30 December 2006

The Westminster Stakes - an update

I posted about the possibilities for the next Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster at the start of the month. Here's an update.

Were people actually campaigning for Westminster, we would say that Archbishop Nichols continued to show well. He had the Christmas Sermon slot in the Telegraph, and coverage of the Pilgimage to Bethlehem focused on the Archbishop of Canterbury rather than of Westminster. The Telegraph's Religious Correspondent has suggested that MO'C might be asked to stay for a further two years.

Paddy Power has obviously had money passing through his fingers and into his coffers. The latest odds are (previous prices in brackets):

Rt Rev Kevin McDonald 7-2
Rt Rev Vincent Nichols 7-2
Fr Aidan Nichols 5-1 (6-1)
Rt Rev Alan Hopes 11-2
Bishop William Kenney 6-1
Rt Rev Patrick Kelly 10-1 (12-1)
Fr Timothy Radcliffe 10-1 (6-1)
Rt Rev Arthur Roche 10-1 (12-1)
Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald 10-1 (12-1)
Rt Rev Bernard Longley 12-1
Rt Rev Peter Smith 12-1
Rt Rev Michael Evans 16-1
Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue 16-1
Fr Christopher Jamison 20-1
Bishop John Rawsthorne 20-1
Bishop John Patrick Crowley 33-1

Fr Aidan Nichols has firmed up (surprisingly, I think, at this early stage) to 5-1: this is a popular candidate, but is he peaking too soon? As I predicted, Fr Radcliffe is moving in the opposite direction. I was also right about sentimental Liverpudlians betting on their own. Bishop Roche will be around for the length of this campaign: the celebrations following the reordering of his Cathedral attracted a lot of positive comment. My guess is that a few people have put a few quid on Archbishop Fitzgerald simply because he is a curialist: I find the suggestion that his appointment would be a sop to Muslims by the Vatican a bit too wild to take seriously.

All that said, Archbishop McDonald maintains his place as favourite despite the almost total lack of national publicity for him. Now might be a good time to have a look at his (excellent) diocesan website http://www.rcsouthwark.co.uk/ to take stock of His Grace.

29 December 2006

Something that made me think

Over at http://lacrimarum-valle.blogspot.com/, Matthew Doyle has posted something that stopped me in my tracks. Is Natural Family Planning part (however unintentionally) of the contraception culture? Can sex-excluding-children ever be legitimate? Try:

http://lacrimarum-valle.blogspot.com/2006/12/cmf-contracepting-christians.html

and see what you think.

26 December 2006

Who needs sermons?

One couple arrived for Mass on Christmas Day just as Mass started, and left the church straight from going to Holy Communion. They didn't want to speak to anybody. It was heartbreaking. This is the first Christmas that they will not have one of their sons at home: he received a life sentence for murder earlier this year.

I know that there is another family who will also have had an absence at the table this year: an absence that will never ever be filled on this earth. I know that there is a young man who will lose his twenties and thirties in prison out of which he will probably emerge in his forties, as an institutionalised drug addict. I prayed for them. But I mainly reflected on the hidden victims of this particular crime: an innocent couple whose world has been torn apart so badly that they felt that they needed to shun any sign of human warmth on the day we celebrated Christ's Incarnation.

I have never enjoyed the Sign of Peace: it is a distraction just before Communion and interrupts the flow of the Mass. (If we have to have it, would it not be better after the Confiteor or the Kyrie and before the Gloria?) But yesterday I saw the Sign of Peace living up to its name: two people physically joined to the love being shared in a parish community. People who knew the story and people who didn't unselfconsciously offered a hand to this couple and asked God's peace for them, and they accepted and for perhaps the first time, perhaps the only time, on Christmas Day, returned the prayer and the contact and managed to smile, before embracing each other.

Rereading this, it seems a bit like a mawkish parody of one of Dickens' Christmas stories: blame that on my writing. But this happened here in England yesterday, on Christmas Day 2006. I saw two blighted lives transformed, for however short a time by love, before the Christ just made present on the altar on the feast of his Incarnation, whom they then received.

24 December 2006

A Developing Christmas

I had intended to post something about Hilaire Belloc's wonderful essay about Christmas in a Catholic house at the turn of the century. But something happened. My daughter, who turned thirteen a couple of weeks ago, decided that she was going to pack, not just her present to her mother, but all of mine too. "Daddy: you just don't know how to wrap".

I tried to rap: "Yo! Today is Christmas Eve. Better that you all believe!"

"No, Daddy. 'Wrap' with a 'W'". (Try that contemptuously, if you don't have a thirteen year old daughter of your own. If you have one, you'll understand.)

So we went into the back room and she packed while I kept the conversation going.

"And can we have all the presents under the tree tonight? It's not as though anybody thinks that Father Christmas is bringing them." So for the first time since my children were born, the presents aren't going to "appear" under the tree on Christmas morning.

The End! My little girl isn't a little girl any more!

42 years ago tonight, I went to Midnight Mass for the first time. Sr Anthony, who was in charge of the altar boys, had decided that it would be "lovely" to have all the altar boys in procession. It was the first time I heard the expression "bloody nun!" and the first time I remember my mother swearing. I was sent to bed at seven, and woken up at eleven with the first cup of tea I remember. I can barely remember the Mass: I was seven, and there were only about four of the altar boys had anything to do. The rest of us dozed. When I woke up in the morning I found a garage for my Matchbox cars which, I discovered years later, my father had made. I also discovered that my parents' tradition - of exchanging Christmas presents after Midnight Mass - had gone by the water forever (well, at least until we were old enough to stay up after Midnight Mass).

Christmas isn't a time of unchanging traditionalism: it's a time of changing traditionalism. We will have turkey and sausages and bacon and roast potatoes and roast parsnips and carrots and peas and cauliflower and broccoli after the smoked salmon on potato cakes because we always do. We won't open presents until we have come home from Mass. But the presents are different: they aren't toys any more. And we are different, and our children are growing and, in my case, my parents are both dead. And my wife had major surgery earlier this year and took a long time to recover from it; we found yesterday that we haven't spent much on each other at all: it had dawned on us separately that just having each other is the best present of all.

But my children are growing in Faith, and my parents are present because at Grace before our Christmas dinner we will pray for them, and for other members of the family who have died.

And we will enjoy Christmas with our children, knowing that they will end up doing their own Christmas, without us, in the same way as we broke away from our parents' Christmas, as they had from theirs.

It will be the same traditional Christmas and it will be completely different. The one unifying factor is the Baby who will be born to die and save us all: that's why we know that none of the rest really matters.

19 December 2006

A great joy

Dwight Longenecker is now Fr Dwight Longenecker. I have never met him but I rejoice, greatly.

One Sunday afternoon about four years ago, at Prinknash Abbey, I was having a look at the books and found "The Path to Rome": a new book charting the journey various Anglican converts had made in the 1990s to come to Rome. Dwight's (I'm sure he'll forgive the presumption) journey was particularly impressive: from Bible Belt fundamentalism, through Anglophilia to the Anglican Church in the UK, and forwards to Rome. I don't know why this book made such an impression on me, but it did: the testimonies of Anglicans who had converted, who had, in Graham Leonard's words, sought fulfimment of their earlier ministry in the Catholic priesthood, spoke to me very loudly and confirmed me in my faith.

He went on to work for the St Barnabas Society - the successor to the Converts Aid Society - until he recently returned to the US where he was ordained priest last week. Ad multos annos!

In the midst of great joy, there is but one small sour note: a comment on his blog (see link on the left) from England expressed sadness that for whatever reason, it wasn't possible for him to exercise his priesthood here. He answered:

"It wasn't for want of trying to be ordained in England. I waited twelve years for Catholic bishops to act! Never mind, the Lord had other things in mind, and he always knows best."

He does: of course He does. And there are probably times when he finds the earthly vessels through which He has to work a bit of a trial.

13 December 2006

My sort of Ecumenism

Through the post today, along with Christmas cards, music, an annual report on the persecution of the Church, and a Missal, came Aid to the Church in Need's "I Believe: A Little Catholic Catechism". My wife, who is not a Catholic, had added it to the order. It is based on the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" but is aimed at Catholics in areas of the world in which the Church is in great need. It is much shorter than the Catechism.

I have been particularly taken by a definition of Ecumenism that I have not seen before: bear in mind that the Imprimatur is by Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos.

"In obedience to the commandment of the Lord 'May they all be one' (Jn 17:21), the Church makes every effort to re-establish full communion with all these separated Christian brethren. In order to achieve this goal we have to learn to approach one another in mutual esteem and respect, while the theologians of the different churches and communities engage in dialogue with one another, in the hope that one day we may all be able to profess the same faith, that of the one Church. This movement is called 'ecumenism.'"

I really, really, like this. I grew up in a Church which would not sing "Away in a Manger" because it was thought to have been composed by Martin Luther. I live in a Church in which signing of Council of Churches statements on the Third World is taken as a shibboleth of orthodoxy. Yet here is a via media: I can go to choral evensong at the local Anglican Catedral and esteem and respect the tradition which underpins it, without subscribing to it; I can write my monthly article for the local Anglican parish magazine and never pull Anglican legs; I can call "heretic" the friend who tells me that I am but a lackey of the Roman Mission in England and Wales; meanwhile I can leave it to Rome to persuade the Archbishop of Canterbury that true union means that we all profess the one true Faith (I'll forgive ACN the lower case "f" in Faith.)

It also means that "fish and chips" ecumenism is a dead letter: lowest common denominator Christianity is not something we subscribe to. We can do something more Christian than pretend that "we all believe in the same thing fundamentally". We can esteem and respect, and even encourage, our separated brethren for the things they hold which belong to the Deposit of the Faith. But we can also, and at the same time, esteem and respect ourselves for those elements of the Faith which we hold and they don't.

This may mean that when things like "Christian Unity Week" come round, we decide that it would be untrue to our Faith to pretend that unity will come about just because we all gather together, and that therefore unity is on its way: we may decide to be a bit more honest about our ability "to profess the same faith, that of the one Church".

10 December 2006

What's in a Motu Proprio - a Mass by any other Rite ...

In an excited and premature message about the Holy Father's Motu Proprio about the celebration of the Tridentine Rite of Mass, Father Zuhlsdorf wrote:

"1) The document will definitely be a Motu Proprio. (That means it will be from the Pope and not a document of a Congregation or joint document issued by different dicasteries.)

2) At the beginning of November it was in its final draft, after four revisions.

3) During the third week of November it was suggested that the document might come out in about three weeks. This would put it around… well… now.

4) It will authorize private celebration of Mass with the 1962 Missal by any priest as he chooses. Public Masses will be regulated by the bishop.

5) What a "private" Mass is will be defined in the document. A number will be established for what constitutes a "private" Mass. Provided the group is that size, no permission of the bishop will be necessary.

6) If I understand it right, and I admit I might be confused, there might be something in the document about greater numbers of people (than what would constitute a "private" Mass) being allowed to attend without the bishop’s permission so long as a Mass in the Novus Ordo is first provided for those who want it. I am not sure about this element, but it might be a prudent solution. If I am right about this element of the document, the idea would be to ensure that a priest doesn’t simply stop offering people the chance to attend the Novus Ordo and thus force everyone to go to the older form. See what I mean?

7) The document will stress the obligation of bishops to be "generous" in allowing the older form of Mass to be offered publicly with language much strong than that in the Motu Proprio "Ecclesia Dei adflicta" of John Paul II. "

Let's imagine he's spot on.

Imagine the excitement! We've got it! The Old Rite is back!

But let's imagine what the Hierarchy will say. (Obviously this is guesswork: I have no inside track on what the Catholic Bishops' Conference in England and Wales is planning. And it would be wrong to imagine that the Episcopal Conference plans against gossip about a putative Motu Proprio.) But how likely does the following sound.

"Private Masses are not the 0930 Mass that the Parish Newsletter advertises for every weekday.

Private Masses are not, in fact, to be advertised, because they are "private".

You can have a few people round but under the same conditions as for a "House Mass" in the Novus Praxis.

No priest can be forced to say Mass in the Old Rite (as if any could, but the Bishops will make a big deal about the pressure the Old Massians will put on a few simple priests).

"Parish Masses" ( however defined by the local Ordinary) must be in the New Rite.

No priest can celebrate the Old Rite who has not passed a test, and we will establish a committee to set one: it will put in place conditions by 2012.

No unreordering of Churches may take place just to favour celebration of the Old Rite.

The Novus Ordo must always have primacy over the Vetus Ordo.

And we have leant so far back to accomodate you that any cavilling against our authority is an attack against the Church."

I'm probably wrong: the Bishops will welcome the opportunity for Mass to be celebrated always and everywhere as it was always celebrated. I can recognise a flying pig when I see one!

05 December 2006

Pastoral Letters: what are Bishops for?

That useful web page: http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/dioc/dioceses.htm: gives us a link to all of the diocesan websites in England and Wales. Shrewsbury's is under reconstruction, and Wrexham's needs some sort of special permission which I don't have. But the other 20 are all there (though the Bishop of the Armed Forces is not listed).

I thought it might be useful to compare and contrast the Advent pastoral letters from our Bishops. But I was surprised to find that only 8 of the 20 sites listed one. It might have been a case of late posting, I thought, but two or three offered a letter on the feast of Christ the King, and the remainder made clear that pastoral letters are not something that the Bishops think of as a priority nowadays.

Now, my memory leads me to think that when I was young Bishop Holland of Salford used to send us 4 or 5 letters a year. It's clear, from looking at each Bishop's index of pastoral letters, that this doesn't happen any more. I wonder why not.

"Bishops, with priests as co-workers, have as their first task 'to preach the Gospel of God to all men,' in keeping with the Lord's Command." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 888)

The Bishop of Clifton is, by the way, the only one to offer us a podcast of him reading his own letter: "Let Us Pod" is the greeting on the diocesan home page. He quotes seven different people on his website who say how well done it was.

The content is, well, variable. But well done Cardiff, Clifton, E Anglia, Leeds, Middlesborough, Nottingham, Salford and Southwark for taking the trouble to mark the start of the Church's year by assuming that we might want some guidance from the Head of our local Church.

02 December 2006

Who will be the new Cardinal Archbishop?

Betting on the next Archbishop of Westminster takes us a long way from Barchester, but the fundamental question – who will be the next Bishop? – is as important for the Church in England and Wales as it was for Barchester.

Let us take as read that all of the potential candidates are holy and prayerful men, that there are no skeletons in their closets, that what we see is what we get, and every other cliché in the book.

I will try not to introduce personal preference into the equation (with one major exception) but invite you to look at the cardinabile.

Let us start with the betting.

The latest odds from Paddy Power (the titles come from the website) are as follows:
Rt Rev Kevin McDonald 7-2
Rt Rev Vincent Nichols 7-2
Fr Aidan Nichols 5-1
Rt Rev Alan Hopes 11-2
Bishop William Kenney 6-1
Rt Rev Patrick Kelly 10-1
Fr Timothy Radcliffe 10-1
Rt Rev Arthur Roche 10-1
Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald 10-1
Rt Rev Bernard Longley 12-1
Rt Rev Peter Smith 12-1
Rt Rev Michael Evans 16-1
Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue 16-1
Fr Christopher Jamison 20-1
Bishop John Rawsthorne 20-1
Bishop John Patrick Crowley 33-1

Paddy Power opened a book because people wanted to bet. He (let’s think of Paddy as the man in the ring, a faded tweed suit, a nose for something going on) took a bit of advice from inside the track, came up with a list, and has started to adjust the odds according to the way people are putting their money. I doubt that the Apostolic Nuncio, whose recommendation will carry the significant weight, was consulted, or that he will be having a flutter. So the list represents a combination of the views of the different sorts of Catholic Insider whom our friend Paddy trusts.

Two strong currents of thought suggest themselves immediately: the secular insider and the regular outsider. The latter first: two Dominicans and a Benedictine. Abbot Christopher Jamison is known for his programme on BBC2 in which he welcomed a series of social misfits to a Monastery and taught them about the Rule of St Benedict. Fr Timothy Radcliffe has a Catholic agenda which differs from the Pope’s. Fr Aidan Nichols has a Catholic agenda is far closer to the Pope’s than his Dominican brother, but has never managed anything like an Abbey or a Province, or, well, anything.

So why are the orders such a strong undercurrent? The Church in England and Wales received a message from Rome recently when William Kenney CP was named as the new Auxiliary in Birmingham. He was Auxiliary Bishop in Stockholm and was named ahead of all of the aspirant Vicars General in England and Wales. I don’t think we’ll see a regular at Westminster – at least, not any of the ones in the list – but there is a strong message that they are getting right something which the secular clergy aren’t.

The seculars: the question must by why Archbishop Nichols isn’t the only horse in the race. He was favourite to succeed Cardinal Hume but was moved to Birmingham to allow Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor to sort out the sexual scandals in the Church and give him a clear run at leading the Church without the distraction of a press concentrating on paedophilia. And MO’C, it was thought, was sufficiently middle class to maintain the social position of the Church which Cardinal Hume had won for it. Archbishop Nichols has spent much of the time since the death of Pope John Paul II acting as the senior Catholic churchman in England and Wales. And yet he is still only equal favourite with Archbishop McDonald, whose translation to Southwark was itself a surprise – even a shock – to the hierarchy.

Bishop Hopes is on the list because he knows the diocese; Bishop Kenney has only just arrived from Scandinavia, and once we get to 10-1, I think we have any Bishop anybody might put a few pounds on (though Bishops Roche and Smith are dark horses and might well end up a lot closer to the top of the list which goes to the Vatican than their position in Paddy Power’s list suggests.

Archbishop Kelly’s inclusion is, I trust, an invitation to Liverpudlians to throw some money away on what look like good odds. It is hard to think of a Bishop more imbued with the “spirit of Vatican II” and as he is now doing on a large scale to Liverpool what he did on a smaller scale in Salford, the fruits of that particular spirit are being made manifest. (Here is the man who wanted to experiment with starting the Mass with the Gloria rather than with a penitential rite, and who decided that in the Salford diocese, Confirmation should precede Communion and should be given as a matter of course by the Parish Priest.)

It’s still early to call the result: indeed, MO’C might well be asked to stay on for a year or two more. But as Archbishop’s Nichols campaign looks increasingly strained, the prospects look more and more interesting.