Thursday, December 30, 2010

On the Road

Apologies for the dearth of postings but Christmas rather got in the way. Now it's the end of the civil year and I find myself on what has become an annual missionary journey to the far flung outposts of the traddie world. Last Sunday I celebrated a private Low Mass in a discrete Chapel of a London Church with server alone in attendance. Next Sunday will be Holy Mass for the masses in a part tin construction some 300 miles north of  the nearest expresso machine.

Anyhow this 'thought for the day' came to me on board a plane. Economy class, let me assure you, but far enough back to avoid the screaming of the 'brat pack'. I'd flown this airline before and on the surface things seemed the same- the same smiles, the same well rehearsed routine of the cabin crew- but at the same time it was quite obvious that the financial woes of the last few years were making changes at a rather fundamental level. You got the impression that this airline was doing it's best to make it appear if all was fine and 'business as usual' when there really was a more fundamental change happening underfoot.

I mean all the outer 'forms' appeared to be there but they had got a bit hollow. The menu cards, once nice bi lingual souvenirs giving zoo class some glimpse of the glories at the head of the cabin, had been replaced by on screen flash messages announcing the choices of the day. Diet Coke, by the way was off the menu far too quickly. The meals themselves were reduced in size and number and the healthy vegetarian carbon neutral option (how many buzz words was that?) must have halved the catering bill. What should have been a second meal had turned into a sandwich. The cabin crew themselves disappeared for some hours leaving the passengers to self serve at the bulk heads.

I don't think I need to spell out the parallels I was drawing in my mind. The airline still does the job even if it is only with the shell of the previous service standard. I still got from point A to point B in relative safety but it's there that the happy memories end. How long, I thought to myself, can I rely on something that is becoming gradually less 'fit for purpose'. Anyhow here I am, first stop in my travels in a rather strange land ruled over by a red shrieking banshee. Rumour has it there's a wedding brewing. I better look out my copy of Dimboola and brush up on local customs and etiquette.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Towards a theory of everything

The 'Holy Grail' of much intellectual pursuit from time immemorial has been a search for some explanation of everything. A theory, an equation, a philosophy that would give a unified explanation of why things are as they are. It's a noble ambition but will always fail because of our own human  limitations. Of course, by faith, I know that the answer must just be God and, personally, I'm quite satisfied with that. Others wont be. Recently I've tried to approach this in another way. Like the 'chaos theory' physicists who examine minute segments of the cosmos in search of the key that will lead to a 'theory of everything' I've been thinking about whether there is a single answer to all the problems of today and particularly those that seem so obvious to traditional Catholics.

Is there a Ground Zero to be found? Did somebody step on some sort of sacred butterfly many years ago and cause a ripple effect through to the current days? Using this theory of course every action taken to correct the original error will cause further ripples. I know that the liturgiologists and the liturgists will all have their own theories here. The theologians will almost turn to the modernist controversies of the early Twentieth century. The philosophers will probably lay the blame at the feet of Aquinas or, if they are being particularly daring, Augustine.

Personally I think our immediate problems probably originated in the Great War and the crisis of faith and growth of general cultural skepticism that ensued.  Of course by faith, and some experience, I know that there is a real entity who works day and night across the generations to stop any unity of thought or practice. Starting with an seemingly innocent question in the Garden of Eden his greatest achievement to date has been to make many Church leaders think and teach that such a unity of thought is undesirable. That unchecked or unchallenged dissidence is a good thing in itself. Of course in the details this seems insignificant but in the bigger picture it has led to a free for all.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Protest

I've been thinking about the disturbances of the last few days, well those that have been close to home at least. At the forefront has been a new wave of student demonstrations on the streets of London. Student Fees are the issue at hand. For those of you 'over the pond' this may seem to be rather a strange thing to protest about. In Britain it's a slightly more complex issue. You see one of the fundamental aspirations for the last century or so has been to provide the opportunity for all levels of education free of charge to all who qualify academically. Financial means, in theory, was to have no place in either gaining or maintaining your place at University. Because of this Britain gained it's first fee paying 'private' university in relatively recent times.

Well now the bubble has burst but I'm not convinced by the outrage on the streets. It just seems a bit stage managed and, being suspicious,  I wonder what the government is trying to hide by playing up the issue of the violence rather than addressing the very rickety path they are walking in getting the fees legislation through. Now personally I can live without a 'University for All' policy. In the rush to try and get the enrollment statistics up over the years, and thus being able to crow about a more educated equal opportunity society, the 'powers that be' have ruined many fine further training institutions by forcing them to adopt the ways and means of research institutions. A friend once quipped, spying a new child's sand pit, that if we were not careful during our 'health and safety' check, the government would reclassify it as the Silicon Research Faculty of the University of Wherever.

Is there, however, a real social justice issue here? I have no doubt it will weasel it's way into the intercessions of many parishes this weekend. Is the real question being overshadowed by a bunch of retro set young brigands who are desperately to do one better on their grandparents of 1968? Is the question of appropriate education for all really being sacrificed for the sake of some feel good statistics?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Seminaries

Pastor in Valle over at Valle Adurni has run with an interesting posting on the history and future of English Seminaries. I can say 'English' seminaries as these are they that remain in the British Isles. One of these is scheduled to close in the next year and now the good father notes that the question of having a single national seminary is being discussed again. At what level these discussions are taking place is not clear and I suspect that such discussions having become publicly known is not an accident, but rather a 'testing of popular opinion', before any embarrassment can be suffered. It's one of those tools that PR firms use, indeed governments seems to use, to avoid any 'awkward' confrontation. If the scream is not too loud then they know they can proceed without threatening their popularity ratings.

It is sad to see historic institutions under threat however the training of clergy is very important and what is the best for the formation of faithful pastors should be the litmus test. Historically seminary education has been pretty much the norm for the last couple of centuries, that is but a fraction of the history of the Church. Other 'models' of priestly formation have existed across that history which might be better 'fit for purpose' in the current situation. In some places an 'apprenticeship' system has operated whereby the academic side of things is dealt with by sourcing from existing institutions with the pastoral side of things being dealt with in the presbytery that the seminarian lives in. Most important is a close relationship with the bishop concerned. Those models that have really flourished in recent years have been where the bishoip has taken an active role in the formation of his clergy. On an academic level that may not work where the educational standard of the bishops themselves is a problem but on the pastoral spiritual level it has some merit drawing the seminarian in the reality of pastoral situations. on a day to day basis. at the same time as giving bishops a clearer insight into where the Church's pastors of the future are heading. Mmm...I can see why they would favour the current system.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Biting off more than can be decently chewed

Last night I had to attend Vespers in a suburban church. I wish I hadn't. It was one of the more hideous liturgical experiences I've had. Normally this place makes a fairly good fist of things. Musically it's got above average resources and doesn't over stretch them. Tonight they did and fell, fair and square, flat on their faces. My continuing prejudice against over emphasising music got confirmed.

 It was a 'polyglot' rite. Bits pinched from here and there. English lesson, Latin Psalms limping between the competent work of the cantors and the choir who didn't know what they were doing. The Magnificat was prolonged beyond all belief by a set of very badly sung polyphonic interpolated verses. A curious candle lighting ceremony at the beginning then a modern Benediction tacked on the end made for a bit of a nightmare. My only consolation was the thought that this might be an introduction to the Divine Office for some who had never seen it before. Then I thought but would they bother to come again?

There can be a tendency in traddiedom to over do things just a tad. Last night's Vespers was certainly not the work of traddies but I've seen similar in other places. The best that we can offer to God is not always the most complex, the flashy, the musically erudite, but rather that which we can do decently and well. Goodness me! It could even be a simple said service.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Forget Christmas!

Well for the moment at least. Advent is near and I've been asked to recommend some 'basic' material for the Season. The traditional theme across the season is The Four Last Things. You can find the text of the classic exposition of the themes by Fr Martin von Cochem OSFC can be found on line at Catholic Tradition. Numerous distributors carry hard copies of the Tan edition.


Joanna Bogle, she of Auntie Joanna Writes,  has written a concise guide to the season published by CTS. With the commercial Christmas tending to bypass the Advent period this might be a useful source for recovering some traditional preparation customs. By the way, in the broader context of family catechesis, the magazine The Sower as published by Maryvale Institute may also be useful. For Advent music, free of any trappings, a Phillips CD caught my eye. Gregorian Chant for the Church Year: Advent / Veni Domine, Schola of the Hofburgkapelle of Vienna, directed by Fr. Hubert Dopf, S.J., CD, Philips, CD 446 087-2. The recording contains all the Masses for the Sundays of Advent.

There is, of course, a lot of web resources 'out there'. Each of the main sites seem to be doing their own Advent thing. A search engine will probably spin out too many results without a careful selection of terms. If you are trying to keep to the Advent theme you can try this string on Google or an equivalent. I tried excluding 'Christmas' from the search string but it seems to severely limit the returns.

The theme of giving alms shouldn't be forgotten. If you are wondering about the picture Wikipedia makes reference to a custom which I'd never heard of before;

In many countries Advent was long marked by diverse popular observances, some of which still survive. In England, especially in the northern counties, there was a custom (now extinct) for poor women to carry around the "Advent images", two dolls dressed to represent Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. A halfpenny coin was expected from every one to whom these were exhibited and bad luck was thought to menace the household not visited by the doll-bearers before Christmas Eve at the latest.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lies, damned lies and....

Bishops' Statements. Well at least that's what a certain weekly sometimes sold in Catholic Churches will tell you today. Now don't get me wrong. I've never knowingly bought a copy of it however one page fell across my desk today in what was a savage breach of copyright which will probably see me languishing in chains at Her Majesty's pleasure. For the record on p. 36 you'll find the following headline; 'Bishops deny there is a surge in demand for old-rite Masses'. Fine. I have no doubt whatsoever that they do. However what follows in the article doesn't quite tally with the sub's clever headline.

It turns out to be a matter of statistics- not the actual statistics themselves but what people have said about returns from dioceses to Rome concerning the demand for Traditional Rite Masses. The sampling itself is pretty poor and the responses pretty slippery. Seven diocese provided information for the article out of a possible of twenty four. Sounds like roughly 70% are at least hedging their bets on not incurring the wrath of Khan by going into print on their returns to head office. With the data they managed to collect several very different stories could have been written but somehow I doubt that 'We really don't know' was going to cut it with either the editorial board or whoever planted it. Nor would it be likely to inspire a much needed supply of letters from 'Terminally Liberal' of Metroland (via email). It's a shame because, under the current editorship, things from a literary angle had been improving.

As to the presumption that the demand has not increased I suspect the Latin Mass Society has it's ears much more to the reality of the situation in the trenches. They publish an ever increasing list of Masses available across the country. I suspect that if they added all the 'private' Masses to which members of the faithful are admitted you could add another fifty daily celebrations. These do not fall within the statistics.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Patrimonies

There's much talk of patrimonies as the moment without actually getting much closer to a definition. Let's start with a clip from The Free Dictionary; 1 (a.) An inheritance from a father or other ancestor. ( b.)  An inheritance or legacy; heritage. 2. An endowment or estate belonging to an institution, especially a church. We'll leave the latter alone as I suspect it's not the primary concern at the moment. Tracking the notion of a spiritual inheritance we find frequent references to the patrimony of Eastern Christendom and at the moment to an Anglican Patrimony but, and this is my grief at the moment, very few references to a Latin, or even Western Patrimony. You'll forgive me if I digress for a minute.

Because when we think of an Eastern patrimony the first things that come to mind are the externals- the particular form of the Divine Liturgy and customs that obviously distinguish it. Only after we have confronted that aspect of Eastern Christianity do we normally bother to investigate the spiritual methods and attitudes that lie behind the rite- the particular forms of prayer, the writings of the spiritual giants. This is part of the problem at the moment. I suspect that when some commentators are thinking of Anglican Patrimony they are not going beyond the externals of psalm chants, surplices and Tudor English all of which, by the way, have disappeared in the bigger world of Anglicanism. But what of the spiritual patrimony that might lie behind these externals?

If there is an Anglican Patrimony, and I think there is, it has to be understood as part of a part of the Western Spiritual Patrimony. It's externals are essentially Western, the spiritual practices, at least in their classical form and stripped of counter Reformation developments, contain a fading memory of what spiritual life in England was like before the Protestant Revolution. At the heart of this is a three pronged spirituality balancing personal prayer, liturgical prayer, and sacramental life. Personal prayer in the spiritual writings at there zenith in the 14th century, liturgical prayer in the maintenance of parts of the Divine Office for all the faithful, and sacramental life in the outward forms that survived. For a more detailed description of this Martin Thornton's English Spirituality is well worth a read.

Back to the point of this entry. I suspect that if we were try and to make a closer examination of the Western Patrimony by comparing it with the 'time capsule' that is Anglican spirituality we would learn a lot about the bigger picture of what distinguishes Western Catholics. And is this not what we need at the moment? We've been through a period of time when anything 'Western' was deemed inferior. It's time to redefine our own tradition free of the extraneous elements that have crept in.  For a start defining is very much at the heart of that patrimony that we have inherited.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In Paradisum

Death, for me, seems to come in threes. I've lost count of the times that I've had three funerals in the one week. Once even three on the same day. With this being the month of the Holy Souls it's not surprising that our minds are turned, in a sense, towards the great mystery of death, but with the news of the death of a teenage lad that I'd once taught I had this funny queasy feeling that there was more to come. That was ten days ago. Since then the parish caretaker, in his fifties, has died suddenly and then yesterday I got news of the accidental death of the 18 year old son of a family I know. Of your charity pray for Andre, Derek and John.

One of the great failures of recent times has 'renewal' of the funeral rites. To be quite honest I frequently avoid them if I suspect there's going to be some attempt at canonizing the departed. This is not to suggest that we shouldn't preach the hope of the Resurrection but rather that to say that the recently deceased is already in Heaven is presumption beyond belief and pastoral negligence. They need our prayers. To strip them of this comfort as they pass through Purgatory is cruelty. To deprive the mourners of the spiritual tools for realistic and healthy grief is inhumane. In the Occident how often, by the way, do you see much white in a congregation at a funeral?

Each of the faithful departed that I mentioned had very significant women left to mourn them. We now commit them to the prayers of Our Lady, Queen of Purgatory. praying that, in God's good time,  they will come to the joys of Heaven.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Alms

A trip to the hospital yesterday has brought some musing on the problem of where we send our alms. In the forty minutes of public transport  between home and my destination I was 'doorstepped' no less than three times with canvassers trying to get me to sign up to various charities they were representing. I hold no grudge against them. They seem to be a largely exploited workforce of new arrivals to this country working for agencies. Occasionally you find a 'professional' amongst them. There's one who appears in a variety of guises around London depending on who he is working for that day. It's when I ran into him two days running in different guises that I realised I had to change my ordinary evasive patter.

Now I normally start with 'I don't have a bank account'. This normally stops them dead in their tracks. It mucks up the flow of what they have been trained to do. Occasionally if I've got a particular reservation about a charity (normally to do with life issues). I then give them a short spiel. If I discover they are Catholic they then get the 'cooperation in evil' appendix to the spiel in a rather gentle version. I generally refer them back to their parish priest for guidance. Remember these people are largely agency employees and walk a tightrope. They are rarely doing the job as their first choice and unless they deliver a target amount of contact details at the end of a shift their jobs are on the line.

What would be useful would be a list of charities collecting on the streets and their suitability for Catholic contributions. The reasons why they might not be suitable would be very useful. Can anybody point me to such a site? It would need to have actual facts of where the money is going. It could include a wide range perhaps even including certain so called Catholic agencies.

By the way, in this month of Holy Souls, on this fifth of November, can you spare a prayer for the Guy?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Radio Replies

The life of Father Leslie Rumble MSC (1892-1975; see the entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography) was hard but fruitful ground for one of the clearest Catholic apologists working during the twentieth century. Sometime ago I made reference to books that are useful to keep on the desk (see here). Fr Rumble's work is more for the bookshelf  but still close at hand. There are three reasons I find them useful when answering day to day questions. (i) They are written in plain language. (ii) Each answer is dealt with concisely. (iii) He is obviously aware of the 'arguments against' and counters with biblical texts. His original audience, suburban Sydney, had been through a succession of 'revival movements' ranging from the evangelical to the theosophical. His replies originated in short talks for radio and were syndicated to reach a wider audience. Later editorial work included some more contemporary issues.

The questions put to Fr Rumble are fascinating in their own right. We tend to think that all the 'hot potatoes' really came to the fore in the 1960s. However you'll find most of them here with the exception of some of the more hairy bio ethical dilemmas that he only saw beginning just before his death. Of particular interest is the presence of 'new age' type questions and of a strong presence of social justice issues.

This week seems to have been one for moral and ethical questions. These have mainly originated in the extraordinary situations that we get ourselves into. Unfortunately clear thinking is the first things that seems to be discarded, at least so it seems to the onlooker. These books provide some firm clear exposition which have brought these volumes down on to my desk for the time being. You'll find them available on various on line book shops. My normal plug for Carmel books, as a worthy cause, not withstanding. I'm afraid it's the electric telephone or snail mail still!

CARMEL BOOKS. Yeoford Way Marsh Barton Trading Estate EXETER Devon EX2 8LB. Tel: 01392 824255.
Fr Charles Carty (d. 1964) was an American diocesan missioner who carried on a similar work to Fr. Rumble. They pooled resources to produce the editions that are currently available although they only actually met after Volume 1 had become a run away success.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Ordinariate

Is there a traditional position on the Ordinariates? Probably not. Well, at least, not a unified position. There's been some rather sensible blogging (see here) on the question and the speed has picked up since the Catholic bishops who will act initially, as ordinaries, have become known. This has balanced some rather hysterical commentary from the liberal end of the scale. If you were to characterise the response from the 'conservative' end of the scale it was probably be generally welcoming but with caution.

Initially it seems to be as much of our business as, say, the reconciliation of various other dissident groups over the centuries. These co-exist within the Catholic Church maintaining their own rites and traditions. In many places, during the darkest times, they have become a 'safe' haven for Latin rite Catholics, clergy and laity alike. But there is an essential difference. These earlier reconciliations have almost always involved groups where the sacraments have generally been considered valid. The current ordinariate addresses the needs where this is not certain. This is an essential difference.

There is however another common ground between many of those wishing to enter the Catholic Church through the ordinariates and traditional Catholics. At a superficial level the liturgical practice of most groups wishing to 'come in' is certainly closer to tradition. Many were 'brought up' with what was basically a translation of the 1570 Missale Romanum. Catholic seminarians, in at least one place during the 1970s studying historical liturgy, were directed to a local Anglo-Catholic congregation to see what a 'Tridentine' Mass looked like. Indeed I have to admit the first High Requiem Mass I ever saw was in an Anglican Parish. It was completely in Latin; black vestments, Faure Requiem and a catafalque. As they said at the time 'the full fig'. Externally the daily celebration of many Anglican clergy was direct from the traditional Catholic rites. It was particularly helpful when the local Catholic bishop and his Anglican counterpart had the same Christian name. After the Philadelphia Eleven (1976) the greatest concern for many 'Anglo-Catholics' considering reconciliation with Rome was that they would have to give up traditional style worship and beliefs. But this, as I have said, is really superficial.

At a deeper level the personal piety of many 'heading across the Tiber' is much closer to tradition than it would be to the community obsessed ecclesiology of much modern Catholicism. They are much more 'at home' saying the rosary, going on pilgrimages, making sure their children are properly educated in the faith, being scrupulous in the manner of receiving Holy Communion, and dealing with the reality of sin and the temptations of the Devil through Auricular Confession rather than through any communal penitential service. They have a 'liturgical' formation, and internal participation, that surpasses anything Dom Gueranger would have dreamt of.  I suspect, for many, the greatest thing holding them back, is that they fear losing this.

A final caveat. It does worry me that they have taken such a long time about it getting around to it  but, looking around, it really doesn't surprise me. Orate Fratres!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stubborness

Fr Z has an interesting entry on the ongoing discussions with the SSPX (see here). The quality of stubborness has a bit of a bad press in these 'liberal days'. It is, however, that quality which has saved Catholics on more than one occasion and we could do well to 're-embrace' this particular charism. The days of quietly hiding in the hope of being left alone in peace are, hopefully, coming to a close.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Red faced?

I've got considerable sympathy for some friends at the moment. Their 'middle manager', although he probably thinks of himself as a CEO, has gone and said something very silly. Something which not only runs against long term company policy but also seems to fly in the face of the first series of 'five year objectives' which concluded on the 19th of April, 2010. Now admittedly he has given what amounts to being a private opinion but, as happens so frequently these days, private letters, particularly unflattering ones, tend to get out. The collateral damage, in terms of good peoples' professional reputations, could be very awkward. I imagine the middle manager currently wishes he had stuck to writing anonymous columns. At least there he has a team of sub editors to give a helpful hand.

So what are my friends to do? They know what company policy is and they have always striven to defend it. Unfortunately their kindly 'middle manager' is becoming a bit of a liability. This is not the first gaffe in recent times. But the structure of the company requires cohesion and their division has a particular tradition of the middle manager saying 'Jump!' and the underlings replying 'Just how high, Sir?' To go against your superiors, in this division, would be very awkward. Hopefully Head Office might receive copies of all necessary documentation and then they can sort him, whoops I mean it, out!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Crying Wolf

The story of the boy who cried wolf is probably told in every culture in one form or another. The underlying moral of the tale is if that you tell 'whoppers' over a period of time when the real crunch comes nobody listens to you. Turning the story upside I suspect even well intended religious superiors, bishops and the like, find this a problem at a moment. With all the guff and 'nuanced statements' being issued it's hard to find the wood for the trees, to find what is important amongst a see (no pun intended?) of transitory and ephemeral opinion. Credibility is not at an all time high.

During this week a question was supposedly asked of a local 'authority' to do with a liturgical matter. I say supposedly because I suspect the conversation went something like this;

Middle Manager: 'May we do X, Y or Z?'
He Who Must Be Obeyed: 'I'm not to sure. I'll have to check with Fr B. If you don't hear back from me presume it's OK.'
At that point the towering piles of Vatican questionnaires, conference minutes, petitions and delations come crashing down on the poor man's desk. The phone call is forgotten and the dubious passes into local mythology as having the permission of the ordinary.

There has been a lot of nonsense got through by default over the centuries however it has probably picked up speed in the last 40 years as the authority, particularly the teaching authority, of  He Who Must Be Obeyed has been undermined by a lack of vigilance and the easy option of 'turning a blind eye'.  Each of these 'cracks' has widened the distance between the faith and how it gets communicated to us at the lower end of the food chain. This is where a simplistic modern ultramontanism would be very dangerous. We are left in the sad position of being fairly sure that just because He Who Must Be Obeyed says so doesn't mean it's necessarily so.

So here we have the problem. As Catholics, and particularly as traditional Catholics, we take respect for the teaching authority of the Church very seriously, certainly more seriously than the cafeteria approach of much contemporary theology. And yet as we have been let down over so many years there is no surprise that anything that issues from 'on high' is taken with a grain of salt. So what do we do? Well the Church has it's catechisms to teach us, it's canon law to protect and organize us, and  traditions which transcend the momentary fashions of the age. We need to get to know these much better.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

All it takes...

It's taken a while to process the experience of a week outside of my own rather safe environment. My previous posting probably erred on the side of hopefulness and it's taken a week to restore some sort of personal charity before hitting the blogosphere again. Mind you, things seem to have gone a bit tame 'out there' at the moment. Anyhow the conference was well worth attending, on the intellectual level, but as an experience of unity in the faith it was a bit dissapointing. The usual jibes at Rome seemed to have stepped up rather than moderated. It was obvious who, in Buffyspeak, was the 'big bad' of this episode. Anything that was an absolute, in faith terms, was up for grabs. The ecclesiastical confusion of the 1980s seemed to have returned as protestant clergy attempted to confect sacraments and sacramentals for the mainly Catholic participants. I made my excuses from anything that looked 'dangerous' before the first full day, by the way.

It begs the question what good can one voice do within an overwhelming see of 'anti-tradition'. But I answer my own question very quickly as I think back over the last twenty years and how far things have improved. In many cases it has been one solitary voice that has been the catalyst for change in the right direction which might make the last forty years look like a blip in the big picture of Church history sort of like the Avignon papacy. I think then of two dioceses. In both cases a bishop was appointed breaking the general pattern of appointments in their respective countries and acting as a rallying point for the right minded at the end of the darkest hours. The reform of these dioceses, with a consequent upsurge of vocations in both places, eventually spread from these rural back waters and took hold in two national hierarchies. In those places the tide began to turn and men became bishops who are now wielding considerable influence for good.

In all these cases the quality of quiet persistence was very important. The dogged holding on to what really matters, the positive correction of error, the willingness to be unpopular for the good of the faithful. These are the tools that will win in the long run.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Into the Lions' Den

I have to attend a conference for most of this week. I've been attending this one for some years as it's good to keep an eye on some of the ideas that are floating about the place. Over the years this conference has done some excellent work and produced some really useful publications. Whilst it has taken a lurch towards tradition it probably hasn't quite made it to the starting gate. It remains firmly rooted in the Novus Ordo despite the obvious groundswell at the younger end of those attending. I'm packing a private Mass kit as I doubt the conference centre (a convent) will have the necessary requisites. Things have come a long way. At the first of the conferences I attended I wasn't even allowed an altar. The range of speakers looks good however and I have hopes that the quiet presence of some of the traditionally minded at this conference will nudge it along in the right direction over the years.

I'm obviously not the only one with an eye on this particular group. A subtle rejigging of the coordinating group makes me think that the modernists are quite scared that this group is going to be lost to the cause and fall into a filthy sea of traditionalism. The alarm bells started sounding about six months ago when a couple of the modernist participants started moaning, on a notably liberal discussion board, of the conservative direction that this group was taking. I suspect this was picked up by 'interested parties' and some subtle direction was introduced on the grounds of 'not scaring the horses' or wishing to 'maintain as broad an ecumenical appeal as possible'.  Prayers please! I suspect a rocky road ahead.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Requiem aeternam

My intention at Mass this morning was for a priest who had just died. I know little about him apart from the fact the he was an older man who had held the faith and kept the faithful safe in various places during his priestly ministry. The Divine Office, at least as I know it, concludes with prayers for all the faithful departed, and they are always, at least, remembered in the Canon of the Mass. Still, it does worry me that we don't pray enough for the dead. We probably need to make up for the neglect of years, for those we have forgotten to pray for, for those poor souls who received attempted canonization rites rather than the prayers their souls desperately needed.

Our obligations to pray for the dead are not an option, not a devotion or duty that we dip into at leisure. But frail beings as we are we need help. There are several associations that continue to promote prayer for the faithful departed. Amongst these are the Holy Souls Crusade based in Ireland where other links will be found to prayers and organisations.

"The Holy Souls are eager for the prayers of the faithful which can gain indulgences for them. Their intercession is powerful. Pray unceasingly. We must empty Purgatory!" -- Saint Pius of Pietrelcina

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Said, as it is among us.

From Loss and Gain

To me nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us. I could attend Masses forever, and not be tired. It is not a mere form of words -- it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth. It is not the invocation merely, but, if I dare use the word, the evocation of the Eternal. Here becomes present on the altar in flesh and blood, before whom angels bow and devils tremble. This is that awful event which is the scope, and the interpretation, of every part of the solemnity.

Words are necessary, but as means, not as ends; they are not mere addresses to the throne of grace, they are instruments of what is far higher, of consecration, of sacrifice. They hurry on, as if impatient to fulfill their mission. Quickly they go, the whole is quick, for they are all parts of one integral action, for they are awful words of sacrifice, they are a work too great to delay upon, as when it was said in the beginning, "What thou doest, do quickly".

Quickly they pass, for the Lord Jesus goes with them, as He passed along the lake in the days of His flesh, quickly calling first one and then another. Quickly they pass, because as the lightning which shineth from one part of the heaven into the other, so is the coming of the Son of Man. Quickly they pass, for they are as the words of Moses, when the Lord came down in the cloud, calling on the name of the Lord as He passed by, "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering and abundant in goodness and truth". And as Moses on the mountain, so we too "make haste to bow our heads to the earth, and adore".

So we, all around, each in his place, look out for the great Advent, "waiting for the moving of the water", each in his place, with his own heart, with his own wants, with his own thoughts, with his own intentions, with his own prayers, separate but concordant, watching what is going on, watching its progress, uniting in its consummation; not painfully and hopelessly, following a hard form of prayer from beginning to end, but, like a concert of musical instruments, each different, but concurring in a sweet harmony, we take our place with God's priest, supporting him, yet guided by him.

There are little children there, and old men, and simple laborers, and students in seminaries, priests preparing for Mass, priests making their thanksgiving, there are innocent maidens, and there are penitent sinners; but out of these many minds rises one Eucharistic hymn, and the great Action is the measure and the scope of it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A call to prayer

The Papal visit is now upon us and there are obviously mixed emotions about this event in the life of the nation and of the Church. The organisational problems have been reported, the 'official' liturgical booklet speaks for itself, and the detractors are out in force. The time for grumbling is probably over and the time for prayer starts. I suspect many have taken the wise decision to view these events from a distance. There are however a couple of 'fringe' events that may be of interest to traditional Catholics. Fr Armand de Malleray will celebrate Holy Mass in the crypt of Tyburn Convent at 2 p.m. on the day of the Hyde Park 'prayer vigil'. During the vigil itself a group will meet to pray outside the main 'event area'. Further details can be found on the FSSP website. May all the Holy Martyrs of this nation pray for us.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Tradition on celluloid

The Hermeneutic of Continuity recently provided a much appreciated link to the Midnight Mass sequence in the 1940s film noir Christmas Holiday. Two other films sprung to mind which have good liturgical sequences relatively free of the innacuracies that normally plague representations of the liturgy on the big screen. The first is the opening sequence of the 1955 film The Prisoner starring Alec Guiness. Here we find a Cardinal about the business of pontifical ceremonies before being arrested. Made by Ealing Studios some of the pontificalia was borrowed from a neighbouring Benedictine Abbey. The second movie that springs to mind would be The Cardinal. The opening sequence of an episcopal consecration always seemed too accurate to be true until I discovered that the 'extras'  serving were actually monks familiar with pontifical ceremonies. All three films are well worth seeing particularly for their positive portrayal of the faith.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Anything you can 'trad' I can 'trad' better...

Around the time of the release of a certain papal document a young friend of mine wailed, half tongue in cheek, 'But Father! What are we going to complain about now?' I assured him that within the traditional movement(s) there will always be those who will find something not to their taste or not to their particular view of what the Church, and it's liturgy, was, is and should be. I had two immediate thoughts after the conversation. Firstly that I had rather been ignorant of these controversies. In the first decade of my Catholicism I'd never even heard the phrase third confiteor nor that it was of any reason for concern. Secondly that bells were ringing, so to speak more memories actually, of the inter parochial competition that used to exist in what proved to be the smouldering ashes of the anglo-catholic movement.

The story is told of  Catholic Cathedral which had nestling in the shadow of its triple spires one of the most prominent anglo-catholic church in that city. The Archbishop, quite elderly at the time but very sharp, dropped a handkerchief on the way out of Mass one day and the MC swooped to collect it with some ceremony. Five minutes later the same MC got a dressing down in the sacristy not because of any particular fussiness but rather because the archbishop was afraid that the rite of 'retrieving the celebrant's handkerchief' would be included in the ceremonies 'across the road' by the next Sunday.

Now we cannot ignore the fact that there are serious problems that we need to be concerned about and that there has been unwarranted tinkering with the way we worship for a long long time. We do, however, need to look behind the surface to see what is causing the ripples on the surface. It was said of an elderly relative of mine that she was never happy unless she was unhappy about something. I suspect this mentality exists within traditionalism. Are some of the current divisions and concerns amongst the traditionalist movement actually being fuelled by a underlying need to be a 'nation set apart' at all costs rather than the proclamation of objective truth?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What's good for the goose....

Patricius provides and interesting post on the question of Sacramental validity on his blog Liturgiae Causae. Whilst I will not pretend to agree with everything that he has to say he makes an excellent point to do with faithfulness to the rubrics not just for modernists but also for some traddies.

'What constitutes ''traditional'' in Tradworld? Is it preference for lace cottas to polyester albs? Or perhaps the Deacon chanting Benedicamus Domino on Corpus Christi? Yet such photos as the Palm Sunday one are spread about the traditionalist blogs as though they are a boon for the Church! '
Traditional Catholic belief is not about externals, the cut of your maniple has nothing to do with theological orthodoxy, indeed an almost pathological obsession with aesthetics could well indicate a smoke screen for serious theological error. It was once quipped, in a satire, that a certain 'ecclesial' movement was dying from 'gin, lace and backbiting' and that's the fear that I have for some quarters of the traditional movement.

Patricius' timely reminder gives two examples, with photos, both of which would be considered 'valid', perhaps not licit but certainly valid. I would want to add that whilst  it is much harder to stray into 'grey areas' with the traditional rites when you do it is a serious matter for the celebrant and his confessor. The traditional annual priests' retreat used to include an observation by a peer of how the retreatant said Mass. The retreatant then returned the favour. But back to Patricius;

'I never cease to be amazed at how little the clergy know about Liturgy - some years ago I MCd a Sung Mass where I had to tell the Celebrant to kiss the Altar and say the Orate Fratres - at the time I thought ''how many years have you been saying Mass?'
I do have some sympathy here with the poor celebrant. Like there are people who shouldn't be let near a car there are those who shouldn't be let near a sung Mass. Ten years on since ordination I'm afraid I couldn't celebrate the sung form of the rite with any confidence or accuracy. I also don't drive. Neither would edify the faithful.

Patricius is right to say that a laissez faire approach to the rubrics and texts of the traditional rites, even those proposed by some experts, are problematic however, he's also right,  that an obsession with ecclesiastical 'tat' is not the central problem and weeping and wailing over the depth of the lace is going to do little for the cause of the faith in the long run.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The state of play...

Rorate Caeli provides the text of Bishop Williamson's latest reflections on the discussions between SSPX and the Vatican. At the outset we note that it is based on rumours rather than actual documents coming from the discussions. We will not reproduce the text here because it's quite a lengthy piece and to place it's contents out of context would not do it justice. Essentially there are three points; (1) the talks have become 'brickwalled' over the issue of the nature of the Church particularly what constitutes the Church. (2) that this situation is so serious that the Holy Father is considering a motu proprio to resolve the impasse. (3) that the way of compromise that this would entail is not acceptable because of a failure to confirm a traditional belief of the Catholic Church.

It is obvious that Bishop Williamson sees the negotiations with the Vatican primarily more an opportunity to correct errors on the part of the Roman establishment rather than an act of mutual diplomacy. It's a bit of a David and Goliath scenario but one has to admire the  unswerving devotion to tradition. I suspect, for some, there will be no resolution of the problem until a statement comes from Rome that there has been, at the least, certain misinterpretations of texts within the documents of the Second Vatican Council. For Bishop Williamson, and those who agree with him, a diplomatic statement bypassing the need for any doctrinal agreement would be a step backwards rather than forwards.

Whilst we must remember that this 'brickwall' is only rumour we can also presume that the intelligence the bishop imparts is not without foundation and that he wouldn't go into print without reason. That there may be serious problems in the discussions should be no surprise. The enemies within the curia seem to be legion. It would be surprising, however, for the current Holy Father to bypass a central issue for the sake of short term gain. If the recent history of documents from the hand of Benedict XVI, we learn that what he wants he gets despite whatever opposition thrown in the way. Deo Gratias!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Towards a new dissolution


Are you sitting comfortably? Once upon a time there was a wicked king who, being rather strapped for cash and with a few other (or lack of) personal issues, decided that a good fund raiser would be to go and seize the goods of one of the major charitable organisations of his realm and apply them to his own purposes. Directly and indirectly the monasteries and religious houses, and the hospitals and schools they ran, were sucked dry and left to ruin. The resources they had amassed, through their own work and the generosity of their Catholic ancestors and benefactors, would be applied to protestantism and its supporters. You may debate the rights and wrongs of the dissolution of the monasteries but there is little doubt that there was a breach of trust. Money and resources intended for the maintenance of the Catholic religion was redirected.

Today, in modern Britain, you can smell the same sulphurous breach of trust happening; sometimes blatantly, but more often in a subtle way where resources and cash are forced into non Catholic purposes. I have little doubt that those who had been so generous to the various Catholic adoption agencies in their own lifetimes are now pleading in Heaven that their well intentioned donations will not now fall into the hands wicked men. They may not seize the cash directly but we certainly seem to be seeing a secular Charity Commission dictating what it can and cannot be spent on.

Even more subtle is the potential subverting of Catholic trust and charitable money. Many of these organisations, schools and the like, are fearsome that unless they increase the services benefiting the general public they will lose charitable status. The implications of this probably mean a loss of cash for those who decide to give up tax exempt status. For those who capitulate it will mean the application of money intended for Catholic purposes, under the smoke screen of cultural and religious diversity, to the education of 'scholarship' students for whom the funds were not intended. One can imagine a similar problem with the various 'counselling services' supported directly or using Catholic charitable properties. To maintain good grace with our civil lords and masters they will have to be set free of the 'shackles' of Catholic belief.

Once upon a time? Really, at the moment I'm sitting rather uncomfortably.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fasts and Feasts

An imaginary homily for the day.
Yesterday I caught a glance at the plans for the main meal tomorrow. It seems that cook, although of no particular creed, has sensed that the Feast of the Assumption is something rather special and we should be getting more than a Sunday Roast. It's this sort of thinking that really ties body and soul together in the liturgical life, particularly if it's lived in common. The local parish picked up on this many years ago and now has a cooked breakfast, after the morning Mass, on all Marian feasts. As I'm not particularly good on large amounts of food at one sitting  I'm grateful that this feast has a vigil- with it's purple vestments, no Gloria or Alleluia, and with a bit of a penitential mood it invites us to a 'mini Lent' before getting on with the celebrations after first Vespers. We get the extra impetus to do without something today for the sake of tomorrow.

It's these mini Lents, the vigils of feasts, that are a bit of a God send. By putting a bit of restraint on the ordinary cycle, albeit for a day only, they seem to throw a sharper focus onto what is about to happen. It is part of the wisdom of the traditional calendar that they appear regularly during the year. The 'big' fast of Lent is an extended version of this anticipating the greatest of feasts. The season of Advent, whilst not sharing the physical fasting, certainly stripped the liturgy of anything not immediately needed. Perhaps these vigil 'fasts' are more like the restraint of Advent for indeed we are, in a sense, waiting for the coming of something quite remarkable.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Summer Reading

I was asked recently about what I could recommend in the way of good Catholic reading in the form of a magazine or journal. If you want social analysis, and a rather good tradition of being a watchdog, it would be hard to go past  Christian Order. It's direct no nonsense approach, and concentration on content rather than glossy presentation is really to it's credit. It relies on subscriptions. Well worth considering.

If you are looking for something more concerned with cultural heritage you could consider Catholic Life. Whilst definitely in the 'glossy' category and very well illustrated, its articles are solid and contributors include some leaders in their fields. Further recommendations are welcome.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Patronising twaddle

Fact. There have always been minor and really unimportant cultural variants in the way Holy Mass is celebrated. I do wish some cultural imperialists, at all ends of the spectrum, could get this into their thick heads. Now I am not a student of 'lye-terr-jee' (as one friend insists). I know a little about the traditional rites and less about the reformed rites. But I can spot rather sniffy cultural imperialism when it smacks me in the face. The following 'gem' of a comment appeared on the Pray Tell  blog recently;

I ducked into a daily Mass. The presider led us quickly and tonelessly through vespers, then flowed seamlessly into an expressionless Eucharistic prayer. Never once made eye contact with anyone in the tiny, mostly elderly, almost all female congregation. Didn’t bother to preach, of course–that might have revealed engagement with what was going on. At the sign of peace, didn’t deign to greet anyone, and got going again as quick as he could. While he went on with the prayer, a little girl, about 6 or 7, walked around the entire chapel, shaking hands and smiling at every person in the place, maybe a dozen of us. God bless her–she was grace that day. The priest dispensed Eucharist mechanically, then dashed to the sacristy without a personal word. No wonder so few bother to attend. Might as well deconsecrate the joint and sell it to someone who cares about it, even if only for the art and the history, instead of pretending it’s a living church.
Now I have no doubt that the contributor meant well. I rather enjoy the Pray Tell blog for the occasional gem of a moment when some ageing trendy opining from an armchair in the home counties decides to start pontificating and gets a fairly good slapping by the other comments. With this offering however there seemed to be the following problems;

(1) The Presider. I do trust it was a priest. Can't be too sure from the rest of the paragraph. At the very outset I detect a disconnection with Church tradition
(2) Quickly and tonelessly. It was a daily Masspers with, presumably, some time constraints. I doubt choral Vespers would have been pastorally appropriate. Music is not everything when it comes to worship. (A decidedly protestant notion).
(3) Expressionless Eucharistic Prayer. Not everybody is capable, physically or emotionally, of 'meaningful' histrionics. It's not a beauty pageant nor a cooking class for that matter. It's the Mass.
(4) Eye contact. Some  people in some cultures are not comfortable with invasive eye contact. It has a rather bad history in popular culture.
(5) Didn't bother to preach. Good. You don't have to. In most weekday  homilies I've heard recently the salvation of the faithful would be more likely to be advanced if the priest kept his mouth shut at that point and let the Mass speak for itself.

I'm going to leave the little girl be. Bless her for going to Mass. Sounds like a vocation of charity in the making. Three Aves for her intentions.

(6) Didn’t deign to greet anyone. Well done. Probably took some spine on the priest's part. He's not supposed to go wandering off with the exception of a few very specific circumstances. Of course there could be some sort of derogation from the norm applicable in the USA. In that case I'm being culturally insensitive. Mea culpa!
(7) Dispensed Eucharist mechanically. Note the strange use of the word 'eucharist'. Surely at least 'The Eucharist'. There seems to be a fear of saying Blessed Sacrament or even the more neutral communion.
(8) Without a personal word. Poor fellow was probably making a dash to say another Mass, hear a confession, see to the dying, put in some time at his other 40 hour job at the chancery. How nasty of him not to pander to some mad tourist taking notes on their I-Pad at the back of the Church
(9) Might as well deconsecrate the joint....pretending it’s a living church. Now this final sentence is really rich. 'If it's not up to my cultural expectations and what my culture thinks is right then it ought to be closed down'. This attitude has got a certain country into a lot of bother over many years. The patronising idiocy is breathtaking and gives no credit to, or sensitivity for, that elderly congregation for whom this simple celebration may be a daily life line.

If poor Father, whoever in wherever he is, might be reading this take heart. The bottom line is this. We always try to do the best we can for God using the resources he has given us. This does mean paying attention to the cultural tradition where we are working. This does not mean paying any attention to however well intended, but ill conceived, opinions from ignorant 'dominant culture'  bullies who  seem more intent on reaffirming their smug, probably wannabe, middle class aspirations at the annual 'lye-terr-jee-carl' convention, rather than helping ensure the sacraments are available to all the faithful no matter what their creed, colour, or cultural history.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The hidden fruits of the last three years

Around the time of the third anniversary of the promulgation, if that's the right word, of Summorum Pontificum I came across a small clutch of comments on a sacred music website. It noted that in some places they had seen a return of professional musicians back to practicing their Catholic faith. Reading between the lines I gather that quite a few had decamped to various forms of liturgical protestantism, for some reason, around forty years ago. They were not the only ones.

In the aftermath of the changes there was a falling away. I know of many families and individuals who just walked out. They didn't go anywhere else. Some gave up any expression of the faith others just stayed at home and said their prayers. One small group continued to meet on Sundays to say the rosary and make a corporate 'spiritual' communion. I suspect the alternatives available were not to their taste for various reasons. They still believed in the Church but couldn't tally what was going around them with what they had been brought up with. The universality of the Church had been key to their understanding of what it meant to be Catholic.

In the last three years there's been a steady stream of people quietly coming back- not with great announcements- but just gently slipping back into the practice of the faith. Their 'first contact' has often been the discovery of the Mass as they remembered it being celebrated in their local Church. We won't know the actual numbers- there's no way of quantifying what is a private matter. For this fruit we should, quietly, give thanks.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

What's to fear?

I'm sure I'm not alone on this one. Can we  come to the honest conclusion that the whole question of Latin and understanding it is all a bit of a 'red herring' used by those who prefer not to use the traditional rites? After Summorum Pontificum came into effect there was talk in some quarters of giving potential  EF celebrants a qualifying test in Latin comprehension serving as an easy way out for those who really didn't want to celebrate them and also for those who didn't want them to celebrate. So far I haven't seen a test paper. It might be something to do with the few in authority who could set such a paper.

There is little connection between Latin literacy and the desire to celebrate the EF. Several of the Latinists used by the Holy See to translate official documents have, shall we say, no love of the traditional rites and certainly have no intention to celebrate them. It would seem in some seminaries, where dead languages are still taught, Latin instructors have been chosen partially because they do not celebrate using a 1962 missal. (Any earlier edition, of course, would be quite 'beyond the pale'). But isn't all of this actually a smokescreen for a greater malaise- that of a general unwillingness to participate in the full tradition of the Church and all that demands of the individual? So what could be the fears?

(1) I haven't got the Latin to celebrate the rites.
Not a new problem. Before Vatican II quite a few clergy had been dispensed from the office. In the questionnaires before the Council one notable Archbishop suggested a vernacular office for his clergy. Fear not- help is available. There are enough courses, on line, residential, and otherwise to bring even the most average up to basic competence.
(2) I haven't got the time to learn the ceremonial.
Again there are numerous user friendly guides which take you through step by step. There are priests who will privately help in this direction. A first 'practical' lesson often is in another priest's study using what ever happens to be at hand to indicate the chalice and paten.
(3) It would divide the faithful.
The faithful are divided already. If you've got a vocal group of the faithful opposing the innovation of a single traditional Mass into the parish schedule they're in serious need of personal catechesis.
(4) If  I do I won't be 'preferred'.
One commenter emphasised this problem recently and unfortunately it seems to be true. But then again, what is more important in the long term? Best to walk carefully here. The abuse of false allegiance and obedience is a factor in clerical life.
(5) I've got enough to do as it is.
This can be understood as the load on parish priests these days is probably greater than any other time in history. Even where there has been wise employment of people for administrative tasks and catechetical and other duties the supervision of all this remains the responsibility of the pastor. Perhaps this could be added to the list of things for continuing diocesan formation of the clergy instead of the regular seminars on Fairtrade, the Enemagram, or whatever the fad of the moment is.

There can be little doubt that for some the prospect of providing the traditional rites, for those requesting them, is a real problem. I suspect, however, that behind this there really is a greater problem in the majority of cases - an unwillingness to abandon a 'salad bar' approach to the faith and fully accept the teachings of the Church. The traditional rites present to the celebrant and faithful alike the faith in an unambiguous way. That really is the crisis point. This is not socially integral nor popular. It is not comfortable. It is challenging and life changing. It demands putting one's self to the side -  not something that world we live in can countenance.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Maria optimam partem elegit

Over the last few days I have been thinking about the different sort of priests that I know. Not many fit the image that we would gain from The Bells of St Mary's which, I suspect, has been a bit too influential in the popular mind. Whilst they exist, mercifully few fit the caricatures found in Father Ted.  What really struck me is that relatively few, that I know well, are parish priests. This is something that you would expect to puzzle protestants. It is also a misunderstanding that seems to have taken sway in some Catholic circles. Several times recently I've been talking to people, cleric and lay, and when they ask me where my parish is I explain that I don't have one and that my ministry is largely in administration and research. Embarrassed silence. The presumption is that something is dreadfully wrong and the conversation goes elsewhere very quickly, particularly with the clergy. I suspect that we have fallen foul of the attitude that unless you are doing something immediately tangible you are some sort of second class priest.

Today's Gospel was a bit of a comfort;
At that time, Jesus entered into a certain town: and a certain woman named Martha, received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sitting also at the Lord's feet, heard his word. But Martha was busy about much serving. Who stood and said: Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? speak to her therefore, that she help me. And the Lord answering, said to her: Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things: But one thing is necessary. Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Of course it's not just a priestly problem. The whole point of a life of prayer, of a ministry outside ordinary parish boundaries, is lost on many people. Our world is orientated towards immediate results, to measurable achievements, to the front line rather than to the support forces. How often in parishes are the opinions of pious laity who quietly say their prayers set aside in favour of those serving on every committee possible?  I suspect there was a story to be told behind today's Gospel. Was there already a tension amongst the early Christians between those obviously involved in an 'active' way and those on a more contemplative route? Did they need to be reminded of a more balanced view of Christian 'ministry' a more encompassing view of the individual members of the Church? We can only speculate.

One of the great gifts to the Church from traditional Catholics has been the preservation of a variety of Christian ministry through it's promotion, indeed protection, of the religious life. Consequently you will often find 'traditional' clergy working in ways that do not 'tick the boxes' on any diocesan productivity survey. Their importance may not be quantifiable, which must really irk some quarters, but it certainly can be felt in the terms of Masses said for the intentions of the faithful, prayers offered through the Divine Office, and knowledge gained for the whole Church.

Many thanks to Dr Joseph Shaw who corrected the Latin title to this entry. That will teach me to cut and paste without checking!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A topical problem

Today throughout England there was a 'second' collection. It was slightly different than the normal 'second round'. Instead of benefiting a particular organisation it was a general collection for an 'umbrella' cause- life in general- the proceeds of which will be divided between applicants to a central fund. Alarm bells started ringing a few days ago as one organisation which had previously benefited from the collection was scrutinised, via its website, for links to organisations which might not be holding to Catholic teaching on life issues. The practical problem boiled down to this. If we were to support today's second collection would we, albeit indirectly, be supporting an organisation providing abortion?

Here's the chain of evidence as far as I can sort it out. (1)  Day for Life, 'initiated by the late Pope John Paul II, is the day of the year the Catholic Church in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales dedicates to celebrating the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.' (2) The news link  presented on their website include a considerable disbursement made to a counselling service known as the City Pregnancy Counselling & Psychotherapy which makes no claims to any particular position but does contain a lot of options that would not be offensive to Catholics. (3) From CPCP's website if you follow the link 'What is Counselling & Psychotherapy?'  to the women's section you will come to a direct link to the NHS. And that is where the direct information on abortion is to be found. According to Caritas in Veritate there are several other problematic organisations linked.

Today's collection is presumably for the next round of disbursements from Day for Life. Last year's collection would have been applied to the amounts given to CPCP. I must admit that personal culpability in this case would probably be similar to that we already incur  by paying British taxes of which a percentage goes towards funding abortions. The difference is that today's collection would be a voluntary contribution on our part.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Mass of All Ages for all ages

I'm not a great one for ecclesiastical statistics. When it comes to faith matters they so often seem to be rather flexible tools for proving whatever point your are trying to make. Sort of  'is the glass half empty or half full?' Yes, I know, the next cliche I should use is 'lies, damned lies, and statistics.' After Mass this morning I was, however, tempted to do my own bit of 'independent' research. We had 16 people at Mass but the demographics were rather interesting. I'd guess there was 2 people in their seventies, 3 in their sixties, 2 in their fifties, 5 in their forties, 2 in their thirties, and another in his twenties. The final entrant on the flow chart was only baptised last Sunday. It's these young ones that are the problem- baptised one week and off to the Traditional Latin Mass the next! Given the fact the youngster is less than a month old probably makes him a statistical anomaly. It gave me an 'average' congregational age of 43.  Ethnically the group were just as diverse. Gender break down: 7 men and 9 women. Employment history: 4 retired, 10 employed, 1 in further education and 1 probably already starting the search for his first pre-school place. I wont bother you with the very English concern for social status but it was just as diverse and the rest of the figures. I should note that this was a 'private' Mass- not advertised- which has become known by word of mouth. It will not 'count' in official statistics.

Some years I ago, when ministering in rural England, I took over a public daily Mass after a priest had died. I made the appropriate enquiries of the bishop and got his permission to continue for the sake of the congregation attached to an old folks home. Permission was granted with the understanding that once I had finished my work in the area there could be no guarantee of continued provision. A year after I took over I sent a report to the ordinary of what was happening with the group. We had a Sunday Mass attendance of about 50, high days considerably more. I noted that over half the congregation were of school age or younger. The reply was, shall we say, just a bit frosty. The statistics were not what were expected.

Whilst the evidence is anecdotal it does seem that in places where the provision is a day 'here and there' the congregation will be older. Where there is a weekday provision the average age drops considerably. Throw a Sunday Mass into the mix and the average on every demographic indicator plummets. If you have this problem you might find My See and Pray Missal useful. I keep on running out of copies!




Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ghostly fears...

It started with enthusiasm, it moved to mild interest. For months it rested on ambivalence with just a tinge of anticipation. Now it's slumping to one of those things that 'up with which we have to put.' At the beginning it looked quite hopeful then we began to realise that there may be quite another agenda. Could we be being played? More recently it settled for a time as something not to get too hopeful or excited about- it had become a pleasant burden that will work out in the end. As of  yesterday I'm just not too sure. It's not that I'm against a Papal visit, state or pastoral, to Britain it's more that I'm worried about it getting hijacked both by the detractors and by those that might have something less than the presentation of Catholic truth in mind.

So why the sudden lurch into doubt? Well we've had the collection to cover the costs (funny how the original results seem rather hazy) and there have been rumours of a second collection. I suspect that might happen after the visit. Now I've seen the 'pilgrim's contribution' expected for those attending the Hyde Park Vigil (£10) and the Beatification of Cardinal Newman (£25) and this from a parish which will be trying very hard to keep the costs to a minimum. Both contributions include transport to and from the event and promise a CD containing all the necessary music and texts for the ceremonies together with additional information. Note these charges do not include the 'catering arrangements' at the events. The charging system will be slightly different in Scotland born on a parish rather than an individual basis. Taking the actual costs out (£6 for transport in London, probably £20 for the bus to Birmingham) and the cost of the CD (at most a pound in either case) that only makes additional income of £520, 000 for London and £400,000 for the Beatification. Which ever way it's paid it seems likely the pilgrim's contribution will not cover costs particularly, as I suspect, the uptake for pilgrims' places may be less than expected.