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Excommunication has been part of the Church since Christ walked the Earth December 15, 2015

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Basics, catachesis, Christendom, error, General Catholic, Glory, Grace, history, manhood, reading, Spiritual Warfare, Tradition, Virtue.

Some handy history from James Monti’s Sense of the Sacred: Roman Catholic Worship in the Middle Ages.  Note that the dates given below for the documented dates for various Rites is just that, the dates that the earliest documentation exists, it is likely the actual Rite itself predates the documentary evidence from anywhere from decades to centuries. I present this because the conception of excommunication as an overly “harsh” penalty bereft of a modern sense of “mercy” is a totally false one.  Excommunication, as a formal act, dates from Apostolic times, and the grave necessity of formally separating from the Church those who espouse dangerous, soul-destroying concepts has always been recognized as particularly vital, at least until the last 50 years or so:

From the beginning of the Church has exercised the power of summoning to conversion those obstinately refusing to repent of their heresy or grave public sin by formally excluding them from the any participation in the life of the Church.  The power, known as excommunication, was instituted by Christ Himself when He said of those refusing to be corrected by the Church, “And if he will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican” (Mt xviii:17).  Evidence of a particular rite of excommunication first appears in the sixth century; a decree of a synod at Tours, France, convened in 567 speaks of the recitation of Psalm 108 when excommunicating a malefactor. [Note this does not mean that excommunication did not exist before the 6th century – certainly, simply because documentation has not been found does not mean that the Rite did not exist well before this date, but even more, the author is referring to the existence of a formal Rite of Excommunication, not the action of excommunication itself, which we know dates to Christ Himself and the very earliest days of the Church] By the early eighth century, there had emerged a fully developed and dramatic ceremony for public excommunication, the words and actions of which were consciously calculated to bring the excommunicated individual to conversion by warning him of the path to destruction he had chosen.  The rubrics of Pope Blessed Gregory X’s ceremonial (1273), which describe the excommunication rite as a “maternal admonition and correction,” explain that these excommunications would be carried out particularly on Holy Thursday, Ascension Thursday, and the Feast of the dedication of Rome’s Church of the Twelve Apostles, in order that those excommunicated, “seeing themselves excluded from all the good things of such days, might more easily submit to the grace of reconciliation.”

The full rite, as given for the first time in the early eighth-century work De ecclesiasticus disciplinis, compiled by the abbot Regino of Prum (+915) begins with an introductory allocution, in which the bishop outlines the Church’s teachings about excommunication, drawn from the Scriptures.  The rite climaxes with the bishop’s pronunciation of the excommunication (We exclude him from the thresholds of Holy Mother Church in Heaven and on earth, and we determine him to be excommunicated and anathematized), which, however, is qualified by the all-important phrase “unless he should repent.”  The most dramatic action of the excommunication rite follows: “Twelve priests ought to stand around the bishop and hold burning candles in their hands, which at the conclusion of the anathema or excommunication they should cast down to the ground and trample with their feet.”  In the ceremonial of Blessed Pope Gregory X, this action is explained as symbolizing that the Grace of the Holy Ghost, represented by light, has been withdrawn from the excommunicated person.  The candle rite had probably arisen by the late ninth century, when an excommunication formula from the pontifical of Sens, France, concludes with the words: “Just as this light is extinguished in the eyes of men, so may their light be extinguished forever.” Pope Gregory’s ceremonial adds that at the end of the excommunication rite the church bells are rung discordantly, noting that insofar as by the orderly ringing  of bells the faithful are gathered, by the discordant ringing the unfaithful are scattered, a contrast clearly inspired by the Words of Christ, “He that gathereth not with me, scattereth” (Mt xii:30).

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The above may be a bit deep into inside baseball to appeal to many readers, but I hope some will appreciate it.  The key thing I have taken away from Sense of the Sacred is the antiquity of so many aspects of Catholic faith and worship: things like the Low Mass dating from the 5th century (in essence), kneeling for Communion since apostolic times, even auricular Confession dating much earlier than I had previously read (and not coming from Ireland, but being a practice of the mainstream ancient Church from the 3rd century or earlier).  It’s not a polemical book, it simply delves into the history of Catholic worship in an academic and even-handed way.  It’s a solid resource, really more a textbook than a book intended for mass audiences (pun intended).

Anyway, hopefully someone will appreciate knowledge of the Rite of Excommunication.  And how accurately did the filmmakers portray the Rite in Becket, save for the ridiculously small bishop’s miter?!?  They nailed it:



1. FiliusPastori - December 16, 2015

Well, medieval mitres were significantly shorter than the massive baroque ones of later times. I prefer them, actually.

2. Woody - December 16, 2015

One great scene from many in a great movie.

3. Brian - - December 16, 2015

Priests act in Persona Christi. We are used to this in the day to day Sacramental life of the Church. This scene represents a facet of Persona Christi we are not used to, but essential to the fullness of our Faith. Judgement. And we will all face that judgement regardless of race, color, religion or creed.

This re-enactment has its power in that Bishop Becket represents the true Judge we will all face one day in person, and not just in “type”. Those dreadful words of Anathema are rooted in something much deeper. We will stand in front of a similar, but far more terrible “Court”. All our acts in life will be recounted in an instant. Nothing hidden. Naked before God.

Everything we do in life matters. Do not waste a moment of it.

4. Mike - December 16, 2015

Richard Burton, God rest his soul is fabulous. If only we had a few prelates who woulld be so forthright, putting the fear of God into our hearts!

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