Thursday, February 28, 2019

Felt banners and participation

My latest for LifeSiteNews.

The Christ-child with the Doctors of the Law: an elaborate, classical, and beautifully
executed sculpture in St Dominic's, Haverstock Hill, in London. The time, money, effort, and
sheer  competence represented by the sculptures for the fifteen altars corresponding to the
Mysteries of the Rosary is staggering.
An alien from outer space studying the Catholic Church of the last few decades might be puzzled at the frequency and apparent significance of the phrase ‘felt banners’ in Catholic discourse. It seems to sum up much of what is wrong with the Church, at least for many Catholics, but it is rarely explained. It doesn’t need to be, because we have all seen these objects, and we know the significance of the attitudes and processes which led to their production and display.
If I wanted to explain to Zog the Martian what is at issue when felt banners come up in conversations among Catholics, I might say that ugly and inappropriate items of church decoration exemplify and have come to symbolize an attitude of hostility towards objective standards of beauty, excellence, and truth. Zog, however, might find this explanation even more strange than the items themselves. How on earth did such an attitude come to be held by people in the Church, let alone by those with power over what gets hung on the walls of places of worship?
Familiar as the phenomenon is, it is useful to try to articulate what is at issue. The partisans of felt banners do not necessarily prefer ugliness over beauty. Their concern, rather, is to prioritize the contribution to church decoration of the artistically incompetent over that of the artistically competent. Because the latter might be paid, or might not be members of the parish, or might be long dead, their contribution has less value seen as a form of participation in community life. Indeed, the artists who beautified the Catholic churches of yesteryear, and the few who still place their expertise and judgment in the service of the Church, were and are not thinking of their work primarily in terms of community participation, but in terms of objective standards of devotional appropriateness and of artistic excellence.
Read it all there.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Survey of US Traditional Catholics

LMS Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Guadalupe, in the Church of St Joseph, Bedford

I have a piece in LifeSiteNews on this widely-reported survey, which says exactly what one would expect: Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass overwhelmingly believe the teachings of the Church and fulfill their obligations to attend Mass and go to confession.

I think the survey is a good effort, but I'd like to put its contrast with data from other surveys on the beliefs and practices of Catholics as a whole into some context, beyond what I wrote for LifeSite.

Conservative Catholics reading the period results of mainstream Catholic opinion and
practice may get the feeling that the findings exceed their most pessimistic estimate of their
co-religionists. Amazingly few Catholics appear to know, let alone confess, the teaching of the Church on the Real Presence; scarcely any actually follow the Church’s teaching on contraception

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Fr Andrew Pinsent to speak Friday 22nd in London

Fri 22 Iota Unam talk, Fr Andrew Pinsent: 'The Traditional Mass and the Formation of the Virtues' 7pm in the basement at Our Lady of the Assumption, Warwick Street.
Doors open at 6:30pm
All welcome. £5 on the door.
Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory
Warwick Street
The talk will be preceded by drinks and followed by questions and a recitation of Compline of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Fr Andrew Pinsent has doctorates in both Physics and in Philosophy, as well as theological training, and is Director of the Allan Ramsey Centre in Oxford University.
This is the second of the Iota Unum series of talks, which will focus on topics connected with the everyday life of traditionally-minded Catholics: the domestic church, homeschooling, traditional catechesis, moral instruction, culture (high, common, and religious), religious history etc..
The purpose of the talks is not only to inform but to help traditionally-minded Catholics from across London and beyond to meet, discuss matters of mutual concern, and form a greater sense of community.
There will be a charge of £5 on the door to cover refreshments and other expenses.

Other events coming up in London

Wed 6: Ash Wednesday
Mon 11: Houghton Schola at Maiden Lane, Feria of Lent
Sat 9: St Tarcisius server training Day/ Guild of St Clare Vestment Mending Day
Sat 16: LMS Pilgrimage to Caversham: Ember Day. Mass 11:30am with polyphony
Mon 18: Cantus Magnus Polyphonic Mass at Maiden Lane, St Cyril of Jerusalem
Fri 22: Juventutem Mass at St Mary Moorfields, 7:30pm
Tues 26: Iota Unam talk, Stuart & Clare McCullough ‘The liturgy and crisis pregnancy counselling’
Fri 5-7: St Catherine's Trust Family Retreat & Gregorian Chant Network Chant Course Fri-Sun at the Oratory School, Woodcote: see here.
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Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Ivereigh: what makes you think Christ wasn't gay?

My latest on LifeSiteNews.
Having only just written for LifeSiteNews about the tweets of Austen Ivereigh, I would not wish to return to the subject but for the extraordinary nature of the latest. Bear in mind that this man has been the Director of Public Affairs for the late Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, was a founder of the Catholic media organization “Catholic Voices,” and has written a biography of Pope Francis: he is what you might call a “professional Catholic.”
Discussing the latest claims about priests working in the Vatican who are homosexual, Ivereigh suggests:
The issue, as the priests make clear, isn’t celibacy and chastity, but having to hide who they are. The denial makes it impossible to live the vow in freedom. That’s what they’re saying.
This is a convenient argument for someone who wants to say that the Church has made homosexuality into a problem by her negative teachings about it. Get rid of the teachings, and you’d get rid of the problem!
A Twitter user replied, in Spanish (this is the Google translation):
They must serve God and his people without the entanglement of manifesting or hiding a hidden tendency. The priests, I believe, must be heterosexual. They act in persona Christi. And I do not think our Lord had homosexual tendencies.
To this Ivereigh replied, in Spanish (again, this is the Google translation any Twitter user can access at the click of a button: it is perfectly accurate):
Why do you say that our Lord did not have homosexual tendencies? From what signs or sayings or gestures do you deduce this?
It is typical of Ivereigh to make a point with a question. It allows him some plausible deniability over whether he believes in the implications of his question.
So I am not going to claim that Ivereigh thinks that Christ had homosexual tendencies. The implication of his rhetorical question is rather that the conforming to Christ required of priests does not involve, even ideally, a sexual identity which is not disordered: or, rather, the claim that homosexuality is not a disordered sexuality.
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Monday, February 18, 2019

Is Muller an anti-pope?

Silly question, of course, but that's what Austen Ivereigh suggested on Twitter.

My latest on LifeSiteNews:

Gerhard, Cardinal Müller, until recently the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)—the third most senior Prelate in the Church—recently published what he called a Manifesto of Faith. It consists of quotations and paraphrases of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and avoids the hot-button issues of the moment. There is nothing in it about divorce, about receiving Communion in a state of mortal sin, about homosexuality, or about Capital Punishment. Müller is well-known as a friend and collaborator with the liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez: he is not exactly a theological conservative from Central Casting. 
Reading this document I wondered why, if he didn’t want to say anything directly related to the current doctrinal crisis in the Church, he had bothered to pick up his pen. The reaction to his Manifesto, however, made me think again. 
Austen Ivereigh, Pope Francis’ biographer and a key member of “Team Francis”, the self-appointed interpreters and defenders of the Pope, was enraged. He condemned Müller's Manifesto in a tweet:
A naked power play. Declare a state of confusion, then promote yourself as the one to “resolve” it. In implying that a former Vatican bureaucrat needs to step in to fill a supposed vacuum, you delegitimise the papal magisterium. And confuse the faithful. 
Carry on reading.

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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Sung Dominican Rite Mass in St Dominic's, Haverstock Hill


I was privileged to sing at a beautiful Dominican Rite Mass in London last Saturday, which opened a 'Retreat' organised by the New Evangelisation Committee of the Catholic Medical Association: Joseph Nunan indefatigable team. The Mass was sponsored by the Latin Mass Society.


Friday, February 15, 2019

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Proposed Regina Caeli Academy in Bedford: Open Day

I'm happy to pass on the news of this event to anyone who might be interested. You can sign up at their Eventbrite page.

Please join us for an Open Day for the forthcoming Regina Caeli Academy, launching in September 2019.
This is a chance to experience RCA UK first hand - you can meet the RCA UK Tutors and Board, hear from two Directors from RCA in the US and a priest from our chaplaincy, the Fraternity of St. Peter, and see the layout, books and uniform.
There will also be a Q&A session and the chance to sign up for RCA in September 2019!
1:15 Welcome and Introductions.
1:30 Meet the tutors and directors, and see how RCA UK will operate.
2:30 pm Mrs. Kari Beckman and Mrs. Collette Balmer: Regina Caeli in the U.S. - Classical Education in a Hybrid Academy.
3:15pm Fr. Patrick O'Donohue, FSSP: RCA and the mission of Catholic Education in the U.K.
3:30pm Questions and Answers.
4:15pm Close, Next Steps and Enrollment Options

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

What are Side-Chapels for?

Our Lady of Sorrows, appearing to gesticulate in horror at the sculpture deposited in her chapel.
The famous Jesuit Church, the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, in London, is richly decorated, and boasts many exquisite side-chapels. One can imagine Lady Julia Flyte popping in to one of them to pray before her chat with her Jesuit spiritual director in Brideshead Revisited, as many Catholics must have done over the Church’s 150 years of use. In one of these, dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, I found, on a recent visit, a life-size park bench rendered in bronze, and on it, an equally brazen blanket covering a sleeping figure. This “Homeless Jesus” sculpture, of which there are copies in cities around the world, has found its way there because Westminster Council refused permission for it to be installed near London’s Houses of Parliament.

Whatever one thinks about this object as a sculpture, a striking fact about its current London home, where it has now been blessed by the Nuncio, is that it makes it impossible for Mass to be celebrated in this chapel. It suggests that the Jesuits of Farm Street have no idea what to do with their side chapels. They are not alone. If they are not simply neglected, one finds them in many churches cluttered with information displays or used for storage. Almost nowhere are they used for Mass.
Why, one might ask, were they built in the first place? To make possible the celebration of private Masses simultaneously by different priests. This would naturally happen in a church served by several priests, when two or more of them did not have a public Mass to say on a given day. They will, obviously, wish to celebrate Mass, and may well wish to do so at the same time, say before breakfast. That would be natural, wouldn’t it?

Monday, February 11, 2019

Server Training: this Saturday in London

A reminder that there will be a training day for servers at St Mary Moorfields in London this Saturday, 16th, with enrollments into our Servers' sodality, the Society of St Tarcisius.

The day starts at 10:30am and should conclude by 4:30pm. All the details are here, including about the next two training days later in the spring: 9th March and 11th May.

The church is here.

Email if you want to attend.

I'm delighted to say that the medals we commissioned for the Society of St Tarcisius have arrived, which makes enrollments possible. And they look great. We will be using different coloured cords to indicate ranks in the Society.

Naturally we had in mind the precedent set by the venerable Confraternity of St Stephen with their distinctive servers' medal: although ours is quite different in design, it is a comparable size.

I was shocked to discover, recently, examples of the Confraternity medal made of plastic in a local sacristy. Is this a new thing? The example I have (left behind at last year's Summer School and not reclaimed), is at least made of metal.

In any case, the Society of St Tarcisius, while inspired by the original ideals of the Confraternity, is exclusively committed to the Traditional Latin Mass, and the service of the Altar by boys and men. On Saturday, and at future training events, a priest (in this case Fr Gabriel Diaz) will bless medals and officiate at the service of enrollment.

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Saturday, February 09, 2019

Sinners in the Queue for Communion

Queuing for Holy Communion in Westminster Cathedral at the LMS Annual Requiem
A lot of the acrimonious debate about Amoris Laetitia boils down to the question of Catholics in a state of grave sin wishing to receive Holy Communion. Such difficulties are not new to the Church, which has long included unjust rulers, men who have mistresses, people enjoying the fruits of crime, and such like. Indeed, in one respect the situation was more difficult in past centuries, because more people voluntarily excluded themselves from receiving, to such an extent that in the High Middle Ages most lay Catholics only received Communion once a year, on Easter Sunday.

So the question asked today was relevant: how can the Church both exclude Catholics in grave sin from Holy Communion, or foresee that they will exclude themselves, and still make them feel part of the Church’s liturgical life, a lifeline to the sinner who needs the grace of repentance?

The answer is that the Church has found many ways of doing this, ways which are not, in general, employed today. It is instructive to consider them.

The central point is a simple one: in past centuries, liturgical participation at Mass was not focused on the reception of Holy Communion.

Catholics willingly attended Masses at which they would not receive, in order to ‘hear Mass’. Peasants went to early Masses before starting work. Nobles would have a priest celebrate Mass at an altar in their bedroom before breakfast. St Margaret of Scotland attended three Masses, one after the other, each morning. The complex ceremonial, the use of Latin and (if the Mass was sung) chant and other music, made it a deeply spiritual experience.

What were they doing during these Masses? They were praying. They were uniting their prayers with those of the priest and of the Church. It was spiritual food for them.
The high point of these Masses was the Consecration. As time went on the moment of Consecration was surrounded with greater ceremonial (such as raising the Host for people to see), and all kinds of architectural and musical techniques were employed to give it greater visibility, emphasis, and dignity. There were indulgences for those who witnessed the elevation and said a short prayer: ‘My Lord and my God’. Those who saw Christ in the elevation felt that they had done something important that day.

Other things took place at a parish’s main Sunday Mass which further helped foster a sense of inclusion.

First, Mass began with the congregation being sprinkled with Holy Water (the ‘Asperges’).
Then, in many places the people participated in the ‘Kiss of Peace’ by kissing a metal or wooden object, a ‘pax’, which was passed from the priest to the server and then to each member of the congregation. This symbolized the Peace of Christ spreading out from the Altar, and the Consecrated Host present upon it at that point in Mass.

At the moment of the Priest’s Communion, people made a ‘Spiritual Communion’, a form of words summarizing their intense desire for Christ to enter their hearts.

At the end of Mass ‘Blessed Bread’ was distributed in some regions of Europe, and sometimes ‘Absolution Wine’. These made particular sense of the practice of fasting before attending Mass, even if one were not to receive Communion, and were sacramentals.

When Holy Communion was received by the whole community, in the Middle Ages, on Easter Sunday, those not receiving, whether villagers or kings, were shown up as sinners. This happened, however, only once a year: today, we have this problem every Sunday. In the past, when the faithful had began to receive Holy Communion more frequently, another practice developed which stopped the Communion line being such a public spectacle: Communion was given between Masses, or in private. Coupled with the practice of going to Communion monthly or fortnightly, after careful preparation, this made it impossible to tell if your neighbor was a regular communicant.

This last practice ended in the inter-war period. The kissing of the ‘pax’ and the customs of ‘Blessed Bread’ and wine died out, for the most part, in the centuries after the Council of Trent. A final idea worth noting, however, is this. Missionaries in Africa in the 20th century faced the problem that many non-Christian men well-disposed to Catholicism were impeded in their conversion by the fact that they had multiple wives. One approach to the problem was to encourage them to make a promise to be baptized before they died. This placed them in a clearly demarcated ante-chamber of the Church, and there could be no doubt, if one fell seriously ill, that those looking after him could baptize him validly even if he lost consciousness.

My purpose here is not to suggest that all these practice be revived, necessarily, but to point out that a little pastoral imagination could address the problems all acknowledge and which can otherwise look insuperable.

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Friday, February 08, 2019

Bad photographs showcased by the Catholic Herald

An imperfect photograph (of mine) of the chapel at Prior Park School, Bath, during the LMS Priest
Training Conference 2018. Notice how natural light is coming in from the back, while the altar
is bathed in yellow, artificial light. The vestments have a yellowish tinge and the surplices of the
clergy in choir a blueish tinge: a compromise 'colour balance' I adopted when processing the photo.
Another week, another rather second-rate photograph given the full-page treatment in the Catholic Herald. This time, as well as the poor lighting, the camera appears to have been focused on the altar (hardly visible in the gloom), whereas the brightly-lit reredos some distance behind it is out of focus.

I'm sure a common response to my curmudgeonly comments will be that I should be more charitable to what is, presumably, an amateur photographer sending in a snap to the Catholic Herald for which he will not even be paid. This response, however, is part of the cult of mediocrity which has done huge damage to the Church, and should be ruthlessly uprooted wherever it is found.

Naturally, small, charitable Catholic associations and impoverished parishes struggle to produce professional-looking publicity, or music; they struggle with the legal obligations imposed by data-processing, safeguarding, and employment law; they can't always answer the phone or process requests for documents as quickly as one would wish. The Latin Mass Society is in the same category. But let us not embrace a culture of incompetence, half-hardheartedness, and kindergarten artistic standards as if it were a good thing in itself. Let us at least continue the struggle against the difficulties inevitable to under-resourced organisations.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Is repentance possible?

My latest on LifeSiteNews. It begins:
Today, entire bishops' Conferences appear to be telling people that living according to God’s law is impossible for Catholics in so-called irregular unions. I say ‘appear’ to be telling people this, but if they don’t really mean this, should they not then clear up the confusion?
The answer to that question seems obvious enough. Less obvious, however, is the answer to the question: How did things come to this? How could it have come about that vast numbers of Catholics — from ordinary faithful to bishops, cardinals, and even the pope — should feel it possible, and apparently praiseworthy, to render systematically unclear, if not explicitly to deny, the seriousness of fundamental moral principles, like the Sixth Commandment – Thou shall not commit adultery?
It has never been part of the Church’s teaching or pastoral practice to ignore the difficulties faced by sinners in changing their lives. Among the greatest saints, we find those who went through the most painful processes of conversion, such as St. Mary Magdalen, St. Mary of Egypt, and St. Augustine of Hippo: in modern times we find the example of Alessandro Serenelli, the murderer of St Maria Goretti, among many others. Humanly, what they did would seem impossible, but Christ tells us, speaking of the difficulties some have in reaching heaven: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
The Church exists, in fact, to make available the means which God has provided to make the impossible possible. What Christ was able to do for St. Mary Magdalen, to stimulate her repentance and to cleanse her from her sins, is available in the Church today. The hearts of sinners can be reached by the example of the saints, by grace flowing from the liturgy, by preaching, by means of sacramental confession and absolution. All of these are a means to cleansing the human heart of the heaviest sins and restore it to friendship with God.
Read it all there.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Guild of St Clare Sewing Retreat, Spring 2019: photos and report

Cross-posted from the Guild of St Clare blog.


This year's spring Guild of St Clare Sewing Retreat, like last year's, took place in the snow: last time it was the 'Beast from the East' in early March. By now we knew the route up Boars Hill which doesn't turn into a toboggan run for cars, so the disruption was manageable. I had even bought the car some 'snow socks' and other widgets for bad weather, which came in handy.


Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Children at Mass: against Fr Michael White

An infant receiving the Blessing of Throats on the Feast of St Blase, during the
Guild of St Clare Sewing Retreat, at Boars Hill, Oxford.
I've written a fair amount on this topic on this blog; here is a piece I've done for LifeSiteNews.

It begins:

In a blog post on January 26, Fr. Michael White got himself into hot water by criticizing parents who bring their young children to Mass. 
In an article titled “Why we don’t encourage (little) kids in Church” he wrote: “There is something in Catholic Church culture that insists kids belong in the sanctuary [church?] for Mass. I must say I don’t totally understand it, but it is definitely a Catholic thing. Part of the thinking is that sheer exposure to the service imbues them with grace and other good things in some kind of effortless and mindless sort of way. But if they can’t understand the readings and they cannot take Communion, it is unclear what they are ‘receiving’ Sacramentally.”
Fr. White, who is pastor of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, even quotes Scripture to back himself up: “Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, which consisted of men, women and those children old enough to understand” (Nehemiah 8:3).
I was puzzled by this quotation because it appears to contradict another with which Fr. White should be familiar, as it is quoted with approval by Christ (and in relation to children taking part in what amounts to a liturgical event: Christ’s entry into Jerusalem): “Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise” (Psalm 8.3: see Matthew 21.15-16).
Even more directly comparable is Joel 2.15-7:
Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather together the people, sanctify the church, assemble the ancients, gather together the little ones, and them that suck at the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth from his bed, and the bride out of her bridal chamber.
“Those who suck at the breasts” are invited to the Prophet Joel’s penitential liturgy. Are they really excluded from the High Priest Ezra’s solemn reading of the Law?
The puzzle over these conflicting passages evaporates, however, when one notices that the word “children” does not actually appear in the text of Nehemiah. The Latin says simply “in conspectu virorum et mulierum et sapientium”: “in the sight of men and of women and of the wise”. Looking at the Bible Hub where multiple translations can be seen side by side, it is clear that Fr. White went to a lot of trouble to find one which mentions children. It is possible that “men and women” refers to Jews, and the extra clause refers to sympathetic non-Jews. In any case, if the meaning is unclear, we must refer back to precedents, for Nehemiah is re-enacting the solemn reading of the Law found in Deuteronomy 31.12:
And the people being all assembled together, both men and women, children and strangers, that are within thy gates.
(See also Joshua 8.35 and 2 Kings 23.1-2.) It is hardly plausible to claim that Nehemiah wanted to exclude those explicitly included by Moses.
Read it all there.

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Sunday, February 03, 2019

Dialogos Institute colloquium 2019: Integralism


The Second Vatican Council spoke of the “traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ”. Over the course of the last seventeen hundred years this his duty has been realised in many different ways. In recent years the concept of Integralism has inspired renewed interest and controversy. This summer eight scholars from around the world will gather in Norcia to consider the vision and the reality of a broad cross section of integrally Christian societies.

SPEAKERS include Prof Tom Pink, Fr Thomas Crean, Dr Alan Fimister and Fr Edmund Waldstein.

Full details here.

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Saturday, February 02, 2019

Covington: don't blame social media

My latest on LifeSiteNews.

People looking at social media over the first 48 hours of the story were presented with a wall of vituperation directed at the Covington boys, and this very naturally influenced their response. However, social media also speeded up the dissemination of a fuller set of evidence. In the old days of newspapers, steam-trains, and telegraphs, there was still a gap between initial, slanted reports of events, and later, fuller information, and still the urge among commentators to make statements before the fuller information became available: if it ever did.

Read the whole thing there.

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Friday, February 01, 2019

St Albert the Great Summer School at Norcia 2019 on the Gospel of John

June 16th – 28th In Norcia, Italy

Full details here.
The St. Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies will hold its 8th annual summer theology session in Norcia, Italy, in partnership with the Monastero San Benedetto in monte. This summer’s program will be focused on a close reading of the first eight chapters of the Gospel of John, supported by the commentary of St. Thomas Aquinas on this Gospel.
The St. Albert the Great Center is dedicated to the revival of higher studies in theology undertaken according to the mind and method of the great scholastics, and in particular the work of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The tutors guiding the 2019 program include: Rev. Dr. Thomas Crean, O.P. of the Dominican priory in Leicester, England; Rev. Dr. Yosyp Veresh, a Byzantine Catholic priest of the Greek-Catholic Eparchy of Mukachevo (Ukraine); Dr. Alan Fimister, who is Assistant Professor of Theology and Church History at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.
Besides the daily seminars and lectures offered by the tutors, there will be a guest lecture by one of the monks of the Monastero di San Benedetto. The two-week program reaches its climax in an authentic scholastic disputation, moderated by one of the tutors.
In addition to the academic program, there is the opportunity to participate in the daily life of worship of the Benedictine monks who live and pray at the birthplace of Ss. Benedict & Scholastica, including Mass and the prayers of the Divine Office.
There will be an optional excursion planned. The destination is still to be confirmed, but will likely be as in the past either Assisi or Orvieto, where Thomas lived for a time. Participants are encouraged to plan for extra time before or after the program in order to explore Rome.
Full details here.
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