Wednesday, April 29, 2020

New and Old Masses in Plaguetime

My latest in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review.
The Church reformed the liturgy at a moment of great optimism. The developed world was enjoying the long post-war boom. Seminaries were full. And new-fangled antibiotics and vaccination programs were sweeping away one major disease after another. It seemed time for a great big group hug.
It is not surprising to find that when medieval-style pestilence stalks the streets, the Church has to reach back into the past, before that brief gilded historical moment, for responses. The most obvious example is “spiritual communion”: the practice of uniting oneself in prayer to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, since one is not able to receive sacramentally. Our predecessors in the Faith used to do this at the great majority of the Masses they attended, either formally or informally, since they received Holy Communion only once or a few times a year. When I mentioned the practice as a response to the epidemic in a letter to the UK’s liberal Catholic weekly, The Tablet, the first response of one priest was ridicule. We wouldn’t, he wrote, have a “spiritual collection,” would we?1
He will have written his reply before public liturgies were suspended. I doubt he is laughing now. 
Read the whole thing.

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Saturday, April 25, 2020

Sex and shame

My latest on LifeSite.
I’d like to add something to my recent post about ‘consequence-free sex’, something more about the motivation for chastity. 
In that post, I noted various consequences of the lifestyle of “serial monogamy shading into promiscuity”, which is the expected, if not universal, way of life for unmarried people. 
Among these consequences are the spiritual consequences, which are of ultimate importance. 
Chastity requires heroic resistance to social pressure, and the best foundation for this resistance is a supernatural love of virtue. Nevertheless, in this post I want to say something about another aspect of the situation which tends to be ignored: we might call it disgust at sin, or shame.
When I was a philosophy student, I heard the late Prof. Bernard Williams talking about virtue, and how virtue concepts change over time. There is something in this: the conception of honor found in Homer, for example, is somewhat different from that found in Dickens. The example he used, however, was chastity. As a virtue concept, he said, it had completely lost its applicability in modern moral discourse. It no longer has any meaning.
Williams was wrong. To see this, do an internet search for the term “slut-shaming”. 
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Friday, April 24, 2020

LMS shop re-opened; CTS booklet available

My CTS booklet, 'How to Attend the Extraordinary Form', has arrived in physical form, thanks to the efficiency of the Catholic Truth Society, whose printers and distributors have managed to keep working through the lockdown.

The Latin Mass Society has decided to mail a copy to each of the priests on our mailing list, in the UK and Ireland. That's more than 150. In the peculiar circumstances of the times this could be done most easily from my home.

At the same time I am delighted to announce that the Latin Mass Society's online shop has re-opened. We are still working almost entirely from home but we have made arrangments to be able to fulfil orders, although this may still be a little slower than normal.

So please take yourself off to our shop to buy more copies of this booklet and of all the other things we sell: members get a 5% discount, and there is a bulk discount for the booklet. (You can of course also get the booklet direct from the CTS.)

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Thursday, April 23, 2020

Some good, personal, news

Ecce hæreditas Domini, filii ;
merces, fructus ventris.
Sicut sagittæ in manu potentis,
ita filii excussorum.
Beatus vir qui implevit desiderium suum ex ipsis :
non confundetur cum loquetur inimicis suis in porta.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

52nd Anniversary of the Abortion Act

Another LifeSite piece. The anniversary will be Monday 27th.

Next Monday, April 27th is the 52nd anniversary of the coming into effect of the UK’s Abortion Act (1967), the key legislation which opened up abortion on a mass scale in England, Wales, and Scotland. 
The government has been celebrating early, first by imposing abortion on Northern Ireland, to which the Act never applied, and then by loosening the rules on ‘do it yourself’, home abortions, in the context of the Coronavirus epidemic.
A lot of things have happened since 1967 in the UK, as in other jurisdictions, which have clarified the issues at stake. The Member of Parliament who sponsored the passage of this law—it was not a government bill—later admitted that he had grossly underestimated the number of abortions that would be performed under the Act. 
If the vast number of deaths the Act would bring about had been foreseen when it was being debated, it would have been much harder to get it passed. The same goes for the way that safeguards have been interpreted and evaded. But isn’t that always the way? The radical agenda is forced through with the claim that each change is quite minor. When it turns out that it is anything but, the promoters say, oh well, but there’s no going back now.
Read the rest on LifeSite.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Harvard's attack on home educatioin

My recent article for LifeSite.


Harvard Law School appears to be coordinating an attack on home-education. A planned conference appears to be intended as a pile-on by critics of homeschooling. Harvard Magazine has published an approving summary of an 80-page article in the Harvard Law Review by Professor Elizabeth Bartholet about why home-education should be banned. The Harvard Magazine account cites no dissenting or alternative views. 
Wags on social media have pointed out that the cartoon accompanying Harvard Magazine’s piece manages to misspell “Arithmetic” (“Arithmatic”). Matthew Peterson (@docMJP) definitely won Twitter with his observation, “If you replace ‘homeschooling’ with ‘attending Harvard’ a lot of the article makes sense.” He illustrated:
“We have an essentially unregulated regime in the area of elite Ed,” @docMJP asserts. All 50 states have laws that make education compulsory, & state constitutions ensure a right to education, “but if you look at the legal regime governing elite colleges, there are very few requirements that professors teach anything of value.” Even apparent requirements such as submitting curricula, or providing evidence that teaching and learning are taking place, he says, aren’t necessarily enforced.
Since the article, like a great deal of elite education, is patently driven by ideological concerns, the point is well made.
What of the underlying academic article? My brief review of it suggests that it suffers from three fundamental flaws.

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Monday, April 20, 2020

Fr Anthony Conlon, Requiescat in pace


Fr Anthony Conlon died last night after a long illness. He had been the National Chaplain of the Latin Mass Society for many years until 2009 and continued to celebrate Masses for us in many different places.

He was a priest of Westminster Archdiocese but became Chaplain to the Oratory School, and when he retired from that he became Parish Priest of nearby Goring. This was in my own area of local activity so I often asked him to celebrate the 'occasional' Masses I organise around Oxford in odd places.

He was also for many years a Chaplain of the British Association of the Order of Malta, and in this context could be addressed as 'Monsignor'.

These photographs show him celebrating the Traditional Mass in the chapel of Milton Manor; in Our Lady of Light, Long Crendon; Our Lady and St Anne, Caversham (at the LMS annual Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Caversham); in St Mary Moorfields (for the 10 Year annivesary Requiem Mass of Micahel Davies); and in St James', Spanish Place (for the Requiem of Prince Rupert Loewenstein).

Another image of him in Milton Manor adorns the front cover our our Ordinary Prayers booklet.

We will organise a splendid Requiem for him of course: as soon as we can. In the meantime he richly deserves our remembrance and prayers.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Bishops and Sex Education

My latest on LifeSite.

A key quotation:

A stray item of good news, like an isolated beam of sunlight during a storm, emerges today on sex education in the U.K. Warwickshire County Council has withdrawn a particularly bad sex education program which it was imposing on its schools. Christian Today reports.

"Church leaders from across Warwickshire welcomed the move. They said, er, they said... sorry, actually they said nothing, at least not anything that has reached any public media outlet. Just as they apparently had nothing to say when the problems with the programme were first exposed."

Read the whole thing.

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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Bach's Passion: from isolation

The Oxford Bach Soloists have surpassed themselves with this performance of Bach's Passion. They are raising money for Help Musicians UK: donate here

There is more about this on their website here.

Episode 1

Friday, April 17, 2020

Thoughts on the dating scene

My latest on LifeSite.

The world into which we send our young people is unlike our ancestors’ world in many ways. It is organized on principles of reward and punishment that combine in an incoherent way, and therefore send mixed signals. In certain respects, it has become difficult to combine virtue and natural happiness with worldly success, and this creates painful choices.
Modernity likes to claim that the opposite is true: that it was our ancestors who suffered this dilemma on account of their “artificial” social conventions. Notably, these made sexual activity outside marriage less attractive, and that is something many people in all ages have been tempted to do. So, the modern argument goes, that was artificial, and everyone is better off now that those conventions have, for nearly everyone and for practical purposes, disappeared. People can do what they like, and this is obviously a good thing, isn’t it? 
It is not, however, a foregone conclusion that satisfying our immediate, natural, sexual desires is compatible with our dearest long-term objectives. The question requires some serious thought.
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Thursday, April 16, 2020

On Criticising fellow Catholics

Cross posted from Rorate Caeli.

I spend more time on Twitter than perhaps I should, but even so I tend to miss some of the nuances of the increasingly rancorous internecine Twitter arguments taking place between people who, one might think, should be on the same side, and if follower numbers are a guide to moral seriousness (which they are not), should know better. I doubt I have anything very edifying to learn by scrolling back through all the accusations and replies, but one thing which is characteristic of the latest, as of many other, Twitter spats, is that it has come down to catty generalizations about the character of Catholics attending Mass in different liturgical forms, or offered by different categories of priests.

This reminds me of the claim once made by English Protestants, that one is more likely to find one’s umbrella has been stolen from the back of a Catholic church than from a Protestant one. As Oscar Wilde put it, “The Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone. For respectable people, the Anglican Church will do.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Some sanity breaks through on 'single sex spaces'

My latest on LifeSite

Two contrasting pieces of news crossed my path today. In the UK, the most liberal of the candidates for last year’s contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and now a non-party affiliated candidate for election and Mayor of London, Rory Stewart, recounted that when he had been a government minister with responsibility for prisons, there had been cases of (as he put it) “male prisoners self-identifying as females” raping members of staff. For this reason, he is not in favor of opening up “female spaces,” such a public lavatory, to all comers.

The other news item was that a women’s shelter in Canada, Vancouver Rape Relief, has been deprived of public funding for not letting in, well, all comers. Furthermore, it has been described in an article on Medium as a “neo-nazi style”, “cryptofacist” “hate group” for this stance. Even more intriguingly, when I clicked on the link to read the article making these claims, I was instead presented with an error message: “This post is under investigation or was found in violation of the Medium Rules.” So here’s a screenshot from Twitter.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Reflections on Maundy Thursday

My latest on LifeSite

In the Gospel of St. John, the focus of the account of the Last Supper is not the Institution of the Mass, but the “Mandatum”: Jesus’s command to the twelve apostles to love and serve each other. Christ introduces the point by washing their feet, usually, in the ancient world, the job of a slave. He is not setting aside His authority in doing this, but demonstrating what it is to have authority. To have authority over others is to serve them.
In the changes to the Holy Week services that took place in 1955, the place of the Mandatum, and its ritual washing of feet, was emphasized, though it remained optional. However, its focus was subtly changed. Before 1955, bishops and priests washed the feet of the poor after Mass, thirteen of them, and they were then given clothing and money. After 1955, it became part of Mass, and the people having their feet washed were more closely identified with the apostles: their number was reduced to twelve, and the connection with almsgiving was lost. The pre-1955 ritual was not a specifically clerical thing, but a survival of the once widespread practice of kings and queens, lords and ladies, abbots and abbesses, of washing the feet of their inferiors and giving them alms. British monarchs still mint special coins to give out on this occasion, though, sadly, they no longer wash anyone’s feet.
In this way, Christ’s example was understood as a model not just for clerical leadership, or the relationship between bishop and his priests, but about the nature of Christian leadership in general, religious or secular. As He says in the Gospel of St Mark, “Whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all” (10:44).
Continue reading.

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Friday, April 10, 2020

Music from the LMS recorded by locked-down musicians

The Latin Mass Society was due, as for many years past, to employ professional musicians to accompany not only the 'major' services of Holy Week but also Tenebrae in St Mary Moorfields, London. Since these celebrations cannot now take place, the musicians have recorded some pieces from their own homes and edited them together.

The group is Cantus Magnus, under the direction of Matthew Schellhorn.

These are being released primarily from the LMS Facebook page.  Here is a Vimeo version of the first one, a piece from the Tenebrae of Maundy Thursday set by Anerio.

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Thursday, April 09, 2020

Coronavirus and the Family

My latest on LifeSite.


The public health advice—and in some countries, command—to stay at home during the Coronavirus epidemic is forcing many people to spend the kind of continuous time with spouses and children which normally only happens on family holidays, though without the trips out. This is shining a light, and putting unaccustomed strain, on our household arrangements.

The number of people filing for divorce spikes after Christmas and after the summer holidays, and it wouldn’t be surprising if we see a similar spike when the lockdown is lifted. In the meantime, people who might have been planning to leave their spouses (or throw them out into the street) have had to put their plans on hold. There is nowhere for newly separated spouses to go.

The reaction of commentators hostile to the traditional family has been interesting to see. In this Guardian article the writer notes that the lockdown has forced people into a closer approximation of traditional family values, not least because opportunities for extra-marital affairs have dried up, apparently to her chagrin. Over at Soros-funded Open Democracy, a writer with an alarmingly tenuous connection with reality thinks that this is the moment to “abolish the family”, whatever that means, though she acknowledges that the actual effect of the lockdown has been to give it greater importance than ever.


Continue reading.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Cardinal Pell and Australia's anti-clericals

Captain Alfred Drefus
My latest on LifeSite, on Cardinal Pell, Dreyfus, and the liberal narrative on clerical sex abuse.


After 405 days in prison, Cardinal George Pell has finally been freed after the High Court of Australia overturned his convictions for sexual abuse of a minor.

The seven judges sitting on the High Court were, remarkably, unanimous, and delivered a single, two-page explanation of their decision. They pointed out that the jury and the Appeal Court had failed to acknowledge the force of the ‘opportunity witnesses’, who had testified that the abuse could not have taken place at the times and places alleged because, among other things, Pell would either have been elsewhere or surrounded by people. However convincing the testimony of the accuser, this other testimony introduced ‘reasonable doubt’, making conviction impossible.

There was, after all, no other evidence against Pell.


Tuesday, April 07, 2020

EF Triduum to be Live-streamed from Warrington

This is great news. Here is part of the Catholic Herald report which used the LMS press release on the subject.


Archbishop Malcolm McMahon asked the priests at St Mary’s Shrine to live-stream their Holy Week ceremonies in order to “enable viewers to draw close to the sacred liturgy at the most important time in the Church’s calendar”.

The archbishop’s request comes after the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales received several appeals to live-stream the Paschal Triduum in the Extraordinary Form. Fr Chris Thomas, General Secretary of the Bishop’s Conference, informed the Latin Mass Society of Archbishop McMahon’s request.

While the FSSP at Warrington have been live-streaming ceremonies for the past three years, this is the first time the bishops have specifically requested and endorsed their doing so.

As churches remain closed due to the coronavirus lockdown, St Mary’s Warrington is also one of the very few places in the country where five clerics are able to perform a Traditional Missa Cantata behind closed doors as they live as one household.

The Masses will be available to watch at


Read the whole report there.

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Faggioli and liturgical onanism

 Judah and Tamar. You can read abou them and Onan in Genesis 38
My latest on LifeSite. It may be worth noting that Prof Faggioli's tweet which I quote which seems to have beed deleted was only the saltiest of a number of tweets attacking the Bishops of Umbria; others can still be seen, here.


The well-known liberal Catholic theologian Massimo Faggioli declared his irritation with the Bishops of the Italian region of Umbria, who are encouraging their priests to continue to celebrate Mass even while the people are unable to attend.

In a now-deleted tweet, Faggioli, who is a professor of theology at Villanova University and one of Pope Francis’ staunchest defenders, suggested that Mass without the people was a form of “liturgical onanism”.

When I wrote to the UK-based liberal Catholic weekly The Tablet mentioning, among other things, the practice of Spiritual Communion for times when the reception of Holy Communion is impossible for some reason, this idea (which has since been promoted by Pope Francis and bishops all over the world) was similarly subjected to ridicule. In the next edition (21st March) they published a short letter from a certain Fr David Sillence:

Monday, April 06, 2020

Confession and the lockdown

A queue for confession in St Bede's, Clapham Park. 
My latest for LifeSiteNews.

During the coronavirus epidemic, many Catholics have been cut off from the Sacrament of Penance (Confession). Confession has been so neglected in recent decades that the amount of controversy this has created is a small sign of hope. 
Also pleasing is the spotlight it has shone on the concept of an ‘act of perfect contrition’.  ‘Perfect contrition’ is simply being sorry for our sins out of our love for God, and not merely for other reasons, such as disgust at sin or fear of its consequences. If a penitent has perfect contrition his sins are forgiven, though he retains an obligation to confess any mortal sins in the usual way. (There is more about this and related issues here.)
Much less reassuring, however, has been the reaction of some bishops, several of whom have placed severe restrictions on the hearing of confession, which seem to go beyond what is required by the civil authorities or prudence. Other bishops have taken a different view. 

Friday, April 03, 2020

Baptisms when public services can't take place


My latest on LifeSite

Much has been written about the lack of Holy Communion and the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) in the current public health situation, but I’d like to say something about the Sacrament of Baptism. This will only affect a small number of people, but it has a particular interest because in principle, as we are all taught in Catechism, anyone having the use of reason can baptise. You can’t baptise yourself, but if you’ve not been baptised you can get your atheist cell mate to baptise you before you are thrown to the lions or whatever, if he follows the correct procedure.
The response of many priests and others will be that ‘private baptism’, without the full ceremonies, whether carried out by a priest or a lay person (and obviously only a priest can do the full ceremonies, with the anointing, blessings and so on), is only to be contemplated where there is ‘danger of death’.
This is clearly not the full story, however, since Catholics have found themselves in situations of persecution where priests were simply not available, sometimes for decades, like Japanese Catholics in 17th century. Readers may remember the classic film The Magnificent Seven: one of the features of the Mexican village that the seven gunmen go to protect was that the priest only visited them once a year. This was indeed the situation for many remote Mexican communities in that era, and historical parallels are not lacking. In the Catholic Highlands and Islands of Scotland, for example, for much of its history priestly visits were not as frequent, or predictable, as that.
Continue reading over there.

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