Monday, August 31, 2009

Is the Catholic Church Semi-Pelagian?

The short answer: no. The longer one can be found by reading my recent post at Called to Communion.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I'm heading out to the Philippines and so blogging will be even lighter than usual. I may blog some from the blog over at Philippine Aid Society while I'm there.

Tom Riello and I just recorded a podcast of an impromptu conversation between the two of us regarding our conversions to the Catholic Church.

Finally, here's an old article from This Rock magazine called "The Ten Most Common Liturgical Abuses."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is Contraception the Answer to Poverty?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Blogs in Your Diocese

Found a cool website thanks to Kevin Branson called Flock Note. You can add your blog to your local diocese or parish and find others from within your diocese as well.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Is Sacramentalism the Same as Magic?

I asked this question in my recent post at Called to Communion entitled, Magical Sacraments in Elfland.
Peter Pan has to think happy thoughts in order to fly. Sure, fairy dust is involved but the flying doesn’t happen unless he thinks happy thoughts. In fact, maybe fairy dust is just an “outward sign” of the “inward reality” of a happy thought. I don’t think it sounds any more magical to say that a man can think happy thoughts and go to Neverland than to say that he can believe in Christ and go to heaven. It is no more superstitious to say that “baptism saves you” than it is to say that faith does.
Read the whole thing.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Statistics and Theology

1. Randomness is an illusion because we can only find "randomness" via matter which itself is determined. But a "random" selection is always better than an "intelligent" selection for statistical purposes. That is, if we select what we think is the best representation of the population, we will learn less than if we leave the selection to God.

2. Central Limit Theorem: God loves the bell curve. Even if you select the numbers yourself, God's fingerprint is there hidden.

3. The bell curve - the clergy should tend to a certain level of holiness. 95% of all clergy should fall within 2 standard deviations of the average clerical holiness. Protestants think that that a few bad priests show the Church to be corrupt. If I show you 2,000 corrupt priests, would this indicate widespread corruption? That's less than 5% of the priests in the US alone. How many priests were corrupt during the Reformation? Maybe the Reformers were just bad statisticians.

4. If 100% of priests were holy, then there would be no bell curve. Even the central limit theorem would not reveal God's fingerprint. It is unnatural. Grace does not destroy nature.

5. Six Sigma theology - the average clerical holiness should be moved to a state of holiness that would leave the corrupt priests (lower spec limit) six standard deviations away. That means we cannot have more than 3.4 corrupt priests per million. A tall order.

6. The Null Hypothesis. Statistics never assert; they merely say "we don't have enough data to overturn the null hypothesis" or conversely: we do. The null hypothesis (H0) is that the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church. How much data did the Reformers need to overturn H0?

7. No list should ever have only six points.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How to Raise Money

This is unrelated to this blog, but I've written an ezine article entitled "How to Raise Money for Your Favorite Charity" that some of you may be interested in. Of course, I take the opportunity in the end to plug my own charity. ;) I encourage everyone to get involved with a charity in some capacity. It's something you won't regret.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Liturgy in the First Century


The primary points of contact for our knowledge of the first century liturgy lie on one end with the Jewish liturgies, and the little data which can be gleaned from the New Testament, and the far later, but well documented, fourth century liturgies. We have a few texts, reliable but vague, from the second and third century that help us piece together the puzzle, but ultimately our study lies in drawing on what we know from these ends, and reconstructing the development in-between.

Three liturgies would have been common place in the first century: the Synaxis, the Eucharist, and the Agape meal. We will look at these each individually but first, a few milestones or key points of interest are important to keep in mind:

The Judeo-Centricity of Early Christianity

1. For about the first 10 years of Christianity, it was almost exclusively composed of Jewish converts.

2. The early Christians were in the habit of attending temple daily. [1]

3. The early Christians continued celebrating in the Synagogues alongside the Jews on the Sabbath for several years in some places.

4. Up to nineteen years after Christ's resurrection, new converts to Christianity, generally speaking, had to convert to Judaism before becoming Christian. Namely, they were to be circumcised, to eat Kosher, and to follow the Mosaic Law. The Jerusalem Council was called to settle this controversy in 49 AD. [2]

5. James, the bishop of Jerusalem, while the temple was still standing was in the habit of wearing the priestly robes, entering the temple, and offering intercessory prayer on behalf of his flock. [3]

The Domesticity of Worship

The Jews allowed Gentiles to participate in their public liturgies at the Synagogue. Gentiles were even allowed to enter the outer courts of the temple. [4] But there was a rigorous exclusion of Gentile participation in the sacred home liturgies (such as the Seder meal). Initially Christians had no public liturgy, only domestic liturgy and so the controversies regarding the direct inclusion of the Gentile converts into the Christian Church are easily understood within this context. [5]

The Destruction of the Temple

In 70 AD, the temple was destroyed. This was an earth shattering event for the Jews and a radical shift for the Jewish-Christians. It was a powerful sign that the "Kingdom" had come "with power." [6]

The book of Hebrews was written in the 60s to explain to the Jewish Christians that Jesus was the true High Priest,[7] that animal sacrifices were no longer necessary,[8] and that Christ's sacrifice was perpetually sufficient. [9] If it seems obvious to us in hindsight, it wasn't obvious to the early Jewish Christians, particularly while the temple was still standing.

The Synaxis

Synaxis is the Greek word meaning "meeting" and is the organic continuity of the Saturday Synagogue worship. Once the Christians were no longer allowed in the synagogues, they continued celebrating approximately the same rite with added Christians developments and themes. The original liturgies would have been held, like the synagogue service, in Hebrew, and some of the words, like "amen" and "hallelujah", survive to this day. In the early part of the 1st century, it is unlikely that the Synaxis would have be recognizably different from the Synagogue service except for the setting. The Synaxis can be understood as the seed of what we now call the Liturgy of the Word. Some key differences include that, in the first century, there were no introduction rites, no penitential rite and no Gloria. These were all later additions.

Basic Structure

1. Greeting and Response (The Lord be with you - or Peace be unto you)

2. Lections & Psalmody (The Jews read in order of descending importance, starting with the Pentateuch. The early Christian kept the original order of the Synagogue, but as Christian Scripture became available, it was tacked on the end. Thus the order of importance became reversed for Christians. They read in ascending order of importance):

   i. Old Testament Reading
ii. Pslamody (or chanted Psalm)
iii. New Testament Reading (sometimes included non-canonical books like 1 Clement)
iv. Psalmody
v. Gospel Reading

3. Homily (Bishop delivers while seated)

4. Dismissal of Catechumens by Deacon

5. Intercessory Prayers of the Faithful

6. Dismissal of the Faithful

Occasionally a collection would be taken for the poor at the end. This was not the offertory.

The Eucharist

Derived from the Seder meal, in its fullest, proper setting, the Eucharist is the celebration of the new Passover. 'Pascha' (or Easter) is the pinnacle of the Christian worship. Initially, it is likely that in some or many Christian Churches, the Eucharist was celebrated but once a year at Passover. The celebration of this high feast of Christian worship expanded to Jewish feast days like Pentecost, and by the end of the first century, the Church had grown to understand every Sunday as a mini-Easter. The Eucharist would have been celebrated early on Sunday morning, a working day in the Roman empire.

The Eucharist was understood as the duty of the bishop and initially, we have every reason to believe that all Eucharists were celebrated by the bishop. But as the Church grew, this became impractical. By the end of the first century, this duty is being delegated to presbyters.[10]

Basic Structure

1. Greeting & Response

2. Kiss of Peace

3. Offertory (Communicants bring their own bread & wine to set on the altar)

4. Eucharistic Prayer (The earliest Eucharistic prayer would have been simply a direct continuity of the Jewish eucharistic (thanksgiving) prayer with added Messianic meaning. Noticeable differences in the first century Eucharistic prayer and today's include: a. no Sanctus, b. no Lord's prayer, c. no narrative) The Anaphora of Hippolytus is the oldest Eucharistic prayer we have in tact and it dates around 215 AD. [11]

5. Fraction

6. Communion (Received standing)

7. Dismissal

The Agape

There was probably a time where the Agape meal was celebrated along with the Eucharist, as seems to be the case in 1 Corinthians 11. But this practice died out sometime in the first century although the Agape continued by itself for several centuries. The only specific and technical reference to the Agape in the New Testament is found in Jude. [12]

The Agape has connections with Mediterranean funeral feasts, said in honor of a deceased hero or family member, and with the Jewish chaburah meal. This was a communal meal Jews would eat on the eve of the Sabbath and all important Jewish feasts. Jesus would have had this meal many times with His disciples. It was liturgical, although less formal than the Eucharist or even the Synaxis. Only baptized Christians were allowed to participate in this meal.

Like all early liturgies, it was celebrated in the home. But unlike the Eucharist, it would not be celebrated in the atrium/tablinum but in the dining room (triclinium). Thus, it would be held in smaller numbers and in various homes throughout the Christian community.[13] The Christians traditionally celebrated the Agape on Sunday evenings.

Basic Structure

1. Introductory Prayer (the president blesses the food)

2. Meal (In the West, it seems that the breaking of the bread was part of the meal, in the East, it followed the meal. In the West, each person blessed their own cup which would have been consistent with the Jewish tradition at the chaburah meal as opposed to the communal cup for high feasts like the Seder meal.)

3. Washing of Hands

4. Lighting of the Lamp (brought in by the deacon, blessed by the bishop)

5. Psalms/Hymns

6. Bishop blesses the cup (kiddish or kiddush cup, not the cup of blessing which was reserved for the Eucharist only.)

7. Bishop gives thanks for the bread and distributes

Notice the order in contrast to the Eucharist. In the Agape meal, the cup precedes the bread. The Agape is described using the name "eucharist" in the Didache chapter 9. We know this because the cup precedes the bread. Later, in chapter 14, the Eucharist proper is explained. The term Eucharist means "thanksgiving" of course, and in the first century, it was not yet a technical reference to what we now call the Eucharist. Any prayer of thanksgiving at a meal would have been a "eucharistic prayer."


By the end of the first century, the standard Christian liturgical observations would be as follows. On Saturday, you would attend the Synaxis. On Sunday morning you would attend the Eucharist, before dawn. You would go to work that day and then in the evening, you would attend an Agape meal at the house of a presbyter or perhaps the bishop's house.

Suggested reading:

Mike Aquilina "The Mass of the Early Christians"

Gregory Dix "The Shape of the Liturgy"

  1. ↑ Acts 2:46
  2. ↑ Acts 15
  3. ↑ Recorded by Hegesippus and Preserved by Eusebius in Church History 2.23.4-6 Compare with the requirements for priestly garments in Exodus 28:41-43.
  4. ↑ Dix, Gregory The Shape of the Liturgy pg16
  5. ↑ See particularly Galatians 1-2
  6. ↑ Mark 9:1. Also see Mark 13 & its synoptic parallels.
  7. ↑ e.g. Hebrews 4:14
  8. ↑ Hebrews 9:9,23, 10:1, etc...
  9. ↑ Hebrews 10
  10. ↑ Thus in the early second century St. Ignatius of Antioch says to the Smyrnaeans, "Let that eucharist alone be considered valid which is celebrated in the presence of the bishop, or of him to whom he shall have entrusted it."
  11. ↑ See a helpful comparison between Hippolytus and the modern Eucharistic Prayer II here:
  12. ↑ Jude 1:12
  13. ↑ Paul seems to indicate that the "home" is the proper place for this in 1 Corinthians 11:22 (as opposed to the particular home which would likely have been blessed by the bishop as the location for celebrating the Eucharist.) Centuries later, certain canons forbade the use of Church buildings for Agape meals.

Mass for Clunkers

Too funny not to pass on. I've got someone in mind for this program. H/t Edward Fesser

Mass for Clunkers

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Pagan vs. Christian use of Images in Worship

While paganism remained the dominant religion of the Roman empire, that is, while the average plebeian family still had household images and idols that they bowed, prayed, and offered libations before, Christians made far less use of images in their worship. When Christianity was legalized in the fourth century, it went on to become the dominant religion of the state itself. Once paganism had all but died out, the risk of laity confusing the use of images in worship with pagan idolatry faded away, and gradually the use of images became common practice. But there is a fundamental difference in how Christians used images and how pagans did. Listen to this late third century apologist:
We worship the gods, you say, by means of images. What then? Without these, do the gods not know that they are worshipped, and will they not think that any honour is shown to them by you? Through bypaths, as it were, then, and by assignments to a third party, as they are called, they receive and accept your services; and before those to whom that service is owed experience it, you first sacrifice to images, and transmit, as it were, some remnants to them at the pleasure of others. - Arnobius 6.9
According to Arnobius, the image was a conduit of the pagan's adoration in such a way that the god or goddess received benefit from its use.

On the contrary, Christian use of images, as it developed, was exactly the opposite. God stands in no need of images, neither does He benefit from them in any way. It is we who benefit. For the Christian, images stand as visual reminders or catalysts in focusing our attention and effort in such a way that the sole beneficiary of their use is the worshiper.

Saturday, August 01, 2009