Sunday 31 August 2014

Antagonism Toward The TLM

Antagonism towards the TLM disturbs me. Celebration of this Form being so sporadic, the clergy who celebrate it and the faithful who attend it are often seen as eccentric, and the Rite itself anachronistic. Truly, until the Bishops get behind the Extraordinary Form, people will see it as a bad thing –an attitude which was treacherously preached to them for forty years (treacherous because it was the Rite celebrated by saints and popes for centuries without qualm yet was earmarked for destruction by those who followed the destroying ‘spirit’ which followed Vatican II and was promoted as being the soul of Vatican II).
Mass above in the Traditional Form; below in the Revised Form.
Which seems God centred? Which seems congregation-centred?

Sadly the Novus Ordo has become the flag waved by those who follow the destroying ‘spirit’ of Vatican II, though it is a spirit which actually stands in contradiction to the texts of Vatican II rather than in harmony with them. To justify the following of this ‘destructive spirit’ and the promotion of the Missanormativa, many engaged in the destruction of the integrity of the Traditional Form and those who held to it.

Meanwhile, use of Latin as the language of worship was described to me as “pure evil; it cuts people out of the Mass”. Since Latin remains our official liturgical language it is time Bishops and priests promoted its use. If they allow Latin to be decried as ‘wrong’ or worse, as ‘evil’, they imply Muslims (who worship in Arabic) and Jews (who worship in Hebrew) are engaging in something wrong and evil. Are our Bishops and priests willing to say that? I don’t think so, which is why need to  correct the idea that the use of Latin is over. The best way to do this is of course by example, and to ensure parishes use at least for the Credo, Gloria, Sanctus, Pater Noster and Agnus Dei at one of their Masses. Words are no longer enough; action is needed.

Amazingly, I have been told by some of the folk that the TLM “is just too hard; I don’t know what to do during the silences”. That makes me wonder if people find the EF difficult because it requires active prayer and meditation, rather than the making of automatic responses. These folk need guidance in practicing the prayer of presence. Others have told me they do not like the EF because they regard kneeling and receiving on the tongue an insult to their dignity. These folk simply need to be taught an appreciation of this method as a demonstration of our dependence upon God which will soften and humble their spirit.

It is simply time that we value our heritage. How odd it is that we are happy to have listed building status on some of our Churches yet the very liturgy which inspired them and which they were built to house is evicted with ease and even, we may say, derision. This cannot be of God; He does not declare what He has formed and fostered in the Church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for centuries to be a bad work. Is He not more likely to make that judgment on a work undertaken in a committee room; a work geared toward the production of a new building using materials taken from the demolition site of the former edifice? 

Saturday 30 August 2014

Juventutem for Hexham & Newcastle

I see from blogs of this Diocese that we are about to get a Juventutem chapter. Deo Gratias! Now that Father Brown has a centrally-located Church in the Diocese establishing such a group has become an easier project, a centrally-located Church being important if access to the group is to reach all parts of the Diocese. Drawing upon the youth who attend his Sunday TLM, the project is now viable in Fr Brown's parish (a negative response by our Cathedral to allow such a group two years ago because they had their own youth group hampered the founding of Juventutem before now). Juventutem is certainly a great thing for young people who are attached to (or interested in discovering) the Church’s Traditional liturgy, devotions and catechesis. We must pray for great things to come from this new foundation.

I have reservations about it being run from the ‘back office’ of the (out-going) LMS rep however, since this will link Juventutem to the LMS in the minds of many, and even though members of Juventutem attend LMS organised Masses and events, Juventutem itself is not affiliated to the LMS. Further, since the LMS is not readily accepted by many clergy, there may be a negative impact upon how well advertised Juventutem will be by resistant clergy. This is sad because they would probably support other youth groups in their search for a deeper spiritual, social and charitable life, which are central aims of Juventutem.

I do hope there are no dissenters from or antagonists toward such a group; certainly I know of none -other than those exclusively (and tenaciously?) devoted to the Novus Ordo. Sadly, however, we all know people who will not support anything to do with tradition and who see TLM supporters as ‘eccentrics’; a label some may take as a personal insult even when it is not personally aimed, so we will have to live within that reality until the day comes when we can truly come out into the sun and stand as equals with whatever is left of our fellow Catholics who hold exclusively to a dying misuse of the Novus Ordo.

I think that day is still some way off (certainly beyond my lifetime) but it is not that far away -I personally believe that as we close more and more parishes, convents and seminaries which  hold exclusively to the Novus Ordo, we will be left with little other than the Traditional Communities such as the Fraternity of St Peter; Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest; Sons of the Most Holy Redeemer; Good Shepherd Institute,  Servants of Jesus and Mary; Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem; Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius; Canons Regular of the Holy Cross; Fraternity of Saint Vincent Ferrer; Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney et al. These will be the remnant from which the Church will regrow in all her glory and which will have arms open to the SSPX.

Friday 29 August 2014

Voices In The Wilderness of Dissent & Disorder

I was in a conversation with a couple recently and we observed what a different crowd we in the West are to those Christians in Iraq, Nigeria, et al, who are willing to imitate St John the Baptist literally and lose their head rather than The Faith. If The Faith is saved in the West, it may well be by the graces won by these modern-day martyrs. How much we owe them.

Indeed it is very discouraging to hear some of the rubbish spoken in the West today, and so hard to get the Truths of the faith heard today. I have become aware that speaking to lapsed Catholics can be particularly difficult. Many in second, cohabiting or homosexual relationships have developed such an antagonism to the Church because of her moral beliefs that they are, in my experience, not simply lapsed from the Church but hostile towards her. Even some among our Mass attendees show obstinate rejection of the Church’s moral teachings when family members are in relationships the Church cannot countenance or are married to non-Catholics whose communities the Church considers lacking (those she refers to as ecclesial communities rather than Churches).  Some of the clergy appear to have similar ideas, justifying sinful situations for ‘pastoral reasons’. I was told by one fellow cleric that it is probably fine for folk to receive Holy Communion after missing a Holy Day or Sunday Mass because “it harms no one and after all, it’s actually hard to commit a mortal sin”, and by another that he believed those in long-term cohabitation should be able to receive Holy Communion too. These are dangerous ideas, likely to lead to sacrilegious communions. Truly, would today’s Church be recognised by the Church of the Apostolic Fathers; the Medieval Fathers or the Church of the 1950’s?

Recently I was challenged by a layman for saying that since we have fullness of truth and the full means of sanctification we should want everyone to become Catholic. The rejoinder was “You know Father, we’re all the same now; we all worship the same God.  You need to read Vatican II”. Then there was a young lady who told me that “same-sex [pairings] are legal now, so they’re OK. Cardinal Nichols said civil unions can be good and even the Pope said ‘who am I to judge?’ So it’s you who has to change your ideas Father”. Add to this Bishops who say there are ‘unconventional couples’ that we should welcome and it is clear that even the great and the good are hoodwinked by the ‘non-judgmental’ rallying cry of the world -or simply seeking acceptance from the world rather than Christ by following the world’s  ‘morals’ rather than His. Leadership is woefully lacking for souls these days, unless it is leadership into doctrinal error and sacrilegious communions, but not entirely absent. Almost all clergy however, seem afraid to challenge today’s ‘morality’ and say “we judge that to be wrong and dangerous to souls and to human society”. It is, after all, possible to correct sin with gentleness and compassion while exhorting the sinner to respond God who loves us. We simply must move beyond the optimism of the 1960’s which sought only to “exhort souls to the good and the true without resorting to the condemnation of error”. That is no longer is not helpful today –if it ever was. Proclamation of the Truth without correction of errors like telling a patient what will contribute to her health without also reminding her to cease what is damaging her health.

We need to be clear here: on-judgmentalism is not a Christian attitude. Our Lord told us “When you judge, judge with right judgement” (Jn.7:24). Thus St James tells us to call the sinner back (Jas.5:19); while St Paul reminds us to rebuke the sinner (Gal.6:1; 1.Thess.5:14; 1.Tim.5:20; Titus 1:13). Our Lord’s injunction “Do not Judge that you shall not be judged” (Matt.7:1) is but a warning not to judge the state of a soul; it does not allow us to refrain from judging the acts in which that soul engages. To do so would be to turn away from the work of mercy by which we admonish the sinner.  

As a parishioner who understands the difficulty recently noted, “we desperately need a syllabus of errors as proposed by Bishop Schneider. A brief synopsis of right and wrong which we could get with our Bulletin one weekend would go a long way in setting the record straight. Until then our faithful priests and laity will remain labelled hard-hearted, insensitive or bigots for upholding the Faith”. Her point is sound: until there is a reaffirmation of moral and doctrinal beliefs, priests and laity who hold to the Church’s teaching will be voices crying in the wilderness –a very isolating place to be. It is a place of additional struggle for us when we have the important war against our faults and failings to overcome that we may gain holiness of heart. Which of us is without such failings? I certainly know myself to be a soul much in need of the healing that comes with the Divine Mercy. Indeed, I strive daily to be more prayerful, industrious and self-effacing; to be less lazy, impatient, selfish etc. Can any of us claim to be without such faults or to have gained the holiness of heart necessary to enter the Lord’s abode? 

At the end of the day one is left asking what is to be done when some Cardinals, Bishops and Priests give the impression that the Church’s teaching is changeable or relative to the person’s intention; that mortal sin is ‘hard to commit’, and a Pope allows himself to be quoted as saying “Who am I to judge?” (granted this was statement was somewhat 'explained' by Fr Lombardi). Still, when you consider the state of the Church today in the sheer numbers of lapsed youth and elders; the commonplace disregard for the faith among clergy, in Catholic periodicals and everyday 'Catholics', can we not help but recall those disturbing words of the Lord: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find any Faith on earth?” (Lk.18:8).

Friday 22 August 2014

Our Queen and our Mother

Evan Naess can proudly proclaim, “My mother is Diana Ross. She is the Queen of Motown”. Charles can say, “My mother is Elizabeth, she is Queen of England”. We, on the other hand, can say, “Our Mother is Mary, Queen of heaven and earth”.  I ponder on what it means to be the son of a woman whose Queenship is so vast and wide. i ponder on the Royal Family I am part of by my Baptism into Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God; the King of kings and Lord of lords.  It must have been wonderful for Lady Diana Spencer to became Princess of Wales and ‘Queen of hearts’, but our royalty -while not rivalling that of the English Crown- surpasses it, because our land of hope and glory is not on this earth but in heaven –and though we have not yet arrived at my royal inheritance, we hope to do so (and hopefully Diana Ross, Queen Elizabeth and Diana Princess of Wales will be part of the one great throng of saints praising God with all the baptised).

If the Queenship of Our Lady encourages me to recognise my dignity as a member of the Body of Christ, the Motherhood of Our Lady heartens me when I am in difficulty or when I sin. Do you remember as a child of doing things you ought not have been doing (perhaps not!) or in a sad situation? Our mother would call us into the house to hold us when we were sad or advise and warn us of danger when we were being naughty. At no time would she expel us from the family or the home. I am sure this is how Our Lady treats us, her disobedient, wandering children. I’m sure that when she sees us in any kind of trouble she calls us into the house to hold us, and that when she sees us sin she call us into the house to have us leave sin behind. To my mind, she is constantly calling us back home; calling us back to her Divine Son, and not as simply as our Queen (to whom we owe honour and obedience) but as our Mother (to whom we owe loving obedience). Our response to her call is surely simple: “I am all thine, my Queen and my Mother, and all that I have is thine”.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Mgr Ged Lavender RIP

Father Lavender was my parish priest for a short while after he left the navy as principal Chaplain. I experienced him as a physically imposing, yet gentle-spoken, stable guy not given to playing around with the Church’s teaching; a priest who loved his priesthood and the people of God. He was not a supporter of the TLM but he celebrated the Novus Ordo prayerfully and with respect.  

Mgr died recently and his Requiem Mass was offered today (Monday) at a time I was picking up a friend from abroad. Sadly, the reception of his body into Church took place last night at a time when I could not make it because of my evening Mass. This was one of those funerals I was very eager to attend and I am very disappointed not to have been there. Needless to say, I will be celebrating Mass for him, but I wish I could have been there to show my respect for the man and offer his soul my prayerful support.

May the angels lead him into paradise.
Eternal rest give unto him O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace. Amen 

Sunday 17 August 2014

Are The Bishops Overseeing The Creation Of A Pseudo-Clergy?

It is interesting to see that those working in pastoral care posts in schools, hospitals and prisons etc, but who, either as laity or deacons,  do not have the sacramental character of Priesthood are still referred to as Chaplains. This is in breach of the teaching of the Church:

It is unlawful for the non-ordained faithful to assume titles such as "pastor", "chaplain", "coordinator", " moderator" or other such similar titles which can confuse their role and that of the Pastor, who is always a Bishop or Priest.
(On certain questions regarding collaboration of the non-ordained in the sacred ministry of priest. Rome, 1997)

The same is true regarding the use of the words minister and ministry. From youth ‘ministry’ teams to those who visit the bereaved, the terms ‘ministry’ and ‘minister’ are freely applied even though they run contrary to the Church’s understanding of ministry. This was clearly taught by John-Paul II in Christifideles Laici #23 (1998):

in fact, a person is not a minister simply in performing a task, but through sacramental ordination. Only the Sacrament of Orders gives the ordained minister a particular participation in the office of Christ, the Shepherd and Head, and in his Eternal Priesthood.

It is noticeable even in regard to Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion who we frequently see given titles such as “Eucharistic Ministers”; “Ministers of Holy Communion”, “Special Ministers” etc, all of which are denied to them by the Church (Redemptionis Sacramentum #156). One wonders then, why our Bishops allow these titles to be used, and why they allow posts open to laity to be advertised with the title of ‘Chaplain’. All of this is contrary to the teaching of the Church and cannot be simply dismissed as terminology and use of language; language is important: it forms our thoughts, perceptions and attitudes; incorrect language malforms our thoughts, perceptions and attitudes. It malforms the Church. 

That this is happening under the noses of our Bishops without their addressing it is dangerous for them; it allows the faithful to question the obedience of the Bishops to Rome and indeed, to question the integrity of the Bishops and the British Church. Questions could be asked such as ‘Why do the Bishops allow this and even foster it –are we a law unto ourselves? Does doctrine play no part in the life of the Church in these Isles?  Why are we allowing our laity to be deceived into believing they are something the Church says they cannot actually be because they do not have the character of orders?’  I wonder if these questions are something many folk are privately asking.

Addendum: It is worth noting that Deacons are ordained men;  members of the clergy. Their exclusion from work as chaplains would be on the grounds that chaplain is a pastors role and pastors must be able to anoint and grant absolution, which requires the specific character of priesthood as conferred with the presbyterate and episcopate. 

Friday 15 August 2014

Let's Be Honest About...


The altar-facing position was, along with the silent canon and Gregorian Latin chant, distinctive of Catholic liturgy; its near-disappearance is thus a significant loss. It is liturgically superior to the people-facing orientation since it clearly puts the priest at the front of the pilgrim people on route to the Lord. By contrast, facing the people has priest and people focus on one another rather than on the Lord; it is a static picture. And yet the altar-facing position is still the rubric of the Modern Rite of Mass; it is not limited to the Extraordinary Form.
Gregorian Chant, as developed by Pope Gregory the Great, is the Catholic Church’s unique contribution to Western music and, according to Vatican II, retains pride of place in the modern liturgy. To fail to use chant (and Latin) is to fail in following Vatican II -and to dispense with the whole of Catholic liturgical Tradition.
Communion on the tongue proclaims the Host as sacred; it is reminiscent of a mother feeding her child. Conversely, Communion in the hand reduces receiving Our Lord to the level of receiving a bus ticket or, at best, grains of the yellow-metal. Communion in the hand only arose in disobedience to the norms and was permitted by Pope Paul VI (Memoriale Domini, 1969) only in countries where it had already -and illicitly, begun. Prior to issuing Memoriale Domini Pope Paul had consulted the Bishops world-wide –those who sat at Vatican II three years earlier- and they overwhelmingly rejected it. But continuing disobedience by clergy and weak Bishops ensured its extension to such places as the UK who were not practicing it prior to 1968 -and who thus abused the permission granted by Memoriale Domini.
We also need to return Holy Days to their proper days; not only for the sake of an ordered calendar but because moving them to Sundays was simply a way of looking away from the decline of Holy Day attendance rather than reinforcing them.
Vigil Masses too are a problem: they take focus from the Lord’s Day. Our parish lost no attendees when we introduced the Extraordinary Form in 2007, but we lost a good number when moving from a Vigil to a Sunday evening in 2013 because, I was told, “Mass on Sunday interferes with family time”.
I favour a return to ad orientem for Mass in both Forms and to the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue in both Forms (as found in both the 1962 and 1970 Missals) but I also favour use of the vernacular for the Liturgy of the Word in both Forms, with Latin always used for the Proper.

...Parishes without Priests

The laity have an authentic, irreplaceable vocation given to them by Christ, and it is the evangelisation (Christianisation) of society. Having lay-leaders diminishes the valuing of that apostolate, as though only ministry in the sanctuary and work in the committee room had value. Laity usefully cooperate as Finance Committees, pastoral care workers, catechists, secretaries, bookkeepers etc, and play an important role in liturgy (as musicians, servers, readers, sacristans, etc) but their proper apostolate must be their primary concern.
We need a well-formed laity who value their vocation and are skilled in its living, and a priesthood that is valued by all as the continuation of the ministry of Christ the Good Shepherd; as the irreplaceable Bridge between heaven and earth. Priests themselves need to be prayerful, pure and pastoral –men who do the truth in charity (the proverbial iron hand in the velvet glove).

...Catechesis & Evangelisation

Much of contemporary catechesis is a danger to souls since it follows a relativist methodology: “the Church says...what is your opinion?” We have thus taught our youth to ‘fight’ the Church and the Gospel rather than follow the Church and the Gospel. Older Catholics, getting nothing but social justice from pulpits for the last forty years, have for the most part given up the Objective Truths they were taught in years gone by and are consequently of no help in realigning our youth. Meanwhile, Bishops seem unable to speak out strongly and clearly against the evils of contraception, abortion, homosexual pairings, euthanasia etc. They receive a lot of criticism for this, with some folk saying the Bishops have abandoned the Catholic Faith. The reality is that no matter how many and how strong the statements our Bishops make, unless we have a properly catechised laity active in their proper apostolate in politics, the media, education, health services, industry, retail life etc., statements by the Bishops will be powerless to effect any change. We do not need the Bishops to simply make statements; we need them to catechise the flock for evangelisation of the world via politics, the media, health care, education etc.
We need a return to teaching the Catechism with a full explanation of why we teach what we teach, and a critical review of what the secular world teaches.

...Youth Work

While our schools follow relativist methodology, our youth workers provide a formation that focuses on social justice issues and worship that is geared towards providing a jaunty and affirming experience, as though the reason d’être for the liturgy is that God can affirm (applaud) us and have us applaud ourselves, when in fact liturgy exists to have us adore and propitiate Him. Today’s youth liturgy is thus an inverted liturgy which misses the mark. Sadly, it is typical of most parishes too.
We need good solid catechesis for our children, our youth and our parishes, with a liturgy that focuses on adoring and propitiating God rather than the affirming and cheering of man.


It is good that we can be on friendly terms with non-Catholic communities and those of other Faiths, and good that we can work together on social needs and in raising a common voice for the correcting of social injustices. But to act as though all religions have equal value and can all give access to salvation is to stand in contradiction to our entire Tradition. There is but one Church established by God to hold His authority in teaching, sanctifying and governing souls, and her sacraments are not inconsequential. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the entire Christian life; it is the Sacrifice which saves us, and a participation in the Banquet of Heaven which brings us a pledge of future glory. Would anyone who truly cares for their fellow man not want to share with him these great and marvellous gifts of God? Only the man who could happily sit down to steak and potatoes while his neighbour sat down to rice could be happy about not sharing our spiritual food too. To proclaim the Church as the one True Church is not about proclaiming Catholics to be superior Christians, but about proclaiming the riches of the Church as given by God for the benefit of all -riches we should all want all men to share.
We do need good relationships with all and shared social action where possible, but we also need a firm adherence to the promotion of the Catholic Faith as the one True Faith.

...Pastoral Sensitivity

Pastoral Sensitivity is a misnomer, because it is used to mean ‘don’t hurt already hurting people’, which is pastoral sentimentality, not sensitivity; it is a care that focuses on the feelings rather than on the soul. True pastoral sensitivity applies the Church’s teaching in a gentle but firm, clear manner that souls may not be lost; it does not avoid the Truth which is Christ. Thus the divorced who have entered a civil union; homosexuals who have entered a civil contract, persons who have been involved in abortion etc., can be encouraged to continue in a life of prayer, charity, and Mass attendance -from whence flows grace from the Cross of Christ; grace which strengthen us in our resolve to live the Christian life and in the leaving behind of our wounded and wounding past.

We need a pastoral sensitivity which, in gentle but clear tones and words, explains the Truth of The Faith and the dangers of following ‘self’ rather than the Gospel; pastoral care which remains faithful to Doctrine while encouraging and supporting souls in doing all that they can to live the life of faith (pray, attend Mass and live in charity) while petitioning God for the grace of conversion and healing. 

Thursday 14 August 2014

Crusading for Christ

In years to come, will the secular world speak of sending military aid to Iraq as a repeat of the Crusades? And if they do not, why not? If Muslims are ousting Christians from their ancient Christian homeland at the point of the sword and we Western nations take military action to end this, are we doing anything less than was done during the Crusades?

The Crusades are often misrepresented as an aggressive act of Western Christendom (specifically, Catholic Christendom) when in fact they were about defending Christians and regaining holy Christian sites taken by Muslims. Is there not a parallel in the current situation in Iraq? I stand to be corrected but I think the comparison can be made. It is surprising that those who so willingly vilify the Catholic Church for the Crusades are not vilifying Western nations for doing the same in Iraq today. A more honest appreciation of the Crusades as acts of defence (before they went astray...) is necessary.

Personally, I suspect military intervention by the West will remain very limited not only because of our respect for national sovereignty, but our need for oil and, perhaps, because Western leaders living in fear of antagonising Muslim extremists in their respective Western countries and causing more events like 9/11 and 7/7.

Meanwhile, I contend that those who call the Crusades a blight on Christianity have an opportunity to develop a perspective that views them as a defence –either that, or they must affirm their position on the Crusades as acts of aggression and call for the absence of military intervention by the West in Iraq.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Pray...for the Persecuted

Pray and fast for the persecuted people of Iraq and all places of persecution and unrest; that the persecuted will be blest with peace, protection, courage and strength.
Pray for the persecutors, that they will be open to receiving the God of peace and love.
Pray for the West that it may truly care for the persecuted all over the world by practical aid and dedicated defence in all necessary forms.
Note: interesting how the BBC coverage speaks of the persecution of the Yazidis and not of the Christians. Is this BBC bias?

Sunday 10 August 2014

Evangelium: Young Catholic Adults Conference

Those who were able to stay afterwards for the Group Photo on Sunday

Last weekend I attended the Evangelium Conference in Reading for Young Adults, where over 250 young people were in attendance. Modestly dressed young ladies and suitably attired young men were treated to some marvellous talks by inspiring speakers, and engaged in great social activities (including a live music night and football in the rain!) as well as some splendid liturgy, including Morning and Evening Prayer in Common, Exposition and Confession.  

The talks on the faith, the sacraments, morality and history were well worth hearing and generated some penetrating questions from the young people who sought to clarify rather than criticise. This contrasted sharply with the kind of formation I received at school where we were actively encouraged to challenge, even confront, the Church -we were certainly formed by and for relativism rather than Truth: “The Church says...what do you think?”

Mass at the Conference was in the Ordinary Form but offered Eastward-facing with Gregorian Chant and traditional, faith-based hymns. The young people happily received Our Blessed Lord on the tongue as a sign of reverence. I suspect this liturgical slant and the talks were well accepted simply because these young people knew to put God at the centre of things, not themselves. I have to say that the liturgical experience contrasted sharply with the kind of ‘youth Mass’ I experienced at school, the latter being geared towards giving us a jolly and affirming experience, as though it was God’s task to applaud us and have us applaud ourselves rather than our task to adore Him. 

While the vast majority of contemporary liturgy is dangerously inverted in its purpose, the relativist formation we give our young people in our schools is also dangerous. When I was at school ten years ago pre-marital sex, contraception and homosexuality were all espoused by my peer group who had been formed to ‘think for themselves’ and confront the Church, placing ourselves at the centre of our morality; at the same time we were formed liturgically to take on board the prejudices of older Catholics who pejoratively say ‘sticking out the tongue and having priests turn their back on you to speak in a foreign language is dismissive; we should get the priest’s attention at Mass’ (funny, that. I thought God should get everyone’s attention).

I look forward to attending another Evangelium Conference. Youth workers nation-wide should adopt the format used by the Evangelium team and leave their 70’s style of being ‘hip’ behind.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Developing A Dynamic Diocese

Faced with the problem of a falling number of active priests a Diocese must ask questions about its future and development; a development from which no one can exclude themselves. Our Diocese too is looking for ways of developing and moving forward in the light of a falling number of priests, for which it is to be commended. As our Ordinary has noted however, “The process cannot be pain free, but it can be fruitful”. Here then, are some quotes from the Diocesan website (see here) on this very issue.

This new project will look at ways in which to
encourage Catholic communities to flourish
with or without a resident priest.

In time, hard decisions will have to be made about
 buildings and communities/parishes which are no longer sustainable.
Each congregation will be asked to evaluate themselves
by answering the big question:
what makes for a flourishing Catholic community?

The day is approaching when we will not be able to
supply Sunday mass in every parish,
but we must not get depressed because
we have many committed priests and people.

NB. The small case 'm' for Mass is from the Diocesan website; it is not my deprecation!

However, I suspect the real pain is being avoided world-wide; a pain which will inevitably flow from facing the reality that laity cannot authentically lead Catholic communities. The fact is that we have to form Catholic Communities in light of Catholic Faith or they are not Catholic communities at all, and a Catholic community must always be head and members since at its very essence is the sacramental function of Christ the Head and Shepherd, for which the ordained priest is essential (cf. Redemptionis sacramentum 146). While not wishing to downplay the important part laity play in the day to day life of parishes (I for one would not like to lose the secretary, bookkeeper, financial advisors, Pastoral Care Council, housebound visitors, catechists, musicians etc) the truth is that laity are called by Christ to be the leaven in society (Apostolicam actuositatem 2,7), not to lead Catholic communities.

Since it is the falling number of priests that brings about the need to reorganise, a Diocese wishing to develop and become dynamic must first recover the priesthood in its sacred reality as shepherding in the person of Christ; as the bridge between heaven and earth; as spouse of the Church of Christ; as conformed to Christ in self-sacrifice for the good of others and sacramentally configured to Christ for teaching, sanctifying and governing in union with the episcopate (Catechism #1563/1592). At present the priest is seen as little more than a middle-manager in a collar who, if absent, can be replaced by laity with a theology degree as long as there is a supply of the Host in the tabernacle. Truly, we will not attract young men to priesthood if it is just lay ministry in a collar. Thus the vital essence of priesthood needs to be recovered and promoted before we start managing decline, albeit spun to sound like the promotion of dynamic communities.

Along with the recovery of the priesthood in its full reality, the authentic lay vocation as the leaven in the world needs to be recovered. The laity are, after all, the front line troops who fight for Christ and for souls. Vatican II spoke enthusiastically of Lay Mission, but somehow this has mutated (or been distorted) during the last fifty years into ‘lay ministry’ -even though one becomes a minister only through sacred ordination (Christifideles laici 23). The laity need to be valued and empowered in their proper vocation as given by Christ, not disempowered in it so as to become pseudo-clerics.  I am all for having an active laity but not for the distortion, since it is this distortion that diminished the response to the priestly calling: young men do not apply for priesthood when they can be lay-leaders.

The distortion has lost us some impressive and vital lay activity: serving Mass is now seen as something for young boys (and sometimes girls), while the Legion of Mary and SVP (which allowed many a devout Catholic to live out the spiritual and corporal works of mercy in superb local witness to the Church’s care of the poor, the housebound and the marginalised) have virtually disappeared from our parishes.

If a Diocese is looking to develop rather than manage decline then, I believe two things are necessary. First, a return to solid doctrinal formation for priests and laity (especially our children who had the catechism removed from them and replaced with colouring books and dialogue); a formation which promotes and empowers each vocation showing the vital necessity and complimentarity of both. Second, a return to a liturgy that focuses on God rather than one which aims at cheery, emotive affirmation of the folk. Such recoveries will be painful, especially because it will require admitting mistakes made over the last fifty years, but painful transitions can be fruitful, as our Bishop said. After all, the fruits of the fifty years have been the closure of parishes, convents, monasteries, seminaries and schools, all spurred by a precipitous fall in Mass attendance. We must avoid being diabolically deceived into seeing such losses and closures as positive fruits or as windows of opportunity. It is decay, pure and simple.