torsdag 11 juli 2013

Is this a joke?

The new Thameslink trains from Siemens look like a near-copy of the old and unloved class 319 Thameslink train from BREL, apart from the even uglier front end and the lower bodyside curvature which will reduce the width at floor level. The doors and windows appear to be in exactly the same place. Why on earth didn't they just order some more class 377 units from Bombardier and avoid the row over the loss of jobs at Derby? How much did it cost in consultancy to develop this specification?

onsdag 10 juli 2013

Traditional Latin Mass phobia - continued

I have had some discussions with a priest recently on this subject. It has to be admitted that the Tridentine (Extraordinary Form) Mass has attracted, amongst others, a dubious clientele from the extreme right wing of the political spectrum, and not a few anti-semites amongst them. He does not want to attract with people with these kinds of attitudes or be seen to be associated with them.

There are two sides to this issue. From the congregation's perspective, there is little difference between a Novus Ordo Mass celebrated in accordance with the definitive Latin texts in the Missa Normativa, with the chants from the 1974 Graduale Romanum. Thus it is a post-Vatican Two liturgy and people who deny the validity of the Council and its liturgy will keep away. There are problems with it, as described here, but it is good enough - in fact, it is hard to see the differences unless you know what to look for. The lack of silence can be remedied by saying the prayers for the Offertory and Canon in a low voice with the sound system switched off.

From the priest's perspective, however, the two forms of the Mass are very different. Priests who have been celebrating the Extraordinary Form report that it has transformed their spiritual life. Thus it is something priests need to make up their own mind about.

The solution to the problem of the extremist fringe has to be to make the Extraordinary Form much more widely available, to the point that it is taken for granted again. It needs to be reclaimed for the mainstream of the church if only for its real practical advantages - for instance, it gets round the problems of bad acoustics, bad sound systems, the difficulties of addressing polyglot congregations, clergy who are not fluent in the local language, and musicians who want to impose their creativity on the parish.

This will take time, but the flexibility of the Novus Ordo Mass makes it possible to introduce the Missa Normativa gradually through a series of one-by-one changes over a period of a year or so.

In the meantime, it would be a good thing if priests learned to say Mass in the Extraordinary Form, but celebrated it discreetly in private or with small congregations, without publicity. They would then have the opportunity of making an informed judgement about whether or not to introduce it to their congregations and how they should go about it. There is a lot to be said for making it a weekday evening event - for example, on First Fridays or something like that. This has the advantage that when it falls on a feast day, which typically happens once or twice a year, it can take the form of a Missa Cantata and justifies having a more elaborate liturgy.

lördag 6 juli 2013

I went to a Tridentine Mass and didn't like it

I was in a discussion recently with someone who is vigorous in her dislike of the "Tridentine Mass". She has actually been a couple of times, but, it seems, reluctantly, because it was the only one available.

The picture I get is this. She was not there from choice. This suggests, though I might be wrong, that she had not done any work in the way of preparation. For example, there is a raft of theological reasons why the priest and congregation face the same way, just as Orthodox Christians, Jews and Moslems always do and Catholics almost always did until about 1965. The most accessible explanation is given in "Turning Towards the Lord" by Fr Uwe Lang. The reasons for the other differences, and the extended silences, are explained in "The Spirit of the Liturgy" by Joseph Ratzinger.

Neither of the books is long or difficult but she would have had a little bit of reading to do in order to appreciate what was going on, otherwise she would have been in the position of someone who goes to an opera without knowing the plot.

Unless and until she had read those book or given someone the opportunity to explain the reasons, she will have felt, and will feel upset that the priest was "turning his back on the congregation", and probably bored by the silence.

Sport is a good analogy here. If you don't know anything about football you will just see a couple of dozen men on a patch of grass kicking a ball around, regardless of whether the game is between local teams or an international championship playing to the highest standard. If, on the other hand, you know something about the game, you will understand the difference in skill levels and strategy. This difference is qualitative. Millions of people appreciate football played at a high level.

To understand what is happening in a Usus Antiquior Mass it is necessary to have some extra instruction, explanation and indeed catechesis, which would in fact deepen understanding not only of the Mass but of the Faith itself. The reason why people are satisfied with the Novus Ordo is that they have not had this catechesis. Were they to have it, they would realise that the whilst the NO is valid and Christ is really present, is an incomplete set of signs. They would then no longer be satisfied with the Novus Ordo Mass as it is so widely celebrated.

Talking of signs raises other issues related to the context in which Mass is celebrated. Even when it is done quite nicely, the effect tends to be bland and does not convey a sense of conviction. 1970s church architecture not help. There might be a few attractive features, but the overall appearance of the buildings, the decorations, the vestments and the entire presentation of the Mass too often seems to have got firmly stuck in the year 1975. A lot has happened since then but it seems as if nobody has noticed.

fredag 5 juli 2013

Anything but Catholic

Coca Cola!
If you are Jewish you can go to a synagogue anywhere in the world and will be able to join in the prayers, in Hebrew. There is a good chance that you will even know the music and be able to join in the singing.

The same used to be true, a fortiori, in the Catholic church, which once offered a worldwide "product" worldwide. The Latin language, and the music which went with the liturgy, was both a sign of the church's universality and an important means by which it was sustained. It had important practical benefits too: for example, a priest could celebrate the same Mass wherever he was.

Then came the Second Vatican Council and its relaxation of the rules, stating that the vernacular may be used. The word "may" is permissive. In this instance, it would mean that Mass would normally be celebrated in Latin, as before, but that there were special situations where the local vernacular language might be appropriate.

Had this been held to, there would have been no problem. Unfortunately this permissiveness proved to be a case of "give an inch, take a mile". Within ten years of the Second Vatican Council, Latin had been pushed to the margins, mostly, it has to be said, by direction from above and against the will of the people. What it led to was a splitting of the church, and with the waves of immigration in the past 20 years, to a splitting of local parishes into language groups.

A generation of people has grown up who argue that the use of the vernacular in the Mass enables them to "understand" it. This is to ignore all recent evidence from a wide range of scientific disciplines, which has shown that most human communication is non-verbal and takes place below the level of conscious awareness. At a practical level, we have ended up with a church that is anything but Catholic in the sense of being universal. You can go to a Mass in a foreign country, and whilst you will obviously have a good grasp of what is going on, precisely because most of the communication is at a non-verbal level, you will not be able to participate in any of it in the way that Catholics could have done in the past.

Where there has been immigration, mission priests have been provided who say Mass in the language of the immigrants' home country. They then socialise after '"their" Mass and hardly ever get to meet the rest of the parish who socialise separately after "their" Masses. Thus the Catholic church becomes an ethnic minority church and is no longer Catholic. Since the second generation are likely to want to throw off their status as immigrants, the chances are that after they are old enough to be given the choice, they will never go inside a Catholic church again.

This is the Catholic church in auto-destruct mode and a vociferous group see nothing wrong with this state of affairs.

onsdag 3 juli 2013

Ecclesiastical bling

Why do people need this kind of candy? The explanation is starting to be put on a scientific basis as a result of recent work in brain physiology, neurology, linguistics and psychology. As the findings in these separate but related disciplines are put together, some sort of an explanation is beginning to emerge. It seems as if spoken language addresses the most recent (in evolutionary terms) structures of the brain. And the act of thinking is also largely non-verbal and takes place below the level of awareness.

Movement and gestures affect the older and longer-established brain structures. The brain is now known to contain "mirror neurons". This work like this. Movements are activated by particular neurons in the person making the action and the same neurons in your own brain are activated if you are watching the person making the movement. This is due to the presence of these mirror neurons. This activity of the brain has been detected through the use of new techniques of functional imaging.

The effect is to give rise to feelings and changes of mood as they affect one of the core structures of the brain known as the hypothalamus.

This recent knowledge has yet to be incorporated into philosophy and theology. The Freemasons have always understood this as they use their elaborate ceremonial to put across their philosophical ideas founded on Gnosticism and Neoplatonism. In the light of this knowledge, the V2 liturgists did exactly the wrong thing. A more effective reform would have been to bring the liturgy as closely into line with Byzantine practice. The endurance of Byzantine Christianity would explain why they would have a sound understanding of faith even if they were less thorough in their theoretical studies. It becomes grained-in through experience of the liturgy itself. As the old saying goes, Lex orandi, Lex credendi.

Theology must assimilate contemporary science

Arguments about the liturgy roll on. In my view it was a key factor in the implosion of the Catholic church in the last four decades. The reforms drove some people away altogether, and their withdrawal from the active life of the church cannot just be explained away as inadequate faith. There is a limit to the amount of liturgical abuse that people can be expected to tolerate.

As the years wore on, those teenagers who had, as often happens, left the church before the reforms, returned in later life to find a church they could no longer recognise and relate to. Thus an important source of (re)-recruitment was lost. A further issue was, and remains, the use of special liturgies for children and indeed the infantilisation of the mainstream liturgy, which made the church childish-seeming and something to grow out of.

I believe that the problems with the liturgy can be understood by reference to
  1. the anthropological theories developed by Barthes and Levi-Strauss in the 1960s, as these referred to earlier work on semiotics by Saussure and others,
  2. the cross disciplinary work on lingustics and psychology and
  3. recent work on neuro-psychology and brain function, with an input from genetics and evolutionary theory.
The results of this work has been quickly grasped by those with an interest in making money by selling things. The big advertising and publicity companies, for instance, of necessity, employ staff with a sound grasp of these subject areas, but it seems that it has yet to find its way into theology and related disciplines.

There is a huge amount of recent cross-disciplinary material to be assembled and  integrated into contemporary theology. To cut a long story short, it would be concluded that the old saying lex orandi, lex credendi applies. Whilst the simplified form of Novus Ordo will continue to have its place - it is perfectly satisfactory, useful indeed, for example, in small communities for weekday use, and for didactic purposes - public celebration of the liturgy, especially in large spaces or when a lot of people are present, the Extraordinary Form needs to be the norm.

Please stop this silly criticism of the Pope

I wish people would stop criticising the Pope, mostly because of the way he dresses. It is not my cup of tea but it takes at least 100 years to make a judgement on a particular pope. Every one has a different task for a different time. This one needs to cleanse the augean stables that the Vatican has seemingly turned into.

Benedict stressed the need for "reform of the reform" and the need to develop Catholic Social Teaching. After more 120 years of Catholic Social Teaching since Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, it remains deficient. Benedict's encyclical Caritas in Veritate effectively takes the subject back to square one, whilst Summorum Pontificum and the accompanying letter point the way to necessary liturgical reform.

The Benedictine liturgical reforms now need to be driven through, especially at the local level. The laity also need to address the deficiencies in Catholic Social Teaching, working from the ideas set out in Caritas in Veritate. Discussion of the colour of the papal footwear is a damaging distraction and discredits those who keep on talking about the subject.

If issues relating to these matters lead to conflict, they have to be resolved through the use of reason and modern scientific knowledge, particularly in the field of cognitive psychology, a subject whose insights need particularly to be brought to bear on the subject of liturgy.

tisdag 2 juli 2013

Gissa vart spårvagnar går?

Göteborgs spårvagnar rullar i tjänst utan linjeskyltar. Problemet uppståd i början av förre sommar. Förklaringen är att skyltar använder ett...