söndag 20 augusti 2017

The Journey East #5

Catholic Mass obligations
With the Tridentine Masses suspended for the holidays, I could not face the Novus Ordo vernacular Masses with Lutheran hymns which were all that was on offer in the Catholic church locally. I would come out feeling irritated and unsatisfied, if not outright angry at the liturgical vandalism verging on abuse.

The question that arises is this. Catholics have an obligation to go to Mass every Sunday. I have not missed going to Mass every Sunday, but the Masses I have attended have been Orthodox liturgies. Is this a sin that needs to be confessed? Can it even be confessed? Can a priest give absolution? If, at some point in the future I am received into the Orthodox church, what is the situation then?

The following reply came to my response on Fr Blake's blog
Physiocrat, I generally find that when somebody asks if something is a sin which needs to be confessed, they already know the answer - yes.

Our Lord did not invite us to pick up our crosses and follow Him only when the going was easy and edifying. We have to carry on carrying on even when we are wading knee-high in filth. Sometimes that might mean enduring banal, puke-making Masses like the rest of us have to endure on a more-or-less regular basis. You never know, God might give you the opportunity to bring a suffering Novusordo-ite to the knowledge and delight of the traditional Mass.

My response was
You might be correct about the sin in the interim period - that was why I asked, but the real question that arises is that "banal, puke-making Masses like the rest of us have to endure on a more-or-less regular basis" are unworthy as worship and spiritually damaging. Their universality also calls into question the claims of the Catholic church itself to be the one true church founded by Jesus Christ himself. How can we be sure that we are not in a schismatic and heretical church founded in 1054?

I am not sure there is any spiritual merit in putting up with atrocious liturgy. There is a failure here which stems from the top of the hierarchy and passes all the way down. We, the faithful are entitled to a worthy liturgy for our spiritual well being. If the shepherds do not feed the sheep, what should the sheep do?

Then there is the use of the vernacular. Latin is both a sign of Catholicity and a means of maintaining it. Having abandoned the universal language, can the Catholic church claim to be a universal church? This is not a theoretical thing - my own parish is divided into Swedes, Poles, Hungarians, Italians, Spaniards, Slovenians, Slovakians, Croatians, English speakers - all Latin Rite Catholics - who hardly ever get to meet. There is not much universality in a church where the priest struggles to celebrate Mass in a language in which he is not proficient.

The problem originates in the monarchical claims of the Bishop of Rome. If the Papacy had held to the Orthodox view as first among equals, these liturgical changes could never have happened. Once one starts looking at the Orthodox position, other subtle but important points emerge, such as the Filioque clause, both in its substance and the manner in which it was adopted, Transubstantiation, the Immaculate Conception, Purgatory, Original Sin, the use of statues, the design of churches, even the Sign of the Cross.

The Roman changes are all subtly damaging in different ways. The Catholic view of Transubstantiation seems to be that it is necessary only for the words of consecration to be pronounced by a validly ordained priest, whereas the Orthodox seem to take the far more sensible position that Christ becomes really present within the overall action which includes the building in which the liturgy is held, the music, and the Liturgy in its entirety. If the latter view was held, nobody would even have considered messing with the liturgy.

Orthodoxy is not a light and easy option to be followed because of the beauty of the liturgy, where, incidentally, standing is obligatory for most of the time, usually between 1 1/2 and two hours. It is a tough choice. During the fast periods only vegan food is permitted. There are not only the Advent and Lent fasts; there are also the four week fast before the Feast of St Peter and St Paul and a two week fast before the Feast of the Dormition (Assumption). In addition, with a couple of exceptions in the year, Wednesday and Friday in the non-fasting periods are vegan days.

The Orthodox Eucharistic fast begins at midnight and nothing, not even water, may be taken before receiving not just the sacrament but also applies to the antidoron.

If you just want some nice music, there are easier ways of getting it than by going to an Orthodox liturgy. You could stay in bed on a Sunday morning, have a leisurely breakfast and listen to whatever you want in comfort.

Fr Blake's original piece referred to the small numbers attending the EF Mass. It is a tiny minority within the church. The real picture is of a majority accepting the NO Mass but within that group an impending catastrophic decline, for which the 1960s liturgical reforms must bear an important responsibility.

The Journey East #4

A great blessing
The choir in our local Serbian church is now back in full force. They sing in the Russian tradition, in the same style as this broadcast. How fortunate can one be to have such a thing almost on one's doorstep?

fredag 18 augusti 2017

The Journey East #3

The local situation
The Catholic church in my part of the world is apparently in quite good shape. However, the liturgy is resolutely Lutheran in style and content. Far from the influence of Rome, it has become so thoroughly Lutheranised that Catholic services are almost indistinguishable from those of Svenska Kyrkan; any traditional Catholic music which happens to make its way into a Catholic Mass does so through a smörgåsbord approach to liturgy which draws primarily on Lutheran and English Anglican and Nonconformist sources. Sometimes, the result is hilarious, as when Britain’s favourite funeral hymn, “Abide with me”, was used a couple of years ago at an ordination!

I do not agree with the view of some Catholic traditionalists, that the Novus Ordo Mass is not valid. My objection is to the way it is almost invariably celebrated, which contravenes the guidelines in Sacrosanctum Concilium and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal to the point of abuse. Thus, in practice, if I am not to end up getting angry and in no condition to receive communion, I have to find a Mass in the Extraordinary Form. At my local parish it is squeezed in on a Saturday evening between a Spanish Mass and a Polish one, squeezed being the operative word when the Spanish one runs over time and the Poles are wandering in during the distribution of communion, so that one has to climb over them to get back to ones place. It is also celebrated on Sundays at a religous house out of town at 12 noon, not a convenient time for a lot of people, and at a cost of 82kr, about €8.5, for the return journey.

But it is not celebrated consistently or reliably. There are only the two priests who are willing to say it; the others are firmly opposed. So it stops when the priests are on holiday or sick, and in practice that means much of the summer.

In that situation it is tempting to look to the east for a consistently worthy form of worship. With the large influx of Christians from Orthodox countries, we are spoilt for choice.

onsdag 16 augusti 2017

The Journey East #2

The state of the Catholic Church
A few years ago I visited Riga, the capital of Latvia. At 9.30 in the evening, a crowd of young people came streaming out of a Catholic church in the city centre. This speaks of a church in a healthy condition. It is exceptional for Europe. In most of Western Europe, it is in accelerating decline. The picture is better in Poland but there too, it is not what it was, as secularisation takes hold. In France and Germany, and in formerly solid Catholic countries such as Spain and Italy, the Catholic church has seen near-collapse.

It is the same story in the English speaking world: Britain, the USA, Australia; the Irish Republic, formerly a bastion of Catholicism, have experienced a precipitous decline in Mass attendance and vocations to the priesthood.

In other former Catholic strongholds around the world, including South America and the Philippines, the loss has been to the evangelicals, supported from the US with vast financial resources behind them.

The Swedish exception?
There are, indeed, few countries in the world where the Catholic Church is in a healthy condition. Latvia, mentioned above, is one. Sweden is perhaps another. It was boosted by immigration and a stream of converts from the Lutheran State Church. However, even here, things are not looking as bright as they did a decade ago. The immigrant groups keep apart from each other. When parishes have Masses in half-a-dozen different languages, there is less opportunity for social gathering across the national divides. The children of the immigrants have tended to drift away. Given the extent of migration and travel, the switch from Latin to vernacular liturgy could not have happened at a worse time, for Latin was both a sign of the church's Catholicity and a means for maintaining that Catholicity.

Had the Swedish Cardinal and his advisers understood this, they would have acted vigorously to promote the universal use of Latin, and the once universally known music that goes with the Latin, in the Catholic church in Sweden. In particular, the Tridentine Mass is peculiarly suited to this situation, as the priest recites the Mass silently while the congregation follow printed texts which can be in any language as required. After all, a look at the Catholic church elsewhere shows that that tiny minority of parishes and congregations which have held to, or revived, the use of Latin and Gregorian chant have been an exception to the general trend of decline, so this could only have been beneficial in the long run.

In the meantime, at the Rome HQ...

UK electrification schemes cancelled #2

The new GW electrification is noteworthy for the chunkiness of the overhead structures, which are heavier than the notably solid gantries installed for the 1500kV Great Eastern electrification which was installed in 1949. One of the reasons for the adoption of 25kV electrification was that the smaller current flows made it possible to use thinner and lighter contact wires, and consequently lighter and cheaper structures. The Great Western's tunnel of steel must come at a commensurately heavy price, which has helped to push further electrification schemes into the realm of the unaffordable.

The overhead structures for the 15kV system used in Switzerland, Germany and Sweden are like gossamer in comparison. What has happened to let loose this orgy of over engineering?

UK electrification schemes cancelled #1

I have tried without success to discover the underlying reason why major UK electrification schemes have been cancelled.

As I understand it, electrification costs have increased due to new regulations which require more generous clearances in relation to 25kV overhead wires and on-train equipment. What I have not been able to find out is where these new regulations have come from. As far as I can mak out, their immediate source is  the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), which has adopted Electricity at Work Regulations. But when and where have these come from? Has there been an input from the EU's regulatory bodies?

If they are an EU requirement, was there an application for derogation having regard to the special circumstances in the UK? If not, why not?

To whom, if anyone, is the ORR answerable?

måndag 14 augusti 2017

The Journey East #1

I became a Catholic in 1975. The circumstances of my conversion are summarised here. The subsequent four decades proved to be a something of an ordeal as the Catholic church underwent a period of radical change, to the point that I can hardly recognise it as the church I joined. This manifested at parish level in ways that were distressing for a great many. The reforms were a major factor in the implosion of the Catholic church in recent times. There was a widespread loss of faith. A handful went off to SSPX. People returning after a break during their teens found a church so different that they were unable to relate to it. My own experiences of this period are recorded in this series of seven blogs, Four decades of Catholic music.

From the mid-1990s, however, it looked as if a recovery was beginning, following the publication of books by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, such as "The Spirit of the Liturgy", and Fr Michael Lang's "Turning towards the Lord". Then, in 2005 came the election of Pope Benedict and Summorum Pontificum, which set free the Tridentine Mass, with the declared intention that it should influence the celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass, henceforth to be referred to as the "Ordinary Form" (OF). My own parish priest at St Mary Magdalen's, Brighton, embraced this "reform of the reform" with enthusiasm. There was indeed progress.

And then came Benedict's mysterious resignation in 2013 and his replacement by Pope Francis. It was immediately evident that he had no sympathy for moderating the changes which have taken hold since 1970, despite the fact that they are clearly not what was originally intended by the Vatican Council fathers, or are outright liturgical abuses.

With hindsight, the reform of the reform canbe seen to have been exceptional and sporadic. The slide has resumed, stiffened by support from "head office". Locally, the majority of priests refuse to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. In fact, they resist the use of Latin at all. They regard it as anachronistic and elitist, dismissing those who attend Latin Masses as reactionaries; in this, they are not entirely wrong, since the Tridentine Mass occurs at marginal times and only enthusiasts would seek it out.

Locally, there has been no improvement in the way the OF Mass is celebrated in the ten years I have been in the parish. It is on its third organist since I arrived ten years yet the overall sound of the Mass remains resolutely Protestant. The Proper is replaced by the obligatory four hymns which are almost invariably Lutheran, Anglican or English Nonconformist classics. The spirit of this music is entirely at odds with the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass in its traditional Catholic understanding.

I find it difficult even to maintain my hold on what is happening in the liturgy; indeed, I find it hard to avoid getting angry at the willful discarding of our musical tradition and the crass ugliness of what has replaced it.

Then there was the morning when I had to receive communion from a female Extraordinary Minister wearing jeans so tight that it was a wonder how she had managed to squeeze into them; kneeling down before reception of the host... That is not a spiritual state in which one can receive communion with a good conscience.

Other recent events have also disturbed me. There was the Pope's visit to Sweden last autumn. There were three funerals of parishioners who had been devoted followers of the Tridentine Mass, one of a man who died tragically young at the end of 2015, and the other two of very old men who had attended the Tridentine Mass whenever they could. A Tridentine Requiem would have been an obvious and natural choice for all three, but it did not happen.

In the overall scheme of things, we are, it must be said, fortunate in having two local priests who are willing to celebrate the Tridentine Mass at all; our parish priest, when he is not away, now celebrates once a week on a weekday evening, and on Saturday evenings; these are moderately well attended. Another, based out of town, celebrates on Sunday though at an inconvenient time and has congregations usually in single figures. But there is no continuity; there are weeks on end when it does not happen at all. Realistically, this speaks of an institution, and people, who stand on at the margin of the Catholic church.

The same applies to the use of traditional Catholic music within the context of the OF liturgy. It has been reduced to the status of items that can be picked from a buffet-table of choices. There is no sense or understanding that the liturgy is something given and fixed, which has to be performed as an essential component of the work of the Church.

So I find myself right on the fringe, to the point that there is almost no-one to whom I can even express my concerns without being attacked or regarded as a crank. It is not a good place to be.

Another disappointing Catholic moment

Yesterday morning's BBC4 Sunday Worship was from a Catholic establishment in Northern Ireland. With a slot of only 45 minutes, there is no time for a Mass, but there was no reason why the music played could not have drawn on the ancient tradition of the Catholic church. There was none. All we got were a few hackneyed popular hymns: Holy God, Morning has broken and Amazing Grace.

The recording is available until 10th September.

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