Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Problem with Contemplative Religious

Saint John Houhton, was the proto-martyr of the English Reformation, he was a silent, comtemplative monk, a Carthusian rather than outspoken friar preaching publicly at the market cross.  He was the Prior of the London house, with him were executed Robert Lawrence and Augustine Webster, respectively Priors of Beauvale and Axholme, with a Bridgettine monk, Richard Reynolds of Syon Abbey and a secular priest John Haile.

For the most parts the Church in England followed the lead of their bishops, secular clergy acquiesced to the King's will, monks, nuns and friars for the most part took their pensions, took off their habits and left their monasteries but the Carthusians continued to suffer persecution, they remained loyal.

It is true that one of the questions going around, not just amongst Protestants but also Catholic reformers concerned the value of contemplatives in the Church. It was on the back of this that Henry began the suppression and despoliation of the monasteries. The Carthusians for the most part stood firm some were hanged, drawn and quartered like Saint John others simply imprisoned and left to starve to death in pison.

It was the Carthusians again that became the target of rage of the French Masonic government of Émile Loubet, above is a widely circulated postcard of the expulsion of the Carthusians from the Grand Chatreuese in 1903. Whilst other religious were tolerated contemplatives were expelled, the French Carthusians came the England founding their monastery at Cowfold, the Solesmes Bendictine came too building Quarr on the Isle of Wight.

Queen Victoria's remark about Carmelite nuns when being told that they spent their lives in prayer, 'Couldn't they be found something useful to do', marks an attitude to contemplative religious not only outside the Church but also within it. The Queen's views echoes Judas', 'couldn't this have been sold and the money given to the poor'.

There is a sense in which ordinary people are fascinated by the contemplative life but there is also a horror of it. A popular move of Henry's was to open the London Chartrhouse to the public, as sort of contemplative zoo. The more rationalistic the world or the Church becomes the more alien the contemplative is. I am sure that Henry would not have executed St John Houghton publicly unless it was considered to please some of the mob, the same could be said of the Carmelites of Compeigne during the French Revolution. The widespread distribution of postcards of the expulsion of the Carthusians shows it was not an unpopular move.
Why are contemplatives problematic? It is presumably something about the 'otherness' of their lives, for Henry it was their rootedness in Tradition and their consequent refusal to sign the Act of Supremacy, it is the nature of contemplatives to view the future whilst being rooted in the past. The other problem is that their values are not those of the contemporary world, they tend to stand still rather than go out to the peripheries of contemporary thought, stat crux dum volvitur orbis, which means they don't get 'with the programme'.

There is something about the transcendent and otherness of their lives that says some important things about God; that he is above and beyond us, that he is unknowable, ineffable, which means he is beyond the control of Kings and governments, or even Churchmen.

The war on Liturgy that speaks of the transcendent of the post-Concilliar period uses the same arguments, or lack of argument, as those who have difficulty with the contemplative life. Liturgy that is pure worship, that does not seek to teach, or build community or to 'celebrate' in the contemporary sense of the word is equally incomprehensible, it is about esse rather than agere.
This 'Otherness' says something about all of us; that we are capable of moving beyond ourselves. It is this that Masons, Communists, Fascists, Relativists, and yes Consumerists and Capitalists, Protestants and Liberals are terrified of, or at least see as their great enemy. What is really being said is that Man is more than the sum of his parts, more than what he consumes or produces. Such ideologies and movements want to keep man earth bound, they want to present a brotherhood of man without the Fatherhood of God, like Protestantism such ideologies want to subject Faith and God to the rule of the King or governments.

It isn't of course God that they want to control but man, ousting God means reducing man.

In England the result of Henry's reformation was the oppression of the poor and unproductive members of society, by the reign of Elizabeth rather than seeing the poor as alter Christi (remember the legends of those who entertained Christ or angels or saints disguised as a beggar, remember all those bequests for the poor in wills, those monastic schools, hospitals and  guest houses which were swept away) they were whipped from parish to parish, branded, mutilated, they were no longer an icon of Christ, they were unproductive, of no value.

Today it is no longer the whip and the branding iron, now it is abortion and euthanasia which deal with unproductive, unwanted members of society. Catholics should always be concerned whenever contemplative religious are threatened.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Our Ascension Day Mass

We haven;t had a Missa Solermnis for ages, God decided our old MC had a vocation and apart from an occasional Missa Cantata its been Low Mass ever since. However James who is happily married to Deidre went off to do the LMS course. Fr Bruno Witchals who preached and was deacon tonight became PP of one of the next door parishes last year and Fr Gerrard Hatton did an intensive course in sub-deaconry with Richard Hawker the manager of Watts & Co, and a LMS MC and Deus providebat, a simple little High Mass,it was just Mass I and the chant. Enjoy the pictures here.
I offered Mass, as I promised, for the Franciscan Sister of the Immaculate. It was good to see a reasonable number of people coming to the EF nowadays.

James is the one with the beard, Deirdre is behind the camera.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Reaction to the Pope's visit

Pope Francis
I am wondering quite what was achieved by the Papal visit to the Holy Land, as it was billed a year ago as primarilly a meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch Bartholomew I was rather hoping for an exciting ecumenical breakthrough between East and West but this didn't happen, Constantinople has to keep an eye on Moscow and the Third Rome is rather more wary of Francis than it was of Benedict.
Photo: History will be made again this weekend...
There seemed to be a great deal of talk but not much listening. perhaps it was just unfocussed.

For the Palestinians it seems to been an occasion which has provoked more attacks against them and the Holy Sites from Jewish hard-liners.

The Jerusalem Post regarded the Pope's spontaneity as rude and the visit generally as unfriendly, to the point where it has undone much of the hard work building friendships between Jews and Catholics since the Council.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Augustine: Teaching the English to sing

This was the procession in honour of St Augustine that took place at Ramsgate in sunnier warmer weather last year. I went yesterday and just caught the tail end of it, though the Church was packed the procession was a smaller affair because if the bad weather. I was amazed the bishop's mitre did not get blown off.
It was the first time I've got to the pilgrimage, some people -Pope Benedict, for example have called the old Mass, the Gregorian Mass. It was St Gregory of Angeli non Angli, who sent Augustine to England, the procession and Gregorian or Old Rite Mass commemorates his landing. It was lovely to commemorate St Augustines arrival in this way.
Having landed Augustine raised the icon of raised the icon of Christ, Salvator Mundi and processed to Durovernum, Æthelberht's capital to found a monastery. Durovernum because of the monkish singing became known as Canterbury, and actually giving its name to the whole county (Kent -Cant -"chant").
The Pope was lavish in his gifts to the English Church, what seems to have been important in those early years was the sending of Cantors, even the Arch-Cantor of St Peter's to Canterbury. Teaching the English to sing seems to have been important in the evangelisation of the English.
I imagine Augustine with a heavy Italian accent and broken Anglo-Saxon attempting to explain the faith to the English, maybe the King and court had broken Latin too and there might have been some dialogue, may be those Angelic boys had been brought by Gregory, maybe they taught Augustine and his monks, but I suspect most of the evangelisation took place by the experience of the Liturgy and by presenting people with the image of God, the main image would have been these singing monks worshipping God.
As I missed the beginning of the procession rather than joining the clergy in choir I sat in the nave, something I tend not to do normally, it was a beautiful experience, the music was captivating. The whole experience would have been quite similar to that of our Anglo-Saxon forefathers, that extra-ordinary invitation to raise one's mind and heart to God which is the ancient Rite.
It was after all this experience that other monks and other clergy brought to so much of the world as a tool to evangelise. We forget how effective a liturgy entirely in Latin did to pass on the faith, and how effective it was. Why is it that now we no longer have that 'handicap' we are so much less effective in so many parts of the world.
Could it be that we simply use too many words.
I was intrigued by that image of Pope Francis posed under presumably carefully chosen graffiti which said so much about his trip to the Holy Land. Much less poignant if the message were more long winded or Arabic or Hebrew.

I'm praying for the Sisters of the Immaculate

I met these Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate yesterday at the Ramsgate Mass for St Augustine. Without commenting on it they seemed a little anxious about the impending visitation. I said I would offer Mass for them, I will, I'll offer Mass on Ascension Day, our Missa Solemnis at 7.30pm. One of them knows Brighton well, she was school here, when I asked her where, with a slight hint of embarrassment she replied, 'Roedean'.

There is a post on Air Maria which sheds a little more light - or shadow - on the whole affair, the second article defending Fr Volpi's actions is by Fr. Agnellus Maria Murphy, who many in this country will know from 'A Day with Mary', I have never considered him to be a wet liberal. However, without getting into ad hominem arguments I tend to have sympathy with a comment made by friend.
 There really is nothing here to justify the drastic action taken. Since it would appear that the overwhelming number of friars supported the direction the institute was taking, surely it was for the five to ask to be transferred to an institute more to their taste; there is no lack of non-traddy Franciscan congregations, most of whom are desperate for vocations. In fact, this response confirms my view that the action taken by Aviz, Volpi and others is disproportionate, scandalous and downright cruel. His entire defence is simply a more elaborate way of saying that the Friars were getting too traditional for his taste.
It is the disproportionate nature of the Holy Sees response that is scandalous. It reflects very badly on this Papacy.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Bavaria and Buenos Aires

I have never been to Bavaria but I have an image in my my mind of geraniums, summer sunshine, a certain tweeness, perhaps even an umpa band in the distance, even the occasional pair of lederhosen but my general impression is one of quiet ordered efficiency, of social cohesion but with a deep respect for history, perhaps because there is memory of how truly ghastly things can be if history is forgotten.

I have never been to Buenos Aires either but my imagination it is one of a dynamic forward looking city, full of bustle and noise,but with a sense of the need for motion, and even if the traffic stops in chaos the noise gives the impression that something is happening. I imagine there is a real contrast in Buenos Aires of a real contrast between rich and poor. There is little sense of the past, in part because it was so horrible. It is a society that need strong men because there is a sense that without them disorder and lawlessness will reign. This is a direct contrast to my image of Bavaria, where strong men are feared because they bring about disaster.
These images are behind my understanding of contrast in the Ratzinger and Bergoglio papacies. 
Perhaps it is best illustrated by the different responses to LCWR and the Franciscans of the Immaculate, the former initiated under Benedict and the latter under Francis. 
The action against the LCWR has been one of ongoing dialogue, a clear statement of the problems, a firm but patient determination on the part of the Vatican to draw the American religious back into the life of the Church, even if the sisters flail around refusing to dialogue the Holy See still continues making its requests, gently increasing pressure on them, whilst ast the same time leaving them, the Leadership Conference free to do what it wants, whilst the vast majority of American women religious are completely unaffected.

The way in which the Franciscans of the Immaculate are being dealt with is in complete contrast, the Vatican Commissar has taken complete control over every aspect of the lives of individuals from novices to the founder. No one actually seems to know quite what the problem is, there are no clear complaints, except for 'tendencies' which frankly could mean anything. Their problems after all these months seem to be 'thought crimes'. In contrast to Fr Volpi's declining Capuchins or the LCWR the FFI's were growing, were young, were faithful. Now the same terror is being applied to their female branch, the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate. 

The LCWR have 'moved beyond Jesus', the FFI seem just be marginally a little too trad , yet the velvet Benedictine glove is applied to the former and the iron fist of Francis to the latter. The way in which the LCWR is being dealt with promotes growth and inclusion whereas the way Fr Volpi is dealing with the FFIs seems destructive and violent. Whilst Francis continues to grow in popularity in the secular media I detect growing fears amongst many that the hand on the tiller of the bark of Peter is just too firm, too South American, with too much determination for change for the sake of change. Far from a papacy that is small poor and humble Francis' is as big as any of the past. 

There seem to be too many of those qualities of the renaissance prince popes who tore down so much of the Rome of their predecessors to rebuild it in their own image and according to what they considered something new and up to date. But Francis is not seeking to rebuild in stone but something which goes much deeper and rather than merely touching on his own diocese will affect how every Catholic understands their faith. Few people would think that Cardinal Kasper's speech to the Consistory and what he has said subsequently, - he was the lone speaker chosen by the Pope - expressed anything other than Pope Francis' personal thought, nor that the invitation to discuss without 'taboos' marriage, homosexual unions, the future of celibacy of his appointee as President of the Italian Bishops Conference were anything other than an expression of Pope's own thoughts.

There was a comment on Fr Hugh's blog by Macunius that has been nagging away at me.
A red-walled room filled with crucifixes, statues of Jesus, and candlesFather, I have a distinct feeling that in these rather bitter personal attacks on characters who really don’t exist except in his imagination or memory, Papa Bergoglio is referring back to aspects of middle-class Argentina in the peronist postwar period. The rooms curtained against the summer sun, the whispered prayers, the family pressures, the overwhelming almost airless atmosphere of personal sin. Rather like scenes from a film.
There is some autobiography here that we can only half-glimpse, some personal complex. We’ve already seen it in his strangely mocking remarks about those who offered him a spiritual bouquet, and his rather strange view of the Traditional form of the Rite as the ‘personal taste’ of a small clique – which of course it is not.
Perhaps he needs to set up the ‘clericalist church’ bogeyman to defend the change of heart (and lurch towards the left) that he made (or felt forced to make) in the 1980s after the (according to his early friends) extremely conservative and orthodox provincial was demoted and exiled by the Jesuit order, and left to ‘reflect’ – ie to fall into line with the new revolutionary clerical politics reacting against the changing landscape of military dictatorship in Buenos Aires.
Not a coincidence, surely, that his spokesman Cardinal Maradiaga recently (April 8th, at the meeting of Franciscan provincials in Florida) asserted that Francis “feels called to construct” a church “free from all mundane spirituality” and “free from the risk of being concerned about itself, of becoming middle-class, of closing in on self, of being a clerical church.” For like Maradiaga (though perhaps not as openly) has the Holy Father perhaps rather a complex about the middle classes and their desire for social and ideological order? a complex about not being one of them, feeling snubbed and attacked by them, needing to defeat them to survive…it’s a very Latin American thing.
But if it has potential liturgical, theological and pastoral consequences for the Universal Church, then Houston, we definitely have a problem.
I think it is significant that in the Ratzinger papacy we heard a great deal about his family life and his evident delight in his brothers company in contrast Bergoglio seems to have had family life which dwelt in 'rooms curtained against the summer sun'. Benedict often spoke about the 'family' of the Apostolic Camera, whereas Francis enjoys the constantly changing community of Santa Marta and has spoken of his 'psychological need' for it.

Patriarch Bartholomew Explains the Purpose of the Jerusalem Meeting

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Renaissance Princess


The Holy Father famously doesn't want to be a renaissance prince but some of his courtiers are certainly behaving in style which is not too far away from that.

Immacolata Chaouqui organised her own little party for a select few on one of terraces overlooking the Ptazza of St Peters during the Canonisation of St John XXIII and St John Paul II. Holy Communion was distributed from whiskey tumblers by Lucio Angel Vallejo Balda, secretary of the Vatican's Prefecture for Economic Affairs and member of the investigative commission of economic and administrative offices of the Holy See, obviously not one of those 'leprous courtiers' the Pope has spoken about. Well, a whiskey tumbler is an improvement on the plastic cups used at Rio, it would have nice if he could have bothered to find a rochet or cotta just to show he took things seriously and wasn't there to serve the canapes.

Afterward the Canonisation whilst the plebs tried to find a pizza Immacolta had organised a buffet which apparently cost about 18,000 euros!


Immacolata has form.  She is a 27-year-old public relations consultant who works for Ernst and Young, she described the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, as corrupt and claimed that he was involved in dubious business deals with an unnamed company from the Veneto region. In other twitter messages she fuelled speculations over Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, saying he was seriously ill, and claimed that former Italian finance minister Giulio Tremonti was a homosexual.

It seems that if one is on the inside one can get away with anything, it is those on the peripheries, like the FFIs who are made to suffer! For all Francis' insistences and complaints of corruption and privilege it just carries on, now, as an Italian journalist friend says, it has executives from multi-national companies involved.

Well, who are we to judge!

Athanasius Speaks

I am risking becoming a Bishop Schneider groupee. I first met him, except we didn't speak, at Downside. He was kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament in the Church when I arrived to make my meditation, say my Office, say my Mass, make my thanksgiving, he was still kneeling smiling benignly when I finished, in fact he was still there when I came back to say more Office after breakfast, as his breviary was closed I presume had already be there long before arrived and he was still there when I finally left. I like Bishops who pray!

I like Bishops with fire in their belly too, and maybe because he is from Kazakhstan, and was brought up in time of persecution and seems to have been surrounded by many who suffered for the faith, he says things that might be shocking in the mouth of one of his more westernised brothers. Frankly he is breath of fresh air. He might even be considered outrageous - he calls for an end to Holy Communion in the hand - he suggests that individual bishops or even priests draw up a syllabus of errors, He calls for us to practice and live out what we believe and not just in our Eucharistic celebrations. Like Pope Benedict he condemns 'Relativism'. He even goes as far to suggest that the movement to the peripheries towards a social Gospel that embraces ecology and economics, all that stuff we hear so much about lately, could actually be an escape from Christ, or at least a way in which Christ himself is not at the very centre of his Church.

He spoke tonight (Wednesday) in London to the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. I think he might have thought me a little rude when I suggested to him before our meal that many of us were already considered somewhat mad by fellow clergy, and even bishops because we stand up to the prevailing agenda of people like ACTA, I said I didn't know what their reaction would be if we implemented what he proposed, he just smiled and went off to chat to some else. The thing is I think he is right and support what he says, and so I think do most of the clergy who were at tonight's meeting.

I also agree with what he said when questioned by a couple of lay people on Sunday at West Grinstead about the possibility of the Synod changing the Church's teaching on the reception of Holy Communion by the divorced and remarried he said, 'It was impossible', when a lay woman pressed him and asked, '... but what if the Synod and the Pope actually did change the Church's position?' From what I recall he said that that would be a departure from the teaching of the Lord, and they would be wrong, a Synod is not Infallible teaching, and no Pope can teaching something which clearly contradicts the Lord. If he does, on this matter, he is in error and, on this matter, we cannot follow him.

With all the silliness that flies around at the moment I thought it apt that this Bishop has the name Athanasius - God bless him.

Now, how can I get to Ramsgate for his 11am Mass on Monday?

Lycurgus Angelopoulos has died

The "ultimate Hail"  the chanter Lycurgus Angelopoulos (photo)
Pray for the soul of the greatest exponent and teacher of Greek chant Lycurgus Angelopoulos, his funeral took place in Athens today at the Cathedral he served for many year. Rest Eternal grant to him O Lord.
In 1994 the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew awarded him elevated to the rank of Lord Cantor of Holy Archdiocese of Constantinople. He was also honored by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Church of Finland, and the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece had awarded him the appreciation and the Gold Cross of the Apostle Paul (2006). president of the Greek Republic Konstantinos Stephanopoulos awarded him the 2004 the honors of the Silver Cross of the Order of the Phoenix. 
Having just written on Western Chant it is worth remembering the East, at least in Greek world, the Russian style is quite different, has a far more 'manly' sound championed by Angelopoulos, it is the open throat and strong rhythm.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Some thoughts on Chant

Until the 1960s our Church was known for its chant, the Sacred Heart, next door in Hove specialised in more showy polyphony. I presume chant became our thing because of Mgr George Wallis who was parish priest here until his death in 1950. He was an interesting character, he was a member of the famous banking family, a son of John Edward Wallis, editor and proprietor of the Tablet from 1855 to 1868. He had been educated in France, he studied at the Gallican College in Rome and though an Englishman he spoke with a French accent. After ordination he became Ceremonialist at one of the Roman basillicas, from where he was recruited by Cardinal Bourne to be Master of Ceremonies at Westminster Cathedral in 1910 he oversaw its consecration. By the 1913 he had been sacked, parish legend says there was a scene during the solemn reception of the King of Portugal. He then came to Brighton as a chaplain to one of the convents in the parish, and only being appointed Parish Priest here in 1924. Then, we were very much part of the Liturgical movement. One of our older parishioners remembered the Monsignor saying, 'If you have difficulties come to me, I am your Father', another parishioner spoke of his father recalling the visits of Chesterton, Belloc and Greene.

The Tablet archive records him speaking on Liturgical music and the new Moto Proprio in 1906!
His love of chant seemed to get into the stonework here, right up until the mid-eighties and clung on, after the choir was sent of into exile, through the efforts of a few parishioners past that date as a prayer group. Today it has having a bit of a revival, mainly due to our director of music, Clare, who is becoming a bit of an expert, she has even been training our schola and running workshops in other parishes in the diocese. She herself has been tutored by the choir director of St Cecelia's Abbey, Sister Bernadette who maintains the great Solesmes tradition here in England.

Chant is the perfect expression of the Church's worship. It can be sung indifferently, like singers on rugby club bus but in reality as monophony it demands that singers form one voice, singing together in perfect pitch, breathing together, 'sounding' together, there is no room for personal virtuosity or individuality in chant. It is supposed to be the voice of the Church, ex pluribus unum, so the many are one at the service of the Word. Monastic exponents of chant will say that it takes twenty or thirty years of singing together everyday for a monastic schola to become proficient because it isn't just musical understanding or expertise that is needed but a spiritual harmony. A profound consciousness, not just of music written on the page and knowledge of the technique that is needed, but a sensitivity towards the other singers and a deep understanding of the text. In other musical forms disharmony or even dischord are part of the genre but the purity of chant demands more. The more technically demanding pieces can cover a multitude of errors but it is often in the simple recitation that faults become apparent. The aim of chant is the proclamation of the word, the total immersion of the singers into the text, the clear enunciation of Church's voice in prayer.

Chant is an expression and a metaphor for the life of the Church itself, more and more I am beginning to hear here the occasional phrase, sometimes even a whole piece that is sung beautifully with a quality that goes beyond merely just a proficient performance. In fact there is a quality to chant that professional musicians can emulate but never actually achieve, rather like an artist who understands the techniques of iconography but can't actually quite paint a real icon. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Men of the Parish and Bishop Schneider

I was pleased that half a dozen of our men where able to assist at Bishop Athanasius' Mass at West Grinstead, there are few more pictures here.
and lots more here

The wise stand at the door, with lamps lit, waiting for the Bridegroom

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Some nun 'who did a course', presumably, had imposed her understanding of liturgy on this building and on the community that used it, now the parish priest has restored it.

I'm not too sure I see the point of two altars on one sanctuary but I like the idea of the priest moving from 'worship space' back to 'church'. It is emblematic of so much that has happened in the last few years; the recognition that our faith is deeply rooted in the past, that it did not emerge from some year zero around 1970.

This is the unfocussed mess the nun designed What is it saying, what sign is being given? The obvious answer is confusion, uncertainty, a lack of integrity, cheapness, fabrication. I can't understand the 'pinkness' either, what is that about; sister's lipstick?.
(thanks to Sergio)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

So very Catholic

I have just come back from the LMS pilgrimage to West Grinstead, six of our men served and about twenty five of our parishioners had a very pleasant day out, beautiful music, a reverent Pontifical, a good sermon, lovely weather. It was good to meet the saintly Bishop Athanasius Schneider again but what really struck me was the number of  under forties that came and all the happy contented children. It might be that the older LMS members are dying off, if that is so then they are being replaced by younger people; young men and women, and young families. During the Mass, I think there was one very young child crying, the rest were contentedly praying, 

During the Conference in the afternoon after lunch whilst the Bishop was calling for stronger Eucharistic reverence  and most of the children were contentedly playing football, what really impressed was certainly the Bishop but more than that, was the Chairman of the LMS, sitting next to to the Bishop, with his youngest child gurgling on his knee..

It was just good to see: a dad with his child sitting next to a bishop with a flock, so very Catholic.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


I don't know if there are 'Muslim' Satanists - there most probably are. Do they worship the same devil as their 'Christian' Satanist counter-parts?

Satanism is about negation, the Harvard 'Black Mass' - I wonder if it would have been old rite or new - would be primarily a negation of the Mass. Such acts at least in 17th/18th century France were about mocking the Mass. There doesn't seem to have been a stable rite, sometimes it took the form of using something like decomposing blakened slice of turnip in place of a host, sometimes reading the Missal backwards, sometimes taking the form of a 'Mass of the Presanctified' using a stolen consecrated host in which instead of praise of God, he is cursed, and Communion takes place with as much sacrilege as possible. The ideal, of course, was to have real live priest or bishop to act as impiously as possible.

'Black Masses' are an attack on the Mass, I have never heard of a 'black' Book of Common Prayer Communion Service or Methodist 'Breaking of Bread' Service, nor have I heard of, or do I think it likely someone would parody the parodies of the Mass we occasionally see on Youtube: the clown Mass, the balloon Mass, Mass from Lintz etc.

Here in Brighton before I introduced Communion 'at the rail' it wasn't unusual for someone, at least once a month, to run off with the host. The last person to do so was wearing a pentangle and got to the Church door before I retrieved the host. Brighton has several rather strange shops that cater to New Age movement, some at its extremes. In fact I have a rather chatty relationship with a lady who works in local supermarket who tells me she is 'white witch', that seems to be all about herbs gathered with dew still on them, a bit of chanting on the solstice and probably some unconventional attitudes, by Christian standards but not by Brighton standards, to sex and whole foods.

The obvious signs of the diabolic like the Harvard example are more the action of publicity seeking adolescent school children, they are a distraction, straw demons, the real concern should be those things which bring about confusion and moral division within the Church and society, the more subtle bending of morality and truth.

In fact the Harvard 'Black Mass' as far as the devil is concerned is pretty much an own goal, it reminds the Faithful that Christ's enemies are alive and well but if one is really looking for the truly diabolic look within the Church to the places where confusion and relativism, and ultimately the denial of Christ creep in.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Looking Back

"No fuss, no fuss, Paris would be nice" so apparently said a Father of one of the Oratories for some Jubilee in his eighties, so apparently a whole gang of them got on Eurostar and headed off to Paris for lunch.
I hate fuss too. Yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of my Ordination to the priesthood, I celebrated it as quietly possible, just me and a server assisting at Mass. As I get older I hate more and more 'Me' celebrations, especially those that merely indicate I am still alive - "prizes for breathing". Prayers are useful - congratulations I find a bit hollow.

Five years ago we celebrated my 25th anniversary, it is good to look back and see how much better our church looks and how much more beautiful our music is. Two of those serving are on their way to the priesthood, others in video have moved on, some to their Eternal reward, some like Segei who produced this video to other parts of the world, he is back Moscow, one man I received into the Church has apostatised as is now a Muslim.

Thanks to Gloriatv for preserving this archive video, of the celebration for my 25th Anniversary it is worth comparing the Church then to what is now.

Thirty years as a priest and I look back over all that time I wonder quite what I have done and what is of value. There is certainly a sense in which I envy those with a clutch of children and a loving wife, the loneliness of celibacy is painful at times but it roots us in the Cross, I am become increasingly convinced of the connection between celibacy, the Cross and the priesthood. The old Mass gives a clue to this mystery: everything I have done in communion with God, in muttered prayerful silence is of infinite and eternal value. Everything I have done without him is vain and valueless, and will pass away. The priestly things I have done, really the sacraments I have celebrated, will last forever. The priesthood itself only has meaning in its eschatological dimension, pointing to God and his Kingdom and the things that truly last.
When we undermine celibacy for example, when we downplay sanctifying grace or make our liturgy prosaic or trite we do serious damage.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Avoid the 'Spiritual'

I had a priest visit me who happened remark someone had said they were 'spritual  but not religious', he said he replied he was 'religious but not spiritual'.
I took up the theme today and said in my sermon this morning, we should be the enemies of the 'spiritual'.
The Fathers of the Church, those saintly bishops and monks would tear at the beards punch in the face those who claimed to be 'spiritual'. The 'spiritual' are our deadly foes.
We believe in Jesus Christ who did not abhor a Virgin's womb, indeed that was where he became flesh, flesh and blood. 
We believe in the flesh and blood resurrection of the flesh and blood enfleshed Word of God. Those who claim he rose 'spiritually' or somehow took on our humanity 'spiritually' are damnable heretics. 
Catholicism is about physical realities, yes we even believe, our Resurrection is physical, not 'spiritual', we believe 'in my flesh I shall see God'. 
In the Holy Eucharist we do not receive 'spiritual' food but the actual body and blood, the soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. 
We do not believe that the Church is merely the spiritual body of Jesus but is the real tangible reality of Christ's presence in the world. 
Even the Holy Spirit, the most 'spiritual' thing that we believe in, manifests itself in a real way, in the Incarnation, in the Resurrection of the Person of Christ, in the gathering of the Church, in transubstantiation of bread and wine, in the real sanctification of those who have received him. 
We are not called to 'spiritually' feed hungry but actually do it, we are not called to 'spiritually' instruct the ignorant but to actually do it, nor to be spiritually chaste but to actually be chaste. Indeed we are not called to have a 'spiritual life' but to have Life. The Holy Spirit always manifests itself in the flesh.
At all cost avoid those who speak of the 'spiritual' they are and have always been the enemies of real flesh and blood Christians!
Warning: There is a small degree of rhetorical  irony in this post

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Blessed Paul VI?

Paul VI being on track to being Beatified?
There are so many conjectures about his private life, his friendships, those he allowed influence; there are so many questions which are unanswered, so many hints of scandal, of all the twentieth centuries Popes Paul VI should be left to sleep quietly in his grave, with prayers of the faithful.

Even his predecessor Pope St John XXIII dubbed him Hamlet.

Nine years after his election he wrote: "Perhaps the Lord called me to this service not because I have any aptitude for it, or so I can govern and save the Church in its present difficulties, but so I can suffer something for the Church so that it will be clear that it is the Lord, and not anyone else, who guides and saves it."

Field Hospital

I don't watch the BBC, indeed I do not own a television receiver but I have started watching on the BBC IPlayer the Crimson Field, it is about a WWI group of nurses in a field hospital, it isn't that horrific, no scenes of screaming vomiting gas victims crying out in agony. In fact he patients are remarkable quiet but there was one scene that disturbed my comfort, it was a bucket of amputated limbs.

That gave a fresh perspective to Pope Francis' description of the Church not as any old hospital but specifically as a field hospital, operating in a war zone. If you are hearing a lot of Confessions it can sometimes be like a supermarket cashier or a triage surgeon in a field hospital, making quick judgements, cutting out an infection here, giving a dose of morphine there, applying a splint for some else, offering kindness to those dying of their wounds. The 'field hospital' model isn't only about just one specific area of Church but the whole life of the Church, for those at work in such an institution the basic tool historically has been the saw and the knife. Cutting out infection, cutting off the gangrenous, crude tools maybe but the Pope is not talking about a sophisticated urban hospital.

The ultimate sanction in the Church is always amputation, or excommunication, it is done not just as a way saving the sick individual but the rest of the flock as well. In fact a field hospital out of the time of a major battle seems to have dealt with diseases like typhus or cholera the result of insanitary living conditions and bad food. Remember all those stories of all rats living of the detritus of war. The nurses of the Crimea were as much concerned about the  contagion of disease as much as battle wounds. Those 'leperous courtiers' can infect the rest of the court, leprosy is contagious. Yesterday the very stark reminder of Cardinal Mueller was issued to the American Leadership Conference of Women Religious which basically called them to get back into the Church because what they are doing now is leading them out of communion.

A good Pastor is desperately concerned about the health of his flock, just as a medical officer in charge of a field hospital is not merely concerned about battle wounds but such mundane things as latrines and their correct use and clean linen, fresh water and washing, waterproof boots and clean socks, the provision of soap and lavatory paper, the elimination of vermin and the delousing of uniforms. He might also be concerned not just about the physical health of his soldiers but even their psychological and even moral health.

The purpose of the field hospital is worth bearing in mind it is to get the sick well again to engage the battle once more. No Pope has spoken in modern times in such apocalyptic terms as Pope Francis. The first Mass he celebrated with Cardinals after his election, he said 'if you are not praying to Christ, you are praying to the devil' and this dichotomy between Christ and the devil has been present throughout his pontificate.

Some see a growing dichotomy between truth and unity. One of the problems some people identify in today's Church is that sense that we are one big happy family and we don't say or do things that are hurtful. A field hospital is not a place without pain, whether it a surgeon cutting off a diseased limb or a nurse taking off a blood and pus dried dressing or pouring disinfectant over an open wound. Bishops, priests and deacons do not like dealing with pain, it is all too easy to simply ignore the cries of the suffering, to become hard of heart or else never to apply the knife and simply watch the patients die a slow death, in that case we become a hospice for the terminally ill rather than a field hospital. The problem here is that both patients and medical team die not just of their own wounds but of cross infection from other patients.

So what does one do if some mad honorary Prelate denies the Resurrection, or a Professor of Catholic Studies, from a Department of Human Flourishing suggests that scripture and tradition are wrong about human sexuality, our custom has been to ignore the problem. Scripture warns against the father who fails to correct the waywardness of his children, and those who fail to correct the errors of their brothers. St Paul was not afraid to correct the Prince of the Apostle, Pope Francis is continually complaining about careerists, airport bishops, nun's who are old maids. There is an intolerance in his sermons that is not just about evil but about imperfection, and all too human weakness, not just of clergy but of ordinary Christians. He speaks of mercy but it is not the self indulgent mercy of what he describes as the "pastry-shop Christian"

I have always thought it significant that he hardly ever describes 'God as Love', for our days perhaps that has too much secular baggage, the implications of a God who is 'merciful' is that mercy has to be sought, it is given by a greater to a supplicant. God is loving but God is also angry, in the theology of St Paul it is only Jesus who assuages God's anger, only then is he merciful to those united to Jesus.. 

Monday, May 05, 2014

Dangers of Tradition and Young Children

One of our children is in deep trouble: its the mantilla thing. Some, not many of the women in our congregation wear mantillas and very elegant they look too.
Well to cut a long story short, Annie who is 5 often stays with a friend of her mum's who had some rather elegant Victorian lace curtains. Annie found some scissors, now Annie has a mantilla and so do her three of her dolls and her favourite pink dinosaur, and whilst mum's friend still has lace curtains but one is now quite considerably shorter than its pair, they are less elegant nowadays.
And Annie was bareheaded at Mass on Sunday and so was the pink dinosaur.


Speaking of such things, I remember a whole family of reasonably devout traditionally minded Catholics; mother, father and four young children apostacising over the issue of veils. It was around the time the then Papal MC got St John Paul to kiss the Koran, that really did rattle them. They had come into contacting with a Baptist group who insisted on women wearing a head covering, in conformity with St Paul's teaching, "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head". It was one of those things that wormed away at them until it overcame belief in the Real Presence, the Inerrancy of the Church and everything else. The Baptist pastor kept saying to them if the Catholic Church errs on this rather minor matter can it be trusted on anything, eventually they decided it couldn't and went off to join them, eventually believing the Church to be the whore of Babylon, the Pope the Anti-Christ and all of that extreme Protestant stuff.

Sunday, May 04, 2014


I was pleased to read Bishop Campbell's press release on Protect the Pope, Bishop Campbell is one of the good guys, I am glad he faced up to the furore that has surrounded the closing of this blog, not only here but throughout the world. It is regrettable, looking over the Google feed, that it seems there is a very strong sense that the orthodox, those who might indeed Protect the Pope are legitimate game, whilst, unless you are actually wishing a Pope dead, like the recently dismissed Tablet journalist, you are free to say what you will. Dr Joseph Shaw highlights the problem, focussing on one particular priest, whose writings are in one of the Catholic papers which are distributed in many catholic churches and cathedrals. Fr Henry makes a similar point about the last edition of Catholic Life.

There seems to be a growing sense, especially over the last few months that the Church is moving backwards, away from concern for the Truth to a superficial 'Unity'. There seems to be an increasing sense that those who had discovered or rediscovered 'orthodoxy' under Pope Benedict are not welcomed any longer. The most obvious example is Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, still silenced, still unaware of any specific charges against them after all these months. The 'Kasper theorem' delivered at the Consistory gives the same impression, whatever label you want to give; orthodox, traditional or conservative there is large group of 'concerned' Catholics, especially amongst those touched by St John Paul's theology of marriage, which elsewhere in the Catholic world is a huge number. Again here, the distancing of the entire Bishop's Conference from the Bishop of Portsmouth's reiteration of Cardinal Burkes: no communion for politicians who pass laws contrary to Catholic teaching, is unnerving, for some. It appears that an unsmiling stern-faced Pope Francis was saying a similar things on a broader range of issues, to 'corrupt' Italian politicians only a few days ago in St Peters. In the UK too the resuscitation of ACTA and its apparent promotion by some bishops gives the impression that being a dissenting Catholic carries no consequences, whilst trying to be a faithful one does, most especially if one who is a cleric. Indeed for the dissident a great deal of space is given for dialogue, one is virtually clasped to the breast but for those who oppose them there is only the cold shoulder. It is particularly sad that Bishop Campbell's statement adds to this sense.

The consequences of course are that Deacon Nick's blog will disappear but criticism will not, "unless a grain of wheat ...", on the contrary, it will grow. Fed by our Holy Father himself, who has told younger people especially to make a mess. There are many lay people out there who share the Pope's sentiments about careerist authoritarian bishops and functionaries, as well as ideological, liquid, bat-like, superficial Christians, or Christians allergic to preaching with watered-down faith, weak-hoped Christians and oh yes, my favourite those, "pastry-shop Christians", these critics seem to be making their voices heard increasingly.

Friday, May 02, 2014

A Pastoral Problem - part 2

I've been Mundaborised! He accuses me of being a Kasperite.
Do read his post it is well worth it. It is a characteristic reaction to my fictional pastoral problem of Mary and Sam.
Pope Francis sees the Church as 'a field hospital', dealing with the wounds and injuries of her members. Mundabor, I suspect would disagree robustly with that and see the Church in terms of offering preventative medicine.

It reminds me of a conversation with a friend who works in the Orthodox world, he told me recently of the incomprehension of the local Orthodox bishop when he heard my friend had actually performed non-sacramental marriages: marrying a Christian, someone baptised to a Muslim, or anyone else who was not baptised. According to both our theologies the sacrament of matrimony only exists if it happens between Christians, hence the old practice of 'sacristy marriages' for the non-baptised or doubtfully baptised. The Orthodox would presume that no-one would even presume to ask for such a thing, it would simply be impossible, whilst a second or third marriage is quite possible, even if it is celebrated with less solemnity than the first. It is worth pointing out that we too have different grades of marriage too, sacramental and non-sacramental, nowadays apart from the change of a few prayers there is little distinction, certainly not in the actual formula used to confect the bond in one case or the sacrament in the other.

Mundabor puts forward a valid argument, even if it is one that the Church has discarded increasingly in the last hundred years in its desire for increased numbers going to Holy Communion. His concern is the scandal and compromise that Mary and Sam's situation introduces. I am reminded of the situation of the twice widowed Maria Fitzherbert who the Prince Regent tried to woo, she refused to sleep with him unless the were married, so a secret marriage took place but she was known as the Princes mistress. Her monument in St John the Baptist, the mother Church of Brighton shows her defiantly wearing three wedding rings, proclaiming her third marriage, to the Prince.  In a way their moral but apparently immoral and scandalous lifestyle encouraged the growth of Brighton as a place for mistresses and unconventional lifestyles, they followed what the Prince and Mrs Fitzherbert were apparently doing.

What Mundabor is arguing for is a Church that is uncompromising in its proclamation of the faith, it is indeed a valid argument but one that we have moved away from, mainly I would suggest by the movement for frequent and regular reception of Holy Communion started by St Pius X.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Fr Mark Elvins Rip

Pray for the soul of Father Mark Elvins, KCGCO, OFM, Cap., who died at Oxford today
Eternal Rest Grant to Him O Lord
And Let Perpetual Shine Upon Him

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...