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Online Edition - Vol. V, No. 8: November 1999

In the News . . .

Dutch Old Catholics ordain first woman "priest" -- Deep Waters: "Call your pool a font" -- "Gender sensitive" youth Bible to debut in St. Louis -- Baptizing Kwanzaa? -- Cardinal Ratzinger Stresses Mystery of Church in New Book -- New guidelines for non-Catholic Communion in Rockville Centre

Dutch Old Catholics ordain first woman "priest"

The Dutch Old Catholic Church, whose sacraments are recognized as valid by Rome, ordained its first woman priest on September 18th. Grete Verhey-de Jager, a 47-year-old mother of four children, was ordained in the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht, in Utrecht, Holland, by Archbishop Antonius-Jan Glazemaker.

The name "Old Catholic" refers to several groups that broke away from the Catholic Church at different times and for various reasons. The Dutch "Church of Utrecht" severed relations with the Vatican in 1724. German, Austrian, and Swiss groups calling themselves Old Catholic refused to accept Vatican Council I, and formed a breakaway community at a meeting in Nuremburg in 1870 under the leadership of A. Dollinger. A prelate of the Church of Utrecht established apostolic succession in the German Old Catholic Chruch four years later by ordaining a German bishop. The Polish National Catholic Church broke off a little later in the nineteenth century, and some smaller splinter groups also exist today.

The three main groups all accept the "Declaration of Utrecht", issued in 1889, which accepts the first seven ecumenical councils, but rejects communion with the pope and other Catholic doctrines and practices. The Polish National Catholic Church has had married priests for decades. Old Catholics have recognized Anglican ordinations since 1925, and have had full communion with the Church of England since 1932. Many Anglican priests obtain ordination from Old Catholic bishops to ensure valid apostolic succession.

In 1976 the International Bishops' Conference -- the world governing body of the Old Catholic communion -- declared that the priesthood would not be opened to women. But in 1982 the IBC decided that women could become deacons. The Old Catholic Church in Germany then ordained women priests, followed by Old Catholic churches in Austria and Switzerland. Because of the age and primacy of the Dutch church in the Old Catholic community, the Dutch ordination is garnering extra media attention

In an interview with Ecumenical News Service, Verhey admitted that her ordination could be an obstacle to relations between her church and the Roman Catholic Church. But she added: "What is the aim of ecumenism? If you want to unite with the Roman Catholic Church, you may as well stop most ecumenical activities. If your aim is to learn from each other's traditions, to enrich each other and to work together on special occasions, then why would my ordination be an obstacle?"

(Information from Ecumenical News Service was used in this story.)

Deep Waters: "Call your pool a font"

Among the controversies often encountered when a church is renovated is the question of the Baptismal font. Many liturgical consultants insist on replacing a traditional font with a "pool" resembling a hot-tub "suitable for immersion", usually featuring a fountain or running water (the sound of the water dripping is said to remind us of the "living water" of our Baptism).

Liturgical consultants are rarely concerned with the difficulties (and expense) of excavation and plumbing necessitated by such an innovation. Now, however, they will have to be concerned about a new difficulty, as reported in the May 1999 issue of Environment and Art Letter, published by Liturgy Training Publications of Chicago.

A church in Maryland, planning to install a Baptismal pool, labeled it as such on the building plans. The county has a set of regulations applying to pools, which building inspectors reviewing the plans insisted must be applied to the church's new pool. The church was required to make expensive changes, including adding space for the required mechanicals for a pool. The space had to be taken from what was intended to be a sacristy.

E&A Letter advises its readers: "Remember that in the language of building codes, 'pool' is a technical term; call your pool a 'font.' "

In the language of Catholic liturgy "font" is also a technical term. The difficulty could be avoided even more easily by simply letting the font remain a font.

"Gender sensitive" youth Bible to debut in St. Louis

A "gender-inclusive" version of the scripture aimed at young Catholics, the "Catholic Youth Bible" will be presented at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Saint Louis in November.

The Bible is scheduled for release in February 2000 by Saint Mary's Press/Christian Brothers Publications, a textbook publisher, co-sponsor of the National Youth Conference.

The Catholic Youth Bible is based on the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), a version rejected in 1997 by the Vatican for use in Catholic liturgy, principally because of its use of so-called "inclusive language".

The publicity campaign for the CYB is being conducted by the Littfin Pratt Agency, whose materials tout its "gender and culture sensitivity". This Bible, edited by Brian Singer-Towns, will include commentaries on the text by theologians, including Cistercian monk Charles Cummings and feminist theologian Pheme Perkins.

Baptizing Kwanzaa?

Buried deep in the Agenda Report for the November 1998 General Meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops was this item:

"The Committee [on African-American Catholics] received a request from the General Secretariat regarding advice on the celebration of Kwanzaa in response to an article published in The Catholic World, January 1998. The Committee discussed the request and has asked Father Clarence Williams, C.P.P.S., of Detroit, and Father J. Glenn Murray, SJ, of Cleveland, both of whom have written on this subject, to prepare a reflection on how to 'baptize' Kwanzaa."

The holiday of Kwanzaa developed out of discussions in the 1960s among African American intellectuals -- including Alex Haley, who later became famous as the author of Roots -- who felt that black Americans suffered from having been deprived of native traditions and rituals during the years of slavery. Kwanzaa does not precisely correspond to any actual African ritual or tradition; it is an amalgam of many. Maulana Ron Karenga is credited with founding it on December 26, 1966.

Only very recently has Kwanzaa become widely adopted by African-Americans, and become a marketing phenomenon. Most drugstores and supermarkets now feature Kwanzaa cards along with Christmas and Hannukah cards.

A recent Web search revealed more than eleven hundred web sites devoted to Kwanzaa. One site, "What is Kwanzaa?", proclaims that the premise behind Kwanzaa is that "social revolutionary change for Black America can be achieved by the act of revealing and disclosing individuals to their cultural heritage", and states that Kwanzaa "claims no ties with any religion".

Cardinal Ratzinger Stresses Mystery of Church in New Book

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has published a book stressing the divinely constituted nature of the Church, and criticizing much post-Conciliar ecclesiology as "banal reduced and politicized".

The book, entitled Dilexit Ecclesiam, was published by the Pontifical Salesian University in July. The title, which means "as Christ loved His Church", comes from the text of Saint Paul, "And you, husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved his Church [dilexit Ecclesiam] and gave Himself up for her to make her holy."

The book was written, wrote Cardinal Ratzinger, in response to the deterioration in ecclesiology in the post-Conciliar period. The authentic ecclesiology of Vatican II's documents "put the reality of the 'mystery' at the center and heart of the ecclesiastical doctrine, exploring the 'divine plan' with eyes of faith". But "sadly, the Council's view [of the Church] has not been kept in mind by a good part of post-Conciliar theology, and has been replaced by an idea of the 'people of God' that, in not a few cases, is almost banal, reducing it to an a-theological and purely sociological view."

Ecclesiology is important, said the Cardinal, because "the idea of Jesus Christ, of his plan for salvation, of the image of man, of the interpretation of history, is reflected in the understanding of the Church".

New guidelines for non-Catholic Communion in Rockville Centre

The Long Island Catholic reports in its October 6, 1999 edition that Bishop John McGann of Rockville Centre has issued new guidelines for the reception of Holy Communion by non-Catholics. The guidelines permit non-Catholics to receive Communion under certain circumstances, including the non-Catholic spouse at a mixed wedding; non-Catholic inmates of prisons, hospitals, nursing homes or similar institutions who do not have access to their own ministers; and non-Catholic family members at a Catholic funeral.

The announcement was made by Monsignor Donald Beckmann, director of the Diocesan Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Canon law allows exceptions to the norms governing reception of Communion only in cases of "grave need." Monsignor Beckman told The Long Island Catholic that current canon law allows the local bishop to determine "grave need" in countries in which the national bishops' conference has not set norms. "It's very important to note that this is not the Diocese of Rockville Centre making new law," said Monsignor Beckman.

The Rockville Centre guidelines interpret "grave need" in the three above-named situations. Monsignor Beckman said that the norms allowed the pastor at a mixed wedding discretion to allow non-Catholic Christians to approach the Eucharist in situations where being deprived "might be a source of pain".

Baptized Christians who live "in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, or some other institutional setting where they might not have access to a minister of their own Church and would thus be deprived of the benefit of the sacrament" would be eligible for an exception under the new norms. The exception would be indicated at funerals "because family members might have special need for the Eucharist", according to the Long Island Catholic.

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