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.