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.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Et noctium phantasmata...

If you haven't found it yet THE VORTEX  is a rather useful tool for Catholic apologetics. Hosted by Real Catholic TV  and presented/authored by Michael Vores (a graduate of Notre Dame would you believe?) it provides a regular five minute or so commentary on current affairs as they affect Catholics. I haven't been able to place this lot on my tradometer yet as I really don't know where they stand on the traditional rites- I suspect they might fall under the general umbrella of 'Neo-Con'. The attraction, to a simpleton like me, is the format of bullet point rebuttals that Vores provides. It does mean at times that the presentation tends to generalize and that's where I was slightly worried by the latest offering.

Now Vores is writing/presenting from the North American situation and this episode finds him rather fraught after a midnight to 3 conversation with an old class mate who has basically given up on Catholic belief. Vores gets it right- you're either Catholic or you're not. But there's a sting in the tail that needs to be questioned. This episode arrived with the following introduction;
'It used to be parishes that got late night phone calls from people in spiritual  crisis. Now it’s lay people who are getting the calls at midnight and the wee  hours of the morning. Where are the bishops? Where are the priests? What has  happened?'
Michael Vores is largely right. One of the strange knock on effects of the last forty years has been a problem of accessibility. Obviously numbers of clergy in that smaller part of the Catholic Church (i.e. the West) play a part in this. Too few pastors spread too thin is a reasonable assumption. Unfortunately add to this a career 9-5 mentality that has entered pastoral life and it's no wonder that the well informed Mr Vores will have what was obviously a 'bad hair' day after a marathon nocturnal session of pastoral counselling. Actually given the matter at hand I think the caller was in safer hands than having to rely on the call centre approach to late calls that has been set up in some dioceses. You ring the presbytery number after hours and you get automatically redirected to the priest for the area who is 'on call'.

But it is not the whole story is it? There are many priests who, taking up the 'slack', are working themselves sick, or worse still, into early graves. Spare a prayer for these valiant souls and for the bishops who do stand up in the public forum for the Catholic faith. Whilst each day they are growing in numbers, thanks be to God, they can only manage it by the grace of God and the assurance of our prayers.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Has anybody seen an altar?

I'm on the 'academic trail' this weekend. A rare conference came up which brought the threads of a few projects of mine together. Several speakers, that I've been wanting to hear, were appearing within the same couple of days so it seemed worth the investment both financially and in time away. It's also given me an opportunity to visit old haunts from my student days. The conference is sort of on the edge of what I would call 'nervous traddiedom'. The usual suspects are present as visitors; indeed there's a veritable sea of different coloured handkerchiefs, oops, I mean pom-poms. This gives a somewhat 'strength in numbers' feel to the whole thing when the local situation is probably a bit fragile. I get the impression that speakers are pretty well divided between those who have taken the plunge into tradition and those who may have half a leg in, at the moment, testing the water for fear of a change in the weather. Only one speaker, so far, might have been 'bred in captivity' rather than 'caught in the wild'. Yet one of those curious elements of traddieland remains constant. We'll have two High Masses, one of them Pontifical, during the proceedings having kicked off last night with the obligatory Pontifical Vespers. But how to find an altar for a simple low Mass in all this glory? After Vespers I charged the sacristy door, slipping in with a bunch of Dominican novices. I then consulted a friend, one of the visiting speakers. The ‘Low Mass’ arrangements rather mystified him too. I gather there might be a vague possibility of altars available after the Pontifical Mass this morning. I did a quick count of clergy present and the altars in the Church. The numbers don't add up in the time available. ‘No, Madama Sacristana, I will not be concelebrating at the Vigil Mass’. Change of Plans. Think I better go and knock on the sacristy door of the local SSPX chapel.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Joyful Threesome

I've just had a bit of a traddie 'intensive'. Normally I breathe the simple but musty air of the archive or library, probably my favoured habitat. However, for the last 48 hours, and with 48 other pilgrims, I've been breathing the clear rarified air of pilgrimage. Yes, the anticipation of this inspired the previous post. This pilgrimage reminded me just how diverse the traditional movement can be. Most of my favourite variety of birds were there (see here  and here). There was however, a new variety on the block or possibly hanging from the roof. Rather hard to identify but, for the time being and pending confirmation, I'll describe them as the plain breasted reluctant. It's a peculiar bird which whilst travelling with the rest of the traddie flock, neither likes Mass in Latin nor many of the finer points of tradition. Specialists are divided over over whether this is a sub species at all or rather a trans migratory, or perhaps even transitory, mutation caused by flying too close to certain peaks in the former Yugoslavia.

Anyhow, and casting coy simile to the wind, over supper on the first night the first signs of deviance from the norm appeared. 'Will Father be saying a Mass in English?' Several acidic responses came to  mind as my heckles began to rise. I settled on a potted rant on the educational failings of the last forty years. Day 2 arrived and I find myself tucked away in a pious corner but sufficiently within earshot to eavesdrop on the following; 'Well if it's not in English, I'm not going'.  By this stage I was beginning to wonder whether this trio had actually read the advance information sent by the organisers. I bit my tongue considering the vague possibility that some well meaning traddie friend had rail-roaded them into the pilgrimage whilst being sly with the actual details.

The Final Day. I'm relieved at how smoothly the final High Mass goes (I get to hide in choir) however I'm more than slightly bemused that how easy that all seemed in comparison to organising a Low Mass for myself earlier in the day. It seemed to take all the negotiating skills of a well oiled diplomat together with the time tabling savvy of a minor multi national CEO. I'm very grateful to those who smoothed the way.  Eventually it all worked out and up to the altar I went expecting, rather hoping, it would just be me and the angels. The trio were there, with a few friends. Now to have found me this required certain skills in negotiating unknown territory including a religious enclosure gate. Full points for tenacity. Some quick  'catechesis' was necessary. Thankfully, I think they just might have caught 'the bug'!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

It's the high  season for pilgrimages. If you haven't found one  yet the Latin Mass Society has a listing of what they have on offer over the coming months. (see here)  If you haven't tried one of these before they can be wonderful times of spiritual renewal and being amongst the 'like minded'. One problem for traditional Catholics is that we often live in a generally hostile environment- in the world in general and often the parishes that don't really trust us. They'll tolerate us- sure- but to actually go the full distance and cater for our needs as much as they would the local yoga group, well that's not the priority at the moment. It means that traddies often, on a Sunday, find themselves out of the physical boundaries of their parish and making the journey, at some cost, elsewhere. It can be tiring both physically and spiritually.