Wednesday, 26 December 2007


Only joking - wishing you all a very merry Christmas and all the blessings of this wonderful feast of the birth of the Redeemer. God bless. Hope to post more in the next few days, though I am feeling thoroughly out of touch.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007


Apologies for not posting. It's the end of term here and we are moving house tomorrow! I think this blog will be largely dormant for a week or so more.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Second Sunday of Advent - more from Newman

Raphael, Saint John the Baptist Preaching (National Gallery), 1505

THE Holy Baptist was sent before our Lord to prepare His way; that is, to be His instrument in rousing, warning, humbling, and inflaming the hearts of men, so that, when He came, they might believe in Him. He Himself is the Author and Finisher of that Faith, of which He is also the Object; but, ordinarily, He does not implant it in us suddenly, but He first creates certain dispositions, and these He carries on to faith as their reward. When then He was about to appear on earth among His chosen people, and to claim for Himself their faith, He made use of St. John first to create in them these necessary dispositions.

Now these passages cannot mean that faith is against reason, or that reason does not ordinarily precede faith, for this is a doctrine quite contrary to Revelation, but I think I shall not be wrong in understanding them thus,—that with good dispositions faith is easy; and that without good dispositions, faith is not easy; and that those who were praised for their faith, were such as had already the good dispositions, and that those who were blamed for their unbelief, were such as were wanting in this respect, and would have believed, or believed sooner, had they possessed the necessary dispositions for believing, or a greater share of the them. This is the point I am going to insist on: I am led to it by the Baptist's especial office of "preparing the way of the Lord"; for by that preparation is meant the creating in the hearts of his hearers the dispositions necessary for faith. And I consider that the same truth is implied in the glorious hymn of the Angels upon Christmas night; for to whom was the Prince of Peace to come? They sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will." By "good will" is meant, "good disposition"; the peace of the Gospel, the full gifts of the knowledge, and of the power, and of the consolation of Christian Redemption, were to be the reward of men of good dispositions. They were the men to whom the Infant Saviour came; they were those in whom His grace would find its fruit and recompense; they were those, who, by congruous merit, would be led on, as the Evangelist says, to "believe in His Name," and "to be born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."

Dispositions for Faith
, Sermons Preached on Various Occasions (1856)

Friday, 7 December 2007

'I am the Immaculate Conception'

Francisco de Zurbarán. Our Lady of Immaculate Conception.
c. 1628-1630.

Newman, in his letter to Pusey, writes thus of the Immaculate Conception:

It is then an integral portion of the Faith fixed by Ecumenical Council, a portion of it which you hold us well as I, that the Blessed Virgin is Theotocos, Deipara, or Mother of God; and this word, when thus used, carries with it no admixture of rhetoric, no taint of extravagant affection,—it has nothing else but a well-weighed, grave, dogmatic sense, which corresponds and is adequate to its sound. It intends to express that God is her Son, as truly as any one of us is the son of his own mother. If this be so, what can be said of any creature whatever, which may not be said of her? what can be said too much, so that it does not compromise the attributes of the Creator? He indeed might have created a being more perfect, more admirable, than she is; He might have endued that being, so created, with a richer grant of grace, of power, of blessedness: but in one respect she surpasses all even possible creations, viz., that she is Mother of her Creator. It is this awful title, which both illustrates and connects together the two prerogatives of Mary, on which I have been lately enlarging, her sanctity and her greatness. It is the issue of her sanctity; it is the origin of her greatness. What dignity can be too great to attribute to her who is as closely bound up, as intimately one, with the Eternal Word, as a mother is with a son? What outfit of sanctity, what fulness and redundance of grace, what exuberance of merits must have been hers, when once we admit the supposition, which the Fathers justify, that her Maker really did regard those merits, and take them into account, when He condescended "not to abhor the Virgin's womb"? Is it surprising then that on the one hand she should be immaculate in her Conception?

The Belief of Catholics concerning the Blessed Virgin, as distinct from their Devotion to her

Thursday, 6 December 2007

New education document online today

At last the Vatican website has placed online the English translation of the new document from the Congregation for Catholic Education. The document is called EDUCATING TOGETHER IN CATHOLIC SCHOOLS: A SHARED MISSION BETWEEN CONSECRATED PERSONS AND THE LAY FAITHFUL. Follow the link for the full text.

I haven't had a chance to look at it, so perhaps people can post comments on their first impressions.


Over at Rorate there are further treats: a plenary indulgence for the 150th anniversary of the manifestation of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes; and a new vocations initiative centring on Eucharistic adoration. You can even download a form.

Who needs Christmas presents?

Monday, 3 December 2007

Love of Neighbour

Unable to sleep I arose at a monastic hour to do some marking, drink tea, and pass the time. I was very pleased to find this comment in one of the boxes below, which I think is worth publishing; a good example of spiky Christian charity. It's actually given me one or two ideas, because I hadn't thought of posting on incense smell tests.

The correspondent is James Hastings, who like me also lives in Somerset, and he has a blog.

Hi Gravi,

I came across your blog while out blogwandering. I love the pretty pictures and illustrations.

However, all the entries seem to focus on religious issues, ie, Communion on the tongue or hand, the right way to light candles or smell tests for incence.

I wonder what are your views away from the pedantic? What about life outside legalism? I mean, are you following Jesus' Great Commission? (Mark 16: 15-18) Is your parish having to install more seats to accommodate converts? Are you raising the dead, healing the sick and preaching the Good News to the masses?

Or are you lost in the love of legalism?



I can feel a Newman/Kingsley literary moment coming on. Thanks James.

PS I couldn't find a pic of me raising the dead so here's one of St Paul preaching the Gospel in Athens, by Raphael.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Custom should rule

Over at WDTPRS, Fr Z invited comments on the following:
Fr. W said that he wished that older Rituale Romanum could be used in English, because doing a baptism entirely in Latin would be very hard for people.
I invite mostly priests, especially priests with experience of using the older form of liturgy, to post what things they would like to see clarified about Summorum Pontificum.
Unfortunately as a layman with an anti-clericalist streak I'm excluded so I'll have to post on my own blog. (I compensate for my lay disability by always wearing my biretta whilst writing posts; I fold my maniple of course on the kichen table before starting.)

My position is that no clarification is necessary; we simply have to celebrate the liturgy according to the custom as it was on the eve of the changes (and this might be different in England than in the US, for instance).

In actual fact I would say that priests, even ones who celebrate the old rite, are not necessarily the best people to ask for advice, for a number of reasons. But the main reasons are two in number:
  1. They are mainly younger priests who cannot remember the older form as it was celebrated before the Council
  2. They have a Latin fetish

In the first case, this is a problem because how the rite was actually celebrated varied according to region and what the bishops had permitted. Especially in the period 1960-1964 a number of concessions were allowed; and customs and permissions varied. Has this knowledge been lost? It is my firm belief that any priest who performs the forma extraordinaria in England should have all the freedoms and flexibility of a priest who was celebrating Mass or the other sacraments in 1964 in England. Just because you've swotted up your Fortescue and O'Connell doesn't mean you know the mind of a pre-conciliar priest. I think that is something that you would actually have to ask a pre-conciliar priest about. Or a layman with a good memory, a server or MC perhaps.

There is a great server at the FSSP chapel in Rome, an old man, who serves in a way that would surprise many. But in the traditional Roman custom. Or the story of Belloc at Westminster Cathedral standing, in the French custom, when we would kneel; and giving the verger short shrift when invited to sink to his knees.

In the second case, we have an absurd situation where, because we are sick of our dreadful ICEL translations in the new rite, we decide that the old rite is exclusively in Latin and we won't hear a word of the vernacular. The most bizarre case I have come across is where a priest was indulging a 'traditional' couple who wished to make their marriage vows in Latin. Since the vows are not made to God but to each other, (and presumably they use the vernacular at home? - or maybe they don't), and necessarily before the community, to make it in any other language than the vernacular is, I think, sheer pretension. Any sensible Catholic priest would say (in a pastoral way), (a) no, because that was never the tradition, and (b) stop being so precious.

I was married in the old rite but made my vows, of course, in the language I usually submit to my wife in!

In the case of my own marriage and the baptism of my son my concern was that I was married in the old rite but in the most sane form possible. And, low and behold, the Rituale Romanum says in its preface that the vernacular translation is authorized for public use.

Secondly, once one has read the preface, it is worth speaking to people who can remember the custom at the time (this is living tradition: reconstructing a rite from books is antiquarianism and will always fall into inauthenticity). People with memories of the 1950s and 60s can remember the priest turning round to bless the married couple in the vernacular 'May the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob be with you.' (This is, after all, directed to the couple, not to God.) And baptisms were in the vernacular, in the authorized vernacular of the Rituale, before the close of the Council. Fr W should read Gravissimum Educationis where sane traditionalism rules!

Over at WDTPRS people are haughtily saying things like, 'Latin isn't too difficult for people to understand, how patronizing!' They miss the point. Of course Mass should mostly be in Latin, but baptisms and marriages are different. They are not the worship of the whole Church offered to God the Father. They are different, and the vernacular is more appropriate; indeed, to insist on making vows in Latin is pretentious and might even carry the risk of invalidating them (or providing grounds for annulment)!

The rather puristway in which the traditional rite is being revived by enthusiasts will not impress those of the pre-Vatican II generation because they will simply say 'that's not how I remember it'. And they will be right, no matter what is written in the manuals. Because tradition, as we Catholics know, is not always written down.

And so I, a humble (as you can see!) layman, say, what is all the fuss about?

PS I suspect that among the most well informed priests are the first generation of FSSP or SSPX (I hasten to add that I am not a supporter of the latter but they will have had the old customs passed on.)

Education doc from Lancaster Diocese 'Fit for Mission'

Joanna Bogle recommends this document on Catholic schools from the Diocese of Lancaster. I must read it, when I get a moment; we are preparing for our move to London and it's an awful time in school for marking exams and writing reports.

Anyway, Auntie Joanna thinks, or hopes, it could mark a sea-change: '... a Bishop seems to have spoken out about the reality of Catholic schools, and the tragic fact that in many cases they are simply not teaching the Catholic Faith.'

Tom Macintyre of Frome and 'the perfected rite'

Someone has brought to my attention this splendid letter from this week's Tablet. It's a classic. Almost so good that one suspects it's a spoof. John Medlin, mentioned in the letter, is in charge of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales.

Tastes and essentials

Does John Medlin's conscience never trouble him when he reads letters like Neil Walker's (17 November)? The Latin Mass Society no doubt does a good job enabling the last few Latinists to pray the Mass and participate actively in Latin. But it also encourages this subjective approach - that the liturgy is what one "wishes" or "feels at home in", so that people seek out revivals of the extraordinary form and, worse, advocate it to others. There is a particular danger - at this time when antiquarianism, early music and mysterious pagan rituals are in vogue, in a liberal culture where personal inclination rules - of the young being lured away from the perfected rite to the beautiful arcane form that emphasises nonessentials, in a language that they cannot understand. Not that one fears for the actual seminarians that that minority enthusiasm generates. In time study and devotion will lead them too along the route from Benedict XIVto St Pius X, Pius XII and Vatican II, and a deep, full understanding of what Pius XI called "the principal organ of the Magisterium of the Church".

Tom McIntyre
Frome, Somerset

Cardinal Newman - the First Sunday of Advent (C)

Signs in the Heavens

One day the lights of heaven will be signs; one day the affairs of nations also will be signs; why, then, is it superstitious to look towards them? It is not. We may be wrong in the particulars we rest upon, and may show our ignorance in doing so; but there is nothing ridiculous or contemptible in our ignorance, and there is much that is religious in our watching. It is better to be wrong in our watching, than not to watch at all.

Nor does it follow that Christians were wrong, even in their particular anticipations, though Christ did not come, whereas they said, they saw His signs. Perhaps they were His signs, and He withdrew them again. Is there no such thing as countermanding? Do not skilful men in matters of this world sometimes form anticipations which turn out wrong, and yet we say that they ought to have been right? The sky threatens and then clears again. Or some military leader orders his men forward, and then for some reason recalls them; shall we say that informants were wrong who brought news that he was moving? Well, in one sense Christ is ever moving forward, ever checking, the armies of heaven. Signs of the white horses are ever appearing, {247} ever vanishing. "Clouds return after the rain;" and His servants are not wrong in pointing to them, and saying that the weather is breaking, though it does not break, for it is ever unsettled.

And another thing should be observed, that though Christians have ever been expecting Christ, ever pointing to His signs, they have never said that He was come. They have but said that He was just coming, all but come. And so He was and is. Enthusiasts, sectaries, wild presumptuous men, they have said that He was actually come, or they have pointed out the exact year and day in which He would come. Not so His humble followers. They have neither announced nor sought Him, either in the desert or in the secret chambers, nor have they attempted to determine "the times and seasons, which the Father has put in His own power." They have but waited; when He actually comes, they will not mistake Him; and before then, they pronounce nothing. They do but see His forerunners.

Waiting for Christ, PPS VI, p. 246-7. 29 Nov & 6 Dec, 1840

In Spe Salvi, 5, the pope has an interesting comment, very much in the same vein as Newman above, about looking for signs in the heavens and Roman religion at the time of the Incarnation:
Paul illustrates the essential problem of the religion of that time quite accurately when he contrasts life “according to Christ” with life under the dominion of the “elemental spirits of the universe” (Col 2:8). In this regard a text by Saint Gregory Nazianzen is enlightening. He says that at the very moment when the Magi, guided by the star, adored Christ the new king, astrology came to an end, because the stars were now moving in the orbit determined by Christ. This scene, in fact, overturns the world-view of that time, which in a different way has become fashionable once again today. It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Communion - straight in the mouth please

Francisco de Goya, The Last Communion of Saint Jose de Calasanz, 1819

Fr Tim Finigan writes an excellent essay on the two ways of administering communion: contrary to what even many conservative Catholics believe, the 'ordinary' way of administering Holy Communion is still 'on the tongue'; 'in the hand' is by special permission, or indult.

The occasion for these comments is an interview with Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Archbishop Ranjith seems to have taken up the role of straight talking on liturgical matters that the Pope had held when still just a cardinal:
I mention for example, a change not proposed by the Council Fathers or by the Sacrosanctum Concilium, Holy Communion received in the hand. This has contributed to some extent to a weakening of faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This, and the removal of altar rails and kneelers in church and the introduction of practices which oblige the faithful to sit or stand at the elevation of the Sacred Host, weakens the genuine significance of the Eucharist and the Church's profound sense of adoration for the Lord, the Only Son of God. Moreover in many places, the church the 'house of God', is used for meetings, concerts or interreligious celebrations. In some churches the Blessed Sacrament is almost hidden away in a little chapel, hardly seen and little decorated. All this obscures a belief so central in the Church, belief in the real presence of Christ. The church, for Catholics, is the 'home' of the Eternal One.

Monday, 26 November 2007

'This day is fulfilled this scripture in your ears'

Raphael's Transfiguration (in the above section), flanked by Moses and the Prophet Elijah

I am just planning a lesson on the prophets. So I turn to the usually OK - but nothing special - CTS series, The Way, The Truth, and the Life.

I want to explain how Jesus fulfils the prophets. This is what I find

  • Hosea reminded the people of God's love, goodness and faithfulness. So did Jesus.
  • Amos and Micah urged them to show kindness to the poor, to be compassionate, honest and generous. So did Jesus.
  • Jeremiah warned that if the people did not turn back to God, they would be punished. So did Jesus.
  • Isaiah proclaimed the coming of the Messiah and of his kingdom. That Messiah was Jesus ...

Only at the end is any mention of the fact that the prophets spoke of Jesus (among other things). This is one of the ways that we know that Jesus was not bad or mad, but God. We know we can trust him, because the Jews were expecting him. Here are some of the prophecies the CTS authors could have made use of:

Genesis 3: 15 – the Protogospel

And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. 15 I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.

Genesis 49: 10 – The Prophecy of the Dying Jacob

The sceptre shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a ruler from his thigh, till he come that is to be sent, and he shall be the expectation of nations.

Isaiah 7: 14 – The Virgin shall Conceive

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.

Isaiah 9: 6-7 – A Child is Born

For a CHILD IS BORN to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of Peace. His empire shall be multiplied, and there shall be no end of peace: he shall sit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom; to establish it and strengthen it with judgment and with justice, from henceforth and for ever: the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah 53 – The Suffering Servant

1 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? 2 And he shall grow up as a tender plant before him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground: there is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him: 3 Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed ... ...

Micah 5: 1-3

Now shalt thou be laid waste, O daughter of the robber: they have laid siege against us, with a rod shall they strike the cheek of the judge of Israel. 2 AND THOU, BETHLEHEM Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda: out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel: and his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity. 3 Therefore will he give them up even till the time wherein she that travaileth shall bring forth: and the remnant of his brethren shall be converted to the children of Israel.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King (34th Sunday)

The famous Pantocrator icon, with Christ's face one side gentle, one side stern

The last Sunday before Advent. Here is an excerpt from the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman.

The Royal Pardon from the Throne of the Cross

Consider the deep and serene compassion which led Him to pray for those who crucified Him; His solicitous care of His Mother; and His pardoning words addressed to the robber who suffered with Him. And so, when He said, "It is finished," He showed that He was still contemplating, with a clear intellect, "the travail of His soul, and was satisfied;" and in the solemn surrender of Himself into His Father's hand, He showed where His mind rested in the midst of its darkness. Even when He seemed to be thinking of Himself, and said, "I thirst," He really was regarding the words of prophecy, and was bent on vindicating, to the very letter, the divine announcements concerning Him. Thus, upon the Cross itself, we discern in Him the mercy of a Messenger from heaven, the love and grace of a Saviour, the dutifulness of a Son, the faith of a created nature, and the zeal of a servant of God...

...Who, on the other hand, does not at least perceive that all the glare and gaudiness of this world, its excitements, its keenly-pursued goods, its successes and its transports, its pomps and its luxuries, are not in character with that pale and solemn scene which faith must ever have in its eye? What Christian will not own that to "reign as kings," and to be "full," is not his calling; so as to derive comfort in the hour of sickness, or bereavement, or other affliction, from the thought that he is now in his own place, if he be Christ's, in his true home, the sepulchre in which his Lord was laid? So deeply have His Saints felt this, that when times were peaceful, and the Church was in safety, they could not rest in the lap of ease, and have secured to themselves hardnesses, lest the world should corrupt them.

Bodily Suffering, PPS III p149, 151. Given 3 My, 1835

November 23 - Feast of St Clement, Pope, Martyr

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Pope Saint Clement Adoring the Trinity (1737-38)

Here is a snippet from Pope Benedict's audience on St Clement, given earlier this year:

St. Clement, Bishop of Rome in the last years of the first century, was the third Successor of Peter, after Linus and Anacletus. The most important testimony concerning his life comes from St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons until 202. He attests that Clement "had seen the blessed Apostles", "had been conversant with them", and "might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes" (Adversus Haer. 3, 3, 3).

We have, of course, Pope Clement's extant Letter to the Corinthians (c. 96AD), remarkable as the first instance of papal intervention in the affairs of another Church (he was asked by the elders of the church in Corinth to restore order and hierarchy after some upstarts had removed them.) In the early Church this letter had an 'almost canonical character'. I find it especially interesting that the Corinthians sought Clement's intervention even though the Apostle John was still living, and far more local to them than Clement was, all the way over in Rome.

According to my Missal, the epistle for today (Philippians 4) confuses Clement, bishop of Rome, with another Clement. Whoops.

Why do we baptize infants; and why is abortion so wrong?

It's interesting to take a look at the GCSE mark schemes for various questions. Take the question, 'Why do Catholics believe in infant baptism?' Answers to be credited include:
  • Baptism brings someone into the Church
  • It takes away original sin
  • It brings the family and community together
  • It shows the faith of the parents

At no stage is it ever mentioned that baptism is necessary for salvation. This is the reason why Catholic mothers get nervous with unbaptized babies; not because they feel that they haven't had the opportunity to display their faith or bring the baby into the parish community, but because unbaptized babies may not be able to enjoy the Beatific Vision.

A friend of mine recently argued that the real issue with abortion isn't the humanitarian one - the vulnerability of the innocent lives so cruelly taken - but the theological one, the impossibility of salvation for the souls of those babies who have been denied baptism and therefore go to Limbo. If we believe in Limbo...

An Encyclical on Hope; and a New Document on Education

Hope, Kazimierz Wojniakowski (d. 1812)

The Congregation for Catholic Education has published a new document, Educating Together in Catholic Schools. A Shared Mission between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful. Although reports of the press conference say that the document is published in English, I can only find it in Italian, on the congregation's page.

Other great news is that the Pope will sign his second Encyclical, on Christian hope, on November 30 (I don't think we know when it will be published). One just relishes everything that comes from our Holy Father's pontifical pen. The title, Spe Salvi, is from St Paul:

For we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen, is not hope. For what a man seeth, why doth he hope for? But if we hope for that which we see not, we wait for it with patience. Rom 8.24-5

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Recess for a few days

I'm getting a very early train to London tomorrow morning, so no posts until Friday.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

'Dissent from the Church has never looked so much fun'

The May-June 2007 edition of Faith magazine carried an outstanding book review of the standard Catholic textbook used in Religious Studies, Catholic Christianity Today. The review was by Mr James Preece, clearly an intelligent man with a love of truth.

The only problem was that by the time the review was published the book was already several years old and there was a new 'improved' (?) edition at the printers. I thought at the time that it was a pity that the authors had not had the benefit of this review for the process of revising the woeful first edition (which is of course still being widely used).

The new edition now having been published, I intend to review it here this week. The main author remains the non-Catholic chief-examiner Victor Watton, although he now has a Catholic co-author. Anyhow, Preece's review is well worth reading; in the coming days we will be looking at whether the revised edition is an improvement.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Great news ...

... over at Rorate - the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei is reported to be planning to instruct seminaries to include training for seminarians in the traditional form of the Roman rite (the forma extraordinaria).

But who will teach the teachers?

And as commentators are already saying, we presume that England has a dispensation from any such directive?

Liturgical Latin was never 'vernacular'

There is some willingness in my school to ensure some familiarity with the Latin liturgy (at the moment limited to the forma ordinaria). It is good to be able to give reasons to the children for why the Church retains the use of an ancient tongue, and of course one of the points that we mention is that at a particular time Latin was the vernacular. However, acknowledging this opens up a weakness; viz, that it ain't any more.

It now appears, however, that the matter is a great deal more nuanced. Fr Michael Lang, formerly of the London Oratory and now working in the Vatican Curia, is arguing that 'The Latin liturgy was from the beginning a sacred language separated from the language of the people...'

There is discussion over at the NLM and a translation of Fr Lang's entire article is at the incomparable Rorate.

John Henry Newman - 33rd Sunday of the Year (C)

In Persecution the Church begins and ends

We have been so accustomed to hear of the persecutions of the Church, both from the New Testament and from the history of Christianity, that it is much if we have not at length come to regard the account of them as words of course, to speak of them without understanding what we say, and to receive no practical benefit from having been told of them; much less are we likely to take them for what they really are, a characteristic mark of Christ's Church. They are not indeed the necessary lot of the Church, but at least one of her appropriate badges; so that, on the whole, looking at the course of history, you might set down persecution as one of the peculiarities by which you recognize her. And our Lord seems to intimate how becoming, how natural persecution is to the Church, by placing it among His Beatitudes. "Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven;" giving it the same high and honourable rank in the assemblage of evangelical graces, which the Sabbath holds among the Ten Commandments,—I mean, as a sort of sign and token of His followers, and, as such, placed in the moral code, though in itself external to it.

He seems to show us this in another way, viz., by intimating to us the fact, that in persecution the Church begins and in persecution she ends. He left her in persecution, and He will find her in persecution. He recognizes her as His own,—He framed, and He will claim her,—as a persecuted Church, bearing His Cross. And that awful relic of Him which He gave her, and which she is found possessed of at the end, she cannot have lost by the way.

This alone I will say, in conclusion, as I have already said several times, that such meditations as these may be turned to good account. It will act as a curb upon our self-willed, selfish hearts, to believe that a persecution is in store for the Church, whether or not it comes in our days. Surely, with this prospect before us, we cannot bear to give ourselves up to thoughts of ease and comfort, of making money, settling well, or rising in the world. Surely, with this prospect before us, we cannot but feel that we are, what all Christians really are in the best estate (nay, rather would wish to be, had they their will, if they be Christians in heart), pilgrims, watchers waiting for the morning, waiting for the light, eagerly straining our eyes for the first dawn of day—looking out for our Lord's coming, His glorious advent, when He will end the reign of sin and wickedness, accomplish the number of His elect, and perfect those who at present struggle with infirmity, yet in their hearts love and obey Him.

Tract 85, 21 September 1838

Friday, 16 November 2007

Saints' skulls and boiling blood

Folks may be interested to hear reports that St John Chrysostom's skull has sprung into action, working miraculous cures in Cyprus.

I presume that this skull was one of the relics handed over by Pope John Paul II to the Orthodox back in 2004. They had been venerated in Rome for eight hundred years, after someone had brought them back from Crusade.

I also assume that this sudden flurry of activity is heavenly affirmation of Pope Benedict's letter last week on this great Doctor of the Church (thanks to Fr Z for translating this; the Vatican hasn't bothered).

A more predictable occurence occured in September when St Januarius' blood liquified for the four hundredth successive year. Yeah that old blood liquifaction trick.

Perhaps people will enjoy reading about Newman's impressions of Naples:

'Santa Croce: Sept. 17, 1847.'I should have written before, but St. John and I have been at Naples, and our time, as you may guess, not quite our own for writing letters. We went there, among other reasons, to see the Oratory of the place, which was founded in St. Philip's time. It is a magnificent Church, Sacristy, and House—and beats the Roman, fine as the House of the Chiesa Nuova here is. And we were very much pleased with the clergy who inhabit it—most of them were young men and very intelligent and inquisitive about England. We liked all the clergy we saw there—we were introduced to the Cardinal Archbishop, a young man of 33—saw a good deal of the Jesuits, who are a wonderfully striking body of men, and about whom I could write you a good deal ... When we were there the feast of St. Gennaro was coming on—(it is the day after tomorrow, the 19th) and they were eager for us to stop—they have the utmost confidence in the miracle—and were the more eager, because many Catholics, till they have seen it, doubt it. Our father director here tells us that before he went to Naples, he did not believe it. That is, they have vague ideas of natural means, exaggeration, &c., not of course imputing fraud. They say conversions often take place in consequence. It is exposed for the Octave, and the miracle continues—it is not simple liquefaction, but sometimes it swells, sometimes boils, sometimes melts—no one can tell what is going to take place. They say it is quite overcoming—and people cannot help crying to see it. I understand that Sir H. Davy attended every day, and it was this extreme variety of the phenomenon which convinced him that nothing physical would account for it. Yet there is this remarkable fact that liquefactions of blood are common at Naples—and unless it is irreverent to the Great Author of Miracles to be obstinate in the inquiry, the question certainly rises whether there is something in the air. (Mind, I don't believe there is—and, speaking humbly, and without having seen it, think it a true miracle—but I am arguing.) We saw the blood of St. Patrizia, half liquid, i.e. liquefying, on her feast day. St. John Baptist's blood sometimes liquefies on the 29th of August, and did when we were at Naples, but we had not time to go to the Church ... But the most strange phenomenon is what happens at Ravello, a village or town above Amalfi. There is the blood of St. Pantaleon. It is in a vessel amid the stone work of the Altar—it is not touched—but on his feast in June it liquefies. And more, there is an excommunication against those who bring portions of the True Cross into the Church. Why? because the blood liquefies, whenever it is brought. A person I know, not knowing the prohibition, brought in a portion—and the Priest suddenly said, who showed the blood, "Who has got the Holy Cross about him?" I tell you what was told me by a grave and religious man. It is a curious coincidence that on telling this to our Father Director here, he said "Why we have a portion of S. Pantaleone's blood at the Chiesa Nuova, and it is always liquid."

Partial truth?

I was teaching yesterday about the Church's teaching about other religions. We acknowledge that other beliefs (not 'faiths' except in the case of Judaism) contain partial truth. We must admit that those things they have in common with us are true, or else we will be denying some of the truths of our own true faith.

However, I was amused to read about this Hindu wedding ceremony, which seems to contain no elements of truth. Not least that the bride clearly did not give her willing consent.

On how many counts is this neither a valid nor sacramental union?

You don't need to be Fr Brown ...

... to know who Damien Thompson's source must surely be: has any one seen this week's L'Osservatore Romano?

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Smoke in The Sanctuary

I hope everyone is ordering their copy of the just back-in-print cult novel Smoke in the Sanctuary, by Stephen Oliver. I am proud to say that I have a signed first edition, but I'll be getting a few as gifts this Christmas.

Follow the link to Southwell Books.

Monday, 12 November 2007

More conservatism among the young

In my school a group of boys have spontaneously formed a Latin Compline group. This is just one more piece of evidence of the atmosphere of disobedience that pervades young Catholics and seminarians (see post below 'Faith magazine'). I think we can all see the danger: young men, gathering gathering to say the official liturgy of the Church, in a sacred language, before they go to bed.

I'll be leaving in a minute to join them:

VISITA, quaesumus, Domine, habitationem istam, et omnes insidias inimici ab ea longe repelle: Angeli tui sancti habitent in ea, qui nos in pace custodiant; et benedictio tua sit super nos semper. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

VISIT, we beg Thee, O Lord, this dwelling, and drive from it all the snares of the enemy; let Thy holy Angels dwell herein to keep us in peace; and let Thy blessing be always upon us. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Update: they sang beautifully & not a bean-bag in sight!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Reading Christopher Howse in Saturday's Daily Telegraph brought back fond memories of my old university: the 'lovely stone-built university city of St Andrews poised between its cliff-top promontory and an empty sweep of sand running north to the river Eden.'

Howse was in St Andrews for some sort of conference in honour of Elizabeth Anscombe. I am guessing that it was something organised by John Haldane. Here is Haldane's succinct obituary of Anscombe, 'a convert to Roman Catholicism and a keen advocate of theological orthodoxy,' and a student of Wittgenstein at Cambridge. Towards the end of his life, the philosopher 'asked Anscombe to put him in touch with a "non-philosophical priest"'. The outcome is not known.

In 1957 Anscombe 'protested the award by the University of Oxford of an honorary degree to President Truman, charging that he had commanded the murderous use of nuclear weapons against innocent Japanese civilians.' It makes no difference to the morality of the act, but I had not realised until last week that Nagasaki was home to two-thirds of the Catholic population of Japan. See Sandro Magister's article for more on this tragedy of history.

In July 1968, she and her husband, the philosopher Peter Geach, celebrated Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae (in which he overruled the committee he had appointed to deal with the question of contraception, and affirmed the traditional teaching of the Church) with champagne, rather like the motu proprio celebrations this summer.

And here is Anscombe's excellent essay on Transubstantiation, which is really where this post was leading!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Liberal moved to key educational office in the Curia?

There is a new Secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education: Bishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, O.P., Bishop of Angers.

Reading the discussion at Rorate, it sounds like a disappointing appointment.

[Clarification: later comments at Rorate suggest he is theologically conservative: it would seem very odd for Pope B to put a liberal into such a senior curial office, so hopefully it's a shrew move.]

The Voucher System

A very good idea.

Nicean Blues

As you know, I like to post links on this blog to really excellent resources for teaching. I was delighted, therefore, to discover these two superbly made videos:

Did Catholics Really Add Books to the Bible?

Nicean Blues

Many thanks to the maker of this video, Tiber Jumper, and h/t to the Curt Jester.

Faith Magazine ...

... arrived today, much to my seven month old son's delight. The Faith Movement is very popular with young people today, who are often more traditional and conservative than their parents.

I must confess to personally finding his conservatism infuriating. I mean, he's so nostalgic for the past...

For my part, I thought that the best thing for him would be to introduce him to a more enlightened periodical, the Tablet. So I showed him the following paragraph from this week's editorial, which draws attention to the reactionary views found among so many young Catholics:

The bishops have a duty not to let this disobedient and anti-conciliar spirit spread. It is already present in some seminaries, where a proportion of young men studying for the priesthood seem particularly attracted to a backwards-looking style of Catholicism that was familiar in the novels of Evelyn Waugh. The Tridentine Rite reflected the Counter-Reformation theology that emerged from the Council of Trent, and the Second Vatican Council marked the moment when the Catholic Church decided, definitively, that the Counter-Reformation era was over. It is because the motu proprio seemed to give comfort and support to those with a nostalgic and obsolete view of the faith that many bishops worldwide felt the need to limit the damage it might otherwise have caused. It is a pity that some in Rome did not understand this.

Imagine my shock when he blew raspberries, screwed up the pages, and then threw it contemptuously to the floor. Something to mention to the health visitor when she comes round.

John Henry Newman - 32nd Sunday of the Year (C)

Aert de Gelder, Abraham and Angels

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

From Newman's sermon 'The Resurrection of the Body', in Parochial and Plain Sermons, I, p. 272; 273-4 (22 April, 1832)

When God called Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He implied that those holy patriarchs were still alive, though they were no more seen on earth. This may seem evident at first sight; but it may be asked, how the text proves that their bodies would live; for, if their souls were still living, that would be enough to account for their being still called in the Book of Exodus servants of God...

...Our Blessed Lord seems to tell us, that in some sense or other Abraham's body might be considered still alive as a pledge of his resurrection, though it was dead in the common sense in which we apply the word. His announcement is, Abraham shall rise from the dead, because in truth, he is still alive. He cannot in the end be held under the power of the grave, more than a sleeping man can be kept from waking. Abraham is still alive in the dust, though not risen thence. He is alive because all God's saints live to Him, though they seem to perish...

...God graciously called Himself the God of Abraham. He did not say the God of Abraham's soul, but simply of Abraham. He blest Abraham, and He gave him eternal life; not to his soul only without his body, but to Abraham as one man. And so He is our God, and it is not given us to distinguish between what He does for our different natures, spiritual and material. These are mere words; each of us may feel himself to be one, and that one being, in all its substantial parts, and attributes, will never die.

Friday, 9 November 2007

'A man of culture, an ascetic and a spiritual guide'

St Jerome in his study, by Vincenzo Catena (National Gallery, London)

St Jerome was the subject of the pope's General Audience this Wednesday.

He is interesting from an educational point of view. One pressing question for the early Church Fathers was the relationship between classical civilisation and the Gospel. Of course the pagans had all the best schools; pagan education was very refined by then. Would the Church reject the classical models as a dangerous rival to the Christian revelation, or would it seek a synthesis?

We now naturally talk of Catholicism as the religion of 'both/and' rather than 'either/or': we know that the monasteries preserved classical learning throughout the middle ages, Aquinas 'baptized' Aristotle, and the Vatican museums is stuffed with the riches of paganism. But the Fathers of the Church were not initially 'onside'.

Tertullian asked: Quid Athenae Hierosolymis, 'what is there is common between Athens and Jerusalem, the Academy and the Church?'

St Augustine uttered similar sentiments, and St Jerome experienced a dream in which he was scourged by God, who told him, "Thou art a Ciceronian, not a Christian", ciceronianus est non christianus. See this letter for the full story (para 30) from the horse's mouth.

Origen thought that being a professional grammarian was an obstacle to being a catechist. Funny, you don't even need to be an orthodox Catholic anymore!

St Jerome breaks through this hostility to some extent, and the pope in his address mentions that Jerome was a teacher of Christian and classical learning. Jerome, and others, accepted that in order to access the Gospels one must have some literary culture, and this could only be acquired in the pagan schools.

But this didn't amount to an acceptance of the pagan culture: what Christian children had to learn of necessity, Christian adults who have acquired those skills should not continue to indulge for pleasure.

Of course there is the delightful paradox that St Paul seems to quote Euripides (via Menander) in 1 Cor 15.33: 'Evil communications corrupt good manners'. So the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to quote a pagan dramatist? And we know St John Chrystostom attended lectures by the the pagan scholar Libanius.

Tertullian took a rigorist position: he too accepted that Christian children needed to go to the pagan schools, but he forbade adult Christians from having teaching posts in them. (Again a paradoxical inversion of our belief that our children should be taught by Catholics. There really is a huge development in the Church's teaching about education over the centuries.)

As for the children, despite the 'poison' that the child drank at school, they gained immunity through the teaching that they received in Church and at home from their parents. Parents are, after all, the 'first educators'.

These concessions to necessity were in part due to the position of the Christian community prior to Constantine's conversion; after that, I suppose the schools became Catholic schools.

An excellent book on all this is H. I. Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity (London: Sheed & Ward, 1956), if you can find a copy on abebooks or a university library.

[Clarification: it's in print in later editions. Quite an interesting figure, the French wikipedia article says 'Il approuve vivement Vatican II, combattant à la fois les intégristes et les progressistes influencés par le marxisme.']

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Ashes to Ashes

A familiar name to many of you, Mr Eric Hester was my headmaster. He had this letter published in today's Daily Telegraph:

Sir - Writing about Scottish architecture (Arts, November 6), Ellis Woodman laments that a modernist-designed Scottish Roman Catholic seminary has been empty for 20 years and is being vandalised. He writes: "The problems began when the Second Vatican Council decreed that priests should be trained not in seclusion, but within the community."

There was no such decree. Seminaries are thriving and full in Africa, eastern Europe and Rome. The problem in Scotland - and England - is that there have been hardly any seminarians to be trained inside or outside seminaries.

The reasons for the drop in vocations are many, but they are mainly those false ideas of what the Second Vatican Council is supposed to have said. Could the decline in vocations, and in church attendance, also have something to do with those modernist buildings?

Eric Hester, Bolton, Lancashire

The seminary in question is St Peter's College in Cardross.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Excuse me, that's our school

Ready for demolition?

Very important story to flag up today. On the front page of today's Daily Telegraph we read this story, which has big implications for our schools in England: "Top Catholic grammar school faces closure".

The story centres around St Joseph's College, Stoke-on-Trent - a Christian Brothers foundation of 1932. This school is a Roman Catholic Grammar School (i.e. mainly state-funded but religiously and academically selective). Many conservatives will see this as a threat to selective education. But I'm more concerned by the threat to a Catholic school. NB The Church owns this school.

According to a source in the council, this proposal is 'motivated by a desire to allow deprived children living nearby to attend.' Here we have to make an inference. Catholic families no longer live in concentrated communities in inner city areas (the ethnic demographic has changed since these schools were founded). Catholics are now geographically scattered, often in more prosperous suburbs. A Catholic school will now serve a larger catchment zone.

Does anyone know this particular area?

If this school becomes a comprehensive for the immediate community, will it simply become a school for deprived inner city Catholics? I do not know the area, so I simply ask: who are the deprived of this area? My slightly educated guess is Asian/Muslim. Is St Joseph's about to cease to be a Catholic school?

Surely we need an action plan to rescue our Catholic schools and the investment made in them by past generations. The battle that I hope is about to begin in Stoke is a battle that concerns each of us Catholics in England.

The reaction of the St Joseph's community will be interesting. The headmaster is clearly unhappy; this is a highly successful academic school under threat from a hostile state takeover.

But also interesting will be the response of our bishops. Over the past decades our bishops, in stark contrast to their heroic predecessors who established these great schools, have failed to support our schools. Firstly they have blessed families who have chosen to send their children to non-Catholic schools. What once was a grave duty - to send one's kids to a Catholic school - is now an equally valid choice. All the top Protestant public schools have excellent chaplains, some of our best clergy, laid on by the Church for the children who should be in Catholic schools.

The second failure by the bishops flows from the fact that they do not believe in selective education. So they might welcome this move.

It's all utterly outrageous; part of the ongoing opposition of Labour national and regional government to Catholic institutions. For a good history of the school in question, written by a former brother of the community, vide.

Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ

The Spoken New Testament read by the Rev. Hugh Thwaites SJ. This link will take you to all sorts of useful downloads, which I'm exploring at the moment.

These wonderful recordings of the Gospels, Acts, and Apocalypse of John are a great resource for teachers, and for everyone who wants a thorough familiarity with the New Testament as a continuous whole rather than the disjointed impression that comes from the nature of the lectionary.

Fr Thwaites delivery reminds me of the great Paul Scofield, whose BBC recordings of The Four Quartets are such treasures. The recordings use the splendid (I think) version by Monsignor Ronald Knox. Unfortunately there are no downloads of the Pauline epistles, which are considered Knox's finest achievement.

These recordings and Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth are a great help for all of us who know that 'ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ' (St. Jerome, Commentariorum in Isaiam).

The latest edition of Mass of Ages, the magazine of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales, arrived a couple of days ago and I've just finished with it. It's the best edition for some time.

I was interested to read about the Brussels International Catholic School, run by the Institute of Christ the King. Is this the only English speaking (actually bi-lingual) school in Europe with the traditional liturgy? Not a massive help for anyone not in Brussels, although they do offer a gap-year or term in the school with children staying in host families (it's not a boarding school).

Elsewhere in the magazine, Fr Bede Rowe prints the text of his letter (sermon?) to his parish explaining why the forma extraordinaria is coming to his Warminster parish. A quite startlingly bold article.

Fr Thomas Crean writes an excellent article on modernism, remembering Pius X's great encyclical Pascendi.

And someone called Fr Tim Finigan explains how he gradually renewed the liturgical life of his parish. Thanks to him for mentioning my blog on his highly esteemed site.

Good bedtime reading.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Get the Message?

Above: Giotto showing the catechists of the first Catholic Evidence Guild limbering up

'We would sum up then the ideal platform qualifications as simplicity and clearness to the utmost degree; eloquence on the leash; gentleness without weakness; and an unswerving determination to maintain the moral ascendancy which belongs to the Catholic Church.'

I've just been reading Maisie Ward's definitive definition of the Catholic Evidence Guild. It's really an excellent definition of being a Catholic teacher. I recommend it.

This summer I was privileged to meet Mrs Daphne McLeod, who I expect is known to many of you. She was trained as a Guild Speaker. It was interesting to hear her say that in the current climate the Guild could not be really relaunched. The reason? Because of the likelihood that Catholics in the crowd would publically dissent from the orthodox teaching of the speaker; and that would cause scandal. I wonder if she's right. I understand the Evidence Guild still exists?

I posted below on the virtue of simplicity. The purpose of the teacher is to communicate truth; and that means not beating the hearer into submission, or impressing them with learning so that they think 'this person is so clever they must be right' (if that were only so!). Rather, it means speaking clearly so that the truth that exists within us becomes a truth that exists them.

The first Evidence Guild meeting, says Maisie Ward, occured after Pentecost: 'The Bible tells us that at the first Evidence Guild meeting, the speakers had a most mixed audience, yet every man understood them'. She continues:

This simplicity involves: (a) treating one point at a time; (b) arranging the subject matter clearly; (c) keeping the lecture to 20 minutes at most; (d) using very simple words. Such words as "finite," "creatures," "impeccability," and a thousand more mean nothing to a crowd. Words of one syllable (if very common) are desirable!

I won't go on because you can read the article yourself if you want. I've a couple of resources to share:

First, Mrs McLeod has a series of downloads on how to teach the faith to children. This is especially useful because it focuses on technique, which is what we teachers need (all Catholics should possess the knowledge already!). Not quite as slick as a Fr Z podcazt but very worthy of attention.

Second, here is a fascinating document: the Catholic Evidence Training Outlines. Really useful. Here is the contents page:


The Problem Of Guild Training

Technical Lectures
—1. General Outlook of a Catholic Street-Corner Apologist
—2. How to Develop your Ideas
—3. How to Handle a Crowd
—4. Questions and Interjections
—5. On Forestalling Objections in the Course of your Speech
—6. Chairmanship
—7. Class-Taking
—8. Practice Night
—9. Thoughts for Senior Speakers

Course I For Junior Speakers

—1. The Church Founded by Christ a Visible Body
—2. The Church a Supernatural Fact
—3. The Church and the Bible
—4. The Bible in the Church
—5. The Rule of Faith
—6. Bible Reading in the Church
—7. Marks of the Church (in general)
—8. Unity and Catholicity
—9. Apostolicity
—10. Holiness
—11. Supremacy of the Pope
—12. Infallibility

—1. The Supernatural Life
—2. Prayer
—3. The Sacramental Principle
—4. The Mass
—5. The Blessed Eucharist
—6. The Priesthood
—7. The Catholic Moral System
—8. Marriage
—9. Our Lady and the Saints
—10. Our Lady
—11. Purgatory
—12. The Externals of Worship

Course II For Senior Speakers
—1. Indifference
—2. Faith and Reason
—3. Revelation
—4. Authenticity of the Gospels: External Evidence
—5. Authenticity of the Gospels: Internal Evidence
—6. Inspiration
—7. The Trinity
—8. The Theology of the Incarnation
—9. The Incarnation:—(1) Is it a Possibility?;—(2) Universal Views
—10. The Divinity of Christ
—11. Christ a Unique Figure "Focusing Prophecy and Radiating Miracle"
—12. Christ as Teacher and Revealer
—13. What did Christ Claim?
—14. Prophecy. (In Proof of Christ's Claims.)
—15. Miracles. (In Proof of Christ's Claims.)
—16. The Resurrection. (In Proof of Christ's Claims.)
—17. The Fall and Original Sin
—18. The Redemption

—1. Development of Doctrine
—2. The Church and Judaism (1)
—3. The Church and Judaism (2)
—4. The Church and Paganism
—5. Comparative Religion
—6. St. Paul and his Epistles
—7. The Church, Christ's Mystical Body— (in St. Paul's Epistles and Today)
—8. The Church and the Early Heresies
—9. Grace and the Heresy of Early Protestantism
—10. Heaven and Hell and the Heresy of Later Protestantism

—1. Existence of God—Introductory
—2. Existence of God—Argument from Design
—3. Existence of God—Argument from Contingency
—4. Materialism and Pantheism
—5. Problem of Evil—Questions on Lectures 1-5
—6. The Human Soul
—7. The Soul a Simple Spiritual Substance
—8. Free-Will
—9. Immortality

Course III Specimen Historical Lectures
—1. Julian the Apostate
—2. Hermits
—3. Mahomedanism
—4. Persecution
—5. St. Peter Claver and the Slaves

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Heroism Inspired by Faith

We teachers need resources that are concise, orthodox, and online (so we can edit). I've got a couple of links to share (below).

In the Catholic sector, you expect to be constantly coming up against the idea that as Catholics we should always be beating our breasts and apologizing for our shameful history. We all know that Holocaust Memorial Day is a 'double of the First Class', and the obligatory information 'pack' tells us all about how anti-semitism goes back to the Gospels and especially to certain Fathers of the Church (who happen to be saints).

Anyway, here is a good article on the just recently beatified Franz Jägerstätterm, layman and martyr. Be prepared to explain why despite his refusal to fight in the army he wasn't a pacifist and why Catholics shouldn't be.

And here's a really excellent article on Mother Teresa which I think is useful.

Of course there are good films to show school children too. And they don't come much better than The Scarlet and the Black, which tells the story of Msgr. Hugh O'Flaherty—"the pimpernel of the Vatican"— and Molokai, the film of the leper-priest, Blessed Fr Damien of Molokai. Both are in colour which, let's face it, is important.

It's always a great incentive for the pupils to work hard if you promise them 'ten minutes of the leper priest if you're very good'.

I wonder whether anyone has any other ideas or links? I'm only in my third year of teaching so I've not yet become too touchy and defensive when people have got something to offer!

Thank you

Just to say thank you to everyone who has suddenly started to read my blog. After a week of having no readers (I couldn't even get my wife to read it - but she does have a demanding baby and me to look after) it was starting to get a bit lonely!

I hope you all continue to find interesting things here. I know that there are strong market forces at play in the Catholic blogosphere!

I'm very grateful and I've just said a Rosary for each of you and for your intentions.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

The virtue of simplicity

I feel bound in charity to warn any of the young into whose hands this book may fall that they should on no account incorporate my conclusions in their examination answers. To do so would be to ensure very low marks, if not actual failure. It is not that what I have written is not, to the best of my knowledge, research and belief, as near the truth as it is possible to get. It is that, if it is true, it reduces most of the vested interest textbooks to absurdity; and this ... could never be allowed.

Hugh Ross Williamson, Preface to Historical Enigmas

I was delighted to read about Hugh Ross Williamson on Fr Schofield's urbane blog (Fr Schofield has written the introduction to a new edition of Ross Williamson's historical novel James by the Grace of God... (1955). See his blog for details of how to get the book.

I recently acquired a copy of his jaunty series of essays Historical Enigmas (1974, in print as Who Was the Man in the Iron Mask) which is an easy introduction to this notable Catholic historian (who was a former Anglican clergyman).

I was especially taken by the quote above, which I take to mean first that if his style of historical writing is capable of capturing the truth then the pseudo-scientific approach of modern historical writers is ridiculous; second, that if his hypotheses are correct - for example, that Elizabeth was not Henry's daughter, that the Gunpowder Plot was orchestrated by Cecil - then our history books are flawed at in their most basic assumptions.

Ross Williamson begins Historical Enigmas with these lines from Harold Temperley:

There is a famous interview between Napoleon and Balasov on the eve of the Russian campaign which is more correctly described by Tolstoy, an avowed romancer working on a few fragments of historical knowledge, than by historians working on the amplest records.

This reminds me of G. K. Chesterton's curious study of St Thomas Aquinas, which he wrote with apparently little textual familiarity with St Thomas. The great Thomist Etienne Gilson admitted that he found Chesterton infuriating: Gilson himself had devoted his life to studying Thomas, and here was a Catholic journalist producing with apparent ease the finest book ever written on Aquinas.

As a teacher I find this is all rather interesting. See the post below on the source of Christ's wisdom. Think of the damage done by qualified liturgists. Simplicity is a virtue. Ross Williamson gives this great quote from Chesterton (taken from Orthodoxy):

If you say "The social utility of the indeterminate sentence is recognized by all criminologists as a part of our sociological evolution towards a more humane and scientific view of punishment," you can go on talking like that for hours with hardly a movement of the gray matter inside your skull. But if you begin "I wish Jones to go to gaol and Brown to say when Jones shall come out," you will discover, with a thrill of horror, that you are obliged to think.

"Winebibbing with Zacchaeus" John Henry Newman - 31st Sunday of the Year (C)

It seems sensible to put these excerpts from Newman's sermons on the day before the Sunday or feast day, in preparation. This Sunday, in the forma ordinaria, we hear about Christ at the House of Zacchaeus (Lk 19.1-10).


'And, first, let it be observed, from the beginning, the greatest rite of religion has been a feast; the partaking of God's bounties, in the way of nature, has been consecrated to a more immediate communion with God Himself. For instance, when Isaac was weaned, Abraham "made a great feast," [Gen. xxi. 10.] and then it was that Sarah prophesied; "Cast out this bondwoman and her son," she said, prophesying the introduction of the spirit, grace, and truth, which the Gospel contains, instead of the bondage of the outward forms of the Law. Again, it was at a feast of savoury meat that the spirit of prophecy came upon Isaac, and he blessed Jacob. In like manner the first beginning of our Lord's miracles was at a marriage feast, when He changed water into wine; and when St. Matthew was converted he entertained our Lord at a feast. At a feast, too, our Lord allowed the penitent woman to wash with tears and anoint His feet, and pronounced her forgiveness; and at a feast, before His passion, He allowed Mary to anoint them with costly ointment, and to wipe them with her hair. Thus with our Lord, and with the Patriarchs, a feast was a time of grace; so much so, that He was said by the Pharisees to come eating and drinking, to be "a winebibber and gluttonous, a friend of publicans and sinners." [Matt. xi. 19. Luke vii. 34.]'

Friday, 2 November 2007

Commemoration of the Holy Souls

Above: purgatory, not looking especially busy

I am thy father's spirit,
Doom'd for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. But that I am forbid
To tell the secrets of my prison-house,
I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine:
But this eternal blazon must not be
To ears of flesh and blood. List, list, O, list!

(Hamlet, I, 5)

Of course now today when we are forced to talk about purgatory we are obliged to say that it's just like taking a hot shower, or, as one priest once said in his sermon on this day, like going for a haircut.

Why on earth would we offer the sacrifice of the Mass for souls who have nothing but a shower to undergo?

What do these prayers really say?

It's natural for a Catholic teacher to want to illustrate points through the liturgy. If the law of prayer governs the law of faith, then the liturgy should back up everything that a catechist would want to say.

However, we all know how bad our current English translation is, and how it fails to convey the meaning of the Latin prayers that it should be rendering in elevated and accurate English. Concepts like 'grace' seem never to make it into our prayers. This makes it a near-useless catechetical tool.

(And what damage has the expunging of any mention of supenatural grace done to the faith of the Church? I remember once reading this rather extraordinary letter. I suppose it is authentic?)

It is common place to excuse the poor standard of the current translation by saying that it had to be done very quickly, and mistakes are inevitable. Also inevitable, it is said, is the periodic re-translation of vernacular texts, made necessary by the changes in idiom that are inherent in the nature of a 'living' language.

In the first place, many of the prayers were already translated in the old missals. Where these were not ideal for public recitation, alterations could have been made. But there is no question of the ICEL translators being the first ones to translate many of the introits, collects, post-communion prayers etc., not to mention the fixed part of the Mass. Secondly, the mistakes are not of the sort that are made in a rush. For example, a 12-year-old knows how 'credo' should be translated, and it's not in the first person plural. In other words, the errors are deliberate, not the result of time-pressure.

In the second place, I don't see why vernacular translations should have to be made every three decades. One need only point to the Book of Common Prayer, which was used in the Anglican church for several centuries and is still beautiful today (theological difficulties aside).

It is good news, therefore, that the reformed ICEL has finished its draft of the new Roman Missal (2002). This now goes to the bishops' conferences, who have until March 2008 to make recommendations. It is hoped that the whole thing will be finalised by the end of 2008, and then things just need rubber stamping.

It will have been a long time coming, but with Summorum Pontificum one might well ask whether it will be enough to preserve the reformed Roman Rite in the long run. As the old rite becomes more common I think that many people, especially us young people, will vote with their feet.


Model shown is in an eastward facing position.

Prof Cardini, in his excellent remarks about the new film about the well-known heretic, schismatic, and usurper Queen Elizabeth I (I'm a proud member of a facebook group dedicated to the propogation of this idea), makes another good point. Anti-Catholicism, he says, stems from a knowledge among other faiths that "without Catholicism, Christianity would lose its true fulcrum". Ouch. Try this one out on your Protestant friends.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

John Henry Newman - All Saints Day

So many were the wonderful works which our Saviour did on earth, that not even the world itself could have contained the books recording them. Nor have His marvels been less since He ascended on high;—those works of higher grace and more abiding fruit, wrought in the souls of men, from the first hour till now,—the captives of His power, the ransomed heirs of His kingdom, whom He has called by His Spirit working in due season, and led on from strength to strength till they appear before His face in Zion. Surely not even the world itself could contain the records of His love, the history of those many Saints, that "cloud of Witnesses," whom we today celebrate, His purchased possession in every age! We crowd these all up into one day; we mingle together in the brief remembrance of an hour all the choicest deeds, the holiest lives, the noblest labours, the most precious sufferings, which the sun ever saw. Even the least of those Saints were the contemplation of many days,—even the names of them, if read in our Service, would outrun many settings and risings of the light,—even one passage in the life of one of them were more than sufficient for a long discourse. "Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel?" [Numb. xxiii. 10.] Martyrs and Confessors, Rulers and Doctors of the Church, devoted Ministers and Religious brethren, kings of the earth and all people, princes and judges of the earth, young men and maidens, old men and children, the first fruits of all ranks, ages, and callings, gathered each in his own time into the paradise of God.

Parochial and Plain Sermons, II

Happy All Saints!

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

There's Something About Jesus, I

Christ Among the Doctors
Giotto, 1304-6, Cappella Scrovegni, Padua

Beginning our series of excerpts from Pope Benedict's book Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus' wisdom does not proceed from learning, but from His constant dialogue with the Father:

Jesus' teaching is not the product of human learning, of whatever kind. It originates from immediate contact with the Father, from "face-to-face" dialogue - from the vision of the one who rests close to the Father's heart. It is the Son's word. Without this inner grounding, his teaching would be pure presumption. That is just what the learned men of Jesus' time judged it to be, and they did so precisely because they could not accept its inner grounding: seeing and knowing face-to-face.

Again and again the Gospels note that Jesus withdrew "to the mountain" to spend nights in prayer "alone" with his Father. These short passages are fundamental for our understanding of Jesus: they lift the veil of mystery just a little; they give us a glimpse of Jesus' filial existence, into the source from which his action and teaching and suffering sprang ... (p. 7)

Final causation

Why does the movement of natural bodies, like the planets,
give us reason to know that God exists?

Today, my sixth formers were all convinced by St Thomas' fifth 'way'. Just to remind you:

Quinta via sumitur ex gubernatione rerum. Videmus enim quod aliqua quae cognitione carent, scilicet corpora naturalia, operantur propter finem, quod apparet ex hoc quod semper aut frequentius eodem modo operantur, ut consequantur id quod est optimum; unde patet quod non a casu, sed ex intentione perveniunt ad finem. Ea autem quae non habent cognitionem, non tendunt in finem nisi directa ab aliquo cognoscente et intelligente, sicut sagitta a sagittante. Ergo est aliquid intelligens, a quo omnes res naturales ordinantur ad finem, et hoc dicimus Deum.

The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.