Tuesday, December 08, 2009

It becomes you to be mindful of us, as you stand near Him Who granted you all graces, for you are the Mother of God and our Queen. Help us for the sake of the King, the Lord God Master ,

Who was born of you.

For this reason you are called "full of grace".

Remember us, most holy Virgin and bestow on us gifts from the riches of your graces, Virgin, full of grace. St Athanasius 373

I have been blessed to become a part of the Bagel Brothers—an unofficial coffee klatch of men who attend morning mass at St Ann in Coppell. I even received my own reusable Coffee Tumbler this last week, which allows me marvelous discounts and offsets global warming by reducing the increasing load of disposable paper cups into the local land fill. As men of good will are wont to do—we turned to deep theological discussions today and some had to come and go—so I thought I would put together a quick smattering of the uniquely Catholic tenants we touched on today and what they mean.

Papal Infallibility and Ex Cathedra –Although a uniquely Catholic concept and though it has had tenants in Sacred Scripture and statements to support it all the way back to the Early Church Fathers—you may be surprised to learn that it was until the Council of Trent (which was an answer to the Protestant questions opened by Luther and then expanded upon by later dissenters) the term papal infallibility was used mostly as a charge against the papacy by such dissenters. We must understand that it is long Catholic tradition to not going around defining things definitively until there is some question or statement of heresy to answer and correct.

Vatican I address’ the question to the Church and answers with an affirmation that indeed papal infallibility was real and therefore a tenant of the Church and as such had been believed from the beginning. But dogmatically papal infallibility was not defined as a Catholic belief that must be held until 1870.

Ex cathedra, ("from the chair"), refers to a teaching by the pope that is considered to be made with the intention of invoking infallibility. This “the chair” does not mean from the actual papal throne but refers back to the Biblical concept from the Old Testament and practiced by all the Tribes of Israel and upheld by the kings of Israel and Judah when they speak of the “chair of Moses”. God Himself tells us that Moses was unique of all men in his day that God chose to speak to him face to face, when we refused to speak to anyone else in such a manner and they live. Speak of protocol—God established from the very beginning how and when he would speak to men and then breaks those very rules to speak straight to Moses as a friend to friend.

Catholic belief that as Jesus, Himself establishes Peter as the first among the apostles and gives to him the keys of the kingdom and pronounces him the “rock” upon which He will build His Church—that HE, Jesus, was doing as His Father God had done in choosing to establish Moses as the “seat of Moses” or the one he would speak specifically to lead His people—hence we have the pope-the papal office, which we with full belief call the “chair of Peter”. When we refer to the Holy See we speak of this concept and when the Traditionalist who have broke in recent years from Rome speak of “sede vacante” they are saying the chair is empty. But, to be truly Catholic is to be someone who believes in the one who sits on the chair of Peter as being the one who affectionately and definitively speaks the Word of God to us fresh and powerfully as His Church.

In reality, popes are very select in the use of their power of infallibility. The Vatican has no official list of papal infallibility decrees and it is one of the things that moral and pastoral theologians such as myself (albeit arm-chair at best) love to sit around over coffee and debate over for hours such as issues of abortion, the preferential treatment of the poor, and the death penalty—are they infallible teachings or no? I like to laughing say that you can turn on any popular Evangelical, Protestant, or especially Charismatic preacher on the airwaves today and they will make more emphatic-infallible statements in one sermon then the Church has through her Popes in 2000 years. Rather we look to the Pope as the Holy Father to be the Pastor of the World and to be the final voice on deciding what is the accepted and formal beliefs of the Church and how they will be put into actual practice in any given age.

In fact--since July 18, 1870, this power has been used only once ex cathedra and that was in 1950 when Pius XII proclaimed the Assumption of Mary as a dogmatic dogma—an article of faith one has to believe to be Roman Catholic. Some of my readers are actually old enough that you actually had a choice to believe or not on this issue although from the beginning we have a strong belief in the Assumption of Mary. In 1950 it becomes an actual article of faith for one to believe to be Catholic—let the naysayers call us Mary worshipers—this we do believe (had to quote Father Fred). You still have many choices—even here, you can believe she died first or she did not die—that is up to you. I believe she actually did die surrounded by the beloved Apostles but if that is too much for you, you can go the other way—still takes faith since neither of us were there eh. I also buy into a young and viral St Joseph and not some tottering old man where remaining chaste was a burden—I see a manly, viral, and most upright St Joseph, but if you see an old one we can still be good and faithful Catholics. We may not even vote for the same people-hush Daniel and stop meddling—the point is we have many places where opinions are that, just opinions and many have different ones. But these things—Papal Infallibility, the Assumption of Mary body and soul into Heaven, and today’s holy day of obligation-the Immaculate Conception—these things are articles of faith-dogmatic dogmas-the things that yes we do believe to call ourselves Catholic.

J Some of you think right here you have caught me when I say only one time—remember we are Catholics—the way we say something is just as important as the thing itself. Of course now you get the brain teaser—the Immaculate Conception which was indeed defined December 8, 1854 by Pius IX ex cathedra was done so before the solemn definition of Papal Infallibility in 1870. Pius IX consulted the Bishops of the world from 1851-1853 to get a sense of how the universal faithful had believed from the beginning and in his papal bull (letter to the Church with a papal proclamation) “Ineffabilis Deus” (Ineffable God) he defines the dogma/doctrine of the Immaculate Conception: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.”—Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854

Now, I must point out the beauty of the Magisterium (hierarchy of the Church-Pope-Cardinals-Bishops) and how the Holy Spirit guides and protects the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth even though He left it in the hands of very weak, frail, and the most mortal of men. The dogma of 1854 was defined in accordance with the conditions of papal infallibility which would not even be defined until 1870 by Vatican I. The papal definition of the dogma declares with absolute authority that Mary possessed Sanctifying Grace from the first instant of her existence and was free from the lack of grace caused by Original Sin. Mary's salvation was won by her Son, Jesus Christ the Son of God and Savior of the World through his Passion, Death on the Cross, and Resurrection from the Dead and was not due to her own merits. I like to say that God reached down outside of human time and saved Mary before she was born through the very merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Again believe with faith and do not add ridiculous wrinkles to your forehead. Is it any harder to believe this than to believe that God could save you and me that Jesus really did raise from the dead and that Heaven is a wonderful place filled with glory and grace and one day God willing we can and will go and be with God as part of His family forever and ever? I know how much I loved honoring my Mom and Dad all the days of their lives and live to honor them even now long after they are both dead. I know how blessed and honored I am by my own children who strive so hard to please me and the many things they do for me out of such love. How easy it is to believe that a God who is love and full of All-power and who chose to empty Himself of Divine Attributes and become man—that such a God would not safe-guard the very vessel that would hold and nourish Him from the very moment of conception by the Holy Spirit. The God of Power and Might of the Old Testament had a very exact formula for the Ark of the Testament to hold his Written Word of God—how much more special would He feel about and protect His Ark that was to hold and carry the Word Made Flesh—Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God?

According to Vatican I and Catholic tradition, the conditions required for ex cathedra teaching from the Pope to be infallible are:

1. It has to be the Pope-the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church

2. He has to speak “ex cathedra" through the authority of his apostolic office

3. He has to define

4. A doctrine concerning faith or morals—he does not profess to be a brain surgeon or even to be able to drive the Pope mobile—but in matters of faith and morals-he defines the doctrine, and even then to be papal infallible it

5. Must be held by the whole Church-the teaching must be clear that the Church is to believe this—to consider it definitive and binding on them as Catholics.

Traditionally the manner of these definitive decrees have a time-followed formula which either has one or both—a verbal proclamation that the teaching is definitive—We declare, we decree, we define…and/or an accompanying anathema (cut off, separated, excommunicated, outside the Church) stating that to dissent from this separates you from the Grace of the Church, but that it is possible to be received back in the good graces of the Church by affirming the belief of the Church.

For example, in 1950, with Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII's infallible definition regarding the Assumption of Mary, there are attached these words: “Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which We have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.”

As I said earlier-the Vatican has given no complete list of papal statements considered to be infallible. But, again as a reminder of the presence of the Holy Spirit and how He protects the office of the Pope-the Seat of Peter, it is interesting that in 1998 while still Cardinal Ratzinger—our now Pope Benedict XVI while the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did list a number of instances of papal and ecumenical council statements of infallibility and to complete these musings by answering another—he lists as one point of reference on that list-- Leo XIII’s declaration in Apostolicae Curae that Anglican orders are “absolutely null and utterly void” as one of the teachings to which Catholics must give “firm and definitive assent”. These teachings are not understood by the Church as revealed doctrines but are rather those which the church’s teaching authority finds to be so closely connected to God's revealed truth that belief in them is required in order to safeguard the divinely revealed truths of the Christian Faith. Those who fail to give “firm and definitive assent”, according to the commentary, would “no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church”.

J That should leave the door open for another coffee klatch indeed. If you are not coming to coffee, see what you are missing.

Final musings:

In July 2005 Pope Benedict XVI asserted during an impromptu address to priests in Aosta that: “The Pope is not an oracle; he is infallible in very rare situations, as we know."

Some declared statements from the Council of Trent (16TH Century) of interest to Catholics today:

Ordination (twenty-third session) was defined to imprint an ontological mark an indelible character on the soul. The priesthood of the New Testament takes the place of the Levitical priesthood. To the performance of its functions, the consent of the people is not necessary.

In the decrees on marriage (twenty-fourth session) the excellence of the celibate state was reaffirmed concubinage condemned and the validity of marriage made dependent upon its being performed before a priest and two witnesses—although the lack of a requirement for parental consent ended a debate that had proceeded from the twelfth century. In the case of a divorce, the right of the innocent party to marry again was denied so long as the other party is alive, even if the other may have committed adultery.

Quick musing and reflections after this morning’s coffee with the Bagel Boys of St Ann’s,


Feast of the Immaculate Conception

December 8, 2009