Book Reviews
Book Reviews

Book Reviews

FAITH Magazine July-August 2010

Behold the Lamb of God
By Pope Benedict XVI, Family Publications, 112pp, £8.9J

This selection of Pope Benedict's reflections on the Eucharist, ranges from 2005 to 2009. It contains various homilies and addresses and concludes with extracts from the Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis (2007)

The meaty part is in the homilies. Because the Eucharist is a fact that the priest lives with, it is helpful to be reminded that "The purpose of this partaking is the assimilation of my life with his, my transformation and conformation into the one who is living Love." (p.11) "We cannot live without joining together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist... How will we be able to live without him ?" (pp 13.17) "We need this Bread to face the fatigue and weariness of our journey." (p.14)

There are also his scriptural/theological insights. He explains that the Last Supper was celebrated in accordance with the Qumran calendar the day before the Temple Passover, "Jesus celebrated the Passover without a lamb - no, not without a lamb: instead of the Lamb he gave himself." (p.26) He points out that the Eucharist can never be a private event, "The Eucharist is a public devotion that has nothing esoteric or exclusive about it. Here too, this evening we did not choose to meet one another, we came and find ourselves next to one another, brought together by faith and called to become one body, sharing the one Bread which is Christ. We are united over and above our differences of nationality, profession, social class, political ideas: we open ourselves to one another to become one inhim." (p. 34)

He reminds the Canadians that we must not trivialise the Eucharist because "It is not a meal with friends. It is the mystery of a covenant." At the same time ,"lt can never be just a liturgical action. The liturgy does not belong to us. It is the Church's treasure, (pp.41.49.39)

As in the Gospel there will be those who cannot accept such a great mystery, "One might say that basically people do not want to have God so close, to be so easily within reach or to share so deeply in the events of their daily life." (p.15) He adds, "Today we run the risk of secularisation creeping into the Church." (p.61) It is because of this that he emphasises that we should "shun idols, guard our eyes from 'vanities/nothings' (pp44.48) so that we can "adore the God of Jesus Christ who out of love made himself bread broken, the most effective and radical remedy against the idolatry of the past and of the present." (p.36)

This short book reminds us once again of the breadth of scholarship displayed by Pope Benedict which reminds us of the great gift of Jesus, our food of Life for the journey which we all hope to accomplish in and with Him.

James Tolhurst
Chislehurst, Kent

Directory on the Canonical Status of the Clergy: Rights, Obligations and Procedures.
Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, 96pp, £6.95

For those who find themselves in unfamiliar territory ploughing through the Code of Canon Law, the idea of being able to access the relevant canons with ease is no doubt an attractive one. The Directory on the Canonical Status of the Clergy has been produced for that very purpose. A project of the English and Welsh Bishops, the Directory was first published in 2009, and then a

Scottish version was issued by the Bishops' Conference of Scotland later on that same year. Apart from the introductory section (by Archbishop Smith in the English & Welsh version, and by Bishop Logan in the Scottish version), there is little difference between the two documents. This review is of the text of the original version issued by the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

The Directory is divided into two main parts. In Part One, the 'Canonical Provisions Concerning Clerics' are set forth under such headings as Incardination, Rights of the Clergy Obligations of the Clergy Financial Provision, Absence, Appointment to and Resignation from Ecclesiastical Office. In essence, the first part sets out the place of the priest in relation to his Diocese and his Bishop as well as the obligations rising from his role as pastor. In Part Two, a rather technical section entitled 'Processes' explains the canonical procedures to be followed in questions relating to the life and ministry of priests. A first Appendix defines terms used in the Directory and a second Appendix gives a helpful list of topics that should be included in a Diocesan Handbook.

It is not clear why such a Directory has been issued only now, more than 26 years after the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law. It may be that, in the light of modern-day questions about the relationship between a priest and his bishop, it was felt that a clearer definition of that relationship was needed. Indeed, section 1.5 reminds us that it is not a relationship comparable to that between an employer and employee. Of course, the relationship between a priest and his bishop cannot be defined solely in juridical terms, as the Directory reminds us; it must be understood in the light of theology and spirituality.

Archbishop Smith's introduction quotes a unanimous resolution of the Bishops which hails the Directory as a "clear statement of the canonical norms regarding the rights and obligations of clergy." Having read through the Directory with the eye of a canon lawyer, I am not sure that the document lives up to that acclamation.

One of the great drawbacks of the Directory is that canons from the Code are never cited in their entirety in the text. They are only footnoted where considered relevant. As a result, any reading of the Directory without reference to the Code itself may lead to a skewed or partial understanding of what the canons cited actually mean. A caveat is given in the first section which makes the Code the sole reference point for any action or interpretation of the Directory. Point 1.3 states,"... if there is any conflict between the contents of this Directory and the canons of the Code, the Code always prevails." One would assume that if the Directory were a "clear statement" concerning the rights and obligations of the clergy, there would be no conflict! In any case, it is important toremember that the Code of Canon Law is indeed the sole point of reference for understanding the Directory and that the Code itself, rather than being a dry juridical text, was written using theological language, borrowing directly from the documents of Vatican II.

Although entitled a 'Directory on the Canonical Status of the Clergy', the document focuses on the canonical status of the priest. It doesn't say much about the status of the bishop or of deacons. In order to understand a deacon or priest's relationship to his bishop, one must first know something about the rights and obligations of the bishop himself. Little is said about this. (Canons 381 -402 set out what we need to know.) Ignatius of Antioch is quoted at the beginning of Part One, urging that "your conduct and practices .. .correspond closely with the mind of the bishop." Of course, St. Ignatius' letter to the Ephesians was addressed, not just to the clergy, but to all the faithful of Ephesus, clergy included. Later in that letter, he goes on to say, "take thetone all together from God" indicating that the unity and harmony of the faithful depends on more than their minds corresponding to that of their bishop, for the guarantor of unity and communion is that the bishop too take his lead from a higher authority.

A Catholic bishop exercises his ministry in communion with the Roman Pontiff (c.375§2) and this relationship expresses itself concretely in that, according to c.392§1, a bishop "is bound to promote the common discipline of the whole Church and therefore to urge the observance of ecclesiastical laws." These two canons, which are important in understanding the role of the bishop and his own duty of safeguarding the communion of the whole Church, are unfortunately not referred to in the Directory. Neither is the second paragraph of canon 392 (c.392) which urges bishops to "exercise vigilance so that abuses do not creep into ecclesiastical discipline, especially regarding the ministry of the word, the celebration of the sacraments ... the worship of God..." Although theSecond Vatican Council restored to bishops a greater measure of legitimate authority in their own dioceses, it did not liberate them from applying the "common discipline" as promulgated by the Church's Supreme Legislator, the Holy Father. In the light of some of the disputes over the application of Summorum Pontificum, it is useful to remember that a bishop's power to overrule or edit legislation from a superior legislator is limited. Likewise, neither can a priest ignore the legitimate demands of his bishop in areas reserved to him. In section five, c.273 is quoted, reminding all clerics that they have an obligation to "show reverence and obedience to the Supreme Pontiff and their own ordinary." In that order, of course.

In the sections covering the Rights and Obligations of the Clergy, there are also some interesting omissions. When dealing with the issue of Rights, the Code begins with a section that refers to the rights of all of Christ's Faithful (cc.208-223). Only then does it go on to explain the specific rights pertaining to clergy and then those of the laity. I note that the Directory makes no mention of the provisions of c.214 (the right to worship according to the provisions of their own rite and to follow their own form of spiritual life) and c.215 (the right to establish and direct associations

which foster the Christian vocation in the world). Given the importance of the new movements and the involvement of priests, it is a pity that this right was omitted. No mention is made, either in section three or section four, of the cleric's right to request excardination - for his own good, or that of a particular Church (c.270).

Similarly, in section five, covering the obligations of clergy, there are interesting omissions. The presentation of the cleric's obligations is made in a very vague way; the text of the Code is far more specific. Canons 273-289 make interesting reading and, perhaps, a good examination of conscience! In the Directory, there is no reference to the obligation to seek holiness through the celebration of daily Mass and frequent confession (c.276§2). Moreover, it would have been useful to see a presentation of the specific obligations of Parish Priests as set forth in cc.515-539. Canons 528§1 and 529§1 provide a full presentation of what is expected of Parish Priests.

The publication of a Directory on the Canonical Status of the Clergy is a praiseworthy idea and should be of great help to those priests and deacons not familiar with the details of the Code of Canon Law. However, this Directory has a number of unfortunate shortcomings. While not contradicting the Code, it is certainly far from being a "clear statement" of the rights and obligations of the clergy. As it stands, it should only be used in conjunction with the original text of the Code and never read on its own. Its usefulness is limited by the fact that its presentation of the canons of the Code is more generalised and selective than one would have hoped for. However, it is a step in the right direction in encouraging Dioceses to produce Diocesan Handbooks in which the universal andparticular laws of the Church may find concrete expression in directing the pastoral ministry of the clergy.

Fr Ross S. J. Crichton
St Mary's,
Isle of Benbecula

Marthe Robin and the Foyers of Charity
Martin Blake, Theotokos Books, V7PP, £7-9J

It is difficult reading about the life of a mystic. In fact I tend to resist doing so - lots of information about visions, and ecstasies, and hours spent in prayer, often written in a very sentimental style, can be rather irritating.

So, although I knew something of the story of Marthe Robin, and knew she was the inspiration behind a significant new movement in the Church, the Foyers de Charite, I opened this book with some reluctance.

But in fact it is an unsentimental and interesting book, which sets out the facts of this unusual story very well. Marthe Robin was a young Frenchwoman, born in 1902, who contracted an illness while in her late teens, and eventually became an invalid, living in a darkened room because any light caused her intense pain, but writing and speaking in an ordinary way and revealing extraordinary wisdom, faith, and knowledge of spiritual things all conveyed with kindness and affection to her many visitors.

Put like that, it all sounds rather simple - and indeed in a strange way it was. Her illness began with unexplained headaches and lapses into unconsciousness. She was a matter-of-fact young woman from a farming family, and not one to seek attention or be encouraged in doing so. She sought medical help but found no relief. Gradually she came to understand that her physical sufferings - which increased and became very severe - were part of a deep spiritual reality and that God was asking great things of her.

Through Marthe's friendship with a priest, Father Finet, the Foyers of Charity came into existence. Marthe explained how it would all be: there were to be groups of people gathered for silent retreats. She explained the sort of programme they should have, and emphasised that these retreats were specifically for lay people, and that all of this was in due course to be something important for the Church in France and in the world. All of this, and much more, was revealed to her as she lay in bed and experienced visions and locutions from Christ and from Our Lady. It seems strange to think of an ill Frenchwoman lying in the dark and instructing a priest to run a retreat for a large group of people whom she had never met and who would be gathered together by unknown means. But that is whathappened. He believed that this was a project he should undertake - and he went away and obeyed her instructions, finding that it all came together just as she had said it would. Something quite unusual was occurring - and it still goes on.

The first Foyer retreat proved inspirational, and would be followed by others. From these, communities were founded which today run retreat-centres and also schools. In a time of turmoil in the Church, the Foyers have indeed proved to be crucial and in France have been centres of joyful faith, prayer, devotion and doctrinal orthodoxy. They are often hailed as being an authentic example of what the Second Vatican Council really wanted to achieve, in terms of an active and informed laity working to pass on the Faith and to bring it alive in the hearts of those to whom the Church had seemed remote and boring.

Marthe gained nothing, humanly speaking, from her life as a bedridden invalid. Her family was of very modest means, and her physical sufferings were very considerable. But all her visitors spoke of her cheerfulness, her attention to others' needs rather than her own, her common sense and kindness. She never courted any sort of public acknowledgement. Her life of prayer was something between her and God - but she did know that she was meant to pass on certain information, such as that concerning the work that was to become the Foyers. However, as her reputation as a mystic grew, visitors came, and people would ask her to pray about their problems and difficulties, and also to seek her advice.

This book is written with affection by someone who obviously found the whole story a very powerful one. It is undeniable that Marthe Robin's extraordinary life produced a whole new movement in the Church, and that this was achieved without her ever leaving her sickbed. It is a tale that could belong in the distant past, and has echoes of the lives of other mystics whose lives have illuminated the Church. But this is France in the 20th century, and the work begun by Marthe is flourishing and growing all the time.

Marthe took a great interest in all the details of the retreats run by the Foyers. On one occasion a priest was giving her details of the simple meals that were being provided, and she asked what the retreatants were being given for the cheese course - "et pour le fromage?" She was insistent that the food should be good, and all the Foyers simply but pleasantly furnished. She also supervised the sending of large numbers of parcels to poor families, initiating a massive work of charity - today Foyer members send parcels to, among others, people in prison, with gifts of chocolate, soap, Bibles, rosaries, and religious literature.

The life of a Foyer is centred on the Eucharist, with Adoration as a central part of the programme of all retreats. There is great devotion to the Rosary. At the heart of each Foyer is a community of people who have chosen to give their lives to this vocation. Some Foyers run schools, all run retreat centres, most have an apostolate to the homeless and run projects for the young.

Many vocations to the priesthood or religious life in France have begun at a Foyer retreat. The Foyers are also associated with producing and publicising good devotional and catechetical materials.

And at the core of all this is the life of a mystic who suffered, prayed, and gave herself wholly to God. Marthe Robin's cause for beatification has been introduced, so we will all be hearing more about her in the years to come. This readable paperback is an excellent introduction. And it made me think that it would be rather good to have a Foyer in Britain.

Joanna Bogle
New Maiden Surrey

The Pope in Britain - preparing for the visit with prayers and devotions
Catholic Truth Society, 60pp, £1.9J

The Papal visit of 2010 somehow began in the wrong way - it was unofficially announced by the then Prime Minister in what appeared to be an attempt to improve his own status on the international stage: he let it be known that an invitation had been issued and that this would be a state visit. The Bishops of England and Wales were put in an awkward position, as indeed was Rome. When the latter announced that the Holy Father would indeed visit Britain, there was almost a sense of anti-climax.

But ordinary Catholics did begin to get interested and even excited about the visit. Then, this spring, came a systematic series of attacks on the Church - given massive force by the Internet - with co-ordinated media stories purporting to show the Holy Father's failure to grapple with the problem of sexual abuse by the clergy, and across websites and blogs, and leader articles and opinion-columns, came calls for his resignation. Crude cartoons, vile innuendo, slander, and malevolent distortions of news and information abounded, so that Holy Week and Easter of this year saw the Church and the successor of St Peter assailed from every side. It was horrible - and looks set to be repeated this summer as his visit to Britain draws nearer and those who loathe the Church attempt another wave ofhate-filled denigration.

It is not easy to fight this: the internet is a powerful weapon in the hands of those spreading untruths: snappy nasty material offering a salacious read beats accurate, detailed ripostes especially where the topic concerns the Church and sexual morality. Catholic bloggers, more at home with discussing vestments and liturgy, reeled in the face of savage fast-paced journalism and things looked bleak. Thank God for some courageous Papal defenders schooled in real-time media work and with a zest for truth, among them George Weigel and John Allen (the former's ripping-apart of Hans Kung's nasty attack on the Holy. Father remains a classic read).

What we need to do is pray. The Papal visit could yet prove to be something great and useful in the hands of God - so let our prayers be part of this, and offered generously and insistently in these next weeks. The CTS has been first to produce a prayer-book specifically designed for the Papal visit. It includes basic prayers - the Rosary, the Memorare, the Angelus. But it also has beautiful meditations, drawn from the Holy Father's own writings, for a Holy Hour, and for a special Novena of Faith, Hope and Love. This last really is excellent, and could be used by groups and individuals to great effect.

The booklet is well-presented, convenient to use and attractive. It includes information on "Who the Pope is and what he does", taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It would be a most useful booklet to issue to all Catholics at the present time - parish priests might find it helpful to order a bulk supply and simply distribute them after Mass, with a box for donations to defray the cost. Senior pupils in Catholic schools could similarly be given copies, and Catholic organisations might consider raising funds to make this possible on a local level.

These are tough times for Catholics. Central Christian moral teachings, especially those on love, marriage, and family life, are under constant attack and recent court cases in Britain have established that it is increasingly difficult for Christians to live and work according to their consciences. It has become socially acceptable to denounce the Catholic Church even in savage, vulgar, and offensive terms, and all this is occurring against a backdrop of low standards in education and increasing violence and drunkenness in our towns and cities. We are living in a rather frightening era, and the continuing breakdown of family structures means that the number of angry, disaffected, confused and unhappy young people will rise and rise. To bring the love of God, and faith in him, and hope inthe salvation he offers, is the great task that Catholics have - as we have always had -and to do so in Britain in 2010 will require courage.

Pope Benedict XVI does not lack that virtue. "Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves" he begged us in his inaugural sermon. Pray for him, and with him, that when he visits our country great things may be achieved, even in the face of great difficulties.

Joanna Bogle
New Maiden Surrey


Faith Magazine

July - August 2010