Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Is Confession Biblical?

Giuseppe Molteni, The Confession, 1838

"Bless me Father, for I have sinned..." These words mark the beginning of the confession rite for Roman Catholics, as well as some Anglicans and Lutherans. When I was an Evangelical, I scoffed at the whole thing. "Why confess your sins to a man?" I would ask "when you can confess your sins directly to God!" For non-Catholics, especially Evangelicals, the whole practise of sacramental confession seems like an exercise in futility.

Part of this misunderstanding is based on a common Protestant misreading of a couple passages of Scripture...
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. -- 1 John 1:9 KJV 
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. -- 1 Timothy 2:5 KJV
From these two passages, Evangelicals formulate the argument that we only need confess our sins to God directly, and that no human priest can act as a mediator between God and man. That sounds like a pretty watertight argument, eh? Well, if that's all the Bible ever said about the matter, the Evangelicals would be right, and the whole practise of sacramental confession would be a colossal waste of time, and quite possibly sacrilegious. However, that's not all the Bible has to say about the matter. Evangelicals are very good about formulating their own principles on just a few passages of Scripture. On most matters, like the Atonement and Resurrection, this is sufficient. However, on more technical matters, like sacramental confession, this is wholly inadequate.

To be clear, a Catholic doctrine doesn't need to always be spelled out in Scripture in order to be valid (read more here). Sacred Scripture is just a cross-section of authentic Christian beliefs and practises. It is not a comprehensive encyclopedia of it. The Evangelical tendency to treat the Bible as an encyclopedia, rather than just a cross-section, causes them to stumble into numerous errors and over-simplifications. Nevertheless, in this particular case of sacramental confession, there is plenty of Biblical material for a Catholic to stand on.
Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. -- James 5:16 RSV
If we are to confess our sins only to God, what is the Evangelical to make of this passage? It specifically tells us that healing of sins comes by confessing them "one to another" as in "one person to another," and that the "prayer of a righteous man has great power." What!?! If you're an Evangelical, who doesn't believe in sacramental confession, this Biblical passage presents some serious problems. On the one hand you would believe that we are only to confess our sins to God, because Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. Then on the other hand, this obscure passage tells us to confess our sins to each other, so that they may be healed? What a minute! Shouldn't confession to God alone be sufficient? Now we need to confess our sins to each other too!?! What is meant by this? Are we to stand in front of a congregation during Church and confess our sins? Or are we supposed to talk about them in casual conversation with other Christians? Indeed, there are Evangelical congregations who engage in both acts, but when they do, that sort of obliterates the whole "confess your sins only to God" motif.

So right from the start, if you present this one obscure passage to an Evangelical, he is immediately forced to modify (significantly alter!) his assertion that we are only to confess our sins directly to God.

To understand the practise of sacramental confession, we need to look at the theology behind it. The Catholic Church does not teach that priests have magical powers. Nor does it teach that priests are somehow magically able to replace God. Rather, what it teaches is this. It's all about authority. Almost everything in the Christian faith is really all about authority. When Jesus Christ was ministering on earth, he went from one sinner to another, telling them, "your sins are forgiven." The Jewish Scribes and Pharisees were incensed by this, and asked rhetorically "Who can forgive sins but God?" In other words, they were emphatically stating that only God can forgive sins...
On one of those days, as he was teaching, there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem; and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. And behold, men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they sought to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this that speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only?” When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, take up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose before them, and took up that on which he lay, and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen strange things today.” -- Luke 5:17-26 RSV
Okay, so let's take a look at what happened in this passage. Jesus told a paralytic man that his sins were forgiven. The Scribes and Pharisees accused him of blasphemy for this, correctly stating that nobody could forgive sins but God. Then Jesus showed them he had the authority to forgive sins, because he is God! He demonstrated this by healing the paralysed man.

So now we've demonstrated, through Scripture, that Jesus had the authority to forgive sins because he is God, and he demonstrated this by his miracles. This alone doesn't help us much, because it only demonstrates that Jesus can forgive sins, because he is God. However, the Scriptures don't stop there. They go on to tell us something more...
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” -- John 20:19-23 RSV
Okay, with this passage the Evangelical now has a serious problem. Above we demonstrated that Jesus alone has the power to forgive sins because he is God, but here in this passage we see something amazing happen. Jesus actually decided to share that divine power with his apostles! This in no way means they are divine, but because Jesus is divine, he can do whatever he wants. If he wants to share the authority to forgive sins with mere mortals, that's his business, and he can do it. Let's recap what he said. Jesus said to his apostles: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

From this we know the apostles were given this divine authority...
  1. by the Holy Spirit,
  2. to forgive sins,
  3. to retain sins.
It's shocking really, to think that Jesus would (by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) bestow his divine authority upon certain men to forgive sins. At this point the Evangelical must concede the at least the apostles had the same authority as Jesus to forgive sins. If they don't, they directly deny Scripture. That means Peter could forgive sins. Matthew could forgive sins. James could forgive sins. John could forgive sins. etc. They could all forgive sins with the exact same authority that Jesus could, because he gave it to them. Again, see the above passage. To deny this is to deny Scripture. Evangelicals pride themselves in following Scripture, so this needs to be pointed out to them.

However, the question now begs to be asked, could the apostles in turn bestow this authority upon others? Or was this just a "one time" thing reserved only for the apostles? If the latter, then we have to ask, why? Why would Jesus bestow this gift just as a "one time" thing upon them at all? Why would they need it if all successive generations would just "go directly to God" for forgiveness? It doesn't make sense really if it's just a "one time" thing. Again, Scripture assures us that it's not. In the earliest days of the infant Church, Peter rose up and spoke as follows...
“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsab′bas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthi′as. And they prayed and said, “Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthi′as; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles. -- Acts 1:21-26 RSV
Here we see that the apostles themselves were able to choose a successor to replace Judas Iscariot. Matthias was not in the upper room with them, when Jesus bestowed the authority to forgive sins. So are we to assume that only the 11 apostles had that authority and Matthias was left out? Are we to assume that Matthias was the apostle with lesser apostolic authority, lacking the authority to forgive sins? That would be rather silly, wouldn't it? And there is nothing in Scripture to indicate this. In every respect, Matthias appears to have all the authority of the other apostles, yet he wasn't in the room when Jesus bestowed this authority on the original 11. There is no indication that he had less authority though. Thus, when the 11 apostles enrolled him with them, they bestowed upon him their own authority, passing along what Jesus had given to them. This would include the authority to forgive sins.

There are other places in Scripture where we see this authority to forgive sins being passed from apostles to others...
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. -- 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 RSV 
Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. -- James 5:14-15 RSV 
Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands -- 2 Timothy 1:6 RSV
Now as the Church evolved over the first and second century, the distribution of apostolic authority was parcelled out to different ministers, according to need. For example; bishops were given full apostolic authority, allowing them to perform every one of the seven sacraments. Bishops have the apostolic authority to...
  1. Baptism
  2. Confirmation
  3. Eucharist
  4. Confession (the authority to forgive sins)
  5. Healing
  6. Matrimony (marriage)
  7. Holy Orders (ordination to ministry)
Presbyters, on the other hand, were given all sacramental authority, minus Confirmation and Holy Orders. This allowed them to care for the bishop's flock, but not confirm new members with the gift of the Holy Spirit, or confer Holy Orders (ordination to ministry) upon others. These two sacraments were reserved for the bishop alone. So presbyters have the apostolic authority to...
  1. Baptism
  2. Eucharist
  3. Confession (the authority to forgive sins)
  4. Healing
  5. Matrimony (marriage)
However, you'll notice that Confession (the authority to forgive sins) is listed among the authority of a presbyter. Today we typically call presbyter's "priests," even though their official job title is still presbyter. This is why we go to a "priest" or presbyter for the sacrament of confession. 

The role of deacon is similar to a priest, but the bishop distributes even less apostolic authority to him. Deacons have the apostolic authority to...
  1. Baptism
  2. Matrimony (marriage)
In addition a Catholic deacon can assist in some liturgical functions, but cannot officiate them. He may also have many other duties within the Church, including the faculties to preach homilies/sermons. In a very real sense, a Catholic deacon does just about everything an Evangelical pastor does. 

So the reason why I spelled out the various apostolic authorities of these three offices within the Catholic Church (bishop/presbyter/deacon) is to demonstrate how all authority comes from Jesus Christ himself. He is the author of it, and it flows directly from him. He chose to distribute various aspects of his authority (including the authority to forgive sins) to his apostles, who in turn distributed it to bishops. The bishops in turn distribute various authorities to their presbyters and deacons, with the authority to forgive sins directly to the presbyters (or "priests"). 

Yes, Catholics have solid Biblical ground to stand on when it comes to sacramental confession. This is something God simply wants us to do, and the fact that Jesus gave this authority to his apostles demonstrates that beyond the shadow of a doubt. 

The purpose of sacramental confession is to assure one of forgiveness. Yes, it is possible to confess your sins directly to God and be forgiven, but do you really have any assurance of that forgiveness? No. You have a moral assurance, in the sense of a reasonable expectation that God is merciful, but you have no real assurance, because God (through his ministers) has not specifically told you that you are forgiven. This is why Jesus enabled his apostles with his authority to forgive sins. He wanted us to have the assurance that our sins really are forgiven when we confess them with true sincerity. We know we have absolute assurance of God's forgiveness when the priest says the following: "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church,  may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

As a matter of fact, the Catholic practise of sacramental confession is a whole lot more Biblical than the Evangelical practise of "confessing your sins to God alone." The Catholic practise takes into account ALL the Scriptures associated with confessing our sins. Whereas the Evangelical practise simply takes into account only a select few, while ignoring others. At best, the Evangelical has no Biblical ground to stand on in criticising sacramental confession. At worst, the Evangelical is actually missing out on the full grace that God intended all of Christ's followers to have.  

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
for Protestants
Regnum Dei Press

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

San Antonio Parish is now Ordinariate

Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church
in San Antonio, Texas

Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, in San Antonio, has been admitted to the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon from the North American Ordinariate website:

This means that Our Lady of the Atonement (OLA) is now an Ordinariate parish and school, falling under the jurisdic authority of Bishop Steven Lopes in Houston, Tx., having been transferred from the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. The decision was made in Rome by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter on February 22, 2017, and was later approved by Pope Francis himself. Final arrangements for the transfer of property will be completed over the next few months.

It is done. The trial and ordeal suffered by the congregation of OLA is finally over. Fr. Phillips will be reinstated as the pastor emeritus of OLA immediately, having himself been incardinated into the Personal Ordinariate and excardinated from the Archdiocese. This will make him an Ordinariate priest. His responsibilities to the Archdiocese, and obedience to the Archbishop, have ceased. His new ordinary is Bishop Steven Lopes. Members of OLA, who have sought membership in the Ordinariate are now granted just that.

As pastor emeritus, Fr. Phillips will re-assume the exact same pastoral roles he previously had over the parish and the school, minus all administrative roles. This is for very practical reasons. The process of transferring OLA from an Archdiocesan to an Ordinariate parish will be long and tedious. Financially untangling OLA from the Archdiocese will be no easy task. It's one of the Archdiocese' largest parishes, one of its more substantial financial contributors, and is undergoing a major construction project with loans currently guaranteed by the Archdiocese. So untangling OLA from the Archdiocese of San Antonio is going to be a full-time job in itself, for people with expert financial wisdom, who are used to handling this sort of thing. Responsibility for this has been given to Vicar General of the Ordinariate, Fr. Timothy Perkins, who will act as the parish administrator from afar -- at the Ordinariate chancery in Houston. For all practical purposes, on a pastoral level, Fr. Phillips is still the man in charge at OLA for the time being.

In addition to Rome's decree that OLA enter the Ordinariate, Rome has also decreed that all remaining "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision" parishes and communities be transferred to the Ordinariate as well. (I am only aware of one other parish that meets this specification -- the Congregation of St Athanasius in Boston, Massachusetts.) Once these communities are transferred the "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision" will effectively cease to exist and become a page for the history books.

It should be duly noted, in no uncertain terms, that members of the Archdiocese who wish to remain members of the Archdiocese, and simultaneously remain members of OLA, are free to do so and enjoy all the benefits of membership in that parish. (The same would apply to the other Anglican Use Pastoral Provision communities as well.) Changing the juristic status of OLA, from Archdiocese to Ordinariate, absolutely DOES NOT change the membership of parishioners who wish to continue as members of OLA yet remain members of the Archdiocese. Within the Ordinariate, parish membership and Ordinariate membership are two different things. It is possible, and has always been the case, for one to be a member of an Ordinariate parish, yet remain under the juristic authority of the local bishop/archbishop. It's important to understand here that the Ordinariate is (and always has been) only for people who want it. So, if you are a member of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, in San Antonio, and you wish to remain a full member of the parish, while simultaneously remain under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, you may do so. Simply speak to the pastoral staff of OLA for details as to how this works. Please, and I cannot emphasise this enough, please do not believe false rumours that this transfer of OLA's jurisdiction somehow magically cancels your membership in OLA if you choose to remain part of the Archdiocese. It does not! As a member of the Archdiocese you are free to be a member of OLA too. Our Lady of the Atonement will consist of members of both the Ordinariate, and members of the Archdiocese, sitting side-by-side in the pews, indistinguishable from each other. That's how it works in all Ordinariate parishes. If you have heard otherwise, you have been misinformed. Again, simply speak to the pastoral staff of OLA for details.


Update 3-24-2017: It has come to my attention that the Archdiocese of San Antonio is behind these false rumours. In an online statement, dated 3-21-17, the Archdiocese made this erroneous claim...
"Parishioners of Our Lady of the Atonement Parish -- who must be enrolled in the Ordinariate in order to be members of the parish --"
Click to Enlarge
Image Capture from Archdiocese of San Antonio website
on 3-24-2017

This is a false statement, as noted above, Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church may have members from both the Ordinariate and the Archdiocese. Hopefully, the Archdiocese simply made this statement in error. We in the Ordinariate have encountered this problem before, wherein diocesan staff will occasionally misinform the public (usually in error) that membership in an Ordinariate parish is only for members of the Ordinariate, and that diocesan members are not allowed to join. Again, this is not true.

Update 3-27-2017: I am pleased to report that the Archdiocese has revised their statement now, omitting the incorrect information. The new revised statement does not explicitly say that those under Archdiocesan authority may be members of Our Lady of the Atonement, but at least it deletes the incorrect information which said that you could not be a member of Atonement unless you were a member of the Ordinariate. I applaud the Archdiocese for making this correction.

Click to Enlarge
Image Capture from Archdiocese of San Antonio website
on 3-27-2017

With this revised statement, I think it is fair to say that the Archdiocese has finally acknowledged that you can be a member of Our Lady of the Atonement parish, and still remain under Archdiocesan authority. This means, as I said above, that Ordinariate and Archdiocesan members can both be members of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, and sit in the pews side-by-side, indistinguishable from each other.


In regard to Archbishop Garcia-Siller, he has lost this battle. OLA has been transferred to the Ordinariate. His apparent attempts to hamper this process have not succeeded. They were terribly misguided and unfortunate, but they are over. It is done, and it is time to move on. OLA may have been transferred to the jurisdiction of the Ordinariate, but it still physically exists within the territorial region of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Archbishop Garcia-Siller is not the first bishop to make a mistake. He's not even the first bishop to make a mistake regarding the ordinariates. (I believe there were some episcopal fumbles in the UK some years back.) These things occasionally happen. They are unfortunate when they do, and at times stressful, but Christian charity demands forgiveness, and I think Archbishop Garcia-Siller is owed that. To the members of OLA, who have suffered greatly through this entire ordeal, I appeal to you in the name of Christian charity to forgive Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller for his actions against Fr. Christopher Phillips and the congregation of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church. I understand this may be difficult for some of you, and you have every right to be angry, however, please take some time to let this all sink in and pray about it. I'm sure that with time, prayer and reflection it will become clear that forgiveness is the only real way forward now.

The "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision" was created in the early 1980s by Pope St. John Paul II, for the purpose of welcoming Anglican converts into the Catholic Church by allowing them to bring their English Catholic heritage with them. This English Catholic heritage is called the "Anglican Patrimony." Under the terms of this Pastoral Provision, such parishes and communities were established in the United States alone, under local diocesan authority, by bishops who were welcoming and friendly to the idea. Consequently, there weren't very many such parishes throughout the United States, and most of them were in Texas. Our Lady of the Atonement (OLA) in San Antonio was the first such parish, and Fr. Christopher Phillips was the founding pastor.

The "Anglican Use Pastoral Povision" remained the only expression of the Anglican Patrimony within the Catholic Church for 30 years. Then in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI created the apostolic constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, which allowed for an expansion of the Pastoral Provision on a global scale. This constitution was issued due to an increasing interest on the part of many Anglicans, throughout the world, to enter the Catholic Church under terms similar to the "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision." However, there were some concerns. One of the main concern of such Anglicans was the openness of Catholic bishops to the idea. For example; such a Pastoral Provision parish might be established in a diocese under one friendly bishop, but then find itself in danger under the reign of his successor, who is not so friendly. So Rome decided to establish "ordinariates" under the terms of Anglicanorum Coetibus. These ordinariates would allow such Anglican Patrimony parishes to govern themselves totally independently of the local dioceses, through an Ordinary (which could either be a monsignor priest, or a bishop) who would oversee them all in a given region. It's sort of like the Military Archdiocese, which is really an Ordinariate, that just governs particular parishes on military bases, and those military personnel (and their families) who attend such parishes. It's also like a religious order, or prelature, which just governs specific people and parishes. This would allow these Anglican Patrimony parishes to function as a particular church, in and of themselves, within the worldwide universal Church. In North America, these exist within the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, founded in January of 2012, which oversees such parishes in the United States, Canada and all U.S. territories.

When Anglicanorum Coetibus was first announced in 2009, Fr. Christopher Phillips was the first Catholic priest, of the Pastoral Provision in the United States, to express interest in joining the upcoming ordinariates. He knew that parishes like Our Lady of the Atonement, which were part of the "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision," were the prototype for the ordinariate model of Anglicanorum Coetibus. He immediately spoke with Archbishop Jose Horacio Gomez, then Archbishop of San Antonio, about this matter. Archbishop Gomez was highly sympathetic to Fr. Phillips at the time, but responded by asking; "What's the rush?" Understanding that the transfer of such a large property and congregation would entail some sensitive arrangements, Archbishop Gomez advised a slow process, and Fr. Phillips was agreeable to this.

In the years following, a similar sentiment was expressed by Gomez' successor, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, and Fr. Phillips patiently waited along with the OLA congregation for five years! As the years passed however, it became apparent that the time had come for the transfer to be final. Canon Law permitted OLA to make the request on its own, and Fr. Phillips acted lawfully as the parish's representative, after the parish leaders had voted on the matter. This happened late in the summer to early fall of 2016. It was at that time that Archbishop Garcia-Siller started to change. (It should be noted here that OLA has always fulfilled and exceeded its obligations to the Archdiocese.) As the date for the CDF hearing on OLA approached, the Archbishop Emeritus of San Antonio, Patrick Fernandez Flores, died on January 9, 2017. OLA was originally erected as a parish by Fr. Phillips under Flores' reign during the early 1980s. Phillips enjoyed both the blessing and full support of Flores all the years since then. Shortly after Flores' death, Archbishop Garcia-Siller began to take action against OLA by removing Fr. Phillips from service as her pastor 10 days later on January 19, 2017.

Sources close to this blogger report that the Archbishop then demanded Phillips' resignation or he would press canonical charges to have him permanently removed. Phillips would not back down. During this time, the OLA parish was informed that Fr. Phillips had done nothing wrong and was simply taking a period of time off to reflect on his ministry over OLA. The parish was told that while Phillips was not in any trouble, his ministry was not in the best interest of OLA (whatever that means). This was the letter sent out by the OLA staff shortly after Archbishop Garcia-Siller's announcement…
Dear Parents and Parishioners: 
We were notified today of the canonical process being initiated by the Archdiocese to remove Fr. Phillips as the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Parish as well as the head of The Atonement Academy. The Archbishop stated that Fr. Phillips has done nothing wrong, yet claims his ministry is detrimental to the faith of the people and keeps the people of the parish separate from the communal activities of the archdiocese. 
As more information becomes available, we will share it with you. Fr. Phillips has been removed from the parish grounds for the next 15 days and cannot respond to any contact from parishioners or school families. 
Please pray for God's will to be done. 
In Christ,

The (Atonement Academy) Administrative Team.
For many of us outside of Atonement, this was the first we had heard of the matter. Later we were given access to the Archbishop's letter…

(click to enlarge)

It was at this time that I blogged on this matter myself. You can read that entry here. Shortly thereafter, stories appeared all over the Internet concerning the matter, and it was even featured on EWTN's World Over program with Raymond Arroyo. The story segment begins at about 9:50 on the video feed...

Phillips remained in exile from OLA in his home property much longer than 15 days, and many believed he would never return. His home, which is attached to the parish grounds, is privately owned by Phillips and his wife. The original rectory, on the parish property, is now occupied by the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration. It was reported to this blogger that Archbishop Garcia-Siller had inquired by what right they live there, but that is all. It is unknown what the Archbishop's plans were for the rectory, if any, had he prevailed in this case.

What is important now is to understand that the drama concerning the entry of OLA into the Ordinariate is now over, and things will gradually begin to return to normal at the parish. The parish is safely under the jurisdiction of Bishop Steven Lopes and the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter. Henceforth we can expect a rather tranquil parish life for the long-term foreseeable future.

I have spoken with many people, both clergy and laity, across the Ordinariate from Texas to Canada. They are all thrilled by news of OLA entering the ordinariate. They have longed for this day for many years, to be reunited with their spiritual brethren of the Anglican Patrimony. During this crisis they prayed earnestly for OLA and for Fr. Phillips, imploring our Lord for a swift and decisive resolution. That day has now come. It is time to bury the hatchet with Archbishop Garcia-Siller and move on.

It has always been the destiny of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church to enter the Ordinariate, and the Ordinariate is her rightful home. OLA was erected under the terms of the "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision" well over 30 years ago. The creation of Anglicanorum Coetibus, and the subsequent establishment of the three ordinariates in the UK, North America and Oceania, demonstrated that the intent of the "Anglican Use Pastoral Provision" was always temporary. Pope St. John Paul II created it as a prototype, and it was studied as a prototype, leading up to the ordinariates. When all of the Pastoral Provision parishes eventually enter the North American Ordinariate, the Pastoral Provision will then cease to exist, and be entered into the history books as a successful ecumenical experiment that led to the ecumenical triumph of the ordinariates. Praise be to God!

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

A Catholic Guide
to the Last Days
for Protestants
Regnum Dei Press

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Why Use Sacred English?

A Catholic Mass in Sacred English

In a previous essay, I discussed the difference between Sacred English and Common English. I insist on using these terms to describe the two. Common English is what is commonly spoken in the world today, and as any casual observer can see, it varies from place to place.

Common English in the UK is considerably different than Common English in the US. Even the spelling is remarkably different. English in the UK primarily uses the Oxford Dictionary, while English in the US primarily uses the Webster's Dictionary. For example; in the United States we spell color, while in the United Kingdom it's colour. In the United States we spell center, while in the United Kingdom it is spelled centre. On this blog, and in my books, I typically use the Oxford form of UK English. I have my reasons for this, and some of them are personal, but for the most part we could just say it allows my writings to appeal to a broader international audience.

Of course the sound of Common English is remarkably different too, depending on what part of the world we're talking about. It doesn't take long before the casual listener can detect profound differences between the way words are pronounced between the UK and US. Even sentence structure is slightly different, as well as the choice of words, idioms, and word plays. It would be difficult to limit the variations of Common English to just international bodies. Even within the United States, and the United Kingdom, there are wide varieties in the way Common English is spoken. We need only point to the profound difference between Scottish English, and the form of English that is spoken in England itself. Even the City of London has variations of English pronunciation depending on what part of the city the speaker hails from. The same is of course true in the United States. Here on this continent we typically lump variations of Common English according to accent, and classify them largely based on states and regions. For example; New York English is very distinctive and different from New England English. Travel further south and you'll hear some variations of what is colloquially called "Southern English." This is actually quite nuanced depending upon what part of the US South one hails from. For example, people from Georgia sound remarkably different than people from Tennessee. The same can be said of the stark difference between Texas English and Louisiana English. We could break Southern English down into two main camps: Appalachian and Deep South. While there are still variances within, these two groupings probably capture the main variances in Southern English.

Of course, the point I'm trying to make here is that Common English really is common. It's entirely depended on what is common to the area in which it is spoken. There is nothing wrong with any of this, of course, because that's just how languages work. No language has ever been truly standardised and universal. Though there have been attempts to regulate language, and some regulation is necessary to prevent regional variations from evolving into whole new languages, for the most part we can just expect differences in Common English. I've read that during the American Civil War (War of the Rebellion, or the War of Northern Aggression), the accents between the northern armies and southern armies were so profound, that some of the northern officers where unable to understand southern prisoners when they interrogated them. A short scene from the 1993 film 'Gettysburg' illustrated this, when an officer from Maine engaged a Southern prisoner of war in a conversation. He asked him; "Why are you fighting this war?" The prisoner replied; "I'm fittin fur may rats!" The exchange went back and forth a couple times, same question, followed by the same answer. Eventually the Maine officer figured it out. The southern prisoner said he was fighting for his rights. Thankfully, the invention of the radio and television in the 20th century, did much to rein in wild variations in English accents. Had the technological breakthroughs of the 20th century never happened, we might all be speaking entirely different languages by now.

However, something interesting has developed in the English language over the past six centuries in the area of religion, and this transcends both the Catholic and Protestant divide. Gradually, over time, the English language began to lack a distinction between the second-person-singular and second-person-plural pronouns. Common English has just one second-person pronoun -- you. It applies to both one single person and multiple people. In Common English, when we address another single person we say "you." But when we address multiple people we still say "you." There is no distinction between one person, or multiple people. In the United States, there have been several attempts to address this linguistic problem. For example, in Pennsylvania the words you'ins or yins was developed to address more than one person. In the US South (both Appalachian and Deep South) the contracted word y'all (for "you all") is commonly used. Nationwide, the term "you guyz" is commonly used as well, regardless if the people being addressed are male or female.

However, in the religious realm of English, a solutions for this problem was created long ago. The ancient Greek and Hebrew languages had specific pronouns for second-person singular and plural, but English did not. So, English translators simply pulled up an older English version the second-person-singular pronoun called thou. The variants being: thee, thy and thine. So when you see these words used, you know that only one person is being addressed. Likewise, the words ye and you were exclusively in reference to multiple people. So when you saw those words, you know the author was addressing more than one person. In translating the ancient Scriptures into English, the translators also had to recall variants of verb endings from older forms of English to distinguish between first-person, second-person and third-person. I explained all this in greater detail in my previous essay. This kind of language has gone by many terms. Some call it Archaic English, which is really a misnomer because no English-speaking person ever really spoke that way. The terms Elizabethan English, Tudor English, Shakespearean English, and Early Modern English are also used. Granted, the pronouns thou, thee and thy were used in regular speech from time to time, but often not in the ways we might expect. In fact, at one point in English history, these pronouns were actually used by rich and powerful people to talk down to the common folks. It was actually considered demeaning to be referred to as thou. This just goes to show how much Common English can change over the centuries. Today, this type of English is used almost exclusively in a religious context. We do occasionally see it in poems, songs and of course Shakespearean plays, but we don't see it outside of religion very much. Where it is particularly active, and is still very much a living language today, is in three particular religious bodies. The first is Anglicanism, particularly among the more traditional Anglican communities. The second is in the Ordinariates for former Anglicans within the Catholic Church. The third, and this may seem the most surprising, is among the Latin mass devotees within the Catholic Church.

I call this form of the language Sacred English, and I put it in contrast with Common English. What has effectively happened in English is something that was probably intended by the original translators of the ancient Scriptures, but happened unbeknown to English-speaking people while it was happening. Sacred English is not Archaic English, or Elizabethan English, or Early Modern English. As I said above, nobody ever really spoke that way in everyday speech, except in variant forms at different points in history. The usage we see in religion was designed, rather explicitly, for the translation of the ancient Biblical languages into English. From there, it found its way into English liturgy and prayers. It's not a dead language. It is rather living, as it is used all the time, in very practical ways, just in a religious setting. Effectively, what happened is this. English has created a variant of itself to be used almost exclusively for religion. It's sort of like how scientific and legal terms were developed from Latin. The idea was to draw upon a language that is considered static for the purpose of creating an entire vocabulary for disciplines that would remain constant. Sacred English is sort of like this, but different, because it's not about creating a static vocabulary. Rather, it was developed to be specific toward who you're talking to and about. It's not archaic English. It is rather a hybrid English, designed specifically for Christian settings, because it picks up on the nuance of Biblical pronouns and verbs in ways that Common English simply doesn't.

This is part of the reason why some Protestants, and a few Catholics, insist on using Sacred English translation of the Bible exclusively. Now while their reasoning is sometimes flawed, and I think exclusion of Common English translations is a mistake, they do make a good point. Now, I am not a King-James-Only Protestant, nor am I a Douay-Rheims-Only Catholic. So don't misunderstand me here. There is much value to be gained from Common English translations of the Bible, and I am particularly fond of the Revised Standard versions. However, there is something to be said about having a Bible translation in which the person being spoken to, or about, is always made clear. That's not a flaw of Common English Bible translations, but rather of Common English in general. The problem is not with the modern English translators, but rather in the English language itself. The English language just isn't specific in this area, which is why Sacred English (a hybrid form of English) was invented in the first place.

On a personal level, I think use of Sacred English is tremendously valuable for all Christians, especially Catholics, and I'm certainly not alone in this. Anglicans, of the more traditional persuasion, have been living this way for centuries now. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer has always utilised Sacred English as either its main text, or one of two possible forms for worship. Anglican liturgy typically has two forms; Sacred English and Common English. For centuries, Christians (both Catholic and Protestant) have recited common prayers in Sacred English, such as the "Our Father" and the "Hail Mary" for example. Even to this day, Sacred English is used in all English celebrations of the Catholic mass during the "Our Father" prayer. Typically, Sacred English is the preferred form of English used in English prayer books, and we typically see Sacred English used (almost exclusively) in parallel translations of the Old Roman Missal, with Latin on one side, and Sacred English on the other.

I think it's time we stop thinking of Sacred English as old, outdated or archaic. As I said, people never really spoke that way to begin with, not in the form we see in religion anyway. It's a hybrid form of English used for the Sacred texts, and that's how we should think of it. Likewise, modern English translations of the Bible aren't really modern. They are rather "common" in that they change, depending on what part of the world they're translated in, and what common form of English is used there. The Revised Standard Version, for example, has two forms; one for US English, and another for UK English. Common English changes, depending on where you live, and so likewise, Common English translations of the Bible change as well.

For this reason, I think every Christian should have a copy of a Sacred English Bible, and by that I mean one they will use, not just one that will sit on the shelf. For Protestants, the King James Version (KJV) is the standard, and I recommend New Cambridge Paragraph Bible. For Catholics, the standard has always been the Douay-Rheims Bible (DRB), which is actually a bit older than the King James and is based on the Latin Vulgate with reference back to the original Greek and Hebrew. It's been a staple of Catholic Bibles for centuries, and is still a favourite among Catholics in general. I recommend the Douay-Rheims Bible (Black) or the Douay-Rheims Bible (Burgundy), both of which are portable in size, which is important to insure regular use. The Burgundy version is slightly smaller than the Black one.

Thankfully, many Catholic and Anglican prayer books still incorporate Sacred English into the text. One that has stood the test of time is the Anglican St. Augustine's Prayer Book, originally published by The Episcopal Church, and available now from other sources. One of my favourites is this leather cover Saint Augustine's Prayer Book, which while not a Catholic prayer book, many Catholics would find it Catholic friendly. However, a solid Catholic prayer book is Catholic Prayers: Compiled from Traditional Sources which utilises Sacred English almost excursively. There are of course more Sacred English prayer books out there, and more are on the way, but for now this will serve as a good introduction.

There are only two places where you can hear Sacred English in liturgy. The first is an a traditional Anglican Church, which you can find here, and here. The second is in a Roman Catholic Church which is part of one of the Ordinariates for former Anglicans established by the Pope...
An unexpected place where we find support for Sacred English, albeit not liturgical support, is among the devotees to the traditional Latin mass. The most common translation of the 1962 Missal is in Sacred English, with the Latin text on one side, and Sacred English on the other. These missals often double as prayer books as well. Likewise, the pocket-size traditional Catholic prayer books (such as Blessed Be God) are also in Sacred English. Prayers offered in such communities are usually said either in Latin or Sacred English. Vary rarely (almost never) are prayers offered in Common English.

Sacred English is an important feature of the English language itself which has had significant influence on the arts: poetry, music and theatre. I find it tragic when people refer to it as "archaic" or "obsolete" as there is nothing archaic or obsolete about it. It's just as much living language today as it was 500 years ago. People didn't talk that way on the street back then, not in the form we see in Scripture anyway, nor do they talk that way now. It's a special form of English, that is meant to be set aside primarily for religious use, and we would do well to begin appreciating it more.

If you're an English-speaking person, then Sacred English belongs to you. It's one of the two forms of English commonly used in the world today. We have Common English, which is what we typically use on the street, and varies from one region to another. Then we have Sacred English, which remains somewhat universal and is reserved primarily for Christian religious purposes -- Scripture, liturgy, prayer, etc. -- with some bleed over into the arts. Teach your kids Sacred English, and the best way to do that is by using it! Get yourself a Sacred English Bible and prayer book. Start using them daily in your home. Consider plugging your family into a religious community that uses Sacred English if one is nearby. Read my article on Sacred English here, and use it as a basic guide for teaching your family how it works. After that, the best advice I can give you is to start reading it and praying it. In no time you'll be finding yourself composing Sacred English prayers and poems with ease.

Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of ' -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'

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