Saturday, August 29, 2009

‘Do you call twenty several?’

While researching the topic of indulgences I was asked how long after the principle act of earning the indulgence a person had to fulfill the obligation of receiving the sacramental Confession. I came across the following passage on the Vatican Website.

5. It is appropriate, but not necessary, that the sacramental Confession and especially Holy Communion and the prayer for the Pope's intentions take place on the same day that the indulgenced work is performed; but it is sufficient that these sacred rites and prayers be carried out within several days (about 20) before or after the indulgenced act. Prayer for the Pope's intentions is left to the choice of the faithful, but an "Our Father" and a "Hail Mary" are suggested. One sacramental Confession suffices for several plenary indulgences, but a separate Holy Communion and a separate prayer for the Holy Father's intentions are required for each plenary indulgence.


This clarifies the question nicely, but raises a new question, since when does "several" mean "about 20"? Frankly this reminds me of the passage in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, where Gandalf begins to slowly introduce their company of 15 to Beorn and he begins by calling them "several" so as not to alarm him by their large number.

Gandalf says to Beorn,

"There was a terrible storm; stone-giants were out hurling rocks, and at the head of the pass we took refuge in a cave, the hobbit and I and several of our companions . . ."

'Do you call two several?'

'Well, no. As a matter of fact there were more than two."

Gandalf eventually introduces 13 dwarves.

Hmm, I think it's time for "elevensies" and since it is hot perhaps we should have "several" cold drinks.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Indulging in the Mystery of the Church.

A recent Vatican document offers the following definition of an indulgence:

1. This is how an indulgence is defined in the Code of Canon Law (can. 992) and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1471): "An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints".

My guess is that most outside observers thing that and indulgence is the forgiveness of the guilt of sin directly and not "the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven." Perhaps this is easiest to understand using an analogy. If I break my arm and then have the break set, wear a cast until it is healed. I am able to use my arm again but is it as good a new? The answer is no. My arm is weaken by this experience. This is paralleled to what happens in the soul. I have obtained forgiveness but my past sinful behavior has left my soul weak and filled with imperfections that need to be healed by God's grace. If I die in friendship with God but still filled with imperfections I will need to be purified by God's love before I can spend eternity in his loving presence. Catholics call this purification purgation or purgatory. We find this purgation by fire (most likely a reference to God's love) in Scripture in 1 Corinthians 3:10-16. Just to be absolutely clear this isn't about "being saved" but about the later divine perfection of the soul. Protestant theologians also believe in this under the heading of the final perfection and glorification of the soul. What is different for some (perhaps most Protestants) is the denial on their part of the role of the Church as a Sacrament of Salvation.

My guess is that it also smacks to some of something mechanistic. Again this is to misunderstand how this works. The penitent receiving the indulgence is enjoined to make their heart right with God seeking sacramental forgiveness for any serious sins, then to receive our Lord lovingly in the Holy Eucharist, and to pledge to abstain from attachment even to less serious sin and false habits in their life. These are called the "normal conditions" which must accompany the successful reception of the indulgence. An indulgence is then a call to holiness and a gift of grace from the Church.

All of this may raise more questions than it answers, but it is rooted in love and relationship and the mystery of the Church.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Where have all the Baptists Gone?

Recently Mark Shea drew attention to an article entitled, "THE CHURCH FATHERS: A DOOR TO ROME" by self-proclaimed Fundamentalist Baptist David Cloud who warned his flock not to read the Church Fathers because they were too Catholic. What David Cloud apparently does not see is that if the Apostles were Fundamentalist Baptists just like him, what happen to the Baptists in the second century? Historically this radical juncture demands an explanation. What could have caused the Church to so radically alter her course? Where did her new compass come from?

Hmm! Wait a minute. What if the opposite is true? What if the Church was originally Catholic, with bishops and the celebration of the Eucharist? O yes, her prayers and liturgies developed, but the lines of continuity are much stronger that the supposed radical break that Cloud proposes. Frankly his proposal doesn't make a shred of historical sense. But hey, don't take my word for it. Make up your own mind. Read the Fathers! J