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It has been wonderful to see so much media coverage of World Youth Day (WYD), most of it positive. However, many of the news items have clearly been written by journalists with little knowledge of Christianity in general, and of Catholicism in particular. Here are some examples.
1. One radio station reported the arrival of the WYD ‘crucifix’ into Sydney. It is in fact a cross, not a crucifix, and there is a difference.
It was natural that the cross, the instrument of Christ’s death and hence of the world’s salvation, should become an object of special respect and veneration. The focus, however, was on its saving role in God’s plan and not on the physical suffering and death of Jesus.
The first evidence of the figure of Christ being depicted on the cross, a crucifix, was in the early 6th century. But Christ was vested in a long robe and a royal diadem replaced the crown of thorns. This image depicted both the reality of the crucifixion and the joy of the resurrection.
Gradually, the figure of Christ changed to a more human one with the head bowed and an expression of anguish on his face. It was not until the 14th century that the crucifix gradually began to replace the cross.
While the crucifix focuses on a moment in history, the cross embraces the whole of the paschal mystery - Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection, and his coming again.
The journey of the WYD cross demonstrates that the cross is a central symbol of the victory of Christ for people of the 21st century as it was for the early Christians.
2. One newspaper had a story about a group of young people who like to celebrate Mass in Latin “which was banned by the Second Vatican Council held in the early 1960s”.
Vatican II did not ‘ban’ Latin at all but did encourage the use of vernacular languages rather than Latin so that, as Pope John Paul II put it, “every individual can understand and proclaim in his or her mother tongue the wonders of God”.
What Vatican II did ‘abolish’ was the Tridentine Mass, the Order of Mass from the Council of Trent in the mid-1570s, which was celebrated in Latin. It was replaced by the new Order of Mass with the publication of the Missal of Paul VI in 1970. Where and when appropriate, this order of Mass may be celebrated in Latin, or in any of more than 300 languages spoken by Catholics around the world - a wonderful sign of unity in diversity.
3. A report accompanying a photo of religious sisters from the USA claimed that they were part of a group of clergy arriving to celebrate WYD. The term ‘clergy’ refers to those who have been ordained to ministry in the Church. Religious women and men are not ordained but professed and may not preside at celebrations of the sacraments.
4. Finally, and this will give the conservative bloggers something to get upset about, Cardinal Pell is not the ‘Head of the Australian Catholic Church’ as the media constantly claims. The Catholic Church is administered by dioceses, not States or nations, and Cardinal Pell has authority only in his own Archdiocese, not the whole country. His having the title of Cardinal does not change that fact. The president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, currently Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, is the only person who could be described as the ‘head’ of the Catholic Church in Australia.