Saturday, February 15, 2020

The liturgical reform and 'the missions'

A key part of the argument for the liturgical reform was that it was needed for 'the missions'. What was never explained was why a reform which responded to objections from Enlightenment thinkers to the liturgical tradition was appropriate for cultures to which such objections were completely alien, and indeed incomprehensible. The Emperor Joseph II, Voltaire, and the like complained about excessive ritual, supposedly superstitious veneration of holy places, images, and objects, the obscurantist use of sacred languages, silence, and so on and so forth. What on earth have these concerns to do with traditional societies? Unless, perhaps, one imagines that they are Rousseauist 'noble savages', like the lovers of 'noble simplicity' imaginatively projected in the Early Church by liturgists.

Daniel Dolley put paid to such fantasies about the native peoples of South America in his excellent article in the Catholic Herald which I commented on here, and this weekend Dr Pia Joliffe has had a letter published in the same place about the traditional culture she studied in Thailand, the Karen.


SIR – It was with great joy and interest that I read Daniel Dolley’s article on “how to evangelise the Amazon” (Cover story, January 24).

Dr Dolley’s point that the Amazon communities are more traditional in their approach to gender roles, religion and ritual action than those who advocate on their behalf is also valid for the Karen communities in northern Thailand, where I did my own ethnographic fieldwork for my DPhil in International Development.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The usefulness of Latin

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Mass during the LMS Priest-training Conference in Prior Park.

Letter published this weekend in The Catholic Herald.

Sir,

On Richard Ingrams’ reminiscences of his classical education (‘The Perils of Latin’, Charterhouse, 7th Feb), it is indeed astonishing how much time many of our predecessors spent on Latin and Greek. It didn’t seem to do them much harm: this was, after all, the generation which invented the computer, space travel, and the nuclear bomb.

Cobbett’s rejection of learning ‘what can never be of any real use to any human being’ (quoted by Ingrams) is corrosive of a humane education. Even in the sciences, the vast majority of what children learn, once they get beyond the kindergarten level, is not going to be of direct use to them in adult life.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Reply to Prof Healy in Homiletic and Pastoral Review

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Low Mass in the Slipper Chapel at Walsingham, England

Professor Mary Healy, a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, recently wrote a piece for the Homiletic and Pastoral Review on the 50th Anniversary of the Novus Ordo Missae: the 'Ordinary Form'. She wrote:

It has become common to blame today’s lack of Eucharistic faith and fervor on the revised rite. Critics rightly point to certain weaknesses such as collects that are less expressive of God’s majesty, and the omission of important biblical texts from the lectionary. Another unfortunate change is the elimination of the Octave of Pentecost, giving the impression of downgrading the great solemnity that culminates the Easter season. The primary problem, however, is not the reformed rite itself but its flawed implementation, due to poor — and, in some cases, catastrophically defective — theological and spiritual preparation among clergy and laity alike. Too often, the liturgical changes were accompanied by a downplaying of the notion of sacredness. A casual attitude toward the liturgy was fostered, and beautiful churches were “wreckovated.” Lukewarm liturgy has, tragically, obscured the authentic renewal called for by the Council itself.

Monday, February 03, 2020

The peoples of the Amazon need Christ

My latest on LifeSite, inspired by the cover article in the Catholic Herald by Dr Daniel Dolley (now onling) the other week.
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The ancient Greek historian Herodotus records a story about a young man who caused the accidental death of his brother. Fleeing from home, he was taken in by a king who performed the necessary rite of purification and took him into his own household. One day, out hunting with the king’s son, the young man accidentally caused the prince’s death. In despair, he took his own life.

What is the moral of this story? The king’s act of kindness was misjudged; the rite of purification was not sufficiently powerful; those whom the gods have chosen to afflict cannot be helped. Perhaps the young man had inadvertently offended some deity, a common occurrence in Greek myth. You can’t be too careful: Works and Days by Hesiod attempts to summarize omens and auspicious and inauspicious days for everything from getting married to planting beans. The result is a mind-boggling collection of material that, if taken seriously, would control one’s every action, with no guarantee of success. This is what life under paganism was like in ancient Europe, and it was to this world that the Church’s sacraments and spirituality were first directed.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Saturday, February 01, 2020

The vocation to have children

My latest on LifeSite.

The basic outlines of the Church’s teaching on family life, in terms of what we must on no account do, are clear, but we need to beware of the more subtle ways our thinking has been warped by our contraceptive culture. This is a hugely complex topic and I want to look at just one aspect of it: the attitude to large families.
It has become a joke, albeit a boring one, that many people can’t see a family of more than three children without having a dig at the parents. My lifestyle does not expose me to much of this but I did get a “You should get a TV” from a stranger recently, which was intended as light-hearted. (Actually, I’d rather have the children.) Such comments can be particularly upsetting when they come from fellow Catholics. No less annoying is the counter-pressure occasionally found in those pockets of Catholic society where larger families are more common. It is such a stupid thing to ask mothers if they are going to have another baby. Who knows what has been going on? Just don’t do it.
These opposing remarks have something in common, which is the odd way they hold parents to account for having or not having children, and see a certain family size as the right one for everyone: whether is it two children, six, or none. This is obviously absurd in ignoring the particular circumstances of different families, above all biological factors which are of no concern to complete strangers. But it also puts an artificial limit to family size, whether the limit small or large. 
Carry on reading.

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Friday, January 31, 2020

Engaging with post-Brexit politics

I've written for LifeSite about the possibilities for Catholics to engage with the new generation of politicians who have emerged from Brexit: despite their greater distance from the practice of Christianity than their predecessors.

It begins:

There is a theory going around that Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, is going to grasp a historic opportunity to realign his Conservative Party in relation to emerging voting patterns. It goes like this. Johnson’s predecessor-but-one, David Cameron, combined austerity and globalisation with social liberalism, notably by forcing “same-sex marriage” through Parliament, against great opposition from inside his own party. This did much to neutralise the opposition of the liberal media and arts establishment.

But things have moved on. The hyper-liberalism of the political left has cut them adrift from their traditional working-class supporters, who value family and country. Public finances don’t look quite as bad as before. The vote to leave the European Union and the ferocious opposition to this by the political and media establishment has crystalized the break between the left and its traditional base. Johnson’s strategy will be to pivot the Conservative Party into a more socially conservative, but less capitalist-friendly, party, to scoop up these newly available votes.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Serving and Sewing for the Kingdom of God

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What can we do to advance God's reign on earth? What does it mean, today, to work in the Vineyard? If you are in despair about state of the Church and the state of society, what can you actually do about it?

It is far from the case that you can't do anything. The work of resistance to the chaos and of restoration is going on all around you. Here are two examples taking place in London: training on how to serve the Traditional Mass by highly experienced Masters of Ceremonies, and the mending of old vestments under expert guidance. Stop complaining, and come along! You don't need any qualifications, and there is no fee to pay.

Photos from last Saturday. The next dates are

March 14th (booking page for the serving), and May 9th (booking page for the serving). More info.

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Sunday, January 26, 2020

CMA Youth Retreat, 8th Feb, Haverstock Hill, London

The Third Annual Retreat
for young (18+) Catholics in healthcare
and young (18+) Catholic adults
Organised by the Catholic Medical Association's 
Youth Branch

Where? The Rosary Shrine
St Dominic's Priory
London NW5 4LB
When? Saturday 8th February 2020
11:30 Mass, followed by lunch, talks, and tour of the shrine. 
Day ends at 17:00
How much? £5 payable at the door (day includes lunch)

For more information and to register: 

- Registration essential as places limited -


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Are Western Christians persecuted?

My latest on LifeSite.
Are Christians in the West being persecuted? To some, it seems ridiculous to say so, smacking of paranoia, and even an insult to those being genuinely persecuted in Africa and Asia. But persecution need not be equally serious everywhere. Persecution comes in relatively mild and relatively fierce forms. It also tends to come and go over time. Life under undeniable historic persecutions went on, sometimes to a surprising extent: a priest was ordained in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. Being persecuted is not the same as being killed.
If the term “persecution” is distracting us, think simply about what it means to suffer for the Faith, for the truth. Suffering for the Faith, or the prospect of suffering for it if one does certain things, shapes the lives of those living under persecution. They must choose whether and when to pay the price of suffering, or take the risk of suffering, in order to receive the sacraments or to speak the truth, or whether to hold back, to allow certain possibilities to be closed off, perhaps permanently.
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Friday, January 24, 2020

Sex abuse clerical and lay

The second of a linked pair of LifeSite articles.


In my last article on LifeSiteNews, I explained how the reluctance of the U.K’.s police and social workers to apply the law on underage sex and on drugs created an environment in which girls, very often in the care of the state, could be targeted by gangs, who groomed, abused, and pimped them over years. There is an ever-lengthening list of places where well established networks of abusers operated with apparent impunity, with victims in the thousands.
This may sound familiar to readers who have been following clerical abuse cases.
I distinguished three layers to the problem: the cover-up; the refusal to face the sociological reality of the gangs; and, most fundamentally, the assumption that the crimes were not real, or not serious, because the victims must have consented. These three layers are also at issue in clerical abuse.
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Thursday, January 23, 2020

The latest Sex-abuse cover up: by Greater Manchest Police

Update: this new article on Quillet by Ben Sixsmith supports many of my conclusions and refers to an interesting body of research on the grooming gangs.

The first of a pair of articles on LifeSite;

This week has seen the report of yet another UK “grooming gang” pimping and exploiting vulnerable underage girls, this time in Manchester. (There is a long newspaper report here.) 
The men targeted care homes. 
The victims repeatedly told those charged with their care that they were being raped and given hard drugs, but social services, medics, and police showed enormous reluctance to get involved, an attitude that seemed to be endorsed by the coroner investigating the 2003 death of Victoria Agoglia, a 15-year-old victim of a heroin overdose (her caregivers were not to blame, he found). This death did lead to a wider investigation, but it was starved of resources and then shut down. 
It has become a depressingly familiar pattern. The RochdaleBristol, and Oxford sex abuse gangs have gained the most attention, but there are now “case reviews” and public inquiry reports from an ever-lengthening list of locations. The victims number in the thousands. It is far from clear that the lessons of these cases have been learned: the Greater Manchester Police were hanging tough and refusing to reopen the investigation, which they had mysteriously shut down in 2005, as recently as 2018. What, one might ask, is going on? 
Continue reading.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Some worries about Roger Scruton

The more adulatory material I see on the Catholic internet about the late Roger Scruton, the more I think some corrective is necessary. I wish I'd been more critical now, in what I wrote for LifeSite (below).
In Scruton's subtle and often brilliant work, we are gently led away from the idea that it is of any importance whether there is any objective truth, whether God actually exists, or whether there are any moral truths. It doesn't matter because we have our terribly interesting reactions to things and our terribly complex relations with each other and with the past. I want to agree with many of his positive assertions but say to him and his followers: look chaps, this isn't enough. It's not going to work on its own--it'll collapse like a souflé without some, you know, reality behind it. Look, all the people you describe living these elegant, sceptical lives in the 18th century or whatever were living off the capital of a millennium of Christianity, during which time people actually believed in something. It is when this belief starts disappearing from the mass of the population in the 20th century that society starts unravelling. You can't bind it all back up again by saying that the new barbarians should be more like Enlightenment gentlemen. The barbarians are just following the Enlightenment logic through.
Heigh ho. Here's my LifeSite article.
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The English philosopher Sir Roger Scruton has died at the age of 75. He was the most prominent proponent of conservatism in political theory of his generation, and his theory of aesthetics was also significant. He came into conflict with the intellectual establishment throughout his life, and his independence of mind was impressive. So intensely hostile to him, indeed, were his fellow philosophers that I witnessed apparently rational mainstream academics actually apologising, in advance, for saying something complimentary about him. And yet he was rather a gentle soul, not given to hasty polemic or feuds, who did not give way to bitterness. His works will long survive those of many of his detractors. 
In many ways, his work has been helpful to Catholic thinkers, particularly his articulation of the importance of community, an idea whose time in some ways seems to have come. But he was not a Catholic, and there are important ways in which his thinking went in a quite different direction from that of the Catholic tradition. As a tribute to a great man, I want to say something about this: the best way to show one’s appreciation of a serious thinker is always to engage critically with his ideas.
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Thursday, January 09, 2020

The Papal Slap

I wrote this for Rorate Caeli.

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A lot of people have weighed in on Pope Francis repeatedly slapping the hand of a pilgrim in St Peter’s Square. Reactions have not divided simply along ideological lines. Austin Ruse suggested, on Twitter, that Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II would have reacted even more fiercely to a pilgrim grabbing their hands and not letting go. I was undecided myself at first. The pilgrim’s action did seem a little aggressive. On the other hand, there she is, in the video, a rather small Chinese lady, making a sign of the cross to steel herself to take the hand of the much larger Pope, surrounded by body guards. From what one can see of the timing of the incident, the Pope reacts as he does not to the surprise of the physical aspect of the gesture, but to what she is saying. She is saying something about Hong Kong…

Read the rest on Rorate.

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Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Roger Buck's 'Gentle Traditionalist' returns

My latest for LifeSite. Buy Roger Buck's latest book through this link which gives him a little more of the cover price.


In 2015, Catholic convert Roger Buck published The Gentle Traditionalist, a work of apologetics in a dialogue form which, like some of Plato’s dialogues, is flavoured by a fictional dramatic setting set out at the beginning and the end. Despite its classical antecedents this is an unusual format, but Buck’s work was very successful. I have been recommending it to everyone ever since, as the ideal non-threatening introduction to traditional Catholic concerns on culture, education, and politics, the issues which motivated Chesterton, Belloc, and Evelyn Waugh.
The Gentle Traditionalist was followed in 2016 by Buck’s magnum opus, the 450-page Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Secularism and the New Age to Christendom Renewed. This is partly autobiographical, featuring Buck’s former life as a New Age practitioner and activist. Buck’s latest book, The Gentle Traditionalist Returns: A Catholic Knight’s Tale from Ireland, returns to the characters and format of the first book but more of the issues of the second. It is an exploration of the New Age as it is invading a newly-post-Christian Ireland, Buck’s adoptive country, in the context of the abortion referendum of 2016.

Carry on reading there.

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Monday, January 06, 2020

Learn to cook in 2020

My latest on LifeSite News

I’ve mentioned more than once the importance of culture. Catholic culture, I wrote in one article, presupposes culture. I would like to say more about this issue, not only because it is important in itself, but because people want to know what they can or should do about the current crisis in the Church. Well, they — you, we — should learn how to cook.
Our Lady of Fatima’s message to the children in 1917 was, Sr. Lucia later explained, was not primarily about the First Saturdays or the rosary or the brown scapular, important as those devotions are. It was “the faithful accomplishment of our daily duties.” The world would be converted if Catholics performed their daily duties more faithfully. That is why the enemies of the Church have attacked precisely those daily duties. For most Catholics, online zealotry is easy, or at least appears so; it is being a good Catholic father, mother, husband, wife, son, or daughter that has become extraordinarily difficult, not to mention being a good Catholic employer, or employee, a good Catholic citizen, or a good Catholic public servant. One might say, perhaps, that being a good Catholic public servant — an elected representative or career civil servant — has become impossible in some places, and that this kind of public engagement is best avoided. We wouldn’t dare say that it has become impossible to be a good Catholic spouse or parent, though, because that would imply that we could not have families at all. Somehow, we have to face the difficulties and overcome them.
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Thursday, January 02, 2020

James MacMillan interview: music, culture, politics, religion

I've just round to watching this, and it is very interesting.


Sir James is a Patron of the Latin Mass Society.

He mentions a recent book of his reflections, which can be found here.


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