In 374 AD, the bishop of Milan died. The town was in great turmoil as debate began about who should succeed him. The Arian heretics wanted one man, the Catholics another. As the conflict in the cathedral became stormy, one man, an unbaptized catechumen, stepped forward to try to quell the dispute and bring order to the debate.
That man was the governor of the region, well-known and well-respected by all sides.
His name was Ambrose.
As the crowd listened to him and began to quiet down, a new shout went up, "Ambrose, bishop! Ambrose, bishop!" He wasn't even baptized, much less a priest, but he was seen as the only solution by both sides in the conflict. Ambrose was hurriedly baptized, confirmed, given first Eucharist, ordained deacon, priest and bishop within the space of three days. He ruled so effectively that his sanctity was a legend even before he died. His preaching brought St. Augustine into the Church.
Why do we recall all of this?
Because we have an anti-Ambrose in Canada, a sign of the evil times in which we live. And we also have a response from Rome that signals the kind of confidence Rome has in both her bishops and in her laity.
Within the last week, the bishop of Calgary has determined that, due to the H1N1 flu, he has the right to suppress the reception of the Eucharist on the tongue and has so decreed within his diocese. While other dioceses have strongly discouraged reception on the tongue, no bishop has had the moxy to actually attempt to entirely suppress this practice, for two very good reasons.
First, reception on the tongue while on the knees is the normal mode by which the Eucharist is to be received, a fact just reiterated within the last six months by Rome. The ability to receive standing and in the hand is actually an indult, a special exception made by Rome (and an exception eminently revocable by Rome) for particular dioceses.
Second, distribution on the tongue by someone who knows what he is doing is actually much LESS likely to transmit infection, as the priest's hand never touches the communicant's mouth.
When the FSSP, who offer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in the diocese of Calgary, pointed out these two salutory facts, and added that this prohibition was a violation of their rubrics, the bishop of Calgary responded with great pastoral sensitivity to the spiritual needs of his people and the liturgical laws of the universal Church. He completely suppressed the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in his diocese. When asked on what authority he did this, given the statements from the Congregation for Divine Worship, he responded, "I am well aware of what the congregation decided but quite frankly, it is not their call. It is mine. "
It quite takes one's breath away.
A Little Extreme
So, why would the bishop of Calgary make such a ruling?
Well, let's just say the H1N1 flu is among the least of his reasons.
There are certain bishops who foolishly think that the release of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is a "step backward" for the Church. They hew to the Novus Ordo Mass like a drowning captain clings to the rail of his sinking ship, unwilling to admit that their beloved is not doing the job it was intended to do.
Just as public schools cannot stand vouchers, and the US Postal Service cannot stomach Fedex, so Novus Ordo adherents cannot abide the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. It breaks a monopoly.
So, such bishops natter on about how they want to keep their dioceses from becoming a "Catholic ghetto", while ignoring the broken windows of liturgical abuse, the trashy music blaring from the boom-box choirs, and the shoddy architecture of the sub-standard housing which is the modern cafeteria-church. Like any slum-lord, these bishops don't want other gangs horning in on their territory, most certainly not the "gang from Rome."
But there is more to it than simple personal predilection.
By insisting he has the authority to do such a thing, the bishop of Calgary has made himself a test case, in the hopes that he will become a shining light unto the other bishops, that all may follow his example.
Seven With One Blow
You see, by suppressing the FSSP Mass, the Calgary bishop has struck at the heart of the authority of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, for that is where the Ecclesia Dei commission has found its new home. No bishop has the authority to suppress the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. The Calgary bishop claims he has precisely that authority.
The bishop of Calgary has also struck at the heart of the authority of the Congregation for Divine Worship, through which all liturgical modifications legitimately come. Reception on the tongue is the universal norm, a liturgical norm which can never be suppressed nor abrogated. The bishop of Calgary claims the right to abrogate it.
So, with one blow, the bishop has essentially defied the authority of not one, but TWO papal dicasteries. But it is worse than that.
The Holy Father released Summorum Pontificum and the Extraordinary Form of the Mass precisely in order to increase the probability of re-union with other Christians. Not only does it increase the probability that the SSPX separation will be healed, it has also been the stepping stone for reunion with traditional elements of the Anglican communion and, ultimately, for re-union with all the Orthodox Churches in the world. Literally within months of its release, the Orthodox Churches began flocking towards dialogue with Rome.
The bishop of Calgary has, by this action, therefore struck at the very heart of the Holy Father's initiative to bring unity to all Christian churches. If the Calgary option is allowed to stand, it will be a body blow against the possibilities of real reunion with a host of other true Christian churches.
And, with this virtually schismatic act by the bishop of Calgary, we now clearly see why the Holy Father released the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. If you read through this document, you see a very peculiar thing, which is now clearly explained by the action in Calgary.
AC specifically allows individual Anglican communions within the Catholic Church to be headed by an "ordinary" who is not necessarily an ordained bishop. This is, to say the least, unprecedented. Indeed, given that Anglican orders are not valid, the fact is that every Anglican "priest" and "bishop" is really just a layman who dresses funny.
Yet these laymen, who have baptism as their only valid sacrament, will be treated as retired bishops and ordinaries in their own right - they will be given episcopal powers. The laymen who are the Anglican "priests" and "bishops" will be given their own liturgical rite.
True, they will all have to be properly ordained, but the rite is theirs, promised to them, before the consecrated oils touch their hands or their heads.
Not since Ambrose have laymen been raised to such a high level of authority so quickly.
Why would this new Ambrosian rite, the Anglican rite, be permitted?
Because the Holy Father can't trust his own bishops and he knows it.
If his own bishops were trustworthy, if the Holy Father were confident that most of his local bishops would treat the Anglicans with due respect for their rights as Catholics, he would not set up the additional machinery of the Anglican rite. But, as the Calgary bishop demonstrates, the Holy Father can't even trust his own bishops to treat Catholics with due honor and respect. How much honor would they give to filthy little Anglican converts (for that is essentially how many Catholic bishops view these - spit when you say it - traditionalists).
Why are laymen being given their own liturgical rite?
Because, unlike most of the world's Catholic bishops, these laymen actually understand and appreciate holy and beautiful things.
The irony is delicious. The Vatican II types who wanted laymen empowered are getting precisely that with the new Anglican rite. Not only are laymen being empowered, they are being treated as episcopal equals. The men and women who felt thrills go up their legs when they heard that Catholicity subsists in the Church, that elements of Catholicity exist even in Christian communities outside the visible bonds with Rome, have been justified. The new Anglican rite demonstrates that when the Holy Father needs people who have a truly Catholic perspective, he now has to go outside the visible Church to get them. Who said Vatican II wasn't prophetic?
Many people have commented on the fact that some of AC's provisions regarding the Anglican orders are transitional. For instance, treatment of lay people as if they were retired bishops will only last for the life of the current Anglican bishops. Yes, that's true. But it is also transitional in the sense that the current crop of Catholic bishops will likewise be dead before those "transitional" AC provisions are no longer necessary. The AC provisions aren't just waiting out the Anglican bishops, they are waiting out the Catholic bishops as well. Indeed, it cannot have escaped the notice of all Catholic bishops that they are being forced to treat laymen with episcopal deference. No doubt this has played some niggling role in Calgary's cavalry charge into the teeth of a German panzer division.
Obviously, the bishop of Calgary has picked a fight he cannot win. Rome will crush him like a bug. His suppression of normal Eucharistic reception and the FSSP is too outrageous, too schismatic, too much in violation of everything the Pope hopes to accomplish. If the Catholic Conference of Pennsylvania could force out a man like Bishop Martino because Martino was too holy for them, then the bishop of Rome can force out the bishop of Calgary because he's too unholy.
Calgary's probability of getting a new bishop in the next couple of years is now astronomically high, if only because bishops in other dioceses around the world are watching.
And so are the bishops in heaven.
We know which side St. Ambrose is on.