31 March 2011


In the past, I have - on, I think three occasions - deleted comments which I considered offensive. Today I have deleted a comment which simply invited readers to transfer to the writer's own blog in order to get the Real McCoy on something. If the writer concerned wishes to give his substantive reasons for disagreeing with me and is prepared to write it on the thread of my blog, I assure him that (unless he writes in a gratuitously offensive way) I will not delete his views. But, if I choose not to let him use my blog to advertise his own, that's my business.

What's Mass for?

I was reading some time ago an article in an American Orthodox periodical about whether the Eucharistic Prayer should be audible or silent. It is sometimes illuminating to see how our Western scene looks from the other side of the Eastern wall. Frankly ... I hate to interfere in the religion of others, but I feel strongly about this ... in my view, Byzantine Christians should stick to their traditions.

In the West, the EP has been audible in the C of E since 1559 and in most of the rest of the West since the 1970s. The Orthodox writer drew attention to listener fatigue; among RCs, he said, the audibility of the EP has led to an almost universal preference for the shortest EP (and it is indeed very short). In the C of E, he thought, the EP is commonly regarded by the laity as an irrelevant clerically-intruded piece of boredom which merely delays the all-important act of Communion.

I think he's absolutely right. And, looking at our Catholic Anglican tradition, I suspect that one reason for it is this: in our context it has seemed of crucial importance to avoid sacrilege by making our people understand that the Eucharistic elements truly are the Lord's Body and Blood. Especially since the restoration of mass communion, we have constantly (and probably rightly) postponed everything else to this agenda. But the centrality of Sacrifice, in the last resort, is more important than the worship or reception of the Sacramental Christ. I hesitate to blunder carelessly and over-simplistically around in so great a mystery; it is certainly true that both ....and is more important than either ... or. But, to be simple and crude, the Eucharist is firstly a sacrifice; only when we have said this do we go on to say that it is (we can't get away from the terminology of our Jewish roots here) a communion sacrifice. In the last resort, the Lord's Body and Blood are present substantialiter et realiter upon our altars primarily to be the propitiatory sacrifice which (since the first Holy Week) replaces the the Temple cult; secondarily, to be received so that Christ's Body and Blood can (Dr Pusey's banned sermon citing a great crop of Eastern Fathers is good on this:) be commingled with ours; thirdly, to be adored. Look at it diachronically: most Christians in most Chrisian centuries have attended Mass without communicating. S Pius X's great campaign for Frequent Communion does not need to be denigrated but it is not simpliciter the whole Christian tradition.

Back to the EP. If it is to be audible, its text should make very clear its sacrificial nature, and clergy-talk ('Today we are offering this Holy Sacrice especially for', for example) and sermons should frequently emphasise this. Or it can be done done silently; catechesis will have no trouble explaining that it is silent because it effects the great act of consecration and sacrifice; silent becuse it effects this without essentially needing lay participation or even understanding; silent because the priest is in the holiest possible commerce with God rather than saying something for the interest, diversion, or even edification of the people.

If it can't be said inaudibly, the next best thing is that it should be said very quietly. Yes, I know the OF rubrics specify an audible voice. But they do not say that the priest should bellow nor that there should be electronic amplification. If it is important that the people should hear the prayer, well, any schoolmaster knows that the best way of securing dead silence in a classroom is by speaking very quietly.

30 March 2011

More on the Ukrainians

By the kindess of a friend, I regularly read the newsletter of an American church of the Ukrainian diaspora. And what constantly strikes me is the determination of the Ukrainian Church to maintain and, if necessary, to restore, its own authentically Byzantine traditions; and to emphasise to its people that they are not 'Roman' Catholics. Reading between the lines, I suspect that there is even some resistance to this among some of their laity; that delatinisation legislation stimulates the angry question "Why are we being turned into Orthodox?"

And I have just spotted - in the March 20 newsletter - that the Second Sunday of Great Lent is also the Feast of "St Gregory Palamas" ... reminding me of a question that I raised in posts a little while ago. S Gregory was a great fourteenth century Archbishop of Thessalonica whose teaching, mediated to him from the earlier Greek Fathers through S Symeon the New Theologian, claimed to describe and to justify the teaching and ascetical practises of Athonite monasticism (he was also very explicit about our Lady as Mediatrix of All Graces, but that's another question). For a long time, S Gregory was attacked as a heretic by Latin theologians; and I think I am right in saying that he has never popped up in the Martyrologium Romanum! The fact that large Churches in full Peace and Communion with the Holy See (the Ukrainians and the Melkites) commemorate him liturgically on a Sunday in Lent must have ecclesial significance for all the particular churches in Peace and Communion with Rome, Latin as well as Oriental.

I see these Byzantine communities as valuable reminders that the Catholic Church is more than just the Latin Church; and that the "Eastern Rites" (a horrid phrase) are not simply 'ordinary' or 'mainstream' Catholics who are graciously permitted, for reasons of ancestral fetich, to dress up in funny clothes (the other day, in the library of Allen Hall, I browsed through the Bullarium of Benedict XIV, my second most favourite pope, rereading his enactments preserving the rights of the Patriarch of Antioch and of the Melkite tradition against disdainful and illiterate Latins). I am currently trying to get out of the habit of criticising the Church of England; but I can't resist the temptation to point out the the Churches who are at one with the See of Rome contain within them an infinitely greater variety of (encouraged) diversity than you could ever find within Anglicanism. Two lungs, indeed. Or more.


By the way ... the video from the Ukraine suggests that the solita oscula are still very much alive and kicking among Byzantines!

29 March 2011

Whispers in the Loggia ...

... gives a wonderful opportunity of savouring the enthronement of the new Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Church. Since my Ukrainian is frail, I will simply have to fall back on Eis polla ete, Despota.

As I do so, I express my hope that valued Orthodox friends will not be too cross with me. I do know that things are not all as simple as the "Patriarchate Now" lobby believe. And, while the new Apostolic Nuncio to this country may have expressed himself loosely, I do rather sympathise with what I take to be be his underlying motive (in not encouraging that young Orthodox man to become a Catholic): a determination not to weaken the Patriarchate of Moskow and of All the Russias. Given the doctrine expressed by Cardinal Ratzinger in Communionis notio (para 17) and Dominus Iesus (para 17 again!) about the Orthodox Churches as "True*- but wounded - Particular Churches", I do wonder whether there is the same absolute necessity for individuals within those "true particular churches" to make individual submission as there is in ecclesial contexts where a valid episcopate and sacramental life cannot be discerned; since, by belonging to a "true particular church", one does, surely, belong to the Catholic Church. I speak humbly and very much subject to correction.
More on the Ukrainians.


*As I understand it, the advance made in these two CDF documents over the words of the conciliar decree Unitatis redintegratio is the unambiguous - and insistent - addition by the CDF of the adjective "True". "Integralists" who might regard the teaching of Vatican II and of the CDF in this matter as yet another example of post-conciliar Vatican "Apostasy" should, as the Transalpine Redemptorist blog neatly and extensively demonstrated a few months ago, pay rather closer attention to the legislation and praxis of Roman Pontiffs well before period of Vatican II: ex.gr., to the example of S Pius X with regard to Russia.

28 March 2011

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2)

In the first half of this piece, I pointed out that in declaring the CCC the doctrinal standard of Ordinariates, the Sovereign Pontiff did not intend to impose either a heavier or a lighter burden of doctrinal belief upon members of Ordinariates than upon other Catholics. I now go on to enquire what exactly the doctrinal standing of CCC is.

The highest form of legislation in the Roman Magisterium is an Apostolic Constitution. On October 11, 1992, Pope John Paul II wrote about the genesis of the CCC, and what its purpose was seen to be (Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum). On August 15, 1997, promulgating the Editio typica of the CCC, he repeated the crucial terminology of that Constitution in his Apostolic Letter Laetamur magnopere.

According to John Paul's narrative, the Synod of Bishops which met in early 1985 expressed a desire for a "Catechism or compendium of the whole of Catholic teaching, both of Faith and of Morals". It was to be a "point of reference" for catechisms or compendia which might be written in different regions. The pope says he adopted this intent ("Nostrum reddidimus hoc propositum"). He goes on to desribe the CCC as a "reference text" (this is is how the English translation renders the phrase "comparationis textum") for "catechesis renewed by the living founts of Faith". He goes on to describe it as an "expositio" of the faith of the Church and of Catholic doctrine, and describes it as a firm rule ("regulam") for teaching the Faith, and therefore a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion. In Laetamur magnopere he says that the catechetical industry ("catechetica institutio") will find "an absolutely safe way for demonstrating the Christian message with renewed fervour ... from this document each master of catechesis will find a solid help by which he will be able, within the local Church, to communicate the single and eternal deposit of the Faith".

It is important to notice what the pope does not say. He does not say that new dogmatic standards are being imposed either on the Universal Church or on local Churches. There is no suggestion that any alteration is being made in the structure of domatic belief or in the degree of assent with which anything is to be accepted. What he does say is that the Tradition, as it currently stands, is being given a convenient summary and exposition so that those whose duty it is to teach that Faith will have a most valuable resource.

Communities, such as Anglicanism, which have existed for centuries without an effective magisterium will obviously be much empowered by having a clear account in one volume of what the Magisterium currently teaches. CCC, admittedly, is superficially in line with the continental instinct for all-embracing codes and much less like our Common Law tradition of a sackful of statutes, statutory instruments, European regulations, commentaries, case law, observations obiter, analogies drawn from decisions within other Common Law jurisdictions, and unwritten assumptions. But the latter style of things does require professionals who can reconcile and make sense of a mass of varied data. I suspect that many a parish priest will be feel empowered by having so much of the work done for him. That is the strength of the CCC.

But I do have an uneasiness about a possible misunderstanding of the status of the CCC among members of Ordinariates. The intelligent laywoman, layman, parish priest, as he/she works through it, is bound to come upon passages she/he finds not totally convincing ... pieces of logic which appear not quite to follow ... illustrations which he/she finds inept. The risk is that she/he might wrongly assume that every sentence in CCC is endowed with the same demand upon our assent, and might thus become discouraged at finding sections where assent is problematic. (It is helpful, in this respect, to read the intelligent and nuanced CDF commentary (1998) on Ad tuendam fidem, dealing as it does with the different levels and types of assent.) Put crudely, there are some things in CCC - such as, for example, the Doctrine of the Trinity and the Doctrine that the Lord's Body and Blood are truly and substantially present in the Eucharist - which you are supposed to commit yourself entirely to with complete faith. On the other hand, there are things which are part of the Church's Tradition which any sensible Christian will just accept without bother, but which do not demand the assent of Divine Faith. If, after much prayer and infinite study, you were to come to the conclusion that the matter demanded a bit of a rethink, you would be entitled to your view, but you should still - as a member of the club - treat the established formulation with religious respect and not go around fomenting mayhem.

And we all need to remember that even ex cathedra pronouncements of the Roman Pontiff or similarly binding decrees of dogmatic councils have limitations as far as assent is concerned. We are not obliged to believe that the dogma has been expressed in the best possible way; simply that the definition was preserved from positive error. We are not required to accept or like or find plausible the arguments which are offered in support of the defined dogma. Above all, nobody insists that, as a matter of divine faith, we must agree that it was opportune to define this dogma at this time or in this way or, indeed, at all. It is most certainly decent, in all these matters, to treat the judgements of those whom the Holy Spirit has set over us with respect, obsequium, and to accept (unless we have very strong grounds for hesitation) that they know better than we do. But as far as the assent of divine faith is concerned, it is only the words of a formal definition which oblige.

What is true of ex cathedra pronouncements is all the more true of areas in which there has never been such a conciliar or papal declaration. A random example: the teaching in CCC about the Just War tradition. I have no criticism at all of this; I happen to subscribe with enthusiasm to this teaching. Back in the 1960s, as a 'bright' young priest, I was asked to write an article about it; I slanted my exposition in such a way as to make clear its bearing on the 'doctrine of nuclear deterrence'; and the editor deemed my piece too contentious to publish. But it is clear to me that this magnificent tradition does not make the same unconditional claim upon the ex animo assent of each one of the faithful as, for example, does the Doctrine of the Hypostatic Union. The section on prayer*, moreover, which comes at the end of the Catechism, is an afterthought which, I imagine, most Christians will find helpful. But it is not presented to us as a piece to every sentence of which unconditional assent is demanded.

As both clergy and laity use the Catechism, it is, I think, very important for them to remember that not everything in it is proposed for assent in the same sort of way. If you do find something in it which you don't like, then, as Corporal Jones used to advise, Don't panic. _________________________________________________________

A Fr Jean Corbon, a Dominican of Oriental rite, dashed it off in Beirut as the bombs thumped down around him during the Lebanese civil war.

27 March 2011

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1)

The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus says the the CCC will be the doctrinal standard of the Ordinariates. Naturally, therefore, it is being used in the 'formation' of Ordinariate clergy. I know of no other grouping within the Roman Unity which, apparently, has its own doctrinal standard; not even the 'uniate' Churches with their sense of a distinct theological - as well as liturgical - inheritance. Everybody else is expected to adhere to the doctrine of the Magisterium, in accordance with the the degree of solemnity with which a particular matter has been proposed. For example, decrees of doctrinal Ecumenical Councils and ex cathedra pronouncements of the Roman Pontiff are to accepted as a matter of divine faith; other pronouncements by the teaching organs of the Catholic Church are to be given lesser degrees of assent or 'religious respect', according to their respective status.

I contend that the status given to CCC in Anglicanorum coetibus is not in fact different from the status it has been declared to have in all the other particular churches in full communion with the See of Peter. In other words, I do not think that it imposes extra dogmas upon Anglicans which are not imposed upon others; and I do not think that it imposes a lighter obligation of dogma upon Anglicans than upon others. There are things in CCC which are proposed as infallible teaching to be received with divine faith; but they are not thus imposed by the authority of CCC itself. I have in mind, to give obvious and random examples, the Nicene Creed and the decrees regarding the Sacraments at Trent and the dogma of the Assumption. These are to be received as infallible because of the authority of the organ which first imposed them, not because of the authority of their repetition in CCC. Other things in CCC lack the authority of an Ecumenical Council or a Roman Pontiff speaking ex cathedra; these are to be accorded the same respect as they enjoyed anyway and already by virtue of their standing, whatever it was, in the Church's Magisterial teaching ... which may be lesser. In other words, not everything in CCC is proposed with the same force and authority. Cardinal Ratzinger himself wrote "The individual doctrines which the Catechism presents receive no other weight than that which they already possess".

25 March 2011

Fr Zed reminds us ...

... to say a prayer for the repose of the soul of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

I do not think that every choice he made was the right one ... particularly his unwillingness at a crucial moment to trust Cardinal Ratzinger. But he tried to discern and to follow God's will for him as best he could. I doubt whether the Benedictine Restoration would be where it is now without the witness of Marcel Lefebvre. Cuius animae propitietur Deus.

Allen Hall

Another splendid day at Cardinal Allen's Foundation, now long departed from Douay and lodged on the site of S Thomas More's house in Chelsea. Allen Hall is well equipped with portraits recalling its distinguished past; upon seeing them, my undisciplined memory jumped to a House in County Kerry, Derrynane, ancestral residence of Daniel O'Connell the Liberator. There the portraits of bewhiskered old gents in military uniforms look much like those you would expect to find in any English stately home ... until you realise that their uniforms all betoken the French or Austrian service. On the walls of Derrynane and Allen Hall, one sees, in effect, the Alternative History of these islands. I once, too, got nattering with a woman who was cataloguing the Library in a Scottish Jacobite house called Traquair; she had been surprised by the fact that the books those Scottish Catholics were reading, around the time they went Out to support the Prince Regent in the affair of 1745, tempore Jacobi VIII*, showed them to be more in the mainstream of continental European culture than were the Whig oligarchs and the Hannover rats. Does the Allen Hall library retain any books from its Douay period?

Incidentally, I wonder whether Cardinal Allen's Alma Mater in Oxford, Oriel College, now sports a portrait of its distinguished alumnus on its walls. The painting of him which greets one in Chelsea suggests a man with whom it would be unwise to tangle ... after all, he was a Proctor of this University as well as being a sort of ecclesiastical equivalent of Ian Fleming's 'M'.

We had a most gracious address from the Rector, Mgr Mark O'Toole (one of the Co Wicklow O'Tooles?), in which he negotiated with immense intelligence and sensitivity the question of our status ... the man is clearly no fool. He then assured us that the dark decades when seminaries were less than totally in tune with Catholic Tradition were now just about over. This reassured many of us a great deal; I had dreaded, after the sour decades in the Church of England, having again to steel myself to argue and to fight for the Faith. I doubt if there will be any need for that. Fr Mark is clearly One Of Us.

The seminarians are both very well-informed and immensely friendly; I think it is they, poor things, who do the washing up after we have wolfed down the lunch (which is better than any institutional food I have ever encountered except, just possibly, in the SCR at Christ Church) ... so I can't think of any reason, apart from the pure Grace of God, why they should be so chummy. I wonder how we can recompense them for this contribution to our bellies and our 'Formation', all the more kind for being so banausic. Is there a Junior Common Room Wine Fund?

One suggestion will I make. Fr Mark does a deft line in humorous anecdotes; my instinct is that they may be Irish (call me a sceptic if you like, but the one about the aged peasant with the twelve chickens who lived the other side of the mountain ... with its punch-line "Not the whole bl**dy bucket" ... did not seem to me to carry the authentic markers of a sitz im leben within the English Home Counties). So why does he not deliver them in a reassuringly West-of-Ireland accent? That would make me feel really at home. I bet he could do it if he tried.


*I was a tiny bit surprised not to see any Jacobite pictures in Allen Hall, not even the weeniest engraving of the Cardinal King. Perhaps I missed them ... or perhaps ...

21 March 2011

Exchanges with a correspondent remind me ...

... of an episode when I still taught GCSE. A paper asked the question "In Christian worship, what symbolises Christ?" My candidates, of course, wrote "The Altar", but the correct answer was deemed to be "Bread".

Next time round, there was a picture of an Anglican clergyman standing at an Eagle lectern, with the question "Name the garment he is wearing". My candidates had not been taught much about Anglican Choir Dress, and could not recognise a surplice. I pointed out that the Subject was called "Christianity as a World Religion"*; asked whether the Board expected candidates to know every vestment used in every Church or Ecclesial Body ... the Byzantine epigonation .... the Lutheran ruff ... ; and suggested that, if they didn't, they should rename their subject as "Middle-of-the-road Anglican Tat".

After this, I and some other Public School Heads of Theology had a meeting with the Board. We were told to calm down and remember that the Board had to take account of the fact that in most schools, Religious studies was provided for by dragging off the games field any 'teacher' who had a gap in their time table. I gave up offering the GCSE, and we just concentrated on the A level which, pre2001, was still examined by people who knew something.


* Strange, this. Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, were not described as " ... as a World Religion". Not strange ... what this really meant was "There's no suggestion anybody might believe it".

19 March 2011

Geza Again

So Geza Vermes has written a predictable review of Professor Ratzinger's volume II ... how terribly predictable. Predictably, it's in the Grauniad. A collaboration between mutually back-scratching and predictable has-beens. It will be much more interesting if Jacob Neusner [corrected spelling], an American Jewish scholar of immensely greater stature, first century rabbinic knowledge, and conceptual sophistication, than Vermes, does a review. If anyone notices or spots such a review, I will be very glad to be pointed to it. [UPDATE: The thread directs you to a succinct explanation - and endorsement - by Neusner of what the Holy Father is doing. Told you. Thanks.]


It is well-known that Elizabeth Tudor had a strong prejudice against married clergy: which is why the Lords Spiritual in her parliaments had wives who, unlike the wives of her Lords Temporal, did not share in their husbands' dignity. Poor Mrs Parker. Well, up to a point.

But the Catholic Church has no history of such misogyny. So will the wives of the new batch of Monsignori be Monsignore? Mesignore? Medonne? ... er ... help ... or what about the good old Benedictine style Dame??

Busyness - holy

Any who were interested by my recent post on this subject will find a superb example of the phenomenon in the Transalpine Redemptorists' blog ... in their Life of S Clement Mary Hofbauer.

18 March 2011

Advice to a new Protonotary Apostolic

As soon as you've unravelled all the complicated mystery
About what the Holy Office does, the Rota, the Consistory;
When you've studied more theology, and don't get quite so drowsy on
Attending learned lectures which discuss the Homoousion;
When you've somehow put behind you (with your poor command of French) a list
Of authors whose philosophy is known as Existentialist -
When your learning on a multitude of themes is less bucolic -
There's ne'er a Protonotary will be so Apostolic.

Acknowledgements not so much to Gilbert's and Sullivan's Modern Major General as to an earlier ex-Anglican Apostolic Protonotary who would have rejoiced to see the day of the Ordinariate.

17 March 2011

S Patrick's Day

As I looked at the latest revision of the bumf for the meetings at Allen Hall, I spotted a proposal for a clergy-and-families Mass and lunch. I mentioned this to Pam, who of course instantly gave me a crisp and accurate wifely definition of our joint attitude to the idea of struggling into London in early May for a clerical bunfight.

She went on, as wives so commonly do, to make a very good point. "Why couldn't they have organised an Ordinariate outing to the Cheltenham Races?" Why, indeed. After all, we are supposed, are we not, to be turning into proper Catholics? And is it, or is it not, true that proper Catholic clergy spend at Race Meetings all the time they can salvage from golf and cards? What better Formation could there have been for our new life than spending S Patrick's day imbibing the pure Spirit of Catholicity among the clergy of the Archdiocese of Dublin as they wager their meagre stipends on the Cheltenham horseflesh? The Ordinary himself could have tested the intercessory powers of our Lady of Walsingham and Bl John Henry Newman by betting the entire combined financial resources of the Ordinariate on a promising outsider.

Not that it would be a patch on watching the horses kicking up the sand as they race along the strand at Cahirciveen, with Ballicarbery Castle as the backdrop, in the knowledge that the lobsters are queuing up to jump into the saucepan at the Smugglers. How I do miss Ireland. Well, not Ireland so much as County Kerry. Well, not so much Co Kerry as the Iveragh peninsular. I wonder if Bill Murphy has any empty presbyteries. Sancte Patrici, Sancte Brendane, orate pro nobis.

16 March 2011


I am grateful for all the comments - unfavourable as well as favourable - appended to my series on Councils. Although it was my intention to follow closely the trajectory of thought on this subject in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger - which I have been avidly reading for at least two decades - I am of course neither a theologian nor a historian; when I intrude into these fields I welcome corrections from those more competent than I am. I reiterate that I subscribe to everything defined by Councils and Roman Pontiffs, and submit with religiosum obsequium to their juridical enactments and regard with appropriate deference even their comments obiter.

Pastor in Valle added a very interesting piece on this subject to his own blog. Since he is a Church Historian, his piece is probably distinctly more worth reading than mine. And, who knows, by the time I have finished my 'Formation' at Allen Hall, perhaps I will know better!

15 March 2011

shome mishtake shurely ..

... on the internet; where there are pictures of the two rather different churches in England allegedly respectively on offer

(i) to Fr Wach and the blue birettas; and

(ii) to Fr Newton and the black birettas.

But the answer immediately strikes me: a property in central London must be quite valuable; the Ordinariate could flog it to a developer and use the money to get something better. I somehow feel that it may not have listed status.

9 March 2011

The Simple Joys of Stereotypicality

One of the great shames of our drab age is that so few people any longer match up to their old group-stereotypes. Scotsmen are nowadays so very rarely mean. Frenchmen, lamentably, seem no more amorous than Germans. Swedes are invariably stunted, plump, and swarthy. But one human subgroup bucks this sad trend by its gutsy determination to justify its cartoon image: lawyers, with their age-old reputation for avarice.

As you will remember, a curious suggestion started to circulate that clergy joining the Ordinariate should resign their Orders. This has never been suggested previously to clergy leaving the C of E for another communion, so I suspected that it must have something to do with the new Clergy Discipline Measure. Apparently, it doesn't. I have been reading the document now circulated by the Church lawyers; they make no claim that their proposal results from any change in the law.

These lawyers are obviously sensitive chappies, for they have now grasped the possibility that a priest who is cluttered up with wives and children and isn't yet quite sure where his next bed and pay cheque are coming from might be less than enthusiastic about finding lawyers' fees for a legal transaction which encumbers him with no manifest advantage. So they are now recommending to the dioceses that they should meet the fees inherent in this jolly little earner! Sheer magic! You couldn't have invented that, could you?

It will be diverting to see if any of the Anglican diocesans do fall for this delightful con. If so, I imagine that the Nigerian Widows, who so often crowd into our Spam email boxes with their endless offers of trouble-free dosh, will soon be queueing up too for a share in this evidently boundless episcopal largesse. Con-artists of the World Unite ...

3 March 2011


Sexagesima Last Sunday, Septuagesima, we followed the clergy and people of Rome as they trudged to outside the distant East gate of the City to the Basilica of S Lawrence; today we go with them to the South gate, to the Basilica of S Paul ... whose missionary tribulations he enumerated for us himself in today's Epistle reading from I Corinthians.

I find a particular phrase in that reading rather significant: "the care of all the Churches". S Paul wrote of the Churches in the plural - as he did in all - no, nearly all of his letters. But in a couple of late Epistles, Colossians and Ephesians, we find him talking of the Church in the singular. And, just as in his earlier years he had been concerned with the Unity of the Local Church, so now he shows an acute interest in the Unity of the Universal Church. The Universal Church is no mere federation of all the Local Churches; it is the one Body of Christ. Just as, earlier, he had written to the Corinthians rebuking them for talking as if they were "Paul's Group" or "Apollos'Group" or "Peter's Group" or "Christ's Group", now he is concerned for a wider unity in the Universal Church; a unity between Christians of Jewish and of Gentile background and culture.

The message of S Paul is as relevant today as it was when he told the Corinthian Christians "Christ is not divided". The Church is Christ's Body; Christ's Body is not divided; Christ's Body cannot be divided. It is easy for us to think of Christian Unity as a very good thing; as something, for example, which would mightily assist in Mission. But we need to take a leaf out of S Paul's book. Christian Unity is not just something which would be highly convenient; something which would be jolly, jolly, useful. Being united is not something which we need for lots and lots of very important reasons.

Things are exactly the other way round.

Christians are not entitled to be disunited.


Quinquagesima sermon follows on Sunday.

2 March 2011


Extracts from sermons preached at S Thomas's on the Gesima Sundays this year.

Septuagesima These Gesima Sundays came to England in the baggage of an Italian monk; S Augustine carted them to England in his baggage train. As his monks and his mules struggled through Gaul, they were laden with chalices, vestments, and ... books; including the Altar Books of the Roman Rite, containing as they did the Gesima Sundays which S Gregory the Great had but recently invented. In his little church in Canterbury, S Augustine got them all out and put them to use. Canterbury thus became a decidedly odd place; a far Northern oasis of distinctively Roman Christianity at a time when most of Italy and Gaul used un-Roman forms of worship (a fact which had rather shocked S Augustine, a simple Urban lad, when he discovered it during his journey). So: from the very first, the infant Church of England observed these three pre-Lenten Sundays on which the Bishop, Clergy, and people of Rome met for worship, in turn, in each of the three great basilicas of the three great patron Saints of the City, outside the gates and above the burial places respectively of S Lawrence, S Paul, and S Peter.

And even after the Reformation, the Church of England Prayer Book kept the old Roman readings for these Sundays, reminding generation after generation of Anglican worshippers that the ancient roots of our beloved Church of England and of her worship lie deep in the soil of Rome.
Sexagesima follows.