fredag 24 mars 2017

London atrocity

It now turns out that the man responsible for the London incident was a native-born Brit. This goes to show that whilst immigrants may bring their systems ethics and attitudes with them, control of immigration cannot keep those ethics out. We also need to remember that some immigrants want to get away from societies dominated by those ethics and attitudes, and that other immigrants are importing ethics and attitudes which our society needs to reclaim if it is to flourish. That points to the need for a nuanced approach to immigration, so that those who would be an asset are not excluded. It also points to the need to keep a close check on the kind of material which is in circulation, which is not an easy task when most of it is propagated on the internet.

torsdag 23 mars 2017

Lead kindly light

We all make important decisions in the course of our lives. Big ones we make not more than half a dozen or so in a lifetime. Some, such as the choice of career, are unavoidable. Others, involving some kind of change of life, a driven by an internal sense of compulsion. We feel that things cannot go on as they are.

People - family and friends - speculate about why we make these choices. Why did he chose to be a ...? Why did she marry so-and-so - such an improbable choice? Why did they get divorced or leave x for y? Why did they emigrate to…? Why did they change careers after twenty years? Why did they become a …? Or why did they stop being a …? Why did the priest lose his faith? Why did the atheist become a Christian?

I once knew a Catholic priest who became a Jew. Reflecting many years later on the conversations we had - it was in the 1950s, it was obvious that he had never believed what Catholic priests would be expected to believe. One wonders why he went through with the training and offered himself for ordination, and why those in charge ordained him?

One reason could be that one is inclined to doubt one’s own doubts and think there must be something wrong with oneself. It is the opposite of intellectual arrogance, but in its way just as damaging. So the non-believing student priest persisted with his training.

Often, decisions which seem to have been made suddenly, following a particular event, are in reality the outcome of many years of niggling pressure. Or because thoughts and concerns that were previously incoherent suddenly come into clear focus. The dam finally breaks. At other times, an alternative course of action opens up unexpectedly or is newly recognised as a possibility.

Not only do we need to pay attention to these pressures inside us; we also need to refrain from drawing conclusions about why other people have made their decisions. What appears on the surface might have been the precipitating event, but it is unlikely to be their motivation, which will be something that has been building up for a long time.

Why do I mention the subject now? I know a few people who could be on the verge of making significant and surprising decisions. I feel I might be approaching that point myself. The important thing is to take one's time, try to establish the real reasons for making the decision, and if you believe in it, pray for guidance.

A model to follow is John Henry Newman, later Cardinal Newman, who wrote the hymn "Lead kindly light" when he was ill in Sicily in 1833 and unable to leave Palermo for three weeks.

Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom,
lead thou me on;
the night is dark, and I am far from home;
lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
the distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
lead thou me on.
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
So long thy power hath blest me, sure it still
will lead me on,
o'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
the night is gone,
and with the morn those angel faces smile,
which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
 In a similar vein there is the famous prayer of St Birgitta of Sweden
"Herre, visa mig din väg och gör mig villig att vandra den." 
 (Lord, show me your way and make me willing to follow it)

onsdag 22 mars 2017

Redesign

I have given the blog a redesign, partly because the font Vollkorn is now available - it is good for printing on paper, too, and partly to spare people's mobile batteries. A white background runs down the battery faster. Vollkorn is legible in sizes down to 9 point and because it does not have hairlines, is good for photocopying.

tisdag 21 mars 2017

Catholic dissidence

One of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council has been the growth of Catholic dissidence, focussed, in the first instance, on changes in the liturgy. The most extreme form of this dissidence is Sedevacantism, the theory that the See of Peter has been vacant since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, presumably with the implication that subsequent incumbents have been impostors.

The most organised expression of dissidence is SSPX, the Society of Saint Pius X, It was founded in 1970 by Archbishop Lefebre, with the original intention that it should be an institution within the formal structure of the church, dedicated to maintaining the traditional forms of Latin rite Catholic worship. The detailed history is complex but the end result was that it became separated, the final break being the appointing of bishops without the agreement of Rome. Although its members and supporters would deny this, SSPX has all the appearance of a sect standing outside the Catholic church.

There were also individual dissidents from that period, making a stand against reform, such as Father Oswald Baker, parish priest at Downham Market in Norfolk, who was removed from his post in 1975.

Other dissidence has been unimpeachably loyal. The Latin Mass Society and other organisations under the umbrella Una Voce have doggedly campaigned to promote the continuation of the Tridentine Mass. Their efforts were rewarded by the issuing of Summorum Pontificum in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI, which declared that the Tridentine Mass had never been abrogated. Then there are organisations such as Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge, which have, together with the monks of Solemnes, worked hard for over forty years, against the trend, to preserve from within the church's musical heritage of Gregorian chant.

Other centres of loyal dissidence have been the Congregation of the Oratory, which in England, grew from the original parishes in London and Birmingham, to the present total of six, and The Institute of Christ the King and the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP).

A louder expression of unimpeachably loyal dissidence is that of Michael Voris and his Church Militant channel. Voris is angry, and that comes across in the way he talks. He is angry about the liturgical abuse, the poor catechesis, the homosexual infiltration of the clergy and the dilution of orthodox Catholic teaching.

There has, of course, been dissidence at the very highest level. Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, worked tirelessly before election as Pope, writing a number of books of which the best known is Spirit of the Liturgy. More recently, Cardinal Sarah has pushed for a return to the traditional practice of ad orientem celebration.

None of this opposition is against anything formally decreed. If liturgical practice followed the guidelines and rules, there would, indeed, be no real reason for the dissidence. Versus populum celebration would not occur, since it is based on a misinterpretion of archaeological research, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal would be complied with, and the use of the Solemnes service book Graduale Romanum would result in a liturgy little different from the Tridentine form. Celebration of the Extraordinary Form, as the Tridentine Mass is now known, would be frequent and often. There would be no reasonable cause for dissidence regarding the liturgy.

A hopeless endeavour?
It is the response to Cardinal Sarah's plea which makes me wonder about the value of all the attempts to get things back on track. The response from so many of the bishops to Sarah's request was that priests should take no notice. Sarah himself was pushed aside. Realistically, however, it was almost inevitable.

What is one to conclude? Is it possible that the counter-movements are harbingers of a return to Catholic tradition and that things will pick up? It would be nice to think so but the statistics do not add up. All of the movements mentioned above are flourishing against a wider decline, as can be measured by figures such as the numbers of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and ordinations, and the age profiles of priests and congregations. The pointers are all in the wrong direction, short of a miracle. We are, after all, in the centenary year of Fatima, so all things are possible.

Why has the situation arisen at this time? One could say that it is a consequence of the Second Vatican Council and the ambiguous formulation of the documentation of its decisions. However, the Council was a response to pressures which had been building up since at least the 1880s, and which Pope Pius X found it necessary to address at the beginning of the twentieth century. Liturgical changes had also been going on long before 1960; substantial alterations were made during the reign of Pope Pius XII.

A key factor seems to have been the declaration of Papal Infallibility in 1870, at the First Vatican Council. Whilst, in a formal sense, it was strictly limited, applying only to ex-Cathedra statements of dogma, in practice, it strengthened the authority of the Pope in all matters. It also formalised a tendency which had been running since at least the sixth century, when Rome began increasingly to assert its position of primacy amongst the patriarchs. As long as the popes were sound, conservative and dedicated to tradition, everything would remain on course. But that is not the history of the papacy. The quality of the incumbents has been mixed. As soon as there were enough cardinals to elect a pope with a modernising agenda, it was going to be out with the old and in with the new.

But there must be other forces at work as well, because the conservative Pope Benedict was not able to turn the ship round against the modernising momentum that had built up. That momentum has increased since Benedict was elected, to the point that Benedict was dislodged and the modernisers got the pope they wanted. Nothing could change even if someone like Cardinal Burke or Cardinal Sarah was elected pope next time round, since they would find themselves in an even more difficult situation than that of Benedict.

Is it Game Over?
Given that modernising within the Catholic church can be equated with decline, what kind of a future can we expect? Is Catholic dissidence any longer even a productive activity? Is it even good for the spiritual well-being of the dissidents themselves? How does one know when a battle is lost and it is time to retire from the field? And what then?

fredag 17 februari 2017

New Mass translation proposed

When I first read this on another blog I thought it was more false news. Not so. Pope Francis is apparently reviewing Liturgiam Authenticum, which stipulated that liturgical texts must be close to the definitive Latin.

The present English translation, which came into use in 2011, is awkward in places, and is far removed from the kind of English that is used in daily conversation, but it is a huge improvement on the banal 1970 version.

At least having yet another new version will help to keep printers in business. Nowhere is all these endless discussions about liturgical language is the point made that the universal use of Latin is both a sign and a instrument of the Catholicity of the Catholic Church. Once it was discarded, the church, and indeed, parishes, split up into national language groups. This is the great, and most valid, argument against the Orthodox, who have at least held faithfully to their forms of worship.

Once the Catholic church abandons its traditions so that the Sacrifice of the Mass looks like a re-enactment of the Last Supper - the Protestant interpretation, and abandons the use of a common language of worship, one has to ask what is left of it and what is its purpose?

http://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/01/27/why-pope-francis-right-revisit-new-mass-translation

fredag 3 februari 2017

Another look at why Orthodoxy?

I have always had a an open mind about Orthodox Christianity. As a convert to the Catholic church in England in 1975, the eastern Orthodox churches were not something that I had even thought about. They had next to no presence, since the only Orthodox churches were the expatriate Russians - this was during Soviet times, and the Greeks, immigrants from Cyprus.

The subject crops up from time to time, however, partly because there are many more Orthodox parishes where I live now, and partly also because I have a friend who is Orthodox. A few years ago I wrote this blog piece on the subject. My friend had been under instruction to be received into the Catholic church, but at the last moment he took exception to Papal Infallibility and joined the Orthodox church instead. That led to the problem of which Orthodox church to join. He ended up in the Euphorbian Orthodox church, an expatriate group with a congregation of about twenty. He has to make  a long journey across London every Sunday morning to attend their Liturgy. As a result of this contact, and because of the proximity of Orthodox parishes where I live, I sometimes attend an Orthodox liturgy, usually in the Serbian church. Contemporary Catholic liturgies, in comparison, are poor fare.

There are exceptions, of course. There are more or less traditionalist groups such as the Oratorians and the congregations committed to the Extraordinary Form. The Catholic church here in Sweden, and in particular, my own parish, is one such oasis; last night, we had a Tridentine Mass for Candlemas, a liturgy of great beauty and devotion. Parishes where this happens are growth points.

The bigger picture of the Catholic church in Europe and the English-speaking world, however, is of a crumbling structure. Ireland, for centuries a bastion of the faith, it has all but collapsed. In the USA, it is imploding. The situation in the UK, France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands is little better. Vocations to the priesthood have all but vanished for the past four decades. The age profile of the present priests means that numbers are about to plummet, with many parishes needing to be closed.

Strange news, and often contradictory messages, have been coming from Rome ever since the resignation of Pope Benedict; that was itself a strange event. We are in for an interesting few years. For more than a century there has been tension in the church between modernisers and traditionalists. Are we now approaching rupture?

How Catholic is the contemporary Catholic church in reality? One sign of Catholicity is the presence, in congregations, of people from all the nations of the world. But because of the way the foreign chaplaincies operate, our own multi-national parish is split into a dozen different language groups, each with its own vernacular Mass, plus one in English for everyone else. The post-Vatican 2 adoption of the vernacular in the liturgy is un-Catholic; Latin was both a means and sign of the Catholicity of the church. Once it had been cast aside, what was left of the Catholicity?

This raises a disturbing question. The church has survived major shocks before. There is the precedent of the Arian heresy and the preservation of the orthodox faith by the remnant, followers of St Athanasius, who was sent to a remote place in the empire. But that was before the Orthodox/Catholic split. Already in the sixth century the Western church was starting to go its own way as the Papacy was beginning to evolve.

Only once before has the Catholic church had to face such a crisis apart from the other ancient patriarchates. That led to the Reformation and Counter Reformation. Are we about to see another great split? Could this be the end of the Catholic church in the form it has taken since the Great Schism?

We have always assumed that the church, under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome, is the main branch of the tree, but this rests ultimately on an interpretation of Matthew 16:18. What if we have been wrong all along? What if the main stem is the churches of present nine Orthodox patriarchates? It is a disturbing thought.

söndag 29 januari 2017

The Balance of Payments problem

Imports = wealth comes into the country, claims on wealth go out.
Exports = wealth leaves the country, claims on wealth come in.

So which is more beneficial? A balance of payments deficit means that the value of what comes in is more than the value of what goes out. If that were not the case, the trade would not take place. There would be no reason for it.

London atrocity

It now turns out that the man responsible for the London incident was a native-born Brit. This goes to show that whilst immigrants may bring...