Brandon's Notepad

January 21, 2017

Scottish Cathedral Permits Koranic Recitation

ShortURL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-21o


News broke last week about a cathedral in Scotland that permitted the recitation of a Surah from al Qur’an during the evening Epiphany service. To be clear, this was the Episcopal (i.e. Anglican) Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, not the Presbyterian (i.e. Church of Scotland) Glasgow Cathedral. I soon found some still photos and then the video on YouTube (the highest-quality copy of which has since been removed). In them a young Muslim woman stands at a lectern shaped like an eagle as she sings in Arabic. Just beyond her sit a priest and the chancel choir in the transept of a beautiful old church. The sacred vessels are prepared and the rood screen adorned with strands of twinkling electric Christmas lights.

At first, I took this to mean that the Gospel reading (at what Catholics and many Anglicans would call a “Mass”) had been replaced with the Koranic account of the Annunciation and Nativity of Jesus, which is found in the nineteenth Surah (chapter) titled Maryam (Mary). This would, of course, undermine the very purpose of attending the Service, which is to hear the Word of God, receive some practical instruction in the faith based on those readings (the sermon), give thanks to God for his salvific work through his Son (the Eucharist), and then be sent out into the world to proclaim the good news to others. The Gospel message rests at the core of this mission. It is unthinkable to supplant the very basis of a Christian’s work with a non-Christian text.

Thankfully, this was not the case. True, the recitation was made during the Eucharistic service at Epiphany, but according to Provost Kelvin Holdsworth’s blog, the Eucharistic service carried on as usual: the expression of the community’s faith in Christ, the recitation of the Nicene Creed, and the proclamation of Christ’s divinity in the Eucharistic prayers. According to Holdsworth, the purpose for allowing the recitation was not to incorporate a teaching or form of worship from another religion into their own, but to make the Muslims who were visiting for that specific celebration to feel welcome and comfortable in the church. “Frankly, we think it is a good thing that Muslims are coming to church and hearing us proclaim the Gospel of Christ.” he writes. “No-one pretends that Muslims and Christians believe the same things. We know that Muslims don’t believe in the divinity of Christ – that’s a known and accepted fact. It isn’t surprising. […] We don’t do syncretism, we do hospitality.” Besides extending hospitality, the recitation also seems to have created opportunities for open dialogue between the Muslim and Christian congregants. Holdsworth adds that the recitation of selections from al Qur’an during Christian worship services is rare, but not unheard of, noting that it had been done a few years earlier in the very same Cathedral in the presence of the Bishop during a Lessons and Carols service without nearly the same amount of publicity or backlash.

And there certainly has been backlash. This service, “regarded locally as a good event” according to Holdsworth, was subsequently reported to the general online audience in a very negative way, giving rise to many hateful responses, including serious threats against the safety of the clergy and people of Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Considering that these responses were described by Holdsworth as Islamophobic, it can only be assumed that the majority of them came from Christians angered by the Cathedral’s actions. Indeed, highly-critical opinions of this event are not difficult to find on YouTube and other sites, and Christians seem to be the ones complaining about it. It seems quite ironic that those most concerned about Muslim violence against Christians would resort to threats of violence themselves. This can hardly be considered an appropriate Christian response.

One of the chief complaints that I have seen is that the Surah that was recited that Epiphany evening is particularly anti-Christian…which is actually a fairly accurate claim. Surah 19 begins with the annunciation stories of Zechariah and Mary, similar to what is found in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, followed by some mention of Old Testament Prophets, and then a foretelling of Paradise for the righteous and the judgement and punishment in which all non-believers are condemned to a fiery eternity. One of the worst things the unbelievers proclaim about God is that he had begotten a son, because having children is something that creatures do and it is not fitting for God to have a son. Well, that’s exactly what Christians do proclaim, isn’t it? I don’t know Arabic, so I couldn’t tell for myself which verses marked the beginning and the end of the recitation, but so far I have found several blogs claim that it ended with verse 36, which is at the end of the Marian narrative. Verse 35 is the first of two that state that God should not have a son (the other being verse 92) and was therefore included.

And what does the Anglican Church have to say? Only a day or two after the Epiphany service made Internet headlines, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, a prominent figure within the Anglican Communion and expert on Christian-Muslim relations, publicly condemned the practice of reading al Qur’an during Christian worship services and even called for disciplinary action for those involved at St. Mary’s Cathedral. He plainly explains that the Surah in question promotes the nontrinitarian heresy of adoptionism, this is, the belief that Jesus was not a true son of God, but merely adopted. This heresy has been around since the Second Century. Nazir-Ali’s condemnation brings us full-circle, back the the mission of the Church and the original purpose of the Eucharistic service.

Finally, on January 13th, the Scottish Episcopal Church released a statement on the matter, first recognizing the importance of interfaith work and then pledging to explore ways to strengthen interfaith relations in the context of worship. Regarding the specific controversy at St. Mary’s, however, the Primus is leaving that up to Provost Holdsworth and the Cathedral’s faith community.


July 28, 2016

Catholic Mass Bible Readings Coverage

ShortURL: wp.me/pb7U7-1Q3


Do Catholics read the Bible? You bet they do! But some other Christians want you to think otherwise. Here’s a good lesson on how to lie with infographics.


The Accusation

Catholics are often accused of claiming to be Christian and yet not reading the Bible. In one respect this is true, because the average Catholic is less likely to sit down and read the Bible from cover to cover in the same way an Evangelical Christian might. Like anything else, Catholic and Evangelical populations could be surveyed and the results analyzed statistically, and in doing so you will likely find plenty of people who do not fit the stereotype: Catholics that read their Bibles all the time and Evangelicals that don’t.

In Reality

What Evangelicals don’t realize is that Catholics hear much more of the Bible than they read. There are four readings (OT, Psalm, NT, Gospel) assigned for each holy day of obligation (i.e. all Sundays and certain feast days). There are also three “cycles” arranged such that the Gospel of Matthew is covered in Cycle A, Mark in Cycle B, and Luke in Cycle C. The Gospel of John is spread across certain days throughout the year, but especially in the seasons of Lent and Easter.

The Infographic

A year or so ago, someone I follow on Twitter posted an infographic, which can be found here on imgur, that plots the readings throughout the liturgical the year. The imgur post includes a bit of explanatory information about how to read the graph, followed by the following note to the reader: “Notice all of the blank space. Only 14.2% of the entire bible is read during mass over the course of three years.” Yikes! Only 14.2%? That’s not a lot!

Something’s Not Quite Right

Yes, the graph shows a lot of blank space; however, notice that time is depicted on the X-axis. This means that the plotted area does not actually represent the pure volume of content. How should this graph be read then?

Assumptions

I decided to conduct a little test to see how accurate the 14.2% claim actually is. To do this, the following assumptions were made:

  1. The graph is intended to be an accurate representation of the data.
    Which is the claim being made, right?
  2. Each of the black hash marks represent one holy day.
    There are 52 Sundays and about 5 non-Sunday Holy Days of Obligation, making 57 total. The year is depicted as a 286-pixel block, which means each mark should be 5.02 pixels wide on average. Indeed, spot-checking reveals that most are either 6 or 7 pixels wide, with a few as short as 4 pixels.
  3. Each of the black hash marks represent a unique section of Scripture.
    It is unclear exactly how the volume of content is presented here. Do the marks represent whole chapters? Individual stories? Segments of verses? But it doesn’t really matter, because the next assumption is that…
  4. The height of the plotted area represents 100% coverage of Bible content.
    The plotted area is 741 pixels in height. According to multiple sources on the Web, the Protestant Bible contains 1,189 chapters, which is greater than 741, so each mark can’t represent a chapter exactly. The Catholic Bible contains a few additional books, but not enough to allow for each pixel to represent two chapters.

Method

The test required some simple graphical manipulation of the picture using a paint program (in the case I used GIMP). There were three basic steps:

  1. Remove time from the graph.
    This was done by extending each of the black hash marks to fully cover the year in which it was found. I did this for all marks in all three years, and then cut most of each year out, leaving only a thin ribbon to represent it’s coverage.
  2. Find the cumulative coverage.
    Using the layers feature, I moved a copy of each year’s content volume to form a column of combined (or cumulative) coverage.
  3. Compress the volume to determine percentage.
    This was tedious, but I removed all blank space between the bands of black on a copy of the cumulative column, resulting in a 315-pixel bar, and placed it on top of a grey, 741-pixel tall background.

The Result

My cumulative coverage columns are shown to the right of the original graph below. The columns for Cycles A, B, and C are labeled accordingly, the combined coverage column is labeled with a Sigma, and the percentage coverage column with a percent sign. The result is that a whopping 42.5% of the Bible is read during Mass on Sundays and Holy Days alone.

Lectionary_Coverage

Notice that there is essentially full coverage of the Gospels over three years, nearly full coverage of the rest of the New Testament, a heavy concentration on certain Old Testament books (e.g. Genesis, Exodus, major prophets like Isaiah), and lighter coverage on books that even Protestants don’t pay much attention to (e.g. Numbers, Kings, Chronicles, minor prophets, etc.).

Conclusion

The poster’s claim that only 14.2% of the Bible is read during days of obligation is incorrect. This is obviously not a perfect test, because there are a lot of assumptions and unknowns about how the original author is depicting the data; however, the margin between 14.2% and 42.5% is far too wide to be simple error.

Is the imgur poster trying to mislead you, assuming you will simply take the graphic at face value? Maybe. I have considered the possibility that the 14.2% claim was based on the percentage of the plotted area covered by black pixels, in which case the poster actually misinterpreted the graph. It is not clear whether or not the person who posted the graphic on imgur and the author of the graphic are the same person.

Wait, There’s More…

This infographic covered readings for holy days on which Catholics are required (yes, not expected, but required by Church law) to attend so that they may hear them, live them, and share them with others. What is not covered are the readings for the rest of the week! Most Catholics don’t attend daily Mass, but those that do will hear even more of the Bible! You can visit the Liturgy page on the USCCB website for more details on that.


September 21, 2014

Crucifying Jesus All Over Again

Short URL: http://goo.gl/XJKoAO


Have you ever been told that the Roman Catholic Church crucifies Christ over and over again with each celebration of the Mass? I really don’t mean to rant, but…


I’m tired of hearing other Christians preach that Catholics crucify Jesus ‘again’ in the celebration of the Mass. After all, it is plainly stated in the Bible that Jesus died on the cross once for all for the forgiveness of sins, and that no new sacrifice can be made. (Hebrews 6-10; yes, read it all) I think these other Christians would do well to read the first seven books of Leviticus, where they would learn that not all sacrifices decreed by God were for the atonement of sin. If the Mass (specifically, the Eucharist) was intended to be a sacrifice for atonement, then I would agree that the Church missed the mark somewhere along the way; however, the Mass is not a sacrifice for atonement at all, but one of thanksgiving. That is what the Greek word eucharsitia means. Atonement could only be made by Jesus, but we celebrate in the sacrificial feast at his command.

In reading these chapters, they might also learn that sacrifices are not simple affairs. A fellowship offering, for example, can include not only an animal sacrifice (Lev 3), but also an offering of loaves of bread (Lev 7:11-21). Two Jewish celebrations that together commemorate their liberation from slavery in Egypt, the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, fit this pattern. The Paschal Lamb must be eaten on the night of the sacrifice, but the feast is perpetuated for seven days through the consumption of bread prepared for this purpose. Likewise Jesus died on the cross to free mankind from the bondage of sin, and perpetuated for all time the feast at the last supper using a very special bread (c.f. John 6). It must be perpetuated for all time because it is the final atonement. Paul asks rhetorically, “is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ [and] is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16 NIV) Indeed, the sacrifice of Jesus is complete; therefore, let us keep the feast.

Addendum
For anyone who has never encountered anti-Catholic rhetoric on a grand scale, please read The Mass Insults Jesus Christ. The author relies heavily on the same chapters from Hebrews that I reference above, though the verses have been taken out of context and contorted to “support” his thesis. Of all of the holes in his argument, I will expound upon one for the sake of illustration. Toward the bottom of the first large section, Hebrews 6:6 is quoted (I love how he makes sure the reader knows that the text is from the NAB, as though he caught Catholics contradicting their own Bible). This quote is then followed by his own analysis (emphasis retained):

Notice, in this last Scripture, St. Paul’s statement that repentance is impossible for anyone who is continually recrucifying Jesus Christ again and again! Jesus Christ died once and for all [eternally]. He is not to be recrucified again and again for any reason. As long as He is being so recrucified, it is impossible to come to repentance. Therefore, any person who continually practices the Mass cannot be saved as long as they continue!!

Read that same passage (which actually begins with verse 4, by the way) in the NIV translation (used heavily by Protestants) and you will find that it obviously means something totally different from what the author suggests. The falling away refers to apostasy. True repentance of sin is impossible for he who had once been filled with the Spirit and the fire of Christ but who has since rejected him altogether (e.g. became atheist or something other than Christian). In other words, it’s not possible to reignite that fire genuinely if it has been purposely put out once already. To try is to crucify Jesus again. And while I understand that the author considers Catholicism as a “falling away” from “true enlightenment”, his analysis of the text is just plain wrong. There is no mention of the Mass whatsoever (except perhaps the reference to tasting the heavenly gift in verse 4), nor is there any word indicating that the recrucifying is a “continual” process (yes, I checked the Greek to be sure). What’s more, the tone of finality in the passage doesn’t jive with the author’s notion that (reading between the lines here with tongue planted firmly in cheek), if those Catholics would just stop going to Mass, then maybe some of them could finally repent and be saved!


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