Friday, 30 May 2014

Kudos to servers at St Anna Damenstiftskirche

St Anna Damenstiftskirche in Munich was commissioned in the 18th century by Elector Charles Albert, who became Emperor Charles VII in 1733. A monastery in the legal form of a chapter of nuns was set up. The architect was Johann Baptist Gunetzrhainer, while the Asam brothers were responsible for the interior. (That is all according to Wikipedia.)

Above you can see the splendid high altar. Imagine the pleasant surprise I had when the mother of two of my altar servers sent me a photo of them serving as acolytes in same South German Baroque piece of excellentness. One of the local servers told them that he was a reader of the Hermeneutic of Continuity so warmest greetings, and kudos for being so welcoming to visiting servers from England.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Something to take home

Putting into practice my concern for small local businesses, I had a good look around Antiquités – Brocante – Militaria just round the corner from the Cachot in Lourdes. The shop must have over a hundred old Latin-French hand missals, including several four-volume Paroissiens. These were books that helped people participate actively in the Liturgy, not by reading a Bidding Prayer in one of five languages through a microphone, but by drawing spiritually from the texts of the Church’s traditional public prayer. Everybody knew in those days that the Liturgy of the Church was not only the Mass, but also the Divine Office, which was regularly celebrated in parishes.

There were also some fine old statues, pictures and plate, but just look what I found:


The vestment is a full five-piece black Low Mass set in good condition. The black cloth is velvet, and the decoration is cloth of silver. The price was 350 euro which I didn’t haggle over. I follow the monitions of St Francis de Sales in that respect, but in any case, I think I would have had to pay quite a bit more if I had bought this in England. At the same time, I guess that it was probably the owner’s biggest single item sale for a while, and I was happy to pay cash, so it was an all-round win-win deal. We were certainly both smiling when we parted company.

Here is the chasuble on its own:


And here is a detail of the cloth of silver decoration:


Going shopping in Lourdes

Chatting to the antique shop owners, taxi drivers and hotel staff, I discover that the small business owners in Lourdes are not happy this year. Two years of flooding have apparently had an effect on the number of visitors, and the locals are all saying how quiet it is.

It is fashionable to decry the “commercialism” of Lourdes. I have never gone along with this. Bluewater is commercial: it sells over-priced clothing and luxury goods. At Lourdes, the shops are filled with rosaries, holy water bottles, and statues. People have to pay the rent and feed their families: how pleasant to see a micro-economy based on the sale of devotional items to pilgrims, rather than superfluous tat for people with more money than sense.

On previous visits, I have always encouraged pilgrims to visit the official shop within the Domaine. After taking a look round myself this afternoon, I am now not so sure. There is something suspiciously preachy about the guide books and devotional items there, as though the authorities want to draw people away from their robust and straightforward faith, and their naïve love of the beautiful, and direct them to a more respectably Rahnerian contemplation of the analysis of the human experience, and selected themes from Gaudium et Spes. These are reinforced by pedantically scriptural chants repeated in five or more languages making the official devotions similar to the Monty Python sketch of the inauguration of a postbox for the new common market era.

In the official shop, I was amused by this self-assembly Taizé prayer stool for the discerning solitaire.


The fact of its being made by travailleurs handicappés is a worthy selling-point. I only hope they remembered to source the wood from sustainable forests.


One place I do encourage you to visit is the Maison Paternelle de Ste Bernadette. This is the house where St Bernadette’s family made their farewells when she joined the convent. It does not feature on the official tour “In the Footsteps of Bernadette.” The reason given is that a charged is made to enter (2 euro.) The house is owned by the Soubirous family and I get the impression that no love is lost between them and the shrine authorities. The small museum has photos, family items and furniture that are not seen elsewhere and seem to be airbrushed out of official accounts.

St Bernadette’s family made destitute by market intervention


St Bernadette was born at the Boly Mill in Lourdes (above) where her father, Francois Soubirous earned a modest living, providing flour for the local bakers. Pilgrims are shown round this site and the Cachot, formerly a prison cell, where the family had to live for a while after Francois Soubirous went out of business. They learn that the family was destitute, that he was unjustly accused of stealing, that the little hovel was scarcely fit for human habitation and so on. Although not explicit, there is a hint that the father was responsible for the family’s misfortune.

A detail which had not struck me before was that the father’s modest business folded because of Government intervention. To be fair, it was a benign intervention; there was a famine and the authorities arranged for free grain to be distributed. The failure of the small business of a local miller was, I suppose, collateral damage. Nevertheless, the incident is a lesson for us. When Christians make political demands for market intervention, including the radical intervention of giving away free stuff using taxpayers’ money, small businesses should not be neglected. Whether it is millers, local farmers or fruit sellers, local businesses owners are people too, and if their enterprise is small enough, they may not have the strength to recover once the market intervention ceases.

My thoughts on this subject have been influenced by reading Michaela Wrong’s “It’s Our Turn to Eat” and Dambisa Moyo’s “Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is another way for Africa.” I am not an economist and don’t claim that either has the last word on the question of foreign aid in Africa, but their passionate criticism of foreign aid does at least deserve a hearing from priests and bishops who feel inclined to wade into debates about exactly how we should use our resources to assist developing countries.

(PS Do not confuse the "Maison Natale de Ste Bernadette", the Boly Mill where St Bernadette was born, with the "Maison Paternelle de Ste Bernadette" where St Bernadette was born - more about that later.)

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The joy of being back in Lourdes


Lourdes never loses its appeal for me. Arriving in the bus yesterday after the flight to Toulouse and the two hour coach journey, my heart lifted as we entered the town, passed the parish Church and drove down the precipitous Rue de la Grotte.

After a late supper, I was in time for the last two mysteries of the Rosary at the end of the torchlight procession. Archbishop Longley of Birmingham gave the blessing and I made sure to buy a new Rosary on the way down to the grotto so that it could be blessed by a Bishop. (It is significant to have devotional objects blessed by a Bishop because you can gain a plenary indulgence by using them on the feast of St Peter and St Paul.)

I normally skip the first morning’s tour “In the footsteps of St Bernadette” since I know it quite well, but as we have just a small group this year I went along. At the Boly Mill, one detail jumped out at me: more on that later.

Near the Cachot (the former prison cell where St Bernadette’s family had to make their home after the family business failed) I found an antique shop I had not seen before. There were some good vestments and other sacred objects of interest and I will be making another visit during the week.

We book our Masses by specifying the kind of chapel we want rather than asking for a particular time, so that we can have one of the small chapels by the Immaculate Conception Basilica. In those, it is easy enough to move a few things round to set up for the usus antiquior, and you do not feel as though you are worshipping God in a converted garage. It is beautiful to be able to celebrate a quiet low Mass in the building which was set up in response to Our Lady’s request to St Bernadette “build me a chapel in this place.”

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Reflection on the Hail Mary

The other day, at Blackfen, we had an Evening of Recollection for men. This is a simple occasion, with Mass, a spiritual talk, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, rosary (during which there is an opportunity for confession) Benediction and then some time to meet and chat in the Hall. Below is the text of my talk.

The prayer "Hail Mary"

May being the month of Mary, I decided to focus today on that daily prayer to Our Lady which is so familiar but bears a little examination so that we can make the best use of it.

Hail Mary
At the beginning of the prayer, we can put ourselves in the frame of mind to talk to our Blessed Lady. We can do so because she is the Mother of Jesus, she is the Queen of Heaven and Our Lord wants us to go to her. “Son, behold your mother”, he said. We are greeting Our Lady personally: this reminds us that prayer is not simply the saying of words in a formula, but a personal encounter in which we converse – primarily with God, but also with the angels, Our Lady and the Saints.

We can imagine ourselves bowing with the deepest respect before our Queen and Mother as we try to imitate the reverence shown to her even by such a great being as an archangel. We know that if we are sincere, we will not be held at fault for our clumsiness or lack of knowing how we should speak properly. Our Lady listens with great kindness and attention to our humble words.

Full of grace
Our Lady is sinless and perfect. This does not distance her from us; on the contrary, it makes her the perfect friend for us, someone who is always seeking our good. Our own faults and sins sometimes make us ashamed or fearful of someone who is so much superior to us in holiness and goodness, but that very goodness is itself a guarantee of her graceful understanding.

We need not expect Our Lady to be anything but horrified by sins against chastity. However, like a good mother, she knows that temptations are rife, and that these sins exist. After we have repented, she guides us to seek God’s mercy and grace in the sacrament of confession, and does not despise us. The very thought of her can help us to resist temptation to such sins.

The Lord is with thee
Our Lady was constantly listening to God and his voice in her heart. He was with her by grace but this was an active presence, an exchange in which she was in continual peace and companionship with God. Even when distracted by worldly chores and business, God’s presence was the backdrop of her life.

Our Lady followed her conscience – only her conscience, unlike ours, was perfectly formed. Not only was she instructed in the law of God, her judgements on what to do here and now were unsullied by that self-seeking and inclination to our own desires that mark our own struggles to choose what is right and good.

The Lord wishes also to be with us, not only at our fixed times of prayer or in the Church itself, but at all times as He is always present whatever we do, wherever we are. The Hail Mary can remind us of this constant truth that God is indeed everywhere.

Blessed art thou among women
St Elizabeth recognised Our Lady’s greatness straight away when she came to visit her after being told of her exalted vocation by the angel Gabriel. “Why should I be blessed by a visit from the mother of my Lord?”

At the same time, St John the Baptist leapt in the womb – an unborn child making an act of faith in the presence of his cousin as an embryo of only a few days implanted in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.

The recognition of these great saints teaches us the fundamental reason why we give so much honour to Our Lady. She carried God the Son in her womb for nine months and was chosen for the supreme privilege of nursing and nurturing Him in His childhood. If we really reflect on this great truth, played out on the world of whose history we are a part with her, we can only bow down in love and awe at the greatness of this woman who acknowledge in humility “All generations shall call me blessed.” How fortunate we are to know this and to respond with our hearts.

Blessed is the fruit of thy womb
Our Lady leads us always to Christ. It is one of the saddest mistakes of the reformation to think that somehow Our Lady detracts from our devotion to Jesus Christ. On the contrary, she draws us to Him, shows Him to us, and teaches us how to be His disciples. If sometimes we find that we are distracted at Mass, it is a sure way back to true devotion to ask the assistance of Our Lady to help us to make our own offerings at Mass, of adoration, thanksgiving, sorrow, and petition for the grace of God. This is also true for the priest. He can ask for no greater assistance in His attempts to celebrate the Eucharist with due reverence and devotion than to ask the help of that holy Mother who stood by the foot of the Cross and can guide Him at the altar.

We should pray for priests who have grown lukewarm – it happens – that Our Lady will set them on fire anew with the genuine devotion of true disciples who will bring Our Lord to others

Holy Mary, Mother of God
Being the Mother of God is the source of all Our Lady’s other titles. They are not simply nice thoughts but they tell us the truth. Mary also safeguards the truth about Jesus Christ. Because she is the Mother of God, it shows us that he is truly God and truly Man. For this reason, Our Lady has been called the “Destroyer of heresies.” As Mother of the Church, she gives her protection to those who ask for it, enabling them to teach what is true and orthodox concerning Christ.

In our secular culture it is easy to be swayed by popular opinion, to water down the teaching of Christ and His Church to make it more acceptable, to avoid arguments or sneering, or to make things easier in our own lives. Our Lady’s total fidelity at the Passion can shame us to stand up and be counted, to defend the faith at the cost of ridicule, to be known as disciples of Christ, to be proud to be such – not of course though any self-congratulation considering our weakness, but that legitimate pride in being under the banner of the Cross, of being His men.

Pray for us sinners
Our Lady never sinned but she knew more than anyone the damage caused by sin. We call her co-redemptrix because of her share in the passion of Christ. Her perfection in grace means that she above all is the terror of demons who flee in terror from her very name as exorcists testify.

Yet she is also compassionate towards us, affected by the wound of original sin, and weighed down by our own past sins and habits of sin. We beg her prayers for us as sinners because they are most powerful, both in helping us to resist temptation and in putting new heart into us when we have fallen. She also knows well the infinite mercy of her Son “with whom there is fullness of redemption” and the folly of ever despairing of this mercy.

Now and at the hour of our death
Every Hail Mary is a way of preparing for the time when we die so that we are not lost at that moment. This is something we should remember often: it is why the Church in her wisdom has placed this petition at the end of the prayer.

Many people live as if death were not a fact of our lives. But our life here on earth is short, we have one soul to save, and an eternity to enjoy the presence of God or to lose Him for ever. Nothing is more important than our eternal salvation.

Therefore we ask Jesus, Mary and Joseph to help us to prepare for our death by a good life. We also pray for a happy death, which means dying in a state of grace, fortified by the sacraments of the Church.

The Hail Mary is a simple but very rich prayer. We should sometimes take a little time – it is after all only a short prayer – to say it more slowly, to savour the sweetness of the words, to ask Our Blessed Mother to grace us with her prayers, and to form us anew as the disciples of her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hail Mary…

Explaining ad orientem celebration simply

This graphic was posted by Fr Dylan James on Facebook yesterday. He used it to explain to an eleven year old server the symbolism of the eastward-facing orientation of the Lady Altar which he used for the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. It is all the more effective for being so simple.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Break all his pencils!

Rev Nick Donnelly and the Protect the Pope blog that he wrote, became the focus of intense media attention after Deacon Nick was asked by his Bishop "to voluntarily pause (sic) from placing new posts on the Protect the Pope site." His wife, Martina, then took on the day-to-day running of the blog, welcoming contributions from a range of writers. I added my own thoughts to the general discussion in the post The pitfalls of censoring Catholic bloggers which was taken up in various publications.

Now, over six weeks on, the story has been re-ignited because the Bishop has refused Deacon Nick's request to start posting again. Although Martina was posting on her own behalf, she has felt unable to continue after the Bishop's additional statement that he does not want anyone posting on Deacon Nick's behalf. Many commenters have encouraged or even cajoled Martina to continue, but I respect her decision since the glare of publicity can be highly disturbing. In any case, there are others who will continue the work.

James Preece is discomfited by the affair because he felt that Nick's blog dealt with matters more charitably than he might, but has now resigned himself to getting up earlier in the morning to blog more assiduously. (He has started by Getting in on the ACTA.)

Response to the latest development has come from a wide range of sources. An example of one of the more trenchant blog posts, an impressive multi-contributor blog has a robust analysis from a Baptist blogger for whom the treatment of Deacon Nick is another reason for not becoming a Catholic. (Pray for the writer, such "reasons" often become motivating causes of conversion.)

Riposte Catholique, a Paris-based service which has "plusieurs milliers de lecteurs chaque jour" has published Angleterre: un diacre interdit de blogue par son évêque. They picked up the story from a French Canadian blog Notions Romains: Declaration du diacre Donnelly a propos de la fermeture de son blogue «Protect the Pope». I don't imagine that the story is limited to the Francophone world.

Permit me a couple of observations. Those versed in public relations often quote the American dictum "Tell the truth, tell it fast, tell it all." In other words, do all you can to get a bad story out in one go rather than drip-feed, giving the press the chance to run it for days or weeks on end. I am not, of course, suggesting that the Bishop has told a lie, but it does seem fair to say that he probably wasn't going to say in due course "OK Nick, time of reflection over, you can get back to blogging again now." Although the more conditional initial statement might have seemed a good idea, in PR terms it would have been better to impose the unconditional ban to start with, rather than speak of voluntary pausing and a time of reflection, and then bringing the axe down six weeks later, firing up the story all over again once it had cooled down.

More importantly, there are inherent problems with trying to censor online activity. First, it won't do what you hope it will do. The hope is that a nuisance will be eliminated. In the short term, comments from other Bishops complaining about your clergy and implying that you cannot control them will die down a bit, but the overall result will be a more determined bloc of writers and commenters who will be hostile to episcopal control. It is likely that "Protect the Pope" will be resurrected in one form or another, perhaps with a different name, and probably with less concern for courtesy than that shown by Deacon Nick.

Secondly, it is difficult to censor a person completely. I am not against censorship per se; there are times when an authority, civil or ecclesiastical, must exercise control over free expression for the sake of the common good. In the Church it is quite reasonable to remove a theologian's license if he is teaching as a publicly recognised Catholic theologian but dissenting from the teaching of the Church. This is not a step to be taken lightly: such theologians often gain sympathy by the disingenuous claim that their human rights have been transgressed. Nevertheless, such limited and clearly defined censorship does protect the faithful from being misled by someone claiming to teach in the name of the Church while contradicting her doctrine.

On the other hand, an attempt at general censorship without clear limits is bound to fail, more so than ever with the rise of social media. To prevent someone from influencing others by comments that are found inconvenient or irritating, you must not only tell him to stop posting on his blog, but also tell him not to start another blog, to close down his Twitter and Facebook accounts, suspend his email account and send to a recycling facility or charitable institution his computer, his tablet, and any mobile telephone made since the mid-1990s. You also need to try to construct a canonically valid order preventing him from using any new channels or devices for social media that nobody has thought of yet, but might be invented at any time in the future. And...


I never tire of pointing out how much damage those things have done since they were invented.
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