"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fr Z On Our Obligations & Identity

“And he shall make all, both little and great, rich and poor, freemen and bondmen, to have a character in their right hand, or on their foreheads.”

Under the entryabout our obligation to attend Holy Mass, someone posted this comment (I removed it to here):
I’ve always had a fantasy where I make wallet sized Catholic obligation cards.  These would have check boxes or punch boxes for all holydays of obligation for the calendar year and one for the communion and confession.
Why not just put a qr code on people’s hands or foreheads and scan them on the way in and out of church?  Easy, right?
Cf. Rev. 13:16.
Back in the day, something like what you suggested was actually done in some parishes in the USA.  It would be over 20 years ago now, but I remember some old folks putting $1 in every envelope and turning them all in so that they would have them recorded.  They remembered the days when, if people didn’t have all their envelopes in, there could be problems when it came to little things like a proper burial.  In short, they were afraid.
I have used old confessionals which had a small slot under the grate.  The old pastor once explained that, back in the day, people would people would slide through to the priest a card on which he would affirm that they fulfilled their Easter Duty.
Finding the balance between urging people to take responsibility for themselves and imposing stricter obligations is very tricky.
Paul VI blew it when he changed the obligations for doing penance and abstaining on Fridays.    Sorry, that was a bad move.  Does anyone do penance now? FAIL. Our bishops blew it big time by intermittently repressing Holy Days of Obligation.   Now people don’t go to Mass when the obligation is not repressed.  They got the message: going to Mass isn’t very important after all.  FAIL.  Shortening the Eucharistic Fast to an hour before Communion? Another brilliant outcome, do you think?  Do people now pay attention to fasting at all?  Do they have a sense of participation in the Eucharist as involving sacrifice?  We creatures of body and soul need preparation that is both physical and spiritual, fasting and being in the state of grace. Is there any concept of mortification as salutary among the people of God?  Do lots of people really give deep consideration to what they do when receiving Communion?
Cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27. FAIL.
You can understand the thought behind urging people to responsible for themselves.  It is better to choose to do what we do from love rather than merely obligation.  Consider, for example, in the traditional Act of Contrition the distinction between attrition and contrition. Attrition means you are sorry for your sins because you fear punishment.  That’s enough!  more perfect, however, is being sorry for your sins because of true contrition, for love of God.   People should want to do penance and take on mortifications because they love God.  That is a more perfect motive.
But our human nature is wounded.  When the obligations are removed, we go all wobbly.  The fact is that, when the obligations are removed, the great majority of people find it hard to maintain their discipline.  Without that discipline, some rebel by throwing off all practices, others, lose their good habits and, by so losing them, lose also their identity as Catholics.
Again, we can understand that perhaps we once may have stressed too much the points of obligation, and may have underscored too often or too harshly the Four Last Thing, or may have dwelt on the reality of sin without also the concomitant dimension of mercy.
On the other hand, given our human nature, perhaps it would be better to err on the one side than the other.
Our Catholic identity has, far and wide, been devastated.  Our Marshall Plan to revitalize our Catholic lives across the broad span of the Church must include remedies, and remedies are rarely pleasant.
The great Doctor of Grace, St. Augustine, speaking about Christ as Doctor, described His sometimes not so gentle corrections in the stark terms of the medicine of the early 5th century: the doctor doesn’t stop cutting just because the patient is screaming for him to stop.
The fact is, dear reader, one day you and I are going to die and go to our judgment, and that -as they say – will be that.  We get to work now on where we would like to wind up, because after we die, we can no longer change our minds.  Now is the time to prepare for our judgment.  Heaven is not automatic.
In times of trial, and I think our Church and we as Catholics, will be facing a time of trial soon, people usually rise to the occasion.  Most people try to “do their bit”.  Let’s start doing that bit sooner, rather than too late.
Since the Year of Faith is coming up, perhaps you readers would do your bit by taking on a year of some mortifications, extending the Eucharistic Fast a little longer, committing to to Holy Day Masses even when the obligation has been lifted, using regularly the Sacrament of Penance, affirming to Father those sermons which deal with the Four Last Things and the need for penance, making your Catholic identity known to people, always in the proper spirit.
Cf. 1 Peter 3:15:
In your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.
Please, dear readers, say your prayers, say the Rosary every day, and go to confession, think about your death and judgment, consider your Catholic habits, and do not just drift.

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