Thursday, December 08, 2016

8th December - Feast of the Immaculate Conception

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It is celebrated on 8 December, nine months before the Nativity of Mary, which is celebrated on 8 September.
A feast called the Conception of Mary arose in the Eastern Church in the seventh century (prior to the Great Schism of 1054).
It looked to the West in the eighth century.
In the eighth century it became a feast of the Roman Catholic Church.
It is the only one of Mary's feasts that came to the Western Church not by way of Rome, but instead spread from the Byzantine area to Naples, and then to Normandy during their period of dominance over southern Italy.
From there it spread into England, France, Germany, and eventually Rome.

Prior to Pope Pius IX's definition of the Immaculate Conception as Church dogma in 1854, most missals referred to it as the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The festal texts of this period focused more on the action of her conception than on the theological question of her preservation from original sin.

A missal published in England in 1806 indicates the same collect for the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary was used for this feast as well.

The first move towards describing Mary's conception as "immaculate" came in the eleventh century.

In the fifteenth century Pope Sixtus IV, while promoting the festival, explicitly tolerated those who promoted it as the Immaculate Conception and those who challenged such a description, a position later endorsed by the Council of Trent.

The proper title for the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Medieval Sarum Missal, perhaps the most famous in England, merely addresses the action of her conception.

The collect for the feast reads:

O God, mercifully hear the supplication of thy servants who are assembled together on the Conception of the Virgin Mother of God, may at her intercession be delivered by Thee from dangers which beset us.

In 1854,Pius IX made the statement Ineffabilis Deus: "The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin."

Cultural impact

It is a public holiday in Austria, Nicaragua, Chile, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Malta, Peru, and Paraguay.

In some countries, though December 8 is not a public holiday, their respective Bishops' Conference however declared this day as a Holy Day of Obligation, as it is in the United States, the Philippines and Ireland.

December 8th is also celebrated as mother's day in Panama in honor of this holiday and is therefore a national holiday.

Anglican Communion

In the Anglican Communion, the "Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary" may be observed as a Lesser Festival on 8 December.

Many Anglo-Catholic parishes observe the feast using the traditional Roman Catholic title, the "Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

Eastern Orthodoxy

While the Eastern Orthodox Churches have never accepted the Roman Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception, they do celebrate December 9 as the Feast of the Conception by St. Anne of the Most Holy Theotokos.

While the Orthodox believe that the Virgin Mary was, from her conception, filled with every grace of the Holy Spirit, in view of her calling as the Mother of God, they do not teach that she was conceived without original sin as their understanding of this doctrine differs from the Roman Catholic articulation.

The Orthodox do affirm that Mary is "all-holy" and never committed a personal sin during her lifetime.

The Orthodox feast is not a perfect nine months before the feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos September 8) as it is in the West, but a day later.

This feast is not ranked among the Great Feasts of the church year, but is a lesser-ranking feast Polyeleos).

Archbishops from Syria and Iraq blocked from visiting the UK

The bishops were invited to the consecration of the new St Thomas Cathedral, Syriac Orthodox Church (PA)Three archbishops from Iraq and Syria were refused entry into the UK despite being invited by the country’s Syriac Orthodox Church.

Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf of Mosul, Archbishop of St Matthew’s Timothius Mousa Shamani and Archbishop Selwanos Boutros Alnemeh of Homs and Hama, were all refused UK visas which would have enabled them to attend the consecration of the UK’s first Syriac Orthodox Cathedral, last month.

Prince Charles, who has long championed the cause of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, was a guest of honour at the event at St Thomas Cathedral and a personal letter was read from the Queen.

The bishops were told that they were refused entry because they did not have sufficient funds to support themselves and because they might not leave the UK.

Lord Alton of Liverpool, said he was incredulous when he heard the news. He said: “When the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch told me that these two bishops had been refused visas to come to the UK for the consecration of the new Syrian Orthodox cathedral I greeted it with incredulity and disbelief. Its a decision that brings shame on our country. 

“These amazingly courageous bishops come from the Mosul region of Iraq – where Christians have been beheaded, crucified, raped and either forcibly converted or forced to flee as their possessions have been seized by radical Islamists. It adds insult to injury that the UK would refuse admission to men who pose no threat and whose community has suffered so much – especially when we still fail to bring to justice Jihadists who have committed genocide.” 

In an editorial, the Daily Express condemned the decision, saying: “While we appreciate the necessity of efficient border controls, surely it can’t be beyond the wit of a Home Office pencil-pusher to realise that these men of the cloth were a special case?

“Last week we learned that 650,000 immigrants made their way to Britain, the highest level yet. And yet somehow, while letting all these in, officials contrived to ban these three wise men who have risked their lives for the Christian faith. 

“Mary and Joseph were told there was no room at the inn. At this time of the year in particular we would do well to be more mindful of the Christmas message.”

The UK’s Syriac Orthodox Christians Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod told the Daily Express: “These are men who have pressing pastoral responsibilities as Christian areas held by IS are liberated. That is why we cannot understand why Britain is treating Christians in this way?” 

Meanwhile, the SNP MP, Kirsten Oswald, raised a similar issue at Prime Minister’s Questions last week. 

The MP told the House: “Guests from the Hyderabad diocese have twice been refused visas to visit the Church of Scotland presbytery of Glasgow as part of a twinning initiative, the suggestion being that the visit was not genuine, despite the paperwork being correct and the Church bearing the costs. 

“When I raised this with the Leader of the House, he spoke of the need for people to return home after visits, and then the Immigration Minister told me in a patronising letter how to apply for a visa. Will the Prime Minister tell the Church why its visitors are not welcome and what messages she thinks it sends to our faith communities?”

The Prime Minister responded by saying that the Home Secretary should look into the case.

Four cardinals have taken the ‘correct road’, says leading German philosopher

Image result for German philosopher Robert SpaemannThe German philosopher Robert Spaemann has supported the four cardinals’ request for clarification of Amoris Laetitia, and said it is “regrettable” that more cardinals have not joined them.

Spaemann, a friend of Benedict XVI and one of the most distinguished Catholic intellectuals in Europe, told the Italian newspaper La Nova Bussola: “The cardinals have taken the correct road.” 

He says that cardinals have a duty to support the Church, which they are fulfilling by making the request.

The philosopher said that the Pope’s decision not to answer the five yes/no questions, known as dubia, “fills me with concern”. He says that the Pope “clearly has a deep aversion towards decisions which require a yes or no”. 

But Christ, said Spaemann, often “shocked the apostles with simplicity and clarity of the doctrine”.

Spaemann alluded to Christ’s teaching that “whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery” (Matthew 19). The disciples were so alarmed that they replied: “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

After Amoris Laetitia was published in April, Spaemann said it “directly contradicts” John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio, which said: “The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.”

It added that Communion could only follow sacramental absolution, which “can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage.” If it was impossible for a couple to separate, they should undertake to live “in complete continence”.

Spaemann said that the Church had “no authority” to change this teaching, any more than to ordain women.

Unlike Spaemann, the four cardinals do not say that Amoris Laetitia has contradicted this teaching. But they say it is being interpreted as having done so – hence the request for clarification.

In the new interview, Spaemann says that Catholics should trust the teaching of Scripture and the Church, which the dubia defend. 

He quotes St Peter’s words to Jesus, when Jesus asks if the disciples will abandon Him: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

FBI: 59 anti-Catholic hate crimes in 2015

Image result for FBIA total of 69 people were victims of 59 hate-crime offenses motivated by anti-Catholic bias in the US in 2015, according to a report recently issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The report, which lists crimes motivated by the victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, gender, and gender identity, found that there were 695 anti-Jewish, 301 anti-Muslim, and 47 anti-Protestant hate crimes committed during the same year.

Talmud scholar, Weigel meet with Pope

Image result for George Weigel
Image result for Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and George WeigelPope Francis received Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and George Weigel in separate private audiences on December 5.

Steinsaltz is a leading scholar of the Talmud; Weigel, who wrote Witness to Hope, the acclaimed biography of St. John Paul II, interviewed the future Pope Francis in 2012.

The Holy See Press Office did not release additional details about the audiences.

US Jesuit discusses influence on Silence

Image result for Father James Martin, SJFather James Martin, SJ, the editor of America magazine, has discussed his role as consultant to Martin Scorsese’s film Silence, which portrays the work of Jesuit missionaries in Japan under persecution during the 17th century.

Father Martin said that Scorsese and Jay Cocks, who coauthored the screenplay, sought him out in 2014 to learn more about the Jesuits and that the two were “very open to my suggestions” when the script needed to be corrected.

Father Martin added that agnostic actor Andrew Garfield, who plays a Jesuit priest, decided to undertake St. Ignatius’ spiritual exercises, and “at the end he had a personal relationship with Jesus,” according to a L’Osservatore Romano report.

USCCB: December 12 to be day of prayer for immigrant families

Dioceses in the United States will mark the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12) as a day of prayer and solidarity with families of immigrants.

“So many families are wondering how changes to immigration policy might impact them,” said Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

“We want them to know the Church is with them, offers prayers on their behalf, and is actively monitoring developments at the diocesan, state, and national levels to be an effective advocate on their behalf.”


Catholic Vietnam: Growing despite Communist oppression

Late last month, the president of Vietnam, Tran Dai Quang, met with Pope Francis for a private audience at the Vatican. 

Though the meeting was described by the Holy See Press Office as “cordial,” relations between Rome and Vietnam have been bumpy for the last several decades. 

One of five remaining Communist nations, Vietnam has been ranked as the world’s 20th most oppressive country for Christians by the non-profit Open Doors USA. 

And yet the nation’s Catholic population—which has been listed at roughly seven million—continues to grow. 

Though Portuguese Catholic missionaries came to Vietnam in the early 1500s, it was French Jesuits in the following century who had the first significant success in winning converts and establishing a Church presence.

When Vietnam split in 1954, many thousands of Catholics headed from Communist North Vietnam into South Vietnam. 

When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the two sections reunified under a Communist government.

The Church persevered, though, and there now are 26 dioceses and three archdioceses, along with more than 2,600 priests and 2,200 parishes, according to

Most would agree that Vietnam is not as repressive as it was in 1975. 

That said, “Strong authoritarian rule [tolerates] no dissent, especially not from ethnic or religious minorities… As a result, human rights violations continue to accrue,” reports the Christian persecution watchdog group Voice of the Martyrs. 

In 2014 it was reported that the Vietnamese government has actively tried to create dissension among Christians. 

In one case, the government organized a fake Catholic organization to influence the Church from within. 

There also have been incidences of Vietnamese Catholics being physically coerced into renouncing their faith. 

In May 2016, shortly before President Obama’s visit to the country, a prominent dissident priest, Nguyen Van Ly, was given early release from prison. His liberation was “widely seen as a goodwill gesture” ahead of the President’s much-anticipated arrival, according to the Associated Press

Four months before Obama’s visit, the Catholic press agency AsiaNews reported that a Catholic priest was severely beaten by a group of 20 assailants. 

In a separate incident, a Benedictine monastery was ransacked and its monks were assaulted, AsiaNews reported

The Asian Catholic news outlet UCANews reports that Catholics were attacked by police while gathering for prayer at a private residence on June 19 of this year. It was the third incident of this sort within a month. 

An October 2015 UCANews article describes a scene of uncertainty and vicissitude for Vietnamese Catholicism: “What is permissible in some areas may be met with jail time in others. Authorities who look the other way for years might suddenly decide to crack down without warning.” 

The same article, however, describes a Church on the rise. Catholic-run schools continue to spread, “normalizing the religion in the eyes of millions.” The number of Jesuits in the country has increased nearly tenfold since 1975. 

Despite such normalization, a 2013 Ecumenical News article reported that large numbers of Vietnamese Catholics are fleeing to Australia to escape religious religious persecution. That report states that, following a period of loosening restrictions at the turn of the 21st century, “the situation in Vietnam in recent years for Catholics and other Christians has deteriorated.” 

However, not everyone feels that the situation has “deteriorated.” 

Father Joachim Hien, a priest of the Spokane, Washington, diocese, says he has seen a marked improvement in the Vietnamese Church’s position in recent decades. 

Father Hien is intimately acquainted with both Vietnamese and Church history. His hometown is Da Nang, a major port city in Vietnam, but he was born in 1946 in a mountain village, where his mother had taken refuge from French bombardment. 

At that time, both his father (the leader of Catholic Action in Central Vietnam) and his uncle (a Christian Brother and director of a major LaSalle college in the South) had been taken as prisoners. They later would escape captivity, and his father would ultimately become the principal of the cathedral school in Da Nang (1946-1955). 

Entering the seminary at age 11, Hien was ordained in Vietnam in December 1974, just four months before the Vietnam War ended. As a vulnerable “baby priest” in a newly reunified Communist Vietnam, he was dispatched to the US, where he was stationed briefly in Arkansas and Seattle, before arriving in 1977 in Spokane, where he has served in several parishes. 

Father Hien officially retired in 2012, but continues to remain active in the Vietnamese Catholic community and travels to many related events. 

“The Church in Vietnam has made major inroads in education and health,” he says, though he acknowledges that “media is still strongly in the hands of the government.” 

Describing the current relationship between the Church and the government, he says it’s “not as tense as it used to be in the 1970s and 80s… After many years of tension, the situation has improved since about 1990…[the Church and government] can live together now.” 

The government “used to use spies and tap phones.” But these practices are no longer nearly so pervasive. 

“Priests can even say something against Communism,” Father Hien said. “Priests do a lot of protesting,” whether it’s against political corruption or in favor of environmental protections. Such criticism is fair game, “just as long as they don’t try to stir up any [organized] revolt.” 

He adds that Communist ideology in Vietnam is currently “not as strong” as it is in China. 

The Vatican does not have full-scale diplomatic relations with Vietnam, but in recent years the government has accepted a “non-residential representative.” 

On November 23, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang met with Pope Francis at the Vatican, in a meeting that was described by the Vatican press office as a “cordial” one during which “the good relations between the Holy See and Vietnam were recalled.” 

About Vietnam’s troublingly high ranking on the list of countries that persecute Christians, Hien says that the nation’s secret police—still going strong—is likely a huge factor. He points out, though, that the secret police are “not openly rounding up people like in the past.” 

That said, the government still has a tight grip on mass media. The Church can circulate its own “yearbooks, newsletters, bulletins, and magazines, but it’s not allowed any national radio or newspaper,” Father Hien said. 

Despite longstanding media restrictions, the view of the Church has improved in the eyes of non-Catholic Vietnamese, and the Catholic faith is no longer associated with French colonialism. 

“That was propaganda spread by Communists back in the 1950s,” Father Hien says. “These days, the Vietnamese people see the Church as part of the Vietnamese tradition, and even non-Catholics respect the Church for its charity work.” He adds, “Government officers send their kids to Catholic schools, where they know their children will receive the best education.” 

Father Hien is especially optimistic about seminaries in Vietnam, reflecting on how, “in the old days, any seminary had to ask permission” to enroll a seminarian. 

“Now the government allows many young men to go to the seminary, and you can ordain anyone you want,” he said. “The Church is growing with evangelization. There are tons of young people entering the religious vocation. Seminaries have become very selective. There are 1,000 candidates waiting to enter one particular seminary outside Saigon.” 

Noticing a trend among recent seminarians, Father Hien remarks, “More people from the rural areas go into the religious vocation. Less so in the cities,” where people have a greater chance of being enticed by materialism. 

Regardless of any urban distractions, Father Hien describes Catholic churches in Vietnam as “prosperous and packed.” 

In the southern city of Saigon (officially known as Ho Chi Minh City), where Catholics have traditionally enjoyed the highest amount of freedom, “there are churches right and left every two seconds.” 

Father Hien recalls that, “Even during the fiercest government repression,” Christmas in Saigon was a festive affair. And these days, “Christmas in Saigon is more celebratory than in Rome.”