söndag 30 december 2012

Popes eat babies

Papillon
One of the Papal Papillons
























Anti-Catholic articles have been coming out almost daily in the Guardian over the past couple of weeks. It is no longer news that the Nazi Pope, having personally and single-handedly invented Zyklon B in his school chemistry laboratory, tested it in sadistic experiments on the biology department's guinea pigs, and then perfected the final solution on his school friends' pets by exterminating them in his father's garden shed, nor that he is a notorious queer basher who will go to any lengths to cover-up paeodo-priests.

Iceberg of Evil
But queer-bashing and covering up is only the tip of the Iceberg of Evil that is the Vatican. The Inquisition is still going full-steam-ahead. Popes and the Roman Cardinals eat babies. It is one of the perks of the job. They are served on feast days and every day throughout Lent, when ordinary Catholics are expected to fast. Regarded as a great delicacy, they have to be under ten days old, when they are sweetest and juiciest. Roasted babies are prepared by the top Vatican chefs, who are sworn to secrecy not to divulge their special recipes handed down from the Middle Ages. Their creations are brought to the table on solid gold salvers. The reigning Pope gets to eat a whole baby every Friday (the bones and chewy bits are made into soup and what is left over after that is fed to the Papal pack of Papillons). At the same time the gullible faithful (what other kind are there?) are forced to make do with pea soup and dry bread as part of their Friday penance. It can only be a matter of time before this dark secret is revealed.

This also explains why the Catholic church is so against abortion. The Popes and Cardinals have to secure their supply of babies for their feasting.

WARNING: ironic

måndag 24 december 2012

Introits for Christmas

Midnight Mass


Mass for the day


And this motet by Palestrina at the Offertory


The first two of these should be sung in all Catholic churches but you will be lucky if you get to hear them or the Palestrina.

söndag 23 december 2012

View on Harrow


View on Harrow, originally uploaded by Rienk Mebius.

I picked up this picture on Flickr. The far tracks are the lines out of Marylebone. They are not electrified and there are no plans for electrification on this route, which runs only as far as Aylesbury.

At one time it was part of the Great Central and trains ran to Rugby, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester. The route beyond Aylesbury is largely intact and could be reinstated at relatively little cost as a conventional railway to provide the additional capacity that HS2 advocates insist can be provided only by constructing a high speed line. They assure everyone that it would cost just a teeny-weeny bit more. That sounds implausible.

Rorate Caeli desuper et nubes pluant justum





Introit and hymn for the Fouth Sunday in Advent. How many people will get the opportunity to hear this?

fredag 21 december 2012

London Overground took another 40 years
















Ticket dated 11 November 1972, issued for a special railtour to demonstrate the practicability of a train service around London. A service on what is substantially the same route eventually opened on 9 December 2012, forty years and one month later. The train used was a DMU from Cricklewood, normally used on the St Pancras - Bedford route until electrification in 1975.

The train ran from Broad Street to Richmond, where it reversed and ran to Clapham Junction and then to Woolwich. After that it ran back via Clapham Junction and Olympia to Willesden Junction, then via Gospel Oak and South Tottenham to North Woolwich, then via Stratford to Broad Street.  It must have reversed somewhere as the east curve at Dalston Junction had been closed by then and consisted of just the two platforms (lower photograph).

The train service which opened in phases from 2010 has transformed travel in London's inner suburbs.

lördag 15 december 2012

New English Mass translation not well received?

Surveys by The Tablet and others have suggested that the new English translation of the Mass has not been well received by congregations. Since these were not properly controlled surveys, and the number of respondents was tiny, now that the results have been published, there has been plenty of comment to the effect that people are generally quite satisfied with the new translation. It is difficult to get an overall picture.

I was no admirer of the ICEL translation and good riddance to it. However, the new one also leaves me uncomfortable. It has a contrived, faux-antique quality. Latin texts do not go well into English. The grammatical structures of the two languages are so different. Then there are the politics of the English language, which makes it especially unsuitable for use in situations which must be as inclusive as possible.

It seems to me that the real issue in this debate is that however the Mass is translated, it will always be contested, because English is one of the battlegrounds on which the class war is fought. That in itself makes it, in any shape or form, unsuitable for use in the liturgy. What should have happened, and still should happen, is a gradual move back to Latin and the EF. This is largely silent and people can follow in a translation in any language they want. The arguments will continue until the matter is resolved. Resolved means EF or the celebration of Novus Ordo in a form close to EF. Gradual transition is possible, and congregations are not going to be disturbed if it is done over a couple of years.

The music is a further issue. There is almost nothing of reasonable quality for the English Catholic liturgy. Gregorian chant into English does not go. The Ordinariate texts based on the Cranmer translations, and the music that goes with them, are another matter but they are unlikely to become a mainstream thing. I could be wrong about this. Faced with a poor celebration of a Mass in my Catholic parish, I would rather attend an Ordinariate Mass if no Extraordinary Form Mass was available. If there are many others who took the same view, there could be a drift from Roman Catholic congregations to the Ordinariate.

Religion on the way out?

Census results now being published show a sharp decline in the numbers claiming to be Christians. Norwich and Brighton top the list of atheist towns. Yet the decline of religion is primarily a first world phenomenon outside the US. However, we are only at the start of this phase of the journey. The existential issues with which religion deals do not go away.

The overall pattern is of conflicting trends. One of the factors that is sustaining religion is immigration. It is not going to decline. Religion provides a social focus and means of entry into the new community. Drawing immigrants into local networks is particularly a role of the Catholic church in Western Europe and has helped to sustain the numbers. Immigration has also spread the Orthodox church in Western Europe and then attracts a handful of local adherents - this is especially true of the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches which have maintained traditional liturgical practices abandoned by the Roman Catholics.

Whilst the wider trends have obviously had an influence, the decline of the Catholic church seems largely to be a self-inflicted injury, following the changes that followed the abandonment of the traditional liturgy after 1970, with the loss of Latin, Gregorian chant and the replacement of a largely silent Mass with the present noisy style with egregious music. Three times over I observed that the transition from old to new was accompanied by a immediate loss of around one-third of the congregation. For the same reason, Catholic schools have largely failed to replenish the numbers because the misguided use of children's liturgies which are seen as babyish by the over-12s.

"Gay marriage" opponents' blind spot

The controversy over "gay marriage" shows no sign of going away. The Catholic church has been in the forefront of the opposition, taking the view that it is a sacrament, in which a man and a women enter into a loving relationship open to the conception and nurturing of children in a stable environment. If that is the definition of marriage, then same-sex "marriage" is a nonsensical contradiction. It is argued that the re-definition will lead to people taking a different view of what marriage is, that will ultimately destroy the institution. In my view the point is a valid one. However, the worrying thing is that those who have been speaking out against "gay marriage" seem to overlook the more insidious pressures on the family that apply all the time.

The most family-unfriendly policy is war: many of the problems that families experience today can be traced back to the two world wars.

Next is economic instability. Governments should ensure that families have a the means to provide themselves with a livelihood (which is not the same as giving everyone a job). It is a fundamental right. Economic policies with targets like keeping unemployment at X% are not family-friendly. Nor is the policy of telling people to get on their bikes to look for work. Commuters travelling long journeys to work hardly get to see their children except at weekends. How family-friendly is that? But how often is the case argued?

Then there is the chronic difficulty of keeping a roof over one's head, which puts people in acute debt to banks for more than half their working lives. That is not family-friendly. It is true that the churches will help people are the margins, and are almost the only ones that do, but how often is the system as a whole held up to question?

It does nothing for credibility to concentrate attention on one issue to the exclusion of others. I have said this about abortion as well. There is a preoccupation with reproductive moral issues, to the apparent exclusion of other moral issues. This narrow focus has nothing to do with official Catholic church teaching, which has plenty to say on the wider political and economic structures of society. There seems to be a blind spot here.

fredag 14 december 2012

Guardian web site censorship

I notice that I am now being "pre-moderated" on the Guardian's Comment is Free (CiF) website; they deleted my comments in a developing sub-thread and half an hour after posting, a comment on the housing crisis had still not appeared.

The comment that was deleted was critical about the way that the CiF format has had, by reducing the quality of the comments and discussion to one-liners, and preventing comprehensive deconstruction of the original articles, the quality of which is often poor. Regular contributors such as Polly Toynbee and Will Hutton have long since ceased to say anything of value and are not a credit to the newspaper.

As I do not live in the UK, from my overseas perspective, there is a different take on what may and may not be said and how it may be said. I raised the possibility that the stifling of debate may have been intentional. Viewed from the outside, it is evident that the channels of discussion in Britain are nowhere near as open as they are in Scandinavia, so the notion is by no means far-fetched. In fact, I was not the first person to raise it on CiF and others in my circle have made the same point. Thus, this action tends to reinforce the suspicion.

At one time the quality of CiF comments was often better than the original article. In newspapers such as the Telegraph, which have always been threaded, there is little serious in-depth discussion. If that was a model, then the effect should have been predictable.

Whether deliberate or not, the effect is the same. When comment is no longer free, the result is to damage the reputation of the forum. Ultimately, visitors will stop coming and the quality of the comments will decline, especially the kind of visitors to whom it is worth addressing. I have noticed already that some of the more thoughtful commentators have already dropped off, including people that I normally disagree with but provide a stimulus to considered response.

There is a further issue: the dire state of the social and economic fabric of the UK. The mainstream political parties have nothing to offer, as was reflected in the low turnouts at recent by-elections. When democratic processes are failing, what happens next? The only thing that can get the country moving in the right direction will be the emergence of fresh ideas and ways of thinking, and for that, good and open public forums are necessary. In its previous form, CiF was performing an important public function which it can no longer do.

The comments that I have made over the years have always been courteous, well-considered, literate, and usually in a certain depth - features which the new format precludes. If people such as myself are deterred from contributing, it is a loss to CiF and the wider community.

Real Catholic music




Until about 1970, there existed a widely known genre of popular and specifically Catholic music. This is one of the things that makes the 1945 film The Bells of St Mary's work so well. Starring Crosby as the young priest Fr O'Malley and Ingrid Bergman as Sister Benedict, it gives an insight into the Catholic church before Vatican 2; a contemporary audience will find it sugary. This was a time when American Catholics were mostly immigrants and their children, of Irish, Italian or Polish origin. Yet they all knew the music. Thus, when the schoolchildren are heard singing O Sanctissima the doctor picks it up and joins in, then, as Fr O'Malley starts to sing, the millionaire sitting in front of them, turns round with a puzzled look on his face and asks, "Do you know it too?", before the priest reels of the entire piece by heart.

This shared heritage of music learned in childhood was one of the things holding the community together. What happened to it? Is its demise one of the things that has contributed to the near-collapse of the Catholic church in the past 40 years?

O sanctíssima,O piíssima,
Dulcis Virgo María;
Mater amáta, intemeráta,
Ora, ora pro nobis.

Tota pulchra es, O María, et
Mácula non est inte;
Mater amáta, intemeráta,
Ora, ora por nobis.

In miséria, in angústia,
Ora, Virgo, pro nobis;
Pro nobis ora, in mortis hora,
Ora, ora pro nobis.

Tu solátium et refúgium,
Virgo Mater María;
Quidquid optámus perte sperámus,
Ora, ora pro nobis.

torsdag 13 december 2012

Why children should learn Gregorian chant

The other day I went to a concert of Christmas music performed by a group of young children. They were, I would guess, between ten and twelve years old and sang beautifully and competently, having learned both the words and music by heart.

We tend to underestimate the abilities of children. They would have no difficulty in picking up the Gregorian chant hymns that Catholic children would have learnt as a matter of course at any time up till around 1970. This music is a key element in the cultural heritage of the church, and it is more than a shame that it is still being denied to the coming generation. And I believe it is more serious than that. Music has a hold on people. Eventually we want to return to that which was familiar in our childhood.

A priest said to me the other day that children drift away after confirmation and most of them never enter a church again. Teach them the music young, and perform it regularly within the liturgy and I believe that many will stay, and others will return later in life.

Liturgy should not be an obstacle to worship

As a lay person in the pew, the important point is that the liturgy is not celebrated in such a way as to be an obstacle to worship. The guidelines are clear. They were set out after Vatican 2 in Sacrosanctum Concilium. The texts are given in the liturgical books, such as Graduale Romanum. Latin should be used except for the sermon and readings from scripture. The approved form of music is Gregorian chant and the polyphony that is derived from it. There is no place for Protestant hymns, or folk hymns derived from popular music, nor is there any real requirement for new music in the liturgy. Or to rock for Jesus. There is also a need to exercise restraint, for example, at the Sign of Peace. However, the parish where these principles are observed is rare indeed. Thus the document Sacramentum Caritatis. is timely. A few extracts follow, relating to the points just mentioned.

Art at the service of the liturgy
41. The profound connection between beauty and the liturgy should make us attentive to every work of art placed at the service of the celebration. Certainly an important element of sacred art is church architecture, which should highlight the unity of the furnishings of the sanctuary, such as the altar, the crucifix, the tabernacle, the ambo and the celebrant's chair. Here it is important to remember that the purpose of sacred architecture is to offer the Church a fitting space for the celebration of the mysteries of faith, especially the Eucharist. The very nature of a Christian church is defined by the liturgy, which is an assembly of the faithful (ecclesia) who are the living stones of the Church (cf. 1 Pet 2:5).

This same principle holds true for sacred art in general, especially painting and sculpture, where religious iconography should be directed to sacramental mystagogy. A solid knowledge of the history of sacred art can be advantageous for those responsible for commissioning artists and architects to create works of art for the liturgy. Consequently it is essential that the education of seminarians and priests include the study of art history, with special reference to sacred buildings and the corresponding liturgical norms. Everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty. Special respect and care must also be given to the vestments, the furnishings and the sacred vessels, so that by their harmonious and orderly arrangement they will foster awe for the mystery of God, manifest the unity of the faith and strengthen devotion.

Liturgical song
42. In the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. Saint Augustine rightly says in a famous sermon that "the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love". The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration. Consequently everything – texts, music, execution – ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons. Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy.

43. After mentioning the more significant elements of the ars celebrandi that emerged during the Synod, I would now like to turn to some specific aspects of the structure of the eucharistic celebration which require special attention at the present time, if we are to remain faithful to the underlying intention of the liturgical renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council, in continuity with the great ecclesial tradition.

The intrinsic unity of the liturgical action
44. First of all, there is a need to reflect on the inherent unity of the rite of Mass. Both in catechesis and in the actual manner of celebration, one must avoid giving the impression that the two parts of the rite are merely juxtaposed. The liturgy of the word and the Eucharistic liturgy, with the rites of introduction and conclusion, "are so closely interconnected that they form but one single act of worship." There is an intrinsic bond between the word of God and the Eucharist. From listening to the word of God, faith is born or strengthened (cf. Rom 10:17); in the Eucharist the Word made flesh gives himself to us as our spiritual food. Thus, "from the two tables of the word of God and the Body of Christ, the Church receives and gives to the faithful the bread of life." Consequently it must constantly be kept in mind that the word of God, read and proclaimed by the Church in the liturgy, leads to the Eucharist as to its own connatural end.

The liturgy of the word
45. Together with the Synod, I ask that the liturgy of the word always be carefully prepared and celebrated. Consequently I urge that every effort be made to ensure that the liturgical proclamation of the word of God is entrusted to well- prepared readers. Let us never forget that "when the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his own word, proclaims the Gospel". When circumstances so suggest, a few brief words of introduction could be offered in order to focus the attention of the faithful. If it is to be properly understood, the word of God must be listened to and accepted in a spirit of communion with the Church and with a clear awareness of its unity with the sacrament of the Eucharist. Indeed, the word which we proclaim and accept is the Word made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14); it is inseparably linked to Christ's person and the sacramental mode of his continued presence in our midst. Christ does not speak in the past, but in the present, even as he is present in the liturgical action. In this sacramental context of Christian revelation, knowledge and study of the word of God enable us better to appreciate, celebrate and live the Eucharist. Here too, we can see how true it is that "ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ".

To this end, the faithful should be helped to appreciate the riches of Sacred Scripture found in the lectionary through pastoral initiatives, liturgies of the word and reading in the context of prayer (lectio divina). Efforts should also be made to encourage those forms of prayer confirmed by tradition, such as the Liturgy of the Hours, especially Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Night Prayer, and vigil celebrations. By praying the Psalms, the Scripture readings and the readings drawn from the great tradition which are included in the Divine Office, we can come to a deeper experience of the Christ-event and the economy of salvation, which in turn can enrich our understanding and participation in the celebration of the Eucharist.

The homily
46. Given the importance of the word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved. The homily is "part of the liturgical action", and is meant to foster a deeper understanding of the word of God, so that it can bear fruit in the lives of the faithful. Hence ordained ministers must "prepare the homily carefully, based on an adequate knowledge of Sacred Scripture". Generic and abstract homilies should be avoided. In particular, I ask these ministers to preach in such a way that the homily closely relates the proclamation of the word of God to the sacramental celebration and the life of the community, so that the word of God truly becomes the Church's vital nourishment and support. The catechetical and paraenetic aim of the homily should not be forgotten. During the course of the liturgical year it is appropriate to offer the faithful, prudently and on the basis of the three-year lectionary, "thematic" homilies treating the great themes of the Christian faith, on the basis of what has been authoritatively proposed by the Magisterium in the four "pillars" of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the recent Compendium, namely: the profession of faith, the celebration of the Christian mystery, life in Christ and Christian prayer.

The sign of peace
49. By its nature the Eucharist is the sacrament of peace. At Mass this dimension of the eucharistic mystery finds specific expression in the sign of peace. Certainly this sign has great value (cf. Jn 14:27). In our times, fraught with fear and conflict, this gesture has become particularly eloquent, as the Church has become increasingly conscious of her responsibility to pray insistently for the gift of peace and unity for herself and for the whole human family. Certainly there is an irrepressible desire for peace present in every heart. The Church gives voice to the hope for peace and reconciliation rising up from every man and woman of good will, directing it towards the one who "is our peace" (Eph 2:14) and who can bring peace to individuals and peoples when all human efforts fail. We can thus understand the emotion so often felt during the sign of peace at a liturgical celebration. Even so, during the Synod of Bishops there was discussion about the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion. It should be kept in mind that nothing is lost when the sign of peace is marked by a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration, as, for example, when it is restricted to one's immediate neighbours.

Gaudete Sunday

CarshaltonVestments 021

Next Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent, is known as Gaudete Sunday, from the opening words of the Introit. It is one of the two in the year when rose coloured vestments are worn.



This is a special Introit, Gaudete in Domino Semper, Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say "Rejoice".

Unfortunately we shall not be hearing it in my parish church. Nor shall we hear the beautiful English version by Purcell (below). The service will probably start with some dreary Lutheran or Methodist hymn which has no place in a Catholic service. However, I do not intend to go there to find out as I will just end up being disappointed and annoyed. Fortunately there is the option of the Extraordinary Form Mass at a monastery nearby but it should not be necessary to make the journey.

Here is the Purcell version.



When this kind of thing could be sung but almost never is, why is anyone surprised that young people find the Mass boring?

tisdag 11 december 2012

Young people shun Catholic church

I was talking to a priest the other day who has been working as a chaplain to university students. He mentioned the loss of young people. Obviously there is the influence of the wider society, but a repeated comment from young people is that Mass is boring. And it usually is.

I lived in Brighton, England, for many years. The parish flourished until the introduction of the English Mass in 1990. Then, an initial loss of about one-third of the congregation was followed by further steady decline. In 2001 a new priest was appointed. By then the parish was almost moribund. During his first months, the only change he made was to be available to hear confessions after every Mass. Nobody came at first, then people started to take this Sacrament regularly. The new priest also started to talk to the parishioners by inviting them for a coffee and a smoke in the presbytery kitchen after Mass, where he joined the group after he had finished hearing confessions.

These were the last years of Pope John Paul. New books, including Ratzinger’s “Spirit of the Liturgy” and “Turning towards the Lord” by Uwe Lang were passed around, read and discussed. Experiments were tried with the liturgy. With each change, the reasons were carefully explained to the congregation. We began to sing the Ordinary in Latin, followed soon after by the Credo and Pater Noster. Parents with children were asked to sit in the front benches. Sometimes Mass would be celebrated Ad Orientem. The Canon was sometimes said silently (in English), as suggested in Spirit of the Liturgy. The reception of communion kneeling and on the tongue was encouraged. The communion plate was brought back and communion was given only under the form of bread.

Then came the election of Pope Benedict in 2005. Summorum Pontificum was issued. The parish priest learnt how to celebrate the Extraordinary Form Mass and introduced it as an extra Friday evening Mass, followed by coffee and a catechesis study group. Young people start to come, and return. The congregation continued to grow, not dramatically, but steadily. A weekly Sunday EF Low Mass was introduced.

The Sunday Novus Ordo Mass was also changed. A choir was formed to sing the Ordinary and Proper, the fomer by now always in Latin, and the latter sometimes in Latin, but more often using the new English translations which appeared in 2011. To summarise, we concluded
  1. The new ICEL is an improvement on the old
  2. Setting the English translations to music remains a problem.
  3. There is no benefit in celebrating Mass facing the people.
  4. When celebrating Mass in Latin there is no advantage in using the Novus Ordo rite.
The parish is in better shape than it has been for over 20 years. Young people and families are coming to Mass regularly. Two men are trying their vocations to the priesthood. All of this seems to be the result of having a more traditional liturgy and regular confession. An important factor, also, has been a soup run for the homeless. The parish of St Aloysius in the middle of Oxford had a similar experience after the Oratorians took it over and did similar things. The EF Mass seems to be particularly attractive to young men.

From what I have seen since over the past 40 years, I am convinced that the liturgical reforms from 1970 onwards are a major reason for the decline of the Catholic church in Europe. Worse still, it is now emerging that those reforms were based on a false interpretation of Vatican Two and not what was intended.

Now that things have moved on, what would best meet the spiritual needs of the present younger generation? I would urge any priest with young people in his charge to consider learning how to celebrate the EF Mass, and to introduce it, as an experiment and occasionally at first. If experience elsewhere is any guide, they would get a pleasant surprise, especially if, the young people were also encouraged to do some kind of beneficial work eg with homeless people through the St Vincent de Paul Society or something similar.

lördag 8 december 2012

Latin elitist?

DSCF7134 by Fr Tim Finigan
DSCF7134, a photo by Fr Tim Finigan on Flickr.

I had a couple of discussions with people recently on the subject of Latin in the liturgy. But why is this even being discussed? The situation is set out in Sacrosanctum Concilium.

36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

36. 2 . But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.


54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to the norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.

Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.


Thus, the use of the vernacular was clearly envisaged as an aid to understanding of, for example, the readings, and perhaps for catechetical purposes. It was never the intention of Vatican 2 to abolish the use of Latin or render its use a rare event. Nor was it intended that English should be used as a language-in-common where members of a congregation had many different mother-tongues. In the light of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the extension of the use of the vernacular to the point that it has become almost universal looks like abuse and needs to be dealt with. Likewise, there is a need to crack down on the use of English in multi-national congregations, for example, in student chaplaincies.

But whilst rules are meant to be adhered to, there is also a need to present the underlying reasons and counter the view expressed by on of the individuals I was talking to, which was that Latin was pointless and elitist. That is a strange argument. If Latin were to return to widespread use in the liturgy, then it would, by definition, not be elitist. Many a youngster in the city slums was able to overcome a poor start in life through the exposure that the Catholic church gave them to the cultural heritage that it had nurtured for the best part of two thousand years. To argue that Latin should be allowed to disappear is an aspect of the idea that if some people haven't got something, then nobody should have it. This is equality by levelling down. I am all for equality, but it should aim to level as many as possible up to the highest standard, not down to the lowest.

Spurious arguments
Most of the arguments against using Latin in the liturgy are more or less spurious. People know what is happening, in so far was what is happening at the Mass is knowable. It is absurd to suggest otherwise. Given that the Mass is primarily an ACTION, there is an advantage in putting the words into a language other than that with which those present are familiar with from daily use, as they then focus their attention on the overall event that is taking place in front of them. At the same time, the use of a dead language helps to convey the sense that there is an element of mystery about this event.

Latin is also one of the three sacred languages recognised by the Church, the others being Greek and Hebrew - in which the inscription "Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews" was written on the board fixed over the head of Jesus at the crucifixion.

Fosters unity within the church
There are advantages now which were less significant forty years ago. People travel more. Study abroad is widespread, both to learn foreign languages and as part of programmes such as Erasmus. In some countries there is a shortage of priests, who then have to be imported from somewhere else, and might not be familiar with the local language. The Catholic church has a substantial musical heritage, most of which cannot be used in translation. Latin has the potential to pull together national groups in parishes where people might come from many different countries. This is especially so in English speaking countries where language is politically loaded and class divisions are cemented by subtle language differences, as well as in language borderlands such as Belgium and Western Poland, where language can stir up ancient enmities.

There is a particular benefit in the use of Latin in parishes whose members are immigrants from many different countries. In this situation, the weekly celebration of Mass in the immigrants' own languages has the effect of splitting up parishes into groups whose members hardly ever even get to see each other.

Stability
Vernacular languages are subject to change. Words change their means and associations. Expressions change. Means of expression are politically loaded. Usages can quickly become outdated. The use of a dead language ensures that there is always a stable reference point.

Putting the genie back in its bottle
Having unleashed this particular genie, it is going to be a difficult task to put it back into its bottle. It needs to be done sensitively but with a firm sense of purpose. It is necessary to give leadership to the generations who have become accustomed to hearing Mass in the vernacular. Partly this is going to have to be done from the pulpit, partly through study groups. One route is through the use of Gregorian chant, which if taught properly is thoroughly enjoyable for the participants. The task is urgent.

fredag 7 december 2012

Guardian website cockup

The Guardian has just altered its "Comment is Free" website and introduced what is called "threading". Responses are gathered together instead of being in chronological order. This seems to be unpopular - an overall look at the number of comments suggests that there are less than half the number there were before.

In addition making navigation difficult, the threading system has led to fragmentation of discussions to the point of meaninglessness. The comments have degenerated into one-liners. It may have seemed like a good idea, and if the aim is to stifle discussion, it is a good system. The Telegraph used it too, but I have stopped going there anyway since they put themselves behind a pay wall.

Around three years ago, the quality of the comments was often better that that of the editorial pieces, especially those by the Guardian's old war-horse regulars. Some of the same people are still commenting but there has been a falling-off, possibly also due to changes in format, the most important being the ability to view "newest first". The original system gave an advantage to the early posters but that allowed discussions to develop coherently until they tailed off after a couple of days.

If the aim was to stifle public discussion and close down a forum of debate, the redesign has done the job perfectly. But then open debate can threaten the powers-that-be, and the Guardian is just as much a part of the system as the more openly oppressive political "right". 

torsdag 6 december 2012

Communion under both kinds

Credence table by Elmar Eye
Credence table, a photo by Elmar Eye on Flickr.
It is only a few years ago that communion was almost invariably being distributed under both kinds. Two or more chalices of wine (illustration) would be consecrated, with Extraordinary Ministers to help the priest to distribute it.

Some friends of mine were complaining that, following an influenza epidemic a couple of years ago, communion is no longer distributed under both kinds in the parish.

This is an old dispute with a long history. It was an issue with the Hussites, and that was in the early fifteenth century, over a hundred years before the Reformation. There is a good theological reason why communion is given out only under the form of bread and this is discussed at length here.

In short, it is not necessary for salvation and it leads to misapprehensions about the nature of Christ's presence in the sacred elements.

The official situation is set out in Sacrosanctum Concilium, section 55.

The dogmatic principles which were laid down by the Council of Trent remaining intact [40], communion under both kinds may be granted when the bishops think fit, not only to clerics and religious, but also to the laity, in cases to be determined by the Apostolic See, as, for instance, to the newly ordained in the Mass of their sacred ordination, to the newly professed in the Mass of their religious profession, and to the newly baptized in the Mass which follows their baptism.

Benedict XVI's Reform by Nicola Bux

I have just read this book, published by Ignatius Press. It makes important points on an important subject, drawing on sources such as Sacramentum Caritatis. It is an explanation of Pope Benedict's position on liturgical reform, which is that those who have taken a rigid stand on the Tridentine Mass are as mistaken as those who took Vatican 2 as a go-ahead signal to make things up as they went along.

The current position is that there are two forms of the one Latin rite - the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form. Priests should not be celebrating one to the exclusion of the other. And furthermore, the provisions of Sacrosanctum Concilium should be complied with, which means giving pride of place to Latin, Gregorian Chant and Polyphony. When this is done, as, for instance, at the London Oratory, there is no reasonable ground for criticism of the Oridinary Form of the Mass.

Unfortunately, few of the current bishops have so far taken the Benedictine reforms seriously. Without the support of their bishops, those clergy who do are finding themselves out on a limb, regarded as reactionaries or dissidents. Yet the only point of growth in the Catholic church is within the movement which is reclaiming traditional forms of worship, which are drawing a new generation of young people. Pretty much everywhere else, the story is of continuing decline.

It is a pity that the translation of this book from the original Italian is so awful. It needs to be republished with a new translation, a native English speaker being involved in the final editing. It will then reach the wider audience it needs to be read by.

måndag 3 december 2012

English Masses abroad

I made an unplanned attendance at an English Mass yesterday. The new translation was used. My impression was that it is popular with those who attend. Unfortunately, the priest who celebrates the English Mass is leaving and apparently it will not continue after the new year.

Those attending are young people - perhaps thirty or so - who do not intend to stay in the country and so would not be happy with the vernacular mass. Logically, an international Mass would be in Latin, which is why Latin is the official language of the church. The Tridentine Mass is peculiarly suitable for an international congregation because much of it is said silently and everyone can follow with printed translations in their own language. But - and I spoke to one of them about it - the present congregation who attends the English Mass would not be happy with the Latin Mass. It would be a great pity to deter them by taking away a Mass that they were at ease with.

If possible, then, a means should be found to continue with this Mass for the time being, but as a parish Mass listed in the schedule as an "International Mass". Over a period of 12 months, it can be switched over in stages to become a Tridentine mass, with an explanation being given at each stage, perhaps through a study group. At the end of the transition period, it can then appear in the parish mass schedule as "International Mass".

A successful twelve-month migration route might look something like this.
  1. Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei is sung in Gregorian chant
  2. Pater Noster sung in Latin
  3. Credo sung in Latin
  4. Responses in Latin
  5. Proper is sung in Latin, with Asperges/Vidi Aquam
  6. Communicants line up at the sanctuary step instead of queueing. This makes for easier distribution.
  7. Communicants offered option to receive communion kneeling.
  8. Celebration is Ad Orientem
  9. Canon is recited in Latin
  10. Complete change to Tridentine rite.
All of these stages were taken in Brighton up to stage 8, with explanations all the way through. However, the parish priest decided that for the time being the main Sunday Mass should not be in the Extraordinary form and this is celebrated at another time.

onsdag 28 november 2012

Slow comfortable travel

Blå Tåget

Blå Tåget, originally uploaded by Elmar Eye.

Travelled from Göteborg to Stockholm last Saturday on Blå Tåget. Swedish carriages from the 1960s - the high point of Scandinavian design - have been tastefully refurbished, and the train is complemented with a German dining car and a lounge car from the 1970s. The locomotive is modern and hired in. The train runs on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and was well filled, possibly because the fare undercuts the SJ ticket price and people do not mind the slightly longer journey time, an extra half an hour, making it four hours, which is perfectly acceptable. In fact, the slower speed makes for a pleasanter and more relaxing journey as one can watch the landscape go by.

Food is cooked on board in the traditional way, so if you have your meal about half-way through the trip, the journey is soon over.

After a tentative start earlier in the year, patronage seems to be building nicely. Keeping the speed down keeps the costs down and clearly there is a market for this kind of travel.

måndag 26 november 2012

St Lars Catholic Church, Uppsala

Went to Mass here yesterday. The architecture of the church is firmly stuck in the mid-1970s. In its way, it is an attractive and well thought-out building, with good quality materials, but it lacks the markers that are associated with sacred spaces.

The worst thing about it is the arrangement of the Sanctuary. An organ, slightly askew, reading desk, altar, crucifix with an Rothko-style offcut barely recognisable as a cross, three IKEA-style chairs and a cube of a tabernacle, are spread out in a row along the end wall as if they were items for sale in an auction. There is no symmetry or sense of order - in fact, the lop-sidedness is deliberate. It lacks focus. Goodness knows what theological statement is it all trying to make, but the message that comes across is confusion.

The same, unsurprisingly, goes for the liturgy: a pick-and-mix collection of Lutheran and Wesleyan hymns, a few 1980s settings and a garnish of Gregorian chant in Latin. The latter was very well sung by the organist, whom I would imagine finds the rest of the service a penance to be offered up. There is something for everyone, but the total effect and message is incoherent. The whole carries the stamp of the times just as do the clothes, popular music, cars and just about everything else from four decades ago.

Period piece
I should not like to live in this parish. It is run by a community of German Jesuits who must have received their formation in the late-1970s. At that time, the Catholic church was going through an experimental phase in the wake of Vatican 2 and the liturgical reforms that had followed. Since then, the pendulum has swing, with the publication of books such as The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Razinger, Turning towards the Lord by Uwe Lang or the Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis by the Pope. These authors have clearly had no influence on the clergy at Uppsala, to the point that they seem to have lost touch with the spirit of the times and have inadvertently created a period piece.

The church is well-filled, and the people are friendly and welcoming. But this is Uppsala, the leading university city in Sweden. The Catholic church needs to be running a flagship parish, where the musical treasures of the Catholic church's heritage are on display. A good model is the Oxford Oratory, where members of the Oratorian order took over a moribund parish at Oxford and brought it back to life through, amongst other things, the use of a traditional liturgy with Latin, Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony.

Unfortunately, the possibilities at Uppsala are constrained by the building itself, which is unsuitable and would be difficult to adapt by re-ordering. However, nearby is a medieval, former Dominican church would would be perfect since it was designed in the first place for the Catholic liturgy. The Church of Sweden could no-doubt be persuaded to part up with it if the offer was good enough. Someone, presumably the bishop, needs to take control of the situation, as at present a wonderful opportunity for mission and evangelisation is going to waste.

Helga Trefaldighet Kyrkan

fredag 23 november 2012

Greengauge forecasts HS2 boost to regions

Pro-HS2 research group Greengauge 21 says it thinks the rest of the country will benefit more than London from the high-speed link. In its evidence to the Independent Transport Commission, the organisation cites better connectivity to the ‘gateways for global commerce’, the main international airports and also the Channel Tunnel for access to the European HSR network.

This prediction is a statement of faith more than anything else. What counts are door-to-door journey times. I am sceptical whether HS2 is the best way of achieving wothwhile improvements, as it is the local networks that are just as important. One reason for the appeal of the south-east is its proximity to Europe by road, which is the most frequent freight mode.

Improved rail services could help to relieve the motorway network by taking some traffic off. Improved intermodal freight would help the north somewhat. The simplest way of rebalancing the UK economy would be through the tax system, so that it favoured areas of disadvantage, with a bigger contribution coming from areas of geographical advantage.

These things tend to balance out anyway as rents and house prices reflect the advantage of location. If HS2 really does what its supporters claim, it will push up commercial rents and house prices away from the London area, thereby making it a giveaway to property owners at the expense of the taxpayer.

UK - Germany high speed service deferred again

The launch of London-Frankfurt high-speed services has been pushed back due to Siemens’ delay in supplying 16 ICE 3 trains to Deutsche Bahn, who ordered the trains in 2008 and were promised delivery last December.

DB originally wanted to run London-Frankfurt trains for the 2012 Olympics, but then pushed the start date back to 2013 – but further delays mean the service will not now be launched until at least 2016.

The delay is reported as being due to software problems discovered during testing.There was a time when the only things running through a train were a pipe for the braking system, and a pipe for the steam heat. Then they added electricity, with a dynamo-battery set under each vehicle and cables from vehicle to vehicle in case of failure. Ventilation systems were passive so didn't break down and door operation was manual with someone on the station platform to check that they were properly shut before the train moved off.

Trains like those are of extreme simplicity, inexpensive to construct and maintain, and are within the capacity of part-time amateurs to keep going. And from the passengers' point of view there has been little improvement - on the contrary, they got a comfortable seat, space, and somewhere for their luggage.

Later on, into the 1970s other features were added which required a cable with a hundred or so connections but that was manageable too. It brought in features such as retention toilets, power operated doors and air conditioning, which are genuinely useful if they work and a menace when they don't. The first is a matter of basic hygiene but the latter two could certainly be regarded as optional extras. But since then, the complexity has increased exponentially, and so has the cost.

The people specifying railway vehicles need to take a good hard look at what is needed and what is not, and how much could be saved, and how reliability could be improved, by simplification, even if it means employing additional staff to do things which have been automated at vast expense. Or running the trains at lower speeds, because high speeds also give rise to hidden costs, as discussed elsewhere in this blog.

torsdag 22 november 2012

Church of England rejects women bishops

The vote against women bishops has aroused a storm of protests by agnostics, atheists and equalities fascists. Most of it is ill-informed and ignorant. Arguments about modernity and the need to get out of the medieval mindset or come into the twentieth century are no argument at all. They reveal a poverty of intellect and an unwillingness to thing about the real reasons why a change might or might not be desirable.

Church office is not a prize to be sought after like getting oneself in the MD's chair. The desire to be a bishop is unworthy and in principle a reason why the individual is not suitable. This was one of the themes explored by Trollope in Barchester Towers, alas now little read.

But in the case of the Church of England, there is a complication. The question of Anglican orders was investigated by Rome in the late nineteenth century by a commission set up by Pope Leo XIII. This led to the publication of the Bull Apostolae Curae in 1896, which concluded, "We pronounce and declare that ordinations carried out according to the Anglican rite have been, and are, absolutely null and utterly void."

"In the whole Ordinal not only is there no clear mention of the sacrifice, of consecration, of the priesthood (sacerdotium), and of the power of consecrating and offering sacrifice but, as We have just stated, every trace of these things which had been in such prayers of the Catholic rite as they had not entirely rejected, was deliberately removed and struck out."

So Anglican "priests" are not priests and Anglican bishops are not bishops of the Universal Church; thus the former Catholic sees are in reality defunct, having been replaced by those established on the restoration of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in 1850.

Catholic doctrine is that it does not have the ability to ordain women, an assertion that was put to the test in the 1970s when a number of women in Czechoslovakia underwent the ordination ceremony. This is not a matter of cussedness or sexism. The priest at the altar is another Christ, an alter Christi, representing in a bloodless form the sacrifice of Calvary. This is a theological point that has become obscured by the practice of celebrating Mass facing the people, which has led to the widespread belief that it is a re-enactment of the Last Supper. The question that arises is whether a woman is capable of performing the role of an Alter Christi, and there is nothing to suggest that this is possible.

But none of the above applies within the Anglican church, which means that it can have no objection to the appointment of women to church office. The difficulty there is that it kills off hopes of ecumenical unity at an institutional level, but these were never grounded in realism in the first place.

måndag 19 november 2012

Is it all right to Rock for Jesus?

A friend of mine who used to be a free church evangelical asked me this question the other day. The use of Rock music in worship has respectable credentials, since it has its origins in the baptist Pentecostal churches, with congregation mostly of African origin, the the southern states of the USA. Elements of the style - its characteristic rhythm and tonality - come, no doubt, from the tribal music of West Africa, from whence it was imported along with the people, who were also imported. So what is the problem with it?

In principle, nothing is wrong with it, any more than there is anything wrong with Lutheran and Wesleyan hymns, or the music of the seventeenth century Anglican church. All of these are expressions of a Protestant from of worship and behind them is a Protestant spirit and a Protestant theology. If you hold to that, then it is perhaps hard to argue that there is anything wrong with Rocking for Jesus. But would Jesus join in, or purse his lips and leave? What music would Jesus want to sing and listen to when the Lord was to be praised?

lördag 17 november 2012

Gaza trouble starts up again

The left has lost no time in whipping up its anti-Israel fervour, following the latest outbreak of hostilities. As far as I can make out, it was Hamas who set off the latest round of rocket attacks, having assembled a supply of weapons from Iran over a period of several months. Civilian deaths are always a bad thing but the Hamas government has the support of civilians so it should not come as too much of a surprise when the Israelis react robustly against attacks from Gaza.

However, it is worth noting that the Israeli response is mild in comparison to the attacks by the Syrian president's forces on his own people, something which the critics of Israel somehow manage to overlook.

Irish medical fatality no excuse for easy abortion

The pro-abortion lobby has seized on a recent medical fatality as a reason for abolishing the country's strict abortion laws so as "to bring the country into the twenty-first century".

As the debate has unfolded it has become evident that no-one really knows what happened, inevitably since medical confidentiality is involved, and that no-one is really clear exactly what the Irish law is on the subject. The official position appears to be that an abortion is permitted if the life of the mother is endangered, but that is ultimately a matter of medical judgement. The relevant principles are, it has been argued, the Irish constitution and an 1861 law, which itself is open to interpretation.

Irish doctors have asked for better clarification and that is evidently necessary. But the whole incident has been used as an excuse by the pro-abortion lobby to argue for the kind of lax abortion laws that apply in the UK, and to take a side-swipe at the Catholic church at the same time, this being the most evil organisation in the history of the universe.

måndag 12 november 2012

Today's Mass reading - wheat and cockle

GOSPEL Matt. 13:24-30

At that time, Jesus spoke this parable to them, saying: "The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seed in his field. But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed cockle among the wheat and went his way. And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle. And the servants of the good man of the house coming said to him. 'Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? Whence then hath it cockle?' And he said to them: 'An enemy hath done this.' And the servants said to him: 'Wilt thou that we go and gather it up?' And he said: 'No, lest perhaps gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: 'Gather up first the cockle, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn.' "

Just a thought about this passage that occurred to me - we are both wheat and cockle at one and the same time.

lördag 10 november 2012

"Archbishop of Canterbury"

In all the discussion about the new "Archbishop of Canterbury", it seems to have been forgotten that the last Archbishop, Cardinal Pole, died on 17 November 1558.

Liege Cathedral uglified

Cathédrale St-Paul. by Rienk Mebius
Cathédrale St-Paul., a photo by Rienk Mebius on Flickr.
Beautiful and well preserved Medieval Cathedral but what is the thing that looks like a gold painted radiator in front of the altar?

It is ugly. It should be taken away. And the ugly chairs one the sanctuary should be put in the Cathedral cafe. A perfectly good altar can be seen behind which can be used instead. The celebrant would then be facing east, the same as the rest of the congregation.

The damage done by the 1970s liturgical reforms spread far beyond the liturgy itself.

onsdag 7 november 2012

On the sea on a sunny day in 1946

Sea view - South Devon 1946 by Elmar Eye
Sea view - South Devon 1946, a photo by Elmar Eye on Flickr.
Our first holiday was after the war, in July 1946. We stayed at Teignmouth on the South Devon coast. My father must have gone on a fishing trip when he took this picture with a Kodak box Brownie taking 8 shots on a roll of 120 film, which would most likely have been Kodak Ortho. This might be South Devon but it could have been Cornwall. There is lots of detail here - timber boats including two cabin cruisers, a large two masted sailing vessel, probably a nineteenth century ketch, a couple of clinker-built rowing boats and a steam tug. Probably South Devon or Cornwall.

It looks like it was a breezy morning. To judge from the angle of the anchored boats there was a strong tide running  Despite the blue sky, with only a few clouds, the softness of the shadows suggests the sun must have been slightly obscured when the picture was taken. An amazing amount of detail shows up, considering the type of camera, never renowned for their sharpness.

lördag 3 november 2012

EF and OF masses compared

Books have been written on this subject but the most obvious differences are
  1. The Mass is usually said in the vernacular *
  2. Vesting and recitation of the Judica me verses takes place in the sacristy instead of in the church.
  3. The Proper is replaced by hymns. *
  4. The priest faces the congregation instead of facing in the same direction as the congregation.
  5. Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison are each repeated twice instead of three times. *
  6. There are two readings before the Gospel instead of three.
  7. The readings are to a three-year cycle instead of a one-year cycle.
  8. A responsorial Psalm usually replaces the Gradual verses. *
  9. The prayers over the preparation of the gifts are different.
  10. There are four alternative Canons of the Mass instead of just the one, which is now the Eucharistic Prayer option number one.
  11. The Canon of the Mass is recited aloud instead of almost silently.
  12. There is an acclamation after the consecration.
  13. The Our Father is recited by the congregation instead of by the priest alone.
  14. The Sign of Peace is exchanged between members of the congregation. *
  15. The second confession before reception of communion is omitted.
  16. The "Domine non sum dignus" (Lord I am not worth to receive you) is said once instead of three times.
  17. Communion is usually received standing and in the hand instead of on the tongue, whilst kneeling. *
  18. Communion is received under both kinds. *
  19. The Last Gospel (John 1 : 1-18 is omitted).
The above are the changes most apparent to anyone in the congregation.The items marked with an asterisk are optional though usual rather than mandatory ie the OF Mass may be said in Latin with the chanted responses with communion being received under one kind, on the tongue and whilst kneeling.

There is no doubt that the OF Mass is valid but the question that still remains to be answered is what was the reason for these changes? They add nothing and take away much.

Music at Kristuskonungen

Last night (All Souls' Day), the choir sang the Requiem, at least a fair bit of it, in Latin, including the Introit, Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. But the Tract, Offertory and Communion got lost and replaced by the Responsorial Psalm and vernacular hymns mostly of recent composition and therefore unfamiliar. The Dies Irae also disappeared. The latter is in fact the Sequence and not part of the Ordinary Form, but can nevertheless be included. And that is about as good as it gets at an OF Mass.

The previous day, All Saints' Day, we had a visiting choir which sing a collection of things including the Kyrie by (probably) Haydn, a baroque polyphonic piece at the Offertory and the Sanctus from Fauré's Requiem, interspersed with a modern vernacular Gloria and a slew of Protestant hymns. It was a buffet menu put together so that there was at least something to please everyone. But it added up to nothing coherent, and more like a concert than a service.

The standard of singing by choirs and congregation, is first rate, as are the organists, but the choice of music is another matter, being dominated by Lutheran or Methodist hymns, dated, dull and uninspiring. The sense of lively Catholic spirituality is absent from the sound, a situation that is almost the norm in contempory Catholic parishes almost everywhere. It fails, amongst other things, to connect the church to its own traditions and its ancient Judaic roots. It like going to a Macdonalds and getting the bun without the burger inside. Of course one receives the Body of Christ, but the context is unworthy.

The ray of hope is the weekly EF Mass. Unfortunately, this is usually at an unpopular time, poorly attended, and rarely sung. However, there have been occasional, usually unplanned, high points where the Propers have been sung with the correct tunes, ie not using psalm tones, with the Ordinary sung to a perfectly good Missa de Angelis. The latter is really all it takes for an authentically Catholic liturgy, but it seems to be the hardest thing in the world to achieve. Why is there this resistance? In the long run it is damaging because the liturgy is the church's "shop window" and principal means for conveying its teaching.

It would help if more members of the parish were familiar with the chant, in accordance with the instructions given following Vatican 2. It would further help if there were good scores to sing from ie in the correct four line/square note notation. When Gregorian chant is sung from modern notation, such is the loss of information that it is hard not to end up with a dreary sound. The new edition of Cecilia, due out early next year, ought to have addressed this by including the Gregorian settings in their proper notation but for some reason this has not happened. Someone is going to have to fill the gap.

The cost of speed

A train running at 125 mph consumes 90% more energy than one running at 90 mph. In addition, there are other costs, since the trains have to be specified for higher speeds, one-third of the front and rear vehicles cannot be used for passenger accommodation, there is additional wear and tear, signalling systems must be designed for the longer stopping distances, thereby reducing track capacity, and the railway becomes subject to EU regulations for high speed lines, with all the associated compliance costs.

Reams of careful calculations would need to be made before the proposal to reduce top speed on some 125mph routes to just under the 100 mph threshold could be dismissed as lunatic.

torsdag 1 november 2012

Leica snobbery

Leica M9 with Elmar lens by Elmar Eye
Leica M9 with Elmar lens, a photo by Elmar Eye on Flickr.

Leica users get accused of snobbery. My reason for getting this M9 is because it is easy to use and I already had a few Leica lenses, most of them ancient. The cameras are a bit overpriced but then I don't run a car which is most people's big money gobbler. It is a pity that so many Leicas are bought to put on display or are fashion accessories. One cannot blame Leica for playing to this market, which values crocodile skin coverings and gold plating. However, if it did not exist, the production of the cameras would probably not even be a viable proposition.

If I did not already have the lenses I would have probably got one of the Fuji series, perhaps the Fuji X-Pro 1. This uses some very clever technology to get the very best out of a smaller APS size sensor.

söndag 28 oktober 2012

What should one campaign for?

A friend of mine has been campaigning this weekend for two anti-abortion groups. One of the groups has an in-your-face approach using gory photographs and takes the view that abortion should be illegal under all circumstances. The other group takes a softer line, arguing that because abortion is so widely regarded as acceptable, the best that can be done is to minimise the numbers by persuasion and some tightening of the rules. My friend expressed misgivings about the first group, but another friend argued for the hard line approach when there were proposals recently for a tightening of legislation in the UK. He argued that the amendments should not be supported because this implied support for abortion.

One can see the point in all this, and the opposition always use difficult cases - rape, incest and conditions threatening to the life of the mother - to further the argument for liberal abortion laws.

There is another issue as well, which is that Christians then get accused of being unduly preoccupied with sex and what people do with their bodies. One can understand why this is so - the issues are easy to grasp and people are moved by a natural sense of revulsion - the yuck factor.

However, the church's teaching is about much more than sexual morality, and it would be a good thing if campaigners would look to these wider issues too. Take, for instance, the economy. The recent economic crisis, which is now turning into a chronic disease of economies around the world, could not have happened without usury, the system on which most contemporary economies depends. The bible forbids it. The Catholic church has repeatedly spoken out against it, for example in the Encyclical Vix Pervenit, the very first Papal Encyclical, issued in 1745. Yet how many priests have raised the subject in the pulpit since the crisis arose three years ago? Where are the campaigners? Morality is about more than sexual behaviour. We ought to be more vociferous about the broader range of issues, and more willing to acknowledge our own personal guilt through our participation in the process.

lördag 27 oktober 2012

Descralisation of Catholic worship

Increasingly, the post Vatican II changes are being re-evaluated. Innovations like communion in both kinds, the Blessed host received in the hands whilst standing, from lay ministers, removal of communion rails, are being recognised for what they are - a deliberate de-sacralising. The process is reinforced by the use of the vernacular, something which many of the other world religions have carefully avoided by reserving an ancient classical language such as Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit or Pali, for liturgical use. This is sound practice, not least because vernacular languages are politically loaded. The English language and the way it is used is closely tied to the class system and Britain's colonial legacy. One does not need to look any further than across the Channel to Belgium to see how divisive language can be.

Then there is the influence of the Novus Ordo on the music. In the EF, hopefully, at least the Introit will be sung to the tune of the day, and the other seasons have their settings for the Ordinary, as well as the seasonal hymns. Thus over the year there is a succession of music which reinforces the church's narrative teaching.

The worst of it is that some, probably most, of the post V2 settings are egregious, ranging from the infantile to the downright unpleasant and comparable to the kind of sounds that set teeth on edge. There is a particular problem with the English language because English texts sung to Gregorian tunes tend to end up with the emphasis exactly where it makes no sense, resulting in an absurdity, as here; in the first line of this setting of the Creed, the three-notes that fall on "Deum" are now on the word "one". This is not inevitable - this alternative setting here is successful.

I suspect that the use of Protestant hymns is more damaging than is generally appreciated. Because the quality of the music is often high, for example by composers such as Goss, Watts, Wesley, Hassler and Neander, it is difficult to fault them on musical grounds. But they are infused with a Protestant sensibility, damaging slowly and subtly. And it is difficult to argue against their use except on the grounds that this is not "real Catholic music".

See comments here on Father Raymond Blake's blog.

Elmar lenses compared

Elmar 1950s test Elmar 1990s test 

Leitz brought out the collapsible Elmar f/3.5 lens in the 1920s. It was then upgraded to an f/2.8 version in the 1950s and made available in both screw-fit and bayonet fit for the Leica M. The top picture is taken with a lens at f/5.6 setting, made in the late 1950s and is the very centre of the image.

The lens was redesigned and  revived for a while in the 1990s and continued in production until 2002. The earlier version is chromed brass with a 15 blade diaphragm giving a perfectly circular aperture. The newer version is black aluminium with a 6 blade diaphragm giving a hexagonal aperture.

The only difference seems to be that the newer lens has better contrast, presumably due to a reduction in stray light inside the lens, which makes the older example seem soft. But as for the definition, there is no perceptible difference. The newer one suits the black M9 better, whereas the old one looks best on its chrome M2. The comparison below is of a shot of part of the test printout from SuSE Linux. The upper one is the older lens. The circles are 50 mm across and the photograph was taken at a distance of 2 metres, again at f/5.6. The newer lens has the edge, but only just.

Elmar 1728645 Elmar 3936394

torsdag 25 oktober 2012

IEP - Sir Humphrey's Fool's Gold

Locos are now around £3 million. IEP cars are around £2.8 million. Hauled vehicles are around £1 million if you need new ones, and around £300k for a thorough refurbishment of an old vehicle such as a mark 3, which will run for another 20 years at least. The differentials do not stop with the initial costs. Several power cars are inevitably going to cost more to maintain than one locomotive.

If the country end of a route is much less busy than the London end, then either the train is overcrowded at the London and or it is under-utilised at the country end. If the line is not electrified throughout, either there is diesel running under the wires - undesirable but not a catastrophe, or a change of traction. Either there is dead diesel traction on the electrified route, or dead electric traction on the non-electrified route.

The neat solution to the problem is to electrify out from London to the end of the busy section, split the train and push/pull enough of the vehicles to satisfy the need at the country end of the route. The undesirable alternative is to make people change trains, in which case an ordinary DMU can be used.

Fools' Gold
In the face of criticism, it was claimed that another great benefit of bi-mode is the ability to "self-rescue" if the power is down. This is fools' gold. There are indeed situations where this might be a benefit, but even then the train is not going to get further than the train at the front of the queue that does not have this "self-rescue" ability. And the best way to prevent loss of power is not to skimp on the specification of the overhead line and to maintain it, and the equipment on the trains, to a reliable standard.

IEP cleverly manages to get the worst of all worlds at maximum expense as a result of a civil service specification which asked for a train that could do everything. The same thing has been going on in defence procurement for decades. It is what happens when projects are left to Sir Humphfrey.

måndag 22 oktober 2012

Choir weekend at Vadstena

Vadstena  klosterkyrka by Elmar Eye
Vadstena klosterkyrka, a photo by Elmar Eye on Flickr.
We had a weekend at Vadstena, which was looking stunning with all the trees in autumn gold. It was attended by groups from choirs from Catholic churches all over Sweden, with a programme directed by the diocesan musical director, Ulf Samuelsson. We stayed at the STF hostel at Omberg, where forests of giant ancient oaks and beeches were also at their autumn best.

The music, however, got off to a difficult start, with a rehearsal in the vast cavernous interior of Vadstena abbey church, a fourteenth century building with a reverberation time of around ten seconds, as well as some particular resonances. Making matters worse was a organ that sounded as if it was out of tune in the bottom register - low frequency discords being amongst the most unpleasant sounds possible.

That the music was evidently not selected with regard to the special characteristics of the building quickly became apparent. With normal-paced music, much of it in parts, echoes of notes sung a few seconds earlier were coming from all directions. Trying to sing was a battle against the building. I could not cope with this bombardment of sound, so I gave up the fight and after the rehearsal, sat in the benches to listen.

There would have been no problem if the music had consisted of unaccompanied Gregorian chant. On the contrary, it would have sounded wonderful. A few years earlier, I had attended a concert in the church by two women from Finland who perform under the name Vox Silentii. One of the pair sung, very gently, one of the resonant frequencies of the church, whilst the other sung Gregorian chant from the time of St Brigit. From this, it can be concluded that the only sorts of music that can be sung in the building without difficulty are the Gregorian chant for which the building was designed and built, related forms of music such as Swedish or Anglican chant, and, possibly, slow-paced four-part polyphonic music by composers such as Palestrina.

From my place in the congregation during the service itself, it was apparent that, the sound coming from the choir was wonderful, that there was something wrong with the organ, and that the building was not designed for preaching either, as the sermon could be heard several times! The concluding piece by Mendelsson was little more than a mush of sound. At the end, I could not say that I had attended a service of worship. In fact, whilst described as a service and held at the time when Vespers would normally be sung, it was not a proper Vespers since it did not include the Magnificat, which are part of  Catholic Vesper.

After that low point, things improved. We were very well fed at the Folkhögskola, with home-made entertainment afterwards and an opportunity to make new contacts. We had breakfast in our hostel in the middle of the forest. Sunday Mass was in the modern church of the present Birgitta sisters. I am never quite sure what to make of the building. It has large windows, on one side giving a view across the lake, Vättern, and on the other a view to a garden with mature beeches, their leaves a golden blaze just now. However, with this natural beauty all around, the liturgy takes second place.

But in the smaller space, the buildings, music and singers were working together. It all sounded fine, including the previously difficult Mendelsson. The Ordinary of the Mass was the Misa de Angelis, with Credo 3 and the Pater Noster, which a lot of people seemed to be able to sing without looking in their books.

Next time
There will be other similar events of this kind. With a building like Vadstena Abbey Church available - though there are others too, such as Varnhem, there are great possibilities as long as the building's acoustics are respected.

The vespers could be those for the day, sung mostly in Latin from the Liber Usualis. Why Latin? Because, first, the language has simple open vowels; second, it is pretty close to what would have been sung when the building had just been completed; and third, but most importantly, it would be worth inviting a teacher or teachers to give instruction in the reading and performance of Gregorian chant, possibly a monk from Solemnes. On the Saturday evening, it would also be fitting to conclude with the sung Compline, like these French Benedictine monks, music which would be literally awesome in the Vadstena Abbey church.

Similar concerns apply to the Sunday Mass. Whilst the convent church is an attractive building, it does not function particularly well as a space for the liturgy due to the stunning views from it. The convent church is very much of its time - the 1970s, and one must indeed have concern for the future of that community itself, which seems to have had few, if any, vocations in recent years. There is not in fact a serious shortage of vocations, but it is the traditional Catholic communities that are drawing in the present generation of young people.

With these considerations, it would be worth thinking about holding the main Sunday Mass in the Abbey church, possibly early in the morning before the main Swedish service if permission can be obtained. This too, would preferably be in Latin and include the correct Proper for the Sunday. Because of the complexity of these, it would probably be better to divide responsibility for singing the different parts - Introit, Gradual, Offertory and Communion - amongst parishes who could prepare them beforehand. The same applies, possibly, to the Offertory and Communion motets, which might be polyphonic, and perhaps also to the Ordinary. Alternatively, or additionally, the opportunity could be taken to introduce some of the other Gregorian Mass settings, such as Mass XI (Orbis Factor), and the austere Credo I.

As regards the Mass itself, unless there is any particular reason to include vernacular hymns - and there is little reason or opportunity to if the Proper is sung - then it would be a good thing to celebrate the Mass in the Extraordinary Form, complete with the sprinkling of holy water and incense, which would also have the benefit of conducting it as a High Mass with Deacon and Sub-Deacon, which would avoid the awkwardnesses of a concelebrated Mass.

Such a weekend could even inspire a few vocations to the priesthood or religious life. The programme for 2014?

Excusing antisemitism

As is well known, some Jewish communities in Sweden have been at the receiving end of a wave of antisemitism, including violent incidents. This is not coming from native Swedes but from Muslim immigrants from the middle east, or from their children. An article in Svenska Dagblad yesterday set out to explain why knowledge of the holocaust is irrelevant to the perpetrators.

The author, Helena Mechlaoui, argues that those responsible have themselves suffered from the actions of the Israel and the US, and feel that their sufferings are being ignored whilst attention is still being given to those of the Jews more than half a century ago. She appears to justfy the hostile actions on the grounds that Jews generally support the actions of the Israeli government, which is possibly true. From this she draws the conclusion that Sweden's Jews deserve what they get: bullying in schools, street attacks and vandalism of synagogues and other Jewish communal buildings.

She then goes to point out that the Holocaust was a consequence of European anti-semitism of Christian origin, and that people in the middle eastern countries are being made to pay for their guilt.

Now it is undeniable that New Testament texts can be interpreted as an incitement to antisemitism, but taking them as a whole, it is clear that such a reading would be a serious error. Historically, the church authorities at the highest level have usually spoken out against antisemitism. The waves of incidents that occurred at the time of the Crusades and again in Spain in the sixteenth century, whilst disgraceful, were exceptional. Moreover, they were motivated primarily by politics and economics rather than religious doctrine, which of course still does not excuse them. And it should not be forgotten that it was the Polish king Casimir who offered refuge to the persecuted Jews of the Rhineland at the time of the Crusades.

Mechaouli then goes into cover-up mode, with a statement that antisemitism in the middle east has no long history but began only in the twentieth century when it became clear that Jews wanted to establish their own state in the area "inhabited by Palestinians". This is obfuscation of the highest order. Antisemitism is woven into the very fabric of Islam. The prophet himself led the massacre of 600 Jewish men in the year 627. The Koran is full of passages which are an incitement to hatred of both Jews and Christians. The Muslim religious authorities have never unabiguously taken a distance from these statements, for instance by asserting that they should not be taken literally. Saudi Arabia, originally inhabited by large number of Jews, was quickly made Jew-free, and Jews in other lands where Islam came to dominate were always treated as inferior and for thirteen centuries subjected to penalties and outbreaks of violence. So the problems of the Jews in the middle east did not begin in the 1900s.For Mechaouli, who is described as a historian, to brush this under the carpet, is rank dishonesty.

Of course none of this helps the present situation. The issue that is really at stake is whether the recent Islamic immigrants to Europe, and their descendants, are to comply with the current values and standards of behaviour regarded as decent in the countries in which they have taken refuge. If they are unwilling to do so then they need to move on and take fresh refuge in countries where their views are more in line with the prevailing ethic.

torsdag 18 oktober 2012

Latest setup - old and new

Latest setup - old and new by Elmar Eye
Latest setup - old and new, a photo by Elmar Eye on Flickr.
Leica M9 with early 1960 Elmar. I am going to use this for a while and see how it works. The ergonomics of this old lens is better than the 1990s version of the Elmar. I particularly like the focussing button which locks in the infinity position. I got it a few years ago but only used it for a little while with film as I thought the definition was soft, but will give it another go with the digital camera. Nice to have this backwards compatibility.

onsdag 17 oktober 2012

Catholic Pentecostalism


Catholic Pentecostalism, otherwise known as the charismatic renewal movement, is characterised by a particular style of worship which has much in common with Protestant Pentecostal practice. I do not want to talk about it except to say this. The Catholic church is, and always has been, a Pentecostal church. And traditional Catholic worship is Pentecostal.

This is particularly so when Latin is used and sung to Gregorian chant melodies. The fact that the Latin words are not immediately understandable means that one has no option but to let go and accept the sound. And the sounds of Latin are very particular, with pure open vowels alternating with simple consonants, and almost entirely lacking in the compound vowel sounds found in the Germanic languages or the complex consonts that characterise the Slavonic languages. Latin vocals are produced by opening the mouth and throat and letting the sound emerge on the breath. Thus it becomes a form of speaking in tongues.

Gregorian chant makes full use of this through the use of the feature known as the Jubilus, a single syllable sung to extended sequence of notes as in the Easter Alleluia above, where the words "Alleluia" itself, "Dominus","exsultemus" and "ea" have this feature. Significantly, the Protestant Reformation brought with it music characterised by the exact antithesis, with one note per syllable being held up as an idea. Alleluia is of course Hebrew for "Praise the Lord", the constant repetition of which is one of the marks of Pentecostal worship. Thus, traditional Catholic worship is Pentecostal.

Västlänken - the chaos begins

Next week come the first major disruptions due to Västlänken. Major alterations to Gothenburg’s tram services are always a feature of the su...