Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The restoration continues: Willesden

The Shrine of Our Lady of Willesden in North West London, the restored Medieval Shrine visited by St Thomas More and St Josemaria Esciva, has been restored by its custodian, the Parish Priest Fr Stephen Willis. Fr Willis has also, at the request of Cardinal Nichols, started a weekly Traditional Mass in the church.

The church is rather fine, and on the occasion of the annual LMS Pilgrimage to this shrine, the foremost Marian shrine in the Archdiocese of Wesminster, I have photographed it: see here. The shrine itself is in a side chapel.

Before restoration:
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Could a person in an objective state of grave sin receive Communion?

It was not his grasping the good of money which
saved Zachaeus, but his repentance.
I don't know how theories of how divorced and remarried couples can receive Communion are going to be developed. So far the suggestions have been both vague and self-contradictory. Saying,  for example, that many cases can solved by quickie annulments, and simultaneously suggesting other cases could be solved by the application of Orthodox-style remarriages, when the two systems are incommensurable and the Orthodox don't regard as invalid marriages we regard as invalid (see my post here).

But here is an idea we may well find popping up. (Remember that 'subjective' means 'from the point of view of the subject'. A sin can be objective but not subjective if the agent did an action at variance with his properly understood duty which, for some innocent reason, he didn't realise was his duty.)

There is a general principle that for a sin to be 'mortal' it must be 'grave matter' (it must be a serious thing), and also that the agent must be aware that it is grave. If you don't know that the medicine bottle contains poison you are not committing murder if you hand it to the patient. If you don't know about the decree on Friday abstinence you don't sin if you don't observe it. If you had no idea that in some complicated situation you should do X and not Y, then you haven't committed a sin if you do Y. In other words, mortal sin must be against the agent's conscience: it must be subjective as well as objective.

Great use was made of this after Humanae vitae came out in 1968. Liberal priests got the brilliant idea that if they didn't tell people that the contraceptive use of the Pill was a sin, then couples could use it without committing a sin. They called this 'leaving them in good faith.'

The case with the divorced and remarried is a bit different, but it might work like this.

1. If a couple says that they are convinced in conscience that their sexual relations are licit, because of their circumstances, then they are not in a state of mortal sin (at least, not because of that).

2. Those conscious of being in a state of mortal sin shouldn't approach Communion, but this doesn't apply in this case.

3. The couple could not only be convinced themselves, but could convince their pastor or bishop that they are so convinced. The bishop could give them a little chit to that effect; the pastor could give them Communion in good conscience; and so on.

Neat, eh? That's what Pope Francis calls 'casuistry'. Well, it is casuistry. Now, here are the problems with this line of reasoning.

1. Natural Law is written on our hearts (Romans 1:20). Ignorance of Natural Law is not so easy, and when it does occur it may well be culpable. St Paul taught that the Romans' idolatry was a sin because they knew deep down that there was only one God, the creator of the world, or (perhaps) they could have known it if they had thought about it seriously. The Romans might have protested about this, but they were not in good conscience.
a) We can never erase our knowledge of moral principles such as that killing the innocent is wrong, or that adultery is wrong. In the case of remarried divorcees the individuals are furthermore not ignorant, but, rather, painfully aware of the teaching of the Church.
b) If we convince ourselves that something gravely contrary to Natural Law is ok, we have almost certainly committed a sin along the way: of failing to take the teaching seriously, of failing to investigate the matter conscientiously, and of failing to pray for light. Is it possible that a series of non-mortal sins could leave you ignorant of the Natural Law, to the extent that a voluntary gravely sinful action does not leave you in a subjective state of mortal sin? Possibly. But we are grasping at straws here; that is not the impression St Paul leaves us, and it is hard to see how a parish priest or bishop could establish to his satisfaction that this was indeed the case for a particular individual.

2. The scandal caused by giving Communion to these couples derives from their objective state, not their subjective state. Along with the harm it does to the communicant, the priest has an overriding reason not to give Communion to a couple who are widely known to be in an illicit union, because to give it to them would be to cause others to sin (that is what 'scandal' means). Even if they only appear to be living in an illicit union - if, say, they are living as brother and sister - this needs to be handled with care, and in some cases it will be best to give them Communion in private. A casuistic solution to their subjective state won't change this side of things.

3. A couple in a state of objective sin without being in a state of mortal sin, are still in a seriously bad way. A couple who are convinced their marriage is valid, or licit, when it isn't, haven't (for that reason) committed a mortal sin, but they haven't received the graces of the sacrament, or the natural graces of a natural marriage. A person who thinks it is right to perform bad actions may not be committing a mortal sin, but these actions won't gain him merit, they won't build up his virtue, they won't draw him closer to God: no, frequent objectively evil actions will draw him away from God, they will coarsen the agent's conscience, they will make it harder to repent, and will establish evil habits, vices.

Objective states matter. To leave people 'in good faith', or even to encourage them to remain 'in good faith', in an objectively sinful situation, is not mercy, it is not bringing people into the field hospital, it is leaving the wounded man to die by the roadside. And that would be the real result of a system allowing them to receive Communion.

This is why it was so problematic to talk about 'seeing the good' in or 'valuing' illicit unions, cohabitations, homosexual sex, and so on. Yes of course the individuals are seeking the good: Aquinas teaches that Satan was seeking a good when he refused to serve God and fell into Hell. And yes, there can be a kind of fidelity in an illicit union: St Augustine said that about his relationship with his concubine before his conversion. The problem is that these are not paths to holiness. We might hope they are compatible with paths to repentance: repentance is assisted by 'actual' grace rather than 'sanctifying' grace, if along the way the agents are doing good actions, or praying. But you don't get any kind of grace from objectively evil actions.

The focus of the 'good faith' type of argument are the concepts of obligation and punishment: we won't be punished for what we do in good faith. It derives from a legalistic approach to morality. What it neglects is the spiritual life, the role of grace. That, of course, has always been the problem with casuistry. We mustn't let Kasper-like logic-chopping casuistry cut people off from the life of grace.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Synod: where do we go from here?

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After the strange 'Relatio' published in the middle of the two-week Synod, we've seen a remarkable turn-around of events. It would seem that participants successfully demanded that the reports responding to this Relatio of the 'circuli minores', the small discussion groups, be published. These revealed the truth of what a number of Synod Fathers had been saying: that the liberal tone of the Relatio completely failed to reflect the views of the participants. Once the reports of the circuli minores were published, it was impossible for the people drawing up the final report to ignore them: the dishonesty would have been too obvious. Furthermore, the very unrepresentative team producing the report was joined by Cardinal Napier in the interests of balance, and the Synod got the opportunity to vote on the final report. The result has been a final report, though not the detailed reaffirmation of the Church's teaching one might have wished, a million miles away from the mid-term Relatio, which offers no comfort to those who want to see the Church's teaching and discipline pulped. Pope Francis wrapped the proceedings up with an elaborately balanced speech.

What we have seen this fortnight is, nevertheless, quite scary. We have witnessed the operation, exposure, and defeat, of a ruthless attempt to manipulate the synod and, through the synod, the whole Church. There is no reason to imagine the threat this represented is going to go away. There is going to be a new, bigger synod on the same subjects this time next year, and there is every reason to suppose that the same people will be in charge. The people who produced a grossly one-sided pre-synod questionnaire, and published the responses from Germany (which had the right answers) and not elsewhere (which may not have); the people who published the ludicrously liberal talk from the lay couple to the synod, because they agreed with it, but refused to publish the cardinals' speeches, because they didn't always; the people who produced the mid-term Relatio pushing things in their favoured direction, in complete disregard for the views it was supposed to reflect. They've been given a bloody nose, but they aren't going to give up. Next time they may win: they may get a final report out along the lines of the mid-term Relatio, or even something worse. We must fact the fact that this is perfectly possible.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Schellhorn Music Composition Prize

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Matthew Schellhorn directing the choir at the LMS Aylesford Pilgrimage
I'm delighted to announce that the Latin Mass Society is supporting the Schellhorn Prize. This will be awarded to the best 'piece for a cappella SATB choir using any Latin Eucharistic text' submitted, between now and Ash Wednesday of next year (18th February), by a composer no older than 26 at the closing date. The prize is £500, and the piece will be performed as part of the Latin Mass Society's Easter Triduum liturgies in the year it is submitted.

The prize has been established by Matthew Schellhorn, the pianist, in honour of his parents.
The full details are here.

The Latin Mass Society has, as an object, the promotion of the Church's musical patrimony. This is not just a matter of the performance of old pieces: our musical tradition, like our liturgical tradition in general, is a living thing, and that is why we have not one but two Catholic composers among our Patrons, Colin Mawby and James MacMillan.

St Cecelia

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Why liberals are united and conservatives divided: Part 3

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In the aftermath of Vatican II, opponents of the radical deconstruction of the Church (what Pope Paul VI, soon to be 'Blessed', called its 'autodemolition'), had to decide on a strategy. Since this was not going to be a purely negative strategy of attacking something from all and any side, like the radical liberal strategy, it was going to require serious thought and difficult judgments.

(As an aside, conservatives are perfectly capable of allying with others when a purely negative objective is in view. Explaining his alliance with Stalin, Winston Churchill said: 'If Hitler had invaded Hell, I would at least have made a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.')

The people we call 'neo-conservatives' decided to accept the reformed liturgy, give the best interpretation possible to everything coming out of Rome, and to rally round those aspects of doctrine which were being most vigorously upheld in the Papal Magisterium, which were issues of sexual morality and abortion. Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae condemning contraception; St John Paul II turned out to have even more to say on this, and on abortion as well; Pope Benedict XVI also had a very clear track-record on these issues.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Jobs at the Latin Mass Society

The Latin Mass Society is seeking a new General Manager. This is the most senior of our employees; the job is full-time and carries a salary of between £32k and £38k.

The job involves administration and managing other employees and volunteers in our office in London, managing projects and events, and developing LMS initiatives and policy.

Our current General Manager is moving on to pastures new very amicably, and will be able to hand over the job in January.

The full details are here.

We are also seeking a part-time Press and Publicity Officer. This would be the equivalent of one day a week and could be done from home. We need someone dedicated to the website and relations with the press.

The full details are here.

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Why liberals are united and conservatives divided: Part 2

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The key to the unity of the liberals and leftists is that their immediate aims are negative: they aim at destruction. The common ideological thread is that traditional structures, whether economic or social or doctrinal and liturgical, are oppressive and stop people from flourishing. They unite to destroy these things. Since they can be undermined and destroyed from many angles, having different groups working at it from idiosyncratic perspectives is a positive advantage. Radical feminists want to destroy marriage because they see the family as a patriarchal power-structure; homosexual activists want to destroy marriage because they want their own relationships to be accorded equal status as married relationships. These two groups do not agree about anything apart from the importance of destroying marriage, and they attack marriage with completely different arguments. The incoherence of the overall attack doesn't matter; it serves only to make the anti-marriage coalition appear all the more comprehensive.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why liberals are united and conservatives are divided: Part 1

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This isn't a bad moment to reflect on something which is often said: while liberals support each other in their efforts, conservatives often don't, and lose out that way. Peter Kwasniewski mentioned it today, in an aside. Speaking of Bugnini and his colleagues, he writes:

They were men who seized their opportunities and did not sit on their hands wondering when other people would do the job for them, or worse, waste their time on endless bickering and hairsplitting. Like our political liberals, they could lay aside small differences for the sake of gaining major objectives.

My question is: why is it so often the case that liberals and leftists are able to present a united front and their conservative opponents cannot? And can it be remedied?