Sunday, 7 February 2016


Today, Quinguagesima, is the last Sunday in the count-down to Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday.

Here is the Introit of the Mass (EF)  sung by the Benedictine Nuns of Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation, Le Barroux:

Esto mihi in Deum pro­tectórem, et in locum re­fúgii, ut salvum me fácias: quóniam firmaméntum meum et refúgium meum es tu: et propter nomen tuum dux mihi eris, et enútries me

In te, Dómine, sperávi, non confúndar in ætérnum:  in justítia tua libera me et éripe me.

Glória Patri...

Be Thou unto me a God, a protector, and a place of re­fuge, to save me: for Thou art my strength and my refuge: and for Thy name’s sake Thou wilt lead me, and nourish me. 

In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded: deli­ver me in Thy justice, and save me.

Glory be to the Father...      .

Curiously, while Quinquagesima is indeed 50 days before Easter as its name would suggest, Sexagesima and Septuagesima are not 60 and 70 days before Easter.

This period of pre-Lenten preparation has been replaced in the new Calendar by a few Sundays of Ordinary Time; these are then resumed after Pentecost, as a further set of Ordinary Time Sundays.  In former times (and still, if one celebrates according to the traditional calendar) these were the Sundays after Pentecost.

In my view, that change is an impoverishment.  The seasons of the Church year used to be a constant reminder of one or other of the great mysteries of our Faith.  It seems particularly ironic that in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, when we were all supposed to be so much more aware of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church today, we should have removed the reference to the descent of the Holy Spirit in our counting of the Sundays after Pentecost, and replaced them with 'Ordinary.'

If I had my way, we'd call them Ghostly Sundays, in honour of the Holy Ghost, and because it would be such a great name!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary

One of the joys of tradition is that one does not have to keep inventing new stuff all the time. So without further apology or justification, here is my regular post on today's feast.

Today is the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It is also known as Candlemas:

It marks the occasion on which we meditate in particular the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary: that extraordinary visit of the Holy Family to the temple, to be met by the prophet Anna and Simeon, the priest, and to make the required sacrificial offering for a first-born son.

There is so much to meditate on: the humility of Our Lady (of all people) being ritually purified;  the devout Jewishness of the Holy Family; the idea of Our Lady offering God back to God, and being entrusted with God by God; the extraordinary prophecies of Anna and Simeon; the pre-figuring of the replacement of the temple of the Old Covenant with the Temple of the New, in the person of Christ: the locus of the one true redemptive sacrifice.

Today also marks the end of the Christmas season: our cribs will be taken down in the evening, and we will sing the Alma Redemptoris Mater, for the last time. Thereafter, we start singing the Ave Regina Caelorum.  That is sung daily until compline of the Wednesday of Holy Week.

Ave, Regina Caelorum,
Ave, Domina Angelorum:
Salve, radix, salve, porta
Ex qua mundo lux est orta:
Gaude, Virgo gloriosa,
Super omnes speciosa,
Vale, o valde decora,
Et pro nobis Christum exora.

Hail, O Queen of Heaven enthroned.
Hail, by angels mistress owned.
Root of Jesse, Gate of Morn
Whence the world's true light was born:
Glorious Virgin, Joy to thee,
Loveliest whom in heaven they see;
Fairest thou, where all are fair,
Plead with Christ our souls to spare.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

More Reflections on Obedience

I have blogged about Obedience before (here, and elsewhere, passim) because it is so counter-cultural, and so critically important to the Christian life.

If one considers the miracle at Cana, it is instructive to note that the servants obeyed Christ, not because they had any reason to think He was doing anything useful: they may well have thought the contrary - particularly the one instructed to take the water to the Steward of the feast to taste. (Incidentally, architriclinus the Latin for Steward, is a very difficult word to sing, as we found last week...). Rather, they knew that obedience is required of people in their position.

And obedience is required of us, of people in our position, for several reasons. One is that we are creatures, subject to the authority of God. The very term Our Lord (and perhaps that is why it is out of vogue) requires submission to the Lordship of Christ. And the Church has always heard Our Lady's words to the servants, Do whatever he tells you, as a command to all of us.

The most obvious and compelling reason, of course, is that imitation of Christ, which is at the heart of the Christian calling. It is very fashionable to see Christ as some kind of anarchist, who broke the rules. But that, it strikes me, is a very naive reading.

Even at His birth, He chose to pace Himself under the civic authority: it was due to obedience to Caesar that He was born in a stable at Bethlehem. The mysterious incident of the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple is also worth considering. Our Lady and St Joseph were astonished: clearly He had never appeared disobedient to them before this occasion, and the Evangelist makes it clear that He resumed that pattern of obedience to them immediately afterwards: He went home and was subject to them.

The incident itself, as He makes clear, was in obedience to His heavenly Father, as indeed was His whole life. 

We can reflect also on His obedience to the authority of John the Baptist, calling people to be baptised in the Jordan; His obedience to the paying of the Temple tax; His obedience in instructing people to pay their civil taxes (render unto Caesar), and so on. What He did not obey were man-made customs that had no proper authority, but these were exceptions to the pattern, not the pattern itself.

And as noted before, the over-arching theme of His life was obedience to His heavenly Father. Nowhere is that clearer than in the Passion, and St Paul makes it clear in Romans that it was through this obedience that the evil of Adam's disobedience was finally put right.

I believe that it is only in obedience that we are able properly to cooperate with Christ's saving work, and submit to whatever He asks of us. But every force in our fallen nature and in our society and its dominant thinking, culture and values, rebels at that notion.

So that is, perhaps, the first of my resolutions for this Lent: to seek opportunities to obey.

Fiat voluntas tua!

Saturday, 30 January 2016


I have just heard from Sr Petra Clare about some icons she is painting for us, of the children's patron saints. This is very exciting, of course (and the children don't know about them, unless they stumble across this, which seems unlikely).

But it reminds me that it is a long time since I plugged her work (see here for example), so I thought I should give her another mention. 

Here is an example of her work: a rather wonderful Annunciation. 

More may be seen on her website here. If ever you are stuck for a gift for an important occasion for a Catholic friend, an icon is a wonderful thing to give - and to receive.

In Which I Am Afraid...

All this talk about the Mandatum prompted me to re-read what our Holy Father Emeritus had to say about it in his Jesus of Nazareth (vol. 2) which, incidentally, will serve very well as my Lenten Spiritual Reading.

Needless to say, it is rich and profound reading. But what really struck me this time were his reflections on Peter's refusal to have his feet washed. Ratzinger links this to Peter's earlier 'Lord, may this never happen to you!' (Remember, that time when Our Lord forgot about being non-judgmental and not hurting people's feelings, and said: Get thou behind me, Satan!). He also links it to Peter's impetuous cutting off of the servant's ear, but most tellingly to Peter's denial of Our Lord.

He concludes: It is the response to Jesus that we find throughout history: You are the victor, you are the strong one - you must not lower yourself or practice humility! Again and again Jesus has to help us recognise anew that God's power is different, that the Messiah must pass through suffering to glory and must lead others along the same path.

So I was left with the question: was Peter's concern at Our Lord's suffering born out of a deep and probably unconscious fear that he might have to suffer too?

And of course that leads to the immediate realisation that at least one of the reasons I am so upset at the Church sets out, yet again, on the Way of the Cross, is that I am afraid I may be called to suffer; that I do not wish to tread that Way.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Giving Thanks for Luther

Contrary to some people's opinions, I do not seek to view everything our Holy Father does through a lens of suspicion, mistrust and hostility.

However, I did need to pause for a while when I heard of the plan to celebrate Martin Luther and the Reformation.

However, I am reminded of St Paul's admonition, to give thanks for everything, always. Moreover, I recall the audacious line in the Exsultet: O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem.

And we regularly give thanks for the passion and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

In that context, I can give thanks for Martin Luther and the Reformation. For God will draw good out of everything; and if we can celebrate Adam's fault - evil though it was - and give thanks for the Crucifixion - evil though that was - then surely we can give thanks for the Reformation and the work of Luther.

And though much evil has flowed from them, just as it has from Adam's sin, God still manages to draw greater good from it.  And although Luther and the Reformation did not win for us so great a Redeemer, Adam's sin having already done so, they may have contributed to the Scourging, or the Crown of Thorns, for which also we give thanks.

And we have countless saints and martyrs, and great clarifications in theology from Trent onwards, as some of the fruits of the evil wrought in the sixteenth century.

Deo gratias!

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Strange criticism

James Melody kindly posted a link to my post about the Mandatum to Facebook, with a complimentary comment.

A chap called Ruari McCallion, whom I have yet to have the pleasure of meeting, quoted me and added a comment, thus:
"The second is that it risks confirming a modern anthropological error: that male and female are trivial, not essential, differences. It risks appearing to bow at the altar of a modern understanding of what it means to be a woman (or a man); an understanding that sees contraception, promiscuity, and abortion as stepping stones along the road to true equality." 
You might think that's the best you've read on the subject so far; I fear I must respectfully disagree, James. Ivereigh was markedly less excitable; maybe he has a less fertile imagination?
I like to model my response to criticism on that of PG Wodehouse, about which I have blogged before.  I am glad, though slightly bemused, that Ruari found that post, and (I assume) in particular the paragraph he quoted, to be both exciting and imaginative. 

Yet I also gather (for I am a perceptive sort, under my hearty bluster) that these were the very reasons he disagreed with James' positive assessment of my comments; and that Ivereigh's dullness and lack of imagination were in fact reasons to prefer his take to mine.

All of which is very strange, when you think about it.

I may, of course, be quite wrong in my analysis in the post he is criticising; but nowhere does Ruari say where that is. I have already said what I think of Ivereigh's piece, so won't dwell on that, other than to say I think it was a more imaginative take on reality than mine.

But it does strike me as fairly typical of many such discussions that rather than dwell on the arguments, the stress is laid on the (perceived) tone.

My argument in that paragraph is straightforward, I thought. But maybe I assumed too much and should unpack it a bit.

We are confronted in our time with two very different understandings of the meaning of male and female. On the one hand the Church has always seen these are inherent in the meaning of the creation of man. The complementarity of man and woman is part of the divine plan, and their unity in the nuptial union is the means of the generation of new life, the establishment of the family, the mirror of Christ's relationship with the Church, and so on. Man and woman are equal in dignity, yet distinct in nature. This difference is one of the reasons that it is not in any way unjust that they have different roles they may legitimately fulfil: motherhood is only for women; fatherhood, and also priesthood, only for men. This is a deep and fundamental truth which we continue to understand in more depth as the Church reflects and develops her teaching (not least under the papacy of St John Paul II).

On the other hand, the contemporary progressive view is that male and female are somewhat superficial differences; some go so far as to say that they are largely social constructs. Equality must mean parity in all things and anything that may prevent women from aspiring to anything a man may do is ipso facto unjust. Thus contraception, promiscuity, and abortion come to be seen, as I remarked originally, as 'stepping stones along the road to true equality.'

I think that is fairly uncontentious, (though perhaps I am naive). Therefore I conclude that the part which Ruari finds imaginative and exciting is to say that the arbitrary change of the Church's liturgy to include women in a rite that was formerly exclusive to men 'risks appearing to bow at the altar of a modern understanding of what it means to be a woman (or a man).' Yet, again, I think that risk is real and evident. It seems to me precisely how modern liberal-minded people will interpret the Holy Father's change. 'Ah, the Church is making one more, slow, belated step to recognising what we all know: that women and men are equal in every way, and that all discrimination against women is a legacy of misguided (or worse) patriarchy.'

But because Ruari never actually addresses anything I said, it is hard to know if I am on the right track here.