The Real Cost of the UK’s Monarchy

ORIGINALLY I WAS GOING TO FOCUS on the actual topic of a BBC online article which exposed to further view the tangled web the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have woven for themselves, in this case with regard to the alleged cutting off of Harry from his father’s funding. It looks like it might be a question of dating, but that rather proves the point: how tangled their web of claims and assertions.

However, being part of the modern world, I found myself triggered by one little paragraph in the article:

Accounts for the Sovereign Grant show the monarchy cost the taxpayer £87.5m during 2020-21, an increase of £18.1m on the previous financial year.

How long must we endure this misrepresentation , from the BBC no less (though, of course, the BBC has no longer any claim to objectivity in its reporting).

The monarchy costs the taxpayer nothing at all. Zilch. Nada. Nihil. The Sovereign Grant is paid out of the income of the Crown Estate, which remains the personal property of the sovereign but, since 1760, the revenues from the Estate go to the Treasury and put at the disposal of Parliament. In return for these perpetual revenues, a portion of them is granted to the Royal Family for its maintenance in light of the official duties of the Royal Family and the monarch’s constitutional role.

Last year the net revenues of the Queen’s Crown Estate were £269.3 million. Out of these revenues, (more…)

Obsessive or Prudent? Our Life Online.

PERHAPS WE ALL HAVE at least one obsession. Maybe it is a guilty obsession we keep to ourselves, or maybe it is one to which we feel an apostolic commitment. Some of us have more than one. This post is not directly about religion, but in a world ever more militantly secular and intolerant of dissent, dissent from the world’s norms has become a form of treason the penalty for which is “cancellation”. It is not government alone that tracks deviants from the prevailing norm, but also (and even more) big tech—through social media especially. Even as it assists in persuading us to accept the prevailing secular norm, so it exploits us through data mining, and channelling our economic activity for their own profit.

The Uighurs in western China may perhaps serve as an emblem for this. We are to be rid of our religious culture, and made to conform to the socio-cultural, and economic, priorities of the establishment. I mean no belittling of the plight of the Uighurs. They are the canaries in the global mine. Their plight is a warning to us. The late Martin Niemöller’s lament is as relevant today, with only the names changed:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—but there was no one left to speak for me.

Once I hd been a fervent supporter of Google—former motto, Don’t be evil. I am not kidding you: they have ditched that from their Code of Conduct. Recently its underlying marketing principle has emerged clearly into the light of day: offer free things, make them really great, hook in the users till they are as good as dependent, and then start charging money in the expectation that most users will find paying up an easier option than changing. If necessary, buy up others’ programs, expand their user base by offering them for free, and then kill off the program and replace it with a Google alternative, eventually requiring payment.

The Problem

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Marx and the Masses

LET’S BEGIN WITH the Masses. I mean not the proletariat of course, but the sacred liturgy. It seems that Mass is yet again le sujet chaud. Only because there is a rumour, the heat of which has been increased by the appointment of Archbishop Roche as Prefect of Divine Worship, that the Extraordinary Form of the Mass (until very recently the only form) is to be forbidden again. The mechanism suspected is an abrogation of Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum.

Given the incomprehensible, indeed incredible, prohibition recently of so-called private Masses at St Peter’s in Rome, a fantastical rumour that turned out to be accurate (though the act is arguably illegal), the fears are not irrational. Yet one can hope they are unfounded. It would be a remarkable own-goal should an attempt to inhibit the old Mass be repeated. As Rome, including Pope Francis, is battling to avoid the schism that looms on the horizon with the upcoming German general synod, to forbid the old Mass would be to throw a match into the ammunition dump marked ”schism.“ For what good purpose? To champion the Ordinary Form of the Mass? To make the Mass the cause of schism would be as good as sacrilegious. If the Ordinary Form really needs such draconian measures to bolster its uptake then there is an elephant in the room that needs to be dealt with. Then we have the utter absurdity of portraying as divisive the Mass that served, united and nourished the western Church for a millennium and a half. There is a loud faction in the Church that cries for liberty in morals but rigid uniformity in liturgy. (more…)

Vocations before the Council—A Snapshot

NOT ALL WAS UTOPIAN in the Church before Vatican II, even if since the Council she has grown increasingly dystopian. The danger we face today is to fall into the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Not everything that came after the Council can be simplistically explained away as a direct result of the Council, be that thing good or bad. The Council occurred at a particular point of time in history and culture, and the implementation of its decrees was a distinct phenomenon, which acted almost as a corrective to the deficiencies of the conciliar texts in the eyes of their implementers, and certainly as an interpretation of those texts according to an agenda that was not easily reconciled to the express will of the majority of the Council Fathers.

Should we have had a Council in the 1960s, of all decades? Well, as we shall soon discover with Covid, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

In 1956, two issues of the New York monthly, The Catholic Mind, ran pieces on issues confronting apostolic sisters’ congregations at the time. In the April edition, Sr Mary Emil IHM, of the only-recently-defunct Marygrove College in Detroit (from which a cornucopia of books have since been digitized and added to the Internet Archive), addressed in her article, among other things, “The Vocation Crisis:” (more…)

Holy Smoke! The Crisis we Face

BEFORE READING WHAT follows you would do well to listen first to that to which I am responding, namely Damian Thompson’s Spectator podcast, Holy Smoke. You can find it through your podcast apps or go to the online version here. It is about 38 minutes in length. He is joined by the ex-Anglican cleric Gavin Ashenden, and they reflect on both the Catholic Church and Anglican and other Protestant denominations. A number of interesting points are raised about the crisis in the Church precipitated by Covid. It is provocative, and not just of thoughts, and it merits an attentive hearing.

Damian Thompson

That word crisis figures early on in the podcast. In general English usage it tends to mean a moment of heightened tension or instability, the climax of a dramatic episode, a turning point. Ashenden rightly points out that the Greek word from which we take our word, κρίσις, has additional, and perhaps primary, meaning in Greek: not just a turning point, but a moment of judgment and decision. So coronamania represents a moment of crisis for the Church in that it represents a turning point, a moment when judgments must be made, and also the active decisions that flow from those judgments. Thompson’s opening declaration that this moment of crisis and the response of the bishops to it made him feel that “it’s all over” is a useful reminder that there is something apocalyptic about this crisis, again in the sense of the Greek origin of that word, ἀποκάλυψις, an uncovering or revelation. For Thompson their response to the Covid crisis reveals something about the bishops, both Catholic and Anglican. In fact, it reveals something about contemporary Christianity in general. (more…)

In Thanks for a Classic

“THE LORD GAVE, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) The experience of the previous few days has felt more in the line of the taking away, but today has been one of the giving. Today I discovered that friends (who will remain unnamed here to prevent blushes but who live within the realms of Her Majesty but not exactly in Britain, or in a dominion), have bestowed on me the unmerited kindness of a full five-volume set of the newly republished classic by (Blessed) Ildefonso Schuster OSB, The Sacramentary. The godliest kindness, and also blessing, is that which is unmerited.

It has been recently re-released, with an introudction by Gregory Di Pippo, by Arouca Press, the small Canadian Catholic publisher with a most arresting catalogue of works both old new. It is available in both soft- and hard-cover editions, and the price is remarkably modest. I will be speaking from the hardcover edition.

What makes this classic worthwhile today? (more…)

Shameless Self-Advertising

TODAY IS THE OFFICIAL PUBLICATION date of A Limerickal Commentary on the Second Vatican Council, a recent little labour of love of mine. It publishes for the first time a typescript set of limericks written by anglophone bishops during the Council.

Apart from being very witty, they offer an insight into how some celebrities and issues were being received among at least some of the bishops at the Council. They are a sort of para-commentary to be read alongside the formal, academic commentaries. They remind us that the Council Fathers were men with their own thoughts and insights, and not an ideologically-uniform body. It humanizes the Council just a little. (more…)

The Downside Decision—A Hasty Reflection

ON WEDNESDAY THE COMMUNITY at Downside Abbey, the oldest community in the English Benedictine Congregation (the EBC itself the second-oldest congregation in the Benedictine order), elected Dom Nicholas Wetz as the next Abbot of Downside. Dom Nicholas is a monk of Belmont Abbey and has been serving as prior administrator at Downside in recent years. The previous abbot’s departure was unhappy, and the burdens of the school—its expense, its governance and ongoing demands of safeguarding—have taken a further toll on the brethren at Downside. Separating the school from the community has been a complicated task.

Today the community at Downside announced that it has decided to move from its impressive home in the west country. Its new home is yet to be decided. There will be many factors to be taken into account in reaching a choice of new home. In the few hours since the announcement the reaction has principally been one of dismay. Downside is effectively synonymous with its glorious abbey church, with its soaring neo-gothic nave, exquisite side chapels, and a sacristy that is truly remarkable. With Dom Oswald Sumner it became noted in the twentieth century for its vestment making and most EBC houses will have sets from Downside, Douai included. Their design was very much in the monastic stream of the liturgical movement: conicals, semi-conicals, semi-gothics, in fine silks and adorned with elegant orphreys. (more…)

“That would be an ecumenical matter”—Dom Gregory Murray and Plainsong: an Exchange

DOM GREGORY MURRAY (1905-1992) of Downside Abbey was one of the great monastic musicians of the twentieth century. His organ works are held in especial regard, though he was no slouch on the chant. On the other hand, he prepared so comprehensively for the introduction of the vernacular in to the liturgy that he had everything ready for Downside to embrace from the outset a wholly English office. Years ago I heard a monk describe Murray as having been the rudest man in the English congregation. I cannot make a judgment on that claim.

Nevertheless in an exchange of letters in The Tablet in 1937 we can see that as a precocious young monk he was prepared neither to don velvet gloves nor to sugar his speech. (more…)

Covid-19: A Crisis for the Church

WHILE NOT DARING to speak for prelates, I feel fairly confident in saying that the Covid-19 pandemic caught most parochial clergy off-guard, and monasteries too. Witness the mad scramble to make provision for a congregation not merely forbidden from attending Mass, but from even entering their churches. (This raises the question of the purpose of our church buildings and to whom, at least morally, they belong, and to what degree we are accountable to God for their use; but that is not for now.)

The move to restrict the liturgy was no doubt a justifiable one. But the move to shut the churches completely came not from the government but from at least some of our own bishops has left many people disturbed. The government had been prepared to exempt churches but it was the bishops’ conference that approached the government asking for churches to be closed. It remains to be shown how an empty church with no more than a handful of people in private prayer, able effortlessly to practise social distancing, is more dangerous than a supermarket.

So, many of us have found ways to stream our daily Mass to allow parishioners, not excluding others of course, some sort of access to the “source and summit” of the Christian life, and a type of access also to their church. Given the age profile of many parishes, this has been of limited benefit in practice, but better than nothing. Some have been able to spend money on the necessary equipment, while others have made do; I use an old phone with a decent camera propped up on a Lenten offering stand. We have had to learn how to arrange things so that everything is at hand and visible in one frame, as there is no one to move the camera during the Mass. (more…)

How did the Pell case get so far—A smoking gun.

THERE ARE MANY exasperated (and utterly justified) questions as to how the case produced against Pell could have even made court in the first place. The judgment given in the (rare) unanimous decision of the full bench of the High Court of Australia to quash the conviction is, after all, quite clear despite the detached objectivity of the rhetoric common to legalese: the jury did not act rationally, and the judges of appeal (well, the majority of them that is) erred in not seeing this, even though their own reasoning should have led to this conclusion. The brutal conclusion is that neither the second jury (for whatever reason, but we can hazard an educated guess) nor the two majority judges of the Victorian Court of Appeal were did their jobs properly.

Take note too that these two judges are Victoria’s most senior judges: the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Anne Ferguson and the President of the Court of Appeal, Chris Maxwell.. The High Court has schooled them in their job, declaring their judgment in this case to be, to quote an interview with Professor Frank Brennan SJ, “dreadful.”

But let us go back a step further, to the matter of how it came before a jury on the first place, and how that jury was able to fail in its duty to act rationally. (more…)

Holy Week Justice for Pell

THE FULL BENCH OF THE HIGH COURT of Australia today unanimously granted George, Cardinal Pell special leave to appeal, which was heard instanter and allowed. All his convictions were quashed, and verdicts of acquittal ordered to be put in their place. He will be free for Easter when no doubt he will celebrate the Great Feast with a joy he has probably never known before.

The hate-fest has begun already on social media. Evidence is ignored if ever first consulted. Pell, a social and moral conservative in the eyes of secular Australia who stood for all that they hate about religion, and the Church most of all, and who had—beyond their wildest dreams—been accused of one of the worst of modern crimes.

Many issues will soon emerge and demand attention. (more…)

A Covid Blow to the Cult of Celebrity

IT IS TRULY AN ILL WIND indeed that blow no good at all. If ever there was an ill wind the Covid-19 epidemic would have to be one. Its arrival was greeted with an outbreak of hitherto more latent selfishness, as people brawled in supermarket aisles to secure vast quantities of toilet paper to hoard, or perhaps just as often, to re-sell at profiteering prices.

Yet, it is not all bad. Pollution has taken a punch to the guts. The shutdown of much industry, and the commuting this requires for its workforce, has seen air quality improve dramatically. That’s something, isn’t it? And we now take our health services less for granted than before and the media, desperate for heroes in times of crisis, has fixed on them for praise, and not without good cause. However, the attendant danger is that we lose sight of the small acts of individual fortitude and perseverance that occur on every street. Carers, for example, whose burdensome task is rendered even tougher in this time of lockdown.

Society needs hope, and it is no wonder that the media look for those who can provide it. Personally, it is not an unwelcome feeling to be out of step with modern secular society. It can be hideously superficial and self-serving. Occasionally however, and quite unintentionally, it gets something right. One thing it seems to have got right is to eschew, for a time at least, the cult of celebrity.

Did you happen to see the video of 25 or so celebrities singing a montaged version of John Lennon’s Imagine? It is on Youtube and elsewhere; just Google it if you really want to see it.

My first reaction was: of all songs, Imagine?! Really? They chose that piece of vacuous sentimentalism? The only thing that could possibly convey hope is the line “And the world will be as one.” Yet the other lyrics… (more…)

An Omission Rectified: the Pandemic Mass [updated]

NATURALLY I CLAIM NO CREDIT, for to do so would be a heinous crime against truth. However, having so recently lamented the omission in the modern missal of any votive mass for time of plague or pestilence, as there had been of old, there has emerged from Rome a decree instituting a votive Mass “in Time of Pandemic,” as well as an intercession for the same purpose in the Good Friday litany.

The Latin Mass texts and their official English translation, as well as the readings for the Mass, are below: (more…)