Saturday, 31 October 2015

Sir Roger Gale MP's sound words on Sunday Trading

Westfield Stratford City, 14 September 2011 (1)

My MP, Sir Roger Gale, has consistently voted pro-life and, for example, has been in the lobbies to vote No to the redefinition of marriage, three parent embryos, and assisted suicide. H sends out articles to constituents who wish to receive them, and the other day, I was delighted to read his sound and well-argued piece on Sunday Trading. Here is a sample paragraph:
There is, within any family`s budget, only a certain amount of money that can, after all the demands for housing, utilities, transport, clothing and so on have been met, be spent upon the purchase of new curtains, carpets and sofas.. The idea that we are all now so busy that we cannot, somehow, find time within six days of virtually round-the-clock shopping in the High Street, the Mall or on line, buy all of the goods that we can possibly afford (and probably also goods that we have no way of paying for) is retail rubbish. We have, nonetheless, already added in a chunk of Sunday for those incapable of organising their diaries to accommodate the retail urge on any other day. Is that not enough?
I was amused to read that he had been on Margaret Thatcher's "Handbag List" since being one of the twelve who confronted her in the Yellow Drawing Room on this issue many years ago.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Plenary indulgences and Masses for the Holy Souls


As the month of November is fast approaching, it is good for us to remember the generosity of the Church at this time - indeed the great mercy that is shown to our departed brothers and sisters. There are two plenary indulgences that we should all try to gain:

1. A plenary indulgence may be obtained under the usual conditions on the commemoration of All Souls by visiting a Church and saying the Our Father and the Creed.

2. A plenary indulgence may be obtained under the usual conditions by those who visit a cemetery from 1-8 November and pray for the faithful departed.

For "the usual conditions", please see my post Plenary indulgences not impossible.

Most Catholic Churches have a box for donations for the "Holy Souls" box. Mine now has a brief explanation since I am sure it is by no means obvious to many Catholics, let alone non-Catholics what happens with a donation for the Holy Souls. Essentially these are used to provide Masses for the Holy Souls. Each diocese sets (or should set) a standard stipend for Masses. (In the Archdiocese of Southwark it is currently £10.)

Priests and people are not bound by this if an individual asks a priest to say a Mass for a particular intention. The priest might accept less than the standard stipend, and a kindly benefactor might give more. But for Masses requested by organisations or Masses from the Holy Souls box, the standard stipend in applied.

We rightly pray for our departed relatives, friends and benefactors, and have Masses said for them, but during November we should remember the forgotten souls in purgatory as an act of charity, as a practical act of mercy. So many funerals today omit entirely to pray for the deceased person - even in Catholic Churches, this aspect of the funeral is often played down in favour of fond reminiscences which would be better left to the reception afterwards.

There are many poor souls in purgatory who will be eternally grateful (eternally, remember) for the prayers that you offer for the Holy Souls during November. They will thank God that someone at least has realised what their greatest need is, and helped them when they cannot help themselves.

Those among you who have all the virtues in a heroic degree will also have the virtue of humility and hope, and will not presume on final perseverance, of course. After your canonisation, the Lord in His infinite mercy will apply the suffrages offered for you to some poor bloke in purgatory whose funeral was a "Celebration of the life of..." in which people learnt that he liked a drink and a bet on the horses.

For the rest of us, November is a good time for us to remember that we will one day be most grateful for prayers offered for the Holy Souls. In the meantime, being aware of our mortality, and the eternity that we will face, helps us to set our lives in order and lessen the time that we will have to spend being purified of our sins. This example of a Christian clock (Exeter Cathedral, c.1484) puts it well:

Exeter 028

Pereunt et imputantur: (the hours) vanish and they are reckoned to our account

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Chasuble development examples in the V&A


The other day, I spent a while in the Victoria and Albert Museum, a wonderful collection that never fails to fascinate. I noticed that there are several examples of chasubles made in the 15th century that were later altered in the 17th century. The notes on the chasuble in the above photo tell us that it was dates from 1425-1450, and was remodelled after 1600. (We are also told that it is of silk damask with metal thread, from Italy or Spain, with embroidery from Southern France in linen and silk with metal thread.)

If I have correctly applied what I have learned about these things (I am by no means an expert) then presumably the chasubles were originally of a much fuller shape (perhaps even conical) and were cut down to a more-or-less Roman style, a little like the "Borromean" style which has become more popular recently.

I am reminded of the stories of Cardinal Hinsley who was wont to take scissors to gothic styled vestments to make them Roman in shape.

Confraternity Mass with Bishop Byrne


As promised, here are some photos from yesterday's Mass with Bishop Byrne at St Edmund's, Ware, for the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy.




Ordinarily, the principal Mass at the Colloquium is mainly in English, but this year, the Bishop particularly asked to celebrate the Mass in Latin. Most of the priests concelebrate, but attending in choro is perfectly acceptable and a number of priests choose to do this. Facilities are available for private Masses (in either form of the Roman rite) before breakfast.

Here are the Fortescue vestments that I wore for Mass yesterday morning:


The East window (click on it to get to the Flickr page, then enlarge it to more of the details):


The rood:


The vestment press first thing in the morning, when the College's collection of old Missals was in demand:


And an item from the College museum: the original copy of Adeste fideles:


For all the photographs, if you click on them, you are taken to the relevant flickr page where you can get the code to embed them, share them on Twitter/Facebook etc. or download them. 

As with most of my photos, they are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence

This means that you can reproduce them free of charge, without asking permission, but you should give credit for them (A link to this blog or to the Flickr page is fine.) If you edit them, you must say so, and may only re-distribute your edited version using the same licence.

Statement of the British Confraternity of Catholic Clergy

At the AGM of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy held yesterday at St Edmund's, Ware, we agreed to make public the following statement following the Synod of Bishops:


Feast of Ss Simon and Jude, Apostles
Wednesday 28th October 2015

The British Province of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, at our Annual Colloquium, in St Edmund’s College, Ware, expresses gratitude to the Fathers of the Ordinary General Synod on the Family for affirming, in a climate of challenge and confusion, Christ’s unchanging teachings and the Church’s constant doctrine regarding marriage, the family, and the true meaning and purpose of human sexuality.  We particularly appreciate their upholding the importance of the family as the foundation of civilisation, confirming marriage as an indissoluble union between one man and one woman, affirming the teaching of Humanae Vitae on the essential procreative nature of the marriage act, and the brave refusal to accept the ideological colonization of those who promote same-sex unions. We are certain that thus remaining in the truth of Christ will bear great fruit for the Church and for souls.

We continue to pledge ourselves to proclaim the beauty of marital love, of supporting faithful families in their courageous witness, and in encouraging and accompanying those who have been wounded by our broken culture, to be healed and made strong again in Christ.

We recognise the special concern shown by the Synod Fathers for the divorced and civilly remarried. We pledge ourselves to minister to those in this situation, according to the mind of Christ, and the Law of his Gospel. As pastors, we strive to help them discern the will of God in their lives, as the Synod has recalled: 'this discernment can never be detached from the exigencies of truth and the charity of the Gospel proposed by the Church'. The discipline of the Sacraments, especially the Most Holy Eucharist, must faithfully reflect the Church's solemn doctrinal teaching. We express relief that the Synod Fathers did not heed attempts to separate doctrine from sacramental and pastoral practice.

Finally, in ministering to all the families and individuals entrusted to our care, we note the special value of the magisterium of Pope St John Paul II, and, in particular, his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. We remain committed to the great work of being joyful Ministers of God’s Mercy, and pledge ourselves to faithfully follow the bold but gentle example of the Good Shepherd who never abandons His sheep.


Fidelity, Formation and Fraternity at St Edmund's, Ware


We have just concluded the annual colloquium of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, the British Province of Pope St Gregory the Great and a jolly good event it was too. This year, we were at St Edmund's, Ware, for the first time. The place breathes English Catholic history, and the Headteacher gave us a fascinating introductory tour.

We had papers from Fr Hunwicke on "Church or Churches? Who owns the Magisterium?", Fr David Marsden on "The Formation of the Mind of the Priest" and Fr Nicholas Schofield on "St Edmund's College - the Douai of the South". The variety of topics worked well in giving us plenty of material for reflection.

Bishop Robert Byrne came to celebrate Mass for us yesterday. Several of us celebrated private Masses first thing and were able to assist in choir or, in my case, to be free to take photographs discreetly. I have quite a few and will upload the best ones to Flickr tomorrow and post a selection here.

We were well looked after by the staff and the dinner proved to be a most enjoyable convivial gathering as ever.


In advance of other photos, here is just one from benediction on Tuesday evening, with Fr Simon Henry of the Offerimus tibi Domine blog as celebrant.


The chapel, by AWN Pugin, is stunning, and there are gems all around of great interest. For my Mass yesterday morning, the vestments I was given to wear just happened to be from the Fortescue collection.

At the AGM, a couple of priests were concerned that some of their friends were unsure about how to join the Confraternity. It is very easy: here is a link to the information about membership. Those who want to join are asked to affirm that they support the objects of the Confraternity.

Monday, 26 October 2015

The hermeneutic of continuity applied to #Synod15

In a small bus, nearly 40 years ago, as a first year student from St John's seminary at Wonersh, on my way to do pastoral work of some sort, I listened to a discussion about sacramental theology that I have never forgotten - or rather I have forgotten most of it except for the exasperated exclamation of a man who was my senior, delivered in a broad South London accent "Oh no! Not all that ex opere operaaaato stuff!" Perhaps some readers of the title of this post might be inclined to moan similarly "Oh no! Not all that 'ermenootic of continuuuity stuff!" Please bear with me.

Fundamental to Pope Benedict's concept of the hermeneutic of continuity is that it is not a description, but an imperative. Over the years of writing this blog, I have many times seen withering comments deriding the idea that Vatican II is just like all the other councils, or that the modern rite of Mass is just the same as the traditional Mass. If the hermeneutic of continuity were meant to make either of those claims, it would be justly rejected as preposterous.

Pope Benedict is not a fool, and he did not apply the hermeneutic of continuity in that way. He spoke of how the second Vatican Council ought to be understood, how it should be interpreted. To be sure, he described two ways in which it had in fact been understood, but he clearly characterised one of these as correct and the other as false. The correct interpretation was the one that was in accord with tradition, and the incorrect one was the one that was in terms of rupture with the past.

Earlier today, I watched this video on Twisted Sifter. Its anarchic, quirky and bizarre surprises made me wonder if it was somehow a metaphor for #Synod15.

INPUT/OUTPUT from Terri Timely on Vimeo.

Only a few days ago, there were serious commenters telling us that everything was fine. The so-called disagreements were spun by the media and the twitter pundits who did not know what it was really like in the Synod Hall, with overwhelming peace, agreement, and general wafting of niceness to the rafters. Now that the Holy Father himself has said that the different opinions were expressed "at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways" it seems that we are allowed to admit that there was some disagreement.

Not that it is difficult to see. In the one corner, we have Cardinal Kasper saying that he is satisfied and that "the door has been opened to the possibility of the divorced and remarried being granted Communion." (text at Rorate Caeli) And in the opposite corner, we have Cardinal Pell saying that
The text is certainly been significantly misunderstood. First of there is no reference in paragraph 85, or anywhere in the document, to communion for the divorced and remarried. That is fundamental.

And also in paragraph 63 there is an adequate section on the proper understanding of conscience, which has got to be informed in the light of the word of God. And the discernment that is encouraged in paragraph 85 has to be - in these particular matters - has to be based on the full teaching of Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio; and there is another reference to the teaching of the church.

So there are two contradictory interpretations within a day of the Synod's final report being published, each given by the most senior rank of ecclesiastic. If we follow Pope Benedict's teaching concerning the hermeneutic of continuity, our primary concern will be to assess which of them is most in accord with the tradition of the Church. And that is easy. Cardinal Pell is right.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

St Alphonsus, a saint for the Year of Mercy

In just another act of generosity that marks the best of Catholic internet activity, somebody has scanned/transcribed the texts of three important spiritual books:
  • Meditations and Readings for Every Day of the Year selected from the writings of St Alphonsus Liguori
  • The Spiritual Combat by Father Dom Lorenzo Scupoli
  • True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Saint Louis de Montfort
The texts are available at the Religious Bookshelf. I am currently using the Meditations selected from St Alphonsus for each day. St Alphonsus is a completely trustworthy writer: so much so that Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a doctor of the Church in 1871, just 32 years after he was canonised by Pope Gregory XVI. Each day, there is a meditation for the morning, a short passage for spiritual reading, and a meditation for the evening.

St Alphonsus was certainly able to write with passion about the love and mercy of Our Lord. His reflections on the passion are filled with heartfelt gratitude for the sacrifice which our Redeemer offered for us. When he writes of the Blessed Sacrament, he cannot keep from exclaiming in wonder at the generosity of the Lord. He encourages us to ponder the love of the Sacred Heart:
Oh, if we could but understand the love that burns in the Heart of Jesus for us! He has loved us so much, that if all men, all the Angels, and all the Saints were to unite with all their energies, they could not arrive at the thousandth part of the love that Jesus bears to us. He loves us infinitely more than we love ourselves.
He is one with St Paul in exclaiming how much grace abounds for us:
Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, Who came into the world to obtain salvation for us His sheep, has said: I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly. (Jo. x. 10). Mark the expression, more abundantly, which signifies that the Son of Man came on earth not only to restore us to the life of grace we lost, but to give us a better life than that which we forfeited by sin.
At the same time, St Alphonsus always spoke with fervour to sinners to persuade them to convert, to turn away from sin and change their lives:
"The sinner says: But God is merciful. I reply: Who denies it? The mercy of God is infinite; but with all that mercy, how many are lost every day! I come to heal the contrite of heart. (Is. lxi. 1). God heals those who have a good will. He pardons sin; but He cannot pardon the determination to sin."
This kind of admonition is never left as though it is merely a criticism of others. Our Saint makes his own the prayer of repentance, offering us an expression that we can use in our own prayers:
"Behold, O Lord, one of those madmen who so often has lost his soul and Thy grace, in the hope of recovering it! And if Thou hadst taken me in that moment, and in those nights when I was in sin, what would have become of me? I thank Thy mercy which has waited for me, and which now makes me sensible of my folly. I see that Thou desirest my salvation, and I desire to be saved. I repent, O Infinite Goodness, of having so often turned my back on Thee; I love Thee with my whole heart. I hope, through the merits of Thy Passion, O my Jesus, to be no longer so foolish; pardon me speedily, and receive me into Thy favour, for I wish never more to leave Thee."
St Alphonsus is piercing in his assessment of the abuse of God's mercy:
God is merciful but He is also just. "I am just and merciful," said the Lord one day to St. Bridget; "sinners regard Me only as merciful." Sinners, says St. Basil, choose to see God only under one aspect: "The Lord is good, but He is also just; we will not consider Him only on one side." To bear with those who make use of the mercy of God only to offend Him the more, would not, said Blessed John of Avila, be mercy, but a want of justice. Mercy is promised to him who fears God, not to him who abuses it. "His mercy is to them that fear Him," as the Divine Mother sang.
And again he applies it in prayer by way of fostering our own conversion:
Ah, my God, behold, I have been one of those who offended Thee because of Thy goodness to me! Ah, Lord, wait for me; do not forsake me yet; for I hope, through Thy grace, never again to provoke Thee to abandon me. I repent, O Infinite Goodness, of having offended Thee, and of having thus abused Thy patience. I thank Thee for having waited for me until now.
The meditations of St Alphonsus offer us plenty of food for meditation during the Year of Mercy.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried but not for those who refuse the Church tax?

Edward Pentin's "The Rigging of a Vatican Synod" (links below) is well worth reading. It is subtitled "An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family." One commentator suggested that Ignatius Press must have insisted on the question mark in the main title and the "alleged" in the subtitle. I'm not sure this is fair. Edward Pentin does present a studiously balanced account, giving quotations and arguments from both sides. The evidence that is presented is clear enough, but it is not forced on the reader.

We English are noted for understatement and it can be a powerful debating tool. Pentin genuinely leaves the reader free to make up his own mind, having taken the trouble to obtain replies from those who would take issue with the idea that the Synod was rigged. This results in the case being made more clearly and convincingly than it would be in a tendentious and one-sided account.

For anyone interested in the Synod, Edward Pentin's book is an essential contribution to the growing corpus of meta-studies on the proceedings. There are many nuggets of interest. One which jumped out of the (virtual) page was the comment of Professor Stephan Kampowski in relation to the Kirchensteuer, the German Church Tax. The Catholic Church in Germany receives about £5 billion each year give or take a few million. To stop paying the tax, you have to make an official declaration that you are leaving the Church.

I am not a moral theologian, but I guess that my colleagues in that discipline might be able to argue that there are grounds for making some sort of mental reservation on the grounds that you do not wish to actually renounce the faith, but wish to pay a little less in support of the Church according to your means. This would be difficult to justify, but plausible - as plausible, say, as arguing that your marriage is dead because you were both a bit young, or felt that you didn't take it all seriously and have now grown apart. However there are different approaches to the two cases.

Whereas many of the German bishops are in the vanguard of the campaign to admit the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion, no such mercy is shown to those who refuse the Kirchensteuer.

In September 2012, the German Bishops issued a decree ruling that those who choose not to pay the Kirchensteuer. (Allgemeines Dekret der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz zum Kirchenaustritt) Section II.1 of the decree states that a person who has made the declaration of withdrawal from the Church,
  • May not receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, confirmation or Anointing of the Sick - (except in danger of death)
  • May not hold any ecclesiastical offices or functions in the church
  • May not be godfather or godmotther
  • May not be a member of a parochial or diocesan councils
  • Loses active and passive voting rights in the Church
  • May not be a member of the public ecclesiastical associations
This inconsistency is not an original discovery. Sandro Magister and many others have drawn attention to it before, but it is the first time that it has really struck me and I thought it would be of interest to others. Some of those pushing hardest for the admission of the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion are apparently content to deny Holy Communion and other aspects of participation in the life of the Church to those who do not pay a tax that has made the German Church extraordinarily wealthy.

"The Rigging of a Vatican Synod" is available only as an electronic book download. Here are the links:
Ignatius Press

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

St John Paul's invitation to women who have had an abortion

pope-john-paul II and the Divine MercyOne of the key differences between the 1917 Code of Canon Law and the 1983 Code is that in the 1983 Code, there are no longer any reserved sins, only reserved censures - and there are not many of those.

Nevertheless, both Misericodiae Vultus, the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy and the recent letter to Archbishop Fisichella, speak of permission being given to priests to absolve reserved sins. The letter to Archbishop Fisichella was widely misinterpreted in the press, but that is no surprise, since we have now had two massively important documents that themselves confuse the forgiveness of sins with the remission of canonical censures. Perhaps there might be someone in Rome much more learned than I am in the byways of canon law who could proof-read these things before they are published to the world.

As at least some people know, now that the dust has settled, many Conferences of Bishops have, for many decades, agreed that they will all give all their priests faculties to absolve from the censure attached to procured abortion. In fact, it is likely that many women who have had an abortion will not have incurred the censure because of fear, psychological coercion or ignorance of the gravity of the sin, but it is helpful for the priest to be able to take any doubt away by formally absolving from the censure.

(What is often forgotten is that the censure does not only apply to the mother, but also to the doctor and, in many cases the person(s) who organised or paid for the abortion - they have "procured" abortion, and usually they would not have the same excusing circumstances as the poor mother.)*

Generally, priests will have heard many confessions of abortion over the past decades, dealing compassionately with mothers who have bitterly repented this bad decision, developing pastoral praxis in the confessional - or to put it more simply, learning what are the most helpful considerations to put before their penitents to help in the process of healing and confidence in God's loving mercy. It is galling to have the chattering classes now publishing articles that assume that mercy towards women who have had abortions is a stunning new idea that has just been thought up to shake the nasty priests out of their misogynism.

The words of Pope Francis to women who have had an abortion are much to be commended and I pray that they bring hope and solace:
I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father.
These words of Pope Francis reminded me of a passage that I have often quoted when speaking on pro-life topics. St John Paul, in his magnificent encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, also spoke in a personal and compassionate way to women who have had an abortion, emphasising the mercy of God. This was a theme dear to his heart as shown by his encyclical letter Dives in Misericordia, his devotion to St Faustina, and his promulgation of the feast of Divine Mercy. Here are his words on forgiveness, mercy and reconciliation for abortion:
I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child.
St John Paul, however goes further than this in a striking, one might say daring way:
With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.
St John Paul does not leave women in the position of being forgiven, of passively receiving mercy. He brings a note of positive confidence and encouragement to action and leadership.

Pro-life groups will affirm that some of their most generous supporters, and indeed sometimes some of their most powerful speakers, are women who have themselves had an abortion and have later experienced a conversion to the pro-life cause.

* In my canonico-legal naivety, I did not know that Ed Peters has made a canonical case arguing that no women have incurred the censure since the promulgation of the 1983 code because of the omission of the words matre non excepta. See this article which has a footnote referring to further articles.)
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