Membership in the Masons
And More on the Office of Readings
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ROME, FEB. 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: A member of the RCIA program was told by another member of the parish that if they were going to become Catholic they needed to terminate their involvement with the Masonic lodge before they could join. Is this still the case in the United States? -- T.N., Howard City, Michigan
A: This question is more canonical than liturgical. The Church's position with respect to membership of Masonic lodges, even though canon law no longer explicitly mentions the Masons, has not substantially changed.
The new code states in Canon 1374: "A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; however, a person who promotes or directs an association of this kind is to be punished with an interdict." An interdict is an ecclesiastical penalty that deprives the person of the right to celebrate or receive the sacraments but is less harsh than excommunication.
This text greatly simplified the former code which had specifically mentioned the Masons. This change led some Masons to think that the Church no longer banned Catholics from being Masons, since, among other things, in many countries membership at a lodge was merely social and had nothing to do with plotting against the Church.
In order to clarify the issue the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a declaration on Nov. 26, 1983, shortly before the present Code of Canon Law came into effect. This declaration, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, states:
"It has been asked whether there has been any change in the Church's decision in regard to Masonic associations since the new Code of Canon Law does not mention them expressly, unlike the previous Code.
"This Sacred Congregation is in a position to reply that this circumstance in due to an editorial criterion which was followed also in the case of other associations likewise unmentioned inasmuch as they are contained in wider categories.
"Therefore the Church's negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.
"It is not within the competence of local ecclesiastical authorities to give a judgment on the nature of Masonic associations which would imply a derogation from what has been decided above, and this in line with the Declaration of this Sacred Congregation issued on 17 February 1981 (cf. AAS 73 1981 pp. 240-241; English language edition of L'Osservatore Romano, 9 March 1981).
"In an audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II approved and ordered the publication of this Declaration which had been decided in an ordinary meeting of this Sacred Congregation."
The congregation's judgment, therefore, was not so much based on whether the Masons as such or any specific group of Masons effectively plot against the Church today. This does not deny that some Masonic groups have historically combated the Church nor that even today, in some countries or at certain levels, the lodge remains at the forefront of those who oppose the Church's freedom of action.
Rather, the Vatican congregation above all stressed the incompatibility of some Masonic principles with those of the Catholic Church.
This incompatibility resides in some aspects of Masonic ritual, but more importantly in elements regarding the question of truth.
In its effort to bring together people of different provenances, Masonry requires that its members adhere to a minimal belief in a supreme architect of the universe and leave aside all other pretensions of truth, even revealed truth.
It is thus basically a relativistic doctrine, and no Catholic, nor indeed any convinced Christian, may ever adhere to a group that would require him, even as a mere intellectual exercise, to renounce the affirmation of such truths as Christ's divinity and the Trinitarian nature of God.
Of course, for many people active in Masonic lodges, the conversations and activities are more social in nature and rarely veer toward the realm of philosophical speculation. A Catholic, however, cannot ignore the fundamental principles behind an organization, no matter how innocuous its activities appear to be.
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Follow-up: Office of Readings the Evening Before
A surprising number of readers asked for clarifications regarding praying the office of readings (see Jan. 23 column). I hope it is a good sign that many are interesting in exploring this treasure of the Church.
A few people asked about the possibility of a two-year cycle which is mentioned in some official documents but which has not yet seen the light in an official Latin text.
An approved two-year cycle for the Scripture readings is found in the Latin American Spanish-language version of the Liturgy of the Hours (or Divine Office, as it used to be commonly called). In Italy, a Catholic publisher produced an alternative cycle of both scriptural and patristic readings based on the monastic office. Although this latter text is not promulgated by the bishops' conference, it has received ecclesiastic approval and may be used as an alternative text to the usual readings.
As far as I am aware there is no official English version of an alternative cycle. I believe that there is a project in the pipeline to update the version of the office used in many English-speaking countries outside of the United States.
The new version would incorporate the many new saints introduced into the calendar since 1975. Even if this project takes off, it will be have to wait until the completion of the translation of the new Roman Missal, since the office prayers often coincide with the collect for Mass.
Several readers also asked if the invitatory should be recited whenever the office of readings is prayed the evening before. In principle, yes. Norm No. 35 pf the Principles and Norms indicates that the invitatory should begin the whole sequence of daily prayer.
This sequence can begin with readings after vespers of the preceding day, as indicated by norm No. 59, because the day in question is the liturgical day and not the solar day.
If, however, lauds is the first office of the sequence, then the invitatory may be omitted (No. 36), even though it is commendable to maintain the invitatory, above all in community recitation.
Another optional element of the Liturgy of the Hours is the psalm prayer. These prayers are found after each psalm in some editions of the breviary, such as that in use in the United States.
Some other writers asked about combining the office of readings with other offices. Regarding this I confirm what I wrote in an earlier column (April 25, 2006), that only the office of readings may be combined with another office to form a single office (No. 99). This may be done with lauds, midday prayer or the vespers of the day. It may not be done with first vespers of a Sunday or solemnity.
In other cases, when one office follows immediately after another (for example, morning prayer and midday prayer), they are not joined. The only difference is that after praying the first closing prayer, one omits the usual conclusion of the first office and the introductory verse and "Glory be" of the second office, and commences with the hymn of the second office, which proceeds as normal.
A Tucson, Arizona, reader asks about the correct procedure for joining Mass with morning or evening prayer. This is covered in the norms 93-98:
"93. In particular cases, if circumstances require, it is possible to link an hour more closely with Mass when there is a celebration of the liturgy of the hours in public or in common, according to the norms that follow, provided the Mass and the hour belong to one and the same office. Care must be taken, however, that this does not result in harm to pastoral work, especially on Sundays.
"94. When morning prayer, celebrated in choir or in common, comes immediately before Mass, the whole celebration may begin either with the introductory verse and hymn of morning prayer, especially on weekdays, or with the entrance song, procession, and celebrant's greeting, especially on Sundays and holydays; one of the introductory rites is thus omitted.
"The psalmody of morning prayer follows as usual, up to, but excluding, the reading. After the psalmody the penitential rite is omitted and, as circumstances suggest, the Kyrie; the Gloria then follows, if required by the rubrics, and the celebrant says the opening prayer of the Mass. The liturgy of the word follows as usual.
"The general intercessions are made in the place and form customary at Mass. But on weekdays, at Mass in the morning, the intercessions of morning prayer may replace the daily form of the general intercessions at Mass.
"After the communion with its communion song the Canticle of Zechariah, Blessed be the Lord, with its antiphon from morning prayer, is sung. Then follow the prayer after communion and the rest as usual.
"95. If public celebration of a daytime hour, whichever corresponds to the time of day, is immediately followed by Mass, the whole celebration may begin in the same way, either with the introductory verse and hymn for the hour, especially on weekdays, or with the entrance song, procession, and celebrant's greeting, especially on Sundays and holydays; one of the introductory rites is thus omitted.
"The psalmody of the hour follows as usual up to, but excluding, the reading. After the psalmody the penitential rite is omitted and, as circumstances suggest, the Kyrie; the Gloria then follows, if required by the rubrics, and the celebrant says the opening prayer of the Mass.
"96. Evening prayer, celebrated immediately before Mass, is joined to it in the same way as morning prayer. Evening prayer I of solemnities, Sundays, or feasts of the Lord falling on Sundays may not be celebrated until after Mass of the preceding day or Saturday.
"97. When a daytime hour or evening prayer follows Mass, the Mass is celebrated in the usual way up to and including the prayer after communion.
"When the prayer after communion has been said, the psalmody of the hour begins without introduction. At the daytime hour, after the psalmody the short reading is omitted and the prayer is said at once and the dismissal takes place as at Mass. At evening prayer, after the psalmody the short reading is omitted and the Canticle of Mary with its antiphon follows at once; the intercessions and the Lord's Prayer are omitted; the concluding prayer follows, then the blessing of the congregation.
"98. Apart from Christmas eve, the combining of Mass with the office of readings is normally excluded, since the Mass already has its own cycle of readings, to be kept distinct from any other. But if by way of exception, it should be necessary to join the two, then immediately after the second reading from the office, with its responsory, the rest is omitted and the Mass begins with the Gloria, if it is called for; otherwise the Mass begins with the opening prayer."
Our reader's question arose because two parishes joined the office to daily Mass in different ways. As norm No. 93 makes clear, joining the office to Mass is not contemplated as a daily practice. This would mean, for example, that the faithful would almost never use the penitential rite.
While praying the daily office in a parish is highly praiseworthy, I suggest that it would be better to habitually pray the office completely, omitting perhaps the office's concluding verse, and then begin Mass as usual.
Finally a correspondent from the state of Uttaranchal, in India, asks: "There are some who say that when there is holy Mass in the evening there is no need to say vespers as the Eucharist is the highest form of worship. Is there any rule that says there is no need to say vespers after the Mass in the evening?"
I believe that the norms we have quoted above are enough to show that this opinion does not correspond to the mind of the Church. Except on rare occasions such as Holy Thursday and Good Friday, vespers are always said.
The Eucharist is certainly the highest form of worship. But the higher does not require the elimination of the lower which prolongs our thanks and praise for the higher.