söndag 30 december 2012

Popes eat babies

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.

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.

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