Tuesday 29 November 2011

Traditional Parish

Canon Meney at Ss Peter and Paul's in New Brighton on the Wirral has been getting to work organising the first Traditional Parish in the UK. The Church, where I made my first Holy Communion, is not in such a poor state as I had feared when I visited it as Canon Meney arrived. There is, of course, repair work that needs doing and it needed a jolly good clean. It was also being used as a storage space. The main church is still not in proper use as yet so daily Mass is taking place in what used to be a sacristy (when I was an altar server there - some few years ago now!) but this is a temporary measure.

Canon Meney has put up some photographs (from which these are taken) which you can view here. The fine altars you can see were brought over from Italy.

The Sacred Heart altar before the tidying up began!

The statue of Our Lady, which I can remember being dressed in a cope on feast days.

The Lady altar.

Treat the Most Holy Eucharist with an ineffable love

Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, has issued a message to clergy for the beginning of Advent.

* * *

Dear Priests,

In this special time of Grace the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Icon and Model of the Church, wants us to be introduced to that vigilance which is the constant attitude of Her Immaculate heart.

In fact, the Virgin lived constantly in prayerful vigilance. In vigilance, She received the announcement that changed the history of humanity. In vigilance, She kept and contemplated, more than any other, the Almighty who became her Son. In vigilance, filled with loving and grateful wonder, She gave birth to the Light Himself and, together with St Joseph, became a disciple of He to whom She had given birth. He was adored by the shepherds and the kings, welcomed in jubilation by Simeon and the prophetess Anna, feared by the doctors in the temple, loved and followed by the disciples and opposed and condemned by His people. In the vigilance of her maternal heart, Mary followed Christ right up to the foot of the cross where, in the immense sorrow of a pierced heart, She accepted us as her new sons. In vigilance, She waited with certainty for the Resurrection and was Assumed into Heaven.

Dearest friends, Christ constantly watches over His Church and over every one of us! We are all called to enter into that vigilance, that passionate observation of reality that moves us between two fundamental directions: the recollection of meeting Christ in our lives and the great mystery of being His priests and the openness to the 'category of possibility'.

The Virgin Mary, was in fact 'recollected', which means that in her heart She constantly relived what God had done for Her and, in the certainty of this reality, She lived the duty of being the Mother of the Almighty. The Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary, was then constantly willing and open to the 'possible', to that materialisation of God's Will in daily circumstances and also in those that are most unexpected.

Also today, from heaven, the Virgin keeps us in Christ's living memory and continually opens the possibility of Divine Mercy to us.

Dearest Brothers and Friends, let us ask Her for a heart that is able to relive Christ's coming in our lives, a heart able to contemplate the way in which the Son of God, on the day of our Ordination, radically and definitely marked our entire existence immerging us in His priestly heart. He renews us daily in the Eucharistic Celebration so that our own lives become transfigured into Christ's coming for humanity.

Finally, let us ask for an attentive heart able to recognise the signs of Jesus' coming in the lives of every man, especially to the young who are entrusted to us, so that we are able to recognise the sign of that special coming which is the vocation to the Priesthood.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Priests and Queen of the Apostles, always grants those humble requests for that priestly paternity which is the only thing able to "accompany" the youth on the joyful and enthusiastic journey to follow Christ.

In the “Yes” of the Annunciation, we are also encouraged to be coherent to the “Yes” of our ordination. In the Visitation to Saint Elisabeth, we are encouraged to live that divine intimacy in order to bring Christ's presence to the others and to translate it into joyful service without the limits of time and space. In the Holy Mother's act of wrapping the Baby Jesus in swaddling clothes and adoring Him, we learn to treat the Most Holy Eucharist with an ineffable love. By conserving every event within our own hearts, we learn from Mary how to gather around the Only Necessity.

With these sentiments I assure all the dear Priests around the world of a special remembrance in the Celebration of the Holy Mysteries. I ask everyone for the prayerful support for the ministry that was entrusted to me and, before the crib, let us implore the ability to become that what we are every day.

Monday 28 November 2011

Anything Goes

The days of "Anything goes" are now over
when it comes to music at Mass!

So says Jeffrey Tucker over at The Chant Café, drawing our attention to the fact that the New Missal has a change in the instructions on what music can be sung at Mass. Hymns - however good or bad - are not a part of the Mass. The chant of the Missal - Scripture laden and hallowed by centuries of Christian prayer - is the focus of music within the Mass.

The new translation of the General Instruction removes the discretion from the music team to sing pretty much whatever it wants. The new text, which pertains to the new translation of the Missal that comes into effect on Advent this year, makes it clear beyond any doubt: the music of the Mass is the chanted propers of the Mass. There are options but these options all exist within the universe of the primary normative chant. There can be no more making up some random text, setting it to music, and singing it as the entrance, offertory, or communion.

True liturgical reform has been trying to get us to use chant as the mainstay for centuries.

In the 17th century Blessed Cardinal Tommasi, "Prince of Roman Liturgists", tried to encourage it, introducing it into his own church.

Pope Pius X tried in 1903 with "Tra le Sollecitudini":

Gregorian Chant has always been regarded as the suprememodel for sacred music, so that it is fully legitimate to lay down thefollowing rule: the more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple.

The ancient traditional Gregorian Chant must, therefore, in a large measure be restored to the functions of public worship, and the fact must be accepted by all that an ecclesiastical function loses none of its solemnity when accompanied by this music alone.

Special efforts are to be made to restore the use of the Gregorian Chant by the people, so that the faithful may again take a more active part in the ecclesiastical offices, as was the case in ancient times.

The Second Vatican Council was in accord with the same desire in the document on the Sacred Liturgy "Sacrosanctum Concilium":

16. The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

Can we hope that it will no longer be anything goes but that pride of place will once more be given to the chant urged on us by Pope Pius X, Vatican II and the new Missal?

Friday 25 November 2011

Church Architecture to be protected by Rome

The cathedral in Rio de Janerio, started in 1964.

Extraordinary - but not very beautiful.

A new Vatican commission under the Congregation for Divine Worship is to be established that will regulate church architecture. Reports here and here. The "Liturgical art and sacred music Commission" will, apparently, have the authority not just to recommend but to act with the authority of the Congregation. Let us hope so! Unfortunately it has come too late to prevent the purchase by the diocese of Orange USAof the "Glass Cathedral" - a building with no connection to the Church's liturgical traditions.

It happens that I was talking of this the other day with some friends and we were noting that such buildings did not begin, as is sometimes claimed, with the dawn of the Second Vatican Council. Things done in in its name may have exacerbated the problem but experimentation in church architecture deliberately moving away from any link with our history was well underway long before Vatican II. Have a close look at the dates of many churches that fit in to this category and the 1950's and early 60's are full of such experiments.

The famous chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, designed by Le Corbusier, in Ronchamp was completed in 1954.

Ronchamp - inside and out!

New Document of Confession from Rome

Cardianl Piacenza visiting the Irish College in Rome earlier this year.

The more I see and hear of Cardinal Piacenza, the Prefect for the Congregation of Clergy, the more impressed I am. The documents he has issued in his brief time at the Congregation have been excellent. I was also very struck on being on the sanctuary at Mass (OF) with him, as he made a clear distinction after the Sanctus by dropping his voice - not quite a silent Canon but a distinctly different tone. Perhaps it is part of his interpretation of the Holy Father's injunction for the two forms of the Roman Rite to influence one another.

The latest document is a call for a re-emphasis on the Sacrament of Confession as a basic building block for the New Evangelisation and encouragement to spiritual directors.

I know that even when I preach about it and put on extra times n my own parish, there are still very few takers. I'm going to try to take up Bishop Mark Davis' (of Shrewsbury) advice who says that he had good results in the parish by bringing the Sacrament to the people instead of waiting for them to come to him. He did this by sitting in the confessional box before and after Sunday Mass during Lent and Advent. I will preach about it his weekend and for Advent process straight from the sanctuary into the confessional after the Sunday Masses. I'm not particularly eager to add to the burden of work on a Sunday morning but I'm willing to give it a try and see what happens!

You can read the full document (which is quite lengthy) here: Priest, Minister of Divine Mercy.
Here are some extracts which took my attention (with my own highlights), starting with some practical aspects.


29. It is possible to experience this dynamic of the merciful forgiveness of God from childhood and even before First Holy Communion. “Innocent” [interesting that this word describing children is in inverted commas] children, moved by trust and filial joy, can find this experience.32 For this reason and towards this end, such souls should be prepared with a truly adequate catechesis prior to receiving their First Holy Communion.

The decorous and suitably positioned confessional “with a fixed grill between the penitent and the confessor in an open place so that the faithful who wish to can use them freely” is of great use to both penitent and priest.

43. “In case of grave necessity recourse may be had to a communal celebration of reconciliation with general confession and general absolution”. According to the norms of law, however, “for a member of the Christian faithful to receive validly sacramental absolution given to many at one time, it is required not only that the person be properly disposed, but also, at the same time, intend to confess within a suitable period of time each grave sin which at the present time cannot be so confessed”. The judgement as to whether the conditions required by the norm of law actually exist, “belongs to the diocesan bishop [not individual priests deciding on their own] [who] can determine the cases of such necessity, attentive to the criteria agreed upon with the other members of the conference of bishops”. Thus, “individual, integral confession and absolution remain the only ordinary way for the faithful to reconcile themselves with God and the Church, unless physical or moral impossibility excuses from this kind of confession… Personal confession is thus the form most expressive of reconciliation with God and with the Church”.
50. Frequent confession of venial sins or imperfections is a consequence of fidelity to Baptism and Confirmation, and expresses a sincere desire for perfection and return to the Father’s plan so that Christ may truly live in us through a life of greater fidelity to the Holy Spirit. Hence, “in view of the fact that all the faithful are called to holiness, it is recommended that they confess venial sins also”.It is particularly recommended that in places of worship confessors be visibly present […] and that confessions be especially available even during Mass, in order to meet the needs of the faithful. In the event of a “concelebrated Mass, it is warmly recommended that some priests refrain from concelebrating so as to hear the confessions of the faithful”.

61. We have to recognise the present difficulties facing the ministry of penance due to a certain loss of the sense of sin, a certain (JOHN PAUL II, Letter to priests on Holy Thursday 1986, JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Dives in Misericordia) disaffection towards this sacrament, a certain blindness to the usefulnessof the confession of sins and also the exhaustion suffered by many priests because of their manifold duties. However, confession is a spiritual rebirth transforming the sinner into a new creation and unites him with the friendship for Christ. Thus, it is a well-spring of joy for those who are servants of the Good Shepherd.

Some phrases of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI draw out attention to the same theme: “These days, the correct formation of believers’ consciences is without a doubt one of the pastoral priorities” .

10. The concrete, joyful, trustworthy and committed practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a clear indicator of the level of evangelization reached by the individual believer and by a particular community. [On this measure most parishes I know of - including my own -have not reached a very high level of evangelisation!]

Once again, I would like to set forth what I wrote in the exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia: ‘The priest’s spiritual and pastoral life, like that of his brothers and sisters, lay and religious, depends, for its quality and fervour, on the frequent and conscientious personal practice of the Sacrament of Penance. The priest’s celebration of the Eucharist and administration of the other sacraments, his pastoral zeal, his relationship with the faithful, his communion with his brother priests, his collaboration with his bishop, his life of prayer – in a word, the whole of his priestly existence, suffers an inexorable decline if by negligence or for some other reason he fails to receive the Sacrament of Penance at regular intervals and in a spirit of genuine faith and devotion. If a priest were no longer to go to confession or properly confess his sins, his priestly being and his priestly action would feel its effects very soon, and this would also be noticed by the community of which he was the pastor’ ”. But when I am conscious that God always forgives me, as Benedict XVI wrote, “by letting myself be forgiven, I learn to forgive others”.

18. Pastoral fruitfulness derives from the Mercy of God. Pastoral planning would hardly be efficacious were it to underestimate the importance of sacramental confession: “the greatest pastoral concern must be shown for this sacrament of the Church, the source of reconciliation, of peace and of joy for all of us who stand in need of the Lord’s mercy and of healing from the wounds of sin… The Bishop will not fail to remind all those who by virtue of office are charged with the care of souls that they have the duty to provide the faithful with the opportunity of making an individual confession. He himself will make certain that the faithful are in fact being assisted in every way possible to make their confession… When one considers in the light of Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium the close connection between the Sacrament of Reconciliation and participation in the Eucharist, one sees how necessary it is today to form the consciences of the faithful so that they may partake worthily and fruitfully of the Eucharistic Banquet, and approach it in a state of grace”. [The connection between Confession and receiving the Holy Eucharist has in practical effect been virtually lost in the Western world.]

Frequent confession, even for those who are not in grave sin, has constantly been recommended by the Church as a means of progress in the Christian life.

The fact that great numbers of people “seem to stay away from confession completely, for various reasons, is a sign of the urgent need to develop a whole pastoral strategy of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
This will be done by constantly reminding Christians of the need to have a real relationship with God, to have a sense of sin when one is closed to God and to others, the need to be converted and, through the Church, to receive forgiveness as a free gift of God. They also need to be reminded of the conditions that enable the sacrament to be celebrated well, and in this regard to overcome prejudices, baseless fears and routine. Such a situation, at the same time, requires that we ourselves should remain greatly available for this ministry of forgiveness; ready to devote to it the necessary time and care, and I would even say giving it priority over other activities.

Loss of a sense of sin disrupts the inner balance of our hearts and generates contradiction and conflict in human society.

Thursday 24 November 2011

More on Confession before Communion

Following on from my last post, I've found some friends in the Archdiocese whose child has made First Holy Communion and who will shortly receive the Sacrament of Confirmation in one of the "catch up" services going on throughout the diocese. (This is because those who have made first Communion will not be confirmed at what would have been the usual time several years later -aged somewhere around 12/13/14.) However, he has not made his first Confession - so he will have made first Communion and been Confirmed but not have received the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

This is obviously in contradiction to what is clearly expected - that Confession should precede Communion:

"The need for safeguarding and protecting worthy participation in the Eucharist has compelled the church to introduce a norm in her discipline and pastoral practice that confession should precede communion and in this way the right of the faithful - both of adults and children -to receive the sacrament of reconciliation is recognized."

"It would be an absurd and unjust discrimination and a violation of his conscience if he were prepared for and admitted only to holy communion. It is not enough to say that children have the right to go to confession if this right remains practically ignored."

It is described as "An abuse which we censure" - one which I suspect is still fairly prevalent. Certainly in one of my previous parishes it was something I corrected in my first year there. This latest document from the Congregation for Clergy makes it clear that there has been much confusion, despite the fact that it is a confusion which should have been cleared up in 1977 (see previous post). I think that there are still those who have a desire - for what reason I cannot fathom - to postpone Confession. I noticed in the re-organising of first sacraments in my own diocese that the matter has not been clearly dealt with, even when questions have been asked in the meetings held about it. Indeed the accompanying DVD skips over any detail as to when first Confession is to take place but when Confession is mentioned it is teenagers that we see engaging in the process - implying that Communion and Confirmation will already have taken place. Looking back I posted about this before here.

This new document seems to be re-emphasising that children have the right to have their sins forgiven and thus be able to approach the other sacraments in a state of grace and that pastors have the duty to teach them about this: ie that no-one should approach Holy Communion - or indeed any of the other sacraments - without being in a state of grace.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Children must receive the Sacrament of Penance before they receive their first Communion

A letter from the Congregation for Clergy issued this week makes it clear without any doubts or exceptions that children must make their first Confession before making their first Holy Communion. I reproduce the the letter below but you can read it at the Vatican site here. It's of some interest here in my own diocese as there has been discussion over recent months around this subject in relation to the changes being made in to the order and the age children will make first Holy Communion and Confirmation.


Children must receive the sacrament of penance before they receive their first communion, according to a letter sent to the world's bishops by the Vatican Congregations for the Sacraments and Divine Worship and for the Clergy. In the letter, dated March 31 but released May 19, the congregations say that in spite of a 1973 declaration on this matter, it is apparent that "dissension and doubts" still exist in some parts of the church regarding the order in which children are to receive these sacraments. Thus, they say, it is necessary to explain once again the "mind and force of this declaration," which states that the 1910 decree of Pope Pius X, "Quam Singulari," is the norm to be followed "everywhere and by all." Immediately below is the text of the letter. It is followed by a brief, formal reply to an inquiry from a religious institute - one of many such inquiries and requests the congregations have received, the letter states.

Even though the declaration Sanctus Pontifex was published on May 24, 1973, by both the Sacred Congregations for the Discipline of the Sacraments and for the Clergy (cf. AAS 65, 1973, 410), nonetheless, in some parts of the church and in some catechetical centers, dissension and doubts still remain about the ecclesiastical discipline which regards children's receiving the sacrament of penance before they receive their first communion.

Many inquiries and requests have come to this apostolic see from bishops, from priests, and from parents. An apostolic religious institute which exercises its ministry in many countries posed the question explicitly whether, after the promulgation of the declaration, it was allowed, "as a general rule," to receive first communion without previous confession in those parishes in which this had become common practice.

Moreover, recent information gathered by the Congregation of the Sacraments and Divine Worship have proved the need of inculcating the church's norms regarding these questions as well as the occasion for explaining once again, and thus answering a felt need, the mind and force of this declaration. This is done by giving an official reply to the question, which the religious institute had proposed (cf. appendix).

It is certainly not necessary to explain the reason for publishing the decree since all realize what grave disturbance was created by some opinions based on psychological and pedagogical reasons, by which the traditional doctrine of the church was almost overturned. However, one must keep in mind that, while before the decree Quam Singulari (cf. AAS II Vol., p. 579), according to common opinion, children who reached a certain age could be admitted to confession, but not to receive communion, now on the other hand it is affirmed that children could go to communion, but that it is not fitting to make confession precede this sacrament.

Already according to the decree, Quam Singulari, the origin of that regrettable custom was seen in not having defined the age of discretion for receiving the sacrament: "The abuses which we censure spring from this, that the age of discretion was not properly or correctly defined and that some assign one age for confession, and another for the eucharist." For this reason in n. I of the section of the decree that lays down dispositions, it is decreed that there is only one age for these sacraments and that when it is reached, the obligation begins of receiving both according to the designated order i.e., confession before communion.

"The age of -discretion both for confession and for communion is the age in which the child begins to reason, i.e. around the seventh year, either before or after. From that time begins the obligation of satisfying both the precept of confession and of communion." (Note: It is not necessary to add that the strict obligation of confession should be understood according to the traditional doctrine of the church.)

That confession should precede communion is clear from the order in which these two sacraments are named in the decree, as well as from the fact that the disapproved abuses regarded not the admission to confession but rather, admission to holy communion.

The need for safeguarding and protecting worthy participation in the eucharist has compelled the church to introduce a norm in her discipline and pastoral practice that confession should precede communion and in this way the right of the faithful - both of adults and children -to receive the sacrament of reconciliation is recognized.

Moreover, St. Paul's admonition (cf. I Cor. 11, 28) truly establishes a directing norm which regards even children. Therefore these also, before receiving the holy eucharist, should examine themselves. But often the child is not able to examine his conscience clearly and surely by himself. This will be done more easily and safely if he avails himself of the help of a priest confessor. In fact there are many children who feel troubled by small and unimportant things while there are others who ignore and pass over more serious faults.

The precept of Canon 854 of the Code of Canon Law in which the judgment about the sufficient disposition for first communion belongs to the priest could not be observed if the child did not go to confession before communion.

In this matter one must also keep in mind that many fine pastors have learned from their catechetical and ministerial experience the great usefulness and saving power which their first confession has in the life of children if it is carefully prepared, properly adapted to their age and their capacity to perceive spiritual things and carefully administered.

When he arrives at the age of discretion, the child has the right in the church to receive both sacraments. It would be an absurd and unjust discrimination and a violation of his conscience if he were prepared for and admitted only to holy communion. It is not enough to say that children have the right to go to confession if this right remains practically ignored.

When children are sufficiently instructed and are aware of the special nature of these two sacraments, it will not be difficult for them to go first to the sacrament of reconciliation which - in a simple but fundamental way - arouses in them the awareness of moral good and evil and aids them to bring a more mature disposition to their happy meeting with Christ. The basic persuasion about the need of the greatest purity for receiving the eucharist worthily, if prudently instilled in children right from the time of their first communion, will accompany them for the rest of their lives and will lead to a greater esteem for, and a more frequent use of, the sacrament of reconciliation.

The Roman Pontiff taught this in the letter he wrote through the Secretary of State on the occasion of the 26th Liturgical Week celebrated in Florence: "The Holy Father gives special consideration to the confession of children and, especially the first confession, which should always precede their first communion, even if they are fittingly separated by a period -of time. For from that early ge should begin the preaching of penance which offers a more fervent foundation later on for living faith both in receiving the sacrament as well as in giving proper direction to one's Christian life. "

It can be observed that in many nations particular conditions of society and culture are not a legitimate reason for establishing a different discipline. Human nature is essentially the same everywhere and the goals of spiritual perfection, which belong to the sacrament, are proposed equally to everyone. And indeed, children in whatever circumstances of society and culture they live, if they can receive the eucharist in a conscious way suitable for their age, can also have an equal awareness of sin and ask God's pardon in confession.

Finally, one must remember that the great renewal and greater vigor of the sacrament of penance, 'which is so necessary today and so desired by pastors in the universal church, cannot come about unless it has its foundation and principle in the careful and fruitful preparation and reception of the sacrament of Christian initiation.

We are happy to take this occasion to profess ourselves with sentiments of esteem.
Devotedly yours,
Cardinal James Knox

Cardinal John Wright

The following note was issued with the letter:

To the doubt proposed: "Whether it is allowed after the declaration of May 24, 1973, to continue to have, as a general rule, the reception of first communion precede the reception of the sacrament of penance in those parishes in which this practice developed in the past few years."
The Sacred Congregations for the Sacraments and Divine Worship and for the Clergy, with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, reply: Negative and according to the mind of the declaration.
The mind of the declaration is that one year after the promulgation of the same declaration, all experiments of receiving first, communion without the sacrament of penance should cease so that the discipline of the church might be restored, in the spirit of the decree, Quam Singulari.
From the Vatican: 31 March 1977

First Profession

Cardinal Piacenza, the redoubtable Superior, Madre Rebecca (on the left), and the servers
together with one of the Sisters looking after the Cardinal's biretta!

On Sunday morning one of Wigan's finest, my friend Sr Maria Emmanuela of the Missionaries of the Divine Word made her First Profession in Rome. Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, Prefect of the Congregation for Clergy and long-time friend of the Missionaries, was the celebrant of the Mass. Congratulations Sr Maria Emmanuela. I've posted about the Missionaries before here.

After the Mass.
The Head of the Congregation for Clergy is keen on dressing appropriately (for him, the pontifical dalmatic) - an example to us all.

Sister celebrating afterwards and below with a gift from her family - a large photograph of her home parish in Wigan - St Mary's. A fine church dating from 1818 - with a fine priest (who dates from a little later than that!) but has three busy parishes to look after in these difficult times.

My thanks to Fr Damian McCaughan for the photographs.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

I have taken the previous post down.
As with many items on this blog, it was done with tongue in cheek.
However, I apologise if any real offense was caused.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Pope Benedict on Bishops, Priests and Laity

While the Holy Father is in Benin, his Post-Synodal Exhortation (following the Synod on Africa) has been released with the title Africae munus.

It is a long document but I have picked out three sections that relate to bishops, priests and laity as provoking some thought for all of us, as members of all three groups referred to are reminded of the enormity of the Christan calling. After a careful reading of each one, my question was, "Who would be a bishop?" "Who would be a priest?" "Who would be a Christian?"

I. Bishops

100. Dear brother bishops, the holiness to which the bishop is called requires the exercise of the virtues – in the first place, of the theological virtues – and the exercise of the evangelical counsels. Your own holiness must be outstanding, to the benefit of those entrusted to your pastoral care, those whom you must serve. Your life of prayer will nourish your apostolate

from within. The bishop must be someone in love with Christ. The moral authority and the prestige that uphold the exercise of your juridical power can only come from the holiness of your life.

101. Saint Cyprian of Carthage, in the middle of the third century, stated: “The Church rests on the bishops, and all her conduct follows the direction of those same rulers”. [It's often said among priests that the tone of the diocese is dependent upon the bishop - everything filters down from there.] Communion, unity and cooperation with the presbyterate will be a safeguard against the seeds of division [I don't know what it was like in the past but this is often lacking between priests and bishops in these days - there can be a group close to the bishop but many others feel a bit left out in the cold] and will assist you in listening together to the Holy Spirit. He will lead you on the right path (cf. Ps 22:3). Love and respect your priests! They are esteemed co-workers in your episcopal ministry. Imitate Christ! He created around himself [the creation of this atmosphere is dependent on the bishop as he is the one with the authority] a circle of friendship, fraternal affection and communion which he drew from the depths of the Trinitarian mystery. “I invite you to take continuous care to help your priests to live in intimate communion with Christ. Their spiritual life is the foundation of their apostolic life. Exhort them gently to daily prayer, to the worthy celebration of the sacraments, especially those of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, as Saint Francis de Sales did for his priests … Your priests need your affection, your encouragement and your concern.” [While this obviously can't be a one-way street, many priests that I know - and from more than one section of church politics - don't feel this.]

102. Be one with the Successor of Peter, [it's often the perception that some bishops don't exactly go all out to fulfil this injunction] together with your priests and all the faithful. Do not waste your human and pastoral energies in the vain search for answers to questions which are not of your direct competence, or in the twists and turns of a nationalism that can easily blind. It is easier to follow this idol, or to absolutize African culture, [or the secular "pastoral humanist" agenda, as one friend of mine calls it, referring to humam care without the supernatural element] than to follow the demands of Christ. Such idols are illusions. Even more, they are a temptation, that believing that human efforts alone can bring the kingdom of eternal happiness to earth.

103. Your first duty is to bring the good news of salvation to all, and to offer the faithful a catechesis which leads them to a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ. See to it that laypeople acquire a genuine awareness of their ecclesial mission [which, as this document says a little further on, is out in the world, not in taking over the sacramental work of the priest] and encourage them to engage in it with responsibility, always seeking the common good. The permanent formation programmes offered to lay people, and above all to political or economic leaders, must insist on conversion as a necessary condition for the transformation of the world. It is fitting that they should begin with prayer and continue with a catechesis that will lead to concrete action. The creation of structures, if truly needed, will come later; since they can never replace the power of prayer! [Often, a new department in the curial office is seen as the answer, holding meetings and sending out reams of material to prove the worth of their existence but most of the bumph goes into the filing tray most easily to hand - the waste paper bin!]

104. Dear brother bishops, following in the footsteps of Christ the Good Shepherd, be good pastors and servants of the flock entrusted to your care, exemplary in life and conduct. The good administration of your dioceses requires your presence. To make your message credible, see to it that your dioceses become models in the conduct of personnel, in transparency and good financial management. Do not hesitate to seek help from experts in auditing, so as to give example to the faithful and to society at large. Promote the good functioning of the ecclesial bodies provided for by Church law on the diocesan and parochial level. To you in the first place belongs the task of seeking unity, justice and peace since you have the responsibility for the local Churches.

105. The Synod recalled that “the Church is a communion that gives rise to an organic pastoral solidarity. The bishops, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, are the first promoters of communion and cooperation in the Church’s apostolate.” The national and regional Bishops’ Conferences are charged with the mission of consolidating that ecclesial communion and promoting this pastoral solidarity. [The National Conference is to promote communion THAT communion - the one with the Bishop of Rome.]

II. Priests

108. As close and indispensable co-workers of the bishop, priests are charged with carrying out the work of evangelization. The Second Assembly of the Synod for Africa took place during the year that I dedicated to the priesthood, appealing in a special way for growth in holiness. Dear priests, remember that your witness to living together in peace, over ethnic and racial lines, can touch hearts. The call to holiness bids us become pastors according to the heart of God, feeding our flock with justice (cf. Ez 34:16). To yield to the temptation of becoming political leaders or social agents [a temptation for us in the West as well, as it is so much more acceptable to the world around us] would be to betray your priestly mission and to do a disservice to society, which expects of you prophetic words and deeds. As Saint Cyprian put it in his own day: “Those who bear the honour of the divine priesthood… should lend their ministry only to the service of the altar and give their time to prayer alone”.

109. By devoting yourselves to those whom the Lord entrusts to you for their formation in Christian virtues and their growth in holiness, you not only win them to the cause of Christ but also make them protagonists of a renewed African society. Given the complex situations that you encounter, I ask you to deepen your life of prayer and your ongoing intellectual and spiritual formation. Become ever more familiar with sacred Scripture, the word of God which you daily meditate upon and explain to the faithful. Grow in your knowledge of the Catechism, the documents of the magisterium and the Church’s social doctrine. You will then be capable of forming the members of the Christian community for whom you are immediately responsible, so that they can become authentic disciples and witnesses of Christ.

110. Live obedience to your diocesan bishop in simplicity, humility and filial love. [It is often priests who are traditional by nature that find it hard to be at odds with their bishop, for their natural inclination is to obey but it is not blind obedience but one within the confines of the wider Church and it is not to be hypocritical, obeying publicly but harbouring resentment privately.] “Out of respect for the One who has loved us, it is proper that we obey without hypocrisy, for it is not the bishop whom we see that we are deceiving, but the One who is unseen. In this case, it is not a matter of the flesh, but of God who knows what is hidden.”In the context of the ongoing formation of clergy, I consider it important to reread and meditate on such documents as the conciliar Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Presbyterorum Ordinis, the 1992 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis, the 1994 Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests and the 2002 Instruction The Priest, Pastor and Guide of the Parish Community.

111. Build up the Christian communities by your example, living in truth and joy your priestly commitments, celibacy in chastity and detachment from material possessions. When lived in maturity and peace, these signs, so consonant with the lifestyle of Jesus, express “total and exclusive gift of self to Christ, to the Church and to the kingdom of God”. Devote yourselves intensely to putting into practice the diocesan pastoral plan for re-conciliation, justice and peace, especially through the celebration of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, catechesis, the formation of lay people and ongoing dialogue with those holding positions of responsibility in society. Every priest should feel happy to serve the Church. ["Should"!]

112. Following Christ on the path of the priesthood entails making decisions. It is not always easy to live up to these. The evangelical commitments codified through the centuries by the teaching of the magisterium appear radical to the eyes of the world. It is sometimes difficult to follow them, yet not impossible. Christ tells us that we cannot serve two masters (cf. Mt 6:24). He is clearly speaking of money, the worldly treasure that can captivate our hearts (cf. Lk 12:34), but he is also speaking of the countless other goods we possess, such as our life, our family, our education, our personal relationships. These are all important and fine goods which are constitutive of our persons. But Christ asks those whom he calls to abandon themselves completely to divine Providence. He demands a radical decision (cf. Mt 7:13-14) which we sometimes find difficult to understand and live out. Yet if God is our real treasure – that pearl of great price which must be acquired at any cost, even that of great sacrifices (cf. Mt 13:45-46) – then we want our hearts and our bodies, our minds and our thoughts to be for him alone. This act of faith enables us to see every-thing that appears important to us in a different light, and to experience our relationship with our bodies, and our relationships in family or among friends, in the light of God’s call and of what it demands in the service of the Church. This calls for deep reflection. That reflection should begin in the seminary [In other words, self-sacrifice. But this wasn't taught much when I was at seminary and being "other-worldly" was rather frowned upon] and continue throughout our priestly lives. Christ tells us, by way of encouragement, for he knows the strengths and weaknesses of our hearts: “Strive first for the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt 6:33).

VIII. Lay people

128. Through her lay members, the Church is present and active in the world. Lay people have an important role to play in the Church and in society. To enable them properly to take up this role, it is fitting that centres of biblical, spiritual, liturgical and pastoral formation be organized in the dioceses. It is my heartfelt desire that lay people with responsibility in the political, economic and social fields be equipped with a solid knowledge of the Church’s social doctrine, which can provide them with principles for acting in conformity with the Gospel. Lay men and women, in fact, are “ambassadors of Christ” (2 Cor 5:20) in the public sphere, in the heart of the world! [In all the places the clergy don't get to, among the lapsed in families and in the workplace but we do seem to have lost this aspect that was once so strong and was actually re-iterated by the Second Vatican Council. José Maria Escriva was telling lay people to do this long before the 1960's.] Their Christian witness will be credible only if they are competent and honest professional people.

129. Lay men and women are called, above all, to holiness, a holiness which is to be lived in the world. Dear members of the faithful: cultivate your interior life and your relationship with God, so that the Holy Spirit may enlighten you in all circumstances. In order to ensure that the human person and the common good remain effectively at the centre of all human, political, economic or social activity, deepen your union with Christ, so as to know and love him by devoting time to God in prayer and in the reception of the sacraments. Allow yourselves to be enlightened and instructed by God and by his word.

130. I would like to dwell again on the distinctive feature of a Christian’s professional life. In a word, it means bearing witness to Christ in the world by showing, through your example, that work can be a very positive setting for personal development and not primarily a means of making profit. Your work enables you to participate in the work of creation and to serve your brothers and sisters. Acting in this way, you will be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”, as the Lord asks of us. In daily life, put into practice the preferential option for the poor, whatever your position in society, in accordance with the spirit of the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-12), so as to see in them the face of Jesus who calls you to serve him (cf. Mt 25:31-46).

131. It can be helpful for you to form associations in order to continue shaping your Christian conscience and supporting one another in the struggle for justice and peace. [It appears to me that many of the organisations which we have allowed to fall into abeyance as "old-fashioned" did just this - Young Christian Workers, the SVP, theLegion of Mary - all these groups had /have an outward looking dimension whereas now so many groups in the parish are inward looking.] The Small Christian Communities (SCCs) and the “new communities” are fundamental structures for fanning the flame of your Baptism. Bring your areas of competence to the life and activity of the Catholic universities, which continue to grow following the recommendations of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa. I also encourage you to have an active and courageous presence in the areas of political life, culture, the arts, the media and various associations. Do not be hesitant or ashamed about this presence, but be proud of it and conscious of the valuable contribution it can offer to the common good!

Monday 14 November 2011

Justice begins at home

Just a short post to direct the attention of anyone who has not seen it to Fr Ray Blake's post here. He very bravely says things that need bringing into the light. There are so very many occasions when those in authority in our dioceses simply ignore not only the Magisterium of the Church and directives from the Holy See but also the Church's law embodied in the Code of Canon Law. Canon Law is there to protect everyone but it is a daunting task if you need to appeal all the way to Rome because those in the diocese regularly ignore it - and the bishop still has control of your next appointment. He also identifies that our allegedly Catholic schools are places where things are going badly wrong in this area.

The great devotees of "New Church" have justice as one of their rallying cries - for the oppressed, for minorities, for the poor - all excellent but like charity, justice begins at home.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday

This Remembrance Sunday
at 11.30am
we are offering a Sung Mass
in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite
for those who have died in war and conflict.

Ordinary Form Masses will also be as usual at 8.30am (said) and 10am (Sung).

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Pope Benedict speaks to seminarians

On Friday evening the Holy Father presided overs Vespers for the opening of the academic year in pontifical universities.

His homily is a beautiful meditation on what a priest needs to do to stay faithful, in light of the 70th anniversary of Pope Pius XII founding the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations. He stresses the continuing need for priests, for prayer and charity but also for a faithful celebration of the liturgy and the embracing of suffering. He asks priests to "remain with the Lord" - perhaps a reference to the growing emphasis and emergence all over the world of places and communities where the Blessed Sacrament is adored continuously - from the Adoremus Conference in Rome earlier this year to the invitation of Bishop Mark Davies to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest to take over the Church of Ss Peter and Paul as a place of Eucharistic Adoration in his diocese of Shrewsbury. A reminder too that the wonderful St Charles Borromeo is the Patron Saint of seminarians - not something I can recall hearing much about in my seminary training (and yet another part of the mystery of why that seminary is now closed becomes ever clearer!)

Here is the text - with my highlights!

* * *

Venerable Brothers,

Dear brothers and sisters!

It is a joy for me to celebrate these Vespers with you the members of the great community of the pontifical Roman universities. I greet Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, thanking him for the courteous words that he has addressed to me and above all for his service as head of the Congregation for Catholic Education, assisted by the secretary and the other collaborators. To them, and to all of the rectors, professors and the other students I address my most cordial greeting.

Seventy years ago, Venerable Pius XII, with the motu proprio "Cum Nobis" (cf. AAS 33 [1941], 479-481) instituted the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations, with the aim of promoting vocations to the priesthood, to spread an understanding and necessity of the ordained ministry and to encourage the faithful to pray for many worthy priests. On the occasion of that anniversary, this evening I would like to propose some reflections to you on the priestly ministry.

The motu proprio "Cum Nobis" represented the beginning of a vast movement of prayer initiatives and pastoral activities. It was a clear and generous response to the Lord's call: "The harvest is great but the laborers are few! Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest! (Matthew 9:37). Everywhere other ventures would develop following the launch of the Pontifical Work. Among these I would like to recall "Serra International," founded in the United States and named for Father Junípero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan friar, with the purpose of encouraging and supporting vocations to the priesthood and giving financial support to seminarians. I thank the members of Serra International, who are celebrating the 60th anniversary of their recognition by the Holy See.

The Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations was instituted on the liturgical commemoration of St. Charles Borromeo, venerable patron of seminarians. We pray to him in this celebration to intercede for the reawakening, sound formation and growth of priestly vocations.

The Word of God too, which we heard in the passage from the First Letter of Peter, invites us to meditate on the mission of shepherds in the Christian community. From the beginnings of the Church there is an obvious prominence of the leaders of the first communities, who were appointed by the Apostles to proclaim the Word of God through preaching and celebrating the sacrifice of Christ, the Eucharist. Peter offers passionate encouragement: "I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder, a witness to the sufferings of Christ and a participant in the glory that must manifest itself" (1 Peter 5:1). St. Peter offers this exhortation on the basis of his personal relationship with Christ, which culminated in the dramatic events of the passion and in the experience of the encounter with him after his resurrection from the dead. Peter, furthermore, highlights the reciprocal solidarity of pastors in ministry, underscoring his and their belonging to the one apostolic order: He says, in fact, that he is "a fellow elder"; the Greek term is "sympresbyteros." Feeding the flock of Christ is the vocation and task common to them and links them in a particular way because they are united to Christ by a special bond. In fact, the Lord Jesus compared himself many times to a caring shepherd, attentive to each one of his sheep. He said of himself: "I am the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11). And St. Thomas Aquinas writes in his commentary on the Gospel of St. John: "Although the leaders of the Church are all shepherds, nevertheless, [Christ] is in a singular way. He says "I am the good shepherd" with the purpose of introducing the virtue of charity with sweetness. In fact, one cannot be a good shepherd without becoming one with Christ and his members through charity. Charity is the first duty of the good shepherd" (10, 3).

The Apostle Peter's vision of the call to the office of leading the community is a grand one, conceived in continuity with the unique election of The Twelve. The apostolic vocation exists through the personal relationship with Christ, nourished by assiduous prayer and animated by the passion for communicating the message received and the Apostles' same experience of faith. Jesus called The Twelve to be with him and to send them to preach his message (cf. Mark 3:14). There are some conditions for there to be a growing consonance between Christ and the life of the priest. I would like to focus on three, which emerge from the reading that we heard: the aspiration to work with Jesus to spread the Kingdom of God, the gratuity of the pastoral charge and the attitude of service.

First of all, in the call to the ministerial priesthood there is the encounter with Christ and being fascinated, struck by his words, by his gestures, by his very person. It is distinguishing his voice from many voices, responding like Peter: "You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and known that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69). It is like feeling the radiance of the Good and Love that emanate from him, feeling enveloped and involved to the point of desiring to remain with him like the disciples of Emmaus -- "stay with us for the day is nearly spent" (Luke 24:29) and bringing the proclamation of the Gospel to the world. God the Father sent the eternal Son into the world to realize his plan of salvation. Christ Jesus established the Church to extend the beneficial effects of the redemption through time. The vocation of priests has its root in this action of the Father realized in Christ through the Holy Spirit. The minister of the Gospel then is he who lets himself be drawn by Christ, who knows how to "remain" with him, who enters into harmony, in intimate friendship, with him, that all be done "as God wishes" (1 Peter 5:2), according to his will of love, with great interior freedom and profound joy of heart.

In the second place, priests are called to be administrators of the Mysteries of God "not for personal gain but with a generous soul," St. Peter says in the reading from these Vespers (1 Peter 5:2). It must never be forgotten that one enters the priesthood through the sacrament, Ordination, and this means precisely opening oneself to the action of God, choosing every day to give oneself for him and for the brothers according to the word of the Gospel: "Freely have you received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8). The Lord's call to ministry is not the fruit of special merits but a gift to be received and to which there corresponds a dedication of oneself not to one's own project but God's, in a generous and disinterested way, that he might dispose of us according to his will even if this does not concur with our desires of self-realization. It means loving together with him who first loved us and gave himself entirely. It means being open to letting oneself be involved in his full and complete act of love toward the Father and every person, consummated on Calvary. We must never forget -- as priests -- the one legitimate ascent for the ministry of shepherd is not that of success but that of the cross.

In this logic, being priests means being servants even with the exemplarity of life. "Be examples to the flock" is the invitation of the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:3). Priests are the dispensers of the means of salvation, of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. They do not dispose of them according to their own will but they are their humble servants for the good of the People of God. It is one life, then, profoundly marked by this service: from the attentive care of the flock, from the faithful celebration of the liturgy, and from the prompt solicitude for all of the brothers, especially the most poor and needy. In living this "pastoral charity" on the model of Christ and with Christ, in whatever post the Lord calls one to, every priest can fully realize himself and his vocation.

Dear brothers and sisters, I have offered a reflection on the priestly ministry. But consecrated persons and laypeople, I think especially of the many religious women and lay women who study at the ecclesiastical universities of Rome, and of those who offer their service as professors or as staff of these schools, can also find useful elements [in what I have said] for living the time that they spend in the Eternal City more intensely. It is important for all, in fact, always to learn more to "remain" with the Lord, daily, in the personal encounter with him to let oneself be fascinated and be drawn by his love and to be proclaimers of his Gospel; it is important to seek in life to follow generously not one's own project but God's for each person, conforming one's will to the Lord's; it is important to prepare oneself, also through serious and demanding studies, to serve the People of God in the tasks entrusted to us.

Dear friends, live well, in intimate communion with the Lord, this time of formation: It is a precious gift that God offers you, especially here in Rome where one breathes the Church's catholicity in a completely singular way. May St. Charles Borromeo obtain the grace of fidelity for all those who attend the ecclesiastical institutes of Rome. May the Lord grant all of you, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, "Sedes Sapientiae," a profitable academic year. Amen.

Sunday 6 November 2011

New Bishops?

English Bishops at Mass at the Venerable English College in Rome in 2009 after the restoration of the chapel. Everything was restored "including the cleaning of every piece of marble, mosaic and painting" but sadly no restoration of anything that looks like a remotely fitting altar.

From the Wikipedia page on the college:

"The 1970s were a period of change in the history of the College, as for much of the Roman Catholic Church in the West. During a reordering of the College Church, a new Altar was consecrated on 1 December 1980; the side altars of the College Church were removed, the Tabernacle was re-positioned, and old pews were replaced with new seating. The Baldachino which had hung over the previous High Altar for almost a hundred years was sent to a local antique shop, where it could still be seen awaiting a buyer into the 1990s. Other changes at this time included the change in the College dress code, which had not changed since the time of the Martyrs, and the relaxation of most of the old seminary Rule."

Damian Thompson has a piece (reproduced below) about who might be in the running to become a bishop here in England and Wales in the next few years. A number of diocese are going to fall vacant and many priests are looking with great hope (and trepidation) to see who will be appointed. Last week at the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy Colloquium, having the company of two bishops who made a very good impression on the gathered brethren, there was some discussion of who and what sort of bishops would be appreciated by the priests who were there. Orthodox priests are keenly looking to assist, support and co-operate with bishops who inspire them in union of mind and heart with Pope Benedict.

Here is Damian's article:

Like Jason in the Friday the 13th films, the Catholic establishment's Magic Circle refuses to die, despite the embarrassingly wide gap between its polyester fantasies and the Benedict-inspired devotion of younger Catholics. It's a cruel paradox that the English Church's leading seminary, the Venerable English College in Rome, treats Summorum Pontificum as a dead letter and shows only the faintest, most patronising interest in the Pope's other liturgical reforms. And now there's a rumour that its rector, the "go-ahead" Mgr Nicholas Hudson, is going to be made an English diocesan bishop, to be replaced by Mgr Andrew Summersgill, the Eccleston Square functionary who made such a hash of planning for the papal visit. Here's an email sent from a well-placed source in Rome to his fellow priests:

Dear Fathers,

For your prayers: there is a *strong rumour* circulating that Mons Hudson will be created the next Bishop of Plymouth and that Mons Summersgill will be his replacement. The latter will be out here for 10 days towards the end of the month. This would not be a popular choice; nor, I think a good appointment for the college…

You can say that again. If this happens, it will be proof that Cardinal Cormac's old boy network is still in place – and that Archbishop Nichols (no fan of Summersgill) has little say in its affairs.

And, talking of +Vin, does he realise with what scepticism his claim not to have intervened in the Cardinal Vaughan affair is being greeted by his own priests? Indeed, "scepticism" is putting it mildly. Ambrosden Avenue is gaining quite a reputation for economy with the truth. I'm sorry to strike such a negative tone but, believe me, you don't know the half of it.