Thursday 30 May 2013

A Question On The 'Old Mass'

In our parish we do not have a Pastoral Council as it gave the impression that the members were Governors of the parish, which is not at all how they are seen in Canon Law. Rather, we have what we call the Pastoral Action Care Team (PACT). We meet to discuss parish needs, plan pastoral responses and put those plans into action. At our most recent meeting it was noted that there are still some who do not like the so-called ‘Old Mass’, and would I address this issue. This then, is the note I attached to the minutes of the PACT meeting for distribution to the parishioners.

It is not morally possible to say the ‘Old Form’ of Mass (which formed saints for over 1000 years) is no good to us; we cannot say that what was honourable to the saints is beneath us. Throughout the history of the Church, the only people to reject Latin and receiving on the tongue were the Protestant Reformers.

Yes this form of Mass is less easy; it does not lead us by the hand and keep us occupied with words as does the New Form; it demands concentration in our prayer. To be honest, the first time I attended it I did not like it; the first time I celebrated it I found it too hard. Yes some dislike it because of [1] the Latin, and because [2] it demands more reverence from us (by its silence, and its demand for reception of Our Lord on the tongue while kneeling).

As to [1], surely there is no way we can we expect the greatest Mystery on Earth to be easily comprehended? We seem to have fooled ourselves into thinking we understand the Mass because we recognise the words used in celebrating it.

In regard to [2], can we ever say we are giving too much reverence to God? Surely extra reverence for God by receiving on the tongue while kneeling cannot be a problem for us, because nothing we do for God’s glory can be beneath us.  

As a point of information: Do we realise that facing the altar is still the rubric of the Mass? Do we realise the official Form of the ‘English Mass’ (as some call it) is still Latin, which is always and everywhere the norm (without outlawing English)? Do we realise that the norms also hold to reception on the tongue? Strictly speaking, English and Reception in the Hand are allowed only by indult (‘indulgent’ permission from Rome); they are not normative. We can then, sincerely ask ourselves: “Would I still prefer the so-called ‘New Mass’ if it was celebrated altar-facing, in Latin, and followed the Norm of reception on the tongue?” If not, then we need to be honest (or at least recognise) that what we are supporting is not actually the ‘New Mass’ at all, but the options and indults, which may be removed by Rome at any time.

It is contrary to the Catholic spirit to refuse the Old Liturgy since “What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too” (Pope B. XVI). We have to remember too that while a Pope, Bishop or Priest has a duty to ban what is evil, they have no authority to ban what is holy; rather, Pope, Bishop and Priest must promote what is holy  -and since the so-called ‘Old Mass’ was declared Holy by the Church in General Council, they are conceivably bound to promote it, not just tolerate it.

Session XXII, Trent. Canon 7. If anyone says that the ceremonies, vestments, and outward signs which the Catholic Church uses in the celebration of Masses, are incentives to impiety rather than stimulants to piety, let him be anathema.
Canon 8. If anyone says that Masses in which the priest alone communicates sacramentally are illicit and are therefore to be abrogated, let him be anathema.
Canon 9. If anyone says that the rite of the Roman Church, according to which a part of the canon and the words of consecration are pronounced in a low tone, is to be condemned; or that the Mass ought to be celebrated in the vernacular tongue only; or that water ought not to be mixed with the wine that is to be offered in the chalice because it is contrary to the institution of Christ, let him be anathema.

We are lucky here in Thornley; we have both forms of Mass; we have choices. But it is not for anyone, be they lovers of the Old or New Form of Mass, to refuse or denounce the other Form when both are the patrimony of the Church. We are never above the Church and her Tradition; we are its servants and beneficiaries. 

Monday 27 May 2013

The Disaster that is the Directory on Children’s Masses (DCM)

At children’s Masses I like to involve the youngsters as much as possible. They provide an introduction to Mass before the Penitential Rite; proclaim the Readings; announce the intentions for the General Intercessions; bring up the Offertory, serve the Mass and provide suitable music. I use the simple Canon (Eucharistic Prayer II) for ease of understanding, and the Collects of the Day which, pronounced with care, can be grasped by the children, especially if they are used as a focus for the preaching.

Sadly, in too many places, dramas and interpretative dance with bodily gestures is the order of the day for Mass with children. These ‘performances’ inevitably bring applause, showing we have moved from praising God to praising the children. Further, to facilitate the children being seen by the parents and the congregation, the sanctuary is used as a stage for those performances. This is disturbing because both the One who is adored (God) and the Holy Place in which He dwells (the Sanctuary) are given over to the praise of (childhood or teenage) man so that he may experience his importance.

Being honest in heart before the Lord, we have to say that we do not give the children God-centred worship: ad orientem is omitted because “the people want to see the priest”; reception on the tongue -or even just kneeling- is rejected because “it doesn’t feel consistent with our dignity”. Truly then, today’s celebrations of Holy Mass are focused on us, Divine Worship becoming the context in which we self-affirm and affirm one another. Something is very wrong when it does not occur to us that we are praising man in the context of Worship, and giving over God’s Sacred Space to man.

The damage however, does not stop at children’s Masses, the DCM also being used (improperly) for Masses with older youth up to 20 years old or more so that the same dramas, interpretative dance etc. are seen, even at Sunday Mass. I once had the embarrassment of seeing men in their sixties and seventies singing to the Advent wreathe “Candle candle burning bright, be for me an advent light...” It is uncomfortable to watch men (and women) of such an age engage in such things. Priests and Bishops too in their desire to be ‘at one’ with the children, can be found engaging in children’s songs and actions, as though they too require infantile instruction and supports. This is what leads me to say that unless the DCM is radically overhauled, I cannot see the sense of the sacred being recovered.

I support children’s paraliturgies making use of mime, drama and dance etc, since they have a way of engaging the youth, but we have to be clear that paraliturgies are more akin to acts of prayer and to devotion than to Divine Worship. If we make this distinction clear by excluding ‘performances’ from the Mass, we will give witness to the children that the Eucharist is –by nature- sacrosanct; that it is truly Divine Worship (worship offered to the Divine Father by the Divine Son and those baptised into Him). We will also be teaching them that praying at home (the excuse used by many not to attend Mass) cannot therefore substitute for the Mass. All we have to do then is make sure Mass is celebrated with reverence and solemnity rather than frivolity. Maybe then it will be experienced as unique, important and sacrosanct.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Today's Scientific Age Goes Unscientific...Why?

I suspect this reflection on today's society will not be well received but it is, perhaps, a reflection worthy of at least some consideration. 

Despite promoting science as the only way to know truth, today’s politicians and mainstream media seem hell-bent on ignoring biological science in their social engineering of society while pretending that God, heaven and hell don’t exist.

We know full well that HIV and AIDS fell dramatically in Uganda where abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage were promoted, but continued to rise in those countries where condoms were promoted, yet governments and mainstream media portray condoms as the way to prevent the spread of HIV. We know that children from families where father and mother are both present are more likely to do well in education and less likely to fall into criminal behaviour, yet governments and mainstream media fail to promote natural marriage. We know the only means of propagating the human race is the sexual union of a man and a woman, yet governments and mainstream media present homosexual acts as normal and acceptable. We even have governments and media facilitating the idea that if sex successfully achieves its natural biological end (the conception of a child) we may sink to the level killing the child, even if this only for career advancement or the stability of our bank balance.

It seems that Governments are simply procuring votes rather than doing what is right for humanity, since they are supporting and promoting a view of society that is sexually chaotic and family-dismantling; one in which children all too frequently suffer the emotional and social wounds of family breakdown. Second, our sexually chaotic society seems to want the vice with which we must all struggle –lust- approved of and facilitated so that sex may be had whenever, with whoever, and however we want, without a healthy sense of shame that such sexual ‘freedom’ makes the act of procreation into a selfish act rather than love (i.e., care and commitment); an act in which sexual partners become disposable means of self-satisfaction. Can we not honestly say that lust breaks up marriages and families; that contraception eschews responsibility, and that abortion kills children? it seems we tolerate or support these things only so as to engage in sex when, how and with whoever we want. Sexual freedom, as promoted by today’s society, does not make us free to enjoy a fully human life but is a total inversion of reality: people are not being freed to live fully human lives; they are being chained to their animal instincts, free only from the human capacity to engage in rational thinking and self-mastery –two of the very things which distinguish us from the animals.

No wonder the Gospel is rejected and the Catholic Church is hated: we want a stable society of committed parents, with adults controlling their animal passions so as to live in true human love and as stable, committed spouses and parents.

Monday 13 May 2013

Forest Hall Royals -Thanking God for memories of my youth..!

I have lots of things in my life for which to thank God, beginning with my Faith, my family and my friends. I thank Him for time in my previous professions, and for whatever good I have been able to do as a priest -especially for the privilege of offering the Holy Sacrifice, of Anointing those about to leave this world, of Reconciling sinners to the Lord in Confession, and all the times I have been able to support folk in life’s crisis events.  In speaking of thanking God for things in life, I was recently shown photographs of days from my youth...

Bear in mind that the area in which I grew up was not an affluent area. Most of our dads were miners or labourers, while many of our mothers picked up a few bob (shillings) cleaning here and there. Few of us were from families with cars or telephones, and few of us took holidays in the UK, never mind abroad. Money was short; times were tough. For the most part my family and those kids I grew up with we played in the old field at the bottom of the lane, or we played ‘Canon’ with tin cans and a ball in the street -or simply “Knocking on Doors”. (I think children today miss out by playing with computer games instead of playing with other children). The photographs I was recently shown depicted a time when a good number of us from the area found a happy and useful focus: taking part in a Juvenile marching band. We were the Forest Hall Royals. We practised two nights a week and competed every Saturday during the summer.

Before we began competing  -notice the absence of medal sashes

We ‘Royals’ won a good number of our competitions. For this we have to thank our manager Jacky Rowe, and our successive trainers: Mr Moody, Mr Hunter and Mr Mowett. Not to forget our ‘Committee Women’ and our loyal supporters, from brothers and sisters to mums, dads and Granddads.

There was a healthy sense of competition among the many bands of North East England, and it was always an exciting time to arrive at a competition and see who we were up against that day. If we didn’t win first place we would simply said “we’ll get them next time!” –though without real animosity. There were many bands to compete against, and I remember well those with whom our competition was most evident: North Shields Grenadiers; Byker Imperials; Walker Majestics; Longbenton Vikings; Newbiggin Harlequins; Meadowell Dragoons; Willington Revellers, Felling Fusiliers et al. Competition was tough; all of these bands and more besides, worked hard to achieve whatever wins were gained in competitions, which might take place in glorious sunshine, bleak drizzle or even rain. Whatever the weather, picnic lunches were eaten with enthusiasm, though sweaty, sodden buses on wet days were not the ideal environment...  

North Shields Grenadiers -Local Rivals, well respected, at the Sunday Sun Final.

Certainly we  Forest Hall Royals truly felt like royalty as we marched ‘On Parade’ through the streets in our bright red uniforms, or proudly executed our intricate display routine in the Display Arena. Our Drum Majors and Band Majors were skilled with the mace (I know Marie never dropped her mace once!); our Drum Section was spectacular and noted among the other bands; and military men brought in to judge competitions would comment on how well our kazoo section marched –though one or two never seemed to get their arm to shoulder height! 

I can't say that all the band members got on even with each other -there was normal teenage rivalry even within the band about who would be Drum/Band Major, Lead Drummer or Mascot. It was certainly a prestigious thing to be a member of the Drum Section such as the Royals had, or to be Band/Drum Major. Still, we all stumbled along together as kids do, and enjoyed every bit of our 'Royal Days'!

And who could forget these little ditties we used to sing on the bus?

We had to join! We had to join! 
We had to join the Forest Hall Royals!
Fifty pence a week! Hardly owt to eat!
Carnivals ev'ry Satu'day 
with blisters on wa' feet! We had to join!


We were out one day
against the Grenadiers
we won 'Overall'!
We kicked them over the wall!
And when they shouted 'Jip!'
we miffed them angrily, in
Gilly, Gilly, Ossenfeffer

My Retirement Day: Me, Gail and May Retired together

Though we might laugh at ourselves now, we learned a lot during that time: team work, finding and losing friendships, a sense of responsibility for turning up at practices and events, taking care to keep a clean and well-pressed uniform and spotless white plimsolls. All of this played a part in the life of the Jazz Band member in any band. They were great days; and in fact, though few people know it, I still own a double-snare drum and a mace! A man of many talents...not!

Me filling in the for Band Major at gateshead Stadium(winning First Place on Parade!)
and with my beloved silver (lead) drum, my usual role

On my Retirement Day with a very dear friend

Some of Our Loyal Royal Supporters: Mam, Florrie, Maude and Anne!

Marie Langlands, one of our most successful Drum Majors,
her mace was never once lost (dropped)

Why am I posting this on a blog with a religious theme? Because it was a truly happy time that was God-given, and I want to thank God for the six years of my life I spent in ‘The Forest Hall Royals’ during my teens. They are some of the happiest days of in my life; something I thank God for every day -as I do for my family, friends, former careers and priesthood.

Here are some of the Forest Hall Royals at a recent reunion (alas, I could not make it so you will not see me here) now parading as Forest Hall Debonaires...Oh the memories!

Friday 10 May 2013

Too Proud, Too Afraid or Too Person-focused to admit we went wrong...?

It used to be said when I was in seminary and newly ordained (1993) that we should not worry too much about baptising the children of lapsed Catholics since they would generally return to the Church at the time of their child’s First Holy Communion. While I have seen a few come back at First Communion, but not all of them continued to come, while the vast majority of parents never bothered at all. Am I alone in finding it disturbing that when children are presented for the Sacraments the parents have no intention of having their child continue in the Faith? On enquiry it is easy to discover that many are not even ‘culturally catholic’: they don’t have religious pictures or statues in the home; they don’t practice family prayer, they say no grace before meals etc. The Church simply plays no role in their life other than providing a local school with a good Ofsted report.

One of the reasons for the lapsation of the parents (and now, the grandparents) was the undeniably bad catechesis given over the last forty years, with its hidden implication that God is subject to change: “Who is Jesus Christ for you?”. Without meaning to, we were/are telling people it is OK to create God in their own image, so that now we come up against such statements as “my understanding of God is that He doesn’t hold A, B or C against us; we can still get to heaven if we are a good person”. We place souls in grave spiritual danger when we allow them to formulate God according to their own design.

The errors of past formation wreaked havoc in the Church, and still have their influence today. How can they not? It was the foundation we gave to those under 60; to those educated with deficient school texts and in progressive seminaries from the 1960’s onward. Thus we still hear people say Confession is only for mortal sins and “rarely needed”, and the Eucharist “was given to be received, not worshipped”. There are still those whose ecclesiology sees the Catholic Church and the ecclesial communities of Protestantism as being essentially the same, and those whose moral theology is tainted by the mistaken theory of the Fundamental Option. Sadly, much on-going formation is just more of the same, which is perhaps why some priests take responsibility for their own on-going formation by having recourse to orthodox conferences and reading materials.

I truly believe that unless we return to the very basics in our preaching, in our school texts and in our public statements, and unless we return to a liturgy that is God-focused rather than people-centred, we will continue to see the Church dwindle by lapsation and lose influence in society. We need to be formed again, theologically and catachetically. in key issues: the Primacy of the Pope in Doctrine and Discipline; the unique nature of the Catholic Church as the One True Church from which all salvation flows; the necessity of regular Confession for regular Communion; the Mass as the Sacrifice of Calvary and not simply a fraternal banquet; the inherent evil of contraception; of fornication, abortion and euthanasia. We also need to rediscover the essential vocation and responsibility of the laity as the salt of the earth wherein they set out to evangelisation of the world in its media, health care, politics, education etc. We in the clergy need to remember that we serve by taking responsibility (not power) before God for the teaching, sanctifying and governing of the Church. Collaboration does not mean shirking this responsibility.

Finally, helping the youth to re-engage with the Church is a priority if we are to gain good, Catholic families in the future. It is not that our teachers and youth workers are not genuinely concerned for the youth; it is not as though they are not generous with their time and fervent in their efforts, but no matter how many youth events they have put on over the years and no matter how many youth retreats they have led, the thousands of youth that have passed through their hands are not coming to Mass and receiving the Sacraments. Having attended these events they simply go back to their everyday lives. In that it is the Truth which sets us free, I believe we have to return –and return soon- to forming them in doctrinal accuracy and in the understanding that Holy Mass is the worship of God in adoration, propitiation and supplication, rather than a community jamboree, which it becomes when we seek jolly songs and use skits and dramas.

Monday 6 May 2013

From Father's Homilies

I thought I would share Father’s homilies from yesterday and today since we haven’t actually blogged for a couple of weeks.

Yesterday at our Extraordinary Form Mass, taking the scriptures we heard (James 1v22-27), Father noted that many of us are “hearers of the word” who do not practice it; that while most of us are surely like St Paul, not doing what we desire to do but doing what we would rather not do, that some folk deliberately refuse to live by God’s word, choosing the ways of the world instead. The justification for such a conscious choice is that “the world has moved from biblical times and anyway, it can’t be wrong if everyone is doing it”. Father made the point that though many folk are great at social justice issues and do indeed care for the poor, the widow and the orphan, they do not keep themselves unspotted from the world but align themselves with it; they take on board that it is Ok to self-abuse, co-habit,  fornicate and enter homosexual activity. None of this is consistent with the Gospel and the teaching of Christ’s Church.  We are then, at a time when we have to choose between the world and the Church; God or the devil, and not everyone is making the right choice.

At this morning’s Ordinary Form Mass Father noted that many Christians are being killed for their Faith; that there are bombings of Churches and Christian homes in many places around the world, done, as our Lord foretold in today’s Gospel passage, as “a holy thing for God” (John 16v2). We don’t, as yet, have to come to Mass at the risk of our lives; we don’t suffer that kind of persecution. Our persecution is more subtle, and it’s dangerous: it’s the persecution of truth by the dictatorship of relativism by which today’s so-called ‘tolerant’ society will not tolerate our free speech on issues such as contraception, abortion and homosexual activity. As we noted yesterday, many of these things are justified not only by an appeal to oneself, but to the fact that “the world has moved on and everyone thinks it’s OK these days”. We have to pray that the Spirit of Truth will touch the hearts of those who perpetrate violence and of those who promote relativism, and not only for our good, but for their salvation.

I thought these words were worth sharing.