Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide – Catholic Teaching

One of my privileges as a priest is to have accompanied many people on their final journey toward death. I also journeyed with my father in his last days. (My mother died suddenly so I was not able to do that with her).  But in making these journeys  I have come to discover that some of God’s greatest and most necessary work takes place in and during the dying process.  When a person who has faith is dying many powerful things begin to happen. I have seen pride melt away, I have seen powerful contrition for past sins emerge. I have seen gratitude intensify, both in the one who is dying and in the love ones who surround him or her.  I have heard beautiful words like, “I just want to be with God now….I want to go home.” I have seem a letting go and a letting of God take over.  And even in the painful sight of once strong individuals reduced to weakness there is a kind of strange beauty. In the nursing homes of this land are people who once ran businessness, raised families, and led communities. Now many have returned to a kind of infancy. They cannot walk, or only with effort, some have to be fed, some can no longer talk, some clutch dolls and many even wear diapers. All this seems so horrible to many but important things are happening. The Lord says, Unless you change and become like little children you will not inherit the kingdom of God.   (Mat 18:3) And really are those in nursing homes really so different than you and me right now. Are we not little children to God? Does he not have to provide for our every need? Does he not have to feed us, clothe us and enable us to speak? Perhaps with the elderly and dying it is just that the illusion of self-sufficiency has been shed.

So, among the elderly and dying there is important work being done by God. Yet today our world frequently does not understand or accept God’s ways. There is a kind of hatred of the Cross and a refusal to accept that the cross and suffering both have important roles n our lives.  Increasingly there are those among us who demand the right to assisted suicide and that doctors should be legally permitted to end lives .  In the midst of this, we as Christians must once again reaffirm our acceptance of the cross. We must also reaffirm God’s absolute sovereignty over the time and manner of our death. For individuals to demand a right to end their life ultimately threatens us all because it implicitly denies the dignity of the dying. Failing to understand this dignity will lead to poorer care and increasing pressure for the dying to end their lives and no longer burden us. Further it arrogantly ends God’s work, either considering it unnecessary or unfair. No one likes the cross, but as Christians we have been taught by Christ that the cross is both necessary and saving. Think carefully before you support assisted suicide through some sort of limited notion of compassion. The truest compassion is to want for someone what they truly need to be saved. Only God can ultimately say what this is. We do not have dignity because we can control our lives, we have dignity because our life is in God’s hands.

Here are some quotes from the Catechism on this topic:

Those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect. Sick or handicapped persons should be helped to lead lives as normal as possible. Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable. Thus an act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, his Creator. The error of judgment into which one can fall in good faith does not change the nature of this murderous act, which must always be forbidden and excluded.

Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of “over-zealous” treatment. Here one does not will to cause death; one’s inability to impede it is merely accepted. The decisions should be made by the patient if he is competent and able or, if not, by those legally entitled to act for the patient, whose reasonable will and legitimate interests must always be respected.

Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted.  (CCC 2277-2279)

If you have time to watch this 14 minute video, it is a beautiful meditation on the process of dying with faith and the care of the dying.  It is also an articulate defense of the Church’s Teaching against assisted suicide. If you know of anyone who is going through the dying of a loved one this video can be a great help and support.

Teachings On The Priesthood

The following video does a pretty good job of briefly reviewing teachings on the priesthood. There is only one High Priest: Jesus Christ, all other priests are  his ministers. He works through his priests who act in persona Christi (in the person of Christ). Christ established the sacrament of Holy Orders in order that men should minister in his person by teaching, governing and sanctifying. All of this is done in and through Jesus who minsters through his priests. This video traces some of the history and teachings about the priesthood and is also entertaining. It is three and a half minutes. Enjoy the “outtakes” at the end as well 🙂

The Mass in Slow Motion – Other Considerations about the Liturgy of the Word

In the last post in this series we focused on the Responsorial Psalm. This post will consider several matters related to the Liturgy of the Word.

The Place for the proclamation of the readings might seem obvious to you: the pulpit! But actually the place where it was proclaimed has wandered about as we shall see.  The place for the proclamation of the readings in the very earliest days of the Church is not specified. However, by the third and certainly the fourth centuries there is growing mention of an elevated place where the reader stood. Presumably this was so that the reader could more easily be heard and seen. Whether or not there was a desk or book stand upon the platform varied.  Later on however this developed into the common form of an ambo or pulpit as we know it today and as a general rule it was placed in the most convenient and suitable spot between the sanctuary and the nave or body of the church. It was from this spot that the readings were proclaimed for almost a thousand years.

However the practice began to end especially by the 10th century. The exact reason for this is somewhat obscure. However, the following factors seem to have played a role.

  1. The was a long tradition of having the altar face east. Thus the priest, who faced the altar and the people who also faced the altar all faced east. There developed however a notion that the north was the region of the devil. (Some of the imagery evoked here is that the North at the time had a predominance of paganism. Likewise an imagery of the “coldness of unbelief” implied the North…and so forth).  Hence the Word of God was directed against the North. This meant that the deacon would face to his left (i.e. to the north) when singing the gospel. In low mass the priest did not leave the altar but moved to the left  (i.e. the north side of the altar) and angled a little bit to the left (to the north) and read the scriptures.
  2. There was also the influence of the Low Mass sine populo (without a congregation) which was becoming more common as monasteries proliferated. In these Masses, the celebrant did not leave the altar and thus read the gospel at the altar. This practice eventually seems to have been taken over into masses with a congregation as well.
  3. Nevertheless, all of this meant that the readings were no longer proclaimed by facing the people directly.  Thus the use of the lectern or ambo fades out in the early middle ages. Increasingly, these  were used more and more merely for preaching and so they are seen to move further out in to the nave.
  4. Likewise, Latin became less and less understood by the people. This meant that the proclamation of the readings, still in Latin  was seen less and less as a vital communication and now was more of a ritual. Thus,  the readings were often read again in the vernacular at the beginning of the homily. Since the assembly was no longer vitally involved with the hearing of the proclaimed word in Latin, facing them was not seen as a central concern. Thus the raised pulpit or stand as decreased in importance.
  5. One last factor is the emergence of an “epistle side.” At first both the Gospel and Epistle were read on one side. However, later on it became more common to give the Gospel special dignity and this led to its place of proclamation being considered special. The epistle ended up being proclaimed to other side of the altar or sanctuary (i.e. the right side) out of reverence for the Gospel.

Today the readings are returned to the ambo, or lectern (also called a pulpit. Of this lectern, the General instructions specify the following: “The dignity of the word of God requires that the church have a place that is suitable for the proclamation of the word and toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns during the Liturgy of the Word. It is appropriate that this place be ordinarily a stationary ambo and not simply a movable lectern. The ambo must be located in keeping with the design of each church in such a way that the ordained ministers and lectors may be clearly seen and heard by the faithful. From the ambo only the readings, the responsorial Psalm, and the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) are to be proclaimed; it may be used also for giving the homily and for announcing the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. The dignity of the ambo requires that only a minister of the word should go up to it.” (GIRM 309)

The Lector. According to the Fathers of the Church a special reader was appointed distinct from the celebrant of the Mass. By the second century the position of lector was seen as a special position. It will be recalled the special training that would be necessary for the lector in an age where far fewer were able to read. Further, reading ancient manuscripts was a lot harder since modern punctuation was not yet in use. You’ve got to really know what you’re doing when there are no periods, commas,  quotation marks and the like! It is interesting to note that young boys were often used for this office. In many places they lived in special communities or schools and  received special training. It was a common sentiment that the innocence of youth was well suited to the proclamation of God’s word.  Nevertheless, the Gospel, due to its special prominence was still proclaimed by someone in higher orders. Over time however the reading of the epistle began to fall more and more to the sub-deacon during a high mass. In low mass the Epistle continued to be proclaimed by someone other than the celebrant. Nevertheless, over time this task transferred to the celebrant at low mass although it was still  done by the subdeacon at high mass. Today, the readings, except the Gospel have once again been returned to the laity. The General Instruction has the following to say about the reader, By tradition, the function of proclaiming the readings is ministerial, not presidential. The readings, therefore, should be proclaimed by a lector, (and the Gospel by a deacon or, in his absence, a priest other than the celebrant). In the absence of an instituted lector, other laypersons may be commissioned to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture. They should be truly suited to perform this function and should receive careful preparation, so that the faithful by listening to the readings from the sacred texts may develop in their hearts a warm and living love for Sacred Scripture (GIRM 59)

Pastoral Note: Are you listening? We are supposed to listen attentively to the Word of God as it is proclaimed! Our attention spans today are very poor however and it is easy for the mind to wander. Nevertheless, pay attention!. God is speaking when the Word is proclaimed! It is obvious too that Lectors and Deacons require special training and preparation so as to procalim well. After all, God is speaking through them! For those who read: If God is using you to speak, you had better prayerfully prepare. FOr those who listen: Are you listening? God is speaking.

The following Video is from the Byzantine Liturgy, the Epistle is Chanted in Aramaic. In the ancient world, prior to all these microphones, Singing was a way to get the word out. Singing carried better and farther. In the Roman Liturgy it is rare to hear the first two readings chanted thought they can. In the Latin Mass, in the solemn high form it is still directed that the subdeacon should chant the epistle. I couldn’t fine a good video of the epistle being chanted in the Roman rite (old or new) so I post this example from the Byazantine liturgy

Call to Unity

The video below was produced by and presents some thoughtful questions to ponder. Questions such as, Did Jesus intend all this disunity among Christians? Do we tend to “paper-over” our disunity and minimize its seriousness?. If Christ intended only one Church then how can we determine the one True Church? At points the video is a bit hard to hear but it surely gives a lot to think about. The truth be told, the disunity among Christians is a grave and serious scandal. It is certainly opposed to the will of Jesus who said:  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:21-22) The website mentioned above is thoughtful and scholarly and I recommend it to your attention.

Another Hat tip to Canterbury Tales

Beautiful Churches

I put together a quick video program with pictures of beautiful Churches and posted it over at  I hope this will be the first of several I intend to do. We have some very beautiful churches!   The music in this video is Bruckner’s Locus Iste Here is the text and translation:

Locus iste a Deo factus est,
inaestimabile sacramentum;
irreprehensibilis est.

This place was made by God,
a priceless sacrament;
beyond reproach.

Cultural Musings – What We Have Lost

There was a movie from back in the late 1990s called “Blast From The Past”  The Movie begins in the early 60s at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. An eccentric man and his pregnant wife have built and elaborate fallout shelter underground in their backyard. It is no ordinary bomb shelter but a large and well stocked one that even allows the growing of food and fish and has many amenities.

When a plane crashes nearby they think the country is under attack and that the Atom Bomb has hit. They run into the shelter and lock it behind them setting the automatic locks not to open for 35 years when the radiation had dissipated.

During this time the pregnant wife gives birth to their son, Adam whom  they raise in that shelter. Adam receives the usual education one would expect in the early 60s, strong on reading, writing and arithmetic, American and world history. He also obtains a liberal arts college education from his father who was a professor. The education  included Latin, Greek, French and German. Adam also learns all the usual social skills of that time such as basic manners, how to treat a lady, ballroom dancing, the meaning of life. He is also raised to reverence God.

In a way the family was frozen in time and preserved the values of that time of the early 60s. The film does not present that time as flawless. The mother has a bit of a drinking problem, the father is rather eccentric and xenophobic etc.

Suddenly it is 1997 and the locks come open. The family makes its first excursion since the “bomb” went off. The father expects to find that those who survived will show signs of radiation poisoning and that the world will surely manifest many signs of the destruction the bomb surely wrought  so they go forth cautiously.

Now, you and I know that no atom bomb ever did go off. Or did it? As they emerge from the bomb shelter the once quaint neighborhood they lived in has become a red light district. They see shocking things. Not only prostitutes and adult book stores, but also drug addicts, trash-filled streets and signs of grave disorder. People are coarse in their behavior etc.  They run back into the shelter concluding that things are worse than they thought. They send their son Adam out to get provisions and possibly to find a wife if he can locate someone who is less effected by the “radiation.”  Then they will once again throw the locks on the shelter and wait for things to improve on the outsiide lest they be poisoned by it all. In this scene Adam emerges from the shelter and first encounters a drug addict who thinks Adam is God. Adam then goes forth and sees things and people outside for the first time.

As Adam goes forth he discovers that beyond the world of the red light district is less devastated but he still struggles with what he experiences. Families seem in disarray, people are coarse, cynical, and use God’s name in vain. The technology amazes him as do simple things like rain, the open sky and the ocean. In this scene he is troubled by some modern cultural trends and then sees the ocean for the first time:

It is quite clear to us who watch the movie that much has been lost. Adam is head and shoulders above the modern people who surround him. He is kind, respectful, polite, innocent in his interpretation of the world. He is much smarter than those around him as well, having quite an encyclopedic knowledge compared to the moderns around him. In this scene two things are illustrated: his superior educatoin and also his coming to grips with modern technology. How can a computer (giant in his world) be in a house?

And he can dance, really dance! Not just the gyrating common on modern dance floors but the flawless execution of 40s swing is natural to him since he was trained in every form of ballroom dancing by his parents. You can see the video of Adam dancing HERE (I can’t embed it due to audio issues).

He is befriended by a young lady named Eve and her brother. They think him to be strange and naive but come to discover he has much to teach. In this scene they ponder something he has taught them about graciousness, kindness and the blessing of strong family ties.

This movie is worth seeing. It is not preachy (like me). It gently suggests to us that we have lost some important things in the past 40 years. Things like kindness, optimism, the value of traditional education, the importance of parents teaching and raising their kids. In many ways the movie gently suggests that we have become coarse, cynical, even vulgar. Family ties have often been severed and culture has melted down to more base level. Education is less thorough and broad, simple things like learning to dance are lost. As I have already said, the early 1960s was not a perfect time. Many troublesome cultural trends were already well underway. These are not unreported in the movie. But still the point remains, some things of great value have been lost. A young man steps out the past and is bewildered by what he finds. Technology is impressive, but people seem lost and cynical. The world is hostile and disordered. But he brings with him some healing balm, some of  the best virtues of the past, to remind us all that we have lost important things along the way. THe bomb did go off. Not the Atom Bomb but an even more devastating cultural bomb. Rebuilding will take time.