22 October 2021


My hand-copy of the old Missal is a beautiful thing bound in red leatherwith real gold leaf on the page edges, Mechliniae e Typographia Hanicquiana MDCCCXL. Sometimes it falls naturally open at the Decree of Urban VIII - a great Latin Stylist although, as I keep telling you, he should have kept his Horatian hands off the Office Hymns. 

Here is a rendering of the beginning; I share it as a lovely example of rhetoric which came naturally in 1634 and which we totally forget at our peril. "If there is anything in the affairs of men plainly divine, which the citizens of Heaven (if they were to experience envy) could envy us possessing, it is certainly the most holy Sacrifice of the Mass, by the gift of which it happens that men by a cetain anticipation possess Heaven upon Earth, when they have before their eyes and grasp with their hands the Maker Himself of Heaven and Earth. For which reason mortals should strive all the more to give this great privilege the worship and honour which it deserves, and should beware of the Angels, haters of negligence, who compete with us in reverence." 

A little later he refers to the Breviary and the Missal as the wings which the priest, like the Cherubim of the ancient mystic Tabernacle, daily stretches out towards the true Mercy-Seat of the world. BTW, S Therese of Lisieux uses the same trope (referring to the sufferings of her now-beatified father which were to his family a spiritual opportunity "qui doit causer une sainte jaloisie aux Anges de la Celeste cour"). I expect learned readers can supply further examples.

21 October 2021

Santissimo Redentore and Coronavirus

The Appendix pro aliquibus locis in the Altar Missal I use daily has a Mass for October 23 ... for our Most Holy Redeemer. In a couple of days' time, I think, I shall use it, not least because the particular devotion goes back to the Great Plague of Venice in 1576 ... which makes it ... you know what I mean ... topical for us in these fun days. 

There were terrible numbers of plague victims, and so the Doge and the Senate vowed that ... the rest of the story writes itself, doesn't it?

The main Festival in Venice with this title is, as I suspect many readers will know, celebrated on the Third Sunday of July. I believe that quite a lot still goes on, even though it is, I think, some years since the poor things had a Doge (Doge and Duce may to the etymologist be identical, but historically ...). In 1830, Pope Pius VIII marked his brief pontificate by extending the Feast to Rome itself, where it was to be observed on 23 October. Readers lucky enough to have a copy of the splendiferous Calendar published each year by the Redemptorist Community on Papa Stronsay, up near the North Pole, will have noticed that Santissimo Redentore is observed on the Third Sunday of July with greater solemnity, but also pops up on 23 October.

That Mass, like so many of the liturgical innovations of the Counter-Reformation, is full of exuberant joy in the wonders of our Redemption ... rather in the triumphalist spirit which animated Rubens' Triumph of the Eucharist. The Introit with which it begins, Gaudens gaudebo ... is from Isaias 61, and the psalmus of that Introit is the majestic, architectural, opening of Psalm 88: Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo: in generationem et generationem annuntiabo Veritatem tuam in ore meo. This psalmus is also  used in the Votive of the Passion, and in the Sarum (and Ordinariate) Mass of the Five Wounds. And it's there in the Mass of the Most Precious Blood ... and, I think, in a number of other Masses celebrating our Redeemer. (The Mercies of HWHY shall I sing for ever; unto generation and generation I shall proclaim thy MTh in my mouth.)

And the Offertorium, most suitably, is Salus populi ... I am the salvation/health of the people, from whatsoever tribulation they call upon me I will hear them; and I will be their God for ever: Alleluia!

A splendid pun!

The best response to Coronavirus would have been for this Nation to vow a great Neo-Palladian Basilica to our Beloved Saviour, to be built perhaps on the site of that bizarre monument to utter, crass, pointlessness, the "Millennium Dome".  

Tchaikovsky wrote something which could have been played in connection with its solemn Consecration! Just imagine the artillery at the Tower of London echoing down the River!

20 October 2021

Only two Centuries of Greece?

Greece celebrates this year the bicentenary of her recovery of independance. I wish her well. So much in my life  ... since the age of twelve ... has been taken up with that scintillating civilisation. 

But every time I see Greece 'iconically' represented by pictures of the Athenian Acropolis, I groan. Or wince.

One very obvious reason for this is that Athens is not Greece. Classical Hellas was divided between very many poleis ... city-states ... independent and, very frequently, murderously at war with each other. The Acropolis in Athens is, quite simply, not some symbol of the majesty of Hellas; but an assertion of the polis of Athens.

But there is more to matters than that.

It was not until the Age of Lord Byron that the Greeks were taught by post-Christian Western European intellectuals that their glory, and the marker and symbol of their identity, ought to be found in pre-Christian Antiquity, or rather in the idiosyncratic reconstruction of Classical Greece favoured by the 'Enlightenment'. From the Advent of Christianity down to the Ottoman invasion, Hellenic identity had, on the contrary, been identical with Byzantine Christianity (that admirable civilisation which renamed Aphrodisias Stauroupolis and converted thousands of temples into churches). Until the Turks made the Parthenon a mosque and then an arsenal, it had for many centuries (more centuries than it served the pagan cults of glaukopis Athene and Mahomet) been a Church dedicated to the true Queen of Heaven, the Virgin Theotokos. Much of its statuary was defaced by the Christian Greeks themselves because of its pagan nature, especially at the East end, where a liturgical apse needed to be constructed. I would willingly contribute to a fund to restore the Parthenon so that it could again be used for the Divine Liturgy of S John Chrysostom.

But that would probably be pointless. There would be no congregation to worship there. The Acropolis Hill, until it was deliberately stripped bare, was a Levantine maze of little streets and alleys; of buildings Frankish and Ottoman and Greek; of homes and bazaars and churches. The 'iconic' scene so often now thrust before us, of a lonely arid rock, scraped nearly bare, with some damaged stonework atop, like an open mouth upon which some manic dentist has declared nuclear war,  is a ghastly symbol of a culture which clutches at a colourless 'Antiquity' of ruins, and despises the human, not to mention the true Divine which was the glory of Hellenism when it was faithful to Christ and His Mother. 

The present scene is 'iconic' only of the 'Enlightenment' preference for nostalgic memories of a long-lost pagan religious culture and a matching contempt for Christendom. This is the same preference, indeed, as was demonstrated in that infamous draft European Constitution which did a very Olympic long-jump from Ancient Greece and Rome to the 'Enlightenment', consigning the intervening centuries of Christendom to contemptuous oblivion. 

In the 1890s, the then Greek Director of Antiquities showed himself to have been brainwashed by exactly this anti-Christian spirit: he proudly proclaimed that the Acropolis had finally been 'cleansed' of all 'barbaric' encroachments. Nearly two millennia of Greek History and culture written off as 'barbarism'! What a Greek! Who needs Turks when you've got Greeks like that!

I don't think I would want to visit the Parthenon today, even for free, even if it were entirely cleared of the heaving masses of tourists simply for my own solitary pleasure and convenience.

Dear Readers: just for one pointless but magical moment, imagine what it would have been like to pant uphill and then to turn a corner in some narrow and grubby little street and, suddenly, to see a partial view of the Parthenon, majestical, rearing up in front of you; and to hear, from inside, the sound of a great-chested deacon intoning the ektene.

19 October 2021

Sir David Amess

 Early on Sunday morning, I lent half an ear to part of a programme called Sunday on the Beeb. It was ... if this is the right word ... being 'anchored' this week by ... if I heard aright ... one Emily Buchanan.

The lady sounded perfectly charming ... despite the fact that English is apparently not her first language. I do not hold that against her one little bit! One slip as an example for you: she said that somebody whose book she was reviewing "has weaved together ...". Not, of course, at all a terrible error. When she has settled down in our country, I am sure that she will get the hang of the English Language and speak it far better than most of us "cradle British".

I was ... seriously ... rather more upset by some other features of the programme, which I suspect are the fault of those who put the programme together, and not of Ms Buchanan herself. She was dealing with the tragic death of an MP called Sir David Amess, who sat for a constituency in my native Essex. Being a fellow Essex Man makes me feel protective towards his memory, quite apart from the fact that he is a fellow Catholic.

His Catholicism caused, I felt, some embarassment. 

After a death, and a fortiori after the death of somebody horrifically knifed by a possible terrorist, our custom is to say nil nisi bonum de mortuis.

This has meant that the majority of the commentariate has skated with embarrassment round Sir David's strong opposition to Abortion.

But things went even further in the Sunday programme. Buchanan asked whether the fact that he was a Catholic "made any difference" to the service he gave to his constituents of other faiths.

Perhaps I am being over-sensitive here. But it did seem to me that this rather leading question was meant to be taken in the sense "Did his Catholicism make him less fair to non-Catholic constituents?" rather than "Did his Catholicism make him an even better MP to all  his constituents, including non-Catholics?" 

Yes ... perhaps I am a bit unfair ... mention was indeed made of the influence of Catholic Social Teaching on his work ...

But, even more strangely, comment was sought from the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford.

I do not blame her Ladyship for this. She made very clear that she had only recently taken over her diocese and did not know Sir David. She kept repeating phrases such as "What I have heard is that ...". It would be totally unfair for me or anyone to criticise her. But ... why could Sir David's own Bishop, the Catholic Bishop of Brentwood, Bishop Alan, not have been given a voice? Or, if he was unavailable, the local Catholic pp, Fr Jeffrey Woolnough (a Mirfield man), who featured on a brief clip the previous evening, speaking very well and and pastorally and movingly during a Requiem at S Peter's Catholic Church. 

If a prominent Anglican died in circumstances calling for episcopal comment, I very much doubt if the commentariate would go running to a local Catholic Bishop unless there were a very special reason (for example, if the two knew each other particularly well).

Finally: I do not find it easy to feel happy about the (immensely revealing) reasons the police have offered for refusing to allow Fr Woolnough to administer the Church's Last Sacraments to Sir David. They amount to an ignorant assertion that such things do not matter. This sort of disdainful behaviour does little to enhance the reputation of the police for respect towards religious people of whatever religion or culture. And this is a time when the reputation of the police could do with quite a lot of enhancing. When, in the early Seventies, I was a curate in a rough area of inner-city South London, police and clergy found it possible to respect each other and their respective roles.

It would be so nice if we could see just a trifle less of what can look like Anglican Imperialism; and Beeb insensitivity; and police arrogance. 

Cardinal Nichols, by the way, spoke on TV the previous evening with his customary sure-footed grace and sensitivity. Tactfully, respectfully, he alluded gently to the Methodist Church on whose premises Sir David was murdered.

Cuius animae propitietur Deus.

18 October 2021

A Burgundian nobleman in Exeter

 On S Luke's day, Sunday 18 October 1327, a great concourse of cardinals, bishops, and noblemen entered the Dominican priory  church which, during the papal 'exile' in Avignon, often hosted major papal ceremonies (even Coronations). The presiding bishop on this occasion was Pierre des Prez, Cardinal Bishop of Praeneste and one of fellow-townsmen whom pope John XXII had brought with him from Cahors. There, with due solremnity, the Cardinal consecrated to the episcopate a protege who was another member of the pontiff's inner circle and, like himself, a former papal chaplain. This 35-year-old Burgundian nobleman had only recently returned from an international diplomatic mission on behalf of the papacy; and the see to which he was consecrated wouild not have been vacant if the pope had not made room for him by setting aside the capitular election and royal confirmation of a rival aspirant.

The young bishop was Jean de Grandisson (pronounced by the English as 'Grahns'n'). The vestments he wore for his Consecration were in white cloth of gold woven with gold and white birds and with needlework orphreys containing 'images' inside circles, and pearl decorations. They were listed in subsequent Cathedral inventories. And they were only the beginning of his benefactions: One such inventory concludes "of the gifts of Bishop John de Grandisson -- all the choir books, vestments of every colour, ornaments, jewels of gold and silver and others, of which on account of their multitude the number is not written here or elsewhere, because in his life and afterwards they were multiplied beyond number. God knows who knows everything."

Grandisson ws a resolute bishop who reformed many aspects of life in his diocese, and not least its worship. He pursued an interesting heretic; he repelled an Archbishop of Canterbury who desired to carry out a Metropolitan Visitation. 

Even after the depredations of time and of the Tudors, he merited a section all to himself in a 1987 exhibition at the Royal Academy.

17 October 2021

Mark Pattison and his problems with Concelebration

Mark Pattison did not confine his uncomprehending contempt to women and papists; anybody who seemed to him to stand in the way of his own boundless self-esteem aroused his helplessly intemperate verbal malevolence. In 1851, the Rectorship of Lincoln College in this University came up for election. Pattison inevitably and with total certainty knew that he was the obvious candidate. Here is his infuriated reaction to learning that another Fellow, John Calcott, also proposed to offer himself. (I should explain to those who are not of the Patrimony that in those days common Anglican Eucharistic practice was for the Celebrant to stand and kneel at the North End of the Altar, and, if there was another priest or deacon assisting, he was at the South End.)

"As I stood opposite Calcott at the altar-table on Sunday, I could not help a feeling, very untimely at that place, that I should be supposed to be engaged in competition with such a snubby, dirty, useless little dog."

You could do worse than read Pattison. I have not laughed so much on turning the pagers of a book since, so long ago now, I read Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall for the first time. For once, the pastiche of Pattison's style confected by Mgr R A Knox (Let Dons Delight, Notes to Chapter VII) is, yes, very funny, but not funnier than the reality (ht to the erudite Sue Sims for the Knox reference). Could any satirist ever have imagined that even a self-obsessed bigot like Pattison would give away his own interior corruption quite as obviously and risibly as in the above sentence?

16 October 2021

Mark Pattison (1)

If you want an unbelievably amusing read ... a thoroughly unintentionally amusing read ... I commend the autobiography ("Memoirs of an Oxford Don") of Saint John Henry's contemporary at Oxford, Mark Pattison, later Rector of Lincoln College in this University. At one time a fervent High Churchman and admirer of Newman, he did not follow Newman into Full Communion; instead, he ended up slipping into what looks like the most liberal kind of Deism.

He is one of the most delightfully and naively self-opinionated fools, fools prejudiced (for example) against women and papists, known to History. Most ludicrously comic are his accounts of those whose theological convictions moved in a direction opposite to his own. Here he is writing about a female relative: "This girl early developed a masculine understanding. It was a dominant and urgent element in her constitution ... ... speculative ability ... ... perseverance in learning ... ... she taught herself Latin, Greek (which seems incredible), Italian, German, Mathematics ... ... command over the range of history, ancient and modern, that I have never known in anybody since ... ... I have known some of the wittiest, the ablest, and the best read men of my time [of course you have, Mark, dear, of course you have], but I do not exaggerate when I say that this woman at about thirty-five was a match in power and extent of knowledge for any of them ... we corresponded upon books, upon everything we thought or read, from as early a period as I remember, she leading and I following ... "

Sadly, however, and, to poor Pattison, incomprehensibly, the girl became a papist ("her perversion preceded that of Newman")! Pattison's account of this wonderfully admirable bluestocking concludes with these hilarious two sentences: "[She and her mother] lived about a great deal in Italy, etc., afterwards, and had every opportunity of seeing the seamy side of practical Catholicism; but my cousin saw it not. Can such a wreck of a noble intellect by religious fanaticism be paralleled?"
More fun later.

15 October 2021

Bishop Nazir Ali

Bishop Michael is a man of very considerable erudition. But what stands out and marks him as different from most of those who enter into full communion with the See of Peter is his links with, and ministry to, Anglicans throughout the world of an Evangelical background.

This is most welcome. S John Henry Newman, in his biglietto speech after being made a Cardinal, made clear that he saw his entire life, his theological development since his early 'Calvinist' conversion, as being a single unbroken continuum. The Enemy had always been the same: the errors of liberalism and indifferentism and subservience to the Spirit of the Age. 

Bishop Michael could make this same noble boast.

After the events of the 1990s and the invention of the Flying Bishops within the Church of England, when that mighty pontiff John Richards was gathering together a faithful remnant out of the ruins, he was proud that his Ebbsfleet Jurisdiction included Evangelicals.

In 1983, our great Anglican Catholic Magister Catholicae Veritatis Eric Mascall had written: "Stated as simply as possible, the question is thus: Is the Christian religion something revealed by God to man in Christ having an unconditional claim on our obedience, or is it something to be constructed for us by ourselves in response to our own desires and the the pressures and assumptions of contemporary culture? It is in accepting the former of these alternatives that traditional Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism stand side by side against the liberal modernist relativism and and naturalism."

A man who might be called the theological godfather of the Ordinariate, Fr Aidan Nichols O.P., wrote (both before and after the erection of the Ordinariate) of such a body as representing "not only the distinctively Catholic teachings of the Tractarians but also the emphasis of the Evangelicals on the Atonement, and in fact the Tractarians and the Evangelicals are not wholly to be separated out when we bear in mind the Evangelical roots of some of the Oxford Fathers."

Some years ago, I took part in some private theological discussions between Catholic Anglicans and Evangelicals (mostly of the Calvinist variety). One of the latter said to me afterwards "I can see why, under this present pope [Benedict XVI] you are so keen on the papacy. But what if a different sort of pope came along ...". 

It turned out to be a fair question! But I pray that, at least in the next pontificate, a vibrant Catholic-Evangelical synergeia will again become possible. In the meantime, I believe we could all benefit from a rereading of the document Dominus Iesus, in which the future Pope Benedict, Founder of the Ordinariate, asserted against all comers the unique and salvific Lordship of Christ our Redeemer.

All may be not quite perfect at the moment in the Catholic Church. But at least we can be sure that we are fighting the right battle in the right place.

14 October 2021

Dom Prosper Gueranger

Some years ago, a kind benefactor passed on to me a full set of the volumes of the English version of Dom Gueranger's wonderful  L'Annee Liturgique; a series which I had first met years ago as an Anglican.

I was preaching a Priests' Retreat in the Devon house of the Franciscan Servants of Jesus and Mary at Posbury St Francis. The sitting room set aside for my use had, around its walls, most of the library - including Gueranger - of Prebendary John Hooper, the charismatic priest who decades before had fostered my own vocation to the Sacred Priesthood. He was part of that admirable phenomenon (its survivors are now mostly in the Ordinariate): the Exeter Mafia, Anglican Catholic clergy who spent most of their priesthood in that diocese. He was a drinking companion of Bishop Robert Mortimer, the scholar-bishop and moral theologian (They haven't had many of those in the C of E - perhaps that is the root of some of their current tragedies). Fr John had been the Posbury community's Warden; and, indeed, he was buried under the trees in their quiet and still graveyard. 

But I had come under his influence much earlier when he was Vicar of S Mary Mags, in this city, then its great Anglican Catholic centre. I first saw him on the feast of our blessed Lady's Immaculate Conception in 1959, when I was in Oxford as a hopeful schoolboy sitting the Scholarship examinations. Purely by chance, if there is, in God's providence, any such thing, I happened to wander into Mags that evening when the High Mass - according to what we now call the Extraordinary Form and in the language of the English Missal - was being celebrated. What an exquisite ... quite apart from everything else ... aesthetic experience! How marvellous that there is now something very like that liturgy available in the Ordinariate!

Opening Gueranger at random, I hit upon these words about the beginning of the Mass. "But see, Christians! the Sacrifice begins! The Priest is at the foot of the Altar; God is attentive, the Angels are in adoration, the whole Church is united with the Priest, whose priesthood and action are those of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Let us make the sign of the Cross with him."

Plummy, you think? I suppose so. "God is attentive": goodness gracious, that's a bit much isn't it? But isn't it a great wonder of this most Adorable Sacrifice? - as Newman put it: "It is not a mere form of words - it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth. It is, not the invocation merely, but if I dare use the word, the evocation of the Eternal."

Dare we? Audeamus dicere.

13 October 2021

Nugacia classica

I happened to see on the Telly the katasterism ... no; not quite the right word ... of Admiral Kirk. I was disappointed that nobody saluted the quarter-deck as they came on board; but, mostly, that his fine craft did not have his flag qua admiral painted on it.

In the Royal Navy, admirals fly the red cross of S George. To this simple design, a Rear Admiral adds two red spheres; a Vice Admiral just one red sphere; a full Admiral no spheres. 

This means that, when a Vice Admiral is promoted to the next rank, the ratings on his flagship will look up at the masthead and observe "Goodness gracious me! The Admiral has now got no spheres at all!"

Perhaps there is something peculiarly English about becoming less visibly assertive as one becomes more really important. In the US Navy, I like to think of them using American-style stars, and gradually accumulating more and more of them as they become Bigger and Better admirals ... so that the American Lord High Admiral has a veritable Milky Way flying above his head.

Is it true that Mrs Kirk's baby had pointed ears but they hushed it up?

Only for Canonists

Are certain papal edicts classified as having been issued motu proprio in order to prevent their validity being impugned on the grounds of obreption or subreption (Cfr CIC 63)?

Psalm 18 (RSV19) and the Miracle of the Sun.

Today is the Anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun, when it was seen to dance around the Earth. I wish to share a few thoughts about the Typology of this event, with its deeply scriptural and traditional roots.

Our starting point should be Psalm 18, and the rich use which Holy Tradition has made of this psalm. 

In the Pius XII Psalter which was masterminded by Cardinal Augustin Bea (bad ... bad), we read (verse 5) "He has made a tabernacle for the sun". An accurate translation, it may be, of the Hebrew. But this is not what we find in both the ancient Latin Vulgate and the Greek Septuagint (abbreviated to LXX): the two versions by which Christians of both East and West have always worshipped. Here is a literal rendering of what these versions give us:
5.In the sun he has placed his tabernacle: and he himself like a bridegroom going forth from his chamber has rejoiced (LXX: will rejoice) like a giant to run his course.
6. From highest (LXX: furthest) heaven {is} his going forth: and his meeting is even unto its highest (LXX: furthest); neither is there one who might hide himself from his heat.

Our Catholic and Orthodox forebears took the Sun to be our Lady (S Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem from 634: "For in thee, O Virgin, as in a most pure and sparkling Heaven, God has placed his tabernacle"). They understood the bridegroom to be Christ. The bridal-chamber is the womb of the Blessed Virgin. In that Womb he united Godhead with manhood as bridegroom is united to bride, so that he is a giant with two Natures in one Person. His going forth is his eternal generation, as the Divine and Only-begotten Son, from the Father. His meeting is the Son's equality with the Father.
Let's consider the Advent Office Hymn Conditor alme siderum. We will take the clever and accurate translation of stanza 3 by the Anglican John Mason 'Patrimony' Neale which appears as Number 1 in the English Hymnal:
Thou cam'st, the bridegroom of the bride,
As drew the world to evening-tide;
Proceeding from a virgin shrine,
The spotless Victim all divine.

And a hymn by the great S Ambrose himself, Veni Redemptor gentium
Forth from his chamber goeth he,
That royal home of purity,
A giant in twofold substance one,
Rejoicing now his course to run.

The Liturgy of the hours unfortunately misses out ('ad brevitatem') the next stanza, also based on our psalm, which Neale (English Hymnal 14) renders
From God the Father he proceeds,
To God the Father back he speeds;
His course he runs to death and hell,
Returning on God's throne to dwell.

The Pre-Conciliar Breviary and the English Hymnal do not provide another ancient hymn, Fit porta Christi pervia, which the Liturgy of the Hours dug up and ordered to be said at Morning Prayer on January 1. Here is a literal version of the second stanza; it shows its indebtedness to Psalm 18:
The Son of the highest Father has gone forth from the palace of the Virgin, bridegroom, Redeemer, Creator, the Giant of his Church.

 I'm sure you've noticed the relevance of all this to the importance of celebrating Mass versus Orientem, towards the Lord who comes to us at the dawning of the day, walking to meet us from the womb of his Mother, the Woman clothed with Sun, the Tabernacle of Divinity.

But today, we think of the Sun as the great cosmic Ikon of the Mother of God, which spectacularly confirmed the authenticity of the Fatima Message; confirmed it for 1917 and for every successive year.