Sunday, May 4, 2008

What of the Need for Confession: Proper Reception of the Eucharist

During his recent visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI appeared to adhere to traditional Roman Catholic teaching in the area of moral theology (grounded as it is in the Aristotelian/Thomistic synthesis) with respect to the need for the faithful to more frequently/effectively utilize the sacrament of Penance/reconciliation (Confession) and with it the necessary recognition that personal sin remains an ever-present reality. In the United States, the Catholic faithful have all but abandoned the practice of presenting themselves to the Priest on a regular basis for Confession--particularly since the conclusion of the second Vatican Council in 1965.

Historically/Traditionally, practising Catholics were especially loathe to avail themselves of the Holy Eucharist (Communion) during Mass without first confessing their serious (mortal) sins to a Priest, understanding that to do so was a gravely sinful act in itself which was not only contrary to Sacred Tradition but to Sacred Scripture as well:

"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself" (I cor. 11: 27-29) and CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church) #1385.

The reason of course was that in the sacred host was to be found substantially* the true body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ—in the "form" of unleavened bread—referred to as the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist, (Lk. 22: 19-20); (Mt. 26: 28) and CCC #'s 1365, 1366, 1367, 1374, 1376, 1378 & 1381 referencing the Council of Trent (1551) DS 1641 and 1651 and St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 75, 1. It was traditionally taught and intuitively understood that nothing impure (sinful) must be brought into contact with the sinless Jesus Christ, sacramentally and substantially present there. Communicants therefore, understood the necessity of being/remaining free from serious (mortal) sin when partaking of Holy Communion—hence the practice of providing pre-mass confession liberally in every diocese. Since the completion of the Second Vatican Council however, the need for Catholics to be in a state of grace--(i.e. without serious sin) through confession of their sins to a Priest--has all but disappeared from the minds of the faithful if one is to judge by the evidence.

For the past 4 decades it has become commonplace to see virtually everyone at Mass receive Holy Communion. It is clear from abundant sociological studies on the subject that the vast majority of Catholics in the United States avail themselves of Confession very infrequently or not at all. This is perplexing since the neo-pagan age in which we now live and the rampant immorality which abounds--to which everyone is exposed--is several orders of magnitude worse than anything which existed prior to the second Vatican Council. The only logical conclusion is that large numbers of Roman Catholics routinely receive the Eucharist in a state of serious sin. For many this is no doubt a matter of ignorance re: the sinful nature of receiving while not in a state of grace; a result of either inadequate or virtually absent catechesis—in which case the existence of invincible (unintentional) ignorance must be seriously entertained. For others it may well be purposeful for a variety of reasons including the fear of confessing ones sins to a Priest, inadequate knowledge of how to proceed with a proper confession or some combination of these including lack of proper disposition with regard to one’s faith (sloth).

While any number of factors could theoretically have contributed to the current problem of widespread improper reception of the Holy Eucharist, the one factor which seems to be most positively linked to it is the Second Vatican Council itself. This devastating problem was simply not seen prior to Vatican II and appeared immediately thereafter. The temporal relationship suggests that it is one of cause/effect. It would be interesting to subject this hypothesis to a retrospective study including the possibility of conducting a multivariate statistical regression analysis--in which all of the relevant factors were ranked for degree of association/correlation with improper reception of the Holy Eucharist. One wonders why such a study has not been conducted when it could not be more clear that Vatican II was followed by almost universally negative consequences for the Catholic Church and the faithful re: widespread and severe deterioration in faith and morals, marked reduction in mass attendance, evangelical zeal, vocations to the Priesthood and Religious life, unprecedented instances of clergy homosexual abuse of minor’s primarily of post-pubescent males, widespread liturgical abuse and failure to adhere to even the most basic elements of the official rubrics, a marked tendency toward figurative/metaphorical interpretation of scripture in the area of biblical exegesis particularly the first 12 chapters of Genesis, among other serious problems. It is hard to imagine anyone seriously contending that these were positive post-conciliar developments.

One is hard-pressed to identify any actual positive changes which developed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. In way of fairness and intellectual honesty however, some possibilities which do come to mind are; a return to and deeper study of Sacred Scripture and the Father’s of the Faith in concert with a less formulaic/manualistic approach to moral theology. Rather than a list of negatives to be avoided (a minimalist approach) the Church began to stress the fundamental underlying truths which flow naturally from a high Christology and a human anthropology which is appropriately grounded in the Imago Dei—that is, a more positive kind of moral theology grounded in the “3” theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Catholics were encouraged to engage their faith more deeply, to become more truly transformed in Christ through the grace of the Holy Spirit rather than limiting themselves in simple obedience to a largely negative list of “don’ts” or “Thou shalt not’s.” Some would also include the deeper understanding and commitment the Catholic Church has made in the areas of Social Justice especially the immorality of Total War and the need to reduce and eventually eliminate all Nuclear Weapons. Others would include the larger role for the laity—which might have been positive had it occurred without deprecation of the elevated role traditionally reserved for the Clergy, especially the Catholic hierarchy. The new notion of a priesthood of all believers was entirely unprecedented however and anti-Catholic in fact very Protestant in the fashion of the theology of Martin Luther.

In addition to the negative features outlined above, reduced post-Conciliar belief in Papal Primacy and the increasing importance of Collegiality are directly traceable to the documents of Vatican II as is the marked alteration in the meaning of the “Church of Christ” as can be seen from the entirely new post-Conciliar definition; [the Church of Christ “subsists” in the Roman Catholic Church] where before it was crystal clear that the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Christ were identical. That is to say, the Second Vatican Council appears to have created a “Church of Christ” which is larger or more encompassing than the Roman Catholic Church which seems to become perhaps the widest or fullest “stream” or current in the great "river" which is the "Church of Christ." Never before had the phrase “subsists in” been utilized. This represents a complete alteration in meaning and thus doctrine where Extra Ecclesium Nulla Sullus (no salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church) is concerned. On the basis of first principles of being the two definitions appear to be incompatible. Either the Church of Christ is in fact the Roman Catholic Church and no other, or it is not in which case it can be virtually anything else except the Roman Catholic Church. To erect an entirely new doctrine by which the Church of Christ is both the Roman Catholic Church plus something more is to render the 1965 or so years of Catholicism unintelligible from this person's perspective. If this is not the case, the writer would appreciate being corrected by an appropriate authority; as the logic and reason involved appear to be incontestable.

Admittedly, had it not been for Sacred Tradition including multiple prior Magisterial pronouncements which with great specificity identified the Roman Catholic Church as the only one, Holy, Apostolic and universal Church of Christ with the Roman Pontiff at its head (Vicar of Christ on Earth), the metaphysical slight of hand which has often been invoked to explain this dilemma might have sufficed. Either these multiple prior official pronouncements were a true reflection of the teaching of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit or they were not. If true, the new view in which the "Church of Christ" is said to “subsist” in the Roman Catholic Church must of logical necessity be false. For that matter, it would seem impossible to harmonize the scriptural injunction to preach the Gospel of Christ to the 4 corners of the Earth if in fact the Gospel entrusted to the Catholic Church is in no way to be preferred over any other Gospel provided by any other Church.

It seems logically incontestable that if the Church was correct for almost two thousand years in claiming that the Roman Catholic Church is the true and only "Church of Christ", it must be incorrect now--given the new definition of "Church of Christ." Moreover, if it was incorrect for almost 2000 years, there is no reason to believe it is correct now--since it would be clear that the Church had not been protected by the Holy Spirit from error—a fundamental tenet of Roman Catholicism. This dilemma seems rationally insurmountable to the author.

In addition it is more than curious that part and parcel of the Second Vatican Council was the total abandonment of the precise Thomistic language which had up until that time marked the pronouncements of other ecumenical councils. The most recent Conciliar language is extremely ambiguous to say the least which is the very opposite of the scholastic precision which marked prior Conciliar documents and for that matter pre-conciliar papal encyclicals. One is prompted to ask: Why was it suddenly necessary for the hierarchical clergy to depart from the tried and true scholastically precise language, itself a well-established part of the Tradition of the Church? Why replace that which was crystal clear in meaning with language which is inherently ambiguous and with time has been interpreted in diametrically opposite ways by Traditionalists and Neo-modernists (Progressivists) alike? If the Second Vatican Council was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit why would such inherently contradictory changes have been forthcoming—incompatible as they are with almost two thousand years of Catholic Tradition? One might wonder whether the Progressivist Conciliar Fathers became convinced that the Catholic Church had been in error for almost 2 millennia and rather than leave the Church entirely, decided to retain its power structure and to slowly transform it to a kind of generic Protestantism (in stages) through the use of purposely ambiguous language. Or, perhaps the Progressivist Council Fathers simply abandoned their Catholicism in favor of various post-modern philosophies and the contextual(form) criticism of the German school and much of the theology which followed the Protestant Reformation. These are questions which beg to be answered by appropriate Magisterial authority.

It is a matter of record that multiple pre-Vatican II popes specifically warned against the abuses of the modernists including Pope St. Pius X in his famous Pascendi Dominici gregis. After several decades of quiescence thereafter, the modernists seem to have reappeared in a more virulent form under the guise of the neo-modernists (Progressivists) led by Pope John XXIII and Cardinal Montini (later Pope Paul VI) who clearly triumphed over the so-called theological conservatives during the Second Vatican Council. Whether they had by then too liberally infiltrated the Hierarchy or instead the Conservatives were simply “asleep at the switch” in a kind of episcopal sloth--remains open to question.

In any case, despite the many positive features associated with Pope Benedict’s recent trip to the United States, multiple serious quandaries remain for those thoughtful Roman Catholics who sincerely desire to make logical sense of the new theology of Vatican II and the post-Conciliar promulgation of same. If one is to abide by the scriptural attestation to “test everything; hold fast what is good”, (I Thes. 5: 21) the biblical instruction “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves, You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7: 15-16) takes on particularly insightful meaning. Pope John Paul II wrote persuasively that there should be no inherent contradiction between faith and reason. It is in that sense that the enumerated questions are raised.

*In scholastic philosophical terms the bread had undergone transubstantiation, in which the "substance" had been changed from that of bread to that of the body of Jesus Christ while the "accidents" remained the same that is, in the "form" of a wafer. Recall that all substance is composed of matter and form.

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What/Where is the Roman Catholic Church?

In light of Traditional Catholic dogma/doctrine, how should the Second Vatican Council be viewed ? Is it consistent with Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and prior Magisterial teaching?

What explains the tremendous amount of "bad fruit" which has been forthcoming since the close of the Council in 1965? “By their fruits you shall know them” (Matt. 7:16)

This site explores these questions and more in an attempt to place the Second Vatican Council in proper perspective.