Saturday 28 February 2015

Increasingly Unfulfilled by the Novus Ordo

I have always spoken up in favour of the Novus Ordo as being licit and valid: Christ will not allow His Church to poison His faithful with error (though He does seem to have permitted her to be left undernourished!) In fact I converted to the Church when the Novus Ordo was basically all there was to be had; I’d no idea Catholics once worshipped in a completely different way and did so until just ten years earlier. Having been well instructed in the Faith by a holy priest, I had no difficulty seeing the Real Presence or The Sacrifice of the Mass in the words “This is My Body, given up...My Blood which will be shed for the forgiveness of sins”. The Acclamation “When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim Your death, Lord Jesus,” suggested clearly to me that the Sacrifice of Calvary had just been made present on the altar, and that we were professing our belief in that reality to the Lord now Truly Present there.

It was about six months after being received into the Church that I was asked by Doreen, a great lady of the parish, to accompany her to ‘another Mass’ as she did not want to go alone. It was being held in a hotel room in the City centre; it was ‘banned’ by the Bishop and celebrated by priests who were not pleasing to Rome (priests of the SSPX). But, she said, it was the way the Mass had always been celebrated and she was sure I would like it. I was not sure about going; I prized unity with the Holy See very highly and wasn’t sure what kind of disobedience I might be getting into. Still, after a couple of requests, I decided to go out of curiosity.

My first experience of the TLM was not good. It was held in a small room that weekend, and so silent that I didn’t know what was going on. I did however, value the fact that the silence allowed me to do what I always did at Mass: pour out my heart to God: there were no interruptions in which I was forced to engage in conversation with the priest. I later came to regard the dialogues at the Novus Ordo as ‘pantomime-style worship’, as though talking to the priest was more important than talking to God. Even the consecration seemed to be presented as a ‘play’ as priests ‘acted out’ the Last Supper by holding the gifts out towards the folk while addressing them, “Take this, all of you...” Prayer to the Father was out; engagement with the people was in. Of course the Father was expected to be listening in since this was ‘worship’, but it was far more important to have priests and people face and engage with one another. As the years passed I attended the TLM more frequently, occasionally in a small village Church, said by a Diocesan priest with permission from the Bishop.

After completing seminary studies and ordination I celebrated the Novus Ordo with as much reverence as I could, and stayed faithful to the rubrics. Consequently I was met with some rather uninformed (but not malicious) comments from brother priests and laity. From the laity it was “You haven’t read Vatican II”; from the clergy it was “I’m worried about priests who have no personal relationship with Jesus but are obsessed with Latin and lace”. Personally, I was never attracted to Latin and lace: I’m rubbish at languages so Latin was a bit of a barrier for me, and lace is too effeminate for a guy brought up in a coal mining area where men were men. Further, my vision was always wider than the Mass: even when attending the SSPX in the Hotel I was active in the parish SVP because it furnished me with the opportunity to visit the needy with food, clothing, furniture, etc., and active in the Legion of Mary because it furnished me with the opportunity to visit the sick, the housebound and do street evangelisation. To this day I regret that the bishops did not forcefully promote these two great lay associations after Vatican II, rather than devise councils for this and committees for that along with ministries on the sanctuary, because these committees and ministries focused us on in-house activity and issues, leaving the SVP and Legion of Mary to die a slow and lingering death -and with them the stunning local witness and evangelisation via the pastoral work these lay associations undertook.

What has all this to do with the Novus Ordo becoming more and more unsatisfying for me? Well, the derogatory attitude that because one favours the TLM means one is not interested in people or lay activity is becoming increasingly annoying. The TLM was the Mass which spawned the SVP, the Legion of Mary, the Handicapped Children’s Pilgrimage Trust, Aid to the Church in Need, Orphanages, Hospitals, Colleges etc. Further, our parish today, though we celebrate a TLM, has people active in catechesis, bookkeeping, reading, visiting of the housebound and hospital, school support, RCIA etc. We also have a charitable/Justice & Peace coffee morning after Sunday Mass to support the Missions and life projects; Garden ‘Family Days’ in the summer and fortnightly Bingo fundraising in the Club. In short, we have all that other parishes have. But I believe we need a liturgy that lifts us beyond earthly concerns to an experience of the transcendent, and I find the Novus Ordo too community-focused to do that –indeed, it all too often deteriorates into entertainment.

When celebrating the Novus Ordo I cannot help but miss the prayers at the foot of the altar which implore the grace to enter the Holy of Holies (at the Novus Ordo we stride onto the sanctuary without as much as a ‘by-your-leave’). I miss the silence of the Canon (in the Novus Ordo it is prayed out loud as though it were a narrative to be heard -or a play to be acted out- rather than a prayer to be said). I also miss the invocation of the angels and saints in the Confiteor and in so many other prayers of the Mass (the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ spurring us on hardly get a mention in the Novus Ordo). I miss the Offertory Prayers which specifically prepare for the Sacrifice (in the Novus Ordo I ‘prepare the gifts’ with no more than a grace before meals). I certainly miss the genuflections given to the Lord.

And there are things within the Novus Ordo I find positively difficult: I find it objectionable to genuflect at the foot of the sanctuary then going up to kiss a barren altar. Since signs and symbols should reveal our belief, genuflecting at the foot of the sanctuary then going up to kiss the altar will leave an uninstructed non-believer thinking it was to the ‘table’ that I had genuflected. I certainly abhor turning my back on the tabernacle so that the people can focus on me and I on them, for which reason I have celebrated ad-orientem at every Mass in my parish for the last ten years (and I do not like separate chapels for the Blessed sacrament which remind me of schools putting the naughty, distracting child in the corner). I dislike the fact that we have (long) extracts from the Old Testament to demonstrate typology for the reading of the Gospel, with the specifically Christian writings of the New Testament being relegated to a sequential, unrelated reading.

We often hear the description of Mass as given by Justin Martyr paraded as the model of the liturgy in a noble simplicity. Rather, this Mass is the Mass of a persecuted community who could not celebrate their principal act of worship in grand solemnity. As soon as The Faith was made legal and came out of the catacombs it took on all the splendour and pomp of the Emperor’s court. In other words, it came to fruition.

I will always speak up for the Novus Ordo as being licit and valid, but I won’t say I find it the best Form of Mass. When at international Masses we have readings repeated in several languages and intercessions in several languages I am reminded of the tower of Babel, where different languages are introduced to confuse and divide. Latin at least displays us as a Church to be the One, Holy and Universal Mystical Body of Christ. Sadly, the Novus Ordo comes with so much adaptation that even if celebrated in Latin from beginning to end one never knows what is going to happen next: dancing? A mime? A puppet show? A celebrant rushing around to shake hands with all and sundry as if to show a human solidarity. One simply cannot relax at a celebration of the Novus Ordo. There was a time when we thought the former Offertory prayers might be permitted as an alternative to the Preparation of the Gifts. What a difference that would make to our understanding of Mass in the vernacular!

Friday 27 February 2015

Three-parented People?

The legalisation allowing the manufacturing of 3-parented people is an appalling move by UK politicians. It is a process which will not cure diseases but is one which kills children lost in the manufacturing process and is, in fact, genetic engineering to weed out disease-carrying persons (which means that all we may need in the future is not Physicians but scientists experimenting on tiny human persons to see how to eradicate illness from the human race). Those children who slip through the net can killed by abortion or even, for some folk, killed after birth before they attain an arbitrarily-determined age at which personhood is deemed to have come about by some miraculous (oops, no miracles in science!) biological process; an age that some philosopher, biologist, psychologist or sociologist has managed to persuade the public and politicians to have inscribed into law.

I have to say that while I abhor all that the Nazi Party stood for and did in the 1930’s and 40’s (what they did to the Jews, gypsies, the sick, the disabled etc, went beyond crimes against humanity; they were sins crying out to Heaven for vengeance), I get angry when I hear them criticised by the politicians, media etc., of today when our society has itself taken to lauding experimentation on (and now the biological manipulation of) the tiniest and most vulnerable of our fellow human beings; when our society has taken to dismembering children still in the womb, and to helping the sick commit suicide when society should in fact be seeking cures and support systems that make the lives of the disabled and the dying more satisfying, painless and anxiety-free. I feel we have created a society in which Jospeh Mengele would be very much at home. After all, human experimentation in a white coat in a sterile, neat laboratory in a modern city does not change the fact that we are indeed experimenting on human beings. Politically and socially the simple reality of XX and XY genes as the one, biological and natural means by which the species propagates itself, and the reality of sickness and disease calling out from us the virtue of compassion, are simply ignored.

I hesitate to say the UK Government (or indeed the government of any other nation) is really to blame for this latest progression of the Culture of Death in English Law and society, because they have had no Christian influence over the last sixty years or so to prevent the culture of death taking root. No, and the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind this ‘missing Christian influence’ can be laid at the feet of those in the ranks of the Catholic priesthood (at both Episcopal and Presbyteral level) over the last sixty years.

The dissent from Humanae Vitae in 1968 by the Catholic clergy -which reached deep into to the laity via the pulpit- ensured that respect for human life was thrown out of the window by society, since this dissent dissuaded Catholics from seeing, valuing and fighting for the Culture of Life, it left only a few truly Catholic voices to influence politics, the media, education, science et al. Had the Catholic clergy taken Humanae Vitae to heart and firmly and clearly promoted it (upholding penalties for those who lived contrary to it) today’s society would be in a much better condition. We now have an up-hill battle to fight for the Culture of Life that I do think will eventually be won by faithful, educated voices fighting the pro-life cause and winning over the hearts and minds of many. This will happen by the grace of God. The wisdom of Holy Mother Church, guided by the Spirit of Truth and expressed via Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, will then be seen in all its glory. And priests in the centuries yet to come will be astonished and perhaps aggrieved at their confreres of history (those of us who, over the last 60 years or so, have allowed the culture of death to take hold in our day).

It may be that some think I lay too much blame at the feet of Catholic clergy, but the Catholic Church alone was promised the Spirit of Truth and Divine Assurance for her teaching, and dissent from the Truth in 1968 began a downward spiral from which we have not yet recovered. Dissent is still a factor in the Church, under cover of being non-judgemental; inclusive and just. I quote Cardinal Stafford which talks about on-going dissent and can be found here. Here is a taster:

“The summer of 1968 is a record of God’s hottest hour.  The memories are not forgotten; they are painful. They remain vivid like a tornado in the plains of Colorado. They inhabit the whirlwind where God’s wrath dwells. In 1968 something terrible happened in the Church. Within the ministerial priesthood ruptures developed everywhere among friends which never healed. And the wounds continue to affect the whole Church. The dissent, together with the leaders’ manipulation of the anger they fomented, became a supreme test. It changed fundamental relationships within the Church. It was a trial/test/temptation for many...

Diocesan presbyterates have not recovered from the July/August nights in 1968.  Many in consecrated life also failed the evangelical test. Since January 2002, the abyss has opened up elsewhere. The whole people of God, including children and adolescents, now must look into the abyss and see what dread beasts are at its bottom. Each of us shudders before the wrath of God, each weeps in sorrow for our sins and each begs for the Father’s merciful remembrance of Christ’s obedience.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

An Experience of a Course for Catechists

Last year I pointed out to Andrew that a local parish was offering a catechists course which was open to anyone, suggesting that he attend as he helps out a lot with our R.C.I.A. programme (which is heavily Catechism-based) and may learn new ways to put things across, some wider perspectives and some formation techniques. Being an unofficial course there was no appraisal, exam or accreditation, but I expected him to gain a lot from it. Just recently, I was told Andrew was a ‘distracting influence’ at the course.

Knowing Andrew to be viewed by many as very likeable I asked him about the comment, and I think the reality is that he simply asked a lot of awkward questions. He had been shocked to hear (whether he interpreted them correctly or not) such things as “Anabaptists were persecuted and punished with excommunication because at that time to disagree with the Church was heresy, but it’s OK to disagree with the Church today”. They were also told, “We are to confess areas of our life, not kinds of sins and their number” and “Baptism is the beginning of a journey; it doesn’t completely take away original sin otherwise we wouldn’t sin again” (both statements contrary to formal teaching). 

In the interests of fairness I pointed out to Andrew that the leader/s may have been asking catechists to edge people away from confessing venial sins in kind and number; that when speaking of Baptism he/she may have been referring to concupiscence (that consequence of original sin which is not eradicated by baptism), and since baptism is seen as the first of the sacraments of Initiation, is able to be seen as the start of a journey. While Andrew does not deny that this may well have been their intended thrust, he did not feel this was the case -especialy since he had expected the course to actually refer to the Catechism (understandably so, if it is catechists they are hoping to form).

I am of the opinion then that Andrew was in fact, ‘actively engaged’ in the course (and, it seems, simply questioning some dubious ideas which were actually being proposed in seminaries of the 70’s -a major factor in the Bishops at the 1985 Extraordinary Synod calling for a post-Vatican II Catechism). If people were unhappy with Andrew referring to the Catechism, maybe they found the Catechism unacceptable? Though unofficial and carrying no appraisal, exam or accreditation, the experience of attending the course was worthwhile in that it allowed Andrew to hear what he does not hear in the parish. I think many of us heard the same kind of things in the seminaries even of the 80’s and 90’s, but we had the time and depth of study to filter out the theories from authentic Teaching, which the laity do not (and the teaching has to be in there in the first place!) Many orthodox priests will remember how common it was to be labelled troublesome, closed (or even clericalistic).

The liberal crowd are, in my experience, good-hearted people committed to a Church of Nice “for the affirmation of the folk”. That being so, I can even ignore comments made in my presence such as “I worry about these young priests who have no personal relationship with Jesus but are obsessed with Latin and lace”): they are not said with malice. It is simply that Liberals cannot take being questioned, and can become rather judgemental and oppressive in the way they handle their questioners and their questions. 

All in all it seems sad but true to say that faithful lay Catholics on parish courses are experiencing in a small way what orthodox seminarians experienced in a big way a couple of decades ago. I thought when the Catechism was published the Church had left all those nonsense theories behind (I hesitate to call them ‘theology’), but it seems not. Perhaps many leaders have not read it or if they have, choose to ignore it in favour of their preferred theories -which most laity do not recognise as heterodox because they have been hearing them since the 1970’s from the pulpits.

Thursday 12 February 2015

The Remnant of the Flock of Christ

I was watching yesterday a DVD of the blessing of the SSPX Church in Gateshead, Tyne & Wear, by Bishop Fellay. As I watched I found myself saying, with a sense of sadness and even pity, “They are holding onto a Church that has gone”-and realised in that same instant that it was the Church to which I had converted.

When I was instructed in The Faith in the 1970’s there were few RCIA programmes around. As such I was instructed one-to-one by the priest using Drinkwater’s Catechism (very much the same as the Baltimore Catechism, Drinkwater’s was the ‘Penny Catechism’ with extended explanations). I learned about the One True God in Trinity; about the Incarnate God the Son, and about the Blessed Virgin and her unique role in our salvation. I learned about the Sovereign Authority of the Pope; about Infallibility and its limits; about the Magisterium and Tradition. I learned about the sacramental system and the great and wondrous Sacrifice of the Mass; the wonder of Confession wherein the grace won for us by the Sacrifice re-present-ed in the Mass is applied to our souls, making us worthy to receive at the sacramental banquet we call Holy Communion, and about the great spiritual healing given us by Anointing of the Sick -especially its use as Extreme Unction given with the Apostolic Pardon. I also learned about the Virtues and Vices of human living, the wonders of Marriage as God had arranged it, and the misdirection sexuality had taken in the modern world. This was all filled out by my private reading of F J Sheed’s Theology & Sanity and Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. I learned about the Church as the Body of Christ active in the world (and experienced it too by my membership of the SVP -wherein we undertook the corporal works of mercy- and in the Legion of Mary, wherein we undertook the spiritual works of mercy and evangelisation by door-to-door and city centre street contact). I saw the men of the parish taking care of the grounds and the buildings and the women of the parish doing excellent fundraising via bingos and women’s league activities. In short, I knew the Catholic Faith as it had been handed down, and saw it very much still being lived.

As I considered the DVD yesterday I looked at the Church which I inhabit. Not only the laity but the most senior of the clergy speak and act as though it matters little (if at all) what religion one follows as long as one is ‘searching for God’ and ‘journeying toward Him’; I see that to many it matters little what sexual antics we engage in as long as it is between consenting adults and springs from the emotion we call ‘love’.  I see the Holy Sacrifice offered as a community jamboree wherein ‘pop groups’ find their captive audience and clergy use the pulpit to display comedic ‘talent’ people wouldn’t pay to hear elsewhere.

As I asked myself if the Church the SSPX are holding onto and the Church I converted to has gone, I came to the conclusion that  many would like to think so, but a remnant exists in many ways and places: SSPX; FSSP; ICKSP, Barroux, Papa Stronsay, The Fraternity of St. Vincent Ferrer, The Good Shepherd Institute, The Apostolic Administration of Campos et al., and many parish folk and clergy who rejoice in Summorum Pontificum in many national associations affiliated to the Una Voce International Federation. We may be small in comparison to the ‘Church of Nice’ (that well-meaning but theologically bankrupt part of the Church where it seems all that matters is being nice to people; to be welcoming of everyone no matter what their ‘living arrangements’, to be social activists and to celebrate Mass in such a way as to entertain folk), yet no matter how small we are in comparison, we have the Lord’s words to keep us going: “Have no fear, little flock, it has pleased the Father to give you the kingdom’ (Lk.12v32). In any case, we are a little flock that is continually growing; a remnant which continues to flourish while the ‘Church of Nice’ is closing parishes, seminaries, convents, schools etc. So the SSPX; the Ecclesia Dei communities and we Summorum Pontificum supporters are not holding onto a Church that has gone. Nor are we  hankering after a by-gone age -we are the little flock who preserve a treasure and who need not fear, for Truth always wins out in the end. It’s just hard to be part of a large community where one is tolerated but not valued; a community where its own liturgical and spiritual heritage and Divine Donation of moral and doctrinal truth is not valued in practice. Meanwhile we can quote Robert Depiante to our detractors saying, hand on heart, “We are what you once were. We believe what you once believed. We worship as you once worshipped. If we are wrong now, you were wrong then. If you were right then, we are right now".

And we can keep in mind what the future surely holds as the remnant grows and the Church of Nice fades:

Clip of Holy Mass in the film Christmas Holiday:

Clip of a priestly ordination in the film The Cardinal

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Worst Document / Worst Pope?

In my previous post I noted that if we see the mid-way Realtio of the 2014 Synod as “one of the worst documents in Church history”, then Francis is one step away from being “one of the worst popes in history” since it was he who approved its publication and had elements rejected by the canonical majority at the Synod retained in the reflection document for this year’s Synod. I ended the post by posing a question and making a suggestion:

Where does [this] leave the faithful Catholic? [It leaves us] Repeating with Paul: “when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he stood condemned.” (Gal.2v11). Disobedience to a pope (and public challenge of him) must always be respectful because of the human dignity which belongs to the man and because of his office as Pope, but not to oppose him is to allow evil to flourish -and if that route is taken by the faithful Catholic, the faithful Catholic himself becomes unfaithful, and will stand equally condemned.

The rejected elements which Francis ordered to be retained (on the valuing of cohabitation, adultery and homosexuality) are contrary to the perennial teaching and discipline of the Church, but there are enough Bishops who follow the ‘wisdom’ of secular society and its misrepresentation of ‘Do Not Judge’ to have us recall the words of his excellency, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre:

“No authority, be it the highest in the hierarchy, can force us to abandon or diminish our Catholic Faith” (Declaration of 21 Nov. 1974)
“We are faced with a crucifying dilemma: either we follow you [Rome] wholeheartedly...and appear to distance ourselves from your predecessors, or we follow your predecessors and give the impression that we are distancing ourselves from you”.

We abandon the Faith by changing doctrine; we diminish it by disciplines which play false to that doctrine. We are without doubt in a very troubled age in the Church, with Cardinals opposing Cardinals; Bishops opposing Bishops, priests opposing priests, and laity opposing laity. This indicates an informal schism yet to be made manifest in the Church. Such a schism arises because many in the hierarchy have come to the brink of cutting us off from the Church’s perennial teaching and discipline as restated in the Post-Vatican II Catechism -and all to gain acceptance by a pagan, sex-driven world.

At the very heart of this internal schism is the devil. Only he has the wickedness to turn Our Lord’s words of ‘Do Not Judge’ against the Lord’s own Gospel; only he has the cunning to take a truth and turn it into a lie. He first did this in the Garden of Eden, and men fell for it. To paraphrase: “So you were made in His image and likeness? If you eat of this tree you will be like gods; you will be enhancing His work”.

The devil is taking the same tactic today, telling us that we since we must not judge we must accommodate the sins of cohabitation, adultery and homosexual activity. Sadly, many in the Church are falling for the lie. One suspects this is from emotional import; that they know and love someone who has chosen a life contrary to the Gospel (or are living that way themselves), and rather than consider that person (or themselves) to be on the wide road to hell, have clamoured to have the Church accommodate the sin under the guise of ‘Do not judge’.

Well, even if at the Synod the Church accommodates the sin for their emotional comfort, the reality will be that the Church will have gone wrong in her discipline, thereby diminishing the Faith,  and simply given false hope to persons living in situations of sin –for which those persons (and their accommodators) will be held responsible before God for having abandoned the practice of the Gospel.

Notwithstanding the fact that Francis has said and done things which have rocked the faith of many, let us not be too quick to condemn him. While he has made many regrettable statements that contradict the Church’s perennial Church teaching, and while he has failed to correct errors, and he while he has made personal phone calls sand given private invitations to transsexuals, he has not yet tried to impose an official change in our doctrine. Nor has he officially changed the perpetual practice of the Church. All he has done so far is stoke up the fires of heresy and heteropraxy in unfaithful souls and allowed them to burn. He has not yet officially sided with them. The Synod and its following Apostolic Exhortation will be his testing ground, not the discussion beforehand. 

For that reason I think we should hold off from condemning of the man. Should he fail to uphold that which he received (and is duty bound to hand on uncorrupted), then we enter the period in which we must, like Paul, confront Francis and even refuse to obey counterfeit pastoral directives, for as Galatians 1:8 reminds us, “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed”, and as Archbishop Lefebvre said, “No authority, be it the highest in the hierarchy, can force us to abandon or diminish our Catholic Faith”. Let us pray for the Pope and the Synod, and let us make our views known by signing the fifialappeal.