Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Novena 25 May-2 June

For more information, see here.

Please pray -

One Our Father, One Hail Mary and the following prayer:

O God, who bestowed on the Priest Blessed John Henry Newman the grace to follow your kindly light and find peace in your Church; graciously grant that, through his intercession and example, we may be led out of shadows and images into the fulness of your truth, and likewise grant [Ches's special intention].

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Blessed John Henry, pray for us.

Chesterton Conference in Oxford

The Ballad of the White Horse—a centenary celebration

The G. K. Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture, US has the pleasure of announcing a conference celebrating the centenary of G. K. Chesterton’s epic poem

The Ballad of the White Horse.

The conference will be held on Friday, July 1, 2011 from 5 – 8 pm at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford (38 St. Giles, Oxford).

Speakers include: Fr. Ian Boyd, C.S.B., John Coates, Dr. Sheridan Gilley, Dr. Julia Stapleton and Dr. Brian Sudlow.

This event is open to the public and free of charge.

An apology and a novena

Sorry, dear readers, not to have updated the blog for a week. I'm snowed under with work at the moment. It is unlikely in fact that I will be able to write again before the end of next week (though I will try).

Meanwhile, I am beginning today a novena to Blessed John Henry Newman for a very special intention; indeed, a life-changing intention. So, shamelessly, I am going to beg anyone who has the time to join me in the novena. The last day will be next Thursday.

Please pray -

One Our Father, One Hail Mary and the following prayer:

O God, who bestowed on the Priest Blessed John Henry Newman the grace to follow your kindly light and find peace in your Church; graciously grant that, through his intercession and example, we may be led out of shadows and images into the fulness of your truth, and likewise grant [Ches's special intention].

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Blessed John Henry, pray for us.

I will let you know the outcome of course.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Various prayer requests

Prayers, prayers, prayers this morning, folks. Please say one for

1. Some friends who have just lost their baby two weeks before the due date.

2. The brother-in-law of Paul, a regular reader, who is suffering with leukemia.

3. A special intention of mine.

Much obliged.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


There is a good argument to class the word community within the jargon of the media. The journalist John Humphreys divides much media jargon into 'boo words' (e.g. traditional, conservative, elite, etc.) and 'cheer words' (or something like that: e.g. liberal, progressive, egalitarian, etc.). Now, community is definitely a media cheer word. It is then, to paraphrase a certain American general, the sort of word that makes me want to reach for my gun.

The interesting thing about the word community in our age is that it has tended to be mobilised as a leftist word, on the basis that solidarity and cohesion are thought to be socialist concepts. This is a gross anachronism. Community is a fine natural concept, not to say a fine Christian concept. My closest friends who used to groan when they heard me say Gemeinschaft (German for community) were, I think, horrified to hear it used every five minutes in the film Into Great Silence.

But it is true that community is often used as a evocation of authenticity which is rarely attested in the fractured archipelago of modern life. Just watch any news report about one of these awful gun massacres and at some point, someone - journalist or interviewee - will say: 'Well, Nether Wallop is in fact a close-knit community, so we never expected this.' And that, in spite of the fact that most of the inhabitants of Nether Wallop spend most of their time hiding behind their front doors playing on their Wii gadgets and hoping never to meet the neighbours.

I suppose what I want to drive at this morning, in my tangential manner, is that community is one of those things that just is. You cannot really invent it. It only grows and matures in its own time and it cannot be fabricated. Indeed, when community is self-conscious it is always in danger of becoming its opposite, Gesellschaft, which is a chosen association. Of course there are other dimensions to be taken into account here, but I'm merely stating what I think is the most important thing.

You cannnot build a community; a community can only grow. You cannot assert priorities within a community; they are inscribed in its organic tendencies. All mobilisation of community is in danger of looking like a party, or a clique. And the thought that we can steer community self-consciously is exactly the kind of error which modernity induces in us.

I say all this because there is some loose talk around and about these days about the Traditional Latin Mass community. I'm all for it of course. But I'm also slightly suspicious of the underlying search for an authenticity which only the fumbling passage of time and the accumulation of organic connections can really create.

And that's another thing. There is a time element here which we simply cannot get around. Some things take a lot of time to mature. Community is one of those things that takes the most time. We have to await the second or third generation to see the system cleansed of any arbitrariness / narrowness that was inherent in the original options that formed the community.

In Catholicism, when counsels begin to assume the character of precepts, they must either declare themselves as vows, or simply wind their necks in. It is not for anybody to interfere with the freedom which God confers on his children. And labelling a self-elective group as a community seems like an attempt to apply the leverage of authenticity and precept to what is a laudable but non-obligatory counsel.

I hope that's clear.

Now, I'm off to the chiro!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

A little bit of music

This goes out to the 'Reading Massiv' for last weekend's hospitality.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Prayers for Rita's husband and for Rita

Rita of Tigerish Waters has announced on her blog the death of her husband Paul. Please pray for the repose of his soul and for Rita too.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

On building the Universae Ecclesiae

I know that should be 'universam ecclesiam', but put up with me, you Latin specialists. Archbishop Nichols's reaction to Universae Ecclesiae sounds remarkably ungracious. Of course we do not know everything he said yet. Still, it did confirm for me that the traditionalist cause is often perceived as a battle being waged on the Universal Church, rather than an enrichment of the Universal Church.

Why is this so? In part because it is true. There is some irony in the welcome being offered to Universe Ecclesiae by people who are not at all convinced of Paragraph 19 which states, in part, that:

The faithful who ask for the celebration of the forma extraordinaria must not in any way support or belong to groups which show themselves to be against the validity or legitimacy of the Holy Mass or the Sacraments celebrated in the forma ordinaria .

Come on, you know this is an issue. Frankly, if Archbishop Nichols sounds defensive, it is because he knows very well that those who will quote chapter and verse in favour of this document's application often reject the forma ordinaria's legitimacy in the concrete.

On the other hand, his remarks are also revelatory of a certain mentality at large in the Church, a mentality which can hardly be said to be quite in keeping with the mind and spirit of Summorum Pontificum. Indeed, it appears to be a mentality which is persecutory and hostile, rather than conciliatory and peaceable. Why don't we ever hear anything on His Grace's lips about the sacredness and greatness of the forma extraordinaria? Why have his comments alighted on the restrictive devices in Univesae Ecclesiae and not on the document's most positive message? No need to answer. Only he can tell us for sure.

Still, in one sense, none of this matters. In my view the only things which will carry the forma extraordinaria forward are the fruits it bears in people's lives, and the way in which it acts as a magnet or conductor for grace, thereby giving the unmistakeable Pneumatic proof of its immense power. Few minds will be won by the arguments. Some may be won by the example. Whether Universae Ecclesiae will ever be as universal as its name proclaims will depend very much on what happens on the ground.

As to that, do we still truly have the patience needed for the building of Christian civilisation (of which liturgical restoration forms a part)? Or do we just imagine Church reform like some holy version of political reform in the controlled state of passive war which characterises the modern state? Not consciously of course, but unconsciously, how easily we sticky-plaster over our modern instincts the holier objectives of a less technocratic age. We cannot, however, reach out and grab hold of Catholicity; we cannot instrumentalise it, as if it were as tangible as a public-relations profile.

These things are not defined; they are only lived, as the fruit of the Holy Ghost in our ecclesial lives. And to my mind, nothing about the liturgy can be restored while it remains prey to an unconscious modus belli of one group against another.

As for Universae Ecclesiae and Archbishop Nichols, only time will tell (and time, so I'm told, takes an awful long time to speak).

Friday, 13 May 2011

Blogger problems

Like all other Blogger-based bloggers, I have been cornered over the last 36 hours and unable to post anything.

I'm off to bed now but I note with joy the Bishops of England and Wales' statement on Friday penance.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

On systems and charity

Well, it seems I'm driving readers away in their droves. That's what comes of living in a consumer society: fail to make yourself available for consumption and you get the push. Nice work.

For those faithful compagnons de route who remain, salve. Apologies for the hiatus earlier this week. Recent events have left me feeling at times like I have fallen down the rabbit hole par excellence. Happily, reality conspires to keep one sane. La réalité maîtresse, as I believe Péguy calls it somewhere. I'm still laughing about the tin-pot exercise in realism that a certain bile merchant recently tried to serve me on the internet. But passive-aggressive patronization is only another type of myth.

Speaking of Péguy, I just purchased his entire works for a project which will unfold over the next couple of years (I hope). This is a new venture for me, but also, I hope, a timely one. Péguy is the grand analyst of how systems and abstractions get in the way of freedom and realities. By freedom I do not mean licence but virtuous franchise.

I suppose one of the ironies for we Catholics is that we must sometimes suffer our 'system' because it is not just our bureaucratic system but our life system also. I remember a couple of years ago when bureaucrats in the Portsmouth Diocese tried to insist on the FSSP distributing Holy Communion on the hand during the avian flu crisis (you remember, the one that killed hundreds of thousands of Brits ...). The Pompey bureaucrats failed to take account of two things, however: on the one hand, the FSSP priests are forbidden from doing this by their statutes, and on the other hand, no traditionalist would receive Holy Communion on the hand. God knows why the Pompey men insisted on this measure, and God, not we, will be their judge.

The crucial thing here is what the FSSP should have done about it. In my view, they did the right thing. They obeyed the stricture and did not distribute Holy Communion over quite a long period (I forget how long). The damage was minimal. People could cross the diocesan border and not be subjected to the same rules.

We can make any number of hypotheses about this situation, which is now a fading memory, but my point is this: it would not have been good enough simply to defy the diocesan system. Some systems are arbitrary, but some systems are more than purely systematic. The truth is that when a system is God-given - and the attachment of individual Churches to bishops is God-given - it undoubtedly involves crosses that we are MEANT to carry. If we take ourselves out of the system, then we protect our sense of agency, but we miss out on potentially on what God wants to teach us. Some systems are not ideals, they are simply the reality in which we live, like fish in water or pigs in mud (I apply the last simile strictly to specimens like myself).

But my final point is this: we make a mistake when we act towards the Church as we might do towards bureaucracy (that is, rule by an office). The rule of Christ is that we do NOT come down from the cross. It is not that we come down from the cross and bash our enemies - or those we consider the enemies of Christ. Success is not our criterion; Christ is our criterion. Charity is not a hypothesis or a postulate. It is the life of God himself.

If I repeat these things, dear readers who remain, I repeat them above all so that I might not forget them.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Because I'm in this kind of a mood ...

By Tyburn Tree

I sang tonight at Tyburn Convent for a Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form in honour of the Martyrs of England. It is their feast day after all today in the Diocese of Westminster. It was a rather subdued congregation, and I'm betting most of them are not that familiar with the Old Mass. Fr Armand de Mallerais FSSP celebrated Mass and preached. One of his themes was how the martyrs of England might view us nowadays: we who have so much freedom to worship but who are so lukewarm in our devotions. He had a point.

After Mass, my wife and I went by Tyburn Tree (now a traffic island) and said a little prayer before rushing home for the second half of the Champions League semi-final, Man Utd vs Shalke (of course). And this evening, upon returning home, I remembered that poem of Francis Thompson which is so little known these days but which is worth a read...

RAIN, rain on Tyburn tree,
Red rain a-falling;
Dew, dew on Tyburn tree,
Red dew on Tyburn tree,
And the swart bird a-calling.
Thence it roots so fast and free,
Yet it is a gaunt tree,
Black as be
The swart birds alone that seek,
With red-bedabbled breast and beak,
Its lank black shadow falling.

___The shadow lies on England now
Of the deathly-fruited bough,
Cold and black with malison
Lies between the land and sun;
Putting out the sun, the bough
Shades England now!

___The troubled heavens do wan with care,
And burthened with the earth’s despair
Shiver a-cold ; the starved heaven
Has want with wanting man bereaven.
Blest fruit of the unblest bough!
Aid the land that smote you, now!
Which feels the sentence and the curse
Ye died if so ye might reverse.
When God was stolen from out man’s mouth,
Stolen was the bread; then hunger and drouth
Went to and fro ; began the wail,
Struck root the poor-house and the jail.
Ere cut the dykes, let through that flood,
Ye writ the protest with your blood ;
Against this night wherein our breath
Withers, the toiled heart perisheth,
Entered the caveat of your death.
Christ, in the form of His true Bride,
Again hung pierced and crucified,
And groaned, “I thirst!” Not still ye stood,—
Ye had your hearts, ye had your blood ;
And pouring out the eager cup,
“The wine is weak, yet, Lord Christ, sup !
“Ah, blest ! who bathed the parched Vine
With richer than His Cana-wine,
And heard, your most sharp supper past,
“Ye kept the best wine to the last !”

___Ah, happy who
That sequestered secret knew,
How sweeter than bee-haunted dells
The blosmy blood of martyrs smells!
Who did upon the scaffold’s bed,
The ceremonial steel between you, wed
With God’s grave proxy, high and reverend Death ;
Or felt about your neck, sweetly,
(While the dull horde
Saw but the unrelenting cord)
The Bridegroom’s arm, and that long kiss
That kissed away your breath, and claimed you His.
You did, with thrift of holy gain,
Unvenoming the sting of pain,
Hive its sharp heather-honey. Ye
Had sentience of the mystery
To make Abaddon’s hooked wings
Buoy you up to starry things ;
Pain of heart, and pain of sense,
Pain the scourge, ye taught to cleanse ;
Pain the loss became possessing ;
Pain the curse was pain the blessing.
Chains, rack, hunger, solitude these,
Which did your soul from earth release,
Left it free to rush upon
And merge in its compulsive sun.
Desolated, bruised, forsaken,
Nothing taking, all things taken,
Lacerated and tormented,
The stifled soul, in naught contented,
On all hands straitened, cribbed, denied,
Can but fetch breath o’ the Godward side.
Oh to me, give but to me
That flower of felicity,
Which on your topmost spirit ware
The difficult and snowy air
Of high refusal ! and the heat
Of central love which fed with, sweet
And holy fire i’ the frozen sod
Roots that had ta’en hold on God.

___Unwithering youth in you renewed
Those rosy waters of your blood,—
The true Fons Juventutis—ye
Pass with conquest that Red Sea,
And stretch out your victorious hand
Over the Fair and Holy Land;
Compasses about
With a ninefold-battled shout,
Trumpet, and wind and clang of wings,
And a thousand fiery things,
And Heaven’s triumphing spears: while far
Beneath go down the Egyptian war—
A loosed hillside—with brazen jar
Underneath your dreadful blood,
Into steep night. Celestial feud
Not long forbears the Tudor’s brood,
Rule, unsoldered from his line,
See unto the Scot decline ;
And the kin Scots’ weird shall be
Axe, exile and infamy ;
Till the German fill the room
Of him who gave the bloody doom.
Oh by the Church’s pondering art
Late set and named upon the chart
Of her divine astronomy,
Though your influence from on high
Long ye shed unnoted! Bright
New cluster in our Northern night!
Cleanse from its pain and undelight
An impotent and tarnished hymn,
Whose marish exhalations dim
Splendours they would transfuse! And thou
Kindle the words which blot thee now,
Over whose sacred corse unhearsed
Europe veiled her face, and cursed
The regal mantle grained in gore
Of Genius, Freedom, Faith and More!

___Ah, happy Fool of Christ ! unawed
By familiar sanctities,
You served your Lord at holy ease.
Dear Jester in the Courts of God !
In whose spirit, enchanting yet,
Wisdom and love, together met,
Laughed on each other for content !
That an inward merriment,
An inviolate soul of pleasure
To your motions taught a measure
All your days ; which tyrant king,
Nor bonds, nor any bitter thing
Could embitter or perturb ;
No daughter’s tears, nor more acerb,
A daughter’s frail declension from
Thy serene example, come
Between thee and thy much content.
Nor could the last sharp argument
Turn thee from thy sweetest folly ;
To the keen accolade and holy
Thou didst bend low a sprightly knee,
And jest Death out of gravity
As a too sad-visaged friend ;
So, jocund, passing to the end
Of thy laughing martyrdom,
And now from travel art gone home
Where, since gain of thee was given,
Surely there is more mirth in heaven !

___Thus, in Fisher and in thee,
Arose the purple dynasty,
The anointed Kings of Tyburn tree ;
High in act and word each one.
He that spake and to the sun
Pointed—”I shall shortly be
Above yon fellow.” He too, he
No less high of speech and brave,
Whose word was : “Though I shall have
Sharp dinner, yet I trust in Christ
To have a most sweet supper.” Priced
Much by men that utterance was
Of the doomed Leonidas,
Not more exalt than these, which note
Men who thought as Shakespeare wrote.

___But more lofty eloquence
Than is writ by poets’ pens
Lives in your great deaths : O these
Have more fire than poesies !
And more ardent than all ode
The pomps and raptures of your blood !
By that blood ye hold in fee
This earth of England ; Kings are ye,
And ye have armies Want, and Cold,
And heavy judgements manifold
Hung in the unhappy air, and Sins
That the sick gorge to heave begins,
Agonies, and Martyrdoms,
Love, Hope, Desire, and all that comes
From the unwatered soul of man
Gaping on God. These are the van
Of conquest, these obey you ; these,
And all the strengths of weaknesses,
That brazen walls disbed. Your hand,
Princes, put forth to the command,
And levy upon the guilty land
Your saving wars ; on it go down,
Black beneath God’s and heaven’s frown ;
Your prevalent approaches make
With unsustainable Grace, and take
Captive the land that captived you ;
To Christ enslave ye and subdue
Her so bragged freedom : for the crime
She wrought on you in antique time,
Parcel the land among you : reign,
Viceroys to your sweet Suzerain
Till she shall know
This lesson in her overthrow :
Hardest servitude has he
That’s gaoled in arrogant liberty ;
And freedom, spacious and unflawed,
Who is walled about with God.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Dead and buried: more thoughts on the beatification

First, an anecdote. I was intrigued to hear that the Divine Mercy devotion, which underpins Divine Mercy Sunday, had a rather uneven path towards recognition. The bishop of Vilnius originally approved the devotion in the 1930s, but when the diaries of Sister Faustina were sent to Rome in the 1950s, so badly were they translated that their contents apppeared unorthodox and they ended up on the Index of Forbidden Books. Only a subsequent reappraisal in the 1970s, backed by Karol Wojtiya, then Archbishop of Krakow, led to the devotion's new approval and its subsequent rise to such prominence. Thereafter, Blessed John Paul II appointed the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday.

The idea that this devotion was once dead and buried, only to be resurrected, has this morning brought me some consolation after the beatification yesterday. For yesterday, as the ceremony unfolded and Pope Benedict delivered his sermon, something became clear which various voices had been denying for the last few weeks: that the beatification would inevitably stand as a stamp of approval on Vatican II as implemented by John Paul II. Honest defenders of John Paul had been pleading the case that this beatification was only a statement about his heroic virtue and sanctity. This argument was always weak, notably because he spent the last twenty-seven years of his life as Bishop of Rome.

But yesterday Pope Benedict set out for us in his sermon the way in which the Council's implementation and John Paul's legacy are intertwined:

This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man. With this message, which is the great legacy of the Second Vatican Council and of its “helmsman”, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, John Paul II led the People of God across the threshold of the Third Millennium, which thanks to Christ he was able to call “the threshold of hope”.

And with these words, I'm afraid I heard the creaking lock of history turn in the door behind which stand those who demand a reappraisal of the Council's legacy. For how can one now interrogate the legacy of the Council, as interpreted by John Paul, without mounting an assault on his status as beatus? The beatification yesterday plucked an extraordinary and undoubtedly holy man out of his historical cursus and invested his memory with an eschatological dimension.

Not only did the lock turn in the door of history, the spirit of John Paul now stands before it. Question the implementation of the Council under John Paul and you must more or less question the one now beatified as God's providentially appointed guide who led the Church from the second into the third millenium. Question the implementation of the Council under John Paul and you must attack the rhetorical insufficiencies and doctrinal gaps of a Council which he held to be an unimpeachable treasure for the Church. Bruno Gheradini, Romano Amerio, Athanasius Schneider? There was, for me, something about yesterday's ceremony which took the analytic charts such individuals have recently attempted to draw and ripped them into the confetti which floated across Saint Peter's Square.

And what of the SSPX whose talks with Rome are sinking into the sand? Bishop Fellay remains upbeat in his most recent interview with Una Voce. At the same time the SSPX has just published a new book by Abbé Patrick de la Roque which casts many doubts on the beatification of John Paul II. Now, as usual there is no sign of the SSPX analysis providing a comprehensive review of the questions addressed. But, their questions are pertinent! Here are just a few:

The beatification of John Paul II, the pope of Assisi, is deeply perplexing and raises serious questions. Henceforth, must it be considered virtuous to receive, after John Paul II's example, the sacred ashes of Shiva? To go and pray, according to the Jewish custom, at the Wailing Wall? To recognise, by the ritual gesture of a kiss, that the Qu'ran is the word of God, or again to implore Saint John the Baptist to protect Islam? Or to go and practise animist ceremonies in the forests of Togo?

Now, let us not take these questions at face value. We really need an ethnographer's analysis of these actions before we accept the theologian's judgment thereon. Judgments made from outside a culture can sometimes be rather ill informed. A Protestant watching a Catholic priest genuflect three times to the wood of the cross on Good Friday (in the Old Rite) could easily think we Catholics, who genuflect only once to the Blessed Sacrament, really do worship idols. Still, since such actions by JPII were not isolated but programmatic features of his conduct as pope, we cannot simply explain them away as peripheral details of an otherwise holy life. Indeed, such actions are often described as examples of his daring and courage by his advocates.

Of course, the great weakness of the SSPX's position is that their focus on these questions unsights them with respect to the rest of John Paul II's legacy. I have yet to read de la Roque's book, but unless it breaks with the usual traditionalist approach, it will have little to say about Blessed John Paul's writings and example concerning the priesthood, personal prayer, the Blessed Sacrament, the rosary, the Divine Mercy, the fall of communism, the theological refutation of contraception, etc. Archbishop Lefebvre even labelled John Paul a communist-loving politician in his prologue to The Spiritual Itinerary, a frankly stupid thing to say for a man comfortable in his purblind, self-righteous Petanism while Karol Wojtila went toe-to-toe with Moscow's vicious commissars.

In any case, as I say, yesterday's ceremony signified the turning of the lock. The canonization - for canonization there will almost certainly be - will be the bolts and chains upon the door. Pope Benedict, a man normally open to dialogue, has unwittingly sealed up this corridor. People can footle around the door with talk of improved translations, more reverence and oodles of incense if they like. Good luck to them. But the radical interrogation of the Council which might have reshaped ecumenical relations and corrected the all too frequent syncretism of inter-religious dialogue? Forget it.

At least for now. For just as Sister Faustina's legacy spent years in disgrace, perhaps it will be necessary for another generation to pass away before a reappraisal can be considered. Perhaps John Paul's cause will stall at this stage. Perhaps his further elevation might, in a generation or two, not signify the stamp of approval on his interpretation of the Council which it now undoubtedly does.

And there again, at last, is another sign of the folly of a hasty beatification. How could this rushed beatification not appear as a stamp of approval on JPII's papacy, especially since so many who played a role in that papacy have been the agents of the beatification process, or its front-row witnesses?

I received an email from an old friend yesterday that bespoke the profound pain of traditionalists on this day. The only words I can find for him are these:

'Brother, believe in the Church. Believe in the power of the resurrection, in spite of all the appearances of death. Believe in the God of surprises. And believe above all that our religion is not a fine art but a pilgrimage and a crucifixion. What else did we expect when we were baptised in the death of Christ? And pray to the new beatus who possessed more honesty, frankness, intelligence and devotion to Christ than all ranks of the neo-cons.