Friday, April 25, 2014

Visit of Bishop Athanasius Schneider

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, author of Dominus Est, is in England this May, below is his programme, he is a truly inspiring Bishop and well worth making the effort to go to meet and listen to.

I would draw the attention of clergy in particular to his talk on Wednesday evening at St Patrick's in Soho when he speak on "The Priest:: Image and Instrument of Christ". This talk is organised by the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy - contact Fr Richard Whinder if you intend to come. I suspect many of us need a bit of nourishment at some clerical company during this Easter season.

Bishop Schneider's schedule during his stay in England
Friday 16 May: arrival in England.
Saturday 17 May: LMS Pilgrimage to West Grinstead in Sussex. Pontifical High Mass at 12noon, followed by lunch, spiritual conference and devotions. Our Lady of Consolation, Park Lane, West Grinstead RH13 8LT.
Sunday 18 May: Pontifical Low Mass with the Fraternity of St Peter in Reading, 11am. At the Church of St William of York, Upper Redlands Road,  Reading RG1 3HW.
Tuesday 20 May: address to The Newman Society: the Oxford University Catholic Society. 'Catholicism in Russia: the Experience of the 20th Century.' Talk from 8.00-9.15pm. Open to members of Oxford University and their guests. At the Catholic Chaplaincy, The Old Bishop's Palace, Rose Place, St Aldates, Oxford OX1 1RD.
Wednesday 21 May: Address to the Conference of Catholic Clergy at 6pm, St Patrick’s, Soho Square.
Thursday 22 May: Address to the London Oratory 'Living under Communism', 8pm.
Saturday 24th May: Latin Mass Society Conference, Regent Hall, Oxford Street, London, from 11am to 6pm. Book tickets here.Sunday 25 May: Pontifical Low Mass in the London Oratory at 9am. Bishop Schneider will attend First Vespers of St Philip’s Day, 6pm, and celebrate Benediction.
Monday 26 May: LMS pilgrimage to Ramsgate - Mass at the Shrine of St Augustine of Canterbury, for the Feast of St Augustine, at 12noon; procession with a relic at 11am. Bishop Schnieider will also preach at the 6pm Mass at the London Oratory for St Philip’s Day.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Easter Vigil Pictures

The altar during the Easter Vigil, more pictures here.

Ian's Reception and Confirmation

With the post-Mass distribution of Blessed eggs

The Pope's alleged phone call

People have been asking me about what the Pope has been allegedly saying to that divorced and civilly remarried Argentinian woman.

Jesus said, "Every one who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery; and every one that marries one put away from a husband commits adultery". Now, I cannot imagine anyone who loves Christ and his teaching, saying to this poor woman, 'Jesus, says one thing but I teach something that is opposite to Jesus, follow me because I am greater than Jesus Christ'.

Now, simply, that would be anti-Christ and a diabolic blasphemy, so the poor woman is either mistaken or lying.

Perhaps someone in the Vatican needs clarify things and our beloved Holy Father needs to stop making these silly telephone calls that lead to confusion, and seriously damage people's faith. Vatileaks were bad enough but these phone calls are a thousand times more dangerous.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Saints and Popes

With the canonisations of Pope John XXIII and John Paul II almost upon us, it is worth considering the obvious change in the nature of 'Sainthood', especially in recent years.

At one time hagiographies were for the most part brief and to the point, excelling in the supernatural, dotted regularly with the miraculous both in the saint's life and maybe more importantly after the saints death. St Thomas of Canterbury is an obvious example of a rather irascible divisive bishop, who was vindicated by his post-mortem miracles. Nowadays miracles don't seem important, some have suggested they should be dispensed with altogether, Pope John is being Canonised with only one to his name. Pope Francis has like his predecessors canonised people simply by decree, without cultus or any signs of the supernatural. Some modern miracles for example the deliverance of the American deacon of back problems as in the case of Blessed John Henry Newman have surprised even the postulators of the cause and really do seem somewhat 'thin'. In the world of the rational the supernatural becomes an embarrassment to many, even in the Church.

There are 20th Century saints like St Charbel and Padre Pio where the miraculous and the supernatural abound, where the cultus is so strong, and the popular demand for their canonisation would mean that in whatever age they would be raised to the altar, and even if they hadn't been they would be 'canonised' and their intercession sought by popular acclamation.

Pope John Paul canonised more saints than all the other Pope's in history, it was part of his sense that today holiness still exists and that holiness is available to everyone, it is very much the fruit of VII and modern spiritual movements like Opus Dei. It was almost as if every foreign trip involved the Beatification or Canonisation of a new tranche of Martyrs hardly heard of outside of their homeland or some obscure Mother Superior.

Benedict clarified the distinction between Blesseds and Saints, somewhat, the former  having a local cultus, the latter a universal one, still it seems as if many of those 'formally listed' as Saints -that is what Canonisation means, or Beati, really have little of a cult, an interest in their literary works, even the dedication of institutions constitutes honouring their memory but hardly dulia, in the religious sense of previous age, which seemed to see saints above all as powerful intercessors with God. Of the three ancient requirements:: 1) an outstanding example of Christian living, 2) a life in which grace is manifest, and 3) signs that the prospective saint's intercession is heard, the 3rd, intercession seems to have been lost as a necessity for canonisation. Those critical of the Canonisation of the these two Popes, in fact those who are anxious about the canonisation of most of the 20th century Popes, suggest that it is a way of canonising a political idea rather than people.

The old debate about whether Canonisation is infallible or not I suspect has lost its edge, in the past it was ultimately about whether and individual was in Heaven or not, now everyone goes to heaven, the process has been stripped of the supernatural element, Aquinas is often quoted, but he says, “Because the honour which we show to the saints is a certain profession of faith by which we believe in the glory of the saints, it should be devoutly believed that not even in these matters can the judgement of the Church err,” the 'err' here is not the same as the Church erring in the same sense as its teaching on doctrine. What St Thomas seems to be suggesting that we respectfully acquiesce, more for the sake of unity than anything else.

Fr Faber, who could fairly be described as an Ultramontane  in "An Essay on Beatification, Canonization, and the Processes of the Congregation of Rites" written in 1848, in the build up to VI suggests Aquinas thought Canonisation was more a pious belief rather than an inerrant act. Faber also is at pains to say the Church has never defined what it means when someone is Canonised. It is worth noting that VI seems to deliberately limit infallibility to faith and morals, and purposely avoided including the canonisation process. 

The modern process of Canonisation seems more a political, a way of capturing history, rather than a declaration of something supernatural, more about the canonisation of ideas, rather than the declaration of outstanding holiness. 

Around which modern Pope have Angels gathered to avert plague, which has levitated during Mass or bilocated for some pastoral errand, how many have been stigmatics, whose corpse has smelt of roses or remained incorrupt, who has appeared to countless members of the faithful after death or brought consolation to imprisoned or appeared physically on the battlefield?

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Holy Fire

Worshippers hold candles as they take part in the Christian Orthodox Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City April 19, 2014 (Reuters / Amir Cohen)

Happy and Blessed Easter, May the Light of the Risen Christ fill you with His Joy!

The Exultet speaks of the Church shaking, of the night being changed to day, of the mighty voices of the faithful. of trumpets sounding, of being filled with joy it doesn't seem to happen quite that!

The Miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem, is the popular highlight of Orthodox worship in the city of the Resurrection. It is a strange mixture of liturgy, devotion, political expression, partisanship, it is exuberant and wild, westerners who have witnessed have described it as terrifying. For Palestinian Christians especially it is a celebration of who they are and of the simple fact that they belong in the Holy Land, Holy City and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

This year Israeli police have tried again to restrict access to the Holy Sepulchre and to the areas around it, it is part of the process of 'control' of minorities, especially Palestinians and Christians who have lived in Jerusalem for centuries. Even under the Ottomans there was fear of riot, today the same fears exist, as well as modern concerns about 'elf and safety'.

Many really do accept the fire is indeed supernatural as the videos introduction says; in the West the movement of the Crucifix from the tomb to the High Altar was often so described, before the Reformation; and I seem to remember, when Holy Week rituals varied considerably from place to place that fire or a candle was 'entombed' in some hidden place and its reappearance as fire was described as 'miraculous'. Many Orthodox would describe not just the coming of the fire as miraculous but the fire itself, saying that when first taken from the tomb it doesn't burn, of torches spontaneously lighting, even of miracles of healing taking place during the ceremony.

For us Westerners exotic exuberance is really very alien, it is certainly not part of the staid matter-of-factness of the Roman Rite. If anything post-Concilliar piety has become even more staid and controlled.

A Polish priest friend told me of having several thousand at food blessing on Holy Saturday, less than a hundred at the 'Queen of Liturgies', the Easter Vigil and just hundreds at the Easter Masses. In Spain the traditional penitential street procession bring out the whole town, apart from the old lefties, whilst the attendance at official liturgies can be somewhat meagre. At Christmas some parishes do a children's crib service with the Eucharist tacked on, early on Christmas Eve, they are packed out, whilst the actual Christmas Day Masses have dramatically decreasing congregations.

Low Sunday, the Liturgy certainly speaks of God's mercy, the Gospel of Jesus giving the Apostle power to forgive sins but it is the devotion to St Faustina's 'Divine Mercy' that has gradually taken over. For some, Good Friday seems to be just the first day of the Divine Mercy Novena.

Most priests are creatures of the 'Liturgical Movement' but I am beginning to wonder whether its followers are necessarily doing something good. 'Devotions' were very much part of the Irish experience, pilgrimage to local sacred sites, the Rosary, the Sacred Heart, private penitential practices seemed to have nourished something vibrant, I can't help thinking imposing the liturgy on people at the expense of devotions is one of the reasons for the loss of health in the Irish Church.

The video of Fr Ray Kelly fills me with horror but I wonder if in fact for most people the modern Liturgy actually creates a vacuum, which priest like Fr Kelly feel obliged to fill, other 'pastoral' priest seem compelled to fill something which is lacking by puppetry, dance, entertainment, felt banners, in fact what people like me roll our eyes at.

In the Old Rite, which even Pope Francis recently described as becoming fashionable, especially amongst the young, it seems to be accepted that the clergy said Mass and did what priests should do, often in a perfunctory, workman-like way, whilst the faithful simply did their own thing. Clergy and laity were interdependent but somehow rather than controlling the faithful, or worst still clericalising them, the clergy seemed to feed and encourage their devotion.

In the video of the Miracle of the Holy Fire the clergy seem to do their own thing and they laity there's, is there a clue that the laity here are predominantly rather loud men, not in suits? They could be a football crowd. It strikes me that perhaps one key to new-evangelisation is simply putting as much effort into promoting popular devotion as we have into the Liturgy, maybe somehow especially amongst men.

Basically, I want people to go wild with the Easter Mysteries rather than treat them as an old maid's tea party in an English parlour.

Another example of 'Greek Fire'
thanks to Fr Tim

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Whilst the Church sleeps Beata who is very talented, like our servers and sacristans and choir puts the finishing touches to the flower arrangements. The veils are of course removed from the statues when the altar candles are lit during the Gloria, for some reason we tend only to be able to get the lights to come on during the Gloria. I know the rubric says the lights should be on during the reading of the seven prophecies but they just don't work then, so we listen to them in the radiance of the Risen Christ. It does seem strange to have the three Lumen Christi's and then turn on the electricity straight away, as they do in Rome. I think there is great symbolism in reading the Old Testament in the light of the risen Christ. 
As I say that is what the rubrics seem to say, though of course there is no specific mention of the 'electric light' or for that matter of the 'electric microphone', in the Missal, though there are clear indications that the priest prays at Mass facing the same direction as the people and most priest don't do it, we do here, so from the Gloria on the altar will be a mass of light.

Anyhow while everyone works hard here is a picture of me reading the tablet, we do not allow the magazine of that name in the Church but I love Universalis, quite a few of my parishioners have started saying the Office from it, much cheaper than the paper version, we use it to prepare Mass leaflets too, and the MCs are debating whether it appropriate to use a tablet for the prayers which here are done in the dark, and maybe the 7 prophecies too.

Good News! Holy Saturday

This is really the Good News: today Christ has descended amongst the dead, and death itself has been destroyed, the Just led from captivity to freedom. Mankind has has been reconciled to God, heaven has been opened up to us.

For those with faith the grave holds no terror, we have been made anew. We who were once enemies of God, have been made friends. More than that, we have become Sons: what Christ  is by nature we have become by adoption, we have become Divine, we have become Immortal, we have come to share in the life of the Holy Trinity, into whose inner life we have been baptised.

The past has been destroyed, the shackles and chains that held us in the grip of sin have been broken, once slaves and captive, now we are truly free as God has desired. Today God's plan for us has been revealed. Today what has been shown in the Old Covenant in a hidden Mystery is now shown clearly in the one who is the Resurrection and the Life.

An 'Ancient Homily' from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday
"What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son.
The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'My Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.
‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.
‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.
'See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.
`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
"The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages."
Christ descends, splits assunder the created order, trampling the gates of Hell, under his feet are Satan's locks and fetters that have held us captive, he grabs hold of our ancient parents and leads them and all the just from hell, their inglorious prison to the their freely given glory.
This is the reason I find it incongruous, we should join the baying mob crying, 'crucify him' during the Passion, that some might disagree with me, I say this with a smile, indicates how far we fail appreciate what Christ has done for us, and how little the Resurrection, and therefore Grace, really impinges on our theology. Yes, concupiscence, the wounds of sin, exists but in the West we too easily loose sight of what God has made us.

Holy Saturday, today, is very much a dies non. It is not as the Orthodox might term it 'Holy and Great Saturday'. It is interesting that whilst most Catholics simply ignore it, for the Poles who use our Church it the time when even those who are lapsed still turn out in huge numbers for 'food blessing', even the lapsed come, Polish priests complain, 'they come for food blessing but ignore Easter Mass' for two hours there there are short back to back services of blessing. I estimate that with the Church filling and emptying over a thousand people pass through our doors. What the liturgy fails to do 'food blessing' manages to accomplish.

For Poles food blessing, not the Vigil, marks the end of Lent, perhaps that is why here in England Lent seems to fade out and people aren't that certain when to start indulging. I was really disappointed some of my parishioners decided it was after the Liturgy yesterday and went off to the pub opposite the church, someone else told me about her delicious bacon sandwich which she for lunch, I hope I am not moaning just saying how little impact our attempts at teaching have. Food blessing is an interesting vestige of the pre-Pius XII reform of the Easter Vigil which occurred not in the evening of Holy Saturday but early in the morning. Though the pious might have joined the clergy for the solemn Vigil, in which the Church was restored, 'Resurrecting' if you will, most of the faithful would have come to this rite of blessing later in the day, to, in a sense, take Easter home. Before Holy Thursday the Missal calls for fonts etc to be emptied of Holy Water, we pour all of ours into the sacrarium, the Poles keep some or bless some for this blessing of food, presumably that is a vestige too of the old early morning Vigil.

When we eventually come to rewrite, not just the modern Missal but the Rites themselves, perhaps the experts who do it might encourage some connection between the what happens in the Church and what happens the home, the 'domestic church'. I couldn't help noticing yesterday how dated the Intercessions sounded, time capsules from the 1960s!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Altar of Repose

Our Altar of Repose, more here

Today, after the Liturgy

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Donkeys and Asses

One of my parishioners asked, "Father couldn't we have a donkey for Palm Sunday next year?"
"Why?" I asked,
"For the children", she replied.
"Can't you teach them to be content with the ass God has sent them and is here every Sunday, rather than coveting their neighbour's donkey.


Whilst we are on the subject, for the North American who read here last year the word is pronounced 'ass' as in 'ass-embly' or 'lass' not  as in 'farce'.

While I'm rambling, another of my parishioners said, "You know, Father up until the Council we all used to say 'Mass' as in 'pass', then suddenly we had to say 'Mass' as in 'crass'. Off-guard, I still occasionally find myself saying 'Holy Mass", as my American friend pronounces 'ass'.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Confessional advice for frequent sinners

So you have been coming to Confession for the last forty-eight years and apart from a few occasions, you could be saying, "Same as last time. Father".

Some sins are like crocodiles, the really do kill the soul: murder, apostasy and adultery, were considered the very worse, for most of us they are easily recognised and avoided and once recognised can be dealt with, the same with other sins which are like rats that gnaw away at our souls given gravity, full knowledge and willing co-operation, they too kill our relationship with God, but they are recognisable. Once we understand how dreadful they are we bring them to Confession and deal with them.

The third type of sins are like fleas or lice, we know they are, we feel them biting, we can recognise the rash or the sickness the bring, sometimes they are the infections of other people, sometimes something that has been growing in the depths of our soul for years. These sins often infect us from childhood, maybe even infections we receive from our parents or from friends or those we associate with. They produce dis-ease but we can't identify them.

The first two types of sin must be dealt with in the Confessional, not only to free us from them but to heal us of the infections they bring, in one sense they are easily dealt with, not dealing with them can cost us our salvation and lead us to eternal separation from God, to Hell. They must be confessed before we receive Holy Communion because they turn Communion into eating and drinking our condemnation, something which should be salvific into something which brings judgement upon us.

The third type of sin, we are not strictly bound to confess, and although the wounds can be quite serious, they tend to distance us from God rather separate us from him. They certainly wound our relationship with him, hence we call the 'venial' rather 'mortal'. They are best dealt with by bringing ourselves into contact with Christ through prayer and penance certainly but also through Christ's healing power in the Most Holy Eucharist and as far as we are able to name them in the Sacrament of Penance. It is worth remembering that the Sacrament of Penance isn't just about the forgiveness of sins but also meeting Christ who heals and who strengthens, so that we can say truly, 'By the help of your Grace I will never sin again'. Confession renews Christ's power in us.

Remember it is by His Grace we pray we will never sin again, we can do our best but for all our efforts we come back with the same old bag of rubbish. The good news is 'Jesus saves'. And it is Jesus, not us who saves us. We are not the Saviour of the world, or even of our families, and certainly not of ourselves, it is blasphemous even to think it. All we have is our weakness, and our history of sin but recognising that and handing it over to Christ is our only strength.

All we can give Him is our weakness, taking it along to the Calvary, the city rubbish dump and placing all our sin, our rubbish before Him, who takes away the sins of the world. He alone can heal us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The sign we give

I was pleased last year to have a bad back and so on Holy Thursday I had already thought about not washing the feet during the Sacred Triduum, I hesitated because the choir had already prepared the music for it and the chant for it had been printed in the Mass booklets. When Pope Francis decided to disregard the Church's law and follow his own instincts, I decided to follow mine and not wash anyone's feet but instead leave the bowl and towel that we would have used on the sanctuary step and invite people to come forward and put money in the bowl for the poor whilst the Mandatum was sung, they were very generous.

Before I understood the meaning of the rite I was happy to wash anyone's feet, because like the Pope I understood it to be about serving others. The CDW of course explained that it was about Christ specifically caring for the Apostles, those gathered with him at the Eucharist, who he would that evening commission to celebrate Mass themselves by saying "Do this in memory of me", it was obvious I was wrong and had misled people. I have had several battles, as have many priests, to do what the Law requires us to do and wash only the feet of men.. If the Pope chooses to break the Law, that is a personal choice, he has the power as Pontiff to change it but he has chosen not to do so.

I think the media and dissidenr Catholics likes to present the Pope as a latter day Robin Hood, adapting the Law and customs  to suit himself, the problem is of course that it creates confusion for everyone else and weakens the sense of the Law for the rest of us. Law can of course be oppressive but in the Church it is meant to preserve justice and to protect the weak, and ensure the strong do not exceed their authority or pervert doctrine.

My mother used to speak of everyone in authority washing the feet of those subject to their authority before Easter in her Yugoslavian village; fathers would wash the feet of their families, masters and their servants, employers their employees, teachers the feet of the children they taught, army officers the feet of their soldiers, even partisan leaders would wash the feet of their communist comrades. After the Reformation in England the Sovereign continued to wash the feet of the poor until the 18th century, the "Royal Maundy" continues without the washing, with the Queen giving money to the poor. I would very much welcome Francis and indeed the whole Roman Curia going out into the streets of Rome with bowls, ewers and towels to wash the feet of poor and to distribute alms all day on Holy Thursday - what a wonderful sign.

Here, for a brief time I used wash the feet of 12 male rough sleepers at Mass and give them a small 'offering', they would come along just for that portion of the Mass and go. I think people thought it was rather wonderful, I began to think it was crass and more about me, than the liturgy or Christ. Christ's sign is not one about caring for the poor, or even those on the 'peripheries' of the Church, rather it is about caring for those at the heart of the Church, it ends the continued bickering amongst the disciples about who is the greatest.

There is something very intimate about the sign of the Bishop washing the feet of his beoloved priests, as there was something intimate about Christ washing his apostles feet. Peter, and presumably the others, was deeply embarrassed by it. It wasn't a public act but one behind closed doors, in the Upper Room. Judas after all is the one the disciples presume is being sent to give relief to the poor, the faithful Apostles remained with the Christ. Foot-washing is an ad intra sign at the heart of the Church. It was indeed a statement about power and relationships in the Church's government. In Rome especially where there is huge gap filled by various 'leperous courtiers', (Francis' words) between the Bishop of Rome and his diocesan clergy, how beautiful the sign of the Pope getting down on his knees to serve those who in theory are supposed to be his co-workers and closest collaborators. There are two signs that were given by Francis last year, the first was washing the feet of boys and girls, some of whom were not Christians, the second sign, which is equally powerful though not noticed by the more casual observer was deciding not to wash his priest's feet.

There is something significant about Jesus washing the feet of the twelve then going on the share the Passover with them. There is something very important that he takes this heavily prescribed Jewish ritual and changes it. I wonder whether using a ewe rather than ram would have invalidated the rite, presumably the Angel of death would have struck down the first born if the victim's sex broke with Tradition, for the Jews this of course wasn't an issue they simply did what was handed on.. Playing about with signs and symbols and there language within the context of religion is very dangerous, we simply don't know what can of worms we are opening up.

The signs we give are always multi-layered, signs go beyond words, the don't have a fixed meaning, often the sign intended is not the sign that is received, different people perceive signs in different ways. Last year Francis' footwashing was taken by the world as a great act of his personal humility, for others it was a sign of inclusivity, involving non-Christians and women in this rite. I am afraid for me and for many others, it was a sign of lawlessness at the heart of the Church, the Supreme Lawgiver of the Catholic Church acting lawlessly. It became a sign of how during the Franciscan Pontificate the law -and tradition- should be interpreted, the Mandatum is after all about law and power. The chant that accompanies it says, "I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you ...", this is a commandment laid not on everyone but only on Christ's followers, the Church.

The build up to the Synod on the Family is an obvious example of the breaking down of certainties, after the Kasper intervention at the Consistory it seems, to some, that the Church's teaching appears to be in a state of flux by those who are looking for signs. I was told of a man recently who for over two decades has been living heroically in a 'brother/sister' relationship with an equally heroic woman whose first marriage broke down after ten years, they tried to get an annulment which failed, since then they have done their best to live according to the teaching of the Church. The man having read the text of the Cardinal's speech asked, 'Father, have we wasted the last 22 years?' He said that he now felt his faith was undermined, that the struggle he and his 'wife' had engaged in was by the Cardinal's teaching meaningless and vainglorious and that it was endorsed by the Pope who hadn't given any clear sign that he upheld the teaching these two people were trying to live by. There are many men and women in this situation, the sacrifices they have made have been truly heroic, for me they are signs of grace and often heroic virtue, now it seems that they might well have wasted their lives, this is another of the signs that is being given.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cru - ci - fy Him, cru - ci- fy Him

Fr Simon Henry has a post about participation, in which he says he chooses to read the shorter form of the Passion on Palm Sunday, I have been doing that for years, partly because if we didn't our Mass would over run and the Poles who have the next Mass slot will be arriving and waiting for Polish confessions and it just would not be fair. His reason is, "...rather than endure the miserable doling out of parts to various readers and the "crowd" voice to the slightly embarrassed congregation, with the attendant inconsequential mutterings of, "cru - ci - fy Him, cru - ci- fy Him" echoing underwhelmingly around the church.

Yes, I too hate the primary-schoolisation of adults, I really loathe that classroom thing some old priests have, of greeting with, 'Good morning everyone' to which the congregation like Class 2 replies "Good-morn-ning-Father", it is horrid, it is infantalising, it is secular, especially if it replaces the Christian greeting of "Dominus vobiscum", in whatever language.

But my real big hate, which has a very serious theological  basis, is I too hate the congregation crying, "Crucify him". It is obviously necessary for a deputed person to do it as it is the text of the Gospels but actually we aren't the baying mob, we are the Faithful who stand at the foot of the Cross, we are the Church, we stand alongside the Holy Women and St John. For all our sinfulness, we are the friends of Jesus, though maybe we behave like enemies, we are his costly-bought disciples.

I am glad Fr Henry's congregation mutters underwhelmingly, "cru - ci - fy Him, cru - ci- fy Him", it shows that his catechesis on the Mass and his people place at Mass has had a good  effect. It would be terrifying if they really did say these words with any enthusiasm.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A few thoughts on Evangelisation

A few thoughts on Evangelisation with SPES tramping the streets of my parish calling in the lost and the distanced.

Someone left a comment recently to the effect that ever since the Second Vatican Council we have been talking endlessly about evangelisation but in practice doing very little, in fact it could be said we have been 'counter evangelising', at least in the North we have lost far more than we have gained: empty churches, empty seminaries, empty convents are a testimony to our success.

On the eve of the Council ordination years of 60 plus were not uncommon in seminaries in Ireland, Holland, Belgium, even France, religious sister often had similar numbers of professions. The bitter truth is that seminaries and novitiates that trained these young men and women have now closed, Trads blame the changes brought in by the Council, liberals blame the changes not brought in after the Council, Conservatives blame 'sociological factors', though no-one seems to have done a serious study on what are these factors.

 Most Catholics, including priests and therefore one might also suggest bishops too, I would suggest are unconvinced about the need for Evangelisation, the notion of universal salvation, an empty Hell, have taken hold so tightly that there is no reason to Evangelise. It simply doesn't have a supernatural, salvific or teleological purpose. Universalism means that really evangelising people just ties burdens on people, alienating them from their culture and imposing unnecessary moral burdens on them.

A second not unconnected reason is that we do not know how to evangelise. We do not know what needs to be communicated. Do we actually dare to say that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and without him no-one can know the Father? Are we not more likely to suggest that Evangelisation is about joining a hand-holding, feel good community, with few moral or faith demands. Our problem is that there is so much confusion about what Catholics actually believe and how Catholics are expected to live.

Despite Vatican II urging everyone to Evangelise; a very characteristic trend of pre-Concilliar spirituality seen in such movements as wide ranging as the Liturgical Movement, Opus Dei, the Legion of Mary, the Catholic Evidence Guild, not to mention such publications as the CTS the Tablet and the work many significant Catholic authors, Evangelisation has become like so many things in the Church an area of specialisation. Teachers or catechists not mothers and fathers are expected to evangelise children. The idea that a work of mercy incumbent on all to teach the ignorant has so slipped far from Catholic consciousness to the point where it seems many 'small group meetings', RCIA groups seem to be sharing and compounding rather than dispelling ignorance. Such discussion only serves to spread confusion.  As the previous Pope said to our own Bishops:
In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognise dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free.

Evangelisation can only possibly work

  • if the members of the Church recognise the need to do it
  • if they are confident in doing it
  • if they know what message needs to be communicated
  • if there is no confusion about the message
  • if we have a leadership that actually practices it (rather than merely talks about it)
Ultimately it is possible only if we believe in it

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

From Soho to Brighton

Later today the six members of SPES St Patrick's Evangelisation School are arriving in Brighto to tramp the streets of my parish to invite people to come to the life changing Easter Mysteries.

We clergy talk a lot about Evangelisation, I often think its a bit of an excuse not to do it. It is the Sir Humphrey thing, "Yes Prime Minister, we'll set up a Royal Commission", which will talk and talk and produce a lot of paper, make people feel good but achieve nothing.

We are taking the Holy Father seriously and going out onto the streets -the peripheries- and to talking about God.

There are actually seven in the team, Fr Alexander's dog is coming down too (dog pictures to follow).

Pray for the SPES team, pray this little burst of evangelisation is fruitful, pray for my parish, pray for the people who SPES will talk to.

Somehow the Church needs to undergo a conversion from seeing itself as centred on offering Mass for those already safely inside the Church to offering baptism to those outside but then we need to be convinced by Jesus' words, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God". These words precede, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink".
Evangelisation leads to Baptism and Baptism leads to the Eucharist and eternal life - we need to be convinced that the ultimate act of charity is giving Jesus Christ, because no-one can come to the Father except through him.