The Odour of Desperation

Most of the anglophone Church has settled into the use of the revised English missal. Priests are getting to grips with sentences more than a few words long and containing some commas and subordinate clauses, and are doing what we always should have been doing (though sadly some didn’t), namely reading ahead and preparing those parts we have to say. This development has allowed many more people to relax with the new missal, as the mis-readings die off in light of clerical comfort and familiarity with the new, more accurate texts. No doubt most can see that, notwithstanding a few areas that could be improved, this missal is vastly superior to the previous paraphrased one, and brings the verbal content and meaning of our liturgical texts into closer and more obvious unity with the rest of the Church.

However, some people will not give up. Though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust, they will never accept the revised missal. So they change the texts to suit their own understanding of liturgy, manifesting at the very least sheer disobedience, and perhaps even an attempt at a type of social engineering. As they get more desperate that they cause is not prospering, they resort to subterfuge to foster the appearance that it is prospering.

The latest instance is the reporting of yet another survey of priests and their opinion of the revised missal. Leaving aside the whole issue of church governance by opinion poll, a little light delving into the reporting of the survey reveals that the dissenters’ emperor has no clothes. The worst offender is the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), which headlines its article “Study indicates wide rejection of new translations by US clergy”. Oh my goodness! How ominous. Patrick Archbold has done what many readers will not do, and read all the way to the end of the article and taken note of what is passed over in silence.

The NCR reporting is alarmist in the impression it gives, though observant readers will see what is going on. An example:

 … 75 percent of respondents said they either “agree” or “strongly agree” that “some of the language of the new text is awkward and distracting.” Forty-seven percent answered “strongly agree” to that statement.

Likewise, an even 50 percent of those answering said they “agree” or “strongly agree” that “the new translation urgently needs to be revised.” 33 percent answered “strongly agree” on that statement.

Now someone who is not reading carefully will not take in the full significance of the word respondent. In light of the misleading headline, they might have the immediate impression that pretty much 75% of US clergy are of the opinion that the missal’s language is “awkward and distracting”, to take one example.

But Pat has read through and discovered the most salient fact of all: 6000 parishes were surveyed, only 539 responded. That is a response rate of less than 9%! So the 75% who do not like the linguistic register of the missal represent only 6.7% of the 6000 actually surveyed. “Wide rejection”?

However Pat seems to have missed one further point. Only 444 of the 539 respondents were actually “US clergy”; the other 75 were “lay leaders”. So it is not even 9% of clergy that is the real survey pool; it is actually only 7.4%. Alas, there is no breakdown on how many clergy responded negatively as distinct form the “lay leaders”, who are likely to have been predominately negative. So, allowing the dissenters their best case scenario, the highest possible percentage for clergy dissatisfaction they can claim on the basis of their survey is 7.4%.

Somehow a 7.4% negative response rate equates to “wide rejection”.

The active opponents of the revised missal may be very loud but they are very few in number. They shout loudly and often, to make one think they are many. They are not many, but their sly fudging of their own statistics reveals that they are increasingly desperate.

The Pray Tell blog, which is partly responsible for the survey, did not even bother to include reference to the dismal response rate to the survey, and thus the tiny portion of clergy it represents, and posted an even more misleading headline. Desperate indeed.

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Is this the face of collegiality?

Via Protect the Pope comes news that an apparatchik of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has written to Catholic peers and MPs to assure them that there are no plans to do anything that might in anyway show support for Bishop Egan of Portsmouth’s re-affirmation of consistent Church teaching, expressed in Canon 915, that those who persist in manifestly grave sin must be denied Holy Communion. Politicians who ignore Church teaching and use their parliamentary office to push through legislation contrary to Church teaching fall under this canon. As Bishop Egan made clear, denial of Communion is not only an act of justice, but of mercy, that being denied the highest privilege of a Catholic they might come to their senses and repent.

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Now if Greg Pope, the Head of Parliamentary Relations at the Bishops’ Conference, has actually written with the knowledge and approval of the Conference, then the Conference has hung one of its own out to dry. Is this how collegiality is to be practised – subverting one of their own who has enough courage to stand up to politicians’ time-serving and reiterate solemn Church teaching? If so, there is no better argument against the novel doctrine of collegiality. Far better to go back to the situation of the previous 1900-odd years, and let a bishop shepherd his diocese without hindrance, subject only to the Sovereign Pontiff and the occasional Council. Then the bishop could concern himself with toeing the Universal Church’s line rather than that of a conference all too often desperate to appease the secular establishment.

Perhaps that is the greatest weakness of bishops’ conferences: that they foster national churches with an identity too distinct from that of the Universal Church. History is replete with examples of how such nationalized Churches have acquiesced to the demands of their local governments and sold out the teachings of the Church. The Orthodox churches today are fitting reminders of the inherent weakness of nationalized churches. An even better example is the Anglican communion, founded on the craven submission of English bishops to the murderous and adulterous desires of Henry VIII. Do we want to go that route?!

Under Henry VIII there was a least one bishop who stood for the right, St John Fisher. He, too, was abandoned by his episcopal brethren, and eventually lost his life.  If Mr Pope (the bitter irony of that name!) has indeed acted for the Bishops’ Conference, then it appears we might have another John Fisher today, though we pray that Bishop Egan will not lose his life for it.

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Of course Mr Pope has a vested interest: in his previous role as a Labour Member of Parliament, he voted consistently against Church teaching in matters such as abortion, adoption and contraception. Yet he has been able to hold two jobs for the bishops’ conference. What teaching does this give the faithful I wonder?

The Crux of the Matter: the Essence of the Mass

The recent news that the Vatican’s medical commission has confirmed a miracle to the intercession of the Venerable Fulton Sheen is something to should give us great joy, and more, great hope. His beatification could be very near indeed. If ever there was a natural patron saint for the new media, it would be him. The first televangelist, he taught millions across the world the truths of the faith and of Christian living in a style that was accessible and engaging. He used the new media of television and (earlier) radio to reach an audience far greater than any Catholic preacher or teacher had reached before in such a relatively immediate way. He also raised millions of dollars for the missions.

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Of course he presents challenges to some modern Catholics, who might object to his unashamed wearing of his episcopal vesture on television, or suspect him of enjoying his celebrity (of which some in fact did accuse him). Perhaps there was a dash of vanity in him. But canonization does not recognize perfection, for none such is possible for any of us. It does recognize heroic struggle in the quest for holiness. For Archbishop Sheen this involved using his considerable gifts for the benefit of the missions and of the wider Church. He deployed his gifts to maximum effect, and did not pretend that he did not have such gifts, nor did he downplay them. He offered them unreservedly in service of the Body of Christ. In this he comes closer to authentic humility than some might allow him. Humility is to know the truth about oneself and to live by it. Sheen spent an hour every day alone before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer. Here he heard from the Master the truth about himself, and the call to act on that truth.

We have moved far beyond television now, with a whole world of communication beyond Sheen’s conception able to fit into our pockets. Nevertheless if were active today he would have embraced the new media with gusto. Sheen showed how progress could serve Tradition and Truth in any age.

So to talk about the liturgy of the Mass, the highs and lows of its post-conciliar reform and the urgent need for its re-invigoration today, it is necessary that we return to basics. What happens at Mass? What is it for? What is its essential nature? Only with accurate answers to these questions can we approach the problem of liturgical reform.

As a contribution to this project, let me offer you some words of wisdom from the Venerable Fulton Sheen. In particular, it is the Prologue to his too-short but wonderful book, Calvary and the Mass (1936). It may seem a little long on a webpage like this, but it is so readable that you will fly through it. Indeed, try not to fly through it but absorb it. Consider it is an exercise in lectio divina, or meditative reading. To aid this some pregnant phrases or passages will be highlighted in bold, as an invitation to drink more deeply of them in particular. Truly there is full-blown book condensed into this Prologue. Dear Reader, tolle, lege.

And after reading it ask yourself these two questions with a view to liturgical reform: which is more crucial to the Mass – meal or sacrifice?; and, what is it then to participate authentically in the Mass?

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THERE are certain things in life which are too beautiful to be forgotten, such as the love of a mother. Hence we treasure her picture. The love of soldiers who sacrificed themselves for their country is likewise too beautiful to be forgotten, hence we revere their memory on Memorial Day. But the greatest blessing which ever came to this earth was the visitation of the Son of God in the form and habit of man. His life, above all lives, is too beautiful to be forgotten, hence we treasure the divinity of His Words in Sacred Scripture, and the charity of His Deeds in our daily actions. Unfortunately this is all some souls remember, namely His Words and His Deeds; important as these are, they are not the greatest characteristic of the Divine Saviour.

The most sublime act in the history of Christ was His Death. Death is always important for it seals a destiny. Any dying man is a scene. Any dying scene is a sacred place. That is why the great literature of the past which has touched on the emotions surrounding death has never passed out of date. But of all deaths in the record of man, none was more important than the Death of Christ. Everyone else who was ever born into the world, came into it to live; our Lord came into it to die. Death was a stumbling block to the life of Socrates, but it was the crown to the life of Christ. He Himself told us that He came “to give his life a redemption for many”; that no one could take away His Life; but He would lay it down of Himself.

If then Death was the supreme moment for which Christ lived, it was therefore the one thing He wished to have remembered. He did not ask that men should write down His Words into a Scripture; He did not ask that His kindness to the poor should be recorded in history; but He did ask that men remember His Death. And in order that its memory might not be any haphazard narrative on the part of men, He Himself instituted the precise way it should be recalled.

The memorial was instituted the night before He died, at what has since been called “The Last Supper.” Taking bread into His Hands, He said: “This is my body, which shall be delivered for you,” i.e., delivered unto death. Then over the chalice of wine, He said, “This is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins.” Thus in an unbloody symbol of the parting of the Blood from the Body, by the separate consecration of Bread and Wine, did Christ pledge Himself to death in the sight of God and men, and represent His death which was to come the next afternoon at three. He was offering Himself as a Victim to be immolated, and that men might never forget that “greater love than this no man hash, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” He gave the divine command to the Church: “Do this for a commemoration of me.”

The following day that which He had prefigured and foreshadowed, He realized in its completeness, as He was crucified between two thieves and His Blood drained from His Body for the redemption of the world.

The Church which Christ founded has not only preserved the Word He spoke, and the wonders He wrought; it has also taken Him seriously when He said: “Do this for a commemoration of me.” And that action whereby we re-enact His Death on the Cross is the Sacrifice of the Mass, in which we do as a memorial what He did at the Last Supper as the prefiguration of His Passion.

Hence the Mass is to us the crowning act of Christian worship. A pulpit in which the words of our Lord are repeated does not unite us to Him; a choir in which sweet sentiments are sung brings us no closer to His Cross than to His garments. A temple without an altar of sacrifice is non-existent among primitive peoples, and is meaningless among Christians. And so in the Catholic Church the altar, and not the pulpit or the choir or the organ, is the center of worship, for there is re-enacted the memorial of His Passion. Its value does not depend on him who says it, or on him who hears it; it depends on Him who is the One High Priest and Victim, Jesus Christ our Lord. With Him we are united, in spite of our nothingness; in a certain sense, we lose our individuality for the time being; we unite our intellect and our will, our heart and our soul, our body and our blood, so intimately with Christ, that the Heavenly Father sees not so much us with our imperfection, but rather sees us in Him, the Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. The Mass is for that reason the greatest event in the history of mankind; the only Holy Act which keeps the wrath of God from a sinful world, because it holds the Cross between heaven and earth, thus renewing that decisive moment when our sad and tragic humanity journeyed suddenly forth to the fullness of supernatural life.

What is important at this point is that we take the proper mental attitude toward the Mass, and remember this important fact, that the Sacrifice of the Cross is not something which happened nineteen hundred years ago. It is still happening. It is not something past like the signing of the Declaration of Independence; it is an abiding drama on which the curtain has not yet rung down. Let it not be believed that it happened a long time ago, and therefore no more concerns us than anything else in the past. Calvary belongs to all times and to all places. That is why, when our Blessed Lord ascended the heights of Calvary, He was fittingly stripped of His garments: He would save the world without the trappings of a passing world. His garments belonged to time, for they localized Him, and fixed Him as a dweller in Galilee. Now that He was shorn of them and utterly dispossessed of earthly things, He belonged not to Galilee, not to a Roman province, but to the world. He became the universal poor man of the world, belonging to no one people, but to all men.

To express further the universality of the Redemption, the cross was erected at the crossroads of civilization, at a central point between the three great cultures of Jerusalem, Rome, and Athens, in whose names He was crucified. The cross was thus placarded before the eyes of men, to arrest the careless, to appeal to the thoughtless, to arouse the worldly. It was the one inescapable fact that the cultures and civilizations of His day could not resist. It is also the one inescapable fact of our day which we cannot resist.

The figures at the Cross were symbols of all who crucify. We were there in our representatives. What we are doing now to the Mystical Christ, they were doing in our names to the historical Christ. If we are envious of the good, we were there in the Scribes and Pharisees. If we are fearful of losing some temporal advantage by embracing Divine Truth and Love, we were there in Pilate. If we trust in material forces and seek to conquer through the world instead of through the spirit, we were there in Herod. And so the story goes on for the typical sins of the world. They all blind us to the fact that He is God. There was therefore a kind of inevitability about the Crucifixion. Men who were free to sin were also free to crucify.

As long as there is sin in the world the Crucifixion is a reality. As the poet has put it:

“I saw the son of man go by,
Crowned with a crown of thorns.
‘Was it not finished Lord,’ said I,
‘And all the anguish borne?’

“He turned on me His awful eyes;
‘Hast Thou not understood?
So every soul is a Calvary
And every sin a rood.'”

We were there then during that Crucifixion. The drama was already completed as far as the vision of Christ was concerned, but it had not yet been unfolded to all men and all places and all times. If a motion picture reel, for example, were conscious of itself, it would know the drama from beginning to end, but the spectators in the theater would not know it until they had seen it unrolled upon the screen.

In like manner, our Lord on the Cross saw His eternal mind, the whole drama of history, the story of each individual soul, and how later on it would react to His Crucifixion; but though He saw all, we could not know how we would react to the Cross until we were unrolled upon the screen of time. We were not conscious of being present there on Calvary that day, but He was conscious of our presence. Today we know the role we played in the theater of Calvary, by the way we live and act now in the theater of the twentieth century.

That is why Calvary is actual; why the Cross is the Crisis; why in a certain sense the scars are still open; why Pain still stands deified, and why blood like falling stars is still dropping upon our souls. There is no escaping the Cross not even by denying it as the Pharisees did; not even by selling Christ as Judas did; not even by crucifying Him as the executioners did. We all see it, either to embrace it in salvation, or to fly from it into misery.

But how is it made visible? Where shall we find Calvary perpetuated? We shall find Calvary renewed, re-enacted, re-presented, as we have seen, in the Mass. Calvary is one with the Mass, and the Mass is one with Calvary, for in both there is the same Priest and Victim. The Seven Last Words are like the seven parts of the Mass. And just as there are seven notes in music admitting an infinite variety of harmonies and combinations, so too on the Cross there are seven divine notes, which the dying Christ rang down the centuries, all of which combine to form the beautiful harmony of the world’s redemption.

Each word is a part of the Mass. The First Word, “Forgive,” is the Confiteor; the Second Word, “This Day in Paradise,” is the Offertory; the Third Word, “Behold Thy Mother,” is the Sanctus; the Fourth Word, “Why hast Thou abandoned Me,” is the Consecration; the Fifth Word, “I thirst,” is the Communion; the Sixth Word, “It is finished,” is the Ite, Missa Est; the Seventh Word, “Father, into Thy Hands,” is the Last Gospel.

Picture then the High Priest Christ leaving the sacristy of heaven for the altar of Calvary. He has already put on the vestment of our human nature, the maniple of our suffering, the stole of priesthood, the chasuble of the Cross. Calvary is his cathedral; the rock of Calvary is the altar stone; the sun turning to red is the sanctuary lamp; Mary and John are the living side altars; the Host is His Body; the wine is His Blood. He is upright as Priest, yet He is prostrate as Victim. His Mass is about to begin.

Happy feast day to us!

What with all the distractions of unexpectedly good episcopal appointments this year in England, and the debate about Catholic, especially clerical, bloggers, and the crisis in the Ukraine, it may understandably escpae the notice of most members of the Church that today Benedictines celebrate the Solemnity of the Transitus (or Passing) of St Benedict.

Below is a translation of the Latin hymn set for this feast, which you otherwise might never see.

Shout, all ye people! Let your measured praises
Ring through the churches solemnly and sweetly;
On this feast day Benedict ascended
Heaven’s high summit.

He, when his youthful joyous years were blooming,
Yet in his boyhood left his native dwelling,
Seeking concealment hid within a cavern
Lonely and silent.

There amid nettles, rigid thorns and briars
Won he the battle over youth’s enticement,
Nurse of pollution; then he wrote a Holy Rule
of blest living.

Thy brazen image, infamous Apollo,
soon hath he smitten; burnt the grove of Venus,
Then to the Baptist, on the sacred mountain,
Established a chapel.

Now doth he witness happily in heaven
Seraphim, leading thongs of shining angels,
While he refreshes faithful hearts of who hear him
With living waters.

Praise to the Father, to the Sole-begotten,
And to Thee, always with the Twain co-equal,
Fostering Spirit; One only Godhead
Through all ages.

“Measured praises” is the sure sign of a hymn that originates in the noble simplicity of the Roman rite. Moreover, the tenor of all St Benedict’s Rule is one of measured common sense. In the midst of all his moderation, St Benedict had no time for pagan idols, the shrines of which he overturned in a moment. With the Church beset by a neo-pagan secularism, she needs even more the quiet witness of faithful, godly monks and nuns.

Please remember Douai Abbey in your prayers, and all English Benedictines, and also the brethren at Silverstream Priory.

May God, who has begun a good work in you, bring it to fulfillment, through Christ our Lord.

The Passing to the next life of St Benedict

The Passing to the next life of St Benedict

 

Diaconal Cheap Shot

Pat Archbold over at Creative Minority Report (CMR) has a knack for tracking down the best and the worst in ecclesial life, usually in his homeland, the USA. Recently he re-blogged a video put up by Deacon Sandy of Good Shepherd parish,  Menomonee Falls, in the diocese of Milwaukee. In one of the cruel twists of this fallen world’s disorder, he has been appointed to lead this parish. In this video Deacon Sandy provided an introduction to the parish, and despite his PC enthusiasm it was a depressing experience. He was upset when his video gained negative attention, not least on CMR. Having conceded that he would need to rethink his approach Pat agreed to take down the video, taking Sandy at his word. That appeared to have led to a resolution that looked positive for both parties.

So now Pat at CMR, with the help of Ben Yanke, has found a homily from only 10 days ago in which Deacon Sandy gratuitously insults Benedict XVI. And I mean gratuitously. It is the zenith of the genre of the cheap shot, focusing (as all these people do) on the papal red shoes (as if Benedict was the only pope ever to have worn them). He gets a fact wrong too – they were not Prada. So it is a cheap shot with a seasoning of untruth and lashing of injustice gravy. The video from Ben via Pat is below – the relevant bit starts at 9 minutes 55 seconds (in case the embedding code does not work!):

The egregious Sandy clearly implies to his co-religionists that Benedict XVI is not one of the tolerable clerics who dresses finely “for good reasons” but some, like Benedict XVI, wear “finery” because, “unlike us secular folks”, for him it is an “issue of self-esteem”.

Sandy got one thing very much right – he, and those who joined him in snide and mocking laughter, are certainly “secular folks”. I can only hope that others sitting in that church were equally as appalled as Pat, myself and others at Sandy’s abuse of the pulpit and his mandate to preach God’s word. He, and his co-religionist mockers, show themselves to be the smug, self-righteous little crew that has ever been a danger in the history of Christianity. Oh, how insightful they are, these wise ones. Yet I wonder if that Powerpoint projection system is really necessary, or just an extravagant (and ugly) way of camouflaging the vacuity of Sandy’s preaching? After all, he told Pat that the parish cannot afford kneelers (and thus they never kneel. What a surprise.)

Mockery is rarely appropriate. Unjust mockery, the cheap shot – never. In fact, I doubt it is ever just to mock any pope, even the ones who were personally or morally flawed, even the ones we just do not like. Their office demands they be given a level of respect since they act as Christ’s Vicar. However, since Sandy has revealed his true colours Pat has re-posted the original video (also found on Ben’s page with other Sandy horrors). If you look at it, it would be no injustice or cheap shot to mock Sandy and the perversion of Catholicism he espouses. Given his abuse of his preaching office, such mockery would be just indeed. What a nasty little man. What on earth is he doing running a parish?

One might suspect that any self-esteem issues lie more with Sandy than they ever would with Benedict XVI. Benedict XVI was humble enough in his own self-assessment to step down from an office, the gravest and most solemn office, which he felt unable to continue to fulfill. While I am not convinced that Benedict XVI was totally accurate in his self-assessment, yet Sandy would do well to imitate the pope he mocks and step down. His parish deserves better than it seems to be getting.

Sorry if anything above sounds intemperate. This Sandy appalls me. Immensely.

TIME does right by Benedict XVI

How refreshing it was to read an opinion piece on TIME’s website (admittedly by a Catholic) that pays due regard to the achievements of Benedict XVI. Christopher Hale makes several excellent points in his op-ed which you should go and read (in part to encourage secular media such as TIME to be as balanced in their coverage in the future). But a few deserve highlighting:

If the Church is indeed undergoing a revolution, it is important to note that Francis himself did not fire the first shot. That feat belonged to his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who a year ago today announced his stunning decision to voluntarily renounce his office.

By renouncing the throne of Saint Peter, it was Benedict — not Francis — who performed the greatest act of papal humility in 2013, and perhaps the greatest act of papal humility during the two millennia history of the Catholic Church.

Benedict’s lesson for his Church and the world was clear: I love you. I choose you. You matter to me more than anything else…

…Benedict came into office during a strange and difficult time for the Catholic Church. The introvert pope had to replace the rock star Pope John Paul II during a time of great trial for the universal Church, which had been rocked by the sex abuse scandal in the United States and throughout the world.

Amidst the difficulties, Benedict attempted to re-center the Church around Jesus Christ. And when the dust settled, Benedict appeared to do the job well…

…To the surprise of many, Benedict’s teachings came back again and again to the central theme of God’s love…

…But of course, Benedict’s greatest act for the Church was his last action. In a world obsessed with the cult of personality and power, he reminded us that the greatest among us are the ones who give it all up for the sake of others.

Mr Hale also exposes the opinions on Benedict expressed in Rolling Stone for what they are: bilious, “mean-spirited antics”.

Even though the author is a guest writer for TIME, we can at least acknowledge that TIME has done something positive, allowing the record to be balanced on its website and allow a voice that goes against the libels that plague the reputation of Benedict XVI in the secular wilderness.

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Wonderful news on Fulton Sheen

Tickled indeed was I to read the news today that a miracle by the intercession of the Venerable Fulton Sheen has been approved unanimously by the medical commission that advises the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. It pertains to the miraculous recovery 61 minutes after birth of a stillborn baby in 2010.

The matter will next be put before Pope Francis who, if he approves the miracle, will decree Fulton Sheen’s beatification. It could even be decreed this year.

Sheen’s beatification will no doubt worry some. He does not obviously fit the humble stereotype so much praised these days. His consistent wearing of proper episcopal attire in public, yea on television!, will most likely be seen by some as triumphalism or clericalism, &c. His skill in raising impressive amounts of money for the Pontifical Mission Society, as well as his media ministry (which earned him an Emmy award), will be used as evidence of his vanity love of attention.

Let’s be honest. He did love the spotlight, and he loved being a priest and a bishop. And why not? He was born for this vocation, so why should he not love it? He did it so well. He attracted millions to watch him on TV when Catholicism was still not quite kosher for the general run of American society. He presented the truths of the Faith in an unerringly logical and accessible way, dealt with topical and controversial subjects, displaying humanity and fidelity to truth. He made converts. He was a televangelist before the name was tarnished by the flood of charlatans who would follow in his wake. Even today, though his flowery style might take some getting used to for some, he can captivate and inspire. He was a bishop who was also an apostle. And his humility was apparent to those who cared to look. His one hour before the Blessed Sacrament every day, without fail… the veiled confessions of his own weakness in the examples he used. Humility is a realistic knowledge of self, and I suspect he had a good dose of that.

So why not watch him talk about temptation, so apt for Lent. Watch it to the end.

Blessed Fulton Sheen – sounds good!