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St. Luke the ox, and governing power

Hey everybody,

Today is the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, and you’re reading The Tuesday Pillar Post.

St. Luke, author of an eponymous gospel and the Acts of Apostles, is the writer of a greater portion of the New Testament than anyone. Sorry, St. Paul — two long books outpaced a bunch of short ones. Maybe there’s a lesson in that, I don’t know.

At any rate, St. Luke has been represented in Christian art since time immemorial as an ox — because oxen were symbolic of Israel’s Temple sacrifices.

St. Luke’s Gospel begins and ends in the Temple — and emphasizes a link between the Temple sacrifices and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary.

Here’s an image of the Lucan ox in the Book of Durrow, an Irish 7th-century illuminated Gospel manuscript:

By the way, in case you were curious, “ox” typically refers to a castrated adult bovine used as a beast of burden — or as a Temple sacrifice, as mentioned above. “Steer” is a term that refers to a young castrated male cow being raised for meat.

Same animal, but different agricultural contexts suggest the use of different terms. As some of you know, I recently obtained a cowboy hat, so I’m trying to know about things like this now.

At any rate, let’s get to the news.

The news

Pope Francis on Sunday announced that the Church’s universal synod on synodality will be extended a year longer than was originally planned. The global meeting of bishops originally planned for October 2023 will now be a two-parter, with one meeting going as planned and the next scheduled for October 2024.


Well, the pope said after his Sunday Angelus address that the “fruits of the synodal process underway are many, but so that they might come to full maturity, it is necessary not to be in a rush.”

To have a “more relaxed period of discernment,” Francis said, he was adding another meeting, and another year.

Here’s our coverage on this, which you won’t read anywhere else:

First, the leaders of Germany’s controversial “synodal way” have said the synod on synodality’s extension is “an important sign,” which “shows that Pope Francis considers synodality to be the decisive moment of change.”

While the German process and the universal synod process are not the same thing, they are related, and themes that have emerged in the German process have been also raised in the national synthesis documents for the synod on synodality.

Further, the head of Vatican’s office for the synod of bishops has expressed trust in the German synodality process, explaining that “I have trust in the Catholic Church in Germany, in the bishops, I trust they know what they are doing.”

You can read about all that right here.

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Next, in an analysis published Monday, Ed asked whether the pope’s goal is to slow down the synod’s pace, or to delay decision-making on several big issues connected to the synod.

You can read that here.

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Speaking of Germany, the Holy See has not responded to the appointment of a lay German woman to serve in the Diocese of Mainz as “representative of the vicar general,” who is entrusted to “independently carry out the vicar general’s tasks in his place.”

While this might just seem like another German thing, this situation is actually pretty important in the Church’s life.

Here’s why:  

The vicar general is a priest appointed in each diocese to exercise governance in the local Church with much of the same authority as the diocesan bishop. The job has to fall to a priest because the power of governance in the Church - referred to as jurisdiction - is understood theologically to be connected to sacred orders.

The Church’s sacramental theology - as articulated in both canon law and Lumen gentium - says that the conferral of orders makes someone qualified to exercise certain kinds of governance, just as it qualifies him to perform certain kinds of sacramental ministry.

But that doctrine has come under fire lately, with some theologians, and even Vatican advisers, arguing that the connection between orders and governance mightn’t be as ironclad as the Church’s magisterium seems to say.

In fact, Cardinal Gianfranco Ghirlanda, an adviser to the pope, made waves this year when he said at a Vatican press conference that “the power of governance in the Church does not come from the sacrament of Holy Orders, but from the canonical mission.”

That idea was widely seen to contravene directly a settled doctrinal matter addressed in Vatican II — which teaches that orders is a theological/spiritual/charismatic prerequisite to certain kinds of canonical missions.

While they flew largely under the radar,  the cardinal’s words represent a looming and serious theological controversy brewing in the Vatican.

In fact, for my money, this is one of the biggest legal and theological issues facing the Church right now, for two reasons:

  1. Because Ghirlanda’s idea is generally seen as quite a bit far from the Church’s articulated teaching about what ordination to the priesthood actually means, and even what it means to be a sacramental-hierarchical Church.

  2. Because Ghirlanda didn’t say this in a lecture hall at some university, but from the dais at a Vatican press conference — and his words have since gone officially unaddressed.

In papers and speeches, Vatican cardinals have been staking out opposite sides in a debate about Ghirlanda’s remark. And the College of Cardinals raised questions about this during its consistory in August.

For his part, the pope has not actually appointed anyone to a Vatican job that would raise theological questions about jurisdiction, so Ghirlanda’s remarks are still just rhetoric.

But the situation in Mainz could change that.

While a lay person has not actually been given the job of vicar general, she has been given the powers of the vicar general, in a decree which says those powers perdure even when there is no actual vicar general in the diocese.

For some observers, the key fact is that power of the vicar general is delegated in Mainz, which suggests a sharing in the power of governance, rather than its possession. This situation is no problem, those observers say.

But for others, the details - especially the enduring nature of the delegation -  make a difference. These analysts say that detail indicates that the powers she possesses are much more like an ordinary ecclesial office than like a typical “delegation.”

For these observers, the situation means that a lay person possesses directly the power of governance, even by another name. And for them, that’s a serious theological problem.

Of course, the decree appointing the vicar general’s delegate says that - because she is not ordained - she can’t do the liturgical or sacramental stuff a vicar general does — but it expresses no limitations on the exercise of the power of governance.

The situation seems to be an application of Ghirlanda’s idea — and, from the point of view of a number of canon lawyers and theologians, it could seem like a break from the Church’s doctrinal teaching on orders and governance, with only a loose sense of delegation standing in the breech. That’s not small potatoes.

The debate, to be clear, isn’t about whether there should be more lay people working in chanceries, giving advice to bishops, and helping to weigh significant leadership decisions in the Church.

The debate is about how the sacraments - especially orders - are connected to hierarchical authority in the first place. And that matters.

But will the Holy See address it? Clarify the relationship between orders and jurisdiction? Address a mounting theological controversy unfolding in Germany and the Roman curia?

Could the pope appoint a commission to study the matter? Or send it to the International Theological Commission?

Or will this pressing and serious theological issue become another topic for discussion at the synod on synodality — That option, if you ask me, seems the most likely.

But whatever happens, stay tuned — the situation matters, and the Holy See’s response could impact sacramental theology - and Church governance - for a long time to come.


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A few more news items from The Pillar:

In Salamanca, a most unusual exhibit on the Shroud of Turin is underway — one featuring a life-sized, three-dimensional image of Christ, based upon the depiction of the Shroud. The image, a kind of sculpture, really, was kept in its creator’s garage for eight years, before it became part of the large Shroud of Turin exhibition in Salamanca - which could soon come to a city near you.

This is an interesting read, about an effort to make the Body of Christ more visible, more immediate, and more really understood. And the writing, from Portuguese journalist Filipe D’Avillez, is pretty good too. Check it out.

Poland may be on the verge of tightening its blasphemy laws, but the Polish bishops have not weighed in on the pending initiative. The Pillar’s Luke Coppen talked with some Polish experts about the proposed legal change, and the Church’s silence on the idea. You can read about that here.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend is urging U.S. Church organizations to form partnerships and joint projects with their Catholic counterparts in Nigeria. The bishop talked with The Pillar this week about his recent travels in Nigeria, and why he hopes that Nigerian voices will play a prominent role in the Church’s global synod on synodality.

I hope you’ll read this story — Bishop Rhoades talked candidly with The Pillar about what bishops in the West can learn from their counterparts in Nigeria, including episcopal unity and evangelization. But if you don’t read it, you should still check out this video of a Nigerian choir during an ordination Mass Rhoades celebrated this summer:



In the Massachusetts Diocese of Worcester next week, composer Paul Jernberg will premiere a fully-sung Mass for Persecuted Christians, which was written to urge prayer for Christians facing hardship around the world.

The Pillar's Michelle La Rosa talked with composer Paul Jernberg about the spiritual, technical, and practical work of composing a sung Mass.

Here's a preview:

I think it's very much like writing an icon. You're not painting an image of Our Lady or our Lord, but you do have the sacred text. And it's like making a beautiful icon of that sacred text through music, and one that has a true sacred character.

This idea of sacred character is really crucial in composing music for the Mass. And that doesn't mean that it's going to sound old. I think a lot of people, when they think “sacred,” they think Gregorian chant. Gregorian chant and polyphony are a fantastic tradition, which I love and I've done a lot with, but I'm working with the understanding that we can compose new music today, that really has life and beauty and depth, but really connects with, you might say, normal people.

If you're interested in liturgy, or music, or prayer, for that matter, you'll love this conversation. Read it here.

And finally, here’s a story I wish The Pillar had reported, instead of business newsletter The Hustle. In this version, it’s not all theologically accurate, or especially ecclesial, but the reporting is really pretty good. Here’s “How nuns got squeezed out of the communion wafer business.”

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Mountain oysters?

My deliberations earlier about the difference between steers and oxen have prompted between Ed and Michelle a newsroom discussion about “Rocky Mountain Oysters” - with both agreeing that “fresh is the only way to enjoy them.”

Both Ed and Michelle suggest I supply you with a recipe for prairie oysters. Well, I hate to bust your… bubble… but I’m not going to.

Instead, though, here’s a look at how a world-class archer recreated the masterful archery system of Comanche nation warriors. It’s pretty interesting, I promise:

If you’ve started listening to Sunday School; A Pillar Bible Study, I hope you like it. If you haven’t, you’re missing out. Dr. Scott Powell, The Pillar’s “Sunday School teacher,” is a great instructor, and I guarantee you’ll learn things you’ve not heard before. You can find Sunday School wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’ve started reading Starting Seven, The Pillar’s daily news roundup from Luke Coppen, you know already how indispensable it is. If you haven’t, well, you should read it. Here’s how to sign up.

Starting Seven is our internal newsroom roundup, but we’re sharing it with paying subscribers as a thank you for making The Pillar happen. Still, if you want to get it in your inbox, and you’re not a paying subscriber, just email us - we’ll take care of it.

As a reminder, we’re donating $10 this month to Catholic Charities’ Florida hurricane relief for each new paying subscriber to The Pillar. So if you’ve been thinking about doing it for a while, now’s the time:

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Finally, for your reflection and edification on this feast of St. Luke, here’s a message from Pope St. John Paul II on the great evangelist and his Gospel:

As a minister of God's Word, Luke leads us to knowledge of the discreet yet penetrating light that radiates from it, while illustrating the reality and events of history. The theme of the Word of God, the golden thread woven through the two works that comprise Luke's writing, also unites the two periods treated by him: the time of Jesus and that of the Church.

As if narrating the ‘history of the Word of God,’ Luke's story follows its advance from the Holy Land to the ends of the earth. The journey proposed by the third Gospel is profoundly marked by listening to this Word which, like a seed, must be received with goodness and promptness of heart, overcoming the obstacles that prevent it from taking root and bearing fruit.

An important aspect that Luke highlights is the fact that the Word of God mysteriously grows and spreads even through suffering and in a context of opposition and persecution. The Word that St Luke points to is called to become for each generation a spiritual event capable of renewing life.

Christian life, instilled and sustained by the Spirit, is an interpersonal dialogue that is based precisely on the Word that the living God addresses to us, asking us to receive it without reservation in mind and heart.

In short, it means becoming disciples who are willing to listen to the Lord with sincerity and openness, following the example of Mary of Bethany, who ‘had chosen the better portion,’ because she ‘sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.’

Be assured of our prayers, and please pray for us. We need it.

Yours in Christ,

JD Flynn
The Pillar