2 November 2020

Boris Johnson and Cardinal Nichols and the ban on the Mass. SINE DOMINICO NON POSSUMUS

After reading the Communicarion of Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop McMahon about the newly reimposed prohibition within this Kingdom of England of the public Offering of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I began by being rather favourable. The steely tone seemed exactly what the circumstances required. The in-your-face and iterated demand for statistical evidence that the Eucharist spreads infection seemed to me rather good. The appeal to flabby Utilitarian ethical presuppositions (worshipping communities generate community benevolence) appeared to me just the sort of argument you have to use, unwillingly perhaps, in dealing with somebody as devoid of moral integrity as Boris Johnson. I even found myself thinking: "Is this the most forthright public text by an English Catholic Archbishop since Archbishop Hethe spoke in the House of Lords in 1559?"

As so often, I changed my mind after discussion with someone whose judgment I respect. She wondered why the two archbishops had not seized the opportunity to explain why the Mass is of such overriding importance to Catholics; to make clear what the Eucharist is and why it is in a category totally different to Protestant and Pagan worship; what it is that makes the Most Holy Sacrifice not part of the entertainment or feel-good industry, but something, for Christians, both vital and (to employ a term which often crops up in goverrnment regulations) "essential"

Why had the Church missed an important opportunity of evangelism?

Here is a passage from Dom Gregory Dix, which I published earlier in the year after the gauleiters banned Easter.

"To secure [the Sunday Eucharist] a whole congregation of obscure provincials at Abilinitina in Africa took the risk of almost certain detection by assembling at the height of the Diocletian persecution in their own town, where the authorities were on the watch for them, because, as they said in court, the eucharist had been lacking a long while through the apostasy of their bishop Fundanus, and they could no longer bear the lack of it. And so they called on a presbyter to celebrate - and paid the penalty of their faith to a man. ... Even when a church had been scattered by long persecution, the duty was never forgotten, 'At first they drove us out and  ... we kept our festival even then, pursued and put to death by all, and every single spot where we were afflicted became to us a place of assembly for the feast -- field, desert, ship, inn, prison', writes S Denys, bishop of Alexandria, of one terrible Easter day c. A.D. 250, when a raging civil war, famine and pestilence were added to the woes of his persecuted church.

"The christian came to the eucharist, not indeed 'to learn something', for faith was presupposed, but certainly not to seek a psychological thrill. He came simply to do something, which he conceived he had an overwhelming personal duty to do, come what may. 

"What brought him to the eucharist week by week, despite all dangers and inconveniences, was no thrill provoked by the service itself, which was bare and unimpressive to the point of dullness, and would soon lose any attraction of novelty. Nor yet was it a longing for personal communion with God, which he could and did fulfil otherwise in his his daily communion from the reserved sacrament at home. What brought him was an intense belief that in the eucharistic action of the Body of Christ, as in no other way, he himself took part in that act of sacrificial obedience to the will of God which was consummated on Calvary and which had redeemed the world, including himself. What brought him was the conviction that there rested on each of the redeemed an absolute necessity to take his own part in the self-offering of Christ, a necessity more binding even than the instinct of self-preservation.

"Simply as members of Christ's body, the church, all christians must do this, and they can do it in no other way than that which was the last command of Jesus to his own. That rule of the absolute obligation upon each of the faithful of presence at Sunday mass under pain of mortal sin,which seems so mechanical and formal to the protestant, is something which was burned into the corporate mind of historic christendom in the centuries between Nero and Diocletian, but it rests upon something more evangelical and more profound than historical memories. It expresses as nothing else can the whole new testament doctrine of redemption; of Jesus, God and Man, as the only saviour of mankind, who intends to draw all men to him by his sacrificial and atoning death; and of the church as the communion of redeemed sinnners, the body of Christ, corporately invested with his own mission of salvation to the world."


Richard said...

Wonderful. How would it be if our bishops spoke like this?

Unknown said...

From Martin Hartley
What a wonderful piece for such a time as we are presently in. But who, in the circumstances we find ourselves will risk defying the present successors of the Roman empire. We may only have been deprived of the sacraments for a few weeks but already it seems like months. Where is the presbyter who will defy the authorities and bring us the bread of life and the chalice of eternal salvation

Unknown said...

Very powerfully expressed. But I'd say "Be thankful for small mercies"! Also, I have an impression that all priests at least are being asked to contact their MPs to a similar effect prior to today's debate in Parliament. We have to begin somewhere, and it perhaps has to be from a pretty low base, but better than nothing.

Keith Robinson

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

The Maronites in Florida never shuttered their parish. That alone speaks volumes about what they value.

Jonathan said...

My own misgiving was that they don't mention the other sacraments like the anointing of the sick. There have been reports that chaplains have not been allowed to visit the dying. I would like to see a forceful statement in support of spiritual care for the sick and dying.

Richard said...

A wonderful passage for this or for any time.

Thomas said...

I went to confession on Saturday, which has thankfully been available locally over recent weeks, although not in all parishes. When asked to put my name and contact details on a list, I politely declined and chose instead to wave my phone at a 'QR code'. I made doubly sure it was 'anonymized' by a simple expedient :-). Then on Sunday (All Saints) I was turned away from Mass at the door because the church was deemed full. For a moment it felt like a dramatic and salutary pre-enactment of Our Lord's chilling warning that some of us may find the gates of heaven shut in our face, not because it is full (there are many lodgings in The Father's mansio) but because we have lost his redeeming grace through our own fault! Suitably humbled and reflective, I drove to the neighbouring parish which has a later morning Mass celebrated according to the even more truncated 'NOVUS-COVID' rite in temporary force just now. On my way out, I was struck once more by the deeply symbolic irony of replacing holy water stoops with hand sanitizer dispensers. Strange days indeed.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Father. One wishes Kipling was still alive:


G0D of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine
Lord God of Hosts be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget - lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Bill Murphy said...

Thanks very much, ABS. That poem was published shortly after a prodigious display of naval might at a Fleet Review. The thought that something as overwhelming as the Royal Navy could ever melt away must have seemed treasonous at the time. And it must have been unimaginable to anyone, except a poet with a sense of history.