Sunday, August 31, 2014

More about Papa Stronsay


Such has been my busy-ness, and also thanks to some technical problems with my PC, I didn't have a chance to write properly about my visit to the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer on their island, Papa Stronsay, in the Orkneys, where they have their monastery.

All my life I've had Summer holidays in a remote West Highland community, so the idea of being accessible only by sea, having your own electricity generator, and things like post and food being subject to weather conditions, are not entirely new. For most people, they represent a bit of a shock. You realise, out here, that you are at the furthest reaches, or a little beyond the furthest reaches, of the postal system, the health service, of everything commercial or governmental which we take for granted.


Such places are a challenge to live in, and even more so to make a living in. Everything which requires the help of an expert, spare parts or materials, or sending your own things out to any kind of market, is made complicated and expensive. The flip side is that once you get up there, you are obliged to adapt yourself to a different pace of life. You can't do things instantly. You can't whiz off to the big city. You can't put your plans into immediate execution. You do have a lot of physical things to do from which there is no escape. But you don't have the ringing telephone and the bleeping twitter account, the commute, the gossip, or the dealing with other people as frantic as you are.


This has the effect that the stresses and exhaustion of life you have been trying to ignore catch up with you. It also means that the spiritual things you have been trying to ignore can catch up with you. In other words, it puts you into a contemplative frame of mind.

I realised when I was up there that Papa Stronsay, the ancient stronghold of the pre-Viking monks re-colonised by the sons of St Alphonsus, is ideal as the base, and the retreat, of the community. Their vocation and charism is to do serve the Church as missioners, and to make this effective by combining it with the contemplative life. So, and I think this is unique in the Church, they alternate by seasons, between living as contemplatives and going on the mission. Papa Stronsay could not be bettered as the base of the contemplative side of this double vocation.


The contemplative life has never been about staring at one's navel: the Office, spiritual reading, and private prayers, has since the Desert Fathers been combined with physical work. The Desert Fathers used to weave baskets: Orare et laborare. Not all kinds of work are equally suited to the contemplative life, and the emphasis has always been on physical work where possible. The Sons up on Papa Stronsay have sheep, beef and dairy cows, hens and geese, pigs, a couple of donkeys, and a large greenhouse with a fantastic array of fruit and vegetables, which we sampled while up there.


Their work as missioners has not yet begun in earnest, since at the moment the number of priests is still low, and they now have to provide priests for their house in Christchurch, New Zealand, as well as for the community on the island and the chapel on Stronsay Island, the tiny island next to their own which nevertheless runs to things like a post office, bank, and a regular ferry service.

They have a steady number of young members at different stages of training, and we will be hearing a lot more about them over the next few years. Readers of this blog know that Fr Michael Mary gave an electrifying concluding talk at the LMS One Day Conference in London in the spring: you can hear it here. They will also be leading the St Catherine's Trust Family Retreat next spring, in the Oratory School: Friday 10th April to Sunday 12th April 2015.


More photos here.You can keep up with the Sons of the Holy Redeemer, and support the work of the Sons, through the Friends of Papa Stronsay.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Reflections on Walsingham


This year's pilgrimage was only the fourth walking pilgrimage the Latin Mass Society has organised. It
is I think the most complicated event the Society has ever organised, more complicated even than pilgrimages overseas and our priest-training conferences. Only on a walking pilgrimage do we have to have our own catering team, for example, and a complete travelling sacristy. We can't subcontract any aspect of it, to professional caterers or choir for example, and every Mass is in a different church.


This year we had two minbuses and a van, as well as a landrover with trailer and various private cars, accompanying us across the country. Matthew Schellhorn, our musical director, was able to conjure up a polyphonic group for the Sunday in the Shrine, which was pretty miraculous. In terms of engaging professional singers, we are a long way from anywhere at a very difficult time of year, and in the middle of a bank holiday weekend.


The effort was worth it. We had excellent liturgy, with the help of our band of seminarians from the Fraternity of St Peter and our volunteer chant schola. We had excellent food, thanks to the amazing efforts of the four-strong volunteer catering team. The support vehicles were everywhere we needed them to be. And the morale of the walking pilgrims was fantastic.


When we got to Walsingham, it was interesting to see the reaction of people who wandered into our Masses by chance - on Sunday in the Reconciliation Chapel, and on Monday in the Slipper Chapel. On Sunday, we picked up a lot of Irish Travellers, and others, from Youth 2000; there were also lots of Catholics of Indian origin around the place. They clearly got enough out of it to join us on the mile-long procession after Mass to the Priory Grounds, in many cases with bare feet, where we venerated the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham. It illustrates the universal appeal of the traditional liturgy and devotions.


On Monday, after our little Missa Cantata in the Slipper Chapel, I had interesting conversations with two young people who were are Youth 2000, who had been drawn to the chapel, from across the field where Youth 2000 was packing up shop, by the Gregorian Chant. They both expressed their frustration at the kind of liturgy Youth 2000 had to offer. I don't have any beef with Youth 2000, indeed I don't know what exactly they do, but if there is anyone who still thinks that what 'young people want' is some sloppy spontaneous liturgy with badly-performed sub-'folk' music, I would ask them a simple question.


Have you actually talked to them about it?

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Pro-Life Witness this Saturday in Oxford


Saturday, 30th August 3pm-4pm

Please note these guidelines (on advice from the police) for the pro life witness which we have had to implement as we have recently had counter-protesters.

* We will all stand on the grass just in front of the Church wall. Please will everyone stand in a row. Young (and fit!) people can stand up on the wall if they choose.

* The Holy Rosary will be led by Fr John Saward and he will not raise his voice in response to the protesters' noise. Our responses will also be quiet and reverent.

* Please will everybody not enter into any discussions/debates with the protesters - the advice is to completely ignore them and to not make eye contact. (Evil hates to be ignored.)

If you would prefer to pray inside the Church, please know we have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the hour.


PLEASE try and support this vigil- unborn babies have no voice but ours. This is a spiritual battle which God is blessing!

Info: Amanda Lewin. 01869 600638

All meet in the Church of St Anthony of Padua for Exposition and a prayer, then we stand at the Entrance to the John Radcliffe Hospital, Headley Way, Oxford.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

LMS Walsingham Pilgrimage: Part 2

Part 1 here.


After Mass at Oxburgh Hall, we had breakfast in the village hall. As usual our catering team had set up there ahead of time, in order to provide us with not only tea, bread and jam, and cereal, but porridge, now established as a Walsingham Pilgrimage tradition.


And so we walked on, to Harpley, where the village hall there was the venue for our evening meal. Again, throughout the pilgrimage the catering team provided us with freshly cooked, hot meals. On the Saturday evening it was a sausage casserole with couscous.


On the final day our walk is shorter: we arrive at the Catholic Shrine at about 1pm. During this day's walk we carry the processional statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, which can also be seen on the procession during the Oxford Pilgrimage in October. We file into the shrine complex, and after a prayer to Our Lady (above), we have a break to prepare for Mass at 2pm in the Reconciliation Chapel (below).


This chapel is always a challenge for photography; on a sunny day like last Sunday the sanctuary is very strongly lit from the back, with large plain-glass windows, and with remarkably orange tungsten lights shining from the ceiling. It is said that the design was inspired by Norfolk barns. If you want to know what they look like, there one here.


At Mass we picked up the coach and car pilgrims, and a large number of people who were in Walsingham independently. There were a good number from Youth 2000, for example, including a lot of Irish Travellers. We had a congregation of about 300.


With a considerable crowd, therefore, we processed after Mass to the Priory, venerated the site of the Holy House, and had our final devotions and blessing from Fr Cahill.


For those staying overnight, we had a sung Mass in the Slipper Chapel, the centrepiece of the Catholic Shrine, where the shrine image is to be found. It is tiny, but we spilt out into the area around the door, and brought in as many chairs as possible.
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

LMS Walsingham Pilgrimage, Part 1


From Friday to last Sunday 60 pilgrims walked the 55 miles or so from Ely to Walsingham, assisted by about 20 volunteers. It is impossible to convey the experience of this kind of pilgrimage, but I have at least a few photographs of it. In this post I'm looking at the first half of it.


We gather on the Thursday evening for a meal together, before the very early start on Friday morning: Mass is at 6:15am, in the Catholic parish church of St Ethelreda's. It is nevertheless a High Mass, with deacon and subdeacon, and a schola led by Matthew Schellhorn, composed of walking pilgrims. Mass was celebrated by our Chaplain, Fr John Cahill, assisted by the newly ordained Canon Altiere ICKSP (deacon) and Alex Stewart, a seminarian of the FSSP. After breakfast, Fr Cahill gave us the traditional Blessing of Scrips and Staves, and of the pilgrims themselves, in the church.


We then went to Ely Cathedral. We prayed for the healing of schism, and looked around the places where the medieval pilgrims would have gathered, before setting off into the countryside.


There's no hiding the Catholic past of the ancient cathedrals of England. Above is a superb gothic chantry chapel. No Masses for the dead have been said there for some time, alas.


Much of the first day we walk along a path next to the Great Ouse. We prayed the Rosary, we sang, we heard meditations from our priests, and we walked more than 20 miles.


On the second day, we walked for a hour or so before breakfast in order to get to Oxburgh Hall, where the Bedingfeld family very kindly let us use their historic private chapel. Having served local Catholics for centuries after the Protestant Revolt in secret chapels in the house, they eventually were able to build a neat little church in the grounds, with a wonderful medieval German reredos. Canon Altiere was the celebrant.


After Mass Canon Altiere gave us all his 'first blessings' as a newly ordained priest.

To be continued.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tyburn Walk 2014: Sunday, 31 August

The Tyburn Walk, originally organised by the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom, was the annual commemoration of the Catholic martyrs who were executed in London during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The walk followed the route that was travelled by the martyrs from the Old Bailey (site of the former Newgate Gaol) to where they were executed near Tyburn Convent, Marble Arch. It first started in 1910 and is a solemn commemoration
of those who died for the Catholic Faith.

This year the Latin Mass Society has organised the walk, on Sunday 31 August, which follows the traditional route, starting from St Sepulchre's Church in the City (opposite the Old Bailey), moving via Soho Square, where Mass will be offered, on to Oxford Street finishing at Tyburn Convent on the Bayswater Road just beyond the end of Edgware Road where there will be Benediction. The starting time will be 2.30pm and it is expected to reach Tyburn between 4.00pm and 5.00pm.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Photos of Papa Stronsay


At long last I've made it up to the Orkneys to see the Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer in their island monastery. I'll blog about it properly when I get back from the Walsingham Pilgrimage, but you can look at my photos here.


In the mean time I will attempt some live blogging from the pilgrimage. The signal is pretty limited in Norfolk, however, so no promises.


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Thursday, August 21, 2014

The LMS is joining the Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage to Rome in October!

Cardinal Burke and Cardinal Pell each to celebrate Old Rite Masses during this year's Pilgrimage

Cardinal Pell has agreed to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form on 24 October and Cardinal Burke has committed to celebrate in the Old Rite on 25 October. Both these Masses will form part of this year's pilgrimage.

Organised by an international group of friends of the Traditional Latin Mass (The Cœtus Internationalis Summorum Pontificum), this annual Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage to Rome is at the same time an act of gratitiude to the Holy See for the landmark recognition in 2007 of the legitimate legal, moral and pastoral status of the Old Rite, and also a reminder that the Traditional Mass is here to stay and has so much more to offering restoring the Faith in the wider Church.

There will be members of the faithful attending from around the globe. The Latin Mass Society has decided to organise travel and accommodation to anyone from England and Wales who wishes to attend what promises to be a spectacular and inspiring few days in the Eternal City.

The LMS package includes:
Air flights to and from Rome Fumicino airport from London Gatwick
Coach transfer between the airport and hotel
Four nights' accommodation in a hotel close to the Vatican (bed, breakfast and 3-course evening meal)
Inclusive day-trip by coach to Norcia, home of St Benedict and now home also to a community of Traditional Benedictines.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Young Catholic Adults annual retreat: Douai Abbey in September

High Mass  of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary Young Catholic Adults 2012

Douai Abbey 19th-21th September 2014

Guest Speakers - John Pridmore, Fr. Gregory Pearson OP, Fr. Matthew Goddard FSSP

There will be:-
Sung/High Masses
Marian Procession

Cottages (student style dormitory accommodation) £18 per person per night (incl. food).

Guest House (mostly single rooms - hotel style accommodation) £60 per person per night (incl. food).

Day Guests. For those wishing to come for the day on Saturday or Sunday - please bring a packed lunch. It will not be possible to provide food in the Guest Refectory for people coming for the day.

-Please note to guarantee your place this year Douai Abbey have requested that everyone books in 3 weeks before the start of the weekend i.e. 29th August 2014.

How to book

For more details, please see:-

Or use the online booking system at:

Young Catholic Adults Marian Procession 2012

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Monday, August 18, 2014

LMS Pilgrimage to Glastonbury in September

Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey

 There will be a Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form 

  Monday, 8th September 
at 11:00 am 
at Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury 

Magdalene Street, 
BA6 9EJ 

The Celebrant will be Fr Bede Rowe 

All are welcome.

Tea and coffee will be available afterwards in the Church Hall, please bring a packed lunch.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

London Requiem for Fr Charles-Roux

The much-loved and eccentric Fr Jean-Marie Charles-Roux, a member of the Rosminian Order and a great supporter of the Traditional Mass, died last week in Rome.

A Requiem Mass will be celebrated for him on the 30th day after his death:

in St James' Spanish Place,

on Tuesday 9th September at 7pm.

It would have been nice to have it at St Ethelreda's Ely Place, where he ministered for many years, but we were not granted permission for this.

Apreciations of his life can be found here:

Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith in The Catholic Herald,
Damian Thompson in the Spectator.

May he rest in peace.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Loftus attacks Bishop Alan Hopes

Fr Daniel Lloyd of the Ordinariate celebrating the EF in SS Gregory & Augustine's, Oxford.

The subject of Mgr Basil Loftus article in the Catholic Times of 1st August is frequent Communion. is really quite astounding that there should currently appear to be a campaign, led by some bishops in England and Wales, to play down the very desireability of frequent Holy Communion, to the extent that another Catholic newspaper, The Tablet, by no means alarmist or addicted to 'screaming headlines', recently warned: 'Frequent Communion in Question.'

Let's rewind the tape a bit. In the 12th July issue, the Tablet ran a story reporting some remarks of Bishop Alan Hopes, the new bishop of East Anglia, which included this passage.

“People at Mass have a view – ‘What do I get out of this?’,” he said. “We have shifted to a practice where everybody gets up for Communion and makes it awkward for those who can’t go to Communion.”

The headline was
Hopes says Mass has become consumerised (link for subscribers)

In the next issue, The Tablet published three letters criticising Bishop Hopes, one from the deeply depressing lay(icised) theologian Nicholas Lash, another from Mgr Loftus himself. The latter read:

To suggest that because people have “a sense of entitlement about receiving Holy Communion”, they are unacceptably becoming part of a “consumer society”, directly contradicts the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “it is in keeping with the very meaning of the Eucharist that the faithful, if they have the required disposition, receive Communion each time (italics in original) [sic] they participate in the Mass”, (n.1388). Of course “we expect Communion at every Mass, and Mass has become the most prevalent service”. That is what being a eucharistic community is all about. The Church makes the Eucharist and the Eucharist makes the Church. For the very bishop charged with promoting liturgical observance to suggest otherwise is deeply disturbing.

It was these letters which got the headline
Frequent Communion in question (link for subscribers)

Readers can decide for themselves what view The Tablet took of this exchange, but they did not use that headline as a quasi-editorial comment on Bishop Hopes' remarks, but to indicate the content of Loftus' own frothings about it - and those of his fellow correspondents. They once printed a letter of mine beneath the headline 'Enthusiasm of young for old rite'.

I report this because it illustrates a number of points I have been making about Mgr Loftus over the months.

1. He has no intellectual integrity.

How can you argue with someone who writes, in a newspaper column, things which he knows aren't true? It is not a matter of a divergent interpretation, but of someone who just doesn't care. If you challenged him he would, as always, have something to point to: the headline. But if you actually look it up it quite obviously doesn't support his argument in the way he claims. This is absolutely typical of Loftus. There's no engaging with him, but it is important to point out his superficially plausible falsehoods. Those without a subscription to The Tablet have no way independent way of knowing it was not true.

2. His level of polemic is far below even that of The Tablet.

I've made plenty of criticisms of The Tablet, but Loftus is on a completely different level. Whether it is fear of reprisals or journalistic self-respect, they don't print obvious and trivial falsehoods like this. It reminds me of a remark by the Australian Catholic politician, Arthur Calwell, who was leader of the Australian Labor Party, about Australian Communists.

If these people went to Russia, Stalin wouldn't even use them for manure.

If Loftus turned up at The Tablet, he wouldn't get a job cleaning the loos.

Fr Armand de Malleray FSSP distributing Holy Communion at the LMS Day of Recollection
at St Edmund's College, Ware.

3. His attacks on the hierarchy are more persistent, more open, more extreme, and more unfair, than anything served up by a mainstream Traditional Catholic.

There is simply no one who can be described as part of the conversation among Catholics in the UK - which is to say, leaving aside those totally off the radar in either direction, whether it be sede vacantists or women-priest ordaining fantasists - who is as remotely hostile to our bishops as Mgr Basil Loftus. In this article he refers to Bishop Alan Hopes without naming him, but he names, and attacks, Cardinal Nichols and Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster. In other columns he has attacked Bishop Davies of Shrewsbury (whose remarks 'might even call for anger'), Cardinal Ranjith ('the Sri Lankan cappa magna fetishist and Tridentine-rite devotee'), Cardinal Müller (under whom the CDF is 'not fit for purpose'), Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen (without naming him), his former ordinary Archbishop Roche (without naming him), and the Papal Nuncio. He has also made extraordinarily vicious swipes at the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Office of Papal Celebrations and its head, Mgr Marini, the PCED, the Ordinariate, and any bishop who has had anything to do with the Traditional Mass (of whom there are, these days, many). And again, and again, and again, Pope Benedict XVI.

This, remember, is in a newspaper which enjoys ecclesiastical approval, which is sold at the back of Catholic churches, has 'Catholic' in its name, and bears the legend 'Follow Peter' on its masthead.

Talk about about a lack of loyalty to the hierarchy by Traditional Catholics, which used to be something of a parlour game among conservative Catholics, has to be set into this context. For some inscrutable reason (which I've discussed here), the bishops of England and Wales, and Scotland, have chosen to put up with this clown's columns since the early 1990s.

4. Loftus never engages with the substance of the teaching he attacks.

Loftus presents the remarks of the various bishops about the problems presented by the over-casual frequent reception of Holy Communion as simply incomprehensible, motiveless attempts to stop people benefitting spiritually from the Sacrament. Never in the entire column, which takes up more than half a broadsheet page, does he so much as mention the possibility that receiving Communion in a state of grave sin does not confer spiritual benefits on the communicant, or the possibility that people should be encouraged to prepare more carefully, receive more reverently, and give thanks afterwards more gratefully, in order to receive more spiritual benefit from it. It is as if these considerations, which are clearly in the minds of the bishops, did not exist.

In fact, this has been a concern at the highest levels of the Church for decades. Back in 1980, St John Paul II noted:

Sometimes, indeed quite frequently, everybody participating in the eucharistic assembly goes to Communion; and on some such occasions, as experienced pastors confirm, there has not been due care to approach the sacrament of Penance so as to purify one’s conscience.

There more on this in the FIUV Position Paper on the Eucharistic Fast.

The importance of this point is that in no sense can Loftus be regarded as a valid or useful contribution to the debate. A liberal Catholic who articulated the claim that we don't need to worry about popping up to Communion regardless of our spiritual state, as if it were sweeties which were being handed out, because there is no such thing as an objective state of sin, and / or because the Eucharist does not really contain the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but just some kind of symbolic reminder - such a liberal might help to clarify the issues and advance the discussion. That is the kind of article, however, which the Catholic press would never print. Instead, they print this kind of thing, which by subterfuge and omission undermines the teaching without confronting it clearly. It serves to do nothing but confuse its readers and alienate them from the teaching of their bishops.

5. Loftus is losing the argument.

Like many liberals, Mgr Loftus is always fighting a rear-guard action. He protested in the most intemperate terms about the corrected English translation of the Novus Ordo Missal: in vain. He has railed repeatedly about the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and the legal status of the Traditional Mass: in vain. But it is not just in Rome, under Pope Benedict, where things have been going badly for him. Here he is whining about increasingly urgent attempts by our own bishops, by no means some group of ultra-conservative 'usual suspects' but perfectly mainstream members of the Bishops' Conference, to do something about the lack of respect for the Blessed Sacrament. We can look forward to him complaining about recent statements condemning over-the-top behaviour at the Sign of Peace. This, remember, is under Pope Francis, by whom Loftus sets such store.

Why, the reader may ask, am I so concerned about Loftus, if he is always on the losing side of the argument? Taking the long view, it is clear that the liberals are losing the argument about almost everything about the liturgy and pastoral theology. It is possible to look ahead, on current trends, to the restoration of Altar Rails, the systematic encouragement of Communion on the Tongue, more frequent Confession, and perhaps a longer Eucharistic Fast: and similar developments in other areas of the Church's life.

But how many of the nominal Catholics in the pews today are the new generation of Bishops and priests going to take with them? Are we going to end up with a conservative Novus Ordo being celebrated by zealous young priests in empty churches?

If those Catholics interested enough in the Faith to read The Catholic Times are continually fed Loftus-style propaganda, it makes the preparation of the Faithful for liturgical re-sacrilisation much, much harder. Perhaps no one cares about this except me and my faithful blog readers, but it ought to be a serious concern for our bishops. By tolerating Loftus, they are making their jobs that much harder. And their job, remember, is an important one: it is the salvation of souls.

Fr Anthony Glaysher distributing Holy Communion at the LMS AGM Mass in Westminst Cathedral.
As a service to the public, I have put together quotations on a range of themes from Loftus' published writings, mostly his Catholic Times columns, in a dossier here, and made one of his most theologically egregious articles, on the Resurrection of Our Lord, available here.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Anglicanism and ISIS: a response to critics

I wasn't surprised that my post on Anglicanism and Islamic extremism caused a reaction. It seems, I particular, that a bunch of Anglican readers didn't like their 16th century predecessors being compared with Islamic militants, even if favourably.

Such comparisons, sadly for them, are inevitable: it is the New Atheists' bread and butter. (Eg Richard Dawkins: 'Religion causes wars.') What we, theists, need to do, as I've done in more than one post, is to try to demonstrate that the problem in the Middle East is not 'religion'. Perhaps my Anglican friends would rather stick their heads in the sand about this issue. But my approach has been to point out specific theological, sociological and political issues which are at work, and which we can see at work in other times and places where there was religious violence.

My post neither condemned nor justified the religious policies of Anglicans or indeed Catholics in the 16th century, or earlier or later. That's a separate question. That it happened, however: that's undeniable. To condemn ISIS and pretend we've never had any such problems of intolerance in nice cosy Europe is... What is it? I wonder if it is evidence of bigotry.

Ah, bigotry, bigot: what useful words. The way they are tossed about may make one think that anyone can use them of anyone, and thereby win the argument without further ado. But it is not so. Political Correctness has strict rules. Before you can claim the high ground, you have to 'check your privilege'. This means that a person from a culture historically oppressive to others can never cry 'bigot' against a person from a culture which has historically been oppressed by others. That's why it is so difficult for the PC brigade to criticise ISIS. And why Anglicans - of all people - are going to get nowhere crying 'bigot' against attempts to set the ISIS phenomenon into a wider historical context, which puts Anglicanism in a bad light. Tough, guys: if you disagree you are going to have to use reasoned argument.

Let's have another look at those pesky arguments.

Anglicanism in the 16th century tried directly to suppress not just preaching but private practice and belief.

The point is that it is not something which was going on in every persecution, nor has it been the policy of every Muslim government. If you look at the people burnt under Mary Tudor, they are activists: they preached, and they sometimes engaged in direct action like disrupting services, desecrating the Blessed Sacrament, or attacking priests. Ok, I'm sure we can all agree that they should have been allowed to attack priests with impunity yada yada, that's not the point. These sorts of people, sometimes with identical views, were flogged, put in stocks, imprisoned, fined, and occasionally executed under Protestant rulers. But the Protestants, especially Elizabeth Tudor, also imprisoned and executed people who were quietly practicing their religion in private. The family of Bl Thomas Belson were imprisoned after a search of their house revealed - horror of horrors - a copy of Dante's Divine Comedy. Priests were executed when a breviary, a pyx, or holy oils were found on them. It was an offence to own a rosary. There is a distinction to be made here. If it makes you uncomfortable, dear reader, then that may be a good thing.

Anglicanism was forced into more extreme positions by the existence of more extreme groups.

This is more of an plea of mitigation for early Anglicanism than anything else, but if readers are determined to be offended, that's their business I suppose. Puritans were annoyed that Charles I stopped signing the death warrants of captured Catholic priests - his Catholic queen stopped him. This wasn't the only cause of the Civil War, of course, but it didn't help. When the King lost his grip on power his hot Protestant enemies got through the backlog of imprisoned priests with wonderful speed. Later, the 1662 Prayer Book contained more than a dozen revisions to make it more acceptable to Puritans. I don't exactly blame them for attempting some kind of national reconciliation after the Civil War. But it didn't succeed.

Anglicanism has become the milk-and-water stuff we know and love today as a result of the areligious social elite which evolved under its watch.

This is just an historical observation: deny it who can. Would I rather they were still torturing Catholics to death, as they did to St Nicholas Owen? No, I would not. I don't, therefore, think this was entirely a change for the worse. To observe that it happened, therefore, should not be offensive to anyone. Again, to say that the theological content of mainstream Anglicanism has lost some of its sharp corners and hard edges is not exactly controversial.

Why it happened is a matter of considerable historical and on-going interest and importance, and the parallel with Islam is, I think, helpful to those who want to understand, and not just to shout 'bigot' from the sidelines. The long and the short of it is that a religion which regards the cultural endeavours of the elite (and come to that, of folk culture as well) as morally dubious, is going to have a tough time hanging on to that elite.

It doesn't follow that the religion is wrong, of course. There's a parallel here with the Old Testament, where in the time of the Kings the elite was sucked towards religious syncretism. Again, the elite today is attracted strongly to the position of accepting all kinds of sexual immorality, and abortion, as perfectly ok. In these cases religious authorities have to dig in their heels and resist.

What has happened in Protestant countries is that, having tried to reject too much, they have ended up rejecting too little. There is a parallel with Islam here too, though in the case of Islam the reaction to the ensuing decadence has been stronger. Other factors are at work here as well, to explain that.

And of course the Catholic Church has not succeeded in resisting secularision in historically Catholic counties. We need another explanation for that. Anyone who is paying attention on this blog will be aware that I am a Traditional Catholic, and there is a Traditional Catholic angle on this process; I will I expect go into that in a future post. Catholic secularisation is not, however, identical to Protestant, Islamic, or Jewish secularisation: the nature of the religion at the start of the process makes a difference. As always, we need to make distinctions.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Loftus: another attack on the Ordinariate

Something 'cultic' going on at the St Catherine's Trust
Summer School. We even had an Ordinariate priest celebrating
Mass. Scary!
Just to keep up to date, here is the ever charming Mgr Basil Loftus in his Catholic Times column of 25th July.

Impressively, Francis' merciful discernment also extends to, and embraces, those whose main preoccupation in the Church seems to be the slave-like observance of the law in all its minute detail, the continuity rather than the reform of Church practice, and an inward-looking and cultic liturgy, rather than an outward thrusting service of others through evangelisation.

He has inherited an Anglican Ordinariate, for which he showed a distinct lack of enthusiasm when Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and a virtual liturgical 'sect' for those who, in pursuit of the celebration of Tridentine-rite Masses, are now allowed to function without either the permission or oversight of diocesan bishops. Deftly side-stepping any difficulties which may be seen to arise from his immediate predecessor's positive enthusiasm for these bodies, Francis seems to be following Winston Churchill's guidance in the 1920s with regard to the position of the Irish Republic in relation to the British Empire - he respects their decision 'to exclude themselves within' the Catholic Church.

Indeed, he positively sympathises with those whose special liturgical needs can only be served in these ways, ...

Unlike you, then, eh, Basil?

The inclusion of the Ordinariate within Loftus' predictable ranting about the Traditional Mass reveals a few things. For all that he pays lip-service to 'evangelisation', he clearly doesn't like the biggest evangelising initiative of the English-speaking world for a century: an opening to Anglicans. Is this 'inward looking'?

Again, it can't be that Loftus is really concerned about an excessive focus on 'continuity' at the expense of 'reform', because the Ordinariate liturgy is, for Catholics, new, the most thorough reform of the liturgy since 1970 - by a very long chalk.

What he really objects to is not that we, trads and Ordinariate Catholics, too conformist, too inward-looking, but that we aren't conforming, we aren't looking inward to the stagnant Catholic community which clings to the forms and structures of the 1970s.

Again and again, theologians writing about the problems of Mass 'facing the people' point out that it creates a community which is not open: not open to God, or to outsiders. Instead it is something cosy and safe and this-wordly.

Pope Benedict said it created a 'closed circle', the The Spirit of the Liturgy.

The theologian Max Thurien, writing in the official Vatican journal Notitiae, wrote:
The whole celebration is often conducted as if it were a conversation and dialogue in which there is no longer room for adoration, contemplation and silence. The fact that the celebrants and faithful constantly face each other closes the liturgy in on itself.

Loftus' own hero Cardinal Schonborn said, in a retreat preached to Pope John Paul II:
Yet how important such signs are for “incarnating” the faith. The common prayer of priest and faithful ad orientem connected this cosmic “orientation” with faith in the Resurrection of Christ, the sol invictus, and with His Parousia in glory.

(References in the Position Paper here.)

IMG_7513It is above all a fear of this opening to the Lord which, I am convinced, motivates Loftus and those who think like him. They talk endlessly of the traddy option, and now also of the Ordinariate, as the too-safe option, an option which fails to leave 'safe harbours' and the like, but clearly the problem is that it takes them right out of their comfort-zones. It is scary because, as Loftus writes, this worship is cultic: it has to do with God, that is to say it is really and truly something supernatural, it can't be presented just as a group of friends who all agree about everything meeting up for a meal.

Now this really is a bit frightening. If you get in touch with God, anything can happen.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

To understand ISIS, look at Anglicanism


Update: I have responded to some of the comments on this post here.

Chalk and cheese, the Islamic militants of ISIS and Anglicans? Actually, they have a lot in common.

Remember that Anglicans were, on contemporary accounts, behind the most savage religious persecution in Europe at a time when standards were high: the 16th century.

Persecutions are tempered by political realities: you can't be too nasty to too large a section of your population, or you undermine the good will necessary to govern at all. ISIS are really pushing at the limits of what is possible, arousing the opposition of a lot of different people. The Anglicans did the same: their religious measures caused serious rebellions in the reigns of Henry VIII (the Pilgrimage of Grace), Edward VI (the Western Rising), and Queen Elizabeth (the Northern Rebellion), not to mention regular uprisings in Ireland. Their policies were the root cause of a horrible civil war in England, another one in Scotland, and a still more savage conflict in Ireland.

If anyone wants to say I'm being unfair, I'll say here right away that ISIS is definitely worse. I'm not interested in moral equivalence, but a conceptual parallel. Let me explain the parallels I have in mind, in three points.

Anglican savagery was based on the idea that Catholics were idolatrous, and toleration would bring the wrath of God down on the land.

Like ISIS, and unlike the usual 16th century Catholic way of dealing with Protestant minorities, persecution by Anglicans was aimed not at suppressing the public proclamation and promotion of a dissident faith, but at stopping the dissident population practicing their religion at all. They would search out secret chapels in private homes. They would imprison people or even execute them for having a rosary or Catholic devotional book in their possession. The first move of the movement was the destruction of Catholic shrines. This motivation makes the persecution much more savage and the persecutors much more intractable.

This is exactly what ISIS is doing and why.

Anglican persecutors were always terrified of being outflanked by more extreme groups.

From its inception Anglicanism was criticised for being too 'popish' by people who regarded a plain white surplice as unacceptable pomp and the sign of the cross at a baptism as unacceptable ritualism. Any deviation from the most pure form of Protestantism, and the most uncompromising opposition to Catholic toleration, was seized on by these groups, who in the English Civil War and in Scotland actually got the military upper hand, and meted out some persecution to the Anglicans themselves.

This fear is at work with Islamist groups as well: they are in a 'race to the bottom' with all kinds of set-ups as to who can be the most pure and extreme.

Why, then, did Anglicanism turn into the drippy nonsense we know today? A third point of parallel.

Anglicanism produces over time a cultural elite who don't take it very seriously.

Protestantism has as a foundational principle Luther's as-ever subtle and charmingly expressed dictum: Reason is a whore. The separation of Faith and Reason means that people interested in Reason - intellectuals of all kinds - are forced away from the Faith. The Protestant suspicion of religious art has the same effect on artists.

In the 18th century, people interested in ideas and in art were, as a result, not terribly interested in Anglicanism. They poured their considerable resources into country houses, but by the beginning of the 19th century people began to notice that the cathedrals and parish churches were falling down, and no one had bothered to build new ones for the new industrial centres. As a state church, Anglicanism was for a long time dominated by establishment types who didn't actually believe in all that much, whose successors are the liberals of today.

There was a religious revival in the 19th century, but Anglicans were faced with the possibility of reviving in two opposite directions: a Catholic direction, and in the direction of a reassertion of Protestant principles. Both of these tend to lead out of institutional Anglicanism.

The anti-rationalism of revivalist Protestantism is exactly paralleled by the anti-rationalism of revivalist Islam, which has the same problem. Having rejected reason and (great swathes of) art as a matter of fundamental theology, historically they have developed elites who aren't very pure in their interpretation of Islam. These elites are then overthrown by zealots. And the process starts again.


Pictures: Catholic martyrs from the windows of Belmont Abbey.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Loftus on liturgical orientation

Facing the Lord, in solidarity with the Faithful.

In an on-line article in the Scottish Catholic Observer, Mgr Basil Loftus repeats some absurd claims he has made before:

But when the Emperor Constantine started to build churches ... he was fooled by the forged Apostolic Constitutions, and in obedience to them had all churches built with the people facing West, and the celebrant facing East.

Which way they faced didn’t matter, but they had always faced one another. This is what Vatican II set out to recapture in its document on Liturgical reform. And that was most decidedly not a forgery.

Hang on a second: the Vatican II document on the liturgy doesn't even mention celebrating Mass facing the people, let alone mandate it.

However, in these lines Loftus is so far out into the realms of fantasy that it is hard to imagine anything in the real world making any impact on him. Not even Fr Michael Lang's 2004 book Turning Towards the Lord, which was published with a Foreword by Cardinal Ratzinger, which patiently explains that orientation, facing East, was of enormous significance in the Early Church, and that it is an incontestable fact that priest and people did face the same way in a great many early churches. 

...which makes it possible to contrast the occasions on which the priest is supposed
to turn to face the Faithful.
The weirdest thing about Loftus' position is that it is the Constantinian basilicas, such as St Peter's in Rome and the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which are held up as great early examples of the celebrant facing into the nave. He is rubbishing the significance of the churches which actually support his claim. However, it must be said that the peculiar needs of these basilicas, to incorporate a shrine beneath the Altar, makes them less significant than they might appear. Those churches copying them, as a number of basilicas in Europe and North Africa did, aren't necessarily copying a pre-Constantine approach to church building.

Talking of fraud, Loftus is correct that it has been used for ideological ends on this topic: or at least a reading of the evidence so influenced by the preferred conclusion as to be meaningless. Fr Lang discusses a hugely influential study of early church buildings by Otto Nußbaum (or Nussbaum) (Turning Towards the Lord pp5960).

Nußbaum is at pains to decide in favour of a celebration versus populum as often as possible and fails to consider how little space would remain for the celebrant between the altar and the apse wall or the raised platform for the clergy. Sometimes he says some three feet (one metre) would be enough, sometimes even less, for example in the church of Borasi in Dalmatia, where he allows less than one and a half feet (forty centimetres). Thus Nußbaum arrives at the conclusion that in 192 of the 560 churches he examined, the altar can be used facing the people. By contrast, [the later scholar] Metzger shows that this is the case some twenty of the buildings in question.

Clearly, Nußbaum thought that priests were very thin in the early centuries.

It is almost never, of course, impossible in these churches to worship the other way round: facing the apse, with the people. We simply don't know what actually happened in those 20 churches.

Nußbaum's case for the prevalence of Mass 'facing the people' in the first four centuries is based, at best, on wishful thinking.

Such it is with so many of the confident claims of 'experts' whose ideas were set in concrete by the post-Conciliar reforms. Loftus must be aware that the concrete is beginning to crack: this happens pretty predictably with a scholarly consensus, what did the reformers expect? Although it must be said that the concrete in this case was like the cheap stuff used to build many tower blocks of the same era, which has had the good grace to fall down even earlier than planned.

Loftus' response? Just keep repeating the original claims over and over again in the hope that at least a good proportion of readers haven't heard anything to the contrary. 

The last word in housing in 1971, in Manchester.
By 1975 the residents were begging to leave.

This is why we need to encourage open-minded Catholics to watch the latest LMS video, on this topic, and if possible to read the Position Paper.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

How to respond to Islam: a reply to Geoffrey Sales

Ladies wearing mantillas at the St Catherine's Trust Summer School in Wales
Over on 'All Along the Watchtower' the blogger Geoffrey Sales has done me the honour of responding, mostly positively, to my short series of posts about Islam. My argument concluded with the suggestion that, if we want try to make the point that we aren't part of the decadent West, which revivalist Muslims (not just the really crazy ones), and the rising Hindus, Buddhists, and Pentecostalists, quite rightly reject, then we could try restoring the use of head coverings by Catholic women in church.

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.

Geoffrey Sales, though, is having none of it. He remarks:

Best of luck with that one – bound to work, make ourselves look more like the Taliban rather than challenging Islam with the Gospel Truth.

One the one hand, as I indicated there is going to be huge resistance to the restoration of head coverings precisely because it is instinctively understood as a move away from sexual liberation and the like. But to resist it as because it is in some kind of tension with 'Gospel truth': this just seems bizarre. Sales is a Baptist. He knows as well as I do - surely - that women covering their heads in church is sternly commanded by St Paul (1 Cor 11:5). Was St Paul steering his congregation away from 'Gospel truth'? Those who founded the Baptist tradition insisted on head coverings for women in church: were they against 'Gospel truth'? Was everyone in the Christian tradition against 'Gospel truth' up until the 20th century?

What I can't help wondering is that, despite engaging with my general argument that the Christians of the West have made a great mistake in throwing their lot in with a set of Western values which, on any mainstream religious view, are grossly decadent, Mr Sales remains attracted by the idea that by becoming decadent, by leaving behind the Gospel message as our ancestors of all times until less than a century ago understood it (fifty years ago for Catholics), we've become more faithful to the 'real Jesus' or some tripe like that. That, in short, a bit of decadence is actually a good thing.

But let's examine what Mr Sales balks at: doing something which gives us something in common with the Taliban (and every practicing Muslim on the planet); in this, he says, we would be making a mistake, because we should be confronting them with the 'Gospel truth'. Where, in fact, the divergence of our customs with theirs has created an obstacle to mutual understanding, we should refuse to reconsider our customs. And this even when this rebellion against this formerly shared custom was in truth a rebellion against a shared understanding, a shared understanding to which we continue to pay lip service. We claim to reject sexual decadence; the Muslims look at our lifestyle, and even the clothing in which we worship God, and draw the perfectly correct conclusion that we may talk the talk but we don't walk the walk.

For we preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ our Lord: so says St Paul (2 Cor 4:5). This is a saying sometimes seized on by the enemies of Tradition. In this case, the boot is on the other foot. The decadent customs of the West are so important to liberal Christians that they don't want to give them up, whatever the cost for evangelisation. These personal preferences have become more precious than the Gospel message.

Ah but no, Mr Sales might say: what we want to evangelise is a Protestant notion of a completely unincarnated Christian message, a message with no social manifestation, the unvarnished, spiritual, Jesus:

If the Spirit moves you, then you don’t need a head-covering to show it – though, of course, it might lead that way.

Do you think they look like the Taliban? Neither do I. Receiving the 'first blessing' of
Fr Richard Bailey Cong Orat following Mass, at the Summer School.
As well as the sheer inconvenience and embarrassment of doing something which everyone can see flies in the face of the decadent Western lifestyle, there is always this kind of argument to fall back on. We don't want to do anything to show we love and honour God because what's important is that we love and honour God in our hearts - our Faith is purely spiritual. This argument needs only to be stated clearly to show its absurdity.

What strikes me is how often the Church has put herself in this situation.

We have a lot in common with the Orthodox, including the fundamental principles of our liturgical tradition. We don't formally deny those principles, but our worship - outside the places where the Traditional liturgy is celebrated - now looks utterly alien to them, because we have become embarrassed about those principles: the notion of the Mass as a sacrifice, the idea that it is offered to God and not to the congregation, the continuity of the liturgy with all times and places. Most Catholics, most bishops indeed, can't bear any more to worship in a way which actually shows we believe these things; we just write them down in a book and keep that book safely on a shelf, unopened.

We have a lot in common with evangelical Protestants, notably the very high honour Catholic theology gives to Scripture: the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, with a true Divine author, speaking to us today. But though the official documents still say that, we - as a whole, which is to say Catholics of the mainstream - can't actually bring ourselves to live like that, to talk like that, or to do our Biblical scholarship as if that were true. And so what we actually have in common with evangelicals, we hide, we pretend we don't believe.

Our embarrassment about the Tradition has cut us off from so much shared by non-Catholic Christians, and so much that is shared by non-Christian religions. Our modern customs, which appear so indispensable to so many Catholics today, obscure these opportunities for genuine dialogue and witness to the Gospel.

Fifty years ago it may have seemed more important to make ourselves less unacceptable to liberal Protestants  and the secular media, than to maintain some degree of mutual understanding and respect with non-Christians, with the Orthodox, and with 'biblical' Protestants. Now that calculation appears decidedly dated.
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