The permanent diaconate – from the Roman Catholics…

The Roman Catholic Church in the US is among several Western countries where there are permanent deacons, that is, those who remain deacons for life. The overwhelming number are married, because the communion refuses to ordain married men to the priesthood and, perhaps for some, this is the best alternative. Deacons, properly understood, are an icon of Christ as servant and minister, and this order, in permanent form, has never died out in the East, where liturgies have extensive diaconal roles.

It has not been instituted in the Philippines yet, and if it does get instituted, I know quite a number of men who would apply.

Anyway, here’s a profile of a recently ordained permanent deacon in the US. By the way, we do have one studying at the Loyola School of Theology; I met him some time ago.

I might be adding a brief discussion after Trinity Sunday about a suggestion I and a number of others have made, about restoring the permanent diaconate to the Episcopal Church.

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The Pentecost Essay – Final Part

“Impending death and mutual solidarity make the Eucharist cost.”

– Kenneth Stevenson, Accept This Offering

These words reminded me of a book a friend told me about. It is called Torture and the Eucharist, by William Cavanagh. In it, he discusses how the celebration of the Eucharist responded to a serious human rights problem of that time in Chile, which was torture by the military. He draws from this study the conclusion that the Eucharist is what not only kept communities together, but galvanized them towards a response to this crisis. For in the celebration of the Eucharist, my friend suggests, it is the way by which the suffering of Christ which we commemorate becomes real in the lives of families and friends of torture victims.

I would say that this is a very good example of what I mean when the celebration of the Eucharist is meant to be a deeply political act. In asserting that Christ suffers when his body does—a suffering recalled in the passion, death, and resurrection, the Church declares that ultimately anything the world does to harm it will in the end fail. Nevertheless, we as the Church do undergo oppression by the forces of the world, by the forces of Empire. And our solidarity with everyone around the world who takes the name Christian is manifest in the celebration of the Eucharist, a celebration which is not only for us and for now, but also a timeless one.

We celebrate the Eucharist in the power of the Spirit. When the disciples received the gift of the Spirit fifty days after Jesus Christ rose from the dead, they received power to proclaim that ultimately, all things are God’s. They would gather the strength to face persecution, to speak truth to power, and to witness with their lives the reality of God’s impending-yet-present Kingdom.

Maybe if we do take our liturgies seriously, we could recapture the power of the Eucharist as our political response, to compromise ourselves politically by saying that our real kingdom is not this world’s, but God’s.

The Pentecost Essay – Second Part

When Christians celebrate the Eucharist, they compromise themselves politically.

Last time I introduced two quotes from Jean Jacques von Allmen on the question of liturgy as a response to the postmodern condition of sovereignty. I then proposed that it is indeed in the celebration of the Eucharist, as von Allmen suggests, that a radical Christian response is possible. In proclaiming the death, resurrection, and coming glory of Christ, and in acclaiming that to God belongs the ultimacy of sovereignty, Christians can claim that Empire, whatever it is, is not the final power over their lives.

Interestingly enough, in Simon Chan’s work, these two passages book-end his description of the early Christians and their response to a much earlier empire. It was in the gathering of the early church, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, that they found the strength to overcome the oppression and persecution of the powers of that age. Becoming a Christian was a dangerous thing. It meant, among others, the real possibility of being outcast. In some cases, it meant outright death.

But the Christians of that age knew then that this was not the real point of their existence. Only with their faith in Christ, which they celebrated in the Eucharist and lived in their world, would the world be overcome. Nevertheless, they knew that the Eucharist, the body of Christ offering itself, implied something real and costly.

Kenneth Stevenson, a British liturgical theologian who has had a large degree of influence on my views on this subject, suggests that it is in the remembering of the Christ-event, in the act of offering, and the act of responding on the part of the Christian, that the Eucharist is indeed a sacrifice. His views, expressed in a thin little book called The Eucharist as Sacrifice Today (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991; available from Claretian Publications), suggest that it is possible to overcome the controversies between Christians on the question of the Eucharist as sacrifice, and it is necessary.

The reason? The Eucharist has become all too common for Christians. He would say that having a Eucharist has become as common as having a cup of tea. It loses much of its power not only to reassure or comfort Christians but also to hurt them. Yes, you read me right. If the Eucharist is indeed the Church, the body of Christ, celebrating a sacrifice whose reality is indeed timeless (and hence the argument on repetitiveness does not matter), it celebrates the equally timeless reality that the Christian is called to live a Christ-like life. It may be joyful, but, in the words of one of my favorite philosophy professors, “it hurts.”

So we may go in peace to love and serve the Lord, and we may leave with a bit of reassurance that things will go well, but in the Eucharist, and in the world outside, we are drawn to the reality that the Christian message will be an unwelcome one. More importantly, the Christian message, far from being accommodating to the world, demands that the world be re-imagined according to Christian terms. What these terms are, I am afraid, cannot be reduced to a political ideology, but the most I can say is that ultimately death has no power, and that the world does not define our total reality.

I will next time talk about a contemporary example, related to me by Fr. Joe Mock.

Just in time for Corpus Christi…

The Feast of Corpus Christi is coming on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, which is the day our outgoing rector will be brought over to his new parish. In time for this occasion, I bring you a very unusual version of St. Thomas’s office hymn. You might want to know that this group also did a very popular Eurovision song entry. (Of course, in this country, Corpus Christi is transferred to the Sunday after Trinity, which is acceptable to me. But “pastoral reasons” do not trump the sanctification of time and chronology, which is why I am beginning to dislike transferring Ascension Day and Epiphany.)

The Pentecost Essay – Introduction

This essay is dedicated to the Bishops of Novaliches (Roman Catholic) and the Central Philippines (Episcopal/Anglican), and all Christians who are working for change everywhere.

I will be posting the rest of this essay toward the end of this week.

But first, here is the first passage of the two on which I will be writing this year’s essay. Both are by Jean Jacques von Allmen, and is from his Worship: Its Theory and Practice (London: Lutterworth, 1966), and can be more conveniently found in Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), at pp. 42 and 43.

Every time the Church assembles to celebrate the cult [i.e. the Eucharist], to “proclaim the death of Christ” (1 Cor 11:26), it proclaims also the end of the world and the failure of the world. It contradicts the world’s claim to provide men with a valid justification for their existence, it renounces the world: it affirms, since it is made up of the baptized, that it is only on the other side of death to the world that life can assume its meaning… Christian worship is the strongest denial that can be hurled in face of the world’s claim to provide men with an effective and sufficient justification of their life. There is no more emphatic protest against the pride and despair of the world than that implied in Christian worship.

Recently, I have been sporadically attending a seminar where the work being taken up is a remarkable view of the contemporary world. Empire, written by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, discusses the postmodern condition as one where the old modern paradigms of production, of the state, and of labor are upturned. This is done from a kind of Marxism, tempered by the failures of its reinterpretation in the 20th century by the likes of Lenin and Stalin and Mao.

Their argument is that far from seeing the end of oppression, the transition from a modern imperialist, state-based world to a postmodern Empire, built on global capitalism, is marked by a more insiduous kind of oppression. The irony is that it is the creativity of the multitude (the new proletariat, far more inclusive than the past) that fuels this, and yet, this near-universal creativity is exploited by the forces that control Empire. It is through corruption, the inability of the multitude to enjoy the fruits of their creativity because of their exploitation, that Empire works to oppress.

Their work, surprisingly, cites with approval two significant heroes of the Christian faith—Augustine and Francis of Assisi. Augustine’s Civitas dei is a model for the post-Empire alternative world, and Francis is their idea of how one should resist the forces of global capital that work to produce even our own lives as subjects. I would say that they are on the right track.

This essay is a reflection upon the ultimate political response of the Christian. It is here where the Second Vatican Council’s idea that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Christian life is taken to its logical extreme. One need not go to the streets to protest oppression, but one’s acts of protest must begin from a life lived in the act of Christian worship. And one’s act of celebrating the Eucharist is a protest against the forces of the world.

I was inspired to make this the theme of this year’s essay by an incident that occurred this afternoon as we were winding down the seminar. One of my colleagues came breathtakingly late, much to the amusement of everyone, including the professor. Later I found out he had come from a recollection, and I presumed that it ended, as most of these do, with the Eucharist. It dawned on me that there was another way out of Empire.

And this was the passage from Allmen that came to mind:

The Christian cult [Eucharist] is a basically political action: it reminds the state of the limited and provisional nature of its power, and when the state claims for itself an absolute trust and obedience, the Christian cult proclaims against this pretension to claim a kingdom, a power, and a glory which belong of right to God alone. That is why, in gathering together for Christian worship, men compromise themselves politically.[Emphasis mine.]

Replace the word “state” with “Empire” and you have a feel of the insight I gained this rainy afternoon. It made me realize that perhaps the way to imagine an alternative to Empire was easier, yet more costly. To be conscious that the Eucharist is an inherently political act was for me a scandal when I first heard this from Fr. Joseph Frary, one of my mentors, in the past. But it is a crucial scandal, not just for me, but for Christians everywhere who take the act of worship for granted and do not realize its full power.

More on this next time.

Another Week of Prayer, anyone?

There are actually two possible sets of dates for the annual celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The first is the January 18-25 date, which in our country is often moved to a few days after to avoid conflicting with the date of the Feast of the Sto. Niño. The second, suggested in the annual joint publication of liturgical materials for the Week (which they say can be used on any occasion this year), is an equally appropriate time, the ten days between Ascension, which ought to have been observed yesterday, and Pentecost.

The second set of dates should be more appropriate. Locally, it could have a more pneumatological angle than is normally had, a way I think to draw more pentecostally minded brethren who, rightly, saw their movement in the beginning as one sign of the unity of the Church. The longer period also allows us to do more activities, and summer-related ones too. Imagine a last summer fling with Methodist, RC, and Anglican youth groups! Yet another benefit is that it is in an alleluiatic season, so the mood is of “joyful hope” that even with what we have achieved so far, it is up to God to fulfill the promise made by our Lord.

Of course, it gives us Romans a chance to teach Anglicans how to properly sing my favorite Pentecost hymn—which is the title of this blog for the season. (For Ren’s Public Notebook readers, it is “Veni, Creator Spiritus.” Unfortunately, they sing something that, while of Reformation antiquity, it loses any links to the traditional. The 1982 ECUSA Hymnal has a setting to the simplified traditional chant, and David E. Ford’s By Flowing Waters has another faithful translation in modern English that fits another simplified traditional chant.

Music is another sign of Christian unity, even without realizing it. While Catholics often inherit Graham Kendrick’s compositions (called by a number of those on the Ship of Fools Message Board as, um, not tasteful), it is fair to realize, as I posted on this blog before the elections, that Fr. Honti’s “Pananagutan” is popular even among those outside his tradition!