Sinful Clerics of a Spotless Church


Sinful Clerics of a Spotless Church

 Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Some people might be scratching their heads wondering how we wind up with a “resumed” Sunday, sometimes called “remaining” or “left over” (Latin superfuit), after Epiphany in the month of November. Isn’t Epiphany at the beginning of January?

So how can Sundays be “left over” and then “resumed”? Here is what happened.Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

In the historic evolution of our liturgical calendar, we Christians have depended, as did the Jews before us, on the vagaries of the Moon. The date of Easter is fixed according to when the Spring Full Moon occurs. Since the Moon isn’t always full on the same date, the date of Easter Sunday shifts. Lent, however, has a fixed length. As a result, the beginning of Lent slides around, earlier or later, depending on the timing of the Spring Full Moon. At the other end of the equation, Epiphany (real Epiphany) is a fixed date: 6 January. Since the beginning of Lent slides around, the time between Epiphany and the pre-Lent Sunday of Septuagesima (three weeks before Ash Wednesday), will be longer or shorter depending on the Spring Full Moon. Therefore, when Lent begins earlier in the year the Mass formularies for as many as four Sundays after Epiphany, slated to be celebrated between Epiphany and Septuagesima, must be skipped. On the other end of the Lent/Easter cycle, Pentecost also shifts its date because Pentecost is always the same number of days after the movable Easter.The twenty-four Sundays allotted in the Season after Pentecost are not enough to get us all the way to the end of the liturgical year, back around to Advent. This is why we go back and pick up the Mass texts for the Sundays after Epiphany that we didn’t use. Waste not want not.

By the way, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, before Advent, is always the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, … even if it isn’t.

An amusing factoid. In the Saint Andrew Bible Missal, a hand missal for the faithful produced originally in Belgium in 1962, the already innovating clerical clever-boots couldn’t resist tinkering. They call the 3rd Sunday resumed after Epiphany the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, the 4th the 25th, the 5th the 26th and the 6th the 27th. Then, instead of calling the final Sunday of the Season of Pentecost the “24th or Last”  they – get this – call it the “Last Sunday after Pentecost”!

What unmitigated gall, or rather Gall. Pun intended.Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

The imprimatur for that hand missal was given by the Bishop of Bruges and the nihil obstat by the censor librorum, none other than that budding liturgist and two-years-­ordained priest, “Godfrey M. Danneels,” much later Cardinal Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, hider of clerical abuse of minors, and a key member of the Swiss-based Sankt-Gallen, or “Saint Gall Mafia” which conspired against John Paul II and Benedict XVI and then in 2013 engineered the election of Card. Bergoglio to the See of Peter.

Clothes, they say, make the man. But, even among the most gloriously dressed of Holy Church’s impressive prelates we find outliers.

It seems appropriate at this point to explore this Sunday’s Gospel reading which is from the beginning of Matthew 13.

In Matthew 13, Jesus is by the sea. He gets into a boat and is let out onto the water at the end of a line so that he can be heard by more people arranged along the shore. Thus we have the first instance of “online ministry”: the Eternal Word made Flesh used not only His human vocal chords and tongue but the technology of the boat on the water as His force multiplier to reach more people at one time, much as I do with fingers and the internet so that you can read this on your cyber-shore.Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

Jesus told the Parable of the Sower, sowing seed in various terrains. After this, He said why He uses parables, and explains the parable. Then He told the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, also called Weeds and the Wheat. That’s our Gospel passage this Sunday. After this, he gave the Parables of the Mustard Seed, and of Yeast, and then more about why He used parables. Following this, He provided an explanation of the Parable of the Weeds and Wheat.

Christ Himself explains the parable. I, who am merely alter Christus, would be remiss should not take a back seat in the online boat and fail to direct your attention to Matthew 13:26-42.

The general outline of the parable is that a man had a field sown with wheat. In the night, an enemy creep crept in and sowed tares alongside the wheat. Tares (so-called in the King James Version) or Cockles (in the Douay-Rheims – in Greek the marvelous zizánia), are probably darnels (Lolium temulentum), a grass-like poisonous weed which early on looks like wheat. Consumption of too much darnel can kill, though a little can render one intoxicated, thus the Latin name, temulentum (“drunken”). Sabotaging an enemy’s fields by sowing darnels was a common tactic in the ancient world, attested to from Palestine to India. Intertwining roots, they take over, not just grow benignly side by side with regular crops. Sowing darnels could ruin a field for years and even choke the life out of olive trees. Sowing darnels in an enemy’s field was so bad that it was specifically prohibited in Roman law, surely in force in Jesus’ time, though it is attested to in the Emperor Justinian’s (+565) collection of case law, the Digesta, in a case from the 2nd century.

Hence, the Lord didn’t invent a fictional scenario: people did this horrible thing to each other. His listeners would have grasped the severity of the attack immediately. This is why the servants wanted to weed out the darnels right away. But the master says, and this is the parable twist that gives force to the message, that they should allow the wheat and darnels to grow side by side. At harvest time they would be separated, the wheat gathered into storage, the weeds bundled and burned.Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

At the liturgical year draws to a close, Holy Church in her traditional worship is nourishing us with a deep reflection on the Second Coming of the Lord and the Four Last Things, Death Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

In His own explanation of the parable, Jesus says that sower of the wheat is the Son of Man (God), the field is the whole world, the enemy sower is the Devil, and the darnels are “sons of the evil one.” Harvest time is the “close of the age and the reapers are angels.” The burning of the tares, the poisonous wheat-imitating darnels, is the eternity of Hell. Again, it is the Lord who uses the image of eternal burning in fire, where “men will weep and gnash their teeth” (v. 42).

During the difficult and prolonged Donatist controversy that tore the unity of the ancient Church in North Africa to shreds, St. Augustine of Hippo (+430) used the Parable of the Weeds and Wheat and described the Church as a corpus permixtum malis et bonis… a body thoroughly mixed through with good and evil people. They would eventually be separated. The body, the Church, itself is good and holy and spotless, but her members could be wicked, side by side with the righteous.

Donatists wanted to create a church only of the pure. The fact that priests and bishops had caved in during Diocletian’s persecution and had handed over sacred texts and offered incense sacrifice to the divinity of the Emperor meant that, for the Donatists, those “traditores… handers-over” were forever tainted. Obsessed with Old Testament concepts of ritual purity, Donatists believed that these fallen bishops could, by physical contact, pass their sin to another in conferring ordination. Those traditores who had returned to ministry in the Church passed on their stain through contact. As a result, Donatists were also obsessed with the appearance of holiness in the members of their purist church. But, in the Catholic Church there were manifest sinners, traditores. For Donatists, through those sinner ministers all the lay people received the taint and guilt from their priests to the point that the whole Church would be guilty and stained.Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

Donatists thought that the Church had to be outwardly, visibly impeccable in contrast to the fallen world. If their bishops and priests outwardly appeared holy enough, lay people who followed them could be certain that their Donatist Church was holy.

Augustine confounded these Donatist heresies by teaching how the validity of sacraments does not depend on the holiness of the human minister but rather on the holiness of the true minister, who is Christ, in a Church which remains spotless and holy despite her sinful members. Therefore, the Catholic Church’s sacraments are valid even if her priests and bishops are manifestly sinners. Eventually this would be formulated with the phrase ex opere operato not ex opere operantis. Validity is guaranteed from the work (sacrament) having been conferred by Christ, not on the work of the possibly even sinful minister conferring it.

Speaking of intertwined roots, in Hippo the church of the Donatists was up against the back of Augustine’s own cathedral, such that they could hear each other singing. The Doctor of Grace, knowing the severity of the crime of sowing darnels, and their poisonous, choking effect, knew what he was doing when he employed today’s parable.

Perhaps stemming from his own self-examination of conscience, his prayerful reflection on his own life, while Augustine affirmed that lay people have every right to expect their priests to be holy, and to behave as if they are holy, priests mustn’t ape holiness, wear it like a costume merely. Augustine knew that priests themselves are pardoned sinners, striving for and with those whom they serve. As he put it in a sermon, “I am a bishop for you, I am a Christian with you” (s. 340, 1).Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

At the Last Supper, Christ – explains Augustine using the Song of Songs – washed the feet of His soon to be Bishops because of the sins He knew they would commit: they would get their feet dirty in their ministry. By washing their feet, Christ taught them that He was their cleanness and that they in humble and ongoing conversion had to persevere and walk the dusty and dirty roads not just the paved, to strive among the weeds not just the wheat.

For some years now, Holy Church has been reeling from revelations of sinful priests and bishops, some engaged in abuse of minors, repeated blows upon visible livid bruises. In France dreadful results of an investigation have recently been released. In the news in the last few days, we read of an ongoing case of a priest who is highly visible in the sphere of tradition-minded Catholics. While we presume innocence in the ongoing case, we nevertheless watch the developments with charity informed by knowledge of the human condition and the relentless attacks of the Enemy of the soul particularly on Christ’s ordained.

The fall of a bishop or priest – trumpeted by the secular media and even within the Church by Tradition hostile modernist progressivists – can leave us discouraged to the point that we wonder why we should persevere in such a Church.

Until the return of the Lord, there will always be clerical darnels, sown by the Enemy, in the field of the Church. Some of them lavishly dressed and with fancy titles. We mustn’t be so panicked at their manifestation, that we forget that final reckoning rests with the Lord of the Harvest.Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

Informed by the long experience of the centuries with its many controversies and challenges, today, as in the time of Augustine and the Donatist threat, in a Catholic spirit we have to resist the tendency to latch on to outward appearances in our prelates and priests so that, when their faults are exposed, we sink into a morass of disillusionment and give up.

We bring our cares with us to Mass on Sunday. By the share in Christ’s priesthood that comes with baptism, you can raise these cares to God for transformation with the gifts Father raises at the offertory.

This Sunday, having placed our concerns and hurts and fears on the paten with the host and into the chalice with the wine, at the silence of the priest’s Secret prayer, know that he prays for us all:

We offer You, O Lord, this sacrifice of atonement, that You would mercifully absolve our sins and direct our faltering hearts.

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Convert from Lutheranism, ordained to the priesthood in 1991 by St. John Paul II in Rome for the Suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni. Classics at University of Minnesota. Licence and Doctoral studies in Patristic Theology at the Augustinianum in Rome. Formerly a collaborator of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” moderator of the Catholic Online Forum, columnist for The Wanderer and the UK’s Catholic Herald, Fox News contributor. Speaker. Blogist. fatherzonline.com @fatherz

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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