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May 2019 Posts

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How does the church determine who’s “Great” and who’s a regular saint?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 17, May 2019 Categories: Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints
Anthony the Great
There’s no “master list” and no real standard by which one might be so declared.

Turns out the church doesn’t grant this title at all. Popular acclaim attaches “greatness” to individuals who wowed their generation. Any list of Catholic Greats always includes Father of Monasticism Anthony of the Desert, Bishop Basil, Pope Leo, Pope Gregory, Dominican scholar Albert, and Benedictine nun Gertrude. Some add Bishop Nicholas, beloved even by those who only know him as Santa; as well as King Alfred of Wessex; Carthusian founder Bruno; Hugh, Abbot of Cluny. The Orthodox honor many more by this title, including Bishop Athanasius. One apostle is called James the Greater, to distinguish him from another regrettably known as James the Lesser. Some Catholics declare recently canonized Pope John Paul II as Great. There’s no “master list” and no real standard by which one might be so declared.

Titles granted regularly to canonized saints include Martyr (one who witnesses to their faith by surrendering their lives) and Doctor of the Church (one whose writings contribute to church teaching).

What made such folks “great”? Anthony started monasticism by heading into the wilderness in the 3rd century. Others followed and Anthony became a one-man school of wisdom. He lived to be 105, legendary in his own time. Basil helped establish the Nicene Creed, wrote significantly against 4th-century heresies, contributed to the liturgy and to monastic practice—leading to his recognition as a Doctor of the Church. Fifth-century church doctor Pope Leo had vast political influence and impact on doctrines concerning the nature of Jesus. A contemporary of Attila the Hun, Leo met him personally, warding off an invasion of Rome.

Sixth-century Pope Gregory launched a major wave of missionaries from Rome. His writings earned him church doctor status, and he’s considered “the Father of Christian Worship”. He may not have invented Gregorian chant but it was standardized under his watch. Bishop Albert was a renowned philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages. He was also a scientist, ecumenist, and later church doctor. Gertrude, the only woman on the list, was a theologian and mystic devoted to the Sacred Heart. She wrote prolifically, her prayers and meditations gaining great influence. Most of her books were lost after her death, but her effect was weighty on saints like Philip Neri, Francis de Sales, and Teresa of Avila. Bottom line: want to be Great? Start a movement, write a vital book, save a city. As a last resort, imitate Nicholas: get the kids on your side.

Scriptures: Genesis 12:2; Psalm 18:36; Matthew 5:19; 11:11; 18:1-4; 23:11-12

Books: Saint Basil the Great, by Richard Travers Smith (Aeterna Press, 2015)

The Herald of Divine Love: Gertrude of Helfta, translator Margaret Winkworth (Paulist Press, 1992)

Gregory the Great: Perfection in Imperfection, by Carole Straw (University of California Press, 1991)

Whoever came up with a feast called “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe” to end the church year?

Posted by: Alice L. Camille   🕔 Friday 17, May 2019 Categories: Church History
Christ the King
As long as Christ reigns, princes of the world are assured no more than a season of power.

The short answer is Pope Pius XI in 1925. The long answer concerns why he did it. It helps to know the situation of his time. Before Italy became a sovereign nation in the late 1800s, popes had ruled over actual geographical territory for centuries. The papal states were erased permanently with the fall of Rome in 1870, leaving then-Pope Pius IX a prisoner of the Vatican. Four popes later, the so-called “Italian Question” was still unresolved. What tangible territory, if any, could the Roman Church claim?

At the time of Pius XI’s election, Mussolini was in power. The new pope surprised the world by emerging on the balcony of St. Peter’s to offer his first blessing urbi et orbi: “to the church and to the world.” No pope had done this since 1870. It signaled his papacy’s willingness to engage as a force in world affairs. Pius XI was convinced the church had to possess some clearly defined temporal power to operate effectively.

Negotiations with Mussolini’s government took place in back channels, resulting in the Lateran pacts of 1929. These defined the Holy See’s independence from Italy, creating the tiny state of Vatican City as a political entity. The pacts included a small financial concession from the Italian government for the loss of the papal states. It defined relations between Vatican City and Italy for the future.

Mussolini had imagined the agreements left him with the upper hand over a subordinated church to which he’d thrown a modest bone. When Pius later attacked fascism in a bold encyclical, Mussolini was caught off guard. That a librarian-cleric-turned-pope could be a public force to be reckoned with hadn’t figured in the dictator’s plans. He might have paid more attention to Pius’ urbi et orbi blessing. And to the institution of the Feast of Christ the King early in his papacy.

Proclaiming Christ as King was, to Pope Pius XI, a clarification of the relationship between the church and temporal affairs. Though men like Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler ascended to seats of worldly domination in Pius’ generation, the throne of Christ superseded their grasp. As long as Christ reigns, princes of the world are assured no more than a season of power. We as church continue to affirm this truth on the last Sunday of every church year.

Scripture: Pss. 93, 95-99; Isaiah 9:5-6; 43:15; Zephaniah 3:15; Matthew 2:1-6; 4:17; 27:37; Luke 23:42: John 18:33-37; Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 1:11; Revelation 1:5

Books: The Liturgical Year, Vol. 3: Sundays Two to Thirty-Four in Ordinary Time, Adrien Nocent (Liturgical Press, 2013)

The Popes: Histories and Secrets, by Claudio Rendina (Seven Locks Press, 2002)

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