After six months away from the big smoke, Mrs Ches, Cheslette and I ventured down to London on Saturday for fun and frolics. My destination was the LMS conference being held on Oxford Street near to Oxford Circus. Fun and frolics, you ask! Mais oui!
It's not the kind of function that I'm normally seen at. Over the last few years it has become apparent that I'm neither a 'joiner' nor an 'attender' of events. This is for much the same reason that I am in no way 'clubable', for in those words of Groucho Marx that I never tire of repeating, 'I wouldn't be a member of any club that would have me!' Still on this occasion I attended, and a very interesting day it was too.
I had missed the first half of the first speaker's talk (Dr John Rao) but was well in time for the address of Stuart McCullough of the Good Counsel Network. He began with some captatio benevolentiae along the lines of 'Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking' but he was fooling nobody! He held us on the edge of our seats for forty-five minutes with tales of counselling pregnant ladies, children who have survived the contemporary holocaust, women who have the most serious of regrets, and how the hand of Providence constantly and consistently intervenes. The take home message was 'Give us prayers and money'. And, dear reader, you must!
After a lunch break in which I was able to catch up with the indefatigable Prof Tom Pink (whose work on religious liberty is changing the ground on which the question has been thus far fought out) and met Mulier Fortis for what proved to be the briefest of exchanges, we had a bloggers' fest of magnificent proportions in the afternoon: Fr Z, Fr Tim Finigan and Rev John Hunwicke.
Fr Z's message was, as always, Save the liturgy, save the world. It was one of those talks where one could put down the pen and just enjoy the argument (while pitying the brave reverend talking through a nasty head cold). He raised in particular the problem of actual participation, noting that Pope Pius XII had seen it being summed up in the devout act of communion. Next came Fr Finigan who spoke about how he had gradually introduced the extraordinary form into his parish life in Blackfen, Kent. He recounted the trouble which The Tablet had tried to cause for him some years ago, and noted that the extraordinary form has most certainly had an impact on the way he celebrated the ordinary form. I'm not sure I agreed with his implications that the influence could not be reciprocal. Many people would concede that an enriched lectionary and Sanctorum, not to mention a wider range of Prefaces, would be welcome in the Tridentine Rite. Of course, for that we must await developments elsewhere.
And finally we had the delightful Rev John Hunwicke, a newly ordained deacon for the Ordinariate. I met him at Magdalen College, Oxford in November when he attended a talk I gave there, and I confess I think he served me better as a speaker than I served him! Framing his argument through the story of Nathaniel Woodard, the founder of Lancing College, he spoke of what the Anglican patrimony, as articulated by the Ordinariate, could do for the mainstream. Let's start with basic reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to our Lady! The points were made humbly but quite justifiably.
My one frowning moment of the day was the talk of Dr John Rao. Rao is an important figure who has done much to continue the post-conciliar resistance work of Dietrich Von Hildebrand in the Roman Forum. Perhaps my negative impresson was because I missed the first half of the talk. His basic thesis was interesting: that history can be plotted along axes that reflect either (1) human endeavours to struggle towards the light or else (2) the efforts of 'word merchants' to keep us all back in the shadow of Plato's cave. Now, even if these axes can serve as a rough guide to history, it is the kind of analysis I am suspicious of, simply because arguments like it are always the preamble of what becomes a kind of tribal divisiveness. More seriously, he clearly intimated - I'm not sure if the Q&A at the end of the day clarified this - that the old liturgy could be seen as driving us towards the light, while the new liturgy draws us back into the cave. There are a number of problems with this - theological and ecclesiological for a start - and not least the historical question of just how formative the old liturgy was when its participants followed it through devotions that were paraliturgical. There are also outstanding examples of holy and religious lives that are nourrished exclusively by the new liturgy. I am not denying the terrible scars of the post-conciliar reform landscape. I am, however, cautioning against reductive analyses.
Still, I will listen again to Dr Rao since the LMS Chairman has had the felicitous idea of posting all the conference talks on his blog. Lastly, I was delighted to see some of my old friends from the Sons of the Holy Redeemer whose time in the canonical wilderness I pray will soon be over. Blessed are ye when men curse and revile ye! Let us pray Bishop Hugh Gilbert gets his skates on and sorts out their situation soon.