Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Blessed and Happy Christ-Mass!

A blessed and happy Christ-Mass to all!

Please be assured of my prayers for every soul that reads this web log. Thank you all for making the year of grace 2008 such a delightful year in which to blog.

May the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, our Incarnate God and new-born King, fill you all with joy and pour out His abundant blessings upon you as we celebrate the great Christ-Mass solemnity.

And remember, let us keep the MASS in Christmas...

God bless you!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood - 21 December 1996

The photo of my first priestly blessing on the Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle, also the Ember Saturday in Advent, 21 December 1996. Ordained by the Most Reverend John Thayer Cahoon Junior, Bishop Ordinary of the Mid-Atlantic States, at Saint Paul's Anglican Catholic Church, Lexington, Virginia, I am here shown blessing my mother Jo Anne. My first Holy Mass was celebrated the next day, the Fourth Sunday in Advent. This Sunday, Advent IV 2008, marks the twelfth anniversary of my ordination as a Priest in Christ's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

My brother Brandon, interestingly, was ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons on the anniversary of my First Mass, 22 December 2007. He celebrates his first anniversary of ordination on Monday. Also, interestingly, the other Father Jones celebrated his First Mass on 8 June 2008, the twelfth anniversary of my ordination to the Diaconate. Providence, certainly not coincidence.

Please pray for us and for our fulfillment of the holy Will of God in our vocations. God bless you!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stewards of the Lord

In light of the fascinating and ongoing discussion on Anglican Orders on one of my most favourite weblogs, Father Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes, I thought I would publish my own review of Father John Jay Hughes' unrivalled theological work Stewards of the Lord...

Dear N.

I am so very pleased that you obtained a copy of Fr John Jay Hughes' Stewards of the Lord. I had put off buying a copy of that magnum opus for a number of years, but having finally capitulated and purchased a copy last month, I am eternally grateful to have done so. It is clear from the context of the work that Fr Hughes believes Anglican Orders are undeniably valid, and that his opponents indeed understand his incontrovertible air tight theological case, but are nevertheless insistent on continuing to maintain Apostolicae Curae, even to the detriment of their theological and academic honesty and integrity.

I wish every Roman Catholic bishop and theologian alive were required to read Stewards of the Lord. Not only is it, in my opinion, the best, most lucid and readable, theological and historical defence of Anglican Orders ever written, it is also in its own right one of the best treatises on introductory theology of the Eucharist and Priesthood, as controverted in the reformation period, available in the English language. He manages to cut away five hundred years of polemic on both sides of the reformation to give a balanced and even-handed appraisal of the sixteenth century controversy and why it occurred in the first place. If anything, it is a remarkable and ground-breaking history of the reformation itself, which shows that the English Reformation was not at all a radical break with the Catholic and Christian past, but was as much both a victim of and a doctrinally-faithful heir to the medieval Catholic period as the Church of Trent. He brilliantly shows how the English Reformers were more faithful to St Thomas Aquinas and Peter Lombard than many Roman Catholic theologians of the sixteenth century. And indeed he demolishes the confused and unintelligible theological claims of Apostolicae Curae, using the best Roman Catholic theologians at hand, such a St Robert Bellarmine, and even modern Vatican decrees, to explode the theological ground-shifting of Pope Leo's Bull.

With astonishing ease, he shows how the essential forms of the Anglican Ordinal are valid because they are from the New Testament and are acknowledged to be valid as such by Roman Catholic tradition, and how the essential sacramental intention is valid because of the Preface of the Ordinal (strangely and deliberately ignored by Apostolicae Curae) and its declaration that in the ordination services of the Church of England she has the intention to do what the Church does. He shows deftly that no other intention is needed or required for validity. He demonstrates convincingly that sacramental intention is so easy and basic that one would have to intend fundamentally to reject Our Blessed Lord not to have it. ‘Positive double exclusion of intention,’ sounds like ‘double secret probation,’ a nonsense of speculation, is shown to be a logical and moral impossibility based as it is only on the worst kind of Latin neoscholastic casuistry. In Fr Hughes’ hands, Apostolicae Curae crumbles. In all it is a fantastic contribution to theology in general and, to my mind, the final word on the Anglican Orders dispute. Stewards of the Lord is, in a word, unanswerable in the truth it establishes.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Catechism on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism

What is the Sacrament of Holy Baptism? Why did Our Lord institute it?

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism is the First Sacrament, the sacrament which enters us into the life of divine grace and makes us children of God, sons of God by adoption, and members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Baptism was instituted by Our Lord in order that through it, a sign causing what it symbolises, we, as the members of Christ, incorporated into His Body, may participate in the mystery of Christ's own Passion, Death, and Resurrection— Baptism supernaturally joins us to Christ in His Death and Resurrection, and makes us to receive the benefits of Calvary and the Empty Tomb. By its mystical representation of burial and death with Christ, and also of resurrection, through our passage in and out of water, Holy Baptism causes what is symbolises and symbolises what it causes. Because this sacrament is generally or universally necessary for salvation, it was most important that Jesus Christ establish a sacrament which is very easy and simple to administer: and so He chose the most basic substance on earth, water, the symbol and substance of life, to be the means by which we are born again and made partakers of the divine life.

Because we are born into this world in a state or condition called Original Sin, meaning that we have inherited, because of the sin and fall of Adam and Eve, a fallen and wounded condition in which we are separated from God, and in which we are separated from each other, filled with selfishness and pride, made subject to physical and spiritual death, because of all this, we can be set free, liberated from this depravity only by God Himself and thus restored to communion and fellowship with the Holy Trinity. We are born into a state of alienation from God, a state of fallenness and corruption. We have obtained by nature an all-pervading condition which has affected the whole universe negatively and has warped and twisted creation from its original design and purpose: we call this sin. Jesus Christ became Man to restore us, in Himself, to communion with God. This Redemption is what He achieved through His Cross, Passion and Resurrection. Our Lord, very God and very Man, One Divine Person with two natures, divine and human, came to reunite God and man, to 're-communion' and re-enter mankind into the very life of God.

By His perfect life of obedience, His sacrifice on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead, the Incarnate Lord completed His purpose and effected our living union with the Father in Himself. But, additionally, He desires to share His new glorified life with, and to give the effects of what He has done to, His New People, the family of redeemed mankind, the Holy Catholic Church. He does this in Baptism.
Through the Fall of Adam, mankind lost its original righteousness, its original state of perfection and life in God, and fell into sin. God originally made man in the Image and Likeness of God (Genesis 1-2). Man was both made in God's Image, and shared the Likeness to God. In the Fall, mankind chose by sin to damage and corrupt its likeness to God, the God-likeness of holiness, love, immortality, perfect life and communion with God and man. Man vitiated the virtue and grace that was in him. But man retained after the Fall the original Image of God, the permanent nature of man in which he was made to be the reflection of God's being. Because of the Fall, mankind is by nature like a beautiful, flawless painting or picture, upon which mud has been thrown. The Image and Likeness of God have not been destroyed, but marred, distorted, hurt, warped, misused, damaged, perverted, weakened, disfigured. Jesus Christ, the eternal Word and perfect Image of the Father (St John 1, 14), the Icon of the Invisible God (Colossians 1), has come as Man to restore to the human race to the true Image and Likeness of God. The Likeness to God was brought back to man through the God-Man.

All men are called to be reunited and reconciled to God and to be made sharers and partakers in His eternal kingdom, through Jesus Christ, the Head of the new Body of Spirit-bearing humanity, the Church, the community of those being made like God, those who again now enjoy the full Likeness of God and communion with Him. Baptism is the sacramental way, the sacramental gift, ordained by Christ Himself, which enables every human person to be received into the Kingdom of God and receive the life of grace. We must be given access to this new creation, this new reality, by a sacramental channel, a conduit which gives to us the life of God in our own souls and bodies - as men. A material and spiritual instrument is used by God to give Himself to man, a composite material and spiritual being.

Baptism is the ultimate vehicle of the Spirit, which conveys the life and grace of the Holy Ghost to us for the remission of our sins and the gift of new birth and eternal life. The gift of divine grace in Baptism restores us to the Likeness of God in Jesus Christ, as we are configured and conformed to the divine Image of Jesus, Who is the Image of God the Father. Our Lord directly instituted this Sacrament of Holy Baptism: 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always even to the end of the world.' (St Matthew 28 .19-20).

Jesus Christ clearly teaches us that the New Birth, Spiritual Regeneration, is effected in the human soul by the means of Holy Baptism. We are saved through Holy Baptism, for sacramental Baptism is the One Baptism for the Remission of Sins of the Nicene Creed. Baptism communicates to us the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of all sins and for union with God. 'Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God' (St John 3.5). Through the action of Baptism, the Holy Spirit applies the Incarnation, Life, Death and Resurrection of Christ to us and by His power recreates us as children of God, refashioning our souls and making them capable of living in the very life of God. We are adopted by God; we become His own children, His own progeny renovated in His Image and Likeness; we now have by grace what we, because of Original Sin, cannot have by nature.

Through the gift of Baptism, we become by grace what God is by nature, icons and images of God, like God Himself - all through the grace of Christ our Brother, the Head of the Body, the firstborn of the new creation. In Baptism, we ourselves become Spirit-bearing, vehicles of the Holy Spirit, God-like. The Spirit comes to live in us, and makes us the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Abode and Home of God the Holy Trinity. We are made to share the Holy Trinity's life and communion. Baptism is the Gate of Life, transforming us to be members of the Trinity's family, the Church. It makes us eligible to receive the other sacraments in the Church and to be nourished with grace. Baptism is the womb through which we are born to life eternal in Mother Church. Baptism makes us 'partakers of the divine nature' (II St Peter 1.4).
'Brethren, what shall we do [to be saved]? Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptised every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit' (Acts 2.38). 'Baptism now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ' (1 St Peter 3.21). In the wondrous supernatural gift given to us in Baptism, the gift of New Birth, Remission of Sins, and Eternal Life, we are entirely united with the Lord Jesus Christ and caused to receive the power and life of the Cross and Resurrection in such a way that Christ dwells in us and we in Him: we are made one corporate personality with Christ in Baptism. We mysteriously and truly put on Christ in Baptism and are made members of His own Body, the glorified Body of the Resurrection which is Church, made to share in the risen life of the Saviour.

'For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ' (Galatians 3.26-27). 'Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His' (Romans 6.3-5). 'For just as the Body is one and has many members, and all the members of the Body, though many, are one Body, so it with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptised into one Body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were made to drink of the one Spirit' (1 Corinthians 12.12-13).

Holy Baptism confers on us Jesus Christ Himself and the Holy Spirit of God, and brings the regeneration, the recreation, of the human person by the direct action of God in the sacrament. Baptism is the 'washing of regeneration' (Titus 3.5), the laver of the New Birth. Yes. All this actually happens at Baptism— by an outward and visible sign, water, with the invocation of the Name of the Holy Trinity, the human person is made a son of God by grace and adoption, an heir of the eternal kingdom, a child of heaven, a member of Christ. We become filii in Filio, sons in the Son.

Baptism is Christ's appointed act and bestowal of life, given to us as a gift. How does this happen? It is a holy Mystery.

All that Jesus Christ is and has done for us is ours in Baptism.
An adult candidate must believe in the Faith of Jesus Christ, Lord, God and Saviour, and affirm the following about the gift of Baptism; a child must be later taught this and instructed in the following:
1. Baptism gives us the forgiveness of all of our sins, sins both original and actual, our inherited state of sin and our own personal sins committed against God, and gives us the very life of God, the gift of God the Holy Ghost, which makes us holy.
2. Baptism incorporates us into Christ and makes us members of the Holy Catholic Church, the Body of Christ, and therefore sons of God by grace. Baptism makes it possible for us to receive the other sacraments and live the grace-filled Life.
What is necessary for the administration of Holy Baptism? Who may baptise? Who may be baptised? What about infant baptism? Is it right?

All that is necessary for the administration of a valid Baptism, meaning that the Baptism objectively conveys the spiritual grace promised by covenant in the sacrament, is the act of immersing the candidate or pouring water upon the candidate with the simultaneous invocation of the Name of the Holy Trinity - because Baptism enters us into the Life of the Trinity. Any person, preferably a baptised Christian, who has the intention to administer Christian Baptism may validly baptise someone else. Traditionally, only a priest or bishop serves as the ordinary minister of Baptism, a sign of the unity and authority of the Church into which one is born by the sacrament, and the person baptised should have water applied three times, symbolic of the Holy Trinity. The mode matters not at all: as long as water is applied in the Name of the Trinity, the sacrament is valid. This means that all Trinitarian Christian Baptism, whether by pouring, affusion, or immersion, is true Baptism.

When there is a doubt about the validity of a particular Baptism because of a potential defect of form, that is, if it is uncertain that the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost was used, a potential defect of matter, that is, the absence of water, or a potential defect of intention, in the case of sects that deny Trinitarian orthodoxy, then Baptism may be administered conditionally: 'if thou art not already baptised, I baptise thee...' Conditional Baptism only seeks to supply what may be lacking in a previous attempt to baptise and does not deny the possibility that the previous baptism may have been valid. The Church never repeats an indelible sacrament because the deliberate reiteration of a sacrament with indelible character is a sacrilege. The conditional administration of a sacrament brings with it only the intention to perfect the sacrament and to provide the assurance that the sacrament is undoubtedly valid, that is, that it possesses what the Church requires for her own sacraments and that the Church sees in the sacrament her own endowment from the Lord.

Baptisms are certainly invalid which do not use the Trinitarian formula. Modern-day heretics who use such phrases as 'Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier' or 'Mother, Child, Womb' administer unquestionably invalid Baptism. In so using the aforementioned phrases they fall into the ancient error of monarchical modalism or Sabellianism and deny the distinct and self-existent Three Consubstantial Coequal Persons in the Godhead. Baptism conferred by Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are likewise invalid due to a defect of intention to baptise into the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, One in Essence and Undivided. Baptism 'in the Name of Jesus' only, practised by some protestant fundamentalist groups, is also invalid, for it does not use the dominical form instituted by Our Lord in the New Testament. If a person previously received an invalid Baptism, he must be baptised absolutely upon conversion and catechesis in the Catholic Faith.

For those unable to receive sacramental Baptism, two other mysterious participations in the grace of Baptism exist:

1. Baptism by desire. Christians who heartily desire to receive the grace of Baptism but die before they actually receive the sacrament are held to have received fruitfully the grace of Baptism by their own volition. In the ancient Church, catechumens, those preparing for Baptism after adult conversion, who died before receiving the sacraments were afforded Christian burial, a practice reserved usually for the baptised faithful. Some orthodox theologians contend that certain unbaptised persons who have never heard a clear presentation of the Gospel and yet seek to live according to the light and truth of God in the conscience may be capable of receiving the mysterious gift of Baptism by desire - although this possibility is ultimately known, of course, only to God and is not part of revelation. The Good Thief on the Cross is an excellent example of the ineffable grace of the Lord Jesus. God desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. God is merciful and wills that no one should perish. Therefore this mysterious gift, possibly given to some human beings, a gift which is beyond our scrutiny, knowledge, powers of observation, or judgement, lies in the heart of God's love for mankind.

2. Baptism by blood. There are also those who have believed in Jesus Christ and yet were unbaptised who have, in the course of the Church's long history, received the grace of Baptism through the crown of martyrdom. It is possible for an unbaptised believer to be baptised into the saving Passion and Death of Christ through one's own blood, offered in witness for the sake of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. There are many examples of baptism by blood in the earliest centuries of the Church during times of persecution. It indubitably happens today throughout the world. Even without the benefit of the waters of Baptism, some Christians have entered into the Kingdom of God by virtue of their willingness to be conformed to Christ in His salvific Cross and Sacrifice unto death. For some, to die for Christ is to live with and in Him forever.

Remember, Baptism can never be repeated once it is truly and validly administered, because it conveys a permanent unerasable sacramental indelible character, a spiritual seal or mark on the soul, which signs the person with the Sign of the Cross and fills the person with the grace of God, and the Holy Spirit, forever. We believe in one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, never to be repeated. One Lord. One Faith. One Baptism. One can be born in the order of nature only once; and so one can be born in the order of grace only once. The regeneration transmitted in Baptism, the New Birth in the Spirit, can never be effected again once accomplished: it is once-for-all.

May children, and even infants, be baptised? Yes. Absolutely. Baptism is for all men, for every human person created in the Image and Likeness of God. Christ wishes all men to be saved through Him and His Incarnate Life, and to be brought into the full life and communion of His Church, the Body of redeemed and regenerate humanity. This is possible for men covenantally only through Holy Baptism, and therefore God wills children and infants to be made members of His Family by Baptism. Baptism is the act of God, the free act of God's grace upon the human soul; it is neither a work of man nor even a subjective profession of a person's faith in Christ.

Therefore, as the Act of God and the free gift of God's love for man, Baptism should be extended to children, to make them, with their parents, members of Christ and able to receive the grace of God. 'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of Heaven' (St Matthew 19.14). In the ancient Church, even entire households were baptised together, parents and children, (see Acts 16) and infant Baptism is as ancient as the Church herself. The Church Fathers, such as St Irenaeus of Lyons, record its practice, as early as the second century, as already being a primitive, apostolic practice. God's free offer of life in Christ, which is the medicine of immortality for the curse of spiritual death, the condition of Original Sin, is to be provided for all, including children. Children are called to be members of Christ's Church as well as adults, and are equally in need of the supernatural rebirth and grace of Baptism.

The practice of infant Baptism, in fact, proves like nothing else that Baptism is God's act of grace, not man's act of works, for children cannot merit or deserve anything: they are simply open in docility to the pure self-donating grace of God. When children are baptised, the Church requires godparents to be present with them, sponsors who promise to raise the children in the Christian Faith and oversee their nurture, training, and education in the Religion of the Catholic Church. It is the responsibility of these sponsors or godparents, who themselves should be baptised and practising Christians, to ensure that the children will practice the Faith and be, in adulthood, faithful Catholic Churchmen. They do this principally by bringing the children to the Sacrament of Confirmation.
For a child who cannot exercise personal faith, the faith of the parents and godparents is imputed or extended to the child for his salvation; they share their personal faith with the child as he is baptised into the Faith of the Church. By so doing, the Church herself imputes her own Faith to the child. The believing and worshipping Church believes on behalf of the child unto salvation. For the state of salvation mystically offered in the sacraments is a corporate reality; we are not saved alone nor as solitaries do we come to the Kingdom, but only as members of the saved and sanctified community, the Royal Priestly Prophetic Body of Christ.

Also note that children who are baptised and have not achieved the age of reason are in a state of grace, incapable of committing actual sins. Children in such a state who die having been baptised go directly to Heaven without question. The sacramental grace received by us in Baptism, even as children, is real, true and objective, and lives in us apart from our own personal faith. But for this grace to be effective in our lives, for it to do what it intends, we must respond to the grace given through faith once we are capable of practising the Christian Faith.

If we do not respond by our own free will to this grace, and accept and use it, we simply cannot have the grace do for us what God wishes; it cannot bear fruit in our lives if we do not will it. Baptismal grace is not magic. All grace requires our cooperation, our free will, our free agreement and practice of it, for it to increase in us and make us holy. Baptised Christians have a responsibility to know of this great gift and utilise it in our lives through prayer, reception of the other sacraments, worship at the Holy Mass, and reading of the Word of God. Grace does not transform us unless we allow it so to do; God cannot force His life upon us to transform us. An ultimate act of personal response to the grace of God given in Baptism is the voluntary choice of a young person to receive the Sacrament of Holy Confirmation.
The loss of baptismal grace through serious mortal sin may be healed, and the grace recovered and restored, through genuine contrition and repentance and the use of the Sacrament of Penance.
We treasure in our Baptism all the grace we need to become a Saint. It is in fact precisely for our sainthood, our total sanctification, that God has graced us with His Baptism. Let us endeavour to keep the grace of our Baptism unsullied and unspotted and live it to the full!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Merrily on High and Walsingham Way

I have learned just today that Canterbury Press of Norwich, England has this past October issued reprints of two of the most quintessential and entertaining books on Anglo-Catholicism ever written, both by Father Colin Stephenson, sometime Administrator of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Both are available at

Merrily on High. When I read this book for the first time in my late teens, there were moments when I literally fell out of my chair howling with laughter. It is the funniest book on Catholic Anglicanism - period. A must have and a must read for every Anglo-Catholic. Over the years I have heard wonderful priests and bishops quote from it by memory. In fact, I recommend it to seminarians as a way by which one may begin to learn the joys and intricacies of our not uncomplicated yet glorious heritage. One simply must have a copy of this book.

Walsingham Way. The definitive and magisterial work on Father Alfred Hope Patten and the restoration of devotion to and the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Any Anglo-Catholic who wants to deepen his appreciation for Anglican devotion to Our Lady must indeed have this book. It supplies information on Father Patten and the Shrine found nowhere else. The book also provides a fascinating rehearsal of the history of the Walsingham devotion in England from its inception, and also offers a very good history, through its narrative of Father Patten's life, of the entire Catholic Movement in the Church of England. Another must have, must read gem.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A Catechism on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

Is Christian Marriage a Sacrament? If so, why? How does Holy Matrimony differ from other kinds of 'marriage?'

Marriage is most definitely a sacrament, instituted by God in creation and blessed by Our Lord Jesus Christ, raised and elevated to the status of a sacrament by His blessing and teaching. Actually, marriage exists in nature as the holy estate into which man and woman were intended to enter for life. 'So God created man in his own image...male and female he made him'. 'Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.' (Genesis 1.27, 2.24). Man and woman were made to be together in a natural state of marriage. However, Our Lord blessed Marriage by His presence at the wedding in Cana-in-Galilee (St John 2), and raised the natural estate to a sacrament of grace. 'This Mystery (sacrament) is a profound one, and I am saying it refers to Christ and the Church' (Ephesians 5.32). Please read the entire 5th chapter of Ephesians. In the Christian Faith, Marriage is a sacrament representing the union of Christ and His Church, the Bride of Christ. Matrimony is a sacramental union or bond, which, like the union between Christ and His Church, is indestructible and indissoluble-- it can never be destroyed once validly covenanted or contracted, until one of the two spouses dies.

Our Lord elevated Marriage to a Sign of the unity between Himself and His People in the covenant and communion of the Church. In the Christian Sacrament of Marriage, which is different from non-Christian marriage because it is sacramental, the bride and the bridegroom are the ministers— they, by their totally free and self-giving vow each to the other, establish this holy union and ordinance for each other, and administer the Sacrament to each other. The priest, as the Church's representative, witnesses and blesses the Marriage, giving the witness and blessing of the Catholic Church. Christian Marriage is permanent as long as both parties live: 'till death us do part.' It establishes between the husband and wife a life-long and unerasable bond and union, and a sacramental state of life. God pours His grace into the union to strengthen it, to give to the couple the grace to be faithful to the vows made one to the another. 'I will.' The parties in Christian Marriage vow before God and each other that they will remain faithful to one another for life, and will continue to renew and choose the vow made daily until life's end. The vow is an ongoing commitment and choice made, not once, but for the rest of one's life.

Because man and wife administer this sacrament to each other, each must make a free and willing choice to marry the other person. Anything that would prohibit or impede a free and completely voluntary, informed, and knowledgeable consent to the Marriage by one of the parties would cause the sacrament to be invalid - not a true Christian Marriage. In order for a Christian Marriage to be a true marriage, a sacramental union, both parties must believe that Marriage is absolutely life-long, an indissoluble, indestructible, permanent union, a sacramental bond, before God and man for life, established for the mutual comfort and salvation of one another, for the procreation and nurture of children when possible, for the avoidance of sin, and for the good of the Church and human society. If one of the persons does not believe this, then the Marriage cannot be a valid sacrament and does not communicate the grace promised by Christ in the marital union.

If there exists in one of the persons a disbelief of the Church's faith concerning Marriage, or a state which is contrary to the requirements of true marriage— these are called impediments, stumbling-blocks which prevent the free, informed, and true consent of both parties to the Sacrament and nullify its grace from the beginning, ab initio. There are actually many potential impediments to Christian Marriage: lack of valid baptism in one of the parties, the intention not to have children, force, coercion, immaturity, insanity, the lack of intention to marry for life, undisclosed social disease, homosexual behaviour, withheld information which might affect the choice — anything which prevents a mature, logical, intelligent, free, willing, voluntary choice. If any of these impediments are present at the beginning of a marriage, the Church can later declare after investigation an annulment, an official statement affirming that the marriage was never truly a Christian sacramental Marriage, Holy Matrimony. The Church has the authority to determine that such a union is null and void, and thus not a sacrament.
In the case in which the Church declares nullity, the parties, having obtained a civil divorce, possess the ability to marry again in the Church in order to contract a genuine, real sacramental Marriage, provided they profess the Church's teaching on Marriage and observe the law of the Church. However, if the Church determines that a previous Marriage is sacramental, she cannot bless and witness another purported marriage which either party may attempt to contract with another partner, even if the persons in question have obtained a civil divorce. The Sacrament of Matrimony is a life-long and indissoluble bond— the Church does not recognise civil divorce as a dissolving the sacramentality of Marriage. Civil divorce only dissolves the legal, not the spiritual, relationship. Only by a declaration of annulment from a bishop, which demonstrates that a first marriage never existed sacramentally, can a Catholic Christian seek a new spouse.

Christian Marriage imparts sacramental grace; non-sacramental marriages, whether 1. non-Christian or 2. second marriages contracted after civil divorce without the Church's authorisation, cannot be guaranteed to impart the grace of the Christian Sacrament of Matrimony. Many marriages today, most especially many of those in the latter category, are contrary to God's will and commandments and are therefore sinful.

The Church, of course, does countenance physical separation between husbands and wives who are validly married if there is a serious problem in the union, such as domestic violence. However, if the Marriage is a sacramental union, even such circumstances cannot eliminate its sacramental nature. Please read St Mark 10.1-12: 'Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.'

The outward and visible sign of Matrimony is the making of vows by one woman and one man to each other, to live together in this sacramental bond for life, according to the purposes for which God instituted it, with the exchange of rings and joining of hands as a symbol of their union.

The inward and spiritual grace of Marriage is the union of man and woman, to be one flesh, that each may contribute to the salvation and health of the other, and by the fruit and love of their union to bring forth children in the faith and nurture of God, if it is His will. The grace of this sacrament enables the spouses to love one another as Christ loves the Church; it perfects the love of the spouses toward one another and their children, strengthens their indissoluble union, makes them holy in each other that they may have eternal life. The grace of Marriage is a mystical participation in the Life of the Holy Trinity, Who is Himself a Communion of Persons united in love. Marriage reproduces in the love of husband, wife and children the self-donating and mutual love of the Three Persons of the One Trinity, the God Who is Love. The grace of Matrimony reproduces the mystical communion shared between Christ and His Church. This special grace is given for the good of the couple, the good of their children, and for the good of human society. Marriage is the 'Domestic Church,' where the love and grace of Christ enters most deeply in the human family and builds up the Christian family as the heart of the Church and of human civilisation.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Conception by Saint Anne of the Holy Mother of God - 8 December

From the Orthodox Church in America...

St Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, was the youngest daughter of the priest Nathan from Bethlehem, descended from the tribe of Levi. She married St Joachim (September 9), who was a native of Galilee. For a long time St Anne was childless, but after twenty years, through the fervent prayer of both spouses, an angel of the Lord announced to them that they would be the parents of a daughter, Who would bring blessings to the whole human race.

The Orthodox Church does not accept the teaching that the Mother of God was exempted from the consequences of ancestral sin (death, corruption, sin, etc.) at the moment of her conception by virtue of the future merits of Her Son. Only Christ was born perfectly holy and sinless, as St Ambrose of Milan teaches in Chapter Two of his Commentary on Luke.The Holy Virgin was like everyone else in Her mortality, and in being subject to temptation, although She committed no personal sins. She was not a deified creature removed from the rest of humanity. If this were the case, She would not have been truly human, and the nature that Christ took from Her would not have been truly human either. If Christ does not truly share our human nature, then the possibilty of our salvation is in doubt.

The Conception of the Virgin Mary by St Anne took place at Jerusalem. The many icons depicting the Conception by St Anne show the Most Holy Theotokos trampling the serpent underfoot.

'In the icon Sts Joachim and Anne are usually depicted with hands folded in prayer; their eyes are also directed upward and they contemplate the Mother of God, Who stands in the air with outstretched hands; under Her feet is an orb encircled by a serpent (symbolizing the devil), which strives to conquer all the universe by its power.'

There are also icons in which St Anne holds the Most Holy Virgin on her left arm as an infant. On St Anne's face is a look of reverence. A large ancient icon, painted on canvas, is located in the village of Minkovetsa in the Dubensk district of Volhynia diocese. From ancient times this Feast was especially venerated by pregnant women in Russia.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A Catechism on the Holy Mother of God

Is Mary not the Mother of Jesus alone rather than God or the Lord, and thus does she fall along with all of us into the state of sinner? Was Mary exempted from sin as the Virgin Mother of God's Incarnate Son from the time of her Immaculate Conception?

'And chiefly in the glorious and most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord and God...' (1549 English BCP).

These essential questions were posed in the fifth century during the time of the great Christological controversies, during which period the Church formulated her internal teaching inherited from Christ and the Apostles into official creedal and dogmatic statements, particularly in the Seven Ecumenical Councils, which represent the mind, tradition, and consentient teaching of the Church from the Apostolic era. The question of the divine motherhood of Mary pertains to the identity and Person of her Divine Son. The question is really about Our Lord and His Person and Natures, and only relatively or secondarily concerns the status of His Mother. The Church has always believed that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man, 'conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary' (Apostles' Creed). Jesus Christ is the 'Word made Flesh' (St John 1.1-18), God the Son, Who in the fulness of time assumed human nature, including human body, mind and soul, from the Virgin Mary His Mother.

Jesus Christ, therefore, is not simply a man or a separate human person who was adopted as God's only Son, some kind of 'God-possessed man' whom God controlled from the outside as distinct from the Logos Himself. Jesus Christ is actually One Divine Person, God, with two full, complete, and distinct natures which are not confused and yet are united together perfectly in the One Person: divine and human. Jesus Christ is God, God the Son, God the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, 'who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made Man' (Nicene Creed). Jesus Christ is God Incarnate, God-made-Man, the God-Man. (St John 5.36, 8.58, 14.9, 20.28, Galatians 4.4, St Mark 6.3, Colossians 1.15, Hebrews 1.3, 1 st John 1, Romans 9.5, to cite a few examples).

This, the Deity of Christ, stands firmly as the central and most fundamental dogma, or revealed truth, of the Gospel. Without the truth that the Eternal Son of God, eternally-begotten of the Father, of one substance with the Father (homoousios), actually condescended to become Man for our sake, and assumed human nature without the loss of His Divinity, the Christian Faith would be meaningless. 'God can only redeem what he assumes.' 'God became Man so that man might become God' (St Athanasius). In the fourth and fifth centuries, certain powerful and heretical teachers denied the truth of Our Lord's Incarnation, especially Nestorius of Constantinople, the Patriarch of the New Rome, who reigned in the early fifth century.

To Nestorius is attributed the wrong belief that Jesus was not God Incarnate, but rather a separate human person, a regular man, who was somehow uniquely joined to another distinct Person, God the Son, from the time of His conception in the womb of Mary. Jesus, in Nestorian theology, was in effect a God-possessed human being, a man manipulated and directed by God because of a unique moral union with God - but without an actual incarnation of God in the flesh. This heresy asserts that Our Lord is simply a supreme Saint, a very holy man possessed by God to a greater degree that other Saints. Jesus is thus held to be a temple of God, in whom God dwells, but He is not the Incarnation of God. This heresy rejects the hypostatic union, that God assumed human nature and became True Man, and that Jesus is perfect God and perfect Man in One Person. The Church has always recognised from the teaching of Christ Himself, and from the New Testament texts specifically, that Our Lord is not a paranoid schizophrenic, nor a half-God, half-man monstrosity. Jesus Christ is God-in-the-Flesh.

The aforementioned error led Nestorius to refuse to acknowledge in his public preaching and teaching the Blessed Virgin Mary as Theotokos - Mother of God or God-Bearer. Nestorius introduced a false innovation by referring to Mary as only Christotokos ('mother of Christ') or anthropotokos ('mother of man'), thus denying the divinity of Our Lord in connection to His human nature. The Church has honoured and venerated the Blessed Mother as the God-Bearer from the beginning of the Faith, as we read in the pages of the New Testament. 'And why is this, that the Mother of my Lord (meter kuriou) should come to me?' (St Luke 1.43). Kurios, of course, is the Greek title of honour for God, LORD, transliterated from the Hebrew Adonai, in turn replacing the Divine Name or Tetragrammaton, YHWH, Yahweh. Our Lady is acknowledged by her cousin St Elizabeth to be the Mother, the Bearer, of God Himself.

Mary has been consistently and unanimously honoured with the tittle Theotokos because of the essential truth that the One to whom she gave birth, as a true Mother and not just as an instrument or channel, was no One else but God Himself. She is the true human Mother of Him who is God. If Jesus Christ is God, and Mary is His Mother, then, quite logically, Mary is the Mother of God. The venerable title 'Mother of God' is not intended directly to glorify Mary, although it does rightly honour her in a secondary consequent sense; first and foremost, Theotokos is intended to safeguard the absolutely definitive, prime dogma of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word. Nestorius violated the general Christian conscience, the mind of Christ in the Church, by his teaching which ran contrary to the received interpretation and understanding of the Church throughout all the world. As a result, St Cyril of Alexandria, a feisty orthodox bishop, openly challenged Nestorius, and this in turn led to the convening of the Third Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. This Council of Ephesus dogmatically proclaimed the term Theotokos as an article of the Catholic Creed, thus protecting the doctrine of the Incarnation: Nestorius was duly excommunicated.

Since Ephesus, the Holy Catholic Church, East and West, including, of course, the Anglican Tradition, has honoured Our Lady as Mother of God, and continues to worship and glorify her Divine Son as 'One of the Holy Trinity.' Thus, the theological definition of the term 'Mother of God' became the ultimate test of faith, the touchstone of Christian Orthodoxy, the greatest defence both of the Divinity of Jesus Christ and His Incarnation. The term Theotokos in no way implies that Mary is the Mother or cause of Our Lord's Divine Nature. That proposition would be simultaneously pagan and absurd. Theotokos solely safeguards and teaches the truth that the Babe conceived in the womb, suckled at the breasts, and reared on the knee, of Mary, is God. It has been honestly said that those who neglect to honour the Blessed Virgin do not fully appreciate or recognise the Incarnation of God as her Son.

It is also a fact of history and experience that Christian sects that have entirely abandoned veneration of the Blessed Mother ultimately have lost all faith in the Deity and Incarnation of Jesus Christ. 'He who does not love the Mother cannot rightly worship the Son. No one can honour Mary enough, for she is the very Mother of God. He who honours the Mother brings glory and right faith to the Divinity of her Son' (St Ambrose of Milan). The dogma of the hypostatic union, Our Lord as One Divine Person with Two Natures, human and divine, was dogmatically defined and promulgated at the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. The Chalcedonian Defintion, too, is a received and essential component of the Catholic Creed.

Now, on to the second part of the question...

Is Mary sinless? Did she ever commit actual sin? Did she inherit original sin, the condition of sinfulness and alienation from God via Adam and Eve our first parents?

These questions are simply not answered in Holy Scripture, and therefore are, for the Anglo-Catholic, a matter of pious opinion and belief. Orthodox Anglo-Catholics are obliged to receive as dogmatic truth, truth revealed directly by God and necessary for the salvation of man, only that which is contained in Holy Scripture. Because there are no explicit teachings in the Bible concerning Mary's sinlessness, these questions become concerns of piety, not of saving dogmatic revelation. We are free, according to conscience, to believe that Our Lady was sinless - and this is undoubtedly the belief and teaching of the Undivided Catholic Church of the first one-thousand years of the Christian dispensation. The Undivided Church and her Faith, the Faith of the Church when the Church, East and West, was one, serves still as the supreme tribunal for biblical interpretation within Anglicanism: we look to the Primitive Church, and to the ancient Catholic Fathers, Bishops and Doctors in their unanimous agreement, for the right understanding of the meaning of Scripture. The Bible is the Church's Book, and is only properly interpreted by the ancient Catholic Church.

The orthodox interpretation of the Church of the first millennium, Holy Tradition, universally asserts 1. that Our Lady never committed actual sins, 2. was Ever-Virgin, the Perpetual Virgin before, during, and after the birth of her Divine Son, 3. and was freed from the condition of mortality and death resulting from original sin by her glorification after death, called in orthodox Tradition the Dormition, Falling Asleep, or Assumption of Mary.

These internal traditions concerning Mary are celebrated within the life of the Church doxologically, that is, in the context of the worshipping life of the Church, in her prayers and Liturgy. Anglicans continue to celebrate these internal mysteries of the Faith through the Holy Eucharist, the Offices, and by private devotion, along with the rest of the Church, Eastern and Roman. However, these beliefs never were, in the Undivided Church, and are not still, within Anglicanism, the subject of dogmatic definition or teaching for saving necessary truth. Anglicans are free to accept or reject them according to conscience, without any impact on their status as Catholic Churchmen.

What of the Immaculate Conception? Interestingly, it does not refer to the conception of Jesus Christ in the womb of His Mother the Virgin Mary. That is the miraculous Virginal Conception of Our Lord, taught clearly in Scripture (St Matthew 1; St Luke 1). The Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, St Anne. It teaches that Mary was conceived in her mother's womb without original sin, without inheriting the sin of Adam and Eve, in anticipation of the death and resurrection of Christ, that she might be a perfect Mother for her Son. Really all it teaches is that Mary was granted by a special privilege of God the grace of Christian Baptism, forgiveness of sins and eternal life as well as freedom from the spiritual effect of original sin, in the moment she was created.

This peculiarly Roman dogma, proclaimed as necessary for salvation by Pope Pius IX in 1854, is the product of a great deal of theological speculation during the High Middle Ages, and was denied by such imminent theologians as St Bernard of Clairvaux and St Thomas Aquinas. It depends upon a very strict Augustinian understanding of original sin and has not been received by the Orthodox Churches of the East at all. Patristic orthodoxy would tend to see it as needlessly and dangerously separating Our Lady from the rest of the human race and from all of the holy women of the Old Testament, of which she is the supreme culmination. Not only does Mary serve as the Bridge between God and Man, heaven and earth, in her birthgiving of God, but, as Mother of the Messiah, she serves as Bridge between the Old Testament and the New. The novel Roman dogma seems to interfere with the continuity of human nature from Adam, through Abraham and David, to Christ via Mary, and easily leads to a reductio ad absurdum in which we ought to except immaculate conceptions for St Anne, her mother, and so forth all the way back to Eve. And that, logically, would be just plain silly.

The Church does affirm, however, that Mary is Full of Grace (St Luke 1.28) and therefore has no room in her life for sin, as she, the Woman whose Son is the Seed that crushed the serpent's head and who Himself was bruised by the serpent, the Mother of the Redeemer (Genesis 3.15), is perfectly faithful and obedient to the will and plan of God. 'I am the Handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy Word' (St Luke 1.38). Mary, in essence, is the Second and New Eve, who, freed from the power of sin, reverses the disobedience of the first Eve by her own obedience and fidelity to God. 'She loosed by her obedience the knot first tied by the disobedience of Eve' (St Iraneaus of Lyons). 'In the name Theotokos is wrapped-up the whole mystery of the economy of the salvation of God' (St John of Damascus).

The most ancient opinion about original sin in Our Lady was that which celebrated her freedom from original sin at the moment of the Annunciation, in which by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, Mary conceived Our Lord in her now-immaculate womb. This was called Our Lady's purification or katharsis and is still generally believed in the Eastern Churches today. I personally affirm this view, for it is consistent with Scripture. We can summarise the whole subject with St Augustine of Hippo, who said so beautifully, 'Where sin is concerned, I do not even discuss it in relation to Mary.' All the Catholic Churches, including the Anglican, regardless of belief about the details of her conception, celebrate the Feast of Our Lady's Conception with great solemnity on December 8th. What all Catholics adhere to faithfully is the pious belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary is immaculate - negatively, free from sin, positively, full of all grace and virtue - whether before or after her own conception, when and how and where being irrelevant to the central beauty of her privilege. So, as the Bible implies it and does not require it, the Church piously and simply calls Mary, the Spotless One.

V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Our Blessed Lady, Mother of God, Our Lady of Walsingham, intercede for us.

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