|Okay, so here's the first part of my promised essay on the conscience and the Eucharist, which I spent the course of Lent researching and writing. Please remember, I am no theology scholar--heck, I'm not a scholar of any kind. And this is my first paper since my thesis a decade ago, so I may a bit rusty. I've asked the Fathers over at Catholic Ragemonkey to take a gander at it to make sure I'm not haring off into some heresy or something. I'm fairly confident in my reading of the Catechism and the other sources I've used, but one never knows--I do not possess the teaching office, after all.
This was written for a friend who had a question regarding the conscience and the taking of the Eucharist, but it is meant for all Catholics, though not at the express exclusion of other Christians--after all, the Church has reaffirmed that the moral law applies to all, and that all are "called by God's grace to salvation".(Catechism 836) In particular, though, my focus is on what we Catholics are obliged to follow by our communion with Rome, and thus in Christ.
Parts Two and Three shall be forthcoming soon--just a bit more typing and editing to handle.
*Update: I managed to recode this thing and get the end notes working. Previous disclaimer removed.
The Conscience of the Faithful
Conscience has played a vital role in the Catholic Faith since the inception of the Church. Yet in recent times misunderstanding of the teachings of the Church has resulted in an abuse of the concept. The phrase, "If my conscience says it's okay, then there is no wrong done," has allowed many to hold ideas or act in ways that are, according to Church teaching and the laws of God, morally reprehensible. This is particularly relevant to the partaking of the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist. The mystery of the Eucharist demands far more of us than merely the desire to have it. It demands that we be worthy to receive it, and that we humble ourselves before it. Those Catholics who would receive the Sacrament unworthily, because of either sin or a lack of suitable reverence toward our Lord's body and blood, and with ill-formed consciences guiding them, do so against all the Church has ever taught us.
So what does the Church teach regarding conscience, morality, and the Eucharist, and from where does it get the authority to teach these things as Truth and essential matters of Faith? It seems it ought to be taken for granted that the Church has the right and authority to teach the Faith, and that its teaching is the only acceptable interpretation of the Eternal Law. And yet many hold that the Church just makes things up as it goes, or that its teaching is outdated and no longer applies to this modern age of ours. Funny thing about moral law, though--it is unchanging. Murder has always been evil, always will be evil. Those so steeped in sin that they cannot read the moral law, which is written in their consciences. may argue otherwise, but that does not change the truth of the matter. And Truth is what the Church deals in. Not our own little personal "truths" that we make up to rationalise those things we wish were true, but Eternal Truth as given to us by God.
And God is the first and supreme authority of the Church. It is not an institution of man, but one for man. It is Christ who gives the Church the authority to teach in these matters and to interpret Divine Revelation, whether it be through Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, or doctrine, as determined by ecumenical councils and the like, and all these are sources for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is, then, the Catechism to which we can safely turn on matters of faith. As Pope John Paul II says in his introduction to the Catechism:
The [Catechism] ... which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church's faith and catholic doctrine, attested to or illuminated by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.... The Catechism of the Catholic Church, lastly, is offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us and who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes.Now, some have questioned the Apostolic nature of the Church's teaching, particularly in relation to the writings of the papacy, claiming that if it's not in the Creed of the Faith, or in Scripture itself, or defined as dogma, then it's not valid. This, clearly, is bunk. First of all, the Creed is not the entirety of the faith--it is merely an outline, a beginning.
The Creed points us beyond the Creed.... The clue isn't to look too much at the Creed, but to look through it to contemplate the vast panorama of truth.... The Creed isn't the whole story. It was never meant to be. It is merely a précis or a summary. The Creed isn't the final word; in fact, it's the first word. It's the first step on the journey, not the destination.Second, the Creed itself gives testament to the Apostolic nature of the Church! Every Sunday we profess, "I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church." It is not divided, but one; it is one because its source, God, is one. It is holy in that Christ Himself raised this Church; however, it is also holy in that it is complete--the Church is all it needs to be.
A thing that is holy is good, not because it's moral, and not because it's trying hard to be better than everything else, but because it's simply what it should be--what God ordained it to be. So when the Church is "holy," we're not saying that she is always totally clean and pure and pious and sinless. History corrects that mistake. Instead, we're saying that the Church is whole and complete, unified and integrated. She is what she should be. In other words, her teaching, practice, and worship form an integrated, consistent, and beautiful unity.It is universal in that its teaching applies the same to all: though the Church is diverse due to the great variety of cultures which make up the community of the faithful, this diversity is not opposed to the Church's unity. But it is important to realise here that although the "particular churches" throughout the world may have different accidents in their worship, the essence of their worship must be in communion, both in faith and the sacraments, with the universal Church in order to remain catholic. It is, after all, the sacraments, and in particular the Eucharist, which unify Catholics. This is why even culturally-specific gestures must be approved by the Church--they have to be liturgically sound. Finally, the Church is apostolic because Christ gave the authority to teach the Faith to His Apostles, and this authority was to be handed down through their successors, namely Peter's successors in the papacy and the bishops in communion with him. Everything should point to Christ--he is "the way, and the truth, and the life" and the "true vine."
What one finds in this statement--one holy catholic and apostolic--is that these words are inseparable. They are all facets of the same fact--that the Church comes from God and its teachings are thus also from God. And in Christ, "the whole of God's truth has been made manifest." Truth is not a chimaera; it is unchangeable. This does not mean, however, that our ability to see and understand the truth does not change.
There is ... in the Church progress of dogma, progress of theology, progress to a certain extent of faith itself, but this progress does not consist in the addition of fresh information nor the change of ideas. What is believed has always been believed, but in time it is more commonly and thoroughly understood and explicitly expressed. Thus, thanks to the living magisterium and ecclesiastical preaching, thanks to the living sense of truth in the Church, to the action of the Holy Ghost simultaneously directing master and faithful, traditional truth lives and develops in the Church, always the same, at once ancient and new--ancient, for the first Christians already beheld it to a certain extent, new, because we see it with our own eyes and in harmony with our present ideas. Such is the notion of tradition in the double meaning of the word; it is Divine truth coming down to us in the mind of the Church and it is the guardianship and transmission of this Divine truth by the organ of the living magisterium, by ecclesiastical preaching, by the profession of it made by all in the Christian life.Thus, since the Apostolic Church, in its teachings, deals in Divine Truth, its doctrines are based in this Truth, infallible, and must be believed. As a side note, this does not include disciplines, which we must obey, but which can change over time, nor theological opinions, which we can believe or not at our leisure.
The Catechism is the perfect synthesis of our available ways to understand Divine Law--Scripture, Tradition (through the writings of the Church Fathers, as well as papal writings like Humanae Vitae), as well as theological works by such worthies as St. Thomas Aquinas. It is a comprehensive manifestation of the Church's Magisterium, which is its ability and right, granted by Jesus Christ himself, to teach and speak authoritatively on matters of faith.
To the Church belongs the right always and everywhere to announce moral principles, including those pertaining to the social order, and to make judgments on any human affairs to the extent that they are required by the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls.... In recalling the prescriptions of the natural law, the Magisterium of the Church exercises an essential part of its prophetic office of proclaiming to men what they truly are and reminding them of what they should be before God.The Catechism is, then, one of our greatest tools in determining what we Catholics ought to believe and practice in our lives. I say "ought" because it is a common belief today that one can pick and choose which tenets of the Faith one holds. Catholicism is not, however, a smorgasbord. As Catholics professing the faith of the Church as founded by Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, we are obligated to conform to the Church, not the other way around. Of course, faith is just the first step. Faith brings us to the table; it is Reason which makes sure we don't eat the silverware or cast our food to the floor. The Catechism tells us not only what the Church believes, but why it believes these things. It's even got handy references to its sources. But we must want to seek this knowledge out, and to understand our beliefs. Thus, we can trust the Catechism in learning how we as Catholics ought to behave.
That said, what does the Church say about our conscience? At its most simplistic level, yes, the Church tells us we should follow our conscience in making decisions on moral issues. However, there is much more to it than this. The conscience is like a puppy. When you first get a puppy, it's untrained. Not to mix metaphors, but the conscience does not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus. Now, there are some puppies that are basically pretty good and don't need a whole lot of training, though they still need your attention and love. But there are also puppies who require constant training, constant vigilance. They may know it is wrong to tear the house apart, and will even feel bad about it when you get home, long before you scold them, but that won't stop them from eating the bowl of candy you left on the table, getting sick on the sofa, and turning every available piece of furniture on its head. Likewise, some consciences naturally tend toward the virtues, and require little guidance. Most, however, require much training to keep them from going astray and eating all the candy. Without this training, left alone to its own devices, or subject to the wrong influences, the conscience can become ill-formed.
Faced with a moral choice, conscience can make either a right judgment in accordance with reason and the divine law or, on the contrary, an erroneous judgment that departs from them.... Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one's passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.It is only with prudent judgment, based in the Word of God, that we can be sure our conscience is leading us down the right path. The conscience, like the Catechism, is a tool for us to conform ourselves to God. It should steer us toward what God wants, not what we want. As with any tool, though, it can be misused--like using a hammer on an engine; it might work once in a while, but sooner or later you're going to hit a spark plug.
As far as possible conscience should take account of the good of all, as expressed in the moral law, natural and revealed, and consequently in the law of the Church and in the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium on moral questions. Personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church. The conscience must be examined regularly in light of the Gospel and teachings of the Church. The four Gospels are invaluable in this examination, for in them we find Jesus' words as to how we should act, and in what we should believe. He tells us to follow the Decalogue, to not cling to this world of creation, but to love God the Father above all things, to love even our enemies, to confess our sins (establishing the Sacrament of Penance by extending his power to forgive sins to the Apostles), to partake of his body and blood, and even how to pray. In all of these teachings, though, is first and foremost love of God. The love of our neighbour he exhorts us to have is a help in order to love God properly, for his own sake. And this is key when it comes to the conscience. We cannot just float along through life and still love God properly. Our fallen nature tends to muck things up in that department. Remember the puppy? Our conscience needs training in order to direct it toward the Good. As Thomas à Kempis says in The Imitation of Christ, "Examine your conscience with great care, and cleanse and purify it as best you can by true contrition and a humble confession." And the Catechism itself says:
In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path, we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord's Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.This should be a daily activity. It is said that even the righteous man falls seven times in a day. It smacks of serious pride to assume that we are so saintly that we do not need to examine how we live our lives on a daily basis. And there are many, many ways available to us. Not everyone can sit down and read the Catechism to find out what we should be doing to love God and then apply it to their lives, though certainly learning what Christ has directed and authorised His Church to teach are a good way to go. But if the Catechism doesn't work for you, there are a host of quality theological works one can read--anything by Scott Hahn, or if you're ambitious, try to tackle the Theology of the Body. And there are other ways to train the conscience besides reading. Prayer, for one, is a terrific way to guide the conscience back to the Good, and thus to God. Not just occasional prayer, but regular--morning and evening. Learn to live every moment of your life prayerfully. Consider your thoughts, words, and actions of the day in light of the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Five Precepts of the Church, and the Seven Capital Sins, the Cardinal Virtues, and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Remember to turn to God in times of need; ask Him for guidance. Start the practice of reading the Psalms on a regular cycle. Pray the rosary, or some other devotion. Don't just hit Mass on Easter, nor even just every Sunday--try to attend at least a few daily Masses. Fast--it's not just for Lent, but is a great way to separate oneself from dependence on creation. If you just can't figure out where to start, or you find yourself blocked by some matter, obtain a spiritual director (or go see him if you have one and have not been to him recently). The point is that in order to be truly faithful to what Christ preached, and what the Church teaches by the authority of Christ, who is God, we must know and properly understand what His teaching is. That's the training. Then we can examine our consciences properly in light of that training, which, ideally, will habituate us toward virtue, and thus the proper love of God.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1997) 1860
 Pope John Paul II, "Apostolic Constitution: Fidei Depositum", Catechism pp. 5-6
 Dwight Longenecker, Adventures in Orthodoxy (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press,
 Catechism 185; 750
 J. Wilhelm, "The Nicene Creed," The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911). Cited March 2005. Online (2003 by K. Knight): http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11049a.htm
 Longenecker, 127
 Catechism 812
 Catechism 833-834
 Catechism 85
 John 14:6
 John 16:1
 Catechism 2466
 Jean Bainvel, "Tradition and the Living Magisterium," The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol.
XV (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912). Cited March 2005. Online (2003 by K. Knight): http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15006b.htm
 Elizabeth Hruska, "Difference Between Doctrine and Dogma," (10/06/04). Cited March 2005. Online: http://www.catholicexchange.com/vm/index.asp?vm_id=64&art_id=25522
 Catechism 2032; 2036
 Catechism 812
 Catechism 1778
 Catechism 1786; 1792
 Catechism 1780; 1783
 Catechism 2039
 Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, ed. & trans. Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J. (New York: Random House, 1998) bk. IV, ch. 7, 193
 Catechism 1785
|Jelly Pinched Wolf 1:20 PM
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|30 March 2005
|List o' Books
|So, now that I'm finally back from Lent, I can actually respond to Don's curiosity regarding the following:
You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?
The Riverside Shakespeare. I'd love to be King's Dark Tower series, but when it gets down to it, the complete works of the Bard fill just about every need one can have in literature, and I like to be multi-faceted and somewhat archaic.
Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Um, no, can't say I have. Though I did think that Door, from Neverwhere, was wicked cool.
The last book you bought was...?
The Wonder Clock by Howard Pyle, for kashi. An Exorcist Tells His Story by Fr. Gabriele Amorth, for me.
The last book you read was...?
An Exorcist Tells His Story by Fr. Gabriele Amorth
What are you currently reading?
I'm between books at the moment, actually, though I did take a moment to re-read the opening of Beowulf, as translated by Seamus Heaney.
Five books you would take to a desert island...
1. The Riverside Shakespeare
2. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King--if this doesn't count, a little duct tape and a hot glue gun could make 'em one book
3. The Poems of Dylan Thomas
4. The Essential Kierkegaard, edited and translated by Howard Hong--comprehensive collection of all the philospopher's works
5. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman--creepy and beautiful
What three people are you passing this stick on to and why?
I've given up passing the torch on these things. Everyone I know (except kashi) acts like I've just handed them a used hanky, and kashi's already posted it. But if anyone wants to take it and run, be my guest.
|Jelly Pinched Wolf 11:30 AM
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|29 March 2005
|Return of the Wolf
|(and let's just hope it's John Williams and not Annie Lennox who's playing in the background)
Well, I'm back. Feels rather odd, actually. Like slipping into an old favourite sweater you haven't worn in years only to find that not only have moths eaten out the belly, but also its particular garrish shade of colour is no longer even remotely in style--or to your liking. So, if it takes me some time to get back into the swing of things, bear with me. More than anything, my desire to read every little tidbit on every blog has left me completely. And so, rather than trying to catch up on the goings-on of the blogosphere (a foolish effort, indeed) I've popped in here and there on a few of my favourite spots, and am ready to start afresh here.
For Lent, I assigned myself a project to work on an essay, apologetic in nature, to answer some questions raised by both a friend at Christmas as well as some political and cultural occurances this past year. So, for the length of Lent, I did my research, wrote the paper (complete with footnotes!), and am just now finishing up the typing and some editing to make sure the logic of my argument is actually logical. Will likely be posting it in several parts for the sake of space, and, as I said, I hope to get the first part posted in the next day or two.
Lent was, well, lovely. A strange statement, I'm sure, but still true. Our parish had a Lenten series of talks on the various traditions and charisms within the Church (Jesuit, Franciscan, Carmelite, etc.), complete with Stations and Benediction. A tiring way to end Friday after a long work day, but immensely satisfying, and a good way to keep focused during the Penitential season. Last year, as kashi and I were preparing to enter the Church, Lent was just sort of weird. And then Holy Week was baffling, a bit scary, and a little too immense to be fully grasped. This year, however, having followed the full liturgical year, everything fell into its proper context. So, when I say that Lent was lovely, I mean that it was lovely in what the rigors of it led me to. kashi and I both noted that Lent is just as long as it needs to be--by the final week, no matter how many confessions one might have made in the past weeks, one last pre-Maundy Thursday confession is just necessary. The sigh before the relief, before the exclamation of joy, as it were. This year I was able to spend a few hours at the Altar of Repose after Mass on Maundy Thursday. The quiet beauty of that time is beyond words. And I can now appreciate more the transition from the sadness and darkness of the time leading up to and just after the Passion to the return of the light at the Easter Vigil, and the glorious joy of Easter Sunday as we proclaim that Christ is risen indeed! How anyone can see either the Lenten or Easter season as a drag is beyond me. They're kinda central to the Faith.
Anyway, wrap up time. I'd like to extend a congratulations to Smockmomma of Summa Mamas on the First Communion of her daughter, and also to all of our First Communicants this year. In addition, we had a young couple and their little boy who were baptised and brought into the Church--a supremely happy occasion, indeed.
|Jelly Pinched Wolf 10:48 AM
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