Monday, June 30, 2014

Loftus attacks Bishop Egan, again

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Bishop Egan preaching in his Cathedral at the Traditional Mass.
Somehow Loftus was never going to like him much.
When Mgr Loftus gets a good idea, he likes to return to it again and again, even if it's not actually true.

The ludicrous report, which turned out to be false as well as very unflattering towards Pope Francis, that the newly-elected Pope told his Master of Ceremonies 'The carnival is over' has been repeated by Loftus several times, with more or fewer details. Another one, it would seem of Basil's own manufacture, is a phrase torn from its context from a short piece by Bishop Egan after Pope Benedict announced his abdication.

Loftus writes (13th June 2014):

... a closed-minded approach, a refusal to take risks, a tendency to take refuge in a museum of antiquities, out-of-date laws, undeveloped doctrines, and unreformed liturgies, to want at all costs to guarantee a 'safe ride.' The English bishop who after, the resignation of Benedict XVI, expressed his desire for a new pope who would make him 'feel safe', as Benedict had done, typified that kind of Church.

Loftus cited this remark in a column almost exactly a year ago. What Bishop Egan actually wrote (in The Tablet), was:

I felt safe under Pope Benedict. He made us all feel in human terms that the Church was in good hands, reminding us that Christ founded his Church on a rock.

Attributing to Bishop Egan the attitude he describes, on the basis of this quotation, is simply a lie. Bishop Egan wasn't even talking about the qualities of the new Pope, and he went on to say that the new Pope also needed evangelical dynamism.

In any case, as I pointed out a year ago, Pope Benedict was quite evidently not risk-averse. For all the talk we have heard since the conclave about taking risks, Pope Francis has not had the time for a single public act to rival Pope Benedict's bold moves, which will continue to influence the Church for decades, and probably centuries, such as the Regensburg speech, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, Anglicanorum Coetibus, or the lifting of the excommunications of the SSPX bishops. At the time of every one of these acts the talk was about Pope Benedict being insufficiently cautious, about how he was taking too much of a risk, and how he should have done more checking and taken more critics' views into account. Basil has forgotten this, I suppose.

What is most remarkable about his description of the sea-side donkey attitude (as he puts it), is that it seems to describe himself.

Taking refuge in a 'museum of antiquities': yes, Loftus takes refuge in his memories of the 1960s, and the aesthetic of the same era.

These belong in a museum of antiquities.
'Out of date laws': yes, Loftus loves to cite obscure and redundant bits of legislation, usually to make a point they don't make. A favourite: the principle in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (307) that the candles should not 'interfere with the faithful's clear view of the what takes place at the altar or what is placed upon it', used to attack Pope Benedict's arrangement of candles as 'dumb insolence.' (9 Oct 2011). Dumb insolence, for a Pope to dare to interpret the legislation in an open-minded way?

'Undeveloped doctrines': yes, Loftus refuses to accept the possibility that the Church developed her teaching about the transmission of Original Sin or the eternal fate of the unbaptised, and wishes to ignore everything written on the subject after the Bible until the 1960s, such as St Thomas Aquinas and the Councils of Trent and Florence.

'Unreformed liturgies': yes, Loftus fought tooth and nail against the reform of the English translation of the Ordinary Form missal. Clearly the old one had him in a nostalgic grip.

There's something else in this week's column worth quoting.

The mythical story of the apple in the Garden of Eden has somehow soaked into the Christian sub-consciousness. Imagine how unhealthy a child would be if he or she never 'scrumped' apples from other people's trees. ...if they live their lives starved by their parents of all curiosity, mischief and exploratory urges, then its intensive care they are headed for, and sooner rather than later.

It is a strange passage. Once upon a time Biblical critics who described Genesis chapter 2 as 'myth' claimed that they were trying to be helpful, to describe the literary genre so we could understand it better, and therefore draw from it its theological importance more accurately. The cat's out of the bag now: Basil just wants us to ignore it, because it's just 'myth', whatever that means, and is irritated to find that the story sticks in people's minds, as only the most truly profound and simple literature can. To draw a lesson about the wrongness of theft from it would, perhaps, be to risk ignoring the most importance aspects of it: but is Basil actually saying that theft is good? I know he thinks there's nothing wrong with fornication, homosexual sex, contraception, divorce, and breaking vows of celibacy (see his columns of 14th Oct 2012 and 21st April 2013), but theft?

Truly, Mgr Loftus' toleration is wide indeed. At least where sin is concerned.

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No need for that ash - unless you are repenting of making an accurate translation of the Missal.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Loftus attacks Cardinal Bertone

Coming soon to the Vatican?
Basil Loftus writes (Catholic Times, 27th June 2014):

While Francis is preaching simplicity of life and evangelical poverty, both by word and example, his previous Cardinal Secretary of State is constructing his own 'Trump Towers' right next door to the hostel where the Pope lives.

By the year 800 the Pope and the Holy Roman emperor were so allied with one another that Charlemagne came to Rome to be crowned by him in St Peter's. But it was Charlemagne who was calling the shots. By then what Judith Herrin calls the "purely Latin and clerical culture of the West" [ref], of which Gregory VII had been the harbinger, was so deeply established that it had overthrown the legacy of the Upper Room at Pentecost.

If I insulted Cardinals like that I'd expect to come in from some pretty shart criticism. I'm not a particular partizan of Cardinal Bertone, but there are ways of making one's point. Loftus is not giving us a good example of how to obey Canon 212 sec. 3, which tells us that the laity have

"the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons."

But then again if I were Cardinal Bertone I wouldn't be too worried. Loftus reveals himself to be a man who thinks that Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) was the harbinger of a situation well-established in the year 800. How did he manage that, Basil? With a time-machine? Or does he not know what 'harbinger' means?

Oh and it's pretty nonsensical to call Charlemagne a Holy Roman Emperor (that formula came into use many centuries later), but utterly nonsensical to call him that before his coronation.

Oh and - but never mind. Let's just say that Loftus' grip on history is as impressive as his grip on theology.

Just for fun, here's some pomp, in honour of a friend of another Pope Gregory, the Great, namely St Augustine of Canterbury.

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Bishop Schneider at St Augustine's, Ramsgate

Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer School 2014: St Catherine's Trust

Reminder!

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The St Catherine's Trust Summer School will take place this year from Sunday 27th July to Sunday 3rd August. We cater for children aged 11-18, and charge no fee, though parents and guardians are welcome to make a donation!

It takes place in the Franciscan Retreat Centre at Pantasaph in North Wales, which is near Holywell (Flintshire).

This is a unique opportunity for children to experience something like a Catholic school, for a week. We have lessons in a range of subjects of Catholic interest; we can afford to focus on the more fun things but we also convey a lot of important catechesis, a bit of Latin, and things about art, music, and philosophy which they won't forget.

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We have all sorts of activities, trips to places of local interest (we'll be going to Chester this year, and SS Peter & Paul in New Brighton); we have sewing, football, country walks, a play, and singing. And they get to meet children from all over the country.

And we have High Mass every day, the Rosary, sung Compline, and Benediction a couple of times as well, and we use the lovely Rosary Walk and outside Stations of the Cross that the venue has.

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In all the years I've been doing the Summer School I've never heard a student complain that there was too much liturgy. Perhaps mainstream Catholic schools are missing a trick here.

Download an informative Newsletter from the St Catherine's Trust, which runs the school with the support of the Latin Mass Society. Download an application form; you can even apply online.

St Catherine's Trust is a registered charity (no. 1110417), we have public liability insurance, and the staff are CRB checked. I founded it to run these events in 2004, and I'm the principal organiser. Don't miss these events, your children won't be children forever: make it part of their education.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Requiem for Prince Rupert Loewenstein

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Prince Rupert was a benefactor of the London Oratory, as of many charities, and it was appropriate that his funeral took place there.

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Since he was for 11 years the honorary President of the Latin Mass Society (a post which no longer exists), and since then and until his death was our Patron, we wanted to do something for him as well. The custom of the 30 Days' Mind was a good opportunity: a Mass of Requiem on the 30th day after either death or burial. Ours was in fact 31 days after his death. The Church makes special provision for this, giving such Requiems a higher 'class' than others: that is to say, they can be said on most saints' days.

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It took place last Saturday in St James' Spanish Place. It was accompanied by the choir of the church, who were superb. They sang Victoria's Requiem, including a polyphonic setting of the texts sung at the Blessing of the Catafalque.

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The Catafalque, which can represent the deceased if the body is not present (ie, it is not the actual funeral), was blessed with holy water and incense.

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The whole thing was very moving, and I am delighted we were able to do this for Prince Rupert, a truly splendid Mass with first-rate music, both which he would have appreciated, celebrated by Fr Anthony Conlon, a priest he knew well over many years.

Anyone who wants to organise a Traditional Requiem for a loved one will find much practical guidance in our Funeral Booklet, which can be downloaded for free here; hard copies are available from the office.
 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Loftus denies the Unity of the Church

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Jesus is stripped and his clothes are divided among the soldiers. But his seemless
garment is not torn: it is a symbol of the Unity of the Church.
From St Augustine's, Ramsgate.
Basil Loftus, Catholic Times 29th June 2014
... the Catholic Church no longer sees the goal of Church unity as being the absorption into the Catholic Church of all other denominations.
...
Given the contemporary 'take' on the goal of Christian unity as no longer being one of absorption into Catholicism of every other Christian body on earth, ...


Dominus Iesus (Instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Cardinal Ratzinger). The passage is about the Orthodox churches, the point it makes obviously has universal application.
17 Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church.


Any baptised Christian who does not accept the authority of the Pope is making a mistake: he fails to grasp the doctrine of the Primacy of the Pope. It is the teaching of the Catholic Church that the Pope has primacy over all baptised Christians. If Protestants all accepted that doctrine, and all the other doctrines of the Catholic Church, their sects would, of course, disapear, since their members would become Catholics. Saying the sects themselves would be 'absorbed' is perhaps misleading, but what Loftus is denying is that the Church wants to see an end of the wound in the Unity of the Church which their existence implies.

Only the other day Pope Francis spoke of the disunity of the Church as a 'scandal' in an Angelus address:
“We know that Christ has not been divided; yet we must sincerely recognize that our communities continue to experience divisions which are a source of scandal and weaken our witness to the Gospel.”

It is a scandal - a problem - which he urged us to pray and work to overcome. Mgr Loftus, presumably, has not heeded that call. As usual, he is not really listening to Pope Francis. His own agenda, preserved in his yellowing notes from the 1960s, is far more important.

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Bishop Egan giving the Blessing at the end of the Traditional Mass in his Cathedral:
the bishop is the bond of unity.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Protestantism and the cult of ugliness

This is both ugly and glamorous.
Continuing our series on a Catholic approach to fashion, I interrupt the posts of Queen of Puddings with a little philosophical interlude. I promised to say something about how the Protestant attitude is different from the Catholic, something referred to (without being developed) by Tracey Rowland.

Our inveterate commenter 'Eufrosnia' wants to know if there is anything wrong with dressing in an ugly way. Of course there is.

1. Ugliness is a natural evil. (Will anyone disagree with this?)

2. To embody it is bad. (This just follows from 1)

3. To do so deliberately or through negligence is morally bad. (This just follows from 2.)

To build an ugly building is wrong, if it is done deliberately or negligently (when it can be avoided without serious inconvenience). To dress in an ugly way is worse. It evinces a lack of gratitude to God for one's own creation, a lack of respect for oneself, and a contempt of others.  There are even more fundamental issues involved here, as this post will argue.
The trouble with searching for 'Grunge' is that you
get the fashion-industry imitation. The real thing
is a street style and far more extreme.


Dietrich von Hildebrand noted the unfortunate tendency in some of the more rigorist Catholic circles before the Council to disparage natural goods, because they had failed to distinguish them from worldly goods. Worldly goods, like money and worldly honours, have no intrinsic value. To set one's heart on them is to set one's heart on a vanity: on nothing. Natural goods, like beauty, have intrinsic value. Beautiful things were created good by God, or if man-made, they reflect His goodness. To reject natural goods is to reject the goodness of creation and its capacity to reflect God, and lead hearts to God.

Such a rejection is characteristic of Protestantism, and this forms the background, looking at the big picture, of the crisis of fashion we are living through. The Protestants taught that at the Fall nature human became depraved, evil, and by parallel the created world falls under suspicion. The Protestant attack on religious art did not limit itself to devotional images: it included Gregorian chant. Of course it is impossible to exclude the artful use of created things to raise the heart to God completely from religious architecture and liturgy, but Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists and Anabaptists settled at different points on this dismal road. The Anglicans smashed the stained glass and abolished the antiphons of Vespers and Compline. The Lutherans insisted that no syllable have more than one musical note. The Calvinists got rid of the organs. All of them created white-washed churches which look like neo-classical meeting rooms instead of holy places.

The Protestant mindset had it that to contemplate a devotional image - a crucifix, say - is to contemplate something other than Christ, to give to the image what we owe to Christ. It is idolatry. By extension, to contemplate any beautiful thing is to focus our attention away from God, onto something else. Something, in fact, which is worthless or even evil, because all created things have been tainted by the Fall.

The Catholic attitude is that by contemplating the crucifix we look beyond it, and raise our minds and hearts to the real Christ. By extension, any beautiful thing can raise the heart to God. Religious and devotional art, of course, expresses all sorts of specific truths, but all art which aims at beauty expresses the Catholic doctrine that God's creation is good even after the Fall. It lost Grace, and was wounded, by the Fall, but it did not lose all its value.




On clothing in particular, the more extreme Protestants adopted a sort of uniform of black and white, without colour or decoration, and with the simplest form. In fact this can look extremely elegant, but the logic of the position would suggest it should not please the eye at all.

Just as devotional images were thought to take the mind away from what they represented, it is easy to develop the idea that clothes distract one from the real person wearing them. The real thing, devotionally, is supposed to be something entirely spiritual: as if the Incarnation had never taken place. Similarly, the real thing in any material thing, including humans, might be thought to be something beneath and separate from the outward appearance. You can see this idea developing in the Enlightenment, in the writings of philosophers imbued with Protestant culture. This is essentially the Heresy of Formlessness which Martin Mosebach talks about, and I make no apology for mentioning this book again. Anyone interested in these issues should read it. 


Applied to the liturgy you get the Novus Ordo. Applied to clothing you get grunge.

In reality, we are incarnated in our bodies, and we express ourselves in our clothes. Garments do not hide us: they clothe us.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Catholic Approach to Fashion: Part 2


Traditional religious uniform: but it ain't Catholic
In my previous post I explained what I thought should be the starting point for the well-formed Catholic's approach to dress: that is, that rather than concentrating on modesty at the expense of any other consideration, we need to put beauty first, and modesty will naturally follow: I am talking, of course, of the judgments of people who value modesty. I may publish another post on the Catholic attitude to beauty, but it is enough here to recognise that beauty is no side-issue in an authentic Catholic approach to anything: liturgy, music, prayer. Too often, unfortunately, putting modesty in clothing first means sacrificing beauty and elegance, and the result of this should never be called Catholic clothing when beauty is so central to the Catholic life. 

Additionally, we should avoid drawing up rules which dictate that Catholics should all dress in a certain way. Never in the past have Catholics been required to wear any kind of uniform or dress identifying them with their religion. Insofar as we need to dress at variance with the culture that we live in, we should do so as unobtrusively as possible. Above all, and on a personal level, we should feel free (within the generous parameters which I have suggested in these two posts) to dress in a way which suits each one of us, to adopt an individual style and to enjoy choosing and wearing our clothes as much as possible.

Now let's have a look at the nitty gritty. What do these sentiments actually mean when choosing clothes? Well, I think it helps to ask yourself a few questions each time you need a new garment. First:

What occasion is this outfit intended for? 

Red ruffled evening gown by Balenciaga.
It's beautiful: but don't wear it to work


This is an obvious one, of course, but it's amazing how many people don't bother with it. Don't wear a cocktail dress to work! Don't wear work clothes to Mass! Don't wear evening clothes in the day! These guidelines, though they seem obvious, are actually being increasingly ignored by cutting-edge fashionistas, who revel in deconstructing outfits by taking them out of their proper setting. This was most ludicrously exemplified by Alexander McQueen's denim ballgown, and is a fascinating example of postmodernism at work, literally taking shape in the creation of innappropriate clothes. Sadly, this influence is now also very visible in mainstream dress; we have now lost an understanding of clothes and their time and place, without any style or sense of avant-garde to offset it. The thoughtful dresser, however, knows that part of appearing correctly (and therefore modestly) dressed is having on the right outfit for the occasion.

Will I be wearing this outfit in the evening?
Evening wear is quite distinct from daywear. High heels which can look rather risqué during the day will add style and dignity to an evening dress; ditto low necklines. And of course you can get away with a lot more sparkle in the evening: unleash those Swarovski crystals! But beware of scattering them too freely over your Mass going shawl, because it will look rather tawdry, and as for putting them on your work clothes, well, I'm sure I don't need to tell you how that's going to come across to your boss.

How old am I?
Yes, mutton dressed as lamb really looks this bad
Another obvious one, but in some ways the hardest of all. I think it's most difficult for young people, who so easily find themselves dressing like their mothers twenty years too early. And it's much harder to give guidelines for this, because often it's the detail that makes all the difference - the frumpy handbag which wrecks an outfit, or the superb belt that lifts a dress out of the humdrum. So pay careful attention to the small things, and ask yourself what sort of person you can visualise wearing the outfit. Practically speaking, I think it's important to avoid both shapeless garments, and also clingy ones. Aim for clothes which outline your silhouette in a way appropriate to your age: young women should avoid too much emphasis on the bust, for example, and a more mature, curvy figure will probably look best in something that skims the body rather than hugs it.

What gender am I?
The unfortunate and soon, I hope, to be buried forever fashion for men's clothes for women persists. Avoid anything mannish, unless you are a man of course. I'm not going to say you should never wear trousers, but if you do make sure everything else you have on compensates for the absence of femininity in that garment. Be aware that the eyes of men looking at a woman wearing trousers will aim straight at her crotch, so make sure you have a long smock or tunic reaching well over that sensitive area. And as for the trouser suit, invention of the devil and the notorious Yves Saint Laurent, let it be anathema.

What era am I living in?
Timeless style from Balenciaga
Lovely as Edwardian and Victorian clothes are, they are unwearable today, unfortunately. Although if you're ever lucky enough to be invited to a really grand party, you might get away with it in the evening. Or at a fancy dress party. We live in the 21st century and sadly we're stuck with it. However, owing to the credit crunch, we are seeing an extraordinary re-awakening of interest in vintage clothes, and this can extend as far back as the nineteen-twenties, hence the resuscitation by Vogue of its old patterns. I can't recommend their Vintage and Retro lines highly enough - if you make clothes (or know someone who can do it for you), it's definitely worth the investment! And there are plenty of vintage boutiques online where you can pick things up for anything from £5 to £5000. If your pockets are really well-lined, you can even get vintage Balenciaga.

What statement am I making? 
Dress, though it may be strikingly beautiful, should not aim to attract too much notice. Avoid anything too attention-grabbing, because otherwise unfortunately you'll only attract the wrong sort of attention. Aim for understated elegance - if you succeed, you'll find it can be quite breathtaking enough. 

Does this outfit fit me?
Essential to looking good on any occasion. Even something that seems to fit will often benefit from a little adjustment by a dressmaker, who will know exactly where the shoulders and cuffs on your jacket should sit. Much cheaper than made-to-measure, but often the same result. By contrast, too big garments will almost inevitably look frumpy or at least slovenly, and too small can be too revealing and unflattering, as well as being uncomfortable.

How am I going to accessorise this?
Spot the difference: who got their ready-to-wear
Missoni coat adjusted?
Accessories can make or break an ensemble, so take trouble either to choose things that match existing shoes, handbags, coats etc. or splash out and buy the extras as well. Be aware that it isn't only dresses that can look too low-cut - shoes, also, can look immodest, particularly if they are too high. And handbags have a fatal tendency to spoil elegant dresses and suits, too. I know, the pitfalls are endless, but this is telling it like it is.

Is this outfit beautiful?
The most important question of all. Does the colour suit you? Does the dress or ensemble have clear, elegant lines? Is it made of natural fibres, and is it pleasant to touch? It should be making no statement other than one of elegance, perhaps drawing subtle attention to some particular aspect of face or form but no more. Clothes should set you off, not eclipse you, so avoid anything too striking.

Just as Catholics are told to form their consciences, in order to develop a more acute sense of sin, so we need to form our sense of what to wear. It's not easy, and to many I know it will seem like a waste of time. But clothes are a part of our lives, like it or not, and it must be done. I think that by studying the fashions of bygone times, it is possible to regain an understanding of beauty in dress, and the many, many ways in which it manifests itself. It would be so easy if we could all simply don a head-to-foot bin bag each morning, but in this as in so many other things, as Catholics we are asked to follow a more challenging path: to obey the laws of God without withdrawing from the world. Bossy as my directions above may seem, they are in reality only a set of suggestions, a contribution to a constantly evolving situation. I hope, though, that as Catholics we can try and take control of at least some part of the debate, and feel confident that we do not need to dress like Puritans to be real Catholics.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Catholic Approach to Fashion: Part 1 (Guest Post)

Where to go for hairy scary guidelines on what to wear
The furore in July over Tracey Rowland’s comments on clothes which she alleges are commonly worn by traditionalists in the pew shows that the debate over what Catholics should wear is waxing fierce. Even people with no interest in clothes should be concerned about this, as it is clearly both a stick to beat trads with and a rallying point for the hard-core, depending on who is considering it. Even amongst committed traditionalists it is the subject of bitter disagreement. Much as we might prefer to focus our energies on seemingly more important issues such as questions of Catholic ethics, the strength of feeling felt on these issues shows that it is worthy of being taken seriously. Indeed, we must do so, since this is a question to which Catholics who earnestly desire to live rightly are urgently seeking an answer.

Slightly more reasonable instructions here
There are two books which many Catholics may come across which deal with the subject of dress. The first, Immodesty: Satan's Virtue by Rita Davidson comes from a tough SSPX perspective. It is not very well written, and that interferes with its main thesis, which is that modesty is an absolute requirement for Catholics, and this should be interpreted very strictly. No trousers for women, no low necklines, skirts ankle length and hair preferably long.

The second, much better put together, is Dressing with Dignity by Colleen Hammond. She is more shrewd than Rita Davidson and much more careful in her manner of expressing herself throughout the book. However, in the final chapter where she attempts to give her readers some practical advice on how to apply her ideas, her philosophy basically collapses into the Satan's Virtue one, and she ends up giving similar guidelines, though perhaps not quite so strict: necklines no more than two fingers below the base of the throat, skirts to cover knees even when the wearer is seated and so on.

There is a argument underlying these books which needs to be brought out into the light for examination. It is that since modesty is an obligation on everyone at all times (since the Fall), then fulfilling this obligation must be done in the same way for everyone at all times. In other words, it must involve ticking the same boxes, about exactly what is covered, regardless of social or cultural context. What is immodest in one social and cultural context is immodest in all. What would have seemed immodest to Our Lady, should be avoided by us today. The cultural changes of the last century do not lower the requirements. And - the logical conclusion of this attitude - what would be immodest at a funeral Mass would be immodest on the beach.

What happens when Catholics wear uniform
This creates the dilemma that I have seen in numerous discussion forums when the subject is being debated. The more hard-core traditionalists want to draw up rules for what they call a "Mary-like" dress, and these are often as exigent as Rita Davidson's. Others acknowledge the difficulty of applying rules unilaterally, especially in the context of enormous historical and cultural variation. They point out, for example, that St Clare of Assisi going barefoot was not immodest for her, though it would have shocked people in other eras. To the more rigorist, this looks dangerously like saying that the obligation of modesty is itself varying according to the cultural norms of the day. And what happens if, as today, the cultural norms are depraved? Furthermore, they challenge their opponents to specify exactly what they would allow. At best this means that each person ends up with his own rulebook.
Balenciaga Jacket and skirt suit, 1957

I have enormous sympathy with everyone involved in this struggle. It's something which everyone, even the most uninterested, must form an opinion on, as we all have to get dressed each morning. Getting it wrong seems a terrible thing, especially if you read some of the more hair-raising of Padre Pio's comments on the subject, and yet the Church gives very little practical guidance on the matter, beyond saying that modesty is important.

But that lack of guidance is itself a clue. Attempts to describe a "Mary-like" dress, or to form guidelines about dress, cannot be described as authoritative and should indeed be treated with the utmost caution. For Catholicism is not a uniformed religion. As Thomas Aquinas puts it, quoting St Ambrose, "Dress should not conflict too gaudily with established custom, provided the custom itself is decent."

This brief quotation suggests that we actually have two questions to bear in mind: the relationship of our dress to current customs, and the judgement of those customs themselves.

The Master: the greatest couturier of the twentieth century


First, the customs of the day provide us with a language in which to express ourselves. We can put on clothes which express grief, a business-like seriousness, or joy: people will be able to tell at a glance which one we are aligning ourselves to today. Again, our clothing can suggest the tom-boy, the geek, the sloven, and the dandy. We can no more ignore what our clothing means to our contemporaries, than what our words mean to our contemporaries. Just as we speak in an ever-evolving vernacular language, so we generally dress in an evolving vernacular clothing.

The second question is: do the standards of dress of our time conform to the timeless requirements of morality? By wearing clothes which are unusually un-revealing for our time, we may be making a statement about modesty to our contemporaries, but that does not guarantee in itself that we have gone far enough. There are absolute requirements of modesty, which are related to certain unchanging aspects of human nature. To take the extreme case, Naturism - complete nakedness - could never be acceptable, however much it might be culturally established in a particular time and place.

Balenciaga ballgown and stole, c 1952
Sometimes the two issues have been distinguished by saying that the second is about modesty, the first about pudicy. Pudicy is related to a sense of shame: of how one is seen by others, of respectability. The standards of pudicy are culturally variable; the minimum standards of modesty are undemanding, but unchanging. Our Lady would have been ashamed to appear in public without a veil: the standards of pudicy in her society were far more demanding than of later centuries, and we needn't try to follow hers.

What we find today, however, is not only a lowering of the standards of pudicy, but a conscious rejection of the notion of pudicy itself: of shame and respectability. Clothes which suggest sexual availability are no longer the preserve of prostitutes. Women are told that to be shameless is to be free. There are still standards of dress, of a kind, but as well as having the opportunity to make a statement, through our clothes, of an appropriate pudicy, we are under social pressure to make a statement of sexual liberation. If we refuse to do that, there will be people, under the influence of the modern ideology, who will accuse us of being hide-bound and old-fashioned. While we need not seek out such labels, we should be prepared to suffer them when necessary.

Balenciaga wedding dress
This brings us neatly to the nub of the problem, which is that we are living in a culture in which - to revert to the normal terminology - immodest dress is not only permitted but encouraged. Today, Catholics have to go beyond the ordinary Western standard of decency; we have to establish our own rough and ready one. This means that there is great difficulty in finding appropriate clothes. It has also resulted in what I think is an excessive focus, by serious-minded Catholics, on the modesty of clothes, when this is far from being the only consideration of importance when choosing what to wear.

For the reasons set out above it should be clear that starting by drawing up detailed rules for what to wear is a blind alley which we should avoid. How, then, should we approach the question? What we need to know is how a truly Catholic person, steeped in the Faith, but also with a profound knowledge and understanding of clothes, preferably from before the sexual revolution, would approach the question of dress. We are extraordinarily, indeed, I believe, Providentially, fortunate in having the ideal model for this. The greatest couturier of the golden age of couture, that is to say roughly the middle of the twentieth century, known universally as 'the Master', was a Spanish Catholic, born in 1898 and brought up in the era before the Revolution, who left his place of work twice each day to visit the Blessed Sacrament. His name was Cristobal Balenciaga, and in his remarkable output we can find the starting point for an understanding of how to dress. Not, to reiterate, that we necessarily want to ape his clothes (although there are worse things), but to understand his attitude.
Jacket, 1957

The first thing one notices, studying his creations, is the extraordinary breadth of vision. Clothes for every occasion, and for many different types of women - there is no classifying his clothes with a single adjective. There is no apparent rule for hemlines, for instance: some gowns sweep the floor with magnificent trains while some suits are above the knee. The more one studies the clothes, however, the more one does notice certain patterns. The wedding dresses, for example, are much more modestly cut that the ball gowns. They have sleeves and high necklines, and are easily distinguished from the evening gowns which are often cut quite low, and are sleeveless. A suit with a short skirt will not have a low neckline. A low neckline on a cocktail gown will be complemented with a longer skirt, or sleeves. I do not think that Balenciaga necessarily considered these things consciously, and again we need to avoid the temptation to draw up rules based on his creations. However, I think that he took it for granted that modesty was an intrinsic part of any beautiful garment, and as he was completely focused on creating beauty his gowns were naturally not immodest.

This should be the starting point for anyone trying to understand the principles behind good dress. Of
course our clothes should be modest, but we need to shift the spotlight away from modesty and on to beauty as the first consideration of what is appropriate. Neither Tracey Rowland nor any other officious VII implementing busybody is going to criticise credibly a beautiful dress in the right setting, whether it was made this season or forty years ago. Or at least if they did they would be a laughing stock.

We are fortunate in that, although the time we are living in is decadent in its dress, we are also seeing an extraordinary revivification of interest in the fashions of the last seventy to eighty years. This is in part a gift of the recession, and a most unexpected boon. Tired of disposable fashion, people are turning to the more durable clothes of the past. As a result, vintage boutiques are booming, and also vintage-style dressmakers such as this. This means that not only is it becoming easier to get hold of the more elegant fashions of the past, but it is possible to wear them without attracting unwanted notice or comment.

Evening dress, 1962
Put like that it sounds simple, but I know as well as anyone how hard it is to find beautiful clothes. However, as a battle-hardened shopper, I can give you some pointers, which will be the subject of another post.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

First Holy Communion in Oxford

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Three young Catholics received their First Holy Communion at SS Gregory & Augustine's on Trinity Sunday. May they always remain close to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

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It was one of the regular monthly Masses in SS Gregory & Augustine's, and as well as chant from the Schola Abelis we had Cantus Magnus from London to sing some polyphony:

Mass for Three Voices, Antonio Lotti
Panis angelicus, Claudio Casciolini
Quem terra, pontus, aethera, William Byrd
Salve Regina, Samuel Webbe
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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tracey Rowland replies: Part 2

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Freakish? Perfectly normal people at the LMS Conference
In my last post I gave a long, edited quotation from Professor Rowland's conference paper, now published in a book of the proceedings. Having given an initial response to what seems to me to be the most fundamental problem, I want to address a couple of specific points.

Here's something she says:
In short, liturgical issues need to be disentangled from the interpretation of Vatican II issues.

What is peculiar about it is that she presents this as part of her sociological observations about the failings of traditional Catholics. Ok, she's worked out a complex interpretation of the Council in which these issues can be 'disentangled' (though I wish her luck doing that when the Council is actually talking about the liturgy). If she wants to run this line, that's her affair, and other writers will criticise it. What is downright weird is her suggesting that people who disagree with her are obviously and morally in the wrong. She does this even while conceding that, well yes, 'there is an overlap between the two'. Right, so the matter is one of a delicate set of distinctions which are strongly contested by 'some theologians': for which, read, an awful lot of people who aren't called 'Tracey Rowland'. But the ordinary traditional Catholics in the pew, who haven't heard of Tracy Rowland, are, she implies, to feel ashamed of themselves for not agreeing with her. They are letting the side down.

She has a vivid mental picture of how discussions of the Council during coffee after Mass go. On the one hand, she suggests, of the traditionalists:
Their world-view would be shattered if they suddenly realised that for twenty-seven years John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger laboured to present Catholics with a wholly different understanding of the Council ...

On the other, she says of the non-trads:
they probably are people who can distinguish between the genuine Conciliar reforms and what Cardinal Ratzinger called the "rationalistic relativism, confusing claptrap and pastoral infantilism" which was marketed as the fruit of the Council in the 1960s and 70s.

In other words, the trads haven't even noticed that Pope Paul VI has died and that his successors had a somewhat different take on things, but the people who wander in from the street have read all of Cardinal Ratzinger's works and have higher degrees in theology.

I'm sorry, this is just loopy. I've talked to a lot of trads, and a lot of people who've wandered into celebrations of the Traditional Mass off the street, and I've seen many interactions between the two, and I can tell Prof Rowland that the Trads are infinitely better informed than the newcomers. Most Catholics know nothing - NOTHING - of substance about the Council or the liturgical reform. (37% of American Catholics, remember, don't know even that the Church teaches the Real Presence.) Most haven't caught up with the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. It's the trads who start making distinctions and citing Church documents in these discussions. Their position as an embattled minority has forced them to become well informed. Obviously, their failure to agree with Tracey Rowland on highly complex and controversial issues is unforgivable. But she should ask a few people in the average Novus Ordo parish what they think of the 'Trinitarian Christocentric interpretation of the Council', and see how far that gets her.

What she is doing is nothing more or less than negative stereotyping. It's not big and its not clever. It is rude, uncharitable, uninformed, and stupid.

The other area in which her desire to judge outruns the information she has about her victims is the matter of clothing. The nub of it is: are those who attend the Traditional Mass less well dressed than the average Novus Ordo congregation? Well, has she seen an average Novus Ordo congregation?

Let's take a little step back. First off, as Rowland appears dimly to apprehend, the world of clothing, particularly clothing for women, and particularly in the English-speaking world, is going through a profound crisis, like every other aspect of our culture. The result is that only a small minority of people are what you might call 'well dressed', in the sense of wearing clothes which are beautiful in themselves, practical, modest, flattering, well made, appropriate to the occasion, and not such as to strike the onlooker as outlandish. Most people wear clothes which are ugly and unflattering; the extreme, but ubiquitous, example, being jeans and t-shirts. Such clothes are supposed to convey the impression that the wearer is too cool to bother with formal attire. They are part of the same anti-formalist ideology which has afflicted the liturgy, the ideology which says that formality is inauthentic. Wake up, Tracey: these are not separate issues. Martin Mosebach has traced the connection between the liturgical issue and the general cultural issue.

In this context most people, when not required by work or a special occasion to dress more formally, look a mess, not by accident, but on purpose. People with a very acute sense of style and very good looks can still look fabulous, but the kind of judgments such people make about the details of their 'relaxed' clothing are a complete mystery to nearly everyone else.

Add to this general situation an almost total collapse of regard for female modesty, and you have a cultural catastrophe. You can witness that catastrophe by walking into a Novus Ordo Mass anywhere in the English-speaking world on a warm day. Australia, I understand, has many warm days.


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More normal people at the Family Retreat
Those who resist the modernist ideology of clothing are, of course, attacked by its proponents. Men are described as 'fogeys', and women in the sort of charming terms Rowland dishes out. Notice how Rowland's first instinct is that anything old-fashioned is bad; she then accepts that there might be exceptions. In a footnote:

Ann Krohn, the Convenor of the Australian Catholic women's network called Anima, has suggested that a distinction can be drawn between a 'smart retro look' which can even be avant-garde, and the Amish puritan style...

If Prof Rowland needed Ann Krohn to point out that 'retro' can be fashionable, she has obviously been living under a stone for the last twenty years. But notice that, for her, it can be justified if it can in some way be 'avant-garde'. What if we don't want to be avant-garde? What if, like Martin Mosebach, we have a cultural analysis which rejects what he calls 'the senile avant-guardism of 1910'? The relentless rejection of the past and of formalism which has been reprised in art and fashion over and over again since before the First World War? Are we to be trapped in this sterile ideology forever?

Rowland says patronisingly:
the problem here seems to be that members of traditionalist movements often lack a hermeneutical framework for cultural analysis.

What sort of 'hermeneutical framework for cultural analysis' does Rowland have? It is prettty obvious that, as far as clothing and fashion is concerned, she doesn't have a clue. Is it relevant that, as I was so lambasted for pointing out in my original post, she was badly dressed when making these remarks? I'm afraid it is. It is not a matter of personal abuse, it is a matter of understanding. Does she understand the issues? No, she does not.

Why should she? She's a theologian. There is a long tradition of female academics who evince simple disdain for their personal appearance. I just don't expect them to lecture the rest of us about fashion.

To return to the central point, if we are not applying double standards, the question is whether those at the Traditional Mass are generally worse dressed than those at the Novus Ordo. What we find, what Rowland herself says, is that there is something noticeable about the former, they are bucking the trend a bit. Once we realise that the general trend is a disaster, we won't want to assume, as Rowland does, that anyone not following it slavishly is worst dressed than everyone else. The way they are bucking the trend is by making an effort in the direction of modesty. Could Rowland find it in herself to acknowledge that, in the current climate, this effort is both a good thing, and heroically difficult?

It doesn't follow that the ladies at the EF are invariably well styled. It is extremely difficult to find clothes which are both modest and good in every other way - and affordable. Can we cut them a little slack here? Just a little? Can we acknowledge that they are making a sacrifice for the sake of morality?

But finally, they can look pretty dreadful and still be superior, all things considered, to the people in the average OF congregation, who have given no thought either to modesty or to style. Who include people in jeans and t-shirts, quite possibly jeans cut short with nail scissors, accessorised with flip-flops. They don't exactly put up stiff competition in the fashion parade. Rowland finds them acceptable because they conform to the utterly debased standards of modern culture. Are these really the only relevant standards?

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Two members of the Guild of St Clare
There is a grain of truth in Rowland's contention that Traditional Catholics have been influenced by conservative Protestants. (Not the Amish - that is just silly.) It's not hard to see why: the Catholic intellectual leadership, Rowland included, has completely failed to rise to the challenge presented by the crisis of modern fashions, and you have to take your inspiration from where you can find it. It is also true that Protestant theology has a distinct view of women and indeed of beauty which Catholics need to be wary of. I am going to publish some guest posts on this blog which address the question of a truly Catholic attitude to clothing.

For present purposes, it suffices to say that Rowland's response is completely unhelpful. It is unhelpful because it is crassly uninformed, as well as grossly uncharitable. It is one of those attempts, which are so wearying, of intellectuals who recognise some of the importance and truth of the liturgical tradition trying to distance themselves from the little people who actually do their best to live that tradition in the very difficult conditions of the modern world. She doesn't want to get involved and help them do it better: that would tarnish her. She just wants to look down on them from a great height and ridicule them.

I'll leave the last word to Fr Glen Tattersall, who ministers to Traditional Catholics in Melbourne: the real ones, not the ones who inhabit Tracey Rowland's fervid imagination.

1. Dr Rowland rarely attends Mass in the Extraordinary Form in Melbourne - I can recall having seen her once at Mass (a Low Mass on a weekday) in the last two years;

2. I do not recognise as present among the Catholic Faithful I am privileged to serve any of the problems she alleges in her interview.

To see and hear some English traditional Catholics, watch our 'vox pop' video interviews with some of them, such as this one about the Walsingham Pilgrimage.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Requiem for Prince Rupert Loewenstein

On the 30th day after his death (almost), this Saturday,

21st June,

a High Mass of Requiem will take place

at 2:30pm, in St James' Spanish Place,

for Prince Rupert Loewenstein, long-standing President and Patron of the Latin Mass Society.

Tracey Rowland replies to her critics: Part 1

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It would be so much less off-putting to non-Trads if they could just sort themselves out into
hermetically sealed social categories who never talked to each other.
Readers may recall the video of Prof Tracey Rowland attacking the clothes-sense of women who attend the Traditional Mass, and a few other things, at a liturgical conference in Rome in July last year: I replied to her here, and defended my reply here. The book of the proceedings of the conference has now come off the presses, and her talk is included. The written  version is somewhat toned down from the video, and there is an explanatory footnote added. Since her attack on Traditionalists caused a lot of controversy at the time, here is an edited version of its written form.

From Sacred Liturgy (ed Alcuin Reid) pp132-7

Nonetheless, this conclusion comes with a few caveats which have nothing to do with the Rite as such but with the culture of some of the communities who worship according to it. Some proponents of the usus antiquior can be their own worst enemies and foster practices and attitudes which deter so-called 'mainstream' Catholics from attending Masses according to this form.

...
Spikey aesthetes for whom no "performance" is ever good enough, are something of a deterrent to parents with children who want their children's experience of parish life to be an experience of embodied charity.

Second, some Catholics who attend the usus antiquior are not only opposed to the post-conciliar form of the Mass but they are also opposed to contemporary modes of dress. While there is no doubt that some contemporary fashion styles are highly problematic from the point of view of feminine dignity, one can dress modestly without turning out like an escapee from an Amish farm. If mainstream Catholics who attend usus antiquior Masses feel as though they have landed on the set of a movie based in a nineteenth-century American mid-west or Pennsylvanian town, populated by Protestants who have a problem with modern forms of transport, they are not likely to come back. People like to feel as though they are mixing in a milieu where people are socially well-adjusted. they don't want to join a community which feels like a ghetto.

Note:
This issue is not a problem in every community which worships according to the usus antiquior. It appears to arise in social contexts where those who take a stance of outright opposition to all things modern are either tacitly or consciously influenced by the anti-modern movements within Protestantism. When this paper was first delivered at Sacra Liturgia 2013, which took place on the premises of the Opus Dei University in Rome the author was accused by 'rad trad' bloggers and Twitterers of being a member of Opus Dei, ... [She's not. She's a member of the Knights of Malta and the Constantinian Order.]
End note

Theologically, the problem here seems to be that members of traditionalist movements often lack a hermeneutical framework for cultural analysis. In the absence of any framework for judging what elements of contemporary culture to accept and which to reject, they often end up adopting practices from a past 'golden' era. This is sometimes connected to the problem of an understanding of tradition which is static rather than dynamic. ... While both Catholics and Brethren-style Protestants have good reasons to be critical of the culture of modernity, the theological explanations are remedies are different. This is especially so in the territory of attitudes towards women and the human body.
...

Thirdly, and most importantly, so called ordinary Catholics do not want to feel as though in attending the usus antiquior they are making a political stand against the Second Vatican Council. ... they probably are people who can distinguish between the genuine Conciliar reforms and what Cardinal Ratzinger called the "rationalistic relativism, confusing claptrap and pastoral infantilism" which was marketed as the fruit of the Council in the 1960s and 70s. Some members of traditionalist communities however continue to believe that the 'claptrap' was the Council and they hold onto that belief with great tenacity. Their world-view would be shattered if they suddenly realised that for twenty-seven years John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger laboured to present Catholics with a wholly different understanding of the Council ...

In short, liturgical issues need to be disentangled from the interpretation of Vatican II issues.

While there is an overlap between the two in so far as some theologians did indeed interpret the Council as a call to accommodate or correlate the Church culture, especially her liturgical culture, to the culture of modernity, there is an alternative reading of the Council, what might be called the Trinitarian Christocentric reading. ...

There are some things here which, if not exactly fair, are at least attempts to articulate widely-held anti-trad attitudes. But taken as a whole it is riven with confusion. For example, is Rowland seriously expecting those who attend the EF to be on best behaviour, hide their true beliefs, and discard their usual attire, when a non-initiate comes through the church door? But the main problem is like this.

1. What sort of traddies is she talking about?
As I pointed out in my original posts, her first point appears to be directed against culturally highly sophisticated EF-attenders, and the second and third against unsophisticated, indeed downright simple-minded and culturally obtuse, EF-attenders. In the aural version, there was a telling connection between the first group and the occasions she attends the EF (ie, she goes with bitchy aesthetes), and the second group and 'families' she has met who attend the odd EF (she's the agony aunt to families who go and endure the more proletarian experience). It is of course possible she is talking about separate EF communities, but she gives no indication of this.

2. What sort of 'mainstream' Catholics is she talking about?
In reaction against the first problem, she talks about families, who are put off by the bitchy aesthetes. In reaction to the second and third problems, she seems to be talking about intellectuals, who are put of by trads' lack of sophistication. Hey, don't they understand the Trinitarian Christocentric reading of the Council? What sort of ignoramuses are they?
This is what Rowland really objects to:
Catholic inclusivity

It would appear that Prof Rowland has two completely different groups of trads, and two completely different groups of non-trads, in mind. It would also appear that the conflict between the trads and the non-trads she is talking about has got very little to do with theology, and a great deal to to with class. She worries that lower-middle class people going to the EF will be put off by upper-middle class regulars looking down their noses, and she worries about upper-middle class people going who will be put off by lower-middle class regulars lowering the tone with their poor standard of dress.

If her chums are so class-conscious and snobbish, it might be a suggestion that they simply go to a church where they feel more at ease. The housing market frequently arranges things so that parish churches only cater for people of a specific income bracket. This neat social apartheid is disrupted by the need for trads to travel long distances to get to the Traditional Mass. Personally, I've always valued the more complete social community which arises from this mixing, but it seems Prof Rowland's friends can't hack it.

Perhaps, then, the problem is not so much in the trads, as in the 'mainstream' newcomers who've been complaining to Rowland.

Rowland would no doubt object that the issues of clothing and attitude to the Council are ideological. But this won't wash. She's just contributed to a conference full of people with fundamental objections to the Council-as-usually-perceived. She footnotes the possibility of 'a 'smart retro look' which can even be avant-garde'. What she is objecting to is precisely the lack of sophistication in implementing these ideas. She is condemning trads for their lack of money, education, and intellectual and cultural sophistication. She is condemning them, in short, for being ordinary Catholics.

I will focus on some more specific issues, including the clothing issue, in another post.