Wednesday, 31 May 2006

International Mass

Let us try to be positive. Over 10,000 people from England, Italy, Austria, Korea and France - to name only some of the larger groups - all gathered for Mass, makes for an experience of the Catholicity of the Church. The actual organisation of the ceremony, including the distribution of Holy Communion, is reverent and very competent. My people always come back very impressed and moved by the occasion. It was a bonus for them that Archbishop Vincent Nichols (Archbishop of Birmingham) was the principal celebrant

There were some odd elements, looking rather like the Cardinal Mahoney Masses featured across the US Catholic blogo-hemisphere. To link with the theme of "Keep your lamps lit", representatives from the larger groups carried candles for the penitential rite. Bizzarely, these were housed in china ducks. There was a bit of coloured cloth-waving at the Gloria, and the Gospel was read 4 times by Deacons dressed in dalmatics with different coloured orphreys.

This gets to the heart of the problem with the modern International Mass. At various points, it becomes like the Monty Python inauguration of a post-box with things being repeated in four, five or six different languages. This means that those who do not speak one of the favoured languages are more definitively left out.

Presumably because an English Archbishop was the principal celebrant, the Eucharistic Prayer was in English. Hard luck any Poles or Germans who don't speak English! The booklet used for the Eucharistic Prayer contains the prayer in various languages, including the one which gives the obvious answer to this mess.

I would expect to receive the retort that Latin is a language that nobody knows so it would have the effect of leaving everyone out. As a matter of fact, the parts of the Mass which showed the active exterior participation of the whole congregation in unison were the Lourdes Sanctus and the Pater Noster sung in Latin. Somehow, everyone did seem to know them. If Latin were the normal thing for International Masses, Pilgrimage organisers would soon learn to supply people with appropriate texts.

Basilique S Pie X

It is difficult to disagree with Mac (Mulier Fortis) who insists on describing this Basilica as an underground car park. Built in the 50s when pre-stressed concrete was the latest thing, it accommodates over 10,000 people and is full this morning for the International Mass.

The Stations of the Cross are in a modern design but the interior is really brightened up by massive banners of various saints. These are either photographs or representational art and do much to relieve the interior.

Removing wax

Carrying a lighted candle in procession wearing a black suit has predictable results. One of the things that most clerics learn at sime time in the seminary is that wax can be removed by applying a warm iron over brown paper. The wax melts and soaks into the brown paper.

I have neither an iron nor brown paper with me so it is time for some lateral thinking. I do have a small penknife, a cigarette lighter and some of the paper from the candle protector. Heat the blade and apply it to the paper over the wax. Unlike a lot of these bright ideas it works.

Tuesday, 30 May 2006

Mass, procession, baths

Our first Pilgrimage Mass was in the chapel of St Michel. Afterwards, I gave the basic orientation talk and we had just time for a quick visit to the Grotto before dinner. The torchlight procession begins at 9pm and Alicia, the youngest of our pilgrims,(recently made her first Holy Communion) carried the parish flag.

This morning's Mass was in the Crypt Chapel. We had the votive Mass of St Bernadette in the chapel where her relics are kept. The rest of her remains are at Nevers and, famously, incorrupt.

After Mass, the group went to see the Information Bureau's introductory film. I went to the Baths. There was no queue at all and I was able to go straight in. What happens is that you say a prayer, step down into the stone bath filled with (cold) Lourdes water, then allow yourself to be dunked backwards by two assistants. Kiss the statue, drink some water, say another prayer and away you go, refreshed, renewed and joyful.

The "terrible commercialism" of Lourdes

One of those standard, almost obligatory attitudes that you are supposed to strike up in Lourdes is to look down your nose at the "terrible commercialism". I don't go for this. People need to work in order to live and support their family; one way of earning a living is to run a shop. You could sell immodest clothing, useless artefacts to encourage vanity, or you could sell rosaries and statues.

The real biggie is the Palais du Rosaire with rows of rosaries, pictures, statues, medals and prayer cards. Everything is quite cheap and there is no sense that they are exploiting the tourists and pilgrims. All your rosary case needs can be comprehensively met here. I do admit that some of it is over the top - the pastilles made with genuine Lourdes water or the Lourdes flicknife, for example.

I go to the caisse with a large multi-coloured rosary (just couldn't pass it by), a small crucifix (so I can have the western iconostasis at Mass here), a Lourdes key-case (why not?) and the latest Lourdes gadget - a collapsible plastic cup. This can be handily carried on your visits to the grotto and frees you from that trying-to-scoop-up-water-in-your-hands misery.

If you want to feel superior, you can cross the road from the Palais du Rosaire to the shop that sells expensive statues, pictures and (probably) icons. That doesn't count as "terrible commercialism" because its a bit posh and pricey.

Problems of blogging in France

It's quite fun reading the instructions on blogger in French - "Republier la totalité du blog" and suchlike. The difficulty is that French keyboards are different. There are all sorts of tweaks to accommodate accents, the numbers are uppercase and the q, m, a and w keys are in different places. The full stop is in the uppercase register.

I went to the Tourist Information Office to see if they might know of "un cafe internet". They gave me a printed list! In France, shops still close for lunch so I have had to transfer to the Cafe Le Carrefour which has a computer so I can blog over a gin and tonic. Annoynigly, this one has some kind of proprietary settings that make the styles of all the pages change. There is also one of those toolbar things; This one offers you the chance to "sauver dons Mon Web". Good thing is that the internet connection is much faster. Now, let's "publier le message".

"Keep your lamps lit"

The Pastoral Theme this year at Lourdes is "Keep your lamps lit". On our parish pilgrimage we make use of the high quality materials provided by the Shrine authorities. The official booklet on the theme has scriptural and patristic quotations to illustrate the theme and a helpful reflection by Bishop Perrier.

Sadly, for the English edition, they have obviously asked a liturgical expert to supply them with the texts of some hymns that would go with the theme. Turn away now if you know what is coming and just can't bear it. These are the hymns:
  • Colours of Day

  • I watch the sunrise

  • Shine Jesus Shine

  • Walk in the light
Clearly somebody has to be shot. I'm off to the Palais du Rosaire to see if they can sell me a Lourdes gun.

Sunday, 28 May 2006

Where I will be tomorrow

Flying off tomorrow to Lourdes with 20 parishioners for our annual five-day pilgrimage. We make all our own travel and accommodation arrangements, keeping the cost well below that of the organised tour companies. Our programme includes Mass each day: we arrange the chapels by email with the most helpful shrine authorities. We will be joining the International Mass on Wednesday and the English Mass at the Grotto on Friday. This year, our Pilgrims Book includes the texts of the Hail Mary in various languages and the various Latin chants that are used during the torchlight procession. We stay at the Hotel d'Angleterre, near the St Joseph's gate. As well as being conveniently just across the road from the Domaine, it has great character and the proprietors and staff are helpful and friendly.

Don't know if there will be much posting this week but if there is a convenient Internet Cafe, I'll try and let you know any news from there. I hope to post some good photos when I get back.

"Celebrating the Mass" - Review

I thought it would be of interest to readers to publish here my review of the document of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales "Celebrating the Mass. A Pastoral Introduction."

Celebrating the Mass (CTM) is “recommended reading for all liturgical ministers – clergy, liturgy preparation teams, musicians…” The intention is that it should serve as a pastoral guide to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) simultaneously published in the edition for England and Wales. Coming from the Bishops’ Conference, it carries a certain weight but its authority is uncertain. It is not, for example, an official interpretation with a recognitio from the Congregation for Divine Worship. It therefore seems legitimate to examine the document critically.

It is to be welcomed that attention is paid to the liturgy of the Mass so that it can be celebrated “more faithfully, reverently and fruitfully.” (CTM Foreword) It is good to see that CTM gives “pride of place” to Gregorian chant, (81) that it gives priority to the priest saying the “prayers over the gifts” quietly and it recommends an organ voluntary rather than a “final hymn” at the end of Mass. CTM 114 also gives a reminder that only genuine wax candles should be used at Mass and not fake “candles” with inserts.

However, CTM has throughout a flavour of “liturgical correctness” by which I mean those fastidious, almost scrupulous unofficial rubrics that are not part of the GIRM or the Missal itself. Thus, for example, “Vessels for the body of Christ preferably have the form of plates or shallow bowls rather than of chalices or reliquaries.” (CTM 109) I am not sure what kinds of vessels are commonly in use that look like reliquaries but the chalice-shaped ciborium with a lid is often used conveniently for the distribution of Holy Communion to large numbers of people. The GIRM does not in any way limit the use of such vessels and refers usually to the “ciborium” whilst accepting that a “large paten” may appropriately be used.

Another example is the recommendation that a large jug and basin with “generous quantities of water” and a towel be used for the lavabo. (CTM 110) This recommendation is nowhere to be found in the GIRM or the Roman Missal and we may feel that such exaggerated theatrical symbolism is more appropriate to the school assembly than the celebration of Mass.

CTM recommends two new pauses for silence in the Mass; after the Orate fratres (CTM 185) and after the end of the Eucharistic Prayer before what it calls the “breaking and sharing.” (CTM 199) We can easily imagine the didactic emphasis that will be given in some places to these separations of the different parts of the Mass. Again, this is a purely local innovation with no basis in any of the liturgical documents.

There is a hint (CTM 173) that the Hail Mary should be dropped from the Bidding Prayers (“the Roman Rite does not envisage the inclusion of devotional prayers in the Prayer of the Faithful”.) In a document produced specifically for England and Wales it would be more appropriate to recall that the Bishop Wheeler encouraged the Hierarchy of England and Wales in 1965 to include the Hail Mary in the newly restored “Prayer of the Faithful.” He referred to the ancient custom in England of the Bidding Prayers where the Hail Mary was included because of England’s notable devotion to Mary and her privilege of being the Dowry of Mary. It seems a shame to discourage this tradition based on genuine and ancient local custom.

In fact, the emphasis given to different parts of the Mass and even their interpretation is in many cases not supported by the official liturgical books. One could be forgiven for thinking that the most important parts of the Mass are the Bidding Prayers, the Offertory Procession and the Fraction.

On the fraction, there is the inevitable recommendation for the use of “larger breads” so that everyone receives a fragment of the one large Host. (CTM 206) No mention is made of the provision of GIRM 321 that small hosts are “in no way ruled out” (minime excluduntur)

Alongside the many “liturgically correct” additions, there are some important omissions which tend to reinforce the particular “style of liturgy” that is promoted by CTM. The GIRM refers to “sacred vessels” and “sacred garments”: CTM speaks of “vessels” and “garments.” Nothing is said of the sanctuary lamp. (Cf. GIRM 316, CTM 100) The communion plate is not mentioned in CTM: Redemptionis Sacramentum 93 says that it “should be retained.” The GIRM (118) says that it is praiseworthy to cover the chalice with a veil: CTM ignores this. Perhaps it will be said that these are relatively minor matters and that CTM cannot cover everything.

A more important omission relates to the consecration at the Mass. Describing the various rituals in the Eucharistic Prayer, no mention is made of the bell and the use of incense at the consecration. (Mentioned in GIRM 150) The use of the bell and incense do, of course, emphasise the “moment of consecration.” So also does the GIRM’s instruction for concelebrants which states that they should speak “in a very low voice” (submissa voce in the original) “especially the words of consecration.”

CTM 194 undermines this focus on the words of consecration when it says of the institution narrative. “This narrative is an integral part of the one continuous prayer of thanksgiving and blessing. It should be proclaimed in a manner which does not separate it from its context of praise and thanksgiving.” The rubric of the Roman Missal before the consecration in English states “The words of the Lord in the following formulas should be spoken clearly and distinctly, as their meaning demands.” The Latin text has “prouti natura eorundem verborum requirit” or literally “according as the nature of the same words requires.”

In fact, this rubric has a history of its own. When the Rite of Mass was being finalised, Pope Paul VI gave an audience to Fr Bugnini on 22 January 1968 in which he gave his written comments on the proposed Mass including “As already noted, the words of consecration are not to be recited simply as a narrative but with the special, conscious emphasis given them by a celebrant who knows he is speaking and acting ‘in the person of Christ.’” This was the reason for the insertion of the rubric we have mentioned. Its precise purpose is therefore to encourage the priest to do exactly the opposite of what CTM 194 enjoins.

There is a most unfortunate expression concerning the people’s Amen at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer. CTM 198 says that the Eucharistic Prayer is “ratified” by the people’s Amen and that the Amen should be sung or spoken loudly in order to emphasise “the assembly’s ratification and acclamation.” (CTM 199) The GIRM simply says that the final doxology is concluded and confirmed by the people’s Amen. We must hope that it is simply a confusion or looseness of terminology in CTM since Pope Pius XII in Mediator Dei spoke of those who “go so far as to hold that the people must confirm and ratify the sacrifice if it is to have its proper force and value.” and said “it is in no wise required that the people ratify what the sacred minister has done.”

The GIRM stipulates that “The faithful communicate either kneeling or standing, as determined by the Conference of Bishops” (GIRM 160) It then recommends that if they receive standing, an appropriate act of reverence, “as determined by the same norms” should be made before receiving the sacrament. Many good Catholics bow reverently or genuflect before receiving Holy Communion. There seems no good reason to discourage this devotion which is entirely in accord with the obvious meaning of the GIRM. However, CTM 210 says that in England and Wales the faithful make their act of reverence through the “action of walking solemnly in procession.” Not wishing to be impolite, I have to say that this idea is so far-fetched that I fear I must have misunderstood it.

Redemptionis Sacramentum 90 lays down that the determination of the Bishops’ Conference regarding the method of receiving Holy Communion should receive the recognitio of the Apostolic See. One can only hope that the proposal that walking up to receive Communion is itself an act of reverence is submitted to the Congregation for Divine Worship for their consideration.

Many of the emphases of CTM remind one of the observation of Cardinal Ratzinger at the 2001 Fontgombault conference, that new liturgical practices tend to be observed “with a degree of conformity which has long ceased to exist where the norms of ecclesiastical authority are concerned.” Given that since the publication of CTM he has now been elected Pope, it is perhaps more likely that the debate on the new liturgical movement which he eloquently promoted in The Spirit of the Liturgy may receive a spur. In the meantime one would have to offer the opinion that the pastoral priest should have no scruples in deciding which elements of CTM genuinely serve the devotion and spiritual life of the people who participate in the sacred liturgy, and which are simply an unfortunate genuflection to liturgical fashion.

(Published in Faith Magazine)

Petition against World Cup prostitution

The Catholic fmaily and human rights institute has organised a petition to the German Government and the organisers of the World Cup to protest against the trafficking of women for the purposes of prostitution. The site gives the necessary information if you have not seen it already. Thanks to Gerald Augustinus and Fr Stephanos OSB for the information.

Sign the petition here.

Saturday, 27 May 2006

Secretary of State prediction

Philip Lawlor of CWN is predicting that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa will be appointed in early June to replace Cardinal Sodano as Secretary of State. (That certainly counts as falsifiable!) It would be good if he is right.

Faith Magazine May-June 2006

The articles from the Faith Magazine for May-June 2006 are available online. I did the editorial article this time on the DVC. There's also a good piece by Fr Joe Carola SJ called Irenaeus Versus The Da Vinci Code. Over lunch today, I read Fr Nicholas Schofield's excellent piece on the Crusades.

UNAIDS report: 10% failure rate for condoms

This is old news (from 2003) but it is always useful to collect statistics like this from official agencies. The UNAIDS estimate that condoms are ineffective against AIDS approximately 10% of the time is probably very optimistic. Nevertheless, choose your risk example (e.g. would you fly in an airline that boasted that 90% of its take-offs were followed by successful landings?)

Thanks to Lifesite for the information.

Trite Worship Song

Fr Nicholas Schofield has posted a sort of musical rant written to be sung to the tune of Shine Jesus Shine. It's good fun.

(He has lots of other more important posts too at The Roman Miscellany.)

Friday, 26 May 2006

Pope Benedict on the priesthood

Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI met with the clergy in Warsaw Cathedral. His meditation on the priestly life should be read by every priest and seminarian. A short extract:
You have been chosen from among the people, appointed to act in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Believe in the power of your priesthood! By virtue of the sacrament, you have received all that you are. When you utter the words "I" and "my" ("I absolve you ... This is my body ..."), you do it not in your own name, but in the name of Christ, "in persona Christi", who wants to use your lips and your hands, your spirit of sacrifice and your talent.

“Turning towards the Lord” - address by Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith

I am very pleased to be able to post the address given by Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, the Secretary of the Congretation for Divine Worship, on the occasion of the launch of the Italian edition of the book by Fr Michael Lang "Turning Towards the Lord". (Thanks to Sandro Magister.)

Fr. Michael Lang’s book “Turning towards the Lord” – which is now being published in Italy – traces the Church’s reasons and practices, since the first centuries, relating to the direction of liturgical prayer.

The book’s objective and lucid approach will certainly make it a helpful tool for those who want to deepen their understanding on the subject. It demonstrates how the orientation of liturgical prayer as established by postconciliar reforms does not reflect the Council documents, a surprising fact.

In fact, in the preface to the book Benedict XVI, writing when he was still the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, asserts:

“To the ordinary churchgoer, the two most obvious effects of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council seem to be the disappearance of Latin and the turning of the altars towards the people. Those who read the relevant texts will be astonished to learn that neither is in fact found in the decrees of the Council. The use of he vernacular is certainly permitted, especially fro the Liturgy of the Word, but the preceding general rule of the Council text says, ‘Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36.1). There is nothing in the Council text about turning altars towards the people; that point is raised only in postconciliar instructions.”

Sacrosanctum Concilium did not call for foolhardy attitudes in this area, but for an objective and deliberate implementation of the reform. Furthermore, liturgical reform did not begin only after Vatican Council II, but had already been in motion to some extent since the time of Pius X. Both in the process of reform preceding the Council and after it, as the Council itself intended, liturgical changes were supposed to emerge organically, and not in sudden haste. But, unfortunately, not everything went as it should have. And now some are speaking of corrections, or of a reform of the reform.

Leaving aside this reform of the reform, Fr. Lang’s book can be considered a catalyst for further improvement in the current liturgical practice of the Church. Maybe this is the reason why, in the preface, the pope expresses his hope for attentive, objective, and passionate study of this topic. In his view, we must be able to see the positive value in what happened in the past, and listen to everyone, including those who do not agree with us, without becoming partisans labeled as “preconciliar” or “postconciliar,” “conservative” or “progressive.” Objectivity is the key. Benedict XVI affirms this when he says: “The quest is to be achieved, not by condemning one another, but by carefully listening to the internal guidance of the liturgy itself.”

And the Church has always understood that its liturgical life must be oriented toward the Lord, and brings with it a profoundly mystical atmosphere. It is in this reality that we must find the answers. For this reason, instead of a spirit of “free fall” that leaves everything to creativity and innovation without roots or depth, we must bring ourselves into harmony with the orientation mentioned above, and bring it to full blossom.

The pope affirms the importance of this dimension when he says that the natural direction of liturgical prayer is “versus Deum, per Jesum Christum [toward God, through Jesus Christ],” even if the priest does in fact face the people. It is not so much a question of form as of substance.

Fr. Lang’s book shows how throughout its history the Church has understood the importance of always directing its prayer toward the Lord, in terms of both content and gesture.

In order to grasp the profoundly spiritual and practical value of the Church’s liturgical life, we need not only a spirit of scientific or theological-historical research, but above all an attitude of meditation, prayer, and silence. Those who study the historical journey of the liturgy and strive to contribute to its progress must place themselves in a posture of humbly listening to the evolution of the Church’s liturgical traditions down through the centuries, and of the important role of the magisterium. They must also pay attention to the gradual development of these traditions within the ecclesial community, and arm themselves with a spirit of intense prayer and adoration of the Lord. This is because what happens in the Church’s celebrations of praise is not simply an earthly and human reality. And if these mystical aspects are not betrayed, everything will become a source of edification rather than disorientation and confusion. Arbitrariness, haste, and emotional excitement should have no place in this search. The conciliar constitution on the sacred liturgy affirms this point when it says:

“That sound tradition may be retained, and yet the way remains open to legitimate progress. Careful investigation is always to be made into each part of the liturgy which is to be revised. This investigation should be theological, historical, and pastoral. Also the general laws governing the structure and meaning of the liturgy must be studied in conjunction with the experience derived from recent liturgical reforms and from the indults conceded to various places. Finally, there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 23).

This is why this same conciliar constitution offers clear and stringent norms on who is truly competent to make decisions on liturgical innovations, asserting, among other things, that “therefore no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 22).

This great sense of reverence toward what is being celebrated stems not only from the fact of the centrality of the liturgy in the Church’s life, affirmed by the principle “lex credendi, lex orandi,” but also from the conviction that the liturgy is not a purely human act, but a reflection of what is happening, as Sacrosanctum Concilium itself says, “in that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims.”

The liturgy is also that which is given as a gift to the community of the Church, the bride of Christ and the heavenly Jerusalem.

Unfortunately, for various reasons, which are sometimes well-intentioned, there are priests and bishops who introduce every sort of experiment and change, diminishing the sense of the sacred and mystical nature of what is depicted in the Church’s liturgical celebrations. The temptation to become the leading actors in the divine mysteries, and to seek to control even the action of the Lord, is strong in a culture that divinizes man. In some countries, the situation is or is becoming truly dramatic. Every trace of the sacred often disappears in these so-called “liturgies.”

One of the most beautiful of flowers, the lotus flower, grows in Asia. But it grows in the mud. Even though mud is not beautiful, the flower grows out of it and orients itself toward the sun, spreading its petals and imparting beauty to its surroundings. I see a comparison to human life in this. What truly liberates man is not what keeps him immersed in the slime of his weaknesses and decisions, but the capacity he acquires to liberate himself from these and direct his life toward the infinite and toward his Creator. It is not by lowering the sense of the divine to the human level, but by seeking to raise ourselves to supernatural levels that we will succeed in making contact with the divine mystery.

The liturgy is not what man decides it is, but what the Lord brings about within him: an attitude of adoration toward his Creator and Lord, liberating him from his slavery. If the liturgy loses its mystical and heavenly dimension, what will help man to free himself from the mud of egoism and slavery? If the Church does not insist upon the mystical and profoundly spiritual dimensions of life and the celebration of life, who will? Is this not our duty to a world that is closed off within itself, becoming disoriented, insecure, locked in its own prison? If man presumes to understand everything that the Lord does, then it is not God who judges history, but man himself. Is this not the ancient idolatry denounced by the prophets?

The Church, which must reflect the constant presence of Christ in the world, is placed at the service of humanity in order to help it to free itself from the prison of being closed in on itself, to discover its vocation to the fullness of life in the Lord, and to open itself to the joyous embrace of the infinite. Its intimate communion with its Spouse, which is reflected and nourished above all in its liturgical life, becomes the powerful manifestation of the infinite freedom that humanity always has the possibility of reaching through it.

For this reason, preserving and enriching the spiritual mysticism of the liturgy is no longer an option for us, but a duty. If the world falls into the pit of human self-sufficiency, thus becoming more thirsty for the infinite, the Church cannot help but offer the liturgy, because in Christ humanity is raised up into the divine presence. It is not by lowering itself to superficiality that the liturgy will motivate us to reflect the values of the infinite to the world, but by affirming these mystical and divine dimensions more and more. Today more than ever, this becomes a reflection of the prophetic role of the Church as well.

Thank you, Fr. Lang, for this book which will help us to turn our gaze ever more toward the Lord.

Roman Miscellany: 'This is the Saint of Cheerfulness and Kindness'

An excellent sermon by Fr Nicholas Schofield on that most attracive of saints, Philip Neri.

Best news I've heard yet on the DVC

I was due to give a talk at Fr Chris Findlay-Wilson's parish in Cornwall on the DVC. He phoned me today and suggested it was all a bit old hat now. I'm speaking instead on AIDS, Condoms and the Catholic Church.

The DVC will probably still trouble a few well-meaning youngsters but it looks as though the coverage of the film and the obvious trashing of it in the secular press has begun to finish it off.

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Critiquing Diarmuid O'Murchu's 'New World Order' - Catholic Online

I just found Catholic Online's translation of the Spanish Bishops' Doctrinal Note on Critiquing a review of Diarmuid O'Murchu's 'Reframing Religious Life. The English edition of this came out in 1998. My question then: Why does it have to take the Spanish Bishops to issue a doctrinal note about such an obviously dodgy book 8 years after it has been circulating the English-speaking world?

Their conclusion is
Diarmuid O'Murchu's manifesto is based on a simple fact: namely, that "religious life is in crisis," to the extent that its very future, at least in its present form, is in doubt (cf. pp. 12-13). In response to this stark reality he attempts to present a solution for the future. What he offers, however, is an efficient formula for the progressive distortion and destruction of religious and consecrated life, separating it little by little from the Church, divorcing it from the service of mankind and dissolving it in a world that does not know Christ (cf. John 1:10).

The Protection of Conscience Project

Dilexit Prior of Letters from a Young Catholic has commented The Protection of Conscience Project, an excellent website to advocate for protection of conscience legislation.

Elton John attacks Catholic Church

Elton John "has attacked the Catholic Church and its position on condom use as a reason for the demise of 60 of his friends to the sexually-transmitted disease, AIDS." (Article on LifeSite.)

It is a pity that Elton John should use his friends' deaths to attack the Church. Are we expected to believe that they did not use condoms because they were subservient to the teaching of the Catholic Church? In any case, the teaching of the Church regarding homosexual acts is that "they are contrary to the natural law" and "under no circumstances can they be approved". (Catechism 2257) If Elton John is saying that his friends died because they contracted AIDS through homosexual practice, then following the teaching of the Catholic Church would have saved their lives.

May I suggest that anyone reading this post offer a prayer for the repose of the souls of these 60 people.

Eternal Rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen

Jimmy Akin lets rip on DVC

Enjoyable hatchet-job by Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers, titled Who are these people and why do I care? It is well worth following his blog.

DVC gets Private Eye treatment

Private Eye issue 1159 arrived yesterday with some amusing items on the Da Vinci Code.

I-Spy has a photo of a sign put up opposite the Rosslyn Chapel, offering "Da Vinci" horse manure at 50p a bag.

There is a spoof advert (New from Gnome!) for "The Da Vinci Trouser Press",
The Trouser Press that Christ's descendants would have used if he had fathered a child and gone to live in Boulogne. Enjoy the biggest mystery of the last 2000 years while steaming your favourite trousers.
There is also a code to solve - "A Mad Nine Wait" (made in Taiwan).

Underneath this item is a cartoon with the caption "Hollywood Movies You Won't See". The film billed is "The Mohammed Code".

Then in "Books and Bookmen", Snipcock and Tweed are walking home after the film.
"The film's certainly faithful to the book"
(next frame)
"It's absolutely terrible"
"Silly, preposterous and unbelievable - and that's just Tom Hanks' hair"
The current issue doesn't feature on the Private Eye website yet. When it does, I'll link to any of the cartoons they feature there.

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Mayor's Chaplain

The limo turned up on time at 18.35 to take me to the first meeting of the new Bexley Borough Council, via the home of Councillor Brian Beckwith who was the Mayor-Elect. With due ceremony and some amusing speeches, he was elected Mayor and I joined the procession into the Council Chamber.

Bexley Council has a special cross to be worn by the Chaplain. I judged that cassock and sash would be appropriate for such a formal occasion and this was appreciated by the Council members.

The Council has had a major political change after the recent elections. From being a Labour Council with a majority of one, it is now a Conservative Council with a majority of 45. It was very good to be at the proceedings which were marked by a gentlemanly reserve on the part of the new majority and magnanimous goodwill from the new minority. This is something that we can still do well in England and I pray that such civil proceedings bode well for the municipal affairs that will affect the lives of the residents of Bexley Borough.

It was a particular delight to talk to Laura and Ros who were in the middle their of A-level exams but took enough interest in local politics to take an evening out to attend the proceedings. It is encouraging to see young people concerned with the democratic process. I also had a chance to practice my French with a young man from Lille who had done an internship with the Council. Many youngsters are disillusioned with "politics" and see it as irrelevant. However, when they have children of their own, they come to see the importance of decisions at local Council level. We need them to be involved and it is good to see a real interest in the common good in some students.

A Day at SPUC

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) is the oldest pro-life campaigning organisation in the world, founded to combat the Abortion Bill in 1967. I cleared some time in the diary today to go up and spend some time discussing various pro-life strategies with the wonderful team there.

I founded the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life (APGL) to help priests to proclaim the Gospel of Life and we are just sending out our latest newsletter. I'll post it here tomorrow when it has gone out to members.

One of the important issues in the UK at the moment is to fight for the right of conscientious objection for doctors and other health professionals. In the UK right now, there is a real risk that pro-life doctors will be legally obliged to refer patients to other doctors who will arrange abortions. Of course, there will be some who will refuse and accept the consequences.

This is an important battle because there is no telling where this kind of "obligation" will reach. Will school nurses be "obliged" to refer children for the Morning After Pill? Will teachers who counsel young people be "obliged" to refer them to someone who will offer them the "choice" of abortion?

One good idea is that of an APGL blog to give news and ideas to priests for the promotion of the Gospel of Life. We need to give support and assistance to good priests who want to get this message across to their people.

Tuesday, 23 May 2006

New Pentecost at Clapham Park

Annoyingly, I forgot to take my camera today, so I was left with just mobile phone pictures. However, it is clear that the Holy Spirit was working. If you examine the picture on the left, you will see that Fr Basden and Fr Crean OP are being visited by tongues of fire. As with many paintings of the disciples, you can see that some of the brethren are gazing heavenward while others are focussed on the immediate visible effects. (click it for a larger version) Speaking in tongues was limited to Latin and Polish but I do think that there was some evidence of the gift of prophecy.

Biblical interpretation at Clapham Park

Fr Chris Basden, the indefatigably hospitable parish priest of Clapham Park, arranges regular gatherings for clergy at which we listen to a paper, pray together at Benediction and then enjoy lunch together.

Today's paper was given by Fr Marcus Holden, a young priest who is assistant at the Holy Ghost, Balham. The subject was "Pope Benedict XVI and the crisis in biblical interpretation". He drew attention to the question of the hermeneutic that usually underlies the historic-critical method of interpretation, and focussed on the triple spiritual sense of scripture. He gave some excellent illustrations of the use of the spiritual sense of scripture in the words of Christ and of St Paul, looked at some of the Fathers and St Thomas, and examined the problems of post-modernist use of the spiritual sense. I could not do justice to the lecture by summarising it and I am glad to hear that he is intending to edit the paper and publish it in due course.

The most important of the books he recommendeded was "Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The Ratzinger Conference on Bible and Church". The UK Amazon price is a rather choking £65 but it may be possible to persuade theological libraries to ensure that they have a copy.

Another book he recommended was De Lubac's "Scripture in the Tradition" which is a more approachable £20.

Examinees - prayers please

My sister Joan texted me this morning to say that Amy (my great niece) is taking her first GCSE exam today. I am taken aback by this but realise that I am getting older and therefore, by the same token, so is she. I was visiting another sister, Mary, yesterday (Happy 7th Birthday Charlie!) and my nephew Patrick was also busy revising for his English Lit exam.

So if you have a moment, a Hail Mary for these two young people would be much appreciated.

Monday, 22 May 2006

No, er, I mean, not that one, em, sorry

A post on AmericanPapist *whoops* Levada gets a scare from this morning's VIS tells of how the Vatican Information Service mistakenly announced that Cardinal Dias was appointed to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Now if they managed not to utter any profanities when they realised that mistake, I'm sure they will go straight to heaven.

Arinze on ICEL and Liturgiam Authenticam

Cardinal Arinze has written a letter to Bishop Skylstad, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, stating that the CDW is "not competent" to grant recognitio to translations that do not follow the norms of Liturgiam Authenticam. Apparently, some of the US Bishops are worried that we will all be so hurt if our cherished ICEL translations are changed.

Faith Magazine has been campaigning for over 30 years on this issue. As a priest and a Latinist, I am appalled that my people have been deprived for so long of the content of the Church's prayers. Here's an example:
accipiens et hunc praeclarum calicem in sanctas ac vererabiles manus suas
Actual meaning:
taking also this glorious chalice into his holy and venerable hands
Current ICEL translation:
He took the cup
Oh, I'm really so attached to that!

(See also Fr Stephanos' great caption to a photo of Pope Benedict.)

Adoremus Bulletin

The mission of Adoremus is
[...] to rediscover and restore the beauty, the holiness, the power of the Church's rich liturgical tradition while remaining faithful to an organic, living process of renewal.
Adoremus is concerned with the dignified celebration of the post-Vatican II Liturgy. Although they do not seem to have any quibble with the idea of allowing greater freedom to the old Mass, it is not their particular concern.

They have been closely following the debates in the US Conference of Bishops concerning the new ICEL texts. I find that Adoremus is the best source of information on this most important matter. They also publish good articles on Church architecture and music. The latest edition arrived on my mat this morning and it is particularly good. This current May 2006 issue is available to read online. I was amused by this anecdote in the article by Lucy E. Carroll A Choir Director's Lament on Lyrics for Liturgy:
Here is an interesting example of ideology masquerading as theology:
The light of God is shining bright
In ev’ry girl of woman born
And in her fingers and her face
Are heaven’s glory, pow’r and grace
So when she’s walking, running, leaping,
Sitting and thinking, talking, sleeping,
Don’t ever treat a girl with scorn,
But look and see the face of God in ev’ry girl of woman born
“Of Woman Born”, words by Brian Wren, music by Francis Patrick O’Brien, GIA Publications #G5916 (2002)

This is the first third of the text. (Boys are included later on, you’ll be happy to know.) This song was included in a publisher’s workshop held in our area. At the conclusion of the “sing-through”, most of us sat, stunned into silence. The event-leader asked, “Now, for what occasions could you use this piece?”

A male voice in the back boomed: “The Twelfth of Never!” and was greeted with uproarious applause.

The Gospels, Historical and True

The Faith website has put a link on the front page to the pamphlet The Gospels: Historical and True by Domenico Grasso SJ. This is one of the earliest series of Faith Pamphlets, begun in the 1970s. It remains an excellent apologetic presentation of the case for the historicity of the gospels. Of course today it has a new relevance because of that stupid book/film.

The policy of the Faith Movement is to make all our publications available on the internet free of charge. It is possible to subscribe to the print edition of the Faith Magazine or to buy the Faith pamphlets. However, we are interested in spreading the ideas contained in them and therefore we are happy whether people read them online, download them or pay for printed copies.

United for Life

This morning, I came across a dossier on chastity written by Chris Mason of United for Life. Since I am trying to cut down on the amount of paper piling up in my room, I was pleased to find that the materials are all on the website. It is well worth a browse.

Sunday, 21 May 2006

AIDS, Condoms and the Catholic Church

The notes for the lecture I gave this evening at Balham can be downloaded from my parish website's Controversies pages. It looks at the politicisation of HIV/AIDS, examples from the Philipppines and Thailand, Uganda and some other African countries. The example of the rise in STIs in the UK is used to show the effect of condom promotion. The CAFOD policy is critically examined. The lecture finishes by examining the Church's moral teaching and her practical response to help sufferers from HIV/AIDS.

Forum Christi at Holy Ghost, Balham

The parish of the Holy Ghost, Balham is one of the most thriving parishes in the Archdiocese of Southwark. The parish priest, Fr Stephen Langridge, and the assistant priest, Fr Marcus Holden, work hard, set a good example of the priestly life and actively evangelise in their parish. The make-up of the congregation is mixed in age, ethnic origin and social background. To say that it is mixed in age means that there are lots of young people involved in the parish.

One initiative that they have started is the Forum Christi. A group of young adults meet at the evening Mass, and then stay on afterwards in one of the parish rooms. There is a 15-minute catechesis, followed by tea and biscuits (this is England, you know!) and then a more extensive lecture. The evening is rounded off by a visit to the Nightingale pub.

Fr Marcus Holden began this evening with an illustrated talk on the use of images in catechesis. It was a most enlightening exercise - he concluded by using three works of art in very different styles to show how they could be understood and used to teach people about the faith.

I was there tonight to give the lecture which was on the subject of AIDS, Condoms and the Catholic Church (see next post). It was great to meet Fr Andrew Pinsent and his parents who were visiting. (shown to the left with some of the group) The group asked some intelligent questions and proved very good company over a pint afterwards. As usual, I wished I could have stayed longer.

Sermon on being "ready to give an answer"

I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (Jn 15.15)

There is no secret, esoteric knowledge in Christianity. Our Lord told the disciples all that he had heard from his Father and he gave the Church the mission to proclaim his teaching to all nations.
Sadly, it is a lucrative business to invent a different version of the gospel or to make up some new stories about our Blessed Lord as in The Da Vinci Code.

I mention it today only because there has been so much publicity and some people are worried or confused about it. The book is, of course, a story. It is fiction. But fiction can tell us about real things. For example, Charles Dickens’ wonderful stories helped people to realise the evil of: poverty in London, the anti-Catholic Gordon riots, the debtors prisons, the violence of the French Revolution, the treatment of children in workhouses, and many other social ills. By his fiction, telling the truth about society, Dickens helped spur on many of the social reforms of the Victorian era.

By contrast, The Da Vinci Code does not help us to know what it going on in the real world. Instead, it gives the impression that the Church is an evil organisation that has concealed the truth, that historians think that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, that Christians didn’t believe Jesus was truly God until 300 years after his death, and so on.

Sadly, a recent survey has shown that many people in England believe at least some of these things. It is a clear finding of the poll that many people’s beliefs have changed as a result of reading the book. It found that:

36% of people who have read the book believe that the Catholic Church has been involved in a 2000 year conspiracy to cover up the truth about Jesus Christ.

60% of the people who have read the book believe there is “some truth” to the claim that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children by her. This is twice as many as those who have not read the book.

(Perhaps just as alarming is the percentage of people who have not even read the book and still believe some of the ludicrous claims in it.) Look at that phrase “some truth”. That is typical of the attitude to truth among so many people. Either Jesus was married or he was not. How can there be “some truth” in it?

I think it is a symptom of a disease of the intellect whereby people are willing to believe almost anything. There is a thoroughgoing skepticism about the ability of the human mind to know the truth. There is a lack of confidence, even suspicion, when any claim to truth is made on matters of religion – or even of the history of religious figures. This is deeply corrosive of the human heart and has devastating effects on our moral lives. If there is no real truth or we cannot know the truth, then there will be little to prevent us from behaving just as we feel like. The anti-social behaviour which affects the quality of so many lives is a symptom of this refusal to accept that there is objective truth. If there is no truth, then “I can do what I want”.

This is a wake-up call for us. We cannot be complacent in our faith, just taking everything for granted. We need to know our faith thoroughly. We also need to be ready to give an answer for those who challenge us about the faith.

The “beliefs” that people have as a result of reading The Da Vinci Code are quite easy to refute and fortunately there are very many helps to this. If you use the internet, our own parish website will help get you started. As well as The Da Vinci Code, there are other controversial matters that you may be confronted with by people at work or even in your own family. There is also an excellent CTS pamphlet by Jimmy Aiken of Catholic Answers which can help you to sort things out.

To know the faith well and to be able to give answers to others is a great joy. It is not a question of “winning an argument” but of proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ with kindness and sincerity, based on sound knowledge. Our purpose is to help others to know and love him and to take away some of the obstacles they encounter.

Jesus called his disciples his friends. We rejoice to be his friends also. Sometimes people make the shallow assertion that He does not need us to defend him. Of course, objectively, Jesus Christ is almighty and omniscient and does not “need” anything from us. But he has asked us to defend him. He asked us to proclaim the truth. We might also remember one of Blessed Mother Teresa’s favourite sayings: “Jesus now has no other hands on earth but yours”. Perhaps for one of your friends or family, Jesus now has no other voice on earth but yours. It is a spiritual work of mercy to counsel the doubtful, to show others the truth of Jesus Christ.

Lunch at Napoleon III's house

Camden Place was the home of Napoleon III, the Empress Eugenie and Louis Napoleon, the Prince Imperial. It is now the clubhouse for Chislehurst Golf Club. Fr Charles Briggs, the parish priest of St Mary's, Chislehurst, has kindly been made an honorary member of the Club. He does not play golf but it is a great pleasure to be able to use the dining-room for Sunday lunch.

The emperor died in 1873 and his funeral took place at St Mary's. The picture to the right is a photo of an engraving that is hung at Camden House, showing the cortege in the Churchyard of St Mary's. (click the picture to enlarge) Below is the plaque on the wall to the left of the front door of Camden House.

Saturday, 20 May 2006

Cardinal Dias promotion

Pope Benedict has appointed Cardinal Dias, Archbishop of Bombay, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. He succeeds Cardinal Sepe who has been appointed to the Diocese of Naples. This is very good. The Guardian described Cardinal Dias as "a staunch conservative close to Pope John Paul II" which, translated, means that he is sound on faith and morals.

His episcopal ring has an image of our Lady, to whom he attributes his vocation "She attracted and seized me". Here is an article from the BBC on his statement about modesty in dress at Mass.

(Nearly a year ago, John Allen reported speculation on the two moves in the Corriere della Sera. That's not bad going - the Corriere is obviously worth monitoring.)

Wisdom from English Heritage

In the post the other day, there was a leaflet from English Heritage. Lots of pictures and snappy text about how to prevent historic Churches (and other places of worship) from going to rack and ruin. Full of "Key Facts" and "Solutions" etc. I hope it will help to preserve some of our heritage.

One point caught my eye. There are four pages What can the Government do?; What can English Heritage do?; What can denominations and faiths do?; and What can the public do? The first bullet point under What can denominations and faiths do? is:
See their historic buildings as real assets to their core mission, rather than as expendable burdens
Not bad for a Government Statutory Advisor.

Oh Happy Flowers

What with the first Communions this morning and the Wedding this afternoon, and it being May and all that, we seem to have done well with the flowers today. All credit to Hilda, our sacristan, who arranges flowers herself.

Looking at the altar, I am reminded of a hymn by Fr Faber that is routinely cited as an example of awful Victorian sentimentality. People quote the line "O happy Pyx, O happy Pyx! Where Jesus doth his dwelling fix." and we are all supposed to break into superior sniggers. Have a look at the whole thing, bearing in mind that this is intended for children and Faber puts a subheading "Imitated from St. Alphonso":
O happy Flowers! O happy Flowers!
How quietly for hours and hours,
In dead of night in cheerful day,
Close to my own dear Lord you stay,
Until you gently fade away.
O happy Flowers! what would I give
In your sweet place all day to live,
And then to die, my service o'er,
Softly as you do, at His door.

O happy Lights! O happy Lights!
Watching my Jesus livelong nights,
How close you cluster round His throne,
Dying so meekly one by one,
As each its faithful watch has done.
Could I with you but take my turn,
And burn with love of Him, and burn
Till love had wasted me, like you,
Sweet Lights! what better could I do?

O happy Pyx, O happy Pyx!
Where Jesus doth his dwelling fix.
O little palace! dear and bright,
Where He, who is the world's true light,
Spends all the day, and stays all night!
Ah! if my heart could only be
A little home for Him like thee,
Such fires my happy sould would move,
I could not help but die of love!

O Pyx and Lights and Flowers! but I
Through envy of you will not die;
Nay, happy things! what will you do,
Since I am better off than you,
The whole day long, the whole night through?
For Jesus gives himself to me,
So sweetly and so utterly,
By rights long since I should have died
For love of Jesus Crucified.

My happy Soul! My happy Soul!
How shall I then my love control?
O sweet Communion! Feast of bliss!
When the dear Host my tongue doth kiss,
What happiness is like to this?
Oh Heaven, I think must be alway
Quite like a First Communion Day,
With love so sweet and joy so strange, -
Only that Heaven will never change!
Call me a fuddy-duddy conservative if you like but I feel that somehow it has the edge on Estelle White and the St Louis Jesuits.

Congratulations to Sarah and Christopher

Sarah Illsley and Christopher Lo-Mon were married today at Our Lady of the Rosary. I was rather pleased to get a picture of them being watched over by the Immaculate Heart of Mary. May our Blessed Lady always bless their home with her loving intercession.

Father's new motor

Perhaps we could have this one for summer touring...

Actually, it is a "Beauford". Apparently, it is only 15 years old. They are made up to have the look and character of a classic car but have some mod-cons such as modern braking and suspension.

Friday, 19 May 2006

How to respond to scandal in the Church

St John Fisher was born in 1469. St Thomas More was born in 1478. Both, as you may know, died in 1535.

In 1492, when John Fisher was in his early 20s and Thomas More was in his teens, the new pope elected was Alexander VI (Borgia) who reigned for a little over 11 years during the formative years of both their lives. His papacy was marred by scandalous living, nepotism and venality. After the few weeks of Pius III's brief reign, Pope Julius II was elected. As a Cardinal, he had fathered three daughters. Because of his violence, he was known as Il Terribile. He was succeeded in 1513 by Pope Leo X, a wordly, nepotistic pope whose luxury distracted him from dealing effectively with Luther and the beginnings of the Protestant reformation. After the brief papacy of Hadrian VI, Clement VII was elected. He was, at least, free from reproach in his private life but an irresolute and ineffective leader. Pope Paul III was the last Pope in the lifetime of the two saints. As Cardinal Farnese, he had been known as "Cardinal Petticoat" because his sister Giulia was the mistress of Pope Alexander VI. Cardinal Farnese himself had a mistress by whom he had three daughters and a son. When he became Pope, he reformed his life and is known to history for convoking the Council of Trent.

Surely all that would be enough to make anyone leave the Church? The honest devotional life of St John Fisher and St Thomas More meant that they campaigned by word and example for the reform of the Church, certainly. But their clear sightedness is shown by their martyrdom. They died for the authority of the Pope in the matter of the King's marriage. They were able to see the distinction between the man and his office so clearly that they went to the block at Tower Hill on 22 June 1535 in defence of the authority of the Holy See.

Saint John Fisher. Pray for us.
St Thomas More. Pray for us.

Sacramental Theology Exam

The final version of the exam is copyrighted by Surrey University with whom St John's Seminary, Wonersh is associated. Here is my first draft of the exam. It gives you a good idea of what the students were asked.

Answer question 1 and one question from each of sections A, B and C (Time allowed: three hours)

1. Discuss what the faith and moral qualities of the minister contribute – and do not contribute – to the celebration of a sacrament.

Section A
2. Discuss how we might understand the theological notion of the character given in the sacrament of Baptism

3. Examine critically the scriptural and historical evidence which might support the practice of baptising infants.

4. Evaluate the theological importance of the development of the idea of baptism of desire.

5. Assess the evidence in the writings of the fathers of the Church for the existence of the sacrament of Confirmation.

Section B
6. Discuss the implications for the celebration of the Eucharist if Jeremias is correct in saying that the Last Supper was a Passover meal.

7. Examine the importance of Berengarius in the development of the theology of transubstantiation.

8. Discuss the continuity and discontinuity between the old testament sacrifices and the sacrifice of the Mass.

9. Examine the influence of Jansenism on the practice of receiving Holy Communion.

Section C
10. Discuss how the three “acts of the penitent” in the sacrament of penance have historically been expressed in the celebration of the sacrament.

11. Examine how the forgiveness of sins is part of the sacrament of anointing.

12. Discuss how the doctrine of the Catholic Church on marriage has developed through the teaching of the second Vatican Council and subsequent papal teaching.

13. “De Ecclesia [of Vatican II] went through very few drafts and it is fascinating to observe the brevity of debate concerning […] the sacramentality of the episcopate.” (Barratt) Why should this be “fascinating”?

Thursday, 18 May 2006

Oh dear; how sad; never mind

The Da Vinci Code secret is out: critics hate it |


Prayer for married couples

Lord Jesus Christ, we give you thanks for our marriage and we ask you today to renew in our souls the grace of the sacrament.

Kneeling before you, we repent of our sins, and especially any sins of thought, word or deed that have harmed our spouse or our children. We beg you for the grace to be faithful and loving to one another, and to teach our children by our words and by our good example.

With all our hearts, we renew the commitment that we made before you on our wedding day. Bless and strengthen us as we come before you, aware of our weakness and the power of your grace.

May the angels of God, guard us and defend us from all evil. May Mary our Mother and Saint Joseph remain always in our home to bring peace, joy and happiness.

Prayer for engaged couples

Lord Jesus Christ, we give you thanks for the love we share, and for bringing us together. Teach us to prepare for our wedding by an increase of love towards each other by an increase of generosity to others and by the prayers we make
for a long and happy life together.

Bless all those who are helping us to prepare for our wedding. Keep us good-humoured and joyful as the day draws near.

Mary our Mother and Saint Joseph keep us always in love with each other. Teach us to live as you did and to love Christ with great devotion all the days of our life together.

Holy Family, Benediction, Humanae Vitae

We have just finished our evening for engaged and married couples in the parish. I gave a short ferverino on the Holy Family and how they can help both families and engaged couples. Then we went into Church for Rosary and Benediction, including some special prayers (I'll post these in a sec.) After Benediction, Fr Linus Clovis gave an excellent talk on Humanae Vitae which was followed by an informative discussion.

I asked Fr Linus when he was going to publish his talk on slavery. This was an excellent talk that I listened to on tape in my car one evening driving round to the Seminary. He pointed out that the Popes consistently condemned modern slavery but the message was not preached locally in the pulpit. The same has happened with Humanae Vitae. I look forward to posting it here when it is ready.

England stats on STIs

One problem with our dearth of chastity education in England is that often the statistics that speakers use refer to the USA. So here is some information for England, especially for students who recently heard Barbara McGuigan speak.

The Health Protection Agency statistics make depressing reading. The percentage change from 1995-2004 shows large increases in syphillis (1449%), gonorrhea (111%), chlamydia (223%), herpes (15%) and genital warts (32%). The 2003 report to the select committee on Health summarised it well by saying that "the last decade has witnessed a dramatic rise in diagnoses of all major [sexually transmitted] diseases." The Office of National Statistics did a report showing data on the use of condoms in the previous four weeks. It found that 46% of males and 37% of females with one or more new partners used condoms on every occasion that they had sex.

If you have been given the impression that if you wear a condom, you are safe from STIs, you need to consider those figures.

By the way, you also need to know that on its sexual health myths and facts page, BUPA lists as "Myth 3" the statement "Condoms protect against all STIs". I quote:
[...] according to the Family Planning Association, there is little evidence to suggest that condoms protect against the transmission of genital warts. It is also uncertain whether or not condoms can protect against genital herpes.
This is not some Catholic thing, it is publically available information. But when were you ever told? By the way, it is recognised that genital herpes, for example, is not curable. If you have it, you have it for life. So will your sexual partner(s).

Now, have another look at those figures from the Health Protection Agency. Which diseases were condoms supposed to protect against? These infections and others not listed put you at risk, variously, of infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, cervical cancer - oh, and of course, premature death. Marie Stopes has a sex-ed website for children called "likeitis" which calls these infections "Love Bugs". Gee doesn't that make you feel so much better!

In England this dramatic rise in STIs, (also in teenage pregnancies and abortions) has taken place against the backdrop of the "more and better sex education" mantra. The message seems to be "it has dismally failed so far so let's keep on trying the same thing".

Here's a new idea. Keep yourself chaste (and therefore also clean from STIs) until marriage. Marry someone who has done the same.

Here's another idea. If someone is willing to put their neck on the block and cares enough about you as a young person to tell you the truth rather than simply what you might want to hear, they are probably worth listening to.

Comment moderation - on

A number of comments from Mr Anonymous have meant that it is prudent for me to turn on comment moderation. This is a standard service from blogger which enable the author of a blog to check comments before they get posted.

If you are Mr Anonymous and are reading this, I am sorry to deprive you of a platform for your comments about other people. You are free to say whatever you choose - on your own blog.

Wednesday, 17 May 2006

English survey on DVC - SAD!

Several blogs have referred to a survey in England about the DVc. Here is Amy Wellborn's post: open book: It's just fiction....

It is diffucult to convey to Americans just how bad things are here in blighty. It is no surprise at all to me that two thirds of English people who have read the DVC think that our Blessed Lord fathered a child by Saint Mary Magdalene. We have the BBC constantly pouring scorn on religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular. "Values clarification" is considered a good way to educate children in school in morality. Even in Catholic schools, many teachers think that their students need to hear "the other side". The fact is that the one "point of view" they never hear presented coherently and with conviction is the teaching of the Catholic Church.

The DVC has had, and will continue to have a major effect in England. Yes, we must treat it as an "opportunity" but let's not pretend it is anything but negative in its impact.

Da Vinci Code bombs at Cannes

There are various articles all over the blogosphere pointing out the reception that the DVC movie had at Cannes. I am indebted to Fr Nicholas Schofield at the Roman Miscellany for this link to an article from The Age which sums it up: Da Vinci Code is no cracker

And here is a review from Mulier Fortis on BBC Radio 4's disappointed coverage of the film.

Wuerl to Washington

Here is a post from American Papist on Bishop Wuerl's appointment to Washington.

When I was first teaching the permanent Deacons in the South of England, I used to recomment Wuerl's The Teaching of Christ. This was only superseded by the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I remember that it came out in French long before the English version. I used to translate sections for the students.

Bishop (soon to be Archbishop, and, please God, Cardinal) Wuerl was secretary to the great Cardinal Wright who did so much to support sound catechesis in the 1970s.

Surfing through the age range

Today was one of those days that makes me glad to be a priest. After morning Mass, I prepared a class for the Religious Studies Ad-Level group at our Sixth Form College, St Luke's. They are taking their exam on 14 June so we were revising a couple of topics and looking at how to write the best exam answer. These were students just about to leave College so 17-18, I guess. They are great people and I pray that they will all get A grades in their exam.

Then over to Our Lady of the Rosary School for Mass with Year 4 - these children are 8-9 years old. A while back, I got fed up with the themes from All That I Am (Building Bridges, Special Places etc.) and undertook to produce Mass texts myself. So today, being not too far from the feast day, we had a Votive Mass of the English Martyrs. Lots of parents turned up for the Mass so I hope they also got a sense of our great Catholic history in England.

A short stop at home where I could do some work at the desk, then back to the same school for a a Curriculum Committee meeting - looking at how the school is juggling Government demands with the exigencies of real life.

After that, the rehearsal for the first Communion Mass. I have baptised many of the children and it is lovely to see them growing up and learning to take part in the Mass. We prayed for fine weather on Saturday and I encouraged them to think most of all of the wonderful gift of receiving Jesus in Holy Communion for the first time. These occasions are good for all of us - they help us to focus once again on the loving condescension of the Father in sending his Son to us.

Liturgical express

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Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Cambridge Faith Forum

The Cambridge Faith Forum meets in the Hall next to the magnificent Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in the centre of Cambridge. The series of talks has been open to the parish but the attendance has mainly been from students who are at the University. If you are interested, you can get a download a copy of my talk on Dawkins, Evolution and Atheism.

The questions were most interesting and thought-provoking. It was encouraging to meet such a good group of students who love their faith. I was sorry not to be able to stay longer with them afterwards but I had to face the drive back to Blackfen. The photo shows a few of the group at the pub afterwards. I hope to be able to meet up again with some of them at the Faith Summer Session in August.

Bloggers meet

The visit to Cambridge was also an opportunity to meet Fra Lawrence OP, the author of Contemplata aliis Tradere".

It ended up being quite a journey from Parkminster. Before I even got off the M23, the matrix signs were warning of "Long Delays" from Junction 2 to Junction 30 of the M25. By the time I got to Sevenoaks, the signs had changed to indicate that the jam was from Junction 3. So I had to detour via the M20, Kidbrooke and the Blackwall Tunnel. Fortunately I got there in time but had to grab a quick bite at the service station rather than being able to eat with Edmund and Fiorella in Cambridge.

Fra Lawrence told me some other news (well "news" to me out in the sticks). My old friend Fr Richard Conrad is the Prior at Blackfriars in Cambridge.

Baby Hugh and Aunty Joanna's Quilt

The picture shows Hugh Ambrose Nash, born on the 20th of April 2006, son of Edmund and Fiorella Nash. Baby Hugh came along to my talk last night at Cambridge to learn about Richard Dawkins, Evolution and Atheism. This could be noted down now as an edifying story to include in a version of his life for children after his eventual canonisation.

Fiorella tells me that the quilt in which he is ensconced was made by Great-Aunty Joanna. (Alas, Joanna, you have to join me now in the ranks of the "Great".) There was some speculation that some of the material may have seen previous service on the back of a certain barrister of the Middle Temple, his Great-Uncle Jamie.

Parkminster - entrance

This is the view on passing through the main entrance at Parkminster. The doors that you can see ahead are the entrance to the Great Cloister which is, I think, a third of a mile long. The Church is straight ahead and is divided into two choirs. Here is a site with some good pictures of Parkminster.

Monday, 15 May 2006

From St Hugh's to baby Hugh

A mini road trip today. I will be at St Hugh's Charterhouse, Parkminster for 2pm to lecture and stay on for Vespers. Then on to Cambridge to give a talk on "Richard Dawkins, Evolution and Atheism" at the Catholic Parish of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in the centre of Cambridge. The talks there are arranged by Edmund and Fiorella Nash whose first child, Hugh Ambrose Nash, was born 20 April 2006. If I remember to bring my camera, I may be able to post a photo tomorrow.

I realise that evolution is much more controversial in the USA than it is here. Basically I have no problem accepting the scientific account of evolution in accord with the limits set by Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis. Far from proving atheism, as Dawkins alleges, evolution can be used as part of the proof for the existence of God. Just have to revise a few things before I leave and I'll post a link to the talk tomorrow.

Helpers of God's Precious Infants - forthcoming vigils

The Helpers of God's Precious Infants have two forthcoming vigils:

24 May 2006 led by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, beginning at St Francis' Church, Week Street, Maidstone. Mass at 10am followed by procession to Marie Stopes abortion facility. Return to Church at 12 followed by tea and get-together (please bring packed lunch.)

27 May 2006 led by Fr John Seddon OSB, beginning at St Margaret's Church, 130 St Margaret's Road, East Twickenham. Mass at 9am followed by exposition, procession to BPAS abortion facility, Benediction at noon followed by tea and get-together (please bring packed lunch.)

As ever, these are prayerful and peaceful processions, undertaken with full police co-operation. Do go along if you are in either of these areas or if you have the opportunity to travel.

Deanery Clergy Social

The "Deanery Clergy Social" is one of those institutions unique to the Catholic priesthood. In Bexley Deanery, ours is quite well supported. We meet on a Sunday night in one of the presbyteries from 8pm and finish at 10pm. The host provides drinks and a simple buffet. It's a very simple way for priests to get together and sound off to one another. The combination of strong personalities, varied theological views and over two centuries of parish experience between us makes for a lively and entertaining evening.

Clergy are always avid for news of what is happening in the Diocese. The nugget of gold in this respect is usually Fr John O'Donoghue's latest from the Golf Club. Fr John was a curate at St Mary's in West Croydon when I made my first communion there. We were also able to catch up on news of some of the families that I knew when I was a boy.

It is odd for me as the Dean being the youngest parish priest in the Deanery. As well as Fr O'Donoghue, there is Fr Ryman who taught me chemistry at secondary school. The good thing is that there is no way I could bully them!

Sunday, 14 May 2006

First communions and today's generation of parents

We have over 50 first communions in the parish each year so we divide the group into three and have Mass on three consecutive Saturdays. The Church is full for each but not too uncomfortably full. One problem for parish priests is that many people come for the occasion who do not come to Church regularly. Here is the set of "Monitions" in this year's revised version:
The parish of Our Lady of the Rosary offers a warm welcome to all our visitors and guests for the celebration of the first Holy Communion Mass.

The children have been working very hard to prepare for this great day. Please help them to receive this Most Holy Sacrament in a spirit of prayer and recollection by preserving the dignity and solemnity of this sacred occasion. In particular, you are kindly asked to observe the following:

Please switch off your mobile phone
Do “double check” just before Mass just in case you have forgotten.

Please do not talk during the Mass
The Church is a “sacred space”. We believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the tabernacle (that is fundamental to today’s celebration.) Therefore it is not appropriate to talk during the Mass except, if necessary, in a whisper. People sometimes forget this during the collection and during the distribution of Holy Communion. Please do take extra care to be silent during the whole time that Communion is given out.

Please do not take photos or videos during Mass
Because of the large number of people who would like to take photographs, it would spoil the occasion if everyone took photos or videos during the Mass. After Mass, a professional photographer will be on hand and you are welcome to take your own photos inside the Church or outside in the grounds.

Please be reverent at Holy Communion
To receive Holy Communion, you should be a practising Catholic and in a state of grace (living in accord with the Church’s teaching and free from serious sin.)
If you are receiving Communion today, please do so with reverence. In particular, you must consume the sacred host before you stand or leave the altar rail.

If you do not come to Mass every Sunday, and have not been to confession in preparation for receiving Communion today, you should not come up to Communion but make a “spiritual communion” instead (see page 7 - where a Spiritual Communion prayer is provided).

If you are a non-Catholic Christian and communicate in your own Church, you are welcome to come for a blessing. Please indicate this by crossing your arms across your chest.
These "Monitions" are published in the booklet provided for the people and I run through them before vesting for Mass.

At yesterday's Mass, the people participated very reverently and there was quiet all through the Mass (apart from one or two babies and I made it clear that we don't mind about that.) It made for a most reverent occasion and was very much appreciated by the families. I do love the first Communion Masses and delight in the privilege accorded to the parish priest of giving children their first Holy Communion.

In the afternoon, I went to join a group of eight families who had hired the "Old Dartfordians" rugby club for a reception - along with the now obligatory "bouncy castle". I was talking to one of the fathers, a non-Catholic, who was very politely comparing the Mass with one he had recently attended elsewhere. He said that he did not really know the right way to put it but that ours was more "professional". I suggested to him that "traditional" might be the right word. Our Mass is in English in the new rite but I was referring to the fact that the hymns at communion were Jesus Thou art Coming, O Bread of Heaven, and Soul of my Saviour, the children kneel for communion at the altar rails and are instructed to receive Holy Communion on the tongue. Basically, there is no messing about.

His response was interesting. He said "Oh no, the people at the other Church were all much older. At your Church, they were all young families." People still naturally associate "traditional" with an older generation. Increasingly, I find that the older generation, those who lived the excitement of the aggiornamento, are lovingly attached to "modern hymns" (i.e. songs made popular 30 years ago), receiving communion in the hand, and the priest "facing the people". The present generation of young parents who do come to Church recognise something precious in the tradition, think that kneeling for communion is obviously better, and would be quite taken with the idea of an Eastward-facing celebration if it were properly explained.

Saturday, 13 May 2006

How to woo Eccleston Square officials

The Herald has a rather daring article today by Luke Coppen, the Editor, on the Comment page. It advocates that the bishops reform the bureaucracy of Eccleston Square; attacks the multi-million pound campaign to persuade rich Catholics to fund the offices; and draws attention to the problems with Caritas which needs £170,000, apparently, to continue its work which has included strong support for the idea that parents should not be allowed to smack their children when they are naughty.

The article begins with a cosy insight into the Editor's way of obtaining information. He talks of knowing when an Eccleston Square official, lunching at the Herald's expense, is about to reveal something interesting. I'm a little skeptical about this because some of those people are not inexperienced in spin-doctoring and it is a fair bet that they have decided some time before lunch exactly which bean they are going to spill and when.

I wonder, though, if my friend Ron who works "on the print" might be able to help a little. I show him the bit where it says that the candid turn of conversation... usually when the bill is presented on a silver salver with mints rolling round it like marbles.
Seeing this, Ron knowingly smiles, shakes his head, and says "That's 'is problem". I ask him to explain:
Well Father, the thing is, with these fancy-pants types up at Eccleston Square, you don't want to be taking them to the sort of restaurant where they gives you the bill on a coin tray from the pound shop and then bung on a handful of mint imperials to make it look posh. No, with these blokes, you have to go to one of those places where they give you fourteen inch square plates and, whatever you order, it comes in a two and a half inch cylinder with red gravy zig-zagged over it and a couple of dried plants on the side.
Disclaimer: This article contains a certain amount of fiction. The best response is to treat it as harmless fun.

This week's spin

Not sure if this is spin or just incompetence. The Herald has a piece on the recent attack on SPUC which they rightly headline as a "poison letter campaign". Basically some anonymous nutter and his/her friend have formed "The 1967 Committee for Godly Governance" and sent round a letter slandering SPUC, saying that it spends most of its money on administration.

Paul Tully from SPUC is quoted as saying
The letter contains a number of misleading and false assertions. We refute these. The point is clearly to mislead pelple and damage SPUC and the pro-life movement as a whole.
but the article then goes on to quote several of the misleading and false assertions without further comment.

As a long-time supporter of SPUC, I have to say that I consider any money I have donated to their high quality work to be very well spent.

Mac has a blog!

Mac McLernon has now started her own blog Mulier Fortis. There is a fine opening rant on inclusive language.

Friday, 12 May 2006

Interview with Archbishop Burke

The Archbishop of St Louis in the USA, interviewed by Brian Mershon has some very sensible things to say about the old rite of Mass and the sacraments.

Sickest Mother's Day idea ever

The so-called "Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice" is suggesting that for Mother's Day you donate to their pro-abortion cause. (Make this a pro-choice Mother's Day) I wonder what Sigmund Freud would have made of that.

DVC and Hollywood double standards

Opus Dei requested that Sony Pictures include a disclaimer in the film to state that it is a work of fiction. The director, Ron Howard, has refused to include one.

The post No Da Vinci Disclaimer at Gerald Augustinus' blog lists fictional films which included a disclaimer to limit offence to particular groups - Asians, Blacks, Gays, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Native Americans, Nearsighted and Wolves. (Yes, wolves!)

Gerald's post quotes from the article It's show time for Ron Howard from the excellent "Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights" in the USA. Bill Donohue ends the piece by saying:
Apparently, Ron Howard is more of a gambler than I thought. Had he done what other directors have done before him and put in a disclaimer, the risks to his reputation would have been minimal. Now it’s show time for Mr. Howard, and not just his movie.
(Meanwhile, here in England, the gung-ho approach of the "Da Vinci Code Response Group" is to say it is harmless fun.)

Parents' Faith Club

As a parish priest, you have to try various things out to teach people the faith and to encourage them to a deeper spiritual life. The best ideas are often those that arise spontaneously from parishioners. One such was the "Parents' Faith Club".

One of the mothers at my Junior School said "Father, you're always talking to young people about the Catholic faith but we didn't learn much about it when we were young. Can you do a group for us?" The only possible answer to that sort of request is, of course, "Yes!"

We arranged to meet in the Junior School chapel. This is half of a converted classroom and has an altar designed by the children (quite simple but rather better than some of the horrors exposed on The Cafeteria is Closed), some good pictures on the wall and some coloured glass decorations for the window. The Blessed Sacrament is not reserved and the chapel is used for the Rosary, for confessions and for classes to pray together sometimes.

We meet at 2.45pm, finishing just before 3.30pm when the parents go to collect their children to take them home. It is quite informal - we begin with a prayer from the Simple Prayer Book so that the parents can become familiar with some of the prayers they were not taught when they were young. Then I usually give some input which leads to discussion and questions about various issues. The sorts of things that have come up have included most of the important current moral issues relating to love and marriage, divorce, annulment, IVF ... We also look at some historical issues - usually in response to something that has been said on the telly. Today, we talked about relics following what seems to have been a quite good programme on SKY. We have also gone through an overview of some of the books of the Bible - this is our current fallback. Previously, we have gone through the Creed, the Sacraments, the Commandments and the order of Mass.

This sort of group is necessary because of the failure of catechetics for so many years to teach anything of the content of Catholic Doctrine.

The group is quite small but has had great fruits. Because of the almost infinite capacity of mothers of school-age children for networking, the impact of the group has been much greater than would be expected from the rather small number (not normally more than half a dozen.) Many of the mothers have joined the Union of Catholic Mothers, they have re-started the Lunch Club for the elderly and have become much more involved in many areas of parish life.

It is called the "Parents' Faith Club" (originally "Group" but that seemed to get changed). However, it is only Mothers who come. The next thing is - how do we get the Dads more involved? I look with admiration on the American Church where so many dioceses have Mens' Councils etc. and parishes all have their Mens' Group and retreats for Men. Here, we have feminised the Church so much with touchy-feely spirituality and aggressive feminism that the men are marginalised. One doctor in my parish put a good point to me. He said "If people think religion is only for women, tell them to go and visit their local mosque."
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