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


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


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?