Saturday, 30 January 2010

Candlemass anticipated

Rather shamefacedly, I have to admit we are celebrating the Presentation of the Lord tomorrow. For many years now we have transferred the feast to the nearest Sunday. In a group of country parishes which don’t have the luxury of large weekday congregations, my own preference, although a somewhat uneasy one, is for as many people as possible here to experience the Church’s significant feasts and liturgies; the British countryside is not known for its fervent adherence to the Catholic faith (at least not since Mary Tudor of blessed memory.) I hope it may be possible as the Ordinariate comes into being and gains strength that not all its parishes might be situated in urban areas – one can dream!

These are extracts from sermons for the Feast of the Purification by Mark Frank, the Caroline Divine (and steadfast opponent of seventeenth century puritanism), his writings being a rather neglected part of our patrimony.

“It is Candlemas to-day,--so called from the lighting up of candles, offering them, consecrating them, and bearing them in procession; a custom from the time of Justinian the Emperor, at the latest about 1100 years ago; or as others say, Pope Gelasius, anno 496, or thereabouts;--to show that long expected Light of the Gentiles was now come, was now sprung up, and shined brighter than the sun at noon, and might be taken in our hands. Let the ceremony pass, reserve the substance; light up the two candles of faith and good works, light them with the fire of charity; bear we them burning in our hands, as Christ commands us; meet we him 'with our lamps burning;' consecrate we also them, all our works and actions, with our prayers; offer we them, all our works and actions, with our prayers; offer we them upon the altars of the God of our salvation, bini et bini, as S. Bernard speaks, as in procession, 'two and two,' in peace and unity together; and with this solemnity and preparation, we poor oxen and asses may come and approach to our Master's crib. The crib is the outward elements, wherein he lies wrapped up; they are the swaddling clothes and mantles, with which his body is covered when he is now offered up to God, and taken up by us. Take them, and take him; the candle of faith will there show you him, and the candle of charity will light him down into your arms, that you may embrace him. We embrace where we love, we take into our arms whom we love; so that love Jesus and embrace Jesus--love Jesus and take Jesus--love Jesus and take him into our hands, and into our arms, and into our mouths, and into our hearts.”
from the first sermon on the Feast of the Purification

“Light up now your candles at this evening sacrifice, for the glory of your morning sacrifice: it is Candlemas. Become we all burning and shining lights, to do honour to this day, and the blessed armful of it. Let your souls shine bright with grace, your hands with good works; let God see it, and let man see it; so bless we God. Walk we "as children of the light," as so many walking lights; and offer we ourselves up like so many holy candles to the Father of Light. Be ye sure we light all our lights at this Babe’s eyes, that lies so enfolded in our arms; and neither use nor acknowledge any other light for better than darkness, that all our best thoughts, and words, and works, must humbly now attend like so many pretty sparks, or rays, or glimmerings, darted from and perpetually reflecting thankfully to that glorious Light; from this day beginning our blessing God, the only lightsome kind of life, till we come to the land of light, there to offer up continual praises, since endless Benedicites and Alleujas, no longer according to the laws or customs upon earth, but after the manner of heaven, and in the choir of angels, with holy Simeon, and Anna, and Mary, and Joseph, all the saints in light and glory everlasting. Amen, amen.
He of his mercy bring us thither, who is the light to conduct us thither; he lead us by the hand, who this day came to lie in our arms; he make all our offerings accepted, who was at this feast presented for us; be bless all our blessings, who this day so blessed us with his presence that we might bless him again; and he one day, in our several due times, receive our spirits into his hands, our souls into his arms, our bodies into his rest, who this day was taken corporally into Simeon's arms, has this day vouchsafed to be spiritually taken into ours,—Jesus the Holy Child, the Eternal Son of God the Father. To whom, with the Holy Spirit, be all honour, and praise, and glory, and blessing, from henceforth and for evermore. Amen.”
from Frank's second sermon for the Feast of the Purification

The video, recorded in the chapel of Merton College, Oxford, is of the Sarum liturgy for Candlemass to which Frank clearly looks back wistfully and, it would seem, with much regret at its passing.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Apostolic Constitution: thoughts so far...

The meeting in Bristol last night, attended by a small number of clergy and laity mainly from Bristol FiF, was a first step to exploring and discerning responses to Anglicanorum Coetibus in this part of the world.
It was left to those of us who had travelled across the border from the neighbouring Province to point out that the future for Catholics who wish to remain in the Church of England was likely to be that of those of us in the Church in Wales: a removal of episcopal provision and its replacement either with nothing at all except the “goodwill” of the diocesan bishops (which is our situation) or with a code of practice so weak it will be chipped away little by little until nothing remains. The problem with this kind of limited “toleration” is that it is inevitably time-limited (as again we in Wales have found out to our cost) and that, as in the United States, toleration can easily and rapidly become active persecution.
The Apostolic Constitution was received in the main enthusiastically, even if all those present were not sure of their immediate individual responses. It was pointed out by one of the speakers that the Anglo-Catholic tradition was hailed by Pope Benedict as “a precious gift” to the Church and that the contrast with the attitude towards us by the liberal establishment of our own Church could not be more marked. However large or small in number the initial Ordinariates would be, Rome is looking not for “forests,” “woods” or even “copses,” but for “acorns” which will grow over the years into something much more significant.
Parish events on 22nd February were discussed, as was the way forward as 2010 progresses.
On the whole it was a very positive meeting with the future prospect of including more of those from the Church in Wales who wish to respond positively to Pope Benedict’s fatherly concern for the preservation of our Anglican Catholic patrimony within the unity of the Catholic Church.
Watch this space.

And my own view of what is going on?
There is and will be a variety of responses to Anglicanorum Coetibus. Some will undoubtedly wish to stay put within the Anglican Communion, however flawed and increasingly at odds with apostolic faith and order that ecclesial body is and will become. There are those who, for reasons I understand even if I don’t entirely share, who were born in the Church of England (or Church in Wales) and wish to die - come what may - in that body.
There has been much adverse comment on the blogosphere and in the mass media generally about the postponing of a definite response to the Apostolic Constitution because of what some have regarded as an attempt to obtain a "better deal" from the C of E than that available under the Apostolic Constitution. That is, I think, wholly mistaken; we are a coalition of theological views not a completely united ecclesial body, and that is the difficulty for any “umbrella organisation” of Anglo-Catholics like Forward in faith or Credo Cymru. How does it care and support and obtain a future for all its traditions?
My (completely uninformed) guess is that the PEVs will see their duty of care to all their people through, in the sense of trying to get the best provision possible under the C of E’s synodical structure for the "incorrigable Anglicans" in our ranks, before making a final and public decision to join (or help set up) the Ordinariates in England.
But from the point of view of very many "Anglican Catholics" (and this is a view I share wholeheartedly) there can be by definition no “better deal” than communion with the See of Peter, and that Anglicanorum Coetibus is therefore for many of us the only show in town.
The problem with purely Anglican solutions to the difficulties we face is that GAFCON, like ACNA, has an ecclesiology which contains the seeds of its own destruction. There seems little point in "reinventing" an essentially Janus-like establishment Anglicanism which has two "parallel" views on the ordination of women but which, illogically, baulks at the liberal pan-sexual agenda and does little to further the goal of Catholic reunion.
However, definitive responses to the Apostolic Constitution are not going to happen overnight; in a world of instant reaction and comment the perceptions arising from that are a problem. We have to learn to think not in the modern Anglican "political" way (essentially the secular view that "there is only this world, so do things NOW") in terms of weeks, months and years, but in years, decades and even much longer. My feeling is that there will probably be an initial response and a fairly limited influx of clergy and laity into the Ordinariates as they are set up. Many others who also wish to respond positively will, for a variety of personal and pastoral reasons (by no means all unworthy), will have to join later in whatever capacity they can. But it seems to me that the Apostolic Constitution is designed particularly and expressly with this kind of staged, long-term response in mind; there is no time limit and Anglicanorum Coetibus is intended as a permanent provision.
My own prediction is that, as and when it becomes possible, more and more of those within the Anglican “Canterbury” Communion will join the Ordinariates here and throughout the world. The seemingly infinite capacity of the Anglican Communion to lurch from one theological and moral crisis to another will do nothing to hinder recruitment as minds are opened to the necessity of the magisterium, not only for the preservation of an authentically Christian faith but also in order to make evangelisation a reality. Fewer and fewer converts will be won from the world by the relativistic disorder of modern liberal establishment Anglicanism, if only because “conversion” in any traditional sense will, if the radical theological trends continue to gain ground, become less and less of a requirement.
And those who join the Anglican ordinariates in the second, third or fourth waves will, as one contributor to last night’s discussions said, even if they are unable at first to be “pillars” on the inside, will be “buttresses on the outside,” and, I hope, from whatever position they are in, will try to “shadow” the development of the Ordinariates liturgically and theologically, and prepare themselves and those around them for the time when a positive response will become possible.
This is a development which may well start out on a small scale, but it has a vast potential for growth because those who become part of this generous, exciting and developing experiment in true ecumenism will not have to renounce their Anglicanism but only to live it and fulfill it and share it within the wider communion of the Catholic Church.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Bishop of Ebbsfleet's Chrism Masses

Ebbsfleet Chrism Masses 2010

Saturday March 27th @ 11.30am
Holy Nativity, Knowle, Bristol

Tuesday March 30th @ 11.30am
St John, New Hinksey, Oxford

Wednesday March 31st @ 11.30am
St James, Wednesbury

Last year's Chrism Mass at Bathwick was attended by a large contingent of clergy and laity from the Church in Wales.

The photo above shows Bishop David Thomas, the then Provincial Assistant Bishop for Wales, in prayer before his Chrism Mass at St Martin's, Cardiff in 2007. It is a useful, forcible and, I find, somewhat haunting reminder of why we have to be in Bristol with Bishop Andrew on March 27th.
There is a meeting in All Saints Clifton, Bristol this evening on the subject of the Apostolic Constitution. I hope to be able to report on it tomorrow.

Thursday, 21 January 2010


No, not a reference to our present economic woes,
but to the predictable habit of failing organisations, or those with  low corporate esteem, to go in for self-aggrandizement on a massive scale. In 21st Century Britain the cure for institutional self-doubt is a public display of pomposity.
Amusingly, an email I received today informs us en passant  that Newport's perfectly servicable (if now somewhat unnecessary, given the financial problems of the Church in Wales) "Diocesan Office" is now being referred to, by at least one of those in the know and who help run the show, as "Diocesan House."  A recent press release seems to confirm the change of title.
Well, honestly....I don't know whether to laugh or cry
I know St Mark 10. 42 - 4 refers to people not buildings, but somewhere along the line its message has been lost among the nomenklatura. Similarly, since the Province's abandonment of apostolic order there has been a massive outbreak of ecclesiastical dandyism in the most unlikely quarters. The emperor's new clothes, perhaps?
But back to the diocesan H.Q.'s name change :does this mean extra expenditure on new headed notepaper, or has the building itself suddenly sprouted turrets? We should be told.

Not the Monmouth Diocesan "Office"

Deafening silence

There's an interesting and controversial Church in Wales- related post at Cramner today
I have long since lost any interest in the views of individual C in W prelates, and it sticks in my throat more than somewhat to spring to their defence after the way we have been treated, but it wouldn't be fair for me to comment critically here, as it would seem, in this particular case anyway, that the use of the word "Palestine"  by the Bishop of Monmouth is innocuous, non-political  and  employed in a purely geographical, if anachronistic, context. Doesn't Betjeman use the same term for the Holy Land in his poem, "Christmas," albeit simply in order to find a word which rhymes with "wine?" Perhaps, then,  this was a literary allusion.
Yet it does show just how careful those in the public eye have to be be in today's highly charged and politicised world where all kinds of sensitivities are so easily offended.
Having said that, there does certainly seem to be  - how can we say - a certain uncritical pro-Palestinian bias in Anglican Communion public statements generally, perhaps merely reflecting the current anti-Jewish(certainly anti-Israel) prejudice in left-leaning and academic circles generally in the Anglo-Saxon world. As we know to our cost, the ability to maintain a discreet and intelligent distance from the surrounding culture has never been an Anglican virtue. On the other hand, there is an Anglican ecclesial presence on the ground in the Palestinian territories, and so legitimate and deeply felt outrage at long-standing and obvious injustice can sometimes blind people to the other side of the question, or lead to comments which might easily (and validly?) be construed as unwarrantedly biased. Even so, Israeli lives are also of infinite value to God, and one injustice or act of violence should never be used by Christians to justify another. But, ironically, in the liberal world-view some religious traditions and some ethnic  minorities are more worthy of respect than others.
But there is also a deafening silence from western politicians, and most prominent churchmen, too, on the often desperate situation of Christian minorities within predominantly Muslim populations; one thinks particularly of the plight of the Copts in Egypt and the various Christian minorities in Turkey. In the secularised west, perceptions of "national interest" have long taken precedence over concern for the plight of our brothers and sisters in Christ. The protection of the human rights of Christian minorities in oppressive states throughout the world also seems to be regarded here as somewhat journalistically and politically "unsexy" when compared to those of secular intellectuals or political activists in a similar situation. It was left to William Dalrymple, for example, in his great book 'From the Holy Mountain' to highlight the predicament of Christians throughout the middle east, in many cases persecuted by a resurgent and fundamentalist Islam, and caught in the middle in the conflict between U.S. backed Israel and the surrounding Arab states. As Dalrymple points out, everyone wants to re-write history in their favour and is prepared to go to almost any lengths in order to do it.
It is, though, somewhat ironic that militant Islam regards the West as "Christian" - I'm afraid that's not true in any sense whatsoever!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


Since breaking my arm on Christmas Eve, I’ve become a little more aware of the problems people have when they are (even temporarily) incapacitated in some way.

I had no idea that even for the simplest of tasks one needs two functioning arms / hands. It’s been a little while - in fact, not since I gave up sitting in a highchair - since someone has had to cut up my food for me!
But take packaging: dishwasher tablets for some reason these days come in little individually wrapped packets. Try opening them with one hand without a) nothing much happening at all except a very frayed temper, or b) ending up with the contents shooting across the kitchen and then disintegrating in a powdery mess all over the floor.
I had great fun (and I hope the Vicarage windows were closed) trying to dispose (again one-handed) of a large box brim-full of lurid green polystyrene chips used to protect a consignment of candles sent to the parish by a well-known ecclesiastical supplier. For the last three weeks it’s been impossible to open a can, and as for the ability to unwrap even the simplest of modern supermarket foodstuffs, well, the less said the better.
For the sake of those who are not quite so ably bodied as the rest of us (or simply those who are not so strong, the elderly for example and those who have arthritic conditions of one kind or another) can’t we simplify things and make them more accessible? Is it beyond the ingenuity of the marketing men to get things tested now and again to see if they can be opened by, say, Horatio Nelson as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger? We have an obsession with recycling (the secular means of atoning for our consumerist “sins”) but surely the better solution in the first place is not to use so much unnecessary stuff which needs to be recycled.

Of course, our world has an unhealthy obsession with things being well-presented and prettily packaged, and I’m not now only talking about food and consumer goods.
The difficulty with all this, is that the packaging may turn out to be good deal more impressive and attractive than the content. There’s a lesson there somewhere for all of us, not only those pictured below!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

No one “authentic” tradition

Much is being made in the pages of the Catholic Herald of the question of whether there is an authentic Anglican tradition to which appeal can be made. Robert Ian Williams (who seems to have embarked on a personal crusade against Anglicanorum Coetibus – like many sincere converts he seems to be saying “why can’t everyone just do what I did?”) has attacked the article by Fr Anthony Reader-Moore on Anglican patrimony published a few weeks ago
In a sense they are both completely right and both utterly wrong at the same time.
It is quite pointless to look for an “authentic Anglican tradition.” Cranmer’s intention in his various liturgical formulations are pretty much beside the point: Cranmer has never been accorded in Anglicanism anything like the authoritative status of the continental reformers such as Luther or Calvin.
In any case, it is quite clear that the problem with “reformation” is that once begun who can determine where it ends, or at what point its various “developments” cease to be authentic? Are we, in fact, as Anglicans committed to viewing the faith through the prism of the sixteenth century? And if the answer to that is a resounding “no,” then are we to stop at the seventeenth, nineteenth or twenty-first centuries? If not Cranmer, then is it Hooker, or Andrewes, or Newman (pre-1845) Pusey and Keble or are we left with John Stott or Jack Spong? That’s precisely our problem, whatever kind of Anglican we profess to be. We are committed to a highly selective (as I have been in the above list) and, on our own terms, ultimately unjustifiable reading of sources.
Fr Michael Rear in this month’s New Directions surely has it right when he describes his shock at the realisation that he was simply a member of a “Catholic movement” (albeit one he describes as " wonderful and remakable" - who would demur?) within the ambiguous structures of a State Church. There is ultimately nothing “authentic” to which to appeal, save the rather circular proposition of appealing to the consensus of antiquity; we know what conclusion Newman came to after precisely such an attempt.
And if we are still tempted to embark upon the quest for the one authentic tradition which we can regard as normative, we come up against the well-known problem that Cranmer and the other English reformers had a very limited understanding of and even access to the patristic texts and their context which we now are able to take very much more for granted. So are we then tied in to their intention or their mistaken analysis and application of Christian antiquity?
I have long come to the conclusion that the appeal to Anglican authenticity is fruitless, like chasing a ball of mercury across a laboratory table. We have traditions in the plural, and what Pope Benedict has done in the Apostolic Constitution is to expose the myth of a single, coherent Anglican "tradition" once and for all. “Come home,” he is saying, to those he recognises as displaced Catholics increasingly trapped within a structure which, by its own (lack of) definition, can have no “authentic” foundation.

Thursday, 14 January 2010


More heavy snow here over the last few days, and now thick fog and a steady thaw.
I could make some heavy-handed analogy with the process of discernment over our future, and the inability of many of us at the moment to see very far ahead, but I'll refrain!
Instead, here's some music appropriate for a day like this; the first of Shostakovich's Preludes & Fugues. It always reminds me of walking foggy Oxford streets as an undergraduate in the Hilary term. Perhaps that's when I first heard it.... hmmm

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The very worst time of the year?

Back to Ordinary Time with a vengeance! Christmastide is over and the realities of life begin to hit home after the festivities. Here the weather is cold, dark and dismal, temperatures are hovering just above zero, with a very slow thaw of lying snow, making walking around a rather precarious business! Yet parish life goes on, the offices are said, masses are offered and, despite the uncertainties of the age in which we live, these words of Austin Farrer remain true: "If you are faithful, the love of God will be stronger in your veins next year than this. It takes no staleness from the passage of time....." 
The music by Lauridsen, and the poem by Edward Thomas looking forward a few weeks to late winter, should help bring some light into what is, perhaps, in terms of the climate anyway, the very worst time of the year.

O Nata Lux - Morten Lauridsen

The Manor Farm

The rock-like mud unfroze a little, and rills
Ran and sparkled down each side of the road
Under the catkins wagging in the hedge.
But earth would have her sleep out, spite of the sun;
Nor did I value that thin gliding beam
More than a pretty February thing
Till I came down to the old manor farm,
And church and yew-tree opposite, in age
Its equals and in size. The church and yew
And farmhouse slept in a Sunday silentness.
The air raised not a straw. The steep farm roof,
With tiles duskily glowing, entertained
The mid-day sun; and up and down the roof
White pigeons nestled. There was no sound but one.
Three cart horses were looking over a gate
Drowsily through their forelocks, swishing their tails
Against a fly, a solitary fly.
The winter's cheek flushed as if he had drained
Spring, summer, and autumn at a draught
And smiled quietly. But 'twas not winter--
Rather a season of bliss unchangeable,
Awakened from farm and church where it had lain
Safe under tile and latch for ages since
This England, Old already, was called Merry.

Edward Thomas

Monday, 11 January 2010

Archbishop Laud

Yesterday was the anniversary of the execution of Archbishop William Laud. His interest in the possibility of reunion between Canterbury and Rome is well-documented. Indeed the list of charges drawn up by his enemies in Parliament during the process of his impeachment included ‘wishing to establish a new religion,’ ‘corresponding with Rome’ and ‘treating with the Pope’s men in England.’
In fact it is clear that the Archbishop and Charles I himself, long before Laud's impeachment and execution in 1645, had come to the realisation that any hopes for reunion were quite unrealistic due to the strength of puritan opposition; Archbishop Laud's protestations on the scaffold of loyalty to the Church of England were rigourously honest if not entirely transparent as to the past.
His aims for the English Church of a reform of liturgy, doctrine and discipline seem to have been perhaps more along the lines of what the Council of Trent had achieved for the Catholic Church. Had he succeeded he may well have come to be seen as a kind of anglican St Charles Borromeo, and that success itself would have prepared the ground for longer term moves towards unity. However, we know the outcome of history; Laud went to the scaffold and any realistic hopes, both of liturgical and docrtinal reform along more patristic lines or of the return of England to the Western Church, died with him.
He is, though, part of our Anglo-Catholic historical patrimony and if, in a kinder age (in some ways, at least), we are spared the same physical end, we do share the same virulent and implacable hostility which is directed against us. English (British?) religion is a leopard (some would say with Dryden,“panther” - although that rather destroys the analogy! ) which hasn’t changed its spots that much over the years: suspicion, if not outright hatred, of Rome still lies just beneath the surface despite our modern good manners.
The very nature of Anglicanism, then as now, simply makes unity an impossibility.
Yet we should be very wary indeed of dismissing the Apostolic Constitution as “farcical” or merely “a chaplaincy,” because the alternative for doctrinally orthodox Catholic Anglicans is a slow death (not so slow really - within a generation?); between them the liberals and evangelicals, in whose hands now lies the future of our Communion, and who in different ways have no love for us whatsoever, will see to that.
Archbishop Laud’s dream or Archbishop Laud’s fate (spiritually) seems to be the choice before us now.

However, if some Anglo-Catholic reaction towards Anglicanorum Coetibus is still very guarded, in some cases that is because quite a few Anglican clergy are in situations from which they will need a certain Houdini-like skill in order to extricate themselves. Financial concerns are just one of the areas of difficulty, and for many that is not a matter of simply having to accept a lower standard of living, as some commentators have rather mockingly alleged. Voluntary poverty and possible long term unemployment for the sake of personal conscience are one thing, the sacrificing of the educational life-chances of one’s dependants who have no choice in the matter are another. To move from where we are to where our faith tells us we ought to be may take time, and it has nothing to do with the fear of a change of lifestyle..
But get there we will, however long it takes, whether we end up as clergy or in lay communion, because the Apostolic Constitution remains the only show in town and, to return to the real subject of this post, the only realistic chance of achieving the hopes and dreams of those who have longed and worked for reunion over what is now nearly five hundred years of separation. More than that, it is where our conscience directs us and we all know the fate of those who act against their conscience….
Yet this will be, for some, a rather longer and more patient process than, when the time comes, calling in the removal men -  much as we would all like it to be that simple.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Baptism of the Lord

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
[2 Cor 5. 21] 

One of the most frustrating things about the media is that very often there is no follow-up to a really interesting news story, so we are left wondering about what happened afterwards.
The Anglo-Catholic blog does have a follow-up piece today about the parish of Thiberville and their parish priest, Fr Michel.
It appears that after a meeting with the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the Bishop of Evreux seems to have backed down.
This is yet another timely reminder to us all of the absolute necessity of the Petrine Ministry for the whole Church. For this reason alone (I'm sure he could think of others!), Fr Michel should be grateful that he isn't an Anglican. We have no such recourse. There are many doctrinally orthodox Anglo-Catholics in, to take an example, TEC, (to say nothing of the rest of the world) who would be thankful for even the possibility of such an intervention.

Friday, 8 January 2010

When icicles hang by the wall…..

When icicles hang by the wall

And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail;
When blood is nipt, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl
Tu-whit! tu-whoo! A merry note!
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all around the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian's nose looks red and raw;
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl—
Then nightly sings the staring owl
Tu-whit! tu-whoo! A merry note!
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Shakespeare: ‘Love's Labour's Lost’

The long range weather forecasts for the British Isles in early Spring last year predicted a “barbeque summer” and again in September, “a mild winter.” We should have known better, or rather we shouldn’t have listened: everyone knows that in this Atlantic, maritime climate it is well-nigh impossible to forecast weather accurately for longer than about three or four days in advance.
But for a few weeks now the winds have blown from the North East (particularly strongly this morning) and we have become a climatic outpost of Scandinavia.
As usual when severe weather stikes us here, the news is full of recriminations about our lack of preparedness and the ensuing travel and educational chaos. Apologetic politicians and municipal officials appear hourly on the media. Not for for us the magnificently dismissive  response of a French spokesman when criticised for a similar problem, "What do you expect? Paris is not a ski resort!"
At least people are smiling and stopping to chat in the streets where, from time to time, pitched snowball battles are being fought by children sent home from school because of the weather.
This is the coldest weather we have experienced here for a very long time with several snowfalls and below zero (Celsius) temperatures by day. The snow is going nowhere fast; the ground is frozen solid and the Vicarage’s exotic garden is looking somewhat forlorn. I can expect quite a few horticultural casualties when the snow melts and things return to normal. As some people keep telling me in another context, I shouldn’t be so "latinate" in my tastes and allegiances
Anyway, here is some appropriately mediterranean music for the season: 'Winter' from Vivaldi's Four Seasons performed by I Musici. Despite the video, it's a little early for Carnevale - but it has to be warmer than this even on the Venetian lagoon!

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Prayers for unity?

It strikes me forcibly that those of us who are exploring the prospect of the restoration of unity with the Holy See as a result of Anglicanorum Coetibus have no specific daily prayers to ask for God's guidance as we discern our future. Perhaps they do exist, but in an increasingly isolated and seemingly directionless (and at present snowbound!) Wales, I am unaware of them. Any suggestions, anyone?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Music for Epiphanytide

Mgr Graham Leonard R.I.P.

Damian Thompson reports that the former Bishop of London,
Mgr Graham Leonard, has died at the age of 88.
Our prayers for the repose of the soul of a good and  honourable churchman, one of the few who dared defy the Anglican "episcopal club" and stand up for the faith once delivered to the saints.
Requiescat in pacem

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Extraordinary scenes in a parish in rural France

A French parish priest has been removed from his parish by the bishop of Evreux, seemingly because he was too loyal to Pope Benedict and insufficiently loyal to the "spirit of the Council!"
For those who speak French (even if you don't, you will get the gist), here are two news clips from You Tube. Biretta tip to Fr Neil for bringing them to my attention.
There is a full report in English by Fr Anthony Chadwick at The Anglo-Catholic here:

It would seem we are not alone in the Church in Wales in  having to deal with the folly of some members of the episcopate.
Prayers please for the parish of Thiberville and their parish priest, Fr Michel.


I have less and less respect for modern politics, but this really takes the biscuit.
Biretta tip to the Hermaneutic of Continuity & to Lone Star Parson where I first saw it.

This is the transcript in full, (Fr Finigan's really funny commentary is in red) :

THE PRESIDENT: I think one thing that's important to remember is that, even though there's a lot of fun at Christmas, you know, you got -- especially when it's snowy like this, so it's pretty outside, you got the Christmas tree, you got the Christmas cookies, you've got presents. You know, I think that the most important thing is just to remember why we celebrate Christmas. [You're on dangerous ground there, Mr President. One of those children just might know.]
CHILD: I know! [Oh! Here it comes!]
THE PRESIDENT: Do you know? [Nail-biting moment...]
CHILD: The birth of baby Jesus. [Aaargh - that's not in the script! The White House only just about allowed the Christmas crib this year.]
THE PRESIDENT: The birth of baby Jesus, and what he symbolizes ["what he symbolizes"? - I'm not sure the children are going to follow this] for people all around the world is the possibility of peace and people treating each other with respect. And so I just hope that spirit of giving [Shifting onto safer ground here - "peace, respect, spirit of giving" and all that.] that's so important at Christmas, I hope all of you guys remember that as well. You know, it's not just about getting gifts but it's also doing something for other people. So being nice [Oh yes! Being nice is good] to your mom and dad and grandma and aunties and showing respect [Yep, that too - nobody can argue with showing respect] to people -- that's really important too, that's part of the Christmas spirit, don't you think? Do you agree with me?
CHILDREN: Yes. [They're nice children and they show respect; but they also have this darned knowledge of the Christian faith...]
THE PRESIDENT: You do? Do you have an interesting observation? [This child was waving frantically - always a warning sign.]
CHILD: I know why we give gifts to other people.
THE PRESIDENT: Why is that?
CHILD: Because the three wise men gave gifts to baby Jesus. [Aaaargh! - the child has gone back to the gospel again!]
THE PRESIDENT: That's exactly right. [Cool - always affirm the answer even if you think it is wrong.] But [Not so cool to come in so abruptly with the "but"] the three wise men -- the reason -- (sign falls off wall) -- uh-oh, I thought that was the cookies going down. We couldn't have that. You know, the three wise men, if you think about it, here are these guys, they have all this money, they've got all this wealth and power, [Oh yeah? Or were they just Persian priest astronomers? Neat link in to the socialist agenda, though.] and yet they took a long trip to a manger just to see a little baby. And it just shows you that just because you're powerful or you're wealthy, that's not what's important. What's important is what's -- the kind of spirit you have.
So I hope everybody has a spirit of kindness and thoughtfulness, and everybody is really thinking about how can they do for other people -- treating them well, because that's really the spirit of Christmas. [and that's got it all dumbed down nicely Mr President. Forget the divinity of Christ, the incarnation, the redemption of the human race from sin - kindness, thoughfulness, niceness and nonrespectfulnesslessness will do fine.]

Good heavens! Shame on you Mr President, Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding! I'm sure even President George Bush (not universally beloved this side of the Atlantic) would not have stooped this low!

Monday, 4 January 2010


The still impressive Roman walls of Caerwent (Venta Silurum)

The Church of England has been memorably described as a Protestant Church haunted by its Catholic past. I think it’s possible to go one step further and describe the southern two-thirds of the British Isles as a part of the world haunted by its experience of the Roman imperium.

We are used to the version of history which describes the withdrawal of the last Roman legions in 410, leaving behind a disorganised and crumbling society which fell easy prey to the pagan Teutonic tribes which settled in what is now England.
We are also familiar with the narrative which sees the return of Roman Christianity with St Augustine and his followers in 597 and the adoption by the Celtic Christians of the Roman Calendar and ecclesiastical jurisdiction at Whitby. Modern scholarship also suggests a hitherto unappreciated indebtedness of Saxon England to its Roman, British past.

Yet there was a small part of the British Isles where the idea of Romanitas lived on more fully and outwardly. Wales, particularly South Wales, long held on to a kind of hybrid Romano-Celtic identity until it largely disappeared under the succession of Norman invaders from the end of the eleventh century onwards.
This was, of course, also the part of the world visited by St Germanus of Auxerre in his mission to counter the heresy of Pelagianism in the 5th century.
The church here in this village, interestingly in the later middle ages under Augustinian patronage, receives its first reference in a document (The Book of Llandaff, Liber Landavensis), referring to events in the tenth century, as being under the jurisdiction of the Celtic bishop at Caerwent, the Roman town of Venta Silurum, whose ruined walls still stand as a reminder of a submerged heritage.
A kind of “British” memory of romanitas also achieved a cultural colonialism far beyond these shores with the various versions of the Arthurian Romances, a series of legends originating from the time of  the collapse of the authority of Imperial Rome in Britain, but reappearing in an international form under the literary disguise of feudal chivalry.

Of course, the Reformation and the rise of an  all encompassing English nationalism under the Tudors (with which the Welsh were only too eager to identify) effectively buried this nostalgia for a form of Roman, “European” identity. The Reformation, though probably at first rather grudgingly accepted in Wales as it was in England, and the later spread of Methodism – in its Calvinistic form - effectively put paid to such dreams of the past by tying itself to the myth of a separate British identity, in religion as in politics. Although the remarkable success of nonconformity in Wales, as in Cornwall, can perhaps be accounted for by the lack of emotional affinity from a Celtic people towards the wordy sobriety of the Cranmerian Prayer Books, so wholehearted embraced by their socially ambitious gentry. The passion and colour of medieval Catholicism, rejected by the Church of England, was perhaps eventually rediscovered in another form in the chapel pulpits.
“Catholic” Wales lived on in isolated pockets of, at times bloodily persecuted and, later, barely tolerated recusancy, particularly in north-east Monmouthshire, until the waves of Irish immigration to South Wales in the nineteenth century gave it a wholly different character.
Anglicans in Wales were influenced greatly by the Oxford Movement (from Isaac Williams onwards) in places as far apart as rural Bangor and the seaports of industrial South Wales, and the “Anglican province” of the Church in Wales which emerged from its reluctant disestablishment in the nineteen twenties had a distinctively anglo-celtic “Prayer Book Catholic” ethos which it has taken modern theological liberalism some time to destroy. Little remains of it now except, ironically, an instinctive and viscerally anti-catholic Welsh nationalism - a world away from  the religion of  the Catholic, Saunders Lewis, not to mention the Anglicans, C. A.H. Green or  A. E. Monahan!

Is any of this significant? Probably not; it is little more than a somewhat fanciful historical ecclesiological footnote, but maybe one worth recording before even the memory of it is swept away by the onslaught of modern secular barbarism.
Yet perhaps the fragments of ‘Romanitas’ buried deep in our religious and cultural consciousness also form a forgotten element of the patrimony of Welsh members (if there will be any) of a future Anglican Ordinariate.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The Epiphany of the Lord: "Here is the Little Door"

The Adoration Of The Kings by Jan Gossaert

Here is the little door, lift up the latch, oh lift!

We need not wander more but enter with our gift;
Our gift of finest gold,
Gold that was never bought nor sold;
Myrrh to be strewn about his bed;
Incense in clouds about his head;
All for the Child who stirs not in his sleep.
But holy slumber holds with ass and sheep.

Bend low about his bed, for each he has a gift;
See how his eyes awake, lift up your hands, O lift!
For gold, he gives a keen-edged sword
(Defend with it Thy little Lord!),
For incense, smoke of battle red.
Myrrh for the honoured happy dead;
Gifts for his children terrible and sweet,
Touched by such tiny hands and
Oh such tiny feet.

Frances Chesterton

Saturday, 2 January 2010

The Holly and the Ivy – bits and pieces

It was a very odd Christmas Octave for me this year; being only partly on duty, and suffering from an intermittently painful and swollen arm, I’m afraid not all masses were able to be offered (out here in the countryside orthodox priestly cover is not that easy to come by, particularly at busy holiday periods) and the offices by force of circumstance ended up more often than not being recited in my study. As I said to someone in the parish (and I really hope it wasn’t misunderstood) I never expected to spend the whole of Christmas plastered! Still, I go back to the fracture clinic on Tuesday and, I hope, there will be some progress towards recovery.

An interesting, if bizarre, story yesterday concerning St Nicholas of Myra, or to the secular world at large, Santa Claus.
“Top officials in Turkey say the country is considering requesting the return of St Nicholas's remains from Italy so they may be placed at a museum to be built at his birthplace.”
Just in case we are under any illusions here, what is being suggested is the return of the body of a Christian Saint from its sacred resting place in order to be placed, for touristic reasons, in a secular museum in a predominantly muslim (I know, Ataturk – whatever…) country which has in innumerable ways, even in its recent past, persecuted the Christian religion, tried to tamper with and destroy valuable archaeological evidence and still denies the Armenian genocide - not to mention the entire history of  the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the end of the Christian Roman Empire! St Nicholas wasn’t Turkish; the Turks simply now occupy the same geographical space. So perhaps not? I had to look at the calendar to make sure it really was January 1st rather than 1st April.

But what is really perplexing me now is this question: when is the right time to take down domestic Christmas decorations? Traditionally (in Britain anyway) the time to do this was Twelfth Night, the Eve of the Epiphany. I have to admit I’m a little confused as to the timing now that, as this year, the Epiphany itself is often transferred to the nearest Sunday, and the Christmas Season itself ends with the Baptism of the Lord (January 10th this year).
I suppose, then, it will have to be the Baptism; although Kate firmly belongs to the “I wish it could be Christmas everyday” school of thought and absolutely hates having to put things away for another year. Having said that, trees and greenery do tend to be somewhat blasted by modern central heating long before the end of Christmastide, at whatever point one dates it.
Following the medieval custom (an Anglo-Catholic revival?), our cribs tend to stay up (in the house and church) until Candlemas, Magi still in place.
Perhaps being part of an ecclesial anomaly, I love these minor inconsistencies and ‘untidynesses’ which stem from a truly organic Catholic tradition and culture. Long may they remain – even if we become a little ‘ecclesially tidier’ in the future!

In honour of the decorations (or, rather, what they represent!) this is a traditional offering, the Holly and the Ivy.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Mary, Mother of God

In the West, January 1st was the oldest, the most primitive, feast of Our Lady. It was later observed as the Octave Day of Christmas and then later still as the Circumcision of the Lord: an auspicious start to the New Year indeed!

Unlike we poor, simple twenty-first century types, the Christians of late antiquity / the early middle ages (take your pick) could hold more than one idea in their heads at the same time. So today we have essentially ended up with three observances in one: what the early Roman sacramentaries called "the Octave of the Lord," (indeed the greater part of the Mass was of the octave of Christmas) Various parts of the Mass and the Office also celebrate the divine motherhood of Our Lady Mary. Today’s "third feast” celebrates the Circumcision of Christ which has been celebrated since the sixth century. As today's Gospel relates, eight days after His birth Christ underwent, like all Jewish males, the rite of circumcision given to Abraham by God as a sign and pledge of his faith, and He received the Name of Jesus, "the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb."

Happy New Year!
May the prayers of Our Lady be with us in what promises to be a not uneventful time!