onsdag 16 augusti 2017

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 came streaming out of a Catholic church in the city centre. This speaks of a church in a healthy condition. It is exceptional for Europe. In most of Western Europe, it is in accelerating decline. The picture is better in Poland but there too, it is not what it was, as secularisation takes hold. In France and Germany, and in formerly solid Catholic countries such as Spain and Italy, the Catholic church has seen near-collapse.

It is the same story in the English speaking world: Britain, the USA, Australia; the Irish Republic, formerly a bastion of Catholicism, have experienced a precipitous decline in Mass attendance and vocations to the priesthood.

In other former Catholic strongholds around the world, including South America and the Philippines, the loss has been to the evangelicals, supported from the US with vast financial resources behind them.

The Swedish exception?
There are, indeed, few countries in the world where the Catholic Church is in a healthy condition. Latvia, mentioned above, is one. Sweden is perhaps another. It was boosted by immigration and a stream of converts from the Lutheran State Church. However, even here, things are not looking as bright as they did a decade ago. The immigrant groups keep apart from each other. When parishes have Masses in half-a-dozen different languages, there is less opportunity for social gathering across the national divides. The children of the immigrants have tended to drift away. Given the extent of migration and travel, the switch from Latin to vernacular liturgy could not have happened at a worse time, for Latin was both a sign of the church's Catholicity and a means for maintaining that Catholicity.

Had the Swedish Cardinal and his advisers understood this, they would have acted vigorously to promote the universal use of Latin, and the once universally known music that goes with the Latin, in the Catholic church in Sweden. In particular, the Tridentine Mass is peculiarly suited to this situation, as the priest recites the Mass silently while the congregation follow printed texts which can be in any language as required. After all, a look at the Catholic church elsewhere shows that that tiny minority of parishes and congregations which have held to, or revived, the use of Latin and Gregorian chant have been an exception to the general trend of decline, so this could only have been beneficial in the long run.

In the meantime, at the Rome HQ...

måndag 14 augusti 2017

The Journey East #1

I became a Catholic in 1975. The circumstances of my conversion are summarised here. The subsequent four decades proved to be a something of an ordeal as the Catholic church underwent a period of radical change, to the point that I can hardly recognise it as the church I joined. This manifested at parish level in ways that were distressing for a great many. The reforms were a major factor in the implosion of the Catholic church in recent times. There was a widespread loss of faith. A handful went off to SSPX. People returning after a break during their teens found a church so different that they were unable to relate to it. My own experiences of this period are recorded in this series of seven blogs, Four decades of Catholic music.

From the mid-1990s, however, it looked as if a recovery was beginning, following the publication of books by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, such as "The Spirit of the Liturgy", and Fr Michael Lang's "Turning towards the Lord". Then, in 2005 came the election of Pope Benedict and Summorum Pontificum, which set free the Tridentine Mass, with the declared intention that it should influence the celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass, henceforth to be referred to as the "Ordinary Form" (OF). My own parish priest at St Mary Magdalen's, Brighton, embraced this "reform of the reform" with enthusiasm. There was indeed progress.

And then came Benedict's mysterious resignation in 2013 and his replacement by Pope Francis. It was immediately evident that he had no sympathy for moderating the changes which have taken hold since 1970, despite the fact that they are clearly not what was originally intended by the Vatican Council fathers, or are outright liturgical abuses.

With hindsight, the reform of the reform canbe seen to have been exceptional and sporadic. The slide has resumed, stiffened by support from "head office". Locally, the majority of priests refuse to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. In fact, they resist the use of Latin at all. They regard it as anachronistic and elitist, dismissing those who attend Latin Masses as reactionaries; in this, they are not entirely wrong, since the Tridentine Mass occurs at marginal times and only enthusiasts would seek it out.

Locally, there has been no improvement in the way the OF Mass is celebrated in the ten years I have been in the parish. It is on its third organist since I arrived ten years yet the overall sound of the Mass remains resolutely Protestant. The Proper is replaced by the obligatory four hymns which are almost invariably Lutheran, Anglican or English Nonconformist classics. The spirit of this music is entirely at odds with the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass in its traditional Catholic understanding.

I find it difficult even to maintain my hold on what is happening in the liturgy; indeed, I find it hard to avoid getting angry at the willful discarding of our musical tradition and the crass ugliness of what has replaced it.

Then there was the morning when I had to receive communion from a female Extraordinary Minister wearing jeans so tight that it was a wonder how she had managed to squeeze into them; kneeling down before reception of the host... That is not a spiritual state in which one can receive communion with a good conscience.

Other recent events have also disturbed me. There was the Pope's visit to Sweden last autumn. There were three funerals of parishioners who had been devoted followers of the Tridentine Mass, one of a man who died tragically young at the end of 2015, and the other two of very old men who had attended the Tridentine Mass whenever they could. A Tridentine Requiem would have been an obvious and natural choice for all three, but it did not happen.

In the overall scheme of things, we are, it must be said, fortunate in having two local priests who are willing to celebrate the Tridentine Mass at all; our parish priest, when he is not away, now celebrates once a week on a weekday evening, and on Saturday evenings; these are moderately well attended. Another, based out of town, celebrates on Sunday though at an inconvenient time and has congregations usually in single figures. But there is no continuity; there are weeks on end when it does not happen at all. Realistically, this speaks of an institution, and people, who stand on at the margin of the Catholic church.

The same applies to the use of traditional Catholic music within the context of the OF liturgy. It has been reduced to the status of items that can be picked from a buffet-table of choices. There is no sense or understanding that the liturgy is something given and fixed, which has to be performed as an essential component of the work of the Church.

So I find myself right on the fringe, to the point that there is almost no-one to whom I can even express my concerns without being attacked or regarded as a crank. It is not a good place to be.

Another disappointing Catholic moment

Yesterday morning's BBC4 Sunday Worship was from a Catholic establishment in Northern Ireland. With a slot of only 45 minutes, there is no time for a Mass, but there was no reason why the music played could not have drawn on the ancient tradition of the Catholic church. There was none. All we got were a few hackneyed popular hymns: Holy God, Morning has broken and Amazing Grace.

The recording is available until 10th September.

fredag 30 juni 2017

Dreadful music at Mass last night

I have pretty much given up on my local Catholic parish (there are alternatives) because the music is irredeemably dreadful. It is not that good quality music is never sung, though there was none on this occasion, despite it being the Feast of St Peter and St Paul, one of the most important in the calendar.

The real dreadfulness is the hymns. Last night's Mass began with Cecilia #132 ("Nu stiger sång mot paradis" - I have never heard it before), then came #96 ("The church is one foundation", music by S S Wesley) for the Offertory, #145 ("Jag vet till vem jag satt min tro" - I have never heard that before, either) at Communion and  #5 ("Now thank we God" music by Cruger) to finish up with.

The overall effect of that selection is a sound which is expressly and intentionally not Catholic. That is not the worst of it, because the hymns squeeze out the music which properly belongs to the Catholic liturgy; for the Feast of St Peter and St Paul, these include the Introit Nunc sciovere, the Communion antiphon Tu es Petrus, and some setting of the same text, such as that by Palestrina or Byrd.

Before the Novus Ordo Mass came in, these would have been sung as a matter of course. They still should be; according to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the Latin texts and Gregorian settings remain the recommended first choice. Unfortunately, the guidelines are normally ignored.

In this instance I would not have known what was going to be sung and was not interested, as I had not planned to attend the Mass myself. I had guessed that I would have just become angry at having to sit and listen to it all, which is not a suitable disposition at Mass. As it happened, my fears were proved correct. I had arranged to meet a friend outside the church afterwards and saw the notice giving the list of the music.

It is particularly sad in the case of my own parish, as competent musicians are available and willing to sing the right music. One has to ask what is going on here?

måndag 26 juni 2017

The Power of Silence by Cardinal Sarah

Cardinal Sarah is the Guinean cardinal who heads the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship. He is also the author of The Power of Silence: against the dictatorship of noise, published by Ignatius Press.

The Cardinal has a lot to endure. Last year he put forward the suggestion that priests should return to the practice of ad orientem celebration of Mass. The response from most of the bishops was to advise priests to take no notice. The same line was also pushed by the Vatican; Sarah has run into strong opposition from the liberal wing, some of it verging on the racist.

As a prominent Cardinal he is in the running for Pope. However, given the composition of the College of Cardinals, his election to the papacy is improbable. If he were elected, he could be expected to pick up where Pope Benedict left off but he would then would run into the same problems that Benedict faced.

This is another demonstration of the critical state of the Catholic Church, which seems to be heading for a split as radical as that which happened at the Reformation. This time, the cleavage will be between the wealthy liberal church of the developed world, and the conservative church of the less developed nations. The Catholic church of Europe and the USA, is however, in a state of approaching rapid decline as priests retire and cannot be replaced due to the 40-year dearth of vocations. In some ways, the situation of the Catholic church today is more perilous than it has been since the Great Schism, since we have so changed the liturgy as to deprive the Mass of much of its signifying power.

The Cardinal's book, is, therefore, suitable reading for the times we are passing through, and thoroughly to be recommended.

måndag 5 juni 2017

Nothing to do with Islam

Following the incident in London on Friday night, there are still journalists and politicians who attempt to distance the present round of terrorist attacks from Islam and to blame them on Britain having made itself a target by interference in the affairs of Muslim countries.

The policies of UK and US governments have indeed aggravated the situation and spread the problem by destabilising, in particular, Iraq and Libya. However, since similar incidents have also been occurring in Germany and Sweden, which have done nothing but help fleeing refugees, and in the latter case, been very supportive of the Palestinian cause, that explanation does not hold water.

These is also concern about the guilt-by-association that is now affecting Muslims in general. Clearly, the large number of lapsed Muslims are not responsible, any more than those Muslims - probably the majority - who follow the peaceful parts of their religion's teaching.

The difficulty here is that Jihad is a fundamental precept of Islam. There have been some, throughout history, who have taken this to mean violent Jihad, to that extent, the present spate of terror attacks are not un-Islamic.

We should give people the benefit of the doubt and assume that the majority of practising Muslims are either unaware of this or understand Jihad in its metaphorical sense. However, in the present circumstances, they do have a duty to study their religion more deeply and evaluate it critically; in fact all of us have that duty. If they then chose to walk away, they need to have the assurance that they will not be hounded by the fervent believers who choose to hold to their faith, and society needs to offer them all the protection they will need.

Also, in the present circumstances, one has to question the wisdom and sensitivity of individuals who go about in clothing which identifies them as Muslims, thereby indicating that they are in a sense supportive of the actions of the terrorists; they are not obliged to wear the badge.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/04/theresa-may-british-values-muslims-terror-threat

söndag 4 juni 2017

Orthodox Whit Sunday



It was not my original intention today, but my plans were put out by a variety of circumstances so I ended up going to the Orthodox church this morning.

I have been experiencing a "pull" towards the Orthodox church for much of the past year, though it dates back for several years. A conjunction of events in 2013 was the initial trigger but the thing bubbled up again last autumn, after the Pope's visit to Sweden; I wrote a piece on the subject on this blog but it disturbed me in a way that has niggled ever since.

It is a considerable blessing to have a congregation locally which celebrates the Divine Liturgy in Church Slavonic. The parish is Serbian, but the services are also attended by Russians and a few Swedes who are spouses and converts.

At some point, Deo volente, a choice will have to be made, probably in about twelve months time. Or possibly not. I am not going to rush things. It is necessary to learn more, which will mean a lot of reading to be done.

As a non-Serbian, to be received into the Serbian church would seem strange, not to say perverse. It would take a lot of explaining. To join the Russian Orthodox would make slightly more sense, especially given the international reach of that church these days and the status of its Patriarch as a world Christian leader. Both, however, have political associations, which is the underlying problem with Orthodoxy as a grouping of national churches, not to mention the Church of Euphorbia.

There is a Swedish Orthodox church in embryo, attached to the Antioch patriarchy, now based in Damascus and under the protection of the Bishop in Paris. However, the Swedes have their liturgy on a Saturday and their church is out in the country. So from a practical point of view it would work less well. In any case it makes little difference to go to liturgy not understanding all the words in Church Slavonic or not understanding all the words in Swedish; the Serbians and Russians probably do not understand it all, since Church Slavonic is roughly as close to Russian as Latin is to Spanish or Italian. Either way, one needs to study the readings in English beforehand, and now that the priest has kindly given me a calender, I can have a look during the week.

How much more will the British tolerate?

The British are phlegmatic, tolerant and slow to rouse. Thus there was no great reaction after the terrorist attack in July 2005. The murder of Lee Rigby created a sense of outrage, but nothing more, since it appeared to be an isolated incident. Two serious incidents within a fortnight are another matter.

Since the first major terrorist incident in 2001, authority has tried to persuade the public that Islam is a religion of peace, that these were isolated events, or the actions of deranged "lone wolves", having nothing to do with Islam, or to reassure that the chances of being killed in a terrorist attack were infinitesimally small.

These assurances are are beginning to wear thin. They no longer convince. If government does not act effectively, people will take the law into their own hands. What, however, would effective action look like? What sort of effective action would not amount to rough justice for a lot of innocent people? Given the difficulties of keeping large numbers of people under constant surveillance, preventative action would involve taking many thousands into preventative detention, an action that would lead to further radicalisation. That in turn would eventually lead to the need to screen tens or even hundreds of thousands. Such measures are not acceptable in a liberal society with Enlightenment values.

Things will get ugly. The Manchester and London murders (yesterday's was the second in four weeks) will no doubt help to attract recruits to the unlovely English Defence League; retaliatory action will quickly follow the next Jihadi attack.

Thinking Muslims ought to take the opportunity to reconsider their position. Is their religion really the peaceful doctrine they have always believed it to be? Is it not time to distance themselves from it? What do they imagine is the effect on the wider community of going about with clothing that advertises their allegiance to Islam when appalling things are being done in the name of their religion?

onsdag 31 maj 2017

In the Holy Month of Ramadan...

In Afghanistan, "Scores of civilians have been killed after a massive explosion in a highly secure diplomatic area of Kabul left 64 people dead and wounded more than 300, the Afghan interior ministry said on Wednesday."

In Iraq, "An Islamic State car bomb that targeted families eating ice-cream after breaking their Ramadan fast has killed at least 17 people and wounded 32 more in southern Baghdad."

In the Philippines, "Police and security services have imposed a night-time curfew and increased their presence in a second Philippine city following reports that Islamist militants fighting fierce battles in Marawi might pose as civilians to sneak out and open a new front. More than 90% of Marawi’s 200,000 population have fled a week of street clashes and aerial strikes. Many have relocated to Iligan City, 24 miles to the north, where authorities have implemented a 10pm to 4am curfew."

Also in the Philippines, "The CCTV monitor was showing a live feed of gunmen in the hospital lobby. From the safety of another floor, Jan Yamit, a 23-year-old health worker, watched in horror as the militants shot a police officer and then a security guard before storming into the building.

“I can’t explain what I was feeling. I was nervous. I am pissed by those kinds of people. They kill defenceless people,” he said of the attack in Marawi, a city on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

He and his brother, who worked as a lift operator in the building, sneaked from one room to another. Eventually, they found a wooden plank and made a bridge from the third floor to a neighbouring building.

“Those who were killed were Christians,” he said.

The attack on Marawi, a mainly Muslim city of 200,000 people, by the Islamic State-linked Maute group this week has led to a fierce three-day battle, with the army deploying attack helicopters and special forces. At least 46 people – 15 members of the security forces and 31 militants – have been killed. On Friday, the Maute held its positions on bridges and remained hidden in buildings, despite heavy overnight artillery and airstrikes."

 In Egypt, at least 26 people, including children, were killed and 25 wounded in a gun attack on a bus carrying Coptic Christians south of Cairo.

And this was just the first week of the Holy Month. Into the second week, we now have 7 dead and 21 critically injured in London - less than a fortnight after the Manchester attack.

söndag 28 maj 2017

Our values will only prevail if we speak up

"After Manchester, our values will only prevail if we speak up for them." So writes Guardian correspondent Nick Cohen this morning.

Except that our values have not prevailed. The article is not open for comment. In fact, very few articles in the Guardian are open for comment any more. The essential contradiction having now been realised, the portrait of its renowned editor, C P Scott, together with the strapline "But comment is free", has been removed.

Comment is free no longer.

lördag 27 maj 2017

Corbyn is spot-on

It is not often that I find myself in agreement with a left winger like Jeremy Corbyn, but he is spot-on in his analysis when he says that the Manchester bombing would not have happened if the western powers had not destabilised Libya by getting rid of Gaddafi, and that ISIS would not have risen to power if it had not been for the intervention in Iraq.

We would probably not, however, agree on the reasons. The project to turn these countries into western-style democracies were never going to succeed; their societies are too fractured and tribal for democracies to be able to work, and that is why they have always been ruled by dictators and tyrants. Fortunately, the attempt to get rid of the tyrant ruler of Syria was stopped in its tracks. Had Assad been got rid of, the consequences would have been immeasurably worse than the present situation, bad as it is.

Western countries need to stop the meddling.

fredag 26 maj 2017

Manchester - discussion shut down

It is noticeable that the newspapers have closed down web site discussion on articles about the Manchester bombing. On the Guardian site - the strapline "Comment is Free" now seems ironic - only the most trivial and uncontroversial articles are now open for comment these days.  The Financial Times was more open but has subsequently removed all the comments.

This leaves the field open for conspiracy theories and claims that the authorities knew about the bombing threat and just allowed it to happen, for the sake of having a pretext for imposing tighter controls and surveillance.

However, what we do know, since the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, admitted as much, is that the bomber was known "up to a point" to the British intelligence services and police. Which raises the question of why he was allowed through immigration control without detention and close questioning. This would be difficult politically, since detention of suspects is open to accusations of racial and ethnic profiling.

Perhaps the law needs to be strengthened so that whatever he was known "up to a point" for is made a chargeable offence. That, though, could mean that tens of thousands of people could end up in prison. However, in this case, it now turns out that Islamic terrorism was the family business, so one would have expected that the bomber would have been known more than "up to a point". But if these people are not put out of harm's way, the alternative is the frightening one of allowing them free, when resources are inadequate to keep them under effective surveillance

There is also a refusal to acknowledge the nature of the "extremism" and "radicalisation" which is behind this and similar incidents. Since they are not committed by extremist Methodists or radical Christian Scientists, their actions must be motivated by something to do with the nature of the particular faith when radicalisation leads them to commit acts of terrorism. Radical Catholic men, for instance, become monks and friars. But this beast is rarely named.

It is also why initiatives like "Prevent" are bound to fail; in order to be effective, the beliefs of what is now a significant minority would have to be openly challenged. This is an impossible task when the dominant belief in society is no belief at all, leaving it impotent when it comes to presenting counter arguments. The widespread belief in nothing at all also makes it difficult for people, including opinion-formers, to understand the power of beliefs and the risks of having a community within society which holds to beliefs which are potentially dangerous.

This incomprehension is a problem peculiar to western countries which have not previously had Muslim communities in their midst; if you talk to Christians from countries like Syria and Iraq, they will spell out what they have had to deal with for centuries.

If there is any conspiracy, it is one of silence based on fear of giving offence, of being confrontational and of being accused of racism. We will pay a heavy price in the end. Actions by the authorities will be useless. And there is a limit to what the public will tolerate. People are not fooled. As Morissey has said, the bomber was an extremist. Extremist what? Extremist rabbit? Morrisey was accused of making a dumb statement, but that accusation only serves to increase the gap between the pulsillanimous media and politicians, and what is plain as daylight to everyone else.

måndag 22 maj 2017

Cult of ugliness

Compare and contrast. The former seems to have been inspired by the latter, but which is the more elegant?
Fatima shrine.
German bunker, Jersey, built 1942.

Orthodox ordination yesterday

I attended an ordination yesterday, of a man who is probably the first-ever Swedish Orthodox priest. The bishop had come all the way from Paris. The parish, which is attached to the Patriarchate of Antioch, is a mixture of Swedes and Syrians, and the liturgy was in Swedish, Arabic and English. This of course,  contradicts the claim that the Orthodox are divided into national groups.

There was a party afterwards, in which the Bishop emphasised that the most important thing for a Christian was to hold to the love of Christ.

There was a fair sprinkling of Church of Sweden clergy but none of the dozen or so Catholic priests in and around Göteborg came; in fact, apart from myself, there were only two other Catholics present. I wonder if they were invited or knew that the event was occurring?

fredag 12 maj 2017

80 years ago today - 12 May 1937

The 12th of May 1937 - 80 years ago today - was the day of the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. It was commemorated by this attractive postage stamp, at a time when the British Post Office issued just one or two commemoratives a year.

söndag 7 maj 2017

Tridentine Mass hanging on

I went to the Tridentine Mass this morning. It was better attended than usual. We are fortunate in having a choice of two - one in town on Saturday evenings, and another on Sunday mornings at a Franciscan house about ten minutes out on the commuter train. The Saturday evening one draws about fifty, the Sunday morning one about a couple of dozen. Both are said by dedicated priests; the celebrant for the Sunday morning Mass is in his mid-seveties and had a stroke earlier in the year. It is a great effort for him to say it, as well as a Novus Ordo Mass earlier in the day.

To have two Tridentine Masses most weeks looks good, but in truth it is hanging on by a thread. The overwhelming majority of Catholics are uncomfortable with Latin and want their Mass in the vernacular, with plenty of the Lutheran hymns that most of them were brought up with; this, the prevailing form of Mass, is hardly even recognisable as Catholic. Those of us who prefer the traditional form find it hard to accept that we are at the margin of the margin but that is the reality. It will be a miracle if the Tridentine Mass is still around in these parts in five years time.

lördag 29 april 2017

Things we Catholics do #2 - Eucharistic devotion



Eucharistic devotion is the practice of worship of the consecrated host which is really and truly the Body of Christ. It takes several forms.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is the use of the consecrated host as an object to meditate upon, rather as Buddhists might contemplate a mandala or Orthodox Christians an ikon. The host is placed in a monstrance, a container with glass windows at front and rear. It is held in position by a clip called a lunette. Monstrances come in two main patterns. The Gothic pattern resembles a reliquary. The monstrance on the altar in the photograph is the more common sunburst style, which seems to date from the Baroque period and may have originated in Peru, since the Incas had a sun-god cult and depicted their deity as a sun.

Benediction is a short service with hymns and a short period of contemplation of the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance. The hymns usually sung are to texts composed by St Thomas Aquinas: O salutaris hostia, and the last two verses of Pange lingua, Tantum ergo, and Psalm 116 with the antiphon Adoremus in aeternum. Benediction usually includes some kind of litany such as The Divine Praises.

Blessed Sacrament processions. These usually takes place on the Feast of Corpus Christi. The priest carries the monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament, and walks either under a canopy called a baldacchino, with four bearers or under an ombrellino (an umbrella-like canopy) carried by a single bearer. These are flanked by torch-bearers and preceded by a thurifer carrying a censor with incense.

The Feast of Corpus Christi is a feast in honour of the Blessed Sacrament. It was instituted in the thirteenth century in obedience to the vision of a nun, the Blessed Juliana of Liege, a Praemonstratensian (Norbertine) Canoness. This was at about the same time as St Thomas Aquinas was developing the doctrine of Transubstantiation; he composed the text for the liturgy for the feast day, including the long sequence Lauda Sion Salvatorem and the processional hymn Pange lingua. The introit to the Mass is a beautiful Gregorian tune to the text Cibavit eos. The feast is celebrated on the first available Thursday after the Easter season, ie the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. These days, unfortunately, the feast day is usually moved to the following Sunday, which breaks the connection with Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper, and it is rare to hear the Latin texts with their special and characteristic tunes. This is particularly sad as these post-Vatican 2 changes have lost us a quintessentially Catholic feast.

None of these devotions would have been possible for practical reasons if the Latin church had not adopted the practice of using unleavened bread for the eucharist and they could therefore not exist in the Orthodox churches. They are a medieval development and grew up after the Great Schism. Whether we should really be following them at all is a question that we might usefully consider. Our Lord's command was to take and eat my Body and drink my Blood. Chapter 6 of St John's gospel makes it clear that these were not symbolic; that is why we are told the Jews were shocked at this teaching. However, eucharistic devotion is a big step beyond eating and drinking. As number XXV of the Anglican articles of faith puts it, "The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them."

Whether the Anglicans are right about this is another matter, but it is worth remembering that the practice is not followed in any of the other ancient apostolic churches so they might just have a point.

Things we Catholics do #1 - unleavened bread

The custom of the Latin Rite Catholic Church is to celebrate Mass with unleavened bread. The priest uses a large wafer (about 8 cm diameter) which is broken at the "fractionation", whilst the congregation receive individual small wafers (about 3 cm diameter) which may have been consecrated at the same Mass but have more often been consecrated at a previous Mass and stored in a silver vessel called a ciborium, which is kept in a locked safe known as the "tabernacle". In a traditionally configured Catholic church, the tabernacle is placed on the altar and the two, together with the altar, form the focus of attention. In a sense, it is the equivalent of the ark in a Jewish synagogue, containing the scrolls of the Law, the Torah.

The interesting thing is why we do this? When you search for this subject on the internet, the explanation given is that unleavened bread (matzot) was used at the Last Supper which was a Passover meal. However, the Last Supper was held on the Thursday. Scripture states that Good Friday was Preparation Day for the Passover ie 14th Nisan, which in the year of the crucifixion would have begun on the Thursday night. Contrary to what is commonly believed, therefore, the Last Supper was not a Seder.

What of the bread? Orthodox Jews start to clear the house of chametz on the evening of 14th Nisan. There is also a prohibition on eating food that is Kosher for Passover on Erev Pesach. Consequently, the practice in some Jewish households, of using matzot just before Passover because all the leaven (chametz) has been cleared away is incorrect. Thus the bread used at the Last Supper may have possibly been matzot but was probably not . On the other hand, the bread broken at Emmaus on the evening of the day of the Resurrection most certainly was.

However, also contrary to what is commonly believed, the Mass is not a re-enactment of the Last Supper but a representation of the Sacrifice of Calvary. Given that most of the Eastern churches use leavened bread for the Eucharist, and that they have generally preserved Jewish custom and that of the early church more faithfully, the use of unleavened bread leaves a puzzle, even though we take it for granted.

The puzzle does not stop there because if leavened bread was used, after consecration it could not be "reserved" in the tabernacle for use at a later Mass, nor would eucharistic adoration and processions be possible. That will be the subject of a future piece.

tisdag 25 april 2017

In praise of Aspergers

We should take a moment now and again to acknowledge the fact that civilisation as we know it would never have arisen if it were not for the people, mostly males, with Asperger's Syndrome.

Both Newton and Einstein have been retrospectively diagnosed with the condition. Most of our technology could not have been brought to a workable condition without individuals having Asperger's Syndrome. Think about this next time you travel in a train, confident that you will arrive safely: what "normal" person would have the patience, persistence and attention to detail to design the railway signalling system on which your life depends?

Without the men with Asperger's Syndrome who developed the technology you are using to read this, we would probably not even have developed to the point of writing things down by making marks in wet clay.

A disgraceful prison sentence

A twenty-year old man, Adam Mudd, has been sentenced to two years in prison for creating, when he was 16, a program, which carried out more than 1.7m attacks on websites including Minecraft, Xbox Live and Microsoft and TeamSpeak, a chat tool for gamers. He earned the equivalent of more than £386,000 in US dollars and bitcoins from selling the program to cyber criminals.

Mudd was said to be a high-functioning Asperger case. Clearly he was not entirely responsible for his actions. The suspended sentence requested by the defence would have been reasonable in the circumstances. It was refused.

The approach seems entirely wrong. Those who have been affected should be suing the suppliers of the software and computer services, since they are responsible for creating the situation in the first place by releasing insecure software.

People who are able to crack computer security systems should be employed to make sure the systems offered to the public, commerce and government are as secure as possible; an Asperger's diagnosis is probably an essential qualification for the job. They should not be locked away in prison.

torsdag 6 april 2017

Brtain's poor productivity - again

"Britain’s poor productivity performance before, during and after the financial crisis of a decade ago has left a gap of 16% with the other six members of the G7 group of industrial nations. International comparisons published by the Office for National Statistics show that output per hour worked continued to lag well behind the US, Germany and France in 2015 – the last year for which data is available"

Article in Guardian.

Oh dear. The entire concept of "productivity" is dubious. If it applicable anywhere, then it is within manufacturing industry where sub-optimal productivity can be due to factors such as wastage, defective work which has to be rectified, poor design, poor organisation of the workflow, time kept waiting for components or raw materials to arrive, or obsolescent equipment. These are management issues, and there is certainly still tendency in British industry for the managers not to talk to the lower orders - the people who are working in the front line; handing down orders from on high, they stay in their offices and fail to grasp the nature of the tasks they are managing.

There are many occupations, however, where there is little or no scope for increases in productivity. Assuming that their work timetable does not result in a waste of staff time, how could a bus driver or a train driver or a nurse or a surgeon become more productive?

Statistics can aggregate that which should not be aggregated, to the point that they may be meaningless. There may be, and probably is, a problem with UK productivity, but raw figures like these are best taken with a pinch of salt.

We should also not forget that an item at the factory gate in the UK is worth less than the same item at the factory gate in Germany, simply because the German factory has around 400 million potential customers to whom it can be delivered in a door-to-door run, whereas in the UK, there are 60 million customers, but the other 400 million are on the other side of a strip of water which has to be crossed.

tisdag 28 mars 2017

Guardian Takkiya

In a fine example of takkiya, Guardian journalist David Shariatmadari writes "Should we blame Islam for terrorism?"

Shariatmadari writes "Let’s assume for a moment, then, that Islam is especially predisposed towards violence. If that’s your view, then you’ll need to show why the history of jihadi terrorism is so very short: this is emphatically a late 20th and early 21st century phenomenon, yet Islam has been around since the seventh century."

He conveniently forgets to mention the recorded actions of the Prophet himself. The article is not open for comments.

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.

tisdag 24 januari 2017

Foreigners harassed after Brexit vote

A German friend was telling me about the harassment he has been receiving, even from colleagues, since the Brexit vote. This, would you believe, is at a university. It is nasty; however, what has happened is the outcome of decades of ignoring people's genuine concerns.

Joining the EEC was never a good decision for the UK. It was imposed by a political elite for a variety of reasons, some creditable, others misguided. Edward Heath, Prime Minister at the time, and one of the driving forces, had been an artillery commander in WW2 and was anxious to prevent another war. The original conception of the EEC was based on subsidiarity but that principle was never followed, with ever more control being sucked to the centre.

Joining the EEC meant, first, the imposition of VAT, and second, import tariffs and a big increase in food prices, as the UK lost its sources of cheap food. These changes were part of the cause of the steep inflation which followed after the UK joined in 1973. Older people remember this well.

VAT was a condition of being in the customs union. It would be difficult to think of a worse tax, which, incidentally, yields little more than if it did not exist at all.There was no public discussion about it - VAT was forced on the country as a fait accompli. VAT is an administrative burden, especially for small businesses. What it was introduced, it put up the cost of goods and services which had not been subject to tax before. After 1973, spectacles, which had been free under the original NHS, not only had to be paid for but were subject to VAT on top. This was a regressive and damaging tax and was deeply resented. VAT also put up the cost of services such as building works, meals in cafes and restaurants, accountancy, even repairs to things like cars, bicycles, washing machines etc. It promotes the throw-away mentality.

Then there were the agricultural and fishing policies, which led to food mountains, the destruction of the countryside in many parts of the country, and the destruction of the inshore fisheries eg along the Sussex coast. I watched it all happen.

That was "reformed" and then we had set-aside, the scandal whereby farmers were paid to let weeds grow in their fields. After another 15 years we got another "reform", and set-aside was replaced by the present arrangement under which wealthy farmers are paid just because they are landowners - welfare for the wealthiest.

The EU fisheries policy was equally inept. For decades, the rules prevented the landing of under-sized or the wrong sort of fish, with the result that large quantities were dumped back in the sea, dead.

Free movement of labour also harmed the poorest people in the country. If we have two countries, Richland and Poorland, and allow free movement of labour between them, wages in the two countries will drop to the level in Poorland. They do not even average out. Are workers in Richland going to be content with finding their wages drop through the floor, and that the trade unions left powerless to do anything about it? It would be difficult to think of a better way of promoting exploitation of workers. That is not the end of it either, as the increase in population in Richland creates pressure on housing, leading to increases in rent. It is truly a policy for the benefit of the property-owning classes, and the "progressives" cannot even see it.

I was one of those who voted to remain in the 1975 referendum, in the expectation that the more stupid policies would be reformed, but there has never been any indication of a willingness to reform. Agricultural policy is worse than ever.

As a member of the privileged group, I am one who has gained from the EU. The vast majority enjoy no perceptible benefit. In the face of decades of bad news stories based on facts, not inventions, it is only surprising that the vote to leave was not bigger. It seems as if the EU leadership is oblivious of the problems caused by its policies.

The only fortunate thing for the UK is that it did not join the Euro. A common currency is not viable without political union. It draws wealth to the geographical centre of the area in which it circulates, and it is unworkable if interest rate management is used as a means of economic regulation. We have found the same thing even within the UK, which is too big for a single currency.

What has happened is a tragedy which could have been avoided, but the principal cause is high-handed and out-of-touch politicians. If the EU had held to its founding principle of subsidiarity, Brexit would not have happened.

lördag 7 januari 2017

Schoenberg and the atonals

BBC Radio Three is running a series of programmes on "The Second Viennese School": the group of composers that comprised Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils and close associates in early 20th century Vienna. Schoenberg himself was the subject of this week's Composer of the Week.

I have never been particularly attracted to that sort of music, though if you are used to singing Gregorian chant, it is not difficult to listen to. There is an interesting background. Schoenberg, who seems to have been a thoroughly good egg who had a hard life, was trying to break out of the diatonic (major and minor key) straitjacket, which, it was felt, had reached the limits of its possibilities by the end of the nineteenth century.

What is still not widely appreciated is that the dominance of diatonic music was a Western European phenomenon which took hold in the seventeenth century. Before that, and outside Europe, modal forms and other scales were and remain the norm. But even within Europe, the rules of diatonic music were famously broken by composers such as Gesualdo, William Lawes, Purcell, Bach, Zelenka, and Mozart.

That is not all. The music of the Catholic church, and the traditional Jewish music from which it was derived, is not diatonic but modal. The mode nearest to the major scale, Gregorian mode 5 (Lydian), is nevertheless different. The minor scale corresponding to the Aeolian mode, has no equivalent Gregorian mode. The other seven Gregorian modes are distant from the diatonic scales, none more so than mode 3 (Phrygian). Thus, if one is used to Gregorian chant, there is nothing strange about twentieth century "atonal" music.

Which brings us to Olivier Messaien, whose music also breaks out of the diatonic mould, but from a starting point in the Gregorian chant which he would have grown up with. There is here a sort of convergence. Messaien famously wrote no choral settings. He had taken the view that he could not produce anything of the quality of Gregorian chant and that it was a mistake to put one's work in a situation where it would be compared. A wise decision - in my view that helps to makes him probably the greatest composer of twentieth century church music.

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...