Thursday, 29 December 2011

A Catholic Christmas

A few days ago, on Christmas Eve, we put up a blogpost shortly before going to Midnight Mass, our first Midnight Mass as Catholics.  In it, we talked of looking back to how we had marked Christmas in previous years, and sent our best wishes to our friends at Bourne Street.  No doubt you are all dying to know how it all went, and how we felt in the new environment.  Worry no more.

First of all, a couple of photos : before and after photos of the Outdoor Crib at St James's, taken upon leaving from and arriving for Midnight Mass.

The pictures may be of too poor quality for you to notice that the first one, the "after" picture, has the representation of the Infant Jesus in the manger, whereas the second one, the "before" picture does not.  If you happen to be passing St James's in the next few days, do walk along George St and have a look.

Back to the comparison between this year and last.  Last year was probably my favourite ever at Bourne St.  One of the pleasing constants between last year and this year was the Proclamation of the Nativity.  In 2010, I had the chance to chant this.  It was being sung for the first time at Bourne Street (as far as anyone could remember), inspired by noting that the chanting of this text had returned at St Peter's in Rome, and had been appearing at Anglo-Catholic parishes such as St Barnabas Tunbridge Wells and St John's Sevenoaks.  Here is a photo of that moment, and yes, I can confirm that reading the text and plainchant was not at all easy in the dark. 

This year, after carols from the choir (including the always popular O Holy Night), and at the start of Mass one of my favourite hymns (It Came upon the Midnight Clear), Fr Irwin ascended the pulpit steps and read the same well known text from the Roman Martyrology.  It was wonderful to hear those words again.

There are those who are not keen on the Proclamation of the Nativity, on the grounds that its historical accuracy is not always beyond challenge.  The text is indeed very specific about its dates, but perhaps one should not get too hung up about this, otherwise why mark Christmas on 25 December, why refer to this year as being 2011?  The point of the text, as it is read or chanted to us today, is to remind us that at a particular moment in our human history, God clothed Himself in human flesh, humbling Himself to be amongst us as one of us.  This was something that happened at a real point in time, as tangible as the time at which Midnight Mass started last Saturday night. 

St James's was packed to capacity, but with customary Spanish Place efficiency, the entire service was concluded and many hundreds communicated (to the accompaniment of the Darke setting of Rossetti's In the Bleak Midwinter) in only a little over an hour. 

As so many times before, there was a huge amount that was familiar to us about this service.  The Proclamation of course, but also the habit of sticking to a midnight start, and the habit of the Procession to the Crib occurring at the end (during that procession, what a pleasure it was to sing Adeste Fideles in Latin : I haven't done that since school). 

It was a true joy to be there.  We were delighted to have made the effort to have turned up so early, even by ten past eleven there was little seating left in the front half of the church.  The only slightly negative note was that even though St James's was absolutely full, we were conscious of those who were no longer with us, ie those at Bourne St with whom we had shared many Christmas midnights.  Prayer for Christian Unity must continue.

Happily, to distract us from any temptation towards such self-indulgent melancholy at this festive time of year, we are now very much throwing ourselves into the task of helping with the arrangements for the Ordinariate's "first birthday" service on Sunday 15th January, to be held at St James's.  It promises to be a very exciting event, the perfect occasion on which to give thanks for the creation of the Ordinariate and its huge contribution to the increase of unity amongst Christians in this country. 

At 5pm that day, we will have Solemn Evensong, followed by a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament and finally Benediction.  The music list is now being put together, and promises to be spectacular.  Those of you who know St James's will know that the choir is of a very high standard, so we will all be able to look forward to hearing some very fine and mostly familiar pieces of Anglican choral music in a splendid new Catholic setting. 

We have asked you before, and we will ask you again, do please come along on the 15th, and do please encourage all your friends to do so too, Catholics and Anglicans. 

To conclude, what else but O Holy Night.  Not in the choral setting in English that we all know, but in the original French : the Cantique de Noel Minuit, Chrétiens by Adolphe Adam, here sung by Robert Alagna. 

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Past, Christmas Present, Christmas Future

We would like to wish a very happy and blessed Christmas to all of our readers.  Thank you for your interest in the activities of our small Ordinariate group.

This time of year is one of great joy, hope and thanksgiving.  It is also a time when we all feel an unavoidable urge to look back, not just over the past year, but also to Christmases and New Year's Eves past.

For a blog about an Ordinariate Group, the obvious comparison to make is between Midnight Mass this year and last year.

Last year at St Mary's was perhaps my favourite ever (well, so far) : a packed church, the beauty of a darkened church before the service began, excellent music, the chance (for the author of this blogpost) to chant the Proclamation of the Nativity, the occasion to be amongst so many friends known for so many years on such a signficiant day.

This year, our little group will attend Midnight Mass being in full communion with the Holy Father.  Before long we will be sitting in St James's for carols at 11.30 and then our first Midnight Mass as Catholics.  We are with new friends, who have welcomed us with warmth and kindness.

We have left much behind, a huge amount, but what we have gained is beyond measure.  We send our very warmest wishes to our friends at St Mary's on this festive day, we pray that one day we shall all be united (the Newman quotation on the right hand sidebar of this blog rings in our hearts tonight).  Christian Unity is our hope for the future.

A most happy Christmas to you all.

Nativitas Domini Nostri Iesu Christi secundum carnem!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Tesco and Free Speech

In recent years, the press has delighted in throwing up examples of anti-Christian "political correctness gone mad", for instance the suppression of school Nativity Plays, the creation of the words Winterval and Winterfest, the case of a British Airways worker banned from wearing a crucifix around her neck while at work, or of a nurse censured for having offered to say a prayer for a patient.  Depending upon the newspaper, the tone of the article will either be of measured approval (eg The Independent or The Guardian), or of indignance and moral outrage (eg The Daily Mail).

In the last few days, a similar story has been doing the rounds, this time coming from the opposite perspective.  Someone called Nick Lansley, who is supposedly senior in the management of the Tesco website, posted some comments on his own personal Flickr page that his employers later, it seems, suggested that he might want to remove. 

What had Mr Lansley said?  The reports suggest that he had said “I’m also campaigning against evil Christians (that’s not all Christians, just bad ones) who think that gay people should not lead happy lives and get married to their same-sex partners.”

The first half of Mr Lansley's comments is clearly not directed at Catholics.  Catholics do not wish unhappiness on anyone.  Sexual orientation makes not a jot of difference to that.  The second half, well Mr Lansley doesn't really say enough for his meaning to be understood easily.  Is he talking about civil partnerships?  Is he talking about the current proposed legislation to allow civil partnerships to be conducted in religious premises (by the Quakers and two or three other small organisations)?    Is he talking about those frustrated by the Catholic Church's and (so far) the Church of England's lack of enthusiasm to redefine what marriage is in their eyes?  It's all rather vague, and as such it isn't easy to get worked up about it.

In any event, this blog has no wish to get itself tied up in that particular debate.  There are plenty more informed and more eloquent writers who would be able to do so much better than we ever could.  (No comments debating the point will be published.)

No, the point being made here today is rather different.  Frankly, I see no reason why Mr Lansley shouldn't be able to make those comments.  It's his opinion, we have free speech (more or less) in this country, so why not?  Nobody obliges any of us to like or agree with what he says.  Indeed, none of us really even have to be aware of what he writes on his own personal Flickr page.  It's his business, and might have remained so had he not also mentioned on that same site his high profile position at Tesco (the timing of his post, co-inciding with Tesco's equally publicised alleged reallocation of its corporate giving budget, was rather unfortunate for poor Mr Lansley).

However, if Mr Lansley should have that freedom (and I think he should), the same freedom should be given to people like the Housing Association manager from Manchester earlier this year, who made a comment on his own Facebook page to the effect that if churches didn't want to (or feel able to) conduct civil partnership ceremonies on their premises, they shouldn't be forced to do so by law.  The Housing Association manager was demoted and given a 40% pay cut for writing what he did. 

I know which statement I find more extreme.  One writer calls his opponents evil.  The other says that churches should not be forced, against their will, to conduct ceremonies that they believe they are unable to conduct (do people seriously want there to be police in attendance to make sure that Father X says the right words?). 

Yet, the making of one statement on someone's private internet account had severe and direct consequences, the other didn't really.  Whichever view you hold on the underlying issues, surely we could all agree that any suppression of free speech is unwelcome, and that the disparity between the consequences for those involved in the two publicised comments is quite simply unfair. 

Some people have felt that the above action calls for a boycott of shopping at Tesco.  I'm not at all sure about that, because to act in that way seems to me to be as illiberal as the (il)liberals who have punished the Housing Association manager.  Both he and Mr Lansley ought, I would suggest, to have the right to state their own views when doing so in their own name.

O Emmanuel

The Advent O Antiphon for Vespers on 23 December.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

O Rex Gentium

The Advent O Antiphon for Vespers on 22 December.

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

O Oriens

The Advent O Antiphon for Vespers on 21 December.

O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

What Would Dr Mascall Have Done?

One of the many subjects debated between those who have decided to join the Ordinariate and those who have not is what the late Fr X or Bishop Y would have done if they had been faced with a similar decision. 

It is, of course, impossible to come up with a definitive answer.  The circumstances are too different in most cases, and indeed the Church of England, and its Anglo-Catholic constituency, have transformed themselves dramatically.  (To be fair, the way Rome engages post Vatican II and the initial stages of ARCIC also change the analysis.)  People used to talk of corporate reunion between Canterbury and Rome, of a need to remind the Church of England that (if one accepts the theory) her rightful place is as the  historic Ecclesia Anglicana, part of the one universal Church.  Instead, people now talk about whether or not to preserve a cordonned-off space within the Church of England in which Anglo-Catholics can carry on peacefully ie a more or less catholic enclave within a Liberal Protestant church, or even about whether the Catholic Church and the Pope have the monopoly on being the Catholic Church.

None of this was properly imaginable even a generation ago.  Indeed, it is so bizarre that it barely seems imaginable even today : yet it is reality. 

Of the three most famous founding fathers of the Oxford Movement, we all know what Newman did, and perhaps Keble seems the one most likely to have understood the approach of the modern day deniers.     Pusey, well, it's true that he was not burning with enthusiasm for a ticket to Rome, but on the other hand would he have felt more positive about following his friend Newman's example if he had been a part of the Church of England as it is now, where Holy Orders are defined by majority vote?  There is quite simply no way of knowing, although one rather thinks that the scope for debate would be rather more limited if one imagines Dr Pusey having to decide between Rome and for example the US Episcopal Church as it now is.

All such debates are fun but rather futile.  To stand a chance of coming close to being able to speculate slightly more accurately on what the great figures of Anglo-Catholicism might have done, one needs to move much nearer to current times.  The most obvious example is Dr Eric Mascall, a towering figure of Anglo-Catholicism and indeed of theology in the twentieth century, who was for many years one of the clergy at St Mary's Bourne Street (the former home of the members of the Marylebone Ordinariate Group). 

Clearly, there can be no certain answer as to what Dr Mascall would have done.  While the dramatic events of 1992 and 1993 unfolded in England, he was too ill to reach a conclusion about what path he might take, and indeed he died before the first of the ordinations of women priests in the Church of England (although after the decisive vote in General Synod).  Nonetheless, Mascall is probably the nearest to us in time of those leaders of Anglo-Catholicism who died before a decision came to be necessary.  Monsignor Graham Leonard and the Rt Revd Eric Kemp both lived long enough to make their decisions, and as such they fall just this side of the dividing line : there is very little gap between the time of their decisions and the death of Mascall. 

Having had some email correspondence with Professor William Tighe on the matter, we have included below an article that he wrote for the excellent Anglo-Catholic blog in February 2010, on the 17th anniversary of Dr Mascall's death.  Many of you may have seen the article already, but fewer of you will have picked up on one of the comments, one posted by Professor Tighe himself.  The comment demonstrates just how awkward the situation is for faithful Anglo-Catholics who remain in the Church of England, as compared to the more compassionate and pastoral approach that would have been favoured by Dr Mascall.  Here is the comment, followed by the text of the original article by Professor Tighe, with thanks and acknowledgement to the Anglo-Catholic blog, where the article was first posted.
In my posting, I wrote:

"His correspondence, now in the archives of Pusey House, Oxford, contains some tense and even fraught exchanges with his old friend Michael Ramsey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, over some of the resolutions of the 1968 Lambeth Conference, and over the Anglican-Methodist unity votes of 1969 and 1972, which the Methodists supported, as did Ramsey, but which failed to achieve the requisite majority in the Church of England’s General Synod, and which, in their final form, Mascall opposed."

When reading through Mascall's correspondence in the Pusey House archive in July 2007 I was struck by one exchange between Mascall and Ramsey in the lead-up to the 1972 vote. Ramsey had written rather vehemently to Mascall protesting the latter's eventual opposition to the scheme (Mascall had earlier joined with his fellow Anglo-Catholic Graham Leonard, and with two Evangelical Anglicans, Colin Buchanan and James Packer, to propose alterations which, if adopted, would make the scheme acceptable in their sight); evidently Mascall had expressed the view that to proceed with the union, even with the requisite two-thirds majority in the General Synod, would be inappropriate, given that to do so would make it morally necessary for a large portion of the opposed minority to separate from the Church of England, as likewise for a considerable proportion of the approximate 20% minority in the Methodist Church who opposed it. Ramsey, in reply, urged Mascall to consider how unsatisfying and absurd it would be to allow a small bitter-end rump of Protestants (or words very much to the same effect) to block the achievement of sacramental reconciliation between the Church of England and the Church of Rome, "a cause which, as you know, is as dear to my heart as it is to yours."

In his reply, Mascall acknowledged his long-standing desire for just such a reconciliation, but he went on to declare that if there were any organized and recognized body of Anglican opinion within the Church of England that could not accept the terms of such an Anglican/Catholic reconciliation, he would prefer that such a proposal be deferred, or even defeated, rather than seeing conscientious fellow-members of the Church of England being driven to leave. Mascall's reply is a vivid expression of his pastoral sensitivity — but it also related rather closely to his final apprehension that that the Church of England in particular, and "Anglicanism" more generally, was a church structure consisting of "three parties or groups 'severally holding three irreconcilable views of the nature of the Christian religion' existing alongside one another in the same church" — a logical inference from which is that until the triumph of one particular party, the one with the least scruples about treading upon tender consciences, the illiberal "Liberals," that is, in order to achieve their goals, which is what recent decades have seen among Anglicans in America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, and elsewhere, and more recently in England, Angican churches generally would be unable to achieve ecumenical goals of any sort without the risk and reality of fragmentation.
How times changed over the past forty years.  The General Synod in its voting record has much to learn from the charitable approach of Dr Mascall, concerned as he was to bring people along with him rather than leave a minority in an impossible position.


Eric Lionell Mascall as Anglican Patrimony

February 14, 2010 marks the seventeenth anniversary of the death of Eric Lionel Mascall, one of the great luminaries of English Anglo-Catholicism in the Twentieth Century, a man to whom his distant kinsman through marriage, Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P., dedicated his admirable book, The Panther and the Hind: A Theological History of Anglicanism in 1993 — a book of which a new edition may be in prospect — referring to Mascall in the dedication as magistro catholicae veritatis, which one might render as a “masterful teacher of catholic truth.” He would be pleased, I think, at the prospect of the “rescue mission” for elements of the “Anglican patrimony” offered in Anglicanorum Coetibus, and at the place within that patrimony which his writings will surely come to hold.

Unlike his friend Dom Gregory Dix, Mascall did not espouse an overtly “Anglo-Papalist” ecclesiological stance, but neither did he espouse an anti-papalist one such as did Austin Farrer, another one of his friends. His criticisms of some of the excesses and conundrums of a “hyper-papalist” ecclesiology in the last two chapters of his The Recovery of Unity: A Theological Approach (1958) are cogent and forceful because of their limited scope, and given his explicit acceptance of the postulates that Christ conferred a primacy over the Church and the other apostles upon St. Peter, that that primacy was transmissible to his successors, and that his successors are the Bishops of Rome. One might even claim to find in the writings of Joseph Ratzinger, now happily reigning as Benedict XVI, some of the same kinds of criticisms and reservations, and one might likewise see in Vatican II the beginning of a remedy for some of these “excesses,” while the greater “excesses” of theological revisionists have underlined the need for a magisterial authority rooted in the Tradition which it both serves and defends.

Mascall has chronicled his life in charming and full detail in Saraband: The Memoirs of E. L. Mascall, which appeared in 1992, months before his death (he once told me that his preferred subtitle was “the memoirs of a senior citizen,” as he was much taken with that American term). Briefly, here — he was born December 12, 1905, read Mathematics as a Cambridge undergraduate, taught Mathematics from 1928 to 1931, then studied for ordination, and was ordained in the Church of England in 1933. Curacies followed, then in 1937 he became Sub-Warden of Lincoln Theological College, in 1945 a don at Christ Church, Oxford, and in 1962 Professor of Historical Theology at King’s College, London, from which he retired in 1973. During his years in London he lived in a suite of rooms in the top floor of the presbytery of St. Mary’s, Bourne Street, an Anglo-Catholic “shrine church” close to Sloane Square, and he continued to live there after his retirement until ill-health necessitated his retirement to a nursing home in 1987 where he passed the remaining five years of his life in some loneliness and among mostly demented fellow patients.

I had discovered the works of Mascall on my own, as a library-haunting undergraduate at Georgetown University in the early 1970s. Later, as a graduate student at Yale I happened to read in a newspaper that he was preaching the three-hour’s devotion at the Church of the Transfiguration in Manhattan on Good Friday, and so I decided to go down to the service, and after it met him. He invited me to correspond with him, and when I told him that I would be leaving Yale for Cambridge in 1978 he invited me for tea with him at his flat.

That was for me the beginning of a long and valued acquaintanceship. In the years that I lived in Britain, 1978 to 1986, we tended to meet three or four times a year, and more often during the two years I lived in London. In subsequent summer stays in London I traveled to the nursing home in Sussex in which he lived to visit him, for the last time in August 1992, some six months before his death. Our conversation ranged through many areas, theological, historical and ecclesiastical. He gave me copies of many of his books and articles, and we discussed others. In his earlier years he had professed a robust Anglo-Catholicism, believing that the Church of England was a truly “Catholic church,” although unfortunately (in his view) separated from the mainstream of Western Catholicism by the self-interested actions of Tudor monarchs in the Sixteenth Century, and the subservience to them of Archbishop Cranmer (for whom he expressed to me more than once a thorough detestation), and although interested in contemporary Roman Catholic theology, had many lively and ongoing contacts with the Orthodox world through the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, of which he had been “present a the creation” in 1927 and in which he was to be active for over sixty years, but by the time that I met him his confidence in the tenability of such a view had weakened.

There were various reasons for this. One was what he saw as the remarkable “opening” of the Roman Catholic Church to ecumenical activities, discussion and hospitality — a hospitality he personally enjoyed in various Catholic venues in Rome, Europe and America from the late 1960s onwards. He had a strong admiration for Pope Paul VI, an admiration that seems to have been reciprocal, and as one who, as he told me, had always thought the 1930 Lambeth Conference’s acceptance of the practice of contraception an error, he was a strong supporter of that pope’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. Secondly, he had come to believe since around 1968 and in connection with that year’s Lambeth Conference, that the Anglican Communion was becoming more and more “unprincipled” in its ecumenical dealings with other Christian traditions, and more tolerant than was wise of heterodox theologians and their theologies. His correspondence, now in the archives of Pusey House, Oxford, contains some tense and even fraught exchanges with his old friend Michael Ramsey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, over some of the resolutions of the 1968 Lambeth Conference, and over the Anglican-Methodist unity votes of 1969 and 1972, which the Methodists supported, as did Ramsey, but which failed to achieve the requisite majority in the Church of England’s General Synod, and which, in their final form, Mascall opposed. Thirdly, he was an “impossibilist” on the ordination of women, at least to the priesthood and episcopate (I never heard him express an opinion on the ordination of women to the diaconate) and felt that to “ordain” women destroyed the credibility of the “Catholic claims” of any church body that did so.

From the 1960s onwards his more “polemical” books, such as The Secularization of Christianity (1965), Theology and the Gospel of Christ (1977) and Whatever Happened to the Human Mind (1980) — none of which dealt solely, or even mostly, with matters of Anglican concern — reflected this concern with “things gone awry.” His final unpublished book manuscript, now in the Pusey House archives, which seems to date from about 1985 and had the title The Overarching Question: Divine Revelation or Human Invention, is, like these other works, not primarily Anglican in its focus, but has a final chapter, “And Anglicanism Whither?,” in which he attacks both the synodical structures of modern Anglican churches, in which truth is “created” by legislative-assembly-style votes, as with the “ordination” of women, and the inability of successive Lambeth Conferences to exercise the type of authority which he believed was inherent in the episcopate as understood by Catholics. In what seems to have been remnants of an earlier draft version of the book he attacked the Anglican theory of “comprehensiveness” and the related idea that it was the glory of the Church of England and Anglicanism generally that it possessed three “schools of thought,” the “catholic,” the “evangelical,” and the “liberal,” each one of which embraced a part of the truth but each of which needed the others to “complement” and “balance” it — he saw it rather as an administrative devise or plausible fiction to conceal the fact of three parties or groups “severally holding three irreconcilable views of the nature of the Christian religion” existing alongside one another in the same church; and in it he went on to criticize what he saw as a return of a form of the Anglican “Liberal Catholicism” of the 1920s and 30s, in which a “magisterium” of academic scholars would be the ultimate arbiters of Christian Truth and Church Tradition.

On my final visit to Mascall in August 1992 I found him visibly and emotionally upset in a way that I had never previously experienced. The Women’s Ordination (Priesthood) Bill was to come up for its final vote in November of that year — it squeaked by the necessary two-thirds majority by only two votes, the votes of Evangelical laymen who changed their minds (or at least their votes) in response to the emotional pleas in favor of the bill by the new Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey — and he was alarmed a the prospect. “I know what I shall have to do if the bill passes,” he said to me, “but I don’t know if I shall have the strength and health to do it. I hope I die first.” I didn’t dare to ask him what “it” was, and he did die first: the General Synod did approve the measure in November 1992, but the passage of the legislation through Parliament subsequently, and the “Act of Synod” providing compensation for those opponents of women’s ordination who would feel compelled to leave the church, and a scheme of Provincial Episcopal Visitors (or “flying bishops”) for those who wished to remain in the Church of England — a scheme now evidently to be withdrawn and terminated in connection with the legislation to allow women bishops — ensured that the measure did not come into legal effect until February 1994, a year after Mascall’s death.

What would he have decided? After his death I made some attempts to contact the executor of his will, listed in his obituary in The Times as “Col. Robert Gould,” but to no avail. A friend of mine inquired some years ago of the recently-deceased former Bishop of Chichester, Eric Kemp (1915-2009), a friend of Mascall’s, who in his memoirs said that in the unlikely event that he would ever feel compelled to leave the Church of England he would become Orthodox, who replied that he thought he would become Orthodox. Another friend made the same inquiry of the late Msgr. Graham Leonard (1923-2010), a former Bishop of London who became a Catholic in 1994, and likewise a friend of Mascall, who responded that he was sure that he would have become a Catholic. Then a chance telephone conversation with a friend led to another with a colleague of that friend, who identified “Col. Robert Gould” as in fact “Fr. Robert Gould,” a man who in his youth had been a colonel in the “territorial army” (the British equivalent of the National Guard), had then been ordained in the Church of England, served as a priest in it for many years, until he had become a Catholic at the time of Mascall’s death, and had resumed the use of the “courtesy title” of colonel until his subsequent ordination in the Catholic Church. I was given Fr. Gould’s telephone number at the retirement home in which he lived, and in subsequent conversations with him learned that Mascall, whose confessor Fr. Gould had been, had after much agonizing come to the conclusion that he would have to leave the Church of England if the legislation should pass — but that by the time it did pass his advancing debilitation had reached such a state that he concluded that he did not have the mental faculties to make such a decision. At the end, though, it seems that he was a Catholic in desire if not in fact. We should remember him today, and on this day, as someone whose thought, writings — and lived experience — forms a bright tessera in the mosaic of the Anglican patrimony that is moving towards reconstitution within the Catholic Church. Perhaps he might one day be a candidate for canonization, a suggestion made recently concerning Edward Bouverie Pusey, as one of the earthly inspirers and heavenly patrons of this movement.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

O Clavis

The Advent O Antiphon for Vespers on 20 December.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death

Anniversary Artwork

We have already mentioned the event being held on Sunday 15 January 2012 at St James's Spanish Place, but here is another reminder (the first of many to come), this time including some artwork. 

At 5pm on that happy day, to mark the Ordinariate's first "birthday", Monsignor Newton will preside over a service of Solemn Evensong, Procession of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction.   More details to follow.

Please do make every effort to attend, and do encourage your friends to do the same.


Monday, 19 December 2011

O Radix

The Advent O Antiphon for Vespers on 19 December.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

Annuntio Vobis Gaudium Magnum

It seems that almost every time I have attended Mass at Westminster Cathedral over the past year, something newsworthy happens in connection with the Ordinariate.  Yesterday seems to have been no exception.  Before announcing what the news of great joy is (in the unlikely event that you don't already know), here is yet another of my grainy pictures, this time showing the procession leaving after the 5.30 Mass yesterday evening.

There were several things that struck me about yesterday's Mass.  The fact that the animatrice not only had an excellent voice, but that she was extremely useful (my experience of witnessing people perform this role before has not always been as happy).  The powerful intercessions, asking God's blessing on and guidance for those preparing to make their Advent confession, and equally for the priests preparing to hear Advent confessions.  The singing of O Come O Come Emmanuel by the congregation, which seemed to fill over 80% of the seating, impressive on a bitingly cold December evening. 

One thing, more than anything else, stood out yesterday.  It wasn't particularly seasonal at all, and indeed I have witnessed it before (including precisely one week ago), but it really spoke to me yesterday.  Canon Christopher Tuckwell was the Celebrant : at the censing, as he stood alone under that magnificent baldacchino, facing the Cross on the altar, it really was the clearest vision imaginable of the priest going into the holy of holies, preparing for something truly momentous, going alone to the altar in persona Christi to offer that most perfect sacrifice.  Somehow the simple sight of a solitary figure standing before and then moving around that massive and splendid altar generated a clarity of vision that I had rarely experienced before. 

Back to the great news.  You may have noticed on the Ordinariate website, or in their newsletter, or even on the Facebook site of the Marylebone Ordinariate Group (if you haven't yet signed up to "like" our Facebook page, please do so), that there is a special anniversary coming up.  On January 15, it will be exactly one year since that momentous day in Westminster Cathedral when Monsignor Newton, Monsignor Broadhurst and Monsignor Burnham were ordained as Catholic priests by Archbishop Vincent Nichols.  That day was the day on which the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was formally erected.

That day was also of huge importance in the progress of the members of the Marylebone Ordinariate Group towards becoming Catholics.  The huge and joyous congregation, the sense of warmth and welcome and that this was precisely the right thing to be doing, the dignified liturgy, the excellent music, the feeling of there being a shared purpose and a shared set of beliefs, the goal of Christian Unity coming nearer: these were all factors that combined to become a significant influence on us and no doubt on many others. 

Therefore, it is only right that this day should be marked in some way. 

At 5pm on Sunday 15 January, by kind permission of the Rector, Fr Christopher Colven, there will be a service of Solemn Evensong and Benediction (in the rite approved for use in the Ordinariate) at St James's, Spanish Place.  Monsignor Newton will preside.  As St James's is the parish church in which the Marylebone Ordinariate Group meets, we are of course particularly delighted about this event.

(Those of you who have not yet read William Oddie's excellent book The Roman Option, written in 1997, which sets out with astonishing prescience a vision of what is only now beginning to come to fruition, will not have seen the excellent letter included as an appendix to the book : it was a letter written in 1995 by Fr Colven when he was the Vicar of the Anglican parish of St Stephen's Gloucester Road, talking to his parishioners about his decision to join the Catholic Church, and the possibilities for some of them to do the same.  It is most definitely worth reading.)

Much is in the planning still for this service of Solemn Evensong & Benediction, and so cannot yet be revealed, but this promises to be a very exciting day.  We have much to give thanks for, and much on which to ask for guidance.  Marking this occasion in the form of a Solemn Evensong & Benediction, perhaps one of the "trademark" services of Anglo-Catholicism and yet perfectly adaptable to Catholic worship, in such a beautiful church seems exactly the right thing to do. 

We ask you all to publicise this event as widely as you can, perhaps by sending this blog article to your friends, sharing the Facebook link to this post, and/or by increasing awareness of the event in any way you can find.  We want Ordinariate members, all Catholics, any interested Anglicans, and indeed all wellwishers to be there to express their support by their presence and through their prayers.  The Ordinariate is the Holy Father's personal project, and certainly all Catholics will most surely want to do everything they can to advance it. 

Even as we watch and wait in the last days of Advent, in preparation for the great Solemnity ahead of us this Sunday, let us give thanks and praise to Almighty God for the existence of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, for the nascent Ordinariates in the USA, Australia and Canada, and indeed for Pope Benedict XVI's marvellous initiative of Anglicanorum Coetibus.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

O Adonai

The Advent O Antiphon for Vespers on 18 December.

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

O Sapientia

The Advent "O" antiphon for Vespers on 17 December.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Veni Veni Emmanuel

Our last few blogposts have been rather light on music.  No, this has not been a result of over-zealous Advent penitence, but rather just a function of the topics under consideration recently.  Time to remedy the situation. 

Over the next 7 days (as from tomorrow evening), we will post the O Antiphon of the day on the blog.  We will include the text in Latin and English, as well as let you hear the chant being sung. 

Before that though, for today here is the hymn that synthesises the seven O Antiphons.  We have included a Latin setting, as well as the version in English so beloved of Anglican Carol Services. 

Thursday, 15 December 2011


A short additional blogpost to bring to your attention a posting by Damian Thompson over at his excellent Daily Telegraph blog. 

His post is entitled "The English Bishops are trying to Smother the Ordinariate.  How long will Rome tolerate this situation?"

We have previously highlighted Damian Thompson's views of the English Bishops and their interaction with the Ordinariate. 
Whatever you think of the subject under discussion, it's clear that Damian Thompson's post will help the debate continue.  The development of the Ordinariate is not something that should be allowed to slip quietly into the background, neither in terms of a principal church, nor in more general terms.  The debate is healthy and is necessary.  Damian Thompson's tone is more forthright than that of this blog, but there is no harm in that : it is good to raise points of concern in this way, especially on topics such as how to make sure the Holy Father's intentions for his personal project are implemented.

We still think that Ordinariate clergy running a large London parish as its principal church might not be a bad idea.  This was suggested flippantly at the end of one recent post, but it could be a good solution that both fulfils the Holy Father's wishes, and addresses the valid concerns of those both inside and outside the Ordinariate about the practicalities.  The Oratorians and Jesuits, amongst others, do it, yet no-one suggests that they are fully subsumed by that role within the local diocese.  Equally, no-one suggests that the local, non-Ordinariate parish population is any way badly served by having non-diocesan clergy in charge.

In any event, we strongly feel that where realistic and viable options arise, they should be explored actively.  No-one should jump at the first idea that comes along, and the anxieties about practicalities cannot be set aside, but nonetheless, very serious consideration should be given to plans that appear even semi viable. 

Please pray for the growth and success of the Ordinariate in this country, and around the world.


Fr Ray Blake, on his excellent blog, which we often cite, has also now posted some thoughts following Damian Thompson's article.

Dressed to Deceive

In the past couple of weeks, there has been some heated internet discussion on the subject of Anglican clergy who, either by actively misleading people or by letting incorrect assumptions remain uncorrected, preside over situations where Catholics receive communion in their churches.

First of all, I must say that this is something that I do not think I have ever come across personally. I have certainly heard of a Vicar X or or a Rector Y who regularly has one-time visiting Catholics who do not realise that his church is not part of the Catholic Church, but deliberate deception of visiting Catholics is not something I have ever witnessed myself, at least as far as I am aware.

Catholic commentators, such as Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, have expressed forcefully and clearly that this kind of active deception should stop.   This is not really a discussion about the use of the new translation of the Roman Rite in the Church of England and the Diocese of London in particular (such as discussed in our most popular ever blogpost), but there is a link, since an Anglican clergyman has cited the familiarity of the Roman Rite to visiting Catholics as an argument in favour of using the Roman Rite in the Church of England. (as mentioned in our blogpost The End of the Year).  Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith views this as potentially deceitful, and taking the specific case of the Anglican Diocese of London, he rightly points out that neither the Catholic Bishop of the diocese covering the area (ie the Archbishop of Westminster) nor the Anglican Bishop of London (Dr Richard Chartres) have given their permission for the Roman Rite to be used in Anglican parishes.

The main counterargument (or defence against the charges of deception) that I have spotted on the internet appears to be along the lines of "Oh yes, I have several Catholics who come to my church, and they prefer it here because the Romans are so unfriendly to them and we are much more understanding about X or Y or Z".  One can agree or disagree with what those Catholics are doing, but ultimately they are making an informed choice on the basis of their reaction to their particular situation.  In these cases, no-one is deceiving anyone else (although some might wish to say that the Catholics receiving communion in an Anglican church might be deceiving themselves).  This is a matter of personal choice and religious freedom, and as such is most definitely not the target of Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith's article.  It is, therefore, no answer to his point.

Equally, we all know that London has a very large population of Continenental Europeans, who if croyant and pratiquant, each attach more or less importance to whether they attend a Catholic church on a Sunday morning or whether they go to one of the very dignified Anglican establishments, with their fine choirs, fine buildings and, depending on the venue and the Anglican churchmanship, fine vestments and ceremonial.  This will as often as not be a French phenomenon, although there are plenty of other nations represented too (there seems to be some kind of very effective preparation given in Poland to Poles departing for the UK that greatly minimises this among the Polish population).  State Mattins at St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey or even the Royal Hospital in Chelsea can appeal strongly to some people: there is no denying that, even if it is not the Mass.  Moreover, it would be utterly hypocritical of those of us in the Marylebone Ordinariate Group if we were to pretend that the eucharistic liturgies (whether or not approved of by Dr Chartres) in some of London's Anglo-Catholic shrines did not have some considerable outward appeal.  We do not think that Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith had these people in mind either : these are people, in possession of the facts, making a choice, with which we are free to agree or disagree, that they will not attend a Catholic church but instead they will "go local" and enjoy what is on offer in London in the Church of England.  It is their call.

Neither are we talking about a casual visitor to a Church of England parish who doesn't spot the difference, who doesn't understand the subtleties of, how shall I put it, our country's rich ecclesial history, and who, for that one-time visit only, unthinkingly receives communion.  These things happen.  Short of introducing Paisleyite notices at the start of services proclaiming that the Bishop of Rome hath no dominion in this land, or even something along the lines of, as the old but rather unkind and mean-spirited joke about the more florid and extravagant forms of Anglo-Catholic ceremonial goes, "No Popery here, only Pot Pourri", there is no way it can be avoided.
No, this is about what must be a small and probably dwindling minority of Anglican clergy who will answer the polite question of e.g. a visiting Spaniard "Is this a Catholic church?" with a simple "Yes."  The person giving the response may very well wholeheartedly believe, hand on heart, that they are indeed part of the one universal Church, but equally they know very well that the individual putting the question to them means something very specific when they use the phrase "Is this a Catholic church?".  The visiting Spaniard is asking whether the church is in communion with Rome, and emphatically not whether the Vicar still manages to convince himself of the continuing claims of the Anglo-Catholic movement to be a partly separate branch of the Church.

Anglican clergy who respond to questions of that nature in that way are acting in a very plainly deceitful manner.  This has absolutely nothing to do with disputes over validity or recognition of orders, nothing at all : it is very simply a case of people quite deliberately giving misleading answers to visitors.  It is plain dishonesty.  There are one or two rather well-known Bible stories about the importance of being hospitable (and one might suggest that this includes honesty) to visitors, as the clergy in question almost certainly know.

Such clergy might defend themselves by saying that not only do they genuinely consider that they are part of the Catholic Church, even if based in a slightly separated branch, but that since they have no problem with offering eucharistic hospitality to visiting Catholics, why should they care about what the visiting Spaniard's priests or bishop might say?  If the Vicar says "I have no problem with you receiving communion, but I must advise you that your Catholic bishop would not be happy", then the information and the choice are with the individual concerned: but if he doesn't, he knows perfectly well that he is deliberately deceiving his visitor. 

Another attempt to justify not telling visitors the truth would seem to be the rather proud view that what the visitor witnesses is so much nicer in terms of music and ceremonial than what they would find at home in France or Spain that the visitor should immediately be able to tell the difference.  This strikes me as extremely unkind.  In any such circumstances, what the visitor is being told "I'm going to let you think that this is a Catholic church, and if you don't notice that it isn't, then that's just your tough luck."

We have to hope that this is an increasingly rare phenomenon.  We have to hope that Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith's article touched on something that is a folk memory of the heartier days of Anglo-Catholicism, and that it does not represent the likely experience of a Catholic visiting a Church of England church today.  My own view, flawed and imperfect as my opinions may be, suggests that this is indeed the case : let us pray that this is so.

Dishonesty is just dishonesty.  It has nothing to do with ecumenism, branch theories, ordinariates, votes of General Synod, Apostolicae Curae, Saepius Officio, translations of the Roman Rite or anything else.  It is most certainly conduct unbecoming of the office and work of a clerk in holy orders.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Three Nights out at the Pictures

Today, a short post bringing to your attention two films that should be worth looking out for in 2012, and a reminder about a film that is out now.  It is a rare joy to be able to highlight three new films that include the Catholic Church without either being ludicrous or hypercritical. 

The first film, for which credit for bringing it to our attention must be given to Fr Tim Finigan is the War of the Vendée.  It looks as if it will be an astonishing film, notable not only for its use of a cast of 250 young Catholics, but in that it dares to tell what is a very politically incorrect and unfashionable story, being the story of the uprising by and then brutal crushing of loyal Catholics in the dark days of vicious religious repression that followed the French Revolution.  The film is due out in January 2012. 

In recent years, there has been much debate over whether or not the War of the Vendée constituted the first genocide of modern times.  The debate has focused on the technicalities of the definition of the word genocide, which in the circumstances seems rather irrelevant.  What is not in dispute is that the Revolutionary forces massacred Catholics who had done no wrong other than to refuse to colloborate with the barbaric excesses of the new regime, and who were prepared to fight for the Faith.

The second, much happier, film is The Unseen World, a film that will cover the life of Blessed John Henry Newman, particularly focusing on the priestly life and its challenges and blessings.  This Rome Reports footage talks of the film being released in mid 2011, but it seems that it is now scheduled for release in June 2012. 

Finally, you might still be able to catch We Have A Pope as it is being labelled in the UK, Habemus Papam in certain other countries.   It is a tale of a newly elected Pope who has a panic attack at the thought of his new responsibilities, and of his programme of treatment.  The settings are beautiful, and the attention paid to getting the wardrobe correct is impressive. 

Enjoy the films.

Monday, 12 December 2011

A Principal Church for the Ordinariate

It was after coming home last night from having attended the 5.30pm Sung Mass at Westminster Cathedral, the "mother church" of the diocese in which our Ordinariate Group is based, that I happened upon the Ordinariate Portal's news update on Facebook that some comments by Archbishop Vincent Nichols on the subject of the Ordinariate and a possible "principal church" for it had been reported on the Ordinariate Portal's website.

The Mass itself had been very good.  The usual dignified style, a stirring hymn to kick things off (Hail to the Lord's Anointed, the same Advent hymn discussed by Monsignor Andrew Burnham on the Oxford Ordinariate blog), the plainsong to Mass XVIII sung congregationally, and a good homily on happiness (we are all obsessed by trying to find it, perhaps prayer and spirituality are very effective ways to get nearer to it, Gaudete!).   It was a little more restrained, all in all, than the Beethoven in C mass setting that resounded around St James's yesterday morning, but there is a place for everything.

Although I couldn't place him at the time, I now realise that the celebrant and homilist was Fr Alexander Masters, the Precentor of Westminster Cathedral, who sang so beautifully for the recent Radio 3 live broadcast of the Requiem Mass for All Souls' Day.  You can find a little information on Fr Masters here, but the reason I recognised him in the end is that his identical twin brother was at University with me.

A couple of photos from last night are shown below.  I am very pleased with the first one, a rare example of my taking a reasonably good picture, whereas the second is of note only because it shows the Cathedral High Altar with the rose pink altar frontal appropriate to Gaudete Sunday.

One can imagine that the subject of a principal church for the Ordinariate is something that the Archbishop of Westminster is asked about quite frequently.  It is also, no doubt, a question that is addressed by and put to Monsignor Newton fairly often (the topic cropped up in the meeting described here, and is covered at the end of Monsignor Newton's long address described in the 2 October 2011 post over at the Catholic League blog.

From our discussions with other Catholics, both members and non-members of the Ordinariate, we are aware that there is some strength of feeling on this. 

There are those who see the establishment of the principal church as being likely to add definition to the Ordinariate, and thereby to add to its appeal to former Anglicans.  They see it as a key part of the mission of the Ordinariate.  They note that although the Ordinariate is not, by any means, awash with cash, the hard work of the Friends of the Ordinariate in particular is starting to bear fruit.  They consider that the Holy Father's intention is that the Ordinariate must have a principal church, and that we should press ahead with it. 

The ever-interesting and ever-forthright Damian Thompson put it like this recently.  He wonders if the Bishops of England and Wales are doing all that they could be.  The Catholic Herald also expressed a similar view in a recent editorial.  It is certainly hard to detect a sense of driving urgency and enthusiasm in the reported words of the Archbishop of Westminster on this topic, but is the obvious caution of the Bishops' Conference really such a totally bad thing?

The counterargument to the admirable drive to find a principle church asap is far from totally watertight, but it does contain a few points that cannot be swept aside without any thought.  I do not suggest that the obstacles are insurmountable, far from it, and indeed the courage that Damian Thompson and the Catholic Herald call for might help overcome them, but they do most certainly exist and will need to be dealt with. 

First, there is the question of the building.  There is certainly a small number of vacant or little used Catholic churches in London, but the list is not endless.  One imagines that the Bishops' Conference would be wary of proposing something in too poor a condition, or too far out of the way, for fear of appearing to be trying to fob the Ordinariate off, or of appearing to be trying to rid themselves of something no longer wanted rather than offering something of value to assist a personal project of the Holy Father.  Equally, as indeed hinted at by Archbishop Nichols, the Ordinariate would probably not want to take on the financial burden of a building in a state of considerable disrepair.  A couple of months ago, we put up a blogpost covering our thoughts on the support given by the Bishops of England and Wales.   Whether or not there is room for greater levels of wholehearted support for the Holy Father's intentions for the Ordinariate in some quarters there, we know for sure that the Anglican Diocese of London is not going to offer any space whatsoever.  "Why should they?" some ask : and that does indeed seem to be the attitude of Dr Chartres

Second, there is the question of attendance.  There are members of the Ordinariate in Central London, and some of them, with other ordinariate members and some interested Anglicans, would come together to build a congregation for a principal church.  There would of course also be other Catholics, both those interested specifically in the Ordinariate (perhaps being former Anglicans themselves) and those who happen to live or work in the area.  Any Catholic church in Central London benefits from there being a significant core Catholic population.  Even with all this combined, which would be more than the average Church of England parish in Central London could muster, would it be enough?  Nobody wants to set up a principal church that ends up, even in the early stages of its life, like the sad but familiar spectacle of a dying Anglo-Catholic shrine with more people in the sanctuary than in the nave. 

Third there is the question of funding.  Very simply, as Archbishop Nichols asked, has the Ordinariate reached a position where this can be paid for?  We are certainly at the stage where it is right not to be too gung-ho, but we are also at the stage where we are genuinely able to begin explore possibilities with a realistic expectation of being able to implement them, if it seems appropriate.

So where does this leave us?   It seems that the cautious approach is going to continue, and we can only guess the extent to which the possibilities of finding somewhere in the immediate future are being actively explored.  We hope that they are being explored, and that if they don't make sense they will be rejected (there is no need to go for the first thing that comes along), and that if they do, people will start doing some soul-searching and some number-crunching, and will have the courage called for by Damian Thompson and the Catholic Herald. 

One further thought.  Although his remark in no way diminishes the imperative of establishing a principal church in the right way at the right time and in the right place, Archbishop Nichols is absolutely right in our case at least to say that, for now, we are more than happy in our diocesan church. St James's is a wonderful place, especially for former Anglicans (all the parish clergy are former Anglicans, though not members of the Ordinariate (perhaps some honorary memberships should be handed out?)). 

That rather flippant reflection leads to a more serious one : the Oratorians, the Jesuits and others run parishes throughout the land, the Ordinariate runs the quasi-parish of St Anselm's Pembury (the Tunbridge Wells Ordinariate Group) : why might not the Ordinariate do the same thing for its principal church in London?  Perhaps the anxiety about the funding of a principal church comes from the assumption that it might be Ordinariate only, or at least largely Ordinariate only, with a few local and visiting Catholics from elsewhere to make up the numbers.  I don't think that that needs to be the case. 

Not everyone at the London Oratory is an Oratorian, and not everyone at Farm Street is a Jesuit.  For that matter, not everyone at St Anselm's in Pembury is a member of the Ordinariate.  What they are is all Catholics, just like everyone around me at Westminster Cathedral last night.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

By a Singular Grace and Privilege Granted by Almighty God

It is often assumed (no pun intended) that the Immaculate Conception, like the Real Presence (and with it Dr Chartres's bête noire of Transubstantiation), the Assumption and Papal Infallibility are amongst those things that make life difficult for Anglicans who might consider joining the Ordinariate or otherwise becoming Catholics.

That analysis is rather broad, and ignores the very strong catholic teaching that has existed in a not insignificant proportion of the Church of England.  Certainly, there is an even larger proportion of the Church of England that takes a more Sola Scriptura approach, and has no time for dogmatic theology of any kind, but that in no way diminishes the value of catholic teaching that has been undertaken elsewhere.  Indeed, a recent post by William Oddie in the Catholic Herald talks eloquently of this phenomenon.  Furthermore, one of our most popular blogposts (not just on account of its extraordinary footage of Pope Pius XII making his Ex Cathedra declaration) is The Angels rejoice.... and so do the ex-Anglicans, which talks of this shared understanding.

Still, it is not difficult to see why the common perception could be that the Immaculate Conception is not an Anglican belief in general terms. 

Certainly, no-one expects it to be so on the Evangelical wing of the Church of England.  The middle-of-the-road tradition, alone with mainstream Anglican liberal opinion is largely unfussed about it, despite being happy to hear the Duruflé setting of Tota Pulchra Es, Maria sung by its choirs. 

As ever, the analysis is more nuanced in the Anglo-Catholic world.  Some of those we rudely referred to recently as the deniers might denounce the Immaculate Conception as a Roman Innovation, while others would proudly proclaim their total acceptance of it (not worrying too much about what Pope Pius IX might have had to say about some of their other beliefs, particularly on ecclesiology).

Even at the most catholic end of Anglo-Catholicism, there is a complicated picture.  On the one hand we can say quite confidently that the members of the Marylebone Ordinariate Group have not had to change their beliefs on the Immaculate Conception at all in order to be able to accept Catholic teaching.  The Immaculate Conception is and was celebrated "with the full works" at Bourne Street, even if the numbers attending on this particular day in recent years have not been (in my entirely fallible recollection at least) what they were in my first days there in the the mid 1990s.  We send our friends at Bourne St every good wish for their celebrations of this great day.

None of the above is intended to knock or indeed to mock the way in which the Immaculate Conception is viewed in any part of the Church of England.  The dogma of the Immaculate Conception has a long and complex history, and one must acknowledge that the delicacy of the argument contained in it might pass over the heads of many of those who fill Catholic churches each week, as much it might do so over an Anglo-Catholic congregation.  Having said that though, in the Catholic Church the dogma is not seen as something extreme or outlandish, it is not something that one has to make a fuss about as a kind of badge of honour of agreement or disagreement : quite simply, it is the teaching of the Church, and as such there is an general awareness of and belief in, to put it brutally simplistically, ever sinless Mary, that perhaps does not exist elsewhere.

Daring to tread where far better and more informed brains than mine have failed, here is an attempt to describe the Immaculate Conception in one paragraph and in "layman's terms".  Through the saving works of Our Lord, Mary was conceived (in the usual way by her parents Joachim and Anna) without stain of sin, and (going beyond the confines of the Immaculate Conception itself), again through His saving works, she was preserved from sin throughout her life. This is not something she achieved herself, but at every stage depended on God. It does not put her on a par with or above God, but gives her the most special of places amongst mankind.

Simple, isn't it?  So why the complex history, why did the dogma take such a very long time to define?  That is a subject for a doctoral thesis not for a poor blogpost, but even here it is worthwhile noting a small number of the more significant points in the process.  The heart of the matter seems to have been that while people could agree that Mary was, through God's grace, sinless during her life, it was not universally agreed whether this also applied to original sin, ie did Mary become sinless as from her conception, or did this happen later?  The answer may seem obvious to us today, with the benefit of over 150 years of Pope Pius IX's Ineffabilis Deus behind us, but it took some very serious intellectual effort to get us to where we are.

St Augustine said that he would not hear of sin in the context of the Mother of God.  On the face of it, that is not explicit about original sin, but then given how keen Augustine was on the topic of original sin, is it rational to think anything other than that he did mean to include original sin in his sinlessness of the Mother of God? 

There is a view that some of the difficulty in getting to a defined dogma was caused by Thomas Aquinas not accepting the Immaculate Conception.  His views are not that straightforward, as this article explains. 

The lack of a formal definition, binding on the whole Church, carried on for some centuries.  Although some dioceses, with papal permission, celebrated the Immaculate Conception with the full definition we know today, this was not universal.  Even the Council of Trent shied away from a definition. 

We had to wait until 1854 for Pope Pius IX to declare :
We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.
Today, Catholic teaching is very clearly, indeed dogmatically, defined, and thanks be to God for that. 

Above, we included the well known Duruflé setting of Tota Pulchra Es, Maria.  This text, which is an odd one for non Catholics to be keen on, is also the Alleluia for Mass on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and is partly built on text from the Song of Songs, text which was set by Palestrina. 

Regular readers of this blog will note that we have a passing interest in what one might call in a politically incorrect way, Spanish Colonial church music.  For example, we have previously included a Cuban setting of a requiem.  Today's great Solemnity provides an excuse to explore some more of the treasures of Latin American sacred music, in the form of an anonymous eighteenth century setting from Bolivia of Tota Pulchra Es, Maria : now that's a sentence few of you will have had cause to read before. 

May Immaculate Mary pray for us.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Archbishop Amigo of Southwark and Bishop St Nicholas of Myra

Today's post will talk of St Nicholas, of course, but before that, a brief follow up of a mention of a great man of the Church in England (and who, like me, was born in Gibraltar), whose name appeared on this site recently.

Readers will perhaps recall that in our extremely widely read post More than Words, we cited Fr Ray Blake's recounting of an anecdote about the famous Archbishop Amigo of Southwark.  Well, the topic of Archbishop Amigo has clearly being playing on Fr Blake's mind, and as a result he has tracked down some stunning footage of Archbishop Amigo's funeral procession and burial.  It is well worth making Fr Blake's very popular St Mary Magdalen, Brighton blog part of your regular reading, and a permanent link to that site is to be found on the right hand sidebar of this blog. 

Here is the Pathe film that Fr Blake highlighted.

Fr Blake's blogpost on this subject also includes an excellent photo of Archbishop Amigo, taken in the late 1940s on the occasion of his visit to St Joseph's Brighton, surrounded by a Father Pepper (on the left) and a Father Munns (right).  Trawling the internet for more images, I came across these two, which carry on the theme mentioned earlier in our post of 11 November.  In that post and in the first of these two photos, you see a bomb-damaged church.  Below, we can see Archbishop Amigo standing in the shell of his cathedral, St George's in Southwark.  The second photo shows the procession returning to the still ruined St George's for his interment, after the Requiem Mass at Westminster Cathedral : what an incredible day that must have been, as Fr Ray's Pathe film makes clear: the kneeling in the street is extremely powerful.

May the soul of Peter Emmanuel Amigo, first Archbishop of Southwark, rest in peace.  May Our Lady, St Nicholas and all the Saints pray for him.


As you all know of course, today's Saint is St Nicholas.  It takes a while to find information on St Nicholas that doesn't end up disappearing down the tangent of Father Christmas and Santa Claus, but we will do our best to ensure that this page does not fall for the same temptation.

Born in the second half of the third century AD, Nicholas was born to a wealthy family in what is now Turkey, and upon the death of his parents was cared for by his uncle the Bishop of Patara, who guided him on his way to the priesthood.   He used his inherited wealth for charitable works, and was known for lifelong piety.  Not much that is known of his life is unchallenged by one historian or another, but we do know that he was Bishop of Myra, a town on the river Myros, in the fertile western plains of Turkey.

Dom Guéranger talks of today's feast in l'Année Liturgique
Today, the Church celebrates with joy the memorial of the distinguished miracle worker Nicholas, as renowned in the East as our great Saint Martin is here in the West, and honoured for almost a thousand years by the Latin Church.  Let us honour the authoritative power that God gave to him, but let us more than anything be thankful to him for having been one of the number of the 318 Bishops who proclaimed at Nicaea that the Word was consubstantial with the Father.  Nicholas was not shocked by the abasement of the Son of God; neither the lowliness of the flesh with which the Sovereign Lord clothed himself in the womb of the Virgin, nor the humbleness of the crib, prevented him from proclaiming the Son of God, the son of Mary, as equal to God; this is why he has been raised to glory, and has received the charge of obtaining, each year, for the Christian people, the necessary grace for them to go before the Word of Life, with a simple faith and a burning love.
St Nicholas is not in fact one of the signatories of the Council of Nicaea, but tradition has it that he was there, and that he played an extremely prominent role in suppressing any temptation to fall into the ways of Arianism.

As Dom Guéranger wrote, like St Gregory the Wonderworker, who was mentioned in an earlier post on this blog, St Nicholas also rejoices in the title of Θαυματουργός, Thaumaturgos, Wonderworker, on account of his renown for performing wondrous works and miracles. 

A good and wondrous work that might not strictly be a miracle is probably the deed with which he is most associated.  It is the tale of a poor father of three daughters, without sufficient funds to provide dowries for his girls :  Nicholas provided three bags of gold, either one each year as the girls came of age, or on three consecutive nights depending on the version of the story, and thus saved the young ladies from a life of poverty and prostitution.  You can guess the tradition of gift giving to children to which that story led....  More interestingly, it also led to St Nicholas often being depicted holding three round bags of gold, and in the way that these things often do, this depiction gradually morphed into St Nicholas holding three oranges, which is supposedly the origin of the tradition of orange giving in Christmas stockings (in the days before noisy flashing lumps of plastic tat became all powerful).

His most famous miracle is connected with his ordering sailors to unload some wheat from a ship docked at port.  The wheat was bound for the Byzantine Emperor, but St Nicholas, then Bishop of Myra, desperately wanted to feed his starving, famine-struck people.  He persuaded the reluctant sailors that no harm would come of their unloading some of their cargo : they relented, unloaded some wheat, and upon departure realised that they still had the same quantity of wheat aboard as before.

He is also said to calmed a storm during a sea voyage.

St Nicholas to this day maintains an association with the sea.  He is the Patron Saint of many places and of many professions and groups, but not only is he Patron Saint of Seafarers, his name is also associated with many port towns across Europe.  Here he is, depicted as he rescues sailors from a terrible, watery fate.

Of course, many know of his association with the city of Bari in southern Italy.  His remains were brought there from Smyrna during the eleventh century, in the midst of the struggles for posession of Asia Minor and the Holy Land.  Photography and scientific testing in the 1950s backed up the legend that his entire remains were buried Bari, with very little having been removed to supply relics around Christendom.

One place that does have a relic of St Nicholas is the French town of St Nicolas de Port.  Originally called simply Le Port, the town is situated on the Meurthe River, a tributary of the Rhine, not far from Nancy in the Lorraine.  St Nicholas is Patron Saint of the Lorraine, and in the eleventh century, a fingerbone from his right hand (hence the reliquary below showing his right hand giving a blessing) was brought to the town church from Bari. 


The first church dedicated to St Nicholas in the town of Le Port was built in the twelfth century, and now the town boasts its own Basilica, a flamboyant gothic creation of the 15th and 16th centuries, built by Rene II, Duke of Lorraine in thanksgiving for and in celebration of his victory at the Battle of Nancy over Charles the Bold.  It was raised to the status of Basilica by Pope Pius XII in 1950.  (It's been at least a week since Pius XII received a mention on this blog, so I'm pleased I found a way to do so.)

Finally, some music.  The choice is obvious, because the setting of the ordinary of the mass sung at my wedding in St Mary's Bourne St was the Missa Sancti Nicolai by Haydn.  That setting was a firm favourite at Bourne Street, making regular appearances over many Christmastides, just as it was a much overworked favourite - at any time of year - when I was in charge of choosing music lists at Pusey House. 

In this penitential season of Advent, even as we mark the feast of a great Saint, which better movement to pick than the Kyrie.  Even having heard this setting many times, I am still very keen on the beautiful simplicity of the circles of fifths in the Kyrie, and the descending sevenths of the alto part.  A classic piece of Haydn, painfully simple, yet utterly characteristic and extremely beautiful.

Deus, qui beatum Nicolaum Pontificem innumeris decorasti miraculis : tríbue, quaesumus ; ut eius meritis et precibus a gehennæ incendiis liberemur.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Deacon Bradley and the Gateway to the South

A blog like this needs to have several categories of posts if it is to stand a chance of keeping people interested.  One of our various categories describes our reactions, as new members of the Catholic Church, to our increasing awareness of being part of a very large "organisation", both in overall terms and in the specifics of parish and Ordinariate life.  In terms of the general, our October post entitled the Universal Church talked of a dawning consciousness of the global scale of the Catholic Church.  At a more local level, our blogpost on All Saints' Day talked about a most enjoyable visit to Holy Apostles, Pimlico.

Yesterday, I took the opportunity, following the kind invitation of James Bradley, to attend mass at the parish of the Holy Ghost in Balham, where James is parish Deacon.  James is a Deacon in the Ordinariate, and a friend of the Marylebone Ordinariate Group (having kindly deaconed our Reception Mass on September 3rd).  He is also a Deacon of some very spectacular international renown, having sung the Gospel in front of the Holy Father, countless Cardinals, Archishops, Bishops and Priests, and of a congregation far in excess of one million at the recent World Youth Day celebrations in Madrid.

Arriving in Nightingale Square, SW12, I was greeted by a sight that is now very familiar.  Catholic parishes usually have a series of masses each Sunday morning, often meaning that as the congregation from one mass files out, the congregation for the next mass is beginning to arrive.  This is something I had witnessed as an Anglican only during my days living in Hong Kong, where the Anglican Cathedral had the similar dual properties of a busy timetable and high attendance levels.  It was not something that I had previously encountered in the Church of England.

Since the often-maligned Victoria and Northern Lines had sped me down from Pimlico to Balham in unbelievably quick time (barely longer than it would have taken me to get to St James's), I was able to take the opportunity to wander around the square a little before mass, and to take the photo below, before finally approaching the church.  If you look very carefully in this photo by zooming and with your magnifying glass, you will see James in his purple dalmatic, right at the back, talking with a parishioner.

James greeted me at the door, helped me find the right selection of books and cards, and pointed me into the church itself.  Still not having the necessary brazen nature for papparazo duties, I managed only one photo of the interior of the church, the grainy result of which can be seen below.  Other photos are of course available by perusing the parish's own website.

I will confess that I had done a little preparation before my visit.  Years of Anglo-Catholic training had taught me to be very careful when stepping away from familar territory, you never know what you might find when away from home.  Yet, this caution was, as in the case of my visit to Holy Apostles Pimlico, shown to be utterly unnecessary.  In any event, the information I had read beforehand was extremely positive.  I had come across an article by Joanna Bogle entitled London's Balham parish, 'an icon of liturgical hope', which made me very much look forward to the Mass, despite my usual pathetic and despicable Central Londoner's attitude of wariness about crossing the river or going outside the Circle Line.

The Joanna Bogle article proved to describe a scene virtually identical to the one I found, as this extract explains :
Parish music director is Jeremy de Satge......  At Balham, there is a parish choir that sings Latin plainchant, and lovely settings of the Introit verse in Latin and English. The congregation has been taught some Mass settings and now large numbers of them join in, too.

The choir meets weekly to practise. It is made up of volunteers, many of whom do not read music. They are amateurs in the best sense of the word - people who love what they are doing.

Add to this a dignified sanctuary, a glittering new tabernacle in gold, marble floors that shine, a generous array of candles in tall silver candlesticks, and priests who celebrate the liturgy with love - and you have something that builds up the parish numbers, and attracts people from farther afield too.....

.....Is all this difficult? It seems not - although goodwill and energy are required. Jeremy de Satge is a convert- he joined the Church aged 18, back in the late 1970s, after a childhood spent singing in Anglican church and cathedral choirs. As a Catholic, he came to know and love the music and liturgy at London's Brompton Oratory and this was partly what inspired him to see what he could achieve at parish level.

Of course, commitment and encouragement from the parish priest are essential. Father Stephen Langridge, parish priest at Balham, makes no secret of wanting the best for God - a church that is a true place of prayer, a devout and enthusiastic congregation, a parish where the children are well instructed and the Faith is taught and honoured. Is it just a coincidence that confession is widely promoted? Confessions are heard regularly, including on Sundays, and the subject is mentioned frequently from the pulpit. 
I noticed that the church was busy, with a preponderance at the front of families with children, and elsewhere a remarkably healthy mix of men and women of all ages. Mass started with the sound of a bell, the choir beginning the plainchant introit in Latin, and a long procession entering from the sacristy.   The altar was censed (I noted the use of the so-called "Benedictine arrangement", with a cross standing in the middle of the altar), and we set to work using the new translation, which seemed already to have settled in very nicely with the congregation. 

After some more chant from the choir and some very well executed readings by a member of the congregation, I had the chance once again to hear Deacon Bradley singing the Gospel.  Then, we had the reason for his invitation, a homily that touched on the Ordinariate, what its place was, what its purpose was, and what its genesis had been.   This is part of the mission of the Ordinariate as mentioned in our blogpost yesterday, to introduce ourselves and to explain the purpose of the Ordinariate to the wider Catholic community. 

James's excellent homily may well be appearing elsewhere on the internet soon, and if it does, we will provide a link to it here.  Suffice it for now to say that I could very easily identify personally with much of what he said: life in Oxford and Sevenoaks, studying music at university, leaving behind Anglican years of a sound music tradition and catholic practice, and finally coming into the full communion of the Catholic Church this year.  The call to unity, as Our Lord had willed on the night that he was betrayed, was the driving force both behind the Holy Father's invitation in Anglicanorum coetibus, and behind the impetus that causes Anglicans to leave behind what they have known and loved and to accept that invitation.  The call to unity is a clear and explicit Gospel imperative.  The Catholic Church was not receiving us as naughty, errant schoolchildren, but as Christians who sought to follow that Gospel imperative.  Refusing Anglicanorum coetibus was not only resisting the call to unity, but actively blocking it. 

The homily talked of that great hymn, O Thou who at Thy Eucharist didst pray (which we sang later as a communion hymn) as a prayer very much connected with concepts behind the Ordinariate, especially the verse :
We pray Thee too for wanderers from thy fold;
O bring them back, good Shepherd of the sheep,
back to the faith which saints believed of old,
back to the Church which still that faith doth keep;
soon may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.
James explained that the Ordinariate had around 1000 lay members and around 60 clergy (with more in both categories planning to join in 2012), but as yet no churches and little money.  Members of the congregation were invited to discuss the Catholic Church and the Ordinariate with their Anglican friends, so that the human face of the Church can shine through.    As to financial support, another friend of the Marylebone Ordinariate Group, Peter Sefton-Williams, from the Friends of the Ordinariate, was present, and with James handed out leaflets about the work of the Ordinariate and the Friends of the Ordinariate after Mass.  We understand some donations were received, and a number of people have approached James about exploring the possibility of joining the Ordinariate.

After the homily and some sung intercessions, I was delighted to hear the Roman Canon, Eucharistic Prayer I, in use.  Although always dignified (not least the sonorous gong at the consecration), we moved quickly and efficiently through, and before long it was time to receive the sacrament, which a very sizeable proportion of people did on their knees, despite the lack of an altar rail.  A chance to sing Rorate Coeli in Latin followed (I had only sung it in English before, and so, despite having heard it in Latin previously, I was beaten to this achievement by a friend from Hong Kong.

We had various parish notices, including a reminder for parents to get references for applications to the Holy Ghost parish school, and a young chap called Peter then addressed the congregation in a very impressive and confident (and concise) fashion on youth group activities: it was all done efficiently though, and before long Deacon Bradley was inviting us to bow our heads for the blessing.

People might think they could accuse someone whose experience of the Catholic Church is mostly based around St James's Spanish Place, with some knowledge of the London Oratory, the Oxford Oratory and Westminster Cathedral of not having had the widest possible experience of the Catholic Church.  Perhaps so, but there is a clear answer to that superficial criticism: whenever I have found myself away from what critics might term my "comfort zone", I have always been very happy with what I have found, be that in France, Scotland, Kent, Pimlico or indeed Balham. 

The point is that, whatever the music, whatever the vintage of the vestments, whatever the particular Eucharistic Prayer employed, whatever the location, whether in Latin or the new English translation, the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church, and the Mass is the Mass, and all is in communion with the Holy Father.  That is one of the great joys of having becoming a Catholic, and does not depend in any way whatsoever on the Central London privilege of having access to some of the most well known Catholic places of worship in this country

Let us give thanks to God for the work of the parish of the Holy Ghost in Balham, and for the Ordinariate.  May their impressive achievements and ongoing efforts continue to bring great benefits to the people of that part of London.