Rorate Caeli

They are expelling Jesus from the churches

Newly remodeled Seminary Chapel of the Diocese of Hildesheim, Germany [Source]: in the center, the ambo ("Tisch des Wortes" - Table of the Word) and, farther away, the altar ("Tisch des Brotes" - Table of the Bread)

by Antonio Socci

One day, while chatting with some friends, Cardinal Ratzinger quipped, “The way I see it, the proof that the Church has Divine origins is the fact that it has survived the millions of sermons delivered every Sunday!”

We do indeed hear about all sorts of things. And not only the story in yesterday’s news about the priest who led an Islamic prayer extolling Allah – in a basilica in Brianza. 

There are those who recommend reading Mancuso’s [Vito Mancuso, Italian laicized priest and celebrity theologian] or Augias’s [Corrado Augias, Italian Atheist journalist and author] books….and you see “installations” of contemporary art in cathedrals that would make your hair stand!

What do you expect when even the cardinals of Milan give free play to “creativity?”

I read this on Sandro Magister’s site: “On May 11 of 2005, an invitation to speak in the cathedral to introduce the cycle dedicated to the book of Job was extended to professor Massimo Cacciari: in addition to being the mayor of Venice, he is a 'nonbelieving' philosopher like others who in past years have taken part in meetings promoted by cardinal Martini under the title of 'Nonbelievers at the pulpit.' Cacciari spoke in glowing terms of living without faith and without certainty.”

In short, you can witness all sorts of things going on in the churches….all but the one thing necessary -  that Jesus Christ is the center.

Indeed, in this widespread inattentiveness, even the Italian bishops have cast Him out from the churches ( least visibly removed from the High Altar and set aside in some corner).  He, Who is the rightful owner, namely the Son of God, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. 

I do not want this to sound like just a banal remark. At the National Eucharistic Congress that is opening [and currently taking place] in Ancona, they ought to consider the devastating effects produced by that unbelievable document issued by the Episcopal Commission on the Liturgy in 1996 which is the overall basis from which new churches and the position of the tabernacles have been planned and where the older churches have been “ re-thought-over.”

It is difficult to understand what theological statute some Committees of the CEI [Italian Episcopal Conference] hold, (in my opinion, none). But the strange thing is this: in ecclesiastical environments – starting with the seminaries and the theology schools – you come across legions of “prepared” theologians, who, without any serious motivation, question the words of the Pope and the Gospels, ( i.e. in their historical reliability). But this questioning disappears when the texts are born of their know-it-all-brains and approved by some Episcopal commission; they will then tell you that these texts must be considered sacred and untouchable.

So, in this text of 1996, among the other doubtful things, we find this: “it is strongly suggested” placing the tabernacle not only at a distance from the altar where Mass is celebrated, but even away from the so-called presbyterial area – relegating it to “a place set apart.”  The reasons, as always, are apparently “devout.” The tabernacle could distract from the Eucharistic celebration – so we are told.

A preposterous reason – and with the emphasis of the celebratory event and the tabernacle being a detriment –  it is also dangerously close to Luther’s theories.

The unthinkable consequences of these norms are the following:  for years we have witnessed a progressive distancing of the tabernacle, which holds the presence of the Lord, from the most important place in the church. First it was placed in a remote place, (a column or a side altar), afterwards in a partially visible chapel. Eventually it will probably be completely ousted from the churches. This can be seen in the unbelievable building at San Giovanni Rotondo where the body of Padre Pio was placed. The building, designed by Renzo Piano, has no kneelers and the central, overhanging figure is the huge and terrifying red dragon of the apocalypse, represented triumphant on the immense stained-glass-window; well then, the tabernacle is not there.

I have no idea who had the bright idea of progressively hiding the tabernacles in the churches, which would have absolutely horrified Padre Pio.  It does not correspond at all to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, given that the post-conciliar instruction “Inter Oecumenici”, of 1964, affirmed that the customary place for the tabernacle must be the high altar.

The Pope does not like it either as we can see from the post–synod Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis”  where he outlines the very close link that must exist between the Eucharistic celebration and adoration. Also, the centrality and prominence of the tabernacle was emphasized by the XI Synod of Bishops in 2005.Could this be enough to get it back on track? No way. This is manifest in the behaviour of certain bishops – at times in open contestation to the Pope, as we well remember when his famous “Motu Proprio”  restored the liberty of using the Missal of the Old Rite.

Unfortunately, the “unusual” ideas of the “creative” liturgists will continue to prevail over those of the Pope, of the Council, and of the Synod (perhaps they will make way for other foolishness such as “First Communion” at the age of 13).  Further, as a consequence of ousting Our Eucharistic Jesus from the churches, we have the inconceivable practice of entrance tickets instituted even in certain Cathedrals.  Thus, churches are degraded to the level of museums.

The protestantizing or the “turning into museums” of churches is a phenomenon with frightful consequences to the Catholic Church.  Immediate action should be taken to bring it to a halt. So that we might understand what a Catholic Church was and what it should be like, I would like to recall the stories of two significant people.

The first is Edith Stein, an extraordinary woman, an agnostic philosopher born into a Jewish family, who became  a Catholic, then a Carmelite nun and who died in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. She was declared a saint by Pope John Paul II and, in the following year, co-patron of Europe.

Stein recounted the first episode that brought her nearer to her conversion. It happened in 1917 when she was a young girl. She saw a working woman with her shopping basket going into the Cathedral of Frankfurt to pray:
“This was  something entirely new to me. In the synagogues and protestant churches that I had attended, the believers would go only to the functions. Here, however, a woman went into an empty church, as if she was going to have an intimate meeting. I have never been able to forget this incident.”
She could not, indeed, for there in that church was Our Eucharistic Jesus.

Another story is about the famous French intellectual Andre Frossard, the son of the secretary of the Communist Party.  He was a 21-year-old Atheist and that day he had a date with a girl. The friend walking with him was a Catholic and he asked Andre to wait for a moment while he went into a church for a visit. After some minutes, Frossard decided to go and call him because he was in a hurry to meet up with “his latest fling.”  The writer emphasizes that he had no religious torments whatsoever, unlike many others. For those young communists, religion was an historical heap of old junk and God was a problem “that had been resolved in the negative sense for two or three centuries.”  Yet, when he went into that church, Eucharistic Adoration was in progress.  Frossard recounts: 
And then something unforeseeable happened.”  He says, “The boy that I was then has never forgotten the astonishment that took possession of him, when from the end of that church devoid of noteworthy beauty, he saw rising suddenly before him a world, another world of unbearable splendor, of insane density, which revealed and hid at the same time the presence of God, that God, which, an instant before he would have sworn had never existed, except in the imagination of men; at the same time he was engulfed by a wave from which sweetness and joy overflowed, a wave with a power that broke his heart and which he has never forgotten.”

His life turned upside-down.  He wrote: “I am adamant. It was an objective experience, it was almost an experiment in physics.”  Frossard became one of the most renowned Catholic journalists. He would never have met the Word become Flesh in a church nowadays - only idle prattling. 

Libero, September 3, 2011.
[Contribution and translation: Francesca Romana; translation authorized by author.]