August 19, 2012

A Catholic Vice-President? It was an interesting week or so for Catholics in the American public square. Last Saturday, for the first time, the Republican’s nominated (albeit unofficially) a Catholic to their national ticket, Rep. Paul Ryan from Wisconsin. This also sets up another first for our country: both major parties’ candidates for Vice- President will be Catholic. It will make for an interesting race. It will also highlight a key problem in the Catholic Church in this country: the contrast between Catholics who faithfully follow the Popes’ doctrinal teachings and Catholics who prefer a more “cafeteria” approach—picking and choosing which doctrines they will follow and which they will ignore. Unfortunately the Democrat candidate and incumbent Vice-President, Joe Biden, falls into the latter category. This has been a source of great scandal to the Church in America, especially since Mr. Biden is an enthusiastic supporter of abortion, “gay marriage,” and his administration’s attacks on religious liberty—all of which classify him among those Catholics “who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin,” and are therefore “not to be admitted to Holy Communion” (Code of Canon Law, Canon 915). Mr. Ryan, on the other hand, is staunchly pro-life, pro-traditional-marriage, and pro-religious liberty, and by all accounts—including the public account of his Bishop—a faithful, devout and practicing Catholic.

Some will say Mr. Ryan is a “bad Catholic” because they say his efforts to balance the budget will adversely affect the poor. This charge rises largely from those 1) who misrepresent Mr. Ryan’s position on the issues and 2) misunderstand the Church’s teaching on social justice. This will also generate a very interesting discussion during the campaign, in as much as after hearing both Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan speak on social justice it is clear to me that Mr. Ryan has a much deeper and thorough understanding of Catholic teaching on social justice than Mr. Biden does. Personally, I can’t wait for Mr. Ryan to explain the Church’s teaching on subsidiarity to Mr. Biden (see my column on May 6, 2012). Not to mention the Church’s doctrine on abortion, marriage and religious liberty.

Obama invited to Catholic Banquet. This week we also found out that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, had invited President Obama to the annual “Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner,” a huge celebrity filled event used to raise mega-bucks for various Catholic charities in the Archdiocese. This has caused no little consternation among some Catholics, especially those who are fired up—under Dolan’s leadership—to defend the Church against the President’s attacks on the Church’s religious liberty, particularly manifested in his efforts to force Catholic employers to provide contraception, abortifacients, and sterilization to their employees. Many are concerned, thinking that, at a minimum, this will surely cause many ordinary Catholics to think that Cd. Dolan is backing off and signaling that all is well between the Church and the President—which it is clearly not.
I sympathize with this concern, but I also recognize that leaders have to lead; they have to make prudential judgments about how to fight the battle. While we can disagree with their prudential judgments on “tactics” we need to be careful not to rush to publicly condemn them or to privately presume the worst about them.

Cd. Dolan has publicly explained his reasons for inviting Mr. Obama to this dinner, and made it clear that the invitation, “in no way indicates a slackening in our vigorous promotion of values we Catholic bishops believe to be at the heart of both gospel and American values, particularly the defense of human dignity, fragile life, and religious freedom.”

He explains that by inviting both candidates for the presidency, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, he hopes to show to them and to all the Church’s posture of active engagement in the public square, and to encourage respectful dialogue in public discourse (which is so sadly lacking today).

Frankly, I might not have extended the invitation. But then again, I’m not the Cardinal Archbishop of New York! And who knows, maybe His Eminence has a few choice and pointed words that he plans to deliver at the dinner… With charity and good humor (his hallmark), but also with clarity and truth. Who knows? In the meantime, let’s pray for him and all the bishops as they continue to lead the fight for our religious liberty, and the other critical causes of pro-life and pro-marriage.

Blessings during the distribution of Holy Communion. Many people have asked me why little children who are too young (or adults who are otherwise unable) to receive Holy Communion, but come up in the Communion line for a blessing do not receive that blessing from the priests at St. Raymond’s. Some point out that other priests have encouraged this practice. Unfortunately, after studying this matter carefully, I long ago decided that this practice is not only not the most preferable pastorally, but also that it is prohibited by the liturgical laws of the Church.

First of all, this is the Communion line, not the “blessing line.” It seems to me a very imprudent practice to mix the two, suggesting that a blessing somehow compares in worth to sacramental Communion. Moreover, just a few minutes later the priest blesses everyone before he sends them out into the world at ends the Mass. Why do we need to do it twice?

The reason most people seem to seek a blessing, especially parents for their children, is so that they will not feel “left out.” But is it so terrible to feel left out of something we are not ready for? It’s part of life, part of growing up for kids. Doesn’t it say to them: “this is something very, very special that one day, when you’re old enough, and if you prepare yourself, you will be able to join in”? Doesn’t that, in turn, enliven a true reverence and desire for the sacrament?

But even if you disagree with this assessment, careful study indicates that the priest is actually specifically prohibited from giving the blessing at this time. First of all, Vatican II, the Popes and Canon Law repeatedly admonish us: “no one, not even a priest, may on his own authority add, omit, or change anything in the Liturgy.” Since there is nothing, either in our tradition or in the current liturgical books, that provides for or allows this blessing, this admonition clearly applies.

Some point out that blessings are given all the time at various parts of the Mass—e.g., blessings of catechists, extraordinary ministers, etc.. But the thing is, all these blessings come from the “Roman Ritual” (a set of official liturgical books of the Church) so the priest is not “add[ing] anything.” Moreover, the norms of the Roman Ritual specifically provide: “some blessings …may sometimes be joined with the celebration of Mass. This book specifies what such blessings are….No blessings except those so specified may be joined with the eucharistic celebration.” To me, this prohibition clearly applies to the blessings during Communion.

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