15 September 2014

But when are the Ember Days?

According to the pre-modern versions of the Roman Rite, and the Book of Common Prayer, the September and December Ember Weeks come respectively after the festivals of the Holy Cross and S Lucy. What a nice easy rule. A child can apply it. So that is where you will find them in the ORDO which I compile, and in the admirable Saint Lawrence Press ORDO.

So why, in ORDOs printed according to the 1962 Roman books (LMS; SSPX), does the September Ember Week, this year, come a week later?

Technically, the reason why the Ember Weeks come where they do is that, in the Breviary, their readings are tied into those of the week after the Third Sunday of September. Before 1962, the "First" Sunday of September might actually be at the end of August. So, this year, August 31 is the official First Sunday of September. But the 1962 revisers, dippy lot of cleverclogs, changed this so as to be clear-cut and logical ... First Sunday of September for them has to mean literally First Sunday of September. Hence (if you're still interested) the Third Week of September starts September 14 according to the old reckoning, but not until September 21 according to 1962.

As so often happens when people try to tidy things up and to be neat and logical and clever, this decision of 1962 led to the potential dislocation of the Ember Week from its ancient mooring to Holy Cross Day.

Since the 1962 rite lasted in widespread use less than a decade, I find it hard to take it seriously in those matters where it conflicts with what the Latin Church had kept easy and natural for centuries.

Summorum pontificum, I presume, took the 1962 books as normative for ecumenical and practical reasons: because this is what the SSPX had done since Archbishop Lefebvre changed his liturgical policy around 1974. Logically, the 1965 rite should have been regarded as the last integral edition of a Missal before the Novus Ordo. But, although the 1965 Ordo Missae was ordered to be printed in editions of the Missal* and was declared typica in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, it seems that no copies of the Missale Romanum with the 1965 Ordo Missae in it ever in fact did roll off the printing presses. (Anybody got one?)

But it appears that the 1962 Missal was never technically declared typica in the legal forum (AAS) in which it should have been so declared!!! Arguably, it does not exist (see the thread attached to my piece of 11 July 2014).

1962 should be regarded as an interim stop-gap.

Circa-1939ish should be the starting point for a measured, sensible reconstruction of the Vetus Ordo.
* The 1967 variations were never promulgated as an Ordo Missae, simply as Variationes ... inducendae; nor were they ordered to be incorporated into a complete Missale, as the 1964 Ordo Missae was, nor were they declared typica in the AAS.

14 September 2014

Eat the Fat and Drink the Sweet

The Ember Days of the old (Tridentine and Prayer Book) liturgies began life as pagan Roman Harvest Festivals, celebrating the gathering-in of the corn, the wine, and the oil. The Church of Rome christianised them; pointed out in her lections that the Torah refers to analogous agricultural festivals; and turned them into fasts so as to eliminate the excesses of pagan celebration.

The September Ember season is, in my view, the most fun, because the down-to-earth agricultural liturgical texts have not been overladen with themes of Advent, Lent, or Pentecost, as those of the other three Embertides have been. So let's wallow in the Harvest Festival joy of this week's liturgies, and let's enjoy it all the more by doing it with the Tudor English texts in your English Missal ... go and blow the dust off it! ... Sing we merrily unto God our Strength, make a cheerful noise unto the God of Jacob ... behold, the days come when the plowman shall overcome the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed: and the mountains shall drop sweet wine ... and they shall plant vineyards and drink the wine thereof ... eat the fat and drink the sweet [sounds like a gastronomic reworking of Fr Zed's motto, doesn't it?] ...

But these Ember Days were  fast days! Look at the Collects: 'O Lord, who sufferest us to offer unto thee this solemn fast: we beseech thee, that thou wouldest likewise bestow upon us the succour of thy pardon'. And the Gospels are concerned with healings, because healing and exorcism were linked with fasting. The Church became supremely potent to heal and to cast out demons, through her sacred ministers, because she had humbled and purified herself before the Lord with fasting. And at these times the Church besought God to send down the Holy Spirit for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God by the imposition of the Bishop's hands, having prepared herself by communal fasting (cf Acts 13:1-3). S John Paul II used to prepare himself to administer Holy Orders with fasting and discipline.

I wonder if the disappearance of Fasting is one of the reasons why the Devil has so much power over members of the modern Church. And ... by the way ... the disappearance of fasting in the Western Church is not an area in which we can heap all the blame on Paul VI. As so often, it was Pius XII who got there first.

13 September 2014


Ecumenism, and Interfaith dialogue, have for long been done in an accepted and unquestioned way which is quite inimical to the admirable instincts of the present Holy Father Pope Francis. Let me explain what I mean.

Such dialogue has tended to be attractively scholarly and impressively academic. The participants have been persons whose qualifications, based upon their published work or upon the teaching positions they hold in academe, have been such as to demonstrate their eminent suitability for their selection. Their meetings have taken place in elegant surroundings conducive to courtesy and the very best manners. And the topics have usually been academic. Take ARCIC. It was, in the era when ARCIC was directed towards full organic unity, naturally felt suitable that all the half-millennium-old areas of division .... Justification ... Transubstantiation ... Priesthood ... should be sorted out. So, words and nuances being deftly weighed up, beautiful verbal formulae were crafted, refined, and agreed. (Topical and live questions such as the Ordination of women were, naturally, ignored, because even the most imaginative wordsmiths cannot fudge them. You either ordain humans of the female gender, or you don't.)

But let us take up instead the instinct manifested by our beloved Holy Father's memorable phrase that shepherds should smell of their flocks. Apply that to Interfaith dialogue, and what do you get? At random, for starters, let's consider dialogue with Islam. What would such dialogue smell like? If conducted by participants who smelt of the constituencies they represented? If it dealt with topics that smelt of the real world, rather than with crafting statements that smelt of the lecture-room and the history book? So ... what topics?

Perhaps violence, and not least sexual violence, is most in the news at the moment. Here in England the media have been dominated daily by stories from city after city in which gangs of Islamic men of Pakistani origin have targeted, groomed, raped, abused young white girls in (literally) thousands. In the Middle East, we have heard how ISIS, after capturing a town and slaughtering men and boys, rounds up girls and women, checks them for virginity, and auctions them. They are then forcibly converted to Islam, forcibly married, and raped. Subsequently, their 'husbands' may desire to divorce them and sell them on, although their value at auction will have been diminished by 'use'. Those kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, who have now so gracefully faded out of the headlines, were declared to be destined to a similar fate.

It would be ridiculous, not to say wickedly inflammatory, to imply that all adherents of Islam share the same characteristics, any more than all Christians, or even all Catholics, are the same. Nor should all Catholics, or all Moslems, be regarded as in some way guilty of and answerable for whatever some other of their coreligionists are reported to think or to do, or to have thought and done in the past. That would be plain unjust as well as plain untrue. But the Church should avoid the other extreme, which could be characterised as the Nice talking to the Nice. Partners in Dialogue on each side should represent the the complete spectrum of the varied tendencies within their tradition. There is no point in dialoguing only with those with whom we ourselves happen to feel most comfortable, those who smile sweetly at us. If anything, it is those who are the least 'clubbable', those who interrupt us in mid-sentence with an angrily jabbing forefinger, that should be given the most detailed hearing. In particular, it would be as well never to use terms which have become laden with approval or disapproval, but which are actually meaningless. I have in mind, in particular, the terms 'moderate' and 'extreme'.

Partners in Interfaith Dialogue should also, I suggest, be less academic, and very much smellier. An exiled bishop, perhaps, who smells of his defiled churches, his slaughtered menfolk, his raped and beaten womenfolk. A Christian woman, if one could be found, who smells  of the violence she has undergone. And, of course, Moslems would be entitled to nominate imams who had seen their mosques being stolen and converted into churches, their women and girls raped by Christian gangs; as well as women representatives who had suffered horrible atrocities at the hands of Christians. Some academics, naturally, could still be there, smelling of their books, to make their own relevant contributions. The meetings would happen in centres of conflict ... Baghdad, perhaps, or Damascus or Cairo, alternating with whatever 'Christian' cities the Islamic side nominated as having hosted anti-Islamic violence (Srebrenica, perhaps?). Archbishop Michael Ramsey memorably described Anglican theology as Divinity done within the sound of Church Bells. I suppose I am suggesting Interfaith Dialogue done within the sound of gunfire and screams.

We have Pontifical Councils for Interfaith dialogue, and all the rest of it, splendid bodies of men with the most splendid intentions, which are presumably funded ultimately by the alms of the Faithful. In future, activities which these bodies finance should smell of the current realities. They should have the authentic smells of blood, of cordite, of semen.

11 September 2014


Even critics of Pope Francis can hardly deny that he has placed openness at the forefront of his pontificate. The Catholic Church now has policies with regard to clerical sexual abuse which prioritise transparency first, transparency second, transparency third. Gone, happily, are the days of the cover-ups; of accepting the claims of well-heeled psychiatric quacks to be able to cure paedophilia; the policy of giving a delinquent priest a good telling-off and then sending him off to a new parish; of bullying victims to make them hold their tongues. No longer is 'the Church's reputation' regarded as the most important thing to be 'safeguarded'. (Not, of course, that the Catholic Church was anything remotely like uniquely guilty. The recent history of the Anglican diocese of Chichester has been exposed to public view .... and what a nasty can of worms has been opened up. And gracious me ... the words 'BBC' and 'celebrity' now attract the same aura of suspicion that the word 'priest' acquired a decade ago. And recently we learned that for decades the English liberal professions ignored the evidence for the activities of Pakistani Moslem paedophile gangs because Guardian Readers, passionate to hear any alleged dirt about Catholic priests, did not want to be told nasty things about people with brown skins.)

Pope Francis has also got a grip upon the problem of secrecy in the Church's apparently previously dodgy financial structures. Cardinal Pell guarantees that all will be open and above board. And so he should and so it should be. In the modern world, if you try to hide your seedy secrets, it makes things all the worse when eventually the Truth gets out. Mafia contacts ... dead bankers dangling from bridges ... Masons hiding in the wings ... such would not be a culture which had much potential to enhance the Church's reputation. Three cheers for Cardinal Pell, and six cheers for the Holy Father himself.

One of the major cultural changes, both in the Church and the World, during the last decade, has been this loss, by monolithic and armoured institutions, of the power to defend their secrets against the intrusions of inquisitive media. Military and diplomatic secrets are no longer pilfered by being encoded in microdots and left in safe drops by characters out of John le Carre; modern Information Technology gives power to whistle-blowers to unload secrets by the million upon the hungry media, contained in some jolly little memory stick. It may be amusing for an American President to know what the German Chancellor sings to herself in her bath, but, unless he is stupid, he knows that sooner rather than later the snooping done for him by his spooks will get itself into the headlines and him into trouble (good zeugma, yes?). Then, the more he puffs and blows to persuade Mr Putin or whoever to extradite the whistle-blower, the stupider he will look. And while, previously, Establishment persons and their narratives had little trouble hogging the media, the recent English scandal about the treatment of the family of the little boy with the brain tumour has demonstrated that perfectly ordinary people can now get their side of a story up and running. Dodgy days for the Great and the Good.

Frankly, as a naive and, you are probably anxious to tell me, simplistic product of the 1960s (ordained to the Sacred Priesthood in the very Year of Revolutions itself, 1968), I rather welcome this atmosphere of openness and transparency. Quite apart from anything else, it is quite fun to have it made so demonstrably clear that the Great and the Good are generally so much less than great and almost invariably only rather selectively good.

Whatever else he achieves, Pope Francis has already done the Church a permanently good turn by embracing - and enforcing - openness. He has already ensured that his will go down in history as a significant Pontificate; the moment when the Church's Senior Management genuinely realised what the landscape of the Third Millennium is really like.

Viva il Papa!!
Footnote: The Congregation for Religious, in its handling of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, both the Brethren and the Sisters, would do well to take the Holy Father's policies about openness on board.

9 September 2014

A very long shot

Not long ago I was looking at some rather Arts'n'craftsy stained glass in a domestic porch, with these words from Timon of Athens written on them (Act 1 Scene 2):

Ceremony was but devised at first
To set a gloss on faint deeds, hollow welcomes,
Recanting goodness, sorry ere 'tis shown;
But where there is true friendship, there needs none.
Pray, sit; more welcome are ye to my fortunes
Than my fortunes to me.

If you explain to me that these elevated sentiments of hospitable generosity only led to problems in the life of Timon, I shall send Timandra to breathe her infections all over you. What I am wondering is whether, just possibly, some erudite reader might know of this sort of glass ... made by whom? ... or this quotation being used in this sort of context ... during that sort of period ... er ... anything, really ... er ...

7 September 2014

Bring back the Freaks

Oxford, perversely, pedantically keeps its own time, so that Cathedral services begin five minutes later than Greenwich Mean Time (or British Summer Time). Perverse; but distinctly more rational than celebrating the S Giles' Fair, the 'Giler', a week later than S Giles' Day. Which is what happens.

The broad thoroughfare which leads Northwards out of Oxford will, at midnight tonight, metamorphose like Cinderella's pumpkin into a vast Fair (returning to pumpkinhood 48 hours later). In Dacre Balsdon's words, S Giles ceases to be a murderous highway of fast-moving traffic and becomes a playground instead. "It is a tightly packed confusion of booths and hurdy gurdies, fat women, fire-eaters, performing fleas, fairing, streamers, and warnings against pickpockets". When Pam and I were undergraduates, Fr John Hooper used to emerge from S Mary Mags with his bucket and his aspersorium on the Monday morning, and douse the whole business with holy water ("Over 'ere, Favver, give us a bi' more over 'ere").

Things aren't what they were, and I don't think we'll go this year. Traditional Freaks ... Dwarfs and Fat Women and the World's Tallest Man ... are no longer politically correct objects of mirth (or wonder). My own favourite Freak ... the Spider Girl (a young women miraculously disposed to resemble a large arachnid with a human face) ... has, I am sure, long since collected her bus-pass. The performing fleas would simply invite a demonstration from the Animal Rights people ('Free the Fleas' a good tongue-twister?). The dour, merciless Puritanism under which we now spend our days decrees that the most exciting or Freakish thing you can now see at the Giler is candy-floss.

But Freak-shows are very much in the Oxford - and Anglican - tradition ... as was pointed out by Canon Arthur Couratin, once the Principal of S Stephen's House ['Staggers'], England's premier seminary. When sacerdos ille valde magnus Bishop Kirk of Oxford purposed solemnly to administer Holy Orders in his Cathedral Church of Christ ... or to sing Pontifical High Mass there on the Solemnity of S Frideswide ... Arthur used to turn up with an immaculately trained team of seminarians to serve. A few days before one such occasion, Mr Dean Lowe observed "I suppose we shall have Arthur Couratin here next Sunday with his travelling circus". In Oxford, there are worthy souls who, like the disciples in the accounts of the Lord's Miraculous Feedings, gather up in their baskets all such waspish remarks "so that nothing be lost". On having this comment faithfully reported to him, Arthur observed "Well, old man, I'd rather belong to a travelling circus than a permanent Freak-show".

Dr Eric Mascall, who preserved the story, admitted that, while this less than wholly flattering description of the Oxford Cathedral Chapter was no doubt exaggerated, "the Chapter of Christ Church when I came to know it was certainly a remarkable assortment of clergymen". (Fr Eric was objective enough to recognise the possibility that he might himself have seemed to some observers to merit being bracketed among the capitular Freaks.)

Perhaps it is part of the calling of the Ordinariate to revive the good old Anglican Patrimonial tradition of Freak-shows. They are exactly what the culturally impoverished English Catholic Church needs in order to put some oomph into its public image. Part of the New Evangelisation?
AFTERWORDS: The Giler, fifty years ago, was that bit more surreal because it coincided with the Staggers House Retreat (Staggers was then just round the corner in Norham Gardens), so that you might see little knots of seminarians gawping at the Freaks while carefully maintaining Greater Silence.

It could have been commented that Canon Couratin, being a habitue of Parsons' Pleasure, must himself have made an intimate study of Freaks. If it wasn't, it has been now.

6 September 2014

A splendid idea

Andrew Burnham has suggested that the Ordinariate might take over the Catholic Shrine at Walsingham, which the Marist Fathers are now unable to staff.

What a very splendid idea this is. After all, the Holy See gave to the Ordinariate our Lady of Walsingham as Titular. Walsingham has for nearly a century been at the heart of the Anglican Catholic identity.

Practical advantages of many sorts will spring to the imaginative minds of readers. One that occurs to me is that, while the Administrator would need to be young and vigorous, retired priests could be made use of ... such extra pairs of clerical hands are very useful in busy places, and the Ordinariate might find it easy to recruit retired Anglican clergy for such a purpose. When I first got to know Walsingham, the twenty-odd shrine altars were busy in the mornings as all the retired clergy who had sought Walsingham for retirement said their private Masses.

Just dashing off ...

... to visit a Daughter in Northumberland. I shan't be reading emails or moderating comments for a few days. But here's-one-I-made-earlier type comments should keep popping up.

5 September 2014

Good News and Good News and Good News

(1) Our Holy Father Benedict XVI has recently granted an audience to representatives of young people attached to the Vetus Ordo. While in no way an interference in the pontificate of his successor, this is not devoid of significance. Benedict XVI is not Pope but he is not nobody.

(2) His Eminence Cardinal Mueller is to meet His Excellency Bishop Fellay, Superior of the Priestly Society of S Pius X.

These two excellent pieces of news will rejoice the hearts of all those who admire one particular strand of the the Ecumenical 'policy' of the last Pontificate: what can be summarised as gathering up disiecta membra of the Western Latin Church. That 'policy' had two main aspects: solving the 'problem' of SSPX; and providing an easy 'group' transition into Full Communion for Anglicans whose Faith and praxis are fully consonant with the Catholic Faith.

Summorum Pontificum and Anglicanorum coetibus go hand in hand.

Does Rome, or the Vatican, still adhere to that 'policy'?

The problem with this question is that there is no such thing as 'Rome' and there is no such thing as 'the Vatican' in the simple senses which questions like this assume and imply. There are many different bodies in Rome and many different representatives of innumerable different tendencies all jostling to get at the ears of whoever they think might help to advance their own agendas or to obstruct those with whom they disagree. In addition, there are local interests making their own contributions; readers will recall that the scandalously long interval between the adherence to Catholic Unity of the Transalpine Redemptorists and their canonical erection was the result, not of anything that happened or failed to happen in Rome, but of the determined intransigence of the then local bishop. Non-Catholics who talk about the Church as 'monolithic' could not be more wrong.

An obvious example: Archbishops di Noia and Pozzo have maintained their links with Bishop Fellay; and the meeting with Cardinal Mueller is the next logical step in this happy process. But, while Prefect and Superior are shaking hands in the palazzo of the Holy Office, the world of the ordinary people who love the 'Traditional' Roman liturgical rites is seething with a sense, however naive or unnuanced or plain misguided, that somewhere else in Rome a monstrous injustice has been and still is being perpetrated by the Congregation for Religious against the Franciscans of the Immaculate ... firstly towards the friars and now, perhaps, even towards the sisters. Moderate people in this 'Traditional' world (I am not talking about wide-eyed eccentrics who teeter on the edge of Sedevacantism, but about sober individuals who would never even think of frequenting an SSPX chapel) can be heard saying things like "Fellay would be mad to do a deal ... the wolves would be upon him within months". It is good to know that Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos has been reassured by the Holy Father that the treatment of the friars does not imply a general policy of hostility towards Summorum pontificum; but ordinary people see what they see and draw their own (often very wrong) conclusions.

(3) On the other side of the road, our very own Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham is, this month, upping its profile. I have no secrets to share with you about what's happening in the exalted upper hierarchy of the Ordinariate, but I can tell you that the spirit among the clergy (and in the congregations of which I have knowledge) is tremendously up-beat and positive. At Clergy Plenaries, you would not believe how loud the laughter gets! And Reverend Brethren no longer come along with the nervous worries they had in 2011 ("I go into the local Catholic school and the pp has instructed me to give General Absolution each week ... what on earth am I to do?" etc. etc..). We are now a body alive with parrhesia, with enthusiastic self-confidence and awareness of our settled and very permanent place in the English Church! But I sometimes wonder if the leap from the Anglican Ministry into the Presbyterate of the Ordinariate seems to outsiders as easy and quick and jolly now as it did in the heady, happy days of 2011! I wonder how we can recreate that sense of "Ten Weeks From Altar To Altar! Come on in!" ... together with the feelings of impetus and critical mass that went with it. And impetus and critical mass are things we need ... together with money!

Most important: I hope that all English readers will find an Ordinariate event to go to this weekend! Faveat et suis famulis Deipara Virgo!

4 September 2014

Intention yet again UPDATED

In this morning's thread [September 4], there are two entries which express the common mistake that the 'intention' a minister needs to have is something which must include a correct orthodox doctrine of the Sacrament ("If a Bishop doesn't believe in Sacrificing priests, how can he intend to ordain them?"). This error is so grave (you'd never know for sure whether any sacrament was valid because you could never be sure that the bishop's or priest's views were orthodox) that I have, below, wearied the patience of regular and long-time readers by reproducing posts dating from 2010 9 August, 2013 21 November, 2014 1 March.

PS There is far too much of the waspish schoolmaster in me ... which is why I have, I am afraid, been refusing comments from those who, it seems to me, have simply not read the three old pieces I reproduced yesterday. There is, of course, no reason why anybody should read anything I write. But if you decline to do so and then write comments, there is no reason why I should consider them useful contributions.

I don't see how I can express myself any more clearly than I have, more than three times now, attempted to. But one last try ...

Simple rule: (1) If someone says that a Sacrament is invalid and that this invalidity results simply and solely from some mistake, or some heresy, in the mind of the Minister, then he is wrong. This is contrary to the Church's teaching.

(2) If, however, someone says that, because of his mistake or heresy, the Minister used Form [words] or Matter [physical things or actions] which are not adequate to convey the Sacrament [this was the argument in Leo XIII's bull Apostolicae curae], then Catholics can discuss in detail about the adequacy of the Form and Matter which the silly fellow did use.

This discussion might lead to all competent people being 100% sure that what he did was inadequate; in which case the Sacrament must be repeated absolutely. If, on the other hand, competent people disagree or entertain differing degrees of probability, then the Sacrament is to be considered doubtfully conveyed and should be administered conditionally. 

If the Magisterium gives a ruling, that, while not being infallible in terms of Pastor aeternus of Vatican I, provides a judgement which should in practice be followed because Sacramental validity matters.

That's it!


Bishop Richard Williamson of SSPX published some months ago an article arguing (these are his words) that in the post-conciliar Church, sacraments are increasingly going to be invalid. "If [a priest's] ideas of what the Church is and does do not correspond to the Catholic realities, how can he intend to do what the Church does, and so how can he administer true sacraments?"

I hesitate to criticise a Wykehamist - many of my best friends are Wykehamists - but this quite simply is not what the teaching and praxis of the Western Church has always been. It has, for example, been held and taught (see Apostolicare curae, the sentence beginning "Quo sane principio") that even a Moslem could administer baptism validly if he used adequate form and matter - perhaps in baptising a baby about to die in the delivery room whose mother has asked for this to be done. The unbeliever believes nothing about Baptism except that this is something Christians do. His only intention is to do what Christians do. His action is valid, but if it in any way depended on his personal beliefs, it would be invalid.

The Church's standard teaching is graphically expressed by Bellarmine: "There is no need to intend to do what the Roman Church does; but what the true Church does, whichever it is, or what Christ instituted, or what Christians do: for they amount to the same. You ask: What if someone intends to do what some particular or false church does, which he thinks the true one, like that of Geneva, and intends not to do what the Roman church does? I answer: even that is sufficient. For the one who intends to do what the church of Geneva does, intends to do what the universal church does. For he intends to do what such a church does, because he thinks it to be a member of the true universal church: although he is wrong in his discernment of the true church. For the mistake of the minister does not take away the efficacy of the sacrament: only a defectus intentionis does that." Cardinal Franzelin gives an extreme case: a daft priest who didn't want to confer grace when he baptised but actually believed that by baptising he would consign someone to the Devil - there was a seventeenth century rumour about this in Marseilles. Non tamen, he writes, sacramenti virtutem et efficaciam impediret. He qotes Aquinas in support. In nineteenth century, the Holy Office declared that Methodist missionaries in Oceania who explicitly denied in the course of the Baptism service itself that Baptism regenerates, did not thereby invalidate the Sacrament. Heresy or even total Unbelief is, in the traditional Theology of the Western Church, NOT the same as a Defect of Intention. Defect of Intention means a deliberate intention not to confer the Sacrament at all, NOT a mistake about what the Sacrament is or confers. Bishop Williamson's theology, despite his extravagant desire to be Traditional, is NOT the teaching of Catholic Christendom. Pope Leo XIII reiterated this truth in his Bull Apostolicae curae in the section which begins "De mente vel intentione ...".

This has to be right; otherwise the validity of any sacrament would be at the mercy of any rubbish that some fool of a cleric had mistakenly got into his head because he misunderstood what he was taught in seminary or was just a perverse nutter anyway. Every Mass celebrated by a 'liberal' priest who believed that it was merely a community supper, would be invalid. Williamson's view superficially seems common sense; but Catholic teaching, since the anti-Donatist controversy, has been firmly on the side of believing that it is very difficult for a minister to invalidate a sacrament by his own sin or stupidity or schism or even heresy or total unbelief ... as long as he Does the Red and Says the Black with at least a habitual intention of Doing Stuff (and not, for example, of performing a didactic demonstration or a blasphemous parody). And all this is ultimately based upon a very simple truth: the Sacraments are not ours, but the Sacraments of the Lord Christ.

I am of course quite aware that this teaching presupposes the use of adequate Form and Matter. Do not bother to write in and explain that to me. I simply wish to establish what the Western Church teaches about sacramental intention qua intention.

Novus Ordo hosts being administered at a Traditional Mass: the Problem

For a Mass to be valid, the celebrant has to "intend to do what the Church does". So, if a priest does not believe in Transsubstantiation and the Sacrifice of the Mass ... and even perhaps openly says so ... is his Mass 'invalid'? It seems common sense, yes? How on earth can he intend to celebrate the Mass if he does not believe in the Mass? I can understand the anxieties people have. And it is very wrong, as Fr Zed often and rightly points out, for clergy by their clerical tomfoolery to put the plebs sancta Dei into such states of anxiety. But help is at hand. Read on.

This anxiety does deserve an answer. It deserves an answer based not upon modern or trendy theological speculation but upon the settled teaching of the Church, upon which she has for centuries acted when doubts or worries have arisen. And the locus classicus here is S Robert Bellarmine*, de Sacramentis in genere chapter 27 paragraph 8. (My translation.) As you read it, remember that Bellarmine was not writing during a period of cosy and iffy ecumenism, but when the Reformation controversies were raging at their height.

"There is no need to intend what the Roman Church does; but what the true Church does, whatever that True Church is. Or what Christ instituted. Or what Christians do. Because these all amount to the same thing. You ask: What if someone intends to do what some particular and false church does, which he himself believes to be the true one - for example, the church of Geneva; and intends not to do what the Roman Church does? I answer, even that suffices. Because the man who intends to do what the church of Geneva does, intends to do what the universal Church does. For he intends to do what such-and-such a church does, because he believes it to be a member of the true Universal Church, granted that he is mistaken in recognising the True Church. For the error of the minister about the Church does not take away the efficacy of the Sacrament. Only defect of intention does that."

'Geneva', of course is a reference to the stamping ground of the great heresiarch John Calvin. Bellarmine means that, provided the celebrant is a validly ordained priest and uses real wheaten bread and real wine, the only thing that invalidates his 'Mass' is if he deliberately says to himself  "I do not intend to celebrate the Lord's Supper". And that is infinitely improbable. Father Daft is much more likely to think that his own totally wonderful understanding is closer to the mind of the Lord in his Supper than are the 'views' of those boring 'establishment' clergy. The more grossly misguided his opinions are about what the 'Supper' really is, the more humanly certain it is that Fr Daft really does intend to celebrate it. And, says Bellarmine, that is a sufficient intention.

In reality, just about the only way a 'trendy' priest is likely to be able to invalidate a Mass is if he does not use Bread and Wine (but, for example, out of a misunderstanding of 'Inculturation', uses rye cakes and cider or rice bread and saki). Apart from that risk, there is nothing for the devout and orthodox layperson to worry about. After all, if mere doctrinal error, or improper ritual, were sufficient to invalidate a Sacrament, one would never have any certainty that any Sacrament had not been invalidated by the celebrant's own silly doctrinal mistakes or his personal whimsies. And the Sacraments are Christ's Sacraments, valid by virtue of his promise. Christ is true to you.

So if, by misjudgement, you were present at a Mass where (I imagine an improbably extreme case so as to put the point I'm making beyond doubt) the priest wore jeans and made up a lot of the prayers himself and Sister A strummed on a guitar and Sister B stood beside Father and pretended to concelebrate and the altar was a plywood coffee table and some floosies did a belly dance at the Offertory ... then, wotta mistaka to maka by going there in the first place, but having done so you should kneel and worship the True Body and the True Blood of Christ, because they are truly present.

And do not be anxious about receiving Communion in a church where both forms of the Roman Rite are in use; do not bother about hosts consecrated at a novus Mass having been mixed up in the Tabernacle with those consecrated at a Traditional Mass. Because    
                            THE BODY OF CHRIST IS THE BODY OF CHRIST.

                                                        Realiter et substantialiter. 

          And the Mass is the Mass, whatever the rite, however perverse its celebrant may be.

And so it is not right to call any Mass "EVIL". The smoke of Satan may have got into the celebrant's lungs, but his Mass is still the august and adorable oblation of the Divine Victim. God's power is stronger than the perversity of Man or the machinations of the Evil One. That is God's infallible guarantee. Because he loves you.


* !542-1621, a vigorous and successful opponent of Protestant heresies. Canonised 1930; declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931.