Tuesday, July 02, 2013

London Oratory taken to task

I was rather taken by this from the Provost of the London Oratory, it is from a letter on St Mary Magdalen, our parish's Holy Patroness: 
Recently the Oratory Fathers were taken to task at the end of a Sunday High Mass. An elegant woman marched towards the Provost through the lingering fog of incense and demanded to know what we Oratorians thought we were playing at. The causes of consternation included expensive-looking flower arrangements at the Lady Altar, vestments and golden vessels that had been spotted in the Sanctuary. Surely these extravagances were from funds that should have been given to the poor?
It was explained that the flowers were leftovers from a wedding the day before and that the silver gilt chalice and ciborium had almost certainly been picked up for a song in the 1850s when ecclesiastical Swabian rococo was not much in vogue. The vestments are thread-bear from a century and a half of use and, while still charming for their faded beauty, are too far-gone to fetch good money at auction. The dialogue ended in a slightly more serene atmosphere than it had begun and the articulate woman drove away placated in a gleaming new car which Google searches revealed to have cost £90,000.

I commend the Oratory on its "green credentials", recycling, "making do" with what is in its store rooms, and embracing poverty by wearing the threadbare, with a degree of grace and elegance.
I am not sure I would have the perspicacity to check the cost of the lady's car on Google, but it always tends to be the contented rich who say to the Church, "this could have been sold ... and the money given to the poor", then expecting the poor to pay up to fill the hole made by the hole.
How much money was paid out after the Council on refurbishments that were not called for and that impoverished the Church? And how much will have be paid to put things right? "Altar rails" and "turkeys" come to mind.

"A poorer Church", is fine but I think the Gospel seems to be encouraging a more generous Church and more generous Christians.
Picture source NLM 


George said...

From my experience priests don't want to talk about money anymore. My grandfather tells me stories about how in the 1930s the priest would stand in the vestibule and ensure everyone whom he knew could afford it put a dime into a special box designated to buy coal for the poor. I frankly cannot imagine this happening today. The vast major of people (including self-identified traditional Catholics) would become highly indignant. I haven't even heard of sermon on tithing in at least 10 years,, and I attend exclusively the traditional Mass.

Pétrus said...

So often the treasures of the Church have been paid for by the poor. Seldom do we hear the poor being asked if they want them sold.

Many churches were built on the efforts of the poor, people who wanted to give glory to God.

gemoftheocean said...

In my experience a parish/church does not announce to all and sundry when they have helped people. It's called doing your good works in private.

GOR said...

I suspect the ‘poor’ woman was oblivious to the irony of her attitude.

If it had been me, I’m sure I would have made some reference to the similarity of her remarks to those of Judas about Mary Magdalene!

But the good Oratorians are likely more charitable than I would have been…

Jacobi said...

Ref . Matthew 26:7-13

Note line 8, and then, 11, the poor, either actual or relative, will always be with us. It’s a different matter of course with the hungry and the naked, as Christ has made quite clear elsewhere.

Particularly note line 13. You could hardly get a better Divine compliment than that!

nickbris said...

I do like Cardinal Arinze,we could with him over here.

Amfortas said...

Thank God for Cardinal Arinze!

Childermass said...

I think of the beautiful churches built and decorated by the sacrifices from hard-working faithful, and then I think of the parish money spent a couple generations later to violently rape and despoil all that beauty, especially in the sanctuary. The diabolical enormity of it takes my breath away. Let those responsible be glad that I won't be the one judging them when the time comes!

Dominie Stemp said...


Great article

Can you put a share it button so we can share these posts please? Very easy,Father Tim Finigan has the shareit button which allows you to go to the site and it is so simple to add to your blog


Dominie Stemp

Fr Ray Blake said...

I am not sure what such a button is, I'll check it out.

Physiocrat said...

It cost a fair bit to wreck St Peter's Portland Road, Hove. A figure of £30k comes to mind, a fair whack twenty years ago. That was after about half the congregation had departed as a result of the liturgical changes and other unwanted unpleasantness.

Here is what it looked like before. Hove Council's conservation officer was not best pleased with the proposed changes but could not stop them. That was in the days when ecclesiastical building were exempt from control even though listed. The privilege was universally abused by vandalistic clergy so eventually the privilege was withdrawn.

Damask Rose said...

Dear Physiocrat

I looked up St Peter's. It's amazing they did this 20 years ago, end of the 90s. You'd think at this period of time, people would have had more artistic and historic sensibility. And to pay £30,000 for, um, less? Thank God the Council had more sense than the Church in the end.

It's like smashing the Elgin marbles because you don't like them.

You'd think the older parishionerss would have caused a fuss over the new renovations??? Perhaps they did. But sometimes it seems that the older parishioners have intellectually rejected anything to do with "before" VII.

Re the £30,000. Priests spends vast amounts like this because they're not earning it themselves. Its easy money for them.

Genty said...

I believe more money is to be spent on "renovation". You can see the current interior of St. Peter's (A&B) on the parish website. No pulpit, a huge empty space behind the forward altar, Crucifix replaced by the risen Christ (below that, some kind of sparkling mosaic rcently stuck to the marble); to the right of the altar and behind the lectern, a line of plastic chairs. It's where the drum kit and mics are stored.
In other words, the sacred space has been decimated. The church is very popular with young families. It's a friendly community, but not too exacting.
Thankfully, building control intervened to thwart the Westminster Cathedral sanctuary changes planned by Cardinal CMOC, erstwhile Bishop of A&B

Physiocrat said...

I think most of the parishioners who would have objected to the changes at St Peter's ie most of them, had been driven out by the attitudes and behaviour of the priest long before he embarked on his orgy of vandalism. There can not have been anyone much left to try to stop it.

The present parish priest has actually implemented some genuine improvements such as the enlargement of the entrance area and the link to the parish hall, all sensitively done, so give credit where credit is due.

Fred Brown said...

The beautiful irony is that the poor have an insight that the rich do not have. They can see what really matters. They realise that giving glory to God is more important than 'anything' else.

I remember back in the 1970's watching my father, a baker, placing £5 in the church envelope as my mother, a cleaner, watched on with an approving smile - This amount was certainly more that 10% 0f their income. We would return home after Mass for Sunday lunch. Tinned corned beef in gravy - Heavenly food!

Genty said...

Yes, fair dos. The pp is a good pastor, a very kind man and celebrates the NO Mass prayerfully.
It's been a terrific shock to see the once-glorious church after my having spent many years in London and The Oratory. The last pp I knew was Fr. Dickerson.
In the old photo I see above the door to the sacristy the picture of the Crucifixion given to the church by my parents. I wonder what happened to it.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I am beginning to feel uncomfortable about this chat about my near neighbour, St Peter's.
The 1970s was a bitter time for many PPs, the very basis of their faith and priesthood was overturned and replaced by something they didn't understand or like, or often believe in, they acted out of obedience to the Vicar of Christ, often hating the very thing they felt obliged to preach in favour of, out of obedience.

I remember many of these older priests going to their graves broken men.

Physiocrat said...

In my experience of several parishes, the V2 reforms were introduced against the will of the people. What stirred up the ill feelings was not the Novus Ordo as such but the loss of Latin and the music that went with it, which often happened long after, and in some cases as late as the 1990s. It would have been easy for a priest to say to his bishop that he was not willing to take the flak, and that it was up to the bishop to face the wrath. Strangely, priests are now super-cautious about even saying Mass in the Extraordinary Form, even those few who have well gone to the trouble of learning how to celebrate it - what a pity the same caution did not prevail when the V2 changes were being introduced.

Thus it would be interesting to know how much of the initiative was on the part of the incumbent and how much could be attributed to bullying on the part of the bishop. I remember in the 1970s that the priest at Downham Market was removed for refusing to celebrate the Novus Ordo. But there was little interest in the Tridentine Mass until the anti-Latin campaign was in full swing.

It was a dismal and destructive period in the history of the Church and it still has a long way to go.

John Nolan said...

I think most parishes had given up Latin and Chant by 1967. The bishops were pushing hard for the vernacular from 1963 onwards, despite the fact that many of them, including Archbishop Heenan, didn't like it.

Those who carried on with Latin and traditional music in the 1970s for their principal Sunday Novus Ordo Mass were mostly in the London area. In most dioceses there seems to have been a policy of deliberately replacing these more traditional priests when they died, retired or were moved, by those who would impose the new ways vigorously (which usually included 'reordering' for which money was always found).

In the 1980s I heard a spokesman from the Liturgy Office of the Bishops' Conference argue on the radio that now the Mass was in English, to allow the Latin Mass to continue would create a "Church within a Church". The question concerned the Tridentine Mass, but the argument could equally have applied to the NO in Latin.

reclaimingthesacred.com said...

In my 20s I spent a short period of time as a waitress. One of the first things I was told was that I would never be tipped well by any of the wealthy lawyers, businessmen, etc. that patronized the place where I worked.

Instead, I was told to look out for the "blue-collar" workers; the ones who probably could not afford to tip well, but who did anyways.

In fact, it was always the wealthy who tipped to the "T" - exactly 15% on a meager bill, to the dime - whereas the poor would sometimes tip more than they spent on food.

It may or may not be a strong parallel, but it seems that it will be the "average Joe" who will truly rebuild the Church, as it was the "average Joe" who cared to tip well.

Us "average" people want beauty in our lives. We want inspiration. We want a place where we can go that reminds us of heaven, and promises a world better than this one that we are in. Maybe the rich will never get that... they are too busy counting their pennies to make sure that they do not overtip.

God bless you - glad to see such good things at the Oratory, my old Sunday Mass spot when I was a grad student in London.

Physiocrat said...

If you are Jewish you can go to a synagogue anywhere in the world and will be able to join in the prayers, in Hebrew. There is a good chance that you will even know the music and be able to join in the singing.

The same used to be true, a fortiori, in the Catholic church, which once offered a worldwide "product" worldwide. The Latin language, and the music which went with the liturgy, was both a sign of the church's universality and an important means by which it was sustained. It had important practical benefits too: for example, a priest could celebrate the same Mass wherever he was.

Then came the Second Vatican Council and its relaxation of the rules, stating that the vernacular may be used. The word "may" is permissive. In this instance, it would mean that Mass would normally be celebrated in Latin, as before, but that there were special situations where the local vernacular language might be appropriate.

Had this been held to, there would have been no problem. Unfortunately this permissiveness proved to be a case of "give an inch, take a mile". Within ten years of the Second Vatican Council, Latin had been pushed to the margins, mostly, it has to be said, by direction from above and against the will of the people. What it led to was a splitting of the church, and with the waves of immigration in the past 20 years, to a splitting of local parishes into language groups.

A generation of people has grown up who argue that the use of the vernacular in the Mass enables them to "understand" it. This is to ignore all recent evidence from a wide range of scientific disciplines, which has shown that most human communication is non-verbal and takes place below the level of conscious awareness. At a practical level, we have ended up with a church that is anything but Catholic in the sense of being universal. You can go to a Mass in a foreign country, and whilst you will obviously have a good grasp of what is going on, precisely because most of the communication is at a non-verbal level, you will not be able to participate in any of it in the way that Catholics could have done in the past.

Where there has been immigration, mission priests have been provided who say Mass in the language of the immigrants' home country. They then socialise after '"their" Mass and hardly ever get to meet the rest of the parish who socialise separately after "their" Masses. Thus the Catholic church becomes an ethnic minority church and is no longer Catholic. Since the second generation are likely to want to throw off their status as immigrants, the chances are that after they are old enough to be given the choice, they will never go inside a Catholic church again.

This is the Catholic church in auto-destruct mode and a vociferous group see nothing wrong with this state of affairs.

nickbris said...

I could be corrected but I think Henry is against Vatican 2. He doesn't look old enough to have been around much before 1962.

It's a bit like the Steam-Engine fanatics who never had to work on them in all the dirt & grime to earn a crust before the luxury of diesel engines came along

Physiocrat said...

V2 does not seem to have been a great success. But is was not V2 that seems to have led to the exodus, it was the switch to English in the liturgy - people left in droves within a few weeks of a changeover. It happened in SMM too.

John Nolan said...

Twenty years ago I was in Prague from Good Friday until Easter Monday. I don't speak Czech, but everyone I met was fluent in German, so I had no language problems. I frequented St Thomas's Church in the Mala Strana (where I heard the Easter Vigil Mass entirely in Gregorian Chant) and St James's in the Stare Mesto (which had a choir and full orchestra, and did Dvorak in D (all movements) on Easter Sunday. They also performed the same composer's Stabat Mater on Good Friday. Apart from the Scripture readings, everything in both churches was in Latin, and being used to the Triduum at the London Oratory I was on familiar territory.

Sadly, for a lot of English Catholics even then, it would have been as unfamiliar had it been in Czech, or for that matter in Tamil or Chinese.