Letter from Fr Paul – 19 July 2020, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

19 Jul

Dear All,

This month of July is dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of JESUS and this devotion goes right back to the beginning of Christianity. St Peter writes in his First Letter, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the Precious Blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). JESUS is the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Many of you will know the hymn “Glory be to JESUS” in honour of the Precious Blood. We still sing it today. Here is an extract:

  1. Glory be to Jesus,
    who, in bitter pains
    poured for me the lifeblood
    from His sacred veins!
  2. Abel’s blood for vengeance
    pleaded to the skies
    ;
    but the Blood of Jesus
    for our pardon cries.

 The story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16) referred to in verse 4 is well known. Both brothers made an offering to God. Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to God because he gave to God from the best he had while Cain did not. This gave rise to the sin of hatred and fratricide with Cain brutally killing Abel with a rock. The earth soaked up Abel’s blood as it cried out to Heaven for vengeance. This crying out prefigured the scene on Calvary, where Christ’s Blood cried to Heaven for the sins of mankind.

Cain kills his brother Abel

In the Old Testament God is often regarded as the “Avenger of Blood”. “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.  Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:5-6). So the shedding of blood always had to be avenged and so Cain would have to be punished for killing his brother. The Jews, even in the case of an accidental death, would cover up the blood with dirt for fear God should see the blood, smell it and strike the person down. But with the coming of Our Lord, the God man, His Blood was exposed to the Father so that the Father might see It and be appeased by It. At Mass, the priest elevates the Precious Blood in the chalice, certainly so that the people may see It and adore It, but also begging God to see It, be appeased by It and show mercy to us all. When God, the “Avenger of Blood” sees the Most Precious Blood of His Divine Son, He dare not strike us!

St Padre Pio offers the Precious Blood at Mass

This is because Our Lord shed His Blood and laid down His life as a sacrifice to atone for all our sins, the sins of the whole world, in all times and in all places. With sin being an infinite offence against God it demands satisfaction and atonement by the life of an infinite victim offered up in a bloody sacrifice.

But why, you may ask, is the Blood of Christ able to save us? Answer: Because Christ is God. In the Incarnation, God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity united Himself to our human nature, and so JESUS is fully God and fully man. This is what theologians call the “hypostatic union”, the union of the human and divine in the one Person of Christ. Therefore every act of JESUS, the God man is of an infinite value because of whose Body, whose Blood and whose human Soul it is. We read in the Letter to the Hebrews, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (9:22). Neither is our ransom paid by the blood of bulls and goats but by the Precious Blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:4).Yes, the Blood of Christ is human blood, but it is also the Blood of God, and so the tiniest drop of His Blood, being of an infinite value, would have been enough to atone for every sin ever committed and to redeem an infinite number of people and an infinite number of universes, so precious is the Blood of Christ.

There is a moving scene in Mel Gibson’s 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ” where the Roman centurion, traditionally known as St Longinus, pierces Our Lord’s side as He hangs dead on the Cross with such force, that it pierces His Sacred Heart causing the Blood and water to flow from It over the centurion, bringing about his instant conversion. The centurion kneels down in adoration.

St Longinus pierces Our Lord’s side on the Cross in the film “The Passion of the Christ”

Again in the Old Testament, at the time of Moses, God was going to rescue the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians. And you might remember God was going to punish the cruelty of the Egyptians and rescue Israel by the Ten Plagues – ten supernatural disasters inflicted on the Egyptians (Exodus 7-11). But even after nine plagues, Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened and he refused to free Israel. So God sent the tenth plague – the worst of all. He sent the ‘Angel of Death’ to strike down the first born of the Egyptians. But before that happened, God commanded Moses to make every Israelite family take a spotless male lamb and sacrifice it and consume it. And they were to put the blood of the lamb on the wooden doorposts, so that when the Angel of Death passed over, he would not dare to enter any house where the blood of the lamb had been smeared.

The Israelites smear the blood of the sacrificed lamb on their doorposts

Those who had smeared the blood of the lamb on their doorposts were saved, but for the Egyptians who had not, it was a night of grief and wailing. The blood of the lamb had the power to save the Israelites only because it was a sign, a figure, a foreshadowing of the Blood of Christ, the true Lamb of God spoken of by the prophets being poured out on the Cross.

Twelve centuries later, the greatest of all the prophets, St John the Baptist was preaching the baptism of repentance by the River Jordan, when he saw the One whom he had been called to point out coming towards him. Pointing at JESUS he called out, “Ecce Agnus Dei.” “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  Now a new and far superior Covenant would be put in place. The animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant only had any effect because they pointed to the perfect sacrifice that would be made by Christ. The blood of animals has no power to save anybody or to atone for any sin, but in the sense that they pointed to Christ and His sacrifice they had a healing and powerful effect. And this infinite and perfect sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is made present to us at every Mass. As the priest consecrates the bread and wine, by the miracle of transubstantiation they become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord. The sacrifice He made on Calvary two thousand years ago is made present on the altar as if we were there ourselves.

Both during Mass and outside of Mass we can offer the Precious Blood of JESUS to the Father. The Blood of JESUS is so powerful that we can obtain many graces by offering It to the Father. In a vision, St Mary Magdalene de Pazzi (1566-1607) saw many saints before the Throne of God, interceding for sinners, but their petitions remained unanswered. Then the Guardian Angels of these poor sinners approached and their petitions were not heard either. Next came the multitudes of the blessed and they made intercession for these souls, but at the same time they offered to God the Father the Precious Blood, and their petitions were granted. So it is a good practice to offer to God the Father the Precious Blood of JESUS many times throughout the day.

Offering the Precious Blood can also help the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Our Lord taught St Gertrude (1256-1302) to say the following prayer:

“Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, JESUS, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church, those in my own home and within my family.”

As we know, the saints have often been able to see the Holy Souls in Purgatory. A poor soul once appeared to Blessed Henry Suso (1295- 1366) and cried out, “Blood, Blood brother is needed, that we may obtain relief! Masses, Masses should be said, as we have promised one another!”

Masses for offered  the Holy Souls in Purgatory help them

It is through the Sacrifice of the Mass that Christ’s Blood is shed anew, but in a mystical and unbloody manner. This is why we have Masses said for the living and for the dead, because Christ’s Blood cries out on our behalf.

Precious Blood of JESUS, price of our salvation, save us!

May God bless you all.

Fr Paul

Letter from Fr Paul – 12 July 2020, 15th Sunday of the Year

12 Jul

Dear All,

It is sometimes said that apparitions are sermons from Heaven! For the past two hundred years in her various apparitions, Our Lady has been telling us of the importance of sacramentals. In 1830 in Paris, Our Lady gave St Catherine Labouré the Miraculous Medal. In 1858 at Lourdes, she stressed the importance of the Rosary to St Bernadette. In 1917 at Fatima she appeared at the final apparition as Our Lady of Mount Carmel in a Carmelite habit and stressed the importance of the Brown Scapular and again the Rosary. When she appeared to St Dominic in the twelfth century she said, “One day through the Rosary and the Scapular I will save the world.”

So what is a sacramental? A sacramental is not a sacrament. Sacraments are instituted by Christ to give us grace, and the outward visible sign in the Sacraments, whether it be bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist or water in Baptism, gives us the invisible grace. Now a sacramental is also an outward visible sign, but they are instituted by the Church. They have a spiritual effect caused by the prayers of the Church. Examples would be Holy Water, statues, Rosaries, medals, blessed candles and the Brown Scapular.

Rosary beads are a sacramental

Sacraments, so long as they are properly administered, grace is conferred on the person receiving it regardless of how holy or not the priest administering it might be. The most wicked priest in the world can validly transubstantiate the bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ provided he uses the correct form. The holiness of the priest has no effect on the validity of the Sacrament. Similarly, if the person receiving Holy Communion doesn’t believe in the Real Presence, he or she is still receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, although they would be committing a sacrilege. On the other hand, the graces received from a sacramental depend very much on the faith, the love of God and the disposition of the person using it. So if I have a weak faith, I won’t get as much out of the use of a sacramental as if I had a strong faith. A good example of this from the Bible would be when the woman who had had a haemorrhage for twelve years came up and touched the fringe of JESUS’ cloak and she was immediately healed. And Our Lord said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8: 43-48). She was cured because she had faith.

One of the great sacramentals of the Church is the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is her feast this Thursday 16th July which is why I want to say something about it. Many of you already wear the Brown Scapular because either I or another priest have enrolled you in it. The more people that wear it the better. The Brown Scapular is two pieces of brown wool tied together with a cord and you wear it over your shoulders.

The Brown Scapular

The Scapular that most of us wear today is a scaled down version of the scapular Our Lady gave to St Simon Stock, who was a Carmelite Friar, in 1251 at Aylesford in Kent. So the Brown Scapular, although it is world-famous has its origin here in England. St Simon Stock was the Superior of the Carmelites in England at the time. Simon complained to Our Lady that his order was being persecuted and falling apart and so he begged for her protection. She appeared to him on 16th July 1251 and presented him with the Brown Scapular. The Scapular she gave him was the full version which the Carmelites wear to this day.

Our Lady giving St Simon Stock the Scapular in 1251

She gave it to him saying, “Son, receive this Scapular as a sign of the privilege which I have obtained for you and the children of Mount Carmel. Whosoever shall die clothed with this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” So the Scapular is a sign of salvation and a pledge of protection. In giving us her garment, Our Lady gives us herself.

Then on 13th October 1917, the final apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, when there also took place the famous Miracle of the Sun,  she appeared to the three seers Jacinta, Francesco and Lucia as Our Lady of Mount Carmel and held out the Brown Scapular to them making them understand that she wanted everyone to wear it.

One should wear the Scapular all the time and kiss it every morning or when you take it off or put it on because it reminds us to ask our Heavenly Mother’s help to keep us out of sin throughout the day. And by wearing it we also tell her we love her and trust her, and we tell her this repeatedly simply by wearing it.

The Brown Scapular has to be the most powerful sacramental because Our Lady also promised St Simon Stock that those who fulfil certain conditions and wear the Scapular, she will free from Purgatory shortly after their death and particularly on Saturdays which is Our Lady’s day. This is known as the “Sabbatine Privilege”. So what are the conditions?

  • Wear the Brown Scapular faithfully.
  • Observe chastity according to one’s state in life.
  • Recite five decades of the Rosary every day.

This is not asking much when one considers the privileges. There are many wonderful stories or miracles of salvation brought about by the Scapular. On the same day Our Lady gave St Simon the Scapular, he was called to the bedside of a dying and unrepentant man. He placed his own large Scapular over the dying man and immediately the man repented and died as a friend of God. “Whosoever shall die clothed with this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” Later that day the man appeared to his family and told them he had been saved by “the most powerful Queen and by the Brown Scapular of that man as a shield of protection.”

Pope St John Paul II (1920-2005), often spoke of how he had worn the Scapular all his life. When he was shot in St Peter’s Square by a Turkish assassin on 13th May 1981, as he was being taken into the operating theatre, he asked them not to remove his Scapular.

The two great founders of religious orders, St Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), founder of the Redemptorists and St John Bosco (1815-1588), founder of the Salesians both had a special devotion to Our Lady and wore the Brown Scapular. When they died, as is customary, they were buried wearing their priestly vestments, but they were also buried wearing their Scapulars. Many years later, when their graves were opened, their bodies and the vestments had turned to dust, but the Brown Scapular that each wore was preserved perfectly intact. 

Pope St John Paul II as a young worker wearing his Brown Scapular

There are countless miracles attributed to the wearing of the Brown Scapular, but it is not a lucky charm. We have to wear it with devotion and strive to lead a good Christian life. We should not presume to be saved just because we wear it. Rather it is a sign of consecration to Our Lady. In these dangerous times in which we live, wear your Scapular. As the priest enrols you he says, “Receive this blessed Scapular and ask the Most Holy Virgin that, by her merits, it may be worn with no stain of sin and may protect you from all harm and bring you into everlasting life.”

If you are not already enrolled and would like to be please let me know.

May God bless you all.

Fr Paul

Letter from Fr Paul – 5 July 2020, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

6 Jul

Dear All,

You have probably heard in the news how in some cities in America mobs are pulling down a number of statues. Should controversial statues be removed? Well, that’s not for me to say. That is something to be decided by local communities after discussion and debate, but it should not be the action of a mob. Statues of the saints have also been pulled down and desecrated. Last week a mob of two hundred gathered in the city of St Louis to pull down a statue of St Louis (1214-1270), the great monarch of France. King Louis was a really holy king. He led two Crusades and cared for his people so much that he personally ministered to lepers. He heard Mass twice, sometimes three times a day and established numerous hospitals. Each day he would have thirteen special guests from among the poor to eat with him, and a large number of poor were served meals near his palace. During Advent and Lent, all who presented themselves were given a meal, and Louis often served them in person. The people pulling down his statue were totally ignorant of all this and who he was. But a young diocesan priest, Fr Stephen Schumacher, ordained only a year ago, wearing his cassock, stood there peacefully in front of this mob and defended the statue of St Louis and explained to the mob the reality of who St Louis was. What a wonderful example for us, particularly us priests.

Fr Stephen Schumacher defending the statue of St Louis

And the statue was saved as a result of his action and the mob went away. But someone in the crowd did say to him they would also come after the statue of St Louis in the Cathedral too. Could the same desecration of statues happen here? I don’t know, but it’s always a possibility as it has happened before at the time of the Reformation, and so we have to be ready to defend them.

To tear down and destroy sacred images is an act of sacrilege and blasphemy and is the work of the devil. We are well known as Catholics for having statues or pictures of Our Lord, Our Lady and of the saints in our churches and in our homes, and we often come under criticism for it from non-Catholics and non-Christians. Historically it could be argued that dark moments for the Church are always preceded by ‘iconoclasm’. Iconoclasm literally means ‘image breaking’ and this has happened many times throughout history when statues and sacred images have been destroyed.

In the early Church and during the persecution when Mass had to be celebrated in hiding in the catacombs or in private houses, they couldn’t publicly worship God or have signs or symbols like crosses or statues until the Emperor Constantine (232-337), as he was marching with his army saw an image of the Cross in the sky and with it the words, “In hoc signo vinces.” That is, “In this sign you shall conquer.”

Constantine sees the sign of the Cross in the sky

At first Constantine did not understand the meaning until the following night when he had a dream in which Christ explained to him that he should use the sign or the image of the Cross against his enemies. So Constantine put the Cross on His standard and shields.  He was victorious at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 and went on from there to conquer all of the Roman Empire, east and west. This was the beginning of Christendom, and Constantine eventually became a Christian himself when he was baptised shortly before his death.

So why do non-Catholics object to our use of statues, images and crucifixes? Over the past few years I have been asked about this by a number of our University students as it is often a point of argument with their non-Catholic friends. They object on the grounds that it violates the apparent Biblical prohibition against images in Exodus 20:3-6.

“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;  you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

So how do we deal with this? The first thing to notice is that it is the worship of images that is forbidden by God. To worship anything other than the one true God is idolatry and the Israelites were prone to this. Remember the story of the golden calf (Exodus 32)? But this commandment does not prohibit the making of statues and images. For example, don’t we all have pictures of loved ones on our mantelpieces or in our wallets? Certainly in the case of deceased relatives and friends they represent people who are no longer physically present to us. But no one complains about that.

Continuing then, does Exodus 20 prohibit the making of religious images? Well it doesn’t elsewhere in Scripture. In fact, God even commands it! There are the angels on the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25: 18-19) as well as the bronze serpent in the desert. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’  So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Numbers 21:8-9). This prefigures the crucifix as you can see in the picture below.

Moses and the brass serpent

King Solomon had statues and images made to adorn the Temple, and perhaps the most striking thing about this is that he did it after God had given him the gift of wisdom (1 Kings 6: 23, 27-29). The point is these carved statues and images were not intended for any idolatrous purpose. And in fact, God approved of them.

“When Solomon had finished building the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all that Solomon desired to build, the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon.  And the Lord said to him, ‘I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built, and put My name there for ever; My eyes and My heart will be there for all time’ (1 Kings 9:1-3).

But regarding images of God Himself, Christ in the Incarnation is the icon of the Father. In the Old Testament there was no visible representation of God. God is a spirit and invisible, so there was no way to make a statue or an icon of God. But with Our Lord, in the Incarnation, “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). God the Son became a human being, so you could see Him and touch Him. If cameras has existed then you would have taken able to take a photograph of Him. What was invisible became visible. And so images took on a new significance and so now we can have images of God. After all, JESUS said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Similarly in the traditional Latin Mass, the priest as he says the Our Father is instructed to look at the consecrated Host, because “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30).

Furthermore we use images to teach the Faith. We have Bible scenes in our churches as paintings or in stain-glass windows. In St Mary’s we have so many saints depicted – Our Lady, St Joseph, St Peter, St Mary Magdalene, St George, St Anthony of Padua, St Thérèse of Lisieux, St Padre Pio and many others. We can tell our children about them to inspire them to lives of virtue and love of God. These images can be an aid to devotion but we do not worship them because that would be against the First Commandment. Divine worship or ‘latria’ is given to God alone; that is to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Eucharist is truly JESUS Christ and so we give Him divine worship (latria) there too. To the saints we give a lesser form of veneration (dulia) and to Our Lady, being the most perfect of all God’s creatures we give ‘’hyperdulia’ which is substantially less than the latria we give to God but greater than that which we give to the other saints.

So this is a bit of Catholic theology on images and why we have them. I urge you all to have at least one blessed crucifix in your homes as well as one or two blessed statues or pictures of the saints. It is important to have them blessed. Demons hate sacred images in your homes. Today we underestimate the spiritual power of these sacred things. They give us spiritual protection when we use them with faith.

May God bless you all.

Fr Paul

ST MARY’S WILL BE OPEN FOR PRIVATE PRAYER AT THE FOLLOWING TIMES:

Mondays 10.30am-12.30pm
Wednesdays 4.00pm-6.00pm
Saturdays 10.30am-12.30pm
Sundays 3.00pm-5.00pm

Letter from Fr Paul – 28 June 2020, Saints Peter and Paul

28 Jun

Dear All,

Today is the transferred Solemnity of SS Peter and Paul. I say transferred because the real date of the Feast is 29th June (Monday), and in normal times it would be a Holyday of Obligation. The current practice in England and Wales when a Day of Obligation falls on a Saturday or Monday is to transfer it to the Sunday.

I have written a little about SS Peter and Paul in this week’s newsletter. St Peter was the first Pope and Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles and both were martyred in Rome around 67 AD. With these two martyrs being the foundation of the Church, I thought it might be appropriate to say a little bit about the charism of infallibility in the Church, what we mean by this, and how we can be certain the Church is giving us the truth.

Infallibility means exemption from error. This is a negative in the sense it preserves from error, but it is also something positive because it implies not only the impossibility of being in error, but it also means possessing and proclaiming the truth. Infallibility is necessary in the Church so as we can know the truths Christ gave us with certainty. If Our Lord said, “He that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16), He must have given us the means to know the truth, and that means is the Catholic Church. The ‘Depositum fidei’ or the ‘Deposit of Faith’ is the Church’s possession of unchangeable truth: what God has revealed through His prophets in the Old Law, and through Our Lord JESUS Christ in the New Law. When Our Lord commanded the Apostles to go out and preach the Gospel to all nations, He promised to be with them “all days even to the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:20).  And at the Last Supper He said, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete to be with you forever…the Spirit of truth… He dwells with you and will be in you…The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:16-17,26). And then, “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). So it is the Holy Spirit that is the principle source of the Church’s infallibility and thus She will be protected from error both in belief and in teaching, and it is to the Catholic Church alone that Christ made these promises. As I mentioned in my letter for Pentecost Sunday, the Apostles prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost were rather confused about what Our Lord taught. But when the Holy Spirit came upon them they understood perfectly everything He had taught them and they all enjoyed the charism of infallibility in their teaching when they spoke officially as Apostles and Teachers of the Faith. This wasn’t for their benefit, but for ours. And this teaching, the Deposit of Faith, is handed on to us through the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church by the Pope and the Bishops.

So when as Catholics the Church gives us a solemn judgement on something we should assent to it, because it is irreformable and is guaranteed by Christ. The various Creeds we say, such as the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed which we say on a Sunday at Mass are all infallible because they are part of the Deposit of Faith. These teachings are irreformable, and they are also important so that we know what we believe.

Those of you old enough to have learned the old ‘Penny Catechism’ will know that, “The Pope is infallible when he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.” A good modern example of an infallible teaching would be Pope Pius XII proclaiming the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady in 1950. He said the following:

“By the authority of our Lord JESUS Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”  

Venerable Pope Pius XII defining the dogma of the Assumption of Our Lady in St Peter’s Square, 1950.

That’s how it’s done! But this was no new doctrine. It has always been believed by the Church and the Feast of the Assumption has existed since the fifth century. The Pope simply clarified it. The Pope can never invent a new doctrine. He is the guardian of the Deposit of Faith and is bound by it and by the teaching of all his predecessors. Infallibility protects the Church, as well as the authority of Scripture and Tradition by ensuring that the Pope is prevented from misusing them and thereby formally teaching error.

The Pope, when he makes an infallible pronouncement must fulfil the conditions laid down by the First Vatican Council (1868-1870). People can often get this wrong thinking that everything a Pope says is infallible. Or the other extreme is to say that if he teaches something erroneous he ceases to be the Pope. Both are wrong! This is not how the Church sees it. So the conditions for a Pope speaking infallibly are as follows:

  • That what he teaches concerns faith or morals. If the Pope speaks about mathematics, climate change, or which horse is going to win the next race, he is not speaking infallibly. Peter was made the rock of the Church to give us the truths necessary for salvation, and so his successors are infallible only when defining these eternal truths.
  • He has to proclaim it ex cathedra. This means he must say it as the Pope and Head of the Church and not as a private person. Pope Benedict XVI wrote a trilogy on JESUS of Nazareth, but he made a point of saying he was not writing it as Pope but in a private capacity as Joseph Ratzinger. Therefore it is not part of the Magisterium.
  • He must teach that this doctrine is to be definitively held by ALL the faithful and so all doubt in the matter is removed and it can never be changed. So he is not speaking infallibly if he is having a chat with a bishop on an issue or trying to solve a problem, even if it be about faith or morals.

All these conditions must exist for a Pope to proclaim something infallibly. Not everything taught by the Magisterium has the guarantee of infallibility. It would be heretical to say that everything a Pope says is infallible. Popes have made errors in their teachings in the past, but they did not fulfil the above mentioned conditions of infallibility. A famous example is when Pope John XXII (ca 1244-1334) taught the heresy that those who die do not see the Beatific Vision (see God face to face) until the Last Judgement. He later recanted. And it was left to his successor, Benedict XII to correct his wrong teaching.

Bishops when they solemnly define something in a Council are infallible when they do so in union with the Pope. For example, the dogmatic decrees of the Council of Trent (1545-63) which was the Church’s answer to the Protestant Reformation, and the First Vatican Council (1868-1870) are infallible and cannot be changed because they proclaimed dogmatic truths to be held definitively by the whole Church and were all approved by the Pope of the day.

However, contrary to what many think, the Second Vatican Council was not an infallible Council. Why not? Because both Pope St John XXIII who opened it and Pope St Paul VI who closed it said so. Paul VI said towards the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1964 that “given the Council’s pastoral character, it avoided pronouncing, in an extraordinary manner, dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility.” In other words infallibility was not used at Vatican II because it was a pastoral Council – not a dogmatic one. No doctrine was defined there. But that said, there are many teachings in the documents of Vatican II which are infallible because it incorporates infallible teachings from the past.

The Bishops of the world at the Second Vatican Council, 1962-65.

Ordinary Magisterial teaching when it is taught by all the Bishops of the world also constitutes an infallible source of what the Church teaches. This was implied when Pope St John Paul II in the 1994 document ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’ reaffirmed the teaching of the male only priesthood. The Pope didn’t here use his extraordinary powers of infallibility, but instead laid down that this had always been taught by all and therefore was infallible by virtue of it being an ordinary Magisterial teaching and “that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” The infallible nature of this was later confirmed by Cardinal Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and has been reaffirmed by Pope Francis. But not all ordinary Magisterial teachings are infallible. Only those which have been taught consistently by all the Bishops throughout the world.

Another source of infallibility which might surprise you is the ‘sensus fidelium’ or the faith of the Catholic people. This means that the Catholic faithful can be a source of infallibility when there is a distinct universal and constant profession of a doctrine by the whole body of the faithful, and it must be believed without ambiguity. Pope Benedict XVI referred to it as a “supernatural instinct” for knowing what teachings ring with Catholic truth.  This basically means that the Holy Spirit would not allow the whole of the Church faithful to hold to some doctrine when it is false or heretical. In recent years there have been abuses of this doctrine when people want to dissent from Church teaching. However, the Second Vatican Council taught that this Catholic instinct is “exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority” to which the people of God show “faithful and respectful obedience” (Lumen gentium, 12).

This is a very complicated topic and I’ve only touched the surface of some of the main points. Books can be written on this and indeed many have been! But two thousand years ago, Truth Itself came to this earth and spoke through a physical human body like ours. That Truth is now living on the earth today and speaking to us through His Mystical Body – the Catholic Church. This is why we must be obedient to the Deposit of Faith because it is Christ speaking to us. When the Church formally condemns an error, it is Christ condemning it. When the Successor of Peter infallibly defines a doctrine, it is Christ telling us this is true. “He that hears you hears Me” (Luke 10:16). This is why there can be no changing of eternal truths to please the world. We must be like the salt of the earth to save souls (Matthew 5:13).

I will conclude with the words of the great Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979):

“Some there are who hate Truth and nail Him to a cross; some there are who half believe in Truth like Pilate, who turned his back upon Him; some there are who love Truth like Peter, and die like the Master died. And from that day to this – it is Divine Truth that makes the difference. It is the Divine Truth that makes the Church the stumbling-block of the sceptics, the scandal of the half-hearted, the reproach of the ignorant. But no one escapes Her, for they realise She stands in a drab civilisation as the only rock of security and Truth.”

Happy Feast and may God bless you all.

Fr Paul

 

“Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia.” “Where Peter is, there is the Church.” (St Ambrose of Milan, ca 340-397).

Re-opening the Church for private prayer

25 Jun
Dear All,
 
We have now received permission from the diocese to open the church for private prayer at the following times: Mondays 10.30am -12.30pm, Wednesdays 4pm – 6pm, Saturdays 10.30am – 12.30pm, Sundays 3pm – 5pm. Seven people will be allowed in the church at any one time and social distancing of 2 metres must still be observed. Hand sanitiser must be used on entry and exit and there is a single directional walkway which is indicated. So the first opening for private prayer will be this Saturday 27th June from10.30am – 12.30pm. 
 
The Prime Miinister has said c hurches will be able to open again from 4th July, for public worship. I do  not know at this stage how this will work. Bishop Patrick has sent out an email to the clergy about this. Here is an extract:

“Before I can send out to you clear guidance on how we shall open our churches again for public worship, after 4th July, I must wait to receive all the appropriate guidelines to be followed from the Bishop’s Conference Secretariat, who have been working with the various government agencies on how best this can be done. The Secretariat are now just waiting for final approval of this document. I hope that in the next few days I shall be able to share all the appropriate information with you.”

What is certain though as we look towards reopening our churches after 4 th July, is that every church that may wish to open for public worship will need to be able to fulfil all the various government requirements with regard to stewarding, hygiene and social distancing. Permission will only be granted for public worship to resume in a church that has put in place all these government requirements, and completed a full Risk Assessment, in order that we may keep our congregations safe, and to help to avoid the spread of the corona virus.”
 
I thank you all for your patience. 
 
God bless you all.
 
Fr Paul