Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Future of the TLM Mass

There has been a little bit of discussion about the future of the TLM on the net. One of the things I have noticed is that our congregation here is getting younger.

Just before Christmas one of our main supporters Mike Telford* died and his funeral took place in Eastbourne on the eve of Christmas Eve celebrated in the Rite he lived for by our Vicar General. Mike would have loved that. He and his wife Gwen had moved back there, she was too sick to attend. Mike had been on dialysis several times a week and had even so at first driven the 60 miles here and back to Horley most Sundays. Then, when he could no longer drive had caught the train here, which can be a little erratic on a Sunday. He and Gwen his wife then moved to Eastbourne, their health grew even worse and as Gwen became even frailer and it became much harder for them to get here. I am so pleased that I have Mike's brother's breviary.

There are several others who are of a similar age who come here from similar distances to Mike Gwen. Many of the older attendees here had been taught by experience to be wary of the clergy and never introduced themselves, they loved the old Mass and suffered a great deal for their love, as they become increasingly older, the become more dependant on others and slowly fade away.
The other group of people who we lose are young men, at three who attended the Traditional have discovered vocations, two to the priesthood and another to a contemplative monastery, I offer Mass for the weekly.

These are the losses, on the gains, we have families with younger children. Those who home school come to the Sunday Latin Mass, and occasionally to the weekday one on Friday evening. We are the only parish in the diocese which offers the Traditional Mass weekly on a Sunday, the congregation for low Mass is rarely above 40, it is at the non-Traditional time of 6.30pm. A few people come along to it because it is the last Mass in Brighton and Hove's twelve  parishes. Some, but not most, if they can learn to deal with the silence of it become addicted. At sung Masses, like Candlemas (at 7.30pm) there is a larger congregation, our choir are bi-ritual and sing more or less the same as they would at our 10.30 Sunday Mass, I am quite proud of them, they make a beautiful noise. 

The problem we have now is finding servers, who can serve with a modicum of recollection. Our older servers are growing stiff, the younger one's move away. I was delighted one of them said he was moving out of Brighton but would make the two hour train journey to get here for Mass on a Sunday, I am loathed to ask those who have served at previous Masses to return just so those at the Traditional Mass can have their celebration. At the moment our Traditional Masses future doesn't look too good, but it is surprising what an Ave or two can do. 

At the heart of the problem is the generational switch, older devotees are dying off, the young are not necessarily less committed but their lives are often less clearly marked out, the pressure of work restricts their flexibility, one of our servers apparently has been made to work early in the morning so even 6.30pm Sunday evening is too late for him!

It is unfortunate because the monthly Traditional Mass at local West Grinstead, which has been celebrated through the dark pre-Summorum Pontificum days. has recently been suspended, the priest drove 50 miles to get there and only 8 people turned up.

*Mike is the white haired server on the Gospel side of the picture - pray for him.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


The old arch-reformer Pio XII more or less abolished Lent as a real penitential season in Italy by removing the obligation to follow the ancient fasting obligations during the war. Popes can let genies out of bottles but can't put them back in again.

In Venice the season of Carnival is nowadays an immense tourist draw, the too wealthy and vulgar will hire extravagant costumes and masks and attend the balls at some canal-side palace. I remember meeting Nigel and Caroline dressed as characters from a Canaletto picture coming out of the eerie Venetian fog on the day before Shrove Tueday, it was ghostly. Carnival is today as it was in the 18th century an occasion of excess. Then certain crimes committed wearing a doto were presumed no crime at all, because of lack of certain identity. Churchmen when not taking part in them railed against them.

Septagesima marked the beginning of Carnival though during the eighteenth century the partying and merrymaking took up most of the year, however it stopped for Lent as the bell of St Mark's tolled midnight and Ash Wednesday and Lent began.

Easter Friday, old tradition celebration Italy: The weeks before Lent began in the East and West were a gradual introduction to Lent. In the East the Lenten discipline bore down like a tightening screw getting more and more demanding until by Holy Week the faithful were living virtually on bread and water. In the West Lenten fasting in all its severity was from Ash Wednesday and meant an absence from meat and dairy products, and any practical pleasures from feasting to theatre. The period from Septagesima was a rather more positive time than Lent proper. People were getting rid of those things which were not to be consumed during Lent and partying, hence the idea the of Carnival. As in Venice it could be a great source of sinfulness but it could also be a way of preparing for Lent and the Paschal Mystery. In England Shrovetide was time to prepare for Lent, a time for Confession and reconciliation, for alms-giving and but most especially of  hospitality. This pre-Lent period was a time to strengthen and make new friendships, for the wealthy to distribute the food and alms and welcome the less fortunate into the homes and show practical Charity before embarking on the self denying practices of Lent. In practice the Gesima season was sharply divided by Ash Wednesday between the period of practical charity to one's neighbour and interior contemplation of Christ and Passion. A good Lent is one that is planned, and begun in acts of real charity, the period from Septagesima is the time for this.

I suspect those decadent baroque masks worn traditionally in Venice during Carnival partying were originally the masks worn by the pious confraternities whilst they undertook acts of charity and piety.

Friday, January 22, 2016


Like many clergy (most?) the Pope washed the feet of women and now has changed the law so that he is no longer an out-law. Interestingly the number 12, to remind us of the 12 Apostles, of the New and Eternal Covenant, rather than the numberless disciple, is still kept in the Liturgy, so it is still about Apostles, not just any old lot of disciples. Interestingly Our Lady didn't get her feet washed, I have always wondered whether she or any other women were present at the last supper - though the pious may picture her receiving Holy Communion, scholars are divided.

Tradition has always seen the Last Supper, as portrayed in John and the other Gospels as a revelation of Christ's own priesthood and part of a rite of ordination of the 12, of which the ritual washing was an important part, which is of course intrinsic to the establishment of the 'New and Eternal Covenant'. I like the idea of the Patriarch of Moscow washing the feet of 12 bishops vested in liturgical vestments and wearing their mitres. I have memory of an image of the last supper in a French church with the Apostles at table wearing Latin Rite episcopal regalia, with Judas leaving and his tall mitre falling off his head knocked off his head by the lintel of the door. The Apostles at he Last Supper, including Judas, were Bishops after all.

My mother was an Italian from Pula in present day Slovena, when she was young it was the custom there for anyone with any authority to wash the feet of those who had authority to wash the feet of those he had authority over on Holy Thursday, thus my grandfather would wash the feet of his sons and any male employees and grandmother her daughters and female employees. In England kings washed the feet of poor men, queens poor women, the number varied often related to their age, thus a ninety year old queen would wash the feet 90 of her female subjects. In monastic communities part of the reception of novices is the washing of their feet by the Abbot or Prior. St Benedict of course says that all monastic guests should have their feet washed, as Christ washed the disciples feet. However, in church the idea of 12 males seems always to have been significant.

It seems there are two valid interpretations of this Rite which with the latest CDW instruction grapples with. First it is hieratic, do read this link, a priestly Rite that speaks directly of the nature of the Christian priesthood, secondly it it is Rite of humble service. 

I think that it is very significant that most priests, and certainly those of a particular age, are either unable to understand it in the first sense. I remember visiting a Church just before Holy Week and being curious to see a stack of plastic washing-up bowls, I was told, "I get the ministers (EMHC) to wash everyone's feet." I am not actually against this, I think it is wonderful thing to do but not during the Mass of the Lord's Supper. How wonderful if the Pope and every Cardinal in Rome, maybe even 'leprous courtier' washed the feet of pilgrims in St Peter's Square during Lent! Pius V used to do it regularly. Perhaps after the Chrism Mass, which is supposed to happen on Holy Thursday too, local Ordinaries would wash their priests' feet outside their cathedrals and then get them to wash the feet of lay people or notorious sinners, which would be at least a partial restoration of that other great Holy Thursday action, the restoration of public sinners. I heard of a group of Anglican theological students who offered foot washing at a railway station, they were disappointed that no feet were offered them.

Here, since the ambiguity of the Pope's first Holy Thursday and my own increasing inability to get up and down twelve times, it really does hurt, I chose not wash feet then and haven't done since. However I love the texts and the choir had spent ages practising them so we simply place the bowl and towel on the sanctuary step and invited people to come forward and give their Lenten alms for the poor, the resulting collection pays for our soup-run, and it fits in nicely with the idea of the Good Friday collection for the Holy Places and the Easter Collection which in my diocese is a personal gift to the Pastor. I do it is an abuse but it is an elegant one, it is a pastoral solution.
I haven't published all the comments on my previous post, there were so many and some seemed to express deep hurt or anger, which I can understand. I became a Catholic because forty years ago when every other Church seemed to fudge the words of Jesus on divorce and remarriage, the Catholic Church alone defended and proclaimed Jesus' teaching, I was taught this vividly by a couple who were themselves divorced and remarried. So many of the more significant speakers at the Synod seemed to argue against Jesus' explicit teaching. I know that the same fear exists over the proposed Synod that will touch on priestly celibacy, Christ was celibate, the Patristic tradition was that of Apostolic celibacy, people have a fear that Christ and his teaching and the Traditions that unite us to him are being pushed aside in a radical attempt to modernise the Church. I don't if the Holy Father is being realistic and facing up to the existing divisions in the Church, an open debate is better than sniping in corners. I do believe the greatest evil in the Church is a lack of transparency: back-room sell outs, manipulation by gangs of the privileged mafias and lobbies, cover-ups of scandals, denying the faithful their rightful voice. Personally I am enough of an Augustinian to believe that the truth does not need to be defended only in charity released. 

I believe too, though sometimes I am tempted by the Evil One to doubt, what Jesus Christ promised his Church: I will be with you until the consummation of the ages. I pray to God I will always believe this.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

I Apologise!

I apologise of all the faithful and beseech their prayers who in my misconceived arrogance have been excluded by my legalism.
I apologise in particular to those ladies who would have liked to have had their feet washed at the Mandatum on Holy Thursday and were excluded by my rigourism.
I apologise, you were right and I was wrong.
I apologise for teaching that this Rite was about Christ washing the feet of those twelve chosen to be Apostles rather than seeing it as a Rite that expressed Christ's care for the world and for sinners and for the poor. I apologise for suggesting that this Rite was about Christ's priesthood and the Apostles participation in it, I apologise for suggesting that this Rite was in any sense hieratic. I apologise for quoting the Pope Emeritus, and the schismatic Patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow in a sermon about this Rite. They were obviously misunderstood by me or were dealing with their own local situation. I was wrong, I was also mistaken. I humbly ask anyone who has been misinformed by me to in future to disregard any teaching I might have given at any time, and especially if I have claimed that it was the Church's teaching.
I apologise too to the poor, I apologise to those my brother clergy who chose to ignore the written Law of the Church but nevertheless had the spiritual insight to understand the Spirit of the Law.
I have indeed been a Neo-Pelagian Promethean and I humbly promise in future to follow custom rather than any directives coming from the Holy See or printed in the Missal. I will indeed do my best to not to teach  but to set people free to follow their own lights and inspiration.
I am humbly grateful for this change in the Church's law, though because of the increasing stiffness in my knees for the last few years I have been unable to wash the feet of anyone.

The child Agnes

Image result for st agnes relicsIt is the relic of St Agnes, that tiny skull in her Church in the Piazza Navona, it is the skull of a small child, it haunts me.
It is a stark reminder of the very nature of Christianity, of the Church of the little ones, of both ancient and modern martyrs. The proto-martyrs of Christianity were the Holy Innocents, Daesh are still killing faithful Christian children or selling them into sexual slavery. To kill a child is a terrible act of inhumanity, it is the ultimate act of terror, because it is not so much the child one wants kill, the child is no threat, it is the terror that wants to transmit in child killing.

The real passion of St Agnes has been lost in legend, perhaps even her real relics have been lost and what we venerate is not the real Agnes but the legend of her martyrdom is terrible and persists in the Christian memory, central is the idea of the virgin violated, of the child who remains faithful.
It is the littleness of St Agnes, her weakness, her in-consequentiality that haunts me. In pictures she is shown as a teenager on the verge of maidenhood but relic is the skull of a child at the most four or five, probably younger. It is the skull of someone incapable of any kind of power, or of any kind of real choice, let alone any act of self defence. She is the meek lamb, the swaddled lamb, who like her Lord is led to her death, without the strength or power to resist.

She makes me question what we mean by 'virginity', it is not so much as the Liturgy might have us think, the bride who has made a choice for her heavenly Groom but rather the victim who has been chosen. It is not just bodily integrity, it is about powerlessness or more accurately a lack of any potency.

Christian ascetical practice is about choosing impotence: a monk or a nun living in monastery, without contact with the world chooses not to have power except the powerless power of prayer. Similarly fasting or keeping vigils or other corporal penances are about choosing weakness. Through exhausting bodies we exhaust the will,

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Through a Glass Darkly

There is a timely reminder on Fr Hunwicke's blog:
 It is therefore the duty of each of us to gloss his [the Holy Father's] words with such a hermeneutic as to be able to read them as being not contrary to what was taught by Vatican I.
I can't help feeling that at the moment the Holy Church of Christ is a bit like an ancient motor car that is being driven so fast and over such rough roads that bits, including some of its passengers, are beginning to fall off. It serves no-one, let alone Christ or Charity to disturb the faith of the 'little ones' - millstones come to mind.

We, in the English speaking world, hear and see what the Pope says 'through a glass darkly'. Unless we are Italian speakers or Spanish speakers what we hear from the Pope is always glossed, and often by the unscrupulous and unpleasant. The most influential English speaking journalists are invariably the one's with a certain agenda of their own, often belonging to a lobby that is set to undermine the truths of the faith.

There are obviously difficulties with Pope's style, like most Italian parish priests he tends to favour an informal style assuming that his listeners are perfectly orthodox and will hear him and understand him in perfectly orthodox way. The problem is of course that he forgets that they are often uncatechised and listen to him with a great deal of baggage of their own.

One of the problems the Pope has, and I sympathise with him over this, is that most Catholics receive their adult formation and information about the Church through the secular media, which as we saw during the previous Ponitificate is far from sympathetic to the Church and its teaching, therefore whatever message the Pope puts out has to be tailored to what they will tolerate.

A friend, who was commissioned to review the Pope's latest book length interview, "The Name of God is Mercy: A Conversation with Andrea Tornielli", says he was surprised by both its dullness and its orthodoxy. Yes, it is Francis through the dark glass of Tornielli and Tornielli tends to now see his life's work as being the glossing of Francis. Those on the right, as with those on the left, find it all too easy to read what Francis says with 'their own lusts' and  'itching ears'.

The Francis effect for many Catholics is confusion but then I suspect for many Popes through out history the effect has been confusion, that is of course if ever people knew who the Pope was (during the Avignon exile we might have been praying for two or three Pope's during the Canon of the Mass) and before the modern era in many parts of the world it might take half a year to know of the death and election of a Pope, even longer to hear of any development in teaching.

Fr Hunwicke is of course right when he points out that we must examine what the Pope says today in the light of Vatican I's
"The Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter so that, by his revelation, they might reveal new teaching,
                                                              so that, by his assistance, they might devoutly guard and faithfully set forth the revelation handed down through the Apostles, or in other words, the Deposit of the Faith."
The Orthodox have a receptionist approach to Oecumenical Council's: it is of God only if it is accepted by the Churches. The same maybe said with us Catholics and the magisterial deposit of faith laid down by the Pope's, there might be immediate juridical implications of what a Pope says or laws he enacts, these are tested in practice and by jurisprudence but its theological implications are also tested, most obviously by his immediate successors. If he is ignored, it is as if he might not have existed. As a venerable member of the College of Cardinals said, "Pope's are always old men, they do tend to die", nowadays they also retire of course.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Sacristy Committee choose a vestment

I hate committee meetings.
The Sacristy Committee here are a hard-nosed lot, as bad as the Committee of the Masters of the Ceremonies and Senior Servers, they have read the books but they are not as bad as the Comptrollers of the Musicke who have read the books and continue to read more of them, especially on the London train and also have Graduale Triplexes, let us say only that they have 'Solemnes connections'!

I suggested that we should have a Year of Mercy set of vestments, after due consideration the above were rejected. The image, 'which to a casual observer might appear to be a two headed monster or even an abduction scene' was rejected. There was stern condemnation of vestments with writing on them, from 'S', our Inclusivity Adviser, 'because they will create a difficulty for the dyslexic'.

In its place the Sacristy Committee thought something a little more 'tranquil'. 'indicative perhaps of restoration to the Garden of Eden or the Resurrection', 'possibly something  that directed one's mind to the comfort of one's grand parent's sofa' might be more in accord.

'L' being a bit of Rigourist reminded the ladies and gentlemen of the committee that the Council (VII) had condemned vestments that depended on 'extraneous decoration' reminding us yet again of the need for 'noble simplicity', 'M' agreed, saying that the Council also stressed the importance of the intrinsic beauty of the fabric and elegance and simplicity of the cut.

Therefore the committee, after long discussion, approved unanimously the vestment below as being in keeping with our style of liturgy, suitable for both forms of the Roman Rite, having both a sense whimsy and at the same time a degree of nobility and it also incorporating many of the colours of the official logo.
I am happy to report that no silkworms died it its making.

At the moment with a strong pound it is worth investing in the future.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The next Synod: Clergy with wives

I don't think I can live through another Synod, let alone one on celibacy. Synods are such a blunt instrument and not much prone to subtlety, they scare me. Like the last two they tend to tear the Church apart.

In my diocese about 12% of our priests are former Anglican clergy and a large proportion of those are married, I suspect this is similar to most English diocese. In effect we already have a married clergy, which was introduced and accepted without a great deal of fuss or rancour. A few of us old celibates might have an occassional half hearted grumble about the fact that married clergy get, or have to have, the wealthier parishes that can support a married man and his family but we welcome their contribution and realise that without them dioceses would have to contract and parishes merge. I welcome them because they have fought the battle against liberalism in the CofE and continue that battle now. Frankly, the Church has been enriched by their presence.

Most parts of the world do not have the CofE for the local Church to gather its exiles, so appointing viri probati in these parts of the world seems entirely reasonable.
Similarly, if we are to believe Michael Vorris celibacy seems to be an important contributory factor in the mess and scandals of the American Church and the rise in power of the gay lobby.

The thing is of course celibacy is of Dominical origin
For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. Matt 19:12
Very early on the Church demanded celibacy for Bishops and expected sexual abstinence from celebrating clergy, in conformity with OT practice. In the West in the 11th Century, as a cure for the ills, both sexual and financial, of the clergy and their families.

Fr Hunwicke, and I agree with him, believes this is move towards the ordination of women priests, and the furtherance of the liberal or relativist agenda.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Muttering Prayer

Image result for Amethystos drunkI was struck by the first reading this morning from 1 Samuel 1:9ff. Hannah, who is a type of Mary, prays before the Tabernacle of the Lord, her lips are moving but she only mutters so Eli the priest thinks she is drunk. The Psalms so often speak of 'crying out to the Lord' or 'shouting in his presence' or 'making a loud noise unto the Lord', that,I suspect, was how Jews prayed.

Eli's accusation of drunkenness is precisely what the disciples are accused of on Pentecoste morning, 'Amethystos' they cry, 'we are 'not drunk' but filled with the Holy Spirit', and so to this day bishops wear an amethyst ring as a sign that they are not drunk but filled with the Holy Spirit.

Is muttering prayer a sign of the being filled with the Holy Spirit? Is this one of the reasons why in both East and West the Canon or Eucharistic Prayer was said sotto voce or muttered. Is muttering prayer a sign of the Spirit? Is it all down to Hannah?

In the bitterness of her soul she prayed to the Lord with many tears and made a vow, saying, ‘O Lord of Hosts! If you will take notice of the distress of your servant, and bear me in mind and not forget your servant and give her a man-child, I will give him to the Lord for the whole of his life and no razor shall ever touch his head.’
While she prayed before the Lord which she did for some time, Eli was watching her mouth, for she was speaking under her breath; her lips were moving but her voice could not be heard. He therefore supposed that she was drunk and said to her, ‘How long are you going to be in this drunken state? Rid yourself of your wine.’ ‘No, my lord,’ Hannah replied ‘I am a woman in great trouble; I have taken neither wine nor strong drink – I was pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not take your maidservant for a worthless woman; all this time I have been speaking from the depth of my grief and my resentment.’ Then Eli answered her: ‘Go in peace,’ he said ‘and may the God of Israel grant what you have asked of him.’ And she said, ‘May your maidservant find favour in your sight’; and with that the woman went away; she returned to the hall and ate and was dejected no longer.

Not Performing

"Are you dead, Pater?" No, I just allowed myself to absord and be absorbed by the Christmas Mysteries, so a belated and Happy Christmas and blessed New Year to you all.

We are keeping our crib up until the Purification.

Reflecting on the images of hovering priests and twirling priests that my 'friends' have posting on social media over the holidays, and my own misanthropy of throwing a Christmas present of a CD of a group of Irish singing priests into the rubbish bin. I have been thinking lately of the terrible burden some priests have of thinking they have to perform or entertain, that unless they are amusing, witty, brilliant, wise, clever ....the world is lost. The performing priest is something new, unknown to Tradition, I like Waugh's analogy of the workman priest going up to the altar to mutter the Mass. Celebrating Mass as if it were a performance, or as if it, any of it depended on the priest is a terrible burden, and I suspect is deleterious to a priests spiritual life. If he performs at Mass what about the rest of his life? Christian is the work of the tradesman, on a par with carpentry or fisherman, not the work of actor or impresario.

After thirty years of priesthood, I wonder whether I should have been ordained, that I have been given this extraordinary gift leaves me rapt with wonder. I know that if God had not given me this grace I would probably be lost. I am in many ways a bit rubbish at being a priest. people have expectations of me and I continually fail to meet them. God has expectations of me and I fail to meet them. There were Christmas cards that thanked me for my preaching and teaching, for my pastoral care, for my offering Mass in a particular way, even for this blog. What I am convinced of is that whatever good I might do is not my doing, it is His.

All the Masses we offer here are offered ad orientem, I can't help performing a little (rhetorically I mean) when I preach but the celebration of Mass is consciously not 'performed' just done according to the rubrics, I have a fear that my personality is more likely to repel than attract. I here stories from other parishes and think if I was a laymen I would run screaming from the Church. Presenting people with the Mass is salvific, God works through the liturgy. There is something liberating in the knowledge that 'Jesus is the Saviour' and I am not. This is really the message of Christmas, we live in Grace, amidst starlight and angels, all that is required of us is fidelity, an attempt to be charitable and the hope that Christ will take care of things.

The Incarnation brings about a renewed reality, it is not what we do but it is what he does that matters now. The God who empties himself of his divinity and pours out his Spirit on humanity has poured himself into the world through his Church, and we, especially we priests, are witnesses to this mysterious new reality.

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...