Monday, January 31, 2011

Drama for it's own sake

My main email account is attached to one of those multinational service providers who give you a summary of the 'news' every time and anywhere you log on to collect email. I must say that I've been totally underwhelmed by the on going saga of two ersatz celebrities (famous for being famous and nothing else). To be honest I actually haven't looked beyond the headlines but the essence of today's story seems to be that HE broke a finger nail and SHE didn't rush to his hospital bed side immediately. It really is making news out of nothing, filling otherwise unsellable space on a web page, and rather 'gilding' the lily as far as what is actually important. However the world loves it and it sells copy.

I wonder, just wonder, whether we in the religious blogosphere are actually heading in that direction. I mean we are absolutely nowhere near the stage where the reporting that Cardinal Broccoli has opted for an expresso rather than his regular machiatto (and hence he has a health scare and will probably not be papabile) but I do wonder if we've started evaluating ourselves in rather worldly terms, i.e., unless we are in the midst of a 'drama' we are really not doing our job. Do we over interpret what is the rather rasping sounds of the rusty mechanism of Church life as being indicative of some great conspiracy rather than the symptoms of average human incompetence? Unfortunately this seems to be some peoples whole lives. Time to take a reality check. With a few notable exceptions most blog entries are read by a handful of people (as are the comments) serving the needs of a small group of well meaning people with similar interests. But when your entire life just becomes an existence of some alter ego in cyber space then that is really sad.

Perhaps one day some cyber traddies could try opening their front door, try walking down the road, and horror of horrors, actually try to meet some of the other faithful after Holy Mass. It's an imperfect world.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof:
but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.

S. Matthew 8
I’m sure you’ve heard the pious diagnosis more than once; ‘he has scruples’. Sure, we can have reservations about things, we can be wary about something, we can be cautious about many things (we probably should be cautious about a lot more) but to really have scruples is a pretty debilitating thing. It means we find ourselves in a spiritual corner totally unable to move, paralyzed by our own fears of what might happen. It’s a problem that confessors frequently come across. Luckily in traddiedom, at least in sane traddiedom, there’s a pretty healthy attitude to dealing with sin. Don’t procrastinate; just go and deal with it seems to be the attitude. Getting tied up in scrupulous knots seems to be more the domain of the pious neo conservative who desperately tries to keep the faith without the aid of the traditional ‘props’ and spiritual counsel. It’s a very lonely path.

However there are those people who just cannot conceive that they could actually have been forgiven of some imaginary or real sin. I heard recently of a devotedly pious person racked with guilt over not attending Mass because they lived under the misapprehension that if they couldn’t go to communion then they shouldn’t attend Holy Mass. Similarly the confessors manuals always warn us of those penitents who can’t get it into their heads that an absolution covers all sins even those you have honestly forgotten. But here we often wander into the realm of the pathological and all the priest can do is encourage the penitent back onto their ‘meds’. But back to the theme of this Sunday’s Gospel.

Yes, ‘Lord I am not worthy’ should be the cry of every believer. Certainly none of us have a right to any of the sacraments. Yes, we need to be very careful about receiving Holy Communion. The sacrileges of our days, fuelled by the catechetical neglect of half a century, have created a scandalous situation which the devil exploits. We are only required to receive Holy Communion once a year. But equally so it is simply by a word from the Lord that our souls can be healed and we become worthy again for him to enter under of roofs. We shouldn’t make a big thing about it, we shouldn’t procrastinate, we should just get on with it. Then our souls can be healed.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

And now we are one...

And so we come to the first anniversary of this blog. It's strange how things seem to go in circles. (see here). Many thanks to all who have contributed during the year, to those other blogs who have been the spring boards for some of the meanderings found on these pages, and to you the readers for your prayers. If you want to make a gift could you do it in the form of some prayers for some friends who are teetering on the banks of the Tiber at the moment. Please pray especially for the clergy and religious among them that they might be able to see beyond the glorious aesthetic monster of modern Catholicism to the real beauty of truth.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Burnt again!

I really should have known better than to get involved. I was invited to take part in a small conference to do with something vaguely traddie and, after some thought, agreed to help out. Oh dear! You see the sons of mediocrity within the traddie movement are always hiding around the corner ready to pull anything down that might might question their undoubted position as arbiters of what is just, right, and unfortunately good taste. I hold very little faith in good taste indeed, when it becomes the yard stick of orthodoxy, I smell a sacristy rat. Today I received a message that some of the sons of mediocrity are slightly miffed that the conference is not as they had conceived it. It was the first that I'd heard that they had ever been involved but then the organisers must have known that I would have steered a wide berth had I known.

It's moments like these that I begin to understand why some quite reasonable clergy want nothing to do with traddies. They've discovered through bitter experience just how nasty people can be when mediocrity lays ownership to something which is not actually theirs and then somebody else comes along with a lace alb to spoil their Gothic party. Our little local problem is just symptomatic of the wider movement at the moment. When a local tat merchant becomes the sole arbiter of the traditional rites then you've got trouble. When a cleric believes himself to be the only proper interpreter of tradition in his area then you've got trouble. When a traddie organisation tries to lay claim to jurisdiction over all celebrations in their country then you've got trouble. When a couple of battling minor traddie curial officials actually impede the supplying of the traditional rites to the faithful- then you've got trouble. I could go on. Whilst the movement may not be particularly way laid by gin and lace at the moment (although that aspect is not unknown) backbiting is alive and well and it is strangling progress. Here ends the rant.

Friday, January 14, 2011

More than a contract

Three Miracles! For centuries the Fathers of the Church have spoken of the tribus miraculis of this time of the year. The star leading the Magi to the Manger; the descent of the dove at the Baptism in the River Jordan; the water being changed into wine at the Wedding at Cana. Each, in it’s own way, proclaiming the Divinity of Christ. But it’s this last miracle which has a few extra secrets- other aspects, that we shouldn’t forget.

The miracle of the changing of the water to wine is perhaps the most fleshly of Christ’s miracles. It is the spiritual teaching that the physical can be good, that celebration itself is not necessarily a thing to be avoided- that a bit of a ‘knees up’ doesn’t hurt- that Puritanism is not a Catholic virtue. Of course if we give in to the temptation of Jansenism, in all it’s forms ancient and modern, we could walk a somewhat safer path in this life- but that does not seem to be the Lord’s plan. We are left with decisions to make in life- of learning to know where to draw the line.

In the musical Fiddler on the Roof there’s an exchange between Perchik, a rather idealistic young liberal jew, and Hodel, the daughter of a decidedly orthodox family. It runs something like this;

Perchik: There's a question... A certain question I want to discuss with you.
Hodel: Yes?
Perchik: It's a political question.
Hodel: What is it?
Perchik: The question of... marriage.
Hodel: Is this a political question?
Perchik: Well, yes. Yes, everything's political. Like everything else, the relationship between a man and a woman has a socioeconomic base. Marriage must be founded on mutual beliefs. A common attitude and philosophy towards society...
Hodel: - And affection?
Perchik: Well, yes, of course. That is also necessary. Such a relationship can have positive social values. When two people face the world with unity and solidarity...
Hodel: And affection?
Perchik: Yes, that is an important element! At any rate, I... I personally am in favour of such a socioeconomic relationship.
Hodel: I think... you are asking me to marry you.
Perchik: Well... in a theoretical sense... yes. I am.
Hodel: I was hoping you were.
You see for traditional Judaism marriage was little more than a political alliance, a civil contract between two families. With our Lord’s blessing on the Wedding at Cana marriage itself was lifted from being merely the contractual meeting of two families, a political alliance of expedience, to becoming the sacramental union of two beings under God. This is an earth changing difference. We, of course, know nothing of this bride and groom themselves on their wedding day. We know that it was at Cana, we know there was a chief steward and waiters, we know that the Blessed Virgin Mary and disciples were present so we can presume that it was some sort of village affair. Beyond that we know nothing. As the story is told by S. John, the wedding itself really falls to the background, perhaps deliberately, stripped of any unnecessary detail, as the miracle itself is brought to the foreground.
There’s something very ‘un-pc’ about this miracle. There’s little doubt that the aiding and abetting others in the consumption of alcohol would not be received well in some quarters today indeed we can be surprised that this portion of the Gospel didn’t get cut out by the Protestant Revolutionaries as they slashed their way through Holy Writ in the 16th century. What’s more it would seem to have been good quality wine. It would require multiple health and safety checks these days indeed it would require an extensive risk assessment from a qualified insurance company before any diocesan committee would dare to authorize such a miracle.

There’s something wonderful about the Lord’s first public miracle being to assist people to rejoice in the celebration of a sacrament. Here is the miracle almost hidden in the story- What had been a civil contract became the revelation of the Sacrament of Matrimony. No longer purely an agreement between clans, no longer just some civil arrangement for mutual benefit of the couple or the stability of society. Not just the blessing of some transient attraction but the perpetual union, in this world, of a couple. Let us give thanks to the Lord for his great things he has done for our souls. (Ps. 65).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Concelebration, again.

It must be that time of year. A spate of dubia and musings on the problems associated with 'concelebration' are crawling their way around the web. Actually after the last few days I'm rather surprised that it, that is 'concelebration', exists at all. The amount of interbillious attacks that I've heard between clergy would make it seem that there wasn't enough communion of charity between the clergy to warrant the continuing of this clericalising fantasy. Fr Blake provides some thoughts. Fr Z deals with one practical aspect. But what of the spiritual aspect?

I suspect much of the rationale for this purely modern practice exists to cloak indolence. Lazy clergy would rather not have to bother with the arrangements for their own Mass when they can 'piggy back' onto somebody else's efforts. Admittedly they've never really thought about it and just accepted it as the norm. Those who do wander from the social conformity of concelebration soon discover a particular kind of clerical bullying, not so much from the bishops, although that is not unknown, but rather from fellow clergy. There seems to be a herd mentality, especially amongst religious, that seems to be scared that if they let this 'lone celebration' business get out of hand they all might find themselves having to confront their Lord and God on their own one day. Heavens! It might even mean going to Confession.

And here is the greatest tragedy of an unchecked descent into false antiquarianism which is the modern practice of what really amounts to simultaneous celebration. (More than one stipend applied must mean more than one Mass being said.) It is the personal spiritual loss to the priest. The daily approaching the altar, without a crowd to try and hide your sins among, is a much more demanding task than the late dash to the sacristy whilst making a mental note of an intention. The individual responsibility before God, indeed the personal relationship with the Saviour, has been weakened by the overriding communitarian aesthetic which feeds the practice. It really does need to be brought to heal. In the words of a laywoman, an old friend of mine; 'I want to go to Mass - not something imitating a cookery course'.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Assisi III

Hands up all those who uttered an inward groan when this little gem popped up during the week. The fact that some sort of pronouncement has been made suggests that planning is actually fairly well advanced. Now for those of you who may have missed this little side show of politically correct self abnegation on the part of the Catholic Church it has become one of those 'crisis points' for traditional minded faithful. The image of a pagan deity being enthroned above a tabernacle was always going to be problematic.* Strike that! I was being a little bit too pc. Let's put it bluntly. It was unacceptable and whoever let that one through the protocol office deserved to become nuncio to Tehran toute suite in a noble tradition of curial pariahs. He can take with him a certain papally osculated book as a token of good will.

Anyhow it seems that Assisi III is upon us and I just hope the confusion of the previous multi faith pow-wow- come- pass- the- peace- pipe will not be repeated. The Catholic Church does have quite clearly stated objectives in this area; (1) Peace is generally a good thing (2) Talking to other religions and understanding them is a good thing. (3) Acting as a negotiator on the world stage is a good thing. However (1) There are times when defending oneself makes peace impossible. (2) Dialogue is fine but remember who actually has the Divine Revelation and who have, at the best fragmentary glimpses of it. (3) Remember that souls come first before bodies. No matter how much ecumenical rear kissing might seem to be polite we've gotta get those babies saved and those stomachs filled!

* By the way if you really want to see the apostasy of previous Assisi pow-wows you can look here. I'm not wasting space here when we can have a perfectly lovely picture of an historic inter faith dialogue at a practical level which led to peace and the relief of suffering.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy Epiphany!

Happy Feast Day! I guess I can say that without getting into too much trouble. I guess I can also admit that I'm just a little bit tired of the tinkering around with the Feasts and Holy Days of Obligation. What's the purpose? Ostensibly to make things easier for the faithful. Fine but don't do it at the expense of liturgical common sense. You see there seems to be some very unclear thinking going on. I somehow doubt that the officials that have actually gone and done this know what the grass roots opinion of it is. They must be totally deaf to the fact that whilst the majority of the faithful once suspected they were silly out of touch old fuddy duddies now they actually know it!
You can imagine the Chancery Office wanting to uphold the bishop's authority (it is the ultimate source of that nice pay cheque) and therefore Holydays of Obligation must remain. However at the same they are a bit of a nuisance- it means those nice Conference lunches and cocktail parties have to be sacrificed on the altar of fulfilling ones obligation. Then there's the 'lay-terrh-gee-kahl' brigade in the office round the corner. They are pretty ropeable over the damage it's done to their precious cycle of Ordinary Sundays. The School chaplains, if they can get through the switchboard,  will tell you that the exercise has probably halved the times any Catholic school child will go to Mass during any one year. Thankfully the Indultists have managed to  resurrect some archaic dispensation to celebrate external solemnities. I suspect the score between the Bishops' Conference and the LMS stands at 1-1 at this point.

The average lay person just shakes their head and wonders what practical difference it has made. If they could get there they got there if they had been reminded. If they couldn't they didn't.  I suspect this great 'easing' from our Lords and Masters has not radically increased the devotion of the faithful nor changed the amount of people attending Masses. So what has been gained? A little smug shifting of the deck chairs perhaps? An opportunity, perhaps,  to get revenge on those nasty Extraordinary Form types? (Bad luck guys it backfired!). Sadly the whole exercise is more likely to have been one of deluding themselves that they are actually of some practical significance.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

In the Name of Jesus let every knee bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth; and let every tongue confess that he Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:10

Juliet asks of Romeo ‘What is it in a name? (II, ii, 1-2) The power of knowing somebody’s name is very real. Dale Carnegie (1888-1955), when training his army of salesmen, used to make the first lesson that of learning the customer’s name. ‘Say it three times in the first two minutes and you’ve got them’, he would say. In the Old Testament knowing somebody’s name was a very big thing indeed the major revelation of the Old Testament was not so much a great miracle of the parting of a sea but the revelation of the actual name of God. The idea was that if you had God’s actual name then you somehow had his particular attention. Of course in the Old Testament this was so powerful that it had to be covered up and pretty soon the people of Israel forgot how to say the name of God. Probably just as well. In the New Testament the revelation to us of what the Saviour’s name was very important. It’s a bit like pass the parcel. Now that we’ve got the name what are we doing with it?

You might be surprised but one of the first shocks to the system I received when moving to Britain was the mouths on the school children. To be quite honest, and coming from a country that was always, shall we say, a bit colorful in it’s language, I was shocked. Now I’m not known for the subtlest of expression but the average British School child is really capable of coloring the air a shade of blue; particularly when the sacred name of our Lord is involved. Of course one of the greatest tragedies today is that you can profane the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ in a thousand ways and not an eye will not blink. However if you dare to even mention the name of someone else less than successful of some centuries later and then you risk imprisonment. Surely it’s time to reclaim some ground here?

Of course profanity is not a new problem however it’s one that we need to be very careful of these days. We need to make sure we are protecting our own territory and we protect it first not from other’s abuse but also from own misuse. So the question for today is; Do we really honour the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ in our day to day speech. Are we careful that we honour our Lord by the respectful use of his Holy Name? Wandering the ports of maritime France in the late 18th century the Jesuit Luigi Felici (fl. 1790s) was worried by the profanities he heard coming from the sailors’s mouths. He set to write a prayer that would counteract those curses and it’s that prayer that we might use frequently as a remedy to our own failings today. It’s start’s with Blessed be God. Blessed be His Holy Name. Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man. And for today; Blessed be the name of Jesus.