By Piotr Falkowski
LET’S BUILD ON CHRIST
Interview of His Excellency Mons. Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Karaganda (Kazakhstan)
You and two other Bishops have written a letter calling to pray for the Pope related to “Amoris laetitia” exhortation in order to encourage Him to explain the doubts around it.
– In these circumstances the only indispensable act of the Pope consists in unambiguously confirming the Divine truth of the indissolubility of marriage not only regarding doctrine, but also regarding the practice, as it did Jesus Christ and according to His example all of His Vicars on earth, the Roman Pontiffs. The central task of a Pope is precisely this: to confirm his brethren in the faith. This task is not optional, but commanded by Christ Himself (cf. Lc 23, 32).
How may we as the Catholics express our doubts and confusions with respecting due love and obedience to the successor of Peter?
– That there are doubts and a huge amount of confusion regarding the Apostolic and unchangeable discipline of the Church in the issue of marriage and divorce, is a fact that does not need any demonstrations. When important truths of our faith such as the indissolubility of marriage, the universal validity of the moral law - and especially of the Sixth Commandment - are questioned, obscured and distorted by specific so-called pastoral guidelines in many local churches, Catholics cannot be indifferent, because this represents an attack on the common spiritual good of the entire Church, because this concerns and affects all of us. When a father of family is negligent in giving to his children adequate food, they have to require it from him with insistence and at the same time with filial respect. A father is indeed not an absolute king or a dictator.
There are three bishops of Kazakhstan (out of five living) signed in the letter. Have you invited other prelates to join you. There was also a letter of four cardinals and visibly nothing more. Don’t you have any hesitations whether you are right?
– There was an attempt to gain more signatures, however effectively the Appeal for Prayer was signed only by three bishops. It is for me clear as a daylight, that such an act was not only right, but obligatory for a Catholic bishop in view of the real and widespread attack on the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage, of the Eucharist and of the Divine Commandments. I have only done what I had to do in the eyes of my conscience and of the Divine judgment.
What interpretations of “Amoris laetitia” cannot be reconciled with our faith?
– Our Lord Jesus Christ solemnly restored the original dignity of the marriage declaring ones and for all its absolute indissolubility. The Apostles and the perennial tradition of the Magisterium of the Church kept and transmitted integrally and unambiguously this divine truth. The Church kept the fidelity to this divine truth to the extent to prefer considerable temporal disadvantages. Here are only some examples: In the 9th century Pope Saint Nicolas I excommunicated King Lothar II of Germany because of his adulterous union and the Pope was ready to die rather than to yield to the military power, which the King directed to Rome in order arrest the Pope and to force him to lift the excommunication. In the end of the 12th century Pope Innocent III inflicted upon the entire France the interdict (prohibition of the celebration of the sacraments) in order to force King Philipp II to abandon an adulterous union and to return to his legitimate wife. Let us think that in the 16th century the Popes preferred the schism of an entire country such as England rather to yield in the practice to the divorce of King Henry VIII. Single popes, bishops and faithful preferred to by persecuted and to die rather than to allow divorce or to concede an exception even in a single case in theory or in practice. The two-millennial history of the Church possesses luminous examples. An interpretation of “Amoris laetitia” (=AL) which would even in a single case admit to Holy Communion civilly divorced Catholics, who are still bound by the sacramental bound of their marriage and who nevertheless are living with a new partner as husband and wife, would contradict in practice the divine truth of the indissolubility of marriage. Even when bishops and cordinals who do such an interpretation of AL are solemnly asserting the validity of the indissolubility of marriage, their words remain a lip service, which cannot obscure the fact of the glaring contradiction of such an interpretation with the crystal-clear Divine truth of the Gospel.
Some local Churches lean towards different thinking – there are guidelines of bishops suggesting quite wide access to Holy Communion for the divorced living in new relations.
– With such guidelines and practical interpretations of AL these bishops are introducing in the life of the Church purely human traditions of infidelity and of hardheartedness like those of the people in the Old Testament and of the Scribes and Pharisees, which Jesus Christ condemned.
How has this whole problem of inconsistencies in proclaiming the Church teaching risen?
– The current doctrinal and practical confusion regarding the indissolubility of marriage and of the universal validity of the Ten Commandments and consequently of the moral law in general, is a symptom of the more deep and widespread phenomenon of doctrinal and moral relativism, which infects the life of the Church already for more than fifty years. This phenomenon represents a yielding to the philosophical principle of subjectivism regarding rational and moral truth: a typical principle of the modern times, which can be characterized by an exasperated anthropocentrism. This anthropocentrism means that man puts himself in the place of God, that man determines what is true and untrue, and what is good and evil, that man consequently desires to be honored. God, and specifically Christ the Incarnated God, is put therefore aside even during the liturgical celebrations, where the Eucharistic God is put often in a corner in the tabernacle, where the human priest puts himself in the center, facing the people during the entire liturgy, even though liturgy should be in the first place adoration of Christ and not a gazing of the face of the priest.
You are well-known supporter of traditional liturgy and Eucharistic devotion. How have you come to this attitude?
– The deepest lessons I learned from celebrating the traditional form of the Mass is this: I am only a poor instrument of a supernatural and utmost sacred action, whose principal celebrant is Christ, the Eternal High Priest. When I am celebration the traditional Mass I feel that during the celebration I lost in some sense my individual freedom, for the words and the gesture are prescribed even in their smallest details, and I am not able to dispose of them. I feel most deeply in my heart that I am only a servant and a minister who yet with free will, with faith and love, fulfill not my will, but the will of God even in the smallest details. The traditional and more than millennial-old rite of the Holy Mass, which not even the Council of Trent changed, because the Ordo Missae before and after that Council was almost identical, proclaims and powerfully evangelizes the Incarnation and the Epiphany of the ineffably saintly and immense God, who in the liturgy as “God with us,” as “Emmanuel,” becomes so little and so close to us, even in the details of the obligatory liturgical rubrics. The traditional rite of the Mass is a highly artfully and, at the same time, a powerful proclamation of the Gospel, realizing the work of our salvation. When clerics and bishops obstruct or restrict the celebration of the traditional Mass, they don’t obey what the Holy Spirit says to the Church, and they are acting in a very anti-pastoral way. They behave as the possessors of the treasure of the liturgy, which does not belong to them, for they are only administrators. In denying the celebration of the traditional Mass or in obstructing and discriminating against it, they behave like an unfaithful and capricious administrator who – contrary to the instructions of the house-father – keeps the pantry under lock or like a wicked stepmother who gives the children a meager fare. Perhaps such clerics have fear of the great power of the truth irradiating from the celebration of the traditional Mass. One can compare the traditional Mass with a lion: Let him free, and he will defend himself.
And what was your personal way to traditional liturgy?
– My way to the traditional liturgy came in an organic manner, beginning with the education in the Catholic faith through my mother and my grandmothers during the persecution of the Church when I lived in the Soviet-Union. I was also educated in the faith by a holy priest, Father Janis Pawlowski, a Capuchin Priest from Latvia, who suffered also imprisonment during the persecution and was later my parish priest in Estonia, in Tartu. In that time as a child and an adolescent, I was taught that all things, which are connected with the Holy Eucharist, have to be in an eminent way sacred and sublime. Father Pawlowski celebrated the Holy Mass always turning his face to the tabernacle. When in 1973 my family emigrated to West Germany, we experienced a profound shock and deep sorrow, observing the new style of celebrating Mass towards the people, like in a closed circle. This style of celebration remembered me the style of the worship at which I once assisted in a Baptist community in the Soviet-Union. Another shock was for us the practice of the giving Holy Communion in hand. To my parents, my siblings and to me such a practice was really horrible, my mother even cried, when she saw such a scene. I thank God for the great grace that in all my life I always longed in my soul for a sacred and sublime manner of celebrating Mass. I would call this the “sensus liturgicus fidei”, the liturgical sense of the faith. As a young man I entered a community of Canons Regular in Austria, where the Holy Mass, it was the new rite of Mass, was celebrated in Latin and towards the Lord in the tabernacle, and Holy Communion given while kneeling and an the tongue. When Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 rehabilitated the traditional liturgy of Mass, it was for me a deep joy, because I myself could then celebrate and assist to a form of the celebration of Mass, which I experienced in my childhood during the persecution of the Church, the same form, which experienced my parents and grandparents. To speak with the words of Benedict XVI: “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer”. Moreover, the rehabilitation of the traditional liturgy should have according to Benedict XVI also a positive and enriching influence to the new rite of Mass. One of the most necessary enrichment consists in celebrating also the new rite towards the Lord, as Benedict XVI and newly Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship are suggesting.
You called a few years ago to issue new “Syllabus errorum”. What popular “errors” are most threatening our faith in present time?
– The list would be as follows: 1) The theory of a pre-conciliar and a post-conciliar Church in the sense of rupture or discontinuity, preferring the “post-conciliar” Church, and considering the real Church as the “conciliar church”, creating thereby the notion of a new church, the “Church of Vatican II”. 2) The theory that other Christian confessions or other religions are objectively also ways of salvation wanted by God. 3) The theory that women have to receive access to ordained ministries at least to the deaconate, an aspiration which is favored by the wide spread practice of female acolytes and lectors, a practice not at least indicated by the documents of Vatican II. 4) Doubts about the perpetual virginity of Our Lady, especially about the virginal birth of Jesus and of the virginity of Our Lady during birth giving (virginitas in partu). 5) The theory that the Holy Mass is predominantly a fraternal banquet and that the sacrificial aspect of the Holy Mass is only metaphorical or a sacrifice of praise (such an error increased largely step by step also due to a typical banquet-style manner of celebrating Mass, i.e. the generalized practice of the celebration “versus populum”, which non in the least was indicated by the fathers of Vatican II. 6) The lack of the belief in the transubstantiation and even in the real presence (largely caused by the modern practice of Communion in hand, a practice, which the Council fathers never could imagine and which Paul VI himself considered dangerous. 7) Erroneous opinions about episcopal collegiality, attributing to the college of the bishops an ordinary supreme power of government of the universal Church, creating a kind of double-head of the body of the Church, what is against the Divine constitution of the Church. 8) An erroneous application of the principle of episcopal collegiality by means of the Episcopal Conferences on national and international levels, weakening thereby the Divinely established individual authority of teaching and governing of the diocesan bishop. 9) Doubts about the eternity of the hell. 10) Doubts about the real possibility of eternal condemnation to hell of human beings, which means that the hell is empty. 11) Doubts about the necessity of expiation of temporal punishments in the purgatory. 12) A naturalistic view of the Christian life and truth, so that activism and social engagement become predominant to the detriment of prayer and adoration of God, which means a kind of neo-pelagianism. 13) Non-recognition of the grave immorality of contraception. 14) Practical errors about the indissolubility of a valid matrimony (favored by the practice of admittance of divorced to Holy Communion). 15) Errors about the objective disorder of homosexual acts and of homoerotism and the objective immorality of same sex civil unions, because they favor ultimately sodomy. 16) Confusion about the essential difference of the ministerial and the common priesthood. 17) Doubts about the convenience of the clerical celibate and his perennial value because of apostolic tradition.
Does your pastoral service in Archdiocese of Astana, in fact very untypical one, have impact on your positions towards the issues of universal Church?
– The Catholic Church is by its nature universal and even in the smallest and more peripheral communities the fullness of the Church is present, when there is kept integrally the Catholic faith, the liturgy and the unity with the Chair of Peter in Rome, with the Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth. Therefore, in order to help to edify the kingdom of God in the life of the Church it is not necessary to occupy outstanding positions. Furthermore, according to the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council, every bishop by the fact that he is a member of the college of the bishops has to be concerned also with the common spiritual good of the entire Church, making his own contribution by means of his prayers, sacrifices, words and deeds. Indeed the Church is a living organism, the Mystical Body of Christ, where each member has to offer his contribution in the spirit of Christ, the true Head of the Church, and following the example of the Apostles, whose successors the bishops are. The Catholic community in Kazakhstan is numerically a very little one, may be only of half of percent of the entire population. However, we have in Kazakhstan the honor, which is at the same time a duty, to be heirs of many martyrs and confessors of faith. This heritage I considered the greatest richness of our Church, which we have to preserve. Therefore, not the financial wellbeing, nor the bureaucratic structures and many pastoral commissions will truly edify the Church, but that strong, pure und fearless faith, which the previous persecuted church handed us over. I am very happy to do my episcopal ministry in a poor and small Church at the very periphery. One of the most significant human and spiritual values, which are still present in our communities and as well as in the Kazakh society consists in the deep respect towards the sacred and holy things and especially towards the mother and old elder people.
What are you going to say to Polish readers?
– Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! I wish to all readers of Nasz Diennik abundant graces of Our Risen Lord Jesus Christ. May you be strengthened in the living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Savior of humankind. There is no other religion which saves man, except the Catholic Church, because the Catholic Church is the unique Church of God, because the Church is the living Christ Himself. Jesus Christ is really corporally risen from the dead. Yet, He is risen with His holy wounds on His body. The wounds, the signs and witnesses of the Passion and the sacrifice of the Cross, will always remain. They are indelible sings of the unspeakable love and mercy of Christ. The wounds remain on the risen body of Christ to remind that a true Christian cannot be without the cross, that a true Christianity will always glory itself only in the Cross of Christ, that the cross of Christ is our greatest spiritual weapon in the battle against the evil spirits, against the enemies of the truth. We believe in Jesus Christ, in His Cross, in His wounds, in His glorious resurrection from the dead. For the sake of this faith we want to be ready to give our lives. Jesus is alive and lives and we also, if living in the state of grace, are alive and live. If we are in the state of grace, Christ lives within us, and then we have nothing to fear. Christ is risen, He truly is risen!
Thank you very much.