Monday, June 23, 2014

The 'real' Francis

One can't but be touched by Pope Francis' spontaneous acts of kindness, in the video above he stops his motorcade to embrace a family group waiting to see him pass, it is moving, it is obviously unplanned, it is spontaneous, the sense of delight on the family actually brings tears to ones eyes.
This is obviously the 'real' Francis, the problem is separating what is real and what is staged. The 'media age' makes us all cynical and sceptical. I couldn't help thinking that possibly Greg Burke or Fr Lombardi had been out with a spray can just before the Pope passed that particular bit of Bethlehem wall. Well maybe not, but it was obviously carefully selected, to present the messages of the Holy Land visit to the English speaking world

Vatican Monday, always an interesting read, discusses: Pope Francis, between spin doctors and the Gospel.
Active, involved Catholics, especially younger ones, are more likely to be sceptical about everything the media offers, especially when it comes to it presentation of the Church. After almost a year and a half of Francis' reign we are all familiar with his 'image' but uncertain about the reality and where he will lead us  as the Vicar of Christ. The problem is the  very 'spin machine' that has presented him as bit of rebel, as a revolutionary, as someone who might make a break with 'Tradition', or even like those American sisters 'move beyond Jesus'.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

If we are not recollected: Corpus Christi Sermon

We had a rather beautiful Missa Cantanta on Thursday evening, the choir sang the Palestrina Missa Brevis, just a few voices it was quite exquisite. 'Engelond', not me but the football team, were playing in the World Cup and as it is no longer a Holy Day there weren't that many at Mass, after Benediction we sang the Salve and in a gesture of patriotic zeal I recited the Prayer for England. and what Our Lady did was plain for all to see. She does approve of Processions but I don't think she approves of footballing on Corpus Christi.
Anyhow, here is the Corpus Christi sermon preached by Fr Gerrard Hatton, who was in choro. He was ordained three years ago and exemplifies so much that is good about our younger clergy. It is short, pithy and challenging, it is one of the better sermons I have heard recently.

I recently meet a lady who is a missionary in China, she is not catholic but knew a lot about the underground church in China, she told me about the patriot church that does not have the pope, neither do they uphold the belief in the second coming or the holy Spirit, as it power and authority that the government cannot control. Later that day I was listening to pod cast on the liturgy, the speaker said many things but he summed up his talk by speaking about Ignatius Cardinal Kung Pin-Mei of China who was put into prison by the communists for 30 years, as he refused to deny his faith and the authority of pope, he was not allowed to offer Holy Mass, he made spiritual communions and prayed the rosary three times a day, he had been made a cardinal in secret. The speaker noted the red of a cardinal is simply more than a noble colour, but the willingness of these men to shed their blood for the faith in union with the successor of St Peter.
 Our age is no stranger to that Blood which has been shed for Christ, the speaker went on to talk about his experience of serving Holy Mass with this Cardinal was who in his 90s and offered it in Latin, he was stuck that even after the deacon who had purified the vessels this man, short of sight cleansed them again. Not because he was scrupulous, but he did out of love. All those years he had waited to hold the Body of Christ for whom he had suffered and he wanted not one crumb to be lost. Are we that careful, do we care that much, are we willing to turn to someone who was starved and denied of Our Lord for 30 years and ask him who we should behave in front of Our Eucharistic Lord? Do we prepare well for the Sacrifice of the King of Martyrs, has our piety become like a remote control, something we switch on when we do Holy things. 
Cardinal Kung teaches us that our whole life should be in imitation of our Blessed Lord, that our work, our homes, our prayer, our talk, even our fun and chill time should be a preparation for the Holy Mass. There is an important mission we all need to be a part off and rightly so to make every Mass Extraordinary, filled with holiness, be it low or high, new rite or old. We can have most devout priest, the finest choir and most meticulous adherence to the rubrics but if we are not recollected, if we are not willing to pray or visit the blessed sacrament, go benediction often, if we do not avail ourselves of frequent confession, or go to daily Mass or as often as we can, or make a spiritual communion when we can’t, if we don’t live a Eucharistic life worthy of Our lord and those martyrs, then it vanity and dressing up.We are the people the Lord has chosen, imperfect, sinful but he wants us and loves us more, in today’s feast we celebrate that enteral bond of his loving presence in Holy Communion and we recommit ourselves to that holy striving, that desire to be his and the need to form our lives in shadow of his passion, death and resurrection that he has left to us in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Actions, Signs and Symbols

There was a certain barmey bishop appointed in the early 1980s who spent most of his early years as a bishop wandering around his diocese demanding that the Blessed Sacrament be removed from the apex of the churches in his diocese to a side chapel. It meant a great deal of destruction was done to the architectural integrity of many a fine pre-concilliar church, not just to the sanctuary from where the tabernacle was removed but also to the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was placed, normally that meant the destruction of a Sacred Heart or Lady Chapel.

The bishop thought he was implementing the post-Concilliar documents which said the Blessed Sacrament 'should' be placed in a fitting chapel. Foolishly he interpreted 'should' as 'must', even more foolishly he did not read the the context of the suggestion, which was about promoting Eucharistic devotion. It was only after much  hurt, destruction and expense that Rome clarified its ambiguous instruction, saying that the Eucharist should normally be placed in the centre of the sanctuary.

The architectural damage was disconcerting, but more so the deeper damage this bishop did to the faith of those who had one Sunday honoured and  genuflected to the Blessed Sacrament and a week later found themselves doing the same to a vase of flowers or the priests chair that had replaced the now ignored Sacrament in the side chapel, after a short time even those who did so mechanically or out of habit had quickly given up genuflecting to anything.

I am sure this Bishop did what he did truly believing he was implementing 'the mind of the Church', doing it with fanatical zeal. In reality what he did was to undermine the faith of his people.

Very easily faith in the absolute reality of the Eucharist is easily pared away. I am sure for this particular bishop, his faith the Real Presence remained the same but for most of us outward signs and symbols are important to both affirm and stimulate faith. A change in outward actions, signs and symbols brings about an inward change in our attitudes.

I blame the Jesuits and the Spirit of the Council of Trent for the cerebralization of prayer and the Spiritual Life.  The Pre-Tridentine life of Christians was rich in actions, signs and symbol, prayer was more than just silent contemplation, it involved bodies too, corporal penance, fasting, prostrations or genuflections, pilgrimage, processions, almsgiving, caring for the needy; these things formed the environment of prayer.
The Norbertines and Cluny soon after Trent abandoned the practice of seven deacons circling the altar with golden thuribles during High Mass, along with the practice of Corpus Christi Mass before the exposed Blessed Sacrament with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament taking place three times during Mass. The consequence is perhaps reflected in the experience of friend who celebrate Mass for some ancient veil-less nuns who remained seated throughout in an an anodyne 'prayer room'.

The other side of the coin: I have a priest friend who is preparing a former soldier for reception into the Church, he served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, he saw and did things that deeply wounded him and bears the scars of guilt. We spoke about how to deal with his guilt. Like many ex-soldiers, I suspect he has tried drink, drugs or even psychotherapy, most priests, myself included, might give a penance of a few Rosaries but really rely on allowing him to talk, in my experience this rarely works. Pre-Trent, and possibly in Orthodoxy he would have given a penance that involved a prayer of exorcism of some sort followed by some kind of real penance, public humiliation, an arduous pilgrimage or time in monastery, vigils or fasting. Outward actions, signs and symbols bring about an inward change in our attitudes, our minds and hearts often follow our bodies.

I remember being told of the Compostella Camino after the WWII being revived by former soldiers, sometimes sometimes barefoot, sometimes carrying rucksacks filled with rocks doing penance for wartime sins.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mystery of the Trinity

In some parishes Trinity Sunday was the time to give a financial report, anything rather than preach on the Most Holy Trinity. The problem is of course that too many Catholics think of the Trinity in terms of algebra or geometry rather than in terms of relationships.

Muslims love to debate with Christians God in terms of  the 1+1+1=1 approach, they are less comfortable with the idea of the God who loves to point of emptying himself of His Divinity to embrace His creation, indeed to dwell within it and suffer with it.

The high point of our prayer is always the doxology, when we address the Father, through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Indeed when we look at a crucifix we are supposed to, in a sense look through it to the Father, the high point of the Eucharistic prayer is the priest taking up the Sacred Host and addressing the Father saying, "Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever. Amen."

Although popular devotion might address individual persons of the Trinity, the Church's liturgy, with a few notable exceptions is addressed to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.

The Son is perfect icon of the Father, in His humanity we see revelation of the Father. Perhaps the worst sermon I ever heard on the Trinity was basically, "The Trinity is a mystery we can't comprehend, so let us get on with the Mass!". It was the worst but yet it was also the best, because the Triune God is always mysterious and unknowable, and yet He is revealed totally in the Mass, through the Son, in the Spirit.

True worship always leads us to contemplate the God who is always beyond us, the God who in the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets fall on their faces and worship.
Practically at every Mass I have celebrated over the thirty years I have been ordained I have felt the need 'to break the bread of the word', to preach, except at the Traditional Mass, where all I want to do is adore the Father through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. I am beginning to believe that if the Word of God does not lead us to worship there is something wrong in its presentation, and if the Mass does not lead us to fall on our knees to be fed by God there is something wrong here too.

Contemplating the Mystery of the Trinity should lead us to be lost in the immensity and beauty of God, realising his greatness and our nothingness, desiring only to abandon ourselves to Him and crying out with Christ, "Father into your hands I commend Spirit".
If this realisation is not the result of worship, perhaps we are not worshipping at all!

Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso, est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti, in unitate Spiritus Sancti, omnis honor et gloria per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What is the Church for?

Image:  Italian School - The Great Chain of Being from ''Retorica Christiana'' Didacus Valades, printed in 1579"What is the Church for?" was on a poster that appeared on my Church noticeboard, there was apparently some course going in Westminster.
It is a pretty fundamental question, but rather a modern question,  it seems to betray a modern obsession for function. A better question would have been "What is the Church?" If that was the question then scripture would tell us, it is the Bride of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Body of Christ. It is the whole esse versus agere being, doing thing.
My old Spiritual Director used to pose this question, 'Are you a human doing or are you a human being?

Christianity is not about what Christians 'do' but what Christians 'are'. The Great St Athanasius, who comes from the grreat school of African monasticism, which emphasised the encounter of Man with God, is concerned about first what God 'is' but from this -not secondarily to it but part of it-  is, what Man has become in Christ, hence his opposition to the deadly doctrine of Arianism and consequent emphasis on theosis or divinisation.
"The Son of God became man, that we might become god", [the second g is always lowercase since man can never become a God] indicates the concept beautifully. II Peter 1:4 says that we have become " . . . partakers of divine nature." Athanasius amplifies the meaning of this verse when he says theosis is "becoming by grace what God is by nature" (De Incarnatione, I)
Socialism, Communism, Marxism, Nazism even, stresses the function of the human person, the degree of his contribution to society, what he is for, Christianity had stressed the more basic point, what he is, hence Christianity sees value in non-productive human persons.

This touches a great deal on much that is happening in the Church today, including the liturgy, and I think separates the two forms. The New Rite is easily seen as functional: it builds community, it teaches, it catechises, it involves the faithful, it celebrates, it mourns,  it presents the Church of today, it is easily adapted, whereas the Old Rite simply is. It is unchanging, unwieldy, unadaptable; the only function it really has is worship, whereas with the New Rite worship is, or often seems, subsumed by every other concern.

It is worth remembering that God, when asked by Moses who shall I say sent me is told to tell the people it was, "I am who I am". God is ultimately not defined by his function only by what He is.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Danish gay couples given right to marry in Church

Gay couple get married, civil partnership
Frightening article in the Telegraph: Gay Danish couples win right to marry in church.
The country's parliament voted through the new law on same-sex marriage by a large majority, making it mandatory for all churches to conduct gay marriages.
Under the law, individual priests can refuse to carry out the ceremony, but the local bishop must arrange a replacement for their church.
I am sure at first most Catholic clergy will refuse and bishops will not comply but down the line, in two or three years, what will happen, and if this law were introduced into England, or the rest if Europe?

Meanwhile in Chelmesford...

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Tuam: a more nuanced approach

I commend Tim Stanley's blog post What happened at the Tuam children's home was a human tragedy, not a Catholic one.

It is good that the reality is coming out now but the Catholic Church bashing headlines have already done their damage.

Friday, June 06, 2014


I am very fond of kissing, I can understand the Holy Father's penchant for it, at least for baby-kissing. In fact in the OF there just isn't enough of it. It is one of the things about the Old Rite, one never turns from the altar without a farewell kiss, and one never receives anything as a priest without it being kissed and the hand that receives it is kissed too; it is everything from hats to thuribles and spoons - it is a bit strange when it comes from someone with a beard or stubble - except for a few odd religious orders, the Roman Rite should be a clean-shaven Rite! For priests and those on the sanctuary kissing is de rigueur.

One of signs Henry and St Thomas Becket were not reconciled after the latter's exile was that Henry always required a Requiem Mass to be celebrated whenever the two were together so he didn't have to kiss Thomas, the custom then, I think, was a  mouth to mouth kiss.

When the Swine 'Flu epidemic was carrying off thousands to the throne of judgement, Their Lordships recommended that we avoid physical contact and desist from shaking hands at the Sign of Peace, which of course is the way in which this ancient gesture is supposed to be offered in E&W. Being of a liberal disposition I rather like the Sign of Peace, so obedient to the diktat of avoiding skin on skin contact we introduced the old form of the amplexus; the celebrant placing the unjoined fingers of both hands on the shoulders of the recipient and the recipient placing his hands under the elbows of the giver. I think it expresses more perfectly the Peace of Christ than the mundane handshake, it strikes me as ridiculous for passionately in love couples to offer a limp handshake, in our culture it something which signifies a dodgy deal between car salesmen, unlike the French we are not a hand-shaking race. I can certainly understand the dislike of people for this venerable sign to become a hippy love-fest, does anyone remember the time when the Rite was so extended we actually used to accompany it by singing a ditty? I really hate it when this Rite is over extended or becomes a time to get small children on the sanctuary to hold hands.It is not because I object to Christians loving one another but because at that stage of the Mass in both forms the Mass is so fast-moving that the Sign of Peace and the expression of communion amongst us it signifies immediately moves on to Communion with Christ. It is just a preparatory Rite. Thus in the OF here immediately after the MC or server has received the Sign of Peace we begin the Agnus Dei.

I know many people really hate the Sign of Peace but before you rant about your prejudices read the FIUV Position Paper: the Kiss of Peace, it is quite short.

Thursday, June 05, 2014


The site of a mass grave for children who died in the Tuam mother and baby home, Galway
Tuam adds yet another horror to the huge list of Irish Church scandals. I can't, I don't want to defend them, I find it disgusting and unsettling but the question that comes to my mind is, do these scandals arise because these institutions were Catholic or because they were Irish?

It is either that Catholicism was dysfunctional, or Ireland was dysfunctional, the other possibility is that Irish Catholicism was particularly dysfunctional. The other possibility is that what is revealed is done in a sensationalist way, to do as much damage to Irish Catholicism as possible.

Religious men and women do not exist in a vacuum, they are in the world but the they are not suppose to be of the world. I remember an Irish Mercy Sister, now dead, saying to me when I asked why she had come to England in the 1930s to pursue her vocation saying, 'Because in Ireland we had nothing, you English left us with nothing, except our faith and our poverty. The Irish State expected the Sisters and Brothers to deal with the people it itself was unable to deal with, with no resources, except what they could beg in Ireland itself'. She herself had left school at thirteen, her family survived on money sent by her father who did seasonal farm work in England and older brothers who had emigrated to England and America. Her mother brought up the family, whenever the father returned there was another pregnancy, she as child was barefoot and often hungry, it was only when she became a Sister she had shoes all year round. 'My mother and the older girls would go hungry so the boys and the younger children could survive', she said, it seems as if half her brothers and sisters had died in childhood. I remember asking her why the boys were fed in preference to the girls, her reply was interesting, 'The boys needed to be strong in order to swing a shovel, it was our investment in our future!'

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

A Geriatric Pope

I thought this was a rather sad picture, it appeared in a German paper, presumably it was taken by a Vatican insider. I presumed that had Benedict remained in office he would have become disabled more quickly. I find it sad that a Pope can't grow old and infirmed in private but still remain Pope.

Being Pope should be something that someone in their nineties could do. It is the modern era that demands a physically able Pope. I rather like to think that the old  Sedia Gestatoria was really a disability aid for ancient decrepit geriatric pontiffs and those monsignori surrounding the Pope were really care assistants enabling him to walk with failing limbs and to read with failing eye-sight. It is worth remembering that one of those monsignori historically had the honour of carrying and assisting at the papal commode.

I have a recollection of the diary of a young Englishman visiting the Vatican in the reign of Pius IX or perhaps Leo and he gives the impression that the Papal Court smelt rather like a nursing home, he speaks of Cardinals with prostate problems.

The principle of subsidiarity - that a higher authority should not do what a lesser authority can do more effectively - was very much part of my post-VII theological formation. I, like many, had hoped that this Papacy would be 'smaller', that the Pope would be more like a bank manager than a superstar. The objection some might have is that Vatican I defined that the Pope has 'Ordinary, Immediate, and Episcopal jurisdiction' everywhere in the Church - the good Fr Hunwicke has something to say on this.

Perhaps this Papacy, working on the Italian, 'fat Pope, thin Pope', principle will lead the Cardinal Electors next time round to ask quite what a Pope is for. He is not the Church's media representative, he is certainly not the setter of theological trends that Catholic neo-Cons used to want to the point that theology changes with each Pope, he is not an innovator who can take the Church back to Year Zero, dismissing 2,000 years of the Church's history, which is what Liberals seem to suggest he should be. What he, is the centre of communion, ultimately he is the judge of who is communion with the Church, in that he sets the limits - de-finition - of her Communion.

Benedict's resignation separated the Office from the man, Francis seems to be trying to identify himself more as the Bishop of Rome and rather sparingly speaks of himself as 'Pope'. The media clamour for a big Papacy of dynamic gestures but the trend amongst theologians is to shave it down, on the principle that less is more.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

An Irish Hermitess

Several people have sent me links to this RTE video about a Irish hermitess. As with all hermits I not am sure whether she is mad or prophetic. In many ways she reflects the true tradition of Celtic spirituality: prayer and penance but also that rather solitary idiosyncratic Irishness which tends to extremes but is still deeply rooted in the memory of the past.
A comment on the video says:
This documentary was produced in 2003. It tells the story of a hermit nun, Sr Irene, who, with the local bishop's blessing, built a small hermitage for women on the West coast of Ireland between 1992-95. Around 1995 she was given special graces. With spiritual guidance from a local traditional Catholic priest and in view the crisis in the modern Church, she returned to the Holy traditional Mass and teachings prior to Vatican II. Always remaining faithful to her vows, she nevertheless found it increasingly impossible to have easy access to the traditional Sacraments. With so few priests offering the Latin Rite Liturgy in Ireland, it was rarely celebrated in her private oratory. With no regular Mass, like minded candidates were not encouraged to join her. In 2003 she therefore made the difficult decision place the the Hermitage on the property market. It was sold in 2012 and Sr. Irene moved to Athlone in the heart of Ireland within walking distance to the Tridentine Mass where she continues her life of prayer and sacrifice in her new "Holy Family Hermitage". To this day she remains faithful to the unchanging Magisterial of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Does anyone know what has become of her? There is a website, it appears she is still alone, as she has moved to Athlone, I presume she is affiliated to the SSPX.
I must admit I find her fascinating, and challenging.

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...