The offending parishoners at St. Mary's have been expelled from the parish and the diocese without any specific details of the charges being put against them, and without a trial. Is this excommunication? Probably not, because the word isn't used. What is it? Is this sort of action allowed? I'm checking with the Canon Law Society of America on that, which said to call them Monday, and will report back on what they say.
The crux of the whole mess is that the bishop insists everyone must not kneel at the portion of the Mass called the Agnus Dei ("Lamb of God").
As Fr. Tran put it in his "Pastor's Corner" in the Feb. 19 parish bulletin (emphasis throughout the quoted parts on this blog are from Father):
But if you intentionally oppose these liturgical norms, particularly by not standing after the "Lamb of God" and at the "Final Blessing", either as individuals or as a group, it is totally wrong and a serious matter/sin: intentional disobedience not simply to the local Bishop, but also to Rome, and ultimately to God. As Administrator/ Pastor and teacher by ordination and appointment, responsible for your souls before God, I have to tell you all this. Later on, you can not say that "nobody has ever told me this before".
And Fr. Tran added in his "Pastor's Corner" in the Feb. 26 parish bulletin:
Disobedience comes from pride and arrogance, setting oneself above all, including God for all kinds of false reasons and justification. This is exactly the case in our parish. And we need to deal with it.
As I said before, Liturgy is the "public worship" of the Church whose authority belongs only to Rome, the National Conference of the Catholic Bishops and the local Bishop, and not a private worship or business which belongs to any person(s) or group that can take it into their own hands by intentionally setting their own norms, disregarding the permission from the local Bishop or despising the authority of the local Bishop, the National Conference of one's country. That is clearly rebellion, grave disobedience and mortal sin, separating oneself from the Church. The reason for this is that all the current litrugical norms of the Diocese and of the U.S. are officially recognized and allowed by Rome. Furthermore, Fr. Johnson [the pastor, who retired two years ago] was allowed only to have the Tridentine Mass here at St. Mary's with its own norms: communion by tongue, with one species, no sign of peace, kneeling after 'Agnus Dei'/Lamb of God...that some parishoners here name that [sic] "traditions" of St. Mary's.
Fr. Tran himself is in charge of all elements of the Mass, and has changed them, with the only exception being what individual parishoners do after the Agnus Dei, that is, to kneel or not to kneel. So the kneeling is the real problem. He writes that it's a "mortal sin," meaning it sends one to Hell in the same way as do murder, theft, etc. So, is kneeling before the Eucharist, which Catholics believe really is Jesus, the same murder?
Fortunately, Fr. Tran is mistaken. Catholics are not going to Hell because they kneel before Jesus. When this problem cropped up around the United States in 2003, Francis Cardinal Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote that Church law on this matter exists
to ensure within broad limits a certain uniformity of posture within the congregation for the various parts of the celebration of the Holy Mass, and on the other, to not regulate posture rigidly in such a way that those who wish to kneel or sit would no longer be free."
So, parishoners are
free to kneel after the Agnus Dei.
Oh, and let's not forget Scripture. Philippians 2: 9-10 reads:
"Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth."
It also passes strange that the Bishop is upset about people kneeling before Jesus when some really strange things have occurred under his administration. Perhaps the strangest was in June 2004 at a Mass celebrating renovations at San Juan Capistrano. As the July 29, 2004 Register reported
Jerry Nieblas and Kathy Sandoval performed a Juaneño blessing – the sacred Four Directions ceremony – during the Mass.
Carrying an abalone shell filled with burning white sage, Nieblas pointed to the four directions as Sandoval, wearing a willow bark skirt, fanned the smoke with red-tail hawk feathers and prayed.
"We honor the creator, our homeland and ancestors and ask them to pray for us and to be with us on this day," said Nieblas, artifacts coordinator at the mission.
So pagan ceremonies in the middle of Mass are OK, but kneeling before Jesus isn't?
Fortunately, Bishop Brown will be retiring in five years and we can hope and pray that the new bishop will be one of the young, traditional men of the stripe of Bishop Olmstead in Phoenix or Bishop Bruskewitz in Omaha.