Thursday, 31 January 2008

The angel lights of Christmas morn,

which shot across the sky,
away they pass at Candlemass,
they sparkle and they die.

Comfort of earth is brief at best,
although it be divine;
like funeral lights for Christmas gone,
old Simeon's tapers shine.

And then for eight long weeks and more,
we wait in twighlight grey,
till the tall candle sheds a beam,
on Holy Saturday.

We wait along the penance-tide,
of solemn fast and prayer,
while song is hushed and light grows dim,
in the sin laden air.

And while the sword in Mary's soul,
is driven home, we hide
in our own hearts, and count the wounds
of passion and of pride.

And still, though Candlemas be spent,
and Alleluias o'er,
Mary is music in our need,
and Jesus light in store.

Cardinal Newman

So we sing in the Oratory at the triduo in preparation for the feast of Candlemas, the anniversary of the Oratory's foundation in England. In the evenings of the three days beforehand we have a service consisting of a Gospel passage, prayers for the Oratory and the conversion of Birmingham, finishing with benediction.

Admittedly this hymn may not be the best of Cardinal Newman's writings, but I have a soft spot for it. Candlemas is a feast I eagerly anticipate and count down to in January, for it marks beginning of the end of the long winter's nights, with the drudgery of having to rise in the dark. So next Monday, it will nearly be light when I rise: hooray!

Lenten Message from Pope Benedict XVI

As we are in the run up to Ash Wednesday, and Lent is fast approaching, it seems appropriate to post the Pope's message for the coming season.

“Christ made Himself poor for you” (2 Cor 8,9)

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. Each year, Lent offers us a providential opportunity to deepen the meaning and value of our Christian lives, and it stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters. In the Lenten period, the Church makes it her duty to propose some specific tasks that accompany the faithful concretely in this process of interior renewal: these are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. For this year’s Lenten Message, I wish to spend some time reflecting on the practice of almsgiving, which represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods. The force of attraction to material riches and just how categorical our decision must be not to make of them an idol, Jesus confirms in a resolute way: “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk 16,13). Almsgiving helps us to overcome this constant temptation, teaching us to respond to our neighbor’s needs and to share with others whatever we possess through divine goodness. This is the aim of the special collections in favor of the poor, which are promoted during Lent in many parts of the world. In this way, inward cleansing is accompanied by a gesture of ecclesial communion, mirroring what already took place in the early Church. In his Letters, Saint Paul speaks of this in regard to the collection for the Jerusalem community (cf. 2 Cor 8-9; Rm 15, 25-27).

2. According to the teaching of the Gospel, we are not owners but rather administrators of the goods we possess: these, then, are not to be considered as our exclusive possession, but means through which the Lord calls each one of us to act as a steward of His providence for our neighbor. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, material goods bear a social value, according to the principle of their universal destination (cf. n. 2404)

In the Gospel, Jesus explicitly admonishes the one who possesses and uses earthly riches only for self. In the face of the multitudes, who, lacking everything, suffer hunger, the words of Saint John acquire the tone of a ringing rebuke: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?” (1 Jn 3,17). In those countries whose population is majority Christian, the call to share is even more urgent, since their responsibility toward the many who suffer poverty and abandonment is even greater. To come to their aid is a duty of justice even prior to being an act of charity.

3. The Gospel highlights a typical feature of Christian almsgiving: it must be hidden: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” Jesus asserts, “so that your alms may be done in secret” (Mt 6,3-4). Just a short while before, He said not to boast of one’s own good works so as not to risk being deprived of the heavenly reward (cf. Mt 6,1-2). The disciple is to be concerned with God’s greater glory. Jesus warns: “In this way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Mt 5,16). Everything, then, must be done for God’s glory and not our own. This understanding, dear brothers and sisters, must accompany every gesture of help to our neighbor, avoiding that it becomes a means to make ourselves the center of attention. If, in accomplishing a good deed, we do not have as our goal God’s glory and the real well being of our brothers and sisters, looking rather for a return of personal interest or simply of applause, we place ourselves outside of the Gospel vision. In today’s world of images, attentive vigilance is required, since this temptation is great. Almsgiving, according to the Gospel, is not mere philanthropy: rather it is a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave His entire self for us. How could we not thank God for the many people who silently, far from the gaze of the media world, fulfill, with this spirit, generous actions in support of one’s neighbor in difficulty? There is little use in giving one’s personal goods to others if it leads to a heart puffed up in vainglory: for this reason, the one, who knows that God “sees in secret” and in secret will reward, does not seek human recognition for works of mercy.

4. In inviting us to consider almsgiving with a more profound gaze that transcends the purely material dimension, Scripture teaches us that there is more joy in giving than in receiving (cf. Acts 20,35). When we do things out of love, we express the truth of our being; indeed, we have been created not for ourselves but for God and our brothers and sisters (cf. 2 Cor 5,15). Every time when, for love of God, we share our goods with our neighbor in need, we discover that the fullness of life comes from love and all is returned to us as a blessing in the form of peace, inner satisfaction and joy. Our Father in heaven rewards our almsgiving with His joy. What is more: Saint Peter includes among the spiritual fruits of almsgiving the forgiveness of sins: “Charity,” he writes, “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pt 4,8). As the Lenten liturgy frequently repeats, God offers to us sinners the possibility of being forgiven. The fact of sharing with the poor what we possess disposes us to receive such a gift. In this moment, my thought turns to those who realize the weight of the evil they have committed and, precisely for this reason, feel far from God, fearful and almost incapable of turning to Him. By drawing close to others through almsgiving, we draw close to God; it can become an instrument for authentic conversion and reconciliation with Him and our brothers.

5. Almsgiving teaches us the generosity of love. Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo forthrightly recommends: “Never keep an account of the coins you give, since this is what I always say: if, in giving alms, the left hand is not to know what the right hand is doing, then the right hand, too, should not know what it does itself” (Detti e pensieri, Edilibri, n. 201). In this regard, all the more significant is the Gospel story of the widow who, out of her poverty, cast into the Temple treasury “all she had to live on” (Mk 12,44). Her tiny and insignificant coin becomes an eloquent symbol: this widow gives to God not out of her abundance, not so much what she has, but what she is. Her entire self.

We find this moving passage inserted in the description of the days that immediately precede Jesus’ passion and death, who, as Saint Paul writes, made Himself poor to enrich us out of His poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8,9); He gave His entire self for us. Lent, also through the practice of almsgiving, inspires us to follow His example. In His school, we can learn to make of our lives a total gift; imitating Him, we are able to make ourselves available, not so much in giving a part of what we possess, but our very selves. Cannot the entire Gospel be summarized perhaps in the one commandment of love? The Lenten practice of almsgiving thus becomes a means to deepen our Christian vocation. In gratuitously offering himself, the Christian bears witness that it is love and not material richness that determines the laws of his existence. Love, then, gives almsgiving its value; it inspires various forms of giving, according to the possibilities and conditions of each person.

6. Dear brothers and sisters, Lent invites us to “train ourselves” spiritually, also through the practice of almsgiving, in order to grow in charity and recognize in the poor Christ Himself. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the Apostle Peter said to the cripple who was begging alms at the Temple gate: “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk” (Acts 3,6). In giving alms, we offer something material, a sign of the greater gift that we can impart to others through the announcement and witness of Christ, in whose name is found true life. Let this time, then, be marked by a personal and community effort of attachment to Christ in order that we may be witnesses of His love. May Mary, Mother and faithful Servant of the Lord, help believers to enter the “spiritual battle” of Lent, armed with prayer, fasting and the practice of almsgiving, so as to arrive at the celebration of the Easter Feasts, renewed in spirit. With these wishes, I willingly impart to all my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 30 October 2007


Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Blessed Sebastian Valfrè

Today I have to sing at another Gregorian Missa Cantata in the Birmingham Oratory this evening, this time for another Oratorian beati Blessed Sebastian Valfrè. Hopefully I will not be on my own, or this mass will be as one of the servers irreverently described, 'a one man job.' Alas, we musicians are never fully appreciated for what we do....

For those who are not familiar with Blessed Sebastian here is the account of him from the Oratory website:

Sebastian Valfrè is one of the most important members of the Piedmontese clergy, and the forerunner of the many Saints who have graced the Church of Turin in recent centuries. Sebastian was born at Verduno, in the Diocese of Alba, on 9th March, 1629. His family was poor, but despite hardships and difficulties he managed to follow a course of studies at Alba, Bra and finally Turin.

He joined the Oratory of Turin on 26th May, 1651, and was ordained priest on 24th February, 1652. He gained his doctorate in theology in 1656. He went on to hold many of the offices at the Oratory and, although he declined being made Archbishop of his city, he nevertheless, through his tireless work, is honoured as the Apostle of Turin. His particular concerns were the teaching of the Catechism, hearing confessions, giving spiritual direction, helping the poor and the sick, widows, orphans and prisoners. Sebastian became confessor to the Piedmontese Royal Family and his influence at Court enabled him to do much for the poor of the city. He was greatly devoted to the Shroud of Turin, and there is a print in existence, showing him supervising some repair work being done to the Shroud.

During his years in Turin the Kingdom endured several wars, including a siege of the city. He organised practical aid for the soldiers – so much so that today he is invoked as the patron of military chaplains. He introduced to Turin the Forty Hours Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and encouraged devotion to Our Lady, inspiring King Victor Amadeus II to build the Basilica of Superga. Sebastian also helped in the founding of the Accademia at Rome, for the training of Papal diplomats. He is remembered, too, in difficult times, for striving to build up good relations with both Protestants and Jews in Piedmont.

The Archives of the Turin Oratory possess some 22 volumes of his writings. One of his most important works was his 'Compendium of Christian Doctrine', a catechism organised on a question and answer basis. This rapidly became a well-used teaching aid, and lasted until the introduction of the Catechism of Pope Pius X.

'The Father who had Paradise in his eyes' died at Turin on 30th January, 1711, and was beatified by Pope Gregory XVI on 31st August, 1834. His body rests in a silver shrine in the Oratory Church in Turin. His feast is kept each year on 30th January.

Blessed Sebastian Valfrè, pray for us.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Catholic Malta

Malta is one of the last practising Catholic countries in Europe, and everywhere you go you will see the influence of the faith. On buses, taxis and in cafes you will see images of the Sacred Heart, Divine Mercy and Our Lady, and there are lots and lots of beautiful churches. This is the Carmelite church, rebuilt after wartime bombing and the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel:

The Church of St. Publius, the governor who received St. Paul and later was the first bishop of Malta:

The interior of the Cathedral of St. Paul, Mdina:

Our Lady of Victories, Valletta.

The churches are not only well kept and maintained, but many have up to six daily masses said, with a fair number of young people attending. On Sunday I gratefully went to the Latin Novus Ordo mass in the Co - Cathedral, where there were a large number of altar boys. The church here has largely escaped the plagues of extraordinary eucharistic ministers and altar girls which have blighted everywhere else.

Malta throughout its history has been an island that has obstinately withstood siege from the creeds of Antichrist, most notably Islam in the 16th century, and Nazism in the 20th. As it just has joined the European Union, there is a very real possibility the Maltese church will suffer the fate of the Irish church. Let us hope it will hold out again against the culture of death!

Malta's British Legacy

I have just arrived back home off the plane at Manchester Airport, but I still have two further posts to make. One of the great delights of Malta is that as well as being very Catholic and a welcome relief from winter with such warm weather, is that it almost seems like a corner of England in the Mediterranean. Which is hardly surprising, as Malta was under British rule for nearly two centuries. (This may be a very politically incorrect thing to say, but I am speaking my mind...) I myself have a family connection, as my great - grandmother was a Maltese lady.

The people drive on the left, red post boxes and telephone kiosks abound, eggs and bacon and roast beef is served in restaurants, and English is of course widely spoken. In fact much that has disappeared in England has been faithfully preserved in Malta: for example many vintage English buses are still going strong. How long all this will last for now that Malta has joined the European Union remains to be seen....

Sunday, 27 January 2008

In Malta: Valletta

Valletta was named after Jean Parisot de la Valette, the Grand Master of the Knights of St. John who led the defence of Malta against the siege of the Turks. The failure of the Ottoman empire to seize Malta was a major factor that led to their final naval defeat in the Battle of Lepanto.

Money was poured into the Knights by grateful monarchs across Europe, leading to the creation of one of the first planned cities in Europe. Valletta is a compact city built on a hilly peninsula, consisting of honey coloured stone buildings interlaced with baroque churches, and despite severe damage by German bombing in World War II still remains very attractive and one of the most picturesque parts of Malta.

This is the main cathedral square:

Tomorrow I fly back to England!

Saturday, 26 January 2008

In Malta: Mdina

Today I made a trip to Mdina in inland Malta. This was the former capital of Malta until the Knights of St. John constructed Valletta. It is a small walled city built on a hilltop, known as the silent city. This is the gate:

It consists of narrow stone streets with all the houses looking inwards, almost like a traditional Muslim town, where a grave like stillness remains.

From the top of the walls are views across Malta:

Here is the cathedral of St. Paul:

Tomorrow I shall talk about Valletta, the capital where I am staying.

Friday, 25 January 2008

In Malta: St. Paul's Bay and Mosta

As it was the feast of the conversion of St. Paul today, I made a trip to St. Paul's Bay, where the apostle was shipwrecked and was received by the chief of Melita Publius. The town itself is a bit of a tourist trap and there is not a great deal to see. However the view of the coast is quite spectacular. There is a church some distance inland on the site of the house of Publius, whose sick father the apostle healed. (I did not have time to see it.) If you want to know the full story of St. Paul in Malta, read the Acts of the Apostles!

This photograph I took from the top of a fortification built by the Knights of Malta. As I came down the narrow steps I gave myself very bad cramp...

On the way back to Valletta I stopped off briefly to see the church of the Assumption in Mosta. As it was afternoon the church was locked, but here it is from the outside.

That's all I have time to comment about for now: but I will have lots more pictures to show you in the next few days and when I return to England!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

In Malta for a short break!

I have arrived in Malta for a few days break to celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, and to get away from the grim months of January in England. It has been an exhausting journey where I had to stay up all night in Manchester airport, the plane was rerouted via Germany because French air control was on strike and we had difficulty in landing in Malta due to high winds. However I got here in the end, and am now staying in the Osborne Hotel, a former Knights of Malta hostel.

I absolutely hate flying: being trussed up like a chicken in a cramped seat in what seems to me to be like a flying coffin is not my idea of fun. Hence wherever possible I prefer to go by train to continental Europe. In the next few days I will only give you some very brief posts as I wish to relax and unwind, and to do this I shall grab some time in a local internet cafe. But I will try to take some pictures, which I will post when I return home to England. The island is very photogenic and well worth seeing!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

England's grim culture of death

Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the infamous Roe vs. Wade judgement of the United States supreme court, which legalised the murder of the unborn in America. In England we anticipated this by nearly five years in 1967, in David Steele's Abortion Act, that was brought in by complete stealth.

Forty years on we now have abortion on demand with well over a million unborn infants slaughtered. In the same district where I live is the Calthorpe Clinic, one of the biggest abortuaries in Europe with over 25,000 abortions per year, and the number steadily increases, having its main peaks over Christmas and the new year. Alas unlike the United States the abortion rates are increasing, not falling.

One thing that struck me about US pro - life movement when I visited there was how bold, militant and outspoken it was compared with England. I couldn't help thinking how it would get into serious trouble if it acted here. To hold strong pro - life views here can gravely compromise one's career prospects, particularly in the medical profession, the civil service and the universities. It carries a social stigma that has caused the majority of the population to look away and compromise, while the media portray the pro - lifers as 'fanatics' and 'religious fundamentalists'.

The 'pro - choice' movement is not merely a powerful lobby. It has now become the establishment: it has cornered the media, the greater part of the senior medical profession, education, the civil service and government elites. Having achieved power, it is actively tries to silence the pro - life movement if necessary by force of law. It now is a criminal offence to distribute pictures of aborted babies, and some who have had the courage to do so have landed in prison, and it will only be a matter of time before the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children could be stripped of charitable status.

Up to now MP’s were given a free vote on abortion, euthanasia, cloning and embryo experimentation bills in parliament. Now that right has been taken away, and those who refuse to tow the party line face severe recriminations. We can only look forward to another raft of anti - life legislation steamrollered through parliament, and in particular sex education being forced on children at primary school level.

Is this a cause for despair? No: we must not give up and lose hope. What is now happening is that in the fight for lives of the innocent, the gloves are coming off. It is ceasing to be a matter of merely parliamentary debate and lobbying. It is now one which is turning into open and deliberate persecution, in which we must be ready to lose our jobs, forfeit our social status, and go to prison. The time is coming for courageous and brave witness, and it will be by this that we shall win the battle against the culture of death, which has made England the abortion centre of the world.

He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall be my servant also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honour him. (John 12: 25-26, RSV translation)

Our Lady in Expectation, pray for us.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Prayers for Kenya please

I happen to be looking on the BBC news website this morning, and noticed that Kenya is still in serious trouble, and there is still a very real possibility of it becoming a second Zimbabwe. I have a natural interest in that country as I have a few family friends out there. There are already enough countries like Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan in serious trouble: let us not have another! So let us pray for peace.

Our Lady of Africa, pray for us.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Truth himself speaks truly

It seems that in the art of blogging I am always one or two days behind everyone else! The problem is I do not wish to write about anything before I have a clear view of the facts. Nevertheless, here is another off the cuff comment.

The liberal establishment showed what it means by 'tolerance' and 'diversity' when a small group of professors and students at La Sapienza University protested at the Holy Father's planned visit. They were apparently protesting at a comment he made seventeen years ago on Galileo, and threatened to stir up serious trouble. The Holy Father cancelled his visit, but he subsequently has received massive support for his right to be heard, particularly from the huge crowds at the Rome Angelus. Consequently the whole fiasco has backfired disastrously on his critics.

If a University is meant to be place of free inquiry, it would be an affront indeed for an ordinary academic to be denied a platform merely because his views do not fit in with the majority consensus. And our Holy Father is far more than that. He is leader of the Roman Catholic church, a leading professor of theology, and the direct successor to this university's founder! For a group to try to stop him from being heard seems the height of arrogance, intolerance and ignorance!

This event reveals clearly that liberalism is an ideology which is totally opposed to any open debate, and the suppression of free discussion is at its very heart. For the reality is that it will never accept a viewpoint that is opposed to it's own belief, and it will do everything in it's power to silence such opinions and deny them a forum. It is a dogma that says that there is no objective truth and that truths about God and metaphysical being are unknowable.

The very notion of debate presupposes that objective truths can be gained from free, dispassionate and rational discussion. This is part and parcel both of the patristic and scholastic traditions from which the great bulk of Catholic theology has been derived. But contemporary liberalism dogmatically teaches that no viewpoint is more true than another, and that reason is merely a device for power and intellectual dominance. Debate is suppressed, and becomes replaced with ideology in the modern university.

Any attempt to refute and disprove such claims is a complete waste of time. These are positions whose strength lies not in rational argument or objective facts, but in the formation of a ‘believing’ liberal consensus community that excludes the heretic from its ranks. It has nothing to offer intellectually except slogans and platitudes such as ‘diversity’, ‘tolerance’ (except for the conservative), ‘sensitivity’ and most of all, ‘community’. The overriding argument liberalism has against its opponents is the claim “you are not one of us, you are outside the fold’.

It is essential for the success of the liberal ideological project not only to create a liberal belief consensus, but to suppress any rival orthodoxies that show forth the truth. For they are an existential threat to the consensus community and to the unity of the fold, which serve to support the power of the liberal elites. Hence in institutions it will impose Stalinist ideological witch hunts of any non - conformists, accusing them of 'insensitivity and hurtfulness' in show trials.

So what can we do? We cannot engage in debate and discussion with such people. The only thing we can do is like Benedict not to waste time arguing with them but carry on with the silent witness of our Christian faith, obstinately refusing to conform and compromise. We can only trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to confound the enemies of the church, as he has done by raising a massive rival consensus that has come to our Holy Father's aid: a consensus that BBC news has been keeping very quiet about.

Truth himself speaks truly, or there's nothing true.

St. Thomas Aquinas, tr. Gerald Manley Hopkins S.J.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Requiem for the Jesuits?

Yesterday the Society of Jesus elected a new Superior General after their general congregation. Reading between the lines of what is going on, it seems highly unlikely that there will be any change in the direction that they have taken in the last forty years since the disastrous leadership of Pedro Arrupe.

In that period they have suffered catastrophic decline, and those remaining are now mainly over seventy years old. The state of the English province itself is very revealing. They have virtually abandoned education, and the great Jesuit school of Stonyhurst is now effectively lay run. But even worse they have abandoned the majority of their great parishes. The list is endless: St. Aloysius, Oxford (now the Oxford Oratory), Holy Name, Manchester (now an Oratory in formation), St. George, Worcester (where my parents were married), St. Francis Xavier, Hereford, St.Wilfred, Preston, St.Mary on the Quay, Bristol, Sacred Heart, Bournemouth, and many others. All they now seem to have kept are the churches in Farm Street and Wimbledon, London.

Why? They have to all intents and purposes abandoned the core vocation of their founder St. Ignatius of Loyola: to be soldiers of Christ with unfailing loyalty to the pope and the magisterium. So much so that they made loyalty to the pope their fourth vow along with poverty, chastity and obedience. Instead they have now become nothing but a bastion of dissent and the so - called 'parallel magisterium'. It seems that nothing can be done to reform the order, as dissidents have virtually cornered its leadership.

Yet paradoxically it has been those Jesuits who have been faithful to their vocations and against all odds who have been largely responsible for preserving the orthodox faith in the church's Babylonian exile of the 1970's and 1980's. And not only that, they have been some of the key architects of the revival and renewal we are seeing now. Just as an example we could quote Fathers John Hardon, James V. Schall, Hugh Thwaites and Joseph Fessio, as well as many other obscure and unsung priests.

But these have been virtually marginalised if not pushed out altogether from the order. To all intents and purposes they are effectively on their own. The main body of the order is nothing but a cancer in the mystical body of Christ. And significantly, our Holy Father did not come to the Church of the Gesu at the new year, right before their general congregation. With all this in mind, could it be possible that they could be suppressed for a second time?

Harsh this may be, it may be the only way to save the order, for it could then be reconstituted with those members who are loyal to the pope. Or perhaps God in his mercy could work a miracle that could confound our expectations, and bring the Society of Jesus back to life and the vocation and vision of it's founder.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

One month of blogging

Today on the Feast of St. Wulstan, Bishop of Worcester, I have completed one month's worth of blogging. So far I have managed to keep it up despite my busy schedule of Ora et Labora, not to mention singing in the choir. I will admit I could produce some far more interesting posts if it was not for the fact that I've had to exercise considerable discretion in personal matters of myself and others! So I shall be keeping up with it as best as I can!

As I expected I have received feedback that this blog is 'opinionated' and 'laying down the law'. Indeed Matthew Doyle has described this blog as the 'Expectation of Oliver.' Well what can I say? That may well be the case, but I can say that I am not doing this to exercise my personal ego, gain any popularity or win anyone's favour. All I can expect is notoriety and to have my fingers badly burnt! If anyone dislikes the views that are expressed, the fact is that nobody is compelled to look at this blog and listen to what I am saying! Blogging is an open forum that is uncensored, uncontrolled and completely democratic.

To say that one should not be opinionated is almost to say that one should not express any beliefs as true and hold other views as false. Which is tantamount to saying that there is no such thing as objective truth, and that we cannot know objective right and wrong: as Cardinal Newman saw, the classic dogma of liberalism. We are now in a society that holds 'dogmatism' and 'opinionated beliefs' as moral faults in need of correction if not severe punishment. The only dogmatic truth is that there is no truth, and woe betide anyone who thinks otherwise.

Nevertheless I shall speak out in season and out of season. For too long the church in England has done nothing but to seek acceptance and compromise with English society and the establishment, maintaining a policy of 'no strong statements'. In ceasing to follow in the footsteps of the Forty Martyrs and to be a sign of contradiction, it has suffered mass apostasy and collapse, and found itself acquiescing in the culture of death. It is time for the laity to speak out, to break their silence,and to make the church in these islands a witness once more.

On a lighter note, tomorrow we are singing Lennox Berkeley's Missa Brevis at High Mass, which I am (but not everyone else!) much looking forward to. Also late next week I will hopefully take a short break on the Island of Malta for the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, and plan to take lots of pictures. Whether I shall keep posting depends on what Internet access I shall have, and the time I have available. Stay tuned!

Friday, 18 January 2008

The ideology of sixties liturgy

In the New Liturgical Movement Blog there is an interesting post on the ideological nature of much contemporary liturgical practice. We hear continually the arguments that the traditional liturgy with its beauty and magnificence is ’elitist’, ‘clerical’, ‘stuffy’ and ’exclusive’ when we should be ‘focused on the poor and social justice.’ These arguments we hear ad nauseam, and it seems that no amount of patient explanations will satisfy them.

Who makes all these claims? I will look at those from my own church, the Birmingham Oratory. This is a church and community with not just a magnificent and 'clericalised' liturgy, but with a parish covering some of the worst areas of inner city deprivation in England, and not far from our church are some notorious council estates with appalling squalor and social problems. Some of the parishioners are refugees while others are elderly and housebound.

But these are not the people who attack our worship as 'elitist'. They come to the Oratory mostly to seek material and spiritual support and rarely to criticise. Indeed some of them seem to have considerable affection for the church and the fathers, who do excellent pastoral work often in very difficult circumstances. High mass and vespers is for them the only opportunity they may ever have to experience high art, and it is completely free and open for all people of whatever background and nationality. It hardly seems fair to describe it as 'elitist and exclusive'!

Indeed the very focus of our liturgy is sacrifice of the cross, and the priests who offer it are merely unworthy servants who face the Lord in the same direction as the rest of the faithful. Their backs are turned not to shun them and be aloof, but because they are not the centre of attention. The beauty and magnificence of the liturgy exists purely as a sign of God's power and transcendence, not as a means for vain attention seeking.

It turns out that the real critics almost invariably are white middle class living in the affluent suburbs of Edgbaston and Harbourne, often with plum jobs in public institutions (and sometimes readers of the Guardian). They hardly qualify for the role of being members of the poor and dispossessed! And despite their claim to be in solidarity with the poor and marginalized, their talk of social justice seems to be at best their vicarious imagination.

So why do they really see our worship as elite clericalism? The reason why is that in liberal eyes, the focus on sacrifice and on the transcendent is no more than a mask to disguise clerical ‘power’, a ‘power’ that has been unlawfully assumed at the expense of the ‘community of the poor’. It is a mentality of resentment of the apparent 'success' of others, and the exclusion of themselves. The members of liberal elites who attack traditional liturgy as being 'exclusive' and 'clericalist', do as they are the ones who are really feel excluded, who have been deprived of their 'right' to 'active participation' and 'leadership'.

This is because the focus of modern liturgy is not sacrifice or divine transcendence, nor is it even the gathered 'people of God' despite claims to the contrary. It is on the person of the celebrant and those that hold the so - called 'ministries' that have been invented by sixties liturgists. Those who partake in them have a vested interest in modern worship for good reason. It is a celebration of themselves and a cult of their personalities, where they become the 'facilitators' of the gathered community. The supposedly ‘community centred’ and democratic masses are really focused on worshipping an elite inner ring of ‘ministries’.

The classical liturgy on the other hand deliberately hides the personality of the ministers. The celebrants are not seen face to face, while the choir is often discreetly hidden at the back out of sight. In such an arrangement, we see not the personality of the celebrant or the ‘community facilitator’, but of Jesus Christ himself, the priest, the altar and the lamb of sacrifice.

It turns out that the hatred of the traditional liturgy is due to the fact that it is a total repudiation of the cult and worship of self, a stark reminder of our sinful unworthiness and fallen state, and need for atonement by none other than the blood of God himself. In short the liturgy, like our faith, is a sign of contradiction, a sign that is to be rejected and despised by the world.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

New blog from John Smeaton

John Smeaton, the Director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, has started a new blog giving news of his work and of the pro - life cause. This will be a very valuable contribution to Blogosphere in the midst of the culture of death in England. We wish him good luck!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Blessed Joseph Vaz

Today in the Oratory we had a Missa Cantata to commemorate the Feast of Blessed Joseph Vaz, Apostle of Ceylon: this was a sung Novus Ordo Latin mass without the full ceremonies. At these masses I sing the Gregorian chant propers along with anyone else in our choir who cares to come along! Today I was to find myself singing on my own, but I managed reasonably well.

Blessed Joseph was a priest of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in the Portuguese colony at Goa in India, a community of native Indian priests which was alas later suppressed by the edict of the Maquis de Pombal. Here is his biography I cribbed from the Birmingham Oratory website:

Joseph Vaz was born on 21st April, 1651, in the village of Benaulim in the territory of Goa, then the capital of the Portuguese colonies in the Far East. He received his basic education within the family, but then went to college – to the Jesuits to study humanities; to the Dominicans to study theology. Joseph was ordained priest in 1676 and after a period of almost free-lance work, was invited by the Patriarch of Goa to work at Kanara, where he remained for some years, distinguishing himself by his pastoral zeal.

He returned to Goa, and in 1686, with some other priests, started an Oratory, receiving the necessary information and help from the Congregations in Portugal. In April, 1687, however, he went as a missionary to the island of Ceylon (today Sri Lanka). He arrived incognito at Jaffna and remained on the island for 24 years, fulfilling his apostolate in very difficult circumstances – having to travel and celebrate the sacraments at night, always in disguise, and being constantly pursued by the Dutch Calvinist authorities, who sought to put an end to his single-handed attempt to keep the Catholic faith alive on the island. His work was blessed with success and he succeeded in strengthening the faith of many, comforting the suffering and the persecuted.

Joseph decided to make his base in the Kingdom of Kandy, in the island’s interior, but on arrival was arrested as a spy and put in prison. He was released after having prayed for and obtained a miraculous fall of rain, so ending a prolonged drought. After that the King of Kandy gave him his personal protection.

In 1696 the Oratory Fathers of Goa began to arrive on the island and so a properly constituted mission was established. Joseph refused the position of Vicar Apostolic. Preferring to remain a humble missionary, continuing his unstinting work for the people. He translated into Singalese and Tamil, (the local languages), various prayers and a catechism.

On 16th January, 1711, he knew he was dying. He asked for and received the Last Rites and his faithful followers gathered around his bed. 'Always live according to God’s inspiration,' he told them. At midnight, holding a candle in his hand, he pronounced the holy name of 'Jesus' with great clarity and fervour, and, commending his soul into his Saviour’s hands, he died. He left a marvellous legacy: 70,000 Catholics, 15 churches and 400 chapels.

The people called him 'Sammanasu Swam' – the Angelic Priest. Joseph’s character and talents made him an efficacious instrument of Divine Providence at a critical moment in the missionary history of South East Asia. His successes during his lifetime brought him to the attention of the Church authorities in both Portugal and Rome. After his death his example and methods of apostolic work made him a continuing inspiration for the missionary priests of his adopted island and beyond.

Unfortunately the exact whereabouts of his remains is uncertain. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 21st June, 1995, and his feast is kept each year on 16th January.

Blessed Joseph Vaz, pray for us!

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

New book by Fr. Guy Nicholls launched

Today the new book on Cardinal Newman and education by Fr. Guy Nicholls and Professor James Arthur was launched by Archbishop Vincent Nichols at the Birmingham Oratory. This is part of a series in the Continuum Library of Educational Thought.

At long last their labours over the last two years have now born fruit, after Father has spent much of his valuable time on this project. A small party was held in the upper cloister hall, which I was unfortunately unable to attend due to work. However Jackie Parkes has taken a few pictures. Congratulations Father!

Monday, 14 January 2008

Mass ad orientem

Yesterday our Holy Father celebrated mass in the Sistine Chapel for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and for the first time he has celebrated facing east. The portable forward facing altar was purposely not brought out.

For a long time Benedict has upheld the tradition of mass facing east, and now that he has made a public statement to this effect. What we in the Birmingham Oratory have held out in doing, often by the skin of our teeth in the 1960's and 1970's, has been vindicated. I am sure that some diocesan liturgy commissions will be reaching out for boxes of tissues....

Sunday, 13 January 2008

The Baptism in the Jordan

And so I conclude this series of off the cuff meditations on the Epiphany with the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan, on this Sunday of Our Lord's Baptism. These have been meditations that I have put together on the spur of the moment from what I know, without any prior research. Often they have been done during lunch break at work!

The Baptism of Our Lord is the last of the manifestations of the divinity of Christ, and the beginning of our Lord's public ministry. Here we see the Father proclaim, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." He was and is the Son of the Father from the very beginning, and not as the Arians believed, Son by adoption.

I have little time and energy to make any further detailed comment, but I will say that the baptism of Our Lord was the sanctification of water for general sacrament of baptism. Hence in the Eastern Church the Epiphany is the feast of the blessing of the waters. In Russia it is customary to immerse oneself in freezing cold waters in the middle of winter! Thankfully, we in the Birmingham Oratory this morning managed with Asperges at high mass, and live in a milder climate..

Saturday, 12 January 2008

King Herod

The story of King Herod is well known. That when he heard of the coming of the Christ from the wise men, he resolved to seek the child to kill it. But when the child eluded his grasp, he slaughtered all the male infants in Bethlehem.

It is clear from the accounts of Matthew that Herod knew exactly who the Christ child was. He had consulted the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and from the visit of the Magi it was clear to him that the infant Christ was the Messiah. But why did he seek to kill him? Because Herod saw Christ as a potential threat to his own temporal power? This is most unlikely, for Herod was a quisling puppet king who was supported by the Romans, and it would be many years before the Christ would come of age.

It is more likely that Herod sought to kill the Messiah for the same motivation that has been behind almost every persecution of the church in its history. The babe in Bethlehem was a sign that rendered Herod's sham glory to nothingness. For the incarnation of Christ is an existential threat to the powers of the world, and the repudiation and the denial of their divinity. The idolatry of kings, emperors, tyrants and dictators is rendered to dust and nothingness,and their power made vain and futile. By becoming powerless, God has destroyed power.

The great persecutions of the church in history follow a very similar pattern. The early Christians were thrown to the lions for refusing to burn incense before the image of the emperor. Catholics in Elizabethan England were persecuted for denying the spiritual authority of the queen, a cult that was known as the 'Crown Rights of the Redeemer.' In Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia it was for denying the 'will of the people' in the acts of mass murder, embodied in the cult figures of Lenin, Stalin and Hitler. And more recently Christians is the Islamic world are seen as obstacles to the pure society of Islam, brought into being by the alienated Islamist intellectual, whom like the Ayatollah Khomeini a great personality cult is built.

But as the Christ child was snatched from danger and fled into Egypt, Herod failed in his objective and killed the infants of Bethlehem. Likewise, persecutions invariably fail to destroy the church, but lead to great atrocities and the spilling of the blood of the innocent. In Elizabethan England, thousands were murdered, in Soviet Russia, millions. Yet the blood of martyrs is the seed of faith, for the death of Christ in his mystical body leads to his resurrection in glory.

Friday, 11 January 2008

The Destruction of Power

"You will not die. will be like God, knowing good and evil."

So is the great perennial lie of the serpent in the garden of Eden, the lie that is at the heart of every desire for power. By achieving power, success, wealth, fame and status, we will be delivered from the human condition of ignominy, weakness and mortality, and it will appear that we will live for ever. "You will not die, you will be like God" says Satan's empty promises, but what follows, the fruit of the tree of knowledge, is very real, "knowing good and evil." For this is a power to be achieved by wilfully trampling on the moral law of God that is written on every man's heart, by plunder, force, dishonesty and destruction.

But what has God done, the one who is power itself and it's ultimate origin? The one who created the world and sustains it in being? He has stooped down from the heights above, and not only come to earth, but embraced a human body and soul, with all its weakness, mortality and pain. But surely, if the world is his by right, do we see him claim the very best it can offer, in status, power, birth, wealth and physical attributes?

No. He has condescended to the lowest of the low, choosing not to be born in a palace but in a stable, choosing not the status of a king but that of an outcast. He has become one of us to destroy sin, to renew the earth and confound the wisdom of the world. In his taking on the fullness of the human condition, the whole order of humanity is turned upside down. ‘Blessed are the poor’ becomes reality. No longer is power, wealth, status and success the key to happiness and the kingdom of God, but the very weakness, pain and suffering of our fallen state.

The incarnation is a great sign of hope to those of us who have suffered misfortune, poverty and rejection. He who holds the universe in his hands has become a helpless infant, but an infant that the Magi recognise as their God, the one who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and bring the universe to its completion. No longer are we ruled by fate, but by a providence that has made power vain and empty. For no matter what the powers of this world can do, it will be him who bring everything to completion, who is the Alpha, Omega, the first and the last, the one who was, who is and is to come.

The message of the Gospel and of the divine manifestation was and is a great scandal to the powers of this world. It is no surprise that immediately after the visit of the Magi, King Herod was to bring into being what was the prototype for every single persecution of the church in history. Stay posted!

Thursday, 10 January 2008

The Miracle at Cana

The manifestation of the divine saviour at the wedding at Cana may seem far removed from the visit of the Magi. However on closer examination this is not so, for here we see another manifestation of the beneficent divine providence that has replaced the cruel blind fates. We are shown that it is not a fixed, unchanging and impersonal will, which are bound to and we can do nothing about, but a great personal outpouring of love.

The changing of water into wine at Cana at first was not intended by Christ: his public ministry had not yet begun. That was to happen after his baptism in the Jordan. But now we see his mother intervene. "They have no wine!" she says. He replies, "Woman, my time has not yet come." This occasion seems so trivial in the great plan of God. But due to Our Lady's intercession, the divine will is changed, and he changes water into the best wine.

This great act of kindness to save a wedding couple from embarrassment is a manifestation of the generosity and providence of God. He is a God who provides for our needs, no matter how trivial they may seem. This revelation of his kindness shows that no longer do we need to worry about our material needs, for he will provide. And just as his mother interceded for his help then on earth, so will she do so in heaven.

But far more importantly this miracle is also the great sign of what he intends for us. As the water became wine, our mortal humanity will be incorporated into his divinity and life. And most of all, it is the foretaste of the great wedding feast of the lamb: the holy sacrifice of the mass, where ordinary wine undergoes transubstantiation into his blood, poured out for the remission of our sins.

It should therefore be no surprise that as the miracle of Cana is one of the Epiphanies of our Lord, it is at the heart of the project of secularism to attempt to reverse it, to turn the wine of divine revelation into the water of secular humanism. Impossible that may be, the question arises, why should anyone want to do this? Why the resistance to divine revelation and divine providence after what we have seen? The answer I believe is very simple. The Epiphany is also the total destruction of power, of which I will talk of tomorrow.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Cardinal Newman's Beatification

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints has made a press release that they hope that the beatification of Cardinal Newman is immanent, along with Louis Martin and Azelia Guérin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux. What we have known was in the pipeline has at last been made official. Our prayers and supplications in the Birmingham Oratory have been answered. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Astrology, Fate, and the Star of Bethlehem

The appeal and power of astrology to man is and will remain perennial, and no more so than in today's world. The notion that we are part of an interconnecting universe where the movements of the planets and stars influence our behaviour and determine our fate is an extremely powerful one. No amount of empirical scientific explanation will eliminate this, and in reality it will do the opposite.

Why? It is a fact of our existence to find ourselves in a vast world which is often hostile, amidst powers of which we have no control and to which we are seemingly so small and insignificant. It seems that we are bound to a cruel and uncertain fate, whose only certainty is death. To have knowledge of what this fate may be for us enables a certain degree of control over our existence, for which we can plan our lives accordingly. Reading through Old Moore's Almanack, the same theme comes up again and again: control of one's life, prospects and relationships through knowledge of our fate.

To what extent the stars and planets influence us and our world in a source of endless debate. It could be real in an unknowable way, or it could be pure a superstition. But there is one thing that is rarely mentioned: whatever the stars' influence, there is one star whose existence has had and will have greater power than all the possible motions in the universe in history. It is the star that led the Magi to the saviour in Bethlehem.

In following this star the Magi were led to the one who is the creator of the starry skies, light of believers evermore, and by whose will and power they move and have their influence. In seeing and adoring the infant Christ, they saw that no longer is man ruled by the cruel yoke of blind fate, but by divine providence. Everything that happens good and evil is part of his greater plan, which will be fulfilled when he comes at the end to judge the living and the dead.

No longer must we look to the stars so we can have control, but instead we now trust in his will and his providence. For the epiphany of the divine saviour is the good news that God truly loves us and cares about us, that the cruel despair of fate has been brought to an end and every hair on our heads has been counted. To trust in astrology is refuse the love and hope he has brought. Later on, this divine providence was to be manifested in the miracle at the wedding at Cana, which I shall talk of tomorrow.

Jesu refulgit omnium, pius redemptor gentium. Nobis natus, nobis datus, lux et salus gentium.