Saturday, 23 June 2012

Vatican II: 50 Years of Failure or Fruition?

Glancing through the Universe Catholic Newspaper (which I received free this past week) I came across an article by Fr Sean McDonagh in which he evaluated the Survey conducted in Ireland by the Association of Catholic Priests in February of this year. It indicates that 75% of Catholics say Catholic sexual teaching has no relevance. This rises to 82% among 25-34 year olds. 87% of Catholics think Holy Communion should be given to those who are re-married after divorce or in a stable relationship after divorce. This rises to 92% among those aged 35-54.

When one looks at these indicators is it possible to say the Church has been renewed in the last fifty years? No Executive Board or CEO of any organisation would claim business is on the up when its workforce is shrinking and many of those who remain are in revolt. The shrinkage of the Church is undeniable: Mass attendance and priestly ordinations are falling; schools, convents and seminaries are closing. The revolt is indicated in the Survey from Ireland, and the CDF’s ‘Dialogue with the deaf’: the LCWR in the USA (or the ‘Magisterium of Nuns’) as described by Cardinal Levada here. This shrinkage and revolt do not indicate renewal to me, but decimation. From where does such decimation arise?

I think it started as much with Person-centred Psychology and Non-Directive Counselling / Therapy as with existentialism. These were highly attractive in the post-war years and remain so simply because they facilitate concupiscence, which is fundamentally an orientation toward the self; they allow man to fall into self-focused extremes and to dissent from the Church under the misuse of ‘Do not judge’, distorting the Biblical injunction which forbids the judging of people by making it an injunction not to judge actions, such as abortion. Thus began the rejection of Church teaching in morality in order ‘not to judge’, with dissenters claiming to be acting in ‘loyal dissent’ –actually a contradiction in terms and more accurately expressed as ‘loyal disloyalty’. Thus the spirit of freedom from external authority so as to self-actualise in autonomous, self-direction took off.

This spirit seems to have infiltrated the Council by deliberate intent, cf. Fr Schillebeeckx, Dutch magazine De Bazuin, No. 16, 1965:  “We will express it [ambiguity?] in a diplomatic way, but after the Council, we will draw the implicit conclusions." (“We have used ambiguous phrases in the Council and we know how we will interpret them afterwards” is another translation of the same statement). This spirit of autonomy necessarily replaces the Rock of Peter with the shifting sands of self-directing autonomy.

I have to say I think good fruits have come from the Council, which I accept was an authentic act of the Magisterium: the laity truly experience themselves as members of the Church, and have a magisterial teaching which declares they have a genuine (and primary) apostolate of their own: that of being the leaven in the world. We are also able to pray and work alongside our Non-Catholic brethren (inter-communion being excluded) while at the same time holding to the Council’s teaching that

the separated Churches and Communities ...though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church...
For it is only through Christ's Catholic Church, which is "the all-embracing means of salvation," that they can benefit fully from the means of salvation. We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God. (Unitatis Redintegratio, 3. Vatican Council II, emphasis added).


...all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it...
Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfil their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ. (Dignitatis Humanae, 1. Vatican II, emphasis added).

Sadly, excesses and distortions appear to have grown alongside the good fruits, perhaps because of the ambiguities Schillebeeckx infers were written into the texts. As a result, laity began to be used as pseudo-clerics, standing shoulder to shoulder with the priests in the sanctuary and sitting shoulder to shoulder with them in Committee rooms. And we have encouraged them in this, rather than in the Council’s actual call for them to be the leaven in the world of media, medicine, education, factories and fields etc., where they are the Church’s indispensible front-line apostles. At the same time, religious indifferentism threatened to take hold as a result of misunderstanding ecumenical activity, prompting a loss of the Council’s statement that while other communions can give access to salvation, their efficacy to do so flows from the Catholic Church.

I suggest there is a need for us all to value and promote the laity’s proper, authentic role as the leaven of society if we are to truly value the lay state; that there is a need for the clergy to grow in the valuing of their primary role of teaching, sanctifying and governing while assisting and guiding the laity in their apostolate in the world, and a real need to restore what is identifiably Catholic in our worship (Latin and the ad orientem orientation, as per Sacrosanctum Concilium 36, 54 and 116). We might also consider restoring a right understanding of the Church as the One True Church and of the Papacy, setting prudent limits on the idea that a Pope must consult at every stage of every decision. He may indeed be one of the Bishops, but without him, even the collective College of Bishops has no authority (Lumen Gentium 22).

Rome might well remind us all that the Deposit of Faith is unchanging; that the Faith taught and preached by Trent and Vatican I is still the Faith to be taught and preached today; that while we can develop our understanding of Tradition it can never be developed in such a way that it stands at odds with Trent and Vatican I. Let Rome remind us, in the words of Pope John XXIII in opening Vatican II, that

...from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a Magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character. (Opening Speech to Vatican II, Pope John XXIII).

Monday, 18 June 2012

Bad language at the Eucharistic Congress?

Following on from the post by Fr Dickson, my impression of the I.E.C. was not good. To my mind the singing has been like little ditties. Friday’s Mass for example, gave us

“Come bring your burdens to God, Jesus will never say no”.

This sounds like the things I was singing in primary school twenty years ago –hasn’t anyone moved on? Actually, it strikes me that in fact, this is the congregation addressing itself, as do so many of today’s hymns. How ironic is that at Divine Worship?

Then came the Creed which was split up into several languages interrupted by  “Credo...Credo, I believe!”. There were four lines I understood from the whole of the Credo. I could have been saying “I believe” to anything had I been there. How exclusive is that? This is the moment when we are to publicly profess our belief, but you have to trust that what is said is what you believe, since you cannot recognise the familiar Latin words such as ‘Credo in unum Deum...Deum de Deo...consubstantialem incarnatus est...ex Maria Virgine...Et in Spiritum sanctum....Patre Filióque procédit....Et unam, Sanctam catholicam, et apostolicam ecclessiam... Et expecto resurrectionem . These are central words familiar to Catholics the world over -just listen to how they sing with gusto at Lourdes in the candlelight procession! I cannot help but think that use of many languages at international Masses is reminiscent of Babel when God confused their languages for the every purpose of stopping their attempt to reach Heaven...can we not learn from this and return to the use of the sacred language?

Then there are the altar girls. Universally, these are accommodated for reasons of political correctness and not, as far as I can tell, authentic theology. After all, the Lord was served at table by His Apostles; it was Peter and John whom He sent to make the preparations for their Last Supper (Luke 22:8); and though it might be assumed to be the case, the Gospels do not say the women who followed Our Lord were there.

Service at the altar has often attuned a boys mind to a priestly vocation, which women cannot undertake, so allowing females to serve at the altar only gives girls false hope and at the same time, provides a seedbed for grumbles against the Lord’s Church later in life when radical feminism gets to them. I know having girls to serve has been allowed, but isn’t that just something to do with a Latin word in Canon Law not being specifically male?
I can say that in my own experience, when we had girls serving (my sister included) the boys did not sign up –except in the school where it didn’t seem to matter who served “as long as it was one of the children”. There was no theological ideal being held to, only the ‘get the children involved by doing things’ ideal. As Father once put it, “it is as though the Mass were here as a setting for showcasing of our gifts and talents –no wonder applause is so common in such Masses”.

We have had several boys sign up for serving since the girls left and Father chose not to replace them with more girls. To me, allowing girls to serve is like allowing Extraordinary Ministers; it’s not the ideal, but can be permitted in exceptional circumstances (see Redemptionis sacramentum 47 & 156-160).

Friday, 15 June 2012

International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) Dublin, and the Sacred Liturgy

The IEC and Liturgical Norms

I have to be honest and say I have found the IEC in Dublin somewhat disappointing to view because, and despite the sincere fervour, dedication and the obvious prayerfulness of the people and all the hard work going on, it seems as though the attempts by Pope John Paul II to bring an end to irregularities in the liturgy (cf.Dominicae Cenae, 1980; Redemptionis sacramentum, 2003) and Pope Benedict’s call for continuity with Tradition in liturgy (Curial Address, December 2005) have never happened. While some excellent points have been made in addresses and homilies, we seem to have had little Gregorian Chant, despite the directive of Vatican II (Sacrosanctum concilium 116) that Gregorian Chant be given pride of place (even sacred polyphony was not given the prominence of chant, it being lumped together with ‘other kinds of music’ which are given the status of simply “not necessarily excluded”), yet we have had girls dancing through the congregation with bowls of incense and a Cardinal finding he has to use the Altar of Sacrifice as a lectern from which to preach during a Penitential Service.  These seem like regressions to the 1970’s when we thought the liturgy and sanctuary were at our personal disposal and the Order of Mass a framework: “have a penitential Rite, some readings, the Eucharist, and within all that, be imaginative; creative”.

Language in the Mass

Granted that the IEC is an international gathering, am I the only one to have noticed that the vernacular becomes very exclusive at such events? Let us say that there are six languages present: as soon as a particular language is used for an intercession during the Payers of the Faithful or at the proclamation of the Gospel,  five sixths of the congregation are left in the dark, and there is a feeling of, “Oh, here’s our bit” when one’s own language makes its appearance. As the Holy Father stated in Sacramentum caritatis (2007):

the proposal made by the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the directives of the Second Vatican Council, [is] that, with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, it is fitting that such liturgies be celebrated in Latin. Similarly, the better-known prayers of the Church's tradition should be recited in Latin and, if possible, selections of Gregorian chant should be sung." (No. 62)

Despite the directives of Vatican II, the proposal made by the Synod of Bishops and the mind of the Pope (as well as the mind of Paul VI who issued Jubilate Deo in 1974 to retain a minimum of Latin chant), we rarely hear Latin used by those laity, priests or Bishops who profess loyalty to the said Council. If Latin were once again taught in Catholic schools there would be no ‘exclusion’ by use of it at Mass.

Exhortations to Eucharistic Adoration

On a related note, as relayed to us by Father Henry, there was a decision to exclude exhortations to Eucharistic Adoration from Congress talks. This too takes me back to my time in seminary (the late eighties, early nineties) when it was common to hear that “the Eucharist was given so we could eat and drink It, not worship It”; and that “the Old Mass was too priest-centred”. But in all honesty, what have we got today? The Real Presence -to which the worship of latria is to be given- is placed in the corner like a naughty boy or shunted off to another room while the priest takes Its place at the apex of the ‘stage’ to face his audience/congregation. Surely, to remove the Lord from the apex and replace Him with the priest (who no longer faces the Lord rising in the East so as to lead His people toward Him but faces the people so as to engage them -often by humour and affectatious intonation in gesture and prayer) is to become more priest-centred than ever before?

The Novus Ordo and continuity with Tradition

In all honesty I prefer the Extraordinary Form. The Novus Ordo appears to have an in-built spirit of evolution which carries with it a kind of instability that for me does not sit well with the stability of the Depositum Fidei.  And while I do not reject the Novus Ordo as invalid or illicit, I do think it needs to be celebrated in a manner more clearly in tune with our liturgical tradition, which is possible if we

·         use the Roman Canon
·         hold to the norm of receiving Our Lord on the tongue while kneeling
·         hold to the rubric of the priest facing the altar from the Offertory onwards
·         sing the Ordinary in Latin chant as per the directive of Vatican II.

A significant number of young people are drawing closer to the Traditional Liturgy as the annual Chartres pilgrimage shows, 

and I venture to say this is because in the Traditional liturgy God is clearly front and centre; His priest is facing Him and is leading His people toward Him. In contrast, the Novus Ordo frequently appears to be a setting in which we celebrate our giftedness and engage with one another across a table.

I suspect that many are not actually supporting the Novus Ordo itself but the innovations which followed its promulgation: Communion in the hand while standing; celebrants facing the people and pop-style ditties rather than sacred chant.  I further suspect that if we ask those who disparage the Traditional Form of Mass in favour of the Missanormativa if they would be happy to have the latter celebrated as it is given (with a sung Latin Ordinary, an altar-facing priest and Communion on the tongue safeguarded by the Communion plate) that few would say ‘yes’, because (subconsciously?) it is not the Novus Ordo they support but the innovations attached to it.

Why is following the norms, rubrics and a hermeneutic of continuity so important to me? Because by following directives about which way to face, which music to sing and how to receive Holy Communion in the most reverent posture, the liturgy allows me (and all of us) to give God at least one area of my life where Christ increases and I decrease; an area of life that can be relatively free from gross orientation towards self in adhering to one’s personal predilections. Don’t we all want to have such an area to give to God..?

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The U.S.A. HHS Mandate and the British NHS

Catholics in the USA are rightly disturbed by the HHS mandate which forces them to pay into Health Insurance Schemes which include the provision of contraception and abortifacient drugs. But it seems that the mandate is being fought against only as a violation of religious freedom, and fighting on this ground alone can give the impression that the contraceptive/abortifacient elements of the Mandate are not as important as religious freedom. Yet when our right to life is extinguished we cannot access any right, including the right to religious freedom. I would have liked to see the issues of religious freedom and contraception more closely tied together in the fight against this mandate.

For us here in the UK there is an important note to be made: we have been paying for contraceptive and abortive services for years via our NHS contributions.  How can Catholics in the UK fight against paying into the NHS provision of anti-life activities? The answer, it seems to me, is that we can’t; the NHS is an all-in health plan. I was never a fan of the USA system of Health Insurance where (I understand) certain treatments can be refused if the person’s Health Plan doesn’t cover it, but perhaps there is a wisdom in the USA system in that it allows us to choose health plans which do not contravene the conscience and the law of God.

I still love the NHS, and I am very grateful for the help it gives me in my own health needs and the health struggles of my parents and siblings. I am also grateful for the employment it gave me in times gone by. But I do wish there were some way in which we could opt out of paying for others to access contraceptive and abortive services...

Monday, 11 June 2012

Heaven on Earth: Corpus Christi

Our Parish Priest (Father Dickson) has given me permission to reproduce his homily given on Corpus Christi: after all, a homily that has been given is in the public domain, isn’t it?!

No Copyright infringement intended
Every blessing we have; every good gift we enjoy comes to us from Christ Who brought grace into the world and Who is Present in the Holy Eucharist. As such the Eucharist should be at the centre of our lives. As Vatican II reminded us, the Eucharist is the source and summit –the foundation and goal- of our lives. Yet so many have stopped coming to Mass.

We were promised a great renewal by Vatican Council II, but we have gone from 80% practice and 20% lapsation rates, to 20% practice and 80% lapsation rates -that is not renewal; it is a reversal into devastation. If people only knew what the Mass is they would surely value it more, but faith is weak today, and in fact, most people I know between the ages of 15 and 50 have little or no understanding of the Eucharist.  For many it is simply ‘a community meal with Jesus’, and though the presence of Jesus should be enough to bring us flocking to the door, Mass is so much more. Three things need to be remembered if the Mass is to be meaningful to us.

First, it is not the Last Supper that we specifically commemorate; the central aspect of Mass is the Cross; Calvary. St Paul does not say, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you are proclaiming the Lord’s Supper” -though the Last Supper gives us the context and form of the Mass. Nor does he say, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you are proclaiming the Lord’s Resurrection” -though it is the Risen Lord Who is Present on the altar.  What St Paul does say is “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup you are proclaiming the Lord’s death”.  As today’s Opening Prayer tells us, Our Lord instituted the Eucharist as the memorial of His Passion; as the memorial of His Body given up and His Blood which is poured out for the forgiveness of our sins.  So to come to Mass is to come to Calvary; to stand with Our Blessed Lady and St John at the foot of the Cross as the Blood and water flow from the side of Christ to wash us clean and fill us with grace.

Second, since Calvary cannot be Present unless Christ Himself is Present, we come into the Real Presence of Our Lord at Mass: Our Lord Who is Present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity; indeed, Present in His very Person: “He who eats Me...”. To come to Mass is also then, to be in the Presence of the Saviour; of God Himself: to handle the Host is to handle God. This is no mere symbolic presence; people walked away from our Lord because, as the Greek word here tells us, Our Lord was very graphic; very concrete: we are to gnaw at His flesh; to chew. And not only at His flesh, but His very Person: “He who eats Me...”. ‘To eat’ is a very sanitised version of what is in the Greek. So remember, anytime we enter a Catholic Church we are entering into the Presence of God. Gargoyles on the outside of Medieval Churches remind us that the world is our battlefield where we fight against the world, the flesh and the devil; images of saints inside the Church remind us that we have entered Heaven; that we are in the Presence of God and all His angels and saints; we have left the world outside.  It is striking to remember that -good and holy though other folk may be- the God others worship we possess in our Tabernacles. That should humble us, and inspire us to come humbly to the Eucharist not just weekly, but daily, if we can.

Finally, Mass is not only Calvary and the Resurrection, but the banquet of the Lamb in Heaven. This is the Supper of the Mass, and the Church reminds us of this very clearly at the invitation to Holy Communion in the New (or Ordinary) Form of Mass: Behold the Lamb of God; Behold Him Who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb.” which is a quote from the angel in Revelation 19 who calls out when the New Jerusalem is established: “Write this! Blessed are those who are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb!”;  it is a quote which reminds us that when we come to Holy Communion we come to Heaven; that we anticipate by sacramental participation, our partaking in the Wedding Feast of the saved at the end of the world.

In coming to Mass then, we come to the foot of Calvary; we come to the tomb of the Resurrection; we come to Heaven and participate in its Banquet. How can anyone not want to be here? Speak to those you know who are lapsed; tell them about the wonder that is the Mass and invite them back. Gently, respectfully -but clearly- ask them to come back to Heaven on earth... and not just to Mass, but the complete living out of the Catholic Faith.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Fr Timothy Radical O.P. –sorry! Fr Radcliffe: Catholic candidate for the Anglican See Canterbury

According to this Month’s edition of the Northern Cross (NC) Fr Radcliffe gave interesting Riddell Memorial lectures at Newcastle University recently. He is quoted as saying in his first lecture that (please note -even though my own typing can be poor- that the punctuation in the quotes is as found in the NC),

“The parables of Jesus lead to questioning, so the preaching of the Gospel happens when the hearer makes a difference to his life.”

There can be no disagreement with this statement since we all preach in order to solicit change by forming ourselves and our people in the teachings of the Gospel rather than the teachings of the world. Sadly, Fr Radcliffe appears to side with the world in his second lecture where he is quoted as saying,

“As a society we have lost faith in reason, contrary to that Christians believe in reason but do not practice it. If we did we would find the truth.
(Does this border on Modernism? Does it suggest that truth is gained through man’s reason apart from Divine Revelation? In charity we have to say that it’s possible that this quote has been given out of context.)
Christians should be tolerant but Churches are bastions of intolerance for instance to people of gay, lesbian or transgender orientation”.
(Apparently we are to tolerate things scripture says preclude us from inheriting the Kingdom of God (Rom. 1:27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). Such tolerance is not pastoral: it is to pretend to ‘gay, lesbian and transgender’ persons that their lifestyle is approved by God and that He was in error both when He inspired the Sacred Scriptures and as guided the Magisterium over the last two thousand years...)

During question time Fr Radcliffe was asked; What would you do if you were Pope? To which he replied,

“I would decentralise power and remove the temptation to control, and I would abolish silly titles like Monsignor and My Lord and would institute a new title called ‘My Servant’ and I would like myself to be called ‘Not Particularly Reverend’.”

I feel sure those latter remarks are typical of Fr Radcliffe’s humour. Sadly Anglican Bishop Wharton of Newcastle was said to have been so impressed by Fr Radcliffe that in his concluding remarks he invited the former Master of the Dominicans to take up the vacant (Anglican) See of Canterbury. That tongue-in-cheek remark may be seen as a compliment but it seems to me to hold a rather disturbing disparagement: that Fr Radcliffe is more Protestant than Catholic. Father Radcliffe is surely more faithful than this article suggests, or am I wrong?

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Whatever happened to...the Lord?

It has become very common for us to use the Holy Name of Jesus in our conversation, perhaps in a desire to profess or to experience an intimacy with Him. But have we lost something by not speaking of Him as Our Lord?  The noble-sounding designations of ‘Our Lord’ and ‘Our Lady’, or better still “Our Blessed Lord” and “Our Blessed Lady”, convey a dignity that simple use of the Holy Name does not.

Interestingly, the Gospels use the Holy Name of Jesus frequently, but their purpose is to introduce His life and ministry to the world, whereas the Epistles, written to those who already know the Lord, tend to make use of the titles “Lord” and “Christ”. Is there not something to be learned from this? As we celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee I wonder how many of us would address her as Elizabeth. I suspect that not even the Prime Minister does that, yet we approach the King of kings and Lord of lords, we draw near to the Queen of Heaven and of Earth, without the respect we give to mere earthly royalty.

It is not that we should avoid the intimate, family names of Jesus and Mary on every occassion, but a recovery of their titles as the greatest dignitaries in creation would surely not go amiss. In fact, if we are to claim that we have Jesus as “The Lord of my life”, should we not refer to Him as such? After all, He is ‘Jesus’ to all and sundry, and often in a most blasphemous manner; to us He is Lord –Our Blessed Lord, and His Mother our Blessed Mother. Can we not recover use of these pleasing and accurate titles?

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

St Norbert, Archbishop Fulton Sheen and Priests...

June is the month of ordinations to the priesthood. While I celebrate 19 years of priesthood on the 26th of this month, I am still seeking to achieve the ideal I set for myself. As each anniversary approaches I am particularly focused on the promise I made to the Lord on my ordination day; a promise that I would “celebrate Mass with reverence so as to inspire people with a love and awe of Your Majesty; preach with orthodoxy since the Truth alone sets us free, and be there for those in crisis”. I have today been deeply moved by two passages I read earlier this morning. The first was an exclamation of St Norbert whose Memoria we celebrate today in the Ordinary Form; the second was in Fulton Sheen’s ‘The Priest is Not His own’. Fulton Sheen writes, 

After the priest has given up meditation and fills his day with ‘activism’, his next downward step is to give up mortification and become lukewarm: “Peter followed Him at a great distance” (Matt.26:58).
At the Last Supper Peter had promised everything; quickly he begins to give up everything. When Our Blessed Lord set His face toward Jerusalem, Peter and the others “followed Him with faint hearts” (Mk 10:32), dreading the prospect of the Cross... As a commentator of the ninth century wrote, “Peter could not have denied the Saviour if he had stayed by His side”. He would have stayed by His side if he had not drawn his sword without orders and if, above all, he had known how to watch and pray with the Saviour. Every priest undergoes the same experience. Neglect of watching, prayer and mortification, produces an inner uneasiness about being close to the Lord.
When this happens, the priest’s heart is no longer in his work. He celebrates Mass and says his Office, but he rarely makes a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. He keeps the Lord at a distance. He mounts the pulpit to plead for the missions, but gives nothing from his own pocket. He no longer assists at a Mass after he finishes his own. He loses the taste of spiritual things. Saintly priests annoy him. He observes the days of fasting and abstinence but cuts lots of corners. He whispers to his conscience, “Well, if I have not done all the good that I could, at least I did no harm”.

How easy it is to fall into all kinds of corner–cutting today when there are so few priests and so much ‘active’ work to be done. It is not from a lack of sincerity or desire to serve the Lord and His people that corners are cut, but from a wrong sense of priorities. I remember a priest of this Diocese, Father Hugh Lavery (of happy memory) saying, “Remember priest: presence precedes doing”. I think we priests must once again return to being men of presence. We must remember that we enter people’s homes as Christ. No matter how much the housebound appreciate the Holy Communion brought to them by a faithful and devout Extraordinary Minister, a visit from their priest moves them deeply and greatly pleases them. In my heart I believe that we priests, in order to be worthy of the office of alter Christus and the love our people give us, must fill ourselves with the presence of Christ. This can be achieved by devout celebration of the Mass and devout, prayerful visits to the Blessed Sacrament.  My mind and soul tell me that if we don’t fill ourselves with His Presence, we can take only ourselves to the people: our theology, our energy, our human concern. But we cannot take Christ; our ontological change will be impoverished in its spiritual fullness, and yet this fullness in Christ is fundamental to life as priests. The people of God, when well-trained and well informed, can do our administrative work for us, and they are invaluable in supplementing us in catechesis, housebound visitation, support of the bereaved and such like. But they cannot replace us. They are not shepherds, and we cannot leave the sheep to tend the sheep without a shepherd to guide them. It is worthwhile reminding ourselves that priests are alter Christus, and that in this, “Presence precedes doing”.

And what of that exclamation of St Norbert? It is from his ordination day and is striking:

“O Priest! You are not yourself because you are God. You are not yourself because you are the servant and minister of Christ. You are not your own because you are the spouse of the Church. You are not yourself because you are the mediator between God and man. You are not yourself because you are nothing. What then, are you? Nothing and everything. O Priest! Take care lest what was said to Christ on the Cross be said of you: “He saved others, himself he cannot save!’”

Brother Priests of all ranks and offices: let us pray for one another daily, especially in the Most Holy Sacrifice and before the Blessed Sacrament. Holy People of God: pray for your priests, and assist without replacing the alter Christus God has sent you.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Preparing for the Year of Faith...

I am often taken aback at how little Catholics know about their Faith. For example, in one discussion it was said, “Well, Vatican II said all bishops are now Vicar of Christ in their own Diocese, so that means the Pope has no say over them. He is Bishop of Rome, not Bishop of the world”. Wow. I have also had a sixth former say that he agreed adultery was wrong, so was going to ‘sow his oats’ before he got married... While I have tried to inform our people of what constitutes the Faith during my homilies, comments overheard after Mass are “Oh, the Faith according to Father Dickson again”. Sadly, one has no power over how one is heard. In a homily given earlier this year when I explained that mixed marriages are recognised as carrying obstacles that are not to be underestimated (cf. Catechism #1634), a complaint actually went to our Bishop. Apparently, we are expected to welcome mixed marriages as we welcome Catholic marriages.

It seems to me that some folk have difficulty in letting go of the hermeneutic of rupture and in grasping the hermeneutic of continuity. This is true not only in Doctrinal matters but in liturgy: I celebrate every Mass ad orientem as per rubrics 157/158, and use a smattering of Latin at our vigil Mass (as per Sacrosanctum Concilium 36, 54, 116 and GIRM 41) but these are so uncommon that they are seen as a backwards step by some. After all, they rarely see them elsewhere. So I wondered how to foster growth in the parish’s understanding of the Church’s teaching in a way that was accessible and could be referred back to time and again.

The answer arrived through the door one morning...the latest catalogue from the CTS. Since I spend the peoples generous offerings on church heating, lighting, votive candles, cleaning materials, insurances, building repairs etc, I had the idea of spending some a little more directly on the folk themselves. To this end I perused the CTS catalogue and purchased for each Mass-going family a copy of the booklets ‘Credo’ and ‘Lumen’, both by Fathers Marcus Holden and Andrew Pinsent.  So far the response from the folk has been very good, and they have been over the moon to receive them. Perhaps it is easier for some people to hear the Faith from someone other than their own parish priest, and indeed, the printed word often seems to carry a power the spoken word from the pulpit does not: “But Father, I read this in a book!”

Monday, 4 June 2012

Nuncio to the UK .... 'no' to married priests?

The Northern Cross, our local Diocesan newspaper, carried an article quoting the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Mennini. In responding to a question on having married priests posed by a member of the Diocesan Council of Laity, the Nuncio is quoted as saying,

“For young people in our times, compared to twenty years ago, it is more difficult to make a choice to get married or not to get married but this choice depends upon the strength of the encounter young men have with Christ. We have no finer reason to lead a chaste life than to follow the example of Jesus. We are taught to give more than we receive because Jesus acted in this way and I think that this is the case with celibacy”.

In responding to a comment that a town once served by six priests is now being served by one, the Nuncio indicated that:

“In the face of this crisis, which nobody can deny, the churches should be pushed to give to the lay people more tasks surrounding the spiritual life of the parishes”.

Now, while no priest I know would claim he could care for his parish without the collaboration of the people of God, I wonder if there is something else that can be usefully noted. As Redemptionis sacramentum points out:

146: There can be no substitute whatsoever for the ministerial Priesthood.  For if a Priest is lacking in the community, then the community lacks the exercise and sacramental function of Christ the Head and Shepherd, which belongs to the essence of its very life.

I wonder if the crisis in vocations arises not only from young men being attracted by a secular world, but from the fact that many of our pupils leave school with little or no understanding or appreciation of our Faith -isn’t it around a 90% lapsation rate we have directly after leaving school? Vocations come from understanding and appreciation of the Faith, and the dearth in vocations is not likely to be helped by having laity take a step back from their authentic apostolate in the world –so in need of a solid Catholic leaven today- to make a spiritually deficient attempt to fill in for lost vocations to the priesthood.

The Mass celebrated at St Mary’s Catholic School included bidding prayers offered in six different languages (from 40-od mother tongues pupils are said to speak at home), and a liturgical dance to the words of the Hail Mary. In his homily Archbishop Mennini is said to have recalled his time in school; he told the pupils he had wasted a lot of time on many things, and encouraged the pupils to waste a little time each day in prayer. Sound advice, to be sure.

As for the liturgical dance, I will only say that this indicates a shift from seeing liturgy as the worship of God to seeing it as a context for the celebration of the community, in the sense of show-casing the God-given talents of man. Seen in this way, God becomes the secondary focus. I cannot help but wonder if the dance was followed by applause...a human response to a human achievement.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Novus Ordo and the Versus Apsidem: a Core Need

I was honoured to attend Fr Grieves’ First Mass on Friday. It was beautifully arranged; said with reverence and dignity, served attentively, and superbly accompanied by a splendid choir who sang Spatzenmesse in C (Sparrow Mass) by Mozart. And yet I found myself increasingly aware that no matter how reverently the Novus Ordo is celebrated and with what great music, the lack of a High Altar or at least of the versus apsidem orientation, is a significant absence. The experience has deepened my conviction that the celebration of Mass ad orientem is a core loss to be recovered in Catholic liturgy. That said, it didn’t help that the Sanctuary is only one step up from the Nave, as though we weren’t to see God as being too far above us…


Friday, 1 June 2012

Post 3: Assisted suicide, Abortion and Contraception

The interesting and useful blog, Christian Medical Comment, by Dr Peter Saunders, informs us that the euthanasia advocates are about to make another attempt to have assisted suicide made legal. Problems which we must all note, Catholic or not, are manifold. Euthanasia or assisted suicide do not easily appear as ways of caring for the dying but rather of refusing that care by ending the person instead of the person’s suffering. Two things need to be said here. First, we have today sufficiently powerful drugs to combat anxiety, pain and agitation in the seriously ill; some folk seem to simply exclude this, advocating killing instead. Second, the argument that to end a person’s suffering we can end the person’s life. Such an argument holds a very dangerous trajectory: it would allow us to end the suffering of poverty by killing the poor. We are seeing an ever increasing assault on human life in today’s world; an ever-increasing avoidance of the Cross in human life, and indeed, of the compassion those crosses call forth from us.
Abortion remains a central attack on the dignity of human life, and despite what many seem to believe, is always the ending of a unique human life. With its own DNA from fertilisation, and its own heartbeat from around 20 days after conception, the human embryo is an individual. Even the placenta has as one of its functions the filtering of impurities from the mother’s blood so as to safeguard the foetus (this is an interesting aspect of the physiology of pregnancy, for the body recognises the mother has the potential to be an unjust aggressor upon the child). The argument from ‘personhood’ is spurious in that we are all developing as persons, and the point at which we become fully who we are -or are called to be- is perhaps never attained in this life.
Contraception can be seen as the first and foundational attack upon life since it is a refusal to cooperate with life; a refusal to engage in the procreation of the species -and perhaps, therefore, an offence against humanity. Same gender sexual activity may hold the same difficulty: engaging in use of that faculty for procreation in non-procreative ways. What a sad, anti-life world we are becoming...and at a rapid pace.

Father Dickson