Thursday 31 December 2009

Austin Farrer on the year’s end

“When a calendar year comes to an end, we feel cheated. Nothing in fact has been ended, nothing rounded off and finished. The year is not a piece of work completed and done; we cannot hold on to, or possess, what has been accomplished. We have learnt many things, but all our learning seems still to lie before us. We have enjoyed many things, but our happiness has yet to be earned. We have served God – how little – and we have still to find out what the service of God truly is, and who the God truly is whom we serve. Yet in every moment while time thus bafflingly slips from us, we are in the hands of him who is eternal and changes not. Our Christ, the Christ we offer up here, the Christ on whom we feed here, the Christ whose body we are here, is eternal God as well as changeable man. Our grasp of eternity is small, but eternity grasps, fills and uses us. For we are the body of an eternal Christ.”

‘Circumcision’ from The Crown of the Year (Dacre Press 1952)

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Secularism and “progressive” theology – again!

A fascinating report from Sandro Magister here
on the state of the Church in Holland.
Holland of course was in the forefront of “progressive” interpretations of the Catholic faith (beloved of some Anglicans who are even now still waiting for the liberal “next Pope but one”) and it’s interesting to see the resulting absence of faith. Yes, decline has happened everywhere, the pressures of secularism weigh heavily on us all, but the liberal “panaceas” were sold to us (particularly within British Anglicanism) as a way of arresting and reversing that situation. In fact, they have simply resulted in a massive loss of confidence, from within, in the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel.
Will liberals and progressives take notice? I would like to think they were, as they profess to be, pragmatic enough to learn from the mistakes of the past, but experience teaches us otherwise - so probably not. Theological liberalism is a ideology which has nothing whatsoever to do with experience of the world as it really is. “Doctor, the patient is dying!” “A larger dose of the same treatment please!” The mantra of the theological progressive is simply this: “when you are in a hole, keep digging!”
As ever, it is Catholic theology (neither "progressive" nor "conservative" but just Catholic) which is truly pragmatic and cognisant of the real world and human nature as it is, because it speaks of God as he has revealed himself to us.

But we’re still in the Christmas Octave, and still celebrating with great joy the Saviour’s birth:

Tuesday 29 December 2009

O Magnum Mysterium

I probably shouldn't like this - but I do!
Our ad hoc choir (under expert direction) sang it last year at some of our Christmas liturgies; it made quite an impact...
This year it should have been the Armed Man (or L'Homme Armé, according to taste) - sorry, couldn't resist!

O magnum mysterium,

et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cuius viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.

St Thomas Becket: the struggle between Church and State

St Thomas Becket in stained glass in Chartres Cathedral

One of the first acts of the still theologically “Catholic” but now Caesaro-papalist Henry VIII was the destruction of the Shrine of St Thomas of Canterbury in 1538. Most of the histories of that period with which we grew up tell us that St Thomas’ shrine was a symbol of the overarching power and the discredited privileges and the accompanying corruption of the late medieval Church.
Imagine – all that wealth and not even in private hands!

The one word which was conveniently left out was the crucial one – “independence.” This independence of the Ecclesia Anglicana was guaranteed by the link with the See of Peter and the person of the Pope. This was a freedom and independence for which, at root, St Thomas himself was murdered under Henry II (who repented) and St Thomas More later executed after a rigged trial under Henry VIII (who did not!)
The despoilation of Becket’s tomb was only a physical clearing of the ground for the more thorough and profound theological and political desecration which was to follow.

Enough contentious historical polemic, please! It’s Christmas, and there are always at least two sides to every question!

But unfortunately the implications of all this are not dead and buried with the greatest monster of the Tudor era. His legacy lives on. Ironically, even those of us who are proud to be called Anglo-Papalists are heavily (if not inextricably) implicated in it; in fact, we hope to be able to engage in a little extrication of our own very shortly.
So first destroy the guarantee of the Church’s independence of the State (any state will do, from Tudor despotism to the illiberal – liberal, nanny capitalist model we have now) and you end up with a State Church whose culture inevitably takes its colour from the surrounding society. We start out with Henry VIII and embark upon a progression from his Ten, and then Six, Articles to the sinisterly idolatrous Elizabeth I (whose title the “Virgin Queen” did she appropriate?) and her Thirty Nine Articles, and we end up in the twenty first century with what we might think is the bathos of those who support the ordination of women for the asinine reason that the Church, particularly a state church (and its associated provinces; and remember the “Church in Wales” is much more a creation of the State than the Church of England ever was) has a duty to keep in step with the views of contemporary society.
But is it bathos? Not really, in many ways this is an even more ominous trend, and real persecution can, and already has, come in its wake. Curiously, the prevailing western philosophy of liberal inclusion, and its theory of the overriding values of justice and rights for all, whether this emanates from “Church” or State, seems equally dismissive of the rights of conscience, particularly if that conscience is religiously driven.

Now is the time we need that independence from the State most urgently if we are to preserve any kind of recognisable faith and be able to hand it on to the generations to come. Like St Thomas (both Becket and More) we know where to go to find that independence and that spiritual freedom. It may not spare us the inconvenience of harassment and persecution, but it does prevent the subversion of the Church's faith from within, and it will give us a solid Rock on which to plant our feet.
St Thomas of Canterbury, St Thomas More, pray for us.

This is an excerpt from Becket’s Sermon in T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral (Anglo-Catholic patrimony again):

“Consider also one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord's Birth and His Death: but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of His first martyr, the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and in the Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.
Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world's is. A Christian martyrdom is no accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man's will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence, it is the action of impurity upon impurity. Not so in Heaven. A martyr, a saint, is always made by the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, seeing themselves not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being.”

Monday 28 December 2009

The Holy Innocents: Flores Martyrum

"Stretched on the rack like fruit tied to espaliers
The other martyrs, twenty centuries of martyrs
Centuries and centuries of martyrs
Are literally fruits in season,
In every season spread on espaliers
And chiefly fruits of autumn
And my Son even was gathered
In his thirty-third season.
But they, those simple innocents
They are even before the fruit,
They are the promise of fruit.
Salvete flores Martyrum;
Those children of less than two years old are the flowers of the other Martyrs.
That is, the flowers which produce the other martyrs........"

Charles Peguy: The Mystery of the Holy Innocents (trans. by Pansy Pakenham)

Sunday 27 December 2009

The Holy Family

Lux, Lux

Lux, Lux
Lux Lux
Gravis que
Gravis que
Gravis que
Pura velut aurum
canunt et canunt et canunt

We are told by some that the Holy Family is an impossible ideal, that the family life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph - at least in the way it has been sometimes portrayed in spiritual writings doesn’t seem real or convincing - they seem too impossibly sweet and overcoloured to be of any use to us in the world in which we now have to live. Even as an ideal the Holy Family doesn’t work too well because ideals give us hope for the future as long as they are really part of our world, of the kind of life we can recognise to be our own.
I have to say I don’t accept this line of argument at all. If the situation of Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus doesn’t represent true reality, I don’t know what does. During this Christmas season we celebrate the taking of human flesh of God’s Son, the fact that God has really become a human being and made the world as it is his home in the midst of an actual human family and real human relationships. Yes, Christians have sometimes and in some places been guilty of over-sentimentalising the childhood of Christ, but what do we want, an episode of “Eastenders?” The events recorded in the scriptures tend to point in the opposite direction altogether from sentimentality, and they completely confirm the Church‘s theology that here is the Incarnate Lord come to share our human nature, and our human circumstances as they are, in order to lead us to the life of God which has no limit.
As a family, things begin rather shakily, to say the least, for the Holy Family. At its beginning there is the discovery by Joseph of his wife's pregnancy, knowing he was not the father of her child. His thinks about putting her on one side without any public scandal affecting Mary herself. He is that sort of man, a true descendant of the house of David; not for nothing has he been chosen as the foster father of the Incarnate Lord. But he is frightened. And for her part, Mary has to bear an encounter with God, with the Holy Spirit, which has baffled her with its uniqueness and strangeness.
The birth of Jesus happened while his parents were, because of Government dictat, forced to be away from the familiar security of their own home, and the birth itself in an overcrowded town drew a certain amount of attention and a few fairly improbable and exotic visitors. As we know from St Matthew’s Gospel, much worse was to follow. The authorities under King Herod felt threatened and ordered a purge and a series of appalling murders, a massacre of innocent children, to try to guarantee the regime’s stability. Now unexpectedly in the spotlight, the family fled to a nearby country in search of temporary asylum and safety.
The story of the killing of those children we call the Holy Innocents and the flight into Egypt are terrible enough;  life doesn’t get much more “real” than this; and when we set this alongside the Advent yearning of God’s people for the coming of the Messiah, these events seemingly dash those hopes to the ground. Yet the Gospel accounts of the goodness and love of God coming among us in the person of Jesus is all the more uncompromisingly effective when that goodness and love are set in the context of human nature as it actually is - in the context of the evil and hatred which do very often take hold of human hearts and minds. Switch on the television, open a newspaper.
From the very beginning, Jesus had to grow up in the knowledge that he had a Father who was not Joseph and that his destiny was quite unlike those amongst whom he was living. It’s quite clear from the Gospel this morning that Mary and Joseph themselves struggled to make sense of this profound union between Son and divine Father, even when Jesus was quite young. In his maturity as a grown man, doing the will of the Father at all times and at all costs meant that Jesus left home for an uncertain and dangerous life with a group of close followers. The shadows deepened, the number of his enemies grew:
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  
"And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light..."
The gospel accounts soon lose track of St Joseph - one fairly early tradition says he died before Jesus reached adulthood. As we know, Mary does appear - always at the crucial moments - in the gospels, and the scriptures describe a relationship with her son that takes little for granted in human terms. She who from the moment of the Annunciation - the encounter with the angel - had been given so much to ponder, in the end had to watch helplessly while the tortured body of her son was nailed to a cross until he died. Mary realises from the beginning what it takes us so long to appeciate - that our loved ones don’t belong to us; first and foremost they belong to God.
This was the reality of the Holy Family. None of its essential realism should be glossed over to make it sentimental or glamorous; although in one way it can’t help being the most glamorous story of all time. Yet this story shouldn’t be told only as the tale of one more persecuted and oppressed family living in the region we still sometimes call Palestine. Despite the myths, they weren’t homeless, nor were they "asylum seekers" or  refugees for very long, Our Lady wasn’t an unmarried mother, by the standards of those around them they weren’t even particularly poor. The wrong kind of so-called realism stresses the “political” aspects of the Christmas story and avoids and leaves out much of importance that was really going on in this particular family. As someone has written, "the events, the relationships, the free responses to God and to one another were upheld by a divine grace that did not spare Jesus, Mary and Joseph the mess, the cost and the suffering of life, but did not permit them to be limited or destroyed by that. Here was love and here was holiness, neither happening on the cheap or without a price to be paid." Here, hidden away from the eyes of the world, and our eyes too, is God at work. Jesus Christ, the Word of God, by taking human nature makes us all part of the divine plan and makes us sharers in the nature and life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Christmas story is one of hope and not despair. When we put the fact of God dwelling alongside us against the callousness and brutality of the world - given our human nature without divine grace, the world as it was then, the world as it is now - it shines all the brighter for us. Here is God showing what is, even to us much of the time, an almost unimaginable solidarity with his people. Here is God teaching us how to live, as we journey to the life of heaven, in the most fundamental and important of human relationships, the family. Here is God in Christ leading us to the holiness, truth and beauty of a life without end. Because of the first Christmas, because too of the hidden childhood of Jesus, this is a not an impossible ideal but, with God's grace, a real possibility for us. This is our destiny and the life of the Holy Family helps to guide us towards it.

Another "one-handed" mass this morning for the feast of the Holy Family. At least, with a solid plaster and a little more mobility, I managed to ditch the hooded cassock alb, which was the only possibility for the Midnight Mass. Even so, it was only possible to say mass at all (and then without being able to administer Holy Communion to the people) with a great deal of assistance - a humbling thought as we celebrate the Incarnation. My particular thanks to Fr Mark for his help over the last few days.

Friday 25 December 2009

Not the best Christmas Eve ever!

The ice and snow have lingered here, outstayed their welcome one might say. Global warming has a lot to answer for. Sorry - climate change.
After a narrow escape yesterday while driving the Jeep, this evening while walking across the icy road outside church here on the way to a carol service in one of my other parishes, I slipped and fell. Three hours later and a spell in A & E (the E.R. for American readers) I found myself diagnosed with a fractured left elbow and a very large and cumbersome plaster cast.
Somehow I sang the Midnight Mass: as I told the congregation, at least the sling is in the correct liturgical colour.
But where are the liturgy manuals when one needs them? An entry on “How to say mass with a broken arm” would have been very useful indeed along with "What to do and what not to do at the altar in the event of becoming temporarily one-handed." Suggestions anyone?
At least mass was celebrated ad orientem, which spared everyone the sight of some rather strange lopsided manual actions. Needs must and all that.

Of necessity a quiet Christmas day for me, I think, but not for Fr Mark. I feel very stupid and very guilty. Now I remember why I never go skiing.

Merry Christmas anyway!

Merry Christmas!

A Blessed Christmas to everyone!

Hodie Christus Natus Est!

I can’t imagine why anyone could possibly dislike Christmas. What are the marks of the season? we spend our time on top of our work commitments, rushing around buying increasingly expensive presents, we try to fit in plethora of parties and social events, we brave the crowds in the supermarkets, negotiating our way past families with two or three trolleys stacked high with food and drink of all kinds - (incl inordinate amounts of lager - where do people put it all? ) we spend vast amounts of money on postage for an ever-increasing Christmas card list, the strain of keeping up the yuletide bonhomie is almost crippling and on top of that someone invariably passes on to us the latest cold virus just to add to the seasonal cheer.
In a way everything which surrounds this great Christian festival (and I suppose we can be forgiven for thinking sometimes that for a lot of people the incidental things about Christmas have become its principal meaning) have the effect of considerably reducing the impact of what it is we are really celebrating. So the turkey and the tinsel and the mince pies and the mistletoe seem as central to our celebration as the Nativity itself and if we are not very careful the message of the birth of Christ either gets swallowed up in the modern  Disneyfied Christmas mythology, or is so well-known to us that we scarcely raise an eyebrow at what it is saying to us.
Too negative? Well, sorry but that’s the way, in my worst moments anyway, I feel about it these days. At least it’s the way I feel about Christmas until I stand before the altar. And there all the annoying and stressful aspects of this time of year somehow fade away and it’s possible to re-capture some of that sense of mystery, excitement and wonder we felt as children, but now translated into an adult context and in a seriously life-changing context.
I would hazard a guess that for most of us, Christmas - the secular holiday and the religious Feast - contains very few surprises. We’ve all been here and done this before. Now I’m not suggesting that because of that Christmas loses its appeal, quite the reverse: perhaps there’s something reassuring in it’s familiarity - something that seems to stay the same in a ever-changing and unpredictable world, perhaps or maybe I’m being too fanciful - it reflects the unchanging nature of God’s encounter with the human race.

At this time of year we all know what is going to happen - the decorations, the preparations, the exchange of Christmas cards and presents, the well-known Christmas stories, the carols, the readings from scripture, the midnight masses, the Christmas morning rituals we can probably repeat from memory. It seems so safe, so predictable, it holds no surprises.
Or so we think.
The first Christmas happened not in some gift-wrapped never-never land but in the grim reality of human history at a specific time and in a specific place. It happened to real human beings in the small towns and villages of first century Palestine - then as now a place of violence and simmering unrest at the cross-roads of the world’s trade-routes and at the boundaries of the world’s competing empires and ideologies.
It happened in a world for all our technological advances not so unlike our own - to people like you and me. And that’s what we forget. It could almost have been here, on these hillsides, in our own communities. The painters of the middle ages knew very well that the birth of Jesus, although it happened at a particular place and time has a universal meaning and that’s why their portrayals of the nativity and the events of Jesus’ life are filled with incidental detail and brought into what was for them, modern times and modern dress and what seem to us to be often incongruous northern European settings. But that’s precisely the point they were trying to make, because unfortunately in many ways the Christian faith was more real and immediate to them than it is to us - they got the point which so often eludes us, that God becomes man not just in the Middle East 2,000 years ago but for all times and all places, for all cultures and all races.

And in some way, the Christmas story does take place here and now, in a way which involves you and me. Because of what happened in the Bethlehem stable we are all touched with divinity - we are all taken into the life of God as he assumes our nature. God becomes a tiny little child to lead us to the life which is always new, forever young. It was St Augustine who wrote that God is younger than everything else, that he continually brings new beginnings, new births and resurrection to those who encounter him.
It’s not God who has grown old - despite the way we sometimes like to portray him, up in the clouds with a white beard - but our world itself, which so often seems to take refuge in bitterness, fatalism and cynicism. The cult of youth in our society today really serves only to hide the reality of our lack of hope and idealism and fosters the belief that in reality there is no true goodness or altruism or love which is ultimately anything other than self-centred.
Yet Christmas is the feast of the new-born King: the God who becomes one of us to renew us and give us new life- the life that can never die. Christmas celebrates the birth of one who shows by his birth, his life and his manner of death that love, sacrificial, costly can be a reality even in the midst of a troubled world peopled by a deeply flawed human race,. that love and new life can prevail even in the mess which we call day to day living.
The God who comes to us as a little child, who dies abandoned on the cross makes it very clear that it is in the weak and the vulnerable that the divine purpose is brought about. It’s very clear from the Gospel story that the world turns on the axis of the Bethlehem stable and not in King Herod’s palace in Jerusalem or with the Emperor in Rome whose census is merely used to help bring about the Incarnation itself. The real presence of God in this world is often far from where we might be led to expect it.

We hear all sorts of stories these days about various public bodies which have decided in the name of a deluded kind of multi-culturalism that even the word “Christmas” is too exclusive and alienates those of other religions or none. So we end up with absurdities like “Winterval” or equally ridiculous circumlocutions like “the holidays” - which to me conjures up pictures of buckets and spades and hot beaches rather than the holly & the ivy. But it seems very much as if this attempt to downplay Christmas is really an attack on all public celebrations of religion and a convenient way of banishing faith from the public sphere altogether. We are also told - usually by the same people - that in any case Christianity in the ancient world merely took over pre-existing festivals of the winter solstice or the unconquered sun. But as Pope Benedict points out
"The first to state clearly that Jesus was born on December 25 was Hippolytus of Rome, in his commentary on the book of the prophet Daniel, written about the year 204. Some exegetes later noted that the feast of the dedication of the Temple of Jerusalem, instituted by Judas Maccabeus in 164 B.C., was celebrated on that day. The coinciding of these dates would therefore mean that with Jesus, who appeared as the light of God in the darkness, there is the true realization of the consecration of the Temple, the Advent of God upon this earth.
The feast of Christmas took on definitive form in Christianity in the fourth century, when it replaced the Roman feast of the "Sol Invictus," the invincible sun; this highlighted the fact that the birth of Christ is the victory of the true light over the darkness of evil and sin."

It is the birth of Christ and only the birth of Christ which gives this mid-winter festival its unique character and that just maybe those who make their increasingly lonely and culturally eccentric way here and to other such places as this while their neighbours are (sleeping or partying) (or having champagne in bed or furiously unwrapping presents) have an inkling that the world may not be as it seems, and that love and holiness may not be such impossible ideals for us after all but may find their embodiment in Jesus Christ who lives among his people still, however imperfectly we try to follow him. In the messy, sometimes cruel business of living in the real world, Christmas tells us God himself came into the real world with a message of hope and joy and as a result we can look for grace and truth and an ultimate meaning for our own lives and the life of the world itself. In the baby in the Bethlehem stable and in the man on the cross on a hill outside Jerusalem - and they are one and the same person - we can start to find it. Despite everything, I think I like Christmas after all. +

Thursday 24 December 2009

St Augustine: Truth has arisen from the earth and justice has looked down from heaven

"Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.
You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened ‘to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.
Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.
He has become our justice, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written: Let him who glories glory in the Lord.
Truth, then, has arisen from the earth: Christ who said, I am the Truth, was born of the Virgin. And justice looked down from heaven: because believing in this new-born child, man is justified not by himself but by God.
Truth has arisen from the earth: because the Word was made flesh. And justice looked down from heaven: because every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.
Truth has arisen from the earth: flesh from Mary. And justice looked down from heaven: for man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.
Justified by faith, let us be at peace with God: for justice and peace have embraced one another. Through our Lord Jesus Christ: for Truth has arisen from the earth. Through whom we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of God’s glory. He does not say: “of our glory,” but of God’s glory: for justice has not come out of us but has looked down from heaven. Therefore he who glories, let him glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.
For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angelic voices was: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to men of good will.
For how could there be peace on earth unless Truth has arisen from the earth, that is, unless Christ were born of our flesh? And he is our peace who made the two into one: that we might be men of good will, sweetly linked by the bond of unity.
Let us then rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to our good conscience by which we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says: He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head. For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become son of God?
Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace."

Monday 21 December 2009

A snowy evening

This, I understand, is the original version of Eric Whitacre's 'Sleep,' intended to be a setting of the Robert Frost Poem, 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.'
The setting of the last lines is particularly effective, moving and poignant:
"But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep."

It's beginning to look a lot like .........


Snow this morning. Note the nice shade of Marian blue on the Christmas tree in the churchyard!

Standing outside Church in my cassock chatting to someone, I felt like a character from this:

Friday 18 December 2009

What should our future be in Wales?

Please forgive me (those of you who have tried to comment on this in previous posts) if I don't discuss the situation here as regards SSC in Wales, or in England & Scotland. At a time of huge uncertainty when things are falling apart around us, I think it's important for those of us who are bound together by a common Rule of Life to continue to uphold each other in prayer and mutual support and not speculate about personal decisions and the details of our private lives. There is a spirit of "tolerant conservatism" (not my phrase, but one borrowed from ) and of respect for conscience which is very much part of the Anglo-Catholic patrimony, and I would hate to see that dissolve into mutual recrimination and mud-slinging. If we cannot be loyal to the Rule and, in all honourable ways, to one another, then what hope is there for the wider Church?
At the moment we are still very much in a period of prayer and discernment about the future. That's not a cop-out; many clergy have responsibilities to the people of their parishes and to their families which could make a decision to join the Ordinariates a rather lengthy process. Having said that, given SSC's commitment since its foundation to reunion with Rome, I would be very surprised indeed if there is no definite recommendation as to our future direction (and remember that as an Anglican priestly society, realistically it can only be in the form of a recommendation rather than a  binding directive.)
 But we have to remember that not everyone, clergy or laity, in the traditional Catholic integrity in Wales or beyond  thinks the same way about the Apostolic Constitution or, for a variety of reasons, will make the same decision regarding the future. We are a coalition of the catholic-minded rather than a united ecclesial entity. But don't get me started on that!
I would, though, be very interested if anyone has any constructive ideas which can be shared, without giving ammunition to our opponents, as to how they think things should be developing in Wales over the next few months and years. My parish colleague Fr Mark at  has already made some interesting comments about the financial situation.
 As the great Father Z says, "no knuckle-head stuff please!"

Thursday 17 December 2009

From Forward in Faith: Very Interesting News from Scotland.

This is very significant: Forward in Faith  in Scotland (most important comments in red)
 For even longer than in Wales, Scottish traditionalists have suffered at the hands of a triumphalist, exclusive, liberal establishment. Some say the rot set in in what was traditionally a largely orthodox, catholic province (sounds familiar?) with the appointment of the liberal, Michael Hare Duke, to St Andrews.
But now it would seem that Anglicanorum Coetibus has concentrated minds and has led to a questioning of the somewhat unthinking ecumenism of the recent past which has avoided all actions which could be (mis)construed as exploiting the difficulties of another Christian tradition. At last it has been recognised, and not only by the Holy Father, that those being purged by the Anglican liberal "elite" in fact share the same faith as the Catholic Church, with whom the Anglican leadership hypocritically claims to be pursuing the search for full and visible unity. One must hope that the generosity which is now being shown by the Scottish Catholic hierarchy (as a first step towards the setting up of a Scottish Ordinariate?) will point the way forward for us all. Please remember Forward in Faith Scotland and its clergy and people (like us in Wales, episcopally orphaned) in your prayers this Christmas tide and beyond.

"Traditionalist Anglicans in Scotland celebrate Christmas

Traditionalist Anglicans in Scotland are setting up a new community in Edinburgh. This is being made possible because of a generous offer from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh to provide a place of worship for their first service this Christmas Eve.
Canon Len Black, Regional Dean of Forward in Faith Scotland, the organisation which represents orthodox Anglicans world-wide, said, “This move has come about because of the rapid drift of the Scottish Episcopal Church away from the traditional faith, morals and practices of the universal Church. We are most grateful to Cardinal Keith O’Brien for the generosity he has shown us in making a place of worship available, not just for Christmas but in the months ahead, as we seek to serve those Episcopalians who look to us for spiritual and sacramental support.”
When the Scottish Episcopal Church first decided to ordain women as priests some 15 years ago we were assured of a ‘valued and honoured place’ within the church ‘for all time to come’. That promise has not been honoured and today some of our people even find that they are being told they are no longer welcome in the churches in where they were baptised as infants. Now we find that the provision we were hoping for from our own Church is being offered to all disaffected Anglicans by the Catholic Church.”
“Episcopalians in Scotland have a long and rich history and liturgical tradition and the offer from the Catholic Church to enable us to take this tradition with us is something we and all traditionalists must consider carefully.”
Cardinal O’Brien commented, “I am delighted to help provide a place of worship for these Traditionalist Anglicans, taking the lead from Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor Pope John Paul II.”
The first service – a Christmas Vigil Mass - is being held on Thursday 24th December at 7pm in the Chapel of the Convent of Mercy (St Catherine's), 4 Lauriston Gardens, Tollcross, Edinburgh EH3 9HH -

Canon Len Black

Forward in Faith Scotland Regional Dean "

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Just a thought

If, as widely predicted, the Scottish Episcopal Church elects its first female bishop on January 16th,  how long will it be before legislation is brought back to the Church in Wales’ Governing Body?

Come on! “Liberal” credentials are at stake here! Bishops - it's in a good cause - who's for early retirement?

Seriously, if this does happen in Scotland I don't think anyone would put money on a bill not being brought back in Wales in April 2011, if not in the autumn of next year.

Let's indulge in a bit of unhelpful speculation. Given the age profiles of the present Bench, the dioceses of Llandaff, St Davids and Monmouth will most likely all be in line for episcopal elections over the next few years. A woman diocesan bishop at Llandaff is, I think, still unlikely, if not out of the question; St Davids perhaps a bit too rural and still somewhat conservative in these matters? Monmouth first? The momentum could be hard to resist if a "suitably qualified" candidate could be found; after all we do have a proven track record in these matters!

The refusal to reappoint a PAB, bad enough at the time, for "Catholics" now takes on its real, fatal,  significance. The trap is closing - game over.  There's a contradictory thought for the last days of Advent.

Monday 14 December 2009

BBC Radio 4

 BBC national radio were here over the weekend, broadcasting their Sunday Worship programme live from our little parish church.

I know not everyone’s experience of the media is a positive one, but I have to say that Radio 4 were a joy to work with, from the producer, Sian Baker, downwards. They were, without exception, efficient, courteous and understanding - speak as you find! It was a novel experience for me, speaking to the nation during its Sunday breakfast! Link here:

The officiant was Fr Mark Zorab  and the other readers were our Churchwardens, David Priddis and Verena Evans.

Music was provided by the Cardiff Polyphonic Choir, directed by Neil Ferris and the organist was David Geoffrey Thomas. The cellist during the intercessions was international artist, Kathryn Price, who has a
longstanding association with the parish!

Saturday 12 December 2009

Mary in Advent: the “Royal Way”

The following is from a chapter entitled ‘Advent in the Spirituality of St Bernard’ from Seasons of Celebration by Thomas Merton OCSO (who died 41 years ago last Thursday).

“Mary is the “royal way” by which the King of Glory descended into the world in order to restore fallen mankind to its destined place in heaven…..
If we leave her out of the Sacrament of Advent we shall never fully penetrate its mystery, since we need to go forth to meet our Saviour on the same Road by which he came to us…..
…..This presence of God in Mary is itself the secret of Advent, the heart of the Mystery, for it is in Mary herself that the Son of God gave us the admirable Sacrament of Advent…..”

And this from the Anglican, Dom Bede Frost:

“The difference between our Lady and ourselves lies not so much in her Immaculate Conception as in her response to the word of God at the Annunciation. That which had been done by God in her now comes to the test. She is a free being, conscious, too, of what her acceptance of the message of the angel implies and will mean to her, the betrothed of Joseph under the law. So she chooses without hesitation, and her choice is one which, like our choices, is rooted in, and results from, all her past. Her Fiat is no new word upon her lips, she has learnt no other; for her to hear is to obey. She remembers what we forget, what and whose she is; it is the foundation of her sanctity and ours. True humility reveals itself in worship and obedience; in adoration and service we find at once the lowest and the highest place in both earth and heaven.”
‘The Mystery of Mary’ (Mowbray 1938)

Tuesday 8 December 2009

The Immaculate Conception by Murillo

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost

With the least shade of thought to sin allied;
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven's blue coast;
Thy Image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween,
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend,
As to a visible Power, in which did blend
All that was mixed and reconciled in Thee
Of mother's love with maiden purity,
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!

William Wordsworth

Monday 7 December 2009

The Eve of the Immaculate Conception: “A Spotless Rose”

A Spotless Rose is growing,
Sprung from a tender root,
Of ancient seers' foreshowing,
Of Jesse promised fruit;
Its fairest bud unfolds to light
Amid the cold, cold winter,
And in the dark midnight.

The Rose which I am singing,
Whereof Isaiah said,
Is from its sweet root springing
In Mary, purest Maid;
Through God's great love and might
The Blessed Babe she bare us
In a cold, cold winter's night.

Belief in the Immaculate Conception of Blessed Mary - her preservation and freedom from original sin - is of ancient origin (explicitly present in the writings of  St Ephrem the Syrian & St Ambrose among others) and, interestingly, the historians tell us that it was celebrated as an important Feast in Saxon England, at least from the ninth century. The Normans seem largely to have suppressed its widespread liturgical celebration, but it continued to live on in medieval Britian in popular devotion. It was St. Bonaventure who, teaching at Paris, called it "this foreign doctrine", indicating its long association with England. St Thomas Aquinas also opposed it, but over the centuries the doctrine gained increasing support until its formal definition by Pope Pius IX on December 8th 1854.

Blessed John Duns Scotus defended the doctrine, despite the opposition of most scholarly opinion at the time. Scotus proposed a solution to the theological problems involved with reconciling the doctrine with that of universal redemption in Christ, by arguing that Mary's immaculate conception did not remove her from the need for redemption by Christ, but rather was the result of a more perfect redemption given to her on account of her special role in salvation history: Mary was preserved  from original sin in anticipation of the saving benefits of her Son's passion and death.
Bl John’s defence of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady was later summed up in this way: “potuit, decuit ergo fecit,” that is, “(God) could do it, it was fitting to do it, and therefore he did it.”

The present Catechism of the Catholic Church states that she was "redeemed in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son" (CCC 492)

Whatever one may say about the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and, of course, I am aware of , but unconvinced by, the counter arguments both from Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy, it is most certainly neither a  foreign "Romish" corruption (if one has to use such language)  nor an ultramontane product of the religious controversies of the nineteenth century. The celebration itself (though without propers) was thought to be significant enough to be retained at least in the in the Prayer Book Calendar as the "Conception of the Virgin Mary."  If Our Lady was believed to have had what we might describe as an "ordinary" human conception, without any "extraordinary" salvific significance, why continue to mark its celebration at all?
Perhaps neither the doctrine itself, nor even its definition as de fide,  should be the stumbling block that some perceive it to be…..?

Blessed John Duns Scotus on the Immaculate Conception
 “Was the Blessed Virgin conceived in sin? The answer is no, for as Augustine writes: "When sin is treated, there can be no inclusion of Mary in the discussion." And Anselm says: "It was fitting that the Virgin should be resplendent with a purity greater than which none under God can be conceived." Purity here is to be taken in the sense of pure innocence under God, such as was in Christ.
The contrary, however, is commonly asserted on two grounds. First, the dignity of Her Son, who, as universal Redeemer, opened the gates of heaven. But if blessed Mary had not contracted original sin, She would not have needed the Redeemer, nor would He have opened the door for Her because it was never closed. For it is only closed because of sin, above all original sin.
     In respect to this first ground, one can argue from the dignity of Her Son qua Redeemer, Reconciler, and Mediator, that She did not contract original sin.
For a most perfect mediator exercises the most perfect mediation possible in regard to some person for whom he mediates. Thus Christ exercised a most perfect act of mediation in regard to some person for whom He was Mediator. In regard to no person did He have a more exalted relationship than to Mary. Such, however, would not have been true had He not preserved Her from original sin.
     The proof is threefold: in terms of God to whom He reconciles; in terms of the evil from which He frees; and in terms of the indebtedness of the person whom He reconciles.
     First, no one absolutely and perfectly placates anyone about to be offended in any way unless he can avert the offense. For to placate only in view of remitting the offense once committed is not to placate most perfectly. But God does not undergo offense because of some experience in Himself, but only because of sin in the soul of a creature. Hence, Christ does not placate the Trinity most perfectly for the sin to be contracted by the sons of Adam if He does not prevent the Trinity from being offended in someone, and if the soul of some child of Adam does not contract such a sin; and thus it is possible that a child of Adam not have such a sin.
     Secondly, a most perfect mediator merits the removal of all punishment from the one whom he reconciles. Original sin, however, is a greater privation than the lack of the vision of God. Hence, if Christ most perfectly reconciles us to God, He merited that this most heavy of punishments be removed from some one person. This would have been His Mother.
    Further, Christ is primarily our Redeemer and Reconciler from original sin rather than actual sin, for the need of the Incarnation and suffering of Christ is commonly ascribed to original sin. But He is also commonly assumed to be the perfect Mediator of at least one person, namely, Mary, whom He preserved from actual sin. Logically one should assume that He preserved Her from original sin as well.
    Thirdly, a person reconciled is not absolutely indebted to his mediator, unless he receives from that mediator the greatest possible good. But this innocence, namely, preservation from the contracted sin or from the sin to be contracted, is available from the Mediator. Thus, no one would be absolutely indebted to Christ as Mediator unless preserved from original sin. It is a greater good to be preserved from evil than to fall into it and afterwards be freed from it. If Christ merited grace and glory for so many souls, who, for these gifts, are indebted to Christ as Mediator, why should no soul be His debtor for the gift of its innocence? And why, since the blessed Angels are innocent, should there be no human soul in heaven (except the human soul of Christ) who is innocent, that is, never in the state of original sin?”

News updates - what do bears do in the woods?

The latest news from the U.S.A. on the inevitable consequences of 'provincial autonomy' can be found here along with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s response.
My own rather weary reaction is along the lines of - well, we know what  bears do in the woods, and that the Pope is very definitely a Catholic.... There is no element of surprise here.
But the question (and it's the same old fundamental question) for us all, but particularly for those Anglicans who remain deeply sceptical about the Holy Father's offer in Anglicanorum Coetibus, is how much longer can we bear the spiritual, ecclesial and ecumenical consequences of being in communion (even in "impaired communion") with a province which is committing itself irrevocably to a uncatholic, radical theological and sexual agenda, and with an Anglican Communion which is less and less capable of  exercising any kind of  meaningful authority in matters of doctrine and moral theology? What price now the Anglican Covenant? Whatever mechanisms the Communion cobbles together to put the brakes on the runaway train, the tracks are going only in one direction.

There are excellent articles in December’s New Directions from Fr John Hunwicke (& Dom Gregory Dix!) on Papal Primacy and from Fr Kirk on provincial autonomy and, on the same subject, a very telling letter from Dr William Tighe setting the historical record straight.

On the subject of Anglican patrimony, here is a link to another excellent response to those who tell us we don’t have any to bring:

Thursday 3 December 2009

Newspapers and the black arts?

Several national newspapers have carried the story of an Anglican clergyman only just across the border from here who has (this according to the Guardian) warned his congregation of an increase in "satanic activity" after he found a severed sheep's head mounted on a pole outside a church in his Gloucestershire parish.
 “The Rev Nick Bromfield warned that "dark forces" were on the rise in the area and revealed a series of mutilated animal carcasses had been found.
The "offerings" had been ritualistically laid out in circles or around stones in his three Forest of Dean parishes – Drybrook, Lydbrook and Ruardean.
Bromfield has issued a warning to parishioners against dabbling in occult events, even those that may seem harmless, such as crystal ball readings or pub psychic nights.
He said: "I want people to be aware of the potential damage that can be caused by this kind of activity. It might sound medieval to talk about the relationship between good and evil, but there is no middle ground on this. People need to leave well alone.
"I've been told there are people operating in a darker place and I've seen signs of satanic activity in the forest."
The vicar suggested that the geographical position of the forest close to the border between England and Wales could be a factor. "It's difficult to quantify but there is something about borders that attracts occult activity and the seclusion is also very attractive. They are allowing in forces that can do great damage."

Unfortunately Nick Bromfield has been portrayed by at least one national newspaper blogger as some kind of swivel-eyed lunatic, deluded enough to believe in a personal force of evil, the implication being that a good theological education should have driven all that nonsense out of his head.
I know him and nothing could be further from the truth. What he is quoted as saying appears to be very sane indeed.
One could go further and say that evil out here in the sticks probably takes on a rather more tame aspect than it does in the metropolitan sophistication of the capital city. But there’s no one quite so blind to the obvious truth both about human nature and the realities of the world , even the world under his nose, as a demythologising liberal Christian writing for the national press.
As a rule, Catholics (Roman or Anglo) don’t tend to make a fuss about the occult, and don’t publicise these kinds of activity unless there is a pressing reason to do so: we have the means, sacramental, theological and intellectual, to deal with them.
Having said that, there was an incident in one of my own churches a few years ago involving a dead black cat left on an altar before an early mass…
Border country again?

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Cantabo dilecto meo canticum patruelis mei vineae suae....

Let me sing for my beloved a love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
He digged it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah,
judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness, but behold, a cry!