fredag 18 november 2016

Tankar angående påvens besök i Sverige

Nuförtiden måste jag vara försiktig med vad jag utsätter min mage för; det kan sluta med att jag inte kan äta något mer än riskakor och en burk makrill i tomatsås som jag tar med mig som reserv, utifall den mat som jag blir erbjuden är opassande. Jag var där av förhindrad att närvara under påvens besök i Malmö.

Den katolska mässan i Malmö skänkte mig mycket eftertanke. De som kunde närvara talade om en riktigt härlig upplevelse. Detta trots att mässan hölls utomhus på Malmös fotbollsstadion, vilket bara i sig är opassande under november månader. Planering av mässan var nästan en sista minutens chansning, eftersom syftet med påvens besök ursprungligen var Svenska Kyrkans firande av Reformations 500 års-jubileum. För att delta i mässan hade Göteborgs city katoliker behövt avresa från Göteborg kl 03.30 för att kunna närvara vid dess start kl 09.30.

Påven firade nödvändigtvis på latin. Av detta skäl kunde det inte misslyckas. Tv kommentatorerna var utmärkta och gav en detaljerad förklaring av det som icke-katoliker kan finna svårt att förstå i mässan.

Valet av musik var delvis helt passande och välkänt: Missa de Angelis (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus), Credo III, Mysterium fidei, Pater Noster; detta särskilt i ljuset av att tv kommentatorerna själva förklarade att Kyrkan använder latin som ett universellt och enande språk utan koppling till någon nation eller folkgrupp. Märkligt nog, åtminstone en präst som brukar ta kraftig ställning mot latin uttryckte att han uppskattade att latin gjorde det möjligt att alla kunde delta i firandet med Påven.

Men - trots att mässan hölls på Alla Helgons Dag, av festdagens Proprium fanns det inte ett dugg. Mässan började med “För alla helgon” av den engelska kompositören Vaughan Williams i den Brittiska stilen “muskulär kristendomen”: bra musik men en klyscha. Därmed trängdes festdagens riktiga ingångsantifon Gaudeamus omnes in Domino ut.

Och så fortsatte det: nya musikstycken vars melodier hade varit mer passande i tv reklam för tvättmedel; psalmer på svenska med ursprung från stormaktstiden; 1800-tals stycken av anglikanskt ursprung, på engelska, visserligen vacker musik som hade passat bra för en gudstjänst på en domkyrka in England men helt opassande där och då. Säkert var det inte tänkt men över lag gav musiken intrycket att målet var att vara just icke-katolsk.

Resultatet blev att det varken sjöngs musiken som tillhör Alla Helgons Dagen eller kompositioner som hade varit passade vid ett besök av en påve. Den sista skulle kunna ha varit bra för att lägga till kyrkokörens egna repertoar - såsom Tu es Petrus till påvens ära (samt St Petrus och Paulus högtid) - inte nödvändigtvis den välkända Palestrina sammansättning, men möjligtvis en sammansättning av Duruffle, Byrd eller Victoria.

Ansvarig för ovan nämnda val av musik var stiftet, som bevisligen saknar känslan och kunskapen för det katolska musikaliska arvet. Detta är inte den enda exempel men en pågående förstörelse att biskopen bör ta hänsyn till och gör någonting åt.

Den ekumeniska Gudstjänsten i Lunds domkyrka var någonting ytterligare att dryfta. Det var ett märkligt hopkok av flertalet kockar med uppenbarligen noll känsla för Kyrklig liturgi och katolsk skönhet. Gudstjänsten började med en procession bärande ett färgglatt kors som såg ut som en rolig leksak, och så fortsatte den. Den hela verkade vara ett hedrande av människor snarare än ett hedrande av Gud.

Om det hade varit en vanlig anglikansk gudstjänst hade det kunnat framställas som en “Choral Evensong”, (en blandning av vespers och completorium) vilket skulle ha varit acceptabel för både katoliker och Lutheraner. Svenska kyrkan har tyvärr inte detta i sin egna liturgiska tradition men det kunde har utformats som en vesper Gudstjänst med ett antal förböner. Nu blev det istället pannkaka av hela tillställningen och ingen röd tråd kunde skönjas.

Om vi lägger ihop de olika händelserna, så blev mässan, trots kallt, regnigt och blåsigt väder ett minnesvärt ögonblick för de katolsk. Å andra sidan har det hela besöket skapat en allmänt förvirrad reaktion i vårt stift som utanför, särskilt ihopkopplat med påvens intervjusvar på flygplanet hem till Rom.

Sveriges katolska biskop blev å sin sida intervjuad av Sveriges Television tillsammans med den kvinnliga ärkebiskopen av Svenska kyrka. Biskop Anders var märkbart generad av Svt:s frågor som han omöjligt kunnat besvara utan att orsaka upprördhet hos det svenska folket i tvsofforna.

Utan mässan kommer besöket som bäste inte att lämna bestående intryck. Det svenska Salighetsverket kommer att fortsätta sin andliga kräftgång; mässan kan ha givit en liten skjuts åt latinet som ett sätt att ena ett samhälle delade bland många olika språkgrupper. Sveriges katoliker långt ifrån Roms influenser, kan fortsätta att behålla och bygga på sin rika katolska tradition. Insatserna skulle gynnas om Stockholms katolska stift tog ett hellhetsgrepp om den musikaliska tradition man i framtiden bör ösa ur.

måndag 14 november 2016

Square notes versus round


Every so often I have had a scrap with organists and choir leaders who insist on making us sing Gregorian chant from scores in modern notation. Our choir was once invited to sing in a broadcast concert from the Brighton Festival. The scores, of familiar music, were handed out, but we found them confusing, and asked for them in Gregorian notation that we were used to, with the groups of notes shown by signs called neumes (upper line). These were gladly provided, but the concert director expressed surprise that anyone was still using them.

Sometimes the dispute gets acrimonious. One choir director poked fun at the idea that anyone should even raise the matter, and said it was a fuss about nothing. To her credit, she later became convinced, started to go on courses at Solemnes and is now an Associate of the Schola Gregoriana of Cambrige.

The situation is particularly entrenched here in Sweden, paradoxically, because church musicians are well-qualified; there is an abundance of talented singers, but their background is mostly Lutheran. They have no roots in the Catholic musical tradition. Naturally enough, they find the Gregorian neume system unfamiliar and off-putting. Since there is almost nobody still around who was brought up in the Catholic tradition and could pass it on to them, there is resistance against changing to the authentic notation. As a result, although there is a reasonable selection of the Latin Gregorian chants included in the national hymn book, Cecilia, they have been printed in a five-line notation with stemless filled oblique oval notes (lower illustration).

It was not until Guido d̈́'Arezzo invented the Gregorian staff notation at the start of the eleventh century that it was even possible to indicate pitch in written form. But even today, it is said that the chant of the church is not part of the soul until it has been learned by heart. Jewish boys still learn to chant scripture readings from the Torah by heart, there being no musical notations, or even vowels, on the texts hand-written on the parchment scroll.

For non-musicians, or for children or beginners, the Gregorian notation is easier to grasp. Compare the two selections of the same score - the Kyrie of Mass I (Lux et Origo) at the top of this blog. The Gregorian neumes are an analog representation of the musical phrases, as well as being a diagram of the movement that the choir director's hand should make. That is not all. To anyone who has gained even a little experience, the distinctive pattern of the neume groupings make it immediately recognisable as belonging to the Mass Lux et Origo. Thus, even if you cannot sight-read off the page, the pattern of notes acts an aide memoire to anyone who as already learnt it, which is something that the amorphous line of floating dots in the Cecilia rendering cannot do.

There is more. The neumes are a guide to the phrasing. Small details in the notation - liquescent notes, for instance, make for subtlety in the sound. A further advantage is that the Gregorian system keeps the words together so that they can still be read, instead of breaking the text up into spread-out syllables which become meaningless in any language (see illustration).

Given that the text has the priority in chant, this combination of neumes and text layout leads to a markedly higher standard of singing, noticeably so even to the listener. I would go so far as to say that the modern notation destroys the very concept of the music as chanted sacred text used as prayer.

There are also practical advantages for the singers. The four-line Gregorian notation does not indicate an absolute pitch. The choice of pitch can be left to the singers; this is of course a nuisance for the accompanist, who has to transpose, which may be one reason for the preference for modern notation.

The Gregorian system also has the benefit of being more compact. The same amount of text and music takes up less space, so it can either be printed in larger type eg 12 point instead of 10 point, or in a smaller (and less expensive) book. For most people over the age of forty, bigger is better. There is a cognitive advantage as well: it is easier to see what is happening when there are only four lines instead of five: 25% easier. There is solid scientific evidence on this subject, which has been done, amongst other things, in connection with aircraft instrument dials, since these can be safety-critical. Worse still, the tonal range of the music does not fit the tonal range of the stave: the two upper lines are almost never used but a ledger line is usually required.

All of these factors make the chant more accessible to non-musicians. We should remember that Gregorian chant is not music for performance; it is prayer. Even a choir rehearsal session is a period of prayer. The music is not the preserve of musicians but belongs to the people. I have been singing in church for over forty years I would not describe myself as a singer, let alone a musician. But then Gregorian chant was not, in the first place, written for singers. Like most people, I cannot read music straight off the page in any format. I have to memorise the tunes, which I can do reasonably well. That is what people have been doing since the dawn of human history. Indeed, the ability to learn a tune is not even a specifically human attribute, since birds and many other mammals are proficient at the task.

For non-musicians the barrier is reading music in any shape or form. For beginners, the Gregorian system is easier, for the reasons mentioned above. Since this music is for everyone, the way to get people singing is to start them off with that which is within their ability and connects them not only to the ancient tradition of the Catholic Church but to the Jewish tradition from which it comes. For more proficient musicians, familiarity with the authentic neume notation will not only transform the quality of the sound, but also provide access to the vast stock of ancient music written in that notation, which otherwise would need to be transcribed, with the inevitable loss in subtleties which that leads to.

It is important therefore, that scores in neume notation should be made available for congregations and choirs, both for Gregorian settings in the vernacular and for the original Latin. As far as the latter is concerned, most of the music required for congregational singing in a Catholic parish is included in the inexpensive (€12 with discounts for bulk purchase) Solemnes publication Liber Cantualis; a book of organ accompaniments is available go with it.

If the Gregorian system of notation is a barrier for musicians here in Sweden, this needs to change. Anyone with aspirations to becoming a serious church musician ought to be familiar with it.

fredag 4 november 2016

Inter communion?

Bishop William Kenney, the Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham and former assistant bishop in Sweden, has been making statements about the practicability of inter-communion between Catholics and the Swedish Lutheran church.

I am no expert on these matters, to put it mildly, but I have always assumed that when one receives communion, one does so on the clear understanding that one accepts the teaching of the Catholic church on the subject ie that, as the Council of Trent declared

"in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue" 

Trent further added that anyone who "saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood - the species only of the bread and wine remaining - which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation, let him be anathema."

So far as I am aware, this teaching remains valid. It follows automatically that the Eucharist must be consecrated by a validly ordained Catholic priest.

Inter-communion is not inter-communion if it does not operate in both directions. That in turn implies recognition of the validity of Lutheran ordinations, which include women priests. But the Pope himself re-iterated on his journey back from Sweden, that the Catholic church would never ordain women, thereby reaffirming that the church does not believe it has the power to ordain women.

This means that though a woman may have been the subject of the rites of priestly ordination, that she may not thereby have become a priest, and consequently may not possess the power to carry out the Eucharstic consecration and that the elements cannot be guaranteed to be the Body and Blood of Christ.

Is it me who is confused here?


torsdag 3 november 2016

Is Bach out of place at Mass?

Catholic music is, like Jewish music, written for a text in a sacred language. It is typically melismatic, and modal ie not in the major or minor keys; the latter correspond respectively to the Ionian and Aeolian modes, about which Plato had pronounced and unflattering views.

Following the Reformation, a body of music was produced with the specific intention of being NOT-Catholic. These are hymns written for vernacular texts, in a major or minor key, and it is not melismatic but has, typically, one note per syllable. It has a completely different effect on the listener. It arises from a different spirituality.

Bach's church music, such as the cantatas, compilations of cantatas, and organ pieces incorporates Lutheran hymn tunes such as Wachet auf, Eine feste burg (used in Mendelsson's Reformation symphony), Nun danket alle Gott, etc. There is, of course Bach the B-Minor Mass, but it would be extremely unusual to use that setting liturgically.

Mixing music based on Lutheran themes into a Catholic liturgy creates an unhappy and incoherent blend from both a stylistic and spiritual aspect; think of pouring Vindaloo sauce on sushi.

The above comments apply to some extent to organ music when much of this, too, is based on Lutheran themes, and there is another point. There is plenty of Catholic organ music of the finest quality, written on Catholic liturgical themes, which gets squeezed out by the Protestant composers. It deserves performance and is in keeping with the style and spirituality of Gregorian chant. Too much of it is neglected - Frescobaldi, Muffat, Couperin, de Grigny, Duruffle, Messaien. There will always be plenty of opportunity to listen to Bach and Buxtehude at concerts or on the radio or in recordings. It is interesting that at the London Oratory, who set the standard in these matters, Bach is played regularly at Vespers but scarcely at Mass.

What about Mozart or Haydn, whose music is not modal? The line is not a hard and fast one. From the beginning of the eighteenth century and through to the start of the twentieth, European music was generally written in a major or minor key. The key point is "typically modal and melismatic", and of course there are exceptions. A musical setting for a Latin Mass text is obviously Catholic music.

Aside from settings for the Ordinary of the Mass, the sort of music that composers write is naturally going to be influenced by the composers' spiritual orientation, consciously or otherwise. The Lutheran and Calvinist composers of the immediate post-Reformation period were consciously striving to produce music which reflected their theology and attitudes. These were redefining their understanding of the Christian faith in a new and different way. The music was written to promote that aim.

Later Protestant music reflects the subsequent developments - the High Church Anglican music of the seventeenth century, the Nonconformism of the eighteenth, the Oxford movement of the mid-nineteeth and the muscular Christianity of the British Imperial period.

Another issue is the practical one regarding its place in the Mass. Protestant hymns normally find their way into the Mass as replacements for parts of the Proper - ie the Introit, Offertory and Communion antiphons. These form part of the reading. There are specific instructions about this in the General Instruction for the Roman Missal.

there are four options... 
  1. the antiphon from The Roman Missal or the Psalm from the Roman Gradual as set to music there or in another musical setting;
  2. the seasonal antiphon and Psalm of the Simple Gradual;
  3. a song from another collection of psalms and antiphons, approved by the Conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop, including psalms arranged in responsorial or metrical forms; 
  4. a suitable liturgical song similarly approved by the Conference of Bishops or the diocesan Bishop.
Thus, the use of hymns of any kind is a last choice. An important reason for the first choice is that these pieces, in particular, the Introit, are set to music which indicates the church seasons and feast days, acting as a signature tune setting the theme of the Mass. After a couple of years, people get to recognise the music, which is particularly important for children growing up in the faith. It is not a good thing if this music is squeezed out, which is what happens almost universally.

As a practical matter, congregational hymns do not work well at the Offertory or Communion as at both times they are sitting, kneeling, looking for change to put in the collection or queueing for communion.

onsdag 2 november 2016

Some thoughts on the Pope's visit to Sweden

I have to be careful what I commit myself to these days; I can end up having nothing to eat apart from the rice cakes and tinned mackerel which I keep with me as a standby in case the food on offer is unsuitable. Consequently I was unable to attend the Pope's visit to Malmö.

The Catholic Mass at Malmö was an afterthought. The original plans for the visit did not include anything much for the Swedish Catholics, since the visit was to commemorate 500 years of the Reformation. The Mass was held out of doors in a football stadium, which was unsuitable for an event in Sweden in November. It also involved leaving at 03.30 for a start at 09.30.

From one point of view, the liturgy, however, being substantially in Latin, really could not be faulted. The commentator was excellent and gave a detailed explanation for what non-Catholics might find difficult to understand, cued by a co-broadcaster to put the questions to her.

The choice of music was, in part, entirely suitable and familiar to everyone in the multi-national congregation: Missa de Angelis (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus), Credo III, Mysterium fidei, Pater Noster. That was was a particularly happy choice, especially in the light of the TV commentator's explanation: that the church uses Latin as a universal and unifying language unconnected to any particular nation or ethnic group. Surprisingly, at least one priest who usually takes a strong anti-Latin stance, said afterwards how delighted he was that Latin had made it possible to celebrate the Mass together with the Pope.

Taken as a whole, on the other hand, the musical selection was weird, verging on perverse, especially in the light of what the TV commentator herself had explained about the use of Latin. There were newish pieces of poor quality, with melodies that would be more suitable as accompaniments to advertisements for margarine or cars. There were a couple of nineteenth century Anglican pieces which would have been fine for an English Choral Evensong but were out of place here. There were a couple of Lutheran hymns from the seventeenth century Swedish Empire period of Gustav II Adolf. Thus, the Proper for All Saints' Day was squeezed out. There was nothing - not even the easily sung Introit Gaudeamus omnes in Domino.

Nor were heard any of the compositions that would be expected for a visit from the Pope and which would be a useful addition to the musicians' repertoire - such as Tu es Petrus, not necessarily the well-known Palestrina setting, but others, possibly the Duruffle, Byrd or Victoria compositions.

Clearly this was unintentional, but that does not alter the fact that the overall impression was that the music was for some reason meant to be non-Catholic. The fact that there was some Latin just led to an overall sense of incoherence.

This peculiar choice was the responsibility of the diocese, where there is evidently little sense of, and feeling for, the Catholic musical tradition.

The Lund cathedral service was something else again. It was a strange, cobbled-together happening with no obvious rhyme or reason. If it had been an Anglican celebration it could have been framed as a Choral Evensong; the Swedish church apparently does not have such a thing, but it might on the other hand followed the format of Vespers, with some intercessions. As it was, the service was neither fish nor fowl and lacked coherence

Taking one thing with another, the Mass at Malmö was a memorable day for those with the stamina to attend. The Lund event, however, has produced a confused reaction all-round, especially taken in conjunction with the Pope's comments in the plane on the way home. The Swedish Catholic bishop, who appeared on television with the Lady Archbishop of Uppsala, head of the Swedish National Church, was visibly embarrassed by questions which he could not answer without causing an upset.

At best, the visit will make no lasting impression. The Lutheran church of Sweden will continue its decline, whilst the Catholics, far from the influence of Rome, can continue to try to maintain and build on Catholic tradition. But the diocese of Stockholm needs to get a grip on its music. At present, it is as if the curators of a gallery full of medieval and renaissance art treasures had locked them in the basement and put a collection of popular posters on display instead.

tisdag 30 augusti 2016

Should we sing hymns at a Catholic Mass?

Why do we sing hymns at Mass? The practice has become almost universal during the past 50 years, following the introduction of the vernacular in the liturgy.

There is, in reality, no necessity for them in a Catholic Mass, since the parts that are meant for the people to sing are the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei, which together make up what is known as the Ordinary of the Mass. Add in the Pater Noster and responses and we have enough singing for any congregation.

In English speaking countries, there were at first no musical settings for the text of the Ordinary, which was recited in a normal speech tone. In order to provide some music, hymns were inserted as replacements for the Introit, Offertory and Communion antiphons (that part of the Mass known as the Proper), plus a Recessional hymn. Thus evolved the notorious "Hymn Sandwich".

Here in Sweden the situation was better as there was a long tradition of Gregorian Chant in the vernacular. It was a natural and obvious choice to adopt this music and build on the tradition when the vernacular was introduced in the Catholic liturgy. Thus the standard of music in the contemporary Catholic church in Sweden is exceptionally high and retains a continuity with the ancient Latin tradition.

However, the liturgy unfortunately also suffers from hymns. There is no excuse. The Entrance, Alleluia, and Communion verses are given in Cecilia, pages 1157 to 1244 (the second group of pages in the book, edged in grey) and mostly lend themselves to setting to Gregorian psalm tones. So why are these texts, which form part of the reading and should not be omitted, normally replaced by hymns? The General Instruction of the Roman Missal puts congregational hymns at the bottom of the list of preferred options.

There follow two practical problems. The first is that there are over 500 hymns in Cecilia. Most people only know a few of them, so they tend not to sing, leaving the organist playing solo, apart from a few scattered voices.

The second is that non-participation in singing is also promoted because people are sitting at the Offertory and Communion. Sitting never makes for good singing. At the Offertory the congretation are looking for their change to put in the collection, whilst at Communion, they are waiting to receive communion and do not have their books with them. If the communion hymn is sung afterwards, it prolongs the Mass unduly and disturbs people's meditation.

The use of  hymns from the Protestant tradition gives rise to further issues of an artistic and theological nature. The overall sound of the Ordinary in Sweden is traditionally Catholic, irrespective of whether it is sung in Latin or the vernacular. The music is melismatic, modal, and non-metrical, with precedence being given to the text.

Protestant hymns, on the other hand, are syllabic, metrical, and in a major or minor key. Thus there are two distinct musical genres in use. The two forms sit uncomfortably together. The result is like putting together food on a plate in a bad combination. Plato had unflattering things to say about both the contemporary major and minor key modes. The major key corresponds to the ancient Ionian mode, which, he claimed, promoted sloth and drunkenness and could lead to the collapse of society. In the context of liturgical music, it is interesting also that Plato praised the Dorian and Phrygian modes, which correspond to modes 1, 2, 3 and 4 in Gregorian chant.

The use of Protestant music in the Mass has theological and spiritual ramifications. Composers such as Crüger, Luther, and Neander wrote fine music, but it is polemically anti-Catholic. Their music carries within it the very spirit of German Lutheranism - so much so that if one enters a Catholic Mass when this music is being sung, it is barely recognisable as Catholic. The same applies to music from other Protestant traditions, for example English Anglicanism and Methodism. Anglican hymns from the first half of the twentieth century, such as "Tell out my soul", by Greatorex, are puffed up with the spirit of British imperialism. It is good music and we like to sing it, but it is out of place in a Catholic Mass.

Conclusion
  • We ought to wean ourselves off the use of hymns during Mass. The Entrance, Offertory and Communion verses should be read or chanted. The recessional should be restricted to one of the seasonal Latin or vernacular Marian hymns.
  • We need to produce Gregorian settings for the translated texts for the Entrance, Offertory and Communion verses.
  • There may be a need for some kind of  "Hymns of Praise" service on the lines of "Songs of Praise" where people who want to sing these hymns, presumably because they were brought up with them can continue to do so. They do not belong in a Catholic Mass. Such services might be held on a weekday or Saturday and be billed as a ecumenical events.

lördag 27 augusti 2016

Burkini ban rumbles on

Biretta and Roman chasuble
The burkini ban, now overturned by the French high court, has been presented as being just about clothing. This is disingenuous.

A clergyman's collar, a monk's habit or a Sikh's turban are items which announce the wearer's entire philosophy and life principles. The Catholic priest who processes into Mass wearing a biretta and Roman chasuble is making a bold statement about his understanding of the theology of the Catholic faith in general and the Mass in particular. The teenager with well-off  parents who chooses to wear ripped jeans is also saying something, Likewise the burkini.

Clothing is never just clothing. There is a sign system at work here. Clothes have meanings. They are a declaration of allegiance to something or other.

fredag 26 augusti 2016

Comment is not free - again

"The burkini ban ruling is a start, but France has more issues to deal with. The nation has still not found a way to ensure its Muslim population are equal citizens of the republic".
Article by Natalie Nougayrède.

She has excelled herself this time. As it is obvious what sort of comments this would have elicited, the embargo on comments was only to be expected. However, I would think that the number of people who agree with her is small and dwindling. Since the Guardian depends on its web site for revenue, articles like this are useless as click-bait. How much longer can it continue?

tisdag 23 augusti 2016

The sacred cow of third-world aid

Aditya Chakrabortty, who often writes perceptively, has gone off the rails with his piece today (closed to comments) on the threat to Britain's foreign aid budget posed by the new Conservative minister responsible, Priti Patel, who, he says is about to trash "our proud record on aid".

The fallacy behind this aid is the concept of "world poverty". The world is not poor. There is enough for everyone. Poverty itself is a world-wide phenomenon. There are poor people in rich countries too. Not only are they are the ones to bear the brunt of the taxation which pays for the third world aid; the tax system in the "rich countries" is the prime cause of their poverty.

There are also rich people in the "poor" countries. These are the owning classes. A handful of families own almost the whole of Pakistan. Concentration of land ownership remains an issue in much of Central and South America. In the nature of things, the benefits of the aid flow into their pockets. So we have the poor in the rich countries helping to swell the bank accounts of the rich in the poor countries, whilst little ends up with the intended beneficiaries, who at best are a privileged few.

I am not saying that there should not be aid, but it is probably better if it does  not come from government but is funded voluntarily and the projects run by charities. Cafod and some of the Quaker organisations have quite a good record of achieving worthwhile small-scale interventions on the ground, such as bringing clean water to people who previously had no access to it.

Behind that, however, is another question - why is anyone at all living in places where they have to make a long trek to fetch water?

söndag 21 augusti 2016

Will Hutton and the burkini ban

I am not particularly interested in Will Hutton's views on anything. He has contributed nothing useful to his specialist field, economics. His latest piece, on the burkini ban - some local authorities in France have, controversially, banned its use on beaches - is also of no interest to me in itself. However, what is of interest is the fact that the Guardian, having initially said that the article would be available for comments on its website "later in the morning", later decided not to accept comments at all.

It does not take much imagination to predict what kind of comments would have been made, nor that many, if not most of them, would have been deleted by the moderators. But that being the case, why did the editors ever even contemplate accepting comments? One wonders too, whether Hutton would have agreed to write an article which was closed to comments? Or why he has even stepped into this febrile subject area at all?

torsdag 18 augusti 2016

Should I go to the Papal event?

A Vatican announcement says that "The joint Lutheran-Catholic ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on 31 October in Lund, Sweden will consist of two parts. It will begin with a liturgy in Lund Cathedral and continue with a public event at Malmö Arena that will be open to wider participation.

"The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Roman Catholic Church joint event will highlight the 50 years of continuous ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Lutherans and the joint gifts of this collaboration.

"The Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of 500 years of the Reformation is structured around the themes of thanksgiving, repentance and commitment to common witness. The aim is to express the gifts of the Reformation and ask forgiveness for division perpetuated by Christians from the two traditions."

I am not sure I want to be there. For a start, I suspect the music will be horrid; second, especially in Malmö, there is likely to be more fudge about "the religion of peace", while jihad-inspired murder continues unabated, and the followers of that religion are proud to wear the badge of what has become a toxic brand. It is one thing to avoid stirring up hostility aim but it does not do to make statements which everyone knows are not true. It would be better to stay silent.

Underneath that, and being a convert from Judaism as well, I cannot see what there is to celebrate. Luther was a notorious antisemite. That is not, to say the least, entirely unconnected with the Holocaust. The Reformation unleashed a century of war in Europe. Its resonances are still taking their toll to this day; it lies at the heart of the Northern Ireland troubles. 1500 years of architectural, artistic and musical heritage were wiped out in an orgy of destruction comparable with what Muslim fundamentalists are doing today.

Nor is this about being uncharitably unecumenical. I usually take the opportunity to attend Matins or Evensong at the Anglican Cathedral when visting places like Salisbury or Oxford; last month I went to Evensong at Durham. Evensong is, after all, just a merging of the monastic offices of Vespers and Compline, and therefore includes the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis; likewise the Anglican Matins, is put together from the monastic offices Lauds and Prime, with Venite, Te Deum, and Benedictus. Although I would probably not attend an Anglican eucharist, there is not the slightest reason why a Catholic should not go to an Anglican Matins or Evensong - on the contrary - it seems to me a good thing to do.

Lutheranism is a different animal. Its sound alone declares it to be not Catholic. It is also dying, particularly in Sweden, where church is losing membership at an accelerating rate. This is not the case with the Anglican church, at least in some parts of the world; it retains its vitality.

I also have a polite excuse for not going - prostate trouble means that I cannot rely on being able to keep going for more than an hour at a stretch, and then only by carefully controlling my intake of fluids.

lördag 6 augusti 2016

Stabbing attack was Norwegian teenager

The London stabbing earlier this week was carried out by a Norwegian teenager was described by neighbours as a polite and pleasant boy. This is what the Guardian had to say, and note that he is referred to only as a "suspect" who "might" have been responsible, even though he was caught in the act.

"The teenager who allegedly killed an American woman and wounded five others in a stabbing spree in central London was a polite and pleasant boy who rarely got into trouble, according to neighbours.

Zakaria Bulhan, 19, a Norwegian of Somali descent who has been identified as the suspect in the attack in Russell Square on Wednesday night, lived with his mother, 42, his younger brother, 16, and his sister, 24, in a flat in south London.

"Neighbours described him as a polite teenager as reports also emerged that he had wanted to harm himself. He allegedly launched the knife attack shortly after 10.30pm on Wednesday, killing 64-year-old Darlene Horton and injuring five others. Horton was pronounced dead at the scene, just hours before she was due to fly back to the US after the end of her summer break

"His neighbours expressed shock that he might have been responsible for the attack."

It gets worse, too.

"Police have said the suspect has a history of mental illness and that there is nothing to suggest that, as a Muslim, he had been radicalised."

There is, however, more to it though one must read carefully.

"A local postman, who asked not to be named, complained of music and other noises coming from the Bulhan house. “It’s frightening what’s happened. It’s shocking. It’s sad.” 

"He said he went to Graveney secondary school and took A-levels. The Times newspaper quoted a “close family friend” who said Bulhan had called an ambulance six months ago “because he wanted to harm himself”.

“He is a good boy. He has never been trouble. He has been very unwell. He wanted to kill himself. I saw his mother with an ambulance outside their flat and she said Zac had called it because he wanted to hurt himself,” the friend reportedly said. “He called the ambulance about two more times because he was feeling unwell. His mother was very afraid.”

The attack has all the hallmarks of Islamic inspiration. Could it be that Islam can be a cause of mental illness or something that pushes mentally unstable people past a tipping point?

torsdag 4 augusti 2016

Terrorism or mental health problem?

Police are describing a yesterday's knife murder in London as having a mental health factor. The same thing has been said of recent incidents in France and Germany.

The trouble with writing off those who perpetrate these attacks as having mental health issues is that people will keep their distance from anyone who looks as if they might be a Muslim. This stirs up racism and makes matters worse than if the authorities were honest and open about these Jihadi incidents.One also has to wonder what is the reason for the striking correlation between Islam and mental illness?

Worse still, it encourages politicians to regard these terrorist attacks as isolated happenings and so they do not take the action that is needed. At this point the situation may just still be containable. If left for much longer it will not be. Communal violence verging on civil war will then erupt. There is a limit to what people will tolerate.

måndag 1 augusti 2016

Raw material for virtue signallers

Another report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation saying that poverty is a bad thing.

It is ironic that the JR Foundation gets its funds from the system that causes the poverty in the first place. The perpetuation of the problem gives its officers a secure livelihood with a vested interest in the problem remaining unsolved. They would not want poverty eradicated. It would put them out of a job, and what needs to be done would dry up the source of most of the JRF funds.

This would explain why JRF has never supported any organisation whose aim has been to deal with the problem at source. All it does is to supply an endless source of information for the "concerned" to wring their hands over: the raw material for the virtue signallers.

torsdag 28 juli 2016

St Jaques Hamel - ora pro nobis


But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
“Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.
Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Saul entirely approved of the killing.

onsdag 27 juli 2016

Guarding the doors of the church - a reminder

I posted this last October, and drew the matter to the attention of the Bishop. Unfortunately nothing has been done. Following yesterday's events, I am re-posting the article.

Recent events have focussed attention on the need for security in places where people gather. So far, there have been incidents involving lone individuals, but organised activity is also a possibility; last week, in a quiet suburb of Gothenburg, a restaurant owned by an Assyrian Christian was sprayed with ISIS slogans – “Convert or die”, “Caliphate is here” and the Arabic “N” (ن) symbol applied to Christian property in places which have been taken over by ISIS. There have been incidents in the recent past which might have been prevented by basic security, including Hisingen fire of 1996 which resulted in 63 deaths, and an attack by a nude swordsman on a church in South London in 1999. Catholic churches are at risk because they are well attended, especially those which host congregations membership from Syria and Iraq. A particular difficulty for Catholic churches is that their congregations are large enough for strangers to be able to slip in without being noticed.

WE SHOULD NOT BE FRIGHTENED
Catholics should not need to be reminded that this is primarily a battle in the spiritual war against the devil. We can win it. God’s promise to the Catholic Church is that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. However, this demands that we understand the enemy and respond in the right way.

Islamic terrorism works by instilling fear – that is its aim and purpose. If we become terrorised, then the devil has obtained a foothold in our own souls. We must strengthen our own faith and courage. Catholics have nothing to fear. We have the all the angels and saints and the entire company of the heavenly host on our side. We must however, increase our efforts at prayer, including recitation of the Rosary and the prayer for the intercession of St Michael, which used to be said after every Mass. This prayer needs to be reinstated in the liturgy. We should also avoid watching and distributing terrorist horror videos. Their purpose is to instil terror. We should not be helping their producers to achieve their aim.

A REVIVED MINISTRY?
For most of the past 2000 years, the Catholic church conferred what were known as "Minor Orders". They were abolished in 1972. One of them was the Order of Porter, Doorkeeper or Ostiarius. It is suggested that what was, prior to 1972, the Minor Order of Porter or Doorkeeper, be reinstated informally. These would consist of young people recruited from the parish and given a professional training in security techniques. Their normal function would be to provide a welcoming presence, to greet visitors, and possibly to carry out other duties such as handing out newsletters or taking collections. They would also perform related tasks such as acting as marshalls at outdoor parish events, as well as at national gatherings of the church.

As Lay Ministers, whilst on duty they would wear cassocks and carry a virge, a staff or rod still used by vergers in the Church of England. Such a ministry would provide a useful focus of activity for young people, both men and women, provide an opportunity to participate in the work of the church and help build team loyalty. It might take the form of a guild named after an appropriate historic person or event such as Sobieski or Lepanto, under the patronage of suitable saints such as Our Lady Help of Christians and St Brigit. A programme of other activities could be developed including sports, fitness training, martial arts, and social events.

lördag 16 juli 2016

Benefits of Tridentine Mass

Our parish priest has introduced a Tridentine Mass on one weekday evening a week. Printed sheets with the readings and Proper, and translations, are available at the back of the church.

People study them as the Mass is being said; one hopes the congregation can actually follow the Mass, but even if they are not, the people are studying the texts. Having them on paper prevents minds from wandering. There is a focussed and intensely still atmosphere and presence. An added benefit is that people are not struggling to hear the readers - which can be difficult as not all of them read clearly and the acoustics of the building are difficult, despite the efforts that have been made to improve the public address system.

Some of the celebrations are of little-known saints. The priest has taken advantage of the opportunity this provides to refer to them in a brief sermon. Obscure saints have their value - it is easier for ordinary people to relate to them than to the big name ones.

It is a worthwhile initiative and worth emulating.

tisdag 28 juni 2016

Ugly post-referendum mood

The referendum campaign was appalling on both sides. Speculations were presented as solid predictions by both sides. The race card was played by both sides. In the end, most of us, on both sides, had no option than to vote on gut feeling.

The neglected working class in the neglected regions turned out in sufficient numbers to upset the prosperous metropolitan elite. Democracy produced the result that supporters of democracy did not want, thereby demonstrating, amongst other things, that democracy is not an ultimate value.

The Bremainers have now cried foul and demand a re-run. There is no guarantee that it would produce a different result. The result has also given rise to racist and anti-foreigner feelings and verbal abuse. It will probably get worse. There is a nasty side to the English white working class which has always been an embarrassment to the left wing intellectuals who have patronised it and expected it to vote them into power.

That it has come to surface is an ugly development on the face of a British political tradition which has usually listened and treated with respect those with different views. I cannot help feeling that I am well out of it.

söndag 26 juni 2016

A national disgrace - the fruits of secularism

A friend of mine is currently working temporarily at a home for elderly disabled people, run by a local authority near Gothenburg. Most of them have had strokes and are also suffering from dementia.

Three times a week I get a telephone call about what a stressful day she has had. The home is understaffed, with six care staff for 35 residents. Her colleagues seem not to care. The patients' calls for help can go unheeded for an hour or more. Care is inadequate. They don't even get enough water. They are allowed to lie in their own excrement for hours before they are changed. It does not help that most of the residents almost never receive a visit from their children.

Having to work in such an institution is stressful, especially if one cares about the patients, wants to do the best for them and is actively prevented from doing so. If dogs were kept in conditions like that, those responsible would be prosecuted for cruelty.


It's not fair - new referendum please

The advocates of democracy, not liking the result, are now petitioning for a new referendum. This is a game that could go on indefinitely.

lördag 25 juni 2016

Fair weather democrats

The Bremain party are having a whinge today. The Brexiters, they claim, were stupid, xenophobes, racists, Little Englanders and old fogeys.

Democracy is only good when the people vote the way you want them to.

fredag 24 juni 2016

The Secret People by G K Chesterton

SMILE at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget.
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet.
There is many a fat farmer that drinks less cheerfully,
There is many a free French peasant who is richer and sadder than we.
There are no folk in the whole world so helpless or so wise.
There is hunger in our bellies, there is laughter in our eyes;
You laugh at us and love us, both mugs and eyes are wet:
Only you do not know us. For we have not spoken yet.
 
We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street.
It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,
Our wrath come after Russia's wrath and our wrath be the worst.
It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest
God's scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget. 
 
These are the first and last verses. The ones in the middle are rambling and frankly, reprehensible, with a nasty line about a cringing Jew. Too often, Chesterton lets himself down. But the first and last seem pertinent this morning.

A map of political failure



Islands of yellow in a sea of blue. The metropolitan prosperous surrounded by the left-behind rest. Areas with good infrastructure embedded in tracts with poor roads and run-down railways. The yellows will benefit from HS2. Everyone else gets nothing. It is a map of the economic failure of the past seventy years.

By removing some of the obstacles to the necessary reforms, Brexit might help to turn things round, but it will still take a lot of imagination, intelligence and hard work. Whether the British have what it takes is another question.

tisdag 21 juni 2016

Listen to Soros - vote Remain

I am sure George Soros (or should it be Tsures - צאָרעס, the word means "misery") has everyone's interests at heart when he urges people to vote Remain, but how many other people appreciate that? Soros warns that "The Brexit crash will make you all poorer.".

Wouldn't politicians and other commentators who are so widely mistrusted do better to keep quiet if they want people to do what they say? Or do they not even realise that they are not trusted. Anyway, here is the link to his piece, but you will not be allowed to comment.

However, his reasoning is interesting, since by implication he suggests that Brexit would remedy some of the long standing weaknesses of the British economy. First, he predicts a fall in house prices, a bubble value if ever there was one. Second, he refers to the drying-up of capital inflows - which have been a major factor in the large-scale purchase of UK real estate by foreign "investors", particularly residential property in London, an influx of finance which has helped to make housing in London unaffordable for people working in London.

A third point, which is not altogether congruent with the other two, is his projected fall in the value of the pound, which he predicts could go as low as 1 € to the £. If this were to happen, British producers would enjoy an immediate and substantial competitive advantage. Euroland countries might then apply protectionist measures to punish their own people by depriving them of lower-cost UK goods. However, a lower £ would give a boost British tourism and other invisibles, eventually driving sterling back up again. In the meantime, British firms would be able to make use of their other competitive advantages - the English language and proximity to ports - to develop trade outside the EU - ie most of the rest of the world. Outside Europe, British consumers would also gain access to food outside the tariff wall.

I wonder how much Soros stands to lose from a Brexit vote?

söndag 19 juni 2016

What would The Archers be without the tune?

This famous signature tune tune was written twenty five years before it was chosen for the BBC's longest-running radio soap, The Archers. This is the story. The music was picked at random by the producer, whose budget would not stretch to paying a composer to write something specially.

What would the programme be without it? A couple of weeks ago I wrote an blog piece about why the Introit should be sung. The Introit music is the signature tune for the Mass, and sets the theme for the day. Unlike the Archers' tune, the music was composed with the aim of setting precisely the right mood for the theme.

Guardian writer slags of Catholic church

That is not exactly news but this time it is because of a "shameful silence". The author writes "The Orlando killings would have been a perfect opportunity for the church to condemn the deep-rooted prejudice in our midst".

Because of its timing, it is only today that the first opportunity would have arisen to pray for the victims at a Sunday Mass. I would be surprised if prayers were not offered at Masses on the following day. Only a couple of days before, I was at a Mass where the sermon was on just this point - it is a lie to accuse the Catholic church of being anti-gay.

torsdag 16 juni 2016

The Catholic Church at Skövde

Katolska kyrkan - Skövde

It is good to see the Catholic community flourishing in what is said to be the most secular country in the world. Skövde in the west of Sweden has a small Catholic congregation using a church quite recently converted from a an old church hall. It really is quite an attractive building. There is a very small pipe organ which has a lovely tone. The work has been done to a high standard

However, the building would benefit from a re-ordering, with the altar re-positioned against the wall and the tabernacle immediately behind. The lop-sided position of the tabernacle (to the right of the sanctuary) is ugly and confusing. The tabernacle should be in the same position as the Ark is in a synagogue, where the Scrolls of the Law are the focus and given pride of place. The position of the tabernacle - indeed, the entire architecture of a church, is a theological statement.

It would also be helpful if the pot plants were removed from the altar step so that communion could be received kneeling. It is astonishing how much harm and confusion the misinterpretation of archaeological evidence has done. We need to get ourselves back on track.


What does Matthew 6 say about liturgy?

Yesterday's Gospel reading was Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Beware of performing religious acts for people to see “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.


The priest, who has views on the subject, used it as a cue for a brief sermon about liturgy and the need for simplicity and understandability of the texts. However, this passage has nothing to do with the liturgy. Liturgy is the public prayer of the church. All religions have some form of prayer in public.

The performance of the liturgy, like the performance of the ancient Temple ceremonies from which they are derived, is governed by the regulations set out in the relevant official documents of the church - the General Instructions and rubrics of the Missal and supporting guidelines such as Sacrosanctum Concilium and Summorum Pontificum.

The liturgy is prayer, but it is also sacred theatre. It is a set of actions and not a mere recital of texts. Its function is both to raise the hearts and minds of the people to God, and to convey the beliefs of the church in a way that the people can understand. The texts have a part to play, and of course people should know what is being said, but the liturgy engages all the senses; the text is part of an overall experience involving ceremonial, music and art, smell and taste, all within an appropriate architectural setting.

It is true that some people can become over-particular about the way the liturgy is performed. This applies both to those who wish to preserve tradition and those who would cast it aside. On the other hand, care should be taken to exclude that which gets in the way of the liturgy's function - whether it be unsuitable music or sloppy reading or an architectural setting which draws attention away from, or interferes with, the action.

The aim of the liturgy is nothing less than the transformation of the participants. A focus on just the text can lead to an intellectualisation of the faith, which then becomes a set of theoretical ideas rather than a change in state of being. Could this be one reason why we are failing to radicalise our young people?

onsdag 15 juni 2016

Another Bremain own-goal

It is amazing the lengths the Bremainers are going to. This Guardian journalist has recruited the eighteenth-century painter Hogarth in support.

Hogarth was making the point that Britain was dependent on the international economy, which it does. And the international economy does not stop at the borders of the EU. Another own-goal from a Bremainer. You have to wonder why they do it, because there are perfectly good arguments for remaining, which make it very difficult to come down on either side.

tisdag 14 juni 2016

Finally, I have decided which way to vote

Like a lot of people, I have found it very difficult to make up my mind which way to vote at the referendum. A Brexit vote aligns one with the forces of xenophobia, illiberalism and worse. These attitudes are summed up in the rantings of the Daily Mail.

A united Europe is a fine concept which has brought real benefits. A Brexit vote will trigger uncertainty. It will probably lead to the break-up of the EU and a possibly chaotic future.

On the other hand, the economics of EU membership work against the UK for geographical reasons which have not had much of an airing in the debate, but are a factor in the grotesque maldistribution of population and commerce in the UK, which are ever more sucked towards London and the South East.

However, that is not a deciding factor. I do not like the Daily Mail's rhetoric. But what came to mind this morning was a poem by G K Chesterton called "The Secret People". It has the refrain
"SMILE at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget.
For we are the people of England, that never have spoken yet"
The values of the English are far from wholly reprehensible. They are being treated with contempt by the Bremainers. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Guardian, which has run a Bremain campaign verging on the hysterical.

Now whatever one thinks of the Guardian, it is, or was consistent in its support for social justice. For at least the past couple of decades, however, its commentators have been consistently and well-intentionedly wrong in their analysis. This can be said of almost every issue they have become engaged in. They have been in denial about the effects of immigration, they have been in denial about the influence of Islam, and their views on issues as diverse as transport policy, environmental policy, housing and the economy have been wrong. Their judgement is not to be trusted. Why is this? Probably because their views are, ultimately, derived from Rousseau, who believed in the perfectibility of human nature, a notion that, against all experience, has its origins in the Enlightenment. This faith, and it is a faith with no foundation in evidence or observation, has been a major influence in the educational changes of the past half-century, as these ideas, seeping out via Rudolf Steiner, become mainstream, disastrously for those who have been the subject of this experiment, who now govern us and tell us what to think.

It is a notion that gets subtly demolished by the author A S Byatt in her 1966 novel "The Babel Tower". It has two parallel narratives; that which is presented as a minor one, from which the novel takes its title, refers to an ideal community established according to principles advocated by J J Rousseau, or possibly de Sade. The community ends up destroyed, though we are not told how. To suggest a parallel between the EU and a Tower of Babel is not so far-fetched..

We should not base our decisions on the personality or track record of the views politicians and journalists, but it helps to understand where their views are derived from. The Bremainers are the nicer people, but they are misguided. Brexit it is.

måndag 13 juni 2016

“This has nothing to do with religion”

So said the man's father after Omar Mateen killed 50 people at an Orlando gay club. Although details are still emerging, his father told NBC News that his son may been motivated by witnessing two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago. “This has nothing to do with religion,” he told NBC, adding that the family had been unaware of his plans.

This in an article "Queer Muslims exist – and we are in mourning too", in today's Guardian, in another attempt to distance from Islam terrorist actions committed by Muslims.

It convinces nobody. No comments are allowed, naturally, not on this or any of the several other articles on this incident. You begin to wonder what this newspaper's game is, so determined is it to shield Islam from criticism. The effect is to destroy what remains of the Guardian's credibility.

The misdeeds committed in obedience to the teachings of Islam are getting all religion a bad name. Christianity and Judaism promote can intolerant attitudes too; the Old Testament is explicit on the subject (Leviticus 18:22). It is read on the afternoon of the Day of Atonement and is presumably where the Islamic teaching comes from. However, both the Jewish tradition of interpretation, and Christian teaching always tempers what is written in the Old Testament. The Christian model is this...

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

and this

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

God wants us to repent and forgives the repentant sinner. He certainly does not want anyone thrown off cliffs or tall buildings for sexual transgressions.

onsdag 8 juni 2016

Were the Crusades a bad thing?

This subject came up in a discussion last night, as part of someone's anti-Catholic diatribe. We need to be clear about this. The Crusaders behaved abominably. They were, however, a necessary response to four centuries of aggression, at the request of the Byzantines who were in the front line and needed help. They ultimately failed.

Or perhaps the Crusades have never really ended. The westward spread of Islam was not checked until 1683 when the Ottomans were defeated when they besieged Vienna. The Ottomans were slowly driven back from most of the Balkans and Greece. However, the Christians of Asia Minor - the ancient communities of Armenians and Greeks, paid a terrible price at the beginning of the twentieth century, when three million died in the two genocides of 1915 and 1923, at the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and the foundation of the state of Turkey.

We should no more condemn the Crusades than we should condemn the Second World War on account of some of the acts of the British and US military during the course of that war. Hiroshima, Dresden and Hamburg, for example, do not negate the rightness of the war itself. In the case of Crusades, we are judging men who have been dead for centuries by the standards of today. That is absurd. Bad things were done and we should admit that, but we should stop apologising for the Crusades as such. If there had not been four centuries of Muslim Arab aggression there would have been no Crusades.

söndag 5 juni 2016

Why the Introit should be sung




Dominus illuminatio mea.
Today's introit, for the tenth Sunday of the year, was the first verse of Psalm 27, "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" It is also the motto of the University of Oxford and appears on the coat of arms. The Latin tune would take a couple of rehearsals to learn, but it is in mode 2, which is one of the easier psalm tones, which is an option if the choir does not have the time or skill to learn the music. It could even have been sung in the vernacular; this version of the psalm in Anglican chant would make a perfectly satisfactory start to the Mass.



Unfortunately, it got replaced by a hymn on a different theme altogether.

Does this matter?
In the bigger scheme of things, possibly not, especially when there are parts of the world where it is not even safe to go to church. However, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal lays down guidelines on the subject. Replacing the Introit with a hymn is a last-choice option, and it is meant to be a related text. The Introit, together with the Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory and Communion verses, form part of the readings for the day, no less then the First and Second Readings and the Gospel; they should not be regarded as optional extras. The Introit sets the theme for the Mass and from the priest's point of view, is a useful hook to hang the sermon on.

Related to this is the music itself. For half of the church year - from Advent to Trinity Sunday, and the main feast days, the Introits have special settings which are generally not difficult to learn and get remembered by congregations after a few hearings. Thus they act as "signature tunes" and convey a sense of the flow of the church calendar and the events in scripture that that it recounts. In this, they play an important role in the ongoing catechesis of the people. So they should not be squeezed out by hymns, and certainly not by Protestant hymns, which are grounded in an aggressively non-Catholic spirituality and get the Mass off to a very bad start by putting congregations in the wrong frame of mind. Preferably, the original tunes should be sung, either in Latin, or in the vernacular if the translated text can be made to fit the music without sounding awkward or the text and music being at odds with each other. The translated text can usefully go in the newsletter, where it provides people with something to meditate upon when they take it home and read it.

lördag 4 juni 2016

Are tick bites taken seriously enough?

Last Wednesday afternoon, I spent a couple of hours working in a friend's garden. On Friday morning, ie about 36 hours later, I felt an itching sensation, scratched the area of skin and removed a particle which, on examination, turned out to be a tick. I noticed several other red inflamed areas nearby and took a shower. In the evening I felt the same thing in the groin area and removed another particle which was also a tick, and another again on my back which I never got to look at which might have been a tick, making between two and five tick bites in all.

I went to the local emergency clinic this afternoon (Saturday) and asked the duty doctor for a prophylactic antibiotic. This is apparently against the guidelines which are to wait until a red patch is at least 5 cm across.

The problem with this protocol is that in about 30% of borrelia infections (the tick-borne Lyme Disease) there is no characteristic red patch, so the most advantageous opportunity for treatment is then missed. Also at the early stage, those infected may experience a fever which, however, can be confused with something else. After that the disease can manifest in a diverse variety of conditions which are difficult to diagnose. In the meantime, the infection advances and can affect the nervous system and even enter the brain, again mimicking other conditions including dementia.

It seems that if treatment with antibiotics begins sufficiently early, at the latest during the fever stage, then the patient will recover completely. After that, treatment becomes more difficult and eventually, the organism is well entrenched and hidden out of reach of antibiotics.

There is another sinister side to this infection: people may seem to have recovered but might not have. In this, Lyme disease seems to resemble one caused by another member of the same Spirochaeta family of bacteria: Treponema pallidum, the organism which causes syphilis and yaws, and another which causes Weil's disease. There is a poem about syphilis called, in this version,
"The Man from Bach Bay"
There once was a man from Bach Bay,
Who thought syphilis just went away;
He thought that a chancer
Was only a canker
Derived from lascivious play.
But now he has acne vulgaris,
(The kind that is rampant in Paris)
It covers his skin,
And his friends all ask where his hair is.
He has pains. in his head and his knees,
His sphincters have gone by degrees;
Paradox incontinence
With all its conoomitance
Bring quite unpredictable - .
With sensations progressing in number,
His aorta's in need of a plumber;
His heart is cavorting
His wife is aborting
Without doubt he's developed a "gummer".
There is more to his terrible plight,
His pupils won't react to light;
Along with his tabes
And saber-shinned babies,
He also has gun-barrel sight.
Though treated in every known way,
His spirochetes grow day by day;
He's developed paresis
Converses with Jesus
And thinks that he's Queen of the May.
Borrelia is less aggressive than syphilis but infections are debilitating and degrade the health of many of the sufferers. Faced with such a risk, and in the absence of a vaccine, one would have thought that the health authorities would lay down stricter guidelines for prevention, including prophylactic treatment of those who might have become infected. That prophylactic antibiotics are effective has been demonstrated by this study here carried out in 2001, which concluded that "A single 200-mg dose of doxycycline given within 72 hours after an I. scapularis tick bite can prevent the development of Lyme disease."

So how seriously should we take this?
A balance must be struck between panic reactions, paranoia and nonchalance. Borrelia is not AIDS, or syphilis as it was before antibiotics. Most authorities seem to agree that tick bites only rarely result in infection but that it can seriously damage people's health. I wonder, too, if infection is as rare as is claimed. I know, personally, two people whose condition is untreatable (one of them a doctor), another three who have been infected and had to receive treatment, and another whose mother was badly affected.That is quite a lot of people considering the small size of my circle of acquaintances.

Even if only, say, 1% of bites result in infection, then with ten bites in a year there is a 10% chance of infection; of course the odds do not increase with successive bites. There is an analogy here with unprotected casual sex. The chances are that you will get away with it once but sooner or later you will get something nasty. Matters are further complicated by the fact that, as mentioned earlier, the initial bite may not be noticed, that the characteristic red spot does not always appear, and that the fever may not develop, or could be mistaken for something else, such as influenza.

It is a increasing problem, as the areas infested with ticks are constantly spreading, partly due to climate change. This year is particularly bad due to the mild winter. It is now in urban areas. I was attacked far from the zones marked on last year's map as liable to be infested, which is why I had taken no precautions.

Perhaps the protocols need to be changed so that treatment is given at the earliest possible opportunity. Since the reservoir of disease is in the wild population, there is little the risk of antibiotic resistance developing. However, the presence of the disease in animals also raises questions about whether it can be transmitted by contact with infected animals used for food, for instance in slaughter, butchery or preparation?

In the absence of anything better, anyone who thinks they may have become infected might take advantage of the principles behind the old "malaria treatment" for syphilis: the organism is killed at 41 degrees. One approach to Lyme disease is what is called hyperthermia ie raising the body core temperature artificially to simulate a fever, for example by spending time in a steam room. Eating plenty of garlic is also reputed to keep the creatures away.

Ramadan tough trial for Muslims

Ramadan starts next week. It occurs about eleven or twelve days earlier each year due to the lunar Islamic calendar. It is a peculiarly tough, indeed, cruel, fast, from dawn to sunset for a month. No water is allowed, so people get dehydrated. After sunset, the practice is to eat a very substantial meal, which means that they get a poor night's sleep as well. Many people will be fit for nothing next day, and certainly not for work. I would not want to be on a bus driven by someone who has been following this regime.

This year it is particularly hard on Muslims in northern latitudes where the nights are short. There are divergent views on how this problem should be dealt with. If Islam was meant to be a religion for the whole of mankind as it claims to be, the curious thing is that this was not foreseen at the outset. Travellers in classical times had long visited the far northern latitudes and the greater seasonal variation in day length must have been well known even in Saudi Arabia. But one can continue in the same vein. The Romans used the Julian calendar with a year of 365.25 days, and the Jews had a mixed lunar/solar calendar which is slightly more accurate. So why, in the seventh century, would anyone have chosen to use a calendar with a year which was eleven days short?

lördag 28 maj 2016

Linux problems and their cure

The main Linux desktops, KDE and Unity, seem to be getting heavier as time passes, with more and more added features.

For a basic desktop or laptop, Cinnamon, LXDE and XFCE seem to be good enough, and make no demands on the hardware. My main setup is a bit more complex, as I have two screens and need to use different keyboard layouts at times. Unity and KDE handle this well enough but seem sluggish even on an i5 with 16G RAM.

XFCE was troublesome and then proved difficult to remove completely. However, it worked nicely on an elderly PC with a core 2 and just 2G RAM. LXDE had issues with the keyboard layouts and wallpapers on two screens. Cinnamon seems to do the job without difficulty. It looks clean on the screen and runs fast.

In future I shall probably install Cinnamon or Lubuntu (LXDE) to get a further few years' use from the old PCs that are available for nothing but are still good for a while. XFCE is a bit Mac-like and might suit people who are used to that style of screen layout.

Whatever the case, unless the software demands it, there is no real need to use Windows, Macs or new computers of any kind for ordinary household use.


onsdag 25 maj 2016

Choir weekend at Vadstena - another opportunity wasted

I went to the choir weekend at Vadstena in 2012. There is another one this October, to which we (the choir) has been invited.

After the previous weekend, I wrote this, "With a building like Vadstena Abbey Church available - though there are others too, such as Varnhem, there are great possibilities as long as the building's acoustics are respected.

"The vespers could be those for the day, sung mostly in Latin from the Liber Usualis. Why Latin? Because, first, the language has simple open vowels; second, it is pretty close to what would have been sung when the building had just been completed; and third, but most importantly, it would be worth inviting a teacher or teachers to give instruction in the reading and performance of Gregorian chant, possibly a monk from Solemnes. On the Saturday evening, it would also be fitting to conclude with the sung Compline, like these French Benedictine monks, music which would be literally awesome in the Vadstena Abbey church.

"Similar concerns apply to the Sunday Mass. Whilst the convent church is an attractive building, it does not function particularly well as a space for the liturgy due to the stunning views from it. The convent church is very much of its time - the 1970s, and one must indeed have concern for the future of that community itself, which seems to have had few, if any, vocations in recent years. There is not in fact a serious shortage of vocations, but it is the traditional Catholic communities that are drawing in the present generation of young people.

"With these considerations, it would be worth thinking about holding the main Sunday Mass in the Abbey church, possibly early in the morning before the main Swedish service if permission can be obtained. This too, would preferably be in Latin and include the correct Proper for the Sunday. Because of the complexity of these, it would probably be better to divide responsibility for singing the different parts - Introit, Gradual, Offertory and Communion - amongst parishes who could prepare them beforehand. The same applies, possibly, to the Offertory and Communion motets, which might be polyphonic, and perhaps also to the Ordinary. Alternatively, or additionally, the opportunity could be taken to introduce some of the other Gregorian Mass settings, such as Mass XI (Orbis Factor), and the austere Credo I.

"As regards the Mass itself, unless there is any particular reason to include vernacular hymns - and there is little reason or opportunity to if the Proper is sung - then it would be a good thing to celebrate the Mass in the Extraordinary Form, complete with the sprinkling of holy water and incense, which would also have the benefit of conducting it as a High Mass with Deacon and Sub-Deacon, which would avoid the awkwardnesses of a concelebrated Mass.

"Such a weekend could even inspire a few vocations to the priesthood or religious life."

Unfortunately it is not going to be anything of the sort, so I shall stay away. If I went, I would just get angry at the way another opportunity is being thrown away. It really is a tragedy that the director of music for the diocese does not appreciate the value of putting the main focus on the church's 3,000 year old musical heritage. If the main Sunday Mass would have been in the Extraordinary Form, I would have put my name down immediately.

lördag 21 maj 2016

The rise of the Oratorians


26 May is the Feast of St Philip Neri so this is an appropriate time to ask why the Oratorian order is growing, against the general trend in the church; since 1993, when there were just the original two Oratory churches in London and Birmingham, Oratory congregations have taken over parishes in Oxford, Manchester, York, Cardiff and now Bournemouth.

Following the announcement of the latter, the Catholic telephone published an interview with Dr Joseph Shaw of the Latin Mass Society about this significant development. The Oratory as an Institute is on the rise across the world from Australia to South Africa, from France to Wales, and from Kingston, Jamaica, to the United States. Why is this happening when most other religious orders are shrinking?

Interview in the Catholic Herald.

söndag 15 maj 2016

Veni Creator Spiritus


Today was Pentecost Sunday and we had all the ancient traditional music that goes with it - the Introit Spiritus Domini, the Sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus, the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus and the Alleluia, Offertory and Communion verses sung from the Graduale Romanum. Nothing was left out.

In this, we were very fortunate, as it is rare to find a Catholic parish where this happens. The music normally gets replaced by Protestant hymns or translations of the Catholic texts, which are generally a clumsy fit to the music.

In the bigger scheme of things, where Christians are being murdered for no other reason than that they are Christians, this is a minor matter. On the other hand, the music of the liturgy helps to tell the narrative on which Christianity is founded. When the music is replaced with something else, the message becomes blurred.

It runs deeper than that. Until 1970, Catholics would have been brought up with this music and it would have been imprinted in their memories. Young people who had left the church before that time, as often happens when doubt sets in during their late teens, they would have found something unrecognisable if they returned a decade or two later. Worse still, much of the replacement music is not only not Catholic; it is anti-Catholic, having been composed by and for Protestants as a means of affirming their reformism. Nor does it work stylistically. Hymns are of their nature metric, and in a major or minor key, whereas Catholic music is melismatic, modal and gives precedence to the words. Any mixture of the two, which is a widespread compromise, is the musical equivalent of drenching sushi in a strong curry sauce. Attempts to satisfy everyone, in this way, end up by leaving everyone slightly dissatisfied.

We need to get back to following what was laid down in Sacrosanctum Concilium, which affirmed that pride of place in the liturgy should be given to Latin, Gregorian Chant and Polyphony.

tisdag 10 maj 2016

Sudden Jihad syndrome?

Is the Munich incident an instance of Sudden Jihad Syndrome? Does reading the book and saying the prayers lead to mental instability?

Trying to make sense of the Koran demands, amongst other things, the performance of mental gymnastics amounting to the complete suspension of reason. Could this be part of the explanation?

tisdag 3 maj 2016

What is behind Labour antisemitism wave?

Disraeli notwithstanding, Jews in Britain have traditionally supported the Labour party since its formation at the beginning of the twentieth century. This was to be expected, as most of the first and second generations of children of Jewish immigrants were working class, or in middle-class occupations such as teachers and in the public services. Although British Jews have assimilated, in many cases to the point of disappearance, and they have moved up in the economic hierarchy, their loyalty to Labour has continued. So what is behind the current wave of antisemitism in the Labour party?

In part it is due to Israel's perceived mistreatment of the Palestinians, who are now seen as the underdogs and victims of Zionist oppression. Whilst the Israeli government has often made the wrong decisions and continues to do so, there is not a government in the world which would act very differently in the same situation; even so, it should not be beyond criticism. The supporter of the underdogs have also been duped by a very effective Arab PR machine.

Is criticism of Israel antisemitic? It depends on the track record of the people doing the criticism. If they have never spoken out against, for example, the actions of the Chinese government in Tibet, or Indonesia in Papua New Guinea, then their motives must be suspect. Since it is indeed the case that many of the critics have their focus firmly on Israel, then they can be judged antisemitic.

But what is the driving force behind this? It is necessary only to look at the list of names of the people who have had to be suspended from office. Thus does Islam corrupt the political process. The damage is probably irreversible. This is the end of a century-long relationship.

lördag 30 april 2016

Can music harm or heal the brain?

Music can obviously not damage the brain in the way that a stroke or a blow to the head can. But the brain is a plastic organ - one might think of it as a self-wiring computer. This means that if the wiring is faulty, its function will be impaired and it will in fact be damaged.

We know that emotions and feelings can be affected by sound. There is the notorious effect of being exposed to 7Hz, a frequency just below the threshold of hearing, matching the theta wave frequency recorded by electroencephalagrams (EEG); there is a lot of literature on this subject. It is a frequency that can easily be generated by playing low-frequency chords on the organ.

Music was used as a form of torture at Guantanamo Bay. Music torture has been common practice for the CIA ever since it began its "enhanced interrogation program" in the early 2000s. The process is designed to "create fear, disorient … and prolong capture shock" in prisoners. Sgt. Mark Hadsell, a member of the U.S. Psychological Operations team, described the efficacy of the tactic: "If you play it for 24 hours, your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken. That's when we come in and talk to them."

The same applies to rasping and grinding sounds, which create a feeling of stress. Clearly, then, sound is having a physiological effect. Then there are what are known as "earworms", catchy pieces of music that continually repeat through a person's mind after it is no longer playing.

Although the mechanisms are not yet well-understood, memory is stored in the brain through some kind of change in the pattern of neural connections, so there is a physical change in the brain tissue itself. Stress gives rise to increased levels of cortisol, which also affect the brain tissue. So the notion that sound, including music, can harm the brain, is by no means far-fetched.

The opposite is also true. The process has been noted by, amongst others, the French MD, Alfred Tomatis. Since the 1950’s he has researched the effects of Gregorian chant upon the brain and body. By the early 1970’s when Catholic liturgy was changed after the Second Vatican Council, Dr. Tomatis was being asked to visit monasteries and council the abbots and monks on their failing health and energy. He noted that until they returned to their customs of Latin singing psalmody and chant, that they would no longer feel the natural rhythms of the day.

Tomatis was not making these suggestions from a conservative, Catholic viewpoint. He realised that the power of self-generated tones, the prolonged open vowel sounds characteristic of Latin, and the power of the rhythmic breath could alter the whole attitude and physical body of a person, not to mention the spiritual relationship with God.

To stimulate the brain and charge it with energy, is most easily done with the voice, intoning vowel sounds. Gregorian chant is an ideal way to use slow vowel sounds to relax the body, mind and soul. Taking long deep breaths with a light humming sound demonstrates the effect of the voice on the body after only a few minutes. To listen to the sounds of Gregorian chants inspires the body to breathe more deeply and to centre itself. It is a simple way to balance mind and body. Gregorian music is not boring although it does not have an insistent magnetic rhythm or melody to captivate the listener. It stimulates the brain with long sounds and elongated breaths. This humming or slower toning of the vowel sounds can be thought of  as massaging the body from the inside out.

The 1970s were not the first assault on Gregorian Chant in the Catholic Church. The process began with the Reformation, when Luther abolished it and replaced it by simple melodies in strict time. This is precisely the kind of music that gives rise to earworms. It may be significant that Gregorian Chant does not have this effect, since the music follows the line and rhythm of the texts, which take precedence over the music. The two types of music have very different effects on the mood of those who sing and listen to them, which must in turn have consequences for the way that the brain is wired and its ability to function efficiently. Thus, the idea that music can cause brain damage is not so far-fetched. The damage may be subtle, but it is not negligible nevertheless and could have an effect on the individual's ability to maintain focus on tasks and make rational decisions.

Perhaps Catholics should censor the music they have at Mass and cut out metrical hymns composed for Protestant services.


fredag 8 april 2016

If I had not done this others would

"'My client Mr Tanveer Ahmed has specifically instructed me that today, 6 April 2016, to issue this statement to the press, the statement is in the words of my client.

'This all happened for one reason and no other issues and no other intentions. 'Asad Shah disrespected the messenger of Islam the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Mr Shah claimed to be a prophet.

'When 1400 years ago the Prophet of Islam Muhammad peace be upon him has clearly said that "I am the final messenger of Allah there is no more prophets or messengers from God Allah after me. 

'I am leaving you the final Quran. There is no changes. It is the final book of Allah and this is the final completion of Islam." 

'There is no more changes to it and no one has the right to claim to be a prophet or to change the Quran or change Islam.

'It is mentioned in the Quran that there is no doubt in this book no one has the right to disrespect the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him and no one has the right to disrespect the Prophet of Islam Muhammad Peace be upon him.

'If I had not done this others would and there would have been more killing and violence in the world.  
'I wish to make it clear that the incident was nothing at all to do with Christianity or any other religious beliefs even although I am a follower of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him I also love and respect Jesus Christ.' "

The Daily Mail has published this on its website, the article being not open to comments. It does not take much imagination to predict the kind of comments that would be made, and what most people are thinking about the incident. The question that is beginning to arise is this. Since this holy and unchangeable book has the power to incite people to this kind of action, should even be allowed to distribute it and preach from its texts? You cannot ban the text of a whole religion. Or can you?

There is also the issue that people with beliefs like these are a danger to the public. The situation is not so different from the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, who heard voices from God telling him to kill prostitutes. If they were suffering from a mental illness, they would be detained under the mental health legislation. When there are thousands of people with these delusional beliefs at large, what is to be done?

The Journey East #2

The state of the Catholic Church A few years ago I visited Riga, the capital of Latvia. At 9.30 in the evening, a crowd of young people cam...