30 June 2007

1 July 1916

Tonight, 91 years ago, 19,240 British Empire soldiers saw their last sunset, for the next day, 1 July, was the first day of the First Battle of the Somme. A further 38,230 would be wounded, many severely before the day was finished. Ulstermen, Newfoundlanders, Accrington Pals ... this was the blooding and the bloodying of Kitchener's New Army, and men and women on the Home Front, who saw newsreel footage of battle for the first time, saw a vision of Armaggedon. In the great scheme of things, the German Empire could not recover from 1st Somme, and the lessons learned by the New Army were such that it would prevail.

Hindsight and the big picture. The present and the little picture were all alive as I grew up: the large number of elderly spinsters in towns like Accrington where there were not enough men after the war for them all to marry. And every family seemed to have a photo on the mantelpiece of a proud young soldier, a young man who would be 19 for ever.

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
Lawrence Binyon For the Fallen

29 June 2007

For All Christian Liberals Everywhere

H/t to the Clam Rampant. (UU means Unitarian Universalist, by the way)

I am the very model of a modern Unitarian,
Far broader than a Catholic, Hindu, Jew or Presbyterian.
I know the world’s religions and can trace their roots historical
From Moses up to Channing, all in order categorical.
I’m very well acquainted, too, with theories theological,
On existential questions I am always wholly logical,
About most any problem I am teeming with a lot of views,
I’m full of fine ideas that should fill our church’s empty pews.

(Chorus members:
We’re full of fine ideas that should fill our church’s empty pews.
We’re full of fine ideas that should fill our church’s empty pews.
We’re full of fine ideas that should fill our church’s empty empty pews.)

I quote from Freud and Jung and all the experts psychological.
I’m anti nuke, I don’t pollute, I’m chastely ecological.
In short, in matters spiritual, ethical, material,
I am the very model of a modern Unitarian.

(Chorus members:
In short, in matters spiritual, ethical, material,
We are the very model of a modern Unitarian.)

I use the latest language; God is never Father or the Lord,
But Ground of Being, Source of Life or almost any other word.
I never pray, I meditate, I’m leery about worshipping.
I serve on 10 committees none of which accomplish anything.
I give to worthy causes and I drive a gas conserving car,
I have good UU principles (although I’m not sure what they are).
I’m open to opinions of profound or broad variety,
Unless they’re too conservative or smack of righteous piety.

(Chorus members:
Unless they’re too conservative or smack of righteous piety.
Unless they’re too conservative or smack of righteous piety.
Unless they’re too conservative or smack of righteous pie-piety.)

I formulate agendas and discuss them with the best of ‘em,
But don’t ask me to implement, we leave that to the rest of ‘em.
In short in matters spiritual, ethical, material,
I am the very model of today’s religious liberal.

(Chorus members:
In short, in matters spiritual, ethical, material,
We are the very model of today’s religious liberal.)

28 June 2007

Moretben-inspired Musings

The animadversion of Fr Z (whom God preserve) of my friend Moretben's article about the Trad Archipelago has given Moretben plenty to reply to. Those of us who toil in the fifth circle will be pleased that the watchman waked.

However much Moretben is at home in the Undercroft - however much I am at home in the Muniment Room - we have to recognise that cataclysmic events occur, and that they cannot be undone. Our homes gradually become fortresses against the ruin which infests the world outside. We cannot recreate the past. The past will never happen again.

The world of the 1950s, or, more exactly, that bit of the pre-World War II world which survived the horror of 1939-1945, is a memory of something good and wholesome, and, like all memories, something which belongs to the past. The Whit Walks (a Mancunian writes) were wonderful, and will never happen again.

But we can shape the future, and this is the kernel of what I have gained from Moretben's post. Put simply: pray the Mass; let good priests say the Mass and pray while they say it; pray for good priests to say the Mass properly. Pray.

I sense the distinction between the ordinary and the extraordinary Rites of Mass not as normal versus unusual, but as mundane versus celestial. HH the P has rightly concentrated on the absolute core of our faith - the Mass and the associated Ars Celebrandi - and has rightly realised that the peripheral will sort itself out.

Should women cover their heads at Mass? I don't know, but I know that women should go to Masses rightly celebrated, and they will work out for themselves what their head covering should be. When I and a group of my staff met the Queen, there was no dicussion about what we would wear: we knew, instinctively.

If our priests begin to bring our King to us in a seemly fashion, we will behave in a seemly way. The seemliness will not be that of our parents', or grandparents', generation. But it will still be seemly.

The past has passed, and what follows will not be better; but the past can't be recreated, so let's try to aspire to something as good.

27 June 2007

A Papal Joke is No Laughing Matter

The new Motu Proprio wasn't the one everybody was expecting: so much the better, as the Pope is well within his rights to make us wait.

I wonder if this one might, in the great scheme of things, be rather more important.

The succession has been skewed, and probably traditionwards.

25 June 2007

Floods and rumination

We live high up so last night's rains and this morning floods did little more than cause a twenty minute drive to turn into a ninety minute obstacle course to get child to school and us to work.

It gave me time to ponder on Fr Dwight's posting on why anybody would want to go to Mass celebrated in the traditional rite.

His are good questions, and well put: why would people want to go to a Mass where they couldn't see what the priest was doing or hear what he was saying? How, to cap it all, is Mass better when it is in a language that nobody understands that Jesus and his disciples never spoke? There has been a good preliminary answer from the NLM, but time spent waiting in traffic, once my helpful advice to my wife had been treated with the scorn it no doubt deserved, made me think about the radical change in Catholic praxis since the Novus Ordo was made normative.

Why should the priest's actions be visible?
Why should the priest's words be heard?
Why should the participation of the laity be audible?
Why should the laity have to do physical things in unison to be thought to be participating?
Why would anyone think that Latin was not the appropriate language for the Roman Rite?

These are not questions which occurred to anybody - well, to anybody except for heretics - until the second half of the twentieth century. Sacrifice and Immolation demanded behaviour and language from the Priest, and from those privileged to witness what he was doing, appropriate to the actions he was to perform.

I don't want to criticise Fr Dwight for asking the questions: they are the questions my children ask me when I insist on the superiority of the Classical Rite. They are the questions that anybody who has been brought up in the Church since Vatican II feels are right to be asked.

I wonder what happened that anybody feels that it is normal that such questions can be asked.

23 June 2007

The PM at the Vatican

According to the Vatican Press Office, the 10 years of the Prime Minister's period of office were considered. There was a frank exchange about the current international situation, and a discussion about certain laws passed recently in the United Kingdom, before the Pope's good wishes were passed to the Prime Minister for his clear intent to work for peace in the Middle East and interreligious dialogue.

According to Ttony, this means that the PM hasn't had the seal of approval. Tony Blair is not the Vatican's representative for either peace in the Middle East or interreligious dialogue.

A bottle is being opened.

21 June 2007

What are friends for?

Most of my friends are people who can chide me, however obliquely, and make me stop and think.

Most of the time, I have the mind and intellect of a butterfly, and flit from flower to flower, drinking a bit of nectar here and there, enjoying the sun and spreading my wings, and I go with the currents of the wind, true to my type.

Most of my friends tolerate this: I can bring all sorts of new things to their attention; I can be their "Carian Guest"; my nightingales entertain.

Most of the time, I feel (to change the metaphor) a bit like Mole: I am let loose in the world and discover all manner of things and want to enjoy them and exult in them.

Most of my friends are like Badger.

Every now and then, one of my friends brings me back down to earth (sorry about the multiplication of metaphors) with a severe bump. Today was Moretben's turn.

What will the Motu Proprio achieve in England and Wales? It will (we assume) allow a more tolerant attitude to the celebration of Mass in the style in which it was always celebrated. And ...

... there's the rub. What else will change? The Catholic Church in England and Wales as is plus a few more celebrations of the Tridentine Mass, is not going to amount to anything more than the CCin E&W as is plus a thing less to moan about.

I write in a week where Catholic priests have led a protest at Westminster Cathedral about a shameful sacrilegeous desecration of a Holy place. (The last time priests did things analogous to that in Westminster was 450 years ago.) What difference will a mere Motu Proprio make? Will the Hierarchy in whose name the Cardinal is alleged to have written to the Holy Father protesting about the forthcoming document suddenly change its spots? Are the rumours about the Hierarchy "dining the Prime Minister out" at the English College just that: rumours?

In fact, just imagine the sort of place we have become when priests lead protests outside our Mother Church. What a scandalously awful place we have been led to!

18 June 2007

From a GCSE Syllabus

The WhiteStone Name Seeker blogged about RE A Level. Here is a bit of better news from GCSE-land, specifically AQA Specification A Catholic Christianity. These are a few bullets from the revision book, which I hope to be allowed to copy without permission:

The Mass is important to Catholics because
  • it is a way of making their lives good again after sins;
  • it is the way of gaining the power to fulfil God's will in their daily lives;
  • it is an obligation to attend Mass on Sunday to fulfil the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy;
  • it is a means of uniting them with Christ and other Catholics;
  • it is the Catholic way of nourishing Christians through the Body and Blood of Jesus;
  • it is a sacrament of love from God to Christians through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Not quite as many capital letters as I would have liked, and a bit on the thin side, but Catholic none the less.

The revision practices are great; for example: Give reasons why the Church is One, is Holy, is Catholic, is Apostolic. The author was a bit un-PC when he contrasts regularly Catholic, Orthodox and Christian, but we know what he means: when he says Christian he means Protestant.

Within the sort of framework which will creep past a diocesan education committee, here is an opportunity to teach the Catechism.

Of course things could be better: a lot, lot, better; but things could be a lot worse too.

16 June 2007

Being a fool for Christ's sake

Fr Michael Seed is not like most priests in England and Wales today. This is mainly because he appears in the broadsheets a lot: he is caricatured as priest to the great and good: he says Mass for the Prime Minister's family in Downing St; he has instructed several high profile converts. He also does a lot of work with down-and-outs, but that gets little publicity. To describe his childhood as "abused" is to airbrush a traumatic story: just enter "Nobody's Child" into the search field at amazon.co.uk and read the synopsis.

Fr Seed is reported in today's Telegraph as having seriously angered the Cardinal. Fr Seed has apparently used his contacts to raise the £2M needed to fund each of four Academies (each prospective Academy has to raise £2M if the Government is to provide the rest of the funding). According to the paper:

'The Daily Telegraph has learnt that Fr Seed's connection to the academies project has caused concern at the most senior levels of the Roman Catholic Church, with Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor privately expressing "deep unease".

The Cardinal is unhappy that Fr Seed should have been seen to be involved in helping a project so closely associated with the Prime Minister. The Cardinal has told senior bishops that he feared the introduction could be seen as blurring the boundaries between the Church and party politics. Neither the Cardinal nor Fr Seed would comment last night.'

If anybody manages to question the Cardinal on this subject, it would be interesting to know how he thinks Catholic, and joint Catholic-Anglican, Academies have raised, or are raising, their £2M, and whether he thinks that establishing these new schools is wrong because they blur the boundary between the Church and party politics, especially when Blair, Brown, and Cameron are all massively in favour of them.

Somebody who risks (and often gains) obloquy to bring people to the Church, and tries to persuade the rich to part with their money to benefit the poor - in particular the children of the poor - might not be doing much to further CAFOD's agenda, but seems to me to be doing quite a lot to further Our Lord's.

14 June 2007

The In-trays of the Vatican

Rafael Castela Santos recommended a new site (in Spanish) maintained by some priests of the Barcelona Diocese. A posting called "PROMOVEATUR UT REMOVEATUR" (Promote Them to Remove Them) discusses various questions of Catalonian episcopal politics and contains a delightful paragraph which I hope they don't mind me translating (fairly freely) here.

"There are three in-trays on the desks of each of the Roman Congregations into which the different subjects to be decided are placed in order of priority. One is for questions which need to be resolved rapidly because of the urgency of the matter under discussion. The next is for questions which need to studied carefully and in collaboration with other Dicasteries, and whose resolution, therefore, will take a prudential amount of time to settle. The third is the one into which are put those problems which Time alone will solve."

They declare that the Archdiocese of Barcelona couldn't possibly belong to the third in-tray. I wonder which the question of the Church in England and Wales, and the Westminster succession might belong in.

13 June 2007

Sonnet for the Madonna of the Cherries

Somebody recently - as far as I can tell not Jeffrey nor Idle Speculations, who would be my usual suspects for this sort of thing - posted a picture of Our Lady with the wrong fruit. It had been nagging away at me for some days when I realised where I had come across it before: in a poem.

In "Other Mens' Flowers", the great anthology of poetry published by Field Marshal Lord Wavell in 1944, there is a single poem by the author. He recounts the story of how Flemish Masters who visited Italy in the early 16th Century were shown a copy of a cartoon by Leonardo and were asked to paint it, no doubt so the Milanese artists could see whether thay had anything to learn from their Northern brethren. Twelve were painted. One was eventually owned by Captain Spencer-Churchill MC, a friend of Lord Wavell's, who visited it in April 1943 at Northwick Park. (Anybody who has access to JSTOR might be able to see a photo: I can't.)

Dear Lady of the Cherries, cool, serene,
Untroubled by our follies, strife and fears,
Clad in soft reds and blues and mantle green,
Your memory has been with me all these years.

Long years of battle, bitterness and waste,
Dry years of sun and dust and Eastern skies,
Hard years of ceaseless struggle, endless haste,
Fighting 'gainst greed for power and hate and lies.

Your red-gold hair, your slowly smiling face
For pride in your dear son, your King of Kings,
Fruits of the kindly earth, and truth and grace,
Colour and light, and all warm lovely things -

For all that loveliness, that warmth, that light,
Blessed madonna, I go back to fight.

Firld Marshal the Earl Wavell PC GCB GCSI GCIE CMG MC

Not, perhaps, great poetry, but a wonderful spontaneous response to a picture. As it happens, he didn't go back to fight: on his return to London he was ordered to India as Viceroy, the penultimate Viceroy as it turned out.

And here's a thing: a Chief of the Defence Staff (we don't have Field Marshals any more) once saw a copy of "Other Mens' Flowers" on my desk at work and told me he had a copy which always accompanied him on his travels.

I like to think of soldiers who read poetry.

12 June 2007

Which Theologian Are You?

Courtesy of Fr Tim, I found an interesting quiz: which theologian are you? I'm a bit worried that the Karl Barth and Scleiermacher scores are on the high side.

You scored as Anselm, Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period.He sees man's primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read 'Cur Deus Homo?'





Karl Barth


Friedrich Schleiermacher


John Calvin


Martin Luther


Paul Tillich


Jürgen Moltmann


Charles Finney


Jonathan Edwards


Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com


Am I the only person to think it somehat ironic that the CofE should be complaining that a violent video game "desecrates" Manchester Cathedral? Wasn't there a little unpleasantness 450 years ago?

10 June 2007

The Westminster Stakes

Betting is in abeyance. A few shrewd people persuaded Paddy Power to open a book on the succession to Cardinal Murphy O'Connor last autumn and managed to get their money on. However, nothing has changed at all in 2007, as those who want to place a bet wait for the official announcement that the Cardinal's resignation has (or has not) been accepted, and that announcement won't come before HE's 75th birthday in August.

In principle, the Apostolic Nuncio is the person charged with taking soundings, and advising Rome on who should be nominated for Westminster once the See is declared vacant. Realising that I knew little about Archbishop Sainz Muñoz (other than that he is "always welcome" at Eccleston Square) I asked a leading Spanish journalist, who specialises in ecclesiastical affairs, for an indication of which way the Nuncio's advice might go, and how it might be received. The answer was interesting (I have cut out a sentence which reflects on the leadership of the Church in England and Wales):

"Yo creo que el arzobispo de Westminster no lo decide el nuncio. Esos cargos tan importantes se deciden en Roma. Y supongo que el Papa ya tiene claro quien va a ser el sucesor de Murphy O'Connor que efectivamente en agosto cumple los setenta y cinco años. (...)

Efectivamente es un hombre de Casaroli. Pero como le digo no creo vaya a ser la persona decisiva para nombrar al nuevo arzobispo de Westminster."

"The Archbishop of Westminster is not chosen by the Nuncio. Posts as important as this are settled in Rome. And I imagine that the Pope is already clear about who Murphy O'Connor's successor will be once, in August, he has his 75th birthday. (...)

He (Sainz Muñoz) is basically one of Casaroli's men. But, as I say, I don't think he will have a decisive say in naming the new Archbishop of Westminster."

This puts the appointment of Bishop Kenney as Auxiliary in Birmingham into a new perspective: Rome is choosing the Bishops of England and Wales. Perhaps the succession in Middlesbrough will give us a further clue about what might be going to happen.

08 June 2007

Learning about English Catholic History

The story of the 1908 Eucharistic Congress in London from Idle Speculations.

When Television Is Good

BBC1 has just begun a series on "How We Built Britain". Episode One stayed in East Anglia and covered the mediaeval period, starting at Ely Cathedral and ending at Kings College, Cambridge, by way of wool churches and some surviving castles. It was what public service broadcasting is for, and David Dimbleby excelled as a presenter: he guided the viewer to look, and didn't interpose his personality between the viewer and the subject of his programme. Two scenes: where he showed how mediaeval roof timbers were labelled, and where those labels can still be seen; and when he went into the space between the Kings College vaulting and its roof, and showed the spy holes the masons had drilled through; were absolutely wonderful.

I recorded the programme. I thought that, converted to an MPEG it would be just what Jeffrey, the Roving Mediaevalist, needed, and after the trying week he has suffered I think I would have been spot on.

Until I found that the programme had been overwritten, and by trash (I plead the existence of two teenagers in the house.)

I can only appeal to his magnanimity and hope that BBC programmes like this may some day be aired on PBS or be available on NTSC Region One DVDs.

How to use the web

Courtesy of Damian Thompson's blog, I found a site in which a Chapel in which the Blessed Sacrament is perpetually adored has had a webcam added.

"Enjoy a variety of prayer aids intended to enrich your time with our Lord in adoration. With the exception of a few brief periods each day, Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament is presented live via webcam from the Chapel of Divine Love in Philadelphia, PA - a source of perpetual Eucharistic adoration by the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters since 1916."

(I thought "PA" means the US State of "Philadelphia". Jeffrey has corrected this misunderstanding: it means the US State of Pennsylvania.)

I thought: "I really don't like the monstrance" and almost immediately wondered how I dared even think like that.

God Bless these holy nuns! Clicking on the link isn't participating in Eucharistic Adoration, any more than watching a YouTube video of Mass is the same as going to Mass. But as a way of uniting ourselves in prayer with what they are doing in person, this is really great!

04 June 2007


Pray for all children who are going through GCSEs. Pray especially for those who have gone through a modern educational system which has created fine young people who care deeply for their fellow human beings but don't seem to realise that public examinations are important. Yes: I have one all of my own, and I am more nervous than I was when I was taking my own O Levels. Coming away from school full of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost is fine: coming away with six or seven A* to Cs would be nice too.

03 June 2007

5 June 1940

J B Priestley read his first "Postcript" after the 9 o'clock news.

"I wonder how many of you feel as I do about this great Battle and evacuation of Dunkirk. The news of it came as a series of surprises and shocks, followed by equally astonishing new waves of hope. It was all, from beginning to end, unexpected. And yet now that it's over, and we can look back on it, doesn't it seem to you to have an inevitable air about it - as if we had turned a page in the history of Britain and seen a chapter headed "Dunkirk" - and perhaps seen too a picture of the troops on the beach waiting to embark?
What strikes me about it is how typically English it is. Nothing, I feel, could be more English both in its beginning and its end, its folly and its grandeur. We have gone sadly wrong like this before, and here and now we must resolve never, never to do it again. What began as a miserable blunder, a catalogue of misfortunes ended as an epic of gallantry.
We have a queer habit - and you can see it running through our history - of conjuring up such transformations. And to my mind what was most characteristically English about it was the part played not by the warships but by the little pleasure-steamers. We've known them and laughed at them, these fussy little steamers, all our lives. These 'Brighton Belles' and 'Brighton Queens' left that innocent foolish world of theirs to sail into the inferno, to defy bombs, shells, magnetic mines, torpedoes, machine-gun fire - to rescue our soldiers.
But now - look - this little steamer, like all her brave and battered sisters, is immortal. She'll go sailing proudly down the years in the epic of Dunkirk. And our great grand-children, when they learn how we began this War by snatching glory out of defeat, and then swept on to victory, may also learn how the little holiday steamers made an excursion to hell and came back glorious."

Well, JB's children were alive then, so his grandchildren would probably have been born in the 50s or 60s, which means that his great grandchildren would be in school now. I can't see their children learning about Dunkirk somehow.

I tried a thesis out on Moretben once: that my generation, those of us born between about 1945 and 1960, is as affected by the Second World War as was our parents', mainly because of the effect on our parents. We were taught: to eat everything up; not to complain about not having things; to think that things could be much worse; to face up to adversity; to thank God for and enjoy small mercies; not to waste things. All amid an expectation that we would be called up to fight in a new World War, we imbibed the values that had carried our parents through the Second.

Perhaps it's one reason for our drifting: we weren't called on, as our parents were, to make the sacrifices that they made, and therefore find it difficult to insist on imposing on our children the values and customs that our parents felt justified in imposing on us. The mess that happened in the 70s and 80s is therefore our fault: we didn't stand up to the awful changes we knew were wrong, instead bending like grass in the wind, and allowing the Enemy to secure a foothold. We lost our nerve.

J B Priestley knew, on 5 June 1940, that the war would be won, and girded himself to play his part; he knew what war was: he had been in the trenches twenty five years earlier. Sixty-seven years later, what should we do?

02 June 2007

The Theology of the Body

David Palmer is in the middle of a spellbindingly good series of posts on Sex and the Catholic Church.

The really good thing is that this former Anglican vicar will begin his formation as a priest at Oscott in September. Assuming that everything goes well, he will fulfill in the Catholic Church his former vocation, and will bring us a richness of theological understanding that derives from his reconciliation.

As he says:

"As a convert I am often amazed at how "cradle" Catholics can fail to recognise the beauty of their faith... so I will do all I can to proclaim it here!"