29 April 2017


I once read through the 1930s Parish Magazines of S Thomas the Martyr, by the Railway Station, in Oxford. The writer was my predecessor as Parish Priest there, Dr Trevor Jalland, a distinguished Patristics scholar whose published Bampton Lectures gave a vivid account of some of the events surrounding the First Vatican Council. The following 'Vicar's Notes' attracted my attention; not least for the sense of a vibrant Catholic parish life during that decade when the Catholic movement in the Church of England was riding so very high. Jalland is writing about the observance of the Patronal Festival, of the Translation of S Thomas of Canterbury, on Saturday July 7.

"On that day there will be Masses at 6.30, 7.30, and a High Mass at 9. It is likely that the first evensong of the feast will be sung at 7.30 p.m., on Friday evening, at which there will be a Sermon by the Reverend Canon A.G.G. Ross, Vicar of St Mark, Swindon. It is hoped that there will be many who will take advantage of this opportunity of adding corporate worship to their personal preparation for the Feast. Confessions will be heard on several days before the Festival ... On the Sunday in the Octave the Sermon at Mass will be preached by the Rev. C. Gill, of St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, and after Evensong by the Rev.D Sargent, Vicar of St Cross, Holywell ..."

Mass, fasting, before breakfast; multiple morning Masses and a High Mass on a weekday morning; First Evensongs; high jinks continuing into the Sunday within the Octave; lots of confessions; and oodles of Visiting Preachers. This is the Anglo-Catholicism which Betjeman remembered and celebrated in his verses, when the Faith was taught and fanned to a holy blaze. I suspect that those inter-war years were the last sparkling times before the Luftwaffe destroyed so many of the old Anglo-Catholic slum churches and dispersed the remnants of their congregations into suburbs and high-rise flats.

A speculation of mine is that some of these Patronal celebrations may have owed a lot to what the Anglo-Catholic clergy saw on the Continent. I have in mind Canon Doble of the Diocese of Truro, who did so much research into the Cornish Saints by hunting down the cultus those same saints  enjoyed in Brittany (giving, as he did so, the French clergy the impression that the entire Church nof England was really totally Catholic!). Because it is my feeling that Patronal Festivals never were and never have been very prominent in the culture of Irish-English Roman Catholicism. And, in any case, we rather prided ourselves in not aping the English Catholic Church.

Is this a Catholicism which needed the 'liturgical reforms' which followed so soon after the War? Were the 'reforms' of Pius XII - abolition of Octaves and First Evensongs - abolition of Fasting Communion and non-communicating High Masses - really advances? Have they really bequeathed to us a more flourishing, cheerful, inculturated Catholicism?

Why did we lose our nerve? What contribution will the Ordinariate make to restoring that nerve?

28 April 2017

The Prisoner in the Tabernacle

In the OF, the priest genuflects to the Blessed Sacrament only on approaching the Altar at the beginning of Mass; and immediately after Mass as he returns to the Sacristy. To me, the symbolic body-language of the rite could be given this vernacular expression: "Good morning, Lord. Glad you're still here. Notice that I am giving you your due respect. But now - I'm sure you won't mind - I'm going to ignore you for a bit, and do some extremely important things with my back to you, centering myself upon pieces of furniture that bear no spatial relationship to the part of the church where we keep you. In fact, for a fair bit of time I shall actually be sitting with my back to you. But don't worry. Before I go back to the Sacristy I shall, very respectfully, notice you again."

I am unfamiliar with this ethos; I have never officiated regularly in a church where I had to have my back to the Tabernacle. Sometimes, as at S Thomas's and in my un-reordered very-moderate C of E churches in Devon, I have faced East. Sometimes, as at Lancing, I have regularly for decades celebrated versus populum but (Lancing Chapel is 'cathedral' in scale and in ordering) with the Tabernacle in a separate Blessed Sacrament Chapel. The usual modern set-up seems to me to teach - thoroughly effectively - the liturgical theology of the 1970s. For those of us who share Papa Ratzinger's critical evaluation of 1970s assumptions, this set-up cannot fail to be to some degree unhelpful. Of course one can worship in such a place ... indeed, one has little choice but to do so; but one is worshipping against the grain of the whole architectural arrangement - unhelped rather than helped by it.

This arrangement represents the apotheosis of that closed-circle liturgical culture, criticised by Benedict XVI, in which the Eucharist is as it were generated in the middle of a gathered community which ritually seems to exclude what is outside that circle. It is, in my fallible judgement, very much worse than versus- populum-without-the-Tabernacle because, in our modern arrangement, the Tabernacle of the Lord's sacramental presence is itself explicitly relegated by the geometry to outside the enclosed and exclusive ritual circle. I hesitate to appear to advocate the removal of the Tabernacle from the focal point of a church ... but, well, recall what happened at old-style Pontifical High Masses. Because the rigmarole of showing proper respect to a prelate was instinctively felt to be inconsistent with the sort of respect one should display to the Sacrament Reserved, the Tabernacle was left empty for the pontifical celebration. If the place of Reservation is at the focal point of the sanctuary, its treatment in the fashionable liturgy of the 1970s seems to me profoundly questionable.

There is a history of apprehension about too 'localised' an understanding of sacramental presence. I am not, of course, entering into that game. My point is that signs teach; the arrangement of churches is a complex of signs which are not meaningless - otherwise the liturgists of the 1970s would not have gone to the trouble to make all the changes they did make. And those changes increasingly seem to this one very fallible commentator to be difficult to reconcile with the decencies of orthodoxy.

The OF itself in no way exclusively mandates this culture; and still less did the Council. In my recollection, it is only a few years since an Irish bishop who was (still) trying to re-order his Cathedral (a famous landmark with a distinguished architectural history), claimed that he was obliged to do so by Vatican II. Happily, he was forced to take his arguments to a planning enquiry where his ... er ... inaccuracy ... was exposed. Places like Brompton demonstrate that it is not impossible to 'stage' decent OF worship, and to avoid vandalising a building which was lovingly - and expensively - constructed to enhance a particular liturgical culture. Places like Westminster Cathedral demonstrate ... under the influence of Cardinal Nichols ... how Decent things can be made if the arrangements of the 1970s are intelligently but radically reconsidered.

27 April 2017

NOTICE: No Comments on this Blog.

I am taking ... again ... about a fortnight off from the computer. Daily I will, Deo volente, put a post on the blog but I will not be reading my emails, and that includes looking at comments submitted to the blog. So you can read me but not address me!!

Readers may wonder why I do not simply allow comments to pop up without bothering to moderate them, as I did when I started my first blog, Liturgical Notes. The reason is that it was made clear to me (not by my Ordinary) that clerical bloggers are to a degree considered responsible for the comments which appear on their blogs.

I am a simple soul, an increasingly frail, absent-minded and wool-gathering retired priest concerned to serve the Lord and his Church, to defend and explain to the best of my ability the Magisterium and the Liturgy; and I have no desire to create or endure hassle.

I would, by the way, appreciate it if friends tried not to fill up my email in-box during this imminent  fortnight. It is a little overwhelming eventually to face several hundred emails all stacked up and waiting.

And I would recommend all readers to try the experience of not being open to the input which the Wonderful World daily offers us, whether by the Internet or the TV or the Wireless or the Daily Newspaper or the Telephone or even the Mails. Without all that, one experiences life just as it was experienced by the great majority of the members of the human race during the hundreds of generations preceding our own. The mind is so much more sensitive to actual real human interactions. And to the presence of the Lord in Holy Mass and Divine Office and Mental Prayer. And to the natural interstices of space and time. I do not even need to know about the Holy Father's Abdication the very moment it is announced! As it happens, I did not hear about Pope Benedict's Election until several days later. Before modern communications began, millions of Catholics probably had to wait for weeks before hearing that one pontiff had died and another had been elected. Did the delay matter?

Call it, if you like, the concept of a Secular Retreat.

(Although I am very attached to the Italian Lakes, there is no truth in the rumour that by Cardinal Nichols' kind invitation I shall be chairing this year's Spring Plenary of the CBCEW. Humility would incline me to decline such an invitation, anyway. I know the limitations to my man-management skills.)

26 April 2017

John Leland, and does the Devil break wind over Wales?

In the 1530s, as Henry Tudor attempted to gather evidence in his campaign for the annulment of his marriage - and later, his contest with the Pope - a tame intellectual called Leland was sent round the monastic libraries of England to pick up, in the years before the imminent dissolution, texts which might help the royal cause. He also did what he could to secure, for the royal collections, some of the choicest books harboured by the religious orders. He was not very successful in the former enterprise; when he got to the Oxford Greyfriars, where he confidently expected to secure a great haul of the works of Grosseteste, he found ... zilch ... I wonder why ... But in the latter business, he did rather better; there is in Bodley a preconquest book put together by S Dunstan, looted from Glastonbury, with a picture of a prostrate monk which might conceivably have been drawn by the Saint himself.

I hope you made your way through my recent post on the Middle Cornish plays written (probably) at Glasney College in Cornwall, and the iniquities of Bad King Tudor. Leland ... drole, yes? ... found it prudent to 'discover' in Cornwall evidence that Tudor was not so bad, after all; surprise surprise, he was a good religious king and a benefactor of the Church! 1984 and all that! Intellectuals, intellectuals!!

Incidentally, although nowadays racial ideologues within the soi-disant 'Celtic' nations (unaware still that research in DNA has disproved any possibility of a common genetic inheritance) are elaborately enthusiastic about a warm pan-Celtic solidarity, there is little evidence for this sensitive fellow-feeling in the Middle Cornish texts or in sixteenth century history. The sorceress Owbra, while collecting the magical substances whereby to get the amorous Tudor stuck in her bath (memories of Anne Bullen 'bewitching' Henry VIII?), includes in her pharmacology the 'noises' ('trosow': 'farts'?) which the Devil 'throws' over Wales.

And, after the Prayer Book Rising of 1549, while the regime's Welsh troops didn't quite manage the long journey to the battlefields until the Italian mercenaries had done most of the slaughtering, they certainly arrived in time to share effectively in the looting. A Exonian (and Protestant) chronicler recorded the contemporary witticism that the prices they charged for selling stuff back to the locals from whom they had stolen it were quite reasonable!

25 April 2017

Bad King Tudor ... or good?

While in Cornwall, Pam and I have been spending the evenings in our usual way when down that way: reading some texts in the Cornish language. The current Cornish Nationalist and Awareness Movements are predominantly secular; but, amusingly, they have to pay lip service to the relics of the old Cornish language and literature. Yet these are predominantly Christian and Catholic: religious plays written in the Middle Ages by (probably) the Canons of Glasney College to be put on in dramatic festivals (spread over two or more days, held in the round 'Playing Places' remains of which can be found in various parts of Cornwall); or else are Cornish sermons done for the Catholic education of the people in the reign of or soon after Good Queen Mary (largely translated from sermons of Bonner).

A recurrent motif of the plays is Bad King Tudor ('Teutharus' in the mss.; rendered nowadays as Tewdhar). In the quite recently discovered Life of S Kay, the Saint bamboozles the Bad King; Tudor, after sundry mistreatments of Kay, has promised that the saint can have as much land as he can impark while the king is in the bath. But the sorceress Owbra, who lures the king into the bath with expectations that he will be able to 'launcya' her (lots of loan words in Middle Cornish) therein, contrives by her potions that he will not be able to get out of it. "Wicked woman! For a thousand pounds I would not wish to see thee, by the Mass (ru'n oferen)! Through thee I am bewitched! Here I am stitched and stuck to the tub!"

Bad King Tudor appears in the literature of Cornwall much earlier, in the Latin Vita Sancti Petroci published by the Bollandist Fr Grosjean. The big question about the Glasney plays is exactly how they relate to the Cornish experience of the Tudor dynasty. Did they contribute to the Cornish backing of Pretenders in the time of Henry VII? Are they connected with the Cornish rebellion of 1497? With the religious discontent felt in Cornwall under Henry VIII and Edward VI?

More on Tudor tomorrow.

24 April 2017

Saint Augustine and Limbo

A Colloquium on Limbo? A visit to the restored Pugin Shrine of S Augustine of Canterbury? 30 June to 1 July? £150 but only £75 for Seminarians, because they are already in a type of Limbo.

Try googling the Dialogos Institute.

Go on, have a look 

Mr Corbyn and S George

Mr Corbyn, the "hard left" party leader in British politics, has never been primarily known for an interest in Liturgy or Hagiography. But he has just made the commitment that, should he become Prime Minister, the Festivals of the Patron Saints of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland will be made public holidays!

Some time ago, there was a proposal that there should be a Patron Saint of the United Kingdom. I found it strange that such an ephemeral institution as "the Yew Kay" should have a Patron.

All political arrangements are transient and include flawed elements. And the United Kingdom particularly so; it had its genesis in the unwholesome imperatives of the whig agenda after the Dutch Invasion; subsumed Ireland only in 1800; lost most of it little more than a century (of bungled rule) later; and retains only a questionable and debated hold over the part of Britain which Whiggery tried to rename North Britain. It seems to me that a much more useful sense of identity is urged by the suggestion in Fr Aidan Nichols' The Realm that Christians should think of having a bipolar existence. We belong to a cultural construct which is 'at once internationalist as the Church of all nations, and yet patriotic'. And surely our priority must be S Paul's striking metaphor that our politeuma is from above: our real passports are issued neither by England nor by the UK nor even by Europe, but in heaven. That is why S George - whose feast is transferred to today - is such an ideal Patron for England. He never came here; indeed, Provincia Brittannia had not even become Angleland when he bore witness. He reminds us that faith in Christ, even unto death, is what takes priority by several thousand miles over narrow loyalties. According to the lectio iv at Mattins, he was declared Protector of the Kingdom of England by that admirable Pontiff, Benedict XIV, at a time when, according to the constitutional understanding of the intruding Hannoverian Regime, there was no such thing as a kingdom either of England or of Scotland!

If the UK were to have own patron Saint, S Aidan has been urged on the grounds that he has Irish, Scottish, and English connections. Well, I've nothing at all against S Aidan. Far from it. But my alternative proposal (granted that the UK did need a patron) would be S Theodore: a Greek-speaking Syrian monk sent by a Pope of Rome to be Archbishop of Canterbury.

I feel myself a Christian before a citizen of the UK. Indeed, I feel myself a Latin Christian in my culture before I think of myself as English. I feel quite as much at home in still-quite-Catholic Western Ireland or worshipping at a Latin Mass in the Alpine foothills overlooking Lake Garda, as I do in England.

Er ... well ... perhaps a bit more so. Am I a disgrace? Or do all readers feel a similar superior loyalty?

23 April 2017

The child-like simplicity of some Natural Scientists (1)

I once read an article in New Scientist, exulting (as I must confess I also do) in then-recent Pluto fly-past, which enquired 'where we go to next'. The author replied to his own question by suggesting a visit to Alpha Centauri, our nearest neighbouring star, which is a mere four light-years away. Acknowledging that a space-craft constructed in accordance with our current technology would take a rather long time to get there, he nevertheless enthusiastically urged such a project on the grounds that it would be tremendously exciting for our descendants, in 100,000 years, to be getting the pictures (and other data) back.

I think this sort of sweet and child-like simplicity really marks out the instinctive differences between those like me, bred to cynicism and scepticism in the Humanities, and what I will call the naive journalism-end of Science writing. (I put it like this because, during my teaching career, I had colleagues, published scientists, who were men and women of very broad interests and formidable intelligence, whom I have no desire to patronise or insult.) For me, litteris humanioribus nutritus, nothing is more obvious than that the interests and assumptions and intellectual fashions of our species vary hugely from year to year, generation to generation, century to century, millennium to millennium. My own immensely shallow forays into intellectual history have included the 1930s, the 1840s, the 1630s, the 1490s, the Classical Roman World, the Classical Greek World ... in other words, brief, superficial  forays into brief periods spread over a little more than two thousand years. Many readers will recall that a very able mind, Mgr Ronald Knox, described with erudition and brilliance the mutating preoccupations in a fictional Oxford Senior Common Room by eaves-dropping its after-dinner conversations at fifty year intervals from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries (Let Dons Delight).

Of course, I may be wrong, and I grant you the liberty to be quite certain that I am. But I have to say that nothing strikes me as more totally, mind-blowingly, absurdly improbable than the idea that, in 100,000 years, our human descendants, assuming that we have any, will be possessed of interests even remotely similar to those of early twenty-first century astronomers. 

Anyone who can believe that (I feel inclined to say) will believe anything.

22 April 2017

"Archbishop Becciu"?

So an English gentleman, Fra Matthew Festing, has been ordered by some Italian archbishop called Becciu not to set foot in Rome. Such is the degree of petty tyranny to which Christ's Church Militant has now descended.

 Did I say 'archbishop'? This Becciu has never discharged a pastoral role as a real Bishop, let alone an 'arch'bishop. He is styled 'Archbishop' because of a nasty, corrupt practice set in place by S John XXIII, of spraying episcopacy over pen-pushing bureaucrats.

I complained about this twice in 2014. Interestingly, Cardinal Kasper made exactly the same point around the same time. In this matter, he is absolutely right. This is a massive abuse calling for reform, but still unreformed even in an allegedly reforming pontificate.

I wonder what conclusions we should draw from the spectacle of a Pope whose rhetoric is about Shepherds Smelling of Sheep, and about a Church Which gets Its Hands Dirty, but who actually functions oppressively through 'archbishops' who smell of nothing so much as the Computer.

Here is one of the pieces I originally wrote in 2014.

It is nice to know that Important People in Rome read my blog so carefully and take it so seriously. Cardinal Walter Kasper, I gather, agrees with me that: it is an abuse to thrust episcopacy upon curial bureaucrats as a sort of 'honour'. Kasper points out that even the great and admirable Cardinal Ottaviani, that hugely wonderful apotheosis of doctrinal rigour combined with Traditional peasant Catholicism [that bit's my description, not Kasper's], was not a bishop until S John XXIII, in accordance with his deplorable new policy, forced him to become one. Indeed, back even in the days of the derided 'Renaissance Prince' papacy, this was not thought necessary. (Blessed John Henry Newman was a cardinal but never a bishop.) Why can't the present Holy Father see the logic of my and Kasper's point? To thrust the charism of a Successor of the Apostles upon someone who is not going to be using that sacramental status in et cum Ecclesia, as the Shepherd of a Particular Church with its presbyterium, diakonia, and laos, but is merely going to have a 'titular' see in some long-forgotten place, is an abuse of the Sacraments. It is to use the Sacraments themselves merely to augment a bureaucrat's dignity and vanity ... as well as Signor Gammarelli's profits! Of course, there are bishops whose ministry of episkope is unusual but is pastorally episcopal (one thinks of Archbishop Pozzo, in the Ecclesia Dei  Commission), but I do not think that this is typical of curial roles.

Neither Walter Kasper nor I are attacking the present Pope individually in saying this. Pope Benedict XVI and S John Paul II used episcopal Consecration in precisely the way we are criticising. In my view, it would show Pope Francis in a very good light if he took the opportunity of his reform of the structures of the Curia to introduce this reform as part of the package. He's removed all the silly stuff about curial prebyters getting automatically to call themselves Monsignore ... good ... but the abuse of the Apostolic Ministry carries on, and is a far worse abuse. [Frankly, the speed with which Bergoglio made Tucho Fernandez an archbishop, in little more than hours after becoming pope, calls into question his credentials as a 'reformer'.]

Let curial Cardinal Presbyters be and remain Cardinal Presbyters! (And wear, daily, a galero, if they want to!) But what is worst is that secretaries of dicasteries are made archbishops. Is the Holy Father not aware that, in the local churches throughout the world, 'Archbishop' is a title of some distinction?

Sometimes it is suggested that such 'rank' is necessary so that the curial chappy concerned can 'outrank' Bishops from dioceses (rather as the Officer commanding a naval base used to be made the 'Harbour Admiral' so that he could outrank pushy visiting ships' Captains).

But does the Body of Christ need this infantile preoccupation with rank?

21 April 2017


This year, the Julian and Gregorian Easters coincide, a glorious pignus of Unity. So Easter Week is also Bright Week. And on Friday in Bright Week the Byzantines celebrate the role of the Mother of God in pouring Christ's healing streams of grace upon us. Originally Zoodochos Pege (the life-receiving fount) refered to one of Constantinople's greatest basilicas (next door to the imperial residence), Blachernae. Our Lady appeared there at the hagiasma (miraculous stream), standing with her hands raised in the orans posture. After an ikon was created to portray this and placed in the church, water began to flow from her hands. One is reminded of similar imagery and ideas at much later Western shrines such as Fatima and Lourdes, and of linked motifs of water and of grace flowing from her hands. The congruence here between East and West is quite uncanny, and it can only be a glorious intimation of the fact that both East and West drink from the same wholesome wells.

Zoodochos Pege is is also the dedication of that nice little Orthodox chapel up the stairs at the back of the Anglican Shrine Church of Our Lady of Walsingham. Suitably so, because a big part of the pilgrimages at Lourdes and Walsingham is the use of the water which our Lady showed to her servant. What a shame there is no Catholic Byzantine chapel at Walsingham! How lovely if the historically biritual Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer were able to start one!

It seems to me that the symbolism of Zoodochos Pege is an expression of what we Westerners have in mind when we call Mary Mediatrix omnium gratiarum, or refer to her Omnipotentia supplex. May she pray for the unity of all her Son's people.

20 April 2017

William Cardinal Allen ...

... is one of my favourite Cardinals. What a shame the Armada, perhaps the greatest Ecumenical venture ever planned, was unsuccessful! What a loss to the Ecclesia Cantuariensis!

In Westminster Cathedral, a large church in a Byzantine-derived style near Victoria Station, there are big brassy brass lists, dating from the pontificate of Cardinal Vaughan, erected to demonstrate the links of communio between successive Roman Pontiffs and the heads of the Catholic Church in England. (I have written about them before; my suspicion is that they are intended as an attempted counter-blast to Anglican claims of linear succession from S Augustine's quite successful little Church Plant from the Caelian Hill.)

What I want to know is: Why is Cardinal Allen not on that list?

Was he not appointed Head of the English Mission on September 18 1591 by Gregory XIV (an admirable pope who was a friend of S Philip Neri and of S Charles Borromeo, perpetuator of our own dear Cardinal Pole's Counter-Reformation).

What has the Ecclesia Westmonasteriensis got against William Allen? Or against Gregory XIV?

Was Vaughan in Lord Burley's pay?

A toast to the Glorious Memories of Popes Gregory XIV, Benedict XIV, and Clement XIV! And of William Cardinal Allen!!

19 April 2017

"In communion with the Pope"

Some bishop somewhere out there in foreigner-land has suspended a priest who criticised Pope Bergoglio in a sermon.

Personally, I think it is bad form to use a sermon to criticise directly any other Catholic cleric ... including the Pope. It is not what sermons are for.

But I take great exception to the wording which this bishop is reported to have used. And I mention it because it is a linguistic usage I have come across elsewhere during this increasingly illiberal pontificate.

Preaching should serve, said the bishop, "meditation of the readings of the day, and certainly not to give personal judgements, especially if they were not in communion with the Pope ... It is certain that priestly ministry in the Catholic Church presupposes communion with the Holy Father [sic all the syntax]".

Being in Communion with the Pope, or (since baptised non-Catholics may be said to be in partial communion) being in full Communion with the Pope is, surely, a juridical category whch implies that one has not been separated from the Communion of the Catholic Church by some formal judgement or by committing a canonical crime which, according to Canon Law, carries with it a sentence of excommunication latae sententiae.

Simply to criticise the Pope (however improperly or unwisely) surely does not incur such a sentence. Or, if it does, which Canon says so? And which Canon says that a cleric so acting incurs suspension either latae or ferendae sententiae?

If criticising the Pope automatically puts one out of communion with Christ's Body the Church, then there must be quite a lot of people who criticised Pope Benedict and who are still wandering around with an invisible but very real excommunication latae sententiae dangling round their necks and clashing at embarrassing moments with their pectoral crosses.