Tomb of the other apostle

Pope Benedict XVI looks at the crypt which church officials believe to be the tomb of St. Paul the Apostle during an ecumenical prayer service in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome Jan. 25, 2007. The pope was accompanied by Cardinal Andrea Cor dero Lanza di Montezemolo, the archpriest of the basilica, seen pointing toward the crypt, and Benedictine Abbot Edmund Power of the Abbey of St. Paul's, right. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)The Vatican has announced a full slate of activities for the 2008-2009 jubilee year dedicated to St. Paul. But one thing NOT on the schedule is the re-opening of the apostle’s tomb.

At a Vatican press conference Monday, Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo said Pope Benedict personally decided not to attempt an invasive investigation of the sarcophagus believed to hold St. Paul’s remains — at least not during the Pauline year.

The main reason is that the marble sarcophagus lies buried beneath the main altar in the Rome Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, and unearthing it would require too much architectural destruction.

The tomb is enclosed by a wall, apparently built to protect the area from floods, and it would make excavation very difficult if not impossible.

For much the same reason, visitors during the Pauline year will be unable to imitate an ancient pilgrim practice of lowering pieces of cloth or other objects through a hole in the tomb, in order to create secondary relics.

Visitors will at least be able to see one side of the roughly cut sarcophagus, which lies beneath an inscription: “Paul Apostle Martyr.”

Cardinal Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo said the sarcophagus has apparently remained sealed since it was placed there in the fourth century.

Strangely, the tomb was virtually ignored in recent centuries, but interest was rekindled during the great pilgrimages of Holy Year 2000.

After several years of research, Vatican archeologists announced in 2006 that this was, indeed, the tomb of St. Paul. They based their identification on historical and scientific evidence, and said it didn’t really matter whether or not the sarcophagus still holds the saint’s relics.

It seemed to matter a little bit, though, because they tried to X-ray the sarcophagus. That didn’t work — its marble walls were too thick.

In any case, Pope Benedict seems to have little doubt about the question. When he went to the basilica in 2007, he said that according to the common opinion of the experts and unopposed tradition, the sarcophagus holds the remains of St. Paul.

The Pauline year begins June 28. As the calendar of Rome events takes shape, check here and here for information (in Italian, but English is coming soon.)

PHOTO: Pope Benedict XVI looks at the crypt which church officials believe to be the tomb of St. Paul the Apostle during an ecumenical prayer service in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome Jan. 25, 2007. The pope was accompanied by Cardinal Andrea Cor dero Lanza di Montezemolo, the archpriest of the basilica, seen pointing toward the crypt, and Benedictine Abbot Edmund Power of the Abbey of St. Paul’s, right. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)

The pope and academia: Recapping this week’s misunderstandings

Students from Rome's Sapienza University display a banner that reads, 'If Benedict doesn't come to La Sapienza, La Sapienza goes to Benedict' and 'Students with the pope,' during Pope Benedict XVI's weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 16. (CNS/Reuters)Much has been written this week about the protests against — and subsequent cancellation of — Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at a Rome university on the importance of seeking truth, with much of the commentary aimed at the irony of a community which preaches academic freedom not wanting to hear from someone who members may disagree with.

If you’re still trying to figure this episode out, you shouldn’t miss today’s Vatican Letter by Rome bureau chief John Thavis, who points out that even academics are not immune from acting on misinformation. As John notes:

But as the commentary flowed in the wake of the pope’s university cancellation, it became apparent that many of the protesting professors had very little knowledge of what the pope has actually said or written.

John also notes that, even though students came to the pope’s Wednesday general audience to show their support and the Diocese of Rome organized a show of support in St. Peter’s Square, this week’s episode “suggests that Pope Benedict’s message about reason and faith is missing much of its target audience” even though “it’s a key issue in his pontificate.”

But in the long term, the pope wants to reach the people who are not in the square.

Read on for more of John’s analysis.

PHOTO: Students from Rome’s Sapienza University display a banner that reads, “If Benedict doesn’t come to La Sapienza, La Sapienza goes to Benedict” and “Students with the pope,” during Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican Jan. 16. (CNS/Reuters)

‘Young adults seek heavenly plan at BustedHalo.com’

An interesting look at BustedHalo.com, the Paulist Fathers’ Web site aimed at reaching out to young adults, is in this week’s edition of the Catholic Explorer in the Diocese of Joliet, Ill.

More stories timed for Supreme Court anniversary

It would be too hard for me to list all the stories in the Catholic press this week timed to next Tuesday’s anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. But here are some examples that have come across my desk:

The Catholic Spirit in St. Paul, Minn., offers one of the best stories I’ve seen about sidewalk counseling at an abortion clinic. Covering that story also almost got the paper’s staff photographer in trouble, as detailed here in a great first-person account. There’s also an interesting story about a former abortion clinic guard whose change of heart put him on the other side of the fence.

– Speaking of change of hearts, the story of a couple who felt pressured to have the woman’s tubes tied after the birth of their sixth child, but then decided to have the operation reversed so they could have a seventh, is lovingly detailed by The Georgia Bulletin in Atlanta.

Not exactly ‘ad orientem’

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Jan. 13. (CNS/Reuters)Some media are reporting that Pope Benedict celebrated Mass “ad orientem” — facing toward the east — last Sunday when he used the Sistine Chapel’s historic main altar for the first time in decades.

That’s not literally correct. In fact, it’s off by 180 degrees. Because the chapel’s altar is built on the western wall, the change meant the pope was facing west during much of the liturgy.

On the contrary, “ad orientem” was the direction popes faced when they used the free-standing portable altar in the Sistine: the celebrant faced east when he faced the people.

I spoke the other day to Msgr. Enrico Vigano, who has worked many years in the Vatican’s liturgical office, and he agreed that the term “ad orientem” doesn’t make sense in the Sistine Chapel.

Instead, he said, his office made reference to the cross, which stood on the main altar, framed by Michelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgment. The idea here — and it’s one Pope Benedict has made in the past — is that when the pope and the people face the cross together, it emphasizes that the Mass is a common act of worship.

In early Christian churches, facing the cross coincided with facing east, the direction of the rising sun and, in a figurative sense, of the resurrection and the second coming.

But the Christian tradition of worshipping “ad orientem” faded, and over the last 500 years many churches have been built facing different directions, including one not far from the Sistine Chapel — St. Peter’s Basilica, which also faces west.

Whatever a church’s compass orientation, some have wondered whether the papal Mass last Sunday marked the beginning of a trend. Are we going to see a Vatican effort to turn all the altars back to the pre-Vatican II position?

Probably not. Pope Benedict weighed in on this when he was a cardinal. He said he agreed with theological arguments for the priest and the people facing the same direction, but thought it would leave Catholics more confused than ever if the altars were turned around again.

“Therefore, I’m not aiming at a practical application at this time,” he said.

That was in 1993, however, and one big thing has changed: he’s now pope.

PHOTO: Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Jan. 13. (CNS/Reuters)

Pro-life prospects on Supreme Court anniversary

Next Tuesday marks the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion. Timed to the anniversary, Our Sunday Visitor offers an analysis of the political deadlock in Washington that has led to the current pro-life stalemate.

Battle against bottled water spreads to Catholic groups

You’ve probably heard of the effort to ask people to stop using bottled water because of the environmental damage the used bottles create. What you maybe didn’t know is how many Catholic groups have joined the fight. Details are in the current edition of the National Catholic Reporter, which also offers a sidebar on how we got to the point where bottled water is everywhere.

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