lördag 29 april 2017

Things we Catholics do #2 - Eucharistic devotion

Eucharistic devotion is the practice of worship of the consecrated host which is really and truly the Body of Christ. It takes several forms.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is the use of the consecrated host as an object to meditate upon, rather as Buddhists might contemplate a mandala or Orthodox Christians an ikon. The host is placed in a monstrance, a container with glass windows at front and rear. It is held in position by a clip called a lunette. Monstrances come in two main patterns. The Gothic pattern resembles a reliquary. The monstrance on the altar in the photograph is the more common sunburst style, which seems to date from the Baroque period and may have originated in Peru, since the Incas had a sun-god cult and depicted their deity as a sun.

Benediction is a short service with hymns and a short period of contemplation of the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance. The hymns usually sung are to texts composed by St Thomas Aquinas: O salutaris hostia, and the last two verses of Pange lingua, Tantum ergo, and Psalm 116 with the antiphon Adoremus in aeternum. Benediction usually includes some kind of litany such as The Divine Praises.

Blessed Sacrament processions. These usually takes place on the Feast of Corpus Christi. The priest carries the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament, and walks either under a canopy called a baldacchino, with four bearers or under an ombrellino (an umbrella-like canopy) carried by a single bearer. These are flanked by torch-bearers and preceded by a thurifer carrying a censor with incense.

The Feast of Corpus Christi is a feast in honour of the Blessed Sacrament. It was instituted in the thirteenth century in obedience to the vision of a nun, the Blessed Juliana of Liege, a Praemonstratensian (Norbertine) Canoness. This was at about the same time as St Thomas Aquinas was developing the doctrine of Transubstantiation; he composed the text for the liturgy for the feast day, including the long sequence Lauda Sion Salvatorem and the processional hymn Pange lingua. The introit to the Mass is a beautiful Gregorian tune to the text Cibavit eos. The feast is celebrated on the first available Thursday after the Easter season, ie the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. These days, unfortunately, the feast day is usually moved to the following Sunday, which breaks the connection with Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper, and it is rare to hear the Latin texts with their special and characteristic tunes. This is particularly sad as these post-Vatican 2 changes have lost us a quintessentially Catholic feast.

None of these devotions would have been possible for practical reasons if the Latin church had not adopted the practice of using unleavened bread for the eucharist and they could therefore not exist in the Orthodox churches. They are a medieval development and grew up after the Great Schism. Whether we should really be following them at all is a question that we might usefully consider. Our Lord's command was to take and eat my Body and drink my Blood. Chapter 6 of St John's gospel makes it clear that these were not symbolic; that is why we are told the Jews were shocked at this teaching. However, eucharistic devotion is a big step beyond eating and drinking. As number XXV of the Anglican articles of faith puts it, "The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them."

Whether the Anglicans are right about this is another matter, but it is worth remembering that the practice is not followed in any of the other ancient apostolic churches so they might just have a point.

Things we Catholics do #1 - unleavened bread

The custom of the Latin Rite Catholic Church is to celebrate Mass with unleavened bread. The priest uses a large wafer (about 8 cm diameter) which is broken at the "fractionation", whilst the congregation receive individual small wafers (about 3 cm diameter) which may have been consecrated at the same Mass but have more often been consecrated at a previous Mass and stored in a silver vessel called a ciborium, which is kept in a locked safe known as the "tabernacle". In a traditionally configured Catholic church, the tabernacle is placed on the altar and the two, together with the altar, form the focus of attention. In a sense, it is the equivalent of the ark in a Jewish synagogue, containing the scrolls of the Law, the Torah.

The interesting thing is why we do this? When you search for this subject on the internet, the explanation given is that unleavened bread (matzot) was used at the Last Supper which was a Passover meal. However, the Last Supper was held on the Thursday. Scripture states that Good Friday was Preparation Day for the Passover ie 14th Nisan, which in the year of the crucifixion would have begun on the Thursday night. Contrary to what is commonly believed, therefore, the Last Supper was not a Seder.

What of the bread? Orthodox Jews start to clear the house of chametz on the evening of 14th Nisan. There is also a prohibition on eating food that is Kosher for Passover on Erev Pesach. Consequently, the practice in some Jewish households, of using matzot just before Passover because all the leaven (chametz) has been cleared away is incorrect. Thus the bread used at the Last Supper may have possibly been matzot but was probably not . On the other hand, the bread broken at Emmaus on the evening of the day of the Resurrection most certainly was.

However, also contrary to what is commonly believed, the Mass is not a re-enactment of the Last Supper but a representation of the Sacrifice of Calvary. Given that most of the Eastern churches use leavened bread for the Eucharist, and that they have generally preserved Jewish custom and that of the early church more faithfully, the use of unleavened bread leaves a puzzle, even though we take it for granted.

The puzzle does not stop there because if leavened bread was used, after consecration it could not be "reserved" in the tabernacle for use at a later Mass, nor would eucharistic adoration and processions be possible. That will be the subject of a future piece.

tisdag 25 april 2017

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 people, mostly males, with Asperger's Syndrome.

Both Newton and Einstein have been retrospectively diagnosed with the condition. Most of our technology could not have been brought to a workable condition without individuals having Asperger's Syndrome. Think about this next time you travel in a train, confident that you will arrive safely: what "normal" person would have the patience, persistence and attention to detail to design the railway signalling system on which your life depends?

Without the men with Asperger's Syndrome who developed the technology you are using to read this, we would probably not even have developed to the point of writing things down by making marks in wet clay.

A disgraceful prison sentence

A twenty-year old man, Adam Mudd, has been sentenced to two years in prison for creating, when he was 16, a program, which carried out more than 1.7m attacks on websites including Minecraft, Xbox Live and Microsoft and TeamSpeak, a chat tool for gamers. He earned the equivalent of more than £386,000 in US dollars and bitcoins from selling the program to cyber criminals.

Mudd was said to be a high-functioning Asperger case. Clearly he was not entirely responsible for his actions. The suspended sentence requested by the defence would have been reasonable in the circumstances. It was refused.

The approach seems entirely wrong. Those who have been affected should be suing the suppliers of the software and computer services, since they are responsible for creating the situation in the first place by releasing insecure software.

People who are able to crack computer security systems should be employed to make sure the systems offered to the public, commerce and government are as secure as possible; an Asperger's diagnosis is probably an essential qualification for the job. They should not be locked away in prison.

torsdag 6 april 2017

Brtain's poor productivity - again

"Britain’s poor productivity performance before, during and after the financial crisis of a decade ago has left a gap of 16% with the other six members of the G7 group of industrial nations. International comparisons published by the Office for National Statistics show that output per hour worked continued to lag well behind the US, Germany and France in 2015 – the last year for which data is available"

Article in Guardian.

Oh dear. The entire concept of "productivity" is dubious. If it applicable anywhere, then it is within manufacturing industry where sub-optimal productivity can be due to factors such as
  • wastage
  • defective work which has to be rectified
  • poor design for efficient production
  • poor organisation of the workflow
  • time kept waiting for components or raw materials to arrive
  • obsolescent equipment
  • unsuitable premises
These are management issues. There is still a tendency in British industry for the managers not to talk to the lower orders - the people who are working in the front line; handing down orders from on high, they stay in their offices and fail to grasp the nature of the tasks they are managing.

There are many occupations, however, where there is little or no scope for increases in productivity. Assuming that their work timetable does not result in a waste of staff time, how could a bus driver or a train driver or a nurse or a surgeon become more productive?

Statistics can aggregate that which should not be aggregated, to the point that they may be meaningless. There may be, and probably is, a problem with UK productivity, but raw figures like these are best taken with a pinch of salt.

We should also not forget that an item at the factory gate in the UK is worth less than the same item at the factory gate in Germany, simply because the German factory has around 400 million potential customers to whom it can be delivered in a door-to-door run, whereas in the UK, there are 60 million customers, but the other 400 million are on the other side of a strip of water which has to be crossed.

Gissa vart spårvagnar går?

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