Monday 31 August 2009

A reflection on Senator Ted Kennedy's funeral

In my search for reflective comment on the funeral of Senator Kennedy, I came across the folowing post: Reflections on the Kennedy Funeral . I link to it as the most thoughtful reflection that I have been able to find. The thoughtfulness extends to those comments that I have been able to read - though I have not read all of them, and so there may well be some with which I would disagree.

I have not seen much of the media coverage, though I am interested to read about the extent of live television coverage of the funeral Mass (I believe this extended to the BBC, though I haven't checked this out fully).

The question that I am trying to answer in my search through the comment and coverage is this. Any Liturgical celebration has an element of public witness to the truths of Catholic faith, though in most situations this witness takes place on a small scale. A celebration like Senator Kennedy's funeral places this element of witness onto a national and international stage. So what is the witness that the funeral Mass gave to the world at large?

I am still trying to find a text of the homily - I have found the text of Barack Obama's eulogy - and when I have that I hope to be able to post a full comment of my own.

Sunday 30 August 2009

Tony Blair in Rimini: religion in China

At the beginning of his recent speech to Communion and Liberation's Rimini meeting, Tony Blair described a recent visit he had made to China, one of, he said, many visits to a country that holds endless fascination for him.
But, as ever, what I came away with was more than I expected. I also discussed healthcare reform and how China seeks to develop its own welfare state. They are grappling precisely with the relationship between the person, the state and the community and coming up with some interesting and radical solutions that might surprise us. They are studying what we have done, what we have got right and what we have got wrong. They are acutely aware of the balance between the state and the need for individual responsibility, between universal provision and competition. They will do it, of course, in a Chinese way, but the dilemmas and choices in policy we would recognise instantly.
One aspect of Chinese policy is enforced abortion where a couple already have one child. This is clearly a policy approach which involves a totalitarian praxis with regard to the relation of the individual and the state. It is very different than the impression created by Tony Blair's account. Aid to the Church in Need's publication Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for the Faith 2007/2008 reports the forced abortion of the child of the wife of a Christian pastor in China, and of other unborn children (p.26). "They will do it, of course, in a Chinese way .."?
However, there was something else that excited me. I know relations between China and the Church remain difficult for obvious reasons, though I hope in time these can be resolved. But listening carefully to the speeches on the environment, hearing the way they describe the relationship between the individual and government, society and the state, I was struck at how, increasingly, China is developing a narrative about its future that draw heavily on its culture, on its civilisation now thousands of years old, and on its Faith traditions and philosophy: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism. Several people I met talked openly of their Faith and yes, some were Christians, part of a growing Christian movement.
Tony Blair acknowledges "difficult" relations between the Chinese authorities and the Catholic Church; but again one wonders whether the optimistic impression he conveys really does match what is going on on the ground. The "Q and A" compendium that accompanied Pope Benedict XVI's letter to Chinese Catholics in May 2007 contained the following:

5. What is the Holy Father’s vision for a dialogue between the Holy See and the Chinesegovernment?
..... the solution to existing problems cannot be pursued via an ongoing conflict with the legitimate civil authorities; at the same time, though,compliance with those authorities is not acceptable when they interfere unduly in matters regarding the faith and discipline of the Church. The civil authorities are well aware that the Church in her teaching invites the faithful to be good citizens, respectful and active contributors to the common good in their country, but it is likewise clear that she asks the State to guarantee to those same Catholic citizens the full exercise of their faith, with respect for authentic religious freedom (4.7).

Aid to the Church in Need's report indicates that the authorities in China have abandoned Marxist views that religious practice will die away, and so are increasingly seeking support from faith groups for community projects. Christianity, however, represents a particular concern for the authorities, with the communist party anxious at statistical evidence that it is the fastest growing religion in China. Among a range of specific instances of persecution of Christians in 2007/8, the report details the very extensive steps taken to suppress the Catholic pilgrimage to Sheshan on 24th May 2008. Only 80 out of 1 000 planned pilgrims from Hong Kong, for example, were able to travel to Shanghai, where they were prevented from celebrating Mass in churches and prevented from travelling to Sheshan itself.

All of this raises three questions with regard to Tony Blair's remarks about China:

1. Does Tony Blair's experience represent an accurate account of the real position of religious belief and practice in China? In particular, does it accurately represent the position of Christians in China? Are the authorities saying one thing in public, but continuing to do another on the ground?

2. Does the emergence of religion into the language of Tony Blair's encounters in China represent the guarantee of the "full exercise of their faith and respect for authentic religious freedom" which Pope Benedict XVI requests for Catholics? Or are we seeing instead a kind of co-option of religions into the purposes of a Communist state (rather in a kind of parallel to the co-option of the idea of a market economy into the same purposes - Leninism is thoroughly pragmatic)? Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, is of its nature much less readily co-opted than the other religions to which Tony Blair refers, so is its ommission from his remarks an accident? [As an aside, one gets a feeling reading Tony Blair's remarks of the situation that arose during the detente era in Europe, where advocates of peace and compliant religious believers were feted by Soviet authorities who continued to persecute Christian believers.]

3. Is Tony Blair, even as a representative of his Faith Foundation, an appropriate representative of the dialogue between religions and religious belief and the Chinese authorities? It would be unfortunate, for example, if the Chinese authorities were to see him as a kind of substitute partner in dialogue with Catholics when the real partner with whom they need to enter into dialogue is the Holy See.

More recent reports of anti-religious persecution in China can be found here and here, at the website of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. This link takes you to CSW's report of anti-Christian persecution in the run up to the 2008 Olympic Games. Aid to the Church in Need's reports can be found here and here.

Saturday 29 August 2009

St John the Baptist part 2: one marked with a special favour

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.[1]

.. for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.[2]

John was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb’ by Christ himself, whom the Virgin Mary had just conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth thus became a visit from God to his people… In John, the precursor, the Holy Spirit completes the work of ‘[making] ready a people prepared for the Lord’…. with John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit begins the restoration to man of ‘the divine likeness’, prefiguring what he would achieve with and in Christ. John’s baptism was for repentance; baptism in water and the Spirit will be a new birth.[3]
It is possible to understand the coming of Christ as foreseen from the first moment of creation; and, in the same way, the part that the Virgin Mary was going to play in the mystery of the Incarnation can also be understood as foreseen from the first moment of creation. This is summarised in the images of Christ as the “new Adam” and the Virgin Mary as the “new Eve”; Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis, Christ and the Virgin Mary in the New Testament. The story of the physical creation, the history of mankind and the history of God’s dealings with his people in the Old Testament can all then be understood as a “salvation history” focussed on and directed towards the coming of Christ. Within this vision, the part played by John the Baptist is also foreseen from the beginning of creation.

Pope Benedict XVI suggests that we should see in the event of the Baptism of Jesus by John an anticipation of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus going down into the water of the Jordan river is an anticipation of his death and descent into hell to liberate those held captive there[4]; the appearance of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Father - “"Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased" - are an anticipation of his resurrection.[5] This is taken up by St Paul in his teaching on the sacrament of Baptism[6]. The reply of Jesus when the Baptist suggests that he should not baptise him - “"Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness"[7] - is an indicator of this anticipation, in much the same way that Jesus' observation recorded in the fourth Gospel - “"O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come"[8] - portrays the wedding feast at Cana as an anticipation of the moment of the passion.

In its turn the sign of the water of the river Jordan is anticipated throughout the Old Testament: the crossing of the river Jordan into the promised land, the water emerging from the rock when it was struck by Moses staff, the water of the Red Sea through which the Jews passed on their escape from Egypt, the water of the flood from which Noah was saved in the Ark. If the saving work of Christ and baptism are understood as a re-birth, as a new creation, it can be argued that the mission of John the Baptist is pre-figured in the water of the first verses of the Book of Genesis, water over which God’s spirit hovered. In this way, we can suggest the pivotal role of John the Baptist with respect to Jesus baptism is implicit from the first moment of creation.

Jesus’ Baptism, then, is understood as a repetition of the whole of history, which both recapitulates the past and anticipates the future … This struggle is the ‘conversion’ of being that brings it into a new condition, that prepares a new heaven and a new earth.[9]
It is this pre-destination of the vocation of John the Baptist from the beginning of creation, a pre-destination to be the end-point of the covenant of the Old Testament, that underpins the privileges attributed to him by the New Testament texts. He is greater than any other born of a woman and he is filled with the Holy Spirit even in his mother’s womb. This particular dignity of the vocation of John the Baptist is reflected in the liturgical celebration, not only of his death on the 29th August, but of his nativity on 24th June[10].

[1] Mt 11:11; cf Lke 7:28
[2] Lke 1:14-15
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church nn.717-720.
[4] Pope Benedict points out that Eastern iconography frequently represents the Jordan by a cave or tomb representative of Hades. In the Eastern Liturgy, hymns celebrating the feast of the Epiphany are also used in the last days of Holy Week. See Jesus of Nazareth p.19.
[5] cf Pope Benedict XVI Jesus of Nazareth p.19.
[6] cf Rom. 6:3-4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
[7] Mt 3:15
[8] Jn 2:4, cf Jn 12:23 and Jn 13:1, Jn 17:1.
[9] Pope Benedict XVI Jesus of Nazareth p.20.
[10] Though it has not been defined by the teaching authority of the Church, and is not reflected in the liturgical texts for the solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, the moment of the visitation of Elizabeth by Mary - when John leaps in his mothers womb - is seen by some writers as the moment of his redemption; the Baptist is born immaculate though he is not conceived immaculate. This is based on understanding the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as incompatible with the presence of sin.

Friday 28 August 2009

Darwin's Legacy - or an atheistic prejudice

During my day out and about on Wednesday, I took the July 2009 issue of Physics World with me to read on the train. I managed to read the article Darwin's Legacy, by Leonard Susskind, of the Physics Department at Stanford University.

Professor Susskind's thesis is roughly as follows. Darwin's idea of natural selection, later combined with the discovery of DNA and the role played by DNA in reproduction of living species, "replaced the magic of creation with the laws of probability and chemistry".

It was the success of Darwinism that forced the issue and set the standard for future theories of origins, whether it be of life or of the universe. Explanations must be based on the laws of physics, mathematics and probability - and not on the hand of God.

Professor Susskind suggests that the mechanisms of mutations and natural selection (Darwin and Wallace) combined with the sheer vastness of the number of possible biological designs offered by different arrangements of base pairs within DNA structures (Crick and Watson) are sufficient to create a human being.

Professor Susskind goes on to argue that modern cosmology contains a completely analagous understanding for the origins, not of life, but of the universe itself. The "strings" of string theory are a kind of DNA of space itself, and determine the properties of the universe; but there are a vast number of possible combinations of this DNA so that, even a universe that is as unlikely in its sheer specificity as the one we experience, can be brought about by quite a number of different combinations. This is combined with a principle of mutability in the inflationary theory of the universe - which allows the creation of new bits of universe to "fill in" as the universe expands. These new bits generally have the same string theory DNA as their nearby sections - but every so often a mutation occurs, the new bit has a different DNA and so a different set of values of physical constants and is effectively a different universe. Like the human being in biological evolution, our universe is just one among a whole vast array of universes, the one that happens to work for us.

The first point to be made in response to this article is that it is an example of scientism. This is the view that it is only explanations from the physical and biological sciences that are valid. This is a quite arbitrary and un-necessary narrowing of the range of action of human reason to just one field, and neglects the possibility of there being other ways in which human reason can validly operate. It is a philosophically un-educated view.

A second point is the use of the words "existence" and "exist"; and the use of the term "create" (with regard to the emergence of human being from the process of biological evolution) or "created" (with regard to the emergence of new bits of space, and with regard to the emergence from expansion of universes capable of supporting intelligent life). These are terms full of philosophical import; they imply the question of what it means to exist or not exist, to be brought into existence or to somehow simply have existence of itself. The resulting discussion is one to which the physical and biological sciences can undoubtedly make a contribution in that they reveal something of the features of existent being (though one must identify the transcendental features therein and not limit oneself to those attaching to the particular current theory of scientific thinking). But it is not a discussion that those sciences are, taken purely in themselves, competent to undertake. Human reason must needs range wider - and be more properly and completely scientific.

As an aside, one suspects that Professor Susskind, if he were re-printing his article, would carefully remove these "offending" words, perhaps replacing "create" with "produce", though I find it more difficult to suggest a replacement for the word "exist". It is thought provoking, though, that, perhaps even by accident, these words do appear in the article, and embed within it the question of existence that opens the way towards God. Removing the words does not abolish the question, it simply hides it. One might also add that William Paley's watch and contemporary notions of "intelligent design" are not by any means the best of thinking with regard to arguing for the existence of God, so Professor Susskind has picked easy targets to shoot down.

I think that one has to recognise an atheistic prejudice (in the academic sense, rather than any moral sense) underlying Professor Susskind's article. It presents as a deliberate project to establish a "natural explanation" of the universe, starting from the presumption that a supernatural creator is already excluded. This review of an earlier publication by Susskind bears this out (his "megaverse" seems to contain as many illusions as does the theory of "intelligent design"). The justification of this from Darwin is certainly spurious now, in the 21st century, whatever the history of thought in the 19th century might suggest.

Gem's Seven Things

Before you go and look at this, remember that Gem writes in what might be termed a certain "literary genre" - very forthright and blunt - and read it in that context!

I like a number of the seven things that she would like to happen. Numbers 1 through 6 all get a thumbs up from me in their essential substance. I think no.8 - reducing the number of "options" available in the Ordinary Form - is something that really should be looked at as part of the "mutual enrichment" of the two forms of the Roman Rite. Some options have a substantial content and value (the different Eucharistic Prayers, particularly Eucharistic Prayer 4, to give one example), while others have rather less real content and value (alternative forms of Penitential rite). And as far as no.13 goes, the development of a devotional life (in the technical sense) alongside the strictly Liturgical life of a parish seems to me essential for proper participation in the Liturgy. That is the space where one can legitimately adapt ... And no.5 - Confirmation is a sacrament of initiation and so should be "unconditional" in its availability to the faithful (assuming, of course, a basic level of good will towards the sacrament). It is not a sacrament of vocation - so setting up hoops like insisting that young people write a letter explaining why they want to receive the sacrament is a bit of a nonsense.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Senator Edward Kennedy

I think it is more my parents generation who will have had a real sense of the contribution of the Kennedy family on the American and on the international stage. In a very real sense, I didn't "know them"; for me, they are part of the past. I have therefore been keeping an eye out for coverage of Senator Kennedy's death that gives a genuine assessment of his life and its relation to Catholic teaching.

This is one post at Young Fogeys - follow the link in it, and read the comments as well. It does suggest that, whilst there might be some aspects of Senator Kennedy's political activity that merit praise, there is a need to avoid unqualified approbation.

I will update this post when I find other links that allow a proper evaluation of Senator Kennedy's death.

UPDATE: This is ZENIT's report of an Osservatore Romano article.

Climate Camp and Pope Benedict XVI

In London at the moment we are seeing Day 2 of the week long "Climate Camp 2009".

Pope Benedict was obviously aware of this event, and took the opportunity to speak on the subject of climate change at yesterday's General Audience. Oh, I think there is a UN Conference about to take place on the subject, too.

Blog-by-the-Sea has a report of Pope Benedict's words here. I am always struck by two things about Pope Benedict's words on matters of the environment, both of which are reflected in this excerpt (the italics are mine):
The Earth is indeed a precious gift of the Creator who, in designing its intrinsic order, has given us guidelines that assist us as stewards of his creation. Precisely from within this framework, the Church considers that matters concerning the environment and its protection are intimately linked with integral human development.

A Christian concern arises from a recognition that the earth is part of God's creation and that it has been entrusted to us; and it involves recognising that we have been entrusted with it for the good of all the peoples of the world.

Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God

I was out and about yesterday, so this Memorial somewhat passed me by. Herewith a round-up of other posts about Blessed Dominic:

On Reading Railway Station

Prayer of Blessed Dominic

Blessed Dominic Barberi in the Year for Priests. In a completely different context, one could perhaps look for the likeness of Blessed Dominic's priestly life and that of the Cure of Ars.

Monday 24 August 2009

Sign of Peace: the meaning of the Communion Rite

As promised to Rita, herewith the (long) text of a catechesis I used in June 2007, as part of a series on the different parts of the Eucharistic Liturgy. It places our understanding of the sign of peace firmly within our understanding of the nuptial nature of the moment of Holy Communion; and, by also giving it its place in terms of our understanding of the Church, it emphasises a dynamic of offering/receiving. This is indicated in the greeting of the priest and response of the congregation immediately before the sign of peace: Offering: "The peace of the Lord be always with you." Receiving: "And also with you"; and the manner of passing the sign of peace from priest to deacon to sub-deacon to servers as happens in the High Mass of the extraordinary form.

Some other Liturgical rites place the sign of peace just before or just after the offertory procession - where it does have a quite different meaning than for the Roman rite, where it is placed within the Communion rite.

Another interesting aside to this catechesis is its explanation of the significance of receiving Holy Communion under both kinds. It brings out the baptismal character of receiving Holy Communion - baptism being the first of the "sacraments of initiation" and receiving Holy Communion the last, and completion, of the "sacraments of initiation".

Sadly, catechesis of this standard on both topics is almost totally absent from typical parish experience.

Sixth Catechesis: The Communion Rite of the Mass

June is the month in which the Church particularly recalls its devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We celebrate in this devotion the great love that God shows us in the pierced heart of his Son. The Communion Rite expresses the communication of this love to us each time we go to Mass.

Just before we receive Holy Communion, the priest holds up the Sacred Host and invites us to receive the Lord:

“This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.”

The second part of this invitation is based in the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. It is describing the assembly of the saints around the throne of the Lamb in heaven:

“Alleluia. The reign of the Lord our God the Almighty has begun;
let us be glad and joyful and give praise to God,
because this is the time for the marriage of the Lamb.
His bride is ready, and she has been able to dress herself in dazzling white clothes,
because her clothes are made of the good deeds of the saints.
The angel said, ‘Write this: Happy are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’”[1]

When the celebrating priest invites us to receive Communion he is inviting us to enter into a relationship that is a “marriage” relationship between ourselves and God. The moment of receiving Holy Communion - that is, receiving Jesus the Lamb of God - is the moment of a wedding between us (individual) and God.

The Communion Rite is the point in the liturgy where the vocation of married people gains a particular expression. Before its redemption and integration into the mystery of Christ, married love is a sign of God’s love for the whole of creation:

“God built the rib he had taken from the man into a woman, and brought her to the man. The man exclaimed: ‘This at last is bone from my bones, and flesh from my flesh! This is to be called woman, for this was taken from man’.

“This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body.”[2]

Commenting on this passage from Genesis, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

“Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man”.[3]

With the coming of Christ, this imaging of God’s love gains a specifically Christian nature as the imaging of the love of Christ for the Church and the love of the Church for Christ. This is what St Paul describes in the Letter to the Ephesians:

“Give way to one another in obedience to Christ. Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord, since Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is the husband the head of his wife; and as the Church submits to Christ, so should wives to their husbands, in everything.

“Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her to make her holy. He made her clean by washing her in water with a form of words, so that when he took her to himself she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless. In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself. A man never hates his own body, but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is the way Christ treats the Church, because it is his body - and we are its living parts….

“This mystery has many implications; but I am saying it applies to Christ and the Church.”[4]

In a Christian marriage, the wife stands for the Church (and for Mary, the mother of the Lord, who is the person who is a “figure” of the whole Church) and the husband is like the Lord, and their relationship is an icon of the love between Christ and the Church. At Holy Communion, we are all called, whether we are married or not, to share in the wedding of the Church (feminine, and represented in figure by the person of Mary) and her Lord (masculine, and head). For people who are married, however, this moment has a particular richness as an expression of their life vocation.[5]

The sign of peace should be understood in the context of this marriage relationship between God and the world, and between Christ and the Church. It is not a sign of reconciliation; it is a sign of the invitation to the “wedding feast of the Lamb”. This means that there is no need to shake hands with everyone. It is sufficient to offer the sign of peace to those nearby, the intention being to image the Christ/Church relationship.[6]

The peace is offered by Jesus Christ to the Church
[7] - so, in the sign of peace, one person represents Christ (and offers the sign) and the other person represents the Church (and receives the sign). This can be particularly so in families, where the husband represents Christ (who offers the sign) and the wife represents the Church (who receives the sign). Parents can offer the sign to their children, representing as they do so Christ and the Church (figured by Mary).[8]

If we return to the invitation given by the priest just before Holy Communion, and reflect on the first sentence of it, we are brought again to the Book of Revelation and its account of the saints gathered in heaven:

“… I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…

“’These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’”[9]

Receiving Holy Communion under both kinds also needs to be understood and practised in the context of the “wedding feast of the Lamb”:

“The widespread return to the practice of most people being able to receive the precious blood of the Lord in Holy Communion is most welcome. Yet it is a practice and a moment which I fear is still not properly understood. To receive the blood of the Lord is an act of such awesome significance that we ought to be overwhelmed by the moment. Yet it is so often a casual afterthought following the more familiar reception of the sacred host …

“(In the blood of the Lamb) we are washed clean. It is the blood of rebirth. In it we are reborn…”

“The blood of the Lamb is also the promise of the wholeness that still lies ahead. It is the foretaste of the new wine of heaven, the wine of the final marriage feast of the Lamb. The robes of the saints have been washed white in this blood, as we see in those marvellous images in the Book of Revelation”[10]

[1] Rev. 19:7-9
[2] Genesis 2: 22-25
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church n.1604. cf also Genesis 9:21ff, where God says to Noah after the flood: “..neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done … I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you …When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature…”
[4] Ephesians 5:21-33
[5] For those whose husband or wife are not believers, St Paul suggests a rich meaning that can be lived in their experience of Communion: “If a brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she is content to live with him, he must not send her away; and if a woman has an unbeliever for her husband, and he is content to live with her, she must not leave him. This is because the unbelieving husband is made one with the saints through his wife, and the unbelieiving wife is made one with the saints through her husband” 1 Cor. 7:12-14.
[6] cf the General Instruction on the Roman Missal 2000 n. 82: “The rite of peace follows, by which the Church asks for peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family, and faithful offer some sign of their ecclesial communion and mutual love for each other before communicating by receiving the Sacrament”. This refers first to the prayer ‘ Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles ..” which is said by the priest and then to the sign of peace. Understanding the sign of peace as a sign of the nuptial relationship between Christ and the Church is to understand it as a sign of “ecclesial communion”.
[7] cf the dialogue between the priest and the congregation just before the invitation to offer the sign of peace.
[8]cf General Instruction on the Roman Missal 2000 n.154: “While the sign of peace is being given, the following may be said: The peace of the Lord be with you always. The response is: Amen.” The sign expresses “peace, communion and charity”.
[9] Revelation 7:9 ff
[10] Vincent Nichols Promise of Future Glory pp.135-136. Cf also General Instruction on the Roman Missal 2000 n.281: “Holy Communion has a more complete form as a sign when it is received under both kinds. For in this manner of reception a fuller sign of the Eucharistic banquet shines forth. Moreover there is a clearer expression of that will by which the new and everlasting covenant is ratified in the blood of the Lord and of the relationship of the Eucharistic banquet to the eschatological banquet in the Father’s kingdom”

What make you of the sign of peace? Hands off!

After this, and having seen this, and watched the embedded video clip .... I really am considering adopting a policy of not giving or accepting the sign of peace at Mass. I may adopt the eye-contact-combined-with-shake-of-the-head that I use when approached by canvassers in the street. My concern is not one about distractions as the moment of Holy Communion approaches, as I can kind of cope with that.

From a rubrical point of view, the sign of peace is optional ( ... "may"... ). And, over the last week or two, I haven't been able to convince myself of any other view than one that asks: "Does anyone here have even the vaguest understanding of what this is about?"

So I think I just prefer to avoid any involvement in it at all ....

Sunday 23 August 2009

Catholicism and politics

Two quite different items of news, indicating different approaches to putting Catholic faith into practice in political action, have come to my attention in the last day or two.

The death of Fr Edward Houghton in a road accident has led to Dolphinarium posting this appreciation of "Fr Ed" and his approach to his priestly life.

And the blogosphere's attention has been drawn to Resurgence, an explicitly Catholic political party.

I have to admit to being much more comfortable with the former than I am with the latter. I am not of the view that priests, by virtue of their ordination, are thereby condemned to silence on matters of political import. Their role and mission as a priest must be different than that that they might have previously had as a lay person - generally they need to allow the lay faithful the mediating role between Church and world that is properly theirs in the realm of politics and culture - but that does not rule out moments of witness for what is right and just, and this seems to be what Fr Houghton undertook.

But the pitfalls of a political party that claims to speak for the Catholic point of view seem myriad to me. I do really need to study their website further, but I suspect that Resurgence are more likely to be at the wrong side of the boundary of "appropriate secularity" , the mediating role of the lay person who stands between Church and world, than a priest of the style of Fr Houghton. Though, of course, not from the way round that one would normally expect!

St John the Baptist part 1: the Prophet who prepared the way for Jesus

If you have access to Jesus Christ, Word of the Father: The Saviour of the World Official Catechetical Text in Preparation for the Holy Year 2000, you might find it useful to read pp.22-23 before continuing reading this post.
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea
and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.[1]

This account of St Matthew has close parallels in the accounts of Mark and Luke; St Mark adds to the citation of Isaiah 40:3 an editing together of Malachi 3:1 and Exodus 23:20[2]; and St Luke places an account of the historical timing ending in the words “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” immediately before his account of the preaching of John the Baptist. The account of the evangelist John begins in the prologue to his Gospel[3], where John the Baptist is described as a “witness to the light”, and continues in the prose account of the Baptist’s ministry[4]. It is here that the evangelist cites the same passage from Isaiah as is cited by the synoptic Gospels[5].

In these accounts, the Baptist is portrayed as a prophet in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets:

(1) his calling, as presented in the account of St Luke, parallels the calling of the prophet Jeremiah:

The words of Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah, the son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month.

Now the word of the LORD came to me saying….[6]
(2) his clothing, and the description of his style of life, echo those of the prophet Elijah:

And they said to [the King], "There came a man to meet us, and said to us, `Go back to the king who sent you, and say to him, Thus says the LORD, Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone, but shall surely die.'" He said to them, "What kind of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?" They answered him, "He wore a garment of haircloth, with a girdle of leather about his loins." And he said, "It is Elijah the Tishbite." [7]
So what does it mean to recognise the Baptist as a prophet? The prophet is one who:

(1) receives a specific calling, and a specific mission, from God

(2) that calling and mission stand in a tradition of God’s relationship with his people, a relationship that stretches from creation throughout the history of the Jewish people and which looks towards the New Covenant brought in Jesus Christ

(3) the mission calls the people to the integrity of the practice of their religion, and to the integrity of the living of their religion in every day life.

In the case of John the Baptist, this gains two quite singular characteristics. The first of these is that he is the last in the line of the prophets of the Old Testament; he marks the end of the dispensation of the Old Testament as far as prophecy is concerned. The second is the immediacy of his role with regard to the coming of Christ. The Baptist’s ministry very immediately points towards that of Christ, and gives way before it.[8]
The inmost personal relationship of the two is not accessible to us; we can only see the objectivity of the relation between the Old Covenant personally epitomized by the Baptist and pointing beyond him, and the kingdom of God beginning and approaching in Jesus. But in all the objectivity of commissioned representation, humanly subjective relations exist between the bearers of mission. They are here - in the objective, respectful mutual deference to one another - of an inaccessible tenderness. They are the two decisive rings which, welded together, make the chain of God’s historical plan of salvation unbreakable.[9]

[1] Mt. 3:1-6; cf Mk 1: 2-6, cf Lke 3:2-6.
[2] cf Pope Benedict XVI Jesus of Nazareth pp.14-15.
[3] cf Jn 1:6-8, 15.
[4] cf Jn 1:19ff.
[5] Jn 1:23.
[6] Jeremiah 1:1-4.
[7] 2 Kings 1:6-8; cf The Collegeville Bible Commentary pp.866, 906,
[8] cf Lke 7:28: I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." ; cf Mt 11:11-15.
[9] Hans Urs von Balthasar The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church p.138. The translation used here, however, is that in Medard Kehl and Werner Loser (eds.) The von Balthasar Reader pp.208-209.

St. Edith Stein and the Cross in "The Hidden Life"

I will always link to something about St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), but found this particularly useful, at Blog-by-the-Sea.

Saturday 22 August 2009


Does this paragraph of Bishop Hopes' letter in the Tablet this week ...
This is an idea, common to papal teaching on the liturgy from the beginning of the twentieth century. This “active participation” has always been understood to be internal and external. To reduce participation to solely external signs is both a simplification and a misguided attack in the “culture wars” you seek to avoid.
.... really mean

....and it doesn't matter what we do to participate, as participation is more internal than external (as Bishop Hopes reminded us).?

Bishop Hopes letter starts (my italics added, and see my earlier post):

I am writing with regard to your leader “The old rite put in its place” (8 August). In his message welcoming priests to the training conference provided by the Diocese of Westminster in conjunction with the Latin Mass Society, Archbishop Nichols expresses his gratitude to those priests who have given up their time to respond to a need in the Church today.

Friday 21 August 2009

The 800 Martyrs of Otranto

Elizabeth Lev has written an informative piece about the capture of the Italian city of Otranto by the Ottoman's in 1480. This can be found here, at the ZENIT website. In some ways the story is "of its time" - a time when religious leadership and political leadership were much closer together than they are in developed countries today - so a defence against military invasion was also a defence against a religious persecution in a way that we do not find easy to recognise today.

But the martyrdom of the 800 men who had been captured by the victorious Turks is a pure offering of their lives out of faithfulness to their Christian religion; it is an act of pure religion. It is interesting to reflect on the significance of their martyrdom for the 21st century.

For those familiar with the writing of Hans Urs von Balthasar, the story has something of an echo of the legend of Cordula that he uses as the motif for his book about the significance of martyrdom, published with the English title The Moment of Christian Witness.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Christ is all in all

This is the title of a short post at the Abbey of St Walburga's site.

The prayer of St Ignatius is one that I recall being sung - often - during the time of my studies in Rome. I think my last memory of hearing it sung was at ordinations in the mid-1980's.

Letter to Deacons

On the occasion of the feast of St Lawrence, Cardinal Hummes, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, has written a letter to Permanent Deacons, and English translation of which can be found here, at the ZENIT website.

I was particularly interested by Cardinal Hummes opening remark about the way in which Bishops on ad limina visits to Rome often comment on the permanent diaconate, and see great hope in it. In this country I do not feel that the potential of the permanent diaconate has been fully developed - it has, in my very limited immediate experience, tended to be seen a bit as a "retirement ministry" and as a "helping in the parish" role, rather than being a role in which the deacon gains a ministry "in his own right". I know there are some counter-examples to this impression. What strikes me is that roles such as port chaplaincy and hospital chaplaincy have a clearly diaconal character, though of course they do both need to be exercised in close collaboration with priests. Another interesting thought is the role that a permanent deacon might exercise in one or other of the new movements, being for them an expression of ecclesial communion, of the unity of charism and institution in the Church.

The good old "C of E" (or how can one dialogue with a complete muddle?)

The Romford Recorder is perhaps the most significant local paper in my part of the world. This does not mean that it is any good - it's front page headlines are often quite offensive in the way in which they refer to those facing allegations of violent or sexual crime.

This week it carries an article about a local Anglican vicar attacking the Archbishop of Canterbury over the position of gay and lesbian people in the Church of England: Priest's fury in gay clergy row. I reproduce the text of the article below, in case it is removed from the Recorder's website at the end of the week.
A Romford priest penned a furious open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury after he claimed the top Anglican's musings forecast "nothing good for lesbian and gay people".The Most Rev Dr Rowan Williams infuriated many Christians with his July essay: Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future, in which he thought believers may have adopt one of "two styles of being Anglican" to deal with rifts in the church caused by the ordination of homosexuals."This has been called a two-tier model, or, more disparagingly, a first and second-class structure. But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a two-track model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage," Dr Williams wrote. The fragmentation would allow liberals to embrace issues like homosexuality, while at the same time traditionalists could maintain their
staunch objections.
But Fr John-Francis Friendship, rector at St Andrew's Church, in St Andrews Road, for eight years, who is in a civil partnership, hit back that he was deeply concerned by the tone and content of Dr Williams' suggestions - which he believes leaves homosexuals out in the cold. He wrote: "We are called to become the church God wants us to be...we find no indication of how that can be for those who are not heterosexual."We urge you not to negate that prophetic, inclusive voice we believe you have in the past expressed".His letter is backed by more than 140 supporters following an online campaign on social networking site, Facebook.
Fr John-Francis also slammed comments by Dr Williams that same-sex unions were a "chosen lifestyle", as well as the Archbishop's paralleling of same-sex marriage to sex before marriage - viewed as a sin by some Christian traditionalists.The 62-year-old rector told the Recorder this week: "There were lots of people feeling very hurt and confused by the reflections. I wanted to give a voice to those who wished to have their sentiments known."He added "There were a number of unfortunate phrases in the piece. Nothing we heard was good news for lesbian and gay people".The speech has also outraged 13 liberal Anglican groups that promote inclusiveness for typically sidelined groups, including homosexuals, ethnic minorities, and women.
Fr John-Francis, who has been in a civil partnership since 2006, expects the petitions would be "considered and taken onboard" by the Archbishop. A spokesman for Dr Williams said he was unavailable for comment as he is on annual leave.

The priest's parish is St Andrew's Romford, and this page at its website gives some idea of the ecclesial stance of the parish and its Rector.

Now, there is a certain amount of confusion within the Archbishop of Canterbury's remarks - I think he is really suggesting that one can be an Anglican in any way one likes, not just in "two tracks" - but a complete muddle in being thoroughly "pro-gay" in a parish that claims adherence to a Catholic tradition within the Church of England.

It seems to me that theological or ecumenical dialogue is not possible with an institution that contains such confusion. This extends down to the local level. How far can Roman Catholic parishes in Romford engage with this parish in dialogue or in fellowship without at the same time damaging their own witness to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on human sexuality?

Monday 17 August 2009

“Are you resolved to celebrate the mysteries of Christ faithfully and religiously as the Church has handed them down to us for the glory of God ...

“Are you resolved to celebrate the mysteries of Christ faithfully and religiously as the Church has handed them down to us for the glory of God and the sanctification of God's people?”

This is the title of a reflection issued by the Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, and makes a worthy read for both the lay person and the priest. The reflection is dated 15th August 2009.

I recently had a conversation with a fellow Catholic who (perfectly charitably) observed that I was "a book person" in reference to the Liturgy, and, implicitly, asked where the heart came into it. My response was to say that "doing it by the book" was the starting point from where the heart began. Arcbhishop Piacenza expresses this more articulately (my emphasis):
The Liturgy, which is above all a divine act, does not live by “creative subjectivity” but by “faithful repetition” which never burdens us because it is the sign, in space and time, of the faithfulness of God himself. True creativity is really that of the heart which is always renewed because it is in love.

H/T Priests Secretary.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Pope Benedict XVI: Mary and the priesthood

Other bloggers have already highlighted Pope Benedict's General Audience address on the Virgin Mary and the priesthood, given in the light of the Solemnity of the Assumption and the Year for Priests. Having now had reason to attempt a translation from the Italian (come back from holiday, ZENIT!), I post that translation. It is a very beautiful piece of writing/speaking. The translation is my own, and will be imperfect in places.

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is imminent, this coming Saturday, and we are in the context of the Year for Priests; therefore I wish to speak of the link between the Madonna and the priesthood. It is a profound link rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation. When God decided to make himself man in his Son, he needed the freely given “Yes” of his creature. God does not act against our liberty. A truly extraordinary thing follows: God makes himself dependent on the liberty, on the “Yes” of his creature; he waits for this “Yes”. St Bernard of Clairvaux, in one of his homilies, explained in a dramatic way this decisive moment in universal history, where heaven, earth and even God waited on what this creature would say.

The “Yes” of Mary is consequently the gate through which God is enabled to enter into the world, to make himself man. In this way Mary is truly and deeply involved in the mystery of the Incarnation, of our salvation. And the Incarnation, the making himself man of the Son, was from the beginning destined towards the gift of himself; to the giving of himself with much love in the Cross, to make himself bread for the life of the world. In this way, sacrifice, priesthood and Incarnation go together and Mary is at the centre of this mystery.

Let us go now to the Cross. Jesus, before he died, saw the Mother beneath the Cross; and he saw the beloved son and this beloved son certainly is a person, a very important individual, but he is more than this: he is an example, a prefiguration of all the loved disciples, of all the people called by the Lord to be “the beloved disciple” and, consequently, in a particular way also of priests. Jesus said to Mary: “Mother behold your son”. It is a type of testament: giving his Mother to the care of the son, of the disciple. But he says also to the disciple: “Behold your mother”. The Gospel says that from this moment St John, the beloved son, took the mother Mary “into his own home”. This is the Italian translation; but the Greek text is much more profound, much richer. We can translate it: he took Mary into the depth of his life, of his being, “eis ta idia”, into the profundity of his being. Taking Mary with him, means introducing her into the dynamism of his whole existence - it is not an exterior thing - it has to do with everything that makes up the horizon of his own apostolate. It seems to me that we see here how the special relationship of maternity existing between Mary and presbyters constitutes the primary source, the fundamental reason for the predilection that feeds each of them. Mary loves them in fact for two reasons: because they are closer to Jesus, highest love of her heart, and because they are also, like Her, engaged in the mission of proclaiming, of witnessing to and of giving Christ to the world. By their own identification and sacramental conformation to Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, every priest can and must feel themselves to be truly beloved by this most high and most humble Mother.

The Second Vatican Council invites priests to look to Mary as the perfect model of their own existence, invoking her as “Mother of the high and eternal Priest, Queen of Apostles, Help of priests in their ministry”. And priests - the Council continues - “must therefore venerate her and love her with devotion and a filial cult”. (cf Presbyterorum Ordinis n.18). The Holy Cure of Ars, of whom we particularly think during this year, loved to repeat: “Jesus Christ, after having given everything to them that he could give them, still wanted to make them heirs of what he held to be most precious, that is to say, his Holy Mother” (B Nodet Il pensiero e l’anima del Curato d’Ars, Torino 1967, p.305). This applies to all Christians, to all of us, but in a special way to priests. Dear brothers and sisters, let us pray that Mary enables all priests, in all the problems of today’s world, to be conformed to the image of her Son Jesus, distributor of the inestimable treasures of the love of the good Shepherd. Mary, Mother of priests, pray for us!


I offer a warm welcome to the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, including the Sisters of Saint Anne, the altar servers from Malta, and the pilgrims from Australia and the United States of America. As the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin draws near in this Year of the Priest, my catechesis today is centered on Mary the Mother of priests. She looks upon them with special affection as her sons. Indeed, their mission is similar to hers; priests are called to bring forth Christ’s saving love into the world. On the cross, Jesus invites all believers, especially his closest disciples, to love and venerate Mary as their mother. Let us pray that all priests will make a special place for the Blessed Virgin in their lives, and seek her assistance daily as they bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus. Upon you and your families I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!

Friday 14 August 2009

Tagged: seven things I love

Kate asked me to do this meme. The trouble with it is that I am putting down what I think I love, which means that they are probably the things I like, and don't necessarily love. And what gets put down first will be assumed to be my greatest love (sorry, greatest like); which again I issue a disclaimer against and here state that these are not in any carefully worked out order!

Seven things I love:

1. Parkin - this is heaven!

2. Owning even more books than I have at the moment ... Notice the double rows of books in the first photo.
Relevant quote: "I don't do poverty". (In mitigation, I have started getting things second hand via Amazon.)

3. The Blessed Sacrament Procession and afternoon Adoration in Lourdes - when in Lourdes nothing is allowed to make me miss this!

4. My companion on holidays, museum visits etc (and see disclaimer above)

5. Being single ... oh, alright, what I really mean is having a whole flat to myself ... and, most of the time (but see no.4 above), being able to do what I want .... Relevant quote: "I don't do obedience".
6. Spaghetti Carbonara ..I don't usually need to look at the menu in an Italian restaurant.

7. Plenary indulgences - see 1, 2, 5 and 6 above.

The Tablet (2): For whom the school bell tolls

For whom the school bell tolls is the title of an article by Nicolas Kennedy in the 8th August 2009 issue of The Tablet. It describes the situation of a Catholic primary school where the majority of pupils are now Muslim rather than Catholic. This presented a problem in that the trust deed of the school required that it be run for the education of Catholic children. Typically, it would also be an expectation that religious education in the school be provided in accordance with the teaching of the Catholic Church. This clearly became inappropriate with some 90% of the pupils being Muslim rather than Catholic. The eventual outcome was that the school was placed in the hands of an Interim Executive Board as a way of separating it from its trust deed without putting in jeopardy the education of the pupils:
Action was eventually taken to unwind the school’s relationship with the Church; the process was very structured, with the help of the local authority, but required the diocese to point out to the foundation governors that they were not fulfilling their tasks under the trust deed. The school, still academically successful, was then put in the hands of an Interim Executive Board (a device usually used for managing failing schools) as a means of divorcing it from its trust deed without embarking upon lengthy and controversial processes. Except for the issue of its Catholicity this was a successful school.

This paragraph in Nicolas Kennedy's article makes interesting reading:
Running a Catholic school with lots of non-Catholics in it seemed to mean in practice being an inferior organisation to other Catholic schools, for example in recruiting staff. No one would say that it was the express intention that this should be the case, but the trust deed virtually says to foundation governors that the education of Catholics is more important than the education of non-Catholics. I was not the only governor to have had difficulties reconciling this with the second commandment.

The way in which the trust deed said to foundation governors that the education of Catholics is more important than that of non-Catholics arose from the very individual situation of this school; as a point of general principle, the Church is quite entitled to make provision for the education of Catholic children without this meaning that the Church thinks other children have an inferior right to education. In doing so, the Church makes the particular form of provision for which it has a particular mission and aptitude.

However, the article brings to mind two more questions that it does not fully address.

1. The article discusses the situation of a school where the population of Catholic pupils becomes very small. But, and this might well apply more to secondary schools than to primary, what about the situation where the proportion of Catholic staff becomes very small, and where the Catholic staff might well also be non-practicing or weakly formed in their faith? If Catholic education is seen as promoting a "synthesis of faith and culture, a synthesis of faith and life" then this is only going to be effectively communicated to pupils if the body of staff demonstrates such a two-fold synthesis. Surely there comes a point where the lack of Catholic staff means that a school ceases to be Catholic?

2. Nicolas Kennedy ends his article by writing:
This article is therefore a plea to the decision makers in Catholic education to allow some schools to adopt the missionary school approach to education, focusing on influencing the community rather than educating Catholics. This would mean that Catholics could avoid being required, or perceived, to regard educating non-Catholics as an inferior task.

But, particularly in the light of my first point above, we do need to look more carefully at what such a "missionary school approach" might look like. That this sort of model for Catholic involvement in schooling is legitimate is witnessed by the history of Catholic schools in mission territories where they would typically be the only educational provision and therefore open to all pupils. The nature of the two universities sponsored by the Catholic Church in the Middle East is also another example of this sort of engagement: The University of Bethlehem and the as yet to be fully established New Latin University of Madaba

Part of Pope Benedict's address at the ceremony to bless the foundation stone at Madaba during his recent visit to the Middle East follows. I think it gives an idea of what a Catholic school on a "mission school" model might try to achieve. The problem, and not a trivial problem, is that the success of such a model depends on a shared rejection of indifference to truth and relativism in morals. It would be very easy in the developed countries of Western Europe, and I suspect that this is an issue facing Anglican schools run on the principle of serving the community, to instead just go along with the indifference and relativism of surrounding society.
“I commend the promoters of this new institution for their courageous confidence in good education as a stepping-stone for personal development and for peace and progress in the region. In this context the University of Madaba will surely keep in mind three important objectives. By developing the talents and noble attitudes of successive generations of students, it will prepare them to serve the wider community and raise its living standards. By transmitting knowledge and instilling in students a love of truth, it will greatly enhance their adherence to sound values and their personal freedom. Finally, this same intellectual formation will sharpen their critical skills, dispel ignorance and prejudice, and assist in breaking the spell cast by ideologies old and new. The result of this process will be a university that is not only a platform for consolidating adherence to truth and to the values of a given culture, but a place of understanding and dialogue. While assimilating their own heritage, young Jordanians and other students from the region will be led to a deeper knowledge of human cultural achievements, will be enriched by other viewpoints, and formed in comprehension, tolerance and peace.”

The Tablet (1): coverage of Purdy judgement

The Tablet of 8th August has taken some criticism, though I have some sympathy with the observations of Humble Piety about this. The real skill in media relations is that of answering a point of view without incidentally promoting the view you oppose at the same time - and it can't always be done.

I actually thought that the coverage of the Purdy judgement in this issue of the Tablet was rather sensible and informative, and quite a useful read. The centre piece of this coverage is an article by Professor Jones, director of the Centre for Bioethics and Emerging Technologies at St Mary's University College, Twickenham.

The last sentence of the following extract seems especially telling:
.. in official surveys Dutch doctors admitted ending the lives of 1 000 people a year who had never explicitly asked for euthanasia, and in 2005, in the Netherlands Journal of Medicine, a report claimed that euthanasia had been used illegally on 22 infants with spina bifida. As a result euthanasia advocates rarely mention Holland these days..

And the following is interesting in the light of John Smeaton's post (and the subsequent defence of it), which do, I assume, reflect the stance taken by SPUC on the judgement (their news release is here):
It is not inevitable that the Purdy case will lead to legalised assisted suicide. It is possible for the DPP to put forward conservative and flexible guidelines that do not involve any reference to disability and that do not bring euthanasia closer. The greatest danger at the moment is that this technical ruling gives momentum to the euthanasia movement and makes legalisation seem inevitable. If this is accepted without challenge, then the United Kingdom could sleepwalk in a change in the law.

As matter of media engagement, the less cautious response of SPUC seems to give "momentum to the euthanasia movement and makes legalistation seem inevitable", adding to the presumptive celebrations of Debbie Purdy and her friends on College Green, that had the utterly contradictory (and presumptive) strap line: "It gives me my life back".

Thursday 13 August 2009

What did he really say?

Writing pupil reports, particularly for primary school teachers, is a very long and time consuming job. The advent of computers can make it easier - one of the options being to use software that provides a "cut and paste" of different appropriate phrases/descriptors for the pupils achievements.

The front page of this week's Barking and Dagenham Recorder (this is one of the local newspapers covering the local authority where I work, and which neighbours my home authority of Havering) is headlined: "£270m boost for schools". This headlines a report of the final sign off by central government of the local authority's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. The programme will involve pretty much a re-build of the authority's secondary schools and the installation of a new IT infrastructure.

The newspaper's report ends:
Roger Luxton, the council's corporate director of children's services, said: "BSF promises to provide excellent education to give all children the best possible start in life by way of raising teaching standards and pupil achievements in our secondary schools".

Now, does that actually say anything? It reads like a cut and paste of strap lines from different government initiatives in education ... and makes about as much sense.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Word of Life ... but don't try this yourself?

This month's Word of Life is "He loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1).

As part of her commentary on these words of Scripture, first written as a Word of Life in April 1981, Chiara Lubich tells the story of a young girl who engaged in a bit of "marriage counselling" with her friend's mother. The story is quite striking .... but I am not sure I would advise anyone to try it themselves!

Archbishop Nichols and the Latin Mass Society

I think it was the first of the Extraordinary Form training conferences at Merton College, Oxford. I recall being impressed by two things. The first was Archbishop Nichols, then Archbishop of Birmingham, the diocese in which Oxford lies, willingness to be associated with the event. This really was quite a development, since one might have expected bishops to be as wary of the older form as they had been in the years before Summorum Pontificum. I think the significance of this can be underestimated. The second thing that impressed me was that he celebrated Mass at Merton in the Ordinary Form. This seemed to me at the time to accurately represent the relationship between the two forms of the Roman Rite as expressed in Summorum Pontificum.

It seems to me that Archbishop Nichols approach to the forthcoming conference at London Colney reflects exactly the same approach as this. The text of Archbishop Nichols message to participants in the conference has now appeared in the blogosphere.

If we compare Archbishop Nichols message to the description of the training conference in the Latin Mass Society's invitation letter, I think the difference in understanding of what is going on is quite clear.

The Latin Mass Society version first, taken from their website:
The conference is being organised with the help and encouragement of the Archdiocese...

Prior to the Conference there will be a Pontifical Mass in the Ordinary Form in Latin sponsored and organised by the Archdiocese at 11.00 am on the Monday. The conference proper will commence in the afternoon...

And Archbishop Nichols:
I welcome this short Training Conference provided by the Diocese of Westminster in conjunction with the Latin Mass Society. This is the correct description of this event. In both the teaching and law of the Church it is the bishop who has responsibility for the provision and oversight of the Liturgy...

...the ordinary Form of the Mass and this extraordinary Form serve one and the same Rite. They are, therefore, both finding their place in this Summer School and participants will wholeheartedly celebrate the Mass in each of these Forms.
There may well have been discussions behind the scenes that have resolved this difference and, if that is so, a public statement to that effect would be helpful.

I think "11.00 am on the Monday" will provide an interesting measure of exactly what is going on with regard to the Latin Mass Society and their training conferences. Participation in that Ordinary Form celebration appears to me a courtesy of ecclesial communion with the host Archdiocese and an indication of the appropriate relation of two forms in the One Rite. If the Latin Mass Society separate themselves from it I think I would agree with the view that such a distancing is not what is envisaged by Summorum Pontificum and the accompanying letter from Pope Benedict.

[The comment on this at New Liturgical Movement gives, in its last paragraphs, a substantiation of this last observation.]

Tuesday 11 August 2009

What make you of the sign of peace?

A tongue in cheek letter in The Times last week suggested that, if the Church (of England) was stopping the sign of peace in the interests of helping control the spread of swine flu, then the correspondent might consider starting to attend again. And recently I had a (good-natured) conversation with a Catholic who described attending Mass in a parish other than her own - where the priest comes all the way down one aisle to give the sign of peace to members of the congregation and all the way back down the second aisle to do the same. My interlocutor spoke highly of the fact that the priest involved could recall her name when he would have known her as a parishioner something like 15 years ago. My first thought was to wonder where this particular priest had been in recent years - considering the provisions of the revised version of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal 2000 that the priest should always remain in the sanctuary at the sign of peace, and the agenda of "mutual enrichment" expressed in Pope Benedict XVI's letter accompanying the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which would discourage such a de-sacralisation of the signs of the Liturgy. My second thought was to wonder at the liturgical formation, or lack of, of my interlocutor.

I subsequently reflected on the meaning of the sign of peace, particularly in the Roman Rite, where it is placed within the Communion Rite. Other Liturgical rites place it just before or just after the preparation of the gifts, and, after a suggestion from the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist a suggestion to move the sign of peace to that point in the Roman Liturgy is under consideration by the relevant Vatican dicastery. However, the historical development of the Roman Rite has placed it differently, and I think that gives the sign a different meaning. Accordingly, I rather hope that the Vatican will not decide to move the sign of peace, though one can see theological, historical and ecumenical reason to do so.

The practice of the sign of peace in the High Mass of the Extraordinary Form indicates that it is about the peace of Christ being communicated (deliberate choice of word) from the Divine Presence on the altar to the Church, represented in the hierarchy of her ministers. It is not about being friendly to your neighbour, which is simply to reduce the Liturgical sign to a sociological sign. [Side note: but how many of our people see it as no more than this? And how many of our priests?] The Ordinary Form develops this, perhaps, by including the members of the congregation in the sign. I have started to think that we should view the sign of peace as an act of spiritual communion, which prepares those who are able to receive for the act of sacramental communion, and catechise accordingly. This does respect the nature of the Liturgy itself - even when the sign of peace is not exchanged among the congregation the immediately preceeding prayer and the dialogue - The peace of the Lord be with you always/And also with you - expresses the essential content of the sign of peace. And by raising its status in the eyes of the people, it would meet the pastoral need currently being seen as being met in the blessing given to non-recipients who approach the priest in the Communion procession. I think it would demand, though, a review of the way in which the sign is exchanged between members of the congregation; some form of more explicitly sacral sign is needed. And the optional nature of the sign of peace in the Ordinary Form might be used to preferentially include the sign of peace in circumstances where many people are not able to receive sacramentally and, with suitable catechesis, enable them to enter into communion in so far as they are able.

My thoughts were pre-empted to an extent by Fr Ray's post on Communion Blessings, and you can find a comment from me among those at this post.

Some time ago now, I was put on the spot at lunch in a conversation with an Anglican priest. He indicated, very charitably, that he felt quite hurt by the Catholic Church's refusal of communion to Anglicans when they attended Mass. I took advantage of the delay provided by a mouth full of food to gain some thinking time before replying, anxious to be equally charitable yet honest in my reaction! My reply was to suggest that, for the Catholic, the question of truth and of holding to the same content of faith had a bigger part to play in the conception of ecclesial communion than it did for the Anglican.

In the context of the discussion of blessings at communion and of an understanding of the sign of peace as an act of spiritual communion, I think this idea of truth as a component of communion is valuable too. Communion is not just about letting people feel included socially, which is what I fear the blessing at communion often achieves; for those who are not able to receive sacramentally, it is about achieving the degree of spiritual communion that is possible in the circumstances. And I think this would be better achieved by abandoning the practice of blessings at communion and instead catechising on the sign of peace as an act of spiritual communion accessible to those who are not able to receive sacramentally.

Monday 10 August 2009

"Re-connecting" the priest and the people

If one were to suggest that many priests today are isolated - from the world in general, and from their Catholic people - this might cause some surprise. After all, the aggiornomento of the Second Vatican Council has opened the Church to the world as never before. But, if you reflect on the position of the priest in your own parish, you might find that he is now rather less familiar to his people than in the past. The simple test is to ask yourself about the extent of your contact with the priest. Do you meet him only at Church on Sunday? Or do you still meet the priest in the school, at the youth group, at the SVP meeting, etc. I suspect that most people no longer have what might be called a "day-to-day" type of contact with the priest; he is isolated. The experience of participation in a Youth 2000 prayer festival or a FAITH Summer Session, to choose two examples among others, provides the counter example. In both of these situations the presence of priests (and religious) is very visible, present in a very "day-to-day" sort of way.

A section of Frank Duff’s article The Priest must have Members is entitled “When the Priest is Isolated”, and it opens in this way:

Moreover, in certain circumstances, in fact in very many places today, the priest is isolated. It is a very easy thing to elbow the priest out and to keep him out, and that is the first step in all these schemes of de-Catholicising places - to get the priest away from the people. There are whole populations where a priest can only enter by deputy.
Frank Duff goes on to comment on this being the case in the then-Communist regimes of the Iron Curtain countries and in China, where priests were persecuted. He continues:

That danger to religion is latent everywhere. Its symptom will always be that pushing aside of the priest. A consecrated class must guard itself against becoming a separated class. In many places the clergy have virtually become a separated class.[1]
I think we can see Frank Duff’s analysis extending here from those areas where the Church is explicitly persecuted to those areas where it is secularisation in society that is marginalising the priest. His remarks are therefore pertinent to the situation of the Church today.

There are three ways in which the priest can “re-connect” with the people. The first of these is through priests acting as chaplains in different professional contexts. Examples of such contexts are school chaplaincy, hospital chaplaincy, prison chaplaincy, chaplaincy at seaports and airports and commercial or industrial chaplaincy[2]. Each of these shares common features:

1) the priest must achieve a formation in and knowledge of the professional context in which he is engaged, and therefore a status among those engaged in that profession

2) in his chaplaincy work the priest is brought into close contact with people, who may or may not be Catholics

3) often the work of the chaplaincy will involve collaboration with lay people who support the work of the priest in the chaplaincy, so that the priest is part of a team and works closely with lay people.

The temptation, however, is to say that the priest has no part to play in this sort of chaplaincy work, and to reserve it only to the lay faithful. Sometimes the shortage of priests is the reason cited for this position. This, though it may be well intentioned, only contributes to the isolation of the clergy of which Frank Duff speaks and, in a contemporary terminology, constitutes a kind of “internal secularisation” within the activity of the Church.

The second way in which priests can “re-connect” with lay people is through membership or collaboration with what Canon Law terms an “association of Christ’s faithful”:

In the Church there are associations distinct from institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life; in these associations the Christian faithful, whether clerics, lay persons, or clerics and lay persons together, strive in a common endeavor to foster a more perfect life, to promote public worship or Christian doctrine, or to exercise other works of the apostolate such as initiatives of evangelization, works of piety or charity, and those which animate the temporal order with a Christian spirit.[3]
The characteristic features of this type of collaboration of priests with the lay faithful are:

1) the ministry and activity of the priest takes part in the charism and apostolate of the association; the priest is inserted into the activity undertaken by the lay faithful who are members of the institute and closely connected to them in that activity

2) the priest gains a formation from the association, in accord with its charism and the contribution that the priest might make to living that charism; that formation might be provided by the lay officers of the association

3) the priest might live a life that is close in style to that of the lay faithful who are also members of the association; there might also be a degree of common life between the priest and the lay faithful in the association, the priest thereby being in close contact with lay members of the association.

The third way is similar in type to the first, and consists in priests acting as “ecclesiastical assistants” (ie as spiritual directors or chaplains) to associations of the lay faithful[4]. Features of this type of collaboration are:

1) the priest has a responsibility for the formation and encouragement of the spiritual life of the members of the association

2) whilst the priest will act in accord with the particular charism and rule of the association, and have a sympathy with that charism and rule, he will not generally have received a formation from the association

3) the priest has a degree of responsibility for directing the work of the members of the association, thought the extent of this varies from association to association.

All three of these models have the effect of bringing the priest into a closer contact with - and collaboration with - lay people in carrying out the mission of the Church.

[1] Frank Duff The Priest must have Members.
[2] cf. Code of Canon Law (1983) cc.564-572. Some of these professional areas have ecclesial associations that have the type of chaplaincy as their mission. Port Chaplaincy, for example, is provided by the Apostleship of the Sea.
[3] Code of Canon Law (1983) c.298.
[4] cf Code of Canon Law (1983) cc.317 (with regard to public associations of the faithful) and 324 (with regard to private associations of the faithful). In the former case, the ecclesiastical assistant is appointed by the relevant ecclesiastical authority; in the latter, the association may choose an ecclesiastical assistant who is then subject to confirmation by the ordinary.

Sunday 9 August 2009

9th August 2009: Feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

In Europe, the feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) has the liturgical rank of "feast" - she is one of the six patron saints of Europe. Unfortunately, this is still not quite enough to enable her to "trump" a Sunday.

Blog-by-the-Sea has remembered the feast day, and has a category with a series of posts from previous years about St Teresa Benedicta. This is the post with a biography of St Teresa Benedicta.

One of my most memorable days was 11th October 1998, when I was in Saint Peter's Square for her canonisation.

Those who know me wouldn't have expected me to do anything else today other than pray an office of St Teresa Benedicta!

Lord God of our ancestors, you brought Saint Teresa Benedicta to the fullnes of the science of the cross at the hour of her martyrdom.
Fill us with that same knowledge; and, through her intercession, allow us always to seek after you, the supreme truth; and to remain faithful until death to the covenant of love ratified in the blood of your Son for the salvation of all.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen