Thursday, April 24, 2014

The scandal of the Empty Tomb

What happened to Jesus? Those who want a non-supernatural explanation of the Gallilean Rabbi, need to have some explanation of his ultimate fate, and its consequences. Everyone agrees that he was put to death by the Romans, it is pretty well the only thing sources outside the Gospels can tell us. But what then?

Those who want to be nice about Christianity, or at least nice about the very early Christians (didn't it all go wrong with St Augustine? Or was it St Paul?), say that the either the disciples convinced themselves that Jesus rose from the dead, by some kind of group-hysteria, or else that their talk about his rising was purely spiritual. That is, he didn't actually rise (there was no 'conjuring trick with bones'), they just meant that he was alive in their hearts or something like that.

This explanation faces an impossible difficulty, however: we are told that the tomb was empty. We only have the Gospel writers' word for this, at this distance in time, of course, but it is interesting to see that the Evangelists are concerned to counter a story current when they were writing, that the body had been stolen from the tomb by the disciples.

Biblical critics like this kind of thing, and call it 'redactional embarrassment': if a source reveals something he doesn't like, that he needs to deny or explain away, then it is particularly good evidence that the writer didn't make it up.

Here it is: Matthew 28:11ff.
... behold some of the guards came into the city, and told the chief priests all things that had been done. And they being assembled together with the ancients, taking counsel, gave a great sum of money to the soldiers, Saying: Say you, His disciples came by night, and stole him away when we were asleep. And if the governor shall hear this, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they taking the money, did as they were taught: and this word was spread abroad among the Jews even unto this day.

The 'Jews', Jesus' opponents among the Judaean theological and political establishment, were telling this story, the early Christians didn't like it, it was not flattering, they did their best to deny it. What would have been easy to do, to show the story was false, would have been to lead people to the tomb, show that it was still sealed and guarded, or else show them that it had the body in it.

But they couldn't do this. And 'the Jews', the chief priests and the elders, they had the same problem, because rather than rely on a story about the disciples stealing the body, they would surely much rather have silenced talk of the Resurrection by producing the body. But they said that the disciples had stolen it, because they had to say something to explain the annoying fact, that despite their precautions the tomb was empty.

So the tomb was empty. The body had gone. And like the people of Jerusalem following that terrible Passover of 33AD, or whenever it was exactly, we have to decide whom to believe: the disciples or the establishment. For it is difficult to think of any other explanations apart from these two: the one given by the Evangelists, that Jesus had risen from the dead, and the one given by the Chief Priests, that the body had been stolen.

Now the important thing is just this. If the disciples had stolen the body, then they were clearly not under any sentimental illusion that Jesus had risen from the dead. And while they may have thought that Jesus' ideas could never die or something soupy like that, they were nevertheless clearly engaged in a deliberate conspiracy to deceive the public. On this story, they stole the body and claimed that he had risen: they stole the body in order to claim that he had risen in a physical sense, in the sense in which many Jews of the day expected to be raised up on the Day of Judgement.

Now it could be that they disciples' story is true: that Jesus really did rise from the dead, by a bare-faced act of divine power. But if that seems difficult to swallow - it must be said, it's not exactly easy to swallow - then we are left with the conclusion that they were a bunch of dishonest, scheming scoundrels, right from the very first - from before dawn on that first Easter Sunday.

Why am I seeking to destroy the comfortable middle ground? The space occupied by those who think that the early Christians, at least, were peaceful and do-gooding people with a message of inner harmony and kindness to strangers, even if their inspiration, the gentle Jesus of Nazareth, ended up (later, maybe, thanks to St Paul, or the Gospel of John) with exaggerated claims being made about him. The space occupied by those cultural allies of Christianity, who may be our last rampart against the secularist persecution.

But it's not me doing this, it is God: He arranged things like this. It is Jesus Himself who, throughout His earthly ministry, consistently destroyed the compromise position, who destroyed the tenability of fence-sitting. It is Jesus who forces us to a decision. Are we with Him or against Him? Will we die with Him, or crucify Him? 

You can hide from this decision, but it will seek you out.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Easter Sunday with the FSSP in Reading

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Fr Matthew Goddard FSSP celebrated Mass in St William of York, Reading, on Easter Sunday. This is the first time we have the Eastertide chant for the sprinkling of the Faithful before Mass on a Sunday, 'Vidi Aquam' instead of 'Asperges me'.


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'I saw water flowing from the right side of the Temple, alleluia: and to all that water came were saved, and they shall say: alleluia, alleluia.'
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This refers to Ezekial's vision of the Temple (47.1):

And he brought me again to the gate of the house, and behold waters issued out from under the threshold of the house toward the east: for the forefront, of the house looked toward the east: but the waters came down to the right side of the temple to the south part of the altar.
Ezekial goes on to talk about how the stream grows into a mighty river, makes the Dead Sea pure and drinkable, and has healing properties.

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The liturgy applies this to the Passion of Our Lord, and the water, representing Baptism, flowing from his right side on the Cross. This is the kind of embedded Scriptural reference that those who suggest the EF doesn't have enough of the Bible in it tend to forget. The whole of the ancient Mass is saturated with Scripture.

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Those who only attend Sung EF Masses on special occasions such as feasts and pilgrimages never experience the 'Asperges' ceremony, which is one of the very visually dramatic and touching rites of the Church's liturgical tradition. It is, in fact, an option in the 1970 Missal, but only at the expense of the 'Penitential Rite', and it is very rarely used.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tenebrae in Reading

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On Easter Saturday, I attended (and sang in) Tenebrae in Reading, with the FSSP in St William of York.

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They have a truly splendid, brand new 'hearse': the triangular candelabrum with fifteen candles holders. One candle is extinguished after each psalm, leaving one, which is taken out, hidden, revealed, and then extinguished at the end. The symbolism relates to the death and resurrection of Our Lord. It works better in the evening, when Tenebrae was celebrated until the Holy Week reforms of 1955. More about that here.

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James Bogle, President of the FIUV, was also at the service.

Good Friday with the FSSP in Reading

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The church of St William of York was packed for the Solemn Afternoon Liturgy of Good Friday, celebrated by the Fraternity of St Peter.

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The Gospel of the Passion.

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The Intercessions.

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The veneration of the Cross.

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The Communion Rite.

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More photos.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Maundy Thursday with the FSSP in Reading

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On Maundy Thursday the Fraternity of St Peter had a very well-attended High Mass in St William of York, Reading. Fr de Malleray and Fr Goddard were joined by a seminarian, the Rev James Mawdsley.

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The procession with the Blessed Sacrament.

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The Altar of Repose.

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The stripping of the Altar.

More photos.

Tenebrae in St Mary Moorefields

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The Latin Mass Society organises a celebration of the Triduum in St Mary Moorefields in the City each year, with Tenebrae of Maundy Thursday anticipated on Wednesday.

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It is accompanied with polyphony - for the Responsaries - by Cantus Magus, led by Matthew Schellhorn.

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Before it started Canon Newby, the parish priest, had to remove the monstrance in which the Blessed Sacrament had been exposed during the day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Joseph Pearce coming to England!

Like Bishop Schneider, Joseph Pearce is giving a talk to the LMS One-Day Conference on 24th May.

He is the author of numerous books (see Wikipedia), including many biographies of Chesterton, Belloc, Tolkein, Oscar Wilde, and Solzhenitsyn, and books of and about poetry.

He has written on the relationship to the Catholic Faith of C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

One very important work of his, in my view, is Literary Converts, describing the great wave of intellectual converts in the first half of the 20th century.

His latest, autobiographical, book, Race with the Devil, will be on sale at the conference. It describes his conversion from far-right political activism to Catholicism; see the Catholic World Report feature on it here.

At the conference he will be talking about the role of the Traditional Mass in conversions.

The evening before, Friday 23rd May, he will address the Catholic Writers' Guild, the Keys. This event is open only to guild members and their guests. If you are a member, or know one ou can drag along, do come!

Book your place at the LMS Conference here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Palm Sunday with the FSSP in Reading

The church of St William of York was fuller than I have ever seen it. The empty spaces in the pews in some of the photos are reflective only of the fact that there was a very long queue for confession!

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More photos here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bishop Schneider is coming to England!

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Bishop Schneider at the LMS Priest Training Conference at Downside Abbey in 2010
Bishop Athanasius Schneider, author of 'Dominus Est', a short book about the importance of receiving Communion on the tongue, is coming to England at the invitation of the Latin Mass Society.

He will be giving a talk at the LMS One Day Conference on Saturday 24th May, alongside Joseph Pearce, Fr Michael Mary of the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer (from Papa Stronsay in the Orkneys), and others.

We have helped to create quite a schedule for him, which will take him to five different dioceses in ten days. I hope that he becomes better known in England. At the Conference he will be talking about the Traditional Mass as a tool of Evagelisation; he will address various other topics to other audiences on his tour.

Saturday 17 May: LMS Pilgrimage to West Grinstead in Sussex. Pontifical High Mass at 12noon, followed by lunch, spiritual conference and devotions. Our Lady of Consolation, Park Lane, West Grinstead RH13 8LT

Sunday 18 May: Pontifical Low Mass in Reading, 11am, with the Fraternity of St Peter at the Church of St William of York, Upper Redlands Road, Reading RG1 3HW.

Tuesday 20 May: address to The Newman Society: the Oxford University Catholic Society. 'Catholicism in Russia: the Experience of the 20th Century.' 8.00-9.15pm. Open to members of Oxford University and their guests. At the Catholic Chaplaincy, The Old Bishop's Palace, Rose Place, St Aldates, Oxford OX1 1RD.

Our Lady of Consolation, West Grinstead, Sussex
Wednesday 21 May: Address to the Conference of Catholic Clergy at 6pm, St Patrick’s, Soho Square, London W1D 4NR.

Thursday 22 May: Address to the London Oratory: 'Living under Communism',
8pm. London Oratory, Brompton Road, London SW7 2RP.

Saturday 24th May: Latin Mass Society Conference, Regent Hall, Oxford Street, London, W1C 2DJ, from 11am to 6pm. Book tickets here.

Sunday 25 May: Pontifical Low Mass in the London Oratory at 9am. Bishop Schneider will attend First Vespers of St Philip’s Day, 6pm, and celebrate Benediction.

Monday 26 May: LMS pilgrimage to Ramsgate - Mass at the Shrine of St Augustine of Canterbury, for the Feast of St Augustine of Canterbury, at 12noon; Procession with relic at 11am. St Augustine's Shrine, St Augustine Rd, Ramsgate, CT11 9PA.

Bishop Schneider will also be preaching at the 6pm Mass at the London Oratory for St Philip’s Day.