Beyond Granny’s Lace: the Pope, the Bishops & the Laity

LACEGATE WAS ABOUT MORE than the lace you’ve heard me insist. Looking back to my more extensive blog post as well as the more restrained and focused submission to the Catholic Herald, some might feel that I ended both with a questioning finger pointed solely at the bishops. While the shepherds of the Church are above all its bishops, their pastoral burden is shared with the lower clergy—we priests, that is—and we exercise it more at the muddy end of the sheepfold. That does not excuse priests from asking of themselves, as we contemplate the haemorrhaging of the flock, what we were doing the while. Among priests as among bishops there will be some, even many, who can justifiably claim that they have tried their best. Thanks be to God.

Still, things remain grim. But it is back to bishops that I would turn our attention. Bishops were the avowed “winners” of Vatican II. Collegiality was the order of the day; synods of bishops were to meet regularly to assist the pope in the governance of the Church; bishops’ conferences were to be erected to support bishops in their ministry and give it a national weightiness, to offer individual bishops a sort of pastoral economy of scale.

Did bishops actually “win?” The synod of bishops convenes, on average, about as often as the Olympic Games are held. It is a formalised event with speeches made and a papal summary document issued in its wake. That is not quite what the advocates of this instrument had hoped for. When the synod first met in 1967 it was exposed to a trial run of the Consilium’s swanky new Missa normativa. The bishops’ reaction was underwhelming. Cardinal Heenan maintained that if this was the reformed Mass the Church was to be given, the only ones going to it would be women and children. Yet three years later it is a tweaked Missa normativa that we got as the new Mass. So much for the epscopacy’s collegial reservations. (more…)

It’s not really about the lace, of course

IT IS A FEATURE of the current papacy, in stark contrast to the previous, that the incumbent likes to tell people off in his speeches. Mockery and sarcasm are his chief weapons. It’s all a little infra dig for a pope, and more suited to a rural parish priest of a century ago, chiding those in his flock of whose habits he disapproves. The irony is that Pope Francis has never been a simple parish priest. It shows.

That fact is most clearly obvious in the content of his reprovals, many of which tend to be anticlerical, all for the purported profit of the flock. He has commanded priests to “smell of the sheep,” as if the parish clergy of today are like 18th century Anglican clergymen holding benefices while absent and appointing underpaid curates in their stead while still drawing the revenue. Francis has exhorted the clergy to keep their sermons to ten minutes. The poor sheep cannot pay attention for longer, it seems. Well, certainly that would be the case if the sermons (or homilies, to use the modern term) are in fact tedious recapitulations of the readings themselves, or extended self-advertisements, or marked by a tone that is overwhelmingly negative. Of course, they would tax the holiest soul. But if a homily is delivered with conviction and skill, unlocking what is not obvious in the scriptures heard in order that their full impact might be felt and their full message heard, and making it clear that the scriptural message is as much for us today as for any other time; if the people hear something fresh and new, and that the preacher clearly believes, then they will probably not be bored, if they are people of faith. In other words, preaching well is not simple. And indeed, if in doubt, shorter is better.

I wonder, though, (more…)

Beware Tech Giants Bearing Gifts

Forgive me if you feel I have become a little obsessive. Nevertheless, the more I am learning about our online lives the more I experience a sense of foreboding. I used to be a great devotee of Google: wonderful, innovative online services and programs that were usually cutting-edge, and oh-so user friendly…and FREE!. However we are learning more and more these days that tech giants giants’ gifts usually tend to be trojan horses. Then there are foreign governments like Russia, China, and North Korea, all of whom seek both to hack-to-steal and hack-to-disrupt.

There is a great little webcomic, Contra Chrome, that explains very well how Google Chrome is one of the linchpins of the Google business model, at the heart of which is one product: us. Our data, information about us collected mostly without our knowledge, is how Google, but also Facebook, Instagram, TikTok et al., make their money: they sell it to the highest bidder. Who is the highest bidder? Now there’s a question… Anyway you can read the webcomic online by clicking here (about 10 minutes of reading) or download it in PDF form here:

Information gathering might be benign enough now (though, is it?) but that does not mean it will remain so in the future. In fact, recent experience shows that it most certainly will not remain benign.

I would love for there to be Catholic apps, programs and services that could rival the tech giant. Even the privacy good-guys are often tainted by the woke agenda. However, a start must be made somewhere. So below I list the tools I use to reclaim some online privacy. Some have free products (alarm bells for us these days) but that is because their ethos is to enable as many people to access web privacy as possible. The trade off is that the free accounts usually have some restrictions, usually in the size of the mailbox, number of email addresses, and fewer advanced features. Some providers are backed by privacy-advocating NGOs. (more…)

At the Altar of Repose…

DOING A STINT at the altar of repose after this evening’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper, I happened to look up and was struck by the play of light and shadow in the by-then softly lit church. In my eyes I beheld an asymmetrical Calvary, with the Lord’s cross in high relief and the thieves’ the pale shadows cast from the Lord’s cross. Later, before I turned the lights out, I snapped the persistent apparition.

However, instead of thinking of the thieves crucified with Christ, another thought occured to me. These two shadow crosses, distinct from but enabled by the Lord’s cross, and connected to each other even as they kept a respectful distance from the Lord’s cross, were related not to the Calvary thieves but to me.

The first shadow cross presented itself to my mind as the emblem of all the sufferings, trials, and tribulations that I will ever endure. The second presented itself immediately after as the emblem of all the sufferings, trials, and tribulations that I inflict on others, including a multitude I suspect of which I am not even aware.

When the Light of the World returns and floods the world with his light, such shadow-crosses will disappear, for where light is universal and complete, no shadow can abide, and our crosses will have run their course. But for now, I realise I have much of which to repent. While the cross I inflict on others abides, so too will the cross of my own tribulation. The two stand arm-in-arm, like dandies promenading.

For now it falls to me to practise what I preach, and repent of the cross I inflict. As it grows lighter, so too, perhaps, will the cross I bear.

What meagre grain are so many of us priests to the mill of Christ’s priesthood! It is never more apparent to me than on this day we commemorate, inter alia, the institution of the Christian priesthood. Yet, for all that, the Twelve on this holy night would reveal themselves all to be either cowards or traitors. Why should their successors be any better? Ah, but the eleven cowards would be become eleven fruitful apostles, fruitful up to and beyond their deaths in imitation of their Lord. The paltry priests of today can take some heart from their forebears—that nothing is impossible to God, not even bringing rich fruit from barren ministers.

May the good Lord do the impossible again this Easter.

Oremus pro invicem.


Putin in Ukraine—Are we missing the real point?

The narrative in our news bulletins and commentary, and coming from Putin himself, has been centred on his fear of NATO expansion and alleged security concerns for Russia. It sounded feasible, though trumped up. Putin has also long maintained a rhetoric of defending ethnic Russians in Ukrainian territory, first in Crimea and then in Donbass and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine. Russia, historically, has shown little concern for its people to such a degree. It’s poppycock.

However, after watching the video below, and doing some reflecting, it seems to me that the real issue is—MONEY. Watch this video first, and then consider a few issues and questions that have been exercising me today.

Russia and Ukraine were very pally-pally in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, but this all changed with the protests that drove Viktor Yanukovich from power in Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine wanted more democracy, and was increasingly enticed by greater links with Europe. That alone was enough to put the wind up Putin.

Now, as you will have seen in the video, exploration in the Black Sea before 2014 had raised the prospect of huge reserves of natural gas and oil. (more…)

Ecclesia—quo vadis?

SINCE THE CHURCH in its aspect as a juridical institution seems so keen to be at one with the world rather than its sign of contradiction, its leaders managers, lay and clerical, have almost unquestioningly adopted a secular, often corporate vocabulary that is often so vague that no one can define it, and those who can won’t because that would remove the ambiguity useful to them.

Thus, we might ask, in what way is “accompaniment” new, different from what the clergy have been doing for two millennia in supporting the faithful in their trials and joys: baptising the newborn, initiating them into the sacramental life of the Church, marrying couples, visiting and anointing the sick and dying, burying the dead, absolving sins and counselling the troubled, correcting the wayward and encouraging the faint of heart, confronting untruth and teaching what Christ commanded? Without daring to define it, the proponents of “accompaniment” seem to be positing something that is little more than indulgence, even tacit approval, of sin. The traditional and otherwise valid word “pastoral” is applied to camouflage this indulgence.

And again, what is “synodality”? How is it different to, and better than, the collegiality advocated by the Second Vatican Council? Synods are traditionally meetings of bishops. The Synod on Synodality—a meeting on how to have meetings—is another creature entirely, with all categories of people in the Church, and outside it, invited so that the Church can “listen” to them. It is sad to say, but listening has become an Orwellian mechanism for changing groups and their attitudes without them realising. No longer does the Church seem to want to teach, one of her fundamental missions from Christ. The patronising infantilism of the Synod’s official logo—quite aside from its ugliness—rather gives the game away to those with eyes to see. (more…)

The St Gallen Mafia & Today’s Office

FROM WHAT I HAD HEARD about it I knew that I was going to have to read Julia Meloni’s new book, quite the pot-boiler: The St. Gallen Mafia: Exposing the Secret Reformist Group Within the Church. I managed to find time to read it in less than two days. It is not long but it does not waffle; one must pay attention to follow the thread.

The book proves not to be a rambling, conspiracy-theorist diatribe. In fact it has a journalistic attention to evidence and sources, and refrains from hyperbole and emotiveness. This allows the argument presented to speak for itself; hysterics usually blind the reader to any real substance that might be on offer.

You should read it yourself, but suffice it to say it is a disturbing read. (more…)


THE SOLEMNITY OF CHRIST THE KING this year gives us again the great vision of Daniel: Son of Man coming on the clouds to receive universal kingship from the Ancient of Days. Christ’s appropriating the title Son of Man means that Daniel’s vision was of Christ’s coming, not his first but his second coming at the end of time. All of us, at least of a certain age, will have studied W.B.Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming. Lines from that poem seem especially resonant today:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; …
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: …
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
… all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; …
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yeats’ vision could have been—and maybe it is—of the Church in our day. The poem is short and deserves reading in full, but the words quoted above provoke in me the most reflection.

Certainly the Church seems to be falling apart, with the numbers of her children falling suddenly and precipitously in the her historic heartlands. The orthodox centre seems to be reduced to a near-pathetic rump as two rival factions move to increasingly more contradictory and antagonistic positions. (more…)

Francis & the Liturgy: the Elephant in the Room

YOU DO NOT NEED me to tell you that this year has seen a storm of controversy about the liturgy. Not a naturally-occuring storm, but one manufactured almost ex nihilo. This points to an agenda being served. But it is not the agenda—real or merely apparent, right or wrong—that is the topic here. Rather it is the elephant in the room that commentators seem to be edging around. Perhaps they are distracted by the purely liturgical questions. Perhaps they wish to avoid going where angels fear to tread.

The first black clouds on the liturgical horizons appeared on 12 March this year with the posting on the sacristy door of St Peter’s Basilica an unsigned declaration under the letterhead of the Vatican Secretariat of State. This extraordinary notice, inter alia, banned “private” Masses at side altars of St Peter’s and consigned the celebration of the Extraordinary Form to the Clementine Chapel. There was so much about this Lutheresque posting on the door that was baffling, to put it politely: since when is posting notices on doors the proper way to promulgate decisions; by whose authority was the declaration made; what on earth did it have to do with the Secretariat of State; from what process or problem did this decree emerge? In fact, the document itself and its promulgation were so ridiculous that I felt sure it was fake. I still do not know who issued it, but it was certainly enacted and obeyed.

The storm that some had begun to sniff in the air broke on 16 July last (more…)

50 Years Ago: Clarifying the “Agatha Christie” Indult

IN NOVEMBER 1971 I was only three years of age, and liturgical matters were somewhat supra dig for me. In fact, by then my mother may have already stopped going to Mass, so confused and upset—and unprepared—was she about the changes to the Mass. Not that I was absolved from Mass attendance in my later boyhood; my Presbyterian father would take me. (That eventually had its effect, and he swam the Tiber less than a year before his death.) Moreover, I was sent to a mainstream Jesuit school, which was, it must be said, sensible liturgically in my days there. My mother‘s issues with the Church‘s liturgical reform were personal, and she did not seek to inflict them on me. She was no fool, but she did not have the liturgical and ecclesiastical vocabulary to articulate her misgivings. In the face of not being able to make oneself heard I guess a person withdraws.

Of course, the liturgical reforms hit more than my mother personally. History shows that even non-Catholics were alarmed and saddened at the prospect of reform, and even more with the reforms delivered. Despite the eminence of some of the critics of reform, those who sought modest or little reform had lost the day, and in the public square their voice was drowned out. Yet many would argue that their voice was prophetic.

On 5 November 1971 Cardinal Heenan of Westminster received word from the Roman curia (more…)

Apologetics or Polemics

THERE IS ALWAYS a little frisson of alarm through my frail flesh whenever Google Alerts tells me my name has appeared afresh on the internet. Thankfully it is rare, and overwhelmingly the mention proves to be benign, often merely incidental. Occasionally it is not. Today is such a day.

Catholic apologetics is a noble apostolate. Classic figures include such greats as the lay Australian publisher Frank Sheed, or the American prelate Fulton Sheen. In more recent years converts such as Scott Hahn have made important contributions to sound apologetics, Dr Hahn able to write attractively for cradles and yet speak in a vocabulary that engages those formed as Protestants. He writes with the happy zeal that marks the best of the evangelical tradition, and it is contagious.

Not all convert apologists are so positive. America seems to have a goodly share of convert apologists who began well and have deteriorated into polemicists. They even seem to manifest what is called by many now hyper-papalism, and any word of criticism, however mild, oblique or muted, against Pope Francis is the dog-whistle for them to attack. And attack is the word. (more…)

Pope Francis Doubles Down As He Further Plays His Hand

A RESPONSE FROM ME to some of the traditionalist critics of the papal motu proprio Traditionis custodes (TC) has been politely requested. Not because I am in any sense an expert, but out of sheer courtesy, I will do so, and I am working up to it. Perhaps my fallible voice is sought because I sit in a liturgical no-man’s land, neither in the trenches of 1962 nor of 1970. 1970 (well, its 2008 iteration to be precise, or its 2011 English iteration to be even more precise) provides my daily Mass. Yet, to hold the new Mass as legitimately expressing a totally new departure from liturgical tradition—a rupture with the previous tradition to employ a current term—is to deny a fundamental mark of the Church, its teaching and its liturgy: it does not change, but it grows and takes on clearer shape and more detailed form. Thus, to hold 1962, and the centuries-old tradition it grew within, is somehow a closed chapter of little relevance today, is self-defeating from a Catholic point of view, especially evangelically and apologetically. Either the Church’s teaching and liturgy is, and always has been, and always will be, true; or it is not, in which case, why should anyone listen to us?

1970 is imperfect; it embodies a very marked departure from the decrees of Vatican II; it has been attended by a laxity in rubrical observance and enforcement that is almost, surely, unparalleled historically; its use has been contiguous with a precipitous decline in Catholic practice and affiliation. Yet, the Council clearly, and almost unanimously, called for a revisiting of the Church’s liturgy. It sought a streamlining, a tidying up, an opening up to some vernacular in the Mass and the other sacraments—it wanted to people to love their liturgy even more, and to participate in it even more rather than just attend it—hear it—however devoutly. The Mass, after all, is offered not only for them but, to some (real) degree, by them. Moreover, the congregation offers itself, in each of its individual members, with Christ to the Father; hear St Paul to the Romans: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (12:1)

So sticking with 1962 as it was, itself a revised Missal, was not really a long-term option. 1970 is valid but flawed. Much of what gave power to the traditionalist programme to adhere to 1962, what made it all the more attractive to those not versed in the finer points of liturgy, was the woeful celebration of 1970 in so many places, and for a time perhaps in all places. The chaos of a circus liturgy, subject to the whim of a pastor, attended by wholesale rubrical abandonment, inevitably made the rubrical order and unmistakable divine focus of 1962 all the attractive, a port in a storm. (more…)

The Problem is not the Mass

WITH SO MUCH commentary on Traditionis custodes (TC) buzzing around the ether at the moment, it will not be hard for the reader to find examples ranging from those belligerently outraged by TC to those passionately pleased. The large middle ground is composed of those trying to make sense of a document so poorly composed, quite apart from the propriety of its intentions. With some of these commentaries in mind, as well as conversations with people both well-formed and well-informed, a few things seem to be settling into place, in my mind at least.

More and more it is clear that the problem is not the vetus ordo of the Mass per se. TC did not say a word against it. Of course, how could it, since it was this Mass, with small variations, that nourished the Church for over a millennium and a half. So what was the problem? If one accepts that TC is not a tissue of lies (as I do), notwithstanding its imperfections, inaccuracies, loaded terminology and “editorial bias,” then one must take it at its word:

the concord and unity of the Church…“[and the] ecclesial communion of those Catholics who feel attached to some earlier liturgical forms”

para 2

And in particular, regarding those so “attached,” of concern is a perceived tendency among some to:

deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs


The Letter from Pope Francis to the world’s bishops, which accompanied TC and serves as a sort of interpretive lens for it, has a gentler and more expansive tone. For the sake of balance, it seems necessary to ensure that any analysis of TC includes this papal letter. The sixth paragraph of the Letter is, for me, crucial. In it Francis states that he is

saddened by abuses in the celebration of the liturgy on all sides. In common with Benedict XVI, I deplore the fact that “in many places the prescriptions of the new Missal are not observed in celebration, but indeed come to be interpreted as an authorization for or even a requirement of creativity, which leads to almost unbearable distortions”. But I am nonetheless saddened that the instrumental use of Missale Romanum of 1962 is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the “true Church”…To doubt the Council is to doubt the intentions of those very Fathers who exercised their collegial power in a solemn manner cum Petro et sub Petro in an ecumenical council, [14] and, in the final analysis, to doubt the Holy Spirit himself who guides the Church.

TC is a juridical instrument, and one cannot expect too much from it by way of commentary or rationale. The Letter provides these. The issue central to TC, as Shaun Blanchard recognized, is the reception of Vatican II. For all their irreverent and secularising antics, “creative liturgists” nevertheless cite (however misguidedly) Vatican II as their authority, and they in no way deny the validity of the Council’s decrees. They might twist and distort them, misapply and misread them, but they accept them and the Council unquestioningly. Some will complain that the Council remains unfinished business, but in doing so they accept that its business as begun was valid. However doctrinaire or even strategic their appeal to Vatican II, their acceptance of it is not in doubt. (more…)

Facing Reality in Liturgy and Authority

WHATEVER ITS FUNDAMENTAL INTENT, Traditionis custodes (TC) has stirred a storm of comment and controversy as great as any other document issued over the signature of Pope Francis. It has caused both glee and gloom, merriment and mourning, resignation and resistance.

Before you read on here, please read Dr Shaun Blanchard’s piece at Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal. He identifies that TC is about liturgy only as liturgy offers a casus belli: the real issue is the reception of Vatican II. Dr Blanchard recalls the tradition of papal appropriation and steering of ecumenical councils and their decrees. German, as ever, has a word that covers this phenomenon: Deutungshoheit: literally “interpreation sovereignty,” Dr Blanchard defines it in English as “sovereignty over a narrative, which is the power to control meaning.” TC is thus just the latest in a papal tradition of controlling conciliar narratives. (more…)