måndag 27 oktober 2014

What is the point of English Masses for students?

The idea has taken hold that because English is amongst the world's best known languages, it is suitable for use for Masses celebrated for students in countries which are not English speaking. The students will indeed probably all know English. Their courses may even be taught in English. With the English language seemingly on the way to taking the place that Latin occupied as a universal language from Roman times until well into the nineteenth century, this seems like an attractive idea.

There are, however, difficulties with this assumption. Latin as a formal language, and particularly ecclesiastical Latin, was largely settled by the sixth century. What people spoke as vernacular languages would have been the dialects of Latin that would eventually evolve into, amongst others, Spanish, Italian and French. English, by contrast, remains a living language. It is constantly changing. The 1970 translation has already been replaced with a new one, which is truer to the Latin, but in the change, the text has become more complicated and includes words, and a style of phrasing, far from what English-speaking people are used to.

English also has wide dialect variations. Some of the US and British colonial dialects, and even of dialects within Britain itself, can be difficult to understand by people not used to them. A further difficulty is that the meaning of a sentence is dependent on both the order of the words and the stress of the voice when spoken. A foreign reader is particularly liable to pick up the wrong meaning.

This explains why, when attending these English language Masses for students, I have barely understood the readings. Listening to some of the celebrating priests can be hard work. If I, as a native speaker of British received pronunciation English, have difficulties, it is safe to assume that nearly everyone present will have much the same experience.

The obvious answer is to use Latin, which would be customary anyway if provisions of the Vatican 2 document Sacrosanctum Concilium was followed, but in the Novus Ordo there is still the question of which language the readings and Responsorial Psalm should be, and there is the long recitation of the Canon. Here is a situation where the Tridentine form of the Mass is ideal. It can all be read and sung in Latin, and everyone can follow in their own language, in their books, or on printed sheets.

There are further aspects to this. Students are the best educated of their generation, and deserve to be given the opportunity to experience the best of the 2000 year-old musical heritage of the Catholic church. It is not good enough to fob them off with indifferent hymns composed in the 1970s, which is what they are getting. We don't drive 1970s cars or wear 1970s clothes, so why are young people being given 1970s liturgy?

If students are exposed to the best that the Catholic church's liturgy has to offer, they are more likely to retain their faith and pass it on to their children. Some of them might possibly discover vocations to the priesthood or religious life. Support for the traditional Mass is strongest amongst the under-30s. There is every reason to expect that it would be well received by students. A good classic  liturgy with high quality music would encourage students to invite their non-Catholic friends and in this way, become part of the church's evangelical outreach.

There are also implications for the host parishes where these Masses are held in a church. They occupy the building for over an hour, take up a priest's time and are often attended by parishioners. Since Summorum Pontificum was issued in 2007, there has been an increase in the celebration of Mass in the old form, but Pope Benedict's expectations have not yet borne the fruit that might have been expected. Partly, this is due to the shortage of priests able to say Mass in the old form. Conversations I have had with priests suggests that even if they want to, they have not had the opportunity to learn, partly due to lack of time and partly due to the shortage of training opportunities. The ability to say Mass in both forms should be a requirement of all seminarians before they are ordained, and that would in due course solve the problem. In the meantime, there is a need for training courses on the lines of the Priests' Conferences organised by the English Latin Mass Society. However, in some parishes, priests are available who are able to celebrate Mass in the old form.

Surely it is a waste of resources to tie up church buildings and the priests' time with indifferent liturgies, which are not comprehensible and of poor quality, when something so much better could be offered?

tisdag 21 oktober 2014

Winning Catholics back to the church

The principal motivation for the suggested relaxation of rules made at the recent Synod of Bishops was that it would arrest the decline in numbers by making the church more welcoming to homosexuals and people living in irregular relationships.

In my experience at parishes in the south of England, declines in attendance during the 1970s and 1980s happened suddenly when new parish priests took over. It happened within a matter of weeks of their arrival. In each case the mass exodus was precipitated by the introduction of the vernacular liturgy. At first, people would move to adjacent parishes where Latin and Gregorian chant was still in use, but as these in turn were hit, there were fewer and fewer places to flee to. The situation eventually arose where for many people, attendance at a Mass where the liturgy was not dreadful could mean a ninety minute journey in each direction on sparse public transport.

The experience of a family I know is perhaps typical. Dino, now in his 70s, is one of a large family whose father came from Italy in the 1920s. Whilst working as an architect 40 years ago, he married Bridget, a work colleague. She had come from Ireland to England to work in the late 1960s, and was also one of a large family. Both families were staunchly and traditionally Catholic - like so many, Bridget had aunt who was a nun.

They lived, and still live, in a parish in a prosperous part of North London and have three children - a son and two daughters, now in their thirties. The oldest boy used to attend Mass regularly but reluctantly. He didn't like the liturgy and found the sermons patronising. The time came, in his mid-teens, when he announced that he would never go to Mass again. The older of the daughters kept the faith and has paid the price in being unable for many years to find a suitable partner - she married recently, later than she would have wanted. The younger daughter, who is in fact my God-daughter, has a live-in boyfriend, pleasant enough; hers is a typical example of an "irregular relationship". I attended her confirmation about twenty years ago, an eminently forgettable event with banal music. Clearly the church has had nothing to offer her. Dino and Marie continue to attend Mass on Sunday but complain about their local parish and travel to the Brompton Oratory whenever possible, which is over an hour away and turns Mass-going into a full day out.

By contrast, I have been relatively fortunate with my own parishes. St Mary Magdalen's, Brighton suffered a near-collapse when a new priest arrived in 1990. It continued in the doldrums until Fr Blake arrived in 2001. Within a couple of years he had turned things round by adopting a traditional style of liturgy, encouraging regular confession and promoting a good work - a parish soup run. Similar stories can be told wherever this has happened. The Oratorians turned round the moribund former Jesuit parish of St Aloysius within a couple of years. The small parish of Littlehampton in Sussex has been pulled round after thirty years of neglect.

It seems that it is perfectly possible to kindle the flames of faith out of the dying embers of a parish, simply by being Catholic and holding to tradition - a dignified liturgy, getting parishioners into the habit of confession and running a good work of some kind in response to local need. It does not need a re-writing of doctrine, redefining as acceptable that which have up to now been recognised as sins.

måndag 20 oktober 2014

Irrelevant synod on the family

What struck me about the synod of bishops which has just closed was its irrelevance. The teaching of the Catholic Church on sexual matters is clear - no sex outside marriage. That is not anti-gay or anti-anybody. We all find it difficult to keep to the rules. That is what the confessional is for, and the end of the matter.

The real concern should be that families are failing, and that is what the bishops ought to have been talking about. There all sorts of pressures on the family - war and instability, economic insecurity, poverty, migration, housing priced out of people's reach, etc. For example, in most developed countries in Europe, one person's wages are often not sufficient to pay for the accommodation for a family. Wages are often dependent on employment opportunities which can vanish overnight.

My former parish priest used to complain about the lack of large families, but the price of a house large enough for a large family was well out of reach of most people in that parish.

The most successful families seem to be those where the family is also an economic unit, running a family business or perhaps an agricultural smallholding. The rise of the firm as the primary economic unit has been detrimental to families, yet our bishops - neither the "progressives" or the "conservatives" say anything about this.

There is no excuse, since there is a substantial body of Catholic church teaching, known as "Catholic Social Teaching", which has been developed since Rerum Novarum was issued in 1891. It serves as a good starting point despite its deficiencies, and is the grounding for the system of economic organisation known as "Distributism". Having developed the ideas in the 1930s, what has always been needed is for lay people to get together, with the blessing of the hierarchy, to formulate a legislative and fiscal structure which would bring about the Distributist economy, where the economy was organised in the interest of the family. When it comes to it, however, there seems to be a complete lack of interest. Instead of solid proposals, all we have is the uttering of platitudes and an embarrassing debate about bedroom morality.

onsdag 15 oktober 2014

Cultural Marxist take on Purcell

This version of Purcell's Indian Queen by Peter Sellers is an example of the pernicious trend to re-work old material to present a left-wing political message. In this case, it is the dreadfulness of the Spanish and Portuguese occupation of America in the sixteenth century. Now, if we apply contemporary standards of what constitutes bad behaviour, it was indeed dreadful. The mistake is to do that. By their lights, they were mostly doing what they thought was right. People in the future will come back and judge us in a similar way for doing dreadful things that, judged by contemporary standards, we consider are right and good. Evil acts are normally justified by some argument or other to make us imagine that we are doing nothing wrong.

The problem is that all this detracts from the work itself, which has the singers in contemporary military uniforms and is accompanied by sound effects of contemporary military actions, with the noise of bombs going off in the background. That is, unfortunately a popular trend which particularly affects contemporary productions of baroque operas; Handel is a major victim. Shakespeare plays have also long been subject to the same treatment.

Fortunately, most of the nonsense is only apparent if you go to a live performance and is out of sight and out of mind if you just listen on the radio. The underlying cause, presumably, is that most of those involved in the productions come from privileged backgrounds but have a guilty conscience. Goodness knows what the singers themselves must make of this nonsense.

måndag 6 oktober 2014

Good Muslims must cut loose from Islam

Decent Muslims are only just waking up to the unpleasantness of their religion, so they think it has been hijacked.

Every Muslim is associated with the actions of its extremists, first of all because the mud sticks, but secondly, those extremists are modelling themselves on the words of the Koran and the actions of Mohammed, which all Muslims venerate. They are not getting their ideas from anywhere other than those sources. We do not get Zoroastrian terrorists or Methodist terrorists.

If good Muslims do not distance themselves from the Koran and Mohammed, then they are in a position of moral ambiguity. The only honest thing to do is to cut themselves loose from it. That is obviously not going to be an easy thing for them to do as it will also involve cutting themselves away from family and community ties. One might hope that others in the family and community will follow the trailblazers.

onsdag 3 september 2014

How much more immigration?

Immigration can be a blessing or a curse. Some immigrants bring skills and prosperity. A few - Roma, from Eastern Europe in particular - can be a mild irritation - but if you give them a smile and a coin now and again, they will usually reward you with a smile in return, and that can only be a good thing. Others bring nothing and are a burden on the country they come to. It is tempting to try to be over-generous and give shelter to people in need. In some instances, the reward has been nothing but trouble.

This applies to immigrants with few skills and traditions which leave them ill-equipped to life in the country they have moved to. The problems can arise not amongst those who immigrate, but with their children and grandchildren. This has been the case amongst some of the descendants of those who came from the Caribbean countries in the 1950s. Some of them have been successful and are well integrated, the majority seem to get along reasonably well, but there is a hard core of (mostly male) youth who get into trouble. It is a subject which has been well-researched. The Chinese and Indian communities seem to be largely free from the problem, as were the Jewish immigrants a couple of generations before.

Muslim immigrants seem to have bred more than their fair share of miscreants. The sexual abuse cases revealed in Rotherham, on an industrial scale, are one of a number of instances. There have been similar epidemics in Oxford and Burnley. The same pattern is found in other European countries amongst Muslim communities. It appears to be a part of Islamic culture. Support for this view can be found in the life of Mohammed himself, which includes incidents that would have earned him long prison sentences for sex crimes and war crimes.

There is also the issue of Islamic fundamentalism. It is not confined to disadvantaged youths within the Muslim communities but is more widespread. It manifested first in the London bombings of 2005, but it is a source of the recruitment to ISIS and the resurgence of anti-semitic attacks on Jews and Jewish property. This behaviour arises from attitudes which are built in to the DNA of Islam. Muslim youth who feel a desire to reclaim their heritage will be drawn in to these nefarious activities.

This poses a question concerning the large number of potential refugees from the Middle East, due to the current conflicts. To allow entry to all comers is to sow the seeds of trouble in the future. Not to put too fine a point on it, experience has shown that Muslim populations are liable to harbour and breed troublemakers. There is a need to exert strict selection to ensure that the destination countries are not importing trouble for the future. A prudent policy would simply exclude all Muslims. That would probably be over-cautious and unfair, though this could be done in a rough-and-ready way by rejecting anyone with a Muslim name. A better means of selection would be according to skills; people who have lived their lives as peasants are unlikely to be able to adapt to life in a western high-tech society, nor will they be able to give their children the support to enable them to make their way in society. To allow them in will breed future generations of misfits and worse.

fredag 29 augusti 2014

Comment is not so free

My comments in the Guardian's Comment is Free section, under the name Nazarene1563, are being pre-moderated ie censored. Here is why.

Q: When I post a comment, it says that my comments are being pre-moderated – what does that mean? Does that apply to everyone in the conversation? 

A: There is a further exception to the overall reactive-moderation approach adopted by the Guardian website: in isolated situations, a particular user may be identified as a risk, based on a pattern of behaviour (e.g. spam, trolling, repeated/frequent borderline abuse), so a temporary filter can be applied to anything they post, which means that their comments will need to be pre-moderated before appearing on the site.

This is a temporary measure applied by moderators to a very small handful of people based entirely on patterns of actual behaviour, and should result relatively quickly in either their posting ability being suspended completely if no improvement is shown, or the filter being removed. The decision to do either of these things would, again, be based on that user's behaviour and activity during the pre-moderation period.

I have been forthright, in particular in relation to Islam, though always polite and never offensive. Very few comments have actually been deleted, so someone has obviously taken a dislike to what I have been saying, and it does not take too much imagination to guess who that might be.

It doesn't bother me particularly but if there is much of this kind of thing it destroys effectiveness of the forum. It is significant that during the Gaza hostilities commentators were left free to say pretty much whatever they wanted about the evils of the Zionists. I suspect there has been a decision to have a crack-down on anyone critical of Islam. Fair enough but in the end the main damage is to the newspaper's credibility as it is no longer a place where comment is free.