Tuesday 30 April 2013

You couldn't make it up!

Oh my!

From Reuters News Agency:   "In an emotional ceremony filled with tears and applause, a 70-year-old Kentucky woman was ordained a priest on Saturday as part of a dissident group operating outside of official Roman Catholic Church authority."

The two new ITV comedy programs from last night were slated in the press today (I watched all of 30 seconds of one of them before deciding it was too embarrassingly bad to watch). However, this article from Reuters has had my friends and I laughing out loud.  Three little snippets in particular stand out:

The first...

Of the thought of being excommunicated from the Church the septuagenarian Miss Smead, a former Carmelite Nun (St Theresa of Avila was unavailable for comment!) said,
"It has no sting for me. It is a Medieval bullying stick the bishops used to keep control over people and to keep the voices of women silent. I am way beyond letting octogenarian men tell us how to live our lives." 
It seems that age is no bar to age prejudice - I'm sure most hip 70 somethings must be fed up with those fusty old octogenarians lauding it over them!

The second...
During the communion service, Smead and other woman priests lifted the plates and cups containing the sacramental bread and wine to bless them. A woman in the audience murmured, "Girl, lift those plates. I've been waiting a long time for this."
Reminiscences of, "Heave it higher,Sir Priest!" *  I'm not sure if Reuters deliberately worded it this way but I couldn't help summoning up a very un-feminist picture of ladies among the pots and pans in the kitchen!

The third...

One of those attending the service was Stewart Pawley, 32, of Louisville, who said he was raised Catholic and now only attends on Christmas and Easter. But he said he would attend services with Smead when she starts to offer them in Louisville. "People like me know it's something the Catholic Church will have to do," said Pawley.
Oh yes, Mr Pawley, people who come to Mass twice a year are just the sort who know just what the Catholic Church is all about, immersed as they are in her daily rituals, theology, spirituality and history.  While we're at it, let's get a focus group of pagans and atheists together to see how they think we should run the Church.

Chant and folk music

A friend in the States sent me a link to this article from Jeffrey Tucker at Crisis Magazine - "Is Chant like Folk Music?"  I thought it had an interesting take on the singing of chant as the "true music of the Catholic people".  I've reproduced quite a bit of it below but do read the longer article which has some examples to listen to as well.  

We have been incorporating as much chant as we can manage at Mass here for some time now, from the Mass setting, which everyone can join in with, to the Introit, Offertory and Communion chants of the Missal - though for these you do need the talents of those willing and able to assist for this (providentially - and I use that term in its proper sense -  this is available to us here in this little parish).  It really does help to set the "tone" of the liturgy as one of solemnity and grandeur. Not that it is necessarily terribly "high-brow" - one or two parents try each week to restrain their little ones from joining in with quite so much gusto!  The point is - we are doing it.  I recall in another parish the bishop on visitation attending a weekday Mass and commenting afterwards that the twenty (mostly elderly) folk attending Mass and singing the Mass parts ( it would have been Mass XVIII and the Pater noster) were not actually very good at creating an harmonious and beautiful sound. The implication was, I think, that we shouldn't bother - and yet I've heard plenty of "modern" (1970!) music sung in church that is not carried out with much musical skill but that never seems to be a criticism.  The point is to sing the true music of the catholic Church.  One result was that those parishioners were delighted when they watched Pope John Paul's funeral on TV or some other great occasion from Rome - they recognised the music (and some told me joined in from their sitting rooms!)

Anyway, here is the piece:

"Somehow we have this impression that Gregorian chant is part of a high Church ethos. It’s for conservatives and traditionalists who favor their liturgy buttoned up, obedient, and strict. On the other hand, this line of thinking goes, people who want authentic human expression of spontaneous religious experience should embrace popular music and a looser liturgical ethos.

I’ve always been puzzled by this caricature. And it is more than puzzling. It is poisonous to the liturgical debate because it reduces the whole issue to questions of taste, style, and education. It results in a strange class war that has nothing to do with what the liturgy is in its essentials and is asking from us.

If you look back at the roots of chant, and even just take time to understand what it means from a musical and historical point of view, you quickly find that it has nothing to do with music conservatories, stuffy performance venues, and rule-bound authoritarians. And, moreover, it has nothing to do with social class, taste, and educational level. The issue of the chanted Mass is really about whether the liturgy is going to be permitted to be what it is or whether we are going to replace its authentic voice with something else.

Maybe people forget that Gregorian chant is premodern in its origin. It was not somehow invented in the age of winged collars, top hats, and mutton chops. It arose from the world of the first millennium—before there were universities, conservatories, cathedrals, or individually owned books. Chant arose among people poorer than is even imaginable to us today. The singers were from the lowest class. The composers too were monks drawn from every strata of society. They did not write their music down because no one had figured out how to write music. That only began to happen in a coherent way about the 11th century. The work of the chant composers continued for many centuries and the results have been handed on to us today.

This is why chant is what it is today. And if you look closely, you can discover that first-millennium sense about it. The more you sing it, the more you discover its humane qualities—written and sung by people just like us.

At the same time, it is a window into a world we do not know. The sensibility of chant is spontaneous. It tells stories in the folk vein. It emerged out of a culture of sharing. It wasn’t about musical theory and technique. In those days, people couldn’t write music. Mostly, the people who heard it couldn’t read either. There was no point because books were exceptionally rare and only available to a tiny group. Chant came about within this world to be the most compelling way to express the faith in a worship context.

You know how folk music from the 1960s expresses stories of this lived experience of people, a means to carry on ideas and lessons that provide an authentic expression of truth? In many ways, chant does the same thing.

Readers who were around in the sixties might remember that this was precisely the attractive element behind the “folk Mass” of the period—the paradigm-shattering approach that defined the liturgical experience of a generation and led to the current sad situation in Catholic parish music programs. Chant shares some or many of those qualities that led the “hippies” to imagine that they were breaking with tradition.

Here is Ken Canedo’s recent description of this music and the “free culture” ethos that surrounded it:
The folk song, like the Bible, grew from an oral tradition, pre-dating radio and recording technology. A singer observed a slice of life, turned the observation into a song and, with guitar or banjo, presented it to anyone who would hear, perhaps on a front porch, at the town square, or down in the mine. If people liked it they would sing along and bring the new song home to share with a new audience…. Sometimes the lyrics would change, sometimes the tune was modified, and no thought was ever given to composer credits or copyright protection. A song was a song, something free and sweet for the entire world to sing. And a good song was very sweet indeed.
What strikes me about that description is that if you leave out the banjo part and perhaps the town square venue, you have a pretty good description of the origin of the music behind Gregorian chant. Chant too was passed through an oral tradition, not through one or two generations but through many centuries and over many lands...

... There are thousands of chants that constitute the corpus labeled as Gregorian. They are hugely diverse. They have many moods and many purposes—as many as there are moods and purposes behind the texts they set. After all, that is the primary purpose of chant: to provide a certain elevation of the text, to make it come alive and live in our presence in a special way.

Folk music swept the Catholic Church in the 1960s because that generation had some sense that it represented a more authentic and human story of faith than the old music did. They were wrong about this, and understandably so. The world of chant in the preconciliar world had indeed become stuffy and cartelized, ruled mostly with an elite who pushed it as the fulfillment of rubrical obligation.

Today matters are different. An elite is dictating the music in your parish but it is a new elite that emerged in the wake of the pseudo-folk trend. Today that group represents the establishment and its existence is dependent on copyright and control. You can’t sing their music without paying them a fee.

But a new generation of chanters is also being raised up, attracted by the sheer authenticity and organic quality that the true music of the Roman Rite represents. Like the folk music of the 1960s, all the chants are free to use, share, and sing. And this stands in stark contrast to the copyright/industrial cartel that distributes music in many parishes today.

It’s a beautiful thing to see history turn like this. But in order to complete the task, the chanting singers of today need to let go of their own high-art attachments and embrace the chant for what it is at its root: the true music of the Catholic people, born of an age before universal literacy in which music itself was a tool of evangelism, communication, and the most authentic form of the worship of God."

Friday 26 April 2013

Rosewater faith - Pope Francis

I posted about the Feast of St George but considering his homilies have been getting a lot of attention the homily of Pope Francis on that day has some stirring stuff that won't please those who want to water down the Faith or those who are happy to see the boundaries of the Church as rather opaque.  You can read the whole thing at Vatican News. Here are some quotes (with my highlights):
And so the Church was a Mother, the Mother of more children, of many children. It became more and more of a Mother. A Mother who gives us the faith, a Mother who gives us an identity. But the Christian identity is not an identity card: Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these belonged to the Church, the Mother Church. Because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church.
So Jesus can't be found outside the Church. As the Church of Christ subsists in the catholic Church - therefore not in other religions, not in some vague notion of "love" and unoffensive kindness but ONLY in THE Church.
And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging. This belonging to the Church is beautiful.
BELONGING.  So often the criteria for judging whether someone "belongs" to the Church has this card carrying notion.  Our "Catholic" schools are one such instance: did you manage to get your child baptised? "Yes" fine you're in.  But when did you last BELONG, when did you last IDENTIFY yourself with the Church? Oh at the baptism; haven't been to Mass since.  This isn't the beautiful belonging to our Mother, when we are happy to skip visiting Her on any Sunday that doesn't suit us, or perhaps for weeks, months, even years but then turn up for Her treats when we want a First Communion celebration, a wedding or to get into the school.
If we are not "sheep of Jesus," faith does not come to us. It is a rosewater faith, a faith without substance. And let us think of the consolation that Barnabas felt, which is "the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing." And let us ask the Lord for this "parresia", this apostolic fervour that impels us to move forward, as brothers, all of us forward! Forward, bringing the name of Jesus in the bosom of Holy Mother Church, and, as St. Ignatius said, "hierarchical and Catholic." So be it. 
For those who think the Pope might be about to dismantle the hierarchical Church in favour of focus groups and a laissez faire attitude of 'do what you like' this quoting of St Ignatius of Antioch, whose writings are the first post-biblical source to elevate the hierarchical nature of the Church cannot bode well.  No sickly sweet and rather thin  rosewater Faith here.

The Holy Father's different style should not lull anyone into thinking he's a 1970's liberal.  It's possible his taste in chasubles is stuck n the 1970's but his Faith and theology is truly Catholic.
So be it!

Wednesday 24 April 2013

St George Resurgent

Everyone seems to be blogging about St George's Day and I read that it has been having a resurgence of popularity in the population generally, which is no bad thing.

I did offer Low Mass yesterday - no photos of that but we did have a parish celebration for St George complete with singing along to a great many patriotic songs (mostly with Dame Vera Lynn helping us along!) Our traditional English meal was Bangers and Mash (cooked by my own fair hand with excellent sausages from Clarkeson's of Leyland) and Jam Roly Poly with custard.  Thanks to all who assisted and took part.  I won't say that the singing got better as the night went on but it certainly got louder!

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Why do bishops hate blogs?

No gossip was exchanged during this meeting.

Archbishop Nichols has used a homily to to make a complaint ... about those who complain...?!?

He complains about blogs - identifying them as among those responsible for the sort of behavior that Pope Francis spoke of as destructive to the Church - complaining and gossiping.  Deacon Nick ably points out that this takes the Holy Father's words quite beyond their original meaning and context.  The Archbishop says of these "complainers" - "They sell newspapers and attract us to blogs because we love to hear complaints and to read gossip.. they should have no place in the Church."

Nice to feel wanted!

What I find so strange is that this is a blanket reference to blogs - no matter that many of them are not complaining or gossiping but rather liberating those ordinary members of the Church - Lay, Religious and clerics - who would otherwise have no voice, liberating them to discuss and bring out into the open what touches them about life and the Church - and Her leaders.  Liberating them to find encouragement and support from way beyond the confines of those they would usually come into contact with.  Liberating them from the stranglehold of the professional Church people who run the diocese and have the ear of the bishop, who usually get to make their voices and opinions heard without any trouble.  They also have been known to put the Church's message "out there" in the modern world - up for attack, discussion and defense.

Dear Archbishop, some lowly Catholics further down the hierarchical system find that their "complaints" (i.e. concerns, anguishes,  agonies and fears) often go unheard and unheeded - the use of the modern means of communication - including blogs - gives many a voice who are otherwise ignored.  It democratises the Church in a good way but, of course, it means that those at the top are more readily held to account.

Something more sensible about catholic bloggers by Brandon Vogt: 7 things Bishops should know about catholic Bloggers.

Sunday 14 April 2013

The warring factions!

Just liked this photo
(thanks to Rorate Caeli)

An interesting post on Popes Benedict and Francis over at 

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Baroness Margaret Thatcher, RIP

Pope Francis says he is appreciative of the Christian values that underpinned Margaret Thatcher's commitment to service and promotion of freedom.

He affirmed this in a message sent today on his behalf by his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

"His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher," the papal message stated. "He recalls with appreciation the Christian values which underpinned her commitment to public service and to the promotion of freedom among the family of nations. Entrusting her soul to the mercy of God, and assuring her family and the British people of a remembrance in his prayers, the Holy Father invokes upon all whose lives she touched God’s abundant blessings."

In 1978 Catholic Herald editor Richard Dowden interviewed Margaret Thatcher while she was still leader of the Opposition.  

I asked her what memories she had of those early years in the Methodist Church.
“Methodism isn’t just a religion for Sundays – no faith is only a faith for Sundays."
Although she apparently moved towards Anglicanism, preferring a more formal style, it was that strict upbringing in the Christian faith that presumably gave her some of her driving force.  I often lament that so few Catholics seem to be active in public life.  We should really be over represented in all areas of public service.  The Second Vatican Council was clear on the call to the laity to act as leaven in the world and yet it does sometimes feel that in recent times there has been less active Catholic engagement out in the world, rather than more.  The great myth is that before the Council Catholics were introverted and closed in on themselves and yet now I don't see huge numbers of Catholic local councilors or members of parliament.  Indeed, in what is now typical of the laity's "activism", those who are Catholics are much are likely to be engaging in political lobbying to change the Church's teaching than getting on with changing the world, like those politicians who recently wrote to Pope Francis calling for the rule on priestly celibacy to be changed You might have thought they would have let him draw breath after his election before launching in with this or perhaps written to ask his fatherly advice on how they might be better Catholic politicians, but no, they would rather lobby him to conform to the world - and leave the Faith as a hobby for Sunday, presumably.

No Faith is only a Faith for Sundays but sadly for many practising Catholics, that's just what it appears to be.  Views and understandings of the world and the daily living out of life seem, for the most part, exactly the same as their non-Catholic neighbours - informed much more by the television, media and popular culture than the teachings of the Church.  Indeed most Catholics appear to have almost no ability to defend the Faith to themselves, let alone to the world, having had no grounding in school to enable them to do so and no preaching from the pulpit to challenge the dominant world view around them.

It might be true to say, "All you need is love" but if it's Love with capital "L" then you also need a theological and philosophical underpinning to drive putting it into practice in the world.  (And in case anyone is wondering, the fitting worship of God in our Catholic Tradition can only assist in doing that because it teaches and inspires, it looks outward, forward and upward and not just inward in the closed circle of desacralised worship!)

Monday 8 April 2013

Wearing the cassock - my human right

No surrender to the anti-cassock brigade.

I read today that The Equality and Human Rights Commission is suggesting that  ecologists could ask to be excused from duties that increase CO2 emissions, such as flying to business meetings, and that druids and pagans should be allowed to take time off work to go on pilgrimages and attend sacred rituals.  All well and good but I wonder how this applies to those Christians who have found themselves at a disadvantage when expressing their faith?  Apparently, the guidance, which also applies to Christians, Jews and Muslims and atheists, was produced as a result of a series of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights recently.
It states that bosses should "consider seriously" adapting the relevant work duties to suit their employees beliefs.  I hope that this will re-enforce the ability of those who work in healthcare to opt out of assisting at abortions - a legal right but my understanding is that this is not always so easily done in practice.  I note as well that the it doesn't apply where a "public service" is being provided - a nice little loop-hole waiting to be exploited  I think.

On a happier note, I take it to mean that the wearing of my cassock as a sign of my religious conviction and affiliation must now be respected - perhaps I can finally attend Mass at the Cathedral wearing my cassock with pride without being pointed at and laughed at in the sacristy, as happened on the last occasion I steeled myself to attend the Chrism Mass.  This new guidance will presumably mean that the Cathedral authorities would have to act to ban such discriminatory behavior on its premises. Perhaps a discrete sign at the door saying, "Cassock wearers welcome here" should be put up.  I see that head wear for Sikhs is also included in the  guidelines, so perhaps I can even take my biretta!