Thursday 26 September 2013

Not asking for much

On the whole I like the new translation, as I think I have said before. But in the last couple of days I have come across a couple of real oddities.

The first was on Tuesday, when I celebrated my 24th anniversary of ordination. The postcommunion prayer in the Mass For the Priest Himself On the Anniversary of his Ordination (what a lot of capitalization!)
For the glory of your name, O Lord, I have joyfully celebrated the mystery of faith to mark the anniversary of my priestly ordination, so that I may be in truth what I have handled mystically in this sacrifice. Through Christ our Lord.
That isn't a prayer; it's a statement, informing God of something he presumably doesn't already know.

And yes, I'm afraid I used the prayers for the feast of our Lady, too.

And today's Prayer over the Gifts, for the feast of Ss Cosmas and Damian:
In honour of the precious death of your just ones, O Lord, we come to offer that sacrifice from which all martyrdom draws its meaning [in case you haven't noticed]. Through Christ our Lord.
Now that's just weird.

Actually, in the second case it's not the translators' fault. Here's the Latin:
In tuórum, Dómine, pretiósa morte iustórum, sacrifícium illud offérimus, de quo martyrium sumpsit omne princípium. Per Christum.
But it is perhaps an example where the translators should not have been quite so literal. It should have been easier in the case of the For The Priest Himself example:
Ad glóriam, Dómine, tui nóminis ánnua festa répetens sacerdotális exórdii, mystérium fídei laetánter celebrávi, ut in veritáte hoc sim, quod in sacrifício mystice tractávi. Per Christum.
The 'sim' presumably could have been massaged into 'may I become'. Latinists no doubt can make more of this than I, poor mumpsimus.

These 'prayers' may well be ancient (I don't know whether they are or aren't); but they remain distinctly odd.

Saturday 7 September 2013


I miss Pope Benedict like a missing limb. His pontificate has been one of the most important stays of my 24 years of priesthood. It will feed me till my life's end. I wanted it to go on till then at least.

But I thank God too for Pope Francis. I believe that he is precisely the man we need right now. He can produce the right sound bite, can articulate simple truths without complication. I truly mean that as a compliment. If our philosophy and theology are to find acceptance, we need pastors who have the common touch, and Pope Francis does it wonderfully.

Friday 6 September 2013

Disgusted of Shoreham

They say that in the journalistic silly season one is apt to find all sorts of silly stories in the press, just to fill space. But with all the goings-on in Iraq, and much else to occupy us, it is depressing to find the Brighton Evening Argus starting a small media storm about my dear friend Fr Ray Blake, whose work with the poor is very well known. I cannot fathom what led Bill Gardner to put such a horrible spin on an innocent post on Fr Ray's blog. You need only go to Fr Ray's blog and see what he wrote to see the wicked unfairness of what the Argus, and now several daily papers are alleging.

Sunday 1 September 2013

The many blessings of 'Benedict'

I am writing this in a Benedictine monastery—Minster Abbey in Kent, as it happens—and am reflecting on just how important the name of Benedict has been over the ages, not least in the person of our Pope Emeritus.

And now there is something else. No doubt you all think I have been living under a stone for the last few months (and to some extent I have, that is true, due to not very good health) not to have discovered this before; now I am thrilled to have discovered for myself the Benedictus College project.

A few years ago it was my very good fortune to have encountered the University of Dallas: I did some work for them on their summer programmes in England, as chaplain and doing some history teaching and tutoring. There I encountered for the first time a real 'liberal arts' programme, which was designed to introduce American young people to their own cultural inheritance.

The key to such a programme is almost the antithesis of so much of modern education: instead of trying to pull apart and dissect great writers and artists,
'what's wrong with Aristotle's categories?'
'why doesn't the ontological argument work?'
'what's wrong with Shakespeare?'
'detect the misogyny in Thomas Hardy'
'what does Bleak House make you feel?'
it starts from the premiss that great thinkers and artists are, well, great thinkers and artists that have made a substantial contribution to mankind and have to some extent created all the good stuff we have in the world today. It encourages us to sit at their feet and actually listen to what they have to say before we wade in with our own half-baked opinions (surely the most egregious instance of hubris around today).

This approach has, literally, transformed the lives of thousands of Americans, and inspired them to truly  be able to, as it were, stand on the shoulders of giants and see further, as Newton put it. This approach is often distilled into what is known as a 'great books course', which looks simply at the writers and thinkers whose contributions have gone to make up what we think of as Western civilization and thought. This approach is truly constructive, rather than destructive; it creates civilized human beings, renaissance men and women whose lives are immeasurably enriched by what they discover.

So I am absolutely thrilled to discover that this approach is now going to be made available in Britain. It has been talked about for years (it wouldn't surprise me to discover that the energetic Forester family are involved in it somewhere), and now something finally seems to be happening. Do go and explore their website, and I'll bet that, like me, you were wishing you were able to do at least some of the course.

That means, of course, that it isn't cheap; I couldn't afford it. I don't see education authorities giving any sort of a grant for something so obviously useful. And I guess I'm too old, too. But, my goodness, if I were a bishop, I'd be trying to make sure that my seminarians had something of this experience before beginning seminary studies. And if there were an opportunity for mature students, then it would be a terrific sabbatical experience for the jaded. Perhaps Benedictus might think of this as an option.

I'm convinced that once this course becomes established, it will prove highly influential, and begin the great fight-back against the destructive and cynical current educational trends in the UK.

Go, Benedictus!