Friday, August 01, 2014

The Challenge of Islam, 3: Caught in the critique of the decedent West

In the first post of this short series I pointed out that it is not just Islam which has been undergoing a revival at the moment. Buddhist, Hindu, and in some places Christians have been having a big revival outside the West in recent decades. Latin America is an interesting case. What we see there is a degree of Western-style secularisation, but a demographically more significant turn to mainly Pentecostalist Protestantism.

Linda Woodhead and other sociologists have rejected the Inevitable Secularisation Thesis even for the West, for two reasons. One is that lots of people tell opinion surveys that they believe in some vague spirituality. It's a load of baloney, of course, but for that very reason they're further away from the position of Richard Dawkins today than their nominally Anglican or Catholic parents were forty years ago, who at least had a passing respect for Reason. The other reason is that Western conditions - education, prosperity, the Welfare State - have not eroded the appeal of radical Islam for many children of immigrants, and even for a growing number of Britons whose ancestors had never heard of Mohammed.

So let's stop moaning about inevitable secularisation, and ask ourselves why the Catholic Church has failed to benefit more from the process of secularisation going into reverse.

The key question to ask is what Catholicism looks like from the outside, from the perspective of the people attracted by the radical Islam in the Middle East (or the West), by Pentecostalism in Latin America (or the West), or by revivalist Hinduism, Buddhism and so forth. There are many cultural variations but we can make a reasonable generalisation. These are people who reject the values of  the liberal West. They may like the consumer products but they have decided not to conform, culturally, to the mindless hedonism. They associate it, often, with a former colonial power, and with American hegemony. They want to adopt something which will give their lives some real meaning, in distinction to the banality and corruption of imitation-Western culture. They want a religion which is not secularised, which is strong, which is demanding, which can form the basis of group identity and a revolt against Western values, and perhaps against Western political influence.

Do they, therefore, want the kind of thing which you find in the average Catholic parish in England and Wales? No, they do not.

Let us keep in mind that the people recruited into the jihadi armies, the Hindus and Buddhists who burn down Catholic churches, and the Pentecostalists who draw so many away from the Faith, that these individuals are right about some things. They are perfectly correct to think that Western governments see it as a matter of financial and geopolitical interest that the native cultures of developing counties be eclipsed by Western consumerism. They are, further, perfectly correct to think that the moral and cultural content of this consumerism is corrupt and corrupting, and has no positive value. They are perfectly correct to see that the necessary response includes a reassertion of sexual restraint and of placing religion, one's eternal destiny, at the centre of life. And they are perfectly correct that conforming the whole of their society to a correct moral and spiritual orientation is the right long-term goal.

With these sorts of thoughts, what do they see when they look at the Catholic Church? They see an institution which is bound up with European history and culture, and - today - does its best not to confront the evils of that culture.  There is no visible, distinctive, Catholic critique of Western decadence. The rejection of the sexual revolution, the defence of the family, a Catholic approach to music and art: they exist, but they are minority interests in the Church, and are simply absent from the average parish, the average sermon, the average officially Catholic website, and the average Catholic school. For those looking at the conflict in their local culture (whether it be Bagdad or Birmingham), between the influence of a corrupt West, and various forces opposing that influence, the Catholic Church is, for practical purposes, on the side of the corrupt West. We are part of the enemy.

This hasn't happened by accident. We all know there was a deliberate policy of embracing secular values after the Second Vatican Council. It hasn't converted the proponents of these values. But it can be relied on to put off those who reject them.

It is true that Catholics in the Middle East aren't the worst offenders in this regard; nor, for that matter, are the Shias and Hindus who are also heading for the chop where militant Sunnis have gained control. What is obviously true, nevertheless, is that we have made things infinitely worse for our Assyrian and Maronite brothers by the very visible orientation of the Catholic Church as a whole with 'the West'.

The polemic against the West, which is attracting millions upon millions of people around the world, including many people living in the West itself, is so easy, it writes itself. Look at things from underneath: we may comfort ourselves with the remaining shreds of high culture but for most people, ordinary people, or immigrants, or the products of bad schools and broken homes, the West is about fast food, tired-looking shopping malls, and lawless and decaying 1970s housing. The customs of this wasteland appear designed to rob everyone except gangsters of any dignity and sense of meaning. This is what the Catholic Church has aligned itself with. The jihadis think it stinks, and they are right.

The problems posed by the anti-secularisation of the world are not going to be solved overnight, but we can do something to stop making things worse. We can assert the Catholic critique of the decadence of Western culture, especially sexual culture. If there is one concrete gesture which might make those being drawn towards militant Islam stop and think that, perhaps, the Catholic Church may not be part of the problem they are trying to address, then it might be the restoration of head-coverings in church by Catholic women in the West. This would signal a rejection of both decadent sexual mores and of the attack on the difference between the sexes.

Contemplate the likelihood of this happening any time soon, and you will glimpse the depth of the problem.

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Challenge of Islam: Part 2, Religious Liberty

In my last post I pointed out that we can no longer assume that the problems posed by religious extremist will be solved for us by the passage of time, with prosperity, education, the spread of democracy and the attractiveness of Enlightenment ideas. One of the implications of the end of the thesis of Inevitable Secularisation is that we can't expect the ideology of secularism, political liberalism, to be more and more widely accepted and to be our great ally in defending the rights of the Church. Here is an example of someone who appears to be doing just that: Lord (David) Alton
As I have outlined in a speech which rather inadequately has tried to set the scene for the many more detailed interventions which will follow, Article 18 is under threat in almost every corner of the world. As we approach the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, we should recall that, long before Article 18, it asserted the importance of religious freedom.

Societies which deny such freedoms are invariably unhappy societies. Research shows that there is a direct link between economic prosperity and religious freedom. In 1965, Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s proclamation on religious freedom, said correctly that a society which promotes religious freedom will be enlivened and enriched and one that does not will decay.

Article 18 is a foundational human right—many would say the foundational right—because, while there should be no hierarchy of rights and all rights are interdependent, without the freedom to choose, practise, share without coercion and change your beliefs, what freedom is there? As my noble friend Lord Sacks says, on this question, the fate of the 21st century may turn.

Lord Alton is drawing attention to the terrible persecution of Christians around the world, and doing so in language which their Lordships, with a bit of luck, should be able to understand, but I'm going to criticise at least this peroration because it is wrong.

First off, don't you love the reference to the Magna Carta? Oh yes, Article 18 was well entrenched in English law back in 1215. The Albigensian Crusade was going on in France at the time, accompanied by the young Simon de Montfort, a later champion of the barons' rights. Now that's the kind of religious liberty we can all believe in. What the Magna Carta actually upheld was the freedom of the Catholic Church, which is not the same thing.

To confuse the two seems amazing, but this confusion lies at the heart of the problem. Yes, we Catholics demand, and have always demanded, the liberty of the Church. It doesn't follow that we demand, or indeed permit, the liberty of heretical, schismatic, sectarian, or idolatrous groups. How would anyone imagine that wanting the liberty of the Church implies that we want liberty for these others, any more than those who want liberty in general for good people doing innocent things should want liberty for criminals committing crimes?

The answer is that Catholics in non-Catholic countries naturally have to appeal to  general principles which could be accepted by non-Catholic states, and they have, in the last couple of centuries, increasingly seized on the notion of 'religious liberty', an idea which developed in England, Prussia, and then America because of the failure of the biggest sect in each place to suppress its rivals in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries. It was a political expedient which, when the philosopher John Locke formulated it, excluded Catholics. It is not a coherent moral principle, and for practical purposes it lacks content. As I keep saying, the notion of what is just is prior to the notion of what is protected by 'religious liberty'. If the state decides that your religious practice is unjust - whether it be forced marriage, female genital mutilation, circumcision, or telling children that fornication is a mortal sin leading to hell - you are toast.

Let's have a look at this famous article 18. Here it is.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Now, this may seem a silly question, but is is true?

Do Catholic have a right to change their religion? That implies their repudiation of their baptismal promises. They have no such right in canon law. It is neither morally permitted nor are attempts to do this effective. Apostate Catholics do not succeed in escaping the obligations implied by their baptismal promises. (It makes no difference if they were baptised as infants or adults.) For a couple of decades the Church experimented with the rule that allowed Catholics to contract valid marriages without reference to the Church, if they first formally defected from the Church, making possible, in this respect at least, a mechanism of defection which actually made a difference. A few years ago this experiment was discontinued. As Homer Simpson memorably expressed it, Once you go Vatican, you can't go back again.

But the Church doesn't actually punish apostasy? Yes, she does. For practical purposes the marriage rules impose a heavy penalty on apostates. A Catholic who apostasises and wants nothing more to do with the Church is prevented from contracting a valid marriage: this is very serious. Even more explicitly, Canon Law - yes, I'm talking about the 1983 Code currently in force - makes provision for penalties for heretics, such as deprivation from office. This actually happened to Hans Kung. Was this contrary to Dignitatis Humanae? Of course not.

I'm all for making use of premises accepted by one's opponents, but this becomes problematic when those premises are actually false.

The other thing Lord Alton and the political class in general need to consider is that, useless as the concept of religious liberty has been in defending the Church from secularists, the idea that it is going to be effective in defending the Church against Islamic zealots plumbs new depths of absurdity. We must become used to the idea that the Islamists are the government, in an increasing number of countries, and a substantial body of opinion in many others. The idea that they will be cowed into adopting a liberal conception of religious liberty by Western influence is, to be blunt, a neo-colonial fantasy. Our gunships just don't have that kind of persuasive force these days.

How we can address, if not resolve, the Islamic challenge, is something I will discuss in the next post.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Challenge of Islam: Part 1 - the end of secularisation

I've been reading up a little on the sociology of religion, and the latest stuff is no longer about the Secularisation Thesis: the inevitable secularisation of society. This was to do with the ideas of the Enlightenment, wider education, and prosperity, eroding religious belief, as expressed in that stupid poem by the over-rated Matthew Arnold, published in 1867.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

As Linda Woodhead explains, in her Introduction to a collection of articles, the secularisation story no longer works. It only ever worked if you ignored the contrary evidence - such as the big revival of religious practice which started pretty well as soon as Arnold's lacrimose effusion came off the presses, and another even more impressive one in the 1950s - but now it is obvious that things simply aren't travelling in the right direction.

Woodhead explains how sociologists' faith in the secularisation hypothesis was shaken first by the Salman Rushdie affair. Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses was condemned by the Ayatollah Khomeini, who issued a 'fatwa' (ruling) against Rushdie, ordering that he be killed. This was in 1989. It made the sociologists realise that religion, or at least Islam, was actually stronger, in its ability to shape events, even in the West, than it had been before: it wasn't fading away in obedience to the Secularisation Thesis. And then, 22 years later, there was 9/11

If Western sociologists had been paying attention, they would have noticed the revival of Islamic practice and zeal with started in Egypt in the 1970s, and was continued by the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, and has continued some more in the overthrow of a whole heap of secular-minded regimes across the Arab world in recent years. To give them due credit, however, sociologists like Woodhead have been more on the ball than Western politicians, who appear to have clung to the Secularisation Thesis right up to the last few months. I suspect many of have not abandoned it yet. The idea that all the Middle East needs is prosperity and education, and religious zealotry will dissipate, is still rattling around in the corridors of power. Do these people read the newspapers? Syria was a prosperous nation with a big, educated middle class. They've got money coming out of their ears in the Gulf. There are universities of international standard in Egypt. And guess what? It was as those universities that the Islamic revival began. It was there, not in the slums, where young women started to wear head scarves.

In truth, the Secularisation Thesis was kept on its shakey legs after the War not by the inevitable effects of education and prosperity, but by the Cold War. It was the resources poured into Communist and anti-Communist factions, by East and West, which made the world outside North America and Western Europe look as if it was focused on secular issues. Once that was out of the way, an awful lot of people have turned to traditional religious themes to assert their identity and culture and distinguish themselves from their colonial past. We are now living in a period in which radicalised Hindus are persecuting Muslims in India, radicalised Buddhists are persecuting Muslims in Burma and Sri Lanka, radicalised Sunni Muslims are persecuting Shia Muslims in Iraq, and Christians are being persecuted by pretty well everyone. It's not a pretty sight, but it's not secularisation.

Is victory for the homosexual lobby and 'reproductive rights' feminists at the United Nations around the corner? You've got to be joking. I follow the excellent Friday Fax, which covers the infinitely depressing machinations of the World Government in Waiting. The progressive lobby's breakthrough is always round the corner. They've got the western nations in their pockets, they have the procedures taped, they like to see aid money being used to buy votes. But things are not going their way. A horrible realisation should begin to dawn on them some time soon. We have a world-wide revival of traditional values on our hands.

To repeat, this has actually been going on at least since the early 1970s. And it is not just Islam. Even Christianity is benefitting: the Catholics of southern India and West Africa, pressure from Hindus and Muslims notwithstanding, have had a very good few decades, and the very visible presence of their priests in the West has more to do with the massive numbers of vocations they have than persecution. In China, too, Christianity is on the march, as the most vigorous alternative to Communism.

There is nothing inevitable about secularisation. The sociologists have now accepted this, and the politicians, eventually, will follow them. This reality will solve some problems, such as the prospect of a right to abortion being established in international law by some international mega-treaty, but obviously creates others. The punch-line of this blog post is simply this: in addressing the problems, which are very real and very pressing, let's not try to pretend that the Secularisation Thesis is true after all. And part of that pretence is the guff about Religious Freedom.

I've argued more than once that appeals to Religious Freedom, to defend the Church against militant secularists in the West, is a complete waste of time. It is even more of a waste of time when directed against non-Christian religious zealots. This is so blindingly obvious that it shouldn't need saying, but I am saying it because I can see the temptation to make this appeal in a recent speech by Lord (David) Alton. I'll address this in the next post.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pope Francis the Politician


The publication of the latest 'Scalfari interview' has presented an extraordinary spectacle. Fr Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, tried to play the interview down, saying (not for the first time) that the atheist journalist Scalfari had taken neither notes nor a recording of the conversation - and nor had anyone else.

The Catholic Herald reported that Fr Lombardi
'released a statement confirming that the article “captures the spirit of the conversation” between Pope Francis and journalist Eugenio Scalfari, but cautioning that the “individual expressions that were used and the manner in which they have been reported cannot be attributed to the pope”.

Suggesting that the “naïve reader is being manipulated” by certain portions of the article, Fr Lombardi expressed particular skepticism about two statements attributed to Pope Francis: a claim that some cardinals have been guilty of sexually abusing children, and a vow to “find solutions” to the “problem” of priestly celibacy.'

Clearly Fr Lombardi is caught between saying the whole thing is a load of rubbish - which would imply criticism of the Holy Father, who has persisted in talking to Scalfari after all the problems which emerged after the first interview - and saying that it represents what Pope Francis actually wants to say, which seems problematic because (as it is presented) it appears to lack diplomatic tact and to give hostages to fortune on things like clerical celibacy.

A similar dilemma seems to have the Vatican website administrators in its grip. The Holy Father wants to give an interview; he's happy to see it published; the administrators live to serve the Holy Father, so up it goes on the website. The Holy Father does not, however, appear to see himself in any sense bound by what he is presented as saying, it doesn't in any formal sense represent his views, it causes some embarrassment, so it comes off again. And then it goes back up, and then ...

Certainly, Pope Francis has his bag-carriers and diplomatic pooper-scoopers in a spin. I don't envy them their job. I don't, however, think that Pope Francis is much concerned. Here is my humble take on it.

The Holy Father is not much interested in theology. I don't mean that as a criticism: not all prelates have a background in theology. In the Church's career-structure, there are people who start out as professional theologians, like Pope Benedict, philosophers like St John Paul II, diplomats like Pope Pius XII and Paul VI, and (less commonly) pastorally-oriented people like St Pius X. Not only that, but the Church includes people with all kinds of attitude and character. Pope Francis says 'I am a son of the Church', when he wants to qualify some of his impatient-sounding remarks about 'casuistry'. My take is that he takes his belief in the teaching of the Church for granted, he doesn't lie in bed struggling with doubts, far from it, but he doesn't view the practical problems which face the Church as manifestations of deep theological problems, in the way that Pope Benedict did.

Perhaps one might say that Paul VI was more inclined to view the practical problems of his day as manifestations of diplomatic problems, St John Paul as philosophical problems, St Pius X as pastoral problems. I'm just talking about a tendency, here; to repeat, this needn't be a criticism of anyone. To a hammer everything looks like a nail. So what does Pope Francis see them as?


From what I gather, Pope Francis has a very acute political sense. He is concerned about politics, in the sense that he thinks about groups of people with particular interests, concerns, and attitudes, which need to be dealt with by the use of particular kinds of language, concessions, and symbolic gestures, or else (when necessary) opposed, sidestepped, or neutralised, in a political fashion. This is, of course, a hugely valuable skill to have. It enables him to get through to people who would not normally be open to his message, and it may mean he'll be able to deal with the political infighting and sclerosis of the Curia.

So it is not surprising to see him doing some of the things politicians do. Politicians try ideas out with hints and leaks, to test the reaction while retaining the option of distancing themselves from the ideas if they turn out to be unpopular or problematic. Politicians can address different groups in different ways, and they spend a lot of time soaking up what people think and say, often in private or semi-public settings, and sounding as sympathetic as possible. Politicians tend to campaign for an idea or policy with arguments and speeches only after they've established a coalition in support of it; they often let single-issue groups, lobbyists and pressure groups, thrash things out first. A lot of their work is behind the scenes.

The political role is not so much a teaching role as a governing role: a role to smooth away problems which are less about concepts than about power relationships, and to identify groups in positions of influence who are blocking the proper functioning of institutions, and to deal with them.

Politicians aren't terribly popular, so it may be assumed that I'm being terribly rude, but I'm not. Politics is a necessary thing, and politicians have a necessary place in society. I don't think Pope Francis is corrupt, nor an ideologue with some dark agenda, so he has a big advantage over most politicians we are familiar with from secular politics. Nevertheless, to the extent I am right, he will suffer the temptations and limitations to which politics is subject.

One is the problem of appearing too maleable, too ready to say one thing to one group and another to another. I don't suffer the illusion that Pope Francis is a stuffy old conservative, but I do think that the long-term danger is not him allowing free love in the Church, but of raising false expectations among liberals. Having said that, they've been suffering these false expectations for so long that it's become part of the liberal package.

The other problem, which is related, is that the muted or mixed signals become a source of scandal, by which I mean a source of sin. Catholics who are not ideologically committed to liberalism but are weak in their Faith might jump to the conclusion that divorce and remarriage are about to be ok, for example, because of the use the liberals are making of what Pope Francis has said. Pope Francis has not slapped the liberals down; on the contrary, he seems to be encouraging them. For the time being he wants to see how this goes. Perhaps the very fact of a heated debate between Müller and Marx and the like will provide him with a political justification - as opposed to a theological justification - for maintaining the status quo on divorce. But in the meantime the Faithful are confused.

They are confused already, of course, and the clearer teaching from the last two pontificates served only to establish one side of the confusion, the other side of which was coming from liberal priests and bishops. Now there are more conservative priests and bishops, and the liberal generation has reached the level of the older cardinals, who would be difficult even for the most conservative Pope to silence. Certainly, Pope Benedict did not manage it.

O time, thou must untangle this, not I.
It is too hard a knot for me to untie!

As I've said before in posts about Pope Francis, I want to understand him first and foremost. I'm open to the idea that he might be doing something too clever for me to see, but also to the idea that he will turn out not to be a good pope. Not all popes are good, after all. If we approach every issue with the assumption that the Pope is perfect, we are going to come to terrible grief sooner or later.

So far, Pope Francis has evaded the defences of some very hardened opponents of the Church, and he has embarked on a strategy within the Curia, of asserting control over the money, which might actually make some headway. Strategies come with risks. The danger of scandal through the toleration of heterodoxy is not exactly a new one. There are many precedents for well-meaning Popes to allow intractable problems to seethe for a bit before intervening decisively. And, come to that, not actually getting round to any decisive intervention.

In the meantime I think it is a pity that all those clerical bloggers have gone quiet. Without going berserk with scandalous attacks on the Holy Father, I think we can all contribute something by reiterating the teaching of the Church, and by reminding people that Catholics are not bound by the Pope's off-the-cuff remarks. I think Pope Francis is rather assuming that we, the traddy side of the debate, will carry on saying what we want to say about the issues of the day. If only because he thinks it is part of life's rich pattern.


Photos: Cardinal Brandmuller, Mgr Richard Soseman and Mgr Pablo Colino presiding at liturgies (Vespers and Benediction and two Masses) for the FIUV General Assembly last November.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

Loftus and Natural Marriage

2010 06 12_6055
A wedding in the Traditional rite

I have been puzzled before by Mgr Basil Loftus' references to the idea that marriages between Catholics might be non-sacramental. Or, perhaps, that it is possible for a Catholic couple to be joined in a non-sacramental marriage. In his column of 11th July in the Catholic Times, Loftus sheds a little more light on what he has in mind.

As we have come to expect, it is pretty loopy, and based on an egregious factual error.

Pieter Huizing, the Dutch Jesuit canonist [d.1995], argued until the bitter end, when the present Code of Canon Law was being drawn up some 40 years ago, that there was no scriptural, doctrinal or logial foundation for the canonical conclusion that because undoubtedly Christ raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, "therefore every valid marriage between baptised persons has to be a sacrament."

Loftus goes on to claim, incorrectly, that the when the Orthodox allow a second marriage after divorce, they do so on the basis that it is non-sacramental. This, then, would seem to be the idea: that we should allow for a non-sacramental marriage after civil divorce.

The problem is that it is no easier to be engaged in bigamy with a non-sacramental second marriage, than with a sacramental second marriage. It wouldn't, come to that, be any easier to have two non-sacramental marriages on the go at the same time. A valid marriage, of any kind, while it exists, renders the parties incapable of contracting another valid marriage, of any kind.

It may be that Loftus is subject to another confusion, the idea recently examined by the canon lawyer Edward Peters that one can conceptually separate the questions of a marriage's validity and its sacramentality. As Peters points out, we never get a decree from a tribunal that a marriage wasn't sacramental, only that it wasn't valid. To explain why, we need to remember that when two Catholics fail to contract a sacramentally valid marriage with each other, they fail to to contract any (real, binding in conscience) marriage. When the law of the land fails to recognise this, it is failing to recognise the moral reality of the situation, the relationship between what has happened and the institution of marriage, which the state can regulate but does not own.

The difference between a sacramental and a non-sacramental marriage is, apart from the extra graces which flow from the former, that non-sacramental marriages can under certain restricted circumstances be ended by divorce, allowing the parties to remarry. Perhaps Loftus would like to see the disappearance of the indissoluble sacramental bond in Catholic marriages, which he appears incapable of seeing as anything other than an inconvenience. But the suggestion that second marriages be viewed as non-sacramental isn't going to help: it is the first marriage's sacramental bond which is the problem, not the second's. Unless, I suppose, there's a third or subsequent marriage to deal with...

Here's a question. Suppose that Catholic couples had the option, when preparing for marriage, of contracting some sort of arrangement of concubinage, instead of an indissoluble sacramental marriage. So they could have marital relations without sin, but could still, under certain conditions, walk away from their partners. How many would actually go for that?

It is true that there are couples who just get married in church because it looks nice, and have no intention of keeping their wedding vows. Their marriages are clearly invalid, however, so, in this way, they aren't part of the problem with people like Loftus want to solve. That problem is created by people who don't want concubinage, or natural marriage, or anything like that: they want sacramental marriage, succeed in contracting it, and then, while their spouses are still alive, decide after all that they want to marry someone else. Loftus' proposed solution is not going to help them, even if it made sense, because they don't actually want 'marriage lite': they wanted the real thing when they first got married, and for the most part they would like the real thing, were it possible, all over again, with their new partners.

2010 06 12_6113

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

LMS Pilgrimage to SS Peter & Paul, New Brighton

Come and see the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in their splendid church in the Wirral!


A reminder of the Latin Mass Society Pilgrimage to the Shrine Church of SS Peter & Paul & St Philomena, New Brighton, taking place on Saturday 2nd August.

11.30am Solemn Mass
1pm break for lunch 
1.45 Talk 2.30 
Tour of the Shrine 
3.00 Benediction and Veneration of a Relic of St Philomena

The address is:
7 Atherton Street
New Brighton 
CH45 9LT

Click here for a map.


It is a very impressive church, with what will probably be the biggest Monstrance you will ever see. Yes, we will use it for Benediction! It has to be winched into place with a special lift. Since it to too large to lift to bless the Faithful, there is a smaller 'foot' which slots on when it is taken off its 'throne' above the Altar.


Here's a cool little video about the church.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Loftus attacks Archbishop Sample: on chant and children

Children at St Mary Magdalen, Wandsworth, a Mass with Chant propers and polyphonic Ordinary.
Every now and then Mgr Basil Loftus makes reference to singing in Mass. It appears to be one of his many obsessions. A classic was his suggestion that when the General Instruction recommends a chant or song at Communion, this rules out adherence to the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum's requirement that the Communion Plate be used, and the recommendation in that instruction, now a requirement of our own Bishops' Conference, that the Faithful make an 'act of reverence' before receiving Communion, because of the difficulty of multi-tasking...

It is not surprising, therefore, that when he turns his attention to chant and hymns he comes out with the usual muddle and deliberately misleading claims.

He starts by quoting Archbishop Sample of Portland, Oregon:
'It is clear that the Council calls for the liturgy to be sung. In recent decades we've adopted the practice of singing songs at Mass. We take the Mass and attach four songs or hymns to it. But this is not the Church's vision. We need to sing the Mass. It is meant to be sung. The texts of the Mass are meant to be sung.'

Children at the LMS Pilgrimage to Holywell.
Loftus' comment on this typifies his disregard for making sense, as well as good manners or respect for his superiors:

The archbishop's observation, while very helpful, is also both simplistic and deceptive.

Was it a subeditor who added the phrase 'very helpful'? Or is Loftus able to hold two incompatible judgments in his head at the same time?

His reason for saying that Archbishop Sample is being 'simplistic and deceptive' is that he cannot get his mind around the very simple point that the Archbishop is making: that when hymns are sung, in the Novus Ordo, they are sung instead of the singing of a liturgical text. The General Instruction says: you can sing the Introit chant, or something else. Later on, you can sing the Offertory chant, or something else. At Communion, you can sing the Communion chant, or something else. If, each time, you find yourself singing a hymn, you are doing so at the expense of singing the chant texts set for the day.
Ok, so she's not in exactly the right place, but she's doing her best...
Palm Sunday with the FSSP in Reading.
Of course, the wider legal and textual situation in the Novus Ordo is a nightmare of confusion and mixed signals, which I have addressed, a little, here. Nevertheless, Archbishop Sample is right that by replacing the chants with hymns, we are moving from a liturgical text - an ancient, Catholic, liturgical text, in fact - to something which is at best para-liturgical, and often not even Catholic.

Loftus' argument against the use of the liturgical texts is the typically patronising argument that chant is not appropriate for ordinary people in ordinary Masses.

The aura, ethos and culture of a monastic Mass cannot easily by transplanted in a parish Sunday Mass. Nor is it always appropriate to try to do so. Not many abbots presiding at conventual Mass in their monasteries have the ethereal, numinous and meditative qualities of their organ-led Greogorian-chant shattered by a four-year-old returning from the children's liturgy and informing him: "I want to wee."
Venerating a relic of St Gregory the Great, the codifier of the Chant repertoire,
at SS Gregory & Augustine in Oxford.
Has Loftus ever actually seen a Mass with chant being sung with a congregation with lots of small children? Anyone tempted by his line of argument urgently needs to get themselves to the regular, sung Traditional Mass celebrated in places such as Reading, by the Fraternity of St Peter, St Bede's, Clapham Park, or Blackfen. I have taken my children, who range from six months to ten years of age, to such Masses all their lives, and I have myself sung, yes sung chant, at the great majority of those Masses, in a large number of locations with fellow worshipers from every corner of the land and every walk of life, so unlike Basil I know exactly what I am talking about. The reality is that children respond to the atmosphere created by chant at least as much, and I would say actually more, than adults.

The atmosphere created by chant is at least in part a matter of association: that is to say, it is learnt. To compare like with like, therefore - adults and children equally unfamiliar with chant - then small children are at a huge advantage, because they learn fast, they have no preconceptions, and they are imitative. They want to do what other people are doing.

When the association is embedded, in children and adults, again if we are comparing like with like, then children again have a big advantage, because - as anyone who knows children knows - children are conservative. Once a habit is established, the way the Christmas tree is decorated or the table is laid, children naturally stick fast to it. Once they've learnt that chant accompanies an activity for which they need to be quiet, they will be very resistant to anything contradicting this principle.

Servers at a funeral in the Oxford Oratory.
I suppose Loftus may have in mind an unfair comparison, between adults who have a dim recollection of chant as associated with the sacred, coupled with a vague sense of duty about how to behave in church, and children whose liturgical instincts have been un-formed as a result of infrequent visits to church, and mis-formed by hyper-active 'kiddies hymns' and 'children's liturgies'. If children behave inappropriately for those reasons, however, it is the grown-ups who are to blame.

What the four-year-old of Loftus' fantasy needs, then, after his visit to the loo, is an end to the 'children's liturgy', and consistent exposure to chant, ideally at the Traditional Mass. If he observes other people lower their voices in church, with a little encouragement he will do the same. Small boys can be more prone to restlessness in church than girls, but wait a couple more years and he'll be joining the serving team, and your problems are over.

Obviously, this is not going to happen if there are girls serving. But that's just reason number 94 for making sure it is the Traditional Mass.

There are many other errors in the article, but as usual I can't address them all. For example, the Gloria is not a hymn in any usefully descriptive sense: it is not metrical. Like the Psalms, it can be sung using Gregorian Chant because this can cope with texts which don't have strict dum-di-dum rythms and lines of equal length. (It is called a 'prose'.) Metrical hymns have a very long history in the Roman liturgy, in the Office, but never - never - in Mass, until vernacular hymns crept in as a result of Protestant influence.

IMG_8047Noting that the Vatican II document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, allows a range of musical instruments to be used in the liturgy, Loftus writes:
If the bagpipes is the chosen instrument, then the type of music must be tailored to it. This may exclude Gregorian chant.

A bizarre attempt to put the cart before the horse: to claim the right to choose the instrument and then fit the music to it, regardless of liturgical considerations. However, it is not a well chosen example. I learned on the Chartres Pilgrimage that it is perfectly possible - strange, perhaps, but perfectly possible - to play chant melodies on the bagpipes, from the chap in the picture.

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