Monday, November 13, 2017

"Has it worked?" the question we dare not ask



In this centenary year of the Soviet Revolution, it is worth reflecting that after 70 years the Russian people actually asked the question, "Has it worked?" It is the question an efficient business asks regularly, I suspect parents in a healthy family ask that question. it should be the fundamental question of the spiritual life.

Fifty years after the implementation of the liturgical changes, it is the question the Church should be asking itself, any business would have product tested before a change of brand. I suppose that Summorum Pontificum was Benedict's way of doing this retrospectively.

Vatican II's liturgical reforms were introduced en masse everywhere and within a few years of the Council, unlike the gradually introduced liturgical reforms of Pius V that percolated gradually as old books were slowly replaced but even then only where the Roman Rite was used, the Milanese, Lyonese, Bragans, Dominicans, Carthusian, for example, continued using their own Rites, and acted as a kind of quality control or reference point for the reformed Roman Rite.


There are two areas where, 'has it worked?' should be asked, the first is liturgical reform, the second is the modern use of the papal fiat that introduced them, it was an unprecedented use of papal power. The second of these, Pope Francis is dealing with very effectively by forcing even the most conservative to ask about the modern use of papal power, "has it worked?". I half think that it is a deliberate policy, a reductio ad absurdum, that the Pope is raising with allies like Fr Spadaro and Dr Ivereigh and other cheerleaders. Are they cooperators who will heroically sacrifice their careers in a successive papacy. Dare one suggest that Magnum Principium might actually be a return of the Church to local Rites and Usages that are mutually enriching? I suspect not but it is a possibility. The Ordinariate Rite after all seems to have this effect where it is celebrated.

Apparently a large number of French Seminaries are closing, as are a whole lot of ancient monasteries and practically every convent has become a retirement home. I am not sure what the number is this year, but last year, in our diocese we had only 3 seminarians. Whilst I was at the seminary we had in this city of Brighton and Hove almost 30 priests, in 17 years time by the year 2030 we will be lucky to have 2 under 65, they will age prematurely out of exhaustion.

The thing is that there isn't an absence of vocations, from my little parish we have three men, two preparing for the priesthood and one in a rather rigorous contemplative monastery but they were very much involved in the Old Rite and have gone to communities outside of the diocese. It isn't even that there is an absence of contemplative religious, there are new convents opening in the Channel Islands and in the Diocese of Lancaster but again the sisters will worship according to Old Rite. The only monastery flourishing, without scandal, in Italy (despite episcopal opposition) is Old Rite, at Norcia. The same in France, where a quarter of this years ordinations were of priests attached to the Old Rite, and where monastic life is retracting but Old Rite monasteries like Fontgombault are actually making new foundations. I am quite willing to accept that it is not necessarily the Rite itself but if it is not then it is the theology that goes with the Rite, or the 'ecclesiological experience' that goes with it. On a practical level the Old Rite seems to work.

Why are we incapable of asking, "Has it worked?", presumably it is because of an ideological attachment, rather like the politburo of the Soviet Union that will not allow itself to question givens until long after they had collapsed.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The soldier and his cloak are radical



The radical nature of St Martin's giving of his cloak to the beggar is easily reduced to the sentimental or just overlooked: the soldier Martin, a catechumen, meets a beggar, and then later in a vision or a dream or in prayer sees that has given the cloak to Christ himself, St Francis and the leper is a similar story.

It is radical because of what it says about the 'personhood' of the outsider, the poor, the powerless. In the medieval world it was a frequently seen reminder of human dignity. It subtly conveys Martin's own anti-Arian teaching.

Martin lived at a time when Christianity had become legal, but armies tend to be conservative, the Mythraic cult seems to have been the dominant religion of the army. Scholars now suggest that the reason Christianity had been persecuted and suppressed at least by the powerful, though it seems to have grown widely amongst the masses in the 3rd and 4th centuries, to emerge as a great torrent with the Constantinian coup d'etat, was precisely because of the Trinitarian and Christological doctrines that underlined St Martin's (and his master Hiliary of Poitiers') anti-Arianism. It is also an indication of why Arianism was so attractive to the upper classes.

Christianity did threaten the power structures of Roman society: it actually said that slaves and beggars and the poor were of equal value to the emperors or patricians, in the same sense that publicans and sinners were of equal value to Pharisees, because in them Christ was made present.

It seems folly, but an accepted one, to imagine outside of Christianity that all are of equal importance or value in the state and society. When society excludes Christ it is easy to devalue the poor, the unborn, the elderly. racial minorities.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

La Vulnerata: A prayer for the Church


Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, and our wounded Mother that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, We fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother.  To you do we come, imploring you to look on the Holy Church of God, your Son's Immaculate Bride, now defiled by sin, ravaged by wolves, betrayed by her Shepherds and Priests, becoming covered in the filth of the world, blinded to the Vision of her Spouse your Son, deaf to his teaching, by your own share in His Sacred Passion and by the sword that pierced your heart, hear our sorrowful prayers, bind up our woundsand wipe away our tears.

Amen


The Vulnerata, The Wounded One, was desecrated by English sailors in Cadiz in 1596, she was brought to Vallodolid in solemn procession by order of the King and is venerated in the Real Colegio de Ingleses, she is an apt reminder of the Church today.

She inspired the Holy Martyrs of the College, may devotion to her inspire us.



Borromeo: Epitomy of Trent

Ironic some celebrated the Protestant Reformation at the beginning of the week, today Holy Church celebrates Saint Charles Borromeo (1538-1584).

After the terrible period of depraved Popes and decadent churchmen there arose men like Borromeo. It must have appeared that Christ and his saints slept, I am sure many good Christians were brought near despair, then as if from the tomb Christ awoke.
"What good thing came out of the Protestant Reformation: why - the Glorious Counter-Reformation", as one Oxford preacher said a decade or two ago.

This is no idle Catholic boast, it is not just about art an architecture, it is about 'holiness'. I can't help thinking about the young Seminary Priests, leaving Rome where they might well have met St Philip Neri, St Ignatius of Loyola, St Francis Xavier perhaps, St Paul of the Cross, many travelled up through Italy to call in to see Borromeo, many would made a detour to Geneva to receive the blessing of St Francis De Salles, before coming to England or other parts of Europe to suffer death and reveal their own heroic sanctity.

In there northward journey one suspects like sought like and they would have sought out and been sought by other holy men. St Charles however seemed to hold a special place, he seemed even for his contemporaries to epitomise the Council of Trent held between 1545 and 1563, he was the model of a reforming post-Trent bishop.

There is much that Trent did but like other Councils it was expected to produce fruit, not just peace to a troubled, disunited and confused Church but also to produce a new flourishing in the Church's mission and her structures, ultimately holy men and women.

I am not sure that Vatican II, or even the foreshortened Vatican I, has produced the same fruit as Trent, there appear to be less flourishing, less saintly men and women, less zealous priests and bishops and less clear thinking members of the Papal Court than there were once.

Perhaps it is too early to tell.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

The Pontifex Maximus


.... Under this fiendish Emperor every form of torture was imagined and having been imagined was visited upon the Church of God, sparing neither the Holy Apostles themselves or clergy, man or women, even little children, widow or orphan, all were subject to the rapacious will of this Pontifex Maximus ....
... The sycophants about him, who should have stayed his hand as true friends, encouraged not only his violence but his viciousness which spared none. How low his court fell, and with them the morals of the people of Rome. For once the ruler becomes vile and corrupt soon the whole edifice is weakened and crumbles and is plunged into hatred, yes, of the Church and Christian people but also of goodness itself, so that virtue is lost and vice extolled  ...
From a sermon for St Peter and Paul by one of my predecessors, not quite sure who, in the 1920s/30