Thursday, 21 January 2010

Gabriel dixit

I've just had a phone call from a very nice man called Howard, who works for Gabriel Publications. That's the people who produce The Universe—which, let me quickly reassure our foreign readers, is not a claim to be the Creator, but merely the publishers who have created our Catholic Newspaper, The Universe. I'm not really a great fan of this paper, though they do produce a magazine called Catholic Life which is really pretty good.
Gabriel Publications phone every six weeks or so, usually to persuade me to accept ('sale or return, Father') a few copies of their latest attempt to grab people's attention. Each time, my heart sinks, because I can hear in the hopeless tones of the salesman's voice that he has had a number of fruitless conversations before the one he has with me. Last time, the poor chap (I can't remember who it was I was speaking to) had had a terrible roasting from some parish priest, and I took copies simply because I felt sorry for him (and cross with my uncharitable brother, whoever he may have been).
But the truth is that my parishioners simply do not read. Or at least they do not read The Universe, Catholic Life or Catholic Truth Society publications. In some cases, this is a great shame. CTS have really got their act together now, and, as I mentioned above, Catholic Life is pretty good. A few copies of the Catholic Herald go (this, I suspect, because I used to be asked to write for it) and two copies of The Tablet (one of them to me). Apart from this, nearly nothing is sold.
I think that probably the time has come for a change of tack. Modern media has changed so much: I suspect that blogs (those better than this one, of course) have taken much of the ground of the Catholic press. So many people now get their news online that perhaps it might benefit Gabriel Press and other similar bodies to look in this area for development rather than obliging nice young men to depress themselves trying to sell newspapers to priests who take them knowing perfectly well that people won't buy them.

Sunday, 17 January 2010


If you're in Rome, and you get the chance, you mustn't miss the restored chapel of the English College. A really beautiful, excellent, fabulous, job has been done. I was very lucky to have been given a tour (with Fr Ray) by one of the tutors, a priest of our diocese, who expertly commented on the work.
In the tribune of the chapel are a series of illustrations demonstrating the attachment of countless Englishmen to the church, to the extent of giving their lives for the faith; these (often very bloodthirsty) pictures date originally from the mid sixteenth century; the last pictures show the martyrdom of several young alumni who must actually have been known to the first students who saw these pictures. Congratulations are due to all concerned for this excellent initiative.
It was a shame, however, that the opportunity was not taken at the same time to improve the liturgical arrangements in the chapel: the reordering work done by the same architect at St John's Wonersh was far more successful.
However, getting into the chapel is not easy, unless you know somebody there.

If you were to continue a few more yards along the Via de Monseratto, you will encounter another event. This is an exhibition concerning the work of the English Catholic martyrs of the Reformation. If you visit it, you will be charged 5 Euros. I suggest you go and spend the money on a coffee.
Two charming young Italian ladies will relieve you of your money and equip you with a badge. This is the high point of the visit. It's all down from here—literally, as the exhibition is in the basement. I cannot imagine how much money was spent on this event: there are beautiful boards throughout of excellent quality describing the course of the English Reformation in English and Italian, amply equipped with photographs—beautifully done, and, it would appear, with no expense spared.
But there is nothing that is new or interesting to anyone remotely familiar with the subject. It would be much better to go and buy a book, and then at least you will have the book to keep.

It is described as an 'exhibition', but there was not one single exhibit. Not one. There was an empty case which was supposed to have contained a book, but this had been removed.
Imagine for a minute just what this exhibition might have contained. The English College has lots of really fascinating stuff; St John's Wonersh, I am sure, would have been happy to lend its pewter recusant chalice, its fabulous recusant vestments, one (a blue chinese silk stole and chasuble still in its Mediaeval shape) having probably belonged to Whalley Abbey before, with the other liturgical colours added in a border around the vestment. There is lots of stuff at Stoneyhurst, more at Oscott (I understand, though I have never seen it)–this could have been really first rate.
Frankly, the only thing I thought even slightly interesting was the patch of Roman road that somebody (presumably Mgr Bryan Chestle) had uncovered.
I left the exhibition within five minutes, and in a bleak frame of mind. My companion slammed the door.
That evening I impaled my finger on something sharp in my pocket. It was the badge.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Roma Æterna

I've been away in Rome, so I'm sorry that some of you have had to wait to have your comments put up.
Now our Holy Father has been several years in the job, it has been interesting to see how Rome has adjusted. Perhaps the clearest evidence is to be seen liturgically.
1) I saw only two altars with (the formerly ubiquitous) two candles on one end with a bunch of flowers at the other.
2) More altars than not have some form of the 'Benedictine Arrangement', meaning that there was a crucifix centrally placed on the altar, with candles arranged to either side. Sometimes there were two candles, sometimes fork handles (as at St John Lateran), occasionally six.
3) Almost all churches were open for prayer, and there were usually people praying inside. This is entirely new: I am used to a lot of Roman churches being firmly locked. I got inside all sorts of buildings I had never seen before.
4) 'Tat Alley' (aka Via dei Cestari), a street of ecclesiastical suppliers near the Pantheon, now has all sorts of traditional vestments and impedimenta on sale. The time was when you could only buy these things from the charmingly obsequious staff of Gammarelli's ('Splenditatis Vendor') or the grumpy assistants (no, assistants is not the word; they do not assist, but glare) at Serpone. Arte Sacra was the only place you could buy reliquaries, now they are on sale everywhere. The proprietor said to a colleague that the sixties and seventies nearly put him out of business, but that now trade was very good indeed. Another fellow priest remarked that if people are prepared to pay money for things, it is valuable evidence that they really are prepared to buy into what these things stand for.
Even the iconically-Seventies Slabbinck shop had one or two things that looked nice.
5) Cassocks are still rare on the streets, but I saw many more (male) religious habits than heretofore.
6) I am told that on Saturday mornings early one may see the Traditional Mass being celebrated at many altars in St Peter's Basilica.

On the other side, the Italians still feel the need to chatter chatter chatter all the way through Mass. I don't mean the congregation; I mean the priest. There are scarcely five seconds at any point where there is not noise. I attended a Mass one morning (sort of; I was saying my office in a side chapel) where a priest talked or sang throughout without ceasing. Besides all the normal stuff, there was a lengthy introductory sermon, another before the readings, another after the readings. EP2, of course, rapidly, and then he even had an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion distribute Communion so that he could lead the congregation in the hymn, bawling into the microphone. Bizarrely, the tune was 'Oft in the stilly night'.
A priest we met on the street commented how the Italians tend to dislike solemn liturgy, but are addicted to talking and talking at Mass; the current rite of Mass addresses this need perfectly.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The New new missal

So, the CTS have been awarded the contract to print the new missals here in the UK once the recognitio has been granted by Rome. I find that encouraging. The only rivals, apparently, were St Paul's, themselves no slouches in the Catholic printing business. CTS have really got their act together in recent years; their pamphlets are incomparably better than in the not-too-distant past; not just being good in content and reasonable in price, but even looking good—something very important in an altar missal. And recently, they have shown themselves capable of mass-producing a good Bible which again looks and feels good. I do not underestimate the importance of a good-looking missal: like all other things for the Mass, it needs to look fit for purpose and itself beautiful.
In particular I am pleased that the bishops have gone for a Catholic publishing house, rather than one that has simply commercial concerns. The last contract went to Collins, who lost interest in religious publishing some fifteen or more years ago, and who were therefore not prepared to invest time and money in producing the necessary updates to the Missal that changes in the sanctoral over this period required. I am still very annoyed (though unquestionably others were to blame also) that even now we do not have propers in English made available for any saints canonized since 1975.
Somebody Who Knows quietly told me that one of the examples produced by the two competitors is 'absolutely beautiful'. I hope it is the CTS version. I gather that there are to be three sizes; big altar-size, small altar-size, and hand-size. That should suit most liturgical needs.
Kevin Mayhew, according to The Tablet, is annoyed that he was not invited to put a tender in to the bishops' conference to print the new missal. He apparently thought that he was an obvious candidate, given all his experience in producing hymn books. I guess no more needs to be added to that!
I would like to think that with modern typographical resources, it should not be impossible to tailor the new missal to each diocese, including, in other words, national and diocesan propers. If can produce hardback books at a reasonable price from a pdf, (even one single copy), then there is no reason why CTS could not produce batches of, say, 200 or so altar missals with diocesan propers included. My own diocese is one of the few that ever took the trouble (in recent times) to produce its own propers, and we do use them here. Other dioceses would need to get to work pronto, of course.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Mgr Graham Leonard RIP

I am sorry to hear of the death of Mgr Graham Leonard, former Anglican bishop of London, who died this morning. I have fond personal memories of his kindness.
I have not seen him now for some years; on the last occasion we met, he kindly gave the address at the launch of a book of mine, and I was fortuitously able to present him with a most appropriate gift; only that morning I had found in Thornton's bookshop a first edition of Newman's Apologia pro vita sua.
A great man; God rest his soul, and may God comfort Priscilla his wife.

Saturday, 2 January 2010


Happy new year, everyone. I hope your Christmas is being enjoyable and restful as well as spiritual.
I'm sorry to have had to add word verification to the comments facility; I have been pestered with some Japanese porn advertisements which come so frequently that I suspect they are automatic. This ought to spike their guns, but forgive the extra fence that such of you as comment must jump over.