Saturday 8 November 2014

Cardinal Kasper: What it's all about

Yesterday a priest friend drew my attention to an interview given by Cardinal Kasper, and printed in the July/August 2014 edition of the periodical Doctrine and Life. In this article Kasper elaborates at length on his favourite subject of mercy. It includes this passage, concerning those living in irregular unions:

To live together as brother and sister? Of course I have high respect for those who are doing this. But it's a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian.

Well, there we have it. Heroism is not for the average Christian. Here we have the explanation of the emptying churches in Germany and in the West generally.

Had this been the attitude of the early Christian Church, one wonders what would ever have happened.

Friday 7 November 2014

Galatians 2:11

So why did I go quiet, then?

Well, simply because I found myself in disagreement with some of the prudential judgments of the Holy Father. When I started this blog, I was deeply excited by Pope Benedict and his project of reform and renewal: I had wanted to add my weight to that. Those were wonderful, heady days.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, has made me deeply uneasy. The man is of course a Catholic ('Is the Pope a Catholic?'), but he seems to have, in a frighteningly magnified way, the same instinct that John Paul II had, that, as Pope – however much he may dress it up as being, humbly and simply, the Bishop of Rome – the Church is his to govern as he sees fit. It is a kind of charismatic leadership; 'I know where I'm going; follow me, chaps!' This is a frightening overconfidence that now seems to have implications for doctrinal orthodoxy. And leading so far into uncharted waters smacks to me of a belief in a personal infallibility (rather than a strictly circumscribed infallibility of office) that would have made Pope Pius IX blush.

There is no way that I wanted to be seen to be out of communion of mind and heart with the Holy Father, our very touchstone of communion. So, on the old principle that if you can't say anything nice, say nothing at all, I decided to say nothing at all.

It was a recent article by the very interesting Ross Douthat that made me think again. If Peter's job is to strengthen the brethren, then perhaps we, as a Church, have the duty to strengthen Peter when his arms grow tired on the ship's tiller.

When interest groups try to force the Church onto another course, do not we who are loyal have a duty to state clearly and unambiguously what we understand the Church's teaching to be, that the Holy Father may truly have a sense of the sensus fidelium, and not merely of the zeitgeist?

Let us remember the words of St Paul: 'But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was wrong'. (Galatians 2:11) Perhaps there are times, even while reverencing the Petrine office, we need to strengthen his arms. History provides us with many examples; Pope Liberius and Pope John XXII, to name but two, who needed to be encouraged to stand firm in the faith.

People have talked of the threat of schism recently: mostly journalistic hyperbole, of course. But is the Pope, or Cardinal Kaspar really willing to force this serious division of opinion to the point where it might become a schism? Because schisms do precisely come when there are serious threats to doctrinal orthodoxy.

You need only read history.

Sunday 2 November 2014

I'm back!

The Pastor in Valle has been into his tomb, found it not entirely to his liking, tried poking his nose out as Pastor in Valle Emeritus (it's all the rage, this emeritus thing), and now will stalk the world as Pastor in Monte, though he doesn't know how much posting he will do.

Now we are Aspicientes in Jesum, because that seems appropriate. I hope you agree. The events of the last few months have focussed us all on the essentials, and I can't think of anything more essential that this.

I've changed my name to Pastor in Monte since that seems a good alternative, as I am now living on a (rather steep) hill.

  High on a hill lived a lonely Pastor… Yodel o lo layee…… &c

Thursday 7 August 2014


Well, all good things come to an end. A month from today (7th September) I will be celebrating my last Mass in the Valle Adurni, for I have been reassigned to the Church of the Sacred Heart, Caterham on the Hill in Surrey. And so the Pastor in Valle will become the Pastor in Monte.

I'm not sure what to do about the blog; you'll have noticed that over the last couple of years my posts have become increasingly sporadic, largely for reasons which Fr Ray cleverly analysed a few weeks ago following a conversation we had in a Shoreham restaurant.

Once I go, I won't post any more to this particular blog, I think, since there will be a new Pastor in Valle, but if I feel the muse a-fluttering around, I might start a new one. I'll post up a link here, if so.

Thank you and God bless you for reading, and for the comments and all that stuff. Above all, oremus pro invicem, let us pray for each other and for our holy Mother, the Church.

Monday 26 May 2014


I have just watched a recording of the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem. You can watch it here; there is no commentary or translation, though a lot of it is in English, and though the Holy Father spoke in Italian, there is a translation here. You will need to skip over the first part; for a long time there are security men scuttling around doing not a lot.

The Holy Father's homily was very good, but I was very impressed by Patriarch Bartholomew in particular. Unlike the Pope, he always seemed to know what was going on, and shepherded the Pope around; you could see Pope Francis looking out of the corner of his eye to see what he ought to be doing, seeming rather awkward and unsure of himself. But then liturgy isn't really the Jesuits' strong point, I suppose. Bartholomew has an impressive command of languages; his English appears to be completely fluent, and he conversed with the Holy Father easily in Italian, even translating for him at one point.

There were two things I found rather touching; the first was at the very beginning, when the successors of the brothers St Peter and St Andrew were about to descend a short flight of steps. The Pope said; 'I can't go quickly down stairs', so the Patriarch, much spryer, simply gave him a hand.

And, perhaps most touchingly, I noticed early on that the chain of the Holy Father's pectoral cross had somehow slipped up over his collar and was against his skin, rather unsightly and certainly uncomfortable.

The Patriarch had clearly noticed it, too, and decided to do something about it himself:
Much better!

I was reminded of two elderly brothers, the younger carefully looking after the older. Andrew and Peter.

Thursday 22 May 2014

The Church and the Internet

At last! Something sensible from a bishop on the subject of the Internet, blogs and all that. In this case, it is the coadjutor archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, who includes in his talk a sensible list of 'commandments' for Catholics engaging in the e-apostolate.

1. Be positive and joyful. Offer ‘digital smiles’ and have a sense of humour. Remember that it is the ‘ joy of the Gospel’ that we are communicating, so, as Pope Francis says: no ‘funeral faces’ or ‘sourpusses’!
2. Strictly avoid aggression and ‘preachiness’ online; try not to be judgemental or polemical – goodness knows, there is enough of this online already! Instead, try Pope Francis’ approach of ‘tenderness and balm’.
3. Never bear false witness on the internet.
4. Remember ‘Ubi caritas et amor’. Fill the internet with charity and love, always giving rather than taking. Continually seek to broaden and reframe discussions and seek to include a sense of charity and solidarity with the suffering in the world.
5. Have a broad back when criticisms and insults are made – when possible, gently correct.
6. Pray in the digital world! Establish sacred spaces, opportunities for stillness, reflection amd meditation online.
7. Establish connections, relationships and build communion. Church has always been about ‘gathering’. In this, it is worth considering an ecumenical presence for the Christian churches online. The internet tends to be a place of ethical and intellectual relativism, and often of aggressive secularism. The scandal of disunity among Christians can be easily exploited and exaggerated. Therefore we must seek to share resources so that we can have a powerful Gospel witness. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people started noticing online: ‘See how these Christians love one another’.
8. Educate our young to keep themselves safe and to use the internet responsibly.
9. Witness to human dignity at all times online. Seek, as Pope Benedict once said, to ‘give a soul to the internet’. We are well aware of the pervasive prevalence of pornography on the internet which can ‘pollute the spirit’, destroy and degrade human sexuality and relationships, reduce persons to objects for gratification, draw millions into the commodification and commercialisation of sex, feed the monster that is human trafficking.
10. Be missionary, be aware that with the help of the internet, a message has the potential to reach the ends of the earth in seconds. In this regard, let us foster and call forth charisms in younger committed people who understand the power and potential of the net to bear witness.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Adopt a priest

The funny thing about this video is that in France, the priest shown would be considered definitively conservative and, well, rather un-French. Traddies in France wear the cassock; soixante-huitards wear a grey suit with a blue polo shirt and, sometimes, a cross on the jacket lapel. But the 'clergyman' dress, so familiar in anglophone countries, in France is a sort of code for someone who isn't exactly a traddie, but definitely distances himself from most of his ageing confreres.

Wednesday 30 April 2014


I never realised that Cervantes fought at Lepanto. It seems particularly appropriate on the feast of St Pius V that The History Blog should have drawn attention to a search for Cervantes' grave.

Saturday 26 April 2014

Third Class Relic

So Popes John XXIII and Pope John Paul II are now saints. This doesn’t worry me the way it worries some people. I study history, and I know very well that a decree of sanctity is not a declaration that absolutely everything an individual said or did was holy or good. In the Patristic period, you need only look at St Jerome or St Cyril of Alexandria to understand that many saints have had flaws, perhaps serious flaws. To my mind that is encouraging; in Butler’s Lives of the Saints, you can read that the infant St Nicholas was accustomed to refusing his mother’s milk on fast days. That, with all due reverence to St Nicholas, is no use to me. If perfect behaviour from infancy is necessary for me to become a saint, then it is all over with me, because even now I remain deeply flawed, as all my friends will cheerfully confirm. The Church is simply saying that these two men, Pope John and Pope John Paul are in heaven and can intercede for us. I’m fine with that. I don’t need to accept that everything they were, did and said is now part of the extraordinary magisterium.

Pope John was the Pope when I was born; I learnt a real reverence for him from his Journal of a Soul, and I have no difficulty at all in recognising his sanctity. I give no credence whatever to certain accusations of Freemasonry and all that stuff. As regarding his liturgical preferences; well, he reversed some of Pope Pius XII's changes, and published on his own authority Veterum Sapientia, confirming the study and use of Latin in the Western Rites as mandatory.

I have a more nuanced reverence for Pope John Paul. I’m not going to go into it here; you can read about it in abundance on the internet. But I will never forget my own personal encounter with him. During Lent 1990 I had been ordained about six months, and was in Rome for a pilgrimage of thanksgiving. A priest of my diocese who worked then in the Secretariat of State had obtained for me a pass to concelebrate Mass with Pope John Paul in his private chapel at his early morning celebration. Directed by Mgr Dziwisz, and vested in alb and purple stoles, we were ushered in to the papal chapel where the Holy Father was already seated at his chair and prie dieu in prayer. All was in deep silence. It really was rather uncanny; we sat with him as he prayed, but his prayer wasn’t as we prayed; he would, alarmingly, groan aloud and writhe in his chair, and I was rather concerned for him.

Finally he came around, and in front of us vested for Mass, which was celebrated in Italian. 

After Mass, we concelebrants and other guests were herded politely into a sort of receiving line. The Holy Father went to each of us, gave us a rosary, and said a few words. When he came to me, I told him in my halting Italian that I was newly ordained; he put his arm around me and hugged me. Yes, he did! And then he said something to me; I told myself right then that I must remember those words for the rest of my life. I promptly forgot them, and cannot remember them since.

What sticks in my mind? How short he was! He is always in the foreground of photographs, so he looks bigger than he actually was. In fact, he was much shorter than me, and I am only of average height. Second; the collar of his cassock was not very clean; clearly a white cassock is harder to keep clean than a black one.

But I will never forget that encounter. His presence was extraordinary.

Leaving the Apostolic Palace by the St Anne Gate, I encountered a slight figure in a black cassock crossing the piazza towards St Peter’s Square. It was Cardinal Ratzinger, heading off for his daily work at the CDF. I smiled at him, and he stopped. We tried languages; my German wasn’t adequate, neither then was his English. So we spoke in Italian: I simply thanked him for all his work, and said what it meant to me as a newly ordained priest. He beamed back at me, and then went off to work. I date my reverence for that man from that day when he spoke to a simple newly-ordained priest with infinite kindness.

So, I have touched a saint. That makes me a third class relic, and you may venerate me.

Form a line.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Happy Easter!

A picture for Karen. Traditions must be upheld, after all.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Robert Mickens is suspended by The Tablet!

p.s. I think these two screen shots must be the most reproduced without attribution or acknowledgement in recent internet history!

Sunday 23 March 2014

Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo

Within living memory the Church of the low countries—the Netherlands and of course Belgium—was confident and flourishing, sending missionaries around the world. And now……

I have just stumbled across this Dutch site. Look under 'inventory'.

Some will weep, others will rub their hands and reach for their credit cards.

At any rate, if anyone wants to equip his church with Beautiful Things for Jesus (BTJs), he could do much worse than to start here. I haven't dared to ask the prices, though.

Much better these things find a new home in churches than in bars.

Sunday 9 March 2014

The Church of the Future — one vision

As you would expect, The Tablet has been hardly able to contain itself since the election of Pope Francis. Paeans of praise arise from their pages every week for this Joannes XXIII redivivus. There is a feeling of 'we thought it was all over for us, and now, from out of the blue, here come the cavalry!' Robert Mickens is particularly enthusiastic, and rarely does a week go by without him getting in at least one dig at the Pope Emeritus, usually by unfavourable comparison with the present Holy Father. Comparisons are odious, it is said, and his are particularly odious.

When writing directly about the Holy Father, The Tablet says little about his more conservative utterances—as you would expect. There seems to be a sense that the Holy Father has to say these things because of the conservative people his two predecessors filled the Vatican with: he can't move too quickly. But we all know what he thinks really—he thinks like us! All we have to do is bide our time.

So, The Tablet is quickly forming a consensus in its leaders and in its correspondence pages and in most of its articles (I make the noble exception of Christopher Howse whose articles are as excellent as ever). No doubt its purpose is to help the Holy Father form a picture of how the Church should look when he has done the thorough reform which he has embarked upon.

The Tablet's Church of the future will look like this:

• There will be appropriate respect for the person and office of the Holy Father. However local churches will make all serious decisions for themselves.
• In this, there will be real participation by the laity who will have a say in every issue that concerns them. They will participate in the governance of the Church.
• Worship will be liturgical and meaningful, and people-centred. Rites will be respected, but not regarded as shibboleths.
• All seven sacraments will be administered to all who wish to receive them.
• There will be no distinction between men and women, gay or straight, when it comes to deciding who may receive Holy Orders.
• Clergy will be able freely to marry.
• Remarriage in church after divorce will be available to all.
• The Church will firmly stay out of the bedroom.
• The use of artificial contraception will be judged to be both wholesome and responsible.
• Homosexual unions will be respected and welcomed in a loving community as will all LGBT people and relationships.
• While not supporting the practice, the Church will respect and lovingly support those who feel they have no option other than to have recourse to abortion or euthanasia.

It seems to me that The Tablet may be trying to reinvent the wheel. This has all been already done, and if this form of Church appeals to them or anyone else, they might care to have a look at this movement, which will give them everything their hearts desire. [Link] You might even call it an Ordinariate in reverse.

Clergy might like to click here.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

The Virginal Bee of Hereford

Looking with a friend the other day at the Exsultet from the Hereford Missal (you know, the way you do), we discovered this rather wonderful extra bit:

…quas in substantiam pretiosæ hujus lampadis apis mater eduxit.
O vere et beata et mirabilis apis: cujus nec sexum masculi violant; fætus [?] non quassant, nec filii destruunt castitatem. Sicut sancta concepit virgo Maria, virgo peperit, et virgo permansit.
O beata nox, qua exspoliavit Ægyptios……

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Fort Worth and the Extraordinary Form Mass

The action of Michael Olson, the very new Bishop Olson of Fort Worth, a mere three weeks into his pontificate, in forbidding (or, more accurately, attempting to forbid) Fisher More College to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form has been drawing a great deal of comment around the world.
It seems to have been Rorate Cæli who broke the news, and they did so, understandably, in a tone of outrage.

To summarise the goings-on for those who aren't up to speed; Fisher More College in Texas is a College of Tertiary Education of traditional stamp where the liturgy also is celebrated in the Extraordinary Form.  The bishop (whom, at 47, every source seems to take delight in pointing out is the second youngest in the US) has sent a letter directing the college to cease all its EF celebrations. Given that a Pope, in Summorum Pontificum explicitly gave the right to priests, not to Bishops, to decide when and where to celebrate the EF, presumably precisely to avoid this sort of thing, it seems clear that in fact Bishop Olson has no right to do what he has done. At least on the surface of things; there may of course be more going on under the surface that we know nothing about.

And so indeed suggests 'Tantamergo' [sic], the author of the blog called Veneremurcernui, 'A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics'. Here you can read that Michael King, the Principal of the college, has been adopting a more and more extreme line of late, involving very severe criticism of the hierarchy and of the Second Vatican Council, to the effect that several staff and students have left. This, with other things, has caused a financial crisis which may mean that, despite recent heroic fundraising by the students, the future of the college may be rather brief.

But even if this is so, it seems strange to penalise the students if the faculty is at fault. Surely the effect will be to drive students and staff more firmly into the hands of the Society of St Pius X or some more extreme Sedevacantist body. Even if it could be demonstrated that Bishop Olson has the legal right to do what he has done (and I don't think it can), one would certainly doubt the prudence of his action. And most of all we must deplore the lack of charity. The college had sent the new bishop a spiritual bouquet, and rather lamely, he thanks them for their kindness at the end of the letter in which he has dealt them what they must consider the most severe of blows.

He tells the college that his actions are for their own spiritual good, which would appear to imply that the use of the EF must be harmful. Presumably the bishop takes the commonly-held line that the EF is a rallying point for all sorts of undesirable things and people; suppress the EF and you get rid of the problem.

Yet again we must quote those words of Pope Benedict, from the letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum:

What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. 

Tuesday 18 February 2014

The Western Lenten Fast

People have often admired the rigorous approach to fasting taken by the Eastern Churches. Our Western custom was once similar, but was diminished principally during the two world wars and further following the Second Vatican Council.

These fasts are no longer of precept, of course, but that doesn't mean that their use wouldn't be spiritually fruitful.

This applies particularly in Lent. The Western Lenten fast is as follows:

The Lenten Fast

All weekdays of Lent are days of fasting and abstinence. That means one single meal. Two lighter meals may be taken as long as their combined quantity does not exceed that of the single meal.
Meat may not be eaten, nor, I understand, fish, though I may be corrected on this. I presume it (and remember reading it somewhere, but I can't find it) on account of fish being specified as permitted on Sunday.

Traditionally, the abstinence also forbids eggs and all dairy products, the so-called 'black fast'. (perhaps because of the milkless tea). This had ceased to be of obligation by the nineteenth century.
In practice, this means observing a vegan diet during the week.

Oil may be used (unlike in the east) to cook or dress food at all times.

Sundays in Lent are days of abstinence, but not fasting. Therefore the normal quantities of food may be eaten, but not meat. Fish is permitted.

Fasting and abstinence are only lifted should the day be a Holy Day of Obligation. I don't think any holy days would fall within Lent these days.

Days of Fasting outside Lent

In addition, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays during Ember weeks are days of fasting. Ember weeks are the first week in Lent, (fasting anyway), the Octave of Pentecost, The third week in September and the third week in Advent.

The vigils of the following feasts are days of fasting: Pentecost, Ss Peter & Paul, the Assumption, All Saints, and Christmas Day.

All Wednesdays and Fridays in Advent are fast days.

Should a fast day fall on a Sunday, it is observed on the Saturday. Should a feast fall on a Monday, the fast is also observed on the Saturday.

The only exception to the Friday abstinence traditionally was if Christmas day should fall on a Friday.

Sunday 26 January 2014

Going scarlet

From last week's Tablet, about one of the new Cardinal-designates, Fernando Sebastián Aguilar, former Archbishop of Pamplona, lauded by the writer as a theologian:

Notably, he is a firm believer in the validity of the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms. He recently told his confrère and respected Rome-based liturgist Fr Matias Augé that he recites Eucharistic Prayer II by heart at all his Masses. When the priest pointed out that traditionalists believe EPII does "not adequately express the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist", the cardinal-designate replied: "Don't worry, anyone who says this doesn't understand a thing about the sacrificial dimension of the Mass".
Robert Mickens, Letter from Rome, The Tablet, 18th January 2014

Words fail me. And if they cease to fail me, I think that probably I would never stop writing. Is this really the ultimate boast of a Vatican II theologian, that he uses nothing but EPII, even though most of the Latin world does likewise? And as for the rest…

p.s. I gather he's earned the hatred of the liberals for some rather unconsidered remarks about homosexuality. I found this when I looked for the picture I've posted above.

Monday 13 January 2014

Titles and frivvle

The late Monsignor Alfred Gilbey is supposed to have described the Knights of Malta as 'a very elaborate way of doing very little good'. A most unfair (if amusing) comment, the waspishness of which would incline me to think that its attribution is not right: Mgr Gilbey was a charitable man. But there is a spirit abroad which seems to think that trimming away trimmings is a good thing in itself. There have always been puritans, and there will always be puritans; people with wagging fingers who want to cancel Christmas, and take others having fun as a personal affront.

It is summed up by many in that oxymoronic phrase of Vatican II: noble simplicity—which has, by the way, little to do with poverty or real simplicity. It was in the interest of noble simplicity that officials in the time of Pope John Paul II commissioned set after set of 'simple' (but very expensive) concelebration vestments for the Pope himself and  the assisting cardinals, often used only once, while the elaborate and decorated vestments of ages past lay gathering dust in the sacristies of St Peter's.

I do get it, the idea of simplifying. But we run the risk of making the Church more boring. The difficulty comes when people look at the frills rather than at the thing to which they point. And human nature will mean that some will and others won't. Most won't, though, and the existence of frills doesn't necessarily mean that their users are frivolous.

And now diocesan priests are not to be monsignori until 65. Well, I can't say that I'm particularly exercised about that. In fact I think that it's probably a good thing; in my diocese we have a couple of younger monsignori and canons, and excellent chaps they are. But they would still be excellent chaps without the purple and fake fur. What is so strange (as Fr Michael Brown points out so eloquently) is that the Roman Curial mandarins (supposedly being reformed) can still be monsignori at 35, if they can succeed in not blotting their copybooks for five years (and most of them can manage that).

Actually, I've got no problem with curial mandarins becoming monsignori, and one or two even cardinals. But I do wonder why many of them, sometimes with no pastoral experience at all, are made bishops, with pretend dioceses. Getting rid of that system would really be a reform worth having, I think. Why not let them have all the old ranks of the Monsignorate, with the top one going to the top guy in each congregation? Surely they should only be bishops if they have already been bishop of a real diocese. I don't think that this would make it a duller Church, simply a more focussed Church.

A bit of dressing up, a title here or there; these things make life interesting. And they connect us to the Church of the past and remind us that we have to preserve things for the Church of the future; the Church of 2014, after all, is not the only thing that matters.