Saturday 23 November 2013

Christ the King

In the new calendar tomorrow is the feast of Christ the King.  I was pondering that the image of Christ as King and Ruler is very much related to some of the earliest images of Our Lord that Christians would have seen in their churches - that of the Pantocrator (Ruler of all, the One who sustains and accomplishes all things - creation and salvation).  There's no crown but the message is the same. The mosaic or painted image of Christ in glory dominates the apse of the sanctuary. An awe-some image.  It's one of those images and devotions that is not so keenly taken up in our own times.  Somehow many Catholics seem a little squeamish about the power, strength and might of Our Lord.  Another of those inconveniences of the Gospel that are perceived as being out of step with "modern" life and so we'd best reject them.  We can see the same attitude applied to so many of the teachings of the Church (Gospel).  Those getting hot under the collar about the Synod of Bishops questionnaire appear to be hoping all those inconvenient Gospel injunctions will be jettisoned after what they caricature as some sort of focus group has been taken into account. (Incidentally, if you want some guidance on how to answer the questionnaire, which by the tenor of the questions is obviously meant only for bishops, then have a look at Fr Finigan's response.)

No matter, the image of Christ King and Pantocrator and the teachings of the Gospel (Church) are both powerful - and when presented and lived with joy and conviction - also beautiful.  Thus it is that the architecture and imagery of the space in which we worship should convey that power and beauty.  This should be what we mean when we speak of "muscular Christianity". The architect Duncan Stroik writes in an editorial for "Sacred Architecture" which makes the point about beauty in our Faith reflected and proposed by the architecture of our churches.

To those who see the promotion of traditional art, architecture, and music as merely an act of nostalgia it must be pointed out that Pope Benedict saw the great masterpieces of Western art as living witnesses to the eternal faith.  The Sistine chapel, Gothic cathedrals, and baroque altarpieces continue to speak to those who have eyes to see. The relation between tradition and innovation in Benedict’s thought grows out of Vatican II in which “any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.” So what about the place of creativity in new works? “An art that lost the root of transcendence would not be oriented to God; it would be a halved art, it would lose its living root; and a faith that had art only in the past would no longer be faith in the present; and today it must be expressed anew as truth that is always present.”
A variation on the same theme. The beautiful mosaics in the church of Ss Cosmos and Damian in Rome.

So. I'm looking forward to tomorrow.
We are having Christus Vincit! as well as  Hail Redeemer, King Divine.
The beautiful Introit, Offertory and Communion verses (here in translation):
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive the power and divinity and
wisdom and strength and honour: to Him be glory and empire for ever and ever. Give to the King, O God, Thy judgment, and to the King's Son Thy justice.
 Behold, I have given You for a light of the nations; that You may be My salvationunto the ends of the earth.
The Lord shall sit a king for ever: the Lord shall bless His people in peace.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Gibbering idiocy

Following on from my last post, this quote from G.K.Chesterton about false logic was brought to my attention. The merciless logic of the enlightenment, can be seen intruding into the presentation of the teaching of the Church in so many areas in our own day.

"Consider that simple sentence [i.e., that artificial birth control is essential because houses are scarce], and you will see what is the matter with the modern mind.  I do not mean the growth of immorality; I mean the genesis of gibbering idiocy.  There are ten little boys whom you wish to provide with top hats; and you find that there are only eight top hats.  To a simple mind it would seem not impossible to make two more hats; to find out whose business it is to make hats, and induce him to make hats; to agitate against the absurd delay in delivering hats; to punish anybody who has promised hats and failed to provide hats.  The modern mind is that which says that if we only cut off the heads of two of the little boys, they will not want hats; and then the hats will exactly go round.  The suggestion that heads are rather more important than hats is dismissed as a piece of mystical metaphysics.  The assertion that hats were made for heads, and not heads for hats savours of antiquated dogma.  The musty text that says the body is more than raiment; the popular prejudice which would prefer the lives of boys to the mathematical arrangement of hats - all these things are alike to be ignored.  The logic of enlightenment is merciless; and we duly summon the headsman to disguise the deficiencies of the hatter.  For it makes very little difference to the logic of the thing, that we are talking of houses and not hats...  The fundamental fallacy remains the same; that we are beginning at the wrong end, because we have never troubled to consider  at what end to begin."

 - Quoted from America, October 29, 1921, p. 31.)

Wednesday 20 November 2013

My Lady Bishop

Not being a member, it's not really my place to offer comment on what the Church of England decides to do, however, some of thee reasoning behind the move to ordain women in its ranks as bishops does open itself up to comment on the grounds of offences against logic, if nothing else. 

Another reason for comment is that the model of the Anglican Communion is one that many in the Catholic Church would (frighteningly) have us follow. Therefore revealing its inaccuracies and inconsistencies is a work of pastoral care within the Church. 

One further reason is that, while I can concede the right to dress more or less how you please, I find cross-dressing a rather strange choice for those wishing to be taken seriously and I can't help seeing a lady in a dog-collar as someone dressed up in something outlandish or at least just plain silly. (No doubt, this puts me somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun and a completely un-reconstucted male chauvinist.)

Putting aside all the theological arguments - which I think  are overwhelming and no matter what I think are the settled doctrine of the Church - I keep hearing that the non-ordination of women (as bishops or priests) puts Christians out of step with modern society (in the Western liberal world, of course!)  That it seems incomprehensible to those who are not Christians.  If I may make so bold - there are many teachings at the core of Christianity that are incomprehensible  and out of step in the minds of non-believers: the Incarnation, the Redemption, eternal life, etc etc.  Should we therefore also jettison these?  If so, we would be left with no Church at all, no faith at all, no Christianity at all. Which seems a rather odd way to go about living and proclaiming the Gospel.  So lets not think that we must use the Anglican template as a good one to adopt. Pulling out the ground from underneath us won't be any help at all to us in making ourselves look logical or sensible to the world around us.  Staying true to our core principles and our own foundation documents (to use some modern phrases) might just make it possible to be taken seriously.

Sunday 10 November 2013

We will remember them

The month of November provides ample opportunities to pray for the departed, including today's Remembrance Sunday.  I attended the service at the Leyland War Memorial and the Civic Service at St Andrews, the Anglican Parish Church.  Though, of course, as Catholics, we are doing so much more than remembering - rather praying as well for the souls of the faithful departed.

The church in quiet readiness for Mass.

Yesterday, a Requiem Mass was offered here for deceased members and friends of the Order of St Lazarus, for the War Dead and for all the Holy Souls in this month of November.
A number of members have had significant bereavements over the past months.

Thank you to the ad hoc group of singers who sang the chant of the Mass and created such a prayerful atmosphere. Offering Mass with any of the traditional chant is so dependent on the services of those willing and able to provide music. In this the parish and the Order is admirably blessed by the talents and help of Mr Anthony Dickinson.

As well as members of the Order of St Lazarus, there were three other Chaplains of the Order present, so I was able to sit in choir and soak up the atmosphere.  My thanks to the Sacred Ministers.  Particular thanks to Canon Amaury Montjean (from Ss Peter and Paul's,, New Brighton) for acting as the MC and to the other servers.


Thursday 7 November 2013

Who needs a Requiem Mass?

For anyone who might like to attend, there is a Solemn Requiem Mass here at St Catherine's this coming Saturday November 9th at 12 noon. It's being offered under the auspices of the Order of St Lazarus - for deceased members and friends but also for the war dead (being the eve of Remembrance Sunday).  High Mass will be accompanied by a small Schola to enhance the chant and there is a light buffet lunch afterwards.

It is, of course, one of the spiritual works of mercy to pray for the dead and there can be no greater prayer than to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the souls of the faithful departed.  I am increasingly saddened by the fact that I hear of lay people conducting funeral services or a funeral service with Holy Communion  here in my own diocese.  The diocese now has training courses for laity to do this on the grounds that so many priests look after more than one parish and can have a great many funerals to conduct but I suspect the practice is growing as a way of involving laity in the running of parishes rather than solely for practical reasons.   

It strikes me as a strange thing for a Catholic not to have a Requiem Mass.  I know families request a service sometimes because none of them are practising or they have many non-Catholic relatives but the Catechism does state that: 
"The Christian meaning of death is revealed in the light of the Paschal Mystery" (1681)
 - ie that which is celebrated in the Mass.  The very participation in the Kingdom that we hope for our deceased loved ones is "anticipated in the Eucharist" ((1682).  If we think of the Church surrendering the deceased into the Father's hands, then the Catechism says:
 "This offering is fully celebrated in the Eucharistic sacrifice." (1683)  

 "When the celebration takes place in church the Eucharist is the heart of the Paschal reality of Christian death. In the Eucharist, the Church expresses her efficacious communion with the departed: offering to the Father in the Holy Spirit the sacrifice of the death and resurrection of Christ, she asks to purify his child of his sins and their consequences, and to admit him to the Paschal fullness of the table of the Kingdom. It is by the Eucharist thus celebrated that the community of the faithful, especially the family of the deceased, learn to live in communion with the one who "has fallen asleep in the Lord," by communicating in the Body of Christ of which he is a living member and, then, by praying for him and with him." (1689)
It strikes me that we now have a whole sub-structure organised in most diocese that mirrors the ordained clergy.  It's as if people have said, "We can't have women priests or lay people presiding at Mass so we will do the next best thing" - a parallel ministry, operating just below the surface, that does its best to carry out the functions of a priest without actually calling it that.

Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion not only carrying the Eucharist out to the sick on a regular basis more often than the priest might be able to get there but their "ministry" is also  used not as an act of service when there are literally too many people for it to be practicable for a lone priest to give communion to all but rather used as a tool to allow laity to do what the priest usually does. It also leads to Eucharistic Services in the absence of a priest (spoken of in the Church's teaching as only happening on a Sunday when there is an impossibility of a priest being present to offer Mass. Weekdays are simply not mentioned.) This allows the non-ordained - from the visual impact point of view, particularly women - to be seen "standing in for Father" - most importantly, standing at the altar and doing some of those things the priest would usually do. Weakening the link in everyday lived experience of a solely male ordained priesthood.

The same now apples to funerals.  Both, it seems to me, devaluing the Mass - or we might say, more accurately, devaluing the Holy SACRIFICE of the Mass.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

Some new Cardinals? Yes Please!


Due to the shocking lack of diversity among Cardinals who always vote for one of the old men among their own number as Pope, there are growing calls for the College of Cardinals to be drawn from a wider representation of society.  Deacon Nick has a little thought on the subject which you may or may not agree with.

There are, for example, no women.  A good candidate might be Cherie Blair.  Didn't I read somewhere (Tablet, possibly) that she's a good Catholic girl from Liverpool.  She obviously wouldn't mind the dressing up in outdated costumes.

Of course, there is an appalling lack of Christians from other denominations.  Would the Archbishop of Canterbury like to get his nose in that particular trough?

There is a distinct lack of representation form our bothers and sisters of other faiths as well.  But you won't be able to use that mobile phone in the Conclave, my good man!

Atheists too are (perhaps) rather under represented among the cardinals.  Richard Dawkins might be glad of the opportunity to air his views in the Sistine Chapel.  We could do with some of that suave, modern sophistication.

Then again, we humans are so terribly narrow minded about our superiority in the world.  Apparently, although survival of the fittest is nature's way, that fact that we are so fit that we have come to dominate the rest of the world's species is some sort of aberration, so we should really have some representation from the animal world.  Could Flipper navigate the Ponte Sisto on the Tiber to get to the next Consistory?

Finally, we should really not allow our prejudice to leave out those from other planets.  My own vote would go to Kang and Kodos.  They seem to have a pretty good idea of what we're all about.

I always thought the College of Cardinals were a pretty colourful bunch but how much more colourful all this diversity would be.  Of course, the glories of Rome, the splendours of the Vatican and the spiritual  power of the Papacy might lead them all to become full-blown Catholics (even Cherie) and then we'd be back to square one!  

Oops!  Sorry! Wrong Cardinals. These are the ones from St Louis.  
However, they do look like a very non-representative lot.

Sunday 3 November 2013

Bristly People!

To prove that I'm easily pleased (contrary to popular belief!) I was delighted this week to receive back an aspergilium that I had sent away to be restored.  It was given to me in rather sad follically challenged state but the brass handle was of very good quality and the bristle holder of lignum vitae in good repair.  Having had no success with ecclesiastical suppliers in getting it re-bristled, I searched the internet and came upon the firm of G.B. Kent and Sons, established 1777, brushmakers to H.M. Queen Elizabeth II.  Although they had never tackled an aspergilium before, they took on the job and have supplied back a suitably hirsute aspergilium at about half the cost of buying a new one, which would be nothing like the quality.  

So, kudos to G.B. Kent and proof that proper traditionalists have green credentials, in that we believe in keeping and recycling the ancient instead of joining in the throwaway culture and just buying a new one.  (The same might apply to vestments, sanctuary re-orderings and papal ferula!)  

It should now do an excellent job of giving a very good dousing to the congregation with a symbolic fullness of symbolic washing clean!

Friday 1 November 2013

Give us back our Religion

The altar for All Saints Day.

I was visiting a parishioner from a former parish this week (she is very poorly indeed, please spare her a prayer) when coming down the corridor I was recognised by some other parishioners from a former parish.  Once they had reminded me I recalled who they were, as they were not people overly involved in parish activities but just "ordinary" faithful Mass goers.  In the course of a little chat, they paid me the great compliment of saying, "Father, you gave us our religion back." What she meant was the experience all those little things that speak of the numinous, of our tradition and call us out of the ordinary to raise the heart and mind to God.

I regale you with this snippet not to enhance my reputation but rather to reflect on a rather sad phenomena - that many people who have persevered going to Mass over these years when so much change has taken place feel that they have "lost" or had their religion taken away.  These are the ordinary faithful Mass goers.  They may not come to the social events or help out in any special ministries but they simply try to do what they were taught - go to Mass each Sunday and live as good a life as they can manage.  It's perhaps many of these who over the years of changing liturgical experience have eventually drifted away.  Not confident enough to challenge any errors in the new ways but unable to find solace or beauty in the Mass as they have come to experience it. They do not agitate for the the "old" religion but would willingly see its return.  I wonder if it's many of these people who have drifted away over the years and lapsed not because they have given up their faith but because they feel it's moved away from them?  The jollifications of the "modern" experience of Mass don't give enough spiritual sustenance to make the experience worthwhile getting out of bed for  on a Sunday morning.

It was a good moment for me. After all, giving people religion must be some part of the priest's job.