29 September 2010

Pravda Or Izvestiya?

Might it just be possible that this is a creature of the permanent staff of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales?  At one, or two removes, of course; far enough away to be deniable, particularly to their Graces and Lordships.

It's easy to see how much the staff of the CBCEW costs: what does it do?

27 September 2010

What The Bishops Did Next

The obvious thing for the Bishops to do to start building on the Papal visit was to get out there and confirm the brethren: not literally or in their Cathedrals necessarily, but to get out among the flock and build on the foundations established by the Pope.  And it's gratifying to note that if the Bishops' Engagements column in the Catholic press is accurate, that's what a lot of them did.

Many were out in parishes which were celebrating jubilees, a couple were going away on diocesan or society pilgrimages, the Bishop of the Forces was away doing military things, Bishop Conry was at a CAFOD residential weekend, and quite a few had no engagements listed, which probably means that they said Mass in their Cathedrals.  Bishop Budd doesn't seem to send his engagements in any more, and Bishop Lang wasn't listed this week.

I was struck by Archbishop Smith, who could leave Southwark for the day to preach at the service of the annual meeting of the Christian Socialist Movement at Manchester's Anglican Cathedral.

Archbishop Nichols issued a clarion call to the faithful of Westminster.  The Archbishop of Birmingham and the Bishop of Menevia offered Masses of Thanksgiving for the visit.

Next week it will filter down to parish level.

26 September 2010

Good Books: Help Wanted

It was quite a shock to read Fr Hunwicke recently when he said:

Dear old Fortescue's The Mass records the long debates of liturgists a century ago about where the epiclesis of the Roman Rite originally was before it ... er ... "dropped out". Their assumption, of course, was that the epiclesis was original to Christian liturgy and that the Oriental rites which preserve it were more 'primitive' than the Roman Rite. Now, happily, we know better. We see the Oriental epiclesis as a comparatively late fad in the evolving liturgical tradition. Rather than seeking traces of a lost epiclesis in the Canon Romanus, we realise that the prayer Supplices te rogamus, in which we pray that our offerings be taken to the Heavenly Altar, represents an earlier and lovelier expression of the linkage between our offering and the eternal oblation of the Eternal Son at the Heavenly Altar.
Fr Fortescue's work is one I refer to a lot, partly because it is so well written, partly because it is obviously the fruit of great scholarship, but mainly because if there is a newer or better history of the Liturgy, I haven't come across it.

There are specialised publications: Usus Antiquior, now two issues old, will become, I am sure, a focal point for serious students.

But what I am after would be broader, rather than deeper: we need both, but I can only find the deep.

It isn't just liturgical history either: in the same way as I'd like to see a successor to Fr Fortescue, I'd like to see somebody contemporary who could write as well and as meaningfully as Mgr Knox - it's over fifty years since he died.

In the back of my copy of The Mass is an advertisement for Longman's Westminster Library: A series of Manuals for Catholic Priests and Students.  The Mass comes before The Christian Calendar, The Study of the Fathers, The Origin of the Gospels and The Breviary.  Is there any modern equivalent?  Or do I have to throw myself (and my purse) onto Abebooks?

25 September 2010

The Birmingham Three: Catholic Laity In 2010

(The picture is just to show Fr Ray that Methodist Central Hall (sort of) decked itself out for the Pope, as well as The Albert on Victoria St.)

This posting is about England and Wales, even though it might ring true in some other jurisdictions as well. 

We've had priest-blogger equivalents for many years: they write in parish newsletters or the local press; some have columns in the Catholic press, or appear on Thought for the Day.  A reasonable proportion prepare homilies which they deliver each Sunday; a lot of others extemporise.  But we are used to hearing views from the clergy about major issues of the day, the third world, international debt, how wonderful CAFOD is, and sometimes God.  The blogosphere has allowed the more readable clergy and religious to put their offerings before a much wider and international audience, and they are flourishing, offering a distinctive voice in the Church.

But for many years, the only lay bloggers (using the same analogy) were those writing in the Catholic press.  It would be fair to say that the quality of the Catholic press is mixed, in the same way that the gourmet value of most High Street eateries is mixed.  Much of it is dire, but there is the odd jewel (I think, for example, of Stuart Reid) at times, and for some people, it is the only source of intellectual nourishment about the faith (as well as an opportunity to see wha the Press Officers of now-independent Catholic Grammar Schools can boast about).

(The letters page wasn't really an analogue, because somebody else: the editor: has total control of it.  The blogosphere obeys the market: if your blog is valueless, nobody will come.  The Catholic letter page is a command economy: how else would Tom from Somerset ever find any readers?)

So now that there is an alternative, who are the lay Catholic Bloggers, and where are they?  While you read what follows, bear two quotes in mind:

The Pope quoted Newman:

“I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it.”

and Fr Ray, when I asked for leadership from the Hierarchy said:

“Yes, yes, yes but it will only happen only with the help of a well educated laity who make these demands of all the clergy.”

Now, before I continue I want to make one thing very clear: I am not an Oratorian, and, in particular, I am not a member of the Birmingham Oratory.  That means that I don't know what has gone on inside the Oratory.  Something has, because the Oratory received a Visitation, and the Visitor has made some judgements about what happened.

That's all I know.

And that, I suggest tentatively, is all that anybody outside the Oratorian Congregation can possibly know.  But this post is about the Catholic laity who use their voices.

The squaring up of various Catholics in respect of the "Birmingham Three" is actually about something else (which must be a bit of a downer, if you are a Birmingham Oratorian, but hey ho).  It's about lay people deciding that it is up to them themselves where the voice of the Catholic laity can be heard and where it should be heard, and it's about who identifies both the Catholic laity who have voices, and the voices which belong to the Catholic laity.

This is an extraordinary and ironic fruit of the "Spirit of Vatican II": the lay people it "empowered" to throw off clericalism and speak as equal members of God's Church have done so, but many are so off-message that they are threatening to upset the equilibrium that the S of V II appeared to have imposed on the Catholic Church here.

There are five different strands of commentary which are fairly easy to identify (please don't get hung up on the labels - that's all they are):

The Tabletistas: those in favour of the anti-Benedictine pro-"Spirit of Vatican II" status quo; the people who in the main hold the levers of power; people who sneer at the Pope and those who accept his theology and ecclesiology; its loony fringe is liberal Anglicanism;

The NeoCons: JPII Catholics; often articulate spokesmen often from the new movements; sometimes converts from Anglicanism; vigorous; orthodox insofar as they have ever come across the orthodox teachings of the Church, but sometimes a bit over-confident in the way in which they articulate what they believe that Catholic believe;

The Neither of the Above: JPII  Catholics, articulate spokesmen who are neither of the above.  At a major disadvantage because they don't belong to a group which nourishes and supports them.

The Trads: sometimes articulate, sometimes "differently choate" spokesmen for a pre-JP II view of Catholicsm.  At an even greater disadvantage because they don't belong to a group and the first two groups are firing missiles at the place where they would try to form a group if they could.  People gather around the leading trad bloggers but these people can be ignored online as lay Catholics are ignored in the real world by the powerful.  Its loony fringe comes from the traddier-than-thou tendency (we'll have an SSSG soon which will recreate the Liturgy of the 6th Century and it will immediately force the formation of a counter-group which despises St Gregory for his actions in rewriting the Roman Mass);

and, on his own:

Damian Thompson:  unwilling to lead the faction which would follow him (and who could blame him, knowing what he'd have following him, as well as what he'd have opposing him).  The Boris Johnson of English and Welsh Catholicsm (mutatis mutandis of course).

Catholic Voices could have been an interesting way of bringing together the non-Tabletista tendencies and to have created a powerful force in the Church, one which might have been able to achieve what the Pope and Fr Ray asked for.  We might have had a sort of Catholic Evidence Guild which preached the Truth inside the Church as well as outside it.  The way the idea was emasculated, the way in which the Birmingham Oratory became a battlefield for something else, will be familiar to anybody with experience of student politics.  But might it also be a case that "they" are beginning to run scared?

What next?

22 September 2010

A Tentative Return

Ironically, I spent the period of the Pope's visit in London, but was working.  I got out early in the morning, and managed this spectacularly empty picture of the Mall soon after 7.00 am on saturday morning, but spent most of my time indoors and with very limited access to television except for the News at the end of the day.  The only service I saw all the way through was the Evensong at Westminster Abbey, and it caused me to reflect,  first that Mgr Marini and the Pope both seemed alive to the sheer quality of the service on offer: a modern composition to welcome the Pope which didn't quite come off but scored an A+ for showing willing; Stanford, whose music the Holy Father may never have heard but which is the embodiment of a particular sort of observant Anglicanism; properly vested clergy; clergy who knew all the verses to their hymns; a sense that this was their new Sunday best, that they would do absolutely everything that they could to welcome their very distinguished and very welcome guest; and second, that it just didn't cut it; that what was happening was an end, not a beginning; that this was probably the last time that a Pope would engage with the Church of England as it has been since the Restoration of our Hierarchy; and third, that our Hierarchy just isn't up to it.  Hearing the addresses of the Pope and of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I wondered which Bishop in England and Wales would be able to write something so intellectually commanding.  Most could emulate the theological wrongness of the A of C, but not the intellect.  We don't have Bishops of the calibre to take on the secular world: that's why it's taken the Pope's visit to alert the media that there is a radical alternative to the world, the flesh and the devil.  The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton preened himself that the Pope would come and see a Rolls Royce model of how to manage terminal decline: instead the Pope preached a path to a new springtime.

In fact, when I think about the Hierarchy, the word that springs to mind is "mediocre".  We are desperate for leaders: they don't all have to be intellectuals, though it would be nice if two or three were; they don't all have to be profound theologians, though it would be nice if two or three were; they don't all have to be gifted administrators, though it would be nice if two or three were; they don't all have be be good communicators, though it would be nice if two or three were; but they have to be able to lead us.

When Cardinal Murphy O'Connor's resignation approached, Cardinal Pell's suddenly appearing as a candidate wasn't an accident.  This was not a game of Fantasy Archiepiscopal Nominations: what was wanted was a debate about the sort of person the Church in England and Wales needed, and the Vincent Nichols who was Archbishop of Birmingham when Cardinal M O'C was 74 needed to show himself as something other if he were to become the Archbishop of Westminster we need.  We needed somebody who could approach the cathedra in awe and aim to grow into it, rather than try to shrink the cathedra to his stature.  I still think the jury is out, but what happens during the next few months, after we have reflected on the messages the Pope has left us, will tell us which course he is trying to steer.

More soon on what it was like to watch the way that Catholic bloggers told the story of the Birmingham Oratory.