Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pancakes and Excess

I suppose if we took Lent seriously we would need a period before hand just to empty the larder and to plot and plan our Lenten penance as well as our spiritual growth towards the Paschal Mystery, rather than just giving up chocolate or sugar or saying an extra decade. For our forefathers Lent meant getting rid of a great deal of the preserved food that had been put aside for the winter and was likely to go to waste as the weather suddenly warmed; all those preserved meat products, and not just bacon and preserved foods but also cheese and dairy products. It was literally a time for saying carne vale, farewell to meat.
It was a period of conspicuous consumption of which our English pancakes and 'Shrove Tuesday' are just the flat remnant, I don't know if pancakes were originally filled with all types of good things or if they really resembled a Spanish omelet. We know from the records of Italian cities but also from English documentation that this pre-Lent season involved a great deal of partying, music, theatre, street entertainment. I remember reading an account of the huge difference between Carnival and Lent recounted by 18th century traveller to Venice, partying, drunkenness and gaiety one day, sombre sobriety from Ash Wednesday onwards.

Septuagessima, was a way in the Church hauled up the violet banner, saying 'now is the time to begin to get ready, eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you fast'. The Church seems everywhere to have opposed the excesses of Septuagessima, until under Bunini it itself was abolished, in a characteristic gesture.

Its proper character is perhaps revealed in the English name 'Shrovetide' the when people went to Confession before Lent so that they might keep this Holy Season in a state of Grace.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Follower of Fashion

seventies pop group showaddywaddy Esquire Magazine, not a regular read, voted Pope Francis the best dressed man of 2013. For those outside or edge of the edge of the Church he will most probably be remembered for what he wore, Benedict of course wore the same thing but then of course he was, 'the leering old man in a dress".

In his 'sound bite' style the Pope recently described young followers of the Traditional Mass as followers of fashion. I was amused by Ches's take on this, I am not quite sure that you can describe something which has been in existence since at lest the time of Gregory the Great until it seemed to be swept away in1968 as a 'fashion'. I am tempted to think what we have at the moment is the 'fashion', and even that is changing rapidly. I remember young Jesuits of Pope Francis' vintage celebrating Mass on coffee tables with pottery chalices, they left the 'Js' and the priesthood,  most of them are now unhappily married and if they remained in contact with the Church are scheming away to overturn the teaching of the Church, that was fashion! They came out of time when the 'fashion' was to denigrate anything smacked of either tradition (or Tradition); it was the time when destruction was fashionable, everything from town centres to the family was up for grabs.

The Pope seems to surround himself not just with endless consultative companies, Ernst Young et al but also people like Cardinals Maradiaga and Hummes who one really expects to appear wearing flared trousers and paisley shirts.
The real question  is: who is a follower of fashion, the Pope or young people?
Already we have witnessed the persecution of the highly unfashionable and successful Franciscans of the Immaculate.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

I agree with Abp Nichol

I agree with Archbishop Nichols in his statement about the plight of the poor, he is to be commended.

Our parish is facing financial difficulties, there has been a serious drop in income over the last few months, it is all too noticeable people have less to give. For many poor people the choice is often between eating or heating. Many of my parishioners have real fears of debt, rent arrears and homelessness Mothers go without so their children can eat.

There are psychological effects; depression, a sense of hopelessness that comes from poverty. Some people, a very few, are masters of the social security system and know precisely what their rights are and how to get them but others simply give up, having neither the inclination to jump through the  hoops set up for them, nor the disposition to cope with the investigation, interrogation, suspicion and possible rejection.

Recently I have been meeting parents who are terrified that there poverty is placing their children in a situation where they fear their children are likely to be taken into care

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Too Much Information

I am becoming and Ockhamist! Simplicity, that surely must be the name of the game in the future, move away  from baroque or rococo complexity to the essentials! The trouble with both is that there is just too much information. In a great baroque or rococo house or Church I am left with an overall impression, unless I latch on to a detail, like a winsome cherub or fecund cornucopia.

I was talking to some 8/9 year olds recently about Mass: what did we do at it? The answer, 'we listen to stories about Jesus', ';we gather together', 'we love one another'. After a bit of pressing, 'we pray', it took some digging, some pushing to get to, 'we receive Communion'. We never quite got to a clear understanding of the distinction between gathering for prayers in class, at school, or family prayers and Mass. In fact the dominant idea was that 'we listen to stories about Jesus'. So my next question: what if the readings were in a language you couldn't understand? Slowly we began to get to the idea that Mass was a meeting with God, through Jesus.
Some friends, good Catholic parents, with a good Catholic brood, five under 12s spoke to me a few weeks about their new discovery that makes Sunday less than hellish.
Mary, not her real name, had been a mum who took charge of 'Children's Liturgy' in her parish; taking children out at the beginning if Mass, telling them a Gospel story, then doing some 'colouring in' and bringing them back into Mass. Dad, Jim, not his real name, stayed in the Church with the older ones, trying to keep them quiet, bribing or threatening them, even giving them the occasional bag of crisps, or slightly quieter sweets. For both of them Sunday Mass was far from prayerful. Jim used to sneak off to Mass during the week. I don't think non-parents realise how difficult just bringing smaller children to Mass can be.
Well their new discovery, after a short period of Sunday Mass lapsation, was 'trad Mass'. A friend had a serious conversation with them, suggesting that taking children out during Mass might actually be suggesting to the children 'it was beyond them', in the same way bringing food or toys or 'additional colouring in' was suggesting that children shouldn't or can't participate.
Now, the children begin preparation for Mass during the week before, they make lists of people to pray for or about at the Sunday Mass, they either write or draw them, the older ones watch the news.
Mary and Jim say it is easier to explain to their children about the 'trad' Mass, 'I simply tell them that at Mass God comes down to us and we raise our minds, and everyone we know, to God in prayer. 'They seem to understand that.
I have been reflecting on this, and my experience here where at the Traditional Mass children seem to pray, even younger children, whereas at the Ordinary Form Mass parents seem to be at their wits end. I am sure that it is not as simple as TLM = good children, OF Mass = fraught parents. It could be something to do with preparation of children, diet even, the signs parents give, or even possibly that at the OF Mass congregations are larger and children less able to see, whereas at the TLM children can see, and at low Mass the prevailing mood is one of silence.

I think it is probably easier to explain to someone who has never been to Mass what to do at the TLM rather than Ordinary Form, one you can do in broad brush times, the other you have to do on detail. I wonder which form of Mass is easier to approach for someone who is almost completely un-Churched, or someone who comes from a culture where the written word is not the norm, or where the sound-bite, or the gesture, rather than the discourse is the norm.

The new -accurate- translations of the Mass have lead me to a new appreciate of the work of Abp Bugnini and his followers, the vernacularisers who wanted everyone, even a child or the un-Churched or the worker to have the same advantages as a Latin literate cleric or theologian. The problem is that today's readings, for example: why Solomon lost God's favour and Jesus' encounter with the Syro-Phoenecian woman, would go completely over their heads. There is too much detail to the point where even the basic message is lost.

I think this raises some questions about evangelisation, about the loss of faith and practice. Why have the great expectations of Vatican II come to naught? Why have so many given up on the practice of the faith?
Why do so many have so little knowledge of the faith? Why is it that families who have been faithful for a thousand years in this generation no longer practice?
Why do children after 10 years of Catholic formation invariably lapse? Why do the same children have little idea of Catholic practice or belief.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Pray for Paul, Now and At the Hour of His Death

 Tonight Paul, who looks a little like St Paul, came to the door asking for absolution, Normally he comes asking for a few pounds or sees me in town and asks for my blessing, something few of my parishioners ask for. Now, he has lost control of both his bladder and bowels, he is convinced he is dying, he is an alcoholic, he tells me he has sclerosis of the liver. He wanted me to pray he would go to heaven and go soon. He asked me to say that prayer which he couldn't remember but it had, 'pray for me now and the hour of my death'. I told him all that was necessary that he should say the words he remembered, with as much faith as he had.

I went into church for Exposition, he was kneeling there in the pew alongside Ann one of our parishioners. Even on the sanctuary, even with the incense, it was possible to smell his breath, he stayed there kneeling for about half an hour, got up and went to kneel on the sanctuary steps before the Blessed Sacrament where I had knelt, he got up and helped by Ann left as silently as he had prayed, going back to a shop doorway where he normally spends the night.

Pray for him that his prayer might be answered soon and that those words, "pray for me now and at the hour of my death", may indeed gain him heaven.

And give thanks that this priest was able to glimpse the great beauty of the faith of this poor man.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Our Lady, Destroyer of All Heresies

Here is sermon by Fr Marcus Holden, the illustrious Parish Priest of St Augustine's Ramsgate, The sermon is splendid, the sound quality is bit difficult but struggle with it, it is well worth it.
Perhaps in this time when many feel called action, Fr Holden issues a call to faith, Our Lady's great call to us too.

Candles and Candlemas

I get annoyed when candles I have taken a great deal of effort to bless, that are supposed to be an icon of Christ and symbolise our wisdom and burning faith are just left in the pews or at the back of Church, especially as we hand out rather expensive 'altar' candles rather cheap little votive ones.

The problem is of course that Candlemas is a not very important feast in the present liturgy, which in our electrified times is not surprising, candles are not really necessary in church today and no-one spends most of winter making them.

Dr Rock that great nineteenth century Southwark priest, antiquarian and one of the founders of the V&A, makes a point somewhere of the disastrous impact of the Protestant Reformation on bee-keepers. Before the Reformation they were concerned more about the wax than the honey. He tells of great Paschal candles weighing several hundred-weight that that were kept alight from Easter to Ascension, they were so tall that they had to be lit from clerestory.

Wills often contained bequests for candles to be lit before images and shrines, the kings candle burnt at Walsingham, its extinction marked the end of Catholic England, just the same as Bloody Bess' command to the monks of Westminster when they met her on her accession at the Abbey door said, 'Gentlemen, we have day-light enough, there is no need for your lights', gave a clear indication of what was to come.

The use of candles at the Easter Vigil seems to undermine this feast, or at least duplicate one of its important rites but of course in more ancient times, the candle blessed at Candlemas would have been used at the Vigil which occurred on Holy Saturday morning, as well as practically every other procession people took part in, the most important of course, or at least the one most people connected with, was the procession of the dead from the Church to the cemetery after their Requiem as well as either greeting or being part the procession that would accompany the priest bringing Viaticum. The reception therefore of the candle at Candlemas was a sort of ticket to take part in other religious rites.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...