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…)
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.
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…)
“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.
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
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…)
IN THE MID-14th century the Black Death swept through Europe. Between 30 and 60% of Europe’s population perished, and perhaps even as many as 200 million people died if the Near East is included in the calculations. It would be scores of years before Europe’s population recovered. The Church in many respects did not meet the challenges of the time.
In part this is because in many places as many clergy as peasants succumbed to the plague. But in many places the clergy did not wait to die; they fled. Robert Gottfried, in his work on the Black Death, reports that in the dioceses of York and Lincoln (NB Lincoln reached as far as Oxford and the Thames) 20% of the parochial clergy. Many of those who remained in their posts succumbed. The result was that the numbers of clergy could not meet the needs of a society united in the faith and practice of one religion. Despite the losses of the faithful clergy, clerical reputation suffered immensely. Says Gottfried:
Many parish priests fled, leaving no one to offer services, deliver last rites, and comfort the sick. Flight might have been intellectually explicable, but it was morally inexcusable…[I]n a world in which performance of an appointed role was very important, many clerics no longer seemed to be doing their jobs.
The Black Death: Natural and Human Disaster in Medieval Europe (1983), pp.84; 94.
Gottfried is not alone in his assessment of the records that can be found of the period; Philip Ziegler affirms that,
[the clergy] lost in popularity as a result of the plague. They were deemed not to have risen to the level of their responsibilities, to have run away in fear or in search of gain, to have put their own skins first and the souls of their parishioners a bad second.
The Black Death (1969), p.211
Even before the plague had abated surviving clergy began to gather up the now-unclaimed clerical spoils. The ranks of the clergy were filled with young men, of poor education and little if any experience; some could not even manage to say Mass properly. Pluralism was rife. As society recovered from the scourge, the Church was ill-equipped to take the lead. Divinely-inspired charity, which had so well-endowed many a parish church and monastery, began to be directed elsewhere after the plague, not least to hospitals which provided the care and nurture that the clergy had so singularly failed to provide. (more…)
NOT ANOTHER pestilence post on the information superhighway?! Yes, but it will be brief and have a different point. Notice please, to begin with, that the title says “the faith” not merely “faith.” The distinction is important for the point to be made.
Every plague, pestilence, disease, affliction, cross et cetera, is a test of faith. Contrary to progressive theories, the biblical data is clear that God tests the faith in him of humans as a family and as individuals. It is also clear, by the way, that he does lead us into temptation, also as a test of faith. But that is another story. The challenge of every cross is to trust in God that he wills our good, the good that perhaps we cannot see for ourselves, but is no less real for that. To endure a cross willingly is an act of faith in God as all-loving and all-wise.
But a cross can also test the content of our faith. We all believe in God, I presume of you readers. (If you do not, feel free to join the rest of us.) But what exactly do we believe about God; and about his Church and her life?
There are many examples at present of churches being closed and Mass suspended, though recent papal remarks may slow that trend. Where Mass remains mostly now Communion will be by the Host only and the option for the handshake of peace converted to a nod or a bow, or even omitted altogether. People’s reactions to these will tell us much about the content of their faith. (more…)
BEAR WITH ME HERE. I am trying to work things out, and the following will be me showing my working. Things seem rather opaque. One thing is the lack of comprehensive data to work from. That itself is unsettling. Nevertheless, onward and upward…
The Apostolic Exhortation on the Amazon Synod released last Wednesday has been received by “progressives” as a disappointment in that it evaded “needed” reforms and innovations, and by “conservatives” as the Church having dodged a bullet.
Yet I am left wondering about the very synod itself. Why was one held in the first place? In Rome? At such expense? And producing a claimed total of 572,808kg in CO2 emissions? It seemed to me that there must be a massive Catholic Church down there, hidden from my narrow ken, and so long neglected that it needed the assistance of a Rome-based synod. (more…)