in St Paul's 'cathedral', renew her Coronation vows as a symbolic public act (we are much into those nowadays). She is reported to have refused.

She refused on the grounds that she had made her Coronation vows once for all time, and that they precisely do NOT fall into desuetude over time, and that any appearance of renewing them could only imply this. Such renewal is, in Her Majesty's eye, thus not simply a hollow and harmless sentimental act, but, by its very externals, imbued with deep and erroneous meaning.

Il faut dire qu'elle a l'ésprit Catholique!

An Liaigh said...

There is a fundamental difference between the renewal of marriage vows and baptismal or ordination vows. The vows of marriage are an essential part of the of the form of the sacrament. Without those vows, which signify the consent of the couple, no marriage can take place. Renewing these vows is then problematic because it seems to imply a repeat of the sacrament which, between any two people, can only occur once. Baptismal vows, on the other hand, are not an essential part of the sacrament and a perfectly valid baptism, even of an adult, could occur, in extremis, without them.

Banshee said...

I like renewing my baptismal vows. It is exciting, even more than saying the Credo. There's just something awesome about again and again saying what you believe and don't believe, and about clinging to Jesus while also rejecting the Devil like a dirty shirt!

I guess I'm the sort of person who Chesterton was talking about, when he talked about the joy of a child yelling "Do it again!" I like singing the alphabet, saying the times table, and renewing my baptismal vows.

But yeah, I never really thought of it as being a choice. That would be offensive, like telling kids that Confirmation is when _they_ choose the _Church_. I am in the Church and swimming in it every moment. There's no choice and none wanted.

It's like reiterating "I love you," I guess. When people love each other, they say it a lot, and it's never a "choice" to say, "I don't love you." It's the joy of repetition, but it's also a repeated entrance into a mystery.