Friday 28 January 2011

The Sacraments of Initiation

I tremble in having to disagree with His Patrimoniality Fr Hunwicke, with whom I find myself in almost constant agreement. He warmly applauds the action of the Archbishop of Liverpool in celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation before First Holy Communion. I, I'm afraid, do not.

Now I cannot but agree with all Fr Hunwicke's arguments; he is of course quite right to say that the proper order for the Sacraments of Initiation is Baptism, Confirmation, Communion, and that there has been agreement on this in the West right down to the (relatively recent) time of Pope St Pius X. I agree too that there was more loss than gain in this change. He is also right to assert that this is a Sacrament, not a Rite of Passage.


What I deplore is the ceasing of the ancient custom that this Sacrament be conferred by a bishop. If Confirmation is simply to become an adjunct to the celebration of First Holy Communions, which happen all within a few weeks of each other,

1) There is no way that even a bevy of bishops could get to every celebration. They will have to delegate the parish priest in each case, as has been happening in the Salford Diocese for several years now.

2) Given the fuss and celebration of First Holy Communion, the Sacrament of Confirmation risks becoming entirely overshadowed.

3) I cannot see that adequate catechesis in these sacraments can be given by the age of 8. Given the deplorable state of the teaching of RE in many schools there will now be no opportunity to catechize our young people. This will have to be worked around in another way, but a number of priests will simply not bother, and a number of young people will simply not bother either.

4) And what about Confession? Does the Archbishop seriously think that his teenagers are going to make a solemn Confession, like the French Communion Solenelle?

Our bishops have become increasingly distanced from their dioceses. The ever-increasing bureaucracy of the Bishops' Conference, of committees and all the mechanisms of senior management, is sucking the lifeblood out the relationship between bishop and diocese. Many years ago, the then Bishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor ceased doing Confirmations in the parishes because, he said, it gave less time and focus to his proper parish visitations. So Confirmations were moved to the Cathedral, a deanery at at time, and thus they remain. The trouble is that when parochial confirmations ceased, so did parochial visitations. The Bishop since has just come to lend dignity to big 'occasions'.

The ancient custom in the West was, I believe, that everybody was confirmed by the Bishop as soon as possible after their baptism. That meant that when a Bishop arrived in a locality, everyone who had been baptised, from infants upwards, went (or was taken) to the Bishop to be confirmed. I remember hearing that some Bishops would confirm when passing through a district without ever descending from their horses.

Would that not be preferable to the Liverpool/Salford solution? Each bishop will regularly visit his parishes, and while there confirm all those who have been baptised. At the age of 7 or 8 they can make their First Confessions and Communions.

If that is not thought suitable, then let's leave things alone! The Ordinariate can maintain its (more ancient) practice.

Priests Training in the Extraordinary Form

Details of the forthcoming Latin Mass Society training of celebrants in the Extraordinary Form may be found here.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Memories and the Confiteor

Whether or not one has the third Confiteor before Holy Communion in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass  is a subject that can raise hackles all round.

What is forgotten, though I have mentioned it before, is the fact that the very reception of Communion during Mass is a comparatively recent custom. I don't mean because people formerly didn't go to Communion very often —when I was a child, my parents would go three or four times a year — but that it didn't happen at Mass, and Communion at Mass didn't become commonplace until the years after the First World War. At Westminster Cathedral, Communion was distributed between Masses in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Here in the seminary at Wonersh, Communion was distributed before the early morning 'Community Mass' until about 1925. Thanksgiving was made during the Mass itself, at which, often hymns were sung. There was a later High Mass in addition, and the entire college were expected to assist at both but communicate at neither.

The rite of Communion had a Confiteor because it rarely took place at Mass, but was a separate rite simply lifted in. Given the success of the movement for frequent Communion and the Liturgical Movement's achievement in moving Communion habitually to within Mass, it made sense to ask whether that Confiteor was necessary, if the Communion were to be treated as a part of Mass itself.

There are a number of things that have changed as a result of moving Communion to within Mass. I suppose few people now would think it inappropriate (indeed it seems an obvious thing to do), but there is no question that it has shifted the focus of the celebration away from the Sacrifice and towards the people to some extent. One encounters increasingly the attitude that if one has not received Holy Communion, one has not been to Mass. Some go as far as to assert that if one has not received Communion under both kinds, one has not received properly, and therefore has not really been to Mass. This does need some corrective action, though perhaps returning Communion to an extra-Missal position might be going rather far.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Orto iam sole

Splintered Sunrise is back. Hooray.

Monday 3 January 2011

Those Left Behind

During these remarkable days when some sort of a realignment is taking place within Western Christianity, I would not wish to forget those who would call themselves Anglo-Catholics and who have, and will, remain in the Anglican Communion. These are bitter and difficult days. Those who are now becoming our new brothers and sisters have the consolation of their new home; those behind have to confront and live in a less congenial Anglican church and that without the support of those they relied on, especially their bishops whom they loved and trusted. They will understand why I support the Ordinariate wholeheartedly and welcome our new brothers, but that does not stop me worrying about and praying for those left behind.

I pray, of course, first that they too may find the grace, faith, whatever, to make the same crossing to the fulness of Catholic Communion. But anyway that God will aid them with his grace to do his will and find comfort there.

Feeling glad for our new brethren is not the same as gloating. Thanks be to God, I have seen very little (none, actually) of that.


My second parish as assistant priest was the Sacred Heart church in Hove. This is perhaps the loveliest church I have ever served in. It was built in the 1880s, (by Crawley then Hansom), and almost everything is beautiful. Eric Gill and Caryll Houselander were both received into the Church there. Its only drawback was that the original sanctuary was rather small, and so in the mid 1950s the parish priest, with infinite pains, extended it. The remarkable alabaster altar rails, for instance, were copied and extended at what must have been vast expense.

Come the liturgical changes a few years later, the same parish priest believed himself required to make further changes to the sanctuary. This time, instead of the infinite care the same man took a handful of years before, it appears that he got come cowboy builders to take a couple of sledge hammers to the high altar, built some cheap wooden staging and steps out into the sanctuary, and roughly slapped together such bits of the old high altar as survived the mauling to make a forward altar. The gradine behind was patched with some marble and had a couple of other bits of the old altar glued onto it.

What a strange contrast of approach. The first time, no trouble was too much. The second, any trouble was too much.

Sunday 2 January 2011

Children and The Telegraph

In today's Sunday Telegraph, Rowan Pelling (a lady) defends, juxta modum, Elton John's and his partner's decision to produce young Zachary. It is the terms in which she does so that is rather interesting. She writes of her own children:

I didn't have my boys so that one of them could find a cure for cancer, or because I thought I would be the best mother in the world. I did it because I believed that my life, and my husband's, would be happier and more fulfilled if we had mini-wes to love.

She goes on to add that the experience of having children inevitably makes one become less selfish, which is of course right.

What worries me is the attitude she highlights, that even when reasons are thought to be good in themselves, children are still used instrumentally, for a purpose that is other than their own. It is at least part of what we mean by human dignity. Every human being has his own dignity and purpose which is quite apart from the purpose to which that person will be put by others (state, parents, medics &c).

The idea of having a child to make necessary treatment for another, or because it makes me a happier person or, frankly, even because it makes me a better person (thought that isn't quite what Mrs Pelling is saying), reminds me of Huxley's Brave New World, with human beings created for one purpose or another.

In the end it is this point that we need to get across, I believe. Once one understands it, all the rest falls into place; surrogacy, abortion, even contraception.

A child is not created to be loved; it is created to be, and to be an image and likeness of God. And that is why we love it. Because it is loveable in itself.

I know there's nothing here either very original or very interesting. I was just moved to post it because of being struck by people's funny views of altruism, highlighted in Mrs Pelling's article.


On a related topic, in First Things, Lord Nicholas Windsor has published a passionate cry for the defence of the unborn. He observes that while we congratulate ourselves on all the strides made towards social progress in Europe, we still ignore the elephant in the room of abortion; a massacre that truly disgraces us all, and has somehow ceased to appall.


And, while on the subject of The Sunday Telegraph, today's issue has a photograph taken by the noisy cameras yesterday in Westminster Cathedral. It is quite apparent, however, that the author of the accompanying article, Jonathan Wynne-Jones, did not think it worth accompanying his photographers to the ceremony, given the number of inaccuracies in his column.

It is always a salutary thing to remember how many silly things one can catch journalists saying when writing on subjects that one, the reader, knows something about. It should always remind us not to trust them too much when they write on subjects about which we know little.

Saturday 1 January 2011

History Being Made

One of the great things about a sabbatical is that one is much freer just to drop things and run. So it was that I was able to be present today at the reception in the Church of those brave folk who have begun the movement towards the Ordinariate.

The whole thing was very low-key, really. I turned up early, and was saying a prayer at Our Lady of Pew when I was joined by a man in a purple tie. He asked for assistance in a small matter, and I recognized John Broadhurst (hard to know how to title him right now). We chatted for a minute, and he parted with the line 'Nellie the elephant has packed her trunk and is getting out of the circus!'. He seemed in very cheerful humour.

I crossed over to the Blessed Sacrament chapel and was met by two anxious-looking journos who also wanted help. They were deceived by my clerical collar into thinking I was on the local team. 'We're from the Telegraph, and are here for the Ordination at 12.30'. Well, the Telegraph'd obviously sent the A team, I thought, if they hadn't even realized what they were coming to!

I got a nice seat at one side, and was pleased to be joined by Sir Dan of the Nesbitry (what on earth do people who weren't at John Fisher School make of that title?) whom I have known since I was nine. I also spied Jeffery Steel of De Cura Animarum in the congregation.

There was a little rehearsal beforehand, and Mass duly began. There was absolutely no reference whatever to the elephant in the room (the reception of these notables) from Bishop Hopes or anyone else. It was simply a Mass for the feast of the Mother of God; a little note in the menu simply observed that there would be a reception in the middle. Finally, once he had preached, Bishop Hopes said a word about what was happening.

The reception was very low-key. The journalists turned out to be photographers, and put their heads over the screen behind the choir stalls, setting the volume of their shutter clicks to Maximum and Extremely Distracting. Only the three active flying bishops were received, all modestly and humbly in ties, together with some members of some of their families, plus the three sisters from Walsingham. I was surprised to see that even John Broadhurst, baptized a Catholic, was received along with the rest. They were then confirmed—some in accord with tradition took confirmation names; one of the former bishops took Benedict, another Joseph, others used their baptismal names—and they returned to their places to gentle applause. One of the sisters, descending the steps grinned at the congregation and gave two thumbs up.

They were then introduced to a great Catholic tradition; the collection. With masterly tact, a large African woman in a great pink headdress descended on the poor sisters (who if Dame Rumour speak true* had been turned out into the snow in their shifts) and menaced them with a collection bag. A fellow brigand went to mug the former bishops.

We all received communion, (five of our new brethren, including all three former bishops, on the tongue) and, lo, it was done. We are in communion.

The Ordinariate is launched very quietly and gently, slipping almost unnoticed into the water.

Dat Deus incrementum.

* perhaps she don't. I've heard both versions.