St. Agnes’s Second Feast

If you recited lauds according to the 1960 Breviary the day before yesterday, as we did, then you made a commemoration of St. Agnes “secundo.” You may have found it slightly perplexing, as we did. Yesterday, at New Liturgical Movement, Gregory DiPippo had a (typically) erudite explanation of this “second” feast of St. Agnes. He explains,

In liturgical books, the formal name of the feast is “Sanctae Agnetis secundo”, which literally means “(the feast) of St Agnes for the second time.” This title is found on the calendar of the Tridentine Missal and Breviary, as also seven centuries earlier in the Gregorian Sacramentary. The single Matins lesson in the Breviary of St Pius V tells us that after her death, Agnes appeared first to her parents to console them, and then to the Emperor Constantine’s daughter Constantia, who suffered from an incurable sore, while she was praying at her grave, exhorting Constantia to trust in Christ and receive baptism. Having done this and been healed, Constantia later built a basilica in the Saint’s honor.

The original purpose of the second feast, however, is not at all clear; theories abound, but evidence is lacking. In the Wurzburg lectionary, the oldest of the Roman Rite, January 21 is “natale S. Agnae de passione – the birth (into heaven) of Agnes, of her passion,”, while January 28 is simply “de natali.” One theory is that the actual day of her death was the 28th, and the 21st originally commemorated the beginning of her sufferings, starting with her trial and condemnation. However, we would then expect something similar for other prominent martyrs, particularly St Lawrence, whose passion also extended over a variety of days and events. The next oldest lectionary, Codex Murbach, doesn’t mention the second feast at all, nor does the Lectionary of Alcuin. In the Gregorian Sacramentary, the titles are simply “natale” and “natale…secundo.”

(Emphasis supplied.) He heightens this liturgical mystery by rejecting the idea that St. Agnes Second constitutes a primitive octave, which, to be honest, was our first guess upon seeing it in the book:

The most common theory, the least convincing but probably the most influential, is that the second feast represents a primitive form of octave, a theory which I find problematic on several grounds. St Agnes was the most prominent female martyr of ancient Rome, very much on a par with other great Roman martyrs like Ss Peter and Paul and St Lawrence. Pope Honorius I built her current church in the 7th century to replace an earlier one that had fallen into ruin. (It has subsequently undergone numerous restorations.) The original, however, was one of the basilicas built by the Emperor Constantine in the very early years of the Peace of the Church, along with those of the two Apostles, Lawrence, and the cathedral of Rome at the Lateran. The early manuscripts mentioned above all refer to the “octaves” of Ss Peter and Paul and St Lawrence; it seems very odd that the octave of such a prominent Saint as Agnes, and hers alone, should be called instead a “feast … for the second time.”

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing there and come to your own conclusions.

For our part, we love feasts like St. Agnes’s two, St. Cecilia’s (unfortunately impeded last year by the 24th and Last Sunday after Pentecost, Fifth Sunday of November), and St. Lawrence’s, and tomorrow’s feast of St. Martina. These saints’ feasts retain special features even into the 1960 Breviary, preserving in some way the early Roman Christians’ admiration for these saints. In other words, the special aspects of these feasts serve as a connection between believers today and their forebears in the early Roman Church. They also serve as a connection to Rome itself; that is, everyone celebrates the feasts of these distinctively Roman saints. (Or they did until fairly recently.) The Church of Rome is just that.


By the way, in case you’re playing along at home, here is the commemoration of St. Agnes’s second feast in the Breviary of 1960.

Et fit commemoratio S. Agnetis Virg. et Mart. secundo:

Ant. Ecce, quod concupivi, iam video: quod speravi, iam teneo: ipsi sum iuncta in cælis, quem in terris posita, tota devotione dilexi.

V. Diffusa est gratia in labiis tuis.
R. Propterea benedixit te Deus in æternum.


Deus, qui nos annua beatæ Agnetis Virginis et Martyris tuæ solemnitate lætificas: da, quæsumus; ut, quam veneramur officio, etiam piæ conversationis sequamur exemplo. Per Dominum Nostrum…

Guarding fumes and making haste

Word has made it out that Archbishop “Tucho” Fernandez, the Holy Father’s favorite theologian (a sobriquet that must break Archbishop Bruno Forte’s heart), is the principal author of the forthcoming post-Synodal exhortation, which will be released, probably, before the end of March. Edward Pentin reports:

Well informed sources have told the Register that the document, which observers believe will probably be released on March 19 — the feast of St. Joseph and the 3rd anniversary of the Pope’s inauguration Mass — is in its third draft. They also say that the chief drafter is Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernández, rector of the the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina in Buenos Aires and one of Pope Francis’ closest advisers.

One reliably informed source, a recognized moral theologian who has seen the draft, said he was “deeply disturbed” by the text as it “calls into question the natural moral law”. A senior Vatican official said he had heard the draft was good, but that was “some time ago”. He said he expects it to be similar to the Ordinary Synod’s final report, almost all of which the synod fathers passed unanimously.


Earlier this week, Vatican analyst Andrea Gagliarducci reported that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has studied the draft and sent a long note with several doctrinal remarks, rumored to be 40 pages in length.

A senior Vatican source told the Register last week that the CDF has offered “all kinds of observations” on other documents as well during this pontificate, “but none of them are ever taken.” The dicastery, like much of the Roman Curia, is largely left out of such processes and is considered to be “isolated”, according to sources.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink omitted.) We note that the controversial paragraphs regarding the Germanicus group’s forum internum proposal (the great compromise between Cardinal Müller and Cardinal Kasper, brokered, allegedly, by Cardinal Marx) did not pass unanimously. Not even close. In fact, but for the Holy Father’s personal appointments to the Synod, they probably would not have passed at all.

The only not-disturbing thing we see is that Archbishop Fernández, who has long been a close adviser and collaborator with the Holy Father, also is supposed to have drafted Laudato si’, which, in the main, is a wonderful document. Not perfect. But still very good. That said, we expect the bigamists to be lined up at Easter Vigil this year, exhortation in hand, demanding to approach the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord. There has been too much grief over the Kasperite proposal not to go through with some form of it. To have this much trouble and say “oh, well, you fellows are right, I guess” would be almost unthinkable. (Though not impossible: Our Lady and St. Joseph may yet intervene.)

But, for the sake of those men and women who will take a papal pronouncement as a guarantee, we hope that the Holy Father and Tucho guess right.


More on the Holy Father’s speech to the Rota

At the Catholic Herald, Ed Condon has a very good appreciation of the Holy Father’s address to the Rota, which he  described as “remarkable for its continuity with the previous addresses of St John Paul II and Benedict XVI. If we were to insist on using political terms for a theological and legal address, it would be easy to characterise it as strikingly conservative.” Read the whole thing there.

For our part, we were very surprised by the Holy Father’s speech—we don’t know if that came through in our initial comments on it—largely because it seemed like another papal address to the Rota. Francis has tried, perhaps consciously, to provide a different tone to his public pronouncements. He seems to avoid the philosophical style of John Paul and the careful theological lectures of Benedict in favor of a broader, perhaps impressionistic, tone. And, of course, the context for any discussion of Mitis iudex and marriage questions needn’t be restated, except to say that Francis had to know that observers of the Church would be looking very closely at this address to see if it contains any clues for the Big Decision. With all that going on, we wonder if it is significant that he has delivered an address so in line with John Paul and Benedict’s thinking.

We also note that the handful of citations in the speech are also apparently sort of conservative: Pius XI’s Casti connubii, Pius XII’s 1940 speech to the Rota, some stuff by Paul VI (including a pastoral letter written when he was archbishop of Milan), some John Paul II, and St. Augustine on the bona matrimonii. If someone other than the Holy Father gave a speech sprinkled with Pius XI, Pius XII, Paul VI, and John Paul II, they’d be called a conservative (or worse).


Father John Hunwicke has a nice piece on Septuagesima, in which he notes,

I incline to believe that S Gregory has left us his own explanation of his liturgical creation, Septuagesima, in the passage from his writings of which the old Breviary gives us a portion in the Third Nocturn (Hom 19 in Evang.; the full text of which is handily available in PL 76 coll 1153sqq.). Speaking, according to the manuscripts, in the basilica of S Lawrence one Septuagesima morning, he explains the different times of the day referred to in the Sunday’s EF Gospel (the parable of the Husbandman hiring labourers for his vineyard): “The morning of the world was from Adam to Noah; the third hour, Noah to Abraham; Sixth, Abraham to Moses; Ninth, Moses to the Lord’s Advent; eleventh, from the Lord’s Advent to the end of the world”.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink added.) Read the whole thing there.

One of our very, very few objections to the liturgical reforms of Bl. Paul VI (up there with the four-week psalter) is how smoothly everything seems to hum along, particularly in Tempus Per Annum. We just saw it, in fact. Christmas ends with the Baptism of Our Lord, and then you skate along in Tempus Per Annum until Feria IV Cinerum, and then Lent (and Eastertide and Pentecost). Then, after Pentecost, you’re right back where you left off on Fat Tuesday, skating along until Christ the King and Advent.

The nice thing, then, about Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, preserved as they are in the Forma Extraordinaria, is the sense that they create that things might not be so well-oiled as they look in the Forma Ordinaria. The penitential progress toward Easter may not be so squared off, glass smooth, and air conditioned as all that. You’ve got to have your head right to appreciate what is going on. And the Gesimas help with that. As Father Hunwicke notes, “During Lent, of which Septuagesima is the preamble, we repent of the Fall and the mark which it has left on each successive age of human history and on each one of us.” We get the range of the Fall and its destructive effects during the Gesimas, so we can better repent during Lent, and so we can better prepare ourselves for the sorrow of Holy Week and the unrestrained joy of Easter.

Just think what tomorrow will do

On January 22, Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, had a lengthy commentary in L’Osservatore Romano on the decree In Missa in Cena Domini, the official document that permitted women to be included in the rite of the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday. Archbishop Roche, formerly bishop of Leeds in England, offers an interesting historical discussion of the rite, from its origins as a separate ceremony to its inclusion in 1955 as part of the Maundy Thursday Mass, including the gradual development of the requirement of 12 viri selecti. One statement in his commentary leapt out at us,

La lavanda dei piedi non è obbligatoria nella Missa in cena Domini. Sono i pastori a valutarne la convenienza, secondo circostanze e ragioni pastorali, in modo che non diventi quasi automatica o artificiale, priva di significato e ridotta a elemento scenico. Neppure deve diventare così importante da catalizzare tutta l’attenzione della messa nella cena del Signore, celebrata nel «giorno santissimo nel quale Gesù Cristo nostro Signore fu consegnato alla morte per noi» (Communicantes proprio del Canone romano); nelle indicazioni per l’omelia si ricorda la peculiarità di questa messa, commemorativa dell’istituzione dell’eucaristia, dell’ordine sacerdotale e del comandamento nuovo dell’amore fraterno suprema legge per tutti e verso tutti nella Chiesa.

(Emphases added.) In the partial translation at, this is rendered,

“The washing of feet is not mandatory,” he added, and pastors should “evaluate its suitability” in their circumstances. The rite should not be “automatic or artificial, deprived of meaning,” nor should it become “so important that all the attention of the Mass” is focused on it.

There you have it, from no less a personage than the Number Two Man at the Congregation for Divine Worship: the washing of feet is not obligatory. In addition to this, one must remember that the Missa in Cena Domini is hugely important and significant, and it is so whether or not a single foot is washed; the Mass commemorates both the institution of the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood of the New Testament. These are important things by themselves. It also opens the door to the grave solemnity of Good Friday. For this reason, Archbishop Roche suggests, the washing of feet should not become the central event in the Missa in Cena Domini. But the washing of feet has value of its own, and that value ought not to be degraded by turning the rite into an automatic chore that Father has to get through to get back to the “real part” of the Mass. And if a priest thinks that there’s a risk of either happening, then he should feel free to omit the rite altogether.

It seems to us that, whatever the washing of feet now symbolizes (we would have said that the Holy Father has chosen to emphasize the humble service aspect over the ritual cleansing as part of the institution of the priesthood, but Fr. John Hunwicke disagrees with that), it is better emphasized outside of the Missa in Cena Domini. Some pastors will likely choose to omit the rite, but we don’t see why it needs to go that far. We have written—and written and written—about the importance of the Divine Office, particularly public celebrations of the Divine Office. Perhaps a priest could arrange for a celebration of Tenebrae to be followed immediately by the washing of feet. (With breakfast following in the parish hall afterward.) Or he could arrange for the celebration of vespers in the afternoon, followed by the washing of feet. (With a light supper following in the parish hall afterward to fortify Father and others for the evening’s liturgy.) One could get fairly creative about these things and come up with services that manage to point up whatever it is that the washing of feet now symbolizes. (Mercy? Humble service?)

One can speculate as to why Pius XII felt compelled to move the washing of feet rite to the Missa in Cena Domini (we suspect that his advisers wanted to get laity inside the communion rail as part of a broader project), but there’s no reason, really, why that has to be the case.

The Holy Father limits lack of faith as a ground for nullity

Yesterday, the Holy Father gave his annual address to the Roman Rota. These speeches tend to be combinations of pep talks for the Rota as it begins its new term and careful discussions of points of law by the pope. Accordingly, these speeches are very important sources for the interpretation of canon law. The speeches, for example, of St. John Paul II are hugely important sources on matrimonial law, given that John Paul addressed, over the course of years, quite a few thorny questions on the subject. We had hoped that the Holy Father would address Mitis iudex Dominus Iesus, the Holy Father’s motu proprio reforming matrimonial cases, which, for now, is his most important contribution to the Church’s law. We were not disappointed.

One question arising from Mitis iudex has been to what extent is lack of faith a ground for nullity. Recall that article 14 § 1 of the Ratio Procedendi annexed to Mitis iudex states:

Inter rerum et personarum adiuncta quae sinunt causam nullitatis matrimonii ad tramitem processus brevioris iuxta cann. 1683-1687 pertractari, recensentur exempli gratia: is fidei defectus qui gignere potest simulationem consensus vel errorem voluntatem determinantem, brevitas convictus coniugalis, abortus procuratus ad vitandam procreationem, permanentia pervicax in relatione extraconiugali tempore nuptiarum vel immediate subsequenti, celatio dolosa sterilitatis vel gravis infirmitatis contagiosae vel filiorum ex relatione praecedenti vel detrusionis in carcerem, causa contrahendi vitae coniugali omnino extranea vel haud praevisa praegnantia mulieris, violentia physica ad extorquendum consensum illata, defectus usus rationis documentis medicis comprobatus, etc.

(Emphasis supplied.) In the Vatican’s official translation, this is rendered,

Among the circumstances of things and persons that can allow a case for nullity of marriage to be handled by means of the briefer process according to cann. 1683-1687, are included, for example: the defect of faith which can generate simulation of consent or error that determines the will; a brief conjugal cohabitation; an abortion procured to avoid procreation; an obstinate persistence in an extraconjugal relationship at the time of the wedding or immediately following it; the deceitful concealment of sterility, or grave contagious illness, or children from a previous relationship, or incarcerations; a cause of marriage completely extraneous to married life, or consisting of the unexpected pregnancy of the woman, physical violence inflicted to extort consent, the defect of the use of reason which is proved by medical documents, etc.

(Emphasis supplied.) Now, obviously, article 14 § 1 refers to situations that “can allow a case for nullity to be handled” according to the processus brevior. But there has been some concern that article 14 § 1 also sets forth grounds for nullity. (To put it another way, article 14 § 1 sets forth some “red flags” for cases to be transferred to the processus brevior, and thus those “red flags” have been seen by some as grounds of manifest nullity (cf. can. 1683, 2º.) And these new grounds would include, of course, lack of faith. In fact, the criterion of lack of faith has been offered as a justification for the argument that half of all marriages are null, a sentiment that has been attributed to the Holy Father.

In his speech to the Rota, the Holy Father offers a refreshing correction to that idea,

È bene ribadire con chiarezza che la qualità della fede non è condizione essenziale del consenso matrimoniale, che, secondo la dottrina di sempre, può essere minato solo a livello naturale (cfr CIC, can. 1055 § 1 e 2). Infatti, l’habitus fidei è infuso nel momento del Battesimo e continua ad avere influsso misterioso nell’anima, anche quando la fede non è stata sviluppata e psicologicamente sembra essere assente. Non è raro che i nubendi, spinti al vero matrimonio dall’instinctus naturae, nel momento della celebrazione abbiano una coscienza limitata della pienezza del progetto di Dio, e solamente dopo, nella vita di famiglia, scoprano tutto ciò che Dio Creatore e Redentore ha stabilito per loro. Le mancanze della formazione nella fede e anche l’errore circa l’unità, l’indissolubilità e la dignità sacramentale del matrimonio viziano il consenso matrimoniale soltanto se determinano la volontà (cfr CIC, can. 1099). Proprio per questo gli errori che riguardano la sacramentalità del matrimonio devono essere valutati molto attentamente.

(Emphasis supplied.) In the translation available from Rorate Caeli, in the context of an article by Antonio Socci, this is rendered,

It is a good thing to reiterate that quality of faith is not an essential condition for matrimonial consent, which, according to perennial doctrine, may be undermined only on the natural level (cfr CIC, can. 1055 § 1 e 2). Indeed, the habitus fidei is infused at the moment of Baptism and continues to have a mysterious influx in the soul, even when faith has not been developed and seems psychologically to be absent. It is not rare that those preparing for marriage, induced into a true marriage by instinctus naturae, at the time of the celebration have a limited awareness of the fullness of God’s plan, and only afterwards, in family life, discover all that God [Our] Creator and Redeemer has established for them. The lack of formation in the faith and also the error about unity, the indissolubility and the sacramental dignity of marriage vitiate marriage consent only if it is determined by the will (cfr CIC, can. 1099). For this reason the errors regarding the sacramentality of marriage must be evaluated very carefully.

(Emphases and italics added.) (We think that there’s an error in translation, both with our limited Italian skills and from looking at the English portion of Mitis iudex, in the second emphasized passage. Check out the linked translation at Rorate.) It seems to us that the Holy Father moves here to explicitly reject the broad interpretation of Mitis iudex that lack of faith or lack of formation in the faith constitutes ipso facto a ground for nullity.

Women now included (lawfully) in the Washing of the Feet

Today, the Vatican has released a letter from the Holy Father to Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and a decree of the Congregation, In Missa in Cena Domini, both to the same effect: women may now be lawfully included in the ceremony of the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday. The Holy Father had previously included women in the rites he personally celebrated, but the liturgical law of the Church had still referred to viri selecti. And so, for the past couple of years, as Maundy Thursday came around, there would be a little debate about whether it was proper for rank-and-file priests to follow the Holy Father’s lead, notwithstanding the rubrics in the Missale Romanum. (One’s answer depended largely on one’s ideological orientation.) New Liturgical Movement has translated the relevant portions of the Holy Father’s letter and Cardinal Sarah’s decree implementing the Holy Father’s wishes.

As you might imagine, traditionally minded Catholics have noticed.

The current rites for the washing of feet, as Cardinal Sarah’s decree notes, really go back to 1955, when the Sacred Congregation for Rites handed down Maxima redemptionis, the decree reforming the entire Holy Week liturgy. And, as even casual observers of the liturgy know, the 1955 Holy Week reforms were a sign of things to come. First, the 1962 Missale Romanum of St. John XXIII, then the various post-Conciliar revisions to the liturgy, culminating, of course, in the 1970 Missale Romanum of Bl. Paul VI. So, really, in a sense, today’s decree is simply another milestone along the road that began all the way back in 1955. However, given the connection between the washing of feet by Christ and the priesthood, it is not an insignificant milestone. The argument is already making the rounds that this weakens one of the symbolic justifications for the all-male priesthood. While Ordinatio sacerdotalis remains an essentially infallible pronouncement, given the haste and glee with which other aspects of John Paul’s magisterium have been dismantled, we are not altogether sure that Ordinatio sacerdotalis is an impregnable fortress against the innovators. So, while we are not as given to alarmism as some are, we do not wholly discount their warnings.

We do not see any indication of whether this decree is to have effect for the Forma Extraordinaria. The Holy Father did not mention it specifically in his letter and the decree did not mention it, either. Recall that the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae, which implemented more particularly Summorum Pontificum, and which remains in full force and effect, provides (no. 24) that “[t]he liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria are to be used as they are. All those who wish to celebrate according to the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite must know the pertinent rubrics and are obliged to follow them correctly.” (Italics in original.) Thus, it seems to us that, in the Forma Extraordinaria, the washing of feet is limited to men, but in the Forma Ordinaria, the washing of feet may include both men and women. (Father Hunwicke notes that, in both forms, the rite is limited to Christians even under today’s decree, though the Holy Father’s personal practice usually includes Muslims.) One imagines that Archbishop Pozzo will have to release some statement from Ecclesia Dei before Maundy Thursday this year, lest real confusion take hold.

Of course, we note the usual consternation from traditionally minded Catholics—though, if our instincts are right, and this change does not affect the Forma Extraordinaria, it is unlikely that traditionally minded Catholics will be affected by the change—and we anticipate that there will be more consternation over the subject. However, this practice, illicit though it was, has existed for some time in Novus Ordo parishes. The Holy Father has made it lawful, but he certainly hasn’t made it up for the first time. The real issue, as New Catholic notes at Rorate Caeli, is that this appears to be essentially an irreformable act. The Holy Father’s reform on this point is “so great and symbolic no successor of his could ever overturn [it].” (Practically speaking. Legally speaking, his successor could abrogate the decree as soon as he walks back inside from the Urbi et Orbi.)

It falls like tears, like wasted years

At Rorate Caeli, there is a very lengthy, very interesting piece about the probability of a unified date for Easter. The author’s assessment: nil. In short, the Church of Rome has long insisted upon the Gregorian calendar for the date for Easter, and the Orthodox churches have long insisted on the Julian calendar. While there have been favorable noises from both the Holy Father and the Ecumenical Patriarch about a unified date for Easter, the Moscow Patriarchate, which does not take orders from the Ecumenical Patriarch, to put it mildly, prefers the retention of the status quo. And if Moscow doesn’t go along, the proposal will be dead in the water in Constantinople—dead in the Bosphorus, as it were. Read the whole thing there.

We add briefly that the talk of a unified Easter seemed to come out of nowhere, and that the mentions we saw were awfully enthusiastic. While ecumenical dialogue is one of the great loves of the Church after Vatican II, it should be noted that very few results are actually achieved. Certainly, enthusiastic joint statements, lengthy joint declarations about shared beliefs and stumbling blocks to full communion, and the like are regularly produced, but, as far as results in the ut unum sint sense, well, that’s another story. And the Rorate Caeli piece shows why: ecumenical dialogue involves not only the Church and her doctrine but also the other institution and its doctrine. In this case, the Orthodox have a long, complex history about their calendar preferences. And a surge of ecumenical enthusiasm is not likely to overcome those preferences.

I was shocked to find what was allowed

Recently, a sharp Catholic woman of our acquaintance inquired whether St. Alphonsus Liguori had held that a parent with the care of children was dispensed from the obligation to hear Mass. Others noted that the great Doctor Zelantissimus addresses the subject in Theologia Moralis III.3.3.5 where he holds, essentially, that mothers who do not have a safe place to leave their infants or who cannot bring their children to church without causing a notable disturbance, are excused from attending Mass. Of course, if there’s a parent with whom the children may safely be left while the other attends Mass, one imagines that the relaxation tightens back up pretty quickly.

This subject has been on our mind over the past few days, given the exchange between Tommy Tighe at Aleteia and Steve Skojec at One Peter Five. Tighe makes the points, not wholly novel, that (1) he knows his kids are messy and distracting and (2) the woman who rebuked him was being un-Christian and thereby missed an opportunity to improve the state of her own soul by rising above the distraction. Or something. He also suggested that, well, he didn’t know what was in that woman’s life that led her to rebuke him. (Maybe she’s infertile! Maybe they’re each other’s crosses to bear! Or something.) Skojec, perhaps predictably, was having none of this, and responded point by point to Tighe. He also updated his post, moderating the snark a little bit, but standing by the substance of his argument. But the thrust of the discussion is this: how do parents deal with potentially loud, usually messy children at Church? (Especially in Forma Extraordinaria parishes, where there are certain norms of conduct that are usually a little more stringent than what’s going on at the “contemporary choir” Mass.)

This is not the first go-round on this debate, either, though this may be the first time that Tighe and Skojec have been the disputants. (We don’t know, though. We are more familiar with Skojec’s commentary on other issues in the Church and we had not heard of Tighe before now. Perhaps we ought to pay more attention.)

And the easy answer, of course, would be to point to St. Alphonsus and say, well, if you can’t leave the children at home safely and if you’re pretty sure that they’re going to cause a major disturbance, then you are excused from hearing Mass. Of course, parents who can watch children in shifts can surely safely leave their children at home. But, as the Holy Father and the Synod of Bishops have reminded us repeatedly in recent months, there are all manner of families that have suffered injuries and no longer have both parents living under the same roof. And, even then, the inquiry is not as straightforward as one might first imagine. That is, whether one can more safely leave children at home than in Alphonsus’s time and whether children are less likely to raise a ruckus than in Alphonsus’s time are open questions—though we suspect, with respect to the latter question, that toddlers’ ruckuses are probably pretty comparable across the years.

But, we wonder to what extent do we owe it to each other to help out? (Cf. Gal. 5:14.) When our acquaintance raised the issue, our first thought was that it would be nice if suitable men and women without children offered to help out. (Suitability is obviously an important criterion in all this, and that cannot be understated.) For example, if a couple without children at home habitually attended the vigil Mass on Saturday night, it would be awfully nice of them to offer to watch their neighbor’s toddler while he heard Mass on Sunday morning. Or vice versa, if an unmarried woman without children habitually heard Mass on Sunday mornings but rarely made plans for Saturday evenings that would conflict with the vigil Mass, she might offer to watch the neighbor’s children while their mother heard the vigil Mass. There are any number of permutations to the arrangement. Such an offer may well obtain graces for the men and women who help out or serve as penitential offerings, in addition to potentially obtaining the Jubilee Indulgence attached by the Holy Father to all the physical and corporal works of mercy during the Year of Mercy.

But more than that, it seems to us that this sort of cooperative childcare arrangement, which, for all we know, happens in almost every parish in Christendom (except, seemingly, our own), is exactly the sort of thing that helps build the sort of community that Rod Dreher has talked about at staggering length in recent years. You know, the so-called Benedict Option. While we disagree with Dreher about some of the particulars of his idea, not the least of which is the fact that you need a priest willing to play along, we certainly do not dispute the basic contention that Christians need to form tighter-knit communities to deal effectively with an increasingly hostile culture. This goes double for traditionally minded Catholics who are usually, to quote Magazine’s 1978 single, shot by both sides. But it seems to us that a sense that the world has moved into another, more aggressive phase in its doomed campaign against Christ and Christ’s Church is probably not the sort of thing that really knits a community together. But a tradition of charity, especially when it takes the form of looking after each other’s children, seems like the sort of thing that just might do the trick.

Of course, justice, whether it’s distributive or commutative, consists of giving each person his due. (E.g., ST IIa IIae q.58 a.1 obj. 1 & co.; q.61 a.2 co.) By those lights, maybe the arrangement we have discussed above isn’t justice—that is, maybe we don’t owe each other this sort of cooperation, though certainly one could find precedents for it throughout the life of the Church and the life of Christendom before things went off the rails—but if it’s charity, it seems like the sort of charity that seems like it would serve the common good of the community tremendously. And, even if one isn’t interested in forming a tight-knit community of Christians in any given setting, it’s the sort of charity that may well make common life a little smoother. Instead of getting shirty with the parent of a rambunctious brood or making comments in a stage whisper about those ill-bred children, it may well be good for the life of the parish to offer politely to sit with the children at home next week while the parent hears Mass. (And to provide one’s references!)


If you called your dad, he could stop it all

At the Catholic Herald, Damian Thompson has a very interesting piece about Father Benedict, the cloistered monk of the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in Rome, who is world famous for his great personal devotion to St. Celestine V. We have said—and said and said—that Benedict is the most interesting man in the Church today. Thompson offers a question-and-answer format. A couple of examples:

1. Why did Benedict XVI resign? This is regarded by many commentators as the greatest mystery in recent Church history. Not by me, however. The simple answer to the question is that the Pope felt that, at his age and with his health beginning to give way, he wasn’t up to the job. This isn’t a complete answer, because there are things we can’t know. If you’re looking for a “final straw”, then you can take your pick between the VatiLeaks affair, the machinations of Benedict’s enemies and the pope’s creeping awareness that he was losing his powers of concentration. Maybe he had a fit of despair brought on by the realisation that he’d inherited the papacy too late to implement long-term reforms while firefighting paedophile and financial scandals. If Ratzinger had become pope at 75, these challenges would have been less terrifying. He didn’t because St John Paul II insisted on holding office while incapacitated – the first pontiff to do so for a very long time. Perhaps this persuaded Benedict to take the plunge. I doubt that we shall ever know, so let’s move on.

2) Would Benedict have resigned if he knew Francis would succeed him? Purely hypothetical but interesting. Benedict must have known there was a chance that Cardinal Bergoglio would succeed him. My guess is that when the Argentinian emerged on the balcony the Pope Emeritus was dismayed but concluded that God works in mysterious ways. A more interesting, albeit even more hypothetical, question is whether Benedict would have resigned if he’d known Francis would call a synod that threw open the question of whether divorced and remarried Catholics should receive Communion.

(Emphasis in original.) For longtime observers of Church politics—especially the politics surrounding the Vatileaks I scandal, the Holy Father’s election, and the 2014-2015 Synod—the piece may not contain any bombshells. However, as a source to point people to, the piece is hard to beat.

For our part, the most interesting thing about the Pope Emeritus’s retirement is that he has, seemingly, maintained his silence on matters of pressing concern to the Church. In particular, Benedict is unlikely to have missed the fact that there are those who seek to dismantle many of the accomplishments of John Paul’s reign—accomplishments that he played no small part in, especially from 1981, when he became prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When the Kasperites and their friends in the Synod secretariat go on about what Familiaris consortio meant or didn’t mean, they apparently forget that John Paul promulgated the exhortation at almost the same time that he named Ratzinger prefect (November 1981). It is likely that the exhortation came up in conversation between John Paul and his closest doctrinal collaborator. And, certainly, the subsequent skirmishes over communion for bigamists involved Ratzinger intimately.

Were we in the Pope Emeritus’s shoes, we would scarcely be able to resist taking to the air to correct certain misstatements and misquotations. But, of course, that is probably why we are not in the Pope Emeritus’s shoes.