DCMission Statement


Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Problem of Reconciling Evil as Nothingness and Being in Hell: Fr. John Hardon Answers (Quaerimus IV)

"...seek and you will find..."

— Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9.

An ongoing search has been underway since last October when I posed the question dealing with the notion of evil as nothingness - famously proposed by St. Augustine - and the problem to which this leads given that Hell and the beings in it exist. I posted the original question here and offered some thoughts on a reader's response here. In listening to a series of talks by Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., I have been fortunate enough to come across a lecture in which he addresses this question explicitly, referencing Sacred Scripture as well as teachings from the Church's Sacred Tradition in his response.

He begins with an enumeration of the three senses in which God is omnipresent found in Church teachings:

Before we go into the closer meaning of God's omnipresence, I think we should know something about the world in which God, as we say, is omnipresent. The first way that God is present is called "natural." By the very nature, whatever exists, exists only because God is present to that creature sustaining it in its existence. It is also called "ominipresence." This is called God's "universal presence." In all creatures - both rational and irrational - in Heaven, on Earth, in the center regions, is God - even present in Hell. We must say "yes." If that's the fundamental way in which God is present, we ask, is God also present in a supernatural way? Yes. More properly called, "the divine indwelling." The way that God is present in the souls of those who are in the state of grace. Oh, what a difference between God being present in every creature and God's unique presence in those who possess His grace. Finally as our Faith tells us, God is also present in what we call His "Real Presence," where God is present, not only as God, but as the God who became man. In His Real Presence, God is present, as we say, "corporeally." He is present in the Holy Eucharist for all eternity...

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from Our Spiritual Life – Men’s Retreat, Lecture 23: Omnipresence of God, 1978-9. (Emphasis added.)


The next writings he cites on the topic come from the Old Testament, namely Psalms 139 and Jeremiah 23:24:

What is the revelation of God on His omnipresence? Both Sacred Scripture and what we call "Sacred Tradition": they are filled with professions of faith in God's omnipresence. Just to read one short passage from one of the Psalms: "Where shall I go before your spirit?" the psalmist prays to the Lord. "Where can I flee before your face? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there. If I descend into Hell, you are there. If I take my wings and fly to the outermost parts of the sea..." even there, you, my Lord, are there. You are everywhere. You are always near me with your omnipresence. Then, the Lord says to the prophet Jeremiah, "Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" The answer is, God fills every creature that exists. Unless God were present, nothing else would be there.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from Our Spiritual Life – Men’s Retreat, Lecture 23: Omnipresence of God, 1978-9. (Emphasis added.)

Finally, I think that the post would not be complete without a quotation giving what Fr. Hardon refers to as "the most detailed profession of faith in God's omnipresence from the Scriptures," found in Acts 27:


St. Paul is speaking to the pagan Greeks of Athens. He tells them that the God who created the world is everywhere. This gave St. Paul the occasion for explaining that this "unknown God" - as the pagan Greeks called Him - this "unknown God" is not far from any human being. In fact, unless God were present, there would not be a human being. Says Paul, "In him we live, and move, and have our being." (Acts chapter 17, verses 27 and 28.) Now we ask, how is God present everywhere? Given the revealed fact that God is omnipresent everywhere, the Church has, over the centuries, gone on to explain...

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from Our Spiritual Life – Men’s Retreat, Lecture 23: Omnipresence of God, 1978-9.

Servant of God Fr. John Hardon (†2000), pray for us.



On the traditional calendar, today is the feast of St. Basil the Great (†379), bishop and Doctor of the Church.


Sancte Basili Magne, ora pro nobis.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Problem of Reconciling Evil as Nothingness and Being in Hell:
An Anonymous Reader Responds (Quaerimus IV)

Earlier I wrote evil does not exist, so what then is in Hell? Angels and the souls of man who have deprived themselves so much of God’s Goodness that they could not bear to be in His light. When we say Hell is an eternal fire, it could be taken that God’s holding them into existence is the fire that burns them for eternity. This fire is only stoked more and more from their more deprived state.

— An Anonymous Reader, in response to QUAERIMUS III, IV, V: The Authority of Thomas Aquinas, The Problem of Evil, and The Nature of Time - Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. Weighs In.

An anonymous reader has responded to the section of my previous post dealing with the problem of reconciling St. Augustine's conception of evil as nothingness and Hell as a place in which beings are separated completely from God. He writes:



"After thinking about your question on evil, I think there may be a misunderstanding of God's essence/existence and the essence/existence of things that are not of God which may be applied to the question of evil.

God's existence is his essence. God is to be. We get this from Thomas' Summa Theologica Q. 3, Art. 4. This is because God's essence would either have to be from an outside source which we know is impossible due to the demonstration in the first three of the five ways or his essence would come from a principle of his essence. This is also impossible as we can see that a human does not come from a tooth.

Existence is to act as essence is to potentiality. From Q. 2, Art. 3 of the ST we see that act must come prior to potentiality. Thus, existence in all things, that are not of God must come prior to its essence.

Something which exists but did not cause its own existence must have a prior cause. There must always be a first in the line of movers, actuality must always come prior to potentiality, contingent beings must necessarily come from a necessary being.

God must then be pure act. Must be the first, the unmoved mover. His existence must be his essence. What must be remembered is that when speaking of God we always speak through analogy and that speaking in terms of essence and existence is the closest man can come to speak of God.

Now for everything else that is not God must be thought of in a matter of degrees of being. God is being, Angels are more perfect beings than humans for they are pure intellect without body. Humans are more perfect than animals because of intellect but less than angels because humans have bodies and so on.

What does this have to do with the problem of evil?

The problem of evil comes from the idea of an all perfect and all good God accepting evil into the world. Evil, as you know is not a thing. Evil in itself does not exist. Rather, evil is the decision of an existing being, one who must possess intellect, in order to not choose good. The idea of evil is a turning away from the Creator, when one chooses that which is not God they become less themselves and the larger the separation the less angelic or the less human they become. God sets angels and man into existence and holds them there because of his eternal love for them. Even if they commit evil and more and more atrocities are committed God will not take man out of existence because of his eternal love for God set man into existence out of his own free gift.

God created man and angel in order for man and angels to love him. In order for there to be love there must be a freedom of choice from his creatures and thus we are made with freewill.

In a perfect setting, The Garden of Eden, freewill is used to make a choice between one good and another using a degree of goodness. Once man became selfish and wished to be his own God, out of his own choice, man could no longer handle being in the perfect garden and thus was cast out. In this casting out all things were changed and privation entered the entire world. Evil then is a privation of a good. In the case of the squirrel outside of my window, it is an evil that this squirrel lacks a tail. The squirrel is deprived of its tail and thus there is an evil.

I think a problem we, as humans, have with the notion of evil is that we cannot speak of evil truly as it is. We do not know what Heaven or Hell is like. We do not know, nor can we speak, of God perfectly for we are imperfect beings. Man participates in being for man is not being in and of himself, whereas God is being itself. We must speak from analogy and from here is where we have trouble for we can never get an exacted notion. Who is to say that Aquinas or Augustine or the many other thinkers are correct in their ideas on the concept of evil? Whenever we say the word evil there is a connotation that evil exists and so we come to the crux of the matter.

I think from now on when I speak of evil I will define it as nothingness. Evil has no actuality and thus there is no potentiality. When creatures were created by God the act of going from being to being allowed for there to be an imperfection. This is because God, who is absolutely perfect, first cause, first unmoved mover, etc, cannot create Himself. God cannot create God for one would have to come prior and thus the made 'God' would be existing in potentiality. Once potentiality comes into the picture there allows a lack of perfection for only God can be truly perfect in every way." ~An Anonymous Reader, in response to QUAERIMUS III, IV, V: The Authority of Thomas Aquinas, The Problem of Evil, and The Nature of Time - Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. Weighs In.



I responded with the following:

"Thank you for your thoughts. ... one point ... is curious to me: how can we speak about God through analogy if we do not know Him? We cannot know God in His fullness, so we must know Him partially. But what does it mean to know God partially?

I am still a bit confused about Hell. From what you've said, a being in Hell is held in existence by God, but by that being's will he is eternally separated from God. But because the being is held in existence by God, it seems that he still has some connection to God. So his will itself must be held in existence by God (because all things are held in existence by God), but I guess the will is permanently in some sort of disordered state. But it seems that there must be some definite line between the perfect order (God) and the disorder. But the disorder exists also to some extent in purgatory. It is hard to fathom that the disorder will exist for all eternity, even though God is not willing it. But, if by the "disorder," we are referring to evil, then perhaps the disorder itself doesn't exist. But it seems that we can say that there is something in Hell and that something exists, no? So what is it? And how is it separated from God?

Anyhow, I appreciate your comment that "...a problem we, as humans, have with the notion of evil is that we cannot speak of evil truly as it is." It is just a bit confounding to me that we have some notion of good and evil, but not a perfect notion of them. I guess an analogy could be that we sort of know a right triangle indirectly. We can draw something that resembles a right triangle, but we can't ever see it. Only by reason do we know about it. Even this seems inaccurate, though, because I think someone could make a case that we do know a right triangle in its fullness - even if we can't see it." ~My Response to the Anonymous Reader.



The reader answered with the following:

"If we take this thought beyond Natural Theology and into Theology, involving revelation, then we can say we know God for Christ came into this world for us to know God. If we are sticking with Natural Theology then the only way to understand God is through analogy. This is because there are no words that we have that can describe God. We can go by way of the via negativa and see that God is not finite and so must be infinite, finite things participate in time and so God must be outside of time, finite things move by way of locomotion and so God must be unmoved but how can these words actually speak of God in His fullest? So far we have only covered small aspects of God. How then can we speak of God in His full nature? Coming by way of Natural Theology we cannot express God’s fullest nature. Even entering Theology we cannot. Yes, God is Unity and within this Unity there are three Persons but does this even capture the fullness of God? No, it is possible to capture the fullness of God for if we could fully understand God it would not be the real God for we would be creating this God. God is so far beyond understanding that saying I fully understand God means I created this God in which I understand. The best analogy for God is mathematics. We can have a triangle in which I understand fully the idea of a triangle in my mind and yet when I go to draw a triangle, even using the best measurements, I fail because the lines which make the triangle have width and the lines which make up a true triangle do not. God is similar in that we can have concepts of God and understand facets of who He is yet we will never know Him in fullness. It is also not a waste of time to study who God is for in studying about Him we are praying to Him and in doing so we will inevitably be drawn closer to Him.

When God creates us He automatically will Himself to hold our souls in existence. ... A soul in going to hell is said to perpetually blaspheme the name of God and this is because in going to hell there is the knowledge that God holds them in existence while the souls in hell would rather hold themselves in existence. These souls have made themselves their own God and thus are no longer perfect for they are no longer human. To be human is to fully recognize that we are subordinate to our Creator.

Hell:
When we are created we are given an eternal soul in a mortal body. Therefore, from the moment of conception the soul is to live forever and our earthly body is to perish until we are given our glorified bodies at the end of time. When God creates us He automatically will Himself to hold our souls in existence, not our will or our intellect but our soul, which some may equate with the will but is not the will. When a soul goes to hell it is an eternal act by which the person decides to be as far from God as possible. A soul in going to hell is said to perpetually blaspheme the name of God and this is because in going to hell there is the knowledge that God holds them in existence while the souls in hell would rather hold themselves in existence. These souls have made themselves their own God and thus are no longer perfect for they are no longer human. To be human is to fully recognize that we are subordinate to our Creator. An example of this thought comes from St. John of the Cross’s book the Ascent to Mount Carmel where he writes, “It ought to be kept in mind that an attachment to a creature makes a person equal to that creature; the stronger the attachment, the closer is the likeness to the creature and the greater the equality, for love effects a likeness between the lover and the loved.” Thus, when we make ourselves God we become less human for we are not to make ourselves God but rather we are to be in the likeness of God. That distinction separates the Saint from those most vile in hell. The Saint conforms his will to God’s and so becomes like him, the one in hell conforms his will to himself and thus distances himself from God in a very sad event.

Thus, when we make ourselves God we become less human for we are not to make ourselves God but rather we are to be in the likeness of God. That distinction separates the Saint from those most vile in hell. The Saint conforms his will to God’s and so becomes like him, the one in hell conforms his will to himself and thus distances himself from God in a very sad event.

Earlier I wrote evil does not exist, so what then is in Hell? Angels and the souls of man who have deprived themselves so much of God’s Goodness that they could not bear to be in His light. When we say Hell is an eternal fire it could be taken that God’s holding them into existence is the fire that burns them for eternity. This fire is only stoked more and more from their more deprived state.

For one in Purgatory it is a similar idea. God’s Goodness is so “bright” that it burns and this burning heals the soul so it can be purified and perfected so to enter eternal glory." ~The Anonymous Reader.



Thank you to the readers who have responded to me with very helpful thoughts on this topic which I find quite difficult.



December 7 is the Vigil of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Feast of St. Ambrose (✝ 397) (both calendars).

Regina sine labe originali concepta et Sancte Ambrósi, orate pro nobis.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

QUAERIMUS III, IV, V: The Authority of Thomas Aquinas, The Problem of Evil, and The Nature of Time - Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. Weighs In

Three topics on which I am quite interested in gathering the various thoughts of great Catholic thinkers are the determination of authority in the formulation of Catholic doctrine, the problem of evil, and the nature of time. I was pleased to come across a lecture by Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. in which he speaks on all three of these topics in a span of nine minutes. An audio recording of the complete lecture can be found on this page at therealpresence.org. It is the fourth lecture, entitled Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, in a series on the Catholic Faith.

Two years ago, soon after the founding of the DCMission blog, I had written a post in which I alluded to a question of great interest to me: What weight do the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas hold in the formulation of Catholic doctrines? Given the arguably unparalleled genius of Thomas, does the Church accept everything that he wrote as true?

Fr. Hardon, in the lecture mentioned above, states the following on this subject and its relevance to the Society of Jesus during its early years, around the end of the 16th century:

...a number of our theologians were wondering how literally we must follow Aquinas.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, Lecture 4: Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, 1978-9.

In the context of this passage, he addresses the question of whether everything that Thomas taught is necessarily accepted as true by Church authorities. Fr. Hardon's statements may surprise you. In two specific cases he mentions, he goes so far as to say that Thomas, in spite of his "towering genius," was wrong.

There is a controverted question in theology over the possibility of an eternal creation of the world. First, let's be clear. The world had a beginning. That is an article of the Faith. The world - and not merely the world of space and time - but the world of spirit, too - whether angelic or our own souls - began. That's number one. The world had a beginning. Secondly, it is therefore erroneous to say that the world is de facto eternal. Because if it began in time, it could not have been timeless in having always existed. But thirdly, can we prove from reason alone that the world began? Yes. A fourth question: Can we hold that the world might have existed from all eternity? Among the persons who held this was Thomas Aquinas. At least, he said, you could not disprove from reason the impossibility of an eternal world. This, among other things that Thomas taught, he was wrong in. And, sometime after St. Ignatius prescribed on the Society of Jesus that we follow the teaching of Thomas Aquinas - it is part of our constitution in our teaching - a number of our theologians were wondering how literally we must follow Aquinas. So our then-Father General commissioned Robert Bellarmine, a great Saint and now since a Doctor of the Church, to examine the writings of Thomas Aquinas - who by that time had already been canonized - and which things that Thomas taught, in his judgment, Jesuits would not be bound to hold. He ended up with twenty-four things in Thomas that Jesuits need not folow. This is one. And as I'm sure you all know, another is that Mary was not immaculately conceived. Thomas held it: he was wrong. Which indicates why we need an infallible teaching authority to stand judgment even on a towering genius like Aquinas.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, Lecture 4: Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, 1978-9.

The next question, on the problem of evil, is much more difficult for me personally. St. Augustine in his Confessions famously cast the problem and subsequently addressed it. Here is the problem in simplistic terms: if God is perfectly good and created everything, and evil exists, then how did God create it? Augustine addresses the problem by saying that evil is not itself a created thing. It is, rather, the lack of something: the lack of being. I've heard an analogy given between this proposed model and the familiar phenomena of light and darkness. Darkness is not something in and of itself, the analogy states. It is, rather, our perception of the absence of light. (As a bit of a digression, I recall a series of lectures at Notre Dame in which the late Prof. Michael Sain proposed a compelling case for a correlation between this model of evil and the nature of the Ringwraiths in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.)

While somewhat satisfying at first, this solution seems to create problems with respect to some aspects of the Faith. For example, if Hell entails complete separation from God, and God is necessary for an entity's existence, then how can Hell exist?

Fr. Hardon addresses the problem of evil as follows:


...what God created is good. Why is it good? Because God made it. Well, that's not really maybe answering the question. What is good that God created is such because it corresponds perfectly to what His will wanted to make. And, therefore, in Genesis when we read that God saw what He made and it was not just good but, remember, "very good." Is there evil in the world? You better believe it. Let me ask this: why is there evil in the world? Is it because of God? It must be because of what? Creatures. So whatever is good in the world is the result of God's will. Whatever is evil in the world is the result of created will. And can we ever produce evil things. If I further ask: what makes what man creates - if it's evil - evil? It's because it is contrary to the will of God. The essence of goodness is that it conforms to the divine will. The essence of evil is that it conforms to the created will and contrary to the divine will. And you don't push beyond that. You believe it.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, Lecture 4: Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, 1978-9.

This response is, admittedly, a bit problematic for me. With his mandate, "you don't push beyond that," I gather that Fr. Hardon is suggesting here that we forgo our reason and accept the claims given regarding the nature of evil. However, we've been taught through documents such as Bl. John Paul II's Fides et Ratio and Pope Emeritus Benedict's Regensburg Lecture not to accept the contemporary narrative that faith and reason work contrary to one another. Rather, the Church has proposed in such documents that faith and reason complement one another. They are "like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth." This being the case, why does it seem that we are being asked here on the problem of evil to forgo reason? Should not the use of reason, in general, be commended? I can't say that I understand Fr. Hardon's "you don't push beyond that" against the backdrop of the narrative of the complementary nature of faith and reason given to us by Church authorities in recent decades.



Finally, Fr. Hardon offers some brief thoughts on a topic that is dear to me: the nature of time. My inclusion of this excerpt here entails less of a question for addition to the list of Quaerimus posts, and more of a point of interest to me that I serendipitously found addressed in media res.


Then he created in time. ... Consequently, the world had a beginning in time. Or, more accurately, it began with time. What is time? Somebody? [Change.] ... Change. Well, change is part of time. Time is, rather, the measure of change. You've got to have things changing to have time. That's why God, in an absolute sense, is timeless. And the fewer changes or the less aware you are of those changes, the more swiftly the time passes, right? It's when you're watching that clock - and it never moves more slowly than when you watch it - because you're conscious of the change - whatever you're expecting or looking forward to seems to be so slow in coming. In other words, there was no time before creation. Why? Because the only being that existed was a changeless being. Since time is the measure of change - sometimes called the "measure of motion," which is the more philosophical definition but less intelligible because the word "motion" in philosophy corresponds to "change" in more popular language. Now the motion or the movement may be through space, and that's a change. Or the motion may be inside my head, and that's a change. For example, I hope in the last five minutes, you've learned something ... Whatever change took place - and we can measure the change that took place, whether in body or in spirit - can be measured. Therefore, you have time. The moment God created anything, at that moment, time began.

— Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J., from A Course on the Catholic Faith, Lecture 4: Review of Creation and Beginning of Providence, 1978-9.



On the Traditional Calendar, today is Solemnity of Christ the King.

¡Viva Cristo Rey!




Update: I noticed a possible problem in the first excerpt above. Fr. Hardon states that, "At least, [Thomas] said, you could not disprove from reason the impossibility of an eternal world." This is a bit of a difficult statement to parse with all the negatives (i.e. "...could not disprove ... the impossibility..."). However, we understand the intended message: the Church teaching is that the world is not eternal and that we can prove this from reason, but Thomas said otherwise. However, I believe the way in which Fr. Hardon formulates this has one-too-many negatives. I believe what he meant to say was either that Thomas said that "you could not prove from reason the impossibility of an eternal world" or "you could not disprove from reason the possibility of an eternal world." Feel free to check me on this.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Screwtape's Eighth Letter and the Spiritual Undulations
of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Currently in a reading group that is covering C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, one of the letters I found particularly noteworthy is number 8, in which Screwtape instructs his nephew on the "law of Undulation" and its effects on the interior lives of humans. I came across a recording of a reading of this letter and thought it would be worth sharing here.

[The Enemy] will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs -- to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. ... Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.


— Screwtape, from Letter 8.





On a related note, tomorrow is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuit order. (Perhaps it is worth noting here that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pontiff.) Fr. Mitch Pacwa, a Jesuit priest, has given an eloquent summary of the conversion story of St. Ignatius. Key to the story is St. Ignatius's overcoming of his attachments to the fleeting pleasures he enjoyed that were part of his life prior to his conversion. Fr. Pacwa explains how Ignatius's gradually deepened intimacy with Christ allowed him eventually to recognize the passing nature of these pleasures, to found the Jesuit order, and to become at last a great Saint.

The homily begins at 5:14 in the video.


...key to his conversion is that the process of reading the life of Christ and the life of the Saints is that he found that very enjoyable, and it left him with peace. But - even though he didn't have books about it - he would consider saving damsels in distress, fighting great battles, riding off for the king of Spain, and doing all sorts of great things - and he felt good about that too. Both of them made him feel very good. But what he noticed as time went on is that when he considered various aspects of being a knight, it would only feel good at that moment. It would then become hollow and leave him feeling empty. And thinking about Christ and the Saints and the joys of heaven gave him peace, and that did not leave him empty. It gave him a peace that lasted. And he began to notice the difference.


— Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. on the Conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola (@9:30 in the video).




July 30th is the feast of St. Peter Chrysologus, Doctor of the Church. St. Ignatius of Loyola (✝ 1556) and St. Peter Chrysologus (✝ 450), pray for us.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

QUAERIMUS I, II: Audible Congregational Responses in the Tridentine Mass and the Canonical Status of SSPX

Most who have spent a significant amount of time reading the blog of Fr. John Zuhlsdorf likely have some exposure to his series of posts tagged Quaeritur (translated from the third person singular present passive indicative Latin word: "it is being asked"). Well, given that priests are in general rather busy fellows -- what with their administering of the Sacraments, offering of spiritual direction to members of the faithful, and carrying out of other activities generally directed toward saving souls from the forces of evil, etc., etc. -- it makes sense that they don't always have time to answer every Quaeritur that comes their way. (This is not to mention the fact that some of the questions that some of us (and by some of us I mean me) ask can every now and then be a bit academic.) In any case, I can see it being expedient to keep a record of the questions from myself and others that have accumulated over time. I'll tag posts containing such questions as Quaerimus (translated from the first person plural present active indicative Latin word: "we are asking").

Now, the lay faithful have a bit of a responsibility to make a sincere effort to look for answers to such questions that come to mind (Mt 7:7). In this age of the internet, the answers to them may very well be as close as our smartphone. However, among the many challenges one might encounter in seeking answers is the deluge of convoluted, misleading, or even incorrect information that is widely available. How often has one thought of an excellent question whose answer could greatly advance his spiritual and moral life and, after having searched the internet for it, come across only a few lengthy discussions on Catholic forums containing a plethora of people's speculations, opinions, and expressions of uncertainty about the matter?

It is not an exaggeration to say that the internet is an increasingly vast ocean of information in which one could easily find himself lost in the middle of nowhere surrounded by ominous figures. We set out like quasi-Chestertonian wayfarers, as it were, during the dark night in search of those islands of truth which will eventually lead us to our home, with the lamp of reason as a guide. The night sky is filled with the Saintly stars who also offer us some direction, albeit in a way that is mysterious, frequently unclear to us, and often involves some degree of uncertainty. We have also the moon: Mary, Our Mother -- to borrow the famous analogy -- receiving her light from Christ, the Sun, toward whom we look to the East for His rising, but presently see only through the veil of the Sacred Species.

Conscendamus.



QUAERIMUS I: Audible Congregational Responses in the Tridentine Mass

I recently attended the Tridentine Mass with my father. Not having attended many Tridentine Masses recently, he expressed confusion afterwards due to a discrepancy he observed. When he served Mass as a young boy -- even prior to Vatican II -- the congregation always responded aloud to the prayers when the servers did so, and in some cases, such as the Pater Noster, the congregation even recited the prayers aloud in their entirety. But at this Mass, the congregation was silent nearly the entire time. I noted that this is frequently the case for Low Masses I attend. Perhaps, I suggested, he had always served Solemn Masses? But I thought this unlikely for every daily Mass he'd ever attended as a child. Further, at the Solemn Masses I've attended, the Pater Noster has been chanted aloud only by the priest.

Fr. Z has posted on this topic more than once in Quaeriturs. In July of 2008, he wrote in response to a reader:

There is no hard and fast rule about vocal responses. I think you have to go with the flow.

That said, various Popes before the Council encouraged congregational responses, the so-called "dialogue Mass".
...
In my travels, I have seen various levels of participation. ... Much will depend on what the priest wants and promotes.

But yes, congregational responses are permitted and, in many cases, a good idea.

Personally, I prefer responses from the congregation and have no problem at all with them saying the parts pertaining to the server, and even prayers like the Gloria and Creed.


— Fr. Z, from QUAERITUR: congregational responses at TLM, 1 July 2008.


More recently, in a response to a similar question from a reader, he has written:

I think people should make the responses. Popes of the 20th century were speaking about “active participation” before the Second Vatican Council.
...
In a nutshell, before the Council, it was strongly encouraged that people make responses, especially at Solemn and Sung Masses. This applied often to Low Masses as well, the so-called dialogue Mass.
...
That said, if no one else at the place you are going makes responses – at all – then I don’t recommend making them loudly all by yourself.


— Fr. Z, from QUAERITUR: Should people make responses during the Traditional Latin Mass?, 30 May 2013.


Returning to 2008, we find Fr. Z responding to a reader specifically regarding whether the congregation is permitted to sing the Pater Noster:

But, the bottom line is yes, even before the Council the Holy See said that the congregation could sing the Our Father with the priest during a sung Mass.


— Fr. Z, from QUAERITUR: Can the congregation sing the Our Father at a TLM?, 20 October 2008.


Notice here, though, that Fr. Z is referring specifically to the sung Mass. My father mentioned that, as a young boy, at all the Masses the Pater Noster was recited by the congregation. To remedy this problem, we have a statement from Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P., of the Dominican Liturgy Blog, offering clarification in the comment box of Fr. Z's post referenced above:

...It was my understanding that the recitation of the whole Pater by the people applied to dialogue Low Mass...


— Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P., from the combox of Fr. Z's QUAERITUR: Can the congregation sing the Our Father at a TLM?, 20 October 2008.




QUAERIMUS II: Canonical Status of SSPX

Some confusion arose following the Mass during my discussion with a woman who was claiming that the excommunication of the SSPX had been invalid. While this may or may not be true, I was somewhat certain that their excommunication had been lifted, while also fairly certain that the fact remains that they are not in full communion with the Church. On these points, it appears that I was correct:

The fact that the Society of Saint Pius X does not possess a canonical status in the Church is not, in the end, based on disciplinary but on doctrinal reasons. As long as the Society does not have a canonical status in the Church, its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church.


— Pope Benedict XVI, from Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Remission of the Excommunication of the Fourt Bishops Consecrate by Archbishop Lefebvre, 10 March 2009.


See also SSPX Excommunications Lifted.

(Note that I said that it may be true that the original excommunications were invalid only because I don't see in this case how a latae sententiae excommunication -- which, as I understand it, happens automatically without any statement made by a Church authority -- could be remitted in such a way that it was valid only for a period. It seems that such an excommunication would either be valid and remain so or never have been valid to begin with. Perhaps this would not be true if the laws were changed in such a way that the offending act is no longer an offending act, but I don't see how this could be true in this case. At any rate, I digress.)

Now, in trying to verify anything beyond my claim that the SSPX is not in full communion with the Church, I've found that the whole situation gets quite controversial and confusing very quickly. I've heard claims that some of their Sacraments are valid and other such things. These claims may be true. I will say one last thing on this here: as recently as May of this year, we see none other than Fr. Z himself casting doubt on the validity of Sacraments administered by the SSPX:

In a nutshell, the article argues that SSPX priests absolve validly. I do not believe that to be true. SSPX priests do not have faculties to receive sacramental confessions. Period. Faculties are necessary for validity.


— Fr. Z, from Again about validity of absolutions by SSPX priests, 16 March 2013.