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Monday 27 June 2011

Holy Relics – Treasures of Heaven

One of the cultural barriers to understanding the Catholic Faith is often perceived to be issues related to the saints, relics, images, pilgrimages and practices which are often subsumed under the category of popular piety.  The abuses associated with these aspects of piety in the Middle Ages have long been the source of prejudice against the Catholic Church.

When understood in the light of the official teaching (Magisterium) of the Church and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, (CCC) many of these concerns are mitigated or removed. As an example of these concerns, a consideration of the place and use of relics of our Lord and the saints may be useful.

The British Museum in London is presenting an exhibit of Christian relics beginning this month.  The title of the exhibit is “Treasures of Heaven”.  It is an exploration of the extensive social, cultural and religious use of relics in Europe since the dawn of Christianity.   Here is a link to the exhibit website:
Reliquaries today

Reliquaries are used to contain earthly remains of saints.
The reason why these abuses were possible is that relics were a powerful image of the presence of God in people's lives and were highly valued by individuals and society. In other words, like all good things, relics could be and were misused and exploited and so this became a problem in late Medieval Europe and a cause of the Reformation.  

Reliquary of St. Hildegard

Much ink has been spilled over relics, not least in the Elizabethan era as expressed in the 39 Articles of Religion in the Book of Common Prayer (1662).  Note, for example, Article XXII: Blessed John Henry Newman addressed this matter in the 19th century in his famous Tract 90 as he sought to bring Catholic renewal to Anglicanism.  After reviewing the abuses concerning saints, relics, etc. that grew up in the Middle Ages, he points out that the Council of Trent (report published in 1565, after the publication of the 39 Articles) formally corrected these abuses while maintaining the sacred and healthy tradition associated with the communion of saints as professed in the Nicene and Apostles Creeds. Newman wrote in Tract 90:
The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented.

" . . . urged by the truth of the allegation [that abuses had occurred], the Council of Trent is obliged, both to confess the above-mentioned enormities in the veneration of relics and images, and to forbid them: —
'Into these holy and salutary observances should any abuses have {305} crept, of these the Holy Council strongly [vehementer] desires the utter extinction; so that no images of a false doctrine, and supplying to the uninstructed opportunity of perilous error, should be set up . . .  All superstition also in invocation of saints, veneration of relics, and religious use of images, be put away; all filthy lucre be cast out of doors; and all wantonness be avoided; so that images be not painted or adorned with an immodest beauty; or the celebration of Saints and attendance on Relics be abused to revelries and drunkennesses; as though festival days were kept in honour of saints by luxury and lasciviousness.'   

[Council of Trent] Sess. 25."

In light of the fact that the issues surrounding the misuse of relics are now largely removed from modern consciousness, there is a great opportunity in the 21st century to visualise relics in a fresh way enhancing the doctrine of the communion of saints. Removed from much of the controversy of the past, relics continue to be a sacred presence in Catholic and Orthodox churches with their prescribed use at Mass, in altars and in various tombs, shrines and reliquaries in parish churches, cathedrals and places of pilgrimage.
Pope Benedict XVI and the Archbishop of Canterbury pray together and offer incense honouring the relics of St. Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey, A.D. 2010.

To understand the human and spiritual value of relics we need only look at the incarnational physicality that lies at the heart of Christianity.  Our faith takes the world and the human body seriously as the locus of the human soul and the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ.  Further, we are individually and collectively linked to God through the actual Body of Christ and the saints in their embodiment as the locus of the Holy Spirit transforming nature by grace.

The Church has consistently taught that we are transformed by grace and so the very flesh of the saints, or those who have displayed heroic sanctity, are mystically transformed. Little wonder that Christians would revere their bodies and items associated with them such as clothing and other “secondary” relics.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that “the communion of saints” has two closely linked meanings: communion ‘in holy things (sancta)’ and ‘among holy persons (sancti)’ CCC 948

Apart from our participation in the sacraments – assured means of grace –  through the proper celebration of rite and intention to share in holy things (sancta) we also have a continuing relationship with holy persons who have passed from the Church Militant (earth) and the Church Expectant (purification) to the Church Triumphant (heaven). As the CCC put it:

some of [our Lord’s] disciples are pilgrims on earth [Church Militant].  Others have died and are being purified [Church Expectant/ purifying in purgatory], while others are in glory contemplating the full light of God [Church Triumphant] . . .  CCC 954

Yet, we are all connected to one another through Baptism in the body of Christ and so can aid one another through prayer and intercession. For a Catholic Christian, it is no more unusual to ask a saint in glory (heaven) to pray for us than for us to ask a friend next to us to pray for us. 

We seek the companionship of friends, and their physical presence is embraced 
here on earth.  Why would we not seek to be close to the beloved saints who are in the nearer presence of God through contact with their sanctified bodily remains? The Holy Spirit sanctifies the whole person, body and soul, and so we honour the relics, the physical remains, of loved ones and saints.

Altar of St. Thomas in St. Peter's, Rome with relics of Pope St. Boniface 

Pilgrimage is a physical journey to a sacred location, a place made holy by the actions of a holy person or by the presence of their relics in an altar or shrine.  Santiago di Compostela, Lourdes, Fatima, the Jesuit Martyrs Shrine in Midland, Ontario, and many other places around the world, have been set aside as places of pilgrimage.  In a sense, every altar that contains the relic/s of a saint is a place of pilgrimage.

Relics and images of saints are honoured but never worshipped nor are saints prayed to in the sense that we pray to God, the Father, through Jesus in the power of the Spirit.  Rather, we pray with the saints or invoke their prayers:
So relics of holy ones are a very human way of evoking prayer and honouring the sacred.  Always, this is centred upon sharing in prayer through the Body of Christ, his Church, which is made up of the faithful who pray for one another both on earth and in glory.
“I prithee, ask of God’s grace . . .”
“I pray you, ask God’s blessing or God’s grace . . . .”

This is an ancient English usage, asking a saint or another friend to pray for us. There is only one object of worship for the Catholic Christian – God, the Holy Trinity.  All others, saints and the rest of us pilgrims, pray and worship God – but we worship together as one body whether we are in heaven or on earth.

Honouring saints and venerating images or relics is in no way idolatry i.e. the worship of a physical image or object, any more than honouring pictures of family members is. The veneration of images and relics is rather an expression of the Communion of Saints, praying for one another as part of one body, the Body of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We can pray for one another at all times but out of human need, many find it extremely helpful to do so in the presence of the sanctified physical presence of someone whom the Church has beatified or canonized.  A canonized saint is a person who is affirmed by the Church to be undoubtedly contemplating in the presence of the glory of God (heaven).  Sometimes indulgences are attached to shrines where relics are present but that is a topic for another day.

Finally, we pray for our own transformation by the same God, the Holy Spirit, like those we imitate, the saints. In our earthly life we naturally seek to remember and be close to them in whatever way possible because  they are, we are assured, the true treasures of heaven.

Turin Cathedral where the Shroud of Christ is kept as a relic.

Monday 20 June 2011

The Ordination of Married Men to the Priesthood

Many Catholics in the Western (Latin) Church have been discovering more about the fact that married priests have served in the Eastern Churches since the time of the Apostles and there are now again married priests in the West or Latin Rite from a variety of backgrounds.

Those Eastern Churches which have come into full communion with Rome over the past 500 years have all had married priests along with celibate clergy.  They are fully Catholic. 

The question has arisen: Since there is a long and continuous history of married priesthood in communion with Rome both East and West and there are at the moment many married priests in the Latin Rite (Anglicans and others) who have been dispensed from the rule of celibacy why should this practice not continue?

Here are some thoughts on the ordination of married men that have been shared, in part, on other blogs.

History, Development and Anglicanorum Coetibus

For the ordinariates the rules regarding the ordination of married men to the priesthood are defined constitutionally in Anglicanorum Coetibus (AC) section VI parts 1 and 2 (see below).

The first principle is that the norm of celibacy for priests of the Latin rite (in which Anglican ordinariates exist) remains the rule in the Western Church.

The provision for derogation from the rule in individual cases has been widely applied in the UK ordinariate to married men in the past few months i.e. "for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See."

There appears to be no limit or timeline attached to this. Nor does section VI part 2 (as distinct from part 1) refer exclusively to men currently in Anglican orders but simply "for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis." 

The important question arises: Are married priests as well as married deacons (currently allowed in the Latin Rite generally) part of the continuing Anglican patrimony?

A thoughtful and considerate discussion of this question needs to take place as the ordinariates establish their distinctive culture within the Catholic Church.

With regard to the ongoing process of discerning vocations to the priesthood within the ordinariates, the Complementary Norms published with AC state:
In consideration of Anglican ecclesial tradition and practice, the Ordinary may present to the Holy Father a request for the admission of married men to the presbyterate in the Ordinariate, after a process of discernment based on objective criteria and the needs of the Ordinariate.

The objective criteria referred to in the constitution will spell out the requirements for future candidates more specifically. It would be unlikely that disciplinary criteria would abrogate the intention of  the Apostolic Constitution to allow for the continuing right of each ordinary to petition the Holy Father on the basis of an already established practice of admitting married men to the presbyterate.

Pope Benedict has readily allowed such petitions in dozens of cases already at the recommendation of Mgr. Newton, the UK ordinary.

Precedent is important. The patrimony question remains to be defined in this as in other areas.


VI. § 1. Those who ministered as Anglican deacons, priests, or bishops, and who fulfil the requisites established by canon law and are not impeded by irregularities or other impediments may be accepted by the Ordinary as candidates for Holy Orders in the Catholic Church. In the case of married ministers, the norms established in the Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI Sacerdotalis coelibatus, n. 42 and in the Statement In June are to be observed. Unmarried ministers must submit to the norm of clerical celibacy of CIC can. 277, §1.

§ 2. The Ordinary, in full observance of the discipline of celibate clergy in the Latin Church, as a rule (pro regula) will admit only celibate men to the order of presbyter. He may also petition the Roman Pontiff, as a derogation from can. 277, §1, for the admission of married men to the order of presbyter on a case by case basis, according to objective criteria approved by the Holy See.

Precedent, Celibacy and Sacerdotalis Coelibatus (1967)

If the Holy Spirit prompts and the Church continues to discern, as she does at present, that married men have priestly vocations in the Anglican ordinariates (and other parts of the Catholic Church) and ordinaries continue to apply, the Pope will have good reason and precedent to confirm vocations under the clear provision of AC VI section 2.

Pope Paul’s VI’s 1967 encyclical Sacerdotalis Coelibatus states:

And that the authority of the Church does not hesitate to exercise her power in this matter can be seen from the recent Ecumenical Council, which foresaw the possibility of conferring the holy diaconate on men of mature age who are already married. (83)

Some saw this recognition of diaconal vocations as 'revolutionary' in 1967 but married deacons are now a long established principle in the life of the Latin Church which does not undermine the value of celibacy but rather enhances and complements it. The continuation of the married priesthood in Eastern Catholic and Anglican Catholic Ordinariate communities will do likewise.

To complement the freely chosen state of celibacy the encyclical offers a generous consideration of married vocations in another section of the encyclical:

42.  In virtue of the fundamental norm of the government of the Catholic Church, to which We alluded above, (82) while on the one hand, the law requiring a freely chosen and perpetual celibacy of those who are admitted to Holy Orders remains unchanged, on the other hand, a study may be allowed of the particular circumstances of married sacred ministers of Churches or other Christian communities separated from the Catholic communion, and of the possibility of admitting to priestly functions those who desire to adhere to the fullness of this communion and to continue to exercise the sacred ministry. The circumstances must be such, however, as not to prejudice the existing discipline regarding celibacy.

Development since Pius XII

The teaching and legislation of Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II (Pastoral Provision for Anglicans) and now Benedict XVI are generous affirmations of what the Holy Spirit has and is calling married men to in ordained ministry.

Married priests have been and continue to be ordained in the Church since the time of St. Peter.  It is difficult, therefore, to make a case that this continuous witness and recent affirmation by five popes can be a threat to the freely chosen gift of celibacy in the East or the West.

As the Church teaches, the gift of celibacy must be freely chosen and it is the more freely chosen by those who are supported by others who have vocations to marriage. There is no mutual exclusivity. There is no threat since both states for priests are affirmed by the Holy Spirit and confirmed by the Holy Father.

As Blessed John Henry Newman has taught us, true development meets the criteria of growth within the tradition. The tradition must and will grow as perfect love casts out fear. Celibacy has nothing to fear from the long and continuous witness of the married priesthood . . . and the Church has every blessing to gain through the continued support offered by those who are married for our brothers called to celibacy and vice versa.

Some Final Thoughts

In 1951 married priests were again formally ordained in the Western (Latin) Church, with papal dispensation, during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. This first pastoral provision was aimed at High Church Lutheran clergy in Germany concerned about the union the German Lutheran Church had arranged with the Protestant German Calvinistic Church. As recently as this year, a former Lutheran pastor was ordained: Fr. Harm Kl├╝ting.

The remarkable thing about the Pope Paul's 1967 encyclical is that it actually says, with regard to men coming from Anglican and other ecclesial communities not in communion with Rome, that they may: "continue to exercise the sacred ministry."  The words "to continue" constitute a profound affirmation of ministry and a clear statement that the ministry of married men is to continue within ecclesial communities in communion with Rome.

It is clear about the fact that married men have been and continue to be engaged in the sacred ministry along with and as a complement to celibate clergy. This was so in the early centuries of the Western Church and now has been increasingly recognized for well over half a century in the West. 

Vatican II, initiated by Pope John XXIII, opened the door to ecumenical discussion with Anglicans and others leading to the ARCIC talks under Paul VI.  These conversations many credit with leading to the welcoming of Anglicans and the ordination of married Anglican priests for the Anglican Use in the 1980s.

It is also clear, that the encyclical allowed an obviously successful "study" which resulted in the Pastoral Provision of John Paul II. The experience of individual married clergy received, ordained and leading Anglican Use parishes has now brought us to the constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. It is indeed a remarkably clear path.

Why, if the ministry of married priests continues successfully as it is now begun in the ordinariates, would such ministry be said later to be only provisional?

Again, why would approval for ordination of married men be removed from Anglican ordinariates when there is provision for the married priesthood elsewhere in the Catholic Church and when such ministry has never been absent from the life of the Church?

I understand the deep concern for the vocation of celibacy which the whole Church cherishes but not the fearfulness of what the Church has approved with regard to other vocations. We are simply attempting to read the constitution and to understand it in light of actual developments in the Church; surely this is what Newman advocated.

The provision for married priests is not only established but married clergy support those who are called to celibacy and are potentially of great benefit to Latin dioceses. Married ordinariate priests will assist in the great pastoral challenges facing other overworked Latin rite priests because they can assist in Latin parishes as priests of the Western Church. There is, then, every practical reason for the provision and no significant theological, pastoral, traditional or constitutional obstacle.

In addition, and in the experience of many, clergy wives have been a great boon and support to celibate clergy. Some of our closest relationships have been those of mutual support with people called to celibate ministry, both men and women. It is obvious to many that celibates often greatly appreciate the role of clergy wives who are a gift to the Church in their own vocations as pointed out elsewhere on this blog.

The development of ordinariates including both celibate and married priests is now the practice of the Western Church. These are developing in the spirit of Blessed John H. Newman who opposed liberalism though he himself was charged with being a modernist.

Newman saw clearly, however, that the best defence against revolution was a measured, prayerful and considered development of the Church's doctrine and discipline based upon long established principles and practices. Clearly the Holy Father agrees with Newman, as have his immediate predecessors.