måndag 27 oktober 2014

What is the point of English Masses for students?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


tisdag 21 oktober 2014

Winning Catholics back to the church

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

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

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

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

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

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

måndag 20 oktober 2014

Irrelevant synod on the family

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

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

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

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

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

onsdag 15 oktober 2014

Cultural Marxist take on Purcell

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

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

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

måndag 6 oktober 2014

Good Muslims must cut loose from Islam

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

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

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

In praise of Aspergers

We should take a moment now and again to acknowledge the fact that civilisation as we know it would never have arisen if it were not for the...