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: https://contrachrome.com/ContraChrome_en.pdf

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.

Pax.

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…)

Faith?

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

ibid.

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…)

The Motu Proprio: Two Challenges

TO THE EXTENT THAT ONE IS ABLE to establish a little emotional distance from Traditionis costodes, and cast an objective eye over both it and the reactions to it, one may be surprised by what emerges into view. Some of the responses from the traditionally-minded have been very heartening; some have been dire. The man-the-barricades mentality has produced some unhappy rhetoric that rather proves the papal point.

Some responses are just plain unhelpful or unfruitful. A frequent one has been: the progressives have for decades just as guilty of causing division, if not more so, through their disobedience of the Church’s rules on the new liturgy. As they opine, indeed it is not fair. But that this can be a justification for disobedience on their own part is not tenable. I cannot help but think of a child who is caught sneaking candy from a jar, whose defence on being caught is that Timmy did it too, so why isn’t he in trouble?

The question comes to me forcefully now: what is the true and necessary fruit of the Church’s liturgy? It must surely be charity. Where charity and love are found, there is God. There can be no true and abiding unity without charity.

So perhaps a question all Catholics should be asking themselves, be they adherents of the old or the new liturgies, is this: to what extent is my liturgical life bearing fruit in real, unmistakable charity? I mean the charity that is essential to the divine identity: self-emptying, self-giving, self-sacrificing. This seems to me to be the litmus test of the fruitfulness and value of a Christian’s liturgical life. If the traditional liturgy can be shown to be bearing fruit in unmistakably Christian charity, the arguments against it will fall away.

Seen from a supernatural perspective, could perhaps TC be something allowed in order to reset Christians of whatever liturgical stamp on the right integration of life and liturgy. To be honest, when I see social media posts glorying in cappae magnae, lace and fiddlebacks, and birettas bouncing off heads, I cringe. Cringe, because this seems to be precisely not the thing to be doing. Dazzle us with your charity not your liturgical accoutrements. A focus on the latter is merely to give flesh to the straw man of TC.

Now for a challenge in another direction, a note that I hope commentators might address to our benefit. If TC cites Church unity as its fundamental motivation, what precisely is the conception of Church unity that it presumes? Liturgical uniformity at any one moment throughout the world? On so many levels that seems a simplistic and deficient conception of unity. It is certainly hard to reconcile with the Council.

Surely we must remember than Church unity is not just synchronic but diachronic: not just as a phenomenon that exists in every place in the “present”, but one that exists also across time, stretching back into the past as well as forward into the future; one that exists not just here in the natural world but also in the supernatural, a unity of Church Militant with Church Penitent and Church Triumphant.

I am struggling to see how TC serves, or even acknowledges, this fuller, richer and truer understanding of unity in the Body of Christ. Maybe a defender of TC could show us how it does.

Because if it does not, if falls at the first hurdle in pursuing its own professed intention. In that case, TC will necessarily be a very temporary document indeed.

TC, no more than everything and everyone else in the Church, will be judged by its fruits. That really should sober us up pretty quickly, whatever our view of liturgy.

Pax.

The Motu Proprio: An Opportunity?

For an audible minority last week’s motu proprio (TC) was a victory; for a louder majority it was at one turn a defeat, at another an outrage, but at every turn a tragedy. The belligerence of a few among the latter is not helping their cause, but rather proving TC’s point.

But let us step aside from that imbroglio, and cast a more searching eye over the document. Looking beyond the issues of its actual authorship, its canonical sloppiness and imprecision, and ambit liturgical claims that bear little scrutiny before wobbling at their knees; looking beyond all these, let us look at what might be the providential opportunity offered by TC. Remember: we must be lighting candles, not cursing darkness.

In the late 1980s, when I was briefly a baby Jesuit in Australia (and let the reader note that I would not trade my prior 10 years of Jesuit schooling for any other), the whole concept of the Church’s liturgy had collapsed. There was a plague of books on “pastoral” liturgy with dozens of alternative “eucharistic prayers” to use instead of the officially-sanctioned variety found already in the new missal. Priests often made up their own off the cuff. Novice sisters might be invited to extend their hands in quasi-concelebration at these “eucharists”. Women would often preach the homily as well. Vestments were barely tolerated, the more moderate radical tolerating an alb and stole as a concession to sensibilities. Outdoor “liturgies” with paten and chalice placed on the altar of the “presider’s” bare knees were not unknown. No doubt many a reader to add to this small catalogue of liturgical decomposition.

Apart from the occasional cursory and formulaic exhortation to liturgical obedience that might be provoked from a bishop or superior, this chaos was left unchecked. In practice, even otherwise sensible bishops tolerated it. Liturgical diversity was the new norm; rigidity was out. Liturgies were now to be seen as celebrations of the particular community not as a sharing in the worship offered by the universal Church.

So, the question arises in the context of TC, how did the liturgical chaos of the immediate post-conciliar period express the unity of the Church? Where was the devotion to the unity of the Church then? Why is it that the champions, or fellow-travellers at least, of liturgical diversity in the name of the Council have now become champions of liturgical uniformity in the name of the Council and unity? What changed?

One might suggest the obvious change is that the liturgy devised by committee for the active participation of the people has failed to attract them. Year on year in most western parishes the congregations have been on a consistent downward trend in terms of numbers. Where there is growth is more often than not in centres of traditional worship. Even more disturbingly, those traditional centres have a congregational demographic that any ordinary parish would envy: the young abound.

In other words, the growing attraction of traditional liturgy exposes the consistently declining attraction of the new. The uber-zealous advocates of the new would rather kill off the competition than change to accommodate it.

The story of Cain and Abel comes to mind. Think about it…

Yet, this newly-discovered need for unity in uniformity, and the de facto abandonment of unity in diversity, at least liturgically, begs a fundamental question, one that both TC and the zealous advocates of the new Mass blithely answer without offering satisfactory proof.

The motu proprio states:

Art. 1. The liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.

Art 3, § 1. [the bishop or ordinary] is to determine that these groups do not deny the validity and the legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II and the Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs;…

The conformity of these “liturgical books…with the decrees of the Vatican Council II” is always assumed, never adequately or plainly demonstrated. If one feels that this conformity cannot be proved logically but accepted at best by an act of faith, then one could still accept the “validity and legitimacy of the liturgical reform, dictated by Vatican Council II” without accepting books that cannot be adequately proved to be in conformity with the reform mandated by the Council. (Yes, I have omitted the interpretative role of the “Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiffs”, yet this inevitably relies on the substantial reality of the liturgical conformity in the first place; no pope has the magisterial authority to say white s black, or that 2+2=5, pace some modern theologians.)

Here is the elephant in the room, and its presence offers an opportunity that it would benefit the whole Church to embrace: how truly do the current liturgical books conform to Vatican II’s decrees? Rather than blindly accepting, in post hoc ergo propter hoc fashion, that simply because this is what the Consilium ended up producing they must necessarily express the lex orandi articulated by the Council, let this be demonstrated clearly and plainly. If Rome wants people to accept with willing heart the liturgical reform as delivered, let it demonstrate how it expresses the will of the Council. It is not self-evident.

Thankfully, TC can be vague at times, and seems in principle to distinguish between liturgical books promulgated before the Council and after it. That would allow the Ordo Missae 1965 to be acceptable today. This is self-evidently in conformity with the conciliar decrees. Let Rome demonstrate that it is not.

Rather than man the barricades, bombard Rome and our bishops with polite questions, that they may prove the assumptions they so blithely expect us to accept, assumptions not self-evident, and in fact pretty much the reverse.

Carpe diem.