Saturday, 27 February 2010

Sledgehammers and Eggs

The organizers of the Friends of the Ordinariate have received a threatening letter from the solicitors of the Church in Wales
A tad over the top, brethren?

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Proud and happy

Tonight I was so happy to witness one of my old altar servers taking his resolve of celibacy and being ordained to the diaconate at St John's Seminary, Wonersh: God willing, in a few months he will be a priest. Many priests have been contributors to Philip's path to today, but I feel so privileged to have been one of the earliest. Please remember Philip today, and pray for him. The photos, of course, are then and now; today's one is of dreadful quality, I'm afraid, because I had only my mobile phone in poor light.
We don't have children ourselves, but, as Fulton Sheen commented, this has something of the same thing about it.
Sorry about having to blur out the faces of the other servers; they are all men now (two in the American marines!), so I suppose it doesn't matter. I just know that someone would complain if I didn't!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Place of Awe-full Liturgy

When we come to sanctuary practice, I am far less tolerant than I am on the subject of music. Some while ago I mentioned that I considered that too much attention being paid to ultra-correct performance of the rubrics was not entirely desireable: I opined that rubrics are God’s table manners, and not the meal itself. That being said, and I still would hold to that opinion, I think that the other extreme is far more reprehensible. I cannot bear sloppiness, carelessness, indifference on the sanctuary; the rubrics are there to be observed, and even if they are ‘only’ table manners, then they are God’s table manners, and not to make some attempt to observe them is worse than rudeness. On occasion, when I fear that I am going to be distressed by the carelessness of the celebration, I have chickened out of attending, or assisted from the nave.

The way we celebrate is not simply about self-expression, as some would have it. It is actually about communion, koinonia; an expression of my communion with Catholics in Tokyo, Sarawak, Anchorage, Sao Paolo, Sydney and even Neasden. I offer not merely the worship of the Adur Valley, but the prayer of the Church, and am inserted into the mystery of heavenly worship by my celebration (mutatis mutandis) in the same manner as, for instance, Pope Benedict XVI. By my submission to the rites, I also express koinonia with those of other rites who celebrate authentically according to those rites and do not substitute self-expression for Church-expression.

I rather suspect that some Ordinariate churches might find this one a little difficult. Most Anglo-Catholic churches, in my experience, do things differently to their neighbour. In one church you might find the Roman rite celebrated very similarly to the way I do it. But in another, it might be Common Worship with one particular set of selections, in another it might be English Missal; abroad, you may well find the Book of Common Prayer in one form or another; and this is all before the particular manner of performance of the rubrics. There are, of course, some standards; it seems to be almost universal for the Gospel to be read half way down the nave, facing west (I am now about to be indundated with accounts of churches where this is not done!), and the intercessions to be lengthy, and read by a layperson standing in the nave aisle facing east. There are general traditions, if I can put it like that, but immutable rubrics are few, unless freely chosen by a particular celebrant and parish. Even the estimable Fr Hunwicke has chosen the set of rubrics to which he carefully and laudably adheres. This, rather congregational, part of the patrimony, I think, will need to change, for the purposes of Communion.

Another factor is that which is sometimes expressed as lex orandi = lex credendi. You can see what someone believes by watching him pray the Mass (as well as the texts he uses), and the way the Mass is prayed will form the beliefs of those who assist at it. Here, I think, we need to be careful, because there is belief and then there is opinion; the two are not the same. Newman differentiated between notional and real belief. One can assent to something as being generally true without it making much difference to one’s life. Somebody may say that he believes in the real presence, but if he keeps the Lord in a cigar box on a library shelf — a real instance, by the way, this being the practice in a house of RC sisters that I have visited — then I think I may be excused for doubting whether that person believes at all that here is the body, blood soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, or merely has an opinion on the subject. They might say that they believed, and be quite cross if one suggested that they do not, but do they really do so? An opinion can easily be changed, because it costs little; a belief can send the believer to death in its defence. Belief is contagious; opinion merely interesting. And belief or opinion will show itself in the way we pray; mere opinion will tend to either dead, ritualistic performance, or else sloppy and careless emptiness.

A key component in all this is an atmosphere of holiness. I don’t mean incense and mood music (though perhaps these can help), but a focus on what one is doing; a concentration on the sacred action, and a remembrance that the real celebrant of the Mass is Christ, not Father Bloggs. This should obviate that appalling thing, the host-celebrant, who conducts a service as if it were a game show and he the compére. Our job is not to give people an entertaining hour or so, but to focus them beyond, to the eternal things; to seek the things that are above.

Some Anglo-Catholics find the irreverent atmosphere sometimes to be found in our churches truly objectionable. I know what they mean; partly this is because of demographics. Anglo-Catholic churches tend to have almost entirely adult congregations—not exclusively, I know. We tend to have a lot of families, and children naturally make things more chaotic. In controlling small children, one has to rely on the effectiveness of the parenting, though there are things one can do. I have found that it helps to spend quite a lot of time with the children preparing for First Holy Communion. I attend every preparation session, and spend some fifteen minutes each time simply teaching the children (8 year olds in our case) how to behave in church, and explaining the bits and pieces in a church and what they see at Mass. In our parish we have vast numbers of small children (Deo gratias!), and they really behave very well, because the smaller ones have learnt off their older brothers and sisters who have made their first Communions. And, slowly, even their parents are beginning to get the message.

In our tradition, of course, our altar servers tend to be mostly children and youths, with one or two adults to steer them. This, too, is a great help in preparing them to understand the liturgy and see it as something important to their lives. Those of you who are priests will often have encountered old men, many lapsed for years, who are brought back to the sacraments by the memory that ‘I used to be an altar boy’. If one has too many adults serving, there is not the same opportunity for the young to gain experience, and feel themselves to be of value, by performing the more interesting jobs. The Church is one of the first places that gives them roles of real responsibility and values them as true contributors to something genuinely important. In the past, I suppose, the Anglican tradition would have used choirs for this purpose, but it is a rare choir now that has a child top line, let alone a boy top line.

Roman Catholics also tend to behave in a rather more relaxed way in church than do Anglo-Catholics. I don’t know why this should be, but you will see it in an even more pronounced way in the Mediterranean countries. Maybe (and I’m guessing) it is because we don’t feel we have to make a point of our beliefs and practices; we haven’t had to fight for them in the same way—the worst we might expect is an eejit given to clown Masses, and I have never seen that in the UK. A little more decorum would be nice, of course, and I would certainly appreciate some more quiet before Mass, but the slight air of chaos on a Sunday morning says ‘family’ to me.

I have served in churches where Mass is celebrated facing east, and where Mass is celebrated facing west. I prefer ad orientem celebration (and believe that it better expresses the meaning of the liturgy), but I do not think it impossible to celebrate well ad populum. To make the crucifix one’s focus, and to set it on the altar as Pope Benedict recommends is a great help. It also helps not to look directly at the people except when one is directly addressing them. Building an atmosphere of prayer is a longer task.

One thing I would love to change is the Communion queue. Some ‘liturgists’ are now even making a virtue of it, calling it the ‘Communion Procession’. Well, I suppose they may as well try and see some virtue in it, but I cannot get it. Communion along the sanctuary step gives people a chance to compose themselves, and a chance to receive Communion without immediately being required to move along and make way for someone else. The priest can distribute more quickly, without irreverence, and—an important thing, this—if there is a rail, elderly people receiving on the tongue can brace themselves against it, so that the priest is not having to make a tricky shot placing the Host safely onto the tongue of somebody unsteady on his feet, wobbling around.

This post isn't really a long reasoned argument; it's just a series of thoughts as I try to explain just why it might be that some Anglo-Catholics find our worship not quite as they might prefer it to be. In the end, it is because it is the worship of those who worship there. At times I, too, wonder at the resilience of the People of God, who continue to meet our Lord and grow in his grace in the most unpropitious circumstances. But finally, perhaps, it might remind us of that Jew in Boccaccio's story who, resolving to be baptized, determined to pay a visit to Rome first. His local priest was convinced that, once he saw the chaos and bad-living of that city, he would change his mind in short order. But on his return, the Jew professed himself completely convinced, because, he said, nothing so corrupt and dreadful could possibly have survived even ten years, let along centuries unless the Church were indeed the vessel of God's promise. We are, indeed, the earthen vessels that carry this great treasure, and it is a most powerful demonstration of God's grace that even something so awful as some of our liturgy unquestionably is can still convert thousands, as was demonstrated by the crowds in our cathedrals last Sunday for the Rite of Election.

Monday, 22 February 2010


Besides being the feast of title of our church in Shoreham, today, the feast of St Peter's Chair, is the day of special prayer for those groups who may be considering taking the Holy Father's offer made in Anglicanorum Cœtibus. Please do join with our friends in prayer for this intention today: I offered Mass last night for them, and also the office today.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Place of Awful Music

So what is there, then, in ‘Roman’ liturgy that makes some Anglicans murmur quietly to each other ‘N.Q.O.C.D.’?

Well, there’s the music, of course. The CofE has a truly splendid patrimony of hymnody (just think of those unmatched translations of J.M.Neale), and has some excellent, and many good, choirs up and down the country. But not as many as it had, and there are also excellent choirs in the Catholic Church, though not so many, of course. My impression is that many, if not most, CofE parishes now struggle if they want to maintain a musical tradition, largely because there simply isn’t the body of layfolk to draw on. And it also strikes me that the number of parishes replacing Hymns Ancient and Modern with Hymns Weird and Wonderful is increasing. A lot of this is simply because our culture itself is becoming increasingly dumbed-down.

The question, of course, is should we pander to this, or should we set an example and wait for people to discover what riches lie in store for those who take the trouble to educate their tastes?

It is true that our music in the average English Catholic parish isn’t much to write home about, from the point of view of educated taste. But it does have genuinely popular appeal. Oh, not for everybody, of course, (not for me, in fact), but if one were to take my parish here as typical, then things that make me gag, such as:

The ‘Clapping Gloria’

Sing it on the mountains (oh-oh)

He sent me to give the good news to the poor,

I left my boat by the lakeside,

and many other gems really do (mirabile dictu) touch people’s hearts. In some mysterious way they articulate an interior disposition of faith, and tug, I dare say, at the same heart-strings that Donny Osmond tugged at when he sang ‘Puppy Love’. In our case, the motive is to direct this good impulse towards the love of God. If people’s experience in church is a positive one for them, they will feel better about coming again next Sunday, and in the context of all this pap they will hear the authentic word of God and hopefully have it applied in an orthodox manner in the homily; they will be present at the August Sacrifice and receive its fruits.

So why should one put up with low standards? Because I suspect that more of my parishioners listen to Heart FM (or perhaps Radio 2) than to Radio 3. Palestrina would no doubt sound nice to them for a little bit, but they couldn’t keep it up for a whole Mass, and it wouldn’t touch them, and certainly not in the way it would touch me. There wouldn’t be much to bring them back next Sunday, (though if I were a parishioner and there were Palestrina each Sunday, I would be hammering at the doors).

Let’s consider two examples of the successful use of demotic music, one Anglican, one Catholic.

In the nineteenth century, Fr Faber founded, under Newman, the London Oratory. As any fule kno, the Oratory loves splendid liturgy, and only the most splenetic and unforgiving Anglican would find it wanting in the taste department. But Faber understood what St Philip Neri understood; that actually you have to meet people at least half way. Faber filled the Oratory not at High Mass, but at the Evening Services for which his famous (and some infamous) hymns were written. These hymns, which waver between the sublime and the sentimental (sometimes managing to be both at the same time), were set, it is said, to music that Faber heard emerging from the various pubs up and down the Brompton Road. It was an innovation for which Booth and the Salvation Army usually get the credit, but Faber did it decades before. And it worked! The music was awful, but crowds of the poor poured in to worship God. Those who preferred nicer music went to other services, though many (like the then Duke of Norfolk) went to both.

My Anglican example is a local one. The most Anglo-Catholic church in town is on Shoreham Beach, and it belongs (I think) to the Affirming Catholicism movement. At least, its vicar is a vicaress, and an admirable woman who recently entered a den of lions to defend Christianity, but that’s another story. I attended her plumbing-in (a curious affair presided over by the Bishop of Chichester, the only male on the sanctuary, who personally instituted her even though he doesn’t even believe her to be a priest), in a packed church—admittedly plumbings-in are always big events. More importantly, I gather that the church is very successful indeed, Sunday to Sunday. Rare indeed (sadly) for a church of the Anglo-Catholic tradition these days. The music, however, would probably curl your toes: the setting of the ordinary was, er, unique. Imagine Rodgers and Hammerstein, with a touch of Lloyd Webber, and maybe a bit of Sound of Music. I caught the eye of another Anglican colleague, himself a fine organist, to see his eyebrows disappearing into his scalp; we both got the giggles. But the people raised the roof; somehow with them it struck just the right note; that parish has the pitch of the house, it knows its audience and gets it right. For Shoreham, that is; I doubt it would work in Kensington.

So, whether it’s Kendrick or Byrd, Estelle White or Mozart; the important thing is that it is received. It is not my job to educate people in taste; I am supposed to educate them in sound doctrine, and I will be able to do so more efficiently in a context where they feel comfortable.

So, how low am I prepared to sink?

Let us be clear that in my tolerance of awful music one must firmly exclude texts that are heterodox (and they certainly exist), however saccharine the tune—I have a few more of these in my sights at the moment—because even Arius understood the catechetical importance of music.

Second, one must do one’s best to make sure that the performance is as good (in its own way) as one can manage. A dispiriting performance of dreadful music will lift nobody’s spirit.

The music also has to centre upon the Mystery, which is to say, be uplifting when it needs to be uplifting, and be reverential when it needs to be reverential, remembering that the August Sacrifice lies at the heart of what it is all about.

A cleverer question is: Should we do this at Mass at all?

There, the jury is out in my opinion. Hymns were not permitted at Mass in the UK until the mid-1960s, and there is a very persuasive case to be made for their banning once more, since they have a tendency to debase the liturgy for a number of reasons, which I won’t go into here—the New Liturgical Movement site deals eloquently with this debate. But let us not delude ourselves that the mere banning of hymnody at Mass will result in a taste explosion, if I can put it like that.

For a start, you will not change people’s expectations and tastes for at least a generation, and those who will not or cannot take the trouble to educate themselves to appreciate the chant will vote with their feet.

Before permission was given for hymns to replace the proper texts, one must not imagine that the Liber Usualis was duly sung in every parish; in most places, the Introit, Gradual &c texts were instead ‘peeped’, which is to say, sung to a psalm tone, or (in the case of classy choirs) to Carlo Rossini’s or J Edmonds Tozer’s harmonized versions. These were the Catholic equivalent to Salomon Sulzer’s music for the Synagogue, and in their day probably (mutatis mutandis) not a million miles in spirit from Paul Inwood. The Kyrie, Gloria &c were sung almost invariably to Mass 8; parishes with a choir might sing their way through one of the settings in the Cecilian tradition; there were a host of settings of greater or lesser awfulness—I well remember that we were using these well into the 1970s when I was an organist at Epsom.

There were rare town-centre churches that would make a decent fist of the chant, and when a tradition could be built up, the results could be superb. I was privileged to be the assistant priest at one such church in the early 1990s, where the plainchant tradition had continued, at least as regards the Ordinary, and Masses 1, 8, 9, 11, & 16 were lustily sung at their appropriate seasons by the choir and congregation, a glorious tradition shamefully suppressed by another man in the late 1990s. Hymns (good ones), however, replaced the propers.

The next problem is that plainchant, though relatively easy to sing, is not very easy to sing well. When chant is sung well, there is nothing better. When chant is sung badly, there is nothing worse.

It’s usually sung badly.

A nasal drone wheezing its way through an interminable gradual…… Give me joy in my heart, keep me praising, any time!

Is the Mass the place for spiritual uplift? Of course! Can one be spiritually uplifted by bad music? Obviously some people can: the majority of my parishioners believe that they can. I must just put up with it for the sake of the greater good.

Which is all to say………

I wish it were possible for me to have both a Mass with rubbish music and another Mass with decent stuff; I’m sure that if I could offer a genuine choice, people would eventually begin to get the point. But I have three churches, each of which has a Mass and a large majority who do not like what I like. The best I can have is what I call the “music-lovers’ Mass”, which is the Sunday evening Mass, with no music at all.

My people are wonderful people, and as far as I am concerned, the important thing is that they are here at Mass. Our church is full each Sunday, thanks be to God, and if the cost of that is dreadful music, then bring on the tambourines!

My job is not to make people appreciate good taste, but to persuade them to holiness.

That being said, Anglo-Catholics are quite right to point to, and deplore, the presence of deliberate dumbing down among Roman Catholics. This occurs where the people listen to Radios 3 & 4, and the priest listens to Radio 2 or Heart FM, if I can put it like that. It is where the priest imposes his taste on an unwilling people in the wrong direction.

The absolute I will stand by is that a priest would be extremely foolish to impose a private taste upon a congregation that thinks otherwise, especially when things are actually done quite well in their particular style, but that he would be worse than a fool to take a good tradition and destroy it because of some prejudice against what he might call elitism. It was this shocking philiistinism that gave us the cultural revolution in China and the cultural devastation at the Reformation.

If the ‘Patrimony’ will bring us a better musical style, readily available in more localities than at present, then this can only do good. But we must be clear that it will be addressing a particular clientéle: it is unlikely to attract many of those who are now Roman Catholics, because its tradition tends to be its own, neither demotic nor Gregorian (exceptional places aside). But I expect that it will exert another of Pope Benedict’s gravitational pulls as long as it can demonstrate itself to be reasonably successful.

Next, I shall do my best to address sanctuary ritual.

Saturday, 20 February 2010


I am told that the French-speakers of Belgium are more French than the French, yet at the same time they maintain a certain de-haut-en-bas contempt for their co-linguists south of the border. The French are rather puzzled about this, but simply give a Gallic shrug and mutter about l’ennui du Nord.

I have detected a similar attitude between Roman and Anglo-Catholics, which has at turns amused and irritated me. When I celebrated those Sarum Masses (links to which you can find on the left) fifteen years or so ago, for two humiliating years running I was given a peculiar alb that was the right length in front (so I saw nothing wrong), but absurdly short at the back; the hem (and apparel) did not even descend below the chasuble end. A snort from some Anglo-Catholic congregants was reported to me: ‘typical Romans; can’t get anything right!’ This in the face of what was, actually, (forgive the immodesty) a very well organized and beautiful celebration. Again, there was simply the desire to cut us down to size, to put the Italian mission in her place, among the immigrants, peasants and fools.

Of course, this is perfectly understandable from many points of view. But many of my co-religionists fear that this de-haut-en-bas attitude is actually what some Anglo-Catholics mean by ‘patrimony’. A sort of religious apartheid. I think that for many, this fear is greater than the fear that the hand of the conservative/traditional wing of the Church be strengthened.

Looking around the various Anglo-Catholic blogs and websites, few of the bloggers show much sign of this attitude, but there are flashes of it, and they annoy me considerably, mostly because they sow discord just when we need to be building bridges. Comments I have read and disliked range from the ‘went to a Roman Mass last week; gosh it was awful; just what I expected’ to ‘Very much looking forward to being in communion with a gentleman like Pope Benedict, but gosh, I’m not looking forward to the job of educating the paddies in what Catholicism is really about’.

I restate; most writers do not take this attitude, some are commendably, touchingly, humble and grateful. But future Ordinariates are not going to exist in isolation: for a long time now, Anglo-Catholicism has been ploughing a very lone furrow. Well, now you’re going to have a loving family around you and a new home: this isn’t the time to be criticizing the soft furnishings; it’s a time for making friends.

To return to the analogy; yes, the Flemish-speakers may have decided to dispense with the Walloons, but France has offered a new semi-autonomous province. Let’s all be kind; on the one side, welcoming and generous; on the other, not looking gift-horses in the mouth.

I’m planning to explore this a bit in some future posts, with particular reference to liturgical style; this post is just coughing the bile out of my chest so that I can be more objective here on in.


A comment was made on the last post suggesting that, in the spirit of the Gospel on Ash Wednesday, penance is essentially a private thing, and that this should apply to the Irish bishops as well as to anyone else.
I think I disagree: for personal sins, for our personal failings, then yes, of course. And if penance is done in order to parade our virtue, then certainly private penance is the right thing, as our Lord suggests.
But for public sins and failings, there should be public reparation. This might just do some urgently needed repair work.

And, as a parishioner commented to me: what a historic moment that would be, for the entire hierarchy of Ireland to undertake penance together. Like Henry II scourged at Becket's tomb, or the Emperor kneeling in the snow.
I would bet that, did the hierarchy make a date to ascend Croagh Patrick together, half the Island would join them. This is not a time for hand-wringing, but for decisive Christian leadership. Are the Irish bishops to abandon their people yet again?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010


Yes, yes, I know; it was the cry of the Dolcinians. But it was what came into my mind when I read the response of Cardinal Brady to the Pope's discussions with the Irish hierarchy in response to the abuse crisis.
According to Zenit:

Cardinal Brady stressed the importance of a renewal of faith in the Church in Ireland, saying the crisis of sexual abuse is also due to the crisis of faith in Ireland, in particular, among its priests.

And what does renewal of the faith mean? According to the cardinal, it means renewal of "prayer, of charity."

"We must begin this renewal tomorrow," he said, "with the beginning of Lent."

Quite Lenten: prayer, almsgiving. And yes, crisis of faith is right. But the one thing his Eminence did not mention here was PENANCE. In another place it was equated with humiliation. Humiliation the Irish Hierarchy have already got in spades, and no doubt a humble acceptance of this is a good start, but it is only a start to accept what you cannot avoid, to make a virtue of necessity. If the hierarchy really want to win back the souls of the Irish, they are going to have to go a lot further. To put their money where their mouth is.

Think back to those early days; how were the Irish, a very physical race, converted? Largely by penance. The style of the Egyptian desert Fathers was imported to Ireland and dramatically succeeded. There are those who think that Celtic Spirituality is all about mood music, candles, crystals and bogus poetry, 'deep peace of the rumbling tummy to you'. Try standing up in your neck in freezing water saying all 150 psalms, and you'll get closer.

Ireland has always admired heroism: just look at its literature. What it needs now is heroes, and the bishops are simply going to have to lead the way if they are to stand any chance of reclaiming the people before it is too late.

The people can say with honesty: 'you say you believe this stuff, virgin birth &c; well, I don't see much evidence in your privileged lives.'

The childish gestures of Willy Walsh are only that, childish gestures. Even the selling of an Episcopal residence to compensate victims is simply making a virtue of necessity.

Were the entire hierarchy to go to St Patrick's Purgatory this Lent with as many of the clergy as would join them, it would be a start. But no, I don't see it happening, somehow. That is simply for the simply superstitious laity isn't it? It'll all be gone in a generation. We've left all that stuff behind now, with the ass and sidecar, the soddy schools and the 'top of the morning to yous'.

Never mind being pilloried in the press: to do public penance would be real humiliation! To share the prayer of the poor, the simple, the saintly? Never!

Come on, your Excellencies! What about it?

Immutemur habitu, in cinere et cilicio; jejunemus, et ploremus ante Dominum; quia multum misericors est dimittere peccata nostra Deus noster.

Apprehendite disciplinam, ne pereatis in via justa!

p.s. In the same Zenit email this morning, I see that the fact that Pope John Paul may have used corporal mortification is actually being alleged as evidence against his sanctity! What a strange world we live in!

Sunday, 7 February 2010


The Latin Mass Society are looking for a General Manager and have asked me to advertise this. Please email if you are interested.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Biffi biffs

I had always thought Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, the Milanese former Archbishop of Bologna, to be rather a good thing. I enjoyed his book Casta Meretrix on how the Church can be (as it were, and forgive the allusion) simul iustus et peccator. He has an almost Australian knack for saying it like it is and being no respecter of persons. In his autobiography, Memorie e Digressioni di un Italiano Cardinale, he quotes with approval the words of St Ambrose:
A bishop can do nothing more perilous before God, and nothing more shameful before men, than fail to proclaim freely his own thoughts.
And that is just what he has done, without pulling the punches, pretty well throughout his life. This is Biffi on Ecumenism:

But woe to us if we let this inspire us in our evangelical testimony before the world, in our ecumenical efforts, in discussions with non-believers. In virtue of this principle, Christ could become the first and most illustrious victim of dialogue with the non-Christian religions. The Lord Jesus said of himself, in one of his remarks that we are inclined to censure: "I have come to bring division" (Luke 12:51).

In the questions that count, the rule can be none other than this: we must look above all at what is decisive, essential, true, whether it divides us or not.

And this, just before the election of Benedict XVI, is what he wrote to the new Pope, whoever he might turn out to be:

"1. After hearing all of the statements - correct, opportune, impassioned - that have been made here, I would like to express to the future pope (who is listening to me now) my complete solidarity, concord, understanding, and even a bit of my fraternal compassion. But I would also like to suggest to him that he not be too worried about what he has heard here, and that he not be too frightened. The Lord Jesus will not ask him to resolve all the world's problems. He will ask him to love him with extraordinary love: 'Do you love me more than these?' (cf. John 21:15). A number of years ago, I came across a phrase in the 'Mafalda' comic strip from Argentina that has often come back into my mind in these days: 'I've got it,' said that feisty and perceptive little girl, 'the world is full of problemologists, but short on solutionologists'.

"2. I would like to tell the future pope to pay attention to all problems. But first and most of all, he should take into account the state of confusion, disorientation, and aimlessness that afflicts the people of God in these years, and above all the 'little ones'.

"3. A few days ago, I saw on television an elderly, devout religious sister who responded to the interviewer this way: 'This pope, who has died, was great above all because he taught us that all religions are equal'. I don't know whether John Paul II would have been very pleased by this sort of elegy.

"4. Finally, I would like to point out to the new pope the incredible phenomenon of 'Dominus Iesus': a document explicitly endorsed and publicly approved by John Paul II; a document for which I am pleased to express my vibrant gratitude to Cardinal Ratzinger. That Jesus is the only necessary Savior of all is a truth that for over twenty centuries - beginning with Peter's discourse after Pentecost - it was never felt necessity to restate. This truth is, so to speak, the minimum threshold of the faith; it is the primordial certitude, it is among believers the simple and most essential fact. In two thousand years this has never been brought into doubt, not even during the crisis of Arianism, and not even during the upheaval of the Protestant Reformation. The fact of needing to issue a reminder of this in our time tells us the extent of the gravity of the current situation. And yet this document, which recalls the most basic, most simple, most essential certitude, has been called into question. It has been contested at all levels: at all levels of pastoral action, of theological instruction, of the hierarchy.

"5. A good Catholic told me about asking his pastor to let him make a presentation of 'Dominus Iesus' to the parish community. The pastor (an otherwise excellent and well-intentioned priest) replied to him: 'Let it go. That's a document that divides.' What a discovery! Jesus himself said: 'I have come to bring division' (Luke 12:51). But too many of Jesus' words are today censured among Christians; or at least among the most vocal of them."

Good stuff, for the most part. But he has not appreciated the two most recent archbishops of his home diocese, Milan, Cardinals Martini and Tettamanzi. The latter's latest offence is to have revised the Ambrosian Lectionary and, in Biffi's view, to have done it badly. In fact, Biffi appears to be nearly apoplectic with anger.

I think that most people who read this blog would think that the revision, in most matters, stood pretty well in the general movement of the Hermeneutic of Continuity, since it restores some features of the rite that had been lost over time. Although simply presented as a revision of the Lectionary, in fact it has many ramifications for the Ambrosian Rite generally, since it tackles also the Calendar.
The Ambrosian Rite suffered particularly acutely in the twentieth century. Its archbishop in the fifties, Giovanni Battista Montini (later Paul VI) made several efforts to romanize the rite. This was achieved above all after the Council; the modern Ambrosian Missal is really a Montini Missal with a few picturesque additions (a few Kyrie Eleisons here, a few blessings of readers there) and a different colour sequence for vestments.

The latest revision restores several ancient customs, all of which Biffi deplores:
• Advent is renamed the 'Lent of St Martin', and runs from November 11 (though traditionally it had run from 12th).
• Sundays after Pentecost are renamed, er, Sundays after Pentecost, instead of Sundays per Annum.
• Ancient titles of various Sundays have been restored
• A second Gospel of the Resurrection has been introduced for Vigil Masses of Sundays. I don't know the history of this; maybe it, too, is ancient.
• Ascension and Corpus Christi are to be celebrated (Shock!Horror!) on their proper Thursdays, the parish priest having the option to celebrate an external celebration of the feast on the following Sunday.
Lectio continua has been introduced for certain seasons.
• Gospel readings are to begin 'In illo tempore.'; 'At that time.'

You can read the whole thing here, on Chiesa.

Your Eminence: I really do appreciate much that you have written and said. But in this case, please get over yourself!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Priorities for the Next Five Years

The Holy Father's address a few hours ago to our bishops:

I welcome all of you on your ad Limina visit to Rome, where you have come to venerate the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul. I thank you for the kind words that Archbishop Vincent Nichols has addressed to me on your behalf, and I offer you my warmest good wishes and prayers for yourselves and all the faithful of England and Wales entrusted to your pastoral care. Your visit to Rome strengthens the bonds of communion between the Catholic community in your country and the Apostolic See, a communion that sustained your people’s faith for centuries, and today provides fresh energies for renewal and evangelization. Even amid the pressures of a secular age, there are many signs of living faith and devotion among the Catholics of England and Wales. I am thinking, for example, of the enthusiasm generated by the visit of the relics of Saint Thérèse, the interest aroused by the prospect of Cardinal Newman’s beatification, and the eagerness of young people to take part in pilgrimages and World Youth Days. On the occasion of my forthcoming Apostolic Visit to Great Britain, I shall be able to witness that faith for myself and, as Successor of Peter, to strengthen and confirm it. During the months of preparation that lie ahead, be sure to encourage the Catholics of England and Wales in their devotion, and assure them that the Pope constantly remembers them in his prayers and holds them in his heart.

Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed. I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church’s moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended. Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others – on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth. Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society. In doing so, you are not only maintaining long-standing British traditions of freedom of expression and honest exchange of opinion, but you are actually giving voice to the convictions of many people who lack the means to express them: when so many of the population claim to be Christian, how could anyone dispute the Gospel’s right to be heard?

If the full saving message of Christ is to be presented effectively and convincingly to the world, the Catholic community in your country needs to speak with a united voice. This requires not only you, the Bishops, but also priests, teachers, catechists, writers – in short all who are engaged in the task of communicating the Gospel – to be attentive to the promptings of the Spirit, who guides the whole Church into the truth, gathers her into unity and inspires her with missionary zeal.

Make it your concern, then, to draw on the considerable gifts of the lay faithful in England and Wales and see that they are equipped to hand on the faith to new generations comprehensively, accurately, and with a keen awareness that in so doing they are playing their part in the Church’s mission. In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free. Cardinal Newman realized this, and he left us an outstanding example of faithfulness to revealed truth by following that "kindly light" wherever it led him, even at considerable personal cost. Great writers and communicators of his stature and integrity are needed in the Church today, and it is my hope that devotion to him will inspire many to follow in his footsteps.

Much attention has rightly been given to Newman’s scholarship and to his extensive writings, but it is important to remember that he saw himself first and foremost as a priest. In this Annus Sacerdotalis, I urge you to hold up to your priests his example of dedication to prayer, pastoral sensitivity towards the needs of his flock, and passion for preaching the Gospel. You yourselves should set a similar example. Be close to your priests, and rekindle their sense of the enormous privilege and joy of standing among the people of God as alter Christus. In Newman’s words, "Christ’s priests have no priesthood but His … what they do, He does; when they baptize, He is baptizing; when they bless, He is blessing" (Parochial and Plain Sermons, VI 242). Indeed, since the priest plays an irreplaceable role in the life of the Church, spare no effort in encouraging priestly vocations and emphasizing to the faithful the true meaning and necessity of the priesthood. Encourage the lay faithful to express their appreciation of the priests who serve them, and to recognize the difficulties they sometimes face on account of their declining numbers and increasing pressures. The support and understanding of the faithful is particularly necessary when parishes have to be merged or Mass times adjusted. Help them to avoid any temptation to view the clergy as mere functionaries but rather to rejoice in the gift of priestly ministry, a gift that can never be taken for granted.

Ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue assume great importance in England and Wales, given the varied demographic profile of the population. As well as encouraging you in your important work in these areas, I would ask you to be generous in implementing the provisions of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, so as to assist those groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. I am convinced that, if given a warm and open-hearted welcome, such groups will be a blessing for the entire Church.

With these thoughts, I commend your apostolic ministry to the intercession of Saint David, Saint George and all the saints and martyrs of England and Wales. May Our Lady of Walsingham guide and protect you always. To all of you, and to the priests, religious and lay faithful of your country, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and joy in the Lord Jesus Christ.