Saturday 30 August 2008

The Netherlands - the place to be last week?

Our parish priest was away for part of the last week, in the Netherlands.

Somehow, I don't think he was here. Visit here too, to find out about about the hermitage at Warfhuizen. Go here to see some photographs of the night time Eucharistic Adoration - in the "chapel tent" at the camp site.

I do think it would have been more in the spirit of the Bootcamp for Fr Tim to have been sleeping under canvas ......

Eucharistic Adoration: 5th September 2008

We have had a summer break from our "first Friday" times of Adoration in the parish. Our next afternoon/evening of Adoration has crept up on me a bit - it is due to take place this coming Friday.

For the Year of St Paul, the themes for each month will draw on the writings of St Paul. September is the month in which the Church particularly reflects on the meaning of the Cross, hence the theme for this month.

The poster above shows you my Year of St Paul branding.

Friday 29 August 2008

The US Presidential election just got interesting ....

It can be quite difficult to follow a US Presidential election campaign from over the pond. The subtleties of state/national politics and of the different personalities can be quite confusing when you aren't able to follow it all day-to-day.

As far as the Presidential nominees go, Diakonia has a useful post comparing Senator McCain and Senator Obama on a range of issues of interest to Catholic voters. I think Senator McCain, the Republican candidate, scores best ...

Senator Nancy Pelosi's comments, which suggested that the Catholic Church was not clear in teaching the moral wrong of all procured abortion, also drew a strong comment from Diakonia, criticising her misrepresentation of Catholic teaching. Fr Ray provides a list of links to the reactions- pleasingly hostile - of Catholic bishops in the United States. Senator Pelosi is a Democrat, speaker of the House of Representatives and a Roman Catholic (well, sort of?).

And then we come to the Vice-Presidential candidates. Senator Obama has chosen Senator Joe Biden. Senator Biden is a Catholic who is "personally opposed to abortion" but has supported it in the US legislature. As I understand the situation, he is someone to whom a policy of "Eucharistic consistency" means that he should not approach to receive Holy Communion.

And today's bombshell. Senator McCain, the Republican candidate, has chosen the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his Vice-Presidential running mate. The BBC News site has a profile of her here. And one of the bloggers on my blog roll is so cock a hoop that Sarah Palin's choice as running mate might well lead her to vote Republican instead of Democrat later this year ... Go here and look around the blog for Radical Catholic Mom's several posts on Sarah Palin. Thanks to her blog, I recognised the implications of Sarah Palin's being chosen as soon as I heard the name (I am very proud of that!) and before hearing any further explanation.

Oh, by the way, Sarah Palin is not a Catholic - according to Radical Catholic Mom, "she is a good Christian gal, but not one of our own" - and she is "strongly opposed to abortion". In other respects she is politically strongly conservative, which may not be everyone's cup of tea. But, as I say, the Presidential election just got interesting for American Catholics ...

PS: Go here for some of the US Catholic reaction ....

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Bishop O'Donoghue - Fit for Mission: Church (or, why we should not just use it for Church politics)

Bishop O'Donoghue's latest installment in the "Fit for Mission" series has now been published on the website of Lancaster Diocese - here, to be precise. It can be downloaded from this page, but the headings of the links are not very clear. If you hover your mouse over the ".pdf" links towards the top of the page, and look carefully at the address bar at the bottom of your browser (OK, Internet Explorer - I do not know what it will look like in other browsers), you should see the filenames appear and be able to spot the file for Fit for Mission: Church.

The news release accompanying the document begins:

The Diocese of Lancaster published Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue’s powerful new book, Fit for Mission? Church on Wednesday 27th August. Bishop O’Donoghue has written Fit for Mission? Church to foster and promote an authentic and confident Catholic identity among the men, women and children of the 21st century, to enable them to resist the pressures to compromise, even abandon, the truths of the Catholic faith.
I have only had a chance to scan read a small section of the document. I expect that it will be mined for particular references (one I saw encouraged the implementation of the provisions of the 2005 Revised General Instruction on the Roman Missal) that can be cited in critique of practice in parishes or dioceses. Its references to the role of the individual Bishop in relation to the Episcopal Conference have already been the subject of very politicised comment in the blogosphere.

Clearly, this document will have a political import for the life of the Church throughout England and Wales. As I have observed before in respect of the documents of Lancaster Diocese's Fit for Mission review, their ready availability on the website is a very welcome thing, though it does encourage them to be seen outside their diocesan context. At several points in the section of the new document that I have read, Bishop O'Donoghue includes suggestions for evaluation of practice in the diocese or of points for possible action. These are very practical and pastoral, and do not avoid potentially difficult issues, as for example, over the celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Liturgy in accordance with the provisions of the Revised General Instruction or of the central place of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for all those involved in catechetical work.

My reason for mentioning this is that I think it would be great shame if Bishop O'Donoghue's document were to be seen - and used - just as a "weapon of war" by traditionally minded Catholics. That is really to miss its main point. It is primarily addressed to the priests, deacons, catechists etc of Lancaster Diocese, Bishop O'Donoghue's own diocese, though I am sure the author is quite aware of the readership it will attract elsewhere. It is the implementation of its practical suggestions - both in Lancaster Diocese and elsewhere - that seems to me to be the core of what the document is about, and that will be achieved by a positive engagement with the document and with the people concerned rather than just the launching of political gunfire.

One thing that struck me about Fit for Mission: Church is that it has not been called a "vision document". But it is quite apparent, from even my short scan read, that it has been written with considerable vision. I think those who read it will come away thinking that Lancaster is a diocese to which they wished they belonged!

Thinking Faith - Dialogue and the Church

Though entitled "Dialogue and the Church", this series of three articles from the Jesuit on-line journal Thinking Faith is really about dialogue with other Christian churches, that is, about ecumenical dialogue. The articles can be found here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three.

The author, Paul Murray, is a contributor to an idea that he terms "Receptive Ecumenism". Given that the formal theological dialogues that might be represented by, for example, ARCIC, have not produced the progress towards corporate unity that was their original hope, "receptive ecumenism" gives priority to the partners in dialogue identifying what they might learn/receive from the others without compromising their own belief.

In Part One, there is a reflection on the meaning of the word "Catholic" as "in accordance with the whole". The first context for this reflection is a vision of "Catholic" as embracing everything in creation and onwards, towards and embracing Jesus Christ. As a question of dialogue, this means that everything in this world can express something of the truth of God. The second context might be described as "Petrine" and "Pauline". The Petrine principle is seen as the centripetal instinct which holds all things together in a unity of faith. The Pauline principle, however, is an opposite principle which seeks to take the fullness of the faith out into encounter with the nations. The two principles are complementary. Paul Murray suggests that the Catholic Church is rather good at recognising the Petrine principle, but that we could gain from the Protestant denominations a stronger sense of the Pauline principle.
Indeed, it may be that we as Roman Catholics need to re-receive the authentically Pauline dimension to our Catholicity from our Protestant brothers and sisters and the practices and structures that operate in their churches.
We can, of course, imply that the Protestant denominations would gain from a stronger appreciation of the Petrine principle. But what I found very interesting in this article was its implicit suggestion that to talk about the Petrine office or principle is something that is of the essence of ecumenical dialogue, and not at the periphery. Recent events in the Anglican communion, for example, show by their demonstration of the results of its absence, how vital a decisive reference point for doctrinal unity is.

Part Two presents a kind of "hermeneutic of continuity" as far as the idea of dialogue and the Catholic Church is concerned. The argument is that "a very considerable number" of Catholic theologians engaged with modern thought and culture before the Second Vatican Council. Paul Murray cites Newman and Rosmini from the 19th century and Adam, Guardini, de Lubac, Congar, Lonergan and Rahner as examples from the 20th century. So the idea that dialogue was absent from the life of the Church before Vatican II is not accurate.
In the documents of the Council itself, Paul Murray presents an argument (from Ann Michele Nolan) that two different Latin terms, "colloquium" and "dialogus", are both translated by the English word "dialogue", though they have significantly different implications in the orginal Latin. The Latin "colloquium" refers to dialogue as a kind of open conversation whereas "dialogus" refers, in the documents of the Council, to calls for formal exchanges between different parties and so has a more restricted sense. This more restricted sense should be seen as a concern to identify common ground with the interlocutor so that a more effective communication of existing Catholic understanding (as distinct from fresh understanding) can take place. This, Paul Murray suggests, may explain why the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has tended to give negative judgements on some ecumenically produced documents - it has been putting into practice this latter understanding of dialogue. So the Council itself is not as liberal in its understanding of dialogue as some might think, and this has been reflected in the life of the Church since the Council.

Part Three argues that it is possible to see in all of created reality a Trinitarian structure that derives from the Trinity who is/are its Creator. Writing of our appreciation of a particular scene or view in the world, the author writes:

So, we have showing forth and recognition and the energy, the movement, that brings this to be, but there is also a third dimension to the experience. This is the dimension at once of limitedness and excess; the dimension of both appreciating the intensity of the particular scene we behold and recognising it precisely to be particular and partial.
This limitedness/excess presents the world, and the Trinitarian God who is shown forth through it, as intrinsically dialogical. We are led to wonder at what we have already seen, but also to an openness towards the more into which we are still to grow. This is the underlying principle for an idea of dialogue as "receptive" in the sense of "receptive Ecumenism" referred to in Part One.

Whilst one or two aspects of this series of articles remain a little confusing (for me, for example, is the reference at the end of Part Three to "the diverse expressions of Christianity that have emerged over the course of Christian history as Christianity has become incarnated and shaped by quite different ... contexts" and the in passing remarks about dialogue within the Catholic Church), there is a very interesting focus on central Catholic teachings: the meaning of the word "Catholic" and of the Petrine office, and the focus on the doctrine of the Trinity. The teaching of Vatican II on dialogue is also presented in a way that was new to me - and which will encourage me to have a Latin text alongside the English translations as I read the Council documents!

Science, citizenship and conscience

I am currently working on a chapter on citizenship education for a Maryvale Institute PGCE coursebook. Reading around, and following one's intellectual nose rather than actually focussing on what is relevant, led me to look again at Joseph Rotblat. He was the only physicist engaged on the American project to design and build an atomic bomb who then left the project. duly delivered a book Joseph Rotblat: Visionary for Peace. The book contains a collection of essays in appreciation of the life and work of Joseph Rotblat; an appendix contains some of his key writings.

In one of the articles in the appendix, Joseph Rotblat describes why he first became involved in the atom bomb project and then why he left it. His initial involvement was justified on the basis of the possibility of the Germans developing such a weapon, and that the holding of such a weapon by the Allies would prevent the Germans using any weapon they might develop. When he realised that the Germans had abandoned their project, that the war in Europe was going to be over before the bomb was developed, and a casual conversation had revealed that the political aim of the project was a bomb to use to subdue the Russians in the period after the war, Joseph Rotblat asked permission to leave the project. Joseph Rotblat asks in his article why the other scientists involved did not make the same decision, even though the German factor was a key one to their involvement in the project. Though he was not at the time allowed to discuss the question with his colleagues, Joseph Rotblat put together the following account from his knowledge of them at the time, and from much later conversations:

The most frequent reason given was pure and simple scientific curiosity - the strong urge to find out whether the theoretical calculations and predictions would come true. These scientists felt that only after the test should they enter into the debate about the use of the bomb.

Others were prepared to put the matter off even longer, persuaded by the argument that many American lives would be saved if the bomb brought a rapid end to the war with Japan. Only when peace was restored would they take a hand in efforts to ensure that the bomb would not be used again.

Still others, while agreeing that the project should have been stopped when the German factor ceased to operate, were not willing to take an individual stand because they feared it would adversely affect their future career.

The groups I have just described - scientists with a social conscience - were a minority in the scientific community. The majority were not bothered by moral scruples; they were quite content to leave it to others to decide how their work would be used. Much the same situation exists now in many countries in relation to work on military projects. But it is the morality issue at a time of war that perplexes and worries me most.

The emphasis is mine. And, reflecting on issues of citizenship in present day developed nations, how many professional spheres are there in which the same judgement can be applied?

In the medical profession, on questions of abortion and contraception.

In the teaching and health care professions, questions of education about human sexuality and, frankly, the promotion of a sexually active life style, be it heterosexual or gay, outside marriage as a normal part of living.

In the advertising and film industries, questions of the portrayal of sexuality and violence.

In how many of these spheres are professionals expected, through codes of practice or publicly funded policy initiatives, to simply "go with the flow", put aside their own personally held convictions, and implement programmes which conflict with their moral convictions?

Sadly, I suspect that most people combine the lack of moral scruples with a wish for career progression that Joseph Rotblat identified in connection with the atom bomb project and just give in to the public policy line on whatever affects their professional competence.

But the exercise of moral responsibility in civil society - and this is what responsible citizenship is - demands exactly the opposite. It needs people of conscience, people who will act in society in accordance with their personally held convictions. In the British educational scene, this has very uncomfortable implications for the citizenship programmes of study in schools. "Social and moral responsibility" has been clearly recognised as one of three principles for effective citizenship education (see the Keystage 3 and 4 programmes of study) .... but will it really be allowed to develop genuine education in moral responsibility? Unlikely ...

Monday 25 August 2008

A Neocatechumenal church - or how a diocese relates to a movement

South Ashford Priest has been on his holidays and, as priests do, has posted some holiday snaps. These, though, are of Catholic churches in the Barrow area. I was particularly interested in the photos of St Patrick's Church. This church has been configured for the Liturgy as celebrated by the Neocatechumenal Way, since a previous parish priest had been a member of that movement and the church had been a centre of its activities. More than any other of the "new movements", the Neocatechumenal Way has been criticised for its way of relating to parishes and dioceses where it is present.

South Ashford Priest's photographs raised for me some questions:

1. Is the Neocatechumenal Way unusual among the new movements in that its charism involves an adaptation, or perhaps a certain re-design, of the celebration of the Church's Liturgy? My experience of other movements is that their charisms are exercised in conformity with the usual Liturgy of the Church, the specific aspects of the charism being often expressed in devotions or particular styles of prayer outside the Liturgy.

2. In the light of the above, should a parish in the care of the Neocatechumenal Way be allowed to re-design its Church for their particular "liturgical style"? This is significant if the parish might at some future date no longer be in the care of the Neocatechumenal Way.

3. Questions 1 and 2 are both questions about how the Neocatechumenal Way relates to parishes and dioceses where it is present. An understanding that I gleaned from reading their constitutions a year or two ago was that they envisage a situation where the Neocatechumenal Way has been accepted as the way in which the whole diocese undertakes its catechetical work. Their constitutions do not seem to envisage a situation where a Neocatechumenal Way parish has neighbouring parishes in the diocese who do things differently. The basis of this lies in the origins of the Neocatechumenal Way. Does this provide an explanation for the tensions that have sometimes arisen between the Neocatechumenal Way and parishes/dioceses?

The Holy See have directed that the Liturgy as celebrated by the Neocatechumenal Way be brought more into conformity with the practice of the universal Church. I suspect that this would resolve, at least to some extent, the questions raised above, though I am not clear that the directions have been fully implemented.

Sunday 24 August 2008

Photos from Battersea Power Station

Photo 1: Zero arriving on site ...

Photo 2: what the view in Photo 1 is planned to look like after the re-development of the site, all the buildings shown being under a glass-type eco-cover:
Photo 3: Inside one of the halls of the power station (its the tiling on the walls, apparently, that provides the artistic merit):

Photo 4: what the view in Photo 3 is intended to look like after re-development:

Photos 5 and 6: views of the central section of the power station, the roof of which was removed as part of an earlier, but unfinished, attempt at re-development:

Photo 7: what the central area is intended to look like after re-development:

Photo 8: on the way home ...

Can anyone explain to me why a derelict power station should have been turned into the visitor attraction it was today? It really is rather a wheeze to get people to visit and, while doing so, to fill out your feedback form on the development plans!

Saturday 23 August 2008

With vision.....


Following Mass in the splendour of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Farm street Mayfair I persuaded Joe to venture out to South London as I had read rave reviews of tours of Battersea power station. This was a last chance to see the art-deco style building before re-development.

We followed vast amounts of pilgrims (do they read the same paper?)to the hallowed areas where you were allowed to see the remains of the building's beauty-which Joe described as a heap of rubbish and thought the decision to make it a listed buiding was a mistake.

No Herculanium or Pompeii it is not but it has it's own beauty- the remains of beautiful blue tiling on the walls and" stepping" in the columns of bricks and who couldn't be enamoured by those graceful chimneys(these are to be re-built due to corrosion).

The surrounding area is to be the place to be seen ! A new tube line to Battersea is planned , a six acre public park, river boat to the new site and river side homes for seven thousand residents and to top it all it is "zero carbon emissions"! Let us hope that after two failed attempts to re-develop the area in 1990 and 1993 this time the plans aren't affected by the "credit crunch" we have been promised.
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...could become

On the way back we went to St. Mary's in Cadogan street where we had to walk around the block as a wedding party were taking last photos and guests moving off in limousines- we arrived back at the church as the Bride and Groom were hailing a taxi!

St Mary's has some interesting, newer- looking, stain glass windows. If you are in London I would highly recommend a visit to the Farm Street church in Mayfair and if you are interested there is a tour of Battersea power station on August 30th-10am-5pm!

Thursday 21 August 2008

Appleby Horse Fair

Appleby is a small (2 500 inhabitants) town in Cumbria (north of England, just before it becomes Scotland for overseas visitors). Every year, in early summer, the town hosts a horse fair. For the Traveller community in Britain, this is their biggest event of the year. It always makes it on to the radio, by stint of the traffic delays caused as the horse drawn wagons make their way to and from Appleby. Over the long weekend this year, an estimated 200 000 people visited or stayed in the area.

Why would I be interested in this? Firstly, because Appleby is the town where my father was born, and I can remember visiting his family there. Secondly, because I have just come across a 47 minute film about the horse fair. This I came across looking for resources to help prepare some course materials on citizenship and religious education for Maryvale Institute's initial teacher training course. The film comes from a website called TeachersTV, which provides video materials for teacher's professional development and classroom use here in the UK.

The film is called "Gypsy Fair - Krush on the Drom", and can be downloaded or watched from here. It features gypsy teenagers investigating the background and importance of the Appleby Fair for their own lifestyles. Their explanations of their way of life are very articulate. There is a lovely section where we are shown round a traditional, horse drawn "living wagon" - many families still bring these out for their trip to Appleby, even though most Travellers now live either in houses or on fixed caravan sites. My favourite bit is at 31:50 minutes in, where a gypsy teenager showing the viewer round her caravan points out that, if you have an argument living in a caravan, you do not have the option of going out of the room and into another room to get away from it. You have to say sorry pretty quickly.

At this year's Appleby Horse Fair, Youth 2000 were asked to provide a Catholic presence, and so ran a weekend prayer festival there for the first time. Bishop O'Donoghue visited and, I think, celebrated Mass there.

Pope Benedict and respect for creation - what does the small print say?

ZENIT are today reporting on one of the questions Pope Benedict was asked during his meeting/conversation with priests in Bressanone. I do rather like the idea of these Q+A sessions - there is a kind of episcopal equivalent during the catecheses at World Youth Day, and some bishops have started doing them with young people in their dioceses. Substantially, though perhaps not juridically, I think this can be thought of as a form of "collegiality" between a bishop and his priests, or between a bishop and his people.

The question asked related to concern for planet earth, and is posted on the ZENIT website under the title "Pope notes secret to effective planet-saving". Pope Benedict has always linked concern for the world to recognition of the world as showing the glory of its Creator, though this latter aspect has sometimes slipped below the horizon of media coverage. Pope Benedict's answer reported here goes a little bit further, emphasising the connection between creation and redemption, and recognising that the full understanding of the doctrine of redemption depends on an understanding of the doctrine of creation.

"As long as the earth was seen as God's creation, the task of 'subduing' it was never intended as an order to enslave it, but rather as the task of being guardians of creation and developing its gifts; of actively collaborating in God's work ourselves, in the evolution that he ordered in the world so that the gifts of creation might be appreciated rather than trampled upon and destroyed."....

"The brutal consumption of creation begins where God is not, where matter is henceforth only material for us, where we ourselves are the ultimate demand, where the whole is merely our property and we consume it for ourselves alone. And the wasting of creation begins when we no longer recognize any need superior to our own, but see only ourselves. It begins when there is no longer any concept of life beyond death, where in this life we must grab hold of everything and possess life as intensely as possible, where we must possess all that is possible to possess.

"I think, therefore, that true and effective initiatives to prevent the waste and destruction of creation can be implemented and developed, understood and lived, only where creation is considered as beginning with God."

The doctrine of creation is, of course, likely to be a bit of a favourite for physicists ....

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Bishop O'Donoghue on the Permanent Diaconate

In the light of my recent post with regard to the permanent diaconate , I was very interested to come across Bishop O'Donoghue's policy statement on the subject. This was issued in November 2007 and, though it does not appear to be directly part of the "Fit for mission?" review process in the Diocese, it clearly has a relation to that process. The statement can be downloaded from the Lancaster Diocese website:, hover your mouse over the "About the Diocese", and click on the "Bishop's messages" link that appears.

Bishop O'Donoghue starts his statement:

We need a new vision of the identity and role of the Permanent Diaconate, one that widens the focus of the deacon from the service of the sanctuary, and sacraments, to embrace the service of suffering humanity, in all its variety. Too often, due to an over emphasis on liturgical and sacramental functions, deacons are seen as ‘mini-priests’ or merely ‘father’s helper’. Obviously, such a misunderstanding about the identity of the deacon is a sign that further development of this ministry is necessary.

Therefore, my main objective for the review is to re-vision the practice of the Permanent Diaconate in our diocese, which I see as an important element of our ‘Fit for Mission’ review.

I would perhaps add an observation about the Permanent Diaconate being seen as a kind of "retirement ministry", something that is taken up at the end of a working life. This lends itself to the misunderstanding of the identity of the Permanent Deacon that Bishop O'Donoghue identifies.

Bishop O'Donoghue includes a hard-hitting summary analysis of the pastoral/spiritual needs of people in his diocese, and presents the Permanent Diaconate as a ministry responding to these needs, the Deacon being a "specialist in Christian care":

However, the deacon is called to a unique role in the Church, because through the sacrament of Holy Orders he is an official representative of the Church. Through his integral, threefold ministry of Altar, Word, and Charity, the deacon is called to makes caritas [love] ‘visible’ as an essential expression of the Church’s nature.

Therefore, as specialists in Christian care, I see deacons having a vital role to play in organizing and extending our Church’s practise of love.

Whilst in many ways the tasks undertaken by a Permanent Deacon could also be undertaken by a lay person, Bishop O'Donoghue identifies the nature of the Deacon as an "official representative" through Ordination of the Church in these fields as distinguishing his identity from that of the lay person. My own thinking has tended to be around the role of the Permanent Deacon as an ordinary minister of the Eucharist, so he can be a presence of the Eucharist in the caring situation in a way that a lay person cannot.

Bishop O'Donoghue has convened a review group to look at the development of the Permanent Diaconate in his diocese. He has set clear terms of reference for the review, from which I extract the following:

Selection of candidates: Men should be chosen who have a clear understanding of the deacon’s unique role in the Church of enabling her practical self-offering in service to humanity.

They should also be equipped through experience, career, personality, or charism to serve as specialists in Christian care. For example, men already working or aspiring to work in social care, counselling, youth work, high school chaplaincy, healthcare, pastoral care, marriage counselling, catechesis. An alternative source of candidates would also be those men with proven ‘experience’ and skills as pastoral leaders, mentors, ‘listeners’, ‘befrienders’, spiritual directors.

Training of candidates: The formation programme should give equal attention to the three diaconal ministries of Altar, Word, and Charity, so as to equip the deacon as a specialist in Christian care. Therefore, the focus of training would shift from competence in liturgy, which will always be important, to embrace pastoral theology and practice....

Employment of deacons: As specialists in Christian care, deacons would have responsibility for leading and facilitating a range of chaplaincies, such as industry, hospitals, schools and colleges, and prisons. They would also develop chaplaincies specializing in the service of specific human need, such as chaplaincy to single-parents, migrants, the bereaved, addicts.

Monday 18 August 2008

Fit for Mission? Lancaster Diocesan pastoral review

On the 12th June 2008, Bishop O'Donoghue wrote to the people of his diocese of Lancaster:

My dear people,

Today, I received with great delight the long-awaited Final Proposals of the extensive Fit for Mission Parishes Review. This report marks the end of an extensive consultation. ...

... this Review was about mission and how we are to strengthen the communication of the Faith today. It was not all about the linking and merging of parishes though inevitably this will happen. What is of real concern is the prayer-life of our parishes, schools and homes and the living out of the faith with confidence. At the very heart of the mission of the Church is our being gathered together in Christ and being sent out as witnesses to Him and leading others to Him....

Now I must take time to study the proposals and pray about them before taking my own recommendations based on my consideration of The Final Proposals to the Diocesan Council of Priests. My first task, guided by the Council, is to make decisions about the future of those parishes identified as requiring immediate action.

The schools document relating to Lancaster Diocese's pastoral review has attracted both national and international attention. It forms part of a review of the activity of the whole diocese, the final report of which was published in June 2008. Both of these documents can be accessed from the diocesan website. The ready availability of this documentation is very welcome. The final report gives a clear transparency to the proposals for the future of the Diocese. These proposals are both structural (relating to which parishes should cease to provide Sunday Mass, grouping of parishes to form new parishes) and immediately practical (targets for individual parishes grouped under the headings of sacramental priority and mission priority). There are also indications of some points where future consultation should take place before a decision is made - I looked at Fleetwood, for example, where I spent part of my childhood, and can see three parishes that will become two, and eventually become one, with further consultation to take place as to which Church will be the one finally retained for Mass (the issue: the town centre church is a beautiful Pugin church, but it does not lie near the housing estates mostly grouped around the town, though the resident population of the town centre might grow in the near future).

The very detailed nature of the document shows how much has gone in to preparing it. The process has involved each parish having the opportunity to contribute, so I expect that many of the targets for individual parishes have been based on contributions from the parish itself. The transparency of its publication is very welcome. I think Bishop O'Donoghue should be given due credit for facing up to the challenge represented by falling Mass attendance and reducing numbers of priests in the diocese. This must involve a "management process" in the human sense, and that is reflected in the process that has led to the final document. There is a saying about praying as if everything depended on the prayer, and working as if everything depended on the work ....

However, and I think this can be seen in the documentation relating to the review and in Bishop O'Donoghue's letter quoted above, there is also an aspect of charism or grace that needs to be involved, too. I am not sure that this has reached through to the parish level targets, so I have some questions about these targets:

nowhere did I see any engagement with new movements in the Church, and, given their strength both in evangelising and in forming vocations to the priesthood and religious life, this seems a weakness in the document

there seems to be a lack of specific references to promotion of devotional life (eg Eucharistic Adoration, Marian devotion) outside what is strictly Liturgical prayer; such devotional life having important implications for Sacramental preparation and for the mission life of a parish, both of which are reflected in the parish targets

many parishes seem to need to train more catechists for sacramental preparation, including marriage preparation; but if this means that the priest will step back and leave the lay catechists to do it alone, then it won't do; the lay engagement is absolutely necessary, but accompanied by the priest

the setting up of Liturgy committees or groups represents an unnecessary bureaucracy; similarly, proposals for developing lay leadership

An interesting target which appears for several parishes is that of setting up a "faith focussed" youth group, which seems to recognise the hazard of youth groups that lack any religious aspect. Another interesting point relates to properties that will no longer be used for Sunday Masses. The responsibility for deciding what to do with these properties is identified as resting with the parish community in consultation with the diocese, there being a suggestion that such properties could still be used for worship (eg Liturgy of the Hours).

My real question is: how far will the implementation of these targets reduce to being effectively "bureacratic" in nature ("we must have 10 catechists by December"), which I do not think was the underlying intention of the pastoral review process, or how far will it be charismatic (by which I mean, responsive to grace)? Is the question of identifying a catechist, for example, going to be approached in terms of recognition of a calling given in grace or simply on the basis that we need some more catechists for this year? This is where the lack of engagement with the new movements - who each live out a founding charism - may turn out to be more significant than at first appears.

Saturday 16 August 2008

Abortion at the TUC - update

I posted earlier this week about a draft motion for the forthcoming TUC Congress.

In that post I suggested that the motion could only be understood as an attempt by those with an interest in abortion to promote abortion, regardless of any other considerations. The TUC motion will have been submitted to a time scale that means it pre-dates the pro-abortion amendments that have now been tabled for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

John Smeaton has posted on these amendments. As I read his post, the feeling that this was a "promote abortion at all costs" agenda was reinforced.

Celebrating the Assumption

My celebration began with first Vespers of the Solemnity here, on Thursday evening:

And ended with Solemn Mass here on Friday evening:

Going to Mass here is a distinctive experience. Since I last attended Mass here - quite some time now - there appears to have been some incorporation, I suspect just by custom and practice on the part of the congregation, of some Extraordinary Form rubrics into the Ordinary Form celebration. More than ever, the choir seem to have displaced the possibility of the congregation joining in with singing even relatively well known Gregorian chant settings. Whilst I expect that every parish has its own challenges as far as genuine participation in the Liturgy goes, Brompton Oratory's challenges are perhaps completely sui generis.

In between was fitted:

1. A visit to the Museum of the Order of St John, now an Order of Chivalry by Royal Charter of the English Crown. It traces its history back, in pre-reformation times, to the Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem. The work for which it is now best known is ... the St John Ambulanc Brigade. The order is also associated with an eye hospital in Jersualem, providing health care to residents of the Palestinian territories.The Museum and Library of the Order of St John is housed in the 16th century gatehouse, St John's Gate, that formed the southern entrance to a Priory covering 10-acres of Clerkenwell in medieval times.

2. A visit to the Italian Church in Clerkenwell. This is a rather lovely Church, dedicated to St Peter. I was particularly taken by the altar dedicated to St Joseph.

3. A visit to the bookshop at the London Institute of Education ....(yawn)

4. A visit to St Anselm's and St Cecilia's at Holborn. Sorry, no website or photo.

5. A visit to the Wren Church of St Bride, hidden just off Fleet Street. The Church on this site suffered in two particular fires - the Great Fire of 1666 and the German fire bombing of the City of London in 1940. During the reconstruction work after the latter, exploration was made of the crypts below the site, which revealed settlement going back to Roman times. It is possible to visit the crypt and see parts of the earliest walls of the Church, and a section of Roman flooring. The more modern history of the Church is associated with printing and the newspaper industry, which at one time dominated the Fleet Street area.

Wednesday 13 August 2008

TUC .... again ....

The draft agenda contains a second motion (motion P19) that will be of concern to Catholics. No need to be too concerned - abortion has been round before at the TUC, and, whatever "Congress believes", it is not binding on the policy making of affiliated unions! Again, the motion does not come from an affiliated union but from the TUC Women's Conference ... which, in all likelihood, is a caucus of activists of a particular frame of mind.

Like the motion from the TUC LGBT Conference, this motion too has an element of deception to it, though I am not in a position to know whether that is deliberate or not.

Congress believes abortion should be legally available at the request of the woman and the requirement that two doctors agree to her decision should be ended ....

Congress believes the law should be modernised to allow women, not doctors, to make the abortion decision, like every other medical procedure.

These two sentences make a huge assumption about the nature of the decisions made by doctors, and therefore about the nature of the practice of medicine. Unless I have misunderstood the nature of the medical profession, a patient consents to a procedure or course of treatment that has (1) been proposed to them by a medical professional, who has used the skill, knowledge and experience that is proper to them as a result of their training, and who has proposed this procedure or treatment (2) in response to a clinical condition arising from illness or injury that represents an impairment of their physical functioning. In some situations, the medical professional might be able to propose alternative courses of treatment, and in others only one.

It has always struck me that the availability of legal abortion and contraceptives (and perhaps some forms of cosmetic treatment) represents a departure from this understanding of the medical profession. This is because they are treatments that can be offered to a patient who presents without a clinical condition representing impairment of their physical functioning; they are treatments that can be offered to patients who are not actually ill or injured in any way. Not surprisingly, this alters significantly the nature of the patient-doctor relationship.

If I have understood it correctly, the 1967 Abortion Act does not consider the two doctors as "agreeing to the woman's decision". Instead, it refers to an abortion being lawful if it is undertaken on the advice of two medical practitioners. This does respect the nature of the medical profession as suggested at (1) and (2) above; though in practice (2) is undermined by the loose interpretation of the grounds for termination. (2) has also been undermined by the widening grounds on which termination can be lawful - it allows that the treatment proposed (1) does not have to be directed towards the clinical condition (2), creating a separation between the two. So, instead of treating the disabled child - which involves (1) and (2) being closely connected - an abortion is offered instead.

It is interesting, but not altogether surprising, to see how aspect (1) of the nature of medicine is being eroded as well in these contexts. This can be seen in the availability of hormonal contraceptives without a prescription, even free in some situations. It can be seen in the availability of the morning after pill without prescription, and, again, even free in some circumstances.

A particularly misleading aspect of the TUC motion is that it gives the impression that this derogation from the integrity of medical practice is true across the whole range of medicine: " every other medical procedure". This seems to me to be blatantly not the case. I suspect that the areas of contraceptives and abortion are just about the only areas where a doctor simply aquiesces to the wishes of a patient, without a medical indication. In most other situations, a medical professional who prescribed treatments simply on request without a relevant clinical indication would be struck off.

Another part of the TUC motion that I noticed is the following:

Congress also notes that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill currently in Parliament is subject to anti-abortion amendments to reduce the abortion time limit form 24 weeks and impose a "cooling off" period and compulsory counselling. Congress believes such measures would have appalling consequences for women seeking abortion and assume women are not capable of making their own decision.

In other areas of life, cooling off periods and a requirement for proper advice are accepted as necessary to prevent the exploitation of clients or to ensure that a duty of care towards them is properly met. It is quite incomprehensible - to me, at least - that similar standards of care should not be applied in connection with abortion. And doubly incomprehensible that they can be considered as having "apalling consequences for women". I would have expected supporters of abortion, in fact, to welcome provisions such as these, because they represent the fulfilling of a duty of care towards women. Given that the rest of the motion calls for all the points of the pro-abortion agenda around the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, I ask myself what the agenda underlying this motion (and, by implication, the pro-abortion lobby as whole) really is.

Since abortion is a procedure that is available to patients who do not suffer from a clinical condition, it can be marketed or promoted to the potential patients themselves (most other medicines are marketed to the medical profession, who make the decisions about their use, and not to the patients). So it becomes important, for those with an interest in abortion, that nothing comes in the way of this promotion .... not even a duty of care towards women.

Sorry, I really cannot understand this motion in any other way.

UPDATE: see also John Smeaton's post here.

PS. Full text of the draft agenda for the TUC Congress can be found on the TUC website. For those outside the UK, the TUC is the Trades Union Congress. Many trades unions affiliate to the TUC.

PPS. Luke Gormally has a good account of the nature of health and of medicine as a profession in a chapter of "Issues for a Catholic Bioethic".

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Conned into it ....

On the 3rd April 2008, Stonewall, an organisation dedicated to promoting the gay agenda in Britain, held a fund raising dinner. Their own news release on the occasion included the following sentence:

[Sir Ian McKellen] shared with the 540 guests that he had visited Tony Blair on behalf of Stonewall three months before his election as Prime Minister. 'I reeled off Stonewall's demands, and he nodded, wrote them down and put a tick by them all. Then he said we will do all that.'

So it appears that New Labour's pro-gay agenda was foisted on to them by an unrepresentative interest group. The language of "demands" is quite revealing, too.

My own trade union was conned as well. The first policy paper they adopted on the issue was not written by them at all. It was written by gay activists in another union; it was first brought to my union's executive by a paid member of staff of the union; and, after nearly a year of its being referred from committee to committee, it was finally driven through at a poorly attended meeting. I received a letter from the then President of the union warning me off opposing this policy if I had ambitions to be President at some point (the rumour machine at the time had me lining myself up to stand - all rather hilarious in retrospect, since I resigned from the executive soon after on precisely this issue)... Looking at that policy paper, it contains recognisable Stonewall-speak, so the ultimate origin of its content is not hard to guess. The association continues to be conned by the Stonewall agenda.

The draft agenda for the forthcoming TUC Congress contains a motion that is another example of the Stonewall con. It does not come from any of the affiliated unions; it is proposed by the "TUC Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Conference" - that is, by a caucus of pro-gay activists. The con this time is to re-define the meaning of the word "homophobic" to refer to any expression of a view that disagrees with Stonewall's attempt to have gay behaviour viewed universally as morally right. Draft motion P17 calls on Congress to condemn the appointment of Joel Edwards, present General Director of the Evangelical Alliance, as a commisioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the grounds that he "has made homophobic statements and continues to do so". The examples cited in the motion are essentially statements of orthodox Christian teaching that homosexual practice is morally wrong. Not one example is given of promotion of hatred against gay people - the ordinary understanding of the word "homophobic".

The problem is that it takes, first, a bit of intelligent awareness and then, second, a bit of courage to stand against this con trick. And in a committee meeting or a congress hall, where the "top table" are telling them that this is the thing to do, few will stand against it.

I am tempted to reverse a recent slogan and say: A lot of us are straight; get over it.

A vision of the permanent diaconate

Diakonia has posted on how he sees his vocation as a permanent deacon. I have to admit to being the one who asked him the question ... but I wouldn't take the first part of the second sentence of his post too seriously (you will have to go and read the post to get that remark!).

The following two extracts are what I found most interesting in Diakonia's post:
Yes, I am allowed to assist with some Sacraments (i.e Marriages, Baptisms, Funerals) and assist at Mass and preach homilies, but my main ministry is meant to be with the people where they live, in their homes, their work, their schools, their jails, and their hospitals.....

I have met some deacons that are exactly what I have been discussing, and I have met others who in my opinion have confused their roles with a priest.

I found this last observation about needing to not confuse the role of the permanent deacon with that of the priest very perceptive. The deacon has a calling that is his own, by virtue of his ordination, and one that is not "dependent" or "delegated" from the priest or bishop. This is a bit like the lay vocation arising from our baptism and being ours by a kind of right, and not by delegation from the clergy. There is an obligation of communion/collaboration, but that is not the same as dependence or being a delegate. Diakonia's post describes this very well.

So perhaps we should look to our permanent deacons to be less priestly and more lay in their character ....

Sunday 10 August 2008

Martyrs testimony to the importance of Sunday Mass

I received a mailing yesterday from Aid to the Church in Need (UK). The first paragraph of the covering letter with this mailing refers to the death in Iraq of Fr Ragheed Ganni last summer, and reads:

It all happened so suddenly. Father Ragheed Ganni hadn't got far from his church one Sunday when his car was ambushed. They shouted: "I told you to close the church. Why didn't you do it? Why are you still here?" Father Ragheed simply replied: "How can I close the house of God?" A few seconds later, the 35-year-old priest and the three sub-deacons with him were shot dead.

At first reading, I was very struck by how close Fr Ragheed's reply is to that offered by the martyrs of fourth century Africa, after they had been arrested for celebrating Sunday Mass in one of their houses. The persecution of Diocletian made it illegal for Christians to gather for Mass. This account is from Pope John Paul II's letter Dies Domini:

This was the case of the martyrs of Abitinia, in Proconsular Africa, who replied to their accusers: "Without fear of any kind we have celebrated the Lord's Supper, because it cannot be missed; that is our law"; "We cannot live without the Lord's Supper". As she confessed her faith, one of the martyrs said: "Yes, I went to the assembly and I celebrated the Lord's Supper with my brothers and sisters, because I am a Christian".

And we can be so casual about our participation at Sunday Mass ....

Saturday 9 August 2008

A blessed feast day, Europe

Today is the feast day of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). In Europe, it has the Liturgical rank of a Feast, as St Teresa Benedicta is one of the six patron saints of Europe. Catholic Mom of 10 has posted a biographical account of her today.

St Teresa Benedicta is my favourite saint, perhaps because I find myself able to identify with many aspects of her personality. Ten years ago this October, I spent a weekend in Rome for her canonisation. I remember during the offertory of the Mass running in my mind's eye through the places associated with St Teresa Benedicta - and I could visualise a number of them, either because I had visited them or from photographs - and finding it quite a moving moment.

The icon above tries to show aspects of St Teresa Benedicta's life. The books represent her search for the truth, and you should be able to spot St Teresa of Avila's Life, the book she read that finally brought St Teresa Benedicta to the Catholic Church. The Cathedral of Speyer, very close to which St Teresa Benedicta spent a number of years as a teacher/teacher trainer is in the background. The prison huts of Auschwitz-Birkenau are also there. The Carmelite habit represents her religious vocation, and the palm her martyrdom. On the habit you can also see the Star of David, representing her Jewish background and the harrassment she suffered from the German authorities in Holland before her arrest.
God of our fathers, you led the holy Martyr Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, to a knowledge of your crucified Son and called her to follow his example in death. By her prayers, bring all to recognise their Saviour in the Crucified Christ and through him, to arrive at the vision of your glory.

Friday 8 August 2008

An experience of home schooling

Diakonia is a blog I have been looking it for a few weeks now - it is on my blog roll. The poster of this blog is a permanent deacon in the United States. I have found his posts very thoughtful, which is why I go back from time to time.

Diakonia has recently posted on his experience of home schooling his children, and this is a post well worth reading. It has a context of the family's recent trip to Guatamala, more about which can be found on the main pages of his blog.

What strikes me about his experience of home schooling, and the reaction of other families that they met during their time in Guatamala, is something that occurred to me a number of years ago. It is very well described in Diakonia's post, which confirms me in what was more a "theoretical thought" than one based in experience.

The children of home schooling families learn to relate with a wider range of adults, in a wider range of circumstances, than children who attend conventional schools.

It is quite easy for a conventionally schooled child to experience essentially two types of persisting child-adult relationships: child-teacher and child-parent. And these relationships both occur in a particular environment, each with its own set of conventions. All their other child-adult relationships can be much more transitory - the bus driver, the shop assistant, aunty. Most of their close friendships will be with young people of their own, or similar, ages.

In a home schooling family, the child-parent relationship has a much wider range of settings, and breaks out of the set of conventions that can constrain other families. The children learn to relate to their parents - and to other adults that they encounter in the context of home schooling - in a much wider range of activities. Cross-generational relationship is part of their every day environment, and they become good at it. And younger children are used to learning with older children, so they are used to relating to people of differing ages. Diakonia makes a very good comment about this.

As Diakonia's post points out, too, home schooling families are increasingly collaborating with each other. The accusation of isolationism simply does not apply to home schooling that is done well. And I think Diakonia's post also communicates an experience based on a positive choice to home school - and, this is important - a choice that is not just a reaction to a bad experience such as bullying at a conventional school, though it is based on a certain dissatisfaction with what is offered in conventional schooling.

I have little direct contact with home schooling families in Britain. A few years ago, I did meet a small group of families at Youth 2000's Walsingham festival in August. The art and drama workshops that were run during the afternoons of this festival were an absolute boon for these families, and you could see their children taking part with an effectiveness and enthusiasm that was quite delightful. They also seemed to be completely at home with the aspects of "communal living" that went along with the festival. As well as the opportunity for learning and living their Catholic faith. The attendance of these families at the festival was clearly a part of their home schooling strategy - but I wonder what the children would have said if they had been asked "Do you like going to school during August?"

Towards the end of his post, Diakonia writes:

We are allowed to be Catholic, not just at home, or at church, but Catholic in everything that we do, without limitations and restrictions.

Our family through church, youth groups, city sports programs, community and neighborhood relationships, and travel to other countries, definitely gives us more access to the marginalized people of the world than most other families.

Thursday 7 August 2008

New English translation of the texts of the Mass

The United States Bishop's Conference have posted the texts of the new translations of the ordinary texts of the Missal, for which they have just received the recognitio from Rome. Catholic and Loving it has posted some extracts and commentary, which makes interesting reading.

I noted particularly the observation towards the end of the post about the prayer said by the priest after the Our Father, where a present tense in the presently used translations has been rendered into a future tense in the new translation. What this makes more clear is that the Eucharistic Liturgy is celebrated in expectation of the return in glory of Christ - cf St Paul's account in 1 Corinthians 11, which ends by saying that, in celebrating the Eucharist, "we proclaim the Lord's death until he comes again".

This looking towards the Lord's coming is the significance of the Eastward orientation of the Liturgical celebration, so greater faithfulness to the Liturgical texts in this regard will help to promote this sense of the Liturgy.

China - the torch of faith

As the Olympic Games in Beijing get under way, it is worthwhile to remind ourselves that Christians, along with other religious believers, are subjected to persecution in China. Whilst commentators from the developed nations of the West might find it fashionable to call on China to respect the human rights of its own citizens, I suspect that few of them will be willing to articulate this in a call for religious freedom in the country. Such a call would require a certain echo in Western societies that are increasingly anti-religious themselves, though this is not expressed in juridical persecution in the way that it is in a country like China.

Aid to the Church in Need feature their work to support Chinese Catholics on their website, under a campaign entitled "Torch of Faith: China 2008". This includes stories, prayer resources and the possibility of providing financial support for ACN's work in China.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide have a similar campaign called "One Dream: Freedom. It's time to go the distance". What Catholics will be familiar with in the language of "underground Church" and "Patriotic Church" is mirrored for other Christian communities as "unregistered" and "registered" Churches.

A suggestion of Christian Solidarity Worldwide's campaign is that Church communities should spend time tomorrow (Friday) in prayer for Christians in China. This is timed to coincide with the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Instead of watching the opening ceremony, we could switch off the television and pray a family Rosary for the persecuted Church.

And this is before any consideration is given to the "one child" policy and its practice of co-erced abortions.

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Two observations on the Ordinary/Extraordinary Form

I am away from home at the moment, which creates opportunities to exchange views with one or two different people.

Two observations on the Ordinary/Extraordinary form.

The present situation in this regard is making some of us feel that we have to "take a position" - when we do not really want to feel forced to do so. Essentially, we are happy to participate in the life of the Roman Rite - period (as the Americans might say) - without really wanting to go further and define ourselves vis a vis the Extraordinary Form.

Is it possible for the availability of a celebration of the Extraordinary Form to be divisive, in a place where the Ordinary Form has previously been usual, accepted and celebrated correctly and reverently? In principle it should not be so, since the celebration of either form remains a celebration of the one Roman Rite, and the choice to attend one form rather than the other therefore does not have any "content" as far as theology of liturgy, communion with the local and universal Church etc are concerned. But how do people actually feel about this when it happens? This question applies equally to those who make both choices, and perhaps demands a careful evaluation of our response to this situation.

It might well be that we are in a phase where the more generous provision for the Extraordinary Form has a certain novelty for people (and I do not intend this to be disparaging to anyone, simply to describe the situation we find ourselves in), a novelty which they quite understandably wish to exercise, and that the two concerns above may resolve themselves as we move into a more settled phase.

It was mooted some time ago that there would be a second document making more precise some of the juridical provisions of Summorum Pontificum. I wonder whether a strategy of waiting to see how the situation develops before further juridical provision is made is perhaps a good one?

Meanwhile a considerable level of charitable give and take might well be in order - with people preferring celebration according to each form being willing to give way to a celebration of the other form out of charity and in the interests of a communion that can be experienced as well as one that we know is objective.

Monday 4 August 2008

A thoughtful comment on Lambeth 2008

Blog by-the-sea has a very thoughtful post on the recently completed Lambeth conference. It is worth reading the whole post, and following the links to other sites used as sources for the post.

The first aspect of the post that is interesting is the discussion of the idea of dialogue, and the value of dialogue. This runs through the whole post.

Another aspect of the post I found particularly interesting was the idea that the Anglo-Catholics, though in their original inspiration claiming to be an expression of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church within the Anglican communion, do in actual experience, when the Anglican communion turns out to have no authoritative decision making process, end up being effectively just another "party" alongside others within that communion. Here is part of the post, in which Cardinal Newman is cited:

Even Anglo-Catholicism, the most “successful” attempt at catholic recovery, had to abandon its goal to transform the Church of England and settle for party status. Within the churches of the Reformation, catholicity remains, and will always remain, an expression of private judgment. In 1850 J. H. Newman pleaded with his former Anglo-Catholic colleagues to recognize the irrationality in remaining a part of the Church of England. He has never been adequately answered: "In the beginning of the movement you disowned private judgment, but now, if you would remain a party, you must, with whatever inconsistency, profess it;—then you were a party only externally, that is, not in your wishes and feelings, but merely because you were seen to differ from others in matter of fact, when the world looked at you, whether you would or no; but now you will be a party knowingly and on principle, intrinsically, and will be erected on a party basis. You cannot be what you were. You will no longer be Anglo-Catholic, but Patristico-Protestants. You will be obliged to frame a religion for yourselves, and then to maintain that it is that very truth, pure and celestial, which the Apostles promulgated. You will be induced of necessity to put together some speculation of your own, and then to fancy it of importance enough to din it into the ears of your neighbours, to plague the world with it, and, if you have success, to convulse your own Communion with the imperious inculcation of doctrines which you can never engraft upon it."
It is this living of an essentially protestant, or perhaps more fairly, a thoroughly Anglican, existence by those of Anglo-Catholic beliefs that seems to me to present the pastoral difficulty with suggestions that Anglo-Catholic parishes might be recieved as parish communities into the Roman Catholic Church. There is a genuine element of conversion needed, not in the sense of the rejection of the Anglo-Catholic heritage, but in the sense of acceptance of a living Magisterium, and the danger of corporate receptions is that this is not seen. That is not to say that such corporate receptions are not possible, but simply to suggest that they are not as simple as they look to be at first sight.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's death is reported in today's news media. The juxtaposition of this event with the opening of the Olympic Games in China on Friday invites comment. As with the memory of Solzhenitsyn, there seems to be a deliberately selective memory as far as China is concerned.

In my view, Sozhenitsyn is first of all a witness and a witness of towering stature. I do not think that any of his literature should be understood except alongside The Gulag Archipelago, a carefully documented and systematic history of the Soviet prison camp system. This book documents particular instances, all of them supplied to Solzhenitisyn by witnesses or participants - hundreds of them - who risked their lives to preserve the story of this terror. It also documents the experience of the camps - arrest, first cell, interrogation, transport from one camp to another, and so on. The book was written in secret, its manuscript pages hidden from the Soviet authorities, in times when samizdat was a word whose meaning was recognised in every day life in the Western world. How many of our young people now would know the meaning of this word? The brutality is in places quite raw, so much so that you have to remind yourself as you read it that it is the unadorned testimony of a witness or participant, provided to the author. And in other places - I have just re-read an account of the meeting of "The Scientific and Technical Society of Cell 75" - there is a witness to the survival of the human spirit in the most crushing of circumstances.

In this context, I recall reading One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich, which describes the experience of a day in the life of a prisoner in the Gulag, and consciously inserting into it the rawness of brutality with which I was familiar from The Gulag Archipelago but which is most meticulously but discretely described in the novel.

Those in our day who criticse religion for being the cause of wars would do well to be less selective in their memories - the work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is a witness to the horror created by a regime that rejected and persecuted religious belief, and it is a horror on a quite unimaginable scale.

And as we turn towards China to follow the Olympic Games in the coming weeks, we might also try to be less selective in our memories.

Saturday 2 August 2008

Extra/ordinary Form - or how much lace is necessary for a valid Mass?

Recent coverage of matters Liturgical elsewhere in the blogosphere has finally prompted me to give in and comment on something I had decided I was never going to refer to on this blog!

One of the difficulties I have with the response from a certain direction to Summorum Pontificum can be expressed as follows: what I feel I am seeing is a programme to deliberately promote t
he Extraordinary Form, and I do not think this was in any way the intention of Summorum Pontificum and Pope Benedict XVI's accompanying letter. A key indicator for me in this connection is the continued reference to the "Traditional Latin Mass", and what seems to me a clear and persistent unwillingness to adopt the language of "Ordinary Form" and "Extraordinary Form" that appears in Summorum Pontificum. This language seemed to me to be a very eloquent expression of the unity of the Roman Rite, with two forms, and called for a move away from the hermeneutic of discontinuity between what was previously perhaps known as the "novus ordo" and, as such, was seen as over and against the "Tridentine Mass". The whole point to this language of Ordinary Form/Extraordinary Form seems to me to be to do away with this kind of opposition within the lived experience of the Church. It seems to me that the promoters of the Extraordinary Form are taking the part of Summorum Pontificum that they like - the encouragement of a more generous provision - but disregarding the part that they are not so happy with - namely, the assimilation of the two forms to one another.

Another key aspect of Summorum Pontificum and the Pope's letter that is being left on one side in my view is that of the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Rite. What I feel I am detecting are pre-emptive strikes in defence of those aspects of the Extraordinary Form that are open to adaptation in the light of the Ordinary Form (and, most obviously to me, and, in my view, containing no theological content but just a responsiveness to the change in people's styles of participation, that means the "said quietly" Eucharistic Prayer). The adoption o
f a common calendar - I could not cope without St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, for example - and the inclusion of the new prefaces in the celebration of the Extraordinary Form are "no brainers" to me, but no-one seems to be moving forward on these.

In this light, I found interesting the following snippet from Fr Stephen Langridge at the Southwark Vocations blog, reporting on a meeting for priests in Spain just before World Youth Day:

Another interesting piece of news was about a get-together between priests and seminarians and Mgr Marini, the Papal MC. Answering questions the monsignor said a number of things of note. Among them that the Holy Father isn't planning to impose anything. For Papal Masses the MCs have been given a free hand to draw upon the Church's rich inheritance of treasures in order to counteract the widespread impression that things of liturgical merit or worth have been abolished in the 'modern' liturgy. This is part of the Holy Father's concern to promote the 'hermeneutic of continuity': to show that there is no rupture between the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church. Another interesting comment was that in the 'medium term', although he may not live to see it, there will be a new missal for the one Roman Rite - drawing, one presumes, on the best of both current forms of the Rite.
The two observations here do put into a context the assertion of a Benedictine renewal programme for the Liturgy that we read about elsewhere - well, it does not appear as if it exists at all in what one might call a juridical form, though one could see it as a "trend". And I think the idea of a single, new Missal, which at minimum will bring together in one publication the provisions of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms but might well be an outcome of the mutual enriching of the two forms (still, I would expect, with two forms but both of them having grown from where they are now). The report from Spain, however, even seems to suggest that the two forms would be eventually united to one form, though I can't quite see that that will happen.

In any case, the exercise that is Summorum Pontificum is an exercise that faces two ways. It looks towards those who have gone into schism with the form of the celebration of the Liturgy as key factor in that move into schism, and hopes that the new provision with regard to the Extraordinary Form will help to overcome that schism. The concern for the unity of the Church that is expressed particularly, if I recall correctly, in Pope Benedict's accompanying letter shows this face of Summorum Pontificum. Summorum Pontificum also faces towards those who, though remaining in communion with the Church, have an affiliation to what we now term the Extraordinary Form. The interest in the mutual enrichment of the two forms contained in
Summorum Pontificum and the Pope's letter seems to show this second face of Summorum Pontificum.

During my time as a parish Master of Ceromonies, I used to have a phrase I used when something went wrong, particularly if it caused amusement, as these things are inclined to do, and resulted in an embarrassed altar server. I used to talk about "Liturgy with a human face". By this I meant that we did things reverently and with our best efforts to achieve technical correctness - but that we were relaxed (in the best sense) about things that might go wrong. It had a second aspect, too, in that it referred to a liturgy in which the ordinary parishioners were able to engage and, dare I say it, "participate". Believe you me, some of the Mums and Dads spotted everything that was going on in the Sanctuary, and only the then parish priest's dislike of radio microphones meant they missed his "asides" on the mishaps we occasionally had! I am not sure that the photographs of recent events communicate this to me about the celebrations of the Extraordinary Form. I suspect I would not have stayed if I had been present, not out of any question of principle, but because I would have lost interest (sorry, participation) quite quickly. And, yes, I do have the Liturgical formation to cope with it, before anyone suggests otherwise.

So, my punchlines:

Birettas really are old hat - I can hardly see them as being essential to the Extraordinary Form, and expect that it could be celebrated quite happily without them.

Frills and lace - the Liturgy is not tied to one particular artistic expression, not even the Extraordinary Form, so modern styles of vestments seem to me perfectly compatible with the Extraordinary Form, frills and lace not being necessary for its validity ... or have I missed something?

And it should be possible to look comfortable about what you are doing ... If I had been an MC there, I really would not have been able to resist whispering into Bishop McMahon's ear something like "Cheer up, only twenty pages to go..."