A Deadly Road

Wise words from Andrew J. Bacevich (“The Israel-Gaza War Will Fail,” December 2023) that the Biden administration would do well to heed. However, it appears that Biden and Blinken are on the deadly illusory road of Israel’s victory over Hamas, despite the mounting numbers of innocent Palestinians who die daily.

It is an unrealistic goal: to completely destroy Hamas along with Gaza’s infrastructure. What will convince the United States that complicity in this war by its increased funding of weapons is a war crime that violates international law? As the voices of allies rise in opposition, and as American voices increase in protests and arrests, one can only hope that saner voices in our government will emerge and prevail to end this war.

Lenore Navarro Dowling, IHM
Los Angeles, Calif.


The Presence of the Poor

John Cavadini’s essay (“The Eucharist and the Poor,” November 2023) makes a very strong case for expanding the focus of eucharistic practice and piety to those with whom Christ identified himself, even from within the narrow scope of American episcopal preoccupation with transubstantiation as an adequate explanation of fundamental eucharistic reality. His exegesis of the medieval theory is ingenious and effective. As an experienced and appreciated expositor of the significance of Augustine’s interpretations of scripture and his teachings for contemporary Christian theology, however, Professor Cavadini might have offered a different explanation of the presence of the poor within the Whole Christ, the reality sacramentally celebrated, presented, and shared in the Mass. Such an understanding, based upon 1 Corinthians 11 (the earliest description and analysis of the Church’s actual attempt at eucharistic practice), was affirmed in the documents of Vatican II and has been developed in contemporary historical theology. It is not being appreciated and ritualized in the current eucharistic campaign. Transubstantiation failed as a generally accepted explanation of the eucharistic presence of Christ during the Reformation debates and has made no significant progress in modern ecumenical dialogue.

J. Patout Burns Jr.
Vanderbilt University Divinity School, Nashville, Tenn.


Witness to Magnificence

Fr. Louis Bouyer (“From Glory to Glory,” Robert P. Imbelli, October 2023) reminds us that Catholicism is the witness in history to magnificence: to the Trinitarian Christology of St. Paul and the liturgical ecclesiology of the Book of Revelation. From news stories and commentaries around the recent Synod of Bishops, I was beginning to think that Roman Catholicism had been reduced to a twentieth-century American megachurch “WWJD” movement. Thanks to Fr. Imbelli for his generous (re)introduction to this great Catholic theologian, and to the various publishing houses for new editions of Bouyer’s enduring work. I would add that Bouyer’s insights into monastic theology and into the Cistercian heritage in particular are unsurpassed.

Mark A. Scott, OCSO
Abbey of New Clairvaux
Vina, Calif.

It is an unrealistic goal: to completely destroy Hamas along with Gaza’s infrastructure.


The Anglican Angle

Because Robert P. Imbelli is quite right to connect Louis Bouyer as a liturgist to Bouyer’s friend Msgr. Myles Bourke at Corpus Christi Church, it’s sad to have to report that, despite the ecumenical and liturgical efforts of previous successors to Bourke, his distinguished local tradition has finally ended. No one involved seems to have understood something vitally important to the liturgical history of the parish: a certain philo-Anglicanism prominent in the very first chapter of Bouyer’s important 1954 book, Liturgical Piety. Arguing that much Baroque Catholicism was “not genuinely Christian,” Bouyer there jokes that it was really Archbishop Cranmer, “the future heretic,” who was actually “more truly Catholic.”

Some at Corpus say that the specifically Anglican ecumenical aspect at Corpus stretched back before Bouyer, to the pastorship of George B. Ford. It was surely appropriate to the neighborhood of Columbia, which was still officially Anglican. Yes, it long entailed certain rubrical refinements; but it was hardly subtle in still having, when I first encountered it in the 1970s, the Gloria at the end of Mass. That was a distinctly High Anglican practice which, by the time we stopped, most Anglicans had long since dropped. (It must have impressed young Merton, whose previous liturgical experience was Anglican but pretty slack.)

Between the fine points and the big Gloria at the end, however, was an excellent feature that survived until just last month: singing a beautiful Anglican Our Father, with the great advantage of having its last line (unknown to St. Jerome), “For thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory”—normally a blatant signal of difference between Catholic and Protestant usages—become the very doxology, word for word, proclaimed immediately after in our Catholic Mass. What a marvelous thing, to have words of prejudicial differentiation become such an integral “cornerstone” of the canon.

This prominent part of the Corpus Mass, which on two occasions I heard Louis Bouyer discuss and commend from a chair in front of the sanctuary, has recently been abolished. The basic Corpus Mass had usually been in English and Latin, sung and chanted, using English (and basically Anglican) Masses from the great Benziger 1966 Catholic Hymnal. At a certain point, the Liber Cantualis became dominant, but we still managed to keep the Mass an organic whole. Now that something extraordinary has been “normalized” beyond recognition, I can only recall one of the successors of Bourke, Fr. Raymond Rafferty, in a sermon contrasting the terms “catholic” and “orthodox,” emphasizing that if there is no diversity, you have mere uniformity instead of catholicity.

Joseph Masheck
New York, N.Y.


So Substantive and Rare a Review

Seldom, perhaps, is a book reviewer’s work compared to that of a master vintner’s. But at their finest, each, through sustained effort and skill, turns her or his raw material into something distinctive and unexpectedly good. And Mollie Wilson O’Reilly’s review of Clare Carlisle’s book on the life of Victorian feminist George Eliot has clearly earned such a rarefied comparison (“Double Life,” October 2023).

Certainly, readers expect a reviewer to be informed and the writing engaging. But O’Reilly demonstrates such palpable mastery of the enigmatic author Mary Ann Evans, a.k.a. George Eliot, and of the timeliness of Eliot’s insights on marriage and the sexist restraints of patriarchal societies that one’s curiosity must be stoked. Readers are reminded of Eliot’s own remarks on Middlemarch’s protagonist Dorothea: that many “thought it a pity that so substantive and rare a creature should have been absorbed into the life of another, and be only known as a wife and mother.” Who could fail to detect the ominous relevance of these words today with concerted moves to thwart women’s rights and aspirations?

My only reservation has to do with O’Reilly’s reference to Eliot’s continued “relevance for women readers.” Why restrict such genius to one gender? As O’Reilly herself suggests, who couldn’t use “a sense of being enlarged and challenged by Eliot’s generous vision of humanity”?

R. Jay Allain
Orleans, Mass.

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Published in the January 2024 issue: View Contents
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