LIBERA ME, Domine, Iesu Christe, ab omnibus iniquitatis meis et universis malis,
fac me tuis semper inhærere mandatis et a te numquam separari permittas. Amen.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Don't look behind you, CES !

As an undergraduate, Ronnie Knox made a speech at the Oxford Union which had the distinction of being quoted in The Times’ leader. The remark which attracted attention was ‘The honourable gentlemen (the Government) have turned their backs upon their country and now have the effrontery to say they have the country behind them’.

It seems to me that the Catholic Education Service is in a fairly similar position, frankly. It has turned its back on the Catholic Faith, and yet tries to say that the Catholic Church is behind it.

Just the most recent of its idiocies is its appointment of Mr Greg Pope as Deputy Director; a decision which has attracted a great deal of justified criticism due to his truly appalling record whilst an MP of supporting anti-Life and pro-‘choice’ legislation, and proposals and motions which were fundamentally opposed to Catholic teaching. John Smeaton, Director of SPUC, gives full details of Mr Pope’s record in this post.

In a recent statement, Oona Stannard, the Director of CES, has suggested that this is a time for Catholics to ‘pull together’, and that ‘the undermining of Mr Pope saddens me’.

Well, I suppose I have to say that it saddens me too.

It saddens me that anyone calling himself a Catholic could publicly undermine his integrity in the way Mr Pope has done throughout his parliamentary career; and whilst we’re about it, it saddens me that he was appointed, and it saddens me even more that he has Ms Stannard’s support, and – apparently – that of the Bishops as well.

Ms Stannard says that she has ‘every confidence’ that Mr Pope will ‘uphold the Church’s teachings’. I wonder why ? I fully accept her assurance that he has said that he will do that; but I have to say that I find it hard to understand why anyone would accept such an undertaking from someone who has for so many years consistently failed to do exactly that.

The splendid Mac, over on Mulier Fortis, has made the valid point in her most recent post that ‘Yes, Catholics should pull together. But they should pull together in order to defend Catholic teaching in its entirety. The CES has failed to do that – it is the Catholic Education Service which is doing the undermining.’

I’m sorry : but the whole sequence of recent events show quite clearly, to my mind, that the CES has turned its back firmly upon the teachings of the Church from which it takes its name, and which finances it.

Let us at least ensure that it cannot now say that the Catholics of England & Wales are behind it : by making it clear to everyone that we’re in front of it, confronting it about its lack of support for the Faith, and the Faithful.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Where I'm coming from . . .

I’m slightly bewildered – and perhaps a little amused – by the fact that the most spectacular comments I have received to date have all been in respect of what was actually only intended to be a footnote !

Last Thursday, 22 April, I wrote a little post about serving Mass, and made the comment at the end that ‘for the ladies, I have written this for the gentlemen because that is the perceived norm, particularly in the UK; but if you attend Mass somewhere where women and girls serve, and feel inclined to do so, then the above applies to you as well !’

The subsequent comments have been interesting, and informed, and from resolutely opposite sides of the fence !

One result of the debate has been to make me feel it might be appropriate for me to clarify my own position on this sort of issue.

I am entirely conscious of the fact that the Church sometimes permits things which are (at least) offensive to a substantial percentage of her members; and I am not suggesting that the Church, or even the Holy Father, never makes a mistake.

My approach is this : however much I may personally dislike a particular position, providing that the Church permits it, then I must accept it. I may regret it, I may even – within proper bounds – campaign to have it changed; but I can’t say it’s wrong.

Further, and perhaps more importantly, not only is it a great exercise in humility and charity to accept things you don’t necessarily like – after all, someone presumably does, or it wouldn’t be like that in the first place – but it is also a fact that one can never sin by following the directions of one’s spiritual fathers in matters which are not already defined by the Faith.

So : whether or not I personally like, or agree with, female servers isn’t really the point; they are permitted, so I do nothing wrong by accepting that, whatever my personal views.

Some years ago, I got into a discussion (OK, an argument !) with a very earnest lady who was campaigning for some Church-aligned vegetarian organization; and who was arguing that it was morally wrong to eat meat, fish, or any living thing.

My reply was that as far as I could see she was perfectly entitled to dislike – even disapprove – of eating meat and fish; but that she could not be a genuine Christian and say that it was morally wrong; indeed, to do so was heresy.

For some reason this answer appeared to enrage her to a point where I thought that she might even physically attackme; and she also seemed unable to see my point – which was simply that, as we know that Our Blessed Lord ate meat and fish, it cannot be morally wrong (ie sinful) to do so, as to suggest that is to suggest that He committed sin – which is heretical.

Now; this isn’t actually off topic – because my point is that whatever my personal views are on the subject of female servers, or modern vestments, or the Ordinary Form, they are only my opinion.

Providing I accept that, it seems to me that I retain the right to try and persuade people that they are the right views; but the moment I try to suggest that any position which the Church has accepted is wrong – that is, by implication, morally wrong – then it seems to me that I lose that right, not least because I am probably sinning in all sorts of ways : pride and uncharity not least amongst them.

There are many times when I’m quite outspoken; you may, for example, recently have seen comments I have made on other blogs about the recent appointment of Mr Pope as Deputy Director of the CES : but it seems to me that I have every right to suggest that someone with such a publicly equivocal record on such fundamental Catholic principles as abortion has absolutely no right to put himself forward as a spokesman for the Church; and that if he does the Bishops should instantly – and if necessarily very publicly – dissociate themselves from him.

I hope, on the other hand, that you’ve never seen me, either in a post here or in a comment elsewhere, do more than express an opinion on any matter which is permitted by the Church : simply because I don’t think I have any right to do so. That does not mean, I repeat, that I’m not entitled to comment – even forcefully – and to try and persuade; all I mustn’t do is to suggest that those who disagree with me are actually wrong . . . not least because the humility to accept their opinions as valid, and the charity to endure them, are both virtues of which I am deeply in need !

fr Vincent McNabb OP, the famous English Dominican preacher, always used to end his public addresses for the Catholic Evidence Guild at Hyde Park Corner and Parliament Fields by saying ‘God Bless you all : I humbly beg your pardon’.

I know that I, for one, could benefit greatly from getting that attitude firmly fixed in my soul.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

I’m not going to . . .

. . . go on about all the things in the press, and on all the other UK Catholic blogs just at present – the unCatholic Pope, the juvenile delinquent at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the apparent reluctant to let Catholic Voices say anything remotely Catholic – precisely because so many other people already have; and in most cases have done it far better than I could.

So, I just want to offer a very small thought, which was put into my mind by Fr Ray’s post last Friday ‘The Amorality of the Church’ : when he mentions that ‘no-one bothers with confessing anymore’.

I obviously don’t know; but I have to say that my own impression is that frequent confession seems to be fairly uncommon nowadays, so that Fr Ray’s comment – however depressing it may appear – may well have some substance in it. The Oratory, for instance, has at least one priest hearing confessions for a total of something like six hours on a Saturday; and yet in my experience although there is a fairly steady stream of penitents, it very rarely gets to be more than one priest can handle . . .

What’s that : perhaps 12-15 an hour ? Less than 100 in the whole day ? Even taking into account those who go directly to the House to ask for a particular priest; and those who make their confession on Sunday between Masses, I think it unlikely that the total number of confessions heard over the weekend exceeds 200 – which isn’t all that many when you look at the number of communicants.

It’s not, of course, my place to tell anyone how often they ought to go to confession : but I know how often I sin, and how much help confession is to me, and I find it hard to believe that most of us wouldn’t benefit from going to confession more often than we do.

Perhaps, as we turn our minds to the penance which our Bishops have suggested for the Fridays of May in reparation for the sins of sexual abuse which have been perpetrated in the Church, we might also turn out minds to putting right some of our own sins as well.

May is Mary’s Month; and I am certain that nothing would give our Blessed Mother more joy than to see each and every one of us make our confession at least once during her Month.

Will you do that for her . . ?

Whoops !

My apologies : for those I saw yesterday in Oxford, the appearance of a post this morning saying that I was in India must have come as something of a surprise !

I had been trying to be efficient - which is usually a mistake, for me at least. I was intended to be in India today, and - knowing how unreliable Internet access can be there - had scheduled a post for this morning a few days ago : and then my trip got postponed due to the air travel disruption, but I forgot to 'pull' the post.

So . . . sorry to anyone who was bewildered, and I shall write something from Delhi in due course - when I'm actually there !

Saturday, 24 April 2010

I Don’t Understand . . .

‘. . . it may not be out of place to suggest that the priest’s devotion to the Mass should not be confined to the Mass which he personally celebrates. In our sermons we frequently stress the value of the people’s presence at the Holy Sacrifice. We remind them of their active share in the offering. We tell them that they should consider no act of self-denial too great which enables them to begin the day with morning Mass. What is true for the laity is true for the clergy. If the people are told of the value of the Mass at which they assist, we ourselves should be convinced of the value of assisting at the Masses celebrated by our fellow-priests.

Because we are priests it is easy for us to forget that for us no less than for our people attendance at Mass is a great opportunity of receiving grace. Yet often the priest will make his thanksgiving in the sacristy while Holy Mass is being celebrated in the Church . . . It seems strange that a priest will leave the church on completion of his thanksgiving, irrespective of the fact that before him another priest is offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. . . .

In many town parishes there is a mass at nine or ten o’clock in the morning for the benefit of those who through age or domestic duties are unable to attend an early Mass. We might ask how often we avail ourselves of the opportunity of being present at this Mass when it is not our turn to celebrate it ? . . . If our devotion to the Mass as such is deep, our appreciation of our own Mass will in turn grow deeper. At least we should be consistent. The ideal of frequent attendance at Mass which we put before our people we should first of all have practised ourselves.’

That passage is taken from ‘The People’s Priest’ by (at that time) Fr John Heenan – although by the time it actually appeared he was Bishop Heenan of Leeds : and I put it before my clerical readers as a spur to thought.

I have seen a priest serve another priest’s Mass : and this not out of necessity, but simply out of devotion – and I am sure that it was a telling example to all the faithful who were present : because there is little more telling than someone who practices what he preaches.
(The photo, by the way, is of a Mass at the Shrine of S. John Marie Vianney, the S. Curé d’Ars, who is, of course, the Patron of this ‘Year of the Priest’.)

Friday, 23 April 2010

Pray for us, S. George our Patron

Praise we now S. George our Patron,
Athlete in the heav’nly race;
Victor in the royal contest,
He beholds his Master’s face,
Palm and laurel crown receiving
In his own appointed place.

Long the conflict, fierce the torment,
For his Lord he gained renown,
Till the tyrant’s last devices
Mightier grace were forced to own,
Till at last the ancient dragon
See his power overthrown.

Trophy-bearer, now he beareth
Trophies to his Captain’s feet;
Soldier-martyr, now he leadeth
Heav’nly legions, as is meet,
And for us, still fighting, pleadeth
At Christ’s holy mercy-seat.

Pray for us, Saint George our Patron,
For thine England intercede,
Till from error purged, forgiven,
One in truth we chant our creed,
Till the Sacrifice she offers,
Catholic in word and deed.

Now to God the Father, glory;
Glolry be to God the Son,
Whom, triumphant in the contest,
In His Saint hath vict’ry won;
To the Holy Spirit glory,
While eternal ages run. Amen

Today is S. George’s Day; and a day not only for the English, but also for people of many other countries around the world to celebrate their Heavenly Patron : and I wish you all a very happy and blessed S. George’s Day.

In your prayers today, please remember England, and pray for the Conversion of England; but remember also all the other countries to look to St George as their Patron, and also all those who are locked in battle with demons within themselves . . . those who suffer from mental illnesses and disorders, addictions, disabling fears, and any other ‘personal demons’.

Pray, please, that S. George may be close to them, and give them some of his strength, his courage, and his determination, that they may overcome as he did, and be welcomed, in due course, with him into heaven.

(There is, incidentally, a very good post on S. George today on Godzdogz, written by fr Mark Davoren OP, which I would encourage you to go and read.)

Thursday, 22 April 2010

I Don’t Understand . . .

Why all Catholic men don’t see serving Mass as the great privilege that it is, and learn to do it; and I also don’t see why all Catholic priests don’t actively encourage this . . .

It’s surprising how often, even somewhere like the Oratory, you find a Mass with no server : and I do sometimes wonder whether some priests don’t simply find it easier than having to create serving rotas, train servers, and all the other things which go with having servers for every Mass.

On the other hand, I suspect that most if not all of the practical problems could perfectly well be left in the hands of the laity – they certainly are in many if not most Anglican churches, without any apparent ill-effects.

The Mass ought to have servers; if only for the dignity of the greatest event known to man. I was involved in a discussion recently on another blog with someone who apparently despised Low Mass, and obviously was only really interested in High Mass; and whilst I disagree personally with that viewpoint, simply because I prefer the quiet and privacy of Low Mass, there is no doubt that High Mass is the ‘normative’ form of the Mass, and that ‘Low Mass’ is, in effect, a concession to make it possible for all priests to say Mass every day.

That said, though, I can see no reason why Mass should ever be said without a server unless there is simply no possibility of finding one : and it is hard to see why that should be the case in any normal circumstance – even during the working day it should always be possible – you have retired people, people who work shifts, students, all sorts of possible sources of servers.

Gentlemen : if you can’t serve, then why not learn, and make yourselves available ? And Fathers – why not make a conscious policy decision to try and eliminate server-less Masses from your Churches ?

(And, for the ladies, I have written this for the gentlemen because that is the perceived norm, particularly in the UK; but if you attend Mass somewhere where women and girls serve, and feel inclined to do so, then the above applies to you as well !)

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Society of S. Tarcisius

The ex officio blog of Dr Joseph Shaw, Chairman of the Latin Mass Society, reminds any who might be interested that a ‘Master Class’ in serving Missa Cantata and High Mass is to be held at Blackfriard, Oxford, on Saturday 15 May – full details are available here.

It also gives details of a new Sodality, the Society of S. Tarcisius, which the LMS is founding for servers of the Extraordinary Form; membership of which is available to anyone who can competently serve Low Mass in the EF.

Do let me encourage all those who are interested to support both of these ventures.

A Suggestion . . .

As an act of Christian Charity, may I suggest that you might, at least occasionally, care to offer a prayer for two groups of people who obviously need prayers, but whom – I believe – are often forgotten : those who have no one to pray for them, and those who will not pray.

To pray for the first group is like giving water to a thirsty man in the desert; precious, and so much appreciated. To pray for the second may not only not be immediately appreciated, it might even – if they knew – bring down recrimination upon your head.

However, the day will come when they will thank you; and by then you may be very glad of their remembrance – so why not ‘cast your bread upon the waters’, and give them that assistance that they do not even realize they need.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Yes, you CAN kneel if you want to !

In relation to the previous post, Mickey commented that s/he was ‘waiting for the day when I'll be permitted to kneel to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion’.

I don’t know where Mickey comes from – although I suspect it’s the US – but the answer is the same anyway – you are permitted to kneel to receive Our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion, and no-one can stop you : and it’s worth remembering that the Holy Father now insists that whenever he distributes Holy Communion, those who receive from him do so kneeling and on the tongue.

The introduction of standing Communion was very largely a product of Vatican II and the Novus Ordo; and it particularly got hold of North America, where the US Conference of Bishops sought permission to adapt the requirements of the GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) to read :

‘The norm for reception of Holy Communion in the dioceses of the United States is standing. Communicants should not be denied Holy Communion because they kneel. Rather, such instances should be addressed pastorally, by providing the faithful with proper catechesis on the reasons for this norm. When receiving Holy Communion, the communicant bows his or her head before the Sacrament as a gesture of reverence and receives the body of the Lord from the minister.’ (GIRM 160 ~ USCCB Version).

(In other words, you should kneel, and if you don’t, you shouldn’t be refused Holy Communion, but you should be catechised to explain why you ought to stand – in other words, why you should ignore your conscience, and behave in a way you deem disrespectful to Our Lord.)

However; it will be noted that the Holy See did insist that those who kneel may not be denied Holy Communion : and following a number of complaints, in the November/December 2002 issue of Notitiæ, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments stated unequivocally that it would consider ‘any refusal of Holy Communion to a member of the faithful on the basis of his or her kneeling posture to be a grave violation of one of the most basic rights of the Christian faithful, namely that of being assisted by their pastors by means of the Sacraments.’

The Congregation also made it absolutely clear that no Catholic who seeks Holy Communion at Mass in this was should be refused it ‘except in cases presenting a danger of grave scandal to other believers arising out of the person’s unrepented public sin or obstinate heresy or schism, publicly professed or declared’ – which I’m sure no-one would find in any way unacceptable or inappropriate.

The Notice concluded by quoting an earlier letter* of Jorge Cardinal Medina Estévez that ‘priests should understand that the congregation will regard future complaints [of refusal to give Holy Communion to those who kneel] with great seriousness, and if they are verified, it intends to seek disciplinary action consonant with the gravity of the pastoral abuse.’

So, Mickey, you can kneel to receive Our Blessed Lord whenever you want to – so ‘go to it’ – and if anyone challenges your right to do this, you may like to direct them here, where the texts of various letters (suitably anonymized) from the Congregation can be found.

(And, just in case you’re in any doubt, you also have the absolute right to receive Holy Communion on the tongue if you wish to do so – again, it’s entirely your choice.)

* July 1, 2002 [Prot. n. 1322/02/L]

I Don’t Understand . . .

. . . why so many Catholics apparently suffer from serious injuries to their knees.

I say this because I don’t wish to be uncharitable, and I therefore assume that anyone who doesn’t genuflect properly does so for some legitimate and unavoidable reason – which I would assume must largely be the result of physical restriction; and indeed I have a number of friends to whom I know that applies – knee replacements awaited, things like that.

Being honest, though, I also know that those people go to great lengths to make a much of a reverence as they’re physically capable of, and I am perfectly certain that God is more than satisfied by that.

What I’m commenting on is the quite large number of people, with no apparent physical inability, who seem to feel that a modest ‘bob’ of one knee or other is sufficient reverence to make to the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle – even, sometimes, to the Blessed Sacrament solemnly exposed.

For me, the Most Holy Sacrament – Jesus Christ, truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – is the ultimate treasure of the Catholic Faith, and I find it extremely hard to understand why anyone who actually believes in the doctrine of the Real Presence would seek in any way to moderate the prescribed gesture of reverence to Our Blessed Lord . . . and yet one sees it all the time.

I hesitate to ascribe this to ‘Vatican II’; but I do wonder whether the liturgical changes have been at least partly responsible for a regression in faith in the Real Presence, which in turn has meant that people see a genuflection less as an act of devotion, and more as just another symbol – more about ‘being Catholic’, in other words, and less about Our Lord.

Thomas Arnold, the Headmaster of Rugby School famous from ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’, wrote :

‘It is idolatry to talk about Holy Church and Holy Father, to bow to fallible sinful man, if you do not bend knee and lip and heart to every thought and image of God manifest as Man.’

. . . and it seems to me that there’s something in that. I’m sure, myself, that the Holy Father would be horrified to think that there were Catholics out there who made much of him, but would not even make the effort to make a proper genuflection to Our Blessed Lord on the altar . . . and a bow whenever they heard Our Lord’s name, or passed a crucifix.

Can't all of us Catholics make a point of giving the sincerest, most careful, reverences to Our Blessed Lord . . . both out of love for Him and His Church, and in reparation for the insults (often unwittingly) heaped on Him by all those who don’t love and care for Him ?

I think we can, if we want to – don’t you ?

Monday, 19 April 2010

Pray for Priests

There is a Quarant ’Ore (Forty Hours Prayer) currently in progress at the Carmelite Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel & S. Simon Stock in Kensington (about half-way up Kensington Church Street, on the left-hand side, if you don’t know it) so that the Catholics of central London can pray for priests – and, of course, our Holy Father – during this ‘Year for Priests’.

It started last evening, and will end tomorrow at 12:15 – in the meantime, prayer will be continuing throughout tonight.

May I encourage anyone who can go, even if only for a short visit, to go and pray for the Holy Father, and for all our priests : and if you can’t go for some reason – and obviously, if you’re in (say) the US, then you have a perfect excuse just at present, with UK airspace closed by volcanic dust ! – then may I encourage you to join with those who will be there by saying a prayer in union with the Quarant ’Ore sometime between now and tomorrow lunchtime ? (A Paternoster and the Corpus Christi collect would be wonderful; anything more a great bonus !)

Equally, if you are a priest reading this, do be sure that you will be in my prayers tonight.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Was this wise ?

Well, only time will tell : but I've yielded to the blandishments of various friends, and created a Facebook account . . .

So : if you are interested, and have succumbed to the craze yourself, you can find me there as 'Dominic Mary', with the usual picture, and I shall, of course, be very happy to hear from you - though I don't promise to be able to spend as much time on it as some people apparently manage to !

In My Prayers

Yesterday - 16 April - was the Feast of Dedication of the London Oratory; and as is their custom, there was Solemn Benediction yesterday evening.

This brief post is simply to tell you that, along - of course - with our Holy Father, all my Followers and Readers were in my prayers during Benediction; and I pray that you may all be very much blessed in your lives, your search for God's truth, and your support for His Holy Church.
(I fear that the photo isn't from yesterday; it is, I think, from the Rosary Crusade of Reparation a year or two ago, but it is at least Solemn Benediction at the Oratory - and, FWIW, the altar looked exactly the same !)

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Taking your Temperature

In the first reading for the Office of Readings today, there is one of my favourite passages from the Apocalypse (Ch.3 : vv.15 – 16) – which I cannot resist quoting in the King James version :

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Yet again, then, the command is to make your mind up : to make a commitment . . . to be something definite, not something lukewarm.

I’ve recently been reading an interesting book entitled ‘Lukewarmness’, which makes its fundamental point in its subtitle : ‘The Devil in Disguise’ – a book which I would recommend for occasional reading * (it’s broken into quite convenient, shortish, chapters any one of which will do well as the basis of a meditation). One of the comments I liked – something to remember – was that ‘Lukewarmness derives from a prolonged carelessness towards the interior life. The condition of lukewarmness is always preceded by a series of small infidelities.’

Going back to the Office of Readings, though, the second reading was from a sermon on the Most Holy Eucharist by S. Gaudentius of Brescia; and although the connection between the two readings wasn’t, at first, obvious, as I thought about them, I began to see a link.

S. Gaudentius says :
‘. . . the Wine of His Blood is made from many grapes, the fruit of the vineyard He has planted Himself, which are gathered and pressed in the wine-press of the Cross; by its own energy this wine ferments in those who, with faithful hearts, receive Him like capacious jars.’

So, if we are to gain from Christ’s love, if we are to share in the joy of His resurrection, there mustn’t be lukewarmness : we must be committed - ‘on fire’ for love of Him.

If you think about it, being a Catholic is really about making a commitment. It may be possible to be some other sort of Christian and essentially just have a belief in ‘being good’, and enjoy a service on Sundays full of pleasing hymns and benevolent prayers : but for a Catholic, it’s all about commitment – the commitment that led our Blessed Lord to Calvary, and to the cross from which His Blood pours down onto our altars, to wash us clean of sin so that we may, through His love, find out way to heaven despite our failings. The commitment that makes us face up to admitting our sins; accepting the modest humiliation of the confessional as a way of making up for all the dire things we do; the commitment to trying to be saints . . .

I’ve mentioned the nuns of Summit, NJ before. Have a look here at their Easter celebrations – keep scrolling down, and you’ll find lots of photos – and I think you’ll agree with me that there’s no lukewarmness there : these are women in love with God, and happy to share that love with everyone.

Are we as committed as they are ? I know that they won’t find themselves condemned of lukewarmness : shall we ?

I know we all see Easter as a relief from the demands of Lent : but why don’t we all try, especially at this time when the Church is taking so much flak from all sides, to be just a little bit more committed this Eastertide . . . give just a little bit extra . . . and one way might just be to contribute to the Spiritual Bouquet which the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, are preparing for the Holy Father. Fr Tim did a very good post on it the other day, which you can read here.

Let’s all warm up a bit, shall we . . ?

* ‘Lukewarmness : The Devil in Disguise’ by Francis Carvajal, published 1992 by Scepter Publishers in the US, and by Sinag-Tala in the Philipines.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Liberal ? Really ?

Fr Ray has an interesting post today about the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto commitment to ensuring ‘that all faith schools develop an inclusive admissions policy and end unfair discrimination on grounds of faith . . .’ : and his essential point is that it is a strange sort of ‘liberalism’ which denies people the right to teach their children their own religion.

I quite agree with him : but I’m also bewildered because the Lib Dems were enthusiastic supporters of the Human Rights Act 1998 . . . a fact which they seem to have forgotten; or has the fact that it has been law for over a decade allowed them to get so accustomed to it that they have forgotten what it says ?

Just to remind them, Article 2 of The First Protocol to the European Convention of Human Rights, which the Act enshrines in UK Law, says that :

No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.
(Emphasis added)

Now . . . precisely how do you equate that with what they plan to do ?

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Thumbs Up !

After Sunday Mass I sometimes stop off in Chiswick for breakfast : which was what I did last Sunday.

The café I frequent is more or less opposite the rather delightful parish church of Our Lady of Grace & S. Edward – I rather like it, because it’s a sort of red-brick pastiche of an Italian church, and it seems to be busy, with large congregations spilling out all over the pavement after Mass, being greeted by the Celebrant.

On Sunday I did a double-take : to be quite honest I thought for a moment I was losing the plot . . . yes, OK, there was the celebrant – but a zuchetto ? Still more, a scarlet, moiré, zuchetto ? Yet no trace of Pontificals, or retinue ?

And then the Celebrant turned half-way towards me, and I realized that I wasn’t seeing things . . .

So now you know what retired Cardinals do with their Sunday mornings . . . they go and help out hard-worked Parish Priests, and then enjoy chatting with the Faithful afterwards, the way they used to years ago when they just wore plain black cassocks the same as all the other priests.

Full Marks, your Eminence; and I hope you enjoyed yourself . . . I know it made my heart lighter seeing a Prince of Holy Mother Church doing his old job. God Bless you, ad multos annos.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Causing Scandal . . ?

In the old days theological propositions used to be assigned a ‘note’ : put into a category, if you like, which defined the value of the proposition – and there was quite a range of ‘notes’ for unsatisfactory propositions, ranging – as I recall – from ‘heretical’ to ‘offensive to pious ears’.

I’m not suggesting that there is much heresy in the Catholic blogosphere; nor even much which is inherently seriously wrong : but I fear that there is quite a lot which, even if the phrase ‘offensive to pious ears’ is no longer appropriate, might be described as ‘bewildering to uninformed ones’ !

Now : I’m sure we’re all familiar with blogs and websites which make statements about various aspects of Catholic teaching and doctrine, suggesting that various developments (or proposed developments) within the Church are anything from ‘regrettable’ to ‘damnable’.

It seems to me that there is nothing whatever wrong with putting forward such positions in the context of a Catholic discussion – a Parish study group, say, or a Seminary class, or even a chat over supper with like-minded friends. You can say your piece, and then, in the best scholastic tradition, defend it against the questions and contrary opinions of those around you; and you may persuade them, or they may persuade you, or neither : but in any event the discussion – the ‘formal disagreement’, if you like – remains within the household of faith; and no scandal is thereby caused to anyone.

However, when you put your position up on a blog, it seems to me to be a different matter, because you have no control over who reads it, nor whether the readers then read subsequent comments : in other words, it is no longer a debate, which may in its totality inform people – it is merely a single-sided assertion which may, from that very fact, serve to confuse, mislead, or even damage someone’s faith : few of us are, after all, so highly educated in every aspect of the Faith that we are impregnable.

The problem is perhaps particularly true in the field of liturgy, which is a field in which a lot of contentious remarks tend to be made. Such comments may be, and indeed often are, fully justified by a detailed knowledge of the facts; but to those without an extensive knowledge – which is the majority of Catholics, of course – such remarks can appear merely arrogant and aggressive : hardly the way to win friends and supporters; and we mustn’t forget that all this is even more true of those outside the Church, who usually have little or no idea of what is being discussed, only of the terms in which the discussion is being carried on.

More significantly, though, we have to recognize that we live in an environment where many people are attacking the Church; and I worry lest what are in reality no more than fairly good-tempered discussions on (usually comparatively trivial) points allow opportunities for the devil to sow seeds of doubt and dissension – if not within the faithful, at least amongst onlookers whose sympathy we do well to preserve.

Accordingly, I feel that it behoves all of us to ensure that, inasmuch as we hold ourselves out to be Catholic bloggers, what we say is either the clear and unambiguous teaching of the Church (as far as possible with the relevant authority quoted) or, where it is our own opinion, clearly identified as such – and that in any event, we seek to debate in charity and forbearance : and I make no bones about needing to remember this last caveat myself !

I’m not saying that this will avoid any possibility of ‘causing scandal’, but it seems to me that taking such simple precautions must be in the best interests of Holy Mother Church – which is, I take it, something which we all want.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Thank You for Having Me

(Picture courtesy of the website of Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen)

As a child I was always made to write thank-you letters; and whilst I was invariaby horribly reluctant to do so then, I have very great pleasure in doing so now.

I had a splendid day at Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen : a wonderful Missa Cantata in the Extraordinary Form, followed by Brunch, then Vespers (also EF) and Benediction.

The weather was wonderful; the traffic – remarkably – moderate; and the welcome warm and heartfelt . . . . . . not to mention the presence of the remarkable ‘home team’ of Blackfen Bloggers : His Hermeneuticalness, Mac of Mulier Fortis, and the only latinised Hobbit – Patricius of Singulare Ingenium !

There were more people than you’d expect in any parish church for a Saturday morning Mass; especially given the competing attractions of the weather, the holiday period, the Grand National, and the FA Cup semi-final . . . and I was very impressed by the number of young people there, and even more impressed by the number of them who went to confession.

So yes, it was a very good way to celebrate the 2,000,000th visitor to Fr Tim’s blog.

Thank You, Fr Tim, and everyone at Blackfen, on behalf of myself and all your visitors : Ad multos digitos !

I completely forgot - Mea culpa ! - to acknowledge the exceptionally high standard of serving at both Mass and Vespers; and in particular to mention that the MC and Thurifer at Mass were not only first class but, as far as I could tell, the two youngest members of the serving team. Congratulations to one and all.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Just to Remind You

. . . that Fr Tim, of The Hermeneutic of Continuity, received his Two Millionth Visitor on the Solemnity of S. Joseph at 14:40 (and as I write this, he has already had another 58,665 since then in what I calculate to be 486.5 hours - so just over two a minute if it was in a steady stream !)

However, as that was immediately before Passiontide, he decided to defer any celebration . . . until THIS SATURDAY.

Missa Cantata in the Extraordinary Form will be offered at 10:30, there will be Vespers & Benediction (he doesn't mention which form) at 14:30, and between those times the Bar will be open in the Parish Club, and 'Brunch' will be available.

In my (admittedly limited) experience the people of Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen make visitors very welcome; and if you are free and fancy the trip I am quite certain that Fr Tim will be more than happy to welcome you to celebrate what is a truly magnificent milestone for one of the very finest Catholic Blogs.

If you don't know where the Church is, directions are available here.

The Common Good

The Westminster Confession, which I mentioned yesterday morning, states explicitly that we commit ourselves to ‘be subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require us to act unjustly’ – in other words, we shall be law-abiding citizens unless the laws in question are unjust.

That, of course, raises the question of what is ‘just’ or ‘unjust’.

Well, Aquinas says that law is ‘an ordinance of reason for the common good’; and he continues by stating in quite clear terms that if something is not reasonable, or is not for the ‘common good’, then it is not law.

Now; if something is law – ie meets Aquinas’ definition – then it is ‘just’; which implies that if it does not, then it is ‘unjust’. Equally, therefore, it must follow that something which is manifestly unjust is either unreasonable or not for the common good, and so is not ‘law’ – at least in the sense that we are bout to obey it.

Before you get worried; this is not a plea for a campaign of civil disobedience !

You may be aware that the Bishops of England & Wales published, a little while ago, a document entitled ‘Choosing the Common Good’, which specifically anticipated the General Election, and which set out in some detail a Catholic understanding of ‘the common good’; and what I am suggesting is that as we move towards the Election, we should be seeking to make it clear to all the parties that :

1. Catholics cannot and will not support parties which propose legislation which is not manifestly directed towards the common good; and

2. Catholics will vote accordingly.

If all the Catholics in England & Wales made that clear, and adhered to it, it might make the parties think a bit . . . we make a very large pressure group !

However; it seems to me that there is something else which may be worth pondering.

If you look back over the last thirty-one years (in other words, to the 1979 General Election), you will recognize that one of the features of British Government throughout that period has been that the Government has always had a substantial majority, which has allowed it to pursue its legislative programme with little fear of an upset.

As a result, whilst at least in the first part of the first term of each of the two Governments there has been a certain amount of necessary legislation, as time has run on the governmental intervention has increased, to less and less public benefit – and usually to greater public cost.

If, on the other hand, Governments were not in such a strong position – in other words, if they were more vulnerable – then they might be more sensitive to the wishes of the electorate; which might in turn mean that some of the nonsense of recent years (and particularly months) might be avoided . . . things like the Equality Act, and the Sex Education provisions (admittedly now mercifully lost in the end of this parliament).

The pundits say that we may, for the first time in many years, be facing a hung parliament. If that is true, then whatever Government is formed will be dependent upon popular support to get legislation through . . .

It may well be, therefore, that a hung parliament would be the best possible solution, in that it would offer an opportunity to break the mould of parties offering a choice between their visions of what policies Britain needs, and forcing them to listen to what the public actually wants.

Now wouldn’t that be a nice change ?

And for your next question . . .

What is this called, and what - exactly - is it for ?
It obviously wasn't difficult enough, as I have already had the right answer - hearty congratulations to Pons Sixtus - but so as not to spoil it so soon for everyone else I propose to leave displaying his answer for just a little bit longer !

It's hard to bear . . .

. . . being the smallest member of the Community, and getting send to light the Paschal Candle !

For those who don't know, this is fr Ursus, the youngest - and by quite a sizeable margin the shortest - member of the community at Blackfriars, Oxford; shown in one of fr Lawrence Lew OP's splendid photos of life at Blackfriars, more of which can be found on his flickr pages.

(If you don't know fr Lawrence's flickr pages, by the way, do let me commend them mightily : most days he posts one or two of his own wonderful photos, often of things relevant to the occasion, and usually very beautiful.)

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

And the Answer is . . .

That it's probably the only liturgical implement for which (as far as I can find) there is no proper name !

In fact it is the implement in which - as I think Sirian perhaps guessed, but didn't explicitly say - flax is burnt before the Holy Father en route to his Coronation (in the days when Holy Fathers were crowned, that is !).

For those who are not familiar with this little ceremony, you can see it - and see the implement in use - during the Coronation ceremonies of B. John XXIII on YouTube here. (The best view is from 4'57" to 5'28", when you actually see the ceremony itself.)

Three times during the procession the Holy Father, seated in the Sedia Gestatoria, stops for a moment whilst a fragment of flax is burnt before him, to the accompaniment of the words 'Pater Sancte, sic transit gloria mundi' - to remind him that all the glory with which he is surrounded is as fugitive and transient as the piece of flax, which flares up, and then instantly disappears.

(Incidentally, I think the prize for ingenuity has to go to Fr Tim . . !)

Stand Up and Be Counted (ii) !

And now Fr Tim - His Hermeneuticalness - draws our attention to The Westminster Declaration, a UK initiative modelled on The Manhattan Declaration of which you may have heard.

The text of the Westminster Declaration reads :

We the undersigned are Christians who believe that protecting human life, protecting marriage, and protecting freedom of conscience, are foundational for creating and maintaining strong families, caring communities, and a just society.

In signing the Westminster 2010 Declaration of Christian Conscience we commit ourselves to worship, honour, and obey God, to exercise social responsibility in working for the common good, and to be subject to all governing authorities and obey them except when they require us to act unjustly.

We call upon all parliamentary candidates to pledge that they will ‘respect, uphold, and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience’.

You can sign the Declaration here, and I urge you to do so : if only to show the strength of Christian opinion to those standing in the forthcoming General Election.

(The Declaration website also has a list of lead signatories, and you can also print out hard copy pages to display in Church, get people to sign who don't have Internet access, &c.)

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Stand Up and Be Counted !

Splendid Mac McLernon of Mulier Fortis has drawn attention to a new website on which one can sign up to show one's visible support for the Holy Father.

If you would like to sign up straight away, click HERE - and (as a not-so-subtle bribe) enjoy a share in my daily recitation of the Dominican Litany (and you know what they say about that !) during April.

Monday, 5 April 2010

And the answer is . . ?

I thought that it might be quite fun, in the post-Easter euphoria, to give you a little challenge : something to perplex you at least a little.

So, from my collection of curious images, here is something for you to consider - and what I want to know is : what is it, and for what (purely religious) purpose is it used ?

(As a clue, it is not something you'll find in a Parish Church - at least, I sincerely hope not - though nothing would surprise me in the Sacristy of the London Oratory !)

Because I imagine you'd all like to see the answer, and because I can't provide the link until this (Wednesday) evening from my other computer, I shall leave you guessing until then . . .

Lumen Christi

The excitements – and in my case mad travelling – of the Triduum are over for another year, and the Joy of the Resurrection fills the whole world . . . with the possible exception of those who were determinedly reporting in the mass media on Saturday (and for Sunday’s papers) that Catholics were deserting the Church in droves !

The Vigil at Blackfriars, Oxford, was packed; and despite the poor weather which made it necessary to squeeze the congregation into the cloister whilst the New Fire was blessed (just) outside, the whole spirit and character of the occasion came through magnificently. This isn’t a ‘review’, but I have to say that the inimitable fr Lawrence Lew OP,* currently the Cantor at Blackfriars, had worked with the Choir and musicians to create a Vigil which was musically, as well as liturgically, stimulating : you had a feast for the ears which ended spectacularly when fr Robert Verrill OP played the congregation out with his own amazing virtuosic take on Charpentier’s ‘Prélude à Te Deum’ . . . the well-deserved applause was for fr Robert’s playing; but truthfully the whole Vigil deserved no less. (And yes, I know that’s not what the liturgy is all about; but I also believe that good liturgy, especially good thoughtful liturgy, deserves encouragement : more on which topic in the near future !)

Easter Sunday ? Well, as the journalists had prophesied, there were record attendances . . . unfortunately for the media, they were exceptionally high, not low !

I spent much of the day at the Oratory in London; and it was remarkably obvious that numbers were up. The 09:00 only finished at a minute or so to 10:00, because of the number of Holy Communions, which left the 10:00 (completely full) starting late at about 10:05 . . . and it too, even with four priests giving Communion, including at two side altars, overran; not finishing until 11:10 . . . and then a full church had to empty and a new, and even larger, congregation to find somewhere to sit !

Even with five priests giving Holy Communion, including the two side altars, that Mass overran by more than 10 minutes : which meant the congregation were just starting to leave the church at 12:40 – ideally timed for the 12:30 Mass ! (I guess that that must have started close to 13:00, given the huge crowds who had to get out !)

If you have read other blogs, you will know that this was not an unusual experience : attendances everywhere seem to have been up . . . perhaps the media animosity of recent weeks has something to do with it : who knows ? All I do know is that many thousands of Catholics heard Mass yesterday, throughout the world, and – in common with their brothers and sisters of other Christian traditions – rejoiced in the offer of Salvation which the Resurrection brought for all mankind : the ‘Light of Christ’ which Easter brings to shine forth over the whole world.

My Followers and readers, and my numerous fellow-bloggers, have been much in my prayers throughout the last four days. I pray that God will richly bless you all : and particularly, that my fellow-bloggers may continue to be inspired to defend and promote our Catholic Faith in a world of animosity, where so many seem determined only to do the devil’s work for him.

May the Light of Christ, risen in glory, shine upon you all; and may the Joy of this Easter fill your hearts throughout this Easter season.

‘Normal Service’ (ie my usual vapid witterings on various topics) will resume tomorrow.
* And not only Cantor : he also managed to take a number of splendid photos during the Vigil, including the one above, others of which you can see here.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Maria Consolata

Joy to thee, O Queen of Heaven, Alleluia !
He Whom thou wast meet to bear, Alleluia !
As He promised hath arisen, Alleluia !
Pour for us to God thy prayer. Alleluia !!

V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, Alleluia.

R. For the Lord hath arisen indeed, Alleluia.

Let us pray :
O God, Who by the Resurrection of Thy Son Our Lord Jesus Christ hast brought great joy to the whole world, grant that through his Mother the glorious and ever-virgin Mary we may attain to the joys of life everlasting.

Through the same Christ Our Lord.

Surrexit; non est hic . . .

Valde mane una sabbatorum veniunt ad monumentum orto iam sole, et dicebant ad invicem quis revolvet nobis lapidem ab ostio monumenti ? et respicientes vident revolutum lapidem erat quippe magnus valde et introeuntes in monumento viderunt iuvenem sedentem in dextris coopertum stola candida et obstipuerunt qui dicit illis « nolite expavescere Iesum quæritis Nazarenum crucifixum : surrexit; non est hic ecce locus ubi posuerunt eum ».

And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.


The strife is o’er, the battle done,
Now is the Victor’s triumph won;
O let the song of praise be sung :
Alleluia !

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Descendit ad Inferos

When the Credo says that our Lord descended into hell it doesn’t mean that he descended into Gehenna [which he has previously described as being a kind of rubbish-heap], into the place where wicked people are eternally punished. It means that he descended into Sheol, into the lower world, and preached, not to the souls of the damned, but to the souls of dead people who were in a kind of intermediate state. What was that intermediate state? How are we to think of it?

About one thing the teaching of the Church is quite clear : the holy patriarchs, people like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, were not in hell at the time when our Lord came – not what we mean by hell – and they were not in heaven. They had to wait for our Lord’s coming before they could get to heaven. And the place or the state in which they waited for Christ’s coming is what we call Limbo. The reason why we call it by that odd name, which makes it sound like a patent soup, is I think because we are most familiar with it from the poet Dante, who wrote in Italian, and therefore we give it its Italian name. It’s really a Latin word, limbus, which means the edge or the border of anything; the hem of your handkerchief, for example. And in theology it means a sort of borderline state, which is the only appropriate home of the borderline cases. Babies who die unbaptized, you see, are borderline cases; not being baptized, they have no right to heaven and yet as they haven’t committed any sins they can’t be sent to hell; therefore they go to the Limbus Infantium, the Babies’ Borderline State. And the unbaptized babies, we are told, go on living there for ever, not enjoying the beatific vision of God, because they are not made to do that, but quite happy all the same because they don’t know what they've missed. That’s one kind of Limbo, which is permanent.

But there was another kind of Limbo, the Limbus Patrum, the Patriarchs’ Borderline State, in which holy people like Abraham and Isaac and Jacob lived up till Good Friday, A.D. 33. They, too, were borderline cases. They were ear-marked for heaven, if I may put it in that way, because they had looked forward, by faith, to Christ’s coming, and in that faith had lived holy lives and gone on worshipping the true God. What sins they had committed had already, somehow, been expiated; they were ripe for heaven. But they couldn’t get to heaven till Jesus Christ died for our sins; they had to wait, and the waiting-room assigned to them was Limbo. I told you that the idea of Gehenna was that of a rubbish-heap; in the same way, if you like, you may think of Limbo as a lumber-room, though the two words apparently are not connected. A lumber-room is a place where you keep things which you don’t need at the moment, but don’t want to throw away because you will need them later on. So it was with the patriarchs; God didn’t need them yet in his drawing-room, so to speak, that is, in heaven, but he would want them there later on, so he didn’t throw them away into Gehenna, the rubbish heap; he kept them in Limbo, which is his lumber-room.

If you were brought up in a fairly large house, which had a lumber-room in the attics, I expect before now you have experienced the great thrill of exploring the lumber-room. Rather dark it was, so that you couldn’t see very clearly what was what, and a good many of the things were covered up in dust-sheets, so that you had to poke about a good deal before you satisfied yourself that this was a roll of carpet, that this was the cage which the canary used to live in till the cat got it, that this was the rocking-horse which you remember standing in the nursery, and so on. What a pity it seemed that so many things were lying idle here, which might be made so useful downstairs: your father’s old top-hat, which would do for drawing-room charades; and the concertina which did leak a bit, it’s true, but still produced noises of a kind; and that large, ugly looking-glass, which might just as well be in your bedroom. And you went downstairs with your hands and face pretty dirty, but all worked up with this adventurous journey among the relics of the past.

Well, when our Lord Jesus Christ had died on the Cross, and left his body in the tomb to wait till Easter morning, the first thing which his spirit did was – what ? To explore his Father’s lumber-room. He went to Limbo, and visited all the borderline cases of the old patriarchs who had been waiting so many centuries for him to come. How they must have crowded round him, and what a lot he must have explained to them which they hadn’t been able to understand properly hitherto ! ‘It’s all right, Adam (he will have said), you did a very foolish thing, and a very wicked thing, when you ate the fruit of the tree although you had been told not to; but I have been hanging, from twelve to three this afternoon, on a very different kind of tree, and now the world has been redeemed from the consequences of your sin. It’s all right, Eve; you disobeyed, but my Mother, by her obedience, has brought salvation into the world, as you brought sin into the world. You see now, Noe, what was the idea of building an ark to save yourself and your family from the flood ? It was a prophecy of the Church which I am just going to found, the ark which stays afloat in a sinful world, and saves men’s souls from being engulfed in it. You, Abraham, when you sacrificed your son Isaac, or rather were prepared to sacrifice him, were doing what my heavenly Father did when he sent me into the world to die. Your ladder, Jacob, set up between earth and heaven, was the image of my Incarnation; you, Joseph, were sold for twenty pieces of silver, I was sold for thirty. Do you remember, Moses, how you set up a brazen serpent on a pole in the wilderness, and all the people who had been bitten by the snakes, if only they could be persuaded to look up at it, got well ? That is what my Cross is going to do now for sinners.’ And so on, all down the list of the holy people whom we read about in the Old Testament. What a holiday that must have been for them all, when our Lord came and explained to them, at last, what their experiences in life had meant, and ended up, ‘Now you are going home with me; it is time you went home !’

All that we mean, when we say that our Lord descended to the people beneath. He didn’t descend to Gehenna; but he descended to Limbo, and preached to the holy patriarchs who were waiting for him there. But now, is that all we mean by our Lord’s descent into the lower world ? I don’t think you can say that the teaching of the Church is very clear beyond that; God’s revelation doesn’t tell us very much, for certain, about a future world. But if you will look at that odd passage in the first epistle of St. Peter, where he refers to this event, you will find a hint, I think, of a further meaning in the doctrine we are considering. He tells us that our Lord, in his spirit, ‘went and preached to the spirits who lay in prison. Long before, they had refused belief, hoping that God would be patient with them, in the days of Noe’. And, he adds, a few verses lower down, ‘that is why dead men, too, had the gospel message brought to them; though their mortal natures had paid the penalty in men’s eyes, in the sight of God their spirits were to live on’. That passage raises a lot of difficulties. Why does St. Peter concentrate entirely on the people who lived at the time of the Flood, when there were so many millions of other dead people to be considered ? Who were the people who had refused belief in the time of Noe, and if they refused belief, why didn’t they go to hell ? And what is all this about their paying the penalty in men’s eyes, and their spirits living on in the sight of God ?

I can only suggest briefly how I should explain the passage, which is a very difficult passage indeed. I think St. Peter concentrates upon the contemporaries of Noe, because in the days of Noe the world was very wicked – that was why the flood happened. And the people who refused belief were the people who wouldn’t take any notice when Noe told them there was going to be a great deluge, and they had better take cover somewhere. The book of Genesis doesn’t tell us anything about what other people thought or said when Noe began to build the Ark, or when it rained and rained and it began to look as if Noe hadn’t been wrong after all. I think what St. Peter means us to see is that there were, even in those wicked days, some people who hadn’t enough faith to go into the Ark when Noe did, and yet weren’t altogether wicked people. What became of them ? They were drowned by the flood, sure enough; they paid the penalty in their mortal natures. But when they were drowned, they didn’t go to hell; their spirits lived on in the sight of God. And to these people, who were not wicked enough to go to hell, and hadn’t got enough faith to go to Limbo, our Lord, in his spirit, went and preached. When it says he preached to them, it only means, I think, that he brought them the good news of the salvation which his Cross had given to the world. Not in Gehenna, not in Limbo – where were they, then ? Surely in Purgatory; in a place or state where they underwent punishment for their sins, but were destined later to go to heaven; only that couldn’t happen till our Lord had died to redeem them; and many of them no doubt weren’t yet ready for heaven, even then.

If that is the true explanation of what St. Peter means, then it follows that Purgatory, too, as well as Limbo, was visited by our Lord in that royal progress of his on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. And with his coming a new hope came to the souls in Purgatory and has remained there ever since. They were souls bound for heaven. What light, what rest was given to them when our Lord came and told them that ! If you and I go to Purgatory, we may have much to suffer there, but it will not be a place of despair or of doubt. We shall be able to say, Descendit ad inferos; Jesus Christ has been here, and he has made a door in this prison house through which, not now but later on, I shall follow him to heaven.

Mgr Ronald Knox ~ extracted from ‘the Creed in Slow Motion’
As shadowlands has quite properly noticed, the theology of Limbo has changed quite a lot since Mgr Knox wrote this sermon in about 1943 : what he says reflects accurately what was understood, and taught, then - but the section about the limbus infantium should no longer be regarded as reflecting exactly the teaching of the Church. I'm sorry - I should have mentioned this before, but I was focussing on the question of the limbus patrum, for today, and overlooked that issue.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Maria Desolata

V. O God, come to our aid.
R. O Lord, make haste to help us.
V. Glory be to the Father, etc.
R. As it was in the beginning, etc.

I We grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in the affliction of your tender heart at the prophecy of the holy and aged Simeon. Dear Mother, by your heart so afflicted, obtain for us the virtue of humility and the gift of the holy fear of God. Hail Mary, &c

II We grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in the anguish of your most affectionate heart during the flight into Egypt and your sojourn there. Dear Mother, by your heart so troubled, obtain for us the virtue of generosity, especially toward the poor, and the gift of piety. Hail Mary, &c

III We grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in those anxieties which tried your troubled heart at the loss of your dear Jesus. Dear Mother, by your heart so full of anguish, obtain for us the virtue of chastity and the gift of knowledge. Hail Mary, &c

IV We grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in the consternation of your heart at meeting Jesus as He carried His Cross. Dear Mother, by your heart so troubled, obtain for us the virtue of patience and the gift of fortitude. Hail Mary, &c

V We grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in the martyrdom which your generous heart endured in standing near Jesus in His agony. Dear Mother, by your afflicted heart, obtain for us the virtue of temperance and the gift of counsel. Hail Mary, &c

VI We grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, in the wounding of your compassionate heart, when the side of Jesus was struck by the lance before His Body was removed from the Cross. Dear Mother, by your heart thus transfixed, obtain for us the virtue of fraternal charity and the gift of understanding. Hail Mary, &c

VII We grieve for you, O Mary most sorrowful, for the pangs that wrenched your most loving heart at the burial of Jesus. Dear Mother, by your heart sunk in the bitterness of desolation, obtain for us the virtue of diligence and the gift of wisdom. Hail Mary, &c

Let us pray :
O Lord Jesus Christ, the soul of Your Mother the Blessed Virgin Mary was pierced by a sword of sorrow in the hour of Your most bitter Passion. Through our grief at her sorrow, may she intercede for us before the throne of Your mercy, now and at the hour of our death. We make our prayer through You, Who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God for ever and ever.

Point to Ponder - Death is Near

It will soon be three o’clock. At last ! Jesus is holding out the whole time. Every now and then He draws Himself up. All His pains, His thirst, His cramps, the asphyxiation and the vibration of the two median nerves have not drawn one complaint from Him. But, while His friends are there indeed, His Father, and this is the last ordeal, His Father seems to have forsaken Him. Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani ?

He now knows that He is going. He cries out consummatum est. The cup is drained, the work is complete. Then, drawing Himself up once more and as if to make us understand that He is dying of His own free will, iterum clamans voce magna : ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit’. (habens in potestate ponere animam suam). He died when He willed to do so. I wish to hear of no more physiological theories !

Laudato si Missignore per sora nostra morte corporale ! O yes, Lord, may You be blessed, for having truly willed to die. For there was nothing we could do. With a last sigh Your head dropped slowly towards me, with Your chin above the breastbone. I can see Your face straight before me, it is now relaxed and calm, and in spite of its dreadful stigmata, it is illuminated by the gentle majesty of God, Who is always present there. I have thrown myself on my knees before You, kissing Your pierced feet, from which the blood is still flowing, though it is coagulating at the tips. The rigor mortis has seized You in brutal fashion, like a stag run down in the chase. Your legs are as hard as steel . . . and burning. What unheard-of temperature has given You this tetanic spasm ?

And now, reader, let us thank God Who has given me the strength to write this to the end, though not without tears! All these horrible pains that we have lived in Him, were foreseen by Him all through His life; He premeditated them and willed them, out of His love, so that He might redeem us from our sins. Oblatus est quia ipse voluit. He directed the whole of His passion, without avoiding one torture, accepting the physiological consequences, without being dominated by them. He died when and how and because He willed it.

Jesus is in agony till the end of time. It is right, it is good to suffer with Him and to thank Him, when He sends us pain, to associate ourselves with His. We have, as St. Paul writes, to complete what is lacking in the passion of Christ, and with Mary, His Mother and our Mother, to accept our fellow-suffering fraternally and with joy.

O Jesus, You Who had no pity on Yourself, You Who are God, have pity on me who am a sinner.

Dr Pierre Barbet ~ 'The Corporal Passion' from 'A Doctor at Calvary'

Point to Ponder - Two O'Clock

Why is He making all this effort ? It is in order to speak to us: Pater, dimitte illis. Yes, may He indeed forgive us, we who are His executioners. But a moment later His body begins to sink down once more . . . and the tetanisation will come on again. And each time that He speaks (we have anyway preserved seven of His words), and each time that He wishes to breathe, it will be necessary for Him to straighten Himself, to get back His breath, holding Himself upright on the nail through His feet. And each movement has its echo, so to speak, in His hands, in inexpressible pain (those median nerves once again!). It is a question of periodical asphyxiation of the poor unfortunate Who is being strangled and then allowed to come back to life, to be choked once more several times over. He can only escape from this asphyxiation for a moment at a time and at the cost of terrible suffering, and by an effort of the will. And this is going to last three hours. O my God, may You be able to die !

I am there at the foot of the cross, with His Mother and John and the women who attended upon Him. The centurion, who had been standing a little apart, is observing the scene with an attention that has already become respectful. Between two attacks of asphyxiation, He draws Himself up and speaks : ‘Son, behold Thy Mother’. Oh, yes, dear Mother, you who adopted us from that day ! - a little later that poor wretch of a thief manages to have the gate of paradise opened for him. But when, O Lord, are You at last going to die ?

I know well that Easter awaits You, and that Your body will not decay as ours do. It is written : Non dabis sanctum tuum videre corruptionem. But, O poor Jesus (forgive a surgeon for these words), all Your wounds are becoming infected; this was certain to happen. I can see clearly how a light-coloured transparent lymph is oozing from them, which collects at the deepest part in a wax-like crust. On the earliest wounds false membranes are forming, which secrete a serum mixed with pus. It is also written : Putruerunt et corrupta sunt cicatrices meæ.

A swarm of horrible flies, of great yellow and blue flies such as one finds in abattoirs and charnel-houses, is whirling the whole time round His body, and they swoop down on the different wounds in order to suck at them and to lay their eggs. They set on His face and cannot be driven away. Fortunately, the sky has during the last moments gone dark, and the sun is hidden; it has suddenly become very cold, and these daughters of Beelzebub have one by one taken their departure.

Dr Pierre Barbet ~ 'The Corporal Passion' from 'A Doctor at Calvary'

Point to Ponder - One O'Clock

Do not let us listen to these triumphant Jews, as they insult Him in His pain. He has already forgiven them, for they know not what they do. Jesus has at first been in a state bordering on collapse. After so many tortures, for a worn-out body this immobility is almost a rest, coinciding as it does with a general lowering of His vitality. But He thirsts. He has not said so as yet. Before lying down on the beam, He has refused the analgesic drink, of wine mingled with myrrh and gall, which is prepared by the charitable women of Jerusalem. He wishes to know His suffering in its completeness; He knows that He will conquer it. He thirsts. Yes, Adhæsit lingua me faucibus meis. He has neither eaten nor drunk anything since the evening before, and it is now midday. His sweat in Gethsemani, all His fatigues, His loss of blood in the prætorium and at other times, and even the small amount now flowing from His wounds, all this has taken a good part of His sum-total of blood. He thirsts. His features are drawn, His pale face is streaked with blood which is congealing everywhere. His mouth is half open and His lower lip has already begun to droop. A little saliva has flowed down to His beard, mingled with the blood from His injured nose. His throat is dry and on fire, but He can no longer swallow. He thirsts. How can one recognise the fairest of the children of men in this swollen face, all bleeding and deformed ? Vermis sum et non homo. It would be horrible, if one did not see shining through it the serene majesty of God Who wishes to save His brothers. He thirsts. And He will soon say it, so as to fulfil the Scriptures. A great simpleton of a soldier, wishing to hide his compassion beneath a mocking jest, soaks a sponge in his acid posca, acetum as the Gospels call it, and holds it up to Him at the end of a reed. Will He drink only a drop of it ? It is said that the fact of drinking brings on a mortal fainting fit in these poor, condemned creatures. How then, after the sponge had been held up to Him, was He able to speak two or three times ? No, He will die at His own hour. He thirsts.

And that has just begun. But, a moment later, a strange phenomenon occurs. The muscles of His arms stiffen of themselves, in a contraction which becomes more and more accentuated; His deltoid muscles and His biceps become strained and stand out, His fingers are drawn sharply inwards. It is cramp ! You have all had some experience of this acute, progressive pain, in the calves of the legs, between the ribs, a little everywhere. One must immediately relax the contracted muscle by extending it. But watch--on His thighs and on His legs there are monstrous rigid bulges, and His toes are bent. It is like a wounded man suffering from tetanus, a prey to those horrible spasms, which once seen can never be forgotten. It is what we describe as tetanisation, when the cramps become generalised, which is now happening. The stomach muscles become tightened in set undulations, then the intercostal, then the muscles of the neck, then the respiratory. His breathing has gradually become shorter and lighter. His sides, which have already been drawn upwards by the traction of the arms, are now exaggeratedly so; the solar plexus sinks inwards, and so do the hollows under the collar-bone. The air enters with a whistling sound, but scarcely comes out any longer. He is breathing in the upper regions only, He breathes in a little, but cannot breathe out. He thirsts for air. (It is like someone in the throes of asthma.) A flush has gradually spread over His pale face; it has turned a violet purple and then blue. He is asphyxiating. His lungs which are loaded with air can no longer empty themselves. His forehead is covered with sweat, His eyes are prominent and rolling. What an appalling pain must be hammering in His head ! He is going to die. Well, it is best so. Has He not suffered enough ?

But no, His hour has not yet come. Neither thirst, nor hæmorrhage, nor asphyxia, nor pain will be able to overcome the Saviour God, and if He dies with these symptoms, He will only die in truth because He freely wills it, habens in potestate ponere animam suam et recipere eam. And thus it is that He will rise again.

What, then, is happening ? Slowly, with a superhuman effort, He is using the nail through His feet as a fulcrum, that is to say He is pressing on His wounds. The ankles and the knees stretch themselves out bit by bit, and the body is gradually lifted, thus relieving the pressure on the arms (a pressure which was of very nearly 240 pounds on each hand). We thus see how, through His own efforts, the phenomenon grows less, the tetanisation recedes, the muscles become relaxed, anyway those of the chest. The breathing becomes more ample and moves down to a lower level, the lungs are unloaded and the face soon resumes its former pallor.

Dr Pierre Barbet ~ 'The Corporal Passion' from 'A Doctor at Calvary'

Point to Ponder - The Crucifixion

Oh, it is not very complicated; the executioners know their work. First of all He must be stripped. The lower garments are dealt with easily enough, but the coat has firmly stuck to His wounds, that is to say, to His whole body, and this stripping is a horrible business. Have you ever removed the first dressing which has been on a large bruised wound, and has dried on it ? Or have you yourself ever been through this ordeal, which sometimes requires a general anæsthetic ? If so, you know what it is like. Each thread has stuck to the raw surface, and when it is removed it tears away one of the innumerable nervous ends which have been laid bare by the wound. These thousands of painful shocks add up and multiply, each one increasing the sensitivity of the nervous system. Now, it is not just a question of a local lesion, but of almost the whole surface of the body, and especially of that dreadful back. The executioners are in a hurry and set about their work roughly. Perhaps it is better thus, but how does this sharp, dreadful pain not bring on a fainting fit ? How clear it is that from beginning to end He dominates, He directs His Passion.

The blood streams down yet again. They lay Him down on His back. Have they left Him the narrow loin-cloth which the modesty of the Jews has been able to preserve for those condemned to this death ? I must own that I do not know : it is of little importance; in any case, in His shroud, He will be naked. The wounds on His back, on His thighs and on the calves of His legs become caked with dust and with tiny pieces of gravel. He has been placed at the foot of the stipes, with His shoulders lying on the patibulum. The executioners take the measurements. A stroke with an auger, to prepare the holes for the nails, and the horrible deed begins.

An assistant holds out one of the arms, with the palm uppermost. The executioner takes hold of the nail (a long nail, pointed and square which near its large head is 1/3 of an inch thick), he gives Him a prick on the wrist, in that forward fold which he knows by experience. One single blow with the great hammer, and the nail is already fixed in the wood, in which a few vigorous taps fix it firmly.

Jesus has not cried out, but His face has contracted in a way terrible to see. But above all I saw at the same moment that His thumb, with a violent gesture, is striking against the palm of His hand : His median nerve has been touched. I realise what He had been through : an inexpressible pain darts like lightning through his fingers and then like a trail of fire right up His shoulder, and bursts in His brain. The most unbearable pain that a man can experience is that caused by wounding the great nervous centres. It nearly always causes a fainting fit, and it is fortunate that it does. Jesus has not willed that He should lose consciousness. Now, it is not as if the nerve were cut right across. But no, I know how it is, it is only partially destroyed; the raw place on the nervous centre remains in contact with the nail; and later on, when the body sags, it will be stretched against this like a violin-string against the bridge, and it will vibrate with each shaking or movement, reviving the horrible pain -- This goes on for three hours.

The other arm is pulled by the assistant, the same actions are repeated and the same pains. But this time, remember, He knows what to expect. He is now fixed on the patibulum, to which His shoulders and two arms now conform exactly. He already has the form of a cross : how great He is !

Now, they must get Him on His feet. The executioner and his assistant take hold of the ends of the beam and then hold up the condemned man Who is first sitting, then standing, and then, moving Him backwards, they place Him with His back against the stake. But this is done by constantly pulling against those two nailed hands, and one thinks of those median nerves. With a great effort, and with arms extended (though the stipes is not very high), quickly, for it is very heavy, and with a skilful gesture, they fix the patibulum on the top of the stipes. On the top with two nails they fix the title in three languages.

The body, dragging on the two arms, which are stretched out obliquely, is sagging a bit. The shoulders, wounded by the whips and by carrying the cross, have been painfully scraped against the rough wood The nape of the neck, which was just above the patibulum, has been banged against it during the move upwards, and is now just above the stake. The sharp points of the great cap of thorns have made even deeper wounds in the scalp. His poor head is leaning forward, for the thickness of His crown prevents Him leaning against the wood, and each time that He straightens it He feels the pricks.

The body is meanwhile only held by the nails fixed into the two wrists - Once more those median nerves ! He could be held fast with nothing else. The body is not slipping forwards, but the rule is that the feet should be fixed. There is no need of a bracket for this; they bend the knees and stretch the feet out flat on the wood of the stipes. Why then, since it is useless, is the carpenter given this work to do ? It is certainly not in order to lessen the pain of the crucified. The left foot is flat against the cross. With one blow of the hammer, the nail is driven into the middle of it (between the second and third metatarsal bones). The assistant then bends the other knee, and the executioner, bringing the left foot round in front of the right which the assistant is holding flat, pierces this foot with a second blow in the same place. This is easy enough, and with a few vigorous blows with the hammer the nail is well embedded in the wood. This time, thank God, it is a more ordinary pain, but the agony has scarcely begun. The whole work has not taken the two men much more than two minutes and the wounds have not bled much. They then deal with the two thieves, and the three gibbets are arranged facing the city which kills its God.
Dr Pierre Barbet ~ ‘The Corporal Passion’ from ‘A Doctor at Calvary’