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…)
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…
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…)
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 proprioTraditionis 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…)
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.
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.
Some of Google’s products were failed experiments; Google was never afraid to chance its arm in search of market dominance. There is even a website devoted to what Google has killed off. One product is, for me, emblematic: the photo editing program Picasa.
Picasa was launched by a company called Lifescape way back in 2002. An innovative product, it was bought by Google in 2004, and offered for free. As a standalone free program it was excellent: you could organise and edit photos, in an attractive and functional interface with superb and easy to use editing tools. It offered free online—cloud-based we would say today—albums that allowed the user to store and share photos.
Then in 2016 Google announced it was discontinuing Picasa, and shutting down the cloud service. This was all so Google could concentrate on something even groovier: Google Photos. Here was a product that was seamlessly integrated with the growing suite of services any user could access, for free. Progress, eh?
One could back up photos taken on one’s smartphone automatically, with unlimited cloud storage and editing tools (not as powerful as Picasa’s, mind you). Fantastic! Almost too good to be true. Well, it was. The better informed tech-laity mostly accepted that Google could offer its services for free because their tracking of our internet use allowed it to target us with ads better suited to our tastes, and so offer better value for advertisers’ money. Not wholly wonderful but, okay—very little is really free in this world, after all. Tracking in lieu of payment was bearable.
But Google had a long game in play. This month Google Photos ceased being free beyond 15GB of cloud storage. Over that limit you must pay for extra storage, beginning at US$1.99 per month. Unless, that is, you have bought a Google Pixel phone, which will have free storage still. But note well, this 15GB of free storage covers all your Google cloud storage, for example in Gmail or Google Drive, not just Google Photos. Moreover, if you are used to backing up your photos to Google in high resolution, 15GB does not last as long as you might think.
Google Photos currently stores more than 4 trillion photos, with 28 billion new photos added each week. You see how addicted the world is to Google. Google’s advertised rationale rings very hollow:
Google has a dual-pronged strategy guaranteed to make it eye-watering profits: (1) promote dependence on free services and then start charging for them knowing that a majority of people cannot face the hassle of changing as long as the ongoing costs start low; (2) mine users’ data and track their internet usage so that relevant ads can be targeted at users and so increase Google’s advertising revenue.
Very little is truly free in the modern world. If you get something free, then 9 times out of 10 you—your habits, tastes and spending patterns not least—are actually the product.
What can we do?
We can start by weaning ourselves off big tech quasi-monopolies for whom we are the commodity, big business the valued customer. It is easier said than done. For example, so many of us would find maintaining our wider social networks without Facebook a real challenge. I do.
Yet we must start somewhere. So we can all make a start by moving to privacy-protecting internet browsers, email networks, (and in the next post) search engines, and VPNs. Let me offer some suggestions to help you start your own exploration.
This is not a sponsored post, by the way! (I wish…)
Once upon a time we just used the internet browsers that Windows (Internet Explorer) or Apple (Safari) bundled with their operating systems. Competition emerged. Google came up with a much faster and more powerful browser called Chrome. Chrome, which began as a minnow, is now the cyber whale, with a commanding dominance of the market today. Indeed, some experts now consider Google Chrome as little better than spyware. The way browsers track your internet usage is through cookies which together offer a comprehensive profile of you and your internet usage for advertisers (and others?) willing to pay for it. So, in an apparent gesture of reform and commitment to privacy, Google Chrome is going to banish cookies altogether, and offer a different way of tracking suers, who will be grouped by habits rather thad targeted individually. However, we are being warned: all is not as it seems with this alleged privacy enhancement. Moreover, you will still be tracked (Google is still Google after all), and by imposing its own tracking method to replace cookies it is effectively forcing the rest of the internet to comply or be unable to target their advertising to the 70%+ of internet users who browse with Chrome.
So if you want to make a start on privacy, there are some good browsers to try (for free). Tor is so private that it has become infamous as the tool of choice for the nefarious activities of the “Dark Web” (child pornographers, drug and arms dealers, organised crime syndicates, terrorists et al). Its staff ethos has become somewhat “woke.” You might not want to be associated, however distantly, with such users, for obvious reasons. Yet, The Tor Project began as a project of scientists at the US Naval Research Laboratory, and is now a separate non-profit organisation funded by a number of donors and sponsors, including the US State Department. So, you might say, Tor’s profile is complicated.
So, two more salubrious options are Brave and Vivaldi.
Brave blocks internet ads by default, as well as tracking cookies. It has its own non-intrusive, non-targeted advertising, centring on the world of crypto finance (remember, almost nothing is free; the key is knowing the true price). You can opt out of these, or you can accept them and be paid in cryptocurrency for viewing them! Moreover, you can “tip” content creators with some of your crypto earnings. The important thing is that it is quite open about this, and does not compel you to comply. It can offer the browser for free as this is how it funds itself. It even has a built-in mechanism to use Tor. It has apps for Windows, Apple, and Android systems. The company is based in San Francisco and staffed by cyber idealists. It is currently developing its own privacy-protecting search engine. I began my efforts to wean myself off big-tech with Brave.
Vivaldi is now also installed on my machine, and edges out Brave in my daily use. It is more than merely a browser. It comes with a cloud-based calendar, webmail, feed reader, blogging platform, and webpage language translator (you and I are using it as you read this). Like Brave, it blocks ads and tracking cookies, but does not involve an optional advertising system as does Brave. Like Brave, again, it has Apple, Windows and Android apps. You can choose from a number of privacy-protecting search engines (more on these below). Vivaldi Technologies is owned by its employees and has no outside investors. Its employees earn money from their other work. Moreover the company is supported by donations and the sale of branded merchandise, which also help to spread its name. The company HQ is in Oslo, and its serves are in Iceland. It has fast secured my adherence.
Gmail used to be so good. It is, as far as its features and utility go, even better now. But of course, it is integral to Google’s user tracking and mining empire. It scans your emails for keywords on which to decided which ads you will see online elsewhere. Did you order a toaster using a Gmail address, and suddenly find ads for toasters everywhere you go online? Gmail will be part of the complex web that tracked that purchase. Moreover, given Google’s emerging marketing strategy, how long will it be before it also requires payment for come of its premium features?
With privacy-protecting email providers, being authentically “free” entails limited a limited set of features, such as reduced storage for emails and a bare minimum of options. These free plans are invariably funded by users who take up the more powerful and feature-rich paid plans. Most providers offer a free plan as part of their mission to make the internet truly free and private for anyone. The ones below also have fascinating blogs which explore issues of privacy and security, the threats and developments therein especially.
Some of my holiday money has gone into taking up the email package from Proton. This is a highly encrypted email platform that prevents anyone reading your email en route to its destination, or emails from others en route to you. This means advertisers and big-tech trackers cannot mine keywords or develop a profile of a user from his/her email contents. There are no ads from Proton at all. The free level offers a maximum of 150 emails per day (more than enough for most of us), 500MB of online storage and only one email address. But it is just as secure as the paid levels. In all levels you can send emails that will self-destruct, though not with Mission Impossible’s fireworks. The non-profit Proton Technologies, based in Geneva, also sells branded merchandise. The company and its platforms were developed by scientists from the famous CERN laboratory in Switzerland. They set up the company using crowd funding, and now receive support from the European Commission, the Swiss government, and the Ivy League college, MIT. Proton’s philosophy centres on making use of the internet safe and private. To this end it also offers a VPN, calendar, and cloud storage. For these it has desktop and smartphone/tablet apps. Its servers are in Switzerland. Interestingly, it is blocked in Belarus and Russia. So it must be secure enough to protect dissidents.
Another, and newer, email platform is CTemplar. At present the free level is accessible only by securing an invitation, for which one can apply. I managed to get one and am now experimenting with the platform. Users have three invitations they can send out, and a referral code that rewards the referrer if those who use it sign up for a paid level. CTemplar is web-based too, though it has Apple and Android apps. The free level is more generous that Proton’s, with double the online storage and 200 emails per day. It also offers self-destructing emails and a “dead-man timer.” The paid levels are a little pricier than Proton, as CTemplar gets its money only from paying users and donations, and as yet it has no branded merchandise. Its use of only green energy probably adds a little to the cost as well. The paid levels having romantic, vaguely Templar-related names like Knight, Marshall (sic) and Champion. This private company, too, champions and private internet use, thus the name C[rypto]Templar. So as to avoid any hint of compromise the company does not accept corporate or government support. Templar Software Systems is registered in the Seychelles but its office and servers are in Iceland.
Part two, for those not geeked-out, to follow. It has been a long day.
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…)
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…)