|Transition and transitioning 2 - May 27|
|2012 - Viewpoint|
|Friday, 25 May 2012 15:55|
By Fr Henry Charles
Perhaps the most important requirement for grasping implications of this subject, whether in society or the Church, is a sense of history. Reflection on transition after all means nothing more than reflection on historical change.
It’s pretty obvious, as I said in the first article Transition and transitioning - May 20, that we have lived or are living through several transitions, in society and in the Church. I am not a historian, though historical change is something that has always fascinated me. The Church, for instance, acknowledged several changes in doctrinal understanding at Vatican II. There’s no need to go into all of them. One of the more important ones was the shift from the position that “error has no rights” to an acknowledgment of religious liberty. What brought about this change? To what influential currents of thought or culture can we point? There was the work of the American Jesuit John Courtenay Murray (the acknowledged “father of the declaration”) on the space created free of state control for all religions by the onset of pluralism. There was also an acknowledgment of the twisted interpretation of Luke 14:23, “Compelle entrare,” – “Go out into the highways and byways and force them to come in” – an attitude that was part of Church outlook since Augustine, regarding heretics and schismatics. We also came to understand religious liberty as a fundamental consequence of the inviolability of conscience. One can no doubt point to more influences, but no one can neglect these.
In the rest of this article I would like to look at two other areas, changes in the perception of human sexuality and in the notion of sacrifice in the Mass. Another hugely important area, at the bottom of many of our dilemmas today, is divergence in how the moral law (natural law) is interpreted, but that requires special treatment of its own. I touch on the issue here only very marginally.
Regarding sexuality, the “sexual revolution” of the 60s (or since the 60s) affected Catholics as much as anybody else. The result has been a sea change everywhere in outlook and practice. One may also describe the situation in terms of “Before and After the Pill”, and the result would be much the same. To explore all of this adequately would take a great deal more time and space than 1500 words. What I’d like to do is to take a key idea or expression that opens up the area in a way that highlights and illuminates the contrast I am looking at between then and now.
An excellent candidate for this purpose, in my view, remains the late Pope John Paul’s famous phrase - “the nuptial meaning of the body”. I can never think of this phrase without noting the enormous transformation it presumes in inherited notions not just about the body, but about personal self-perception, about sexuality not as something the person does but as part of human subjectivity and an affirmative dimension of human personality; and about marriage as part of this positive perception and not just a remedy for concupiscence.
To describe the change here from previous perspectives as a change in outlook almost amounts to trivialising it. The ramifications are wide indeed. In fact, I think the difference has been one of the unacknowledged factors at play in the vocational decline of priests and religious. To refer to the body in this extraordinarily positive way meant that “better to marry than to burn” could no longer serve to depreciate the state of married life as opposed to the life of priests and religious.
Of equal importance in the whole area has been the issue of how sexual norms are derived and who determines what those norms are. To choose one issue in the mix here, the issue of polls. It is often said that morality is not a matter of polls or of counting heads. A practice is neither morally right nor acceptable simply because a great number of people accept it. This is of course true. On the other hand, it’s equally irresponsible to dismiss the moral views of multitudes of people on the basis that numbers don’t count. What else do we go by in a determination of the views of a society or population, whether it’s the issue of governance (elections) or in the case of the Church, validating the judgment of the Magisterium in matters of doctrine, except in terms of numbers, that is, in terms of what the majority thinks? Changes in moral perception occur socially only when majorities buy into a new scheme of things. Until then, there’s no transition, at least no social transition. There may be plenty of transitions individually.
Now, to the second area, namely the notion of sacrifice in the Mass. Anyone brought up before Vatican II remembers the teaching that the Mass was an unbloody sacrifice. The bloody sacrifice was the Cross, the Mass its unbloody representation. For a while after the Council the meal aspect of the Mass came to the fore, but it has not been an uncontroversial recovery. We are often reminded that the Eucharist is not just a meal, but also a sacrifice. More is involved than community feeling and fellowship. There are the aspects of atonement and expiation. In other words, the notion of sacrifice has the greater priority.
The idea that sacrifice and meal have unequal status in the Eucharist rests on a misunderstanding. The meal is the sacrament (the sign) of the sacrifice. The issue is not a matter of distinguishing the difference in status between the two. And contrary to today’s warnings, it is sacrifice that runs the greater risk of misunderstanding. Jesus’ sacrifice still tends to be linked exclusively to the Cross and literally understood in terms of blood.
The Letter to the Hebrews emphasises at some length that Jesus’ sacrifice was perfect, that is, it not only surpassed all others in significance; it uniquely established what sacrifice is.
In ordinary language, a sacrifice is an act of self-renunciation for the good of another. But sacrifices in the Bible were not sacrifices in this sense. They were offerings to God for a variety of reasons, thanksgiving, petition, rescue, and so on, which ended in communion between God and the participants. Those who offered the sacrifice often went on to eat it. Even expiatory sacrifices, where the entire animal was burnt, symbolised the removal of whatever stood in the way of communion – sins, for example, and ritual impurities. The returning presence of God was their whole aim.
In terms of sacrifice as offering, Jesus’ sacrifice was the life-long offering of himself to the Father in everything he did. Sacrifice was coextensive with the whole of his life, and not just the final excruciating hours on the cross.
This is, of course, not to deny the special character of the cross, but it is to situate it properly. The point of sacrifice throughout the entire life of Jesus was his self-giving. At the end, this was enacted in the midst of blood, but the blood issuing from his death has no independent significance as an element with magical properties, as it popularly tends to have. If so-and-so is causing you trouble, as I’ve often heard it said, “put them in the blood”. Such distortions, not to say perversions, are only possible when the blood of Jesus is viewed magically and not as the manner and the totality of his final act of self-giving.________________________________________________________________________________________ **DISCLAIMER**: User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Camsel/Catholic News or its staff. Camsel/Catholic News accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments. Please help us keep our site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option. Camsel/Catholic News reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed. Before posting, please refer to the Comments Policy under Resources