Sunday 21 November 2010

Letting nothing dismay them.

It was lovely (and an honour) to meet Fr Michael Gollop of the blog Let Nothing You Dismay and The Anglo Catholic today in St Arvan's, his (Anglo Catholic) parish near Chepstow just over the Welsh border. It was sobering to consider that his churches are attended from people from really quite a long distance away (including by a close relative of one of the Church of England's most unremitting persecutors of the opponents of women bishops) who must all be facing very serious decisions in the near future.
May God the Holy Spirit and St Peter guide them. Please pray for them.

On happiness

Sinéad O'Connor seems a strange place to start this post, but for me she is emblematic of our age. She feels passionately about things, and this causes her to make dramatic gestures that seem crazy, rather like some secular version of some of the Old Testament prophets. She has passion and fire, but this energy is unfocussed, undirected, and lashes out in all directions so that she can always be relied upon for a headline, a soundbite, that is as passionate as it is unreflective.

For a while she lived with a journalist called John Waters and had a daughter by him. He, in common with many Irish people of his generation, rebelled against the Church and lost his faith, believing himself to have profited by the loss. In due time, and through many journeys, he found it again, better than ever, and he also found Communion and Liberation which gave him a vocabulary to understand and articulate what he had been through and what Ireland was going through. He put it into a book, called Lapsed Agnostic which contains a lot of wisdom, and I commend it to you, especially if you know something about Ireland, though its wisdom is much wider.

The book is a kind of rebellion against revolution and at the same time a pæan in its praise. Years ago, in the eighties and nineties, I noticed that the authorities in our Church were still insistently employing the language and rhetoric of revolution and of change, which was strange, given that they were very clearly in power and making damn sure that revolution and change from their view of things was not gonna happen. In its own way, I suppose, it wasn't that different from Fidel Castro continuing to wear military uniform long after it had anything but symbolic relevance.

Did you ever watch any of those iconic comedies of the 90s, Absolutely Fabulous? There, Edina Monsoon, the mother, played by Jennifer Saunders, is an ageing revolutionary who just happens to be stinking rich and selfish, and is completely blind to the fact. She longs for her daughter, Saffron, a very buttoned-up conservative (with a small c), to embrace her 'values', and at one point asks her with passion 'Why can't you just rebel?' Saffron quietly says 'I thought that's just what I was doing!'

Waters writes from the point of view of Irish politics, observing that the politicians likewise, by presenting themselves constantly as forward-looking, embracing constantly blue-sky-thinking, have seized the initiative of revolution from the young and have refused to let it go. They monopolize revolution, and have stolen it from those to whom it naturally belongs. This has an enervating effect on the young, who simply will not engage with the political process at any level because the situation has been created where all politics are simply sat upon with the dead weight of authority administering with what ought to be their own language of revolution. But, of course, nothing ever does change, least of all for the better. The promise of one government after another that it will do away with the past (yet again) and create a new future simply seizes the spirit of youth from the young and makes them cynical.

The issue, I think, is deeper. Our society has become so consumer-led that it is incapable any more of perceiving the truth that happiness and fulfillment are far better achieved by self-giving than by satisfying our own wants and desires.

I was discussing this book with a colleague recently, and she made the sage observation that when she was growing up, the message given by Church, governments and schools was to consider just what the young people could give their lives to. It set before them a purpose and goal which was in some degree transforming. My colleague then contrasted this to what happened increasingly from the 60s onwards, which was to enable young people to organize their choices so as to get what they want out of life. It might seem a small difference, but the consequences have been catastrophic.

Life is now organized around the next pleasure and how to get it. Relationships likewise, and the whole advertising industry is organized around convincing people that they can perpetually have dinner without ever washing up. While the West is engaged upon this orgy of indulgence, the 'soma' of Brave New World, the poorer world struggles to satisfy the appetites in our own; it supplies cheap goods, but also drugs, sex workers and much more; these tear apart societies in the poorer world as much as in our own. And ultimately, it is no wonder that people do not care what government is doing. And it is no wonder that when the Church suggests that this 'soma' is bad for us, she is not listened to.

What it comes down to is that the real revolution is the Gospel, and, unlike the faux revolutions of our politicians, it is new in every age. Instead of arranging our lives around the next pleasure, the Church suggests that instead we should ask ourselves 'who can I give the next pleasure to?' It holds up marriage as the example of this love par excellence, since it reflects this exact self-giving relationship which exists between the Church herself and Christ.

It would be wonderful if our schools again could help our young people to consider their vocation in life. Not 'how do I get what I want?', but 'what am I called to be, to give?'

Not only would our young people be happier, but so would our world. In a world like this, Sinéad O'Connor with all her fire and passion might have done something truly great.

Saturday 20 November 2010

One man and his fax machine

Every time I see Fr Federico Lombardi, the (seemingly) one-man public relations team for the Vatican, I feel we ought to start a Fr Federico fan club. I can't imagine anything worse than having to front to an often hostile press things that you have no idea what they were about because nobody briefed you properly in the first place. And somehow, in many languages, he keeps his cool and comes across as, well, a nice man.
Three cheers for Fr Lombardi!

Friday 19 November 2010

The truth always hurts

There is a site on the web that affects to be able to analyze one's writing style and liken it to published authors. I ran one or two of my pieces through, and discover, to my consternation, that, apparently, I write like Dan Brown. Oh, the shame!

My consternation was slightly alleviated when my friend, an Anglican priest, ran his sermons through the same analysis, to discover that his style was that of  H.P.Lovecraft, who, according to Wikipedia, was known best for 'horror and weird fiction'.

In fairness, I ran a well-known piece of Jane Austen through the test and it came up with, er, Jane Austen. Too easy. I tried its teeth on a little-known piece of Evelyn Waugh's, from his biography of Monsignor Ronald Knox, and the answer came back…………… H.P.Lovecraft!

Impolite and humourless observations will not be posted.

Asia Bibi

I rarely repeat news that you can read on other sites, but sometimes I feel that I need to do so, if only to add weight to the general opinion.

You will no doubt be aware that Asia Bibi stands condemned to death for an alleged blasphemy against Mohammed. It appears sometimes that merely to make an accusation against a Christian in certain places in certain countries is as good as proving guilt.

Setting aside the question of whether Mrs Bibi did malign Mohammed or not, justice does not appear to have been done, and a certain amount (but by no means enough) international pressure is being brought to bear. Even within Pakistan, there is in some circles a sense that this action is doing Islam no good whatever. The Jinnah institute itself has condemned the sentence, which is said to have been the consequence of revenge by a malicious landlord.

Now it seems that President Zidari is examining the evidence. He has a difficult path to tread; Like Turkey, only more so, Pakistan likes to look west, and think of itself as a modern state, but it also has a substantial hard-line Islamic presence without whose support any government's position is always going to be precarious.

Let us pray for our sister in such peril, and for her family, and, if we can, do more. Pakistan is sensitive to public opinion abroad, and it must be encouraged to see that the world is watching what happens in this case.

The St Barnabas Society

For a very long time now, the St Barnabas Society (formerly the Converts Aid Society) has been helping clergy across the Tiber by providing financial assistance when necessary (and it is very often necessary). They are facing a very great call on their resources, as any reader of this blog will know, and could really do with some help.
Please read all about it on Jeffrey Steel's blog here.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Crisis in Belgium

Paolo Rodari, in his Palazzo Apostolico blog, draws our attention to a little rebellion in the Belgian Church which he read about in the New York Times. Don Bosco parish in Buizingen, a parish in the diocese of Malines, now without a priest since the death of the last incumbent, has simply started to attempt to celebrate the Mass without benefit of clergy. Though there is a former priest, now married, in the parish, the first 'celebration' was led by a retired railway official, pictured here. There are said to be about a dozen of these churches in Holland and Flanders, being a reaction to the shortage of priests, but also a gesture of defiance to a hierarchy perceived as being too conservative and too inadequate in its response to abusive clergy.

This reaction is not surprising from many perspectives. The Dutch and Flemish Churches were famous before the 1960s for the vibrancy of their faith and their loyalty to Rome. They were second only to Ireland for their commitment to the missions, exporting vast numbers of priests mostly to the former Dutch East Indies. But, as we all know, the bottom fell out of it all. The Dutch Church first became extremely liberal, and then imploded; that these two things might be connected does not seem to have occurred to the people in Buizingen. As with so many people of this cast of mind, the only answer is to accelerate and deepen the break with the past in the hope that if this policy is implemented with all fervour, then the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit promised at Vatican II will finally happen.

What will happen, of course, is that these communities will either die out altogether, or will come to resemble liberal congregationalist Protestant bodies who cheerfully decide doctrine more or less for themselves, and therefore come to resemble simply clubs of (more or less) Christians who agree with each other, but not with the club down the road.

You might care to compare these querulous, ageing and failing congregations on their way out of the Catholic Church with those happy Anglo-Catholics in San Antonio lining up to join. One line from the report on the blog I linked to on the last post has kept ringing in my mind: 'Children are the necessary fruit of these communities. Where people have hope, they have children.'

Actually, I've just noticed that this post has for some strange reason been deleted from the Anglo-Catholic. You can find it now here, on the Ordinariate Portal.

History happening right now

I do hope that everyone is following with interest the meeting of people interested in the American Ordinariates in San Antonio. Follow the link on the right to the Anglo-Catholic blog. Make no mistake, whether you are inclined to be in favour of the Ordinariates or against them, we are living at a remarkable moment in the Church, and, mark my words, this meeting will find its way into the history books.

Wednesday 17 November 2010


A strange thing is going on in the Church at the moment. Former liturgical enemies seem to be reconciling, lions lie down with lambs, all that sort of thing.

Going back a mere handful of years—well within the lifetime of this blog, at least in its earlier incarnation—the lines of battle were well drawn between those faithful Catholics who thought we should adhere faithfully to the liturgical books of Paul VI, and 'those attached to the former books', as Pope John Paul put it.

Now, of course, it is not a case of 'former books', for Pope Benedict has made both forms of the Roman Rite perfectly current, hoping, it is said, to recreate the Roman Rite anew without legislation or coercion. It will take time, but it is beginning to work.

To begin with, there is the more solemn style of celebration that he has introduced. We saw some excellent examples during the Papal visit to the UK. Some grumbled at the less traditional aspects of the Masses at Bellahouston and Birmingham, but really they should be comparing the whole thing to the Masses during the visit of Pope John Paul. The atmosphere was entirely different, and the change happened on that occasion when Pope Benedict, only a few weeks elected, attended the prayer vigil at the Cologne Youth Day that Pope John Paul had planned to attend. When the crowd began to chant 'Be-ne-det-to!', as it had done for JPII, the Holy Father simply put his finger to his lips and pointed skywards. It was a glorious moment; instant transformation resulted, and the consequence was one of the most prayerful occasions every seen on such a large scale. Subsequent Papal celebrations have had the same note of prayerfulness. I had long given up attending such things, or even watching them on the TV, because I was so distressed by the disruptive atmosphere. But everything has changed. In particular, I remember the great prayer vigil in St Peter's square at the close of the year for priests: there was hardly a sound in that vast crowd: I knew things were now going to be different. And so, during the Holy Father's visit to the UK, we saw the same thing. Yes, there were liturgical undesirabilities, but the tenor of the whole thing was prayerful and spiritually nourishing.

A few days ago, I met a brother priest at the seminary whom I had not seen for some time. He is, shall we say, not unknown in Catholic media circles. No, it isn't Mgr Loftus. In passing he happened to mention to me that he was starting to celebrate the traditional Mass from time to time. I was taken aback, because although I am aware that this priest is on the more orthodox side of things, I had never associated him in any way with traddydom. He saw my surprise, and said quietly 'yes, well, it's the future, isn't it?'

He's not the only one. In one southern English diocese, about twenty per cent of the priests now celebrate the traditional Mass at least from time to time. Most of these are in their forties or younger. They haven't stopped celebrating the Ordinary form as the norm, but, one might say that the Missa Normativa is no longer the Missa Formativa in their life or the life of their parish. I mean that behind their celebration of the Mass of Paul VI lies a positive experience of the Mass of Pius V (at least in its John XXIII form). The people who attend Mass now are mostly the sort of people who found the prayerful celebrations of the Papal Visit nourishing, and are (mostly) glad to experience the same in their parishes. Some call it the 'gravitational pull' of the traditional rites.

This has partly to do with the fact that in reality our parish liturgy has hardly changed since about 1975. A few extras, such as girl servers, but nothing much. What was exciting then, the introduction of a 'celebratory' style of liturgy, has become the norm, and like all party games that have been played over and over again, unless one is the centre of attention, the game palls. And still we see some priests beginning almost every celebration with a reminder to the grey heads in front of him of how awful things used to be and how much better they are now, like some ageing apparatchik of the Kremlin in the Russia of Brezhnev. We are even singing the same awful music. Very little has changed.

Except everything has changed. Like a long musical piece that has got itself stuck into a canon going on and on, now a new musical theme has entered. It harmonizes perfectly well with what is already being played, but suddenly the audience lift up their heads and regain their interest. This is not dissonance, but actually is not just interesting in itself, but makes better and more interesting sense of what is there already, to everybody's surprise, including the surprise of those who thought that really the best thing to do was to stop the music altogether and play the previous piece exclusively.

Here I would refer you to what inspired this very long post; Paix Liturgique from time to time send me emails with their latest article. Today's is arresting: Fr Claude Barthe, a long-term campaigner for the traditional rites, has lent his support to the movement for reform of the reform. Read it here (it's in English). Here's a taster:
The reform of the reform project cannot be implemented without the spinal column of the most widespread possible celebration according to the traditional Mass, which in turn cannot hope to be reintroduced on a large scale in ordinary parishes without the recreation of a vital milieu through the reform of the reform.
The lion shall lie down with the lamb indeed.

Now before you write in and tell me that you have not the slightest intention of modifying your position, that either the Mass of Paul VI or that of Pius V are the devil's work, I am not suggesting that there are not plenty of people out there who have not moved an inch in their position. Simply that there are a lot who have, and right now they are having their effect.

Monday 15 November 2010

Traddy announcements…

The Society of St Peter have a vocations discernment weekend on 17-19 December. Details here.
The Latin Mass Society have posted many pictures of their annual Requiem here.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Valle de los Caidos

The Valle de los Caidos ('The Valley of the Fallen') is a strange monument; I have been there a couple of times (out of curiosity, mostly) and latterly because I was the guest of some Madrid-based friends who have a holiday cottage not far away. From the little garden of the cottage, one can easily see the vast cross that indicates the Valle which itself is situated not far from the Escorial, the heart, in some ways, of the Spanish Monarchy. Not to visit it would be strange, though I am no Fascist. And, according to Wikipedia, it was the third most-visited monument in Spain in 2009.

As a church, that of the Valle de los Caidos isn't exactly heart-warming. There is a certain air of James Bond about it. The approach is up a long (highly defensible) road winding uphill through a forest which terminates in a large car-park with a ghastly cafeteria-style restaurant. From there one approaches on foot up some large concrete stairs. The church is not so much built as tunnelled into the mountain-side, and at the sesquipedalian entrance one must be searched and pass through those metal-detecting arches such as one finds at airports.

Inside, the gloom deepens. There is a long concrete tunnel of a church (which might have been by Goodhart Rendall) with no natural light, and side altars with tapestries behind them. The focus, through the unremitting grey gloom, is the large high altar with the graves of Franco and Primo de la Rivera at its foot.

The church, a Benedictine Abbey Church, is supposed to be a monument to all those (of both sides) who lost their lives in the Spanish Civil War. Inevitably, since it was the losing Socialists who, as prisoners of war, were made to do some of the work (they could halve their sentence by agreeing to participate), as well as the personalities buried there, it has come to be seen as a memorial to Franco and Spanish Fascism. Those workers are now called the 'esclavos de Franco'; Franco's slaves.

And now the church has been closed by order of Zapatero's government, and policemen posted to turn everybody away.

Let us not trample in where angels fear to tread. The whole issue of the Civil War is still a very painful one in Spain. There had been for many decades a general agreement simply not to talk about it, for the common good. This uneasy peace Pope John Paul was held to have broken by his raising to the altars many of those who were killed by the left wing anticlericals. Consequently, say some, now it is open season.

As Catholics, it would be hard not to see those Catholics who were killed as in some sense real martyrs. But the acknowledgment at a time when people can still remember that Franco and his army also committed atrocities has raised very painful memories and also the temperature of the debate.

Added to this is the fact that Franco has been judged by history as the villain of the piece. During my first visit to Spain, my companion lamented that the Church had supported 'the wrong side' during the Civil War. My jaw dropped; such is the forgetfulness of time, that nobody now remembers those thousands of priests and religious gratuitously killed by the left wing in and before that terrible war, and the dreadful oppression. They only remember Franco's fascism and his refusal to fight against Hitler and Mussolini.

King Juan Carlos owes his throne, at least in some degree, and perhaps mostly, to Franco. But he demonstrated his preference for a more democratic rule in facing down personally a pro-Fascist attempted coup not long after his accession. Consequently, the Spanish often speak of themselves as being not Monarquistas, but Juan Carlistas—attached not so much to the monarchy per se as to the person of Juan Carlos. Whether a similar reverence will be accorded the Prince of the Asturias when he succeeds, remains to be seen.

But to return to the Valle de los Caidos. Clearly, it was a thorn in the side of Zapatero and his mates. Not only was it a memorial to the fallen, it was also Franco's burial place, and therefore a focus of attention, even pilgrimage, to people that Zapatero pathologically hates. The closure is an act of defiance from a man who feels that finally he has put Fascist Spain to rest. The Guardia Civil are posted to prevent people from attending Mass there.

Not that long ago, guide books warned visitors to the Valle that the Guardia Civíl were still very much pro-Franco, and kept a proud watch on his tomb. Consequently, we were warned, 'behave yourselves!'. On my first visit, my companion (the same person who had lamented the Church's bad choices in the Civil War) raised his right arm and goose-stepped his way out of the church.

I was mortified; I thought we'd be arrested for mocking the Caudillo.

The chances are now that we'd be arrested for the opposite reason.

I was deeply saddened to read that the latest casualty of this business was a Pietá statue at the Valle which this year has officially been attacked with jack hammers in order to destroy it.

Whatever one's politics, this vandalism doesn't seem to be the right way to go about things.

Saturday 13 November 2010

One Timothy Four

A rather overdue post, this, to welcome Giles Pinnock and his family into the fold of the Redeemer. Let it never be underestimated, the courage and conviction to do this.
As a cradle Catholic myself, I salute my new brother and congratulate both him and the Catholic Church for being able to welcome him home.
As a token of this, with pleasure, his blog is now moved from 'Nearly Brethren' to 'Catholic Lynx', on the right.

Thursday 11 November 2010


When I was in the seminary in the early 1980s, we had a retreat given by an eminent Franciscan. Among other things, he described the translation of the liturgy we have now as being 'like a wet sack on a damp mattress'.

Well, yes. That was the good stuff, and generally he was an engaging and passionate preacher. However, (and of course there's a however—I'm a blogger!) he said at one time in an enthusiastic outburst:
'Purgatory wasn't even invented until the twelfth century'!

He clearly hadn't read Tertullian's De Anima. Tertullian (c.155-230) doesn't use the word (that may, of course, have been invented much later, possibly in the twelfth century), but the idea is clear enough:
It is most fitting that the soul, without at all waiting for the [resurrection of the] body, should be punished for what it has done, while not being joined to the flesh. So, on the same principle, in return for the pious and kindly thoughts in which it did not have the help of the body, it shall receive its consolation outside the body. 
  Moreover, even with things done through the body, the soul is the first to conceive them, the first to arrange them, the first to authorize them, the first to precipitate them into acts. And even if it is sometimes unwilling to act, it is still the first to deal with the thing which it means to bring about with the help of the body. In no case, indeed, can an accomplished fact happen before it has been thought about. So it is quite in keeping with this order of things, that the part of our nature which comes first should be the first to have the recompense and reward which it is due. In short, inasmuch as we understand the prison pointed out in the Gospel to be Hades, (Matthew 5:25) and as we also interpret the ‘last penny’ to mean the very smallest offence which has to be recompensed there before the resurrection, no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades some compensatory punishment, without prejudice to the full process of the resurrection, when the recompense will be administered through the body as well. De Anima 58

Novembrish thoughts. The eminent Franciscan has now died, so he is able to find out for himself whether what he said was true or not.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Rowdy children

The Catholic Herald asks the question whether special children's liturgies actually encourage bad behaviour in church. Rather than make an extended comment in the box there and irritate people, I thought that I might do so here.

In the Adur Valley we have both a regular Sunday children's liturgy and (now) pretty well-behaved children, thanks be to God. I assume that in my absence on Sabbatical, things are still the same. This is how we tackled it:

When I first became Pastor in Valle, I determined that I would try and follow the recommendation of St John Vianney that the priest himself should prepare the children for their sacraments. Now, our catechists are very good and willing, lovely people, and I was not prepared to unseat them, so I simply joined them.

Our Communion preparation sessions these days always begin with ten to twenty minutes when I myself talk to the children in the church. I meet them in the hall, and explain what behaviour is expected of them and why. Then we go into church. I start very simply, showing them how to make the sign of the cross (most don't know—itself rather, well let's just say surprising, but certainly telling), how to genuflect reverently, and generally how to behave in church. We learn all the normal Catholic things; the bits and pieces in the church, lighting candles, looking at the furnishings and talking about their purpose. Finally, we kneel down (important to kneel, I think) and pray together the traditional prayers (which most don't know); the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be, and the Act of Contrition (to get by heart for their first Confession).
Finally, their catechists take them off, after a good genuflection, to the main bit of their preparation.

My personal involvement has all sorts of spin-offs. The most important, I think, is that I get to know the children; their names, their families, their commitment and the rest. This has been terribly important, I have found. Next year, for the first time, I will be preparing for Confirmation (and, yes, I get closely involved there, too) those I prepared for First Communion six or seven years ago. My contact then and since will, I am sure, make all the difference. I am very keenly looking forward to it.

But another spin-off is that those children know how to behave in church, and in many cases they behave better than their parents. And the bonus which I had not anticipated is that their younger brothers and sisters naturally model their behaviour in church on them, as younger siblings will do. And fewer children seem to be lapsing, though there is a lot of room for improvement there.

Oh, our children aren't perfect all the time, of course, but what child is? All I can say is that I am moved that we can have 60+ children under ten in a crowded building, and not hear a sound at the Consecration.

Monday 8 November 2010

Five brave men

Today five Anglican bishops have announced their resignation: the Rt Reverends Andrew Burnham of Ebbsfleet, Keith Newton of Richborough, John Broadhurst of Fulham, Edwin Barnes emeritus of Richborough and David Silk, a retired assistant bishop of Exeter.

They have my prayers and good wishes.

So it begins.