Holy Eucharist


  1. Is it fair to call the Novus Ordo a Protestantized Mass?
  2. Can we expect grace and mercy from God if we offer Him a Protestantized Mass?
  3. Is there any evidence that there is less grace in the world today than in 1964?

As the Church enters in many places a strange sort of Holy Saturday (though at least the chants of Tenebrae are heard on Holy Saturday), here is a passage from St Robert Bellarmine which I came across recently, about the phrase ‘the Breaking of the Bread’ as a name for the Mass.  Some of the Tablety sort of people seem to like this phrase because they think (if truth be told) that it is a bit Protestant.  Bellarmine discusses it while speaking of the Scriptural passages that teach the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist:

The second argument is drawn from the words ‘The bread which we break’ (1 Cor. 10).  For in the mystery of the Eucharist, breaking is the same as immolating or offering.  This is clear from the words of Paul in 1 Cor. 11: ‘This is my body which is broken for you.’  For Calvin too, and Martyr [the Protestant controversialist Peter Martyr Vermigli] and many Catholics understand this of the passion, and Calvin says expressly, ‘To be broken here means the same as to be immolated’.  Therefore in this place too, breaking will be immolation: for it is the same word, of the same author, in the same epistle, and treating of the same subject.

This is confirmed by the fact that Paul speaks about the chalice with words that have to do with its consecration, not its distribution; for he doesn’t say, ‘the chalice which we drink’, but ‘the chalice which we bless’.  Therefore in speaking of the bread, he must also have used words having to do with its consecration, not with its distribution (‘Controversies on the Sacrament of the Eucharist’, Bk. 1, chapter 12).

To prevent the spread of Covid-19, parishioners of our church are asked to receive Holy Communion in the hand, not on the tongue. Let’s see:

Option (1) Priest, servers and sacristan thoroughly wash hands with soap upon entering sacristry and directly before the start of Holy Mass. The sacristan opens the sacristry door. The priest refrains from touching his face during Holy Mass. He administers Holy Communion on the tongue. As he is used to doing this, he completely avoids touching his parishioners. Risk of infection: extremely low.

Option (2) Parishioners enter church, with or without washing hands immediately before. Everyone, healthy or sick, touches doorknob on entering, takes hymnal that several other people have touched during the last four days, touches bench that several other people have touched during the last four days, may or may not cough, sneeze or touch their faces and then touch hymnal / bench again, then receives Holy Communion in their hand. Yeah. Sound so much safer.

The good Cardinal Sarah has been in the news recently for saying that the two kinds of Mass should eventually merge into a ‘common, reformed rite’. Joseph Shaw observes: ‘It seems that the most trad-friendly Prelates of the Church actually want the Traditional Mass to disappear.’ He has some other sensible things to say about the problem with a general adoption of the revised lectionary and calendar.

An even more basic problem is that the framers of the Pauline missal envisaged the Mass as different sort of thing from what it had been up till then. The late Fr Brian Houghton said in one of his books that the reformers wish to personalise the Mass, and that their opponents wish it to be anonymous, and concluded logically enough: ‘The two aims are not compatible’ (I quote from memory).

(Incidentally, I hear a rumour that Fr. Houghton’s two novels and his autobiography may be republished. Buy them, if they are.)

Putting it in another way: the reformers envisaged the Mass as something done by everyone there, clergy and laity. I don’t mean that they would have rejected the doctrine about the essential difference between the priesthood of the ordained and that of all the baptised. Perhaps some of them would have done, but I know of no reason to think so (except for reasons for thinking that one or more of them rejected all Christian doctrines, e.g. evidence that Bugnini was a freemason).

I mean that what they wanted the Mass to feel like, was something done by everyone, as a good host at a dinner-party wants everyone to talk, so that the thing will be a success. The Mass was to feel like a sacred dinner-party, and the priest’s job would be to bring everyone out. Isn’t this implied by the famous article 7 of the GIRM? “The Lord’s Supper, or Mass, is the sacred meeting or congregation of the people of God assembled, the priest presiding, to celebrate the memorial of the Lord.” Rorate suggests that these may have been ‘most influential liturgical words written in the 20th century’.

What the traditional Mass feels like, on the other hand, is something done by the clergy in the sanctuary, to which those in the nave unite themselves.

Now, in the latter case, the feeling corresponds to the reality. The Mass is something done by those in the sanctuary (litanies, readings, prayers, offertory, consecration, priest’s communion). Those in the nave unite themselves to this reality. This is sufficiently  proved by the fact that the Mass can be done with no one in the nave, but not with no one in the sanctuary.

Cardinal Sarah says that the ‘theologies’ of the two Masses are compatible. I am not sure if I know what this means. But I am confident that the wishes of the framers of the Pauline missal were not compatible with the reality of the Sacrifice which Christ left us.

‘At Alexandria, the birthday of St Athanasius, bishop of that city, most celebrated for sanctity and learning. Almost all the world had formed a conspiracy to persecute him’ (from the Roman Martyrology for 2nd May)

Athanasius! Thou art living at this hour

Though night has seized and manned each highest tower

Where sons of light in pleasant opium’s power

Lie sleeping still, or ‘wake but speechless cower;

As once across the Alexandrine main

Thou gazed’st and saw’st the world dissolve again

In weakness, whom the true Son’s blessed pain

Had scarce delivered from the unclean reign.

   For Him thou wander’dst then in every land.

   The Gallic snows thou felt’st upon thy face

   And lay’st concealed amid the pious sand

   While Caesar’s thundering armies sought thy trace.

   Five times a beggar, six times thou held’st the throne.

   Father, but once, restore us to our own.

There is a potentially serious division among faithful Catholics about how to respond to “The Joy of – ” . I can certainly understand the argument of those, such as Joseph Shaw and Fr Ray Blake, who warn us not to make too much of it, lest we play into the hands of the opposition. By creating the perception that the pope is undermining doctrine, they say, you will strengthen those who wish to undermine doctrine; better to point out, rather, that AL makes no change to canon law, and does not say in plain words, ‘those in invalid marriages can receive Holy Communion if their pastors think it helpful’.

But my question to people who think like this is: “Independently of what we say about the matter, is the pope undermining doctrine or is he not?” If we think that he is, there needs to be an adequate response. Now the New Testament gives us an example of a pope undermining doctrine, and of the adequate response that was made to it.

When St Peter began at Antioch ‘not to walk correctly according to the truth of the Gospel’ (Gal. 2: 14), St Paul did not content himself with preaching the truth that was being undermined. He did not limit himself to saying in sermons or letters that Gentiles could be true Christians without being circumcised. Rather, he ‘withstood’ or ‘resisted’ Peter directly, asking him in public how he could act as he was doing. He realised that a simple statement of doctrine was not enough in those circumstances to keep that doctrine safe.

Pope Francis, unfortunately, is also undermining a truth of the gospel, namely the indissolubility of marriage, by encouraging debate about a matter that has never been uncertain, by praising the most notorious advocate of the heretical opinion, by issuing a document clearly designed not to teach the true opinion, and by giving free rein to those who use this document to uphold the heretical opinion. A striking example of this last thing is the editorial of Fr Spadaro SJ in La Civilta Cattolica, ‘the pope’s magazine’. Fr Spadaro writes: “The exhortation incorporates from the synodal document the path of discernment of individual cases without putting limits on integration, as appeared in the past.” Sandro Magister notes in the article I have linked to that Fr Spadaro is a closer adviser and confidant of the pope, and adds:

The presentation that Spadaro made of it in “La Civiltà Cattolica” was given to Francis to read before it was sent to press. One more reason to take this exegesis of the document as authorized by him, and therefore revealing of his real intentions.

For these reasons, I do not think it will be enough in the present crisis, for bishops simply to repeat the orthodox teaching. That does not particularly bother the other side: ‘pastoral pluralism’, after all, is enough for these people, and they are ready to wait for the rigid bishops to reach retirement age and then to be replaced by more accommodating and joyful ones.

Doubtless, if there were a unanimity or quasi-unanimity of bishops clearly teaching the traditional position, then it would not be necessary to make a protest about AL; but in the absence of that unanimity, a unanimity which already seems impossible, the undermining of marriage will go on, and AL’s part in that will need to be publicly confronted.

So I believe that in the present emergency it will soon be necessary for some bishop, or better, many bishops, to withstand the pope publicly, clearly, respectfully, courageously.

Some years ago, when the anti-apartheid agitation was at its height in the western media and among popular singers, drummers, and electric guitarists (those stern guardians of morality), a certain breakfast cereal had the slogan ‘Free Nelson Mandela!’ emblazoned on the outside of the box. I remember hearing about a chap, obviously not too well versed in international politics, who duly emptied his box of cereals and was miffed at not finding his free Nelson Mandela inside. He didn’t know what it was, but he wanted one.

So please understand that I am not giving anything away gratis in this blog-post. No, I am referring to the need to free the angelic doctor from the positions which he is used to support in the recent apostolic exhortation, ‘The Joy of — ‘.

The first mention of St Thomas is in para. 99, where the document quotes the words from STh 2a 2ae, 114, 2 ad 1: “Every human being is bound to live agreeably with those around him”. This is not too bad, though it omits the second half of the sentence, which is nisi propter aliquam causam necesse sit aliquando alios utiliter contristare (“unless it should be necessary for him for some reason to cause them profitable sadness at some time”).

The next mention is in section 102, where the document quotes St Thomas as teaching that it is more characteristic of charity to love than to be loved. This is quoted in support of the claim that the only value of loving oneself is that it is “a psychological prerequisite for being able to love others”. The quotation from Aquinas is fairly accurate (though one could quibble at the translation of maxime  as ‘the most’ rather than as ‘very much’); but he did not think that love of oneself was only important as a sine qua non for loving others. No, loving oneself is valuable as such. In fact, in the order of charity, a man is bound to love himself before any other creature. St Thomas explains that this is why it is never licit to commit a sin for any end whatsoever. By contrast, making love of neighbour as what is valuable for its own sake, and denying that love of self is valuable for its own sake, opens the way to sinning for the good of one’s neighbour.

In paragraph 120, the document quotes St Thomas’s description of love as a vis unitiva, a unifying force. This is unexceptionable, although he is not as one might suppose from the context of the citation speaking of conjugal love, but of love in God. Something similar can be said about the quotation of  his description of love as a ‘union of affection’ or ‘affective union’, which again the document quotes as if it were said specially of married love. There is nothing much wrong here, though at least a ‘cf.’ before the reference to the Summa would have been in order.

The use of St Thomas that is made in paragraphs 123, 126-7, and 134 appears to me good.

Paragraph 145, however, says: “Experiencing an emotion is not, in itself, morally good or evil. The stirring of desire or repugnance is neither sinful nor blameworthy.  What is morally good or evil is what we do on the basis of, or under the influence of, a given passion.” It footnotes Sth 1a 2ae 24, 1. This is objectionable. What St Thomas says here is that no emotion, abstractly considered, is either good or bad. Not even hatred is bad as such, since it is good to hate sin. But actually existing emotions are either good or bad, even independently of what may be done under their influence. St Thomas says: ipsae passiones, secundum quod sunt voluntariae, possunt dici bonae vel malae moraliter. Dicuntur autem voluntariae vel ex eo quod a voluntate imperantur, vel ex eo quod a voluntate non prohibentur (“The emotions themselves, insofar as they are voluntary, can be called morally good or bad. And they are said to be voluntary insofar as they are commanded by the will, or else because they are not checked by the will.”)

Paragraph 146 cites the angelic doctor in connection with the statement that: “A family is mature when the emotional life of its members becomes a form of sensitivity that neither stifles nor obscures great decisions and values, but rather follows each one’s freedom”. The citation is a bit strange, since St Thomas says nothing about families or great decisions and values or freedom in it; he just explains in what sense emotions co-exist with moral virtues. However, there is no particular harm in citing him, I suppose.

Paragraph 148 first of all cites the angelic doctor in support of the statement that excessive seeking of some pleasure can weaken or taint that same pleasure. This is alright. Personally I find the use of the next quotation, in a footnote to the same paragraph, somewhat distasteful in its context, and there is no attempt to give a well-rounded account of St Thomas’s teaching on the relation between the use of matrimony and virtue; but let us pass on.

Now, paragraph 301. Here the pope states that people, and from the context he is speaking of Catholics, can be living in irregular (e.g. adulterous) situations and may know the Church’s teaching on ‘the rule’, and yet may be unable to see the point of ‘the rule’. These people, he says, may possess sanctifying grace and may be unable to obey the rule without sinning. This is contrary to Trent; but here I am considering only the use which Amoris Laetitia makes of St Thomas. And it quotes him in support of this position! “Saint Thomas Aquinas himself recognized that someone may possess grace and charity, yet not be able to exercise any one of the virtues well.” As Joseph Shaw has pointed out, this quotation is completely irrelevant to the matter at hand. St Thomas is talking of people who have repented of past sins, and who keep the moral law, but do so with some difficulty because of the effect that those past sins have left behind. It is hard not to see this as a cynical misuse of the angelic doctor.

Paragraph 304 seeks to recruit St Thomas in favour of having no unvarying law about how to act towards those in e.g. adulterous situations. It quotes a passage from 1a 2a 94, 4: “Practical reason deals with contingent things, upon which human activity bears, and so although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects…  In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles.” Presumably one is supposed to think that St Thomas would have said that therefore you can’t have a fixed principle of not giving Holy Communion to those who live in an adulterous relationship, but only a defeasible presumption of not doing so. The problem with this is that it ignores his, and the Church’s, teaching about intrinsically evil actions. Since some actions are intrinsically evil, one can indeed have unvarying negative precepts, saying that such and such a thing must never be done, whatever the circumstances. Affirmative precepts, on the other hand, such as giving back a loaned article when the lender requires it, bear on a good to be done and not on an evil to be avoided, and since goodness requires not only a good object but also the right circumstances, affirmative precepts can be suspended in particular cases (e.g. don’t return a gun to a madman.) The precept of not giving Holy Communion to those in public mortal sin is a negative precept, based on the intrinsic evil of dishonouring the Church.

In a footnote to the same paragraph, the document says: ‘In another text, referring to the general knowledge of the rule and the particular knowledge of practical discernment, Saint Thomas states that “if only one of the two is present, it is preferable that it be the knowledge of the particular reality, which is closer to the act”.’ This is a reference to the commentary on the Nicomachaea ethics, Book 6, lecture 6, section 11. It is misleading. St Thomas does not contrast rules and discernment here, but universal truths and more particular truths. He gives the example of someone who knows that ‘light flesh’ is healthy to eat, but doesn’t know what counts as light flesh, and someone else who doesn’t know the general principle about ‘light flesh’, but does know that the flesh of birds is healthy to eat. The latter person is a better guide to diet. So St Thomas is not saying that the priest who knows that Mrs Smith really loves her new husband but has never heard that one should not give Holy Communion to those in adultery is in a better position to judge what to do at the altar-rails, but that a priest who knows that one should not give Holy Communion to those in public adultery, but doesn’t know the general principle that one should not give It to those in public sin, is in a better position to decide what to do than one who knows that one should not give It to those in public sin, but who has no idea about what counts as public sin.

I didn’t notice any other references to the Angelic Doctor in this document.

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