On Sunday, 4 March, 1990, Father devoted his homily to a rationalization of the remodeling project. His sincerity was obvious but, nonetheless, erroneous concepts were firmly planted in the minds of those present as he failed to recognize his own counterfeit claims and remained seemingly oblivious to the real thing.
The Table of the Lord
“I want to share with you,” he commenced, “some of the reasons we’ve tried to do what the Church asks us to do with this beautiful old building.”
Quoting copiously from Church documents like The General Instruction on the Roman Missal, but also from statements by the Irish and American Bishops as if such statements and the General Instruction were of equal weight, Father worked through the usual, selective array of newchurch misinterpretations to justify the gutting of St. Joseph’s.
In order to explain the butchers block, he began with a remarkably literalist interpretation of the altar as “table”:
“The altar is the table of the Lord’– they stress the word table — “It is the centre of the Eucharistic celebration.” You must remember, our old altar was very beautiful but it was elongated in the shape of a tomb, which reflected an [outmoded] theology … The Church is saying the altar should reflect a table where we come and eat together and drink together the Lord’s presence and also eat and drink each others joys and pains. We come into the back of the church in that gathering area, saying how did the week go? How are the kids? What is going on in our community? And we come from there around the table to eat and drink each other’s presence, in the presence of our God at the table. We ask you to reflect on how you use your table at home. You eat and drink, tell stories, reflect on history. You can have a beer if you like. It is the centre of your eating area. They say the altar table should be attractive and dignified, should be a noble table. If you don’t think this one sums up all those, you should argue with the man who built it. He is in hospital getting his hip replaced, and he thinks it is beautiful and I agree with him.
This pathetic, sentimental attempt to sell the altar as tablelMass as meal concept, over and above the Catholic understanding of table as altar and Mass as Sacrifice, revealed a lack of balance and perspective. As Cardinal Ratzinger has written:
Some apparently see liturgy narrowly in terms of the Eucharist alone, and only under the aspect of the ‘brotherly meal’. But the Mass is not only a meal among friends … The Mass is the common sacrifice of the Church, it is the sacramental renewal of Christ’s sacrifice: consequently its redeeming power extends to all men, those present and those far away, the living and the dead…
But the first and last word on this subject belongs to the Vicar of Christ. In Mediator Des (1947), the historic encyclical that summarised liturgical development in the Church up to that time and laid the foundations for the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, Pope Pius XII unequivocally condemned the position advocated by the Team.
“The desire to restore everything indiscriminately to its ancient condition is neither wise nor praiseworthy,” wrote this saintly pontiff. “It would be wrong, for example, to want the altar restored to its ancient form of a table.”
After repeating his Benalla Bowling Club argument on the irrelevance of side altars, Father turned his attention to the removal of the tabernacle. In this regard, it must be remembered that the faithful had never questioned the legitimacy of Eucharistic chapels as such but, rather, Fathers false notion that such chapels were a mandatory liturgical requirement necessitating the remodeling of St. Joseph’s:
Could I please say something about our chapel again. This is quoting from the Roman Missal __ “celebration of the Eucharist is the focus of the normal Sunday … As such the major space of the church is designed for this action.” The major space. “Beyond the celebration of the Eucharist, the Church has a most ancient tradition of reserving the Eucharistic bread” — as they call it.
This little aside, drawing attention to the term “Eucharistic bread”, seemed to imply a similar literalist interpretation to that applied to the “table of the Lord” i.e. if “table” really only meant table, albeit a special one, then “Eucharistic bread” surely meant special bread, and nothing more. Father continued:
“The purpose of this reservation is to bring communion to the sick and to be the object of private devotion. Most appropriately, this reservation should be … in the space designed for individual devotion. A room or a chapel… separate from the major space … so that no confusion can take place between the celebration of the Eucharist and its reservation. Aspects of the same reality cannot claim the same human attention at the same time.”
He then proffered the following explanation:
In other words, when you and I come here to create the Eucharist, when you and I come here to eat and drink each others presence, to soak up the presence of the word… land] the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, when we come to create the Eucharist, the bishops say it is a contradiction in terms to already have that Eucharistic presence in the tabernacle of the same main building… Having the Eucharist reserved in a place apart does not mean it has been delegated to a secondary place of no importance, rather a space specially designed and appointed to give proper attention to the reserved sacrament. If you get time during Lent, sit in there in the presence of your God, soaking up the blood, you know exactly what it means.
The ambiguities, inferences and omissions of this interpretation, especially the idea that “we..create the Eucharist”, were consistent with Father’s heretical claim that Christ is more present in the scriptures than the Eucharist —a proposition condemned by the Council of Trent: “If anyone … says that He is in it [the Eucharist] only as in a sign, or figure or force, let him be anathema” (Canon I, Sess. XIII).
Father then lapsed into antiquarianism of the type condemned by Pius XII in Mediator Dei:
As we have probably said before, the tradition of putting the Tabernacle at the back of the altar is only 400 years old. It happened after the Reformation. When the Protestant people began to doubt, we said, ‘look, we will show you’. We put our tabernacle back … in the middle. Our tradition goes back 2000 years as Christians and many thousands of years of Jewish history. The last 400 years are a very short time in our history. Most of what you and I were brought up on comes down to 400 years. The Church is saying, ‘look at the other 2000 that have gone.”
Despite Father’s protestations, to the average parishioner possessed of simple faith, delegation “to a secondary place of no importance” was precisely the message transmitted by his determination to remove the Blessed Sacrament from public view.