Wednesday, 24 April 2013

A richly deserved honour

Aunty Joanna is now Dame Joanna Bogle DSG after being appointed as a Dame of St Gregory by Pope Benedict XVI in one of the last acts of his pontificate. The award is given for those who have proved their loyalty to the Holy See by means of their public deeds and are worthy of a public expression of esteem on the part of the Holy See.

Joanna is undoubtedly worthy of such recognition in view of her tireless work over decades in support of the Holy See, the promotion of the Catholic faith, raising public awareness of the Martyrs of our country, fighting fearlessly for the family, giving sterling support to good Catholic apostolates, and bravely defending the cause of Catholic womanhood in the face of sometimes bitter opposition. She has also given support to Catholic priests in many ways, not least in the kindly demonstrations of support at Chrism Masses in Westminster and Southwark over many years.

In both military and ecclesiatical circles, gongs are sometimes regarded with a degree of cynicism. It is a great delight to rejoice in an honour that is so obviously and richly deserved. Three cheers for Dame Joanna!

Hip hip. HOORAY!
Hip hip. HOORAY!
Hip hip. HOORAY!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

St George's day at Blackfen

For St George's feast day today we had an evening Missa Cantata with Mass II and the chants from the gradual. At Communion, the schola sang a version of the Salve Festa Dies with references to St George. I am told that it dates from the battle of Agincourt. UPDATE: The hymns can be found at this post: Hymns for St George.

After Mass, we had time to go to the Robin Hood and Little John in Bexleyheath which is a fine traditional English pub serving excellent ale and, on this occasion, sort of canapés of yorkshire pudding and roast beef. They know us well from Saturday Missae Cantatae which they sometimes attend.

For what it is worth, here is my short sermon for the feast day:

Great Saint George, our patron help us,
In the conflict be thou nigh;
Help us in that daily battle
Where each one must live or die.

As far as we know, St George was a high-ranking solider in the army of the emperor Diocletian. At that time, Christians were growing every stronger, their demographic power increased by opposition to abortion and contraception, their “herd immunity” increased by their charitable contact with the sick whom they cared for. Subjected to horrible torments, St George was decapitated on account of hatred of the faith. The exceptional nature of his torments led the Christians of the East to call him the Megalomartyr – the great martyr.

He is patron saint of many countries: we have shared that grace since his standard was worn by the Christian crusaders fighting against Muslim aggression in the Holy Land.

Today we are not asked to offer incense to pagan gods or to the effigy of the emperor. We face perhaps a more insidiously harmful trend which is ordered to the obliteration of Christian faith: modernism or relativism, the denial of absolute truth with particular reference to religious truth. We may be permitted to teach “what Christians believe” but increasingly we are pressured not to teach that belief as something that is true. Rather it is to be seen as one of a range of possible beliefs as one might choose from a menu in a restaurant or from an array of mobile telephones. Be clear about this: such rejection of truth is a rejection of Christianity, a rejection of Christ. Remember Our Lord’s dialogue with another Roman:
Pilate therefore said to him: Art thou a king then? Jesus answered: Thou sayest that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice. (Jn 18.37)
Remember too, Pilate’s dismissive answer, worthy of the militant secularists of our own time:
Pilate saith to him: What is truth? (Jn 18.38)
A common theme for reflection on the feasts of martyrs is to say that we may not face torture and death but we do face suffering for Christ. Although this is true, I would like to take another approach.

One of the key lessons of the Great Martyr is the importance of truth, the truth of Jesus Christ and the truth of the faith of the Holy Catholic Church. Each of us, in our daily prayers, needs to be convinced of this to the point that it changes our life, indeed to the point that it is ultimately the only really important thing in our lives. When we care for our families, when we try to live good lives, when we try to be good priests or religious, it is this one thing that is necessary: that we have a living and active faith in Christ as the one who truly is the eternal Word made flesh, who truly suffered and died on the cross, who truly rose from the dead and is truly present in this Holy Mass today as our sacrament and sacrifice.

As the chorus of our hymn for today reminds us, the daily spiritual battle is where each of us will live or die in terms of the life of our soul. Let us ask St George the great martyr and the patron of our country to assist us in this battle in which he emerged victorious.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Ordinariate: Evensong, Benediction and talk by Charles Moore

The Friends of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham are holding a Spring Event on Thursday 13 June 2013. This event begins with Evensong and Benediction at 6pm in the Little Oratory, Brompton Road, London SW7. Monsignor Keith Newton, Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, will preside.

Afterwards, there will be a talk in St Wilfrid’s Hall by Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph and Margaret Thatcher’s authorised biographer. Refreshments will be served. £10 payable at the door. All are welcome. For more information, email

Thursday, 18 April 2013

God Spray

Pope Francis today used a witty expression to describe the vague religiosity of many people who are happy enough to use the Church when they need it but stay within the bounds of saying "I think it's nice to have a faith."

It seems that the Vatican news agencies are now shying away from providing the full text of his daily homilies and giving only summary reports. As others have noted, this is a problem in itself: in a world of instant communication, we really do need to have the exact text rather than someone else's interpretation if we are to have anything at all. Nevertheless, there are some quotations in today's Vatican Radio report and I enjoyed this section:
The Pope drew inspiration for his homily from the Gospel of John in which Jesus tells the crowd that "he who believes has eternal life". He says the passage is an opportunity for us to examine our conscience. He noted that very often people say they generally believe in God. "But who is this God you believe in?" asked Pope Francis confronting the evanescence of certain beliefs with the reality of a true faith:

"An ‘all over the place - god, a 'god-spray' so to speak, who is a little bit everywhere but who no-one really knows anything about. We believe in God who is Father, who is Son, who is Holy Spirit. We believe in Persons, and when we talk to God we talk to Persons: or I speak with the Father, or I speak with the Son, or I speak with the Holy Spirit. And this is the faith."
I confess that I have already used this quotation in my pastoral ministry and I intend to use it again. It sums up in a gentle way an attitude that we have to challenge.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Thoughts on the Funeral Service for Baroness Thatcher

Did anyone notice the black vestments and six unbleached candles? I don't think many people would comment on them: they were just the right and obvious thing.

Quite rightly our primary focus as Catholics is to pray for the repose of the soul of Margaret Thatcher and I assure you, prescinding from any political comment, that I have done so and will do so.

As I was travelling today, I didn't get to watch the service itself but did enjoy seeing part of the procession with the gun carriage, the display of some difficult drill at 70 paces per minute, the shouted orders, half-muffled bell and all that.

People I follow on Twitter seemed quite positive about the address given by Bishop Chartres. Having now read it, I agree that he rose to the occasion and was glad to see that he ended with the prayer "Eternal rest..." (or, as he put it "Rest eternal...") The music was all deemed superb as we are privileged to expect from one of the top Cathedral choirs in a world class field. I am currently catching up with that via the YouTube video.

Looking at the Order of Service, I confess to being confused - not that it wasn't most dignified and reverent but I couldn't work out how the order was put together. There were some parts that coincide with what I find in the Book of Common Prayer that I have on my shelves but that is only the order for the burial of the dead so I suppose there is another Order of Service for traditionally worded funerals. Some things puzzled me - not in a bad way, I hope, though I confess to wondering whether the Prime Minister becomes a sort of honorary Deacon for these occasions so that he can read the Gospel.

Leaving that flippant and unworthy thought aside, it struck me that Fauré's version of the In paradisum was sung; again a note of praying for the dead. Then later the Bishop of London read a short version of the Commendation of the Dying, listed in the service booklet simply as "The Commendation." Again quite appropriate but it surprised me.

More important than any of these observations, I think, is that the whole service was solemn, dignified and reverent, used "Thee's and Thou's", did not pander to instant accessibility, and was, as an act of religious worship, watched by millions around the world, the bulk of whom will simply be impressed by how well the British do these things. Not a bad idea to bear this in mind when we arrange Catholic funerals: and indeed, why not use black vestments and unbleached candles?

Requiem aeternam dona ei Domine et lux perpetua luceat ei.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Pro-Life twitterati force Gosnell case into public eye

The MSM were trying to ignore and black out news of the appalling case of multiple murder by Kermit Gosnell because it confronts us all with the horror of what the culture of abortion really amounts to. Gosnell was following a macabre logic - if you can murder babies in the womb or as they are just coming out of the womb, there is no essential moral difference if you then decide to decapitate babies who have just been born.

Thanks to about 23,000 tweets per hour yesterday, the truth is now being reported by some MSM outlets. Damian Thompson has ensured that it is not ignored on the Telegraph news feed, and various media are now playing catch-up.

Bloggers have also picked up on the story to ensure that the truth is known. From an increasing roll of honour, let me just list a few:

Fr Ed Tomlinson
Mulier Fortis
Contercultural Father
Mark Lambert

For a list of follow-up articles, see Big Pulpit.

Thanks be to God for all those who used the social media to make sure that this horrific example of the culture of death in action was not allowed to be buried under the carpet.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Catholic Medical Association Annual Symposium

An excellent opportunity for Catholic healthcare workers to network and to hear some excellent lectures. I feel so fortunate to be able to host this in my parish. Dr Treloar send the following message:
It is just three weeks now till the Annual Symposium of the Catholic Medical Association which will be on the 4th - 5th May, in Blackfen in South East London. We really do think that it will be an excellent day and we hope very much that to see you there for a really enjoyable weekend. The main conference is on Saturday. The AGM of the CMA will be on Sunday, and of course, it’s fine if you can only come for the Saturday.

Excellent speakers, answers to difficult questions as well as a great deal more. For details and how to book for the symposium go to Cost for the symposium is just £10 (although there is a suggested donation of £10-15 to cover lunch and refreshments throughout the day). The banquet MUST be booked beforehand. CPD certificates will be available for those who need them.

Please do circulate this to others who may be interested and also do please come along. Here is a link to the programme for the day.

It would be very helpful if you could let us know in advance that you are coming. To book your place just email us at In terms of payment we have kept the day as low cost as we possibly can. You can either pay us when you arrive on the day or send us a cheque payable to the Catholic Medical Association (UK), at 41 Parkhill Road, Sidcup, Kent DA15 7NJ

Dr Adrian Treloar
Kent CMA

LMS Pilgrimage in honour of St Margaret Clitherow

A National Pilgrimage in honour of St Margaret Clitherow on Saturday 4 May 2013.

There will be Solemn High Mass at 1.30pm at St Wilfrid's Church, Duncombe Place, followed by a procession to the Church of the English Martyrs via the Shrine of St Margaret in the Shambles.

At 4pm at the English Martyrs Church there will be Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and veneration of the relic of St Margaret Clitherow.

(Any further enquiries to

Little Way Association new website

The Little Way Association is a charity that aims to "help the poor, needy and sick in developing countries throughout the world." If you are looking for a good charity that does those things, you can now find out more at their brand new website. The name is of course an indication that the fact that the Association works under the patronage of St Therese of Lisieux.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Vatican Press Office response to the end of the world

Father Lombardi would keep his cool even if he had to announce the second coming, says Francis Phillips, the excellent columnist and blogger for the Catholic Herald. Her article got me thinking mischievously about what would happen if the second coming were scheduled.

First of all the Vatican Bollettino would announce several days in a row an "Avviso di Conferenza Stampa" (Notice of Press Conference). Two high-ranking prelates and a layman would be slated to speak. Given the importance of the occasion, we might expect Cardinal Burke of the Sacred Penitentiary and Archbishop Muller of the CDF, but it could be Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers and Cardinal Amato of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints since there might be need for emergency service and quite a lot of saints all in one go. For the laity, perhaps someone from the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences to talk on the astronomical implications.

Eventually the press conference would take place with three 20 minute speeches issued under embargo during the morning before it takes place, and then read out verbatim to snoozing reporters. These would discuss the theological and social implications of the forthcoming parousia, the positive attitude of the Holy See, and the teaching of the second Vatican Council, particularly the hopeful message of Gaudium et Spes.

In the meantime, various journalists around the world would ask whether Jesus Christ, coming on the clouds of heaven, would in fact approve gay marriage, women priests and an end to priestly celibacy. The Press Office would leave it to the bloggers to go in to bat on those questions, and would concentrate instead on scotching rumours from "informed sources in the Vatican" that Pope Francis had planned to take some homeless people and sit on the top of a mountain awaiting the Day. It would confirm that he intended to remain in the Domus Sanctae Marthae and put himself at the disposal of the Lord, particularly if He wanted breakfast.

On the Day, CTV would offer a syndicated feed, L'Osservatore would print a special issue (distinguished by having pictures of Jesus Christ) and camera crews from the world's media would impatiently wait for the yellow smoke. Liberal Catholics would be ensconced at the BBC to complain that the blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke, the darkening of the sun, and the moon turning to blood were relics of a medieval mindset that did not properly take into account the compassion of Jesus. At least one sedevacantist website would run pictures proving that the Jesus who was about to judge the world in fact had a different hairstyle from the Jesus on the Turin Shroud.

Quietly in the background, Mgr Marini would arrange a Pontifical Celebration Pro Fine Huius Mundi with whatever vestments he had been asked to put out this week. (His courteous warning about the flammable nature of polyester would go unheeded.)

Pro-Life PCS Union exec committee candidate

Pro-Life campaigner, Peter Hunter from Blackpool, is standing for election to the National Executive Committee of the Public and Commercial Services Union, the fifth largest union in the UK.

For many years, the PCS has been affiliated to the pro-abortion organisation Abortion Rights. As a consequence of this, it goes beyond its remit to campaign for a woman's "right to choose" abortion.

Peter Hunter is seeking election to the National Executive Committee on a pro-life stance. He is Catholic and a fearless campaigner for the right to life. Members of the Union are encouraged to support Peter's candidacy.

I received this information from the Trade Union Pro-Life Group and obviously want to bring it to the attention of any Catholic or other pro-life members of the PCS Union.

For further information, please email Peter.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Abstinence and Friday of the Easter Octave

Must we abstain from meat on the Friday of the Easter Octave? In my "Catholic Dilemmas" column in the Catholic Herald of 29 March 2013, I said that we should. This has created a larger correspondence than any other of the columns that I have written in the past six years. So I thought I should address the question further here.

First of all the law concerning abstinence. The relevant canon of the current Code of Canon Law says:
Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday... (Can. 1251)
So the question is whether the Friday of the Easter Octave is a solemnity. In the 1969 document Calendarium Romanum, we read the following in the Normae Universales de Anno Liturgico et de Calendario:
Octo primi dies temporis paschalis constituunt octavam Paschae et uti sollemnitates Domini celebrantur. (n.24)
(The first eight days of paschal time constitute the octave of Easter and are celebrated as (or “in the same way as”) solemnities of the Lord.)
(The same wording is repeated in the Caeremoniale Episcoporum n.373)

"Uti" is a variant of "ut" and is used in the sentence here as what Lewis and Short term a “relative adverb of manner”, equivalent to “eo modo quo” which can be translated “in the same way as which”, or simply “as.”

So the most straightforward reading of the sentence would take it to mean that the days of the Easter Octave are celebrated “in the same way as solemnities of the Lord – even though they are not in fact solemnities.” A less convincing but, I think, arguable alternative would be to read it to say that the days of the Easter Octave are celebrated “in the same way as solemnities of the Lord – because they are in fact solemnities.”

The former interpretation seems more probable to me not only on linguistic grounds but also because it makes sense for the feast itself to rank higher than the days of its Octave. In the older calendar the weekdays of the Easter Octave used to have the rank of semidouble. This was changed before 1962 in a simplification into three classes which introduced a lack of nuance we continue with in the present system.

Unfortunately the somewhat hasty reform (and re-reform a few years later) brought with it anomalies in the observance of feasts. One example in the Easter Octave is that the Creed is not now said on the weekdays of the octave – surely it should be said, whether the days are solemnities themselves or just treated as such?

On reflection, I was perhaps too definite in my answer in the Catholic Herald. It would be tempting just to leave the question alone – but it was a genuine query which I have also since had repeated from a parishioner who did not see my column in the paper.

So what should I answer to the question “Should we abstain on the Friday of the Easter Octave?” I suppose, unhelpfully, we just have to say that there are two legitimate interpretations of an ambiguous provision in the calendar.

However I will certainly be abstaining from meat tomorrow. (Let's be honest, it's not that hard.)

And, in the hope of saving some time, let me quote a part of the short article:
Doubtless some will consider this all very nitpicking and legalistic, and protest that we should be concerned with the “spirit” of fasting rather than calendrical minutiae. Yet the point of days of fasting and penance prescribed by the Church is so that we can share together, as a communion in Christ, in a common practice of penance. Observing canon law does not prevent us from prayerfully fulfilling the spirit of penance as well.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Pastoral thoughts on the oil of gladness

2013-03-31 10.05.50
Photo credit: Mulier Fortis

Many years ago when I was a newly-ordained priest, an evangelical Christian stopped me in the street to ask me why I was looking so miserable. He said that I should be happy because Christ had risen from the dead. I explained to him that I had just come from the hospital where I had visited a young woman who had taken an overdose of paracetamol. During the course of the next day, she had realised that it was a foolish thing to do and that she did not want to die. Then her liver and everything else packed up and I had just administered the sacraments to her before her now inevitable death.

When we celebrate Mass, we do so for a variety of people. Most of them will be happy to be there, glad to know that they have done something good by offering God due worship, glowing with the joy of their families or with seeing the young children of others playing happily outside after Mass. As a priest I am usually able to rejoice in greeting people and laughing with families and their children. (And who knows? Maybe they liked the sermon.)

Some of the people who go to Mass might not be so happy because their husband has just walked off with another women, because their child has died, because they have lost their job, because their business is struggling and they can’t see how they can keep up with the mortgage, or because they are in the midst of a bruising feud with a family member. Unfortunately, this might be on their minds on Easter Sunday or the day of Pentecost.

Still they may be anointed with the oil of gladness and deep in their soul know that Christ triumphs over everything: but it may not be so easy to see that at the moment. Externally, they may not look as though they have heard “Good News.” If the priest lives with the smell of his sheep, his experience might teach him that the more comforting thought for one person is that we are also at the foot of the cross with Our Lady of Sorrows, the consoler of the afflicted. Within seconds he may need to rejoice with someone else because they have had a new baby, or they have a free day to spend enjoying the company of their family, or they have recently got engaged. The suddenly he may himself be challenged by someone who thinks he is a heartless collector of antiquities who has a taste for fine fabrics (for the vestments in which he offers worship to God for the people.)

Fr Cantalamessa proposed on Good Friday that our problem is the residue of past ceremonials and other debris, and that our pressing need is to return to simplicity and linearity by knocking down partitions, staircases, rooms and closets so that we can reach out existentially. I don’t want to be unfair: it is true that sometimes habits need to be changed and there are non-essentials that can be dispensed with if necessary. What I object to is the idea that this is our main problem today. To keep at an existential level, I would put it like this: the parish Church is a room in everybody’s house. If we go knocking things down and clearing them out to create a brutal, minimalist space, we take away something from the poor – both the materially poor and the spiritually poor. At a deeper level, that statue of the Sacred Heart or that image of the Divine Mercy or the Infant of Prague may be a great comfort to the sheep among whom we live. The sacramentals which so much enrich the daily life of the faithful, the blessings, the processions, the waving of hankies to say goodbye to Our Lady Immaculate, the scapulars, medals and holy pictures, relics and indulgences, give skin and breath to the faith of the people.

Let us not brush them away in yet another era of plain concrete machines for assembling in. We priests can discuss among ourselves some of the more enthusiastic practices but we should never be so proud as to deprive the people of the love and devotion which they wish to show for the Lord though the five senses. We might think that we are ushering in a brave new world of simplicity through ever-so-tastefully understated polyester, that the people will hear the “Good News” when we drone an endless Liturgy of the Word through a microphone with enthusiastic references to the sitz im leben of modern man, and that somehow this will solve the problems of the woefully inadequate catechesis we have presided over.

Let’s keep the staircases, rooms and closets, and find in every nook and cranny the different sheep with different smells and different needs, and serve them in this glorious edifice which is the Catholic Church with all its beautiful accretions sanctified by the work of the saints through the ages. This great, fascinating, and inspiring building, the Catholic Church, is our home. Sometimes we need to clear out some junk. But whenever we do so, we are sure to find something that was loved of old, something we have forgotten, something that will bring a sparkle to the eyes of the young who do not yet know that it is presently unfashionable. Who knows? It may be the way that they come to be anointed with the oil of gladness and hear the “Good News.”
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