Tuesday, March 16, 2010

You Call This a Definition, Fr. Bretzke?

Left: Photo of Fr. James J. Bretzke from when he taught at University of San Francisco and San Jose's Institute of Leadership in Ministry

Authorial Self-Indulgence in a "Latin Theological Dictionary"

Quite some time ago I chanced upon a very odd example of authorial self-indulgence on the topic of Mass celebrated ad orientem in the book Consecrated Phrases: A Latin Theological Dictionary, by Jesuit Father James Bretzke.

Fr. Bretzke started his definition of "ad orientem" with: "Expression used primarily in a recent liturgical dispute . ..." [How completely off the wall is that, just for starters?]

Fr. Bretzke went on to write, "Certain 'traditionalists' allied with Mother Angelica's Eternal Word Television Network, based in the diocese of Birmingham, Alabama, claimed that the only 'true' tradition in the Church was for both the presider and the people alike to face toward the east in celebrating the Eucharist." [Clearly he doesn't like 'traditionalists' or EWTN and seems to think that the station's location in Alabama is a strike against it too. ]

The way Father Bretzke spins it in his "definition," Birmingham Bishop Foley won a judgement against the EWTN "traditionalists" from the Congregation for Divine Worship. The Congregation "rejected the traditionalists' claims ... The Congregation's Prefect, Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez wrote that it is 'incorrect and indeed quite unacceptable' that anyone should claim that to celebrate toward the apse is the more orthodox choice for the presider."

You should know that Fr. Bretzke egregiously ommitted the fact that the Congregation also wrote that it was incorrect to prohibit the use of the ad orientem posture or for anyone to claim that facing towards the people (ad populum) was the more orthodox choice.

And he also neglected to mention that EWTN was not trying to prohibit the Mass being said ad populum, but only trying to celebrate and televise their own Masses using the ad orientem posture, which had never been disallowed.

Bishop Foley responded to the Congregation's decision by withdrawing his blanket prohibition, which was clearly illegal. But he then took an action that was apparently within his rights as a bishop, and he prohibited the televising of ad orientem Masses.

The way Raymond Arroyo's biography of Mother Angelica, The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles, tells the story, the EWTN friars (an order started by Mother Angelica) had been increasingly alarmed at the inclusive language that was being inserted into the English translations of the Mass. Mother Angelica set her nuns to studying the Vatican II documents, and they discoved that neither the use of Latin or the ad orientem posture had ever been forbidden. So the friars changed the way they said the Masses.

Arroyo's story gives the strong impression that Bishop Foley lost face after the Vatican response. The bishop had forbidden ad orientem Masses completely, but he had to withdraw that prohibition after the Vatican firmly made it clear that he was not allowed to do that.

After Bishop Foley's prohibition of the televised ad orientem Masses, beautiful reverent ad orientem Novus Ordo Masses in Latin continued to be said routinely at the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament without the cameras turned on. I've been there for a few.

Rome several years later overturned Foley's decree, saying he didn't have the authority to issue it, because he was forbidding what the universal law of the church allows.

Even since Pope Benedict XVI liberalized the use of the traditional Latin Mass, now on ETWN Masses in both forms are celebrated frequently at the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament with the priest facing ad orientem, towards the East, the Dayspring, the dawn, our salvation, Christ Our Lord.

For full disclosure, I have to tell you that Fr. Bretzke and I have a history. I met James J. Bretzke, S.J. when he was moonlighting at the San Jose Diocese Institute for Leadership in Ministry and I was a student there.

Called the ILM for short, the institute is promoted by the diocese in the Valley Catholic newspaper as a training ground for lay leaders who will be able to assume the role of "directors of parish life" and replace priest pastors in the diocese. I only gradually became aware of that purpose, and I am not a supporter of what they are trying to achieve. I believe that they are covertly trying to make an end run around the prohibition of women priests and the discipline of clerical celibacy by creating a new type of pastoral role that can be assumed by anyone, married or not, male or not, celibate or not, educated or not.

If the ILM has its way, these leaders will do everything a pastor can do, except that they will need to hire priests to "provide for the sacramental needs of the parish."

Fr. Bretzke was also a professor at the University of San Francisco at the time I took his ILM course in what I always snidely refer to as either "Moral" Theology or Immoral Theology. Fr. Bretzke in his classes and in his books teaches that a person is morally infantile if he or she accepts the ordinary teachings of the Magisterium on issues such as birth control. He is not alone in this disobedient position, which gained ground in the 1960s and whose proponents apparently never change even in the face of Papal teachings to the contrary. (See Ralph McInerny's books What Went Wrong with Vatican II and his novel The Priest for a description of this exact point of view espoused by 1960s enthusiasts for the pill and their subsequent disobedience to Humanae Vitae.)

Instead of being censured, Fr. Bretzke's teachings are accepted by his peers as normative, and he keeps getting bigger and grander teaching postions at Jesuit institutions.

Fr. Bretzke since has moved on to teach at Boston College.

This article is one I wrote about his teachings on "moral" theology. This blog post describes the connection between another blog post I made about his “moral” theology and my dismissal from the ILM. After two years of enduring bad teachings, my dismissal was the occasion for a big sigh of relief on my part.

Below, Fr. Bretzke as he looks now as a BC professor. I remember him in the ILM classes always wearing the same old sweater.

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