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


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.