fredag 19 januari 2018

Stop criticising Pope Francis

The high altitude wedding ceremony conducted by the Pope has, predictably, attracted criticism from the many conservative Catholics who run blogs and websites complaining about the state of the Catholic church and criticising the Pope. This is washing dirty laundry in public. Christians should not do it. It gives scandal, in the real sense of the word: it sets up a stumbling block against belief. It is also spiritually damaging to those who engage in the sport.

Criticism has been going on for the past 45 years, but until the election of the present Pope, the primary focus was not the Pope but the liturgy, following the reforms of Vatican II. What seems to have been lost in most of this criticism is that these reforms were the outcome of a movement whose origins can be traced at least three-quarters of a century before that; it was in 1910 that Pope Pius X found it necessary to make clergy swear an oath against Modernism, which indicates the scale of the ferment of unrest. Thus Vatican II was the start of it, because liturgy is both a product of doctrine and a shaper of belief; “Lex orandi, lex credendi”. The phrase in Latin literally means the law of prayer “the way we worship”) is the law of belief (“what we believe”). What is happening now is the outcome of a process that began long before Pope Francis was born. That there was a run of solidly conservative popes from the middle of the eighteenth century at least until Pius XII has caused complacency. It is no secret that some of the popes have been a disgrace to the office, not the least being Julius II whose actions kicked off the Reformation.

People who are unhappy about the situation should bear this in mind. They should also consider Pope Francis within the wider context of the office of the papacy as such. In order to do this, it is necessary to desist absolutely from personal criticism, especially in public. It is a distraction from the underlying issue, which is how the Petrine ministry has developed from the moment that Christ himself uttered the famous phrase recorded in Matthew 16:18.

How the liturgy was restored in an English parish

The following piece is an edited and updated version of a submission I wrote in 2013 as part of a submission to my local parish council. Although nothing was done at the time, the Parish Priest subsequently adopted the general principles. In the very different circumstances of my present parish, it was a courageous thing to do. He seems to have little support from most of his parishioners, who are dominated by ex-Lutherans and want in the Catholic church what they have always had in their former Lutheran home. Worse still, he receives no support, and from some, outright opposition, from his fellow clergy. Nor is there any support from the Diocese, whose approach to liturgy is pick-and-mix, which rules out the Traditional form of the Mass at Diocesan events. Nor, of course, is there support from Rome.

St Mary Magdalen’s is the city centre parish in Brighton, Sussex. It was the second Catholic parish in the town. The church building opened in stages as it was completed between 1861 and 1864. The architect was Gilbert Blount, architect to the Archdiocese of Westminster. It seems to have been a poor parish, with congregations drawn from the servant class. The more prosperous Catholics who arrived towards the end of the nineteenth century settled in Hove, to the west, which was developed to a spacious layout with wide streets designed for travel by carriage. The influx of intellectual converts to the English Catholic church during the inter-war period made its mark. If I recall correctly, the renowned Fr Wallace, Master of Ceremonies at Westminster Cathedral, was parish priest in the early part of the twentieth century, and it is likely that during his time there, such well-known individuals as Chesterton and Belloc attended Mass at St Mary Magdalen’s. Following the Second Vatican Council, the church was re-ordered in the early 1970s.

There was a long tradition of Gregorian chant in the parish, which continued under the incumbency of Canon Joseph Flanaghan, who remained as parish priest until his death on Ascension Day 1990, and apart from the change to the Novus Ordo and versus populum celebration, the main Sunday High Mass continued to be in Latin.

On the death of Canon Flanaghan, there was a disruptive interregnum of several months, after which Fr David Mascall, then in his late forties, took over the parish. Fr Mascall imposed changes which by 1990 had become standard practice elsewhere but were significant for St Mary Magdalen’s, which had not yet caught up: abandonment of Latin, communion received standing, in the hand and in both kinds, and eucharistic ministers. Further alterations were carried out to the church itself, including removal of the communion rails and disposal of the set of six large candlesticks. These changes were well received by a minority, mostly parishioners then in their fifties, but on the whole they were disliked. Perhaps one-third of the congregation was lost, probably to the neighbouring Sacred Heart parish.

There followed a further period of relative stability until Fr Mascall was replaced by four Norbertine priests, who had been given charge of the parish with the aim of developing it. Unfortunately, one died soon afterwards, one was appointed school chaplain and had insufficient time to attend to the parish, and a third had to leave to care for an infirm parent. In the meantime, numbers dwindled and it seemed likely that the parish would close.

Thus when Fr Blake arrived in 2001, the parish was in bad shape. The liturgy was as bad as an English liturgy could be at the time, with the deficiencies of the ICEL translation compounded by dismal music, mostly of 1970s origin. An immediate change was that Fr Blake made himself available to hear confessions after every weekday and Saturday Mass, and parishioners were encouraged to receive this sacrament regularly, for example, one a month. The liturgy remained substantially unaltered, whilst the parish priest spent time getting to know parishioners and getting the feel of the parish; he made a special point of making himself available so that the people felt free to talk to him.

After a while he started to pass round books such as “Spirit of the Liturgy” and “Turning towards the Lord”, and tried to gauge people’s reactions to the ideas expressed.

The next change was to get the parish singing the Ordinary and Responses in Latin at the main Sunday High Mass. This was phased in over several months, beginning with the singing of the Creed, followed by the Pater Noster, and the other responses after that. At the same time Fr Blake began occasional experiments with other aspects of the liturgy, more often on weekdays; these included Ad Orientem celebration and silent recitation of the Canon (in English), as suggested in “Spirit of the Liturgy”. There were a few complaints, mostly from people in their seventies who had been enthused by the Vatican 2 changes thirty years before, but on the whole the response was positive and congregations started to grow.

Following the publication of Summorum Pontificum in 2007, Fr Blake attended one of the courses run by the Latin Mass Society and learned to celebrate Mass in what had been re-named the “Extraordinary Form”. Having learned it, the EF Mass was then celebrated from time to time, sometimes with a visiting choir, mostly on special occasions such as Fr Blake’s own Jubilee. A parish choir was established, with the aim of leading the congregation in the singing of the Gregorian chant settings of the Ordinary.

The next change was the introduction of the new English translation in 2010; the Bishop had no objection to its experimental use ahead of the official starting date. One of the striking features was the slightly old-fashioned feel of the language and a more extensive vocabulary than people would normally use. Attempts were made to use the musical settings of the English proper and responses. These proved troublesome and members of the choir expressed a preference for the Latin, which we then adopted, either those in the Graduale Romanum or simple psalm tone settings. By this time the choir leader had attended courses in Gregorian chant, including a week at Solemnes.

This was also the time when church renovation had become urgently necessary, and the opportunity was taken to re-order the sanctuary, with the altar being moved back as close as possible to its original position, whilst not preventing versus populum celebration. This was primarily to satisfy the requirements of the diocesan architectural committee, whose consent was necessary; by this stage, there was little enthusiasm in the parish for celebration in this configuration.

Attempts were made to establish a regular EF Mass. Fr Blake took, and still holds, the view that the parish was not yet ready for the celebration of the main Sunday High Mass in the Extraordinary Form, although some parishes have made the change successfully. A regular Sunday morning Low Mass at 9 am was poorly attended and was then shifted to 4 pm. The main Sunday High Mass is mostly in Latin, including the Proper, with hymns in the process of being phased out. It is well attended, and includes a families with children, who are asked to sit at the front where they engage their attention in what is happening and do not cause a disturbance, which had been a problem when they sat at the back of the church.

The EF Mass continues to be celebrated for the whole parish on special occasions – feast days, on the patron saint’s day, and also on the correct day when the feast has been officially transferred to the following Sunday; many people make a point of attending on the “proper” day. These Extraordinary Form are much appreciated by most people in the parish.

Perhaps the most important result of Summorum Pontificum, however, was the introduction of a weekly EF Mass on Friday evenings. This was followed by coffee and snacks, and a catechesis class. This innovation was been well supported and attracted a new and growing congregation of well educated young people, especially recent converts. There were two vocations from this group in 2012. Unfortunately, due to ill-health, Fr Blake was unable to continue with this, but it became for a while the parish’s principal means of evangelical outreach, an experience which must be of relevance at many parishes elsewhere with similar characteristics.

torsdag 18 januari 2018

‘Inadequate digital organ in St Peter’s Basilica’

An online petition signed by 10,000 people has asked Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Vatican’s liturgy chief, to intervene, saying the instrument is “inadequate” for the space. I noticed that myself at the Christmas Eve broadcast of Midnight Mass, though I was more put out by the dropping of the Gregorian setting for the Midnight Mass Alleluia, when something else was sung instead.

The organ, donated by the American Alleyn Organ Company, was first used for Mass on Christmas Eve, replacing the Basilica’s main pipe organ, which officials believe is unsatisfactory.


How about not having an organ at all? It is not as if Catholic liturgical music requires one.

Article in Catholic Herald

torsdag 4 januari 2018

Economists’ flawed gravity model

One of the arguments put up for the UK’s membership of the EU is the gravity model - that trade depends on proximity.

However, trade also depends on factors such as the presence of intervening oceans and the effects of language, legal systems, traditions, cultural and family ties. Members of ethnic groups eg Jews, Chinese, Indians - can easily trade with their friends and family half way round the world.

The gravity model also denies comparative advantage. If you want grapes in January you have to get them from somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere. Comparative advantage also works against the UK in regard to trade with continental Europe, due to the costs of transport. A manufacturer in Germany is perfectly placed for overland delivery to half a billion customers. The UK producer has sixty million within overland delivery range. To reach the rest, the goods must be sent over the sea.

Only the south-east corner of the UK is geographically close to continental Europe. Most of the country is a long drive to Dover or Cheriton, including around the congested M25 or M27. Otherwise, a long ferry crossing must be used: from Hull, Immingham, Harwich or Tilbury, to one of the continental ports between Gothenburg and Zeebrugge, depending on the destination.

Once goods are put in a container and loaded onto a ship, the economics of the logistic operation changes, as the cost of distance becomes trivial. Ports on the UK’s west coast are poorly placed for freight movement to continental Europe. From Liverpool, for instance, it takes little longer to send goods across the Atlantic than it does to send them to Hamburg.

People should look more critically at the over-simplified models that apply in economic theory.

tisdag 2 januari 2018

The threat from the Bear

An American general, Robert Neller, the US marine corps commandant, warned US troops stationed in Norway at the end of last year that he felt “there’s a war coming”. His spokesperson later said the general did not believe a battle imminent, but was stressing the need “to be ready for the full spectrum of conflict”.

This is frightening. It seems that military considerations are apparently taking precedence over political and economic ones in Eastern Europe.

Most of the problems are residual from the break-up of the Soviet Union. In part, they have arisen from the mis-location of borders eg Ukraine, the boundary of which was drawn up at a time when there was never any thought that what was a state of the Soviet Union might become an independent country.

Countries which were annexed by the Soviet are a different matter, although historically there were always significant Russian populations within the Baltic countries. In the years after 1938, however, there was effectively a “plantation” of Russians, with the result that large Russian populations have ended up on the “wrong” side of borders which in principle are rational. Some of the Baltic countries seem to have been smarter than others in the way they have treated their “stranded” Russians inside their borders. The most satisfactory option has been where the Russians were given citizenship which has allowed them to live and work anywhere in the EU, thereby removing the potentially discontented.

The problem is compounded by the EU’s trade policies. Barriers to trade with non-EU countries cause damage to the economies of regions within at least 150 km on both sides of the border. Trade relationships which would develop naturally are stymied. This is the situation which seems likely to develop if there is a “hard” border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

The danger is not only of possible conflict but that EU countries are losing sight of the potential for conflict within their own borders; the rising cost of anti-terrorism measures is an indication of the way things could go. In this respect, Russia and the EU countries, far from being potential enemies, have a shared concern in dealing with a problem that affects both.

söndag 31 december 2017

A golden age of Catholicism

The period of 150 years from the end of the Napoleonic wars can, in retrospect, be seen as a golden age of Catholicism. An unbroken succession of first rate popes, from Pius IX to Pius XII, built on, and consolidated, the work of each and all of his predecessors.

Missionaries spread the faith round the world. Irish immigration brought a wave of Catholicism to America and Great Britain. In Britain, it was boosted by the aftermath of the Oxford Movement, with the conversion of Newman, Manning, Vaughan and many others from the English upper classes. Then came the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850, with the re-establishment of Catholic dioceses. This was followed by a vigorous period of church building, many by notable architects such as A W Pugin and Joseph Aloysius Hansom. Religious orders such as the Benedictines, Sacred Heart Sisters, and Oratorians, set up new communities all over the world. There were six seminaries in England alone, training a steady and ample flow of priests.

A flourishing Catholic intellectual culture developed, with such renowned lay figures as Belloc, Chesterton, Sheed and Ward, the Meynells, J R R Tolkien. Notable Jesuits included Gerald Manley Hopkins, Frederick Copleston, Martin D’Arcy, and Cyril Martindale in Britain. Bishop Fulton Sheen was a famous and popular broadcaster in the USA. Another famous clergyman was Chesterton’s fictitious Fr Brown (modelled on a Roman Catholic friend, Fr John O’Connor, a parish priest). The Catholic church attracted famous converts: in addition to Chesterton, were, amongst many others, Compton Mackenzie, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Christopher Hollis, Alec Guinness - it is a large and diverse list.

The period also saw a renewal of Catholic liturgy, grounded in the painstaking restoration of Gregorian Chant by the Solemnes monks from the 1870s onwards, and the publication of the Vatican edition of the Liber Usualis and other chant books. There was new Catholic music too, by composers such as Bruckner, Elgar, Dupre and the organist Olivier Messaien.

The Catholic church did not attract just famous people. In his autobiography, “Goodbye to all that”, Robert Graves describes how the Catholic chaplains would remain with the men at the front in the trenches so that they could be available to hear the confessions of the dying soldiers. As a consequence, Graves explains, many of the men claimed to be Catholics when they were not, so that they could have a chaplain assigned to them. Naturally, this had its effect and drew converts into the Catholic church.

In the 1950s, the Catholic church seemed to have a bright future ahead. The model priest was, perhaps, someone like the one portrayed by Bing Crosby in “Going my way” and “The Bells of St Mary’s”, which came out in 1944 and 1945.

In retrospect, the end came suddenly. It was soon after the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958. The Second Vatican Council ushered in a series of liturgical reforms which left the Catholic church unrecognisable. Religious vocations dwindled to a trickle. Mass attendances slumped. A series of scandals revealed that that there had been ugly things going on beneath the surface. 

From 1978 onwards with the election of Pope John Paul II, it looked as if the changes had gone as far as they were going and that we would see the swing of a pendulum. Since 2013, however, the momentum for further change has gathered once more. Although the unexpected can happen, and the Holy Spirit moves in surprising ways, it is unlikely that the decline will be reversed within the lifetime of most people alive today, if ever. The strongest shoots of Christian growth today are to be seen in Moscow, of all places. Who would have predicted such a thing?

One wonders what the orthodox Catholic intellectuals of 100 years ago would have made of what is happening and how they would have responded to this confusing state of affairs?

lördag 30 december 2017

St Thomas of Canterbury

Today is the feast of St Thomas of Canterbury. He was a martyr in the cause of the independence of the church from state power. That it is a perennial issue we know from the episode of “render unto Caesar”.

At Brighton, during the 1980s, we had a curate, Fr Mark Elvins, who was a descendant of the Four Knights who murdered the Archbishop in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170. Fr Mark had acquired a relic of St Thomas whilst on a visit to Rome and brought it back to Brighton. This inspired him to set up a charity in Brighton to provide hostel accommodation for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, under the patronage of St Thomas.

The existence of these relics of St Thomas was against the will of King Henry VIII. All relics of St Thomas were to have been destroyed after the shrine was taken down in 1538, on the King’s orders. Henry demanded that all the bones be ground to dust and shot from a canon. The plan was confounded because long before, relics had been given to the Papal Legate and the King of France when they made a state visit to Canterbury; there was also a relic sent to Hungary.

After leaving Brighton, Fr Mark eventually joined the Franciscans and became head of Greyfriars, Oxford. He died in 2014.

When he was at Brighton Fr Mark used to celebrate a Tridentine Missa Cantata on this day, followed by a pub lunch. It was an event to look forward to in those indeterminate days between Christmas and New Year. I had thought of going to Mass today but it would just have made me unhappy as a reminder of what is, sadly, no more.

Stop criticising Pope Francis

The high altitude wedding ceremony conducted by the Pope has, predictably, attracted criticism from the many conservative Catholics who run ...