Friday, 16 December 2016


Today I went to Tesco—it was on my way, and has usually parking spaces—to buy some fish for lunch. Over the display cabinet was a big sign: "Fish: not only for Friday's". Yes, I reproduced that accurately, apostrophe included.

But it does say two interesting things;

First, that fish once more has come to be associated with Friday.

Second, that supermarkets have noticed that more people than in recent years are buying fish for eating on a Friday (and want to extend that).

I think that, still, England and Wales are the only English (and Welsh!)-speaking conference which has restored Friday abstinence. But notice how it has already impacted one of the largest supermarket stores in the country.

Again, I congratulate my former bishop, Kieran Conry, for having given us back Friday abstinence. Little things sometimes have great impact.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Closing churches

Well, it's been over a year since my last post, so I don't know who will read this, but it's something I want to get off my chest.

The shortage of priestly vocations is something which has now really begun to bite; the worst effect was delayed to some extent by the Church of England's decision to ordain women to their priesthood in 1992 and the consequent influx of refugee clergy. But now the chickens are coming home to roost and we are facing hard times.

The first bishop to close churches was Bishop Arthur Roche at Leeds, satirized unmercifully for it by Damian Thompson. Others have followed. In my own diocese there have been few closures, but many mergers of parishes: my last posting, in the Valle Adurni, was the fruit of one such merger. Mergers can work in a diocese such as this one, where population, including Catholic population, is concentrated in a relatively small area.

This won't work so well where substantial distances and small populations are concerned. So the Diocese of Wrexham (not Menevia, as I previously wrote) has embarked on a savage cull of churches, such as in Aberystwyth, where the shocked parishioners took their appeal to Rome, only to have it denied.

How could this happen?

Well, in the past, most parishes were in the trusteeship of a few senior parishioners. This meant that the parishioners 'owned' their parish property, which is just what Canon Law legislates, designating the parish as a 'juridical person'. During the 1970s, and perhaps before and after, the dioceses went through a process of persuading these parochial trustees to resign their trusteeships in favour of the diocesan bishop and a few other senior clergy. They were clearly not aware of the principle of subsidiarity. A similar process had been gone through in the Church of England, whereby all locally owned assets were acquired by the newly-established Church Commissioners, who proceeded to place all its new eggs in one basket—with the proverbial result a few years later.

In the Catholic Church of England and Wales too, the outcome is that now all diocesan property, including the church buildings, is an asset of what is in effect a large corporation; not national in our case, but diocesan. It means that what is perceived to be a failing church within a diocese can be sold in order to finance another project; anything from employing a new Health and Safety officer or Renewal Coach to (not a frequently chosen option, this) building a new church in some needy area.

When a church is closed, especially where there is resident and still relatively flourishing congregation, as would seem to be the case at Aberystwyth, anguish is the result, and no demonstrable benefit to those who have lost the place where they, their parents and their grandparents were baptised, first Communicated, wed and buried. And quite possibly their great-grandparents had made extraordinary sacrifices to build the place. It is hard to persuade them that a concrete bunker a few miles away would be a lovely place to go to Mass, and that a new secretary in the Safeguarding Office would be an important resource for the Diocese.

I think that Rome should not have supported the bishop. Canon Law is clear that the parish owns the property, even in civil law says that the diocesan trustees do so.

What should have happened is that the bishop simply would withdraw the priest, leaving the parish to make what it could of the buildings. The bishop should have said 'over to you; the diocese can't pay for this; if you want it, it's yours.' The parishioners could have maintained the place and arranged for Mass as and when they could find a willing priest. Somewhere like Aberystwyth, a pleasant seaside town, could well arrange for visiting priests who would say Mass in return for a week's free accommodation. I know enclosed convents who operate this system most effectively. Everybody wins.

As for pastoral care; well isn't this the age of the laity? The universal Church has plenty of experience of running parishes that only have Mass once or twice a year. I have a parishioner here from Guyana where she was the dedicated baptizer for her priestless parish. There are the offices of Lauds and Vespers. There are devotions: surely this is the time to recover some of this stuff and let the parish operate as it did in the past, and yes, we have been here in this country before.

In his autobiography, (variously titled), Archbishop Ullathorne described how in the early 19th Century, Catholic parishes in the north of England carried on without a priest; there would be litanies, rosaries, a sermon read from a book… but the community survived. Not by any means ideal, but once you close the church, you lose the people. Nearly all of them.

But on the plus side, if you close the church, you may have gained a secretary to type the letters to the people who are no longer there.

And, one last thought— I know very little about American law, but if each parish had owned its own property, could dioceses have been driven bankrupt by those punishing fines following on the disgraceful child abuse scandal?

I have been recently corrected on two points by Rev Dr Stephen Morgan, Financial Secretary of the Portsmouth Diocese (who, if anyone, is in a position to know). He observes that parish lay trusteeships were mainly confined to historic parishes, such as the ones I was familiar with when I made my assertion, assuming them to be the norm. Most trusteeships were transferred to dioceses in the 1930s. In the case of the Church of England, property conveyed to the Church Commissioners were glebelands and parsonages, not churches themselves.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Minor crimes in Eire

From Mary Kenny's column in the Catholic Herald, 21.8.15:
When sentencing for minor offences, Irish judges may order the convicted to pay a fine into a charity of the judges' choice; and the list of charities in question has now been made public.
The St Vincent de Paul comes out tops, receiving €129,000 last yer; Sightsavers came second with €120.400; the Christian Blind Mission, next (€120,000);then Ethiopia Aid (€90,000); the Simon Community for the homeless (€53,000); the Society of African Missions (€52,400); the Cappuchin [sic] Day Centre, which provides free meals to the needy (€49,815); St Patrick's Missionary Society (€44,000); and Oxfam Ireland (€38,559). Smaller charities also benefitted adding up to €2m in all. County Kerry paid the highest amount into the "court poor box".
It's an admirable system as it helps charities and also allows a miscreant to feel that he has literally "paid back" something to society.
Isn't that wonderful?

Friday, 28 August 2015

Friday, 31 July 2015


What a lot of nonsense is being posted about these supposed Catholic relics at Jamestown! The fact of somebody being buried with some bones in a silver box means very little more than that someone was buried with some of the bones of someone he loved. We could perhaps speculate that this was a beloved relative who died (with the initial M) and for whatever reason these were the only remains recovered. It seems a long stretch to me to conclude from the available evidence that this person was a secret Catholic pretending to be a Protestant in a very severely Protestant community. I'm sure there were better places to be a Catholic than Jamestown.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Lest there be any doubt……

My name does not appear among the signatories of the letter supporting Catholic teaching concerning marriage and family life. I'm not really sure what happened: probably it was my fault by putting a reply on the long finger in a period of busyness. Nonetheless nobody should infer that I thereby disagree with it. I wholeheartedly support it, in fact.

Thursday, 19 February 2015


Today I went to the Requiem Mass of a remarkable woman. Her name was Maria Jesusa Gutierrez y Rodriguez, but I and everyone else always knew her as Conchita.

Born around 1926 in rural Spain, the Civil War therefore was the dominant fact of her childhood, and indeed of her life. She came from a profoundly Catholic family; two aunts were Carmelite nuns, and two or three uncles belonged to a men's order, which I forget. It was told today at her Requiem how the communists took her aunts with the rest of the community out of their convent, raped them and shot them in front of the little girl, her family and the village. The memories of her aunts' bare shaven heads, stripped of their wimples, and the look of horror on their faces after the rape stayed with Conchita all her life.

Shortly after that, her uncles were hanged from the town bridge, again in front of Conchita, her family and the other villagers. Their bodies were left to rot on the ropes until wild animals disposed of their remains.

The next to be executed was the parish priest, who was merely shot. The young Conchita, brave girl, managed to get into the sacristy of the church, where she found a box of unconsecrated hosts. She also found the tabernacle key, and went to the tabernacle. She removed the Sacred Hosts, pushed them up her sleeve, and substituted unconsecrated breads, closing and locking the tabernacle, and leaving things as she found them.

Rounding the corner, she ran into a communist band coming to desecrate the church. 'Where are you going?' she was roughly asked. 'Off to play with my friends', she calmly replied, and they let her go.

She took the Hosts to a young priest of her acquaintance—one Fr José Maria Escriva de Balaguer—who gave them in Communion to those with him. Though she was never a member of Opus Dei, she and he continued to correspond for many years, though in later years, her mind failing, she lost his letters.

In later life, she made her way to England where she married and then, when widowed relatively young, and left very well-off, settled on the South Coast of England. There, living simply herself, she spent her fortune on others—for instance she paid for the education of a priest. She was very kind to me, too. And she loved to entertain.

There were six priests today at her funeral (including the priest whose education she had supported, and a representative from Opus Dei), a testament to the strong power of her faith. I think she would have been surprised, for she never thought herself anything special.

Rest in peace, Conchita. I count it a privilege to have known you.

Friday, 16 January 2015


Anyone else notice this?

Pope Francis in the Philippines:

The Wizard of Oz:

I'm encouraged that, like Pope Benedict, he encouraged us to have devotion not of the Pope, but of Christ.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Cardinal Kasper: What it's all about

Yesterday a priest friend drew my attention to an interview given by Cardinal Kasper, and printed in the July/August 2014 edition of the periodical Doctrine and Life. In this article Kasper elaborates at length on his favourite subject of mercy. It includes this passage, concerning those living in irregular unions:

To live together as brother and sister? Of course I have high respect for those who are doing this. But it's a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian.

Well, there we have it. Heroism is not for the average Christian. Here we have the explanation of the emptying churches in Germany and in the West generally.

Had this been the attitude of the early Christian Church, one wonders what would ever have happened.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Galatians 2:11

So why did I go quiet, then?

Well, simply because I found myself in disagreement with some of the prudential judgments of the Holy Father. When I started this blog, I was deeply excited by Pope Benedict and his project of reform and renewal: I had wanted to add my weight to that. Those were wonderful, heady days.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, has made me deeply uneasy. The man is of course a Catholic ('Is the Pope a Catholic?'), but he seems to have, in a frighteningly magnified way, the same instinct that John Paul II had, that, as Pope – however much he may dress it up as being, humbly and simply, the Bishop of Rome – the Church is his to govern as he sees fit. It is a kind of charismatic leadership; 'I know where I'm going; follow me, chaps!' This is a frightening overconfidence that now seems to have implications for doctrinal orthodoxy. And leading so far into uncharted waters smacks to me of a belief in a personal infallibility (rather than a strictly circumscribed infallibility of office) that would have made Pope Pius IX blush.

There is no way that I wanted to be seen to be out of communion of mind and heart with the Holy Father, our very touchstone of communion. So, on the old principle that if you can't say anything nice, say nothing at all, I decided to say nothing at all.

It was a recent article by the very interesting Ross Douthat that made me think again. If Peter's job is to strengthen the brethren, then perhaps we, as a Church, have the duty to strengthen Peter when his arms grow tired on the ship's tiller.

When interest groups try to force the Church onto another course, do not we who are loyal have a duty to state clearly and unambiguously what we understand the Church's teaching to be, that the Holy Father may truly have a sense of the sensus fidelium, and not merely of the zeitgeist?

Let us remember the words of St Paul: 'But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was wrong'. (Galatians 2:11) Perhaps there are times, even while reverencing the Petrine office, we need to strengthen his arms. History provides us with many examples; Pope Liberius and Pope John XXII, to name but two, who needed to be encouraged to stand firm in the faith.

People have talked of the threat of schism recently: mostly journalistic hyperbole, of course. But is the Pope, or Cardinal Kaspar really willing to force this serious division of opinion to the point where it might become a schism? Because schisms do precisely come when there are serious threats to doctrinal orthodoxy.

You need only read history.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

I'm back!

The Pastor in Valle has been into his tomb, found it not entirely to his liking, tried poking his nose out as Pastor in Valle Emeritus (it's all the rage, this emeritus thing), and now will stalk the world as Pastor in Monte, though he doesn't know how much posting he will do.

Now we are Aspicientes in Jesum, because that seems appropriate. I hope you agree. The events of the last few months have focussed us all on the essentials, and I can't think of anything more essential that this.

I've changed my name to Pastor in Monte since that seems a good alternative, as I am now living on a (rather steep) hill.

  High on a hill lived a lonely Pastor… Yodel o lo layee…… &c

Thursday, 7 August 2014


Well, all good things come to an end. A month from today (7th September) I will be celebrating my last Mass in the Valle Adurni, for I have been reassigned to the Church of the Sacred Heart, Caterham on the Hill in Surrey. And so the Pastor in Valle will become the Pastor in Monte.

I'm not sure what to do about the blog; you'll have noticed that over the last couple of years my posts have become increasingly sporadic, largely for reasons which Fr Ray cleverly analysed a few weeks ago following a conversation we had in a Shoreham restaurant.

Once I go, I won't post any more to this particular blog, I think, since there will be a new Pastor in Valle, but if I feel the muse a-fluttering around, I might start a new one. I'll post up a link here, if so.

Thank you and God bless you for reading, and for the comments and all that stuff. Above all, oremus pro invicem, let us pray for each other and for our holy Mother, the Church.

Monday, 26 May 2014


I have just watched a recording of the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem. You can watch it here; there is no commentary or translation, though a lot of it is in English, and though the Holy Father spoke in Italian, there is a translation here. You will need to skip over the first part; for a long time there are security men scuttling around doing not a lot.

The Holy Father's homily was very good, but I was very impressed by Patriarch Bartholomew in particular. Unlike the Pope, he always seemed to know what was going on, and shepherded the Pope around; you could see Pope Francis looking out of the corner of his eye to see what he ought to be doing, seeming rather awkward and unsure of himself. But then liturgy isn't really the Jesuits' strong point, I suppose. Bartholomew has an impressive command of languages; his English appears to be completely fluent, and he conversed with the Holy Father easily in Italian, even translating for him at one point.

There were two things I found rather touching; the first was at the very beginning, when the successors of the brothers St Peter and St Andrew were about to descend a short flight of steps. The Pope said; 'I can't go quickly down stairs', so the Patriarch, much spryer, simply gave him a hand.

And, perhaps most touchingly, I noticed early on that the chain of the Holy Father's pectoral cross had somehow slipped up over his collar and was against his skin, rather unsightly and certainly uncomfortable.

The Patriarch had clearly noticed it, too, and decided to do something about it himself:
Much better!

I was reminded of two elderly brothers, the younger carefully looking after the older. Andrew and Peter.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Church and the Internet

At last! Something sensible from a bishop on the subject of the Internet, blogs and all that. In this case, it is the coadjutor archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, who includes in his talk a sensible list of 'commandments' for Catholics engaging in the e-apostolate.

1. Be positive and joyful. Offer ‘digital smiles’ and have a sense of humour. Remember that it is the ‘ joy of the Gospel’ that we are communicating, so, as Pope Francis says: no ‘funeral faces’ or ‘sourpusses’!
2. Strictly avoid aggression and ‘preachiness’ online; try not to be judgemental or polemical – goodness knows, there is enough of this online already! Instead, try Pope Francis’ approach of ‘tenderness and balm’.
3. Never bear false witness on the internet.
4. Remember ‘Ubi caritas et amor’. Fill the internet with charity and love, always giving rather than taking. Continually seek to broaden and reframe discussions and seek to include a sense of charity and solidarity with the suffering in the world.
5. Have a broad back when criticisms and insults are made – when possible, gently correct.
6. Pray in the digital world! Establish sacred spaces, opportunities for stillness, reflection amd meditation online.
7. Establish connections, relationships and build communion. Church has always been about ‘gathering’. In this, it is worth considering an ecumenical presence for the Christian churches online. The internet tends to be a place of ethical and intellectual relativism, and often of aggressive secularism. The scandal of disunity among Christians can be easily exploited and exaggerated. Therefore we must seek to share resources so that we can have a powerful Gospel witness. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people started noticing online: ‘See how these Christians love one another’.
8. Educate our young to keep themselves safe and to use the internet responsibly.
9. Witness to human dignity at all times online. Seek, as Pope Benedict once said, to ‘give a soul to the internet’. We are well aware of the pervasive prevalence of pornography on the internet which can ‘pollute the spirit’, destroy and degrade human sexuality and relationships, reduce persons to objects for gratification, draw millions into the commodification and commercialisation of sex, feed the monster that is human trafficking.
10. Be missionary, be aware that with the help of the internet, a message has the potential to reach the ends of the earth in seconds. In this regard, let us foster and call forth charisms in younger committed people who understand the power and potential of the net to bear witness.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Adopt a priest

The funny thing about this video is that in France, the priest shown would be considered definitively conservative and, well, rather un-French. Traddies in France wear the cassock; soixante-huitards wear a grey suit with a blue polo shirt and, sometimes, a cross on the jacket lapel. But the 'clergyman' dress, so familiar in anglophone countries, in France is a sort of code for someone who isn't exactly a traddie, but definitely distances himself from most of his ageing confreres.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014


I never realised that Cervantes fought at Lepanto. It seems particularly appropriate on the feast of St Pius V that The History Blog should have drawn attention to a search for Cervantes' grave.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Third Class Relic

So Popes John XXIII and Pope John Paul II are now saints. This doesn’t worry me the way it worries some people. I study history, and I know very well that a decree of sanctity is not a declaration that absolutely everything an individual said or did was holy or good. In the Patristic period, you need only look at St Jerome or St Cyril of Alexandria to understand that many saints have had flaws, perhaps serious flaws. To my mind that is encouraging; in Butler’s Lives of the Saints, you can read that the infant St Nicholas was accustomed to refusing his mother’s milk on fast days. That, with all due reverence to St Nicholas, is no use to me. If perfect behaviour from infancy is necessary for me to become a saint, then it is all over with me, because even now I remain deeply flawed, as all my friends will cheerfully confirm. The Church is simply saying that these two men, Pope John and Pope John Paul are in heaven and can intercede for us. I’m fine with that. I don’t need to accept that everything they were, did and said is now part of the extraordinary magisterium.

Pope John was the Pope when I was born; I learnt a real reverence for him from his Journal of a Soul, and I have no difficulty at all in recognising his sanctity. I give no credence whatever to certain accusations of Freemasonry and all that stuff. As regarding his liturgical preferences; well, he reversed some of Pope Pius XII's changes, and published on his own authority Veterum Sapientia, confirming the study and use of Latin in the Western Rites as mandatory.

I have a more nuanced reverence for Pope John Paul. I’m not going to go into it here; you can read about it in abundance on the internet. But I will never forget my own personal encounter with him. During Lent 1990 I had been ordained about six months, and was in Rome for a pilgrimage of thanksgiving. A priest of my diocese who worked then in the Secretariat of State had obtained for me a pass to concelebrate Mass with Pope John Paul in his private chapel at his early morning celebration. Directed by Mgr Dziwisz, and vested in alb and purple stoles, we were ushered in to the papal chapel where the Holy Father was already seated at his chair and prie dieu in prayer. All was in deep silence. It really was rather uncanny; we sat with him as he prayed, but his prayer wasn’t as we prayed; he would, alarmingly, groan aloud and writhe in his chair, and I was rather concerned for him.

Finally he came around, and in front of us vested for Mass, which was celebrated in Italian. 

After Mass, we concelebrants and other guests were herded politely into a sort of receiving line. The Holy Father went to each of us, gave us a rosary, and said a few words. When he came to me, I told him in my halting Italian that I was newly ordained; he put his arm around me and hugged me. Yes, he did! And then he said something to me; I told myself right then that I must remember those words for the rest of my life. I promptly forgot them, and cannot remember them since.

What sticks in my mind? How short he was! He is always in the foreground of photographs, so he looks bigger than he actually was. In fact, he was much shorter than me, and I am only of average height. Second; the collar of his cassock was not very clean; clearly a white cassock is harder to keep clean than a black one.

But I will never forget that encounter. His presence was extraordinary.

Leaving the Apostolic Palace by the St Anne Gate, I encountered a slight figure in a black cassock crossing the piazza towards St Peter’s Square. It was Cardinal Ratzinger, heading off for his daily work at the CDF. I smiled at him, and he stopped. We tried languages; my German wasn’t adequate, neither then was his English. So we spoke in Italian: I simply thanked him for all his work, and said what it meant to me as a newly ordained priest. He beamed back at me, and then went off to work. I date my reverence for that man from that day when he spoke to a simple newly-ordained priest with infinite kindness.

So, I have touched a saint. That makes me a third class relic, and you may venerate me.

Form a line.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Happy Easter!

A picture for Karen. Traditions must be upheld, after all.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Robert Mickens is suspended by The Tablet!

p.s. I think these two screen shots must be the most reproduced without attribution or acknowledgement in recent internet history!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo

Within living memory the Church of the low countries—the Netherlands and of course Belgium—was confident and flourishing, sending missionaries around the world. And now……

I have just stumbled across this Dutch site. Look under 'inventory'.

Some will weep, others will rub their hands and reach for their credit cards.

At any rate, if anyone wants to equip his church with Beautiful Things for Jesus (BTJs), he could do much worse than to start here. I haven't dared to ask the prices, though.

Much better these things find a new home in churches than in bars.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Church of the Future — one vision

As you would expect, The Tablet has been hardly able to contain itself since the election of Pope Francis. Paeans of praise arise from their pages every week for this Joannes XXIII redivivus. There is a feeling of 'we thought it was all over for us, and now, from out of the blue, here come the cavalry!' Robert Mickens is particularly enthusiastic, and rarely does a week go by without him getting in at least one dig at the Pope Emeritus, usually by unfavourable comparison with the present Holy Father. Comparisons are odious, it is said, and his are particularly odious.

When writing directly about the Holy Father, The Tablet says little about his more conservative utterances—as you would expect. There seems to be a sense that the Holy Father has to say these things because of the conservative people his two predecessors filled the Vatican with: he can't move too quickly. But we all know what he thinks really—he thinks like us! All we have to do is bide our time.

So, The Tablet is quickly forming a consensus in its leaders and in its correspondence pages and in most of its articles (I make the noble exception of Christopher Howse whose articles are as excellent as ever). No doubt its purpose is to help the Holy Father form a picture of how the Church should look when he has done the thorough reform which he has embarked upon.

The Tablet's Church of the future will look like this:

• There will be appropriate respect for the person and office of the Holy Father. However local churches will make all serious decisions for themselves.
• In this, there will be real participation by the laity who will have a say in every issue that concerns them. They will participate in the governance of the Church.
• Worship will be liturgical and meaningful, and people-centred. Rites will be respected, but not regarded as shibboleths.
• All seven sacraments will be administered to all who wish to receive them.
• There will be no distinction between men and women, gay or straight, when it comes to deciding who may receive Holy Orders.
• Clergy will be able freely to marry.
• Remarriage in church after divorce will be available to all.
• The Church will firmly stay out of the bedroom.
• The use of artificial contraception will be judged to be both wholesome and responsible.
• Homosexual unions will be respected and welcomed in a loving community as will all LGBT people and relationships.
• While not supporting the practice, the Church will respect and lovingly support those who feel they have no option other than to have recourse to abortion or euthanasia.

It seems to me that The Tablet may be trying to reinvent the wheel. This has all been already done, and if this form of Church appeals to them or anyone else, they might care to have a look at this movement, which will give them everything their hearts desire. [Link] You might even call it an Ordinariate in reverse.

Clergy might like to click here.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Virginal Bee of Hereford

Looking with a friend the other day at the Exsultet from the Hereford Missal (you know, the way you do), we discovered this rather wonderful extra bit:

…quas in substantiam pretiosæ hujus lampadis apis mater eduxit.
O vere et beata et mirabilis apis: cujus nec sexum masculi violant; fætus [?] non quassant, nec filii destruunt castitatem. Sicut sancta concepit virgo Maria, virgo peperit, et virgo permansit.
O beata nox, qua exspoliavit Ægyptios……

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Fort Worth and the Extraordinary Form Mass

The action of Michael Olson, the very new Bishop Olson of Fort Worth, a mere three weeks into his pontificate, in forbidding (or, more accurately, attempting to forbid) Fisher More College to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form has been drawing a great deal of comment around the world.
It seems to have been Rorate Cæli who broke the news, and they did so, understandably, in a tone of outrage.

To summarise the goings-on for those who aren't up to speed; Fisher More College in Texas is a College of Tertiary Education of traditional stamp where the liturgy also is celebrated in the Extraordinary Form.  The bishop (whom, at 47, every source seems to take delight in pointing out is the second youngest in the US) has sent a letter directing the college to cease all its EF celebrations. Given that a Pope, in Summorum Pontificum explicitly gave the right to priests, not to Bishops, to decide when and where to celebrate the EF, presumably precisely to avoid this sort of thing, it seems clear that in fact Bishop Olson has no right to do what he has done. At least on the surface of things; there may of course be more going on under the surface that we know nothing about.

And so indeed suggests 'Tantamergo' [sic], the author of the blog called Veneremurcernui, 'A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics'. Here you can read that Michael King, the Principal of the college, has been adopting a more and more extreme line of late, involving very severe criticism of the hierarchy and of the Second Vatican Council, to the effect that several staff and students have left. This, with other things, has caused a financial crisis which may mean that, despite recent heroic fundraising by the students, the future of the college may be rather brief.

But even if this is so, it seems strange to penalise the students if the faculty is at fault. Surely the effect will be to drive students and staff more firmly into the hands of the Society of St Pius X or some more extreme Sedevacantist body. Even if it could be demonstrated that Bishop Olson has the legal right to do what he has done (and I don't think it can), one would certainly doubt the prudence of his action. And most of all we must deplore the lack of charity. The college had sent the new bishop a spiritual bouquet, and rather lamely, he thanks them for their kindness at the end of the letter in which he has dealt them what they must consider the most severe of blows.

He tells the college that his actions are for their own spiritual good, which would appear to imply that the use of the EF must be harmful. Presumably the bishop takes the commonly-held line that the EF is a rallying point for all sorts of undesirable things and people; suppress the EF and you get rid of the problem.

Yet again we must quote those words of Pope Benedict, from the letter accompanying Summorum Pontificum:

What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Western Lenten Fast

People have often admired the rigorous approach to fasting taken by the Eastern Churches. Our Western custom was once similar, but was diminished principally during the two world wars and further following the Second Vatican Council.

These fasts are no longer of precept, of course, but that doesn't mean that their use wouldn't be spiritually fruitful.

This applies particularly in Lent. The Western Lenten fast is as follows:

The Lenten Fast

All weekdays of Lent are days of fasting and abstinence. That means one single meal. Two lighter meals may be taken as long as their combined quantity does not exceed that of the single meal.
Meat may not be eaten, nor, I understand, fish, though I may be corrected on this. I presume it (and remember reading it somewhere, but I can't find it) on account of fish being specified as permitted on Sunday.

Traditionally, the abstinence also forbids eggs and all dairy products, the so-called 'black fast'. (perhaps because of the milkless tea). This had ceased to be of obligation by the nineteenth century.
In practice, this means observing a vegan diet during the week.

Oil may be used (unlike in the east) to cook or dress food at all times.

Sundays in Lent are days of abstinence, but not fasting. Therefore the normal quantities of food may be eaten, but not meat. Fish is permitted.

Fasting and abstinence are only lifted should the day be a Holy Day of Obligation. I don't think any holy days would fall within Lent these days.

Days of Fasting outside Lent

In addition, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays during Ember weeks are days of fasting. Ember weeks are the first week in Lent, (fasting anyway), the Octave of Pentecost, The third week in September and the third week in Advent.

The vigils of the following feasts are days of fasting: Pentecost, Ss Peter & Paul, the Assumption, All Saints, and Christmas Day.

All Wednesdays and Fridays in Advent are fast days.

Should a fast day fall on a Sunday, it is observed on the Saturday. Should a feast fall on a Monday, the fast is also observed on the Saturday.

The only exception to the Friday abstinence traditionally was if Christmas day should fall on a Friday.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Going scarlet

From last week's Tablet, about one of the new Cardinal-designates, Fernando Sebastián Aguilar, former Archbishop of Pamplona, lauded by the writer as a theologian:

Notably, he is a firm believer in the validity of the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms. He recently told his confrère and respected Rome-based liturgist Fr Matias Augé that he recites Eucharistic Prayer II by heart at all his Masses. When the priest pointed out that traditionalists believe EPII does "not adequately express the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist", the cardinal-designate replied: "Don't worry, anyone who says this doesn't understand a thing about the sacrificial dimension of the Mass".
Robert Mickens, Letter from Rome, The Tablet, 18th January 2014

Words fail me. And if they cease to fail me, I think that probably I would never stop writing. Is this really the ultimate boast of a Vatican II theologian, that he uses nothing but EPII, even though most of the Latin world does likewise? And as for the rest…

p.s. I gather he's earned the hatred of the liberals for some rather unconsidered remarks about homosexuality. I found this when I looked for the picture I've posted above.

Monday, 13 January 2014

No point being made

I'm not trying to make any point one way or another; I just thought this was funny.

'You should stink of the sheep'
'You should be perfumed with Christ!'

'Catholic' Cologne.

H/T Facebook/ Alex Dimminger

Titles and frivvle

The late Monsignor Alfred Gilbey is supposed to have described the Knights of Malta as 'a very elaborate way of doing very little good'. A most unfair (if amusing) comment, the waspishness of which would incline me to think that its attribution is not right: Mgr Gilbey was a charitable man. But there is a spirit abroad which seems to think that trimming away trimmings is a good thing in itself. There have always been puritans, and there will always be puritans; people with wagging fingers who want to cancel Christmas, and take others having fun as a personal affront.

It is summed up by many in that oxymoronic phrase of Vatican II: noble simplicity—which has, by the way, little to do with poverty or real simplicity. It was in the interest of noble simplicity that officials in the time of Pope John Paul II commissioned set after set of 'simple' (but very expensive) concelebration vestments for the Pope himself and  the assisting cardinals, often used only once, while the elaborate and decorated vestments of ages past lay gathering dust in the sacristies of St Peter's.

I do get it, the idea of simplifying. But we run the risk of making the Church more boring. The difficulty comes when people look at the frills rather than at the thing to which they point. And human nature will mean that some will and others won't. Most won't, though, and the existence of frills doesn't necessarily mean that their users are frivolous.

And now diocesan priests are not to be monsignori until 65. Well, I can't say that I'm particularly exercised about that. In fact I think that it's probably a good thing; in my diocese we have a couple of younger monsignori and canons, and excellent chaps they are. But they would still be excellent chaps without the purple and fake fur. What is so strange (as Fr Michael Brown points out so eloquently) is that the Roman Curial mandarins (supposedly being reformed) can still be monsignori at 35, if they can succeed in not blotting their copybooks for five years (and most of them can manage that).

Actually, I've got no problem with curial mandarins becoming monsignori, and one or two even cardinals. But I do wonder why many of them, sometimes with no pastoral experience at all, are made bishops, with pretend dioceses. Getting rid of that system would really be a reform worth having, I think. Why not let them have all the old ranks of the Monsignorate, with the top one going to the top guy in each congregation? Surely they should only be bishops if they have already been bishop of a real diocese. I don't think that this would make it a duller Church, simply a more focussed Church.

A bit of dressing up, a title here or there; these things make life interesting. And they connect us to the Church of the past and remind us that we have to preserve things for the Church of the future; the Church of 2014, after all, is not the only thing that matters.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013


Read this. (Click on it, I mean.)

My shortest post.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Filthy Lucre

Someone asked me: 'so how are Catholic Clergy paid, then?'

Well, there are many different answers to that. Some dioceses collect in all the various myriad methods of income and pay each priest a salary. That makes things very easy for filling in a tax return.

My diocese, like many others, sticks to the ancient system, which is mostly governed by custom. The priest is guaranteed his board and lodging, which (within reason) can be paid for directly from the parish account. We are allotted a weekly sum for our food, for which we do not need to present receipts; the figure, however, has not changed since at least 1995, despite all the inflation since then. This, I gather, is an Inland Revenue stipulation, not the diocese's. Inevitably, a lot of that figure goes on entertaining; people help themselves generally to coffee, milk, biscuits &c on a daily basis, and this is very hard to quantify as generally parishioners on business share the presbytery kitchen with me.

We have to buy our own car, but receive 45p/mile to run it on parish business.

Then there comes private income. Well, this can vary substantially according to the parish we serve. One source is the system of Mass stipends. This is a bit like the mediæval chantry system; basically, you pay a priest to celebrate Mass for the intention you direct. The idea originally was that the sum should keep a priest for a day. Of course these days the sum is usually a token, and I know of no priest who would refuse to say Mass for someone who couldn't pay (if he were to refuse, it would be very redolent of simony, I think). Some priests refuse Mass stipends altogether, a position I have some sympathy with, though in parishes where the other forms of income are lacking or low, (especially where the Church is under pressure for one reason or another) they can be a lifeline.

After this, there are 'stole fees'. There are no charges for the sacraments, but it is customary to make an offering to the priest or deacon who officiates at weddings, baptisms and funerals. Generally speaking he may spend quite some time on each service, with the preparation &c, and this may be reflected in the offering. No figure is specified; it is left to the generosity or resources of the individual to decide.

The other source of income (and the largest) is the two collections at Christmas and Easter. Instead of going into parish funds, the collection taken at Mass is divided among the priests of the parish. This does not include the money paid by standing order, which goes to the parish as usual (I'm not sure people know that), nor the money recovered from Gift Aid (since individual priests are not charities).

So you will understand that working things out for the annual tax return is not much fun, especially if the individual struggles with numbers as I do. The government even require us to estimate the second-hand value of the furniture in the presbytery and tax us on it.

In this country, deacons are not paid at all, other than their stole fees. They do it all for the love of God. And I think their reward will be great in heaven.

That's how it works, folks.


I cannot tell you how glad I am to have the return of Fr Hunwicke, now unquestionably my brother and priest, to the blogosphere. I'm well aware that his calm logical style will not be to everyone's taste, but his simple rational ability to cut through the crap (forgive me!) is just what we need right now. His most recent post on the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate is one of his best. Euge!

Friday, 13 December 2013


Today I had a funeral; the deceased (please say a prayer for her) was not practising for many years, nor were her relatives and friends, so the service was in the Crematorium. That was a feature on its own, because the minister who preceded me exceeded his allotted time unapologetically and truncated what I could offer to the deceased lady and her loved ones.

However, some things occurred which interested me. The first was a comment from an undertaker who had had to deal with the preceding service. He is a nice guy, and we chatted about the services at which he assisted. He remarked that he had no time for clergy who stuck their noses into a book and simply read things out; 'I would like to think that my loved ones wouldn't simply have rehashed material' he said; 'I would like to think that this was the first and last time that something had been heard'. I pointed out that I was actually required to perform the rites of the Church, but he wasn't impressed. No good; I don't think we'll be doing his funeral.

Our conversation (it was quite protracted, because the service beforehand was seriously overrunning) then went on to secularist/humanist services. We talked about the fact that secularist service officiants could simply set themselves up as officiants without any training or expertise. He commented that there was a lady locally who set herself up as something of the sort, and also offered training for 'secular' officiants; she charges £600 for the course and is coining it, apparently. The undertaker told me that he would never employ this lady himself for any sort of a funeral; apparently her 'services' are dire beyond belief (no pun intended).

Another common feature these days is clergy who have obtained ordination from some source or another and set themselves up as funeral officiants. Their ordination comes from 'Old Catholic' sources, or 'Liberal Catholic' sources, none in communion with the Catholic Church or indeed with the Church of England or any other mainstream Christian Communion. But these 'clergy' make a nice living at funerals, and are a serious threat to the Church of England clergy. These days the Church Commissioners of the Church of England decree a fee of £160 plus for a funeral: in the past I and most priests have simply said to undertakers who are perplexed by our reluctance to charge a specific fee for a service, 'give us what the Church of England specify'. But £160 seems excessive to most of us, and we generally, in high embarrassment, suggest to the undertakers some lower figure. But not these 'vagi' (vagus=wandering, unattached, cleric) who, having obtained some sort of ordination from once source or another, make a rare old living locally, and no doubt elsewhere in the country. These people are less of a threat to us, though it is not unknown for them to contact the undertaker firms introducing themselves as 'Catholic priests'; we had a case locally, where the Dean had to intervene. Pressed, these vagi will confirm that they are 'independent Catholic priests', but to an undertaker who is having difficulty finding a priest or deacon for a family who won't notice the difference…… And there are lots of these guys around, it seems.

This vagus situation bites particularly hard for the Anglicans who, when in active ministry, are required to hand over all stipends to the Church Commissioners in exchange for their salary. Anyone else (including us Catholics) can simply trouser the fee*. So to see these vagi, ordained by strange wandering bishops, hoovering up their parishioners for a fat fee, when they themselves would have received nothing for the service adds to the sense of annoyance. And it would seem that the word is getting around that this is a lucrative market. And, presumably, as the number of services reaching Anglican clergy declines, the Church Commissioners will be required to put the fees up again simply to try and break even.

The undertaker I was speaking to today commented 'there aren't enough funerals to go around for all the clergy these days!'

*—in our case because we are not salaried at all; our income comes from such sources as these.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Dumbing down

I don't know if anyone else saw that programme on BBC4 this week, Byzantium, a tale of three cities. It was pretty disappointing, so don't rush to see the next episode. When one considers how much they pay to make these programmes, it staggers me that they do not set aside a little bit of the budget to employ someone to make sure they get their historical facts right. I suppose that what they are trying to do is make a good story, so why let facts get in their way? Perhaps it is because they employ scriptwriters to write these things, not historians. A historian would have been able to help a scriptwriter negotiate the sweep of history with greater accuracy, dismissing nutcases or distracting minor stories and helping the larger picture appear.

I don't think there were any actual nutcases in the programme, but there were annoying distractions, such as the guy with a private theory about having discovered Constantine's real tomb, which he identified on the grounds of it having peg holes drilled into the sides (because we know that Constantine's tomb had hangings around it) and a labarum (the Chi-Rho) on a gable end. That's pretty thin evidence; I'm sure more than Constantine's tomb had hangings, and after his time the labarum was in common use.

The two egregious errors that annoyed me most were the definition of Arianism (which Simon Sebag Montefiore pronounced 'arrianism') as being a heresy that said that Jesus was a mere human being, and the assertion that Constantine was converted to Christianity at the battle of the Milvian bridge.

The latter error may, perhaps, be forgiven: it is a common view, and I think that both Eusebius and Lactantius (our main sources for that episode) wanted to create that impression with their accounts. But the evidence paints a much more interesting picture.

Nobody doubts that Constantine died a Christian. He was baptized (by the Arian Eusebius of Nicomedia, as it happens) on his deathbed. But what happened between the Milvian Bridge and his baptism is not straightforward. Only a short while before the battle, he had had, in Autun, a vision not of Christ, but of Apollo. His coinage for the next ten years carried an inscription of devotion to the sun God (identified with Apollo) soli invicto comiti. Though the Edict of Milan (whose 1700th anniversary we celebrate this year) expressly ended persecution of Christianity, Constantine did not identify himself with it for many years. There seems to have been a sort of syncretistic policy followed of devotion to the 'Summus Deus': a notion of divinity that leaves the individual believer to fill in the blanks according to his own taste. 'We all worship the Highest God; you may call him Christ, I'll call him Apollo.'

Some historians point to the fact that the Chi-Rho / labarum was never used by Christians before Constantine's time. The labarum, not a simple cross, seems to have been the sign that he saw in the sky before the battle; some have suggested that in fact the labarum is a sign of Apollo. But the CH+R can certainly be made to suggest 'Christ', especially if you aren't worried about blurring the two a little.

In the cemetery which lies under St Peter's Basilica in Rome, there is a tomb which is without doubt Christian. In that tomb is a mosaic which would appear to show Christ—but is it Christ? It shows a bright charioteer, which is usually our representation of Apollo. Was there a deliberate policy of identifying Christ and Apollo in those early days of Constantine?

And, more intriguingly, was this the way that Constantine was induced to adopt the Christian faith? And if that is so, then who did the inducing? Who led him from a paganism sympathetic to Christianity to a wholehearted profession of the faith? My money is on a shadowy figure called Hosius of Cordoba. He was with Constantine from at least the Milvian Bridge to after Nicæa as, effectively his closest religious adviser. It was he, probably, who came up with the word 'Homoousios' at Nicæa, and thereby solved one problem and created others. He was to live on to over a hundred years old, being probably tortured into signing an Arian creed in extreme old age.

Can we honestly say that in fact a sort of syncretistic gradualism, or even dumbing down, was used to lead Constantine slowly into the faith? Well, maybe.

Let's go back to that porphyry supposed tomb of Constantine. The significance of that labarum which was on the gable end was missed by the programme. It was set into the loop of an Egyptian Ankh, the symbol of life. The ankh is known to have been used by Christians for a while: you can find it called the Coptic Cross or crux ansata, but it leads me to wonder whether there was more syncretism going on in those days than we might find comfortable. The picture shows a Christian ankh, with an ordinary cross in the loop rather than a labarum.

And here is another thought. It is becoming increasingly clear that, improbably, Celtic Christianity owes a great deal to Egyptian Christianity. Could this perhaps be the source of the famous celtic cross?

I could probably go on, but I must go and do a wedding. Pray for Lisa and Mark, please.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Not asking for much

On the whole I like the new translation, as I think I have said before. But in the last couple of days I have come across a couple of real oddities.

The first was on Tuesday, when I celebrated my 24th anniversary of ordination. The postcommunion prayer in the Mass For the Priest Himself On the Anniversary of his Ordination (what a lot of capitalization!)
For the glory of your name, O Lord, I have joyfully celebrated the mystery of faith to mark the anniversary of my priestly ordination, so that I may be in truth what I have handled mystically in this sacrifice. Through Christ our Lord.
That isn't a prayer; it's a statement, informing God of something he presumably doesn't already know.

And yes, I'm afraid I used the prayers for the feast of our Lady, too.

And today's Prayer over the Gifts, for the feast of Ss Cosmas and Damian:
In honour of the precious death of your just ones, O Lord, we come to offer that sacrifice from which all martyrdom draws its meaning [in case you haven't noticed]. Through Christ our Lord.
Now that's just weird.

Actually, in the second case it's not the translators' fault. Here's the Latin:
In tuórum, Dómine, pretiósa morte iustórum, sacrifícium illud offérimus, de quo martyrium sumpsit omne princípium. Per Christum.
But it is perhaps an example where the translators should not have been quite so literal. It should have been easier in the case of the For The Priest Himself example:
Ad glóriam, Dómine, tui nóminis ánnua festa répetens sacerdotális exórdii, mystérium fídei laetánter celebrávi, ut in veritáte hoc sim, quod in sacrifício mystice tractávi. Per Christum.
The 'sim' presumably could have been massaged into 'may I become'. Latinists no doubt can make more of this than I, poor mumpsimus.

These 'prayers' may well be ancient (I don't know whether they are or aren't); but they remain distinctly odd.

Saturday, 7 September 2013


I miss Pope Benedict like a missing limb. His pontificate has been one of the most important stays of my 24 years of priesthood. It will feed me till my life's end. I wanted it to go on till then at least.

But I thank God too for Pope Francis. I believe that he is precisely the man we need right now. He can produce the right sound bite, can articulate simple truths without complication. I truly mean that as a compliment. If our philosophy and theology are to find acceptance, we need pastors who have the common touch, and Pope Francis does it wonderfully.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Disgusted of Shoreham

They say that in the journalistic silly season one is apt to find all sorts of silly stories in the press, just to fill space. But with all the goings-on in Iraq, and much else to occupy us, it is depressing to find the Brighton Evening Argus starting a small media storm about my dear friend Fr Ray Blake, whose work with the poor is very well known. I cannot fathom what led Bill Gardner to put such a horrible spin on an innocent post on Fr Ray's blog. You need only go to Fr Ray's blog and see what he wrote to see the wicked unfairness of what the Argus, and now several daily papers are alleging.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The many blessings of 'Benedict'

I am writing this in a Benedictine monastery—Minster Abbey in Kent, as it happens—and am reflecting on just how important the name of Benedict has been over the ages, not least in the person of our Pope Emeritus.

And now there is something else. No doubt you all think I have been living under a stone for the last few months (and to some extent I have, that is true, due to not very good health) not to have discovered this before; now I am thrilled to have discovered for myself the Benedictus College project.

A few years ago it was my very good fortune to have encountered the University of Dallas: I did some work for them on their summer programmes in England, as chaplain and doing some history teaching and tutoring. There I encountered for the first time a real 'liberal arts' programme, which was designed to introduce American young people to their own cultural inheritance.

The key to such a programme is almost the antithesis of so much of modern education: instead of trying to pull apart and dissect great writers and artists,
'what's wrong with Aristotle's categories?'
'why doesn't the ontological argument work?'
'what's wrong with Shakespeare?'
'detect the misogyny in Thomas Hardy'
'what does Bleak House make you feel?'
it starts from the premiss that great thinkers and artists are, well, great thinkers and artists that have made a substantial contribution to mankind and have to some extent created all the good stuff we have in the world today. It encourages us to sit at their feet and actually listen to what they have to say before we wade in with our own half-baked opinions (surely the most egregious instance of hubris around today).

This approach has, literally, transformed the lives of thousands of Americans, and inspired them to truly  be able to, as it were, stand on the shoulders of giants and see further, as Newton put it. This approach is often distilled into what is known as a 'great books course', which looks simply at the writers and thinkers whose contributions have gone to make up what we think of as Western civilization and thought. This approach is truly constructive, rather than destructive; it creates civilized human beings, renaissance men and women whose lives are immeasurably enriched by what they discover.

So I am absolutely thrilled to discover that this approach is now going to be made available in Britain. It has been talked about for years (it wouldn't surprise me to discover that the energetic Forester family are involved in it somewhere), and now something finally seems to be happening. Do go and explore their website, and I'll bet that, like me, you were wishing you were able to do at least some of the course.

That means, of course, that it isn't cheap; I couldn't afford it. I don't see education authorities giving any sort of a grant for something so obviously useful. And I guess I'm too old, too. But, my goodness, if I were a bishop, I'd be trying to make sure that my seminarians had something of this experience before beginning seminary studies. And if there were an opportunity for mature students, then it would be a terrific sabbatical experience for the jaded. Perhaps Benedictus might think of this as an option.

I'm convinced that once this course becomes established, it will prove highly influential, and begin the great fight-back against the destructive and cynical current educational trends in the UK.

Go, Benedictus!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


There is an amazing exhibition on the spread of Western European Christianity up to the middle ages (and a little bit of the counter-Reformation church too) which has just opened in Paderborn. I really am very tempted to get on a plane and go to see it. The organizers have gathered together an extraordinary quantity of fascinating artefacts from all around Europe, very well chosen and organized. The accompanying literature, a guide and a catalogue/essay-festschrift, look wonderful, beautifully illustrated. Among other delights offered is, on 17th August, a guided tour of the exhibition in Latin! The exhibition will continue until early November.
You can visit the website here.


I don't usually repeat stuff that has already appeared on other blogs—life's too short. But I feel that I must record my protest against the serving of the Blessed Sacrament from plastic coffee cups in Brazil at the Papal Mass. Enough reproach has been written on this by other writers, so I won't elaborate, but I wanted to add my voice to those revolted at the indignity. Some acts of devotional reparation would seem to be called for.

Update- a parishioner said to me this evening 'I wouldn't even serve coffee in a plastic coffee cup!'

Monday, 29 July 2013


The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate have been forbidden by the Holy See to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

In addition to the above, the Holy Father Francis has directed that every religious of the congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate is required to celebrate the liturgy according to the ordinary rite and that, if the occasion should arise, the use of the extraordinary form (Vetus Ordo) must be explicitly authorized by the competent authorities, for every religious and/or community that makes the request.

Read all about it on Sandro Magister.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The war .on drugs

Do go over to The The Bones You have Crushed May Thrill and read his article on the legalisation of drug use. It deserves to be read. 'Boney' is someone who really knows many addicts very well, and this gives his words considerable force.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Silverstream Priory

Fr Mark at the main entrance
Recently I had to make a visit to Ireland to visit a relative who was staying in Drogheda, a town I had never properly visited before. Since I was in the area, I took the opportunity to visit the little Benedictine community at Stamullen, where the prior, Fr Mark Daniel Kirby writes his blog Vultus Christi. I found the whole operation very appealing.

The house, well out into the lush County Meath countryside, is a very fine late-Georgian building with fine proportions and beautiful ceilings. The Visitation Sisters who were the previous inhabitants hadn't quite appreciated the building in the same way as the Benedictines, for they had installed suspended ceilings to halve the height of some of the rooms (including the entrance hallway) and hide the elegant plasterwork, something which perhaps served to protect it, too. These false ceilings have been removed, and work is carrying on to restore the house and make it fit for purpose as a Benedictine priory.
Bedroom for visiting priests
It's a big task, and the community are impressively confident in their plans. Not only is the house being restored and converted, but there is building taking place to create a refuge for priests who need a break or a retreat. Simple en-suite rooms are being constructed, a little apart from the main house, with a small chapel, library and refectory, and even a little hermitage.

You can read the story of how the little community from Tulsa, Oklahoma, came to be County Meath on the Priory's website. When I first read about this initiative, I was excited, but wondered whether it would work. Classic Benedictinism has never much appealed to the Irish, who have historically preferred the sparer Cistercian variant. That suspended ceiling hiding the elegant plasterwork is a good illustration of the general Irish preference for practicality over beauty. A weekday Mass with Gregorian chant, lasting the best part of an hour, is not calculated to appeal to the Irish. And yet, I gather there are several enquirers about vocations. And the point of a Benedictine house is to perform the opus Dei, to sing the liturgy, to pray; not primarily to run a parish.

Mass: the Introit
I assisted at the daily Missa Cantata at Silverstream; it was a very interesting experience. I liked the way the chant was done, neither being slavishly old-school Solesmes nor antiquarian, but nonetheless careful and well-modulated; they are clearly developing their own style. The celebrant himself acted as cantor for the Mass, from the sedilia. Though the Mass was basically Extraordinary Form, the readings were sung facing liturgical West in English (from the English Missal, therefore using the Authorised Version/King James!). Mass having been preceded by Terce, the prayers at the foot of the altar were omitted, but the celebrant began with Aufer a nobis in a medium voice while setting out the altar as at a low Mass, then returning to the sedilia to intone the Introit. The liturgical aesthetic is not the mediæval Gothicism of the French Benedictines, but rather has a counter-Reformation flavour, using Roman vestments and lace. This fits with their determination to make adoration of the Blessed Sacrament a key element in their spirituality, something not common among Benedictines.

Fr Mark with Hilda, the monastery dog
The Temporary Chapel
What particularly impressed me was Fr Mark's blithe confidence in God's Providence. The Priory has embarked on some serious building work, and still has to pay for the property itself. A lot of money is needed; for the time being, some important work has had to be halted for lack of an immediate €12.000. But the Prior is not daunted. He is confident that this work is of God, and that God will provide. So, if you can make a contribution, please do so. There is nothing approaching this foundation elsewhere in Ireland, and it has the capability of doing a great deal of good. You can use the 'Donate' button on this page. Dat Deus incrementum!

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Having Fun

Having Fun in an Albanian
tourist trap
Someone who comes to Mass regularly in the Valle Adurni has just been on holiday. She decided to go to Albania. Well why not, I suppose? She is now eagerly anticipating her next dose of sun, sea and sangria—she's off in a few weeks to, er, North Korea! I asked her what she liked to do for relaxation at home—slam her fingers in car doors?

Anyway, inspired by her exotic choice of holiday location, I am spending a few days with a friend in the ancient Kingdom of Bernicia. Where? you ask. Possibly a little-known former Balkan state or part of the old Soviet Empire? Well no, really. It's the Scottish Borders and Northumberland. In the seventh century, the northern Angle kingdom of Bernicia was united to the more southerly kingdom of Deira (basically, the Yorkshires) to form the kingdom of Northumbria. Deira gave St Gregory the Great the opportunity to make his other (less known) joke about the slave boys in the Roman market. Hearing that they were from Deira, he said that he would save them de ira (from anger). Yes, hilarious, isn't it? though not quite as good as his one about non Angli sed angeli, (immortally translated by Sellar and Yeatman as 'not angels but Anglicans'). Well, they couldn't get Big Brother in those days and had to make their own entertainment.

We're staying not far from Jedburgh and when the rain permits have visited quite a few sites. I'm rather impressed with Historic Scotland, which seems to be a kind of equivalent of English Heritage, only rather better, I'm thinking.

My point is that our visits to, say, Jedburgh, Melrose and Dryburgh abbey ruins were very much more enjoyable than comparable sites in England. Scotland doesn't seem to have gone for the English obsession for dumbing-down, still less for 'enriching' the visitor's experience by dressing up actors in silly costumes to annoy people who simply want to look at the place and learn something. Information boards and audio guides seem to presume at least some interest in what you're looking at, and not to distract you with irrelevant amusements. Have you noticed how many English abbeys love to place pictures all over the place of monks carrying out their various duties, and how these are always dressed in brown Franciscan habits which reach only to the knees? How the ceremonies in the church are the purest fantasy in the mind of some artist who has never visited a functioning church in his life but tries to guess what Mass might have looked like? They don't care to inform or educate, but are insistent that we be entertained.

'Carpet' by Steve Messam
So, after the Scottish abbeys, our visit to Lindisfarne yesterday was a bit of a let-down. The experience of Holy Island was 'enhanced' and interpreted by a dancer disporting herself in the remains of the cloister with the aid of a boom box; there was a 'monk' who, dressed in a grey 'habit' (Lindisfarne was a Benedictine—black-wearing—house), tried to compel visitors to join him in the ruins of the calefactory to 'listen to a story'; there was a concert of the sort of music I associate with Irish pubs in the church alongside (£10 entrance!) and, strangest of all, an 'Installation of 30.000 bottles of colour [read tinted and upended jam jars] inspired by the 'carpet pages' in the Lindisfarne Gospels and the use of colour in the Dark Ages.' In small type I learnt that this was supported using public funding by the Arts Council of England. I suppose all this is the anxiety that at every moment we be entertained, that unless visitors to Lindisfarne are having fun, they're missing out. And they mustn't be allowed to miss out. Fun is compulsory. It is the same culture that I battle in the liturgy.

St Aidan (I think) with
Lindisfarne Castle behind
Lindisfarne is important to me. It was my first visit to the island of Saints Aidan and Cuthbert, and I was pleased that my first visit to the Holy Island wasn't totally spoilt by all that nonsense, nor by the crowds of visitors. For me it really does have an atmosphere, and I'm not sensitive to that sort of thing much. I will certainly be returning. My companion found the distractions more distracting than I did. I could see that there were lots of people for whom the priory had little interest, but who were off looking elsewhere. And there were several genuine pilgrims. I saw one tubby middle-aged man make his way from holy spot to holy spot making the sign of the cross without embarrassment and pausing, sometimes kneeling, to pray. So I prayed Sext and None in the ruins of the chancel using my iPhone. I want to come back to Aidan and Cuthbert another time and perhaps in another post. Great men.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Yes, it's over-simplifying. But it is odd now left-wingers seem to be able to get away with things that others can't, no doubt because of their self-presentation as 'compassionate'.
And when it comes to bugging, I gather GCHQ isn't so very different.

Picture: h/t Giles Pinnock, Facebook, and Five on Fox Fans

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Conversion, at various levels

I must confess that I have at times been irritated with friends and family of converts who make things difficult when their friend decides that he wishes to become a Catholic.

So perhaps there is a certain justice in the fact that I have now had to become irritated over a former parishioner of mine from way back when who has left the Catholic Church to become a Russian Orthodox.

I feel more aggrieved because she has been required to repudiate her baptism publicly and has been enrolled as a catechumen. It irritates me that she continues to call me 'Father' because, presumably, since I am not even validly baptized in her co-religionists' eyes, I cannot be a priest, either. This baptism is not of a conditional kind, but will be administered absolutely, though in our eyes there was no reason to doubt that her Catholic baptism, administered in Spain, was in any way dubious.

I know already that some Anglican friends of mine reading this will be smiling wryly and saying something about sauce for the goose.

I also know that the practice of this Orthodox group is not universally observed; I have read of priests converting to Russian Orthodoxy simply being processed in some way without any questioning of the validity of their orders; their baptism was, of course, accepted without any question also.

I would be interested in any light readers may be able to throw on this divergence of practice. It seems to me to be an interesting survival of Donatism; that heretics (as these Orthodox consider us) cannot validly administer even baptism.

The convert was motivated to this seismic change mostly out of despair at the persistent liberalism in the Catholic Church of this country.

Whereas on the other hand I have seen several people leave my own congregation over the last few months precisely because we aren't liberal enough—in particular with regard to same-sex marriage. I think that there is a general malaise right now, a feeling that we have been compromised in our authority by the sex-abuse thing and by our refusal to move with the times; Stonewall and similar groups hold the moral high ground, and what I have to say is simply my antediluvian opinion. I preached on confession on Sunday (the Gospel suggesting the subject most eloquently), and I think that I might has well have saved my breath; one regular Mass-goer (and a nice chap) said afterwards that whereas he used to be regular in the box, he wasn't going to go any more, because it did no good. Others just will come to Mass when they feel like it.

The problem to my mind is really about interior conversion—it has never taken place for many people who have attended Mass simply out of habit until they ran out of steam.

Heigh ho. I'll just have to pray instead.

But I do think that Pope Francis is just what we need right now. Perhaps he might get through to some where I continue to fail.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Eucharistic miracle

I'm never sure quite what to make of these things, but I received this the other day, and thought that it might interest you.
Sorry to be quiet for so long on the posting front.

In 1996 in the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, Argentina, when the present Pope Francis was Auxiliary Bishop under Cardinal Quarracino, an amazing eucharistic miracle took place. He himself had it photographed and investigated and the results are astonishing.At seven o’clock in the evening on August 18, 1996, Fr. Alejandro Pezet was saying Holy Mass at a Catholic church in the commercial center of Buenos Aires. As he was finishing distributing Holy Communion, a woman came up to tell him that she had found a discarded host on a candleholder at the back of the church. On going to the spot indicated, Fr. Alejandro saw the defiled Host. Since he was unable to consume it, he placed it in a container of water and put it away in the tabernacle of the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.On Monday, August 26, upon opening the tabernacle, he saw to his amazement that the Host had turned into a bloody substance. He informed Bishop Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis, Auxillary Bishop that time), who gave instructions that the Host be professionally photographed. The photos were taken on September 6.  They clearly show that the Host, which had become a fragment of bloodied flesh, had grown significantly in size. For several years the Host remained in the tabernacle, the whole affair being kept a strict secret. Since the Host suffered no visible decomposition, Cardinal Bergoglio (Who became Archbishop by that time) decided to have it scientifically analyzed.On October 5 1999, in the presence of the Cardinal’s representatives, Dr. Castanon took a sample of the bloody fragment and sent it to New York for analysis. Since he did not wish to prejudice the study, he purposely did not inform the team of scientists of its provenance (the source of sample was kept secret to the scientists).One of these scientists was Dr. Frederic Zugiba, the well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist. He determined that the analyzed substance was real flesh and blood containing human DNA. Zugiba testified that, “the analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves. This muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart. It should be borne in mind that the left cardiac ventricle pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. They require a living organism to sustain them. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”Two Australians, journalist Mike Willesee and lawyer Ron Tesoriero, witnessed these tests. Knowing where sample had come from, they were dumbfounded by Dr. Zugiba’s testimony. Mike Willesee asked the scientist how long the white blood cells would have remained alive if they had come from a piece of human tissue, which had been kept in water. They would have ceased to exist in a matter of minutes, Dr. Zugiba replied. The journalist then told the doctor that the source of the sample had first been kept in ordinary water for a month and then for another three years in a container of distilled water; only then had the sample been taken for analysis. Dr. Zugiba’s was at a loss to account for this fact. There was no way of explaining it scientifically, he stated.Also, Dr. Zugibe passionately asked, “You have to explain one thing to me, if this sample came from a person who was dead, then how could it be that as I was examining it the cells of the sample were moving and beating? If this heart comes from someone who died in 1996, how can it still be alive?Then did Mike Willesee inform Dr. Zugiba that the analyzed sample came from a consecrated Host (white, unleavened bread) that had mysteriously turned into bloody human flesh. Amazed by this information, Dr. Zugiba replied, “How and why a consecrated Host would change its character and become living human flesh and blood will remain an inexplicable mystery to science—a mystery totally beyond her competence.”Then Doctor Ricardo Castanon Gomez arranged to have the lab reports from the Buenos Aires miracle compared to the lab reports from the Lanciano miracle, again without revealing the origin of the test samples. The experts making the comparison concluded that the two lab reports must have originated from test samples obtained from the same person. They further reported that both samples revealed an “AB” positive blood type. They are all characteristic of a man who was born and lived in the Middle East region.Only faith in the extraordinary action of a God provides the reasonable answer—faith in a God, who wants to make us aware that He is truly present in the mystery of the Eucharist. The Eucharistic miracle in Buenos Aires is an extraordinary sign attested to by science.Through it Jesus desires to arouse in us a lively faith in His real presence in the Eucharist. He reminds us that His presence is real, and not symbolic. Only with the eyes of faith do we see Him under appearance of the consecrated bread and wine. We do not see Him with our bodily eyes, since He is present in His glorified humanity. In the Eucharist Jesus sees and loves us and desires to save us.(Archbishop Bergoglio became a Cardinal in 2001, this miracle was published after many researches, by that time he became a Cardinal, that's why he is addressed as cardinal in this post).  Also watch where Dr.Castanon, Atheist turned Catholic explains this miracle!