Wednesday 29 May 2019

Ascension Thursday Masses

Ascension of Our Lord into Heaven
A Holyday of Obligation

Mass at 9.30am

Missa Cantata at 7pm


An article from Dr Adam DeVille from "Catholic World Report" - some thoughts on the Ascension.

I was on sabbatical last year, and as I finished three books, several international lectures, and a bunch of other projects, my superego relentlessly pursued me with the question: “Are you doing enough?”
This wretched question led me to return often to dwell on an overlooked part of Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Often described as little more than a letter about abortion, it is in fact a wide-ranging analysis of many interlocking cultural developments, not the least of which is the one coming back to my mind for some time now: his strong and repeated denunciations of late-modern capitalist “idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency” (no.12).
This was a theme he returned to repeatedly in the letter, later writing of how “the values of being are replaced by those of having. The only goal which counts is the pursuit of one’s own material well-being. The so-called ‘quality of life’ is interpreted primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency” (no.23). Noting in the same paragraph how this ideology of efficiency is used to justify not only abortion and euthanasia, but also the reduction of all forms of life on this planet, which “are considered not for what they ‘are,’ but for what they ‘have, do and produce’” (no.23).
As we come to the end of the Paschal cycle, and enter into two major feasts that are often quickly rushed by—Ascension especially, but also Pentecost—I am struck by the contrast between cultural demands and ideas of “efficiency” on the one hand, and the lavish excessiveness of a gracious God on the other. If God were “efficient,” it seems neither feast need exist.
An efficient God would have ended with Easter—the queen of festivals indeed! Who could need or want more than that—to have death, our last and greatest enemy, destroyed? It would have been quite enough for Him to rescue us from death. That would be to right the balance lost with the fall, when death entered the world through sin. He need not have done more if we take a balance-sheet approach to salvation.
But God is not content with merely satisfying some soteriological “debt” as it were. He does not merely restore us to life on earth, but takes us from earth into heaven, so that human nature is thereby exalted beyond even that of the angels. At His Ascension we enter into the very life of God. But even this is not enough for Him insofar as it remains an eschatological promise and prospect. He wants to give us more gifts now, and His distribution system is not what Amazon or Walmart would consider efficient in the least.

If the late pope’s use of “efficiency” has been on my mind, then it has this month been paired antinomically with the word “excessive,” which was often used by and about the work of the late Jean Vanier, who died at the beginning of May and who has long been a hero to me since I was first enraptured by his Massey Lectures on CBC Radio in Canada in the 1990s. In a 2002 interview with the Catholic Herald, he spoke very powerfully of the excessive love of God: “There’s something in the Gospel message so simple, so loving, so extraordinary, so excessive,” he explains,
because everything Jesus does is done to excess. At Canaan, he gives an excessive amount of wine. When he multiplies the bread, he does an excessive amount. To love our enemies is an excess of love. When you are hit on one cheek, turn the other. Everything is excessive, because love can not be otherwise than excessive.
These themes of efficiency and excess came together this past Sunday when in the Byzantine tradition we read the gospel of the man born blind. In thinking on this gospel, and its placement just before Ascension and Pentecost, it seems to me that the Eastern Church is suggesting to Christians that we all need to be cleansed of our blindness in order to see aright in general terms, but also and especially in terms of the mysteries of the two great feasts before us. For without having our sight cleansed and purified by the Lord, how can we truly see the import of a man being taken beyond the clouds and back home to heaven whence He shall send the Holy Spirit, which appears as fire that burns but does not consume?
Seeing any of that in purely human terms, we understand none of it. Which of us, standing there as the apostles did, would in fact be able to see at all through our tears? Of all the Vesperal stichera throughout the year, none sticks in my mind so much as this deeply affecting and profoundly human one from the eve of the Ascension when we are told that as
the apostles saw You ascending upon the clouds, a great sadness overcame them; they shed burning tears and exclaimed: O our Master, do not leave us orphans; we are Your servants whom You loved so tenderly.
The only way they can endure the trauma of this second loss of our beloved, and so recently recovered, Jesus is to end, as this stichera does, by beseeching the Lord for consolation through the One rightly called Comforter: “Since You are most merciful, send down upon us Your all-holy Spirit to enlighten our souls, as You promised.”
Thus does the tradition directly link the departure of Christ at His Ascension with the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And when the Spirit comes, He does not stint on spreading Himself everywhere. In the troparion (roughly equivalent to a collect) for Pentecost Monday (the Byzantine tradition having retained the octave, as the Western liturgical reforms, guided by notions of “efficiency,” have not), which becomes a prayer recited daily in the minor and major hours, the Church prays thus:
Heavenly King, Advocate, Spirit of Truth,
who are everywhere present and fill all things,
Treasury of Blessings, Bestower of Life,
come, and dwell within us;
cleanse us of all that defiles us,
and, O Good One, save our souls.
At Matins on Pentecost, the Byzantine tradition says that only now does God rest, as it were, from His supererogatory labors, for it is here that Easter’s overcoming of death reaches its consummation:
Come, O faithful, let us celebrate the feast of the Fiftieth Day: the day which concludes the Feast of feasts; the day on which the pre-ordained promise is fulfilled; the day when the Comforter descends upon the earth in tongues of fire; the day of the disciples’ enlightenment. They are revealed as initiated into the heavenly mysteries, for truly the light of the Comforter has illumined the world.
We who live here and now remain initiates into the heavenly mysteries—an act of divine generosity so excessive it overwhelms us, and the only way we can receive it is by daily petition to have our sight healed, our hearts enlarged, and our minds renewed so that we may live wildly inefficient lives of excessive, extravagant love. As we move forth into Ascensiontide and then Pentecost, let us never forget these beautiful words of St. Augustine: 
“Our entire task in this life, dear brothers, consists in healing the eyes of the heart so that they may be able to see God."

Friday 24 May 2019

May Crowning

Following on from our Fist Holy Communions last week, we will crown the statue of Our Blessed Lady this Sunday at 10am the Mass.

Light refreshments served afterwards in the  Pope John Paul Room.

(b. 13 November 354 – d. 28 August 430 AD)

Blessed Virgin Mary,
who can worthily repay you with praise
and thanks for having rescued a fallen world
by your generous consent!
Receive our gratitude,
and by your prayers obtain the pardon of our sins.
Take our prayers into the sanctuary of heaven
and enable them to make our peace with God.

Holy Mary, help the miserable,
strengthen the discouraged,
comfort the sorrowful,
pray for your people,
plead for the clergy,
intercede for all women consecrated to God.
May all who venerate you
feel now your help and protection.
Be ready to help us when we pray,
and bring back to us the answers to our prayers.
Make it your continual concern
to pray for the people of God,
for you were blessed by God
and were made worthy to bear the Redeemer of the world,
who lives and reigns forever.


Thursday 23 May 2019

Synod 2020. Number 16. Abolishing the Priesthood

There is an article in this week's Catholic Herald by Sohrab Ahmari which resonated with me as giving a clue to the dark and hidden message behind much of the "updating" / archeologicalism / Modernism seen in the Church today. That those driving the agenda have a radical fanaticism behind much of the seemingly liberal and popular "reforms" that is unseen by the well-meaning folk in in the pew - to whom this frightening anarchy of revolution is presented as a few nice ideas to help us get along with the world and modernise a bit. 

In some of our own Archdiocesan Synod meeting I've heard the potshots taken against clericalism. The reasoning seems to go: 
clericalism is bad
Priests are clerics
Therefore priests are bad... 
...let's get rid of them.

Or at least, get rid of them insofar as we've understood the term cleric by this distorted logic. 

Let's be clear "clericalism" thus understood as domineering privilege, has nothing to do with wearing a collar or vestments. The same looking down your nose at others attitude exists in any walk of life and may exist most fiercely in a lay person as much as an ordained person. Ahmari draws attention to this and other false arguments in this brief but insightful article. 

What I see in many of the arguments lauded as sensible and in keeping with the modern world to bring us up to date a bit by which so many are taken in, is precisely this anarchist agenda which can only lead to the abolition of the Priesthood and therefore, ultimately, as the abolition of the Church. Some of the suggestions that pop up as a result of this show an absolute lack of any understanding of the theology of the Church  as She has understood Herself for 2,000 years. With no theology or philosophy behind them other than a worldly reaction to the world's criticisms of the Faith.

Strangely enough, it means that those proposing these allegedly "new" ideas are in fact the true reactionaries because they are really (sometimes unbeknownst to themselves) putting forth arguments that are the bread and butter of the secular world around us. They want to be very conventional - drawing no criticism from our godless society. 

True progress for the human person, as ever, lies not in following the fashions of the world but in the radical following of the teaching of Our Lord and it is those teachings that have been enshrined in the Church since day one and remain so. The fallacy that if we abolish the Church we can live the Gospel can only be the work of the Devil.

Monday 20 May 2019

First Holy Communions

Congratulations to our First Holy Communicants 
who received the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament yesterday.

We celebrated a beautiful Mass with worthy music
and a full church. Only a small number of children but all from practising families, so their appearance is not a one-off and their first Communion will not be their last Communion. 
It's sad that their aren't more, of course, as there should be but at least this is a real spiritual step in their lives and not just a party organised by the school.

One of my hopes for the Synod in our diocese is that it will tackle the appalling and much ignored fact that the vast majority of children in our "Catholic" schools are in fact atheists/agnostics/ liberal humanists. A strong word perhaps but what else can describe people who have no desire to play a part in the life of the Church, contribute nothing to its mission and upkeep, have no perceivable attachment to the community which is the Body of Christ and no knowledge of the Truths of the Faith?

The celebrations continued afterwards with a splendid cake
and here we are cutting it.

Wednesday 8 May 2019

Synod 2020. Number 15. HORRIFIED: Lay led parishes.

Meetings for the "listening " stage of the Synod continue around our diocese in parishes and various groupings. I attended an excellent talk on the "Social Mission of the Church" at St Charles', in Liverpool last night given my Mgr John Armitage, Rector of the Shrine at Walsingham. The Real Faith explained in a down to earth way - I think that can be described as an experience as rare as hen's teeth!

I did hear some other less welcome news. That there is talk that after the Synod we might be introducing lay-led parishes. To say that I feel strongly on this issue might be an understatement, but bear with me.

If this is even being considered, I would argue that:
- there are overwhelming practical difficulties to achieving this; 
- it is a completely Protestant conception;
- it would be replacing one legitimate hierarchy, hallowed by tradition and instituted by Our Lord, for a completely illegitimate hierarchy, seen only in groups that have protested against the Catholic Church, and not instituted by Our Lord.

What training would there be for this role for this role? Given that priests take six / seven years to Ordination and then serve a curacy.

Would said Leaders live in the Presbytery? Would they be paid? More than priests are paid? What would be the relationship with the parish priest, nominally in charge (I presume)?

Besides these practical difficulties, at the heart of Catholicism, as Mgr Armitage said last night, is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (and I give it that title deliberately), for it is the act that turns our human suffering (which is always unpleasant and evil) into sacrifice, which is an act of love (we sacrifice for who and what we love willingly - as Christ did on the cross).

Any Catholic community needs to be lead by the Eucharist, centered on the Eucharist, gathered for the Eucharist. By practical necessity a lay person cannot lead the Eucharist, cannot gather us to the Eucharist, cannot make the Eucharist present among us. (And I mean here, the practical ability to confect the Mass, not that a lay person cannot teach others or be an example to others of Eucharistic love in a most powerful way.) 

The whole idea of parachuting priests in to become sacrament machines is so antithetical to post Vatican II thinking that I can hardly believe it is even being considered. But, of course, for the even more sacred cow of lay empowerment (with all its concomitant heresies such as the ordination of women and lay-led Eucharists) any principle can be sacrificed. Joining in with these bright ideas rooted in secular liberalism is no more than walking into a euthanasia clinic of our own making. Look around, the world of secular liberalism in which we live is lost, spiritually and morally; divided, rudderless and without effective leadership. Is it really a model we want to follow?

I think such an idea would be a practical disaster, condemning our Catholic communities to a slow and painful death. 

The number of priests in relation to people coming to Mass is actually not that bad - if I recall the data presented at our own Synod gatherings not so long ago. That is, comparing it to the past in this particular diocese and indeed, from my reading, even compared to other "Catholic" countries, such a Malta.

Yes, some of our churches are in the wrong place. Yes, we perhaps built too many churches in the days of plenty before the 1960's. If such a radical and unnatural scheme as lay-led parishes is seriously being considered, I would hope that other alternatives would be looked at as well.


I understand that keeping a presence at the most local level is an ideal that we probably all subscribe to but not at the cost of that presence being  an emaciated and dying one, for that is no witness at all to lead us or anyone else to glory.

A hundred years ago, Catholic churches were far fewer than they are now, yet without much public transport and with no cars, people still got to Mass every Sunday (more than do so now). Perhaps the time has come to consolidate our parishes in a bold and deliberate way? Looking to an ideal of one parish in each town (or area of a city). So closing many parishes - yes. At the moment, we have far too many Masses - still a choice of times in many parishes where the church is never full. A hangover to the days when several Masses were needed to simply accommodate the number of people coming to Mass. Theologically, one Sunday Mass in one community is the ideal. We could approach that ideal much more reasonably in these days.

What has been happening heretofore is failing communities/parishes suffering death by a thousand cuts. First the school goes, then the parish centre, next it looses it's priest and is merged with the neighbouring parish, now we are to suffer being led by the longest standing Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion? If we are to be radical in facing the challenges of the time, let us do so with courage, not with ever-fading, increasingly blurry photocopies of what was once a thriving community.

Certainly, many practical matters would need to be taken in hand. Arrangements would need to be put in place for transport assistance for those who found it difficult to travel - car-sharing, mini-buses, liaising with local bus companies... whatever. Not impossible, surely.

Imagine every Catholic Mass in the Archdiocese on a Sunday would have a full church! Quite a witness to anyone chancing to call in.

The churches closed would not necessarily need to be all sold off and our presence lost.

Halls and premises could be utilised to keep the Catholic presence alive. Not in some fake way of imitating Protestants with lay led services but by the real work that the Second Vatican Council calls lay people to: active witness in the world, where those outside the Church look on and say, "Wow! Why is that person doing that?" They will know we are Christian by our love. Premises could be put to community use: a large  Presbytery  could be offered to groups such as L'Arche. Whether it would be places for the homeless, day centres for the elderly,  credit unions or food banks. If we have this spare money to pay lay people, let's put it to better use than making Christ's Priesthood redundant. 

Priests to lead the Church. 
Lay people to lead the world.
Is this so wrong?

I'm not suggesting this as THE answer, but merely postulating that that other models are available - apart from 1970's ones and Protestant ones.