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Father Cantalamessa’s Latest Heresy

by Christopher A. Ferrara

This column has reported on a number of  —  to put it mildly  —  theologically dubious statements by Fr. Raneiro Cantalamessa, the Franciscan Capuchin who has been Preacher to the Papal Household since Pope John Paul II appointed him to that position in 1980. Fr. Cantalamessa has made the most of his title, launching his own website, cantalamessa.org, whose home page features a photograph of him preaching in Saint Peter’s to the late Pope, while jabbing his finger in the seated Pope’s direction. The message clearly conveyed is: "This is the man who preaches to the Pope himself!"

The basic problem with the Preacher to the Papal Household is that he does not seem able to deliver a sermon which does not contain at least one troubling ambiguity or outright heterodox pronouncement. The latest example is one of Fr. Cantalamessa’s Lenten sermons, wherein he declares "Thus, it is not so much the death itself of Christ that has saved us, but his obedience unto death. God wants obedience, not sacrifice, says Scripture (1 Samuel 15:22; Hebrews 10:5-7)."

This is a typical Modernist technique: using one truth to deny another. In this case the trick works thus: God wants obedience, so this must mean He does not want sacrifice. Of course, God wanted both obedience and sacrifice in the case of the Redemption.

Another Modernist technique is at work here: the twisting of Scripture. The cited passage in Hebrews concerns the insufficiency of the sacrifices of the Old Law, the sacrifices of bulls and goats, not the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The whole point of Chapter 10 of Hebrews is to announce that Christ had come to offer an acceptable sacrifice to God, which will take away the old sacrifice forever: "[H]e taketh away the first [sacrifice], that he may establish the second, in which we are sanctified by the oblation of the body of Jesus Christ once." (Hebrews 10: 9-10). Note well: we are sanctified by the oblation [sacrifice] of the body of Christ, not by the obedience of Christ as such.

Fr. Cantalamessa goes on to say: "It is true that in Christ's case, he also wanted sacrifice, and he wanted it likewise for us, but of the two one is the means, the other the end. God wants obedience for itself; he wants sacrifice only indirectly, as the condition that makes obedience possible and authentic." This, too, is a falsification. God did not want Christ’s sacrifice only as a means of showing His obedience. God ordained the sacrifice of His only Son  —  the oblation of His Body  —  in itself as the means of atoning for man’s sins. The consecrating priest does not offer Christ’s "obedience" on the altar of which Christ’s sacrifice is merely the test, but rather Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity immediately, really and directly in the transubstantiated species of bread and wine.

This is why the Mass, as the Church infallibly teaches, not only gives glory to the Holy Trinity, but is also "truly propitiatory," as the Council of Trent declared. That is, the sacrifice of the Mass is offered to appease the wrath of God over sin, and to obtain His good will and favor, which is the very meaning of propitiation. This is why Trent issued the following anathema: "If anyone says that the sacrifice of the Mass is one only of praise and thanksgiving; or that it is a mere commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross but not a propitiatory one; or that it profits him only who receives, and ought not to be offered for the living and the dead, for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities, LET HIM BE ANATHEMA" (Canons on the Sacrifice of the Mass, Canon 3)."

By replacing sacrifice with "obedience" Cantalamessa’s novelty destroys the very theology of the Mass, and indeed the very theology of the Redemption itself. This is how the corrosive acid of Modernism works: a single novelty introduced into the Catholic system can seep into, corrode and destroy the whole.

But Cantalamessa is only typical of the "new theologians" who have afflicted the Church since Vatican II. These Modernists find distasteful the very idea that God would demand a sacrifice  —  the Sacrifice of the Altar that makes the Sacrifice on Calvary present again  —  in order to stay His wrath and obtain His favor. This idea strikes the Enlightened Ones as "primitive" and "simplistic." And so the "new theology" attempts to revise the infallible teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, not to mention the very heart of Catholic worship.

How ironic that this denigration of the sacrifice of Christ, as seen in the Mass, comes from a "preacher" whose name means, literally, "sing the Mass." Such is the Preacher to the Papal Household. And such is the crisis in the Church today.