Thursday 14 May 2009

Choral Treasure update

Thanks to all those who supported Choral Treasure; a note on the site says that they have received enough contributions to continue for a few more months: please do continue to support this wonderful initiative.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Any man can dream…

I'm sure I must have posted before about the modern difficulty concerning the sacrament of Orders. Is it three-fold, or seven-fold? And is Episcopacy a separate order from priesthood (as certainly current theology would have it) or the legal unfolding of powers already latent within the priest (as Trent would imply)? My view has always inclined to the latter, not because I want to think of myself as a bishop, but it would be hard to explain otherwise how a priest has the apostolic power to forgive sins, and why he consecrates the chrism with the bishop. There is a lot more that could be said here, but the point I want to make is that considering Episcopacy a separate order, standing on its own, like the presbyterate or diaconate, opens the door to groups like the American Catholic Church (see the last post), who are so proud of the validity of their orders.
Peter Anson in his wonderful book Bishops at Large (which desperately needs reprinting) asked a very pertinent question. In the course of his book, he went into great detail about the proliferation of these little groups and noted that it was rarely sufficient for them to be episcopally consecrated only once: they were often consecrated over and over again by other bishops, as if this somehow made them even more valid. Anson asked: In what sense can these consecrations really be considered valid? Yes, of course, in a mechanical, pipeline, sense, all the bits are in place. But did our Lord really establish the college of bishops so that strange men might celebrate weird rites in odd clothes in their front rooms with their wives making the responses?
The older understanding of episcopacy would suggest that these episcopal consecrations lacked the essential element for validity—legitimate ecclesiastical authority. The Orthodox would agree. Whereas priesthood is sacramentally conferred by a validly consecrated bishop, episcopacy is [non-sacramentally?—in a literal sense] conferred by ecclesiastical authority unbinding the powers latent in the priesthood, so that the bishop thereafter exercises 'the fullness of the priesthood'. If there is no legitimate authority doing the unbinding, then the consecration would have no validity, no matter how many times the ceremony is repeated and, presumably, the specifically episcopal functions carried out by the recipient would, simply, lack validity. He would simply remain a presbyter (assuming he had received presbyteral orders from a bishop who genuinely possessed ecclesiastical sanction for his consecration).
This would sort out the proliferation of these strange sects who claim legitimate catholic status combined with arcane theological positions. And I hope it would bring to an end this rather disedifying scramble for episcopal orders. An Anglican priest in the Welsh borders told me that there is a not insignificant number of ordinary Anglican clergy who may well have obtained episcopal orders in anticipation of a melt-down of the CofE. Indeed he knows of one or two. Setting aside the question whether the CofE can count as legitimate ecclesiastical authority within the meaning of the term, the older theology would help them sort this one out. However, I am aware that the CofE is firmly wedded to the threefold ministry, and I rather suspect that this is where our more modern view came from in the first place!

Wikipedia makes the point that the episcopal consecrations of Archbishop Milingo were declared null, whereas those of Archibishop Lefebvre have been declared valid but illegal. This does rather suggest (probably, all other things being equal) that Rome is thinking about legitimate authority again.

If you have the stomach and patience for it, here is the lineage of one Episcopus Vagans (who delights in that nomenclature). He has his own blog.

Does the revolution begin here?

I found a link on the New Oxford Review news page that spoke of a former permanent deacon in the States (Diocese of Scranton) who is about to be excommunicated for seeking ordination to the priesthood in the American Catholic Church, a body begun in Maryland ten years ago. This piqued my curiosity, and so I googled and discovered their web page
One might have thought, given their comments about themselves:
[The American Catholic Church] affirms traditional Catholic beliefs of faith and love, spirituality, community and prayer. It celebrates the seven sacraments and adheres to the essential Catholic doctrine and practice as expressed and implied in the statements of Vatican Council II, and in the light of the best contemporary thought.
that it was a breakaway from the Catholic Church, this being reinforced and maybe explained by the fact that they will ordain just about anyone—women, men, gay, straight &c. &c. , and by the lovely picture of their presiding Archbishop, Lawrence J Harms DD (where did he get the DD?) which tells you everything you need to know about its theology and spirit.
However, if you look down the pages, you will discover that in fact this Harms' orders descend from yet another of those Episcopi Vagantes. In other words, they are just simply a private playpen for those who like that sort of thing. I think that the Vatican may sleep easy for now; these are not NewChurch independent and on the rampage.
You will also see on the pages, by the way, that they have canonized Martin Luther King.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Ad multos annos!

Twenty five years ago today, as a young seminarian, I remember being in the little church of St Pius X in Merrow, a suburb of the unsophisticated unmetropolis of Guildford in Surrey for the ordination to the priesthood of Raymond Blake. The liturgy was not great, but it was about as good as one could get away with in those days–my own ordination, five years later, was scarcely better—but the ceremony left an impact on me which I have never forgotten.
Please say a prayer for Fr Ray today, that the grace of his ordination may be refreshed in him and that many souls may find their way to our Lord through his ministry.

Ad multos annos, Ray!

In case you haven't guessed, I'm speaking of the great hierophant of St Mary Magdalen, Brighton.

Saturday 9 May 2009


The Emperor Phocas (602-610) is not one of the better known Emperors; he was the Emperor before Heraclius, the one who trounced the Persians and so exhausted both the Empire and the Persian Empire in the process that the Islamic hordes simply mopped up most of both within a very few years. Back to Phocas. Oddly enough he is better known in Rome, where his column still stands in the forum, and also for another interesting act which we are celebrating today.
The Pantheon is one of the most remarkable buildings in Rome. Originally built (according to the inscription on the front) in 27bc by Marcus Agrippa, the friend of Augustus, it was radically altered by Hadrian in about 125ad, the cella being a drum surmounted by a concrete dome, the largest in the world at that time, and not surpassed until relatively modern times. It was dedicated to all the gods, and the various niches inside presumably held their statues; the marble decoration still to be seen there is original, and so this is one of the very few real ancient Roman buildings one can really walk into and around.
Now here comes the point. By the time of Phocas, the ancient pagan religion had been outlawed for some time. Phocas himself was particularly beastly to people who tried to worship the old gods even in secret. He gave permission to Pope St Boniface IV (whose feast we celebrated yesterday) for the Pantheon to be converted into a church. Boniface did so, and brought the bodies of many people (especially the martyrs) from the old catacombs and reburied them inside the Pantheon—the Catacombs, being outside the city walls, were no longer considered safe, on account of the various barbarian (and soon Islamic) raids. And so the Pantheon was consecrated the church of St Maria ad Martyres, which remains its official title to this day, on 9th May 609, which is to say 1400 years ago today.

On another topic, if you visit the Pantheon, do not miss the caffe granita at the little cafe called the Tazza d'Oro on the edge of the Pantheon square.

Here's a Mass celebrated on the feast itself; shame there were so few there to enjoy it, but a note on the New Liturgical Movement blog mentions that it was arranged a mere two days beforehand, celebrated during the siesta and while there was a major procession of the Bd. Sacrament at the Angelicum.

Saturday 2 May 2009


Last Sunday I and my friend William went to Mass at the church of St Francis Xavier, Hereford. I had met the Parish Priest, Dom Michael Evans (a monk of nearby Belmont Abbey) when I was a boy and he was visiting his parents—we come from the same town. I served Mass for him—the first Latin Mass I attended since infancy. I suppose he started something! And so I was delighted to renew acquaintance last summer at the Merton College Extraordinary Form training conference, and again in the last few days. The Mass was in the EF: you can find one at St Francis' every Friday and a Missa Cantata on Sunday once a month. A splendid schola sang a very difficult pre-Reformation Mass very creditably—and even sang the Credo polyphonically, a very rare occurrence.
If you have not visited St Francis Xavier's, don't miss it if you are in the area. Fr Michael has restored it spectacularly—and that really is the only word. It is very near Hereford Cathedral, and cannot be missed, since it has a vast Ionic portico leading into the classical rectangular interior typical of many Catholic churches of the first half of the nineteenth century. The picture above I have nicked from Fr Tim's blog as I forgot to bring my camera. What is astonishing is that on two or three occasions this lovely Church has narrowly escaped destruction from those whose taste is for the brutal. Thank God and Dom Michael that this never happened, and that, after such work has been expended on it, it is now safe for several future generations.
After you have visited St Francis, you should visit the Cathedral. Unlike most Anglican Cathedrals, there is no charge for visiting (yet), though if you want to see the chained library and the Mappa Mundi, you (quite understandably) will have to pay. What is particularly splendid is that the current Dean of Hereford, Michael Tavinor, has restored a shrine to Hereford's great saint, Thomas de Cantilupe. Unlike the 'shrines' you will find in other cathedrals (Swithun at Winchester, Thomas Becket at Canterbury, Richard Wych at Chichester) this is no cenotaph ('This is where the shrine used to be until Henry VIII thought that the Cathedral would look tidier without it, kindly took away all those messy jewels and gave the bones a decent Christian burning &c') but a real reliquary set inside a sort of feretory on the site of St Thomas' first burial place. Take your sunglasses—it is decorated in full quasi-mediaeval vibrant colours and gilt. The relic is the tibia of St Thomas, lent by Stonyhurst College, and I greatly valued the opportunity to pray at the shrine and light a candle. I am told that the restoration of the shrine has not been without controversy—not everyone in the Hereford Anglican diocese is happy with the idea of the veneration of saints, and still less their relics. But I am very grateful. Thank you, Mr Dean, and especially for not treating the relic as a museum piece, to be gawped at, but as a holy thing to be prayed before.

Choral Treasure

While surfing the net I encountered on the NLM site a reference to an on-line radio station called Choral Treasure. Basically, this appears to broadcast, pretty well non-stop, the Church's great treasury of choral music. They now are scheduled to close at the end of the month, because they have to pay royalties and are running out of money.
It is such a shame that I have only discovered this wonderful treasure just as it is about to close. If any of you have money to spare right now, you might consider going to their site and making a contribution via Paypal.


Sorry to have been silent for the last couple of weeks: other things have rather intervened, quite apart from the fact that my posting often tends to be either feast or famine. For the last few days I have been away in the Welsh Marches, a region with which I am not that familiar. Now I'm back, I'll try and post a few pics for those of you who are interested.