Friday, August 23, 2013


While rereading “A Miracle for Guam”, a special feature in the Guam Pacific Daily News published in April, 2010 about the origins of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Yona, I came across an item that caused me to recall a conversation with Fr. Giovanni Rizzo, who was then the Vice-Rector of the Seminary.

Fr. Rizzo had written a sub-feature for the story on the seminary entitled “A Milieu for a New Aesthetic”, wherein, he attempted to make the case for the placement of the altar in the center of the church, a feature unique to the Neo-Catechumenal Way. 

(For those who don’t know, the altar in NCW liturgies is usually a large square table placed in the center of the worship space and not in the front or at the head of the church as most are used to seeing.)

To make his case, Fr. Rizzo “appears” to quote the catechism stating: “....the Altar—that is at the same time the Cross, the place of sacrifice, the Lord’s table and the empty tomb of the risen Christ—is in the center of the Church [1182].”

Upon reading this, I sent an email (on 4/22/10) to the Archbishop and to another priest at the seminary who I knew well (I did not know Fr. Rizzo very well) and inquired about Fr. Rizzo’s addition of the word “in” to the Catechism text. 

Paragraph 1182 of the Catechism actually says: “The altar of the New Covenant is the Lord's Cross, from which the sacraments of the Paschal mystery flow. On the altar, which is the center of the church...” (emphasis mine).

As you can see, the Catechism does NOT say the altar “is in the center of the church”, but that the altar “is the center of the church.” With anyone else this might have been a small matter. But because the NCW believes that the altar in fact belongs in the physical center of the worship space, this wasn’t just a matter of semantics or a misquote. It was a direct aim.

I did not hear back from the Archbishop or from the other priest I addressed, but was approached personally, a few days later, by Fr. Rizzo. His essential argument for including the word “in” was that it was a matter of interpretation, that I had not understood him, and that he had not quoted directly from the Catechism. 

I countered by saying that while he had not quoted the Catechism verbatim, he had in fact referenced the paragraph number [1182] , which made his “interpretation” appear to be authoritative. More was said, but to be polite, I agreed to disagree and we parted.

However, there was no question what Fr. Rizzo intended given the context of his article: a “new aesthetic”, which of course refers to the artistic arrangement of things to produce a desired effect upon the beholder. 

Rizzo confirmed this direction in his article as he went on to discuss the use of icons in the worship space - a matter which I also engaged in the email but won’t do so in this post (you can read the email here.)

In short, I was shaken by the incident. Rizzo was a canon lawyer and vice-rector of the seminary, a seminary responsible for the formation of priests: men to whom we look for guidance on matters relative to where we will spend eternity. 

And he was willing to alter the Catechism to serve his ends, or more precisely, the ends of a particular group within the Church which he has chosen to serve. And when confronted, had gone on to justify that alteration.

I only bring this up because so much is being said right now about the role of obedience in the Gofigan affair. Of course, Rizzo isn’t the first priest to take liberties with the Catechism. I run into it all the time in regards to birth control and even abortion. But we’ll save that for another time. 

Meanwhile, we praise and thank God for priests who are faithful and do not lead the little ones astray.

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