March/April 2016

The Year of Mercy: The name of God is Mercy

Michael A. Hayes

In calling this Jubilee year Pope Francis has placed a great emphasis on the reality of the mercy of God. Indeed his recent publication (January 2016) goes under the title: The name of God is mercy. The Pope is not claiming any new insight, but re-affirming a truth that has always been there, though perhaps not given the prominence at times that it should have.

Whilst it is possible to find a constant reminder of God’s mercy in many places in the Church’s tradition, a primary one worth pondering is in the Liturgy. For it is in the Liturgy that Christians have a deep encounter with the God of mercy, and it is the Liturgy that, above all, brings the reality of salvation into our experience: ‘Christian Liturgy not only recalls the events that saved us but actualises them, makes them present. The Paschal Mystery of Christ is celebrated, not repeated’ (CCC1104).

Indeed if we look, then we find that mercy is a constant element in the Liturgy of the Church.

In the celebration of the sacraments we find it has a primacy. In the sacrament of Penance, the words of absolution begin: ‘God the Father of mercies’. In the sacrament of the anointing of the sick the words that accompany the anointing begin: ‘Through this Holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy’. And of course in the primary sacrament of reconciliation between God and humanity, the Eucharist, the language of mercy is constant, for example:

• The Penitential Rite with the litany: Lord have mercy / Christ have mercy; the absolution: ‘May almighty God have mercy on us ...  ;
• The Gloria, although a hymn of Praise, also includes references: ‘You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us/ you are seated at the right hand of the Father have mercy on us’;
• Many of the Prefaces and Eucharistic prayers have specific references to the mercy of God’ (e.g. see below);
• The communion Rite which leads into the receiving of the Eucharist has clear indications that it is through the mercy of God that we may share in the Eucharistic banquet: ‘Deliver us Lord ... by the help of your mercy’;
• ‘Lamb of God ... have mercy on us’;
• The preparation of the priest to receive communion: ‘May receiving of your Body and Blood ... through your loving mercy’.

Liturgy is the way in which the faith of the Church is expressed and Liturgy informs the way that faith is understood. So we should expect to find the presence of the idea of mercy throughout our Liturgy. The truth is that the Liturgy is such a rich source of theology and faith, that different dimensions and aspects overflow and can overwhelm the intellect – as indeed they must being transcendent realities. In inviting the Church to focus on the mercy of God in this Jubilee year, Pope Francis invites us to re-discover the truth that is ever-present in our lives and in our faith – the mercy of God. Perhaps this awareness can also deepen our appreciation of the riches of the Liturgy which we celebrate so frequently by enabling us to perceive the mercy of God ever present in the Church as the faithful gather to celebrate the Christ who encounters his people. In a world where there are so many broken promises, lost hopes, damaged lives and abandoned dreams, the Church calls us to be aware of the mercy of God, which can bring hope, healing and forgiveness and can reconcile us to one another and to the God whose name is mercy, and our ever deeper entering into the Liturgy of the Church can make that real.

For you so loved the world that in your mercy, you sent us the Redeemer, to live like us in all things but sin so that you might love in us what you loved in your Son. Preface Sundays VII   

Liturgy in the era of a Jesuit Pope

Andrew Cameron-Mowat SJ

What message does Pope Francis convey, in what he says and in what he does, for liturgy? Can we respond as liturgists to the message of Francis? What is there about his style and his approach, as Pope and as a Jesuit, that we can learn from? Andrew Cameron-Mowat SJ is Parish Priest of Farm Street Church, Mayfair, London.

There is a popular misconception about Jesuits and their lack of expertise in liturgy. I heard of a conversation in which an Archbishop revealed to Pope Francis that one of his closest advisers on liturgy was a Jesuit. At this point the Pope burst out laughing. He quoted the famous slur ‘as lost as a Jesuit in Holy Week’. One might suppose, perhaps, that Pope Francis is not terribly interested in liturgy.

I think he is interested in liturgy in the way that most Jesuits would be interested in it. Thus he pays little interest to the history of liturgy, to the social conditions out of which liturgical practices emerged or developed, to the role that music and the other arts might play in the celebration of liturgy. But we come to learn about Pope Francis more by understanding who he is as a Jesuit who presides in liturgy than who he is as a Pope who presides in liturgy. To have a Jesuit as leader of worship for the Roman Catholic Church is a powerful combination and may be highly significant for the development of liturgy in the Church.

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Written for Our Instruction (5): Church in the Letter to the Romans

Thomas D. Stegman SJ

We conclude a series of articles on the rich theology of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Thomas D. Stegman SJ is professor of New Testament at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, USA.

We conclude our treatment of the Letter to the Romans by looking at what Paul has to say in it about the ekkle–sia, the Church. To focus on his ecclesiology is fitting because much of his energies were expended on establishing and nurturing communities of believers. While Paul is often regarded as a great theologian, it is important to appreciate that he was first and foremost a missionary and pastor. Although he was not the one who first brought the gospel to Rome, his letter to the faithful there reveals his typical concerns: that they appropriate and mature in their identity as ‘one body in Christ’; that they learn how to welcome and build up one another in love in the context of potentially divisive issues; and that they bear authentic witness, to outsiders, to the life-giving power of the gospel.

Gentiles and Jews
First, it will be helpful to consider the situation of the believers in Rome. Near the end of his letter, Paul sends greetings to members of at least five house churches, including one that met in the home of Prisca and Aquila (16.3–16). Membership in these house churches involved not only geographical proximity, but probably also ethnicity. Scholars are in general agreement that synagogues were the source from which the gospel was initially proclaimed in Rome. But by the time Paul wrote (ca. 56–57 CE), the majority of believers in the city were Gentiles, not Jews. Some of the Jewish believers – along with other (non-believing) Jews – had been expelled from Rome in 49 CE by the Emperor Claudius, and were not allowed to return until Nero became emperor in 54 CE.

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Foot washing on Holy Thursday: new rubric, renewed paradigm

Thomas O’Loughlin

Pope Francis has issued a new rubric to take effect next Holy Thursday – women are to have their feet washed. This article looks at its significance. Thomas O’Loughlin is Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham.

Washing the feet of disciples as a way of representing the love and attitude of mutual service that Jesus wanted to animate his community has always been problematic: just look at the reaction of Peter in the gospel (Jn 13.8) and reflect on the fact that this is one of the few times Jesus gives a direct ‘do this’ (Jn 13.14) to the disciples, it had all but disappeared from Christian practice within decades. It was one thing to say one loved a fellow Christian (who happened to be one’s slave), quite another to actually serve him or her by washing their feet!

So strange is the practice that when Pope Francis went to a prison in Rome on 28 March 2013, Holy Thursday, and washed the feet of men and women it was a news story. Alas, for many Catholics the story was not so much about how this was a sign of the divine mercy the Church must manifest to the world but that the Bishop of Rome washed the feet of men and women. Within hours there was a quasi-official statement that this was ‘not a liturgical’ foot washing – one wonders what ‘liturgy’ means in this case – but simply a gesture and therefore it should not be interpreted as a change in the rubrics for the official foot washing in the Mass of the Last Supper, which was interpreted as implying that only male feet were to be washed.1

The ‘problem’ had arisen in the 1990s in the US where a group of rubrical literalists reacted to the natural development of the liturgy for Holy Thursday – many parishes took a representative sample of people for the group whose feet were washed at the Eucharist – and said that ‘viri’ in the rubric meant males and only males could take part. Some canonists pointed out that this was not how law was to be interpreted,2 but the game was afoot. Whether women could be included on Holy Thursday became one of the bones of contention in the liturgical culture war – and it was, and is, a favourite topic on websites of the ‘cannot be too Catholic’ variety. There were four sad consequences of this. First, many bishops weighed in and declared the rubric sacrosanct without recognizing that rubrical evolution is a constant in living liturgy that seeks to speak to ordinary people. Second, faced with controversy in their parishes, many pastors simply dropped the whole event (and it was not that widespread to start with) – so the whole teaching-by-doing that was at the heart of Jesus’ action was lost! Third, where it was done it became a token affair – and this sends out the signal that liturgy is a sham.3 And, lastly, it sent another signal to many women that the Church was a male institution for men.

The new rubric
From the letter Pope Francis sent to Cardinal Sarah on 2O December 2015, it is clear that the Pope had hoped that his example over three years would be sufficient for all other pastors to appreciate that this was an important sign of the unlimited love and mercy to all that we preach – and so that the restrictive interpretation would be consigned to the past.4 However, the continuing quest for rubrical ‘purity’ at the expense of the intended sign that Jesus wished to give in the Upper Room has now led him to ask the Congregation to change, formally, the rubrics – and in addition give guidance on how the new rubric is to be interpreted. The decree (In Missa in Cena Domini) was published on 21 January 2016 and it makes two points directly.5
First, the rubric changes from ‘the men who have been chosen …’ to ‘those chosen from the People of God …’. So now women are permitted.
Second, less this be interpreted as implying you can have women – but you could just carry on not having them (i.e. a restrictive interpretation of a permission) – there is also an explicit statement on what ex populo Dei means in this case. The group chosen for the footwashing should ‘represent the variety and unity of each portion of the People of God. It should be made up of men and women, and if it can be done of a mix of young people and old people, of healthy people and sick people, of clergy, those in the consecrated life, and lay people.’ In other words: the whole range of the baptized should be seen to be involved.

In many parishes this will not be news – they have been doing this for decades – but for some priests it will come as liberation. They have wanted to do this, but felt compelled to follow the rubric when so many in authority were insistent upon it. They no longer need to feel this stress. There will be others, or course, for whom this is one more break with ‘tradition’ and they will no doubt seek to implement it in as minimal a fashion as possible. This minimal engagement with liturgical reform is often given a high-sounding name as ‘the hermeneutic of continuity’ – and it is significant that the clarifying comment in the decree pointing out how ‘from the People of God’ should be interpreted can be seen as a rejection of this so-called ‘hermeneutic of continuity.’ We might all remember that in an historical religion, such as ours, there is always the danger that we forget that the encounter with the divine is not a trip into the past. Our liturgy is not a drama of some ideal past moment, such as the Last Supper, but an event that takes place now and looks forward. Therefore, tradition, as Picasso once remarked, is having a baby, not wearing your grandfather’s hat!

The renewed paradigm
Jesus said that he wanted his action to be a ‘paradigm’ (Jn 13.15 which uses paradigma) for the relationships of love and service that should characterize the relationships between his followers.6 This is something that both the Pope’s letter and the decree emphasize. The decree sees Christ’s action as a vivid portrayal (quasi scaenice demonstrandam) of his humility and love towards the disciples – which we then imitate towards one another. It cites Mt 20.28 that Jesus came to serve rather than be served, that his action was one of brotherly love, unlimited (referencing Jn 13.1), for the salvation of all humanity. Indeed, it is because his love is to the whole human race that men, women, old, young, ill and well, and every other variation should be represented. These are themes that the Pope had already mentioned in his letter: there are no limits in the divine love and this is what the People of God must appreciate and then seek to express towards one another and the world. In short, the footwashing on Holy Thursday evening should be the model, the paradigm, the pattern, the shining example – paradigma, chosen by the evangelist to be placed in the voice of Jesus, is a very strong and embracing word in Greek – for how we act towards one another both within the Church and as the Church within the larger society.

We should note that this view of the footwashing contains within it a different view of this liturgy, and liturgy more widely, than the way this action has been interpreted down the years.7 The accepted interpretation of this liturgical action for a very long time was that it was intended as a modeling of the relationship of the clergy, in this case the parish priest, to the flock. It was a reminder, in an age when clergy were seen as social superiors and part of the governing class – the ordo – that they should be servants and not masters to the rest of the baptized. This was, and indeed is, a valuable lesson, but it sees the footwashing too narrowly from a clerical perspective. Footwashing is not that the master should be seen as a servant – which easily degenerates into simply twisting language so that power hides under a veneer of ‘ministry’ – but that everyone in the community should relate with care and service to everyone else.

‘So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet’ (Jn 13.14).

We are all responsible for one another. We must all be servants of one another. We must all love one another as sisters and brothers. Footwashing catches the kernel of gospel morality.

The other common interpretation of this ritual is that it is part of acting out the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. We see this interpretation when the reason given for why women were excluded from the ritual was that Jesus did it only to the apostles (assumed to be males) – so we have to make it look like ‘back then.’ This is also seen in some places where the presider removes his chasuble and girds himself with a towel imagining that he is imitating Jesus in Jn 13.4. This is a very powerful image and a common view of liturgy in general: so the footwashing at Easter is akin to the nativity play at Christmas! This view ignores the fact that Jesus deliberately set out to wash their feet so that there could be no doubt about how they, in their turn, should behave towards one another. It was not simply a once off that could be acted out in nostalgia for that night: it was an agenda to be embedded in actual future practice.
In pointing to the significance of footwashing among the People of God and in their service to humanity, this decree is showing up the inadequacy of such ways of viewing both this action and the whole liturgy. Liturgy is not play acting, nor is it a tableaux performance of what happened ‘back then’ long ago in Jerusalem, but it is the activity of a People committed to a different vision of human relationship seeking, with God’s help, to begin creating the Kingdom where they are on Holy Thursday evening.8

When we engage in footwashing we are not only fulfilling a gospel command, we are learning in our bodies, in our knees, our hands and our feet, as well as in our minds that we have received love and mercy from God, we must be loving and merciful towards each other, and our actions (not just our words) must show this mercy to all. We all know this (in our heads) and profess it (in words) but when we have to ‘operationalize’ it with water in a basin and confront its awkwardness and feeling of embarrassment and humiliation – then the gospel really bites. We have absorbed something with our whole humanity not just given it notional assent. I love this remark made to me by someone who just had experienced footwashing for the first time, and was clearly shocked by the experience: ‘Jesus had a point in setting this up!’

Further reading
T. O’Loughlin, Washing Feet: Imitating the Example of Jesus in the Liturgy Today, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 2015.   

1     Rumsey, P., ‘Women have feet too … ,’
The Pastoral Review 9,5(2013)51-4.
2     Huels, J.M., More Disputed Questions in the Liturgy (Chicago 1996), 25-7.
3     Look at the devastating critique by Adrian Howells, ‘Foot Washing for the Sole,’ Performance Research 17(2012)128-41 (free on the internet).
4     On the Vatican website
5     On the Vatican website – I could only find it in Latin and Italian (accessed 24 January 2016 ).
6     O’Loughlin, T., ‘From a Damp Floor to a New Vision of Church: Footwashing as a Challenge to Liturgy and Discipleship,’ Worship 88(2014)137-50.
7     O’Loughlin, T., ‘The Washing of Feet: The Interplay of Praxis and Theology,’ Anaphora 7(2013)37-46.
8    O’Loughlin, T., ‘Celebrating the New Commandment: Foot-washing and our Theology of Liturgy,’ Scripture in Church 43/169(2013)18-27.

The Dublin Easter Rising 1916

Ivan Gibbons

The Easter Rising was one of the pivotal events in modern Irish history. This article presents an historical overview of the armed insurrection which took place in Dublin in April 1916. Ivan Gibbons is programme director for the MA in Irish Studies at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

One hundred years ago Ireland was in political turmoil. After forty years of trying, the constitutional nationalists of the Irish Parliamentary Party had finally extracted Home Rule out of the British parliament. However, the threat of devolved government in Ireland under the control of the Catholic majority had excited fear and apprehension amongst Irish unionists, particularly the substantial Protestant population concentrated in the north-east. Unionist leaders indicated in no uncertain terms that if Home Rule was forced upon them they would utilise all means within their power including violence or, at least the threat of violence, in order to resist the democratic will of the British parliament.

By the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 Ireland resembled two armed camps; the foundation of the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force in 1913 was followed by the formation of the nationalist Irish Volunteers determined to exploit the same tactics in order to force the implementation of Home Rule.

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