Thursday, 23 January 2014

British Confraternity of Catholic Clergy news

Yesterday I was in the hot seat for the meeting of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (British Province of St Gregory the Great) to give a lecture on "The Priest: Presbyter and Sacerdos: a Question of Identity." Fellow clergy are always a daunting audience especially when some are scholars in their own right with several books to their name, but I think that the talk was appreciated, and the quality of questions and useful comments afterwards made for a profitable day. Having failed in a pious intention, the lecture is not quite ready for publication but I hope to address this in due course.

We met this time at St Mary Moorfields and after the lecture enjoyed a wholesome lunch and good conversation - an important part of the day. In the Church, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed during the day, so there was an opportunity after lunch for priests to catch up on the office, say the rosary or spend some time in quiet prayer. I do encourage you to take out membership if you agree with the Objects of the Confraternity, : it is £25 per annum and this will ensure that you receive emails about forthcoming events. Since a change in the Constitution last autumn, full membership is now open to seminarians and Deacons (transitory or permanent.)

The next event for the London chapter will be on Tuesday 11 March 2014 when Fr Dylan James (a Doctor in Moral Theology) will address the topical subject of "Holy Communion for the Divorced and Remarried? A Pastoral Road to Nowhere. Comparing the Greek Orthodox and Catholic approaches in the light of recent discussions." The meeting will be at St Patrick's, Soho Square. The usual programme will be followed, viz. 11.00 coffee, 11.30 talk, 1.00 lunch, 2.30 Eucharistic Adoration and departures. The cost is £20 including lunch.

During May, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, author of the widely-acclaimed "Dominus est - it is the Lord!" will be speaking to the Confraternity. Date and other details to be announced.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

CD 278: Communion at an Orthodox Church

I am going on holiday to a country where I may not be able to find a Catholic Church. Is it legitimate for me to receive Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church?

First of all, to be clear, if you cannot get to a Catholic Church on a Sunday or Holyday of Obligation, your obligation to attend Mass ceases: neither God nor the Church commands the impossible. Moral theologians generally reckon that a journey of more than about an hour would excuse from the obligation to attend Mass.

If you are on holiday and there is no Catholic Church available, your desire to participate in the Holy Eucharist at an Orthodox Church is praiseworthy and I would encourage you to attend the Divine Liturgy because it can help us to understand how the Eucharist is celebrated in a different tradition.

As for receiving Holy Communion, it is true that the Code of Canon Law says that a Catholic, for whom it is impossible to approach a Catholic minister, is permitted to receive Communion from a minister in whose Church the sacrament is valid. (Canon 844.2) However, as the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism points out, “Catholics ought to show a sincere respect for the liturgical and sacramental discipline of other Churches” (n.107); the Directory also recognises that the other Churches may have more restrictive disciplines in this matter (n.122) and urges that Catholics should respect this discipline if another Church restricts sacramental communion to its own members to the exclusion of others. (n.124)

In fact, the Orthodox Churches do not allow non-Orthodox to receive Holy Communion, so you should not attempt to do so. Rather, if you attend the Divine Liturgy, lift up your heart in adoration within the beautiful surroundings of the Church, perhaps meditating on the Holy Ikons, savouring the beauty of the chant and following some of the prayers if there is a book that you can use with an English translation. Participating in the worship of the Orthodox is also a good occasion to pray for the healing of the ancient division between our Churches.

[UPDATE] A couple of readers have advised me that some Orthodox Churches do allow Catholics to receive Holy Communion in some circumstances. It would be important to check beforehand whether this applies or not, in order to "show sincere respect etc." as mentioned above.

Catholic Dilemmas column published in the Catholic Herald
Suggestions for Catholic Dilemmas are always welcome by email or via Twitter @FatherTF

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Campaign to buy Sawston Hall and make it a Catholic heritage centre

One of the great Catholic recusant homes, Sawston Hall in East Anglia was a base for Fr John Gerard SJ, has a priest hole built by St Nicholas Owen (along with two others), had St John Rigby as Estate Manager, and was a place of hiding for Queen Mary, evading the Duke of Northumberland on her way to claim the throne. It is in fine condition and is now up for sale.

An article in the Cambridge News: Heritage group in £4.75m bid to buy Sawston Hall - and to open it to the public reports on the campaign to raise £4.75 million to buy Sawston Hall and make it a Catholic heritage centre with facilities for study and open to visits from the public. This is a wonderful opportunity to promote the study and understanding of this important part of our English Catholic history and to foster devotion to the martyr saints and other courageous Catholics who kept the flame of faith alive under persecution.

To support this campaign, see the website Save Sawston Hall.

Photo credit: Cambridge News. For full resolution photos see the slideshow there.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Papal invective revived

Charaxes brutus natalensis

"Smarmy narcissistic butterflies." If we follow the summary, provided by Vatican Radio, of the homily of Pope Francis last Saturday, we priests must be clear that we don't want to be one of those. Laurence England has updated his helpful Pope Francis Little Book of Insults though he has, with scholarly precision, separated the smarmy bit from the butterflies.

There are problems with the translation. When speaking a language other than one's mother-tongue, insults and swear-words are dangerous territory. It is notoriously difficult to know the strength of any particular expression, and there are often regional variations in just how offensive a word is. The pitfalls of translation are magnified when derogatory Italian expressions are translated into a variety of other modern languages.

We might be tempted to translate "untuoso" into English simply as "unctuous" which is not quite as strong as "smarmy", but my Dizionario Garzanti does give "subdolo" (underhand, sly, devious, deceitful) as well as "ipocrita" (hypocrite) and "falsamente umile" (falsely humble), so perhaps "smarmy" is right. It is hard to be sure.

The butterfly is also problematic. Garzanti gives for farfalla a second meaning of "persona di carattere volubile e leggero" (a person of unstable and lightweight character.) That's not really a meaning we would readily recognise for butterfly in English, but the Vatican Radio team might have considered it too much of a liberty to substitute the Middle English flippertigibbet, and flippertigibbet might not be as sharp-edged as farfalla. So we are left with "smarmy narcissistic butterflies" and I have been unable to get out of my mind the insults of the French soldier in Monty Python and the Holy Grail modified along the lines of "You smarmy set of narcissistic butterflies, your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries. I blow my nose at you... etc." (See clip)

Papal invective has a long and noble history from which I have drawn a few examples after a quick search: there are probably many better ones. In Exsurge Domine, condemning the errors of Martin Luther, Pope Leo X said
"Against the Roman Church, you [St Peter] warned, lying teachers are rising, introducing ruinous sects, and drawing upon themselves speedy doom. Their tongues are fire, a restless evil, full of deadly poison. They have bitter zeal, contention in their hearts, and boast and lie against the truth."
Pope Gregory XVI, in condemning the errors of liberalism and religious indifferentism in his encyclical Mirari Vos spoke of those within the Church who had been condemned:
"In the meantime We were again delayed because of the insolent and factious men who endeavoured to raise the standard of treason. Eventually, We had to use Our God-given authority to restrain the great obstinacy of these men with the rod. Before We did, their unbridled rage seemed to grow from continued impunity and Our considerable indulgence."
[UPDATE] Fr Zuhlsdorf kindly passed on from one of his readers this humdinger, also from Mirari Vos:
"We see the destruction of public order, the fall of principalities, and the overturning of all legitimate power approaching. Indeed this great mass of calamities had its inception in the heretical societies and sects in which all that is sacrilegious, infamous, and blasphemous has gathered as bilge water in a ship’s hold, a congealed mass of all filth."
Generally reckoned one of the milder of the 19th century popes, Leo XIII pulled no punches when describing the Freemasons in Humanum Genus. for example:
"The sect of the Freemasons shows itself insolent and proud of its success, and seems as if it would put no bounds to its pertinacity. Its followers, joined together by a wicked compact and by secret counsels, give help one to another, and excite one another to an audacity for evil things."
In the twentieth century, Pope Pius XI was capable of some scathing remarks, such as those in Mortalium Animos concerning promoters of ecumenism:
"For which reason conventions, meetings and addresses are frequently arranged by these persons, at which a large number of listeners are present, and at which all without distinction are invited to join in the discussion, both infidels of every kind, and Christians, even those who have unhappily fallen away from Christ or who with obstinacy and pertinacity deny His divine nature and mission."
The use of papal invective went out of fashion for some years - one could not imagine the Blessed John XIII speaking in this way, and his successors did not continue the practice. Now, it seems, Pope Francis has revived the tradition, though he has the handicap of the modern custom of using vernacular languages which do not have the more enduring consensus of scholars which Latin insults have concerning their meaning.

There is one (probably unintended) advantage of the butterfly reference. We may now hope that the hymn in which we indulge in the thought experiment of actually being a butterfly and how we would express thanksgiving to the Father in such a case, might be consigned finally to the "Hymns We Don't Use Any More" section of the music cupboard.

St John Fisher's prayer for holy bishops

St John Fisher, made a Cardinal by Pope Paul III in the hope of King Henry VIII to spare the holy Bishop. Famously, the King said:
"Yea, is he yet so lusty? Well, let the pope send him a hat, when he will. But I will so provide that, whensoever it cometh, he shall wear it on his shoulders, for head shall he have none to set it on."
In 1504, at the age of 35, Fisher was appointed Bishop of Rochester, the poorest see in England, from which Bishops were expected to rise as their career progressed. Fisher in fact remained there for the rest of his life, not seeking any promotion.

In a sermon given in 1508, he made the following prayer asking God to send good Bishops to the Church (many thanks to John Howard for posting it on Facebook):
“Lord, according to Your promise that the Gospel should be preached throughout the whole world, raise up men fit for such work. The Apostles were but soft and yielding clay till they were baked hard by the fire of the Holy Ghost.

So, good Lord, do now in like manner again with Thy Church militant; change and make the soft and slippery earth into hard stone; set in Thy Church strong and mighty pillars that may suffer and endure great labours, watching, poverty, thirst, hunger, cold and heat; which also shall not fear the threatening of princes, persecution, neither death but always persuade and think with themselves to suffer with a good will, slanders, shame, and all kinds of torments, for the glory and laud of Thy Holy Name. By this manner, good Lord, the truth of Thy Gospel shall be preached throughout all the world.

Therefore, merciful Lord, exercise Thy mercy, show it indeed upon Thy Church.”
Our Cardinal-elect, Archbishop Nichols, wrote a book on the life of St John Fisher and it would perhaps be a particular kindness to ask the intercession of this great English Cardinal for him as he prepares to assume this new responsibility in the Church.

Declarations by theologians on marriage and the family

The John Wijngaards Catholic Research Centre has published a Catholic Scholars' Statement on marriage and the family. The statement asserts among other things that leaders lack experience of married life, marriage exists in multiple forms, real married life is complex, Church guidance lacks sensitivity and that contraception should be allowed.

The Anscombe Bioethics Centre on the other hand, has produced a Declaration by Married and Lay Catholics preparatory to the Synods of 2014 and 2015, composed and edited by Dr Pia Matthews on behalf of a group of married and unmarried lay Catholics involved in academic research or teaching. Dr Matthews is the Programme Director for the Foundation Degree in Healthcare Chaplaincy at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham. She is also a colleague of mine as a visiting lecturer at St John's Seminary, Wonersh where she does some of the teaching in moral theology.

The Anscombe Biothics Centre statement looks at false dichotomies, the richness of the Church's teaching, pastoral challenges, and the need for education, understanding and guidance. The list of signatories is impressive and shows that the statement of the Wijngaards Centre does not represent the views of many academic theologians in Britain and elsewhere.

If you agree with this statement and would like to endorse it please contact Dr Matthews at

Friday, 10 January 2014

“Choose Life – Choose Love” conference on beauty, freedom and the family

From 28 February 2014 to Sunday 2 March at St Patrick's, Soho, the Westminster Office for Family Life are holding a conference "Choose Life - Choose Love. Beauty, Freedom and the Family."

Speakers include Dana Rosemary Scallon, and John Henry Westen, editor-in-chief of Lifesite News.

The Westminster website has a brief notice; for full details, email Edmund Adamus.

Retreats for young women with Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia

The Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee set up a new convent in Elgin, Scotland last summer. (see: Catholic Herald report) Their community numbers around 300 sisters and has been generous in sending out sisters to serve in 19 dioceses in the United States and in Italy, Australia, Canada and now Scotland.

Part of the apostolate of the sisters is to offer retreats for young women. See the poster above for details of some forthcoming retreats. Here is a link for the same details and an email link.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Confession and the grille

Many years ago at a Confirmation class, we asked the candidates to note down what might put them off going to Confession. There were various answers from the group but one stood out as the most common: "I don’t like the priest to know who I am." These were teenagers of 12-13 years of age and it did not surprise me to know that they wanted to be anonymous. However the confessional in my Church did actually have a grille: it was not perfect in that the penitent had to walk past an open space where the priest could see – although I always shielded my eyes to make it obvious that the penitent could be anonymous if desired.

When I mentioned this to the youngsters, they did not avert to the possibility of the priest perhaps seeing them as they walked past, they said that they did not know that they were allowed to kneel down behind the grille. That was a good reality-check for me as a priest. These young people had been taught for their first confession to sit opposite the priest. Nobody had ever mentioned that they could be anonymous if they wished. As young children it did not bother them, but now, as self-conscious teenagers, they found it a real problem.

In fact I built a new confessional in the traditional style with two doors, a wall between with a grille covered by a curtain. If people want to be identified, I advise them to say so explicitly but the structure of the confessional makes sure that the sacrament is not confused with some amateur psychotherapeutic encounter. You can see the penitent's side in the above photo. I'm quite proud of it because it has a soft chair for people who can't kneel, and if the chair and kneeler are removed, there is plenty of room for a wheelchair so disabled people also get the right to go anonymously. (There is always someone around to move the things.)

Now someone might argue that the penitent has the right to go to confession face-to-face. In fact, that is not the case. Canon law stipulates that the penitent has the right to a fixed grille - and an authoritative interpretation also stipulates that the confessor may insist on there being a fixed grille. (For chapter and verse, see my post The right to a fixed grille.) Such an arrangement was long considered a matter of prudence in the Church with St Charles Borromeo particularly insisting on it. The abandonment of the grille precisely at a time when moral standards were being compromised both within and outside the Church was foolish.

Fr Z posted on this subject the other day with a mischievous suggestion that if no grille is provided, a penitent might write to the Pastor saying that their offertory contribution had to be reduced in order to budget for gas to drive to a monastery where one was provided.

Another amusing story was told years ago by, I think, The Crescat, of a penitent going to confession in a full-face motorcycle crash helmet. When the priest suggested removing it, the penitent pleaded the desire to confess anonymously.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

CD 275: Paying cash for work done

A handyman who does work for me prefers for me to pay him in cash. Am I committing a sin if I agree to do so?

It is fascinating to see how virtually the whole country has become engaged in the intricacies of moral debate on this issue, including the complex question of material or formal co-operation in evil. The broad consensus is correct according to Catholic moral teaching: there is absolutely nothing wrong in itself with paying somebody using cash, which is, after all, legal tender. However if we pay cash because of an explicit offer to reduce the cost of the work, and because this reduction is due to the evasion of income tax or VAT, then we are formally co-operating in evil, and committing a sin (probably a venial sin given the amount of tax normally involved.) If we simply have a suspicion that cash is requested in order to avoid tax, then we ought (within reason) to ask whether this is the case or not.

The costs that small businesses incur with bank charges, credit card merchant services, and dishonoured cheques mean that with tight margins, cash may be preferable for many reasons other than tax fraud. The fear of inspection and of bills for unpaid tax also means that small traders pay out disproportionately to accountants to ensure that their tax affairs are squeaky clean: and as many of us experience, local tradesmen and builders can be some of the most honest and hard-working people we have the privilege to meet. (And yes, I am sure we all agree that the Government should spend more time and money pursuing the billions lost to the exchequer by the tax avoidance of large businesses.)

Reflecting on the unfair spotlighting of small traders, we could do well to recall the encouragement of St Francis de Sales to his priests that they should always tip generously, and allow themselves to be overcharged by tradesmen and providers of services rather than bargaining aggressively. If we are fortunate enough to have people do work for us, we should treat them with Christian respect.

Catholic Dilemmas column published in the Catholic Herald
Suggestions for Catholic Dilemmas are always welcome by email or via Twitter @FatherTF

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Epiphany sacramentals

Fr Zuhlsdorf has helpfully posted on various sacramentals related to the feast of the Epiphany (see: BEGONE SATAN! Epiphany Blessings, The Devil, and You.) Today at Blackfen we had the blessing of Epiphany water with the Litany, psalms, exorcism, Benedictus and Te Deum all sung. I didn't check the time carefully but I think it took about 40 minutes.

The exorcism is quite dramatic: it is a consolation to be able to use it as a parish priest on this occasion. Remember that Satan does not normally manifest his disgusting work by making books fly off the shelves or causing projectile vomiting. One of his most effective customary tactics is to cause jealousy, bitterness, discord and hatred among good people. It is a sickeningly effective way for him to hinder, spoil and destroy good work in a parish.

Tomorrow we will have Missa Cantata at 8pm for the feast of the Epiphany and that will be followed by the blessing of chalk. This can then be taken home by people to mark their door with the legend:

20 C+M+B 14

This indicates the year and the initials of the three Magi. There is also a tradition that sees CMB as standing for Christus Mansionem Benedicat (may Christ bless the house.) It is a good sacramental to get people talking when they come to your door - as such we can see it as part of the New Evangelisation.

In the parish we don't yet have the blessing of gold, frankincense and myrrh or the blessing of bread, salt and eggs. Perhaps we should do those next year after the blessing of chalk.

Bawdy Metres and Inspectors at Staggers

Fr Hunwicke's blog is a not only a mine of useful information on classical matters (see, for example his post Of the Father's heart begotten with background information on the trochaic tetrameter catalectic metre and its bawdy origins); his blog also contains nuggets of rare humour. I enjoyed yesterday's post on Mass practices at Staggers and the confounding of the Inspectors who were looking for liturgical extremism. It would spoil it if I summarised it, so do have a read of More Mass Practices.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Confraternity meeting in London

The British Confraternity of Catholic Clergy (London Chapter) are holding a day for priests on Wednesday 22 January at St Mary Moorfields in London (EC2M 7LS). The programme is as follows:

11.00 Coffee
11.30 Talk
1.00 Lunch
2.30 Eucharistic Adoration

The cost is £20 to include lunch with wine. For purposes of catering, bookings must be made by Friday 17 January. To book, email Fr Richard Whinder.

The talk this time is being given by yours truly. I'll be speaking on the subject ‘Priest: Sacerdos and Presbyter – A Question of Identity.’ Please don't let that put you off: the lunch and the company are always excellent :-)

Do also see the Confraternity website for details of other forthcoming meetings.

A wonderful New Year blessing for the Ordinariate

On New Year's Day, the ten Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Maryvale took their solemn vows and were established by Mgr Keith Newton as the first autonomous monastery of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. It was the anniversary of the sisters' reception into full communion with the Catholic Church. During the past year, they have been quietly preparing for this wonderful day which is a blessing not only for the Ordinariate but for all of us: the strength of the Church in any place is strongly enriched by those in contemplative life who pray for us all.

Mother Winsome (above) was appointed the first Reverend Mother for an initial period of three years. After that, the superior will be elected in accordance with the constitutions of the monastery. She said:
“For us the day was a mixture of great solemnity, but also of deep joy. We each professed our original vows separately, in the case of some of the sisters, more than 50 years ago. For us to be able to renew our vows solemnly and publicly and to be able to share this profound moment, when we have shared such a unique spiritual journey over the last two years, felt a very special gift of God to each of us and to us corporately as Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
See the full report at the Ordinariate website as well as Mgr Newton's homily.

While on the subject of the Ordinariate, let me give a plug for the Service of Lessons and Carols by Candlelight with Benediction next Thursday at 6.30pm at Warwick Street. Here is the poster:

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Plenary indulgences for particular days

Every day you can gain a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions by spending half an hour before the Blessed Sacrament, by reading the scriptures for half an hour, by making the Stations of the Cross in Church, or by saying the Rosary either in Church or in a family or other devout group.

However there are many plenary indulgences given for particular occasions. Although I have reservations about some of the practical reforms Pope Paul VI carried out, his Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina is a superb theological and spiritual exposition of indulgences. It is not difficult to read and I heartily recommend it if you never heard anything at Catholic school about indulgences except perhaps that they were sometimes sold in the eeeeevil Middle Ages (Boo! Hiss! He's BEHIND you!)

One point made by Pope Paul VI is relevant to the indulgences granted for particular days:
The aim pursued by ecclesiastical authority in granting indulgences is not only that of helping the faithful to expiate the punishment due sin but also that of urging them to perform works of piety, penitence and charity—particularly those which lead to growth in faith and which favour the common good. (n.8)
In other words, the granting of indulgences is also used by the Church to encourage us to particular devotions that help our spiritual life, perhaps at the same time gently guiding us away from devotions along the lines of the five first Wednesdays Novena of the Holy Kneecap of St Petronilla which you have to photocopy and leave at the back of the Church or the prayer doesn't work.

Last year I resolved to prepare a list to remind myself to announce these indulgences. I am happy to share the list on the understanding that it is not an official document, simply a guide:
Plenary Indulgences for particular days.

For the official description of each work you need to consult the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum. (For convenience I have given the reference numbers.)

For some guidance on the conditions for gaining a plenary indulgence, you could consult my post: Plenary indulgences not impossible.

The list is primarily for the assistance of parish priests who get the point of indulgences. I would be very happy to think that it might save them a little time. Lay people can of course use it as a guide too, (but please bear in mind that I don't have unlimited time to respond to scrupulous emails.)

There are a few that I had not spotted before. One I particularly like is the indulgence given for visiting a shrine constituted by the competent ecclesiastical authority as an international, national or diocesan shrine. That would obviously include Lourdes and Fatima (but not Medjugorje.) In my own diocese, it would also include Aylesford and Ramsgate (the National Shrine of St Augustine of Canterbury.) You can gain the indulgence on the titular feast, on one day each year of your own choosing, and whenever you go there as part of a group pilgrimage. (The Enchiridion uses the fine word turmatim - which Lewis & Short gives as "by troops or squadrons.")

Another one often forgotten is that on the feast of St Peter and St Paul you can gain a plenary indulgence by using a pious object blessed by the Pope or any Bishop, adding a legitimate profession of faith. If people know this, they might ask the Bishop to bless rosaries when they meet him - or the parish priest might even arrange for the Bishop to give a public blessing of pious objects at the end of Mass when he visits.

I knew that you could gain a plenary indulgence by visiting the parish Church (and saying the Pater and Credo) on the titular feast or on the anniversary of the consecration of the Church. What I had missed is that you can also gain a plenary indulgence on the anniversary of the consecration of an altar. Now I must go and look up the date of the consecration of our altar. Fortunately I did some tidying of the parish archives earlier today so I know where to look.

UPDATE: the anniversary of the consecration of the High Altar at Blackfen is 9 December.
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