Tuesday 30 August 2011

Help Save Lanherne

This is a letter from Mother Maria Rosa Pia of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, who have a wonderful foundation in Lanherne. I will write no more, but let Mother tell you in her own words:

 Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate 
House of Contemplation “Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel” 
Lanherne Convent, St. Mawgan 
Newquay, Cornwall TR8 4ER 
Tel.: 01637 860423 
E-mail: fsi.lanherne@talktalk.net 
Ave Maria! 
July 2011 
Dear Friend, 
Please permit me to introduce myself. I am a Franciscan Sister of the Immaculate living the contemplative life at Lanherne Monastery in St. Mawgan, Cornwall. We are a community of 11 sisters from England, Italy, and the Philippines and we arrived here in the year 2001, 10 years ago. Prior to that, the Carmelites, who had been here since 1794, decided that they would leave Lanherne in order to amalgamate with another one of their communities. They therefore sought another religious order who would be able to continue the life of prayer and sacrifice which they had fulfilled here since their arrival. We were approached by the Mother Superior and a meeting was arranged between the Carmelites and the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate. It was decided that we would come to Lanherne and begin our contemplative life here on 11th July 2001. 
However, following our arrival, the circumstances changed and it was decided that the Monastery should be sold together with its Estate. What happened, in fact, is that the surrounding buildings have been sold and all that remains now is the Monastery itself and St. Joseph’s Hall (which is used as a church hall). We have been asked if we would like to purchase Lanherne ourselves, but as Franciscans we are not allowed to own any properties, nor do we have the money to purchase it. What I ask is whether you know anyone (or a group of people) who would be interested in helping us to keep Lanherne as a place of prayer and who would purchase the Monastery and Hall, but at the same time permit us to remain here to continue our life of prayer. I do not know how much the property is estimated to be but I feel sure they would not be looking for more than £1 million. I do not think there are any other religious who would be interested in coming here and if would be a tragedy if it became a secular building as so many other Monasteries in England have become. We can think of Stanbrook Abbey and Darlington Carmel to name but two. 
Lanherne is such a special place and everyone who visits it says they find great peace and a facility to pray here. One year ago we started to have adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament every day of the week after the 7.30 a.m. Holy Mass (10 a.m. on Sundays), ending with Benediction each day. You may be interested to know that the Sanctuary light before the Blessed Sacrament has remained alight for hundreds of years. Lanherne used to be the Manor House of the Arundell family who rose to high positions in the country, only to be reduced to gradual impoverishment during the times of the Reformation, due to their love of the Catholic faith. Lanherne became a place of refuge for many priests during this time of persecution and there are said to be nine priest holes where they hid from their persecutors. Tradition relates that one priest was hidden in one of these for eighteen months. St. Cuthbert Mayne often used to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass here (using the altar which is now in our small choir) and ministered to the Faithful here. He was martyred on 29th November 1577, for the simple reason that he was a Catholic priest. The Franciscans of the Immaculate are now the very privileged custodians of the first class relic of his skull which is kept in our choir, and which the people who attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass here on Sundays are able to venerate. 
Just to tell you a little about our Institute of Franciscans of the Immaculate (friars and sisters). It was founded fairly recently by two Italian priests, Fr. Stefano M. Manelli and Fr. Gabriele Pellettieri, (both of whom are still alive) who were inspired by the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe. The distinctive characteristic of our Institute is the religious profession of the Marian Vow of Total Consecration to Our Lady and each of us desire to live our religious consecration under the protection and through the mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by means of this Vow. One very important thing in a world in which the number of religious vocations is dwindling rapidly, is that our Institute does have many vocations both for the friars and sisters and these are now coming from all parts of the world. We have communities in many countries and four Houses of Contemplation, one of which is Lanherne. 
May God and Our Lady reward and bless you for reading this letter which I send to ask if you are able to help us in any way to keep Lanherne a place of prayer (which has been our most special intention for so many years). I would be most grateful to hear from you in this regard and assure you of my prayers and that of the whole community. 
in Jesus Mary & Joseph 
Mother Superior 
Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate 

Monday 29 August 2011


The Pastor is in his Valle.

All's well with, well, at least the Pastor.

Home at last.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Il faut que la France survive 4

The revolution is the 'other' foundational event for France. It is as important to the non-religious side as the baptism of Clovis is to those with a traditional religious faith.

The American revolt was in some ways the inspiration, but it was a very different event. The American affair was not exactly unbloody, but on the whole was a fairly civilized happening (unless you believe Gibson's The Patriot version of it). The French brought all their passion to their revolution, and it must have seemed like the end of the world. The nightmare that was the Terror was truly appalling. In the Conciergerie museum, on the Ile de France, you can see a list of all those executed in Paris during those violent months, some for the crime of merely being a driver, or a baker to 'The Traitor, Capet' (aka King Louis XVI). The list goes right round a room, in small print. It makes sobering and sad reading.

When crimes so massive as those judicial murders have been committed, those connected in any way have simply to go on with it. There can be no going back; any weakening can only result in a possible victory for one's opponents, and then one is certainly going to be a victim of revenge and punishment oneself. Having committed atrocities, the only thing is to stay in charge, and be proud of what has been achieved. You brazen it out. This is the foundation of secular France, whose anthem is the extraordinarily bloodthirsty Marseillaise. Its motto is Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and by and large it (eventually) succeeded in establishing just that. Bourbon France may have been Romantic, but it was Wrong for all the reasons I have alluded to in previous posts, plus a lot more. 'Let them eat cake' (or brioche) may have been a calumny in the case of Marie Antoinette, but it was a common enough attitude before the Revolution. Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, on the other hand, have led to the liberal France being really very illiberal, imposing a sort of one-size-fits-all policy (of which the laïcité argument is a part) that denies divergence or differentiation among the countless nationalities now to be found in France. The argument about the hijab, for instance, is not so much an objection to either religion in general or Islam in particular as a determination that no Frenchman or Frenchwoman should stand out in any way from the common notion of Frenchness.

So, you have two strands of self-understanding in France. The traditional religious standpoint adheres to the Clovis moment as being the decisive moment of French self-understanding. Here you will find many monarchists and right-wingers, many, if not most of whom are also Catholics of a traditional persuasion, going regularly to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. These have a traditional notion of the Glory of France, so it is not to be wondered at that many of these families' sons end up in the army. I heard somewhere that a few years ago, one of the great military schools (?St Cyr?) actually appointed its chaplain from the Fraternity of St Peter because so few of the students wanted the Ordinary Form of the Mass. So, in France, traditionalism in religious matters more often than not involves all these other things as well. It is a culture, an outlook entirely of itself, and not well understood outside France. in the States, in the UK, traditionalism is mostly about religion (though in the US there can be associated matters like Republicanism, opposition to big government, the right to bear arms and the rest, but they are not essentially linked, just the same sorts of people tend to hold the same sorts of views). In France, the linkage is a real one; this school of thought is usually called Integrism; a complete vision for France, one might say, honouring her glorious past (but not, of course, the revolution and all that stands for), and working to make it her future too. Il faut que la France survive!

Having been held by a large proportion of the Church, this all went pear-shaped in the 1960s. France was profoundly shaken by the events of that era (Algeria, De Gaulle, Student riots and all that), and the Church was no exception. Liberal ecclesiastics were enthused by Pope John's opening to the world, and embraced secular France with a will. Broadly speaking they turned their back on Clovis, and embraced the revolution instead as the cultural and meaningful moment of French history. What in English we call a 'trendy' or a 'liberal' is in France known as a 'Soixante-Huitard', a Sixty-Eighter, a man of 1968.

Imagine the impact this had on those to whom the vision of Clovis, the union of Throne and Altar, meant everything! It seemed like the basest treachery and betrayal to embrace the atheistic, masonic liberalism of the state, of Clemenceau, of the Marseillaise; it was like joining the tricoteuses as they jeered the Carmelite nuns of Compiegne ascending the scaffold singing the Salve Regina.

And if you ever want to see a grey-shirt French priest get apoplectic, just mention integrism to him.

I'd like in the next post to look at the nineteenth century in France, and what it had to contribute. But I hope today that I've helped explain to English speakers a little of what went to make Archbishop Lefebvre do what he did, and why his movement is so strong in France, more than anywhere else.

Friday 26 August 2011

Il faut que la France survive 3

So, by the time of the Revolution, we see a French Church:
1) Divided emotionally from the mainstream West by an firm and principled independence—Gallicanism.
2) Weakened by the abuse of the Church's resources, material and spiritual, to benefit the crown and state.
3) Weakened by the Wars of Religion, and the legacy of blood and bitterness.
4) Despised by the intellectual classes of the 'Enlightenment' who find different ways to express religion: Deism, a sort of Roman Revival Classicism, Agnosticism or even Atheism. This group felt themselves profoundly to hold the moral high ground.
5) Internally divided between Jansenism and orthodox Catholicism.
6) And yet still capable of producing saints.

This is what I call the French paradox; that you can have a situation that is from one perspective disastrous, and yet from another perspective, vibrantly alive and functioning. It is as true today as it was then, and I will be returning to this. I think that perhaps it has something to do with the French character, which, simply, is never lukewarm, but is always passionate and tending to the extreme. Rabbi Lionel Blue once described his mother (or perhaps his grandmother) as being the kind of woman who never had a headache; it was always a brain tumour. I don't think the lady was French, but the French, like her, tend to adopt radical positions and defend them passionately.

We see this most clearly in the spirituality of that pre-revolutionary age. On good Gallican principles, France had never implemented the decrees of the Council of Trent, or at least only did so very slowly. But that didn't mean to say that the spirit of reform had passed France by; it just wanted to implement reform in its own way. Dioceses retained their old mediæval rites, but instead of Romanizing them, they further distanced themselves from the mainstream. Inspired by Jansenism, they, for instance, removed from liturgical texts anything that was not strictly scriptural, and warmly approved the findings of the (Pseudo-) Synod of Pistoia, which advocated an awful lot of things that we would be familiar with today.

If you want to know more about Jansenism, Fr Anthony Chadwick has a very good trot-through the subject here.

French spirituality was very popular even outside France until quite recently. Mgr Ronald Knox famously remarked that he needed to read spiritual books in French; no other language would quite do. Sometimes its severity and austerity were characterized as Jansenist, but really I am not sure that all schools of French spirituality didn't have that mark.

As in all other things, the French wanted to do spirituality their own way. International religious orders, like the Jesuits, were not popular in France, and even the (itself very independent) Oratory would be transformed to French taste. The founder of the French Oratory, Cardinal de Bèrulle, approached St Francis de Sales and begged him to lead the new Congregation. St Francis refused, though he professed admiration from afar. One can scarcely think of a wider gulf between his spirituality and that of the French Oratory! One of its greatest luminaries, Père de Condren was described by St Jane Francis de Chantal as having a spirituality more suited for angels than human beings.

Seminaries were finally beginning to be founded at this time (priests were still being formed according to the pre-tridentine model), and the movement for seminary formation took on a huge momentum. Two whole religious congregations were founded to do this job (itself a strange concept of the time, that Religious should form secular priests), both influenced by the French Oratory, one by St Vincent de Paul, and the other by Père Olier, the Sulpicians.

Olier was a hugely apostolic and holy man whose foundation and inspiration provided generations of good and even saintly secular priests in France and Canada. I myself was formed in the only English seminary founded according to Sulpician principles. But the principle was a very strict one indeed. Again, we experience that French extremity.

Corporal mortification, for instance, has always been considered a healthy remedy for sin. But in French spirituality it became almost a good in itself. One would withdraw from every pleasure and comfort, deny all joy unless it be in God alone. Olier taught a strict custody of the eyes, and one day taking seminarians to Chartres on pilgrimage, one lad dared to lift his eyes to the great windows there and involuntarily gasped, expecting a harsh rebuke. But for once Olier said that it was all right to have a quick goggle, as Chartres was built to the glory of God.

This seems to me somewhat inhumane, and very alien to the Irish school in which I was brought up. That one might not look at a tree or a sunset lest it give one pleasure, it seems to me, is contrary to the evidence of God's goodness in his creation. It reflects a real pessimism about creation, that it is somehow totally depraved and incapable of leading us to God. Trent taught that nature (including human nature) was 'in deterius commutatur', changed for the worse, but its inherent goodness was not wiped out.

For the same reasons, extreme forms of mortification were encouraged and admired. This has often been called 'Jansenist', and I'm sure that the Jansenists were very enthusiastic about it, but I think that it also had widespread currency among those who would not call themselves Jansenists. Fr Chadwick in the article linked to above mentions that Jansenism is alive and well in the Society of St Pius X. I wonder, really, if it is really classical Jansenism, or whether it is simply this traditional French extreme approach to spirituality?

A friend, who was for a time a seminarian in the Society, was taken with his year group from Ecône to visit the new preparatory seminary at Flavigny, sited in a former religious house. There they inspected the cemetery and found many graves of men in their late teens and early twenties, worn out, it was explained, by the extremity of their mortifications.* The Rector smacked his lips with satisfaction: 'c'est bon, ça!' he said, 'c'est Catholique!'

* More likely tuberculosis, which was rife in such institutions.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Il faut que la France survive 2

It will be clear that French Christianity was going to be quite different, largely because the culture that was baptized with Clovis was so very different from the 'civilized' Romano-Gallic culture which had preceded it. At one level, the Arian Goths in the south and in Iberia were more 'civilized', to the point that when Clovis announced his intention to liberate the Catholic Gauls from their oppression under the heretical Goths, those same Gauls preferred to fight with the Goths against the Franks. They lost, though, and willy-nilly found themselves part of a new, Catholic, France.

The Romans thought that the Franks were rough, uncouth and bellicose. They had a point. It took nigh on a millennium to arrive at the court of the Sun King. There is little to be astonished at that Eastern Christianity looked with barely-concealed or even open contempt at the Western Church, so deep it was in the arms (in both senses) of barbarians.

But we mustn't let the East get away with it altogether; its history, too, was brutal, and Christianity did little to ameliorate that. But the East had both subtlety and scholarship, and it took the Franks a few hundred years to acquire these, beginning under Charlemagne who initiated a deliberate policy of recreating the Western Empire, and began it by himself learning how to read, and of importing all the finest scholars he could find (like Alcuin of York).

One curious difference between East and West was that the East was in a fairly constant state of war; first with the Persians, and then with the Moslems. The West was (comparatively) peaceful; it has sometimes been said (and I'm not really sure how much credence to give this) that, lacking a great deal of real all-out war, the Franks' friskiness was in due course to be channelled into the Crusades, rather than being wasted in beating each other up.

The creation of the Holy Roman Empire had another curious side-effect. Until this point, the Western Church had been fairly undisputedly governed by the Papacy. But in time the Holy Roman Emperors came to want the same sort of influence over the Church that their opposite numbers in Constantinople exercised. In the middle ages, it developed into almost a dual authority structure in the West; some Christians looking to the Emperor, others to the Pope, for ecclesiastical leadership. It was to cause the 'Investiture Crisis', concerning who had the right to appoint bishops. There were even different theological schools. Sometimes the Imperial Church (as it were) seemed in the ascendent, and sometimes the Papal, as when in 1076/7 the Emperor Henry IV was reduced to kneeling barefoot in the snow at Canossa to beg the Pope's forgiveness.

In some ways, this 'Imperial' church survived in France where (as in some other countries) the King appointed the bishops and governed the Church as every other aspect of the country. I think that perhaps you could make a case that this Imperial-style was what Henry VIII was aiming at in his break from Rome. Not a new Church, as such, but independent and secular government of the Church in England. To many a Frenchman, the 'alliance of throne and altar', which essentially dates back to Clovis, is of the very essence of France. France, in this view, is not truly herself without the twin pillars of the monarchy and the Church. They will not disagree, however, that it went very wrong. From the late middle ages, the state began to exploit the Church for its own ends. Abbacies (and of course their incomes) were conferred on laymen whom the King wished to favour. Consequently monastic life went into steep decline. Bishoprics were conferred on politicians and civil servants for the same reasons; and it did not seem to matter much whether the man was a good one or not. Talleyrand, for instance, was, though a known unbeliever, appointed to the bishopric of Autun in the fateful year of 1789 for political reasons. This effective, principled, autonomy of the French Church is what is known as Gallicanism.

There were other negative influences also. The wars of religion during the Renaissance were truly terrible. Catholicism triumphed in the end, but it waded through seas of blood in order to do so. The famous cynical comment of Henry of Navarre, a Protestant who converted to Catholicism when confronted with the resolute Catholicism of Paris which was the the only obstacle preventing his taking the crown as Henry IV, that 'Paris was worth a Mass' suggests that, really, the wars had done much to wipe out the fervour of the high middle ages.

Some fervour did return, of course. There were saints, great saints like St Vincent de Paul, St Margaret Mary Alacoque and many others, but much of the fervour was found in the new half-Protestant and 'charismatic' heresy of Jansenism. It, too, was ruthlessly stamped out, but, like Gallicanism, its ghost continued to haunt the French Church for many years. Some would say that it still does.

Monday 22 August 2011

Il faut que la France survive 1

'Il faut que la France survive' These words are a kind of motto for a certain kind of Frenchman: it is necessary that France survive. Not just necessary for France, but for the world, for humanity. France, this motto suggests, has a message for mankind. And it isn't Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, either. In this view, the France that was born at the conversion of Clovis in 496 created something deeply important. I'd like to explore that a little.

The Roman Empire disintegrated in the West incrementally between (very roughly) the fourth century and the sixth. The low point was the sack of Rome herself in August 410, and the main agents of this disintegration (besides the internal problems of the Empire) were those groups of peoples the Romans called 'Barbarians' (because they couldn't speak Latin, going 'ba-ba-ba' instead). The Christianized Roman Empire had come to identify itself in some way with the Kingdom of God. The degree of identification can be disputed, but the Emperor had become a sort of Ikon of God and the Empire a sort of Ikon of his Kingdom.

This means that those who would wish to profess the Gospel must put themselves under the governance of the Empire. In later centuries there was an amusing sequel to this, when the Bulgarians, who wished to join themselves to Byzantine Christianity, were told that they must first take their trousers off. They were considered a barbarian thing, you see. But it also resulted in almost no missionary work being undertaken outside the Empire's borders for a very long period. Indeed, the only significant example that I can think of was the mission to the Goths by, er, the Arians! Which is why the Goths became Arians. I think that, arguably, the mission of St Augustine to Canterbury (sent by St Gregory) was the first real example of the Empire doing its duty. Perhaps some of you know others—there was the work of Frumentarius among the Ethiops, of course. But that was rather an independent scheme.

The sack of Rome in 410 brought profound heart-seeking among orthodox Christians, for it seemed that God had abandoned his Kingdom. In the shadow of this, the increasingly pessimistic St Augustine wrote his monumental work The Kingdom of God, in which he worked his way round to his insight that God's Kingdom cannot be identified with any earthly state. It is a fascinating work, and really I can't do it justice here, so I won't try.

The baptism of Clovis represented a new way. A despised, barbarian kingdom accepted the Orthodox Catholic Gospel, in contradistinction to the Arian Goths who were in Southern Gaul at the time, and this seemed to signal a change in their fortunes, and its king and its people were baptized by St Remigius in 496.

Get that: God's kingdom does not require a particular earthly political allegiance.

Now, there were political reasons for this, without doubt. And one cannot deny the appeal of wanting to be like the classy people in Rome. (Forgive this analogy). Revolutionaries may begin by living on onions and sleeping on straw, but before long their leaders find the palaces of those they have overthrown very attractive. Clovis clearly wanted to hitch his wagon to the glorious history (not to say lifestyle) of Rome. But he did so in a very different way. He and his men didn't really stop beating other people up, for instance, or (probably) putting their feet onto the table at dinner. He didn't stop being a Frank: he was just a Christian Frank. Or Frankly Christian.

(Has it ever crossed your mind to ask where we get the word 'frank' from?)

To those in the Roman Empire, Clovis remained a barbarian: the problem was all the more acute because he was very successful in his enterprises, thrashing the Arian Goths in the south of Gaul. But the Church had to decide what best to do. Should it applaud, or should it tut-tut?

It did what it does best; it havered, and waited a few centuries. The Emperor was distant, in Constantinople (he regarded the Pope as his viceroy for the West for much of this time), and Rome herself was in a pretty awful state, with various strong families dominating the scene, and the Emperor so far away that all he could do was demand taxes without fulfilling his part of the bargain to provide the necessary defence that was required.

This all came to a head in the reign of Pope Leo III (reigned 795-816). He was a surprise election, a nobody, really, who was bullied quite egregiously by the Roman families (one account has him castrated and blinded by them), and (to cut a very long story short) threw himself into the arms of the Frankish monarch, whom we know as Charlemagne. He got the support he needed, and in return, on Christmas Day 800 was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in Rome.

To be continued………

Saturday 20 August 2011

A Tea-light…

…for the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley.

They keep me smiling.

(and for the sake of those already clenching their theological gussets, no, I am not about to become a liberal Anglican. I just instinctively like some people.)

Friday 19 August 2011

A Question

I'm now at the end of my sabbatical and will be returning to the Valle Adurni in a matter of a few days. Naturally, especially once the book was finished, I have been reflecting on all sorts of things to do with the parish, and one of them worries me particularly. I would like to solicit your advice, and that of my clerical brothers especially.

A phenomenon that seems to be on the increase is that of the 'temporary convert'. What I mean is that somebody approaches me with a view to becoming a Catholic. For a year or so, he or she regularly comes to Mass, and attends all the preparation sessions where I myself do all the teaching (and I can assure you that it is thorough). I do my best to ensure that each convert has a 'friend base' in the parish; if he or she knows nobody, I try to introduce him to others and make sure that he never feels at sea. The time comes for the reception; he makes his first confession; he professes his new faith with fervour, he receives his first Communion with devotion…

And next Sunday, he's not there. He's already semi-lapsed. From time to time one may see him around; he might appear at Mass when there's nothing more interesting to do, but with decreasing frequency. Not all are like this, of course, but the proportion is scary.

I know very well that other priests experience the same thing, and no doubt they beat themselves up about it the way I do, which is why this matter is not addressed on blogs and things.

A few Sundays ago, we listened to the Parable of the Sower. And it struck me, for the first time, that this parable is mis-named; by thinking about the sower and the seed, I had missed the point that the parable is actually about the soil. If our potential converts are the seeds sown by the sower, we, the Church, are the soil in which they are planted. And is our parish thorny, stony, rich? Are we good soil in which they might grow?

So, I think that I might rejig things a bit. What if I were to begin the course with a retreat? To take people away to a monastery for a weekend, to learn how to pray before they learnt the content of the faith. I think that perhaps it is too much to assume that people will pray without lots of encouragement. And maybe if they pray, the faith will root more deeply in them. The new Catechism ends with prayer, and I have followed that pattern until now. What if I were to begin with it?

And has anyone else any good suggestions?

Wednesday 10 August 2011


Do please go and read what Fr Tim Finigan has said about the riots here. He is right on the money.

"Just showin the Police and the rich people we can do what we want" about sums it up, I think. "I can do what I want" is the net result of moral relativism applied by the ordinary teenager affected by original sin and educated in a system that undermines any real foundation of duty to God, country or neighbour.

Few people have noted the irony of the appeals by the Police to parents to "contact their children." For several decades our country has undermined marriage, the family, and the rights of parents. Agents of the state can teach your children how to have sex, give them condoms, put them on the pill, give them the morning-after pill if it doesn't work, and take them off for an abortion if that fails - and all without you having any say in the matter or necessarily even knowing about it. Now all of a sudden, we want parents to step in and tell their teenage children how to behave.

Thank you, Fr Tim. Excellent as always.

500 (h)

I think I'm getting near to the end of what I want to say about Ireland. There is a very interesting comment by GOR in the last post which provides me with a good link to this comment, which I promised some posts ago.

The parish priest in Ireland was more than just a religious functionary. In many ways he substituted for local government. Different nations react differently to occupation. The French, for instance, either resisted or collaborated. The Irish (as I have suggested some time ago) simply circumvented, and went on with business in their own way. The parish priest, their own man and public figure, in many ways became the mayor and the magistrate of a town; someone whose authority all the local Irish acknowledged. In some places, he was the 'clerk'; the one who could read and write, who could speak up for the local people and if necessary represent them to higher authority. The Irish preferred not to deal with the English establishment except where it was necessary: the parish priest, with his mutually accepted authority, performed almost all the necessary functions of government. As for religion; well, as I have suggested, the people did it themselves, except for the necessary administration of the Sacraments.

With the coming of independence, Ireland had its own governors, and the parish priest no longer exercised civil authority. But his moral prestige remained as it had always done. It's just that he didn't have so much to do. From the Renaissance onwards, the notion of pastoral practice was increasingly becoming important. No doubt it would be interesting to do a post some time on what is really quite surprising; pastoral work on the part of priests is quite a new phenomenon, championed by figures such as St Vincent de Paul, St Philip Neri and others. I'm not convinced that this aspect of priestly life ever really took hold in Ireland. When the business of government moved from the Parochial House, all that there was there to fill the void was the G.A.A. and the golf course.

Hence the anger of the Irish people. The prestige of the priesthood has been enormous in Ireland. Now people are asking just what those priests have done to earn it, and to some of them it seems that as a body they have treated the Irish people very badly. Again, of course there are exceptions, many many exceptions, but there are more than enough of those who barely deserve the name of pastor.

In the early autumn, the breviary sets out at length (it seems to go on for ever) the great sermon of St Augustine De Pastoribus, On the Shepherds. In this sermon Augustine excoriates those people called shepherds who take the sheep's milk and wool but deny those same sheep the care that they need.

Beware, they say, the wrath of the lamb!

Sunday 7 August 2011

500 (g)

I hope that by this stage we have established that the Irish have traditionally had their faith nurtured in the home, rather than in the parish. This has enabled the faith to survive very adverse conditions, including the total alienation of the parish buildings and assets to Protestant worship.

Since the home cannot furnish sacramental worship without the help of a priest, the devotions of the Irish tended to be centred around other things, like the rosary, pilgrimages &c. The peculiarly Irish custom of the Station Mass (not to be confused with the Roman custom) can be seen as an extension of that. To this day, families in a parish will announce a Station Mass, when Mass will be celebrated in their home for all their neighbours. Put aside all thoughts of sixties house Masses: these were, and are, major devotional occasions and a real mainstay of the life of the parish and people. Fr Hunwicke and others might care to wonder whether this, too, connects to the paleo-Christian worship of the Irish.

So, by the end of the nineteenth century, Irish religion was concentrated largely on the pursuit of holiness expressed in ways other than the formal parish liturgy more common to countries who derived their spiritual practices from the old Roman Empire.

That the clergy were mostly formed in France during the penal times also may have had its effect. France was given to both Gallicanism and Jansenism, and I think we can see the effects of both these in Irish spirituality. The anti-Jansenistic remedy of devotion to the Sacred Heart of our Lord can also be seen in abundance in Ireland, as could the anti-Gallican profound devotion to the Holy See deriving from the Ultramontane movement. Even the custom of the red sanctuary lamp which we are all so familiar with is, I am told, an Irish custom derived from the Gallican uses of France, which used red as the liturgical colour for the Blessed Sacrament. Rome has always used white.

The introduction of the Liturgical Movement into Ireland was patchy. Certainly there were places where the liturgy was done splendidly, but they were rare. Clergy, however, understood that it was the mind of the Church to encourage good liturgy, and tried. But the heart of the people continued much as it had always done. And the priests themselves pursued holiness as they had learned at their mothers' knees, which is to say in personal prayer, in devotions, pilgrimages and all that.

The traditional rite of Mass, with its long periods of prayerful silence, hid the fact that the priest could scamper through Mass in 15 minutes. It used to be said that all the people heard of the Mass was 'SCUM!' as the priest whirled round to say 'Dominus vobiscum'.

Hand in hand with the liturgical movement was the disapprobation of other devotions; people were supposed to focus their prayer and devotion on the Sacred Liturgy. In many parts of France, this worked very well. There were many parishes which, up to the Second Vatican Council not only celebrated the regular Sunday Masses with as much solemnity as they could muster, but also celebrated parts of the Office too, the laity assisting at sung Vespers in Latin with gusto.

Not in Ireland. Even at Mass, the people, attending in huge numbers, continued to pray the Rosary—not even together, except in October, when the curate would stand in the pulpit and lead the rosary while the parish priest celebrated Mass at the altar. This is fact; I am not exaggerating.

Then came the Second Vatican Council, when the Mass was no longer something mysterious and esoteric. It was patent and vernacular. So, no need for those other 'unliturgical' devotions, then.

Father stopped saying the rosary.
Father encouraged the people to attend to the Mass, rather than say the rosary.
So people stopped saying the rosary. And all the other stuff.
Father didn't stop saying Mass at ninety miles an hour.
Father's job was to say Mass. Nothing else.
(anyone see that funny Fr Ted episode when Fr Dougal got stuck on a milk cart that he couldn't stop? Fr Ted's reaction was to say Mass alongside the milk cart)

Mass, Mass, Mass, Mass, Mass, Massy Mass Mass.
(Not that I'm against the Mass, you understand……)

And the Mass as celebrated was extremely unsatisfying (ex opere operantis, I mean, of course). Gabble, gabble, gabble. Bad homily. Gabble, gabble, gabble. Communion (given by lay people). Guinness.

The Irish spirit, as I have suggested, will find other outlets for its devotion. One good example of this is the (excellent) proliferation of Eucharistic exposition. This happens probably in most parishes now. But I have yet to see a priest present. An extraordinary minister will expose and repose; lay people will take their turns to watch. The rosary and other devotions the same.

I should here say that I do perfectly understand that there are excellent priests in Ireland. I know several.

Most priests will not engage themselves, because the prayer is 'not liturgical'. Priests aren't actually necessary to its functioning. They don't see that they have a much wider importance than the mere performance of a function. They have spent their seminary career being educated to despise that devotional life which their grandmothers so cherished, and which gave them, themselves, the faith. The liturgy can nourish the faith well, when it is done well ex opere operato. Nothing better, naturally. But when it isn't, and when the very devotions are discouraged and despised, and shunned by the clergy, then one may ask what is there that is actually nourishing the faith of the Irish people these days?

And can you wonder that ordinary people are asking just what use is a priest, and why he deserves the status he has been given?

500 f

This is really a sort of excursus or clarification. I speculated several posts ago about the worship in early Irish Christianity. I knew, of course, of the Stowe Missal, but nothing much about it. It turns out that the Patrimonial Doctor, Fr Hunwicke has written a paper on it, which I have ordered. However, I thought I should give you the great man's ipsissima verba:

 I published a piece in Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (Vol 102C, Number 1, 2002), which I am told is on the internet somewhere, showing (in my view) that the people stood around the Oratory, different categories (monachi, penitentes ...) often on different levels/terraces; that even the clergy only entered the oratory at the Offertory.
I suggested that perhaps the 'mass stones' of the penal period were a continuation of the same culture ... the idea that there were British troops with eagle eyes on every hill in Ireland throughout the 'penal' period seems to me improbable. Presumably some sort of shelter was erected around the mass stone.
The very extensive chants 'covering' the Communio in the Stowe Missal would suggest that this was, in fact, an extremely long part of the service.

I'm not sure about the Mass rocks: does anyone out there know more about them and how they were used during the penal era? That the early Irish were far happier out of doors than inside is commonly understood, and no doubt they were happier attending Mass in such a location than their English co-religionists might have been.

Monday 1 August 2011

500 (e)

Right, back to the fray.
In earlier posts I have tried not to defend Irish illiturgicality, but to explain it. Like many of you, I believe that sorting this question out is part of the answer to the Irish Question. It just isn't the whole answer, and it has to take account of the Irish point of view.

I am now going to give an account of a celebration I attended a few weeks ago: it will highlight many of the things I have been writing about. It will horrify many of you, but I would ask you to contain your reaction and try to understand it.

There is a monastery in the Irish midlands where monthly Sunday afternoon religious gatherings (I don't really know what I ought to call them) have taken place for many decades; these have been very popular, but are now being wound down for external reasons. I attended one of these, but sat in the congregation (and yes, I was in uniform) as I was feeling unwell.

It all began in a chapel entirely devoted to the Divine Mercy devotion. There is a large picture—you know the one, with rays coming from our Lord's heart—behind the altar, and confessionals all around (unused on this day, though I understand that confession was a usual part of these afternoons in the past). Two elderly priests entered. One of them had a smoking thurible, and this was waved at the picture. Then we all sat down and recited the Divine Mercy Chaplet, five decades. This being done, we all decamped to the main chapel. Here Mass was celebrated at breakneck speed—not irreverently, I mean, but very very quickly. I suspect that the celebrant was simply saying the English Mass in the same way he used to say the Latin Mass. When Communion time came, the concelebrant stood at the microphone and sang a traditional hymn, while the main celebrant gave out communion at the head of a side aisle. Meanwhile a woman grabbed a ciborium and headed off to us at the back of the chapel. There was no queue; she came to each person in his or her seat. When she came to my aunt and me, she demanded 'do yez want the bread?' and, I am not exaggerating, flung the Blessed Sacrament at us. When she had finished, she stumped back off to the altar, tabernacled the ciborium, bobbed a half-genuflection and went back to her place. Mass over, the concelebrant again crooned a hymn to the Blessed Sacrament into the microphone and the main celebrant proceeded to expose the Lord in a monstrance. There was no pause for prayer, but he took a humeral veil and proceeded down one side aisle of the chapel stopping every few feet to bless the people kneeling there as he passed. He went out of the chapel door, and blessed the (no doubt confused) visitors and tourists in the bookshop outside. Then he returned inside and proceeded up the other aisle, blessing as before, and back to the altar. The Lord was reposed, and the service was over.

That's it. You'll probably agree with me that it was pretty awful and the distribution of Communion even sacrilegious. But what you must understand is that in some bizarre way the whole thing (except Communion) was both genuine and nourishing. What I mean is that, well, I have sometimes said that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. Nobody was indifferent there; there was a lot of love, and a lot of real piety. It was full of prayer, almost tangibly. It was just very untidy and very unliturgical. And they should not have allowed that woman to distribute the Blessed Sacrament.

It is ideorhythmic religion again.

I would certainly like to see liturgy in Ireland tidied up and made reverent and far more focussed. I really think it would help. However it won't be easy to achieve, because the current style is so widespread, at least in the Republic. There is little experience, no tradition, of solemn liturgy in the parishes. Things like the recent FOTA conference are very encouraging, and as people get some experience of better liturgy, I should think that other things will improve too.

But one mistake must not be made, which is to despise or remove the devotional aspect altogether. The liturgical movement from the nineteenth century did make this mistake, and to some extent we are reaping the whirlwind. Prayer needs to be affective as well as effective; if it does not engage the heart, then it will not awaken the soul. The encounter with God, whether in the Sacred Liturgy or in other devotions has to be a real encounter with Another; it is not an intellectual or an æsthetic exercise.

What I mean is that even the liturgy is not an end in itself, not a form of entertainment whether a splendid Extraordinary Form Solemn Mass or a happy-clappy feel-good let-it-all-hang-out celebration. The liturgy is not for looking at, it is for looking through, to God, to heaven, to Calvary and even (properly understood) to each other.