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Attending Schismatic Services?
Q. I have a friend who calls himself a “traditional Catholic,” but his group is in schism — not in communion with Rome. As a faithful Catholic, am I allowed to go to the Masses, weddings and baptisms at his church?
J.G., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
If his group is in schism, then ordinarily you should not attend services there, and certainly you should not receive holy Communion. That would only promote greater confusion.
For exceptional reasons, and only with the hope and intention of bringing him back to the Church through your loyal friendship and personal apostolate, could you attend weddings and baptisms at his church. But in those cases you could not actively participate in the ceremonies — that is, you could not receive Communion or act as best man or godfather.
Who Was Pope St. Pius X?
Q. Who was Pope Pius X? Did he found the society that is named for him?
J.K., via email
A. Pope Pius X (1835-1914), whose feast day we celebrate today, was born Giuseppe Melchior Sarto, the second of ten children of an Italian cobbler and postman. He was ordained in 1858, appointed Bishop of Mantua in 1884, and was named a cardinal and Patriarch of Venice in 1893. He was elected pope in 1903.
Pius kept extremely busy as pontiff. He began a codification of canon law, established a commission to revise the Vulgate (the ancient Latin translation of the Bible used by the Church), ordered a revision of the psalter and breviary and reorganized the papal court. He was especially concerned with the modernist heresy, which he condemned in the encyclicals Lamentabili Sane (1907) Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907). He also called for an oath against modernism to be taken by every priest.
Pius died in Rome in 1914 and was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1954, becoming the first pontiff to be raised to the altar since Pope Pius V had been canonized in 1712.
The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) was named for this pope, but it was not founded by him. It was established by the French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (1905-1991) in 1970.
The origins, history and current status of this controversial society are too complicated to allow a sufficient discussion here, but we should note this much: After Lefebvre consecrated several priests as bishops without the proper mandate from Rome in 1988, Pope John Paul II issued the motu proprio entitlted Ecclesia Dei confirming that "the unlawful episcopal ordination" was a "schismatic act" that "incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesisastical law" for Lefebvre and the priests involved.
See also the Q&A for tomorrow.
St. Bernard Dogs?
Q. How did a breed of dogs come to be named for St. Bernard of Clairvaux?
S.B., via email
A. Actually, this giant, lovable dog is named for a different St. Bernard, not the one whose feast we celebrate today, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). That great saint was a Cistercian abbot, mystical theologian and Doctor of the Church whose influence throughout the religious and political realms of Western Europe in his day was unparalleled.
The dog takes its name instead from St. Bernard de Montjoux (c. 996-1081), an Italian priest and monk who did missionary work in the Alps, building churches and schools. He also founded two Swiss Alpine hospices to help weary and lost travelers in the mountain passes that came to be called the Great Bernard and the Little Bernard after him. Pope Piux XI declared Bernard the patron saint of the Alps in 1923.
The Great St. Bernard Pass, as it is now called, is 8,100 feet high and runs through the Valais Alps in Switzerland. It is an ancient route, used as far back as the Bronze Age, with surviving relics of a Roman road. The hospice built there in 1049 by Bernard, also called by his name, offered aid to travelers facing the dangers of robbers, rough terrain, avalanches, and storms on their way between Italy and Switzerland.
This hospice later became famous for the dogs that took its name. “St. Bernards” actually developed in the valley below the pass. They were probably descended from the Molossus breed brought there by the Romans and interbred with local dogs. These large canines were originally used as guard dogs and draft animals on dairy farms and were probably brought back up to the pass by visiting monks.
Though St. Bernards made excellent guards and companions for the monks, they came to excel as rescue dogs.
Who Wrote the Serenity Prayer?
Q. For years I’ve heard people refer to the “Serenity Prayer”, which says: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed, the courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Do we know who composed this prayer?
A. The prayer has been so popular for so long that it has actually evolved several variant forms, including the one you note. In fact, at the turn of the millennium, the editors of the World Almanac chose this as one of the ten “most memorable quotes by Americans in the last 100 years.” Some have argued that it’s the only prayer ever to rival the Our Father in popularity, but I certainly wouldn’t dare to go that far!
The almanac editors attributed the prayer to Reinhold Niebuhr, with a date of 1943. Niebuhr (1892-1971) was a prominent Reformed theologian who taught at my alma mater, Yale, though he died the year before I entered there as a freshman. This attribution of the prayer’s authorship is the most common one.
Nevertheless, a recent article in the Yale Alumni Magazine (July/August 2008) by Fred R. Shapiro notes that “the prayer has long been the target of doubts about its authorship.” He summarizes current research about the issue this way:
“The formula of the Serenity Prayer, it is now clear, was circulating before 1936, or at least five years before Niebuhr’s family has said he composed it and used it. This evidence is by no means conclusive. It is entirely possible that Niebuhr composed the prayer much earlier than he himself later remembered. But it also appears possible, indeed plausible, that the great theologian was unconsciously inspired by an idea from elsewhere.”
Whoever its author may be, the Serenity Prayer continues to inspire millions.
Prayer for the Damned?
Q. If you continue to pray for a departed soul, yet the soul may be in hell, what good are the prayers? Can the sufferings of souls in hell be lessened by our prayers, even though they are eternally damned? This eats away at me. Thank you for your kind response.
J.K., via e-mail
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
Prayers for souls in hell would have no effect on them. Yet you and I cannot know whether any given person is in hell. Even though it may appear to us that a person died while cut off completely from God by his own choices, we should not assume he is in hell. Rather, we should continue to pray for him and trust God to use our prayers as He intends.
The only creatures of God whom we assuredly know to be, or will be, in hell are Satan and his angels. The Catechism teaches us that Satan and his angels, using their free will, “radically and irrevocably rejected God and His reign” (no. 392). They cannot be saved because their rejection of God is final.
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