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HE IS RISEN – within the Old Catholic Church

I attended the Easter Vigil last night at the ‘Old Catholic’ Cathedral of St. Lawrence high atop Petrin Hill in Prague. Father Robert Caruso of the US Minnesota OCC is here in Prague for the week and invited me to the service. The “OLD” Catholic Church is so named because this community believes it represents the true Catholic tradition before Vatican I and the imposed dogma of Papal Infallibility.  The community did not willingly split from the Roman branch, it was excommunicated when a number of Bishops in good conscience decided they could not accept the decision of Vatican I to declare the Pope infallible.  In fact the majority of Bishops walked out of the Council in protest before the vote could be taken.  The reigning pontiff, Pius IX, a deeply disturbed human being whom a number of psychiatric authorities have diagnosed as a classic  sociopath, threatened excommunication and interdict to any bishop and diocese who did not agree with the decision. Most  of the dissenting bishops gave in at great cost to their consciences. But a significant and prophetic remnant stood fast These bishops together with their dioceses then banded together to form the Old Catholic Church and they have been living their marginal, Spirit filled witness-in-exile, ever since. Outside of the control of the Vatican, the worldwide community of the Old Catholic Church then evolved  in a (not surprisingly) healthy manner and we now have a Church which images the Catholic Church as she should be – inclusive, tolerant, fair = with women priests and married priests, gay marriages and ethical decisions regarding contraception (among others) left to the individual consciences of the married couple. No scandals regarding child abuse have surfaced within the Old Catholic Church. Does that surprise anyone?

Father Robert Caruso is the tall priest in the center of the photo (taken with my cell phone). For those who are more interested in this community, you can read a review of Father Robert’s book,  The Old Catholic Church: Understanding the Origin, Essence, and Theology of a Church that is Unknown and Misunderstood by Many in North America, and a series of interviews with him at Michael Bayly’s blogsite, Wild Reed.

I was deeply moved by the service (despite the terminally long readings, following  the Roman ritual exactly) and I have to say it “felt’ exactly like a Roman Catholic Liturgy -with one important distinction. At communion, all of the priests, the presiding Bishop and the ministers, received communion last – after all of the ‘laity’ had themselves partaken. Wow! What a stunning example of a ministry of service that does not privilege the ordained. As Father Robert remarked, “It isn’t just ‘like’ the Catholic Mass – ala the Anglican service – it is the Catholic Mass.” I have to agree. Seven new catechumens and one charmingly distraught baby girl received baptism this evening, and the adults went on to receive Confirmation and First Communion as well. It was a very deeply moving sight to see and the entire evening was Spirit filled in an atmosphere of peace and joy.  It was a delightfully eclectic community and I was on the receiving end of some wonderful and warmly humorous comments about gays within the community. I have never felt so graciously accepted as a gay man at any other form of Catholic service. I will be celebrating with this community again.

This morning I watched Pope Benedict’s Urbi et Orbi homily on Eurotelevision and I felt that the  role of the ‘Supreme Pontiff” in all of his pomp and regalia was in no way more charismatic or significant than the very impressive, deeply spiritual Bishop Dusan Hejbal of the Old Catholic Church of Prague.

Cross posted from Gay Mystic


11 Responses

  1. Jayden, thank you for an account that makes me feel I was there–and for information about a tradition that is still only a name to me, in many ways.

    I’m especially struck by your observation that the concelebrating clergy communicated after the laity. As someone who came to the Catholic tradition from a tradition with Anabaptist roots, whose way of celebrating the Lord’s Supper was more communitarian (and, frankly, hospitable) than the traditional Catholic liturgical forms, I have always been bothered by the tendency to separate the laity and clergy at communion time, and to put clergy first.

    I taught for a number of years at a Benedictine college. At daily liturgies, because few lay folks attended, we laity often sat in the monastic choir with the monks during liturgy.

    But at communion time, we were expected to sit while the monks all received communion first, and only then were we invited to communicate.

    This always struck me as counter to everything I understand communion to be about. And so I find that particular detain in your account fascinating–and inviting.

    • Thanks William, there’s a lot I left out, but a deeply moving experience, such lovely people showing just how easy it is to be fair and just within a Catholic context.

  2. I am glad that you attended this Mass and that you found the community so inclusive and warmly welcoming. I wonder why more of us on the fringe of mainstream Catholicism do not choose the path of attending the Old Catholic Church as the community seems to offer everything that we are asking of the institutional Roman Catholic Church which that church is not willing to give. There is an OCC within a few blocks of my home, yet for reasons I cannot explain I have never set foot inside.

    • Well, I can sympathize. I don’t exactly feel like signing up and becoming a full member of the community, though I appreciate the value of their witness and feel entirely comfortable worshiping with them. It seems to have to do with a sense of calling and vocation, where do we feel we are called to be, where have we been placed by the Holy Spirit. I’m somewhat in between, but I loved the comment by FDeF over at Gay Mystic: “I am a schism of one, I guess, without a priest or a bishop, without a sacrament or a chapel.”

  3. “No scandals regarding child abuse have surfaced within the Old Catholic Church. Does that surprise anyone?”

    Depends. How many children are enrolled in their schools?

    • It probable has more to do with the fact they don’t exclusively use altar boys. Look at the altar in the photo.

      • “they don’t exclusively use altar boys”

        Neither has any Catholic Church I’ve attended these last twenty years.

        The question, as always, is whether you’re comparing apples and oranges.

      • 1 altar boy, five altar girls – not all visible. The boy seemed like an added extra, sort of like the token altar girls of some years ago in the RCC.

    • Apples and oranges – Too much hair splitting for me. To quote Barbara Doris on SNAP: “Parsing words, splitting hairs, pointing fingers, shifting blame – these are the actions of desperate politicians, not professed spiritual figures. These are self-serving public relations maneuvers that rub even more salt into the already deep and still fresh wounds of suffering adults and do nothing to protect the vulnerable.”

  4. “I wonder why more of us on the fringe of mainstream Catholicism do not choose the path of attending the Old Catholic Church as the community seems to offer everything that we are asking of the institutional Roman Catholic Church which that church is not willing to give.”
    I considered it. What bothers me is that even they have deaconesses (according to the website of the Prague church), they don`t allow women to become priests and bishops.

    • The Old Catholic Church has been ordaining women priests since 1996 in Germany; 1997 in Austria; 1999 in the Netherlands; 2000 in Switzerland.http://viaintegra.wordpress.com/2009/09/14/old-catholic-church-women-priests/. The Czech Church currently has a number of women in process for full ordination.

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