Monday, 31 December 2007

Comment for the end of the year

The recent news that the hierarchy of England and Wales is after the head of Damien Thompson, Editor in Chief of the Catholic Herald, is of great concern. A hierarchy that has done nothing to censure the notoriously dissident and heterodox Tablet, but is trying to silence the editor of a paper that has been upholding the magisterium, as well as trying to have him removed from the Telegraph, speaks volumes.

What is coming apparent from this shameful episode is that the only thing that those who hold the levers of power in the English church really fear is consistent pressure and criticism from the laity. Without it, they can conveniently ignore the Holy Father and carry on as if he did not exist.

For the reality is is that Rome is not in a position to deal with the dissent, compromise and corruption that has infected the upper ranks of the ecclesiastical bureaucracy. The elites at Eccleston Square have too many powerful allies in the curia for anything to be done about them. It is not a coincidence that Archbishop Piero Marini, the former papal MC, chose to launch his book about the liturgical reform in Archbishop's house in Westminster.

Among the rank and file of the English clergy are some really first rate pastors and intellectuals, young, old and middle aged, who are faithful to their vocations and truly live up to the expectations of the Good Shepherd himself. Alas, they will never be made bishops with the present status quo, and despite the fact England is producing some of the world’s leading Catholic theologians, not one of our present hierarchy has any intellectual stature.

It is essential for the status quo to have a relatively docile and 'sheepish' laity, and a Catholic press that repeats platitudes that all is well and the church is undergoing great renewal. It may be easy to deal with Rome, but a revolt in the pews is another matter. Damien Thompson's open criticism of the hierarchy may not be entirely just, but it is clear that it is a serious threat to the powers that be, for it is causing discontent among the faithful, and must be silenced.

St. Thomas Aquinas has said "When the faith is in imminent peril, prelates ought to be accused by their subjects, even in public." We are only bound to the obedience and submission of our pastors insofar as they uphold the tradition, faith and magisterium of the church, as given by the successor of Peter. Should they fail to do this, their authority ceases to that of Christ, but of themselves. Before they can demand our obedience, we must demand their submission to Peter.

As this year draws to a close, the future of the English church lies in the hands not of its bishops, nor of Rome, but of its laity. It is imperative that we make a stand against dissent and compromise, demand that our shepherds feed the flocks entrusted to their care, and give us the rights given in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. The development of the internet and blogging has given us a great opportunity to break our silence: let us take full advantage of it. Otherwise we may find the church in this island of saints doomed to extinction.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Feast of the Holy Family

In this Sunday's gospel we are told of how St. Joseph took the child Jesus and his mother into exile in Egypt to save Our Lord from King Herod. It is a very fitting gospel passage as we hear the the dreadful news of the wholesale exodus of Christians from the Holy Land, of the turmoil in Pakistan following Benazir Bhutto's assassination, and the decimation of the Christians in Iraq.

Let us pray and ask the intercession of the Holy Family that the Christians in the Islamic world will survive and persevere in their faith. As the Holy Family returned from exile, may those Christians who have been uprooted be able to return home. But most important of all, let us pray for their persecutors, and that God will move the hearts of those who engage in acts of terror and self destruction in his name.

On a more personal note, we in the choir at the Oratory have just finished the Christmas services, which were a great success and have been greatly appreciated by everyone. As for me, who has just returned to Brum from my parents, I am collapsing in exhaustion!

Saturday, 29 December 2007

St. Thomas Becket

St. Thomas Becket is one of the most remarkable English bishops who have had the honour to be raised to the altars. He was pre-eminent among the English saints to stand up and resist what has been the perennial temptation of the English church, which is to seek acceptance and compromise with the social and political elites of this country. It has almost always been the church's ruin to follow this path, for it was the compromise of the bishops which led to the reformation.

Becket had been a typical career ecclesiastic and was a close friend of the King, who had made him Lord Chancellor. He was thought to be an ideal man for the see of Canterbury who would do what was wanted of him. But as soon as he was elevated to the post he renounced his worldly ways, put on a hair shirt and stood firmly for the church's rights. For this he was to suffer exile in France and a great campaign of calumny against him.

Secular history has often taken a dim view of Becket, and has presented King Henry as the one of the founders of English common law, who demanded that cases that were handled by ecclesiastical courts by handed over to the civil law. But the reality was that if Becket had compromised, it would have been the first step to a national church under the King. Who knows if the reformation could have occurred several centuries earlier?

For a short time Becket was to be reconciled with the King and restored to the see of Canterbury, but very soon they fell apart again. The rest is well known in the legend of King Henry's cry, 'Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?', and Becket's subsequent murder. Such was Becket's reputation for sanctity and the outcry following his death, the King was forced to do public penance. The tomb of Becket at Canterbury was to become one of the greatest shrines in Europe.

Alas, all was not well from then on, for four centuries later another King Henry succeeded where his predecessor had failed, and usurped the spiritual authority and goods of the church for himself. Like Becket, another lord chancellor and bishop were to suffer martyrdom: St. Thomas More and John Fisher. And one of the first acts of Henry VIII was to destroy the shrine of Becket and prohibit the celebration of his feast.

Today St. Thomas of Canterbury has particular relevance to the Catholic church in England, following immediately after the feast of the Holy Innocents. The English church faces the choice of either compromise with the liberal establishment and complicity in the culture of death by its silence, or like Becket, to suffer disgrace and social alienation for a courageous moral stance. Alas, the attitude of our bishops to St. Thomas Becket can be gauged by the fact that his feast has been reduced to an optional memoria in the calender.

But let us also hope, that just as Henry II made public penance for complicity in Becket's murder, by the intercession of St. Thomas Tony Blair will make a public retraction for his involvement in abortion, euthanasia and human cloning legislation. Then we will know his conversion his real, and we can welcome him fully as a member of the mystical body of Christ.

St. Thomas of Canterbury, pray for us.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Belmont Abbey

By remarkable providence my parents happen to live in the parish of the Abbey of St. Michael Archangel, Belmont. They are Benedictines of the English Congregation, the same as the good monks of Downside Abbey of whom I was educated by. Belmont is not as big and as impressive, but nevertheless is still very photogenic. Unfortunately I did not have good light and weather for decent pictures.

The community are still going strong,and let us hope they will continue to flourish. I haven't time to give you their history, but you can go on their website for the full details.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Off to see my parents

Today I caught the train from Birmingham for my post Christmas visit to my parents in rural Herefordshire, see some of my tribe and catch up on any news. It is a very pleasant change from the busy urban jungle of Brum. Living in a big city one can quite easily go for weeks on end without seeing the countryside, and it is good to take a short break. Taking a few pictures around shows just how beautiful the England can be. As I write this, opposite me all the family are watching the Simpsons film on DVD, and I cannot help noticing an episode of Homer having an 'Epiphany'. Alas due to 'global warming' (really?) there is no snow at the moment...

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Feast of St. Stephen First Martyr

It is no accident that immediately after we celebrate the feast of the Nativity, we move on to the feast of St. Stephen, the proto - martyr of the church. The two feasts may seem at first sight completely unrelated, and we may ask, what is the connection between them? It is that both the infant in the manger, and the church his mystical body, are to be signs of contradiction that are to be hated and rejected by the world.

Right from the outset the infant church was a despised and alien body in the society it was in, facing opposition and persecution, and it will always continue to be till the end of time. Just as the infant Jesus was to be born in a stable in poverty and rejection, so did the church from the beginning faced rejection and hatred by the establishment of its time. By its very nature the church will always be in fundamental opposition to the world it is in, and our time is no exception. But as soon as it tries to compromise with the world and be socially acceptable, its witness shall cease, as the shameful episode of the reception of Tony Blair has shown.

Stephen had the tremendous courage to confess before his establishment that Jesus Christ was Lord and God, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and for that he was stoned to death. Likewise we today must confess before our liberal establishment that Jesus Christ is Lord and God in the dignity of the human person, right from the moment of conception. Likewise, for that we shall be stoned and pilloried by the media, and face discrimination and unpopularity if not open persecution and social ruin.

But Stephen's martyrdom also gives us great hope. For just as he was given the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to confound his enemies and accusers, God will never fail to provide us with the means to confound our critics. And most significant of all, the witness of Stephen and his prayer for their forgiveness led to the conversion of Saul. What followed is well known. If we follow Stephen's example in forgiving our enemies and praying for them, then God will surely convert a Saul of the culture of death in our time.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas in the Oratory Choir

Many of you will have seen some of the posts on the blogs of Jackie Parkes and Matthew Doyle waxing eloquent about the splendour of the liturgy and music in the Birmingham Oratory. Indeed it is very splendid. However being in the Oratory choir, which I'm a member, it is a very different matter.

While everyone else can turn up at whatever mass they please, we have to turn in at eight o'clock this evening for a rehearsal that lasts till 11.00pm, with a short break before the carol service at 11.15pm, immediately followed by the midnight mass, finishing at 1.30am.

And we're not finished then! We then have to turn in at 10.00am on Christmas morning for high mass at 11.00am, which is over at 12.30am. In short, we have about 8 hours of singing to do over the Christmas period, and it has to be at a professional standard. We sing mainly in Latin with all the Gregorian Chant propers, as well as the main music. It's hard work, and no matter what happens, we have to deliver.

And as for me, I have the additional responsibility of being music librarian, and hence over the last week I have been slaving away over the photocopier to make sure there are about 25 sets of music with 20 singers at midnight mass. I only just completed this task this morning.

Many who come to worship at our church often have little idea about how much work goes on behind the scenes. The myth is often spread around that we are an elite group who look down on the ordinary faithful. In reality, being in the choir is very hard and stressful work. However it is well worth it, and we usually rise to the challenge, as you can see from this year's music:

11.15pm Christmas Carol Service

Mary, flower of flowers all. (Anon) arr. Meirion Wynn Jones; The Truth from above, arr R. Vaughan Williams; In the bleak mid – winter, Harold Darke; A spotless Rose, Herbert Howells; Benedicamus Domino, Peter Warlock.

O little town of Bethlehem, Of the Father’s heart begotten, See amid the winter’s snow,Silent Night, Hark! The herald angels sing.

Midnight Mass

Kyrie and Gloria: Messe de minuit by Marc – Antoine Charpentier (1634 – 1704)
Credo: III
Offertory Motet: Gaudete from Piae Cantonies
Sanctus: Mass VIII
Agnus Dei: from the Mass by Charpentier
Communion: O Magnum mysterium by Victoria
In Dulci Jubilo arranged by R.L.Pearsall
Adeste Fideles (Trad)

11am Solemn High Mass

Kyrie and Gloria: Missa Brevis in D Mozart
Credo: III
Offertory Motet: Resonet in Laudibus, J. Handl
Sanctus: Mass VIII
Agnus Dei: Mass VIII
Communion: O Magnum mysterium by Adriaan Willaert.
Adeste Fideles. (trad)

I wish all of you a very happy Christmas, and shall return on the feast of St. Stephen First Martyr.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Again in the Footsteps of the Pope

In the Christmas supplement of the Catholic Herald this week there is an excellent article by Dr. William Oddie on the Bavaria pilgrimage I went on in October. Soon after I returned to England I did a series of posts about it on the blog of Jackie Parkes, and it was from doing them that I have been talked into starting this blog. The photo here is the main square in Marktl am Inn, the pope's birthplace.

Dr. Oddie's article is more informative and better written than the posts I have made up, but I feel there is no harm in repeating them here. I shall give you a series of links to each post, and you can judge them for yourselves!

1) In the footsteps of Pope Benedict XVI.

4) In Eichstätt

The "Conversion" of Tony Blair

This morning as I was out in Birmingham city centre, I heard the news that Tony Blair has been received into the Catholic Church by Archbishop Cormac Murphy - O'Connor. And it appears that there is no sign that he has made any recantation of his persistent support for the abortion, euthanasia and human cloning lobbies and institution of so - called 'gay marriages'.

I am barely able to hold back my anger. This is not a matter for rejoicing for the church in this country. It is a matter of the gravest scandal that a senior politician, who has committed acts that would incur automatic excommunication by canon law, should be received into the church by the country's most senior bishop without a demand for public recantation of his position. It seems doubtful that Mr. Blair has any serious intention of doing so, and in all probability will carry on with as if nothing has taken place.

Blair's reception has shown how seriously compromised with the culture of death the hierarchy of England and Wales has become. When faced with the choice of either upholding the faith of the apostles and the Magisterium, or seeking acceptance among the liberal establishment, they have chosen the latter. By this act, Cormac has inadvertently sent a message to Catholic politicians that they can support the culture of death without incurring the wrath of the church, and that the church's teaching about doing so is in England null and void.

History is repeating itself. At the time of the reformation almost all the English bishops compromised with the Act of Supremacy, all except St. John Fisher of Rochester. Let us pray that God will send us another St. John Fisher among our bishops, or even better, that Blair will himself make a public recantation of his former position. For God, nothing is impossible!

Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, pray for us!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Alma Redemptoris

One of my amateur pursuits is composing pieces of church music, sometimes for the Birmingham Oratory choir which I sing in for high mass and vespers. I have completed a four part setting of the Alma Redemptoris antiphon, when I was on retreat in Downside Abbey three weeks ago. It can be downloaded either in PDF or MIDI format.

For those of you who are not aware the Alma Redemptoris is one of the four Marian antiphons of which it is customary to sing at the end of vespers or the evening service, and occurs during the season of Advent up to Candlemas on February 2nd. Here it is in plainsong notation. The other antiphons are of course Ave Regina (sung after Candlemas up to Easter), Regina Caeli (during Paschaltide) and Salve Regina (rest of the year).

In medieval England very elaborate settings of the Marian antiphons were composed for a popular evening devotional service called the 'Salve'. This consisted of prayers and litanies to the Blessed Virgin ending with the singing of the antiphon to the Virgin, and later on devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was inserted. From this developed the marvellous rite of benediction, which established its contemporary form in the nineteenth century. As this happened the Marian aspect became less prominent and gradually fell into disuse. Nevertheless it is still very fitting to sing the Marian antiphon at the end of an evening service of Eucharistic adoration and benediction.

A view of the Golden Compass.

On Friday14th December I went to the UGC cinema in Broad Street, Birmingham to see the film of the Golden Compass for myself, breaking with my usual habits of reserving Saturday evening for the cinema. Even though it has only been screened for a week the auditorium was only a third full, and it clearly has not been a success.

Nevertheless, disregarding the injunctions of the Birmingham Oratory fathers, I was keen to see it as I had read Philip Pullman's Northern Lights several years back, which I enjoyed very much despite some of the content.

However the film clearly did not do the book justice, and it came across as very weak and somewhat crass. Several times during the performance some people left. I suspect that the film may well barely break even, and the sequels will not be made. From what I know of the following two books this is probably a good thing, for they are much worse in their attack on the church.

So where does the film fall down? Firstly, unless one has read the book, it is very hard to follow. Pullman's ideas of Gyptians, Dust, the Magisterium(!?), Daemons, etc. pass by in rapid succession with no real attempt to give them clear explanation in the film itself. A weak attempt is made to explain them at the beginning, but this is very cursory and inadequate. Otherwise questions arise: who exactly are the Gobblers? What is this Magisterium? Characters such as witches and Gyptians appear out of the blue. It seems that the film assumes that everyone has read the books! If that is not the case and the intention has been for people to read the books after the film for the full facts, I doubt they will succeed.

Secondly, although Pullman himself seemed happy with the cast, they were completely the wrong people for the characters portrayed. In the book Mrs Coulter comes across as a charming, beautiful and yet very formidable and powerful woman capable of the greatest cruelties, but Nicole Kidman appears weak and timid in comparison. Daniel Craig as Lord Asreil was somewhat better, but he seems far more effective and convincing as James Bond in Casino Royale. As for Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra, she was totally unconvincing. One comment was that her accent could have come from Dick van Dyke! The only one who was truly convincing (as he almost always is) was Christopher Lee, in the sinister 'Magisterium'.

Thirdly, one of Pullman's key ideas, the Daemons, that is human souls who take the form of external animals, was not done justice by the film. They appeared unreal speaking in normal human voices: if they sounded more like animals they might have been more plausable. Also one wonders why in the film Lyra's conversations with her daemon Pan were not clearly overheard by Mrs. Coulter? Perhaps they can't be..

If I were Pullman I would be very disappointed in the treatment by the film of his book. In order to do it justice the film would have to be at least three hours, and the story and action much more paced. One reason why the first Lord of the Rings film worked well as it did not constrict the story too much.

However I do believe that it has to be said that he is a very good story teller. His work is rich and very imaginative, and it would be doing him a great injustice to describe him as second rate author. His books I have found very readable on long train journeys to London. But it clearly seems that the power and strength of his work lies not in ideas he creates, but his ability to form a story from them.

Indeed some of his allusions to our faith in the parallel world he creates are preposterous, such as the practice of preemptive absolution (absolution for sins committed in the future), and his idea of homosexual angels (they are pure spirits!). Some of the other ideas seem pretty obvious in their origin. His 'Magisterium' in the absence of the papacy is clearly a reference to the then Cardinal Ratzinger and the CDF, repeating the media myth that Ratzinger really ran the church in the presence of an ailing John Paul II. And he repeats the old platitude that the 'Magisterium', both in his world and ours, is out to prevent 'freedom of thought' to preserve its power!

It is beyond doubt that his work is a deliberate attack on the Catholic faith, even in the film version where the more obvious references have been removed. However I do not think we should be too alarmed. One review on the site Rotten Tomatoes has summed it up well: Unlikely to fill theaters or to empty pews.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Novena to Our Lady in Expectation

I have been asked from the comments about the Novenas to Our Lady in Expectation. In my research I have not been able to find any set forms. Nonetheless I can give you an improvised version, which can be used both by the barren and by anyone else with other pressing needs!

Our Father....
Hail Mary....
I Believe...
Glory Be...

V. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.

R. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray.
Almighty and ever - living God, by whose power the Incarnate Word found a worthy dwelling in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grant that by her intercession, we may be given abundant blessings in our earthly pilgrimage and come to the joys of the eternal life to come. We ask this through her only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

It would be fitting to do this novena in between the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and the Expectation, beginning on December 9th and finishing on December 17th.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Oliver Hayes: Welcome to this new blog!

Who am I? I am a parishioner of the Birmingham Oratory, founded by the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman. I sing bass and tenor in their choir, and I am an amateur composer, philosopher and general practitioner of all manner of daft hobbies....

Those of you who are regular visitors to the blog of my friend and fellow Oratory parishioner Jackie Parkes may recognise me from before. Here I am again on the steps of Salzburg cathedral, from the few posts which I made for her blog about my holidays in Bavaria, about the places associated with Benedict XVI. I have been talked into starting my own blog after I said I would never do it. So I have been persuaded to join the ranks of blogosphere for good.

Why have I called this blog the Expectation of Our Lady? I have a great personal interest in this feast, which is little known in the English speaking world and of which I would like to bring more attention to. Due to the constraints on my time and energy I will only put about two to three posts per week, but I will try to be as interesting as I can. Now please read the following post.

December 18th: The Expectation of Mary

The Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the lesser known feasts of Our Lady, but it was widely celebrated in Spain, Italy and parts of Central Europe. It falls within the period of O Sapientia, which begins on December 17th with the great 'O' Antiphons for the Magnificat at vespers up to December 23rd. As a result it is suppressed along with most other feasts in that period in the Novus Ordo of Paul VI. In the missal and breviary up to 1962 it was commemorated for certain places.

This particular feast is a mini - Annunciation seven days before Christmas. The prayers of the mass and divine office for both feasts are almost identical. It originated in Spain at the Tenth Council of Toledo (656) because the Annunciation fell during Lent, and so the Expectation arose as a substitute. It was celebrated with a full octave, and was known as Nuestra Señora de la O, because on that day the clergy used to sing the great O at vespers with great protraction, to express the longing of the world for the coming of the redeemer.

In the Expectation our Lady awaits with joy the arrival of her divine Son, the Prince of Peace. Her whole posture suggests how she remains wholly consumed in contemplation of her Son under her heart. Her immaculate womb has become a living portable sanctuary of divinity. In the translation of the Roman breviary by the Marquess of Bute, the feast is known as 'Our Lady, looking shortly to be delivered'.

The intercession of Our Lady under the title of her Expectation was called upon by women unable to bear children, and there is a novena for this. Nowadays while the feast has special relevance for the protection of unborn life from the terrible scourge of abortion, it has sadly fallen into disuse. However all is not lost! On September 14th 2007, the motu proprio of Benedict XVI Summorum Pontificum came into effect, allowing full use of the 1962 missal. Let us hope in the future it may be reinstated for certain places according to the extraordinary form.

Prayer from a Sermon of St. Alonzo, Archbishop of Toledo

O my Suzerain and my Lady, who bearest rule over me, Mother of my Lord, handmaid of thy Son, who gavest birth to Him who made the world, I beseech thee, I pray thee, I ask thee, that I may have the Spirit of thy Lord, and the Spirit of thy Son, yea, and the Spirit of thy Redeemer, to enable me to think what is true and worthy concerning thee, to speak what is true and worthy concerning thee, and to love whatsoever is true and worthy concerning thee.
Thou hast been chosen of God, taken of God, called of God; thou art very nigh unto God, thou cleavest unto God, thou art bound unto God; thou wast visited by an angel, saluted by an angel, blessed by an angel, called happy by an angel; trouble at his saying, perplexed in thought, confounded at the salutation, wonder struck at the words of his message.

From the fourth lesson of the Feast of the Our Lady, looking shortly to be delivered on December 18th, Roman Breviary, translated by John, Marquess of Bute, 1879.