Mea culpa—A Glaring Omission

IT HAS BEEN HARD to keep up with things in the last 48 hours; that is, to keep up with the reaction and uncertainty surrounding the motu proprio, Traditionis custodes (TC). In my previous post I set out how the Law of Unintended Consequences might bear on TC. Of the three class of consequences I gave specific examples for unintended benefits and unintended drawbacks. Of the third class, perverse outcomes, I did not give an example.

To remind ourselves, in the Law of Unintended Consequences, a perverse outcomes is when the action exacerbates rather than resolves the issue in question; in other words, it makes the problem worse, not better.

What is the principal outcome expressly desired by TC?

I now desire, with this Apostolic Letter, to press on ever more in the constant search for ecclesial communion.

Traditionis custodes, Preamble, para 4

The obvious perverse outcome would be if TC worsened “ecclesial communion” rather than facilitated it.

Given the outpouring of grief, hurt, pain, anger and expressions even of something approaching schism from those who “adhere to liturgical forms antecedent to the reform willed by the Vatican Council II” and the apparent gloating of those who scorn any liturgical book before 1970 (I have only seen Austen Ivereigh’s Twitter gloating, but have heard of others) in response to TC, I think we can safely conclude:

Perverse Outcome Realised

The Motu Proprio & the Law of Unintended Consequences

FOR THOSE STRUGGLING to remember it, the Law of Unintended Consequences is a sociological maxim, with origins in the thought of John Locke, which holds that a positive, deliberate act of one kind or another may result in unintended or unforeseen outcomes. These outcomes fall roughly into three categories: unintended/unforeseen benefits; unintended/unforeseen drawbacks; perverse outcomes (that is, when the act exacerbates rather than resolves the issue in question).

Keep this Law in mind.

We might be in a position already to foresee what some things the author(s) of Traditionis custodes (TC) apparently did not foresee, let alone intend.


On Facebook, which correctly and responsibly used can be a very helpful tool, users have been posting the letters from their local bishops in response to the motu proprio, mainly American ones. They all have a similar basic theme: we need time to reflect on this and work out how best to implement in our dioceses, so for the time being nothing changes. Examples include Archbishop Sample, Archbishop Cordileone, Bishop Hying, even Cardinal Gregory.

This approach, of course, is entirely consistent with Article 3 §4 of TC, which requires those priests delegated by the bishop to exercise pastoral care for the flocks which adhere to the old books. How much more is this required of the bishop himself, and not just his delegate.

Indeed these bishops seeming to be adopting a pastoral tone that is in marked contrast to the “paternal solicitude” (TC, preamble, para 2) of the motu proprio. (more…)

Traditionis custodes and authority

This is being typed on my phone, so the spelling may prove interesting.

Some of the comments both on the last couple of posts and on their link pages on Facebook have sparked a train of thought in my rather over-taxed brain this evening. Sociologists might have a field day with this, or dismiss it entirely. Buuuuuuut…

Does today’s motu proprio, Traditionis custodes, represent a highwater mark in the modern crisis of authority in the Church, a crisis just as evident in the secular world?

Can one successfully legislate for unity by imposing, unilaterally and by decree, uniformity?

Moreover, can the newly-minted Synodal Way for a purportedly shared exercise of authority and governance only be established by an act of magisterial authority by the Supreme Pontiff? It as if the pope were saying, “By my authority I order you to be democratic and collegial.”

Recently, I was asked by a priest if I accepted that the Synodal Way was the new official paradigm for the the governance of the Church; I replied in the negative. Aghast, he asked if I accepted that the Holy Spirit was speaking through the recent archdiocesan synod; I replied that I had seen no evidence of this. His impassioned, and presumably sincere, response was to declare, “Then you are not a Catholic!”

There is a lot to unpack from this exchange, regarding authority, tradition, truth, coherence and communion. Suffice it to say, the implication is that all of these are to be determined, it seems, by acts of authority. Ironically, the charge often levelled against papal infallibility – if the pope declared black to be white, Catholics would have to believe it – can be employed anew with a vengeance.

If, I say if, for example, the pope were to declare the Church to be synodally governed rather than apostolically governed, could that act of authority stand? Christ founded the Church on the pillars of the Apostles; he mentioned nothing in any way redolent of synodality. The apostles and their successors developed councils and synods not to govern the Church, but to resolve conflicts and problems in the Church. Therefore, to declare me not Catholic because I do not accept synodality in the regular governance of the Church is a meaningless statement.

Likewise, it seems much the same for the decree by authority that the post-conciliar lyrical books now, newly and uniquely, constitute the lex orandi of the Church; it is ultimately a meaningless statement which renders futile the exercise of authority behind it, and undermines the same authority in the future.

It is self-defeating, an own goal. Someone needs to penetrate the web of the incompetents who sent to be advising the pope, and offer the alternative, and authentic, view. Indeed, I pray that Pope Francis might consult not some synod, but his own predecessor in the Apostolic See. Might this be the reason why the pope emeritus lives on still, after his abdication 8 years ago?

If I’m preaching through my posterior, tell me gently.

Pray for the pope; if we do not, then are we not to blame in part for any misstep he might take?

And rather than cursing the darkness, light a candle, eh…


Traditionis custodes: A Few Questions et al

MY PREVIOUS POST was somewhat along the lines of automatic writing, expressing immediate reaction more than cool analysis. So, now I find myself noting a few other things, and a raising a few questions, Maybe someone wiser than I might address them. (more…)

Traditionis Custodes: a New World of Hurt

THIS MORNING, being distracted by other things, I was not paying attention to social media. When finally I checked my messages I realised I had been oblivious to an ecclesiastical tempest that had erupted late morning, UK time. The publication of the motu proprio Traditionis custodes (TC) over the signature of the Bishop of Rome surprised not the suspicious who had been reporting rumours of the suppression of the Extraordinary Form (EF) of the Roman Rite Mass over the last few months of, and left those of us who could not see the cause for alarm from the evidence adduced, with the rug swiftly and completely pulled from under our feet.

Before I begin some attempt at an initial analysis, let me state at the outset that I have never celebrated the EF, and have only seldom assisted at it as either a sacred minister or member of the congregation. So, on one level, I have no dog wholly my own in this fight. I am not fully a Traditionalist, in this particular sense. How I am a traditionalist, as rational Catholics must be if their faith is to have any objective reality to it.

In short, I cannot see how any argument can be raised to prohibit to any degree the form of Mass which, with only minor changes, had been the source and summit of the Church’s life and existence from the days of Gregory the Great (†604), and in substantially the same form for many years earlier.

If the Mass of Paul VI (or Ordinary Form—OF) is to have any practical validity (quite apart from sacramental validity) this can only be insofar as it can be shown to be an organic development of the liturgy that preceded it. This organic thread is not wholly accepted (and herein lies one of the moot points surrounding today’s document) but it is officially asserted. TC itself asserts this in Article 1, though it asserts it in a wholly exclusive way, granting the OF the honour of being “the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” By using “unique” the document signals what is to come. It is synonymous here with “only.”

This is an extraordinary development, if you will pardon the pun. (more…)

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


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…)