The first papal encyclical in our Veritates Aeterna series of conversation starters about Catholic doctrine is Mystici Corporis Christi, by Pope Pius XII, issued on June 29, 1943. This date puts it in the middle of World War II in Europe, when the value of human life was a central issue. Prior to that, in the 1920s and 1930s, theologians in western Europe and England had been re-exploring this idea of the Church itself as the mystical body of Jesus Christ. (A nice look at the history, by @Brother_Andre can be found here.) The concept was not new even then, and has been recognized as far back as St. Paul.
And he hath subjected all things under his feet, and hath made him head over all the church, which is his body, and the fullness of him who is filled all in all.
Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, 1:22-23
See also 1 Cor 12:12-31; Col 1:18; 2:18-20; Eph. 3:19; 4:13.
A few decades after Mystici Corporis Christi was issued this truth would be examined and then included in the documents of Vatican II, a church council ending in 1965. In particular it was discussed in Lumen Gentium, which we will certainly discuss as well.
Mystici Corporis Christi begins:
The doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church . . . whose members glory in a thorn-crowned Head. The fact that they thus glory is a striking proof that the greatest joy and exaltation are born only of suffering, and hence that we should rejoice if we partake of the sufferings of Christ, that when His glory shall be revealed we may also be glad with exceeding joy.
Mystici Corporis Christi, 1-2.
St. Paul repeated many times that he spoke of Christ, and Him crucified. The crucifixion is the start and center of the faith, Easter not Christmas, suffering not happiness. Perhaps this is why so many return to their faith when they suffer–it is the door to participating in the glory of a Savior who defeated death itself.
And immediately we are told that the mystical body of Christ “is the Church.” This, it seems, is the Church writ large–all the baptized, living and dead are parts of the mystical body. (See Para.s 17 and 22.)
We know that many today are turning with greater zest to a study which delights and nourishes Christian piety. This, it would seem, is chiefly because a revived interest in the sacred liturgy, the more widely spread custom of frequent Communion, and the more fervent devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus practiced today, have brought many souls to a deeper consideration of the unsearchable riches of Christ which are preserved in the Church.
For while there still survives a false rationalism, which ridicules anything that transcends and defies the power of human genius, and which is accompanied by a cognate error, the so-called popular naturalism, which sees and wills to see in the Church nothing but a juridical and social union, there is on the other hand a false mysticism creeping in, which, in its attempt to eliminate the immovable frontier that separates creatures from their Creator, falsifies the Sacred Scriptures.
Mystici Corporis Christi, 8-9.
Paragraph 8 gives us some of the reasons to this “exposition.” A false rationalism was on the rise and certain mystical pieties were in favor at the time, and it seems that the encyclical was drafted to clarify issues related to them. The work then, through Para. 25, goes on to give the specific background of the truth of the whole Church as a body.
This seems like a natural break. If you have time, please review paragraphs 1-25 in the next week or so and feel free to share your thoughts at Traditium.org on Facebook at Traditium: Discussions or on Twitter at Traditius’ account, under the thread made for this topic. All thoughts are welcome, particularly those on how this encyclical might apply in the present day.
The Modernists in the Church are clearly in control, and moral relativism is the order of the day. While this may bring the Church leadership into line with the current popular culture, which some desperately desire, it is problematic for the future, and the past. Eternal truths do not, after all, “evolve” into principles that contradict Christ’s words. Dogma does not “develop” into its own opposite. Everyone cannot have their own truth and still call it truth.
In the name of the eternal, and of tradition, we will begin an examination and discussion of some of the truths set out before modernism by looking to the encyclicals of the popes, beginning with Pope Pius XII and working back. We will pick one or two encyclicals from each, look at them piece by piece, and we hope, begin a social media discussion of how they applies today.
If you’re new to these ideas, understand that modernism is the belief that newer is always better, that our knowledge in the present day is so much more pure than it was in the past that there is no longer any reason to turn back to tradition. To them, Vatican II is the real beginning of the Catholic faith–at least the Catholic faith worth listening to. Modernists believe that things must be developed, updated, modernized even when updating them begins to contradict eternal truths the Church has always maintained.
Why? Because, to the Modernist the past need not apply. To the Modernist, there are no eternal truths, only archaic and likely ignorant claims by people who lack the sophistication of the present day. However, to the Traditionalist, with their respect for, and consideration of, the past and the eternal, modernism is the mother of heresies, an attempting to “develop” doctrines across the board not for the purpose of bringing them to their fullness, but rather to force their growth toward the conclusions of the current culture, flawed or no.
So we will turn to the encyclicals one by one as long as there is energy to do so, and hopefully then weave them back into the current debates and discussions. We begin with Mystici Corporis Christi, an encyclical by Pius XII on the mystical body of Christ.
Traditium does not claim to be an expert in this area, and everyone is energetically welcome to participate. We expect folks with more expertise to jump in and educate us as we go. Our purpose is only to get a conversation started. Please feel free to become a member of WordPress to join in the discussion by responding to posts here, or to jump in wherever they may wander in the social media. We’ll start with a new post about Mystici Corporis Christi tomorrow here on Traditium.org.
That little part of you that doubts
the traditions of the faith
That tiny whisper
Is all that stands between you
And the peace of the Lord.
Turn Your eyes to the most prominent place and there You will find the face of suffering. It is not hidden, not swept away, not tucked into a corner. There is pain, all of the pain, beaten and bloody. It is a tangible suffering You are quixotically invited to join with Your own. It is blood You are bizarrely asked not to turn away from but to wash Yourself in. It is anointed flesh and that same precious blood You are preposterously told to believe is eternally offered as sustenance. Imagine such a scene. Do not look away from it. And know one thing: Truth such as this will never submit to the times.
It is an age where the people’s seers wear labcoats, and all that can be seen can be measured and categorized, but You know that there are echoes at the very depths of Your being, parts of You that understand that all of the explanations They offer are not enough, parts of You that instinctively know that not everything can be measured, not everything can be seen, not everything can be explained. There is always a piece of You, a piece which They would deny even exists, an indispensable piece that looks at their explanations, smiles knowingly and says “there is more than just this.”
The efforts by many to explain the Faith in terms the current age will understand, these are valiant and necessary efforts, but to the degree the World considers them subversive efforts, They are precisely right. The Faith is not of this world, it is beyond the natural, it includes all that You admit and all that You deny. The dogma it declares, dimly here, loudly there, should be among the gravest of concerns to those who breathe deeply of the times. Because We are out to change this world, to make straight the path to the new one. As many times as needed, as difficult as it may be. Forever and ever.
What most people call the “Latin Mass” seems to have a bewildering number of names and many of them are imprecise for one reason or another. Perhaps surprisingly ”Latin Mass” is the least precise of all. But another label, Tridentine, can be used by some naysayers in a way that is downright troublesome.
Among the many names for it, calling the liturgy conducted in Latin and pursuant to the 1962 Missal the “Extraordinary Form” is certainly accurate since Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum formalized the term, along with the term Ordinary Form for the form of the Mass commonly seen today. Pope Francis seems to prefer calling the Extraordinary Form the Vetus Ordo, or Old Form, which lines up nicely given that the Ordinary Form is also called the Novus Ordo, or New Form. So, regardless of any possible connotations, the benefit of the labels Extraordinary Form or Vetus Ordo for the so-called Latin Mass is that they are precise, accurate and used by popes. Many, though, prefer to call the Traditional Latin Mass/Old Form/Extraordinary Form the “Tridentine Mass,” which, historically speaking, can be both right and wrong, and which is often a springboard to an increasingly common and often deliberate fallacy.
Latin was perhaps the first sacrifice to modernity. Vatican II called for its preservation and the ridiculous “Spirit of Vatican II” systematically dispensed with it. The Church actually abandoning Latin, though, is unthinkable, and to return to it, even if only to hear it spoken in the Mass, is to come home. Ten years after Summorum Pontificum, let’s take a look at its history, step-by-step:
Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Latina Lingua establishing the Pontifical Academy for Latin (2012).
Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum expanding access to the Traditional Latin Mass (2007).
Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to the bishops accompanying the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007).
The formation of the Fraternitas Sacerdotalis Sancti Petri (FSSP) as a traditionalist Catholic society for priests interested in promoting and protecting the Traditional Latin Mass, which broke off from the SSPX and is in communion with the Holy See, occurs (1988).
Bl. Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Scripturarium Thesaurus promolgating the Nova Vulgata (1979).
The Nova Vulgata, or new Vulgate, the official modern version of St. Jerome’s Vulgate Bible, is published (1979).
Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, is promolgated by Pope Paul VI, allowing for Mass in the vernacular instead of Latin when a territorial decree permits the exception, see p. 36. (1963). (Permission for the change was obtained by U.S. bishops in May of 1964.)
Bl. Pope John XXIII’s Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia on the Promotion of the Study of Latin (1962).
Following the Council of Trent, Pope Clement VIII issues the Papal Bull Cum Sacrorum accompanying the issuance of the Clementine Vulgate (searchable text), the revision of St. Jerome’s Vulgate Bible, which stands until the 1979 revision (1592).
Pope St. Pius V‘s Apostolic Constitution Quo Primum is issued, implementing the decision of the Council of Trent to require the use of the historic Latin liturgy in perpetuity, and foregoing any other which did not have 200 years of consistent use by that date (1570).
St. Paul arrives in Rome, Acts 28:11, later martyred there (c. 64).
July 11 is the Feast of St. Benedict. Take a moment today to learn about this great man of history. Chesterton says each age needs the saint that is its opposite, perhaps it is an age for word of him to rise back to prominence.
[This is a short story written in February 2013 for the Tuscany Press fiction contest. Alas, it did not win, but we were rather happy with it here at Traditium and are re-printing now in its final form. Enjoy.]
John wondered which of them looked worse. The man lumbering along the path to the city was most likely a farmer. He looked strong but stooped, ragged and older than his years, and his skin had been worn and hardened by the sun. The cart behind him clearly contained just a few days of provisions and the animal. The animal looked energetic and curious, glancing all around—it had no idea of its fate. John knew though.
John, meanwhile, was covered in hair: His twisting salt-and-pepper beard, his itchy coat, and his weathered hands. He’d always been hairy, but this was pretty bad. Almost as much as the animal, he amused himself by thinking. His seriousness quickly returned. There was a job to do. He watched the man walk along a bit then John turned and headed back toward the river, trying not to lumber so much himself.
It’s said that there are places on Earth that are just a bit closer to God. Holiness can embrace you in these places. Consolation can be experienced directly. The breath of God’s Love can be felt. These are the Thin Places.
This is a Celtic observation that the distance between ourselves and God is not so far in certain spots. That the distance between this world and that of Heaven is not so great, that the holy is, for these moments, in these places, within reach.
Perhaps it is a bench in a garden. A pew in a beautiful church. A secluded, sandy spot where the lapping of the ocean can be heard. A view of the mountains. A shrine. An abbey. A field with an endless sky. A dark spot faraway, under a sea of stars. A place your ancestors once worshiped the Lord, where Jesus once walked, where God was. A place where you cannot help but feel it.
What we do in a Thin Place is not set, not planned, not known. Perhaps it is a time to go deeper with a prayer you know, or simply to behold God’s creation, or just spend a moment with the whispering silence, but in these places it seems easier to quiet the tumbling thoughts, to feel the eternity of God stretching out before you. Our contemplations seem to have more meaning, our observations more color, the stillness more depth.
Many people these days have grown to fear silence, but our mind’s chatter of ideas and defenses, worries and anxieties are not of the soul. The soul is in the places under, above and in between. Usually, the soul bursts forth only in silence. The peace of your own soul can take quiet command in these Thin Places, and reveal to you the other half of life. The half you abandoned to live wholly in the world, the half you didn’t know you’d given up, the half that got misplaced behind the chatter, the radio, the television, the phone.
The existence of Thin Places also suggests that Heaven is more near than we believe. It is a notion of the ancient Greeks that after death you go somewhere separate and far off for eternity. The Christian belief is rather that Heaven and Earth intersect. (An interesting Bishop Barron video about this intersection is here.) If Heaven is set on top of the World it only makes sense that they interact, that one can peek through to the other, that the Thin Places must exist.
On the other hand, the Rhineland Mystics might argue that the Thin Places are not a function of the location of heaven because they are, instead, everywhere:
A man may go into the field and say his prayer and be aware of God, or, he may be in Church and be aware of God; but, if he is more aware of Him because he is in a quiet place, that is his own deficiency and not due to God, Who is present in the same way in all things and places, and is willing to give Himself everywhere what is in Him. He knows God rightly who knows Him everywhere.
If this is the case, then all the better.
In anxious moments the peace of God is available if we can still ourselves enough to experience it—regardless of the tension level around or within us. This, of course, is a secret of the saints. All of Creation is a Thin Place. Anywhere you go can be a Thin Place if you can hold fast to the peace of God, the touch of the Prince of Peace. Indeed, you can bring that peace with you into the restless places and, though God, change them. A word of calm or forgiveness can reveal that the distance between us and the holy is sometimes no distance at all, that it can pour into a moment just as much as the chatter of life can seem to drain it away.
Perhaps, then, the Thin Places are doors. The board meeting, the room of screaming children, the end of a long day, are the challenges for those of us not near sainthood, for those of us not adept at bringing peace, only looking, at this point, to find it. But you already know somewhere where it can be found.
We should begin at the Thin Places, give ourselves the time, patience and permission to seek out a spot where God seems near, and to drink in the stillness. Once there, feeling the closeness of Heaven, we can then pray, convey, listen. While the Kingdom of Heaven may be all around us, we can’t all expect to see it everywhere right away. Perhaps it will take some time in the Thin Places for us to begin to understand the rest of life.
And so the mission, in the end, is the same as it was at the start. The next time you feel that you are in a Thin Place, wherever it might be, remember it. Think back to the places where you were able to feel peace. Make a point of returning. Pray there, or be still. Embrace the peace you feel.
They are there for a reason, and so are you.
Twas the Night Of Nicea, and all through the land,
The bishops were gathering, with hopes for a plan.
Three cent’ries before, Jesus had been,
But many still differed on just what that means.
Go and decide, the Emperor had said,
And so they all went, pressing firmly ahead.
Easter’s date to consider, a creed to declare,
Much to decide, with faith and with prayer.
But storm clouds were brewing. A heresy had spread:
Jesus was prophet–a branch, not the head.
Arius led them. And for this he had fought,
But it was not the good news that the apostles had taught.
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