Thursday, October 31, 2013

Loftus on Scripture and legal custom

The Epistle at the Portsmouth Mass presided over by Bishop Egan

This is from his column of 15th September.

God did not 'dictate' what he revealed; he inspired the sacred writers who then expressed the revealed truth in their own words - and those words are human and fallible. Pope Benedict in his apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini could not stress too emphatically that it is the spiritual and not the literal sense and meaning of those words which we have to grasp and understand.


Not many people realise that in the Church a community can make its own laws by observing a custom for long enough. If a community's actions are inherently reasonable they can become law, even though they run contrary to an existing law...

These two brief quotations are both extraordinary in how they twist the teaching and legal principles of the Church. On the first, of course Pope Benedict's Verbum Domini says nothing of the kind; no Biblical scholar known to science would tell us to ignore the 'literal sense', that is always the starting point of exegesis. What Pope Benedict said about revelation is simply to reiterate the teaching of the Church: while the human author is real, and not just a lifeless tool, God is also the author of the text, yes of those human words. This teaching is that there is nothing in the sacred text which is in error, and nothing there which the Holy Ghost did not want there. I append some key quotations below.

The Gospel procession

On law, reality is, as usual, diametrically opposed to what Loftus wants his readers to conclude. A custom contra legem can only become law if the legislator allows it to. It is impossible, therefore, that his favourite liturgical abuses should become lawful when the competent authorities repeatedly condemn them. After all, perhaps there was some point in all those documents, so widely ignored, emanating from successive Popes and from the Congregation for Divine Worship: they make it impossible to argue that abuses have become established as customs. On giving the Chalice indiscriminately and to large congregations, for example, something I've been researching, it is terribly widespread but this make no difference. Thirty or forty years of complaisance from the legislator is needed for it to become lawful, whereas it has in fact been condemned in 1970 (Sacramentali Communione), 1980 (Inaestimabile donum 12) and 2004 (RedemptionisSacramentum 102), as well as in each successive edition of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (1970 section 242; 1974, 2002 Section 283). Loftus is well aware of all this, but he would like his readers to come to believe a false argument with just enough legal jargon and gobblegook to make it sound plausible.

Pope Benedict, Verbum Domini 19: A key concept for understanding the sacred text as the word of God in human words is certainly that of inspiration. Here too we can suggest an analogy: as the word of God became flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary, so sacred Scripture is born from the womb of the Church by the power of the same Spirit. Sacred Scripture is “the word of God set down in writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit”.[66] In this way one recognizes the full importance of the human author who wrote the inspired texts and, at the same time, God himself as the true author.

This comes straight out of the Second Vatican Council, whose decree on Scripture does not make for comfortable reading by the likes of Mgr Loftus.

Dei Verbum (Vat II) 11: Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.
The Gospel proclaimed.

This in turn is on all fours with Vatican I.

Dei Filius (Vat I) 8: Now since the decree on the interpretation of Holy Scripture, profitably made by the Council of Trent, with the intention of constraining rash speculation, has been wrongly interpreted by some, we renew that decree and declare its meaning to be as follows: that in matters of faith and morals, belonging as they do to the establishing of Christian doctrine, that meaning of Holy Scripture must be held to be the true one, which Holy mother Church held and holds, since it is her right to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of Holy Scripture.

9. In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret Holy Scripture in a sense contrary to this, or indeed against the unanimous consent of the fathers.

The other day Loftus was praising Pope Leo XIII for encouraging Biblical scholars to be less hide-bound. This is what he actually said (inter alia).

Providentissimus Deus Leo XIII (1893) The Holy Ghost Himself, by His supernatural power, stirred up and impelled the Biblical writers to write, and assisted them while writing in such a manner that they conceived in their minds exactly, and determined to commit to writing faithfully, and render in exact language, with infallible truth, all that God commanded and nothing else; without that, God would not be the author of Scripture in its entirety.

Loftus attacks Fr Ray Blake

Mgr Basil Loftus wrote this in his Catholic Times column of 22nd September. I was away so I missed it at the time.

Sadly however the artificiality of ceremonial, the regimentation I of prayer, and the insistence on uniformity at the expense of messy unity have all taken the slurry out of the ecclesial farmyard. The smell of incense has come to be values over that of unwashed bodies, the intricacy of priestly lace over the tattered clothing of tramps, because, quite simply, as one blogging priest recently said, with, I hope, crass nativity rather than evil intent, "the trouble with the poor is that they are messy,"


As the culture of the Second Vatican Council is now revived surely we can continue not only raw challenges it threw down to the Church, but also the atmosphere of civilised debate and moderate language which very largely characterised its honest and open arguments.

...But since Vatican II the new phenomenon of unregulated 'blog-sites' purporting to have some kind of Church allegiance has so often brought hatred and personal attacks, where there should be only love and objective discussion. This is a problem which is going to have to be tackled if the necessary challenges which must be made within the Church are to remain within the parameters of Christian charity. Otherwise the sad example of backbiting in the Roman Curia, which has so distressed both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, will pervade the local churches as well.

It does not appear to have occurred to him that he is demonstrating what he purports to condemn: hatred and personal attacks, backbiting. Since he heard about Fr Ray Blake's blog post, he can scarcely have failed either to have had the chance to read it in its proper context (heck, you only have to read it to the end) or to have noticed that the journalist who quoted it out of context was being criticised for inverting Fr Blake's intended meaning. If he had no chance to check whether or not he was attacking a fellow priest unjustly then, of course, he needn't have used the quote.

Looking at this column I am relieved of any feeling that I have been too hard on Loftus. What he dishes out to others puts anything I have said in the shade. I would also much rather he attacked me, than a priest at the front line of parish life, for whom this kind of calumny can have real pastoral implications, implications for the good of souls.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The value of tradition: Inspectis dierum nostrorum

Mass1I mentioned yesterday the document Inspectis dierum nostrorum, which up to now has been available in English only as a scanned image in a dark corner of the website of the US Bishops' Conference. It has now been retyped so it is much more legible and also searchable. I always wonder whether any particular thought goes into the non-availability of particular documents on the Vatican website; we owe to EWTN's library and various others a huge number of items which, I suspect, some people in Rome would rather had disappeared down the memory hole. Inspectis dierum is now available on the LMS website here (as a Word file) and in pdf format here.

Inspectis dierum contains a very interesting attack on the notion one constantly meets in modern Catholic theological studies, that theology should be done by juxtaposing the Bible with modern concerns and problems. The Bible itself is then subjected to the kind of (often very shoddy) 'scientific' analysis which seems designed not only to rid us of all reverence for the sacred text, but to relativise its contents to such a degree that we will end up saying: so, this is what some editor thought, unless it inspires some thoughts of my own, why should I care?

The traditional approach is to say that the interpretation and application of the Bible to pastoral issues by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church is normative for us. We are not presented with the Biblical text in an aching vacuum, but in the context of centuries of commentary which, while it can go in different directions and leave many things open, is on many controversial topics actually pretty unanimous. This tradition is a source of theology alongside the sacred texts themselves.

If the Church began in 1962 with the opening of the Second Vatican Council, then the traditional view of theology has to be eradicated. Inspectis dierum, which is supposed to set the tone for the study of the Fathers in seminaries, is having none of that. Here are some quotations. 

Today there are many theological concepts or tendencies which, contrary to the indications of the decree Optatam Totius (No. 16), pay little attention to the fathers’ witness and in general to ecclesiastical tradition, and confine themselves to the direct confrontation of biblical texts with social reality and life’s concrete problems with the help of the human sciences. These are theological currents which do without the historical dimension of dogmas and for which the immense efforts of the patristic era and of the Middle Ages do not seem to have any real importance. In such cases, study of the fathers is reduced to a minimum, practically caught up in an overall rejection of the past.

            In various theologies of our times which are detached from the stream of tradition, theological activity is either reduced to pure “biblicism” or it becomes a prisoner of one’s historical horizon by being taken over by the various fashionable philosophies and ideologies of the day. Theologians, who are practically left to themselves, think that they are doing theology but are really only doing history, sociology, etc., flattening the contents of the Creed to a purely earthly dimension.

Private Mass1

To follow the living tradition of the fathers does not mean hanging on to the past as such, but adhering to the line of faith with an enthusiastic sense of security and freedom, while maintaining a constant fidelity toward that which is foundational: the essential, the enduring, the unchanging fidelity usque ad sanguinis effusionem to dogma and those moral and disciplinary principles that demonstrate their irreplaceable function and their fecundity precisely at the times when new things are making headway.


The first thing that strikes us in their [sc the Fathers'] theology is the living sense of the transcendence of the divine truth contained in revelation. Differing from many other ancient and modern thinkers, they give proof of great humility before the mystery of God contained in Sacred Scripture on which they, in their modesty, prefer to be mere commentators who are careful not to add anything to it that might alter its authenticity. It can be said that this attitude of respect and humility is none other than lively awareness of the insuperable limits that the human intellect experiences in the face of divine transcendence.


It is obvious that the study of the fathers also requires adequate instruments and aids such as a well-equipped library from the patristic viewpoint (collections, monographs, reviews, dictionaries), as well as knowledge of classical and modern languages. Given the well-known deficiencies in the humanities in today’s schools, everything possible will have to be done to strengthen the study of Greek and Latin in centers of priestly formation.

The full text can be downloaded LMS website here (as a Word file) and in pdf format here.

Photos show St Cuthbert's Seminary at Ushaw, Country Durham, during the Latin Mass Society's Priest Training Conference of 2009. Having acquired the reputation as the most 'progressive' seminary in England and Wales, it is now closed. It is to be hoped that the magnificent chapel and other buildings find some worthy use. More photos here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Latin in Seminaries: more forgotten documents

2011 05 21_9724

The Ratio fundamentalis institutionis sacerdotalis is one of those documents readers of this blog are extremely unlikely to have heard of, but it is important: it sets the ground-rules for seminary education. There have been two editions, issued by the Congregation for Catholic Education, in 1970 and in 1980.

We may think of it as a intermediate document between the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Priestly Training Optatem totius, and the more specific national guidelines for seminary education, which should be produced by each Episcopal Conference and submitted to Rome for approval, the Ratio studiorum. Also relevant of course, and of a higher level of authority, is Canon Law, which has some things to say about seminary education, although the new Code of Canon Law (1983) came out after the most recent edition of the Ratio fundamentalis. Another important document is Bl John Paul II's 'Post Synodal Exhortation' on Seminary education, Pastores dabo vobis, which dates from 1992.

The distressing state of many seminaries around the world is not unconnected with the failure of the theoretically rather strict system control the Holy See has over what seminaries teach. For one thing, it is rather surprising that, after refreshing the Ratio fundamentalis only ten years after the first edition, the Congregation for Catholic Education never produced another edition. There have been a few developments since 1980, not least the new Code of Canon Law. Now responsibility for seminaries has been transferred to the Congregation for Clergy, and we may wonder if they will do a new edition. If they do, no doubt it will take some time to prepare.

2011 05 21_9729

In addition, it appears that the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales have never proposed a Ratio studiorum for their seminaries. The obligation to produce one and get it approved is spelled out in the Code of Canon Law (Canon 242), so to say that this is pretty surprising is an understatement. The process of checks and balances between the bishops and Rome is simply not functioning.

For what they are worth, let's see what these documents say about the teaching of Latin.

Optatem totius 13: Seminarians 'are to acquire a knowledge of Latin which will enable them to understand and make use of the sources of so many sciences and of the documents of the Church.'

Ratio fundamentalis (1970): 66. 'On the completion of these studies, any deficiency in knowledge which is required in a priest must be made good either before or during the study of philosophy, as n. 60 indicates. An example would be that reasonable proficiency in Latin, which the Church continually and insistently demands. A list and program of these studies should be included in the Scheme for Priestly Training.'

2011 05 21_9735

Ratio fundamentatlis (1980):  'It has been abundantly proved that the general orientations of the Council, if they are faithfully observed, do not irritate the People of God. They rebel only against novelties and excesses. For instance, the Council is far from having banned the use of the Latin language. Indeed, it did the contrary. Thus the systematic exclusion of Latin is an abuse no less to be condemned than the systematic desire of some people to use it exclusively. Its sudden and total disappearance will not be without serious pastoral consequences.'

Code of Canon Law (1983): Can. 249 'The program of priestly formation is to provide that students not only are carefully taught their native language but also understand Latin well and have a suitable understanding of those foreign languages which seem necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of pastoral ministry.'

Pastores dabo vobis (1992): 'Hence the importance of studying sacred Scripture "which should be the soul, as it were, of all theology", the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy, the history of the Church and the teachings of the magisterium.'

2011 05 21_9759

This last reference to the study of the Fathers of the Church refers back not only to Optatem totius (which is the source of the quote about biblical studies), but also to an Instruction on the subject, Inspectis dierum, which came out just three years before Pope John Paul's Exhortation. This, like Optatem totius, makes it clear that it is going to involve a knowledge of Latin.

Inspectis dierum (1989) 'The study of Patrology and of Patristics, which in its initial stage consists in outlining [the subject-matter], demands that manuals and other bibliographical resources be employed. When one arrives at difficult and involved questions of Patristic theology, however, none of these aids suffices: one has to go directly to the Fathers' very texts.'

'Given the well-known deficiencies in the humanities in today’s schools, everything possible will have to be done to strengthen the study of Greek and Latin in centers of priestly formation.'

Inspectis dierum is so interesting and important that, despite having blogged about it before, I am going to blog about it again. I have also had this document re-typed, so it can be more easily be read and searched. It is now available on the Latin Mass Society's website here (word .doc format; pdf format here).

2011 05 21_9809Photos: ordinations to the priesthood in the Seminary of the Fraternity of St Peter in Denton, Nebraska, USA, peformed by Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, Saturday 21st May 2011. More here.

Mass and celebration for Fr Michael Brown

There will be a High Mass to mark Fr Michael Brown's 25th Anniversary of Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood, his Silver Jubilee, on 19th November 2013.

Fr Michael is Northern Chaplain of the LMS.

The Mass will commence at 7pm in St Joseph's Church, High West St, Gateshead NE8 1LX. 

Following Mass there will be a small celebration.

Map showing the church below.

View Larger Map

Mass in Portsmouth Cathedral with Bishop Egan


On Sunday Bishop Egan presided at Mass in the Extraordinary Form for the Latin Mass Society. Mass was celebrated by Fr Phillip Harris (a priest of the diocese), with the assistance of deacon (Rev Stephen Morgan, a permanent deacon of the diocese) and subdeacon (Fr John Maunder of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, based at St Agatha’s, Portsmouth) and Bishop Egan was present on his throne, giving various blessings in the course of the Mass, including the blessing of the people at the end.


Mass was accompanied by Chant, provided by a big group of the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge, directed by Christopher Hodkinson.

The bishop presiding, but not himself celebrating, was the most common form of Episcopal involvement in public Masses in the old days; the bishop celebrating Mass himself, Pontifical Mass, was for special occasions, and the elaborate ceremonies reflect this. Instead they would more commonly have celebrated Pontifical Low Mass, perhaps privately. Over the last couple of years we've had Bishop McMahon celebrate Pontifical Mass at the Leicester Priest Training Conference, and Bishop Drainey preside at Mass in York, as well as Masses celebrated by auxiliary bishops in Westminster Cathedral and, going back further, by Bishop Schneider and other bishops from overseas.


I think this is the first time in England and Wales a bishop has presided at a Mass in the Vetus Ordo in his own cathedral since the liturgical reform. This made it a particularly special occasion.

If you compare the photos of this and Bishop Drainey's Mass in York you will see that Bishop Drainey used a slightly more solemn form of the ceremonies.

Mass on Sunday was well attended, despite the dire weather warnings, with well over 100 people present.



More of my photos here; yet more photos here.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Loftus on changes to Church teaching: Limbo

Baptism: anointing with chrism.

I have been trying to show in my various posts that there is a fundamental difference between Pope Francis, however alarming some may find him, and the liberals embedded however cosily in the Catholic establishment, over the nature of the teaching of the Church. Mgr Basil Loftus has proved to be an excellent foil for the Holy Father in this respect, as an example of the latter. The point, which cannot be emphasised too much, is that the liberals of the Tablet/ Basil Loftus type have lost their sensus Catholicus to the extent that they honestly believe that the teaching of the Church can change. By contrast, Pope Francis' whole approach dealing with the sore points of media perception of the Church is based on the knowledge that it cannot change.

This is not a new thing. Bl Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI went to great lengths to present the Church in a more friendly light, to accentuate the positive and attractive aspects of her teaching and mission. They did this knowing that the hard sayings could not, in the end, be denied: the things which the World finds difficult to swallow, the stuff about abortion, contraception, divorce, and sex outside marriage. All we can do is place them in a wider context, not make them the centre of public presentations of the Faith, and that kind of thing. This policy may have been good or it may have been a failure, but it is so far from being a denial of the teachings as to be an acknowledgement of them. They are like enormous rocky islands you have to navigate around.

The Baptism proper: pouring water.

The Humanae Vitae dissidents, on the other hand, just wanted to change the teaching on contraception. They saw what the Protestant denominations had done, and couldn't comprehend why the Church couldn't do the same thing. This led to the enormous disappointment they express after each apparent opportunity for change is lost: Vatican II, the theological commission looking into contraception in the 1960s, each new papacy, each synod. Disappointment turns to anger, depression, and misery. The letters pages of the The Tablet under Pope Benedict often looked like the proceedings of some kind of self-help group trying to come to terms with a catastrophe. Right now they are enjoying the brief euphoria which comes with each false hope, but it won't last. Pope Francis will disappoint them, and (unless they can attribute his failure to dark forces or his untimely death), they will turn their anger on him.

Baptism: giving the white baptismal garment.

Predictably enough, Loftus is softening us up for radical doctrinal change, in a column I intended to cover earlier but didn't manage, The Catholic Times 1st September 2013. His first example of change is on the fate of the unbaptised.

'On 6th June 1439, as part of the Ecumenical Council of Florence, Pope Eugene IV singed the Papal Bull Laetentur Coeli (let the Heavens Rejoice) which specified that it is "a truth of the Faith to be beleived and accepted, and professed by all", that "the souls of those who die ... only in Original Sin ... go to Hell ... to be punished in various ways.".

Baptism: giving the lighted candle.
He delights in the fact that not all nominal Catholics believe this, and goes on to say that the doctrine of Limbo was developed as 'an alternative idea'... 'Condemned to Hell' came to be interpreted as 'can't go to heaven'. But this is not an example of doctrinal change: Limbo is part of Hell, as anyone who has read Dante's Inferno knows, and the separation from God can be described as a punishment. (Good pagans have their existence of natural happiness, without the union with God enjoyed by the Blessed in Heaven, in Dante's First Circle of Hell.) This also explains the small matter of the dates: the Council of Florence happened after Peter Abelard and St Thomas Aquinas did their work on Limbo. Limbo is not a denial of the teaching of Florence: it is a theological speculation which Florence did not want to make part of the official teaching of the Church, but did not want to deny either.

And this is still the case. Have a look at the Catechism:

1257 The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. ... The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude ...

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them.

That is all which can be said definitively on the subject. Anything else is just speculation: it cannot be written into the teaching of the Church for the simple reason that it is not included in the Deposit of Faith: it has not been revealed to us. The necessity of Baptism has been revealed: it is in Scripture (eg John 3:5). (Baptism of Blood and Desire are, in a certain sense, ways of being baptised.) And if you think about it it is unavoidable: nothing sinful can go into heaven. The only way we know about for Original Sin to be washed away is Baptism.

Loftus crows that Limbo isn't mentioned in the Catechism, but this means nothing more or less than its not being mentioned by the Council of Florence. In this respect nothing has changed since the 15th Century. Loftus' conclusion about Limbo 'And so it is no more' is just wishful thinking.

Something else Loftus forgot somehow to mention is the Athanasian Creed, one of the three great Creeds of the Church which is still part of her liturgy (it is said in the reformed Office on Trinity Sunday). It begins:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: ...

Do all nominal Catholic believe what is asserted by the Athanasian Creed? Well, if they don't, too bad for them. It expresses the Faith of the Church, being without any possible doubt infallible by the Ordinary Magisterium.

Jesus to Nicodemus: 'Unless you are born of water and the Spirit,
you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.' John 3:5

The other example of changes to teaching Loftus gives, on the transmission of Original Sin, requires separate treatment.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Loftus on General Absolution

The queue for the confessional during Sunday EF Mass at St Bede's, Clapham Park, London
This weekend, in The Catholic Times (27th October 2013) Mgr Basil Loftus is attacking Pope Francis again. He makes his disagreement with the Holy Father and the discipline of the Church quite clear.

So today, entering into the spirit of Francis' call for everyone to return to the practice of individual confession and absolution, I want to suggest that there is one rite of this sacrament, that of general absolution without individual confession, which in the years immediately after the Second Vatican Council proved its efficacy in this respect.

So he is rejecting the Holy Father's call for individual confession and absolution, at least in the first instance. He claims, however,

What happened after the Council was that thousands of people who had been away from the sacrament for scores of years and needed to return, came to Lent and Advent celebrations of general absolution without confession, experienced God's love and mercy, and thereafter regularly frequented the conventional individual confessions [sic].

The third option, that of the intermediate rite of individual confessions and absolutions within the framework of of a communal celebration of forgiveness [presumably 'penance services' are in view here], can go so far in reaching out to people. The community is gathered together. But experience has shown it does not go far enough. Otherwise we would not be in the situation where we now find ourselves.

Sadly, he claims, Bishops 'are so hedged in by petty bureaucratic rules that in practice they cannot' allow general absolution to meet this need.'

Yet to judge from past experience immediately after the Council this is exactly what is so effective not only in bringing people together for the liturgical celebration of general absolution without individual confession, but through the grace-filled joy of such an occasion, of successfully tempting back many of them to more conventional individual confession during the year.

Get that: 'during the year'. This is important.

Receptions in England and Wales (1913-2010)
The effectiveness of all the exciting abuses after the Council, reflected in the number of conversions.

It is far from clear what Loftus thinks people should confess: perhaps this is part of the attraction for him of general absolution. Having given a pretty accurate account of Natural and Positive Law, he remarks:

...this law-centered approach to sin... pays scant or no respect to the fact that love is a relationship. ...Grace is what moves towards God. Sin is what moves us away from him. So we need to ask for forgiveness.

First of all, I ask, not for the first time, where is the outrage about this? Where are the conservative Catholic bloggers talking about this scandalous article, in a newspaper sold with ecclesiastical approval in our churches? Where are all those people so eager to find the mote in the eye of the traditional Catholic movement, who seize on the lightest word in a blog com box or what they once heard after a Traditional Mass from some one or other, to prove that trads are all disloyal or reject the Council or whatever? Why are they so disinclined to see the beam in the eye of the mainstream Church? Doesn't it occur to them that the scandal of this kind of article appearing, let me say it again in a newspaper with ecclesiastical approval, bearing the name 'Catholic' in its title and sold in churches, doesn't it occur to those 'conservative' Catholics that this kind of thing keeps tens of thousands of Catholics away from canonically regular Masses and priests? That they, by remaining silent, by tolerating this, are themselves accessories to what they are pleased to call the sinful schismatic mentality of vast numbers of their fellow Catholics?

Can someone please let me know when any of the great conservative Catholic writers picks up a pen to point out the scandal being caused every single week by articles like this appearing in supposedly Catholic newspapers? I have never seen them do so, not once. It has been left to marginal people, nearly always people tainted by liking the Traditional Mass, like me, Daphne McLeod, Fr Thomas Crean OP and Fr Armand de Malleray FSSP, to write in protesting letters and mention it on blogs. This, frankly, is a bigger scandal than the publishing of the article in the first place.

Ok, rant over, what exactly is wrong with what the great Monsignor is pleased to deliver to us this pleasant weekend? The central problem is that what he proposes would not be sacramentally valid, something he is strangely reluctant to mention. He claims, as usual, that the restrictions on general absolution are just 'petty rules', but they are rules for the good of souls to ensure the validity of the sacraments, and not just their worthy celebration.

General absolution is only valid if the penitent has the intention of going to individual confession as soon as possible.

Loftus goes out of his way to demonstrate his intellectual dishonesty in this piece. He quotes (with the number) the Catechism of the Catholic Church articles 1484 and 1487, but lets slip no hint of the contents of article 1483, which says what I have just highlighted, and of which he cannot possibly be ignorant. I include it in full as an appendix below.

The purpose of the General Absolution is to deal with situations in which individual confession is impossible, such as soldiers before a battle. The survivors must get themselves to individual confession afterwards, when they can. This is a far cry from the pious hope Loftus expresses that people who've been to a General Absolution service will go again 'during the year'. That makes it crystal clear that it is no part of Loftus' proposal that penitents even be made aware of the conditions for validity of the sacrament they are receiving, and even if they do go to individual confession later they will not realise that they must confess the sins for which they were given general absolution.

Bear in mind that Loftus has in mind especially people who have been away from the sacraments for 'scores of years'. We are talking about people with mortal sins to confess.

This is why pushing General Absolution is so deeply worrying. People go in good faith, they are told that it is sacramentally valid, but in practice they do not fulfill the conditions of validity - because they are not told what they are - and so they will not receive sacramental absolution. They are not told because to tell them would reveal the pointlessness of the whole exercise in the pastoral situation envisaged, where there is no real emergency. The whole sacrilegious charade has been condemned repeatedly, not only by Rome but by our own bishops such as Bishop Crispian Hollis.

God is not bound by the Sacraments, the old saw has it, but we are. Loftus' proposal is to have people dying with mortal sins on their souls which they believe have been sacramentally absolved. I choose my words with care when I say: this is diabolical.

2006 01 23_0300
Fr Ray Blake in the rather grand confessional of St Patrick's Soho Square during a Mass for
Juventutem London.

The Catechism on General Absolution.

1483 In case of grave necessity recourse may be had to a communal celebration of reconciliation with general confession and general absolution. Grave necessity of this sort can arise when there is imminent danger of death without sufficient time for the priest or priests to hear each penitent's confession. Grave necessity can also exist when, given the number of penitents, there are not enough confessors to hear individual confessions properly in a reasonable time, so that the penitents through no fault of their own would be deprived of sacramental grace or Holy Communion for a long time. In this case, for the absolution to be valid the faithful must have the intention of individually confessing their grave sins in the time required. The diocesan bishop is the judge of whether or not the conditions required for general absolution exist. A large gathering of the faithful on the occasion of major feasts or pilgrimages does not constitute a case of grave necessity.

Nb also the Code of Canon Law, Canons 960-963, especially:

Can.  962 §1. For a member of the Christian faithful validly to receive sacramental absolution given to many at one time, it is required not only that the person is properly disposed but also at the same time intends to confess within a suitable period of time each grave sin which at the present time cannot be so confessed.
§2. Insofar as it can be done even on the occasion of the reception of general absolution, the Christian faithful are to be instructed about the requirements of the norm of §1. An exhortation that each person take care to make an act of contrition is to precede general absolution even in the case of danger of death, if there is time.

And see also Blessed Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Misericordia Dei of 2002.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Crispin Crispian

A friend has sent me in happy time these photos of the outside and inside of the hard-to-access San Lorenzo in Rome. They have the relics of the martyr twins SS Crispin & Crispinian, whose feast is today. This is kept in the Dominican rite, though sadly not in the 1970 or 1962 Roman calendars.

Veneration for these ancient martyrs, who shed their blood in the 3rd Century, joins us in Faith with our distant ancestors. Indeed, as every schoolboy knows, they have an eternal place in English literature.

French readers look away now...

Henry V speaks on the field of Agincourt.

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pro Life Witness in Oxford on Saturday


Saturday, 2
6th October

Please come and pray in reparation for abortion and for all unborn babies, their families, and all the medics involved in this evil crime.

Entrance of the JOHN RADCLIFFE HOSPITAL, Headley Way, Oxford.

We meet at the Church of St Anthony of Padua, Headley Way, just behind where we witness.  (Car park available)

Refreshments available afterwards in Church hall.

Please ring Amanda Lewin 01869 600638

Please keep the unborn in your prayers.

Mass with Bishop Egan in Portsmouth Cathedral on Sunday

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At 3pm. The Latin Mass Society has long had an annual Mass at Portsmouth Cathedral, although there has been a short hiatus recently. This one will be accompanied by the Schola Gregoriana under Christopher Hodkinson.

Bishop Egan will preside from the Throne and preach.

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Photos from a previous Solemn Mass there celebrated by Fr Andrew Southwell. It is an impressive cathedral, a few years ago there was some good restoration work. More photos.

St John's (Catholic) Cathedral in Portsmouth can be found here:
View Larger Map

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

LMS Pilgrimage to Oxford 2013: Photos


The Pilgrimage, which took place last Saturday, was a great success, and despite heavy rainstorms the day before and a few hours later, the procession took place in sunshine. We have done it with umbrellas, but we didn't need them this year!

Mass was accompanied by the Schola Abelis (for the Chant, which we endeavoured to sing in as authentic a Dominican fashion as we could), and the Newman Consort, for polyphony. The Newman sang a Mass by the Flemish Renaissance composer Clemens non papa, Missa Ecce quam bonum and the same composer's motet Ego flos campi. It was very beautiful, if you weren't there you really missed out!


These photos include some distinctive aspects of the traditional Dominican Rite which is a special feature of the Oxford Pilgrimage. Top, the gesture the celebrant makes after the Consecration, with arms outstretched, is preserved in the Dominican Rite, having been lost in the Roman Rite.


Here the deacon presents the Pax Brede (or Osculatorium) to the acolytes at the Kiss of Peace; this is a custom developed first in England which spread throughout Europe in the later Middle Ages, again has been mostly lost in the Roman Rite but is preserved in the Dominican Rite.


Another characteristic feature of ancient English customs is the 'housling cloth'; churches with Rood Screens of course didn't have communion rails (though the modern Rood Screen at St Birinus in Dorchester cleverly doubles as one); nor had the Communion Plate come into use. Instead Communion was distributed over a long, thin strip of linen designed to catch the crumbs, held at either end. Such cloths were also used in conjunction with the Communion Rail (and indeed Communion Plate) up to the Council in some places, but here it is in its original context. In point of fact, the cloth is particularly useful for the Communion of the Faithful in this church since the Communion Rails were removed in the course of the liturgical revolution.


Above, the blessing. Mass was celebrated by Fr Richard Conrad OP; Fr John Saward was deacon, and Br Oliver Keenan OP was subdeacon. The acolytes were Dominican students.


The mock-up gallows which come out for the pilgrimage when we visit the site of the Town Gallows, on the corner of Holywell Street, Longwall Street and Manor Road, where two Catholic priests and two laymen helping them were executed in 1589: Bl George Nichols, Bl Richard Yaxley, Bl Thomas Belson, and Bl Humphrey Prichard.


The pilgrims walked in procession to the site of martyrdom and back from there to Blackfriars, with the LMS banner and the processional statue of Our Lady of Walsingham we had on the Walsingham Pilgrimage, as well as a processional cross. Fr Richard led the procession, and (below) concluded the pilgrimage with Benediction.


More photos here.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Church closed in on itself

Freshers' Fair in Oxford: how do we reach these young people?
The Holy Father wants a Church which is not closed in on itself; he has said this many times in various formulations. In a General Audience on 16th October, he exclaimed:

Once again let us ask ourselves: are we missionaries by our words, and especially by our Christian life, by our witness? Or are we Christians closed in our hearts and in our churches, sacristy Christians?

A couple of images come to my mind when I think of a Church closed in on itself. One is the famous remarks of Pope Benedict (as Cardinal Ratzinger) on Mass celebrated versus populum.

The turning of the priest towards the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself. The common turning towards the East was not a "celebration towards the wall"; it did not mean that the priest "had his back to the people": the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together "towards the Lord." As one of the Fathers of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, J. A. Jungmann, put it, it was much more a question of priest and people facing in the same direction, knowing that together they were in a procession towards the Lord. They did not close themselves into a circle, they did not gaze at one another, but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us.

The stall of the Gregorian Chant Society, devoted to supporting the celebration of the Traditional Mass 
The phenomenon does not express itself only liturgically. These things don't; if they did, if liturgy had no connection with the rest of our lives, it wouldn't be so important. The closed circle in the liturgy reflects, teaches, and reinforces a closed circle in the Church outside the liturgy. So this is the second image, from Anthony Archer, the sociologist Dominican who did his study of the Church ('Two Catholic Churches') in the 1970s and early 1980s (before leaving the priesthood).

The [old] mass allowed people to engage the sacred in their own fashion, providing for a while range of religious demands and sensibilities and drawing people into the space where there was evidently something more to life. It provided a fixed centre to which people could relate their changing worlds. The emphasis given to the sacredness of the space itself enclosed within the precincts of the church reinforced this. Nor was there any need to belong to any particular community to take advantage of it.

(This is part of a longer quotation I posted and discussed here.) He goes on to say that the 'changes' were not as disastrous for the Middle Classes as they were for Working Class Catholics because with them came a series of opportunities for engagement in Church life, liturgically, spiritually, and administratively, which had some appeal for them. He discusses the rise of parish councils, house Masses, and charismatic prayer groups. We might add things like the rota for Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, liturgy committees, and the like. The point about all of these things is that they are manifestations of an in-group, a group of specially 'churchy' people, what we might call 'sacristy Christians'. That's not to say that there is anything necessarily wrong with these people, nor is there anything wrong in principle with them wanting something extra spiritually or wanting to make a helpful contribution to parish life - on the contrary, these are good things. The problem is that having lost something which could draw in the marginal Catholic and the outsider, what was gained was of benefit only to the insider. The energy and focus of all these things was and is ad intra. At best this can make the parish church look cared-for and welcoming. At worst, and too often, it can turn a parish into a series of warring cliques of busy-bodies, surrounded by a much larger number of pew-sitters who haven't got a clue about all this internal stuff and feel they have been left out in the cold.

Singers of the Chant Society and the Newman Consort at a Traditional Solemn Mass in Oxford
It is an irony of course that progressives are always talking about making the Mass 'accessible'. The fact we have to face is that they have failed, and to the extent that the post-conciliar reforms were aiming at that they failed. The numbers of people being drawn into the Church today is between a third and a quarter of those drawn in in the Bad Old Days, and we know from a mountain of anecdotal evidence that the liturgy was very frequently a positive influence on conversions in those Old Days, and today is frequently cited as a negative one. One old chap who converted only a few years ago told me that guitars kept him out of the Catholic Church for 25 years. Many others who'd considered the Catholic Church have gone to the Orthodox instead

In relation to what the Holy Father has been saying, I don't suppose what I have said has occured to him, but if we are challenged about being inward-looking this is what we can say. It is not the supporters of the Traditional Liturgy who are inward-looking, we are promoting something which, in terms of liturgical symbolism, points outwards and upwards towards God, and in terms of evanglism has a genuine appeal beyond the core vote. This is in stark contrast to those, like Mgr Basil Loftus, who think the salvation of the Church lies in reviving the failed experiment Parish Councils, a constant theme of his Catholic Times columns. I sit on enough committees to know that, necessary as they may sometimes be, they are no way to evangelise.
Many of these singers also helped during the procession for the Oxford Pilgrimage, giving
witness to the Faith in the streets of Oxford.

Monday, October 21, 2013

LMS Video on the Walsingham Pilgrimage

Congratulations to Mike Lord and the talking heads in this film, it is brilliant! 13 minutes long.

A Journey to England's Nazareth: The LMS Walking Pilgrimage from Ely to Walsingham from LMS on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

In what sense Pope Francis is not a liberal

Comments on this blog have expressed some disbelief at my efforts to understand Pope Francis as not being, simply, a liberal. Well, this is what I mean.
Is this the 'believing Church'?

Mgr Basil Loftus wrote in his regular Catholic Times column on 29th Sept all about the long interview with the Jesuit journals which Pope Francis gave. He particularly liked the stuff about how, properly understood, not just the teaching Church but the believing Church could be described as infallible. Loftus elaborates:

'Too readily in the past, and the not too distant past at that, mother teaching Church has too readily presumed, rather than ascertained, that matters of doctrine and of moral behaviour are accepted by the believing Church--this has happened, for instance, with regard to birth-control, celibacy of the clergy, divorce and remarriage, and women-priests.'

Now what Pope Francis really meant about the laity being infallible isn't entirely clear on the surfaces of the interview, but we do know (as if we needed to) what he thinks about the question of 'women-priests': 'that door is closed', he says. (It is pretty obvious he's say the same about the other issues too.)

Hear that, Basil? Oh never mind.

Now remember that Mgr Basil Loftus has a weekly column in a Catholic newspaper which has ecclesiastical approval, is sold in churches and so on. What he says represents a strand of opinion which, in many practical ways, is treated as more respectable than the views of traditional Catholics. (It is inconceivable that a trad would get a column in a Catholic newspaper sold in churches in the UK.) And yet his views are so much more extreme than the Pope's, that they make the Pope look a real stick-in-the-mud. When it comes to dealing with infallible doctrine, they aren't on the same planet.

Or is this it? (Rosary Crusade of Reparation, last weekend in London)

Isn't that worth pointing out? But there is more.

Placing the Holy Father's words into this slightly wider context sheds light on what he did mean. When he says that the believing Church is infallible, he clearly doesn't mean that some cosy clique of liberal arm-chair theologians are infallible, which is what Loftus means. Nor does he mean that the morass of nominal Catholics, whose only theological formation has consisted of singing Cum By Yar and catching Catherine Pepinster on Thought for the Day, is infallible, which may be what some of Loftus' readers will be tempted to think. He means that there corresponds to the authentic magisterium an authentic body of believers, without whom we could not talk, as St Vincent of Lerins did in his famous criterion of orthodoxy, of the teaching of the Church being what has been believed 'always, everywhere, and by everyone'. Note: not taught always and everywhere, believed always and everywhere.

Well obviously that rules out not just 'women-priests' but every other liberal fancy which would have made our predecessors in the Faith choke on their beer.

This is worth pointing out, is it not?

I don't know exactly what Pope Francis would include or not include in those things believed by the Faithful in the pertinent sense. Nor am I necessarily disagreeing with those like the Sensible Bond who wonder if this was a wise thing for the Holy Father to say. What I do know is that going through the exercise above is essential if we are to find the words to defend ourselves against the use the liberals are trying to make of this Papacy. I don't think they are going to stop: they are enjoying themselves. We need something to say. And what I have just explained does actually make some sense.

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Juventutem London Mass Friday 25th October

I'm delighted as always to advertise this, now taking place is St Mary Moorfields: click for map.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pope Celestine V and Pope Francis: an unfortunate comparison

Apologies for slow posting this week, my PC has been out of action for crucial periods.

Recently Dominie Stemp posted on her chance encounter with Mgr Basil Loftus in Scotland; her description suggests that the new Papacy has seriously gone to his head. This weekend he is euphorically comparing Pope Francis with Pope Celestine V (Born 1215, elected 5 July, 1294; consecrated and crowned, 29 August; abdicated 13 Dec., 1294; died 19 May, 1296). The headline (Catholic Times 20th Oct 2013) (which may not be Basil's work) is actually

Pope Francis ... the clone of Celestine V

Well let's hope not! Elected on a wave of pious mania, like those which which launched the tragic Children's Crusade of 1212 and the disastrous spread of the plague by Cardinal Federico Borromeo's procession round Milan in 1630, Celestine's papacy was only saved from having catastrophic results for the Church by his abdication after only 6 months.

Eamon Duffy (in his book Saints and Sinner p172) comments: 'the saintly but hopeless monk-hermit Celestine V, [was] elected after more than two years of deadlock in the hope that a saint might transform the Church. Instead the unwordly old man (eighty-five when elected) became the naive stooge of the Angevin King of Naples -- seven of his twelve first cardinals were Frenchmen, four of them Scilian subjects of Charles II.'

(Catholic Encyclopedia here.) He wanted, as Loftus notes, to go back to his hermitage, but (Basil forgets to note) it was not to be. His successor locked him up lest his hare-brained followers used him to create a schism, and he was dead 18 months later. Not a fate I would wish on Pope Francis.

His reign is interesting of course in lots of ways. It shows - I would have thought this would be obvious even to Loftus but it seems I'm wrong - that good intentions and holiness of life are not enough when it comes to exercising a great office. One might compare him with some of our most saintly kings, St Edward the Confessor and Henry VI (whose cause of canonisation is in fact open), not the most successful in bringing lasting peace to the land. Dante actually put Celestine in Hell, but his successors thought differently and canonised him in 1317. Celestine had the humility to realise he was making a hash of things, and that is something few men do. I hope Pope Francis doesn't have to. The comparison is hardly a flattering one.

The coronation of Pope Celestine V
Loftus' enthusiasm as so often prompts a very selective reading of history. Noting that Celestine didn't go to Rome, he neglects to mention that this was because the secular ruler of the Kingdom of Naples wanted to keep him in his own territory. Noting that he rode a donkey at his coronation, Loftus doesn't burden his readers with the confusing fact that this donkey was led by two kings. Not a bad way to travel, I'd say, for a man of 85 not used to riding a horse. But perhaps we shouldn't confuse Basil with facts.