lördag 26 maj 2012

Bishop Anders Arborelius preaches

Biskop Anders Arborelius predikar

The Bishop of Stockholm gave a sermon this afternoon on the importance of Mary, at the conclusion of a pilgrimage to Oskarström on the eve of Pentecost, in honour of Our Lady. His themes were the importance of acceptance, following the example of Mary who said "Yes" to the Angel Gabriel, and of the incarnational nature of the Catholic faith - which teaches that Jesus - God made man - had a real human mother, which is the reason why Mary is to be honoured.

The event was well attended, which is always encouraging. The rain held off until the very end, when the heavens opened. Most of those who came were from the south and west of Sweden, with many different nationalities being present - Swedish Catholics, of course, but also from Poland, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovakia, Vietnam, Iraq, the Philippines, Latin America and some English-speaking countries including Britain itself.

The Catholic church in Sweden is playing an important part in helping immigrants to integrate into society. But language differences present a problem of striking the right balance. Many people who have come to Sweden have been traumatised and want what they are familiar with. On the other hand, catering for all the different languages with different liturgies tends to divide parishes up into language groups, which means that they do not function as effectively as they could - even on the simple boy-meets-girl level.

My personal view is that this could be resolved through the more frequent and widespread use of the traditional Latin Mass (TLM), but that needs long and careful preparation so that parishioners understand what it is about. It should not be done in a hurry and the new rite in up-to-date translations need to continue alongside the TLM. A wider use of the old form of the Mass would also need to be associated with the much more frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance, since the two are intimately connected.

I was in conversation with a Dominican from Lund, who had recently arrived in the country. He had been pleasantly surprised at the vigour of the Catholic Church in Sweden. Arguably, it is in better shape than the Catholic Church in any of the European countries that was not under communist control. There is a a unique blend of immigrants and natives, including many recent converts. If there is going to be a significant resurgence of Catholicism in Western Europe, secular Sweden could, paradoxically, be one of the places from which it will emanate. This puts a lot of responsibility on Swedish Catholics to promote the healthy growth of the church.

Postcript - May 2017 
Sadly, none of the things mentioned has come to pass. 
  • The TLM made some headway until 2013, with the appointment of a priest from the Institute of Christ the King, but he has now been banished to a chapel on the outskirts of Stockholm. There are only three priests in the country who are able and willing to celebrate it regularly. Partly through lack of opportunity to become familiar with it, attendance at TLM Masses is disappointing.
  • Parishes are as divided into language groups as they ever were.
  • A few men entered the seminary as priest candidates but most had dropped out before the end of their second year. Liturgies are, generally, scarcely recognisable as anything other than Lutheran. 
The Catholic church in Sweden is not heading for the nose-dive that will hit it in the UK and France within a decade, but the future does not look nearly as bright as it did in 2012.

fredag 25 maj 2012


I was sitting on the boat to Brännö this afternoon when a half dozen or so young men in the "uniform" of the Chasidic Jews - dark suit, trilby hat and white shirt without a tie - got on and sat behind me, and one next to me. They were well away from where one would usually expect to see them, so I asked them where they had come from. The conversation went on and got to the point where I said I was of Jewish origin. The boy - he cannot have been much over twenty - promptly pulled out a bag with  tefillin (phlacteries) in them and said I should start using them. I told him, in the nicest possible way, that I would not use them if he gave them to me.

Tefillin are leather boxes containing passages from the book of Exodus. Their use is a literal interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:8 "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes."

The conversation then went on with a mention of the forthcoming feast of Shavuot, which he asked me if I knew about. I replied that as a Catholic, I knew it as the Feast of  the Pentecost, which we would also be celebrating on Sunday. It is the descent of the Holy Spirit.

[1] And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place:
[2] And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
[3] And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them:
[4] And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak.
[5] Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven.
[6] And when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded in mind, because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue.

This did nothing to quell the boy's enthusiasm, and I had to tell him that he was behaving like a Jehovah's Witness. We parted on good enough terms but I felt I had been imposed upon unreasonably. Anyhow there was a nicely done Mass in the evening, in Latin, which is my practice.

But there was a time when I wore tefillin myself. This was at the boarding school I attended. The boys over the age of 13 were expected to put on them on. At first, I used a set that had been given to me at my 13th birthday. We had our morning service under the watchful eye of on of the more orthodox of the teachers. After a few days he inspected my tefillin. They were, apparently, not up to standard. The boxes were too small and their condition rendered them too poor to be used. I was hauled up in front of everyone, made to stand on the platform at the front of the room, and harangued about the inadequacy of the tefillin. It was humiliating, although on reflection I doubt if most of my fellow pupils cared. But it was the most stupid imaginable way of dealing with the matter, especially when this was a new boy who must obviously have been lacking in confidence. I duly stopped using the defective tefillin. In fact I never used any tefillin at all. Ever again. From then on I sat at the back and made myself as nearly invisible as I could. If heaven was a place for Jews only, this teacher would have borne a large responsibility for making sure that I never got there. When, a few days later I was moved up into class four, the daily prayers were then in the large hall, where it was easier to continue with the strategy I had developed, of keeping to the back and imagining myself far away.

tisdag 22 maj 2012

What is the use of Catholic Justice & Peace?

The Bishop of Shrewsbury Diocese has just got rid of his Justice and Peace co-ordinator. Justice and Peace groups were a feature of the early 1990s. There was a J&P coordinator in the Arundel & Brighton Diocese where I lived in the early 1990s. He did quite a good job in getting parishes focussed on J&P issues. A J&P group was set up at St Mary Magdalen's and we studied the Catholic Social Teaching (CST). From that group came two vocations.

As we came to study it, CST itself proved to be a mixed bag. Rerum Novarum having been deficient, in particular in relation what it referred to confusingly as "property", further encyclicals were then issued subsequently in an attempt to fill the gaps. These culminated in the almost incomprehensible Centesimus Anno of 1991 which was not studied.

Rerum Novarum did great damage in emasculating the Catholic working class movements for social justice at the end of the nineteenth century and helped open up the way for the spread of both worldwide Marxist movements and worldwide fascism as a counter-reaction.

See here which describes the shameful instance of the excommunication and eventual reinstatement of a priest, Fr McGlynn, in the Diocese of New York. There was a similar incident in Britain in which the Catholic intellectual Wilfrid Meynell was quietly sidelined, and possibly also Cardinal Manning - this needs to be investigated even now. Indeed, it may have a bearing on why he has not been put on the canonisation track when logically Manning is as strong a candidate as Newman and the two belong together.

The latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate of 2009 provides the opportunity for a fresh start and lay people should be studying it, though whether it needs J&P co-ordinators to encourage them is another matter.

In my experience, J&P has tended to promote fashionable liberal ideals and socialist palliatives rather than getting to grips with issues at their root. This too, however, is due, I would suggest, the the weakness of the official church documents and statements, which fail to provide guidance and leadership.

fredag 18 maj 2012

It's the Sacrament that really matters

That is what people tell me when I complain about the poor quality of the liturgy. They are right. But you would not serve a meal prepared from the finest ingredients with the greatest of care by the most skilled of chefs - on a paper plate with plastic cutlery.

That, roughly speaking, is where the Catholic church has got to in so many places following the Vatican 2 reforms. Any parish should be able put on a reasonable sung Mass, with the ordinary sung in Latin, on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation. It does not even need the presence of a choir, only the willingness of the priest to make sure that the congregation knows the music. All that is usually necessary to for it to be sung regularly, and even now, there would rarely be a shortage of people who can manage the Missa de Angelis, Credo 3, Pater Noster and responses.

But too often the priest is clearly not willing, so all we get is a wordy vernacular Mass.

What, if anything, does this have to do with Vatican Two? Post-Council documents are explicit that Gregorian Chant and Latin should continue to take pride of place. It is stated that the Mass may be said in the vernacular, which implied that this would be an exception, not a norm.

The model for the liturgy is Graduale Romanum, with a forward by the much-maligned Cardinal Bugnini. The calendar and readings have changed, but most of the Propers in the old Liber Usualis are still there, as are the settings of the Ordinary. If this had become the new norm, there would have been little to complain about.

Something happened. Priests turned their backs on the Lord and faced their congregations. We got, in English, a rotten translation. The musical settings that went with it were of about the same musical standard as TV advertising jingles. The Propers were omitted and replaced by hymns - at best, the traditional fare of the protestant churches, but with the addition of contemporary banalities - poor quality 1970s pop or pseudo-folk. The Gradual was replaced by the Responsorial Psalm, with the response "rhubarb! rhubarb! rhubarb!" Then came communion in the hand, received standing, then came communion under both kinds, then came a proliferation of eucharistic ministers, then came girls as altar servers, which deterred the boys. Then, to make sense of all these variations, parishes set up liturgy committees to decide what to do, when everything was already set out in the books.

Has this really anything to do with Vatican Two? And what is the way back? The ongoing negotiations with SSPX are relevant. It is unlikely that SSPX and the Tridentine Mass would have gathered the support they presently enjoy if the post Vatican Two reforms had followed what was clearly intended ie the liturgy to adhere to Graduale Romanum, the use of the vernacular to be an occasional thing and other practices to remain unchanged. It looks as if SSPX is going to split, with a rump which will suffer the fate of all previous rumps in the history of the church, and a group which will rejoin the main body of the church, and will, one must hope, undo the damage gradually.

torsdag 17 maj 2012

Michael Gove's school bibles

On the order of Michael Gove, schools are being sent copies of the 1611 King James bible. However, this is a filleted version of the text to suit the Protestant theological position of the early seventeenth century. The schools should have been issued with the Douai-Rheims version issued by Bishop Challoner in 1752. This includes all the books.

Cambridge professorial ignorance

I can hardly believe this from an acquaintance

"I've been in dialogue with a professor of land economics at Cambridge past 2 weeks. Astonishing, he did not understand the nature of economic rent! This embarrassed him and he tried to pretend he did know but it was too late and I could not rescue the situation. I got a load of dodgy excuses and accusations and now he is blanking me. I'm really annoyed with myself for not spotting it early enough."

His predecessor was Donald Denman who knew all about it. I would have thought you were starting from a reasonable assumption. They should pick up some beggar off the street and give him the professor's job. Beggars know about location value.

lördag 12 maj 2012

Blessing at Communion

There was a discussion about the practice of going for a blessing at communion time on Father Ray Blake's blog here. This practice seems to have popped up out of nowhere somewhere in the early 1990s, beginning with children. Someone must have thought it up and then given an instruction about it.

It apparently has no support from authority and needs to be gently discouraged, probably by priests and catechists pointing out that is unnecessary anyway since everyone receives the final blessing at the end of Mass. Of course if someone turns up at in the communion queue then it is the simplest option for the priest to give a blessing.

It would also be beneficial if the reception of communion was more tightly linked to confession, by pointing out that one is still in communion even if one remains in one's place, kneeling with the right spiritual disposition.

This is not the only recent practice with communion that needs to be discouraged. Queuing is undignified. It also enhances respect for the Sacrament if it is received on the tongue whilst kneeling, which always was the practice. Unfortunately this is not usually possible when communion rails have disappeared and there is nothing to kneel on apart from a hard cold stone slab. When everyone else is standing in a queue, to receive kneeling would also amount to making a loud statement at precisely the wrong place and time. There has also grown up, seemingly, the mistaken conception that one has not received full communion unless one has received under both kinds ie both the Body and Blood of Christ. These are matters for priests to take control of.

It his been suggested that daily communion should go hand in hand with daily confession. The difficulty here is "Same old sins, Father". Monthly communion seems a good compromise, and that would be a big improvement from the present situation. This too is a matter for priests, to encourage their parishes and be available more readily.

Unpleasant music analysed

Why is so much 20th century music still considered "difficult" if not downright unpleasant, and especially church music?

I was looking again at a mass setting that we have been practising, that left me literally with a sour taste in the mouth. There were in fact, two particular ingredients. It was in the vernacular but I will refer to the parts by their Latin names. One was the rhythm of the Kyrie - a jazzy der-dit-di-der-dit-di-der-dit-di-der. A real get-you-moving rhythm. To make matters worse, the tune was not in a key, nor was it in a recognisable mode, though it seemed to be moving towards Gregorian mode 4 - the most difficult and unsettling one, being most removed from a major scale. All exactly wrong for the start of the mass, I would suggest. There seems to be a lack of sense of what is appropriate.

Then there was the Agnus Dei, which goes

1 Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis
2 Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis
3 Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

In this setting, (1) and (3) were fine - nice and harmonious. (2) had a run of sour discords in the "qui tollis peccata mundi". I suppose this was intended to create a sense of tension. There is nothing wrong with discords, used judiciously. Bach used them, and so did a number of seventeenth century composers. But judiciousness is key, and the Agnus Dei is not the right place in the mass to play this game. One wonders what the composer was trying to achieve as he had in fact written a perfectly good setting with first and third lines, since line (2) can be a repeat of line (1).

The interesting thing is that if one finds music unpleasant, there are specific reasons why.

onsdag 9 maj 2012

English Catholic Mass abroad

Travellers attending Mass abroad will notice the widespread practice of celebrating it in English. This appears to be principally for students and for immigrants from former British colonial countries, though tourists will often attend these liturgies.

There also seems to have been delays in introducing the English translation of the Mass, so they will often find the old 1973 version one still in use. The new version was prepared by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, following the principles laid down in 2001 in Liturgiam autenticam. The new translation was brought into use on the first Sunday in Advent 2011. Presumably that the new translation will be brought into use in non-English speaking countries when new missals have been obtained.

It seems to me, however, that the opportunity could usefully be taken to re-examine the use of English abroad, especially where there is no significant English-speaking immigrant group, comparable to, for example, immigrants of Polish origin, nor is there a significant number of clergy who come from English-speaking countries.

There is, apparently, an idea that English is a shared common language comparable in status to that which Latin once enjoyed, but this is not so. Where English is used within the context of student chaplaincies, the situation that arises is that the Mass is being celebrated for a congregation, the majority of whom do not have English as their mother tongue, by a priest who is also not from an English-speaking country. This is distracting for members of the congregation who actually are from English speaking countries, when they are forced to listen to a priest and readers who are not entirely fluent in what is for them a foreign language. The selection of readers creates a particular problem because of the diversity of English dialects. These variations are as different as Danish and Swedish; dialects from parts of the USA or even southern Ireland are barely comprehensible to someone used to the English of, say, southern England, unless the words are enunciated with extreme clarity.

A further difficulty relates to the music. Settings for the 1973 translation mostly date from the early 1970s. They were mostly written in the contemporary popular music idiom and are showing their age. New music has been composed for the new translation but the quality is mixed. It will be several years at least before the necessary weeding-out process has occurred. It will also have to be learned.

Whilst the ICEL translation was being revised, Summorum Pontificum was issued. In both Britain and the US, this has led to an increase in the use of the Tridentine form of the Mass, since this was preferred as an alternative to persisting in the use of a translation which was officially acknowledged to be defective. In parishes where the Tridentine form is now being celebrated regularly and at convenient times, there has been a steady increase in attendance, especially where parishioners have been encouraged to receive the Sacrament of Confession more often, typically once a month. In fact, I would go further and suggest that such parishes have enjoyed a substantial resurgence of their faith life, in particular, amongst young and well educated men, who are a potential source of priestly vocations.

Given these developments, I would suggest that consideration be given to the use of the Tridentine form of the mass in contexts where the congregation present is from a variety of different countries. This would also help meet the currently unsatisfied desire of many local Catholics to attend this form of the liturgy at a convenient time and place. A further benefit, especially in protestant countries, is that it would promote a better understanding of Catholic theology of the eucharist amongst parishioners, which as you know, is often confused with protestant concepts.

From a practical point of view, the use of the Tridentine form has the advantage that no new books are needed, much of the Mass is recited silently, members of the congregation can follow in books or from printed sheets in their own language, and that a substantial body of familiar music is already available and familiar.

The opportunity of the introduction of the new English translation should be taken to review the use of English abroad, with a view to the substantial replacement of English masses by the Tridentine form. This is more suitable for use in “international” congregations of students, tourists and other visitors.

söndag 6 maj 2012

Excellent Catholic music in Göteborg sometimes

The quality of music in the Catholic church is remarkably variable. The singing is shared between several local choirs, supplemented by visiting ones. The singing is generally of a high standard. This is a good arrangement as it allows plenty of preparation and takes off the pressure of having to produce something every Sunday. One of the features of the Swedish liturgy is the widespread use of traditional Gregorian tunes, but set to Swedish. Music written for Latin texts can be used for Swedish translations with little adaptation required, which is not the case with English. However, the sound of the language is very different, with more consonants, mixed vowels and some back-of-palate sounds specific to the language. During the Easter Triduum, much of the liturgy was in Swedish sung to the Gregorian tunes.

There is a bit of a fashion to sing in English, which probably should not be happening in the context of a Catholic liturgy, but works by the earlier composers such as Tallis are perfectly acceptable. As always, more problematic are some the twentieth century composition, whether they are the difficult material written from the 1920s onwards, or the English settings with banal words and music in the popular idiom, written more recently. A visiting choir last week, from Oslo were competent singers but their choice was questionable - a rendering of something that sounded as if it had been turned out by a composer who had earned his livelihood from writing jingles for 1960s TV commercials.

On the other hand, there is the local Gossekör, a junior group, who are consistently good. A couple of weeks ago they sung music by Byrd and Palestrina, but unfortunately it was a concert performance of music that really belonged in the liturgy, where it would have gone down much better. Today they did everything right with a rendering of a Haydn Mass setting that would have done credit to the London Oratory, and an English piece by an Elizabethan composer at the Communion.

fredag 4 maj 2012

New improved English Mass translation

New improved translation notwithstanding, the use of English in the Catholic liturgy remains problematical. The English language is one of the battlefields on which the English speaking world's class war, racism, and regional prejudice is fought out.

As soon as anyone opens their mouth and says a few words in English, they are pigeonholed. An Oxbridge accent is perceived as "too posh". People with some regional or colonial accents are perceived as stupid and poorly educated. This is precisely what is not wanted in the liturgy. It is at best a distraction and can be destructive.

Even stranger is the widespread use in non-English speaking countries, of English in the liturgy. The idea has grown up that English has become a universal common language, replacing Latin. Often the priest's English is heavily accented, whilst the readers have strange accents from rural areas of the USA, incomprehensible to anyone not from that locality.

A further issue relates to the music. Gregorian settings of Latin texts do not go well into English because the rhythm of the language is different. Most settings for the 1969 ICEL translation are in a 1970-s pop-music idiom and showing their age badly.

In my view the celebration of Mass in English should not be the norm, but kept for special situations, for example as an aid to catechesis. Otherwise, it would be advantageous if the Extraordinary Form of the mass were that which was normally celebrated, ie in Latin, mostly silently and with the priest facing the same way as the rest of the congregation.

Virus questions - and the Swedish exception

Is there a link to particular pre-existing conditions, including diabetes, pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome? Is there a link to particu...