Monday 28 February 2011

An opportunity not to be missed

With the new English translation of the altar missal only months away I do hope that you have been able to attend, to whatever degree, to the preparatory catechetical material. Indeed, the opportunity for Liturgical formation which was unfortunately omitted at the time of the reform in the late 60s, is now again possible. The need for Liturgical formation is probably not universally appreciated, even though the lack thereof is staring us in the face. And what is such a great grace to the Church is that the present Holy Father has a profound Liturgical awareness, and has given so much of his time and energy to offering genuine Liturgical catechesis to the whole Church.

The DVD resource "Become one Body, one Spirit in Christ" is a necessary part of our Catholic education at this time. The section "Receiving the new translation" should be given particular attention. Some sequences on the DVD have limited value and in one section and English priest gives a very inadequate definition of the Priesthood. I would also say that the very heart of Liturgical formation, "active participation", which is joining ourselves to the action of Christ in the Mass, is not treated adequately. However, this DVD is an indispensible resource for personal and communal use in an age which has, to a degree, lost sight of the Mass.
Another resource is available on the internet and you can watch its videos directly on-line, without purchasing a DVD. I recommend this website for its content:
The image above is a photograph I took a few weeks ago of a gothic statue of Our Lady in the old church in Perouges, France, near Ars.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Then saw they how there hove a dusky barge

The other day a couple of us went down to the harbour in Sydney and behold, not a hand clothed with white sammite, but an enormous volume of water displaced by two queens; the largest passenger ships on the planet. Yes, together in the harbour were the Queen Mary II and the Queen Elizabeth. We caught a harbour taxi and got up close - quite a sight! The Queen Mary II is the larger ship; I could scarcely get the whole ship in the frame in order to photograph it.

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Important sources

While I was back in the UK for Christmas I was asked by someone about the 'reform of the reform' and what elements comprise it. This is an important matter, and here, in essence, was my reply. The 'reform of the reform' is the way in which the contemporary liturgical movement is developing the Liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council and the implementation of the 'Novus Ordo' Mass, so that it better expresses the nature of Catholic Liturgy. The main promoter of the 'reform of the reform' is Benedict XVI.
Two important factors are involved in understanding this movement. First, it is important to have a genuine understanding of the Liturgy (a liturgical catechesis), what the Liturgy of the Church is in itself. I would cite here just two sources: The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1066 - 1209, and Joseph Ratzinger's book, "The Spirit of the Liturgy", especially its Preface and the whole of Part 4.
Secondly, it is important to recognise that the Liturgy develops over time, and that we are still very close to the reforms of the late 60s, and that the whole sense of a reform of the reform is only about five years old. Time is on our side and we shouldn't expect sudden developments; we are looking at an organic process of development/reform which will probably take 50-100 years.
So, with these things in mind, here are the main sources for appreciating the 'reform of the reform':
1. We should read, reflect upon and know the Council's document on the Liturgy, "Sacrosanctum Concilium".
2. We should have some knowledge of the previous Liturgy of the Mass, the so-called Tridentine Mass, in order to see where we have come from.
3. We should read and refect upon Benedict XVI's Apostolic Exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis", which gives us an over-arching vision of the reform of the Liturgy which has taken place.
4. We should note Benedict's teachings on the Liturgy in his homilies, addresses etc. For instance, what he says in his new book "Light of the World", pp105-106, 155-158, is very important.
5. The 'Benedictine' altar arrangement of the candles and crucifix.
6. The new English translation of the Altar Missal.
7. The Motu Proprio "Summorum Pontificem", in which the Old and New forms of the Rite are brought together in order to shine light on each other; for the two forms to be reformed by each other, as it were.
Of course, there are lots of other sources, but my intention is to point out simply the heart of the matter and I hope that these indications will be helpful to others.
(I took the above photo last month in the old church in the village of Perouges, near Ars in France.)

Two A levels

Cardinal Heenan commented in a letter to Evelyn Waugh in 1964 about the rise of the new Catholic pseudo-intelligentia, saying how anyone with two A levels considered themself an intellectual whose opinions were worthy of public interest. Well, what appeared in the 60s certainly gained momentum in the UK as the years wore on, and I have encountered this syndrome so many times that it really does seem to have become an obstacle to the Christian Life.
As a newly ordained priest I remember in 1988 a lady striding into the sacristy as I was vesting for Mass and wanting to know if I would be using inclusive language in the Mass. Five years later, I remember another lady, addressing a conference of the Leeds clergy, telling us that she would give the new Catechism, which was about to be published, a shelf-life of four years. In one of my parishes, in North Yorkshire, I encountered a culture of opinion to such a degree that the Parish itself was disfuntional. I was told, as Parish Priest, that it didn't matter if young people didn't go to Mass or Confession, that we mustn't burden them with Sacred Scripture, and that if Joseph Ratzinger were elected Pope there would be a schism in the Church. Now all of these were personal opinions, but opinions which actually were an obstacle to the Gospel and to the life of Church in that place.
Today the culture of opinion is all-pervading; signs of it are clearly evident in the Catholic world. The religious interest magazine "The Tablet" would be an example of this culture and how it places itself as a guiding and moderating influence upon the teaching and the message of the Holy Father and the Church, developing its own sort of orthodoxy, one which runs parallel to that of the Church.
What Cardinal Heenan noted with some concern in 1964 is a paralysing phenomenon of our age: Catholics applying a secular critique to Christianity. In fact, it is the opposite which is true - that it is Christ and the Church who enables us to understand our lives and the world in which we live. We see this formative attitude especially in people who actually listen to the Holy Father and the Church, and in those who participate faithfully in the Mass.

Saturday 19 February 2011

An un-ergonomic encounter

Just before I entered seminary in the Autumn of 1982, an acquiantance recommended a particular book to me. Indeed, he said that this book should be compulsory reading for all seminarians. He seemed to think that there was a very important message in this novel for all aspiring seminarians. So, I took up his recommendation and acquired a copy of David Lodge's novel "How far can you go".
It was as though in an instant I was introduced, through this book, into the whole malestrom of dissaffection with Christianity which I had somehow skipped over in the past decade. The book was trying to describe how far a Christian could go in trying to live according to the world's lights, and still call himself a Christian.
I should have asked my acquaintance why he thought all seminarians should read this book. The book was a real 'turn off' for me, for I couldn't understand why anyone who wanted to follow Christ would actually try to put a huge distance between Christ and himself. Of course, from another point of view, this novel introduced me for to a whole growing culture, among British Catholics, of dissaffection with the Church and the Christian Life, which I would not encounter again until I returned from seminary in Spain six years later.

Friday 18 February 2011

The bravest route

My own experience of the new catechetics/religion did not happen until I went to Grammar School in 1972 - in my case to St Michael's College in Leeds. Earlier, during my years at Infant School, and even well into Junior school I had benefitted from traditional religious instruction. This was probably because my teachers had not been sent to attend courses on the new stuff, or were not ready to implement it, or because they had decided to keep teaching the Catholic Faith instead. I was also Confirmed when I was 8, and again prepared in a traditional way for this Sacrament. So, together with the whole background of Catholicism which I was growing up in, from family and parish, I emerged as a young teenager, untramelled by the new religion.
The Infant and Junior schools which I attended were later to adopt, in the early 70s, along with all other Primary schools in the Diocese, the "Veritas" RE scheme. Looking back, it is hard to imagine what lunacy drove the decision to inplement this Scheme, and in so doing to exchange the teaching of the Mysteries of Christ's life for reflections on pebbles and flowers.
At St Michael's College, where we were taught that Jesus wasn't God, and were subjected to coffee-table class Masses, I cannot now remember if a particular Scheme was followed. Certainly, I passed through High School long before "Here I am" or "Weaving the Web" were foisted upon RE departments. However, it was clear that the Catholic background in which I was brought up had instilled the Faith in me to such a degree, that the nonsense I was exposed to at St Michael's washed over me without gaining a foothold. And that, emerging from High School as a late teenager, I was eager to really deepen my undertanding and experience of the Catholic Faith. This I did as a "grace-led" project untill at the age of 21 I heard a call to be a Priest.
I sense that my experience holds two important ingredients for today's context. First, the Faith is planted and nurtured at home, rather than at school. Secondly, that the age to really form young people in living the Christian life (and of course this varies according to the individual) is precisely when they are emerging into young adulthood. Of course, the question of a person embracing the Catholic Faith concerns the whole vision which God has for a person's life, which we are all called to put ourselves in tune with.

Saturday 12 February 2011

With hindsight

In the last post I mentioned a Catechetical College which had formerly existed in London called Corpus Christi College. This was the national catechetical centre set up by Cardinal Heenan in the late sixties and which he closed in 1975. The college was in the former Convent of the nuns of Our Lady of Sion (pictured above), on the corner of Chepstow Villas and Denbigh Road in Notting Hill near Paddington Station. The building is now divided into residential flats.
The first director of the college, Fr Hubert Richards, together with Fr Peter de Rosa and others set about producing a new catechesis and training others in its vision and method. Indeed, at the time, representatives from every Catholic school in the land were obliged to attend courses here. By 1971 it became clear that the college was a centre of heresy and a new director was appointed to re-align the college, Fr Michael Keegan, who also oversaw the closure of the college in 1975. But the damage had already been done. The original directorate and staff of the college had successfully purveyed within the Catholic Church in the UK their own new religion. With hindsight we can see that this new religion is actually a form of Pelagianism - the doctrine that human beings do not need grace in order to be saved, they can achieve salvation on their own. The new religion of Richards, de Rosa and others was spread, not so much through lay teachers but through religious and priests who thronged to Corpus Christi College to imbibe its noxious teachings. Most priests and religious who attended courses at the college returned to their posts with totally wacky ideas and many abandoned their vocations. I remember the lay RE teacher who took the class that I was in at St Michael's College in Leeds, teaching us in 1973 (I was 12/13 years old at the time) that Jesus was not God but was given a mission from God at his baptism in the Jordan. He also taught us, that same year, about all the different methods of contraception and how to put on a condom. This man, who went on to become the Head of RE at another High School in the Leeds Diocese, was for many decades paid an excellent salary in order to teach the Catholic Faith. I remember thinking, as he was speaking to us in the class, that this man was "off his rocker". We have been duped!
In the mid-nineties, Claire Richards, ex-nun and wife of the ex-priest Hubert Richards, published the heretical school RE curriculum "Roman Catholic Christianity". This book, although officially discredited, may still be in use in some Catholic schools.
There are many agents of Corpus Christi College still around in the UK today, and you will find signs of of its influence in these ways (amongst others):
1. Any explicit or implicit diminishing of the nature or mission of Jesus Christ the Redeemer of mankind.
2. Any explicit or implicit diminishing of or undermining of the nature and mission of the Church, the Pope or the Priesthood.
3. Refering to the Teaching of the Church as "Church or Vatican policy", disassociating it from the Gospel and from truth.
4. Speaking of the Christian Life in terms of those things that Catholics "do", disassociating Catholicism from the Mystery of Christ.
5. Moralising instead of showing how the Moral Life of Catholics flows from the Mystery of Christ.
6. Placing the emphasis on social issues and campaigns.
How did the phenomenon of Corpus Christi College come about? I'm not going to go into the history of how the College came about; others have written about that. But is does seem to me, looking back, that after the Second Vatican Council was over, those who did have a vision were precisely those who were wanting to change the Catholic Faith into something else. And that they were lacking who had real vision for planting and nurturing the Catholic Faith in the changing world of the 60s and 70s. But what is absolutely clear is that both our present Holy Father and his predecessor are men of great vision, and that we need many others, at every level in the Church today, to have a genuine vision for living and handing on the Faith.

Monday 7 February 2011

A half century

Apologies for my prolonged abscence while being away from substantial internet access; I will endeavour to return again posting when I have the opportunity.
Tomorrow is my fiftieth birthday. 1961 was, as you know, a good year for babies and much has changed in life since then. For twenty-three of my fifty years I have been a priest. In fact, for me the greatest change of my life was when God not only took me and transformed me from being a man of the world to being a man of God, but went on to give me a share in the Priesthood of His only Son. I never expected this when I was young and I am still full of wonder because of it. A second 'transition in grace' took place two and a half years ago when I was called on mission to Australia and now find myself helping to form future priests; and I know that the Holy Spirit has found many generous young hearts in His great Southern Land.
In some way, I am amazed when I look back at the five decades of my life and wonder how I have emerged so untramelled by the bewilderment and confusion of this age. Take for instance, the new religion spawned by Corpus Christi Catechetical College in London and its agents, who came to virtually every school and parish in the late 60s and 70s pedelling their neo-Pelagianism (many of whom are still abroad in the land), but inspite of their crazed activity I imbibed the Faith of the Church instead.
I love the Church in Sydney and my little part in its Mission, but I miss too all my family and friends in the UK, not least the great crowd of priests and young people (and not so young), mostly from Youth 2000, who held a magnificent surprise party for me yesterday just outside London. I was overwhelmed!
Incidentally, Bob Dylan will be 70 in a few months time!