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.