All That I Have Written Is Straw. . .

Meanderings of a Catholic Devout

What I learned this semester (Fall 2012)

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I’m in the habit of updating those who are genuinely interested in my graduate studies, I figured I’d update this blog once again with my enlightenment near the end of 2012.

I’ll list these by course.

19th Century Catholic Church in Crisis

At my final examination—which was a presentation of my research paper and not a regurgitation of lecture notes—we were asked three questions:

  1. What was the most important notion to come out of the Liberal Catholic movement of the 19th century?
  2. What, if anything, did the Church get wrong, or should have delayed?
  3. What was the most meaningful concept to me personally from this century?

Will these in mind, let me first list my enlightenments and some of these may be completely obvious to history buffs, but history has never been my best subject:

  • As an American who’s taken only a few European history courses, it didn’t seem like it was such a mess as it was as recently as the 19th century. Perhaps that’s due to the fact that when I was younger, the 19th century seemed ancient. Now that I’m older, I have more perspective about the relativity of time.
  • John Henry Newman was brilliant. Yes, I know this is biased. But every Roman Catholic should know who he is and why he was so important to the Roman Catholic cause.  So much so, I wrote a previous blog about him and Lord Acton. It really demonstrates that one person can cause such a conversion in so many others (Oxford Movement). Vatican II is sometimes referred to as “Newman’s Council.”
  • The loss of the Papal States during the unification of the Italian states was probably the best thing that could have happened for the Church. The pope really didn’t need to concern himself with administrative powers of state. I know Pius IX didn’t see it that way at the time, but even Newman could foresee that without the lands, the pope is actually more powerful.
  • The Roman Catholic Church didn’t make a stand for poverty and worker’s rights until Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum in 1891, long after the Industrial Revolution was underway.
  • Liberal Catholicism, while controversial in its day, is the foundation of the Vatican II and post-Vatican II era.  The modern RC Church reflects this.  I lament that so many priests and laity (e.g., Lamennais, Döllinger, etc.) were excommunicated for interpretations of faith that are so commonly held today (e.g., right to education, authority of conscience, historicity, biblical criticism, evolution, etc.)
  • It was not uncommon for 10% or less of Roman Catholics in England to have education; while Protestants were 80% or more educated prior to Newman’s efforts to reform Catholic education in Ireland and England.
  • The French, while very pro-revolution during this century, also insisted on holding onto Catholicism and often rejected plans by Napoléon III to limit the Church’s powers.
  • Social justice causes were successful in this century but did not always cross the pond to the US.
  • I wrote my research paper on Léon Harmel (link to French wikimedia article), a Catholic social reformer and factory owner, who incorporated just wages, family wages, workers rights, reduced and eventually eliminated child labor, and insurances and pensions services 100 years before his time. He led worker pilgrimages five times to Rome and was a personal fried with Leo XIII before and after Rerum Novarum. (Because only one biography exists on him in English, I was able to scan the French version of his writing (1879) and will post it on Google books for researchers to access.) Why hadn’t anyone noted the influence of this man in the Church before???
  • I have a newfound respect for the role that newspapers played in communication amongst scholars of different areas. Journals and periodic reviews were the 19th century version of email.
  • The documentation and public promulgation of Papal Infallibility did more to prohibit the cause of ecumenism and reunification of Protestant denominations than any other doctrine. This doctrine, while observed in Tradition, should have waited until much later. Fortunately, the fathers of Vatican I were able to at least define the scope to matters of morality and spirituality. It’s implementation, sadly, left much to be desired. This is one of the darker moments of Church history.
  • Speaking of Vatican I, the attending bishops and archbishops did not have an agenda that included Papal Infallibility on it. Less voted for it than history would make us believe–many died or left the Council before the vote.
  • Rerum Novarum was, for me, the best thing to come out of the 19th century Church. Despite its delay, the Church was wise to take neither a capitalistic nor socialistic stance on capital and labor, but rather adhered to natural law. It finally began to confront social justice issues for the first time as the Industrial Age necessitated.

So many more little details I could list. . . may edit later as my mind unloads the data I’ve collected.

History and Theology of the Sacraments

This class wasn’t the most “enlightening” course I’ve taken to date, possibly because I had already been familiar with the sacraments and their theology to some extent. That doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a thing or two, which makes me a better Catholic on Sundays:

  • With a little Schillebeeckx influence, I first read a book about the concept of sacramentality. It discussed Christ himself as sacrament and the Church as another, making a total of nine sacraments by default. Considering that sacrament means “mystery” and doesn’t necessarily have a strict definition, I thought this theory made much sense, but for all practical intents and purposes, I’ll stick to saying there are seven sacraments.
  • The structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church mirrors the process of adult initiation in the early Church.
  • Hierarchy of Truths:
    • Trinity
    • Person of Jesus
    • Paschal Mystery
    • Dignity of the Human Person
    • The Church

One may come to these conclusions in this order or vice versa. I might write more about this later in a separate blog.

  • In case I had forgotten or ever forget, all sacraments lead to the Eucharist. It takes pride of place among all.
  • The Roman Missal is always being changed. The rubrics of the Church are changing, too. If we groans about the 2011 revisions to the Roman Missal in the US, just take a look back into history.
  • Baptism and confirmation were combined and often accompanied with exorcisms and laying on of hands until the time of Charlemagne when they were separated in two different rites. Technically, a bishop baptizes, but due to volume, he delegates his power to a priest.
  • Catholic baptism must include water and the Trinitarian formula. Councils clarified this over time: only one baptism. If the intention of conferring God’s grace and Trinitarian formula were used, it is valid—even if the priest was not in a state of grace or excommunicated.
  • Confirmation “perfects” baptism. That doesn’t mean that baptism is not a complete sacrament. Only bishops can confirm with chrism except in rare cases.
  • Infant baptism places responsibility on parents and godparents for consent. Confirmation allows one to give full consent.
  • Transubstantiation is NOT consubstantiation. The Eucharist becomes the Body of Christ. Although, it is not the only presence of Christ in the liturgy (e.g., the Word).
  • The Liturgy of the Word is not a preparation of Eucharist. It’s an integral part of Mass and a celebration of God speaking to us.
  • The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick was changed from last rites (Extreme Unction) at Vatican II so that it could include the sick and elderly, not just the dying—any time there is a risk of death, including before serious surgeries.
  • Anointing can only be done by a priest or bishop, but the oil must be blessed by a bishop (on Holy Thursday) except in extreme or rare cases.
  • The oil used in Anointing has to be plant-based (with rare exceptions). . . specifically, olive oil in the Roman Rite.
  • It is called Viaticum only at the time of impending death.
  • Last rites include: confession, anointing and Eucharist (Viaticum), hopefully received in the context of a Mass, but that’s not always feasible.
  • Only three positions are eligible for Holy Orders: deacon, priest and bishop; other roles are “appointed.”
  • Prayers invoking the Holy Spirit vary in petition: for deacons, the prayer is for service and zeal; for priests, it is for helpfulness.
  • The laity are sharers in holiness: we are priests, prophets (proclaiming the Word), and kings (service).
  • Three degrees of hierarchical priesthood: deacon (order of service), priest (co-worker of the bishop) and episcopal [bishop]  (fullness the sacrament of Holy Orders).
  • Cardinal is an honor, not an ordination. Pope is the bishop of Rome.
  • Permanent deacon is a married man. Transitional deacons are seminarians who are studying to be priests (after a number of years, naturally).
  • Marriage is covenantal, not contractual and required mutuality (coming together), trust, love and service to each other.
  • The first “Christian” marriages did not differ from pagan practices (Letter to Diognetus). Christians did not want to avoid local customs, only idolatrous sacrifices.
  • Betrothal with a ring didn’t occur until possibly the third century as an official act (not to be confused with ceremony, as that which occurred with Mary and Joseph).
  • Witnesses have been required since the 1st century.
  • In the first three centuries, traditions such as dressing of the bride, home weddings, witnesses and celebrating in the evening (for the girl to leave home to join her husband) had developed.
  • Early practices included the bride being accompanied by an older female relative (not her father).
  • The idea of consent is borrowed by the Church from the Romans.
  • The encouragement to marry other Christians was to avoid marriages of lust and to protect against objections to the faith.
  • By the Middle Ages, marriages were at the door of the church, not inside of it.
  • Council of Trent required a canonical form in order for the marriage to be deemed “valid;” validity occurs if a priest witnesses; this put more emphasis on the priest’s role than the couple’s role.
  • Vatican II encouraged Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist to be present and the emphasis put on the consent of the couple and less emphasis on the priest.

A pretty exhaustive list, but this is meant to track my own development.


Written by Written Straw

December 18, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Catholic

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