watershed moment for feminists in the Catholic Church

This week, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith invited believers to come to the waters of baptism… but to reject the baptisms of WATER:

VATICAN CITY, 29 FEB 2008 (VIS) — Made public today were the responses of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to two questions concerning the validity of Baptism conferred with certain non-standard formulae.
The first question is: “Is a Baptism valid if conferred with the words ‘I baptise you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier’, or ‘I baptise you in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator, and of the Sustainer'”?

The second question is: “Must people baptised with those formulae be baptised ‘in forma absoluta’?”

The responses are: “To the first question, negative; to the second question, affirmative”.

Benedict XVI, during his recent audience with Cardinal William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved these responses, which were adopted at the ordinary session of the congregation, and ordered their publication. The text of the responses bears the signatures of Cardinal Levada and of Archbishop Angelo Amato S.D.B., secretary of the dicastery.

An attached note explains that the responses “concern the validity of Baptism conferred with two English-language formulae within the ambit of the Catholic Church…. Clearly, the question does not concern English but the formula itself, which could also be expressed in another language”.

“Baptism conferred in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”, the note continues, “obeys Jesus’ command as it appears at the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew. … The baptismal formula must be an adequate expression of Trinitarian faith, approximate formulae are unacceptable.

“Variations to the baptismal formula – using non-biblical designations of the Divine Persons – as considered in this reply, arise from so-called feminist theology”, being an attempt “to avoid using the words Father and Son which are held to be chauvinistic, substituting them with other names. Such variants, however, undermine faith in the Trinity”.

“The response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith constitutes an authentic doctrinal declaration, which has wide-ranging canonical and pastoral effects. Indeed, the reply implicitly affirms that people who have been baptised, or who will in the future be baptised, with the formulae in question have, in reality, not been baptised. Hence, they must them be treated for all canonical and pastoral purposes with the same juridical criteria as people whom the Code of Canon Law places in the general category of ‘non- baptised'”.
(source: VIS)

The beauty of this response is that it underlines the truth that persons can not be reduced to functional realities, and highlights the priority of being over doing.

For instance, the word “wife” bears a much richer, more personal meaning than “intimacy provider” or “baby maker.”

The deepest essence of personhood is to be in relation.

What will this response mean, in practical terms, for the Church? Here are a few of my predictions:

  • a higher-than-average volume of smack-talk about Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal William Levada, and the CDF at events like this weekend’s Religious Education Congress
  • lots of infuriated press releases by liberal organizations (many templates available here)
  • a renewed interest in An Examination of the Problems of Inclusive Language in the Trinitarian Formula of Baptism by Fr. Thomas Scirghi
  • an ever-clearer dividing point in the Catholic Church in America between those who hold fast to the apostolic teaching and those who do not
  • If books like Donna Steichen’s Ungodly Rage are any indication, there will be quite a few places where parishes will need to dust off the baptismal fonts to accommodate those who thought they had received the sacrament of baptism, but did not. Writes Steichen:

    Where I was best able to observe, in the heavily German-Catholic diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota, feminist influence has seemed to emanate primarily from three sources: the College of St. Benedict (C.S.B.) and the Benedictine motherhouse at St. Joseph; Christ Church, a Newman Center parish at St. Cloud State University; and the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis in Little Falls. Their broadly diffuse subversive efforts began in the 1960s.

    As the 1980s opened, reluctant but obedient older nuns were spending “recreation” hours deleting “non-inclusive language” from lectionaries. Soon, nun lectors everywhere were making awkward impromptu revisions or deletions as they read. Matthew Fox enjoyed soaring popularity; employees at the Catholic bookstore reported, “Fox is our best seller among nuns.” The diocesan liturgy commission, directed by Sister Delores Dufner, O.S.B., pressed for liturgical dance, inclusive language and other feminist innovations, except when expressly forbidden by the bishop. First in the three centers, then in avant-garde parishes, the Sign of the Cross was replaced by the invocation “in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier,” sometimes even in the rite of Baptism.

It’s interesting how the Catholic News Service missed the fact that the response was really an evaluation of certain strands of feminist theology. The CNS story simply puts it this way:

The Vatican’s statement was released “because of the abuse (by priests and Protestant ministers at baptisms) and the questions that have come from it,” said Father Weinandy.

The Vatican “wants to make sure the formula is the proper formula,” he told Catholic News Service Feb. 29.

Instances in which a baptism has been considered invalid have been “very, very, very few and far between,” he said.

Yeah, that’s interesting when the note from the Vatican Information Service had specified that the variations in formula arose from feminist theology and that the response “has wide-ranging canonical and pastoral effects.”

The Curt Jester puts it well:

…Progressives keep finding new ways for people to not actually receive the sacraments. For example women priests, Communal confession without individual confession, and invalid baptismal formulas. And when they are not finding ways for people to not actually receive the sacraments they make excuses for how people can receive them unworthily.

he Leeds me by right paths…

he refreshes my liturgy. Even though my soul has passed through the shadow of the valley of dynamic equivalence, I fear no further dumbing down of liturgical texts, because formal equivalence is at my side, with Liturgiam Authenticam to guide me…
— psalm of a twenty-first century parishioner in the United States

By Leeds, I am referring to the diocese in England served by the Right Reverend Arthur Roche, who delivered a bold and stunning speech to the USCCB yesterday in advance of their vote on the new English translation of the Mass. It seems that his words helped the bishops to move forward with approving the new translation (albeit with 62 amendments).

Anyway, I was very impressed by what the bishop of Leeds had to say. It’s worth reading his entire address, but I think his talk could be summarized by nine statements:

  1. politics is not the first vocation of the bishop; the Church’s spiritual heritage is
  2. the concerns and needs of Catholics in the US are one, but not the only, consideration
  3. if you’re going to play the diversity/sensitivity card, then be consistent and show some sensitivity for those who will need to translate into their own languages from the English… and also be sensitive to the richness of Eucharistic theology in the prayers
  4. respect should be shown for the biblical imagery and the words of Christ as recorded in the scriptures
  5. dynamic equivalence should be left in the dust bin of the 1960’s; what we should aim for is formal equivalence, understood as a faithful but not slavish translation
  6. the language of the liturgy can be a teacher…. teaching us, among other things, what courtesy in prayer means, as well as how to speak Scripturally
  7. in order to evaluate liturgical texts well, we need to be steeped in the sources of theology — the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church
  8. some translations generated angst that was not properly theological, but ideological, and straightforward matters have at times been treated as though they were complex
  9. the bishops have a duty to demonstrate some liturgical and catechetical leadership at this hour, and to demonstrate the catholicity of the faith

Some of my favorite passages:

What a shame it would be if the most important tool we have for formation and worship was reduced to politics, as if the highest or only form of discourse we can manage in the Church (or society) is political discourse….

It was by means of Latin that the faith was preserved and transmitted in Western Europe. It needs to be remembered now that in many parts of the world it is English that will be called upon to play a similar rôle….

I often hear it said that objections to ICEL’s recent work are really objections to Liturgiam authenticam. Allow me to offer you a few thoughts on that document which is welcomed by some and rejected by others rather like the annual government budgets….

Currently we say he took the cup filled with wine, as you know, and some argue that the fruit of the vine means the same as the single word wine, and that the simpler expression should be preferred. But we hear the words the fruit of the vine on the lips of the Lord himself in all three synoptic Gospels – which I would consider as being more than enough reason to respect their form. Moreover, though the two expressions refer to the same substance, they do so in an entirely different way. The difference between the single word and the richer phrase is the difference between reading the label on the bottle and actually enjoying a glass-full of the wine itself….

Liturgiam authenticam, insisting that translators respect the forms of expression found in the Liturgy, encourages us to speak humbly and courteously to God. But forms of courtesy vary from region to region: you know, for instance, how bishops are addressed differently in different countries. Courteous requests are often made in the form of questions like would you turn on the light? which do not seem appropriate for the Liturgy, since while Hebrew prayers often ask questions of God, Latin ones do not. In consequence, deprecatory language, which is necessary for a faithful translation of the Liturgy, does not come readily to hand. Translators have found that they need to stay close to the Latin in order to remain faithful to it, and users of these texts will be learning a new language of liturgical prayerful courtesy….

I often share with my brother English and Welsh bishops an insight that I have gained through being involved with this work. It is this, and I say it with the greatest respect, but the more I go through this process the clearer it is to me that very many of us need to revisit the theological reasoning behind the various parts and components of the Mass, as well as considering the theological sources from which the texts of the Mass have been culled. In the main, these are the Sacred Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church….

scriptural catechesis is central to liturgical catechesis. It was said of St Bernard that he knew the Sacred Scriptures so well that his language was biblical – he began to, as our young people would say today, ‘speak bible.’ My point is that in using a translation that is more faithful to Sacred Scripture we are teaching ourselves and our people to speak bible! Lex orandi, lex credendi….

If the bishops of the English-speaking countries can agree on a single version of the Mass, what a sign of catholicity that will be. But more than that, it will be a guarantee of catholicity for the future, not only in our own time, and not only in our own countries. Clearly I, and all my brother bishops of ICEL, believe that you, the bishops of the United States, have a most important role of leadership to play in just that.

It is interesting to note that the bishops decided to reject the reference to dew — Therefore, make holy these gifts, we pray, by the dew of your spirit — after the bishop of Leeds spent a good 20% of his address unpacking the theological merit of maintaining the word dew through reference to the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, and its use in the Liturgy of the Hours. (Bishop Trautman had been making light of the word “dew” and others in the proposed translation when he spoke at the Religious Education Congress this spring.)

All in all, I was very impressed by Roche’s remarks, and with the outcome of the bishops’ vote. Of course, it may take up to two years before the translation of the rest of the Roman Missal is complete. But that could be a good thing. It will give bishops time to catechize themselves, and then to catechize us, so that we can understand and appreciate this new translation of the Mass.