Sunday book notices: A courageous German Bishop and a balanced assessment of algorithms

The Lion of Münster: The Bishop Who Roared Against the Nazis by Daniel Utrecht
Fr Daniel Utrecht, a priest of the Toronto Oratory, has put together an inspiring account of the great bishop of Münster, Count Clemens August von Galen, who courageously spoke out against National Socialist pagan ideology during the second world war. The Nazis knew that his influence with the people was great, and they planned to execute him after they had won the war. After the war, Von Galen also stood up to the allied authorities, and campaigned for reasonable treatment for the Germans. Fr Utrecht conveys the emotion of the return of the Bishop after having been created Cardinal by Pope Pius XII, and his death just six days later.

Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine by Hannah Fry
An expert in applied mathematics, Hannah Fry is well-placed to examine the risks and benefits of the use of algorithms and their increased influence in everyday life. Covering such areas as diagnosis in medici…

In defence of Gianpietro Carafa, Pope Paul IV (in jest)

My learned friend, Fr Hunwicke, has written a fair-minded post exculpating our Holy Father from the charge of being the worst pope ever. In this I entirely agree; there have indeed been worse popes, especially in the saeculum obscurum. I must confess to twitching a little, however, when he ranks Pope Paul IV alongside the notorious rogues of that era.

The charges against Pope Paul IV are that he had a ferocious character and that he had such malevolent hostility towards the English Catholic Church during the reign of Queen Mary that he made it easier for Elizabeth I reintroduce the so-called reformation to England.

On the first charge, we might offer the nuanced appraisal of a study by a Jesuit (who, as such, has no particular reason to be generous to Paul IV). He says
Paul was seventy-nine years old when elected, learned and incorruptible, undoubtedly and genuinely reform-minded. But he was also a self-willed, stubborn, intolerant, shortsighted, harsh autocrat with a fierce hatred o…

Bishop Schneider's outstanding interview has implications for the transgenderism debate

Recently, the bishops of Kazakhstan and Central Asia made their visit to Rome ad limina apostolorum. This is a journey which bishops normally make every five years, to visit the tombs of the apostles St Peter and St Paul, and to give a report to the pope on the state of their dioceses. It is an opportunity for the bishops to acknowledge the universal ordinary jurisdiction of the pope, to receive his counsel, and to manifest their own concerns to him.

LifeSite News has an interview with Bishop Athanasius Schneider who participated in the recent ad limina visit. He says that some of the bishops raised concerns such as Holy Communion for the divorced and civilly "remarried", Holy Communion for Protestant spouses, and the issue of the spread of homosexuality in the Church. Bishop Schneider himself asked the Holy Father to clarify the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” which Pope Francis signed jointly with with Ahmad el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Az…

Twitter and Lent: two possible approaches

In a whimsical moment, I posted the following on Twitter:
I am going to try to tweet a bit more for Lent. — Fr Timothy Finigan (@FatherTF) March 5, 2019 Knowing that such brief statements can be radically misunderstood, I thought it would be worth expanding it a little in a medium that does not have a character limit.

Quite a few good Catholics let others know that they are going to give up Twitter for Lent. My opposite statement of intention, though intended to raise a smile among those who feel guilty at continuing to tweet, was certainly not intended as a criticism of the worthy resolution of abstainers. I am quite sincere in this disclaimer and it forms part of my motivation for posting here.

There can be good reasons for giving up Twitter or other social media for Lent. These means of communication can be addictive, as we are daily reminded in articles every day reporting the latest research. Short of real addiction, it can be easy to spend too much time scrolling down the phone, …

The problems with moving Confirmation to before first Communion

Every now and again, a Bishop who is concerned for his flock decides to put in place a new policy whereby the sacrament of Confirmation is administered before the reception of first Holy Communion.

Usually, the primary justification for this change is that the sacraments are restored to their proper order - everybody knows, don't they, that in the "early Church", Confirmation was received before the Holy Eucharist. The villain of the story is St Pius X who, though a great chap in other ways, messed the sacraments up by radically lowering the age for Holy Communion.

You may have suspected by now that I don't buy any of these arguments. I don't, and furthermore, I think that the practice of putting Confirmation before first Communion in the context of the present practice of the western Church causes a break with both Eastern and Western tradition without offering any worthwhile advantage.

Tertullian is our earliest witness for the rite of Baptism. As the patrolog…

Sunday book notices: Fr Lanzetta on Fatima, and the "Sword and Serpent" trilogy

Fatima at the Heart of the Church: God's vision of history and oblative spirituality by Fr Serafino M. Lanzetta
Fr Lanzetta explains that Fatima offers us a theology of history and that "history is not already written to the detriment of the freedom of God and of humanity." On the contrary, he argues,
Fatima tells us that history can change, must change, that history is the result of the freedom of people over which rules God’s Providence, with a look of love imbued with justice and mercy.His book goes on to examine the message of Fatima with particular focus on the offering up of penance in atonement for our sins and for those of the world in accordance with Our Lady's wishes. A sometimes challenging book that rewards perseverance.

Sword and Serpent by Taylor Marshall
The Tenth Region of the Night: Sword and Serpent Book II by Taylor Marshall
Storm of Fire and Blood: Sword and Serpent Book III by Taylor Marshall
I wasn't expecting Sword and Serpent to be as good as …

"Celebration" and the pitfalls of language

When posting on Twitter about celebrating Mass at the Lady altar at Bournemouth (above) I was taken to task for using the expression "celebrate Mass" instead of a better choice such as "offering the Holy Sacrifice." The expression "celebrate Mass" is very Novus Ordo language apparently.

It is easy to defend oneself against such a criticism. Celebrare was used in the third century throughout his writings by St Cyprian, one of the first ecclesiastical writers to use Latin; the traditional prayer of intention for the priest before Mass begins "Ego volo celebrare Missam ..."

St Thomas Aquinas quotes (ST 3a 83.1 corp) the Secret which is in the traditional Missal for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost:
"quoties huius hostiae commemoratio celebratur, opus nostrae redemptionis exercetur" and indeed there are many uses of celebrare in the prayers of the Roman Missal. A fine example is the collect for the feast of St Simon and St Jude which goes b…

Ads - an apology

A kind reader notified me very politely of an inappropriate ad that had been served up when he was visiting this blog. I am very sorry that this has happened and apologise to any other readers who have been presented with any inappropriate ads. I have now cancelled the service that I was using. I will see if there is a suitable trustworthy Catholic service to use instead.

The "McCarrick Test" and its implications for the papacy

The intervention of CNN's Delia Gallagher at the Vatican Press Conference last Friday has been circulated widely on social media. There were other good, challenging questions asked during the summit, notably by Sandro Magister, Philip Pullella, Inés San Martín, and Diane Montagna, but Gallagher's seemed to me the most devastating (at 2'10" in the above video). She recalled the meeting of US Cardinals in Rome in 2002 concerning child abuse and pointed out that the reassuring face of the crisis at that time, promising that there would be zero tolerance and an end to cover-up, was Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whom we now know to have been an abuser himself, and who has recently been dismissed from the clerical state as a result. Gallagher asked Cardinals Cupich and O'Malley how the Cardinals were now holding each other accountable and how they would assure the American people that what happened then is now going to change.

Referring to this question, Matthew Bunson …

Sunday book notices: on the Carmelite martyrs of Compiegne, and 1215 and All That (and Charles Martel and the Battle of Tours)

To Quell the Terror: The Mystery of the Vocation of the Sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne Guillotined July 17, 1774 by William Bush
The story of the Carmelites of Compiègne is one which threatens the stiffest upper lip and I was glad to find this well-informed study by William Bush whose research led him to revise his favourable view of the French Revolution. He stresses the unreliability of  the fictional accounts of the martyrs in Gertrud von Le Fort's Song at the Scaffold and Francis Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites, aiming to give the reader a historical account of the sacrifice offered by the holy sisters.

The book takes each of the sisters in turn, giving an picture of their life in religion and their progress towards the ultimate oblation which they made with full deliberation. At times, it is difficult to follow the different changes of name for some of the protagonists, but the overall effect is one of terrifying, inevitable progress towards the guillotine, and a t…

Thoughts on meditative prayer and insomnia

It can be distressing to be unable to sleep. I have not been afflicted with this as badly, as regularly or for as long as, many people who have spoken about it to me over the years, but during the past year, thanks to illness, I have had some small experience of seeming to be wide awake for hours or for the whole night.

From that experience, I offer a suggestion which may be of help to some people. It sprang from the practice of trying to say the rosary when unable to sleep. The rosary is possible because we have ten fingers and can remember the words of the prayers and the fifteen mysteries. I found that if I did doze for a bit, I could usually remember which mystery I had reached, and would start that again. On a better night, with more dozing, the rosary could punctuate the time.

When things are worse, though, some other prayers are helpful in addition. I have found the Stations of the Cross, the Seven Words of Christ on the Cross, and the text of the Ordinary of the Mass particul…

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