Page 10, 26th November 1999

26th November 1999
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Page 10, 26th November 1999 — Doubts 2_ Queries QL.

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Organisations: Catholic Church
Locations: Toledo, Rome


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Father Richard Barrett answers readers' questions

Is the Catholic Church in favour of horoscopes? What can they tell us about the day-to-day direction of our lives?

MhANY PEOPLE open the pages of newspapers and read the oroscopes out of a vague sense of curiosity about their fortunes and out of a sense of anticipation for the future. Horoscopes involve a reading of the current situation and predictions about the near future.

The central idea behind the horoscope is that the alignment of stars and planets has a direct physical effect on human beings. It comes from a period of history when it was assumed that man and the world were at the centre of the universe, so it involves a primitive earth-centred view of the cosmos. Even when the Church shared such a view of the cosmos, the Fathers of a number of Church councils condemned experimentations of the kind involved in astrology as superstition. The Church took its position of censure towards astrology from the Mosaic Law as found in Leviticus 19:26, 31 and Deuteronomy 18:10.

The high Middle Ages saw a great number of pagan superstitions and the response of the Church can be found in the many councils that pronounced on astrology, divination and the invocation of ghosts and spirits. One can find censures of this kind in the councils of Toledo (AD 400) and Braga (AD 563). The council of Braga reserves

an anathema for those who believe that the human body and soul is subject to the movement of the stars and the planets as pagans do (DS 459).

Martin of Braga published an index of superstitions from the time in his book De Correctione Rusticorum. Leo the Great also involved himself in the condemnation of errors of this kind (DS 483). The councils of Lateran IV (AD 1215) and of Trent (DS 1859) also condemned astrology, and banned works on magic and necromancy.

More recently, a document appeared in 1975 on the Christian faith and demonology, which singled out astrology as a pagan superstition (CDF Les Formes Multiples de la Superstition, 4.VII.1975). The document provides a nuanced analysis of the context of the New Testament, the witness ofJesus and his ministry, the writings of St Paul, the teachings of the Fathers and the development of the one major definition on the subject of astrology and demonology, at Lateran IV (1215). Essentially, the document states that the horoscope, if taken too seriously, can lead believers into a kind of fatalism about their own personal lives and lead them into denying their own freedom to determine their futures.

Believers are urged to place their faith in a God who has created human freedom as a good in the universe, and not to rely on the superstitions of former times for indications of their future happiness, particularly those that involve the invocation of primitive cosmologies and powers.

Can you shed light on the use of extraordinary ministers? My parish is staffed by 10 priests and yet they recently advertised for more extraordinary ministers. Can you shed light on this?

WcPAUL VI and hir littugical counil (Consilium) were reforming major orders (episcopate, priesthood and diaconate) they decided to suppress some of the minor orders and preserve two, the lectorate and acolytate. These two offices were to be regarded as stable lay ministries. Thus a document appeared called Ministeria Quaedam in 1972, which streamlined major and minor orders and opted for the simple distinction between orders and ministries.

The ordinary ministers of holy communion were those with orders and the extraordinary ministers of communion were those deputed to assist whenever they were needed.

In fact, as Paul VI hammered out the doctunent with a reluctant' official of the Consilium (subsequently transferred to Iran) bishops in other parts of the world were instituting or deputising extraordinary ministers to distribute communion where there were no clergy. These were often lay people who already enjoyed the stable ministry of catechist in the local churches.

Some bishops liked the flexibility of the new arrangements, which were pretty much fixed in stone by the time Ministeria Quaedam was published (15.VIII.1972). They did not foresee what some theologians would make of their ad hoc arrangements.

Ming, Schillebeecloc and Boff turned things on their head when they set forth a new vision of Church, in which the extraordinary ministers should be considered the norm.

According to this democratic model of Church they were already "empowered" for these sacred functions by baptism and they really did not need to be deputised as such, except perhaps by the community. Similarly that some of the community become deacons, priests and bishops should be seen as a simple ratification of the empowerment already present at baptism, an empowerment which did not need to be "sacramentalised" (cfr CDF Declaration Regarding Two Works of Prof Kiing of 15.11.1975, Letter to Schillebeeckx of 13.VI.1984, Letter to Leonardo Boff of 15.V.1984).

This democratic model of the Church made inroads into the clergy and a period ensued in the Seventies when extraordinary ministers were deputised in large numbers to take over the various functions of the clergy. Few realised that they were also sowing the seeds of their own demise,from an ecclesiological point of view.

Eventually, however, Rome stepped into the confusion by setting forth a number of conecfive guidelines in a document called Inaestimabile Donum, published April 3 1980, and thence theological principles in Sacerdotium Ministeriale, published August 6 1983. The first document had to deal with a variety of abuses, which included the recitation of unauthorised eucharistic prayers, homilies given by lay people and the distribution of communion by extraordinary ministers while ordinary ministers were plentiful in number. The second document stressed the importance of apostolic succession and of the will of the Lord in instituting a college of leadership that was appointed to teach, sanctify and govern the community of the faithful. The ordinary minister of communion remains the bishop, priest or deacon.

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