Tuesday 25 November 2014

Our High School Mission

Our local Catholic High School has just this month completed a week-long mission led by the Diocesan Youth Ministry Team.  The Mission sought to involve the high school students, their families, the school staff and the parishes, which prayed for the Mission at Mass each day of the Mission. The programme is reproduced below, (click on picture to enlarge). It is different in tone to what I think of as Mission but the idea was not to catechise the youth but rather to give them an experience of God that might spark off a deeper faith in the future. God Bless those who lead the Mission and those who took part. 

Having attended preparatory meetings I can tell you there was much enthusiasm and an obvious care for the youth among the organisers, but the nebulous 'experience of God' aim meant my own suggestions for Doctrinal talks and Adoration were somewhat beyond the goals set. Let us pray that the given experience does indeed induce the life of faith in those worked for by the Team.

Saturday 22 November 2014

Why I Prefer The Traditional Form of Mass

Today I am going to outline what it is that I prefer about the Traditional Form of Mass. I do not attempt to speak from a scholarly point of view in this post since I am not a liturgist; nor do I intend to deal with the altar-facing orientation, the use of Latin, Gregorian Chant or reception of Holy Communion on the tongue, since the New Form of Mass remains officially celebrated altar-facing, in Latin, with Gregorian Chant having pride of place in terms of music and the norm for reception being on the tongue. Indeed, complaints about ad-orientem, Latin, Chant and reception of Holy Communion on the tongue are contrary to the decrees of Vatican II and the Missal of the New Form of the liturgy. Here goes for a few brief thoughts then...

The Prayers at the foot of the altar are, for me, an important overture to the celebration of Mass. They allow the celebrant to acknowledge his sinfulness before he steps into the Holy of Holies; the sanctuary. When celebrating the New Form of Mass we enter into the Holy of Holies as if by right, not by grace; without so much as a by-your-leave. I find this presumptuous.

The genuflections are more frequent; they occur before and after each time the celebrant touches the Sacred Victim (Host, from the Latin ‘Hostia’, meaning Victim). In the New Form they are reduced to two: after having placed the Victim back on the altar, and once before the consuming of the Sacred Victim.

The Signs of the Cross over the bread and wine before the consecration are reminders of how blessed is the act in which we engage (the Self-Sacrifice of the Risen Victim; the Lamb standing as though slain cf. Rev.5v6). After the Consecration the signs of the cross identify the Sacred Victim and remind us of the Cross on which He died.

Kissing of the altar before each occasion when the celebrant turns from it to face the people and call them to prayer, reminds us that the altar is the symbol of Christ the Cornerstone and Rock of Ages. These kisses are frequent, and their duplication not excessive: frequent exchange of kisses between husband and wife both demonstrates and builds love.

The silent Canon is non-negotiable. The silence of this moment wreaks of solemnity and awe, recalling the injunction of the prophet Habakkuk: “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silent before him” (2v20).

Singing while the priest recites texts is a symphony before God, not a duplication. It is akin to a quartet where three of the four provide the echo and backing to the soloist and the text sung by him. While four-part harmonies by the quartet may sound very grand and display the unity of the quartet, the use of a soloist retains the unity of the performance, adds variation and displays both distinction and diversity within their unity.

The One-Year Cycle is common sense. The current three-year cycle, intended to cover more of Christ’s teaching, has the anomaly of celebrating three times in the course of that teaching the Lord’s Birth, Passion and Resurrection. Can the Lord’s teaching not be well covered in one year? Are duplications of it by use of each synoptic Gospel really necessary? I think not. Far better to hold to the natural one-year cycle -which the whole secular world (and indeed the Church in its calendar) follows in day to day life.

Richer use of Scripture. A question I ask myself is: “Why, when we were told that we needed more scripture, were the psalms at the foot of the altar and the Lavabo, and the text on burning coals from Isaiah, all cut down to paltry one-liner antiphons?” The use of the Old Testament in the readings is indeed sparse in the Traditional Form, but occurs at major moments in the retelling of Salvation History so as to demonstrate the link between the Old and New Testaments. What we have in the New Form is so many readings and at such length that on asking congregants what the readings were about after Mass they often cannot remember: they have been given so much they have missed even the essential elements of the texts. The use of scripture in the Traditional Form is succinct, and more likely to be accessed by its hearers.

The Traditional Calendar allows one to commemorate more than one saint at a time, whereas reducing this to one saint per day in the New Form means many saints are left uncelebrated because there aren’t enough days in the year to accommodate them all. Yes there are many missed from the Traditional Form too, but more are included. Why make the best the enemy of the good?

All in all then, I see the Traditional Form as far richer and more useful and practical. Those who prefer the New Form of Mass may celebrate in the stripped and minimalist Rite if they wish; I will hold to the promotion of the fullness of the Sacrificial meal with all its trimmings. If each Mass is indeed the full Christ event (a Christmas Day and an Easter Day) shouldn’t we want all the Christmas and Easter trimmings?

Wednesday 19 November 2014

A Diocesan Pastoral Letter, and a Deanery Reorganisation of Masses

Last weekend we read out a Diocesan pastoral letter at all Masses and distributed leaflets outlining future plans for the development of the Diocese. The leaflet makes interesting and indeed, amusing reading in that it speaks of a diocese “founded on an immensely rich Christian heritage that has thrived and flourished over hundreds of years despite the many difficulties it has faced”. Directly beneath these words are two graphs showing the decline in Diocesan priests (from 360 in 1972 to 150 in 2013) and of Mass attendance (from 100,000 in 1980 to 40,000 in 2014).

If the Diocese flourished so well during the Viking Invasions and Reformation Persecutions but has dwindled in the last fifty years, we need to ask “what have we been doing that precipitated this?”. After all, we came through the Viking raids and Reformation in flourishing manner; why have we not overcome the person-centred, subjectivist, relativist ideologies of the1960’s? Probably because the person-centred, subjectivist, relativist ideologies tap into our concupiscence; we are all too keen on self-satisfaction and aggrandisement.

We are given slogans such as ‘a vibrant Church’ but this is obviously untrue: the only thing that has shown itself full to be full of energy is the progression of disintegration. This is not unique to our Diocese and Catholic leaders throughout the Western world need to wake up to the reality of the situation. Some have in fact woken up and are attempting to address the bad liturgy, bad catechises and failure to promote the priesthood that has gone on since the 1960’s, but these are rare men and too often dismissed and isolated by their confrères.

To point to increased lay involvement in diocesan structures, in liturgy and in pastoral care is not to indicate a flourishing Church, but to indicate a Church wherein the folk have been removed from their vocation as the leaven in the world to make up for the falling number of priests. This fall actually resulted from priests handing over so many of their tasks to their people in the mistaken idea that Vatican II’s call to ‘lay mission’ meant ‘lay ministry’, that they diminished the role of the priest (and gave the laity the impression that their vocation as the leaven in society -to which they are called by Christ- was of lesser value than then the cultic and governing role of the priest). Unless we re-affirm the role of the priest and promote the God-given call of the laity as the leaven in society, we will see no flourishing except that of increasing disintegration.   

Deanery Reorganisation of Masses...
Linked to the fall in the number of priests active in the Diocese, our Deanery recently worked out a plan wherein every one of our 10 parishes will have one Sunday Mass, since all Masses will be celebrated at a time which allows these Masses to continue should the Deanery only have 3 priests active over a particular weekend (or indeed, long term). The following is proposed for printing in our parish bulletin this coming weekend:

From the First Sunday in Advent (next Sunday) every parish in the Deanery will go to one Mass per parish. This ensures that even if only three priests are active, every parish can retain its Sunday Mass. For some to lose their favourite Mass time is annoying, but we should fit our lives around Mass, not fit Mass around our lives.
Our parish is blest in that, since we alone provide the Old Form of Mass, we will retain two Masses each weekend. I know many would prefer a New Form of Mass on a Sunday morning and would move the Traditional Mass, but we cannot demand that others are pushed out and marginalised to suit us. Further, none of us can claim the right to say that the Form of Mass that was good enough for the saints for 1500 years; good enough for the martyrs to die for, and good enough for our parents, is beneath us. Such haughtiness is not good, especially when it is directed towards the belittling of what the Church regarded as her greatest treasure -and which still has FULL EQUALITY IN CHURCH LAW with the New Form of Mass -and indeed, it has a certain priority in terms of Custom (on which some church laws are based). Let us rejoice that we have options other folk in the deanery do not.

Attitudes hostile to the TLM are not limited to this parish; it seems it is quite widespread, and to arise from a detestation for and fear of the past (a past wherein the Church flourished). Is it not time to regain our humility before God, and our gratefulness that we have any Mass –and priests- at all?

Sunday 9 November 2014

Playing CD’s in The Liturgy

The purpose of the renewed liturgy was, we are told, to ensure participation by the people. This often disappears at funerals and weddings when hymns are omitted in favour of CD's.

People ask for CD’s to be played at weddings so they “can have our special song” or at funerals because “it’s the one mum wanted played”. Whether mum wanted it or not, recorded music in the liturgy is a no-no, and for two good reasons:
Playing CD’s is out of keeping with the nature of the liturgy as the living worship of God
Playing of CD’s is out of synch with active participation, being a ‘listening moment’.

Unfortunately a number of parishes engage in the playing of CD’s, and as such, rather than sung prayer in ‘Help Lord the souls that thou has made’ we end up with “I did it My Way” (when we should be doping it God’s way); or see an exaltation of the deceased as ‘The Wind beneath My Wings’ (when it is the Holy Spirit who raises us on eagles wings); or we provide a jolly send-off to ‘Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’ (though we cannot be sure if the deceased is off to eternal peace or perdition).  The most recent request I had was for Eva Cassidy’s version of “Fields of Gold”, which, while gentle and meditative in mood, includes some very sensual, impure lyrics:

So she took her love for to gaze awhile upon the fields of barley
In his arms she fell as her hair came down among the fields of gold
Feel her body rise when you kiss her mouth, among the fields of gold

I allow CD’s willingly before and after a Service at a Crematorium, but I have never allowed them in funeral or wedding Masses in Church because of the reasons given above. I usually receive acceptance of my position when I give the explanation, “we don’t sing pop songs in Church just as we don’t sing hymns in the club afterwards”.  The logic of this is inescapable to folk, who on the whole accept it. I have had one or two take angry exceptions taken, and always because “The Catholic Church in the next village plays CD’s”.  Really? Do they care nothing for participation?
Do they not understand the nature of all liturgy as a living act of worship?
Do they understand that by allowing DC’s of Judy Collins singing “Amazing Grace” they admit the principle which allows for “My Way” to be played?
Do they understand that every time play the CD’s they do so to please the people (and thereby prove that the New Form of Mass is geared towards people-pleasing rather than worship of God)?
Not only that, but those who illicitly play CD’s unjustly place their faithful brother priests in a situation of disabuse by the angry and hurt –though the “CD’ers” are probably those who go on about social justice.
Finally, on a civil law note, one has to ask if they have a Public Broadcasting License, which I suspect they don’t.

Why is it so hard for priests to simply omit CD’s in Church? Because they don’t want to get into conflict with folk at a sensitive time; they find it easier to make a worship event a people-pleasing event. Living worship and active participation are suddenly –and conveniently- forgotten. 

NB. Beware, Modernisers, if you are going to speak of ‘active listening’ or ‘active remembering’ as a reason for allowing CD’s, because ‘active listening’ is the very thing you have decried for years in the Extraordinary Form where you have labelled it “the people not saying anything”. You can’t have it both ways. Get rid of the CD’s, and get back to worship of God and intercession for the dead. 

Tuesday 4 November 2014

A Recent Conversation...The Saints; the Extraordinary Form and Lay Leadership

A recent conversation with one of the high-profile priests of this Diocese set me thinking. Having confided to him that my self-image is rather low even though I seek daily to be more charitable, humble, industrious and challenging, he asked what spiritual reading I was doing. I told him I was reading ‘The Way of Divine Love’ and had just finished ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’. He smiled and said, ‘You don’t have much confidence in what’s going on today do you?’ My response was ‘No. I don’t’. (I silently wondered, ‘why put aside the wisdom of the saints for the musings of today’s gurus..?)I have never understood why Modernisers who promote new ways are seen as the open and intellectual folk, while those who hold to tradition are seen as closed and less than intellectual. Do the Modernisers, I wonder, choose to see a practitioner of alternative medicine when they are ill, or do they continue to trust themselves to a traditional physician? If they really believe new is best, what is stopping them giving up on traditional medicine?

To be honest, I wonder how anyone can have confidence in ‘today’. I wonder why, as Mass attendance continues to fall and why, we have been closing so many organs of the Church (schools, convents, seminaries and parishes) that those of the modernising ilk insist the Church is healthier now than she has ever been. Basic physiology tells you that when organs of the body are shutting down, death is imminent. There is great naivety in the modernising folk who seem to have only one goal in mind: get the laity in charge of parishes and devolve doctrinal authority so as to change our doctrine to fit the anti-life mentality of today (as the recent Synod all but attempted to do).

The conversation with my brother priest then turned to our parish celebration of the Extraordinary Form: “Don’t you a lot of think people come to it simply to fulfil their obligation, but don’t like it?’.  Well, yes, I do. Some have told me in no uncertain terms that they don’t like the use of Latin; others that they don’t know what to do in the silences. In the former case they mistake word recognition for understanding and responses for conscious participation (if they understood the Mass and the Eucharist they would not be talking during Mass, and if they were consciously participating they would not be parrot-fashion saying ’Amen’ in the middle of a reading where the words ‘forever and ever’ are used). In that they don’t know how to handle the silence they are demonstrating that they don’t know how to pray or even rest in the presence of God; they need the pantomime dialogue of the Novus Ordo to keep them ‘engaged’.

Truly, I cannot believe it is the Holy Ghost who inspires Modernisers with confidence in their strategies and to push for ‘more of the same’ when we can all see the Church dying away in front of our eyes. Only the enemy could encourage us to think of closures and falling Mass attendances as good; only the enemy could have us scorn and disparage a form of Mass sanctioned by the Popes, loved by the saints, and defended by our martyrs. Only the enemy could have us turn from the wisdom of the saints to the musings of today’s gurus. When it has become a sign of wisdom and intellectual acuity to deride what the Church always treasured and abandon her liturgical and spiritual heritage, something very evil is happening in the Church that is simply not being recognised by the great and powerful.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Hallowed Eve & All Saints Celebration

For the last nine years, rather than celebrate Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night, the Holy Family Guild and our parish have come together for an ‘All saints Celebration Day’ where great fun is had by all.

3 pm: ‘Parade of Saints’ In Church. Children –and occasionally adults- dress up as a favoured saint and one by one, present themselves to the gathering with a reading about the saint they represent. Here are some of this year’s saints (faces deliberately distorted for safeguarding reasons).

4. pm: Benediction with the Most Blessed Sacrament.

4.30 pm ‘Help Lord, the souls that Thou hast made’ during procession to the miniature grotto for Prayers for the Holy Souls. Here is a picture of a few of us gathered at the grotto.

5. pm: Bonfire, Fireworks and BBQ in the parish garden.

A great day is had by all, and not a nod to the glorification of evil anywhere.

I know many see Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night as harmless fun but they provoke questions for me, for while Halloween may not glamorise evil, it certainly minimises its dangers by making the occult seem harmless fun. And the occult is anything but harmless. I also wonder why we encourage the children to dress up as witches and goblins -we wouldn’t encourage the kids to dress up as Ian Brady, Myra Hindley, Nannie Doss or John W. Gacy, so why, if we have the sense to stop them dressing up as figures of human evil, do we allow them dress up as the very legions of hell? 

As for Guy Fawkes Night, why is it that we celebrate and mimic the burning of a Catholic as a Traitor? To me, we have fallen into a secular mindset when we celebrate these festivals. We need to recover All Saints as a Major Feast, and to Celebrate Bonfire Night as a reminder that while Christ alone is light of the world, He sets others on fire with His Love.