Tuesday 31 May 2011

Feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today,

Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May!

O Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today,
Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May!

I simply love the Transalpine Redemptorists, and photos like the one above and those of the procession on Stronsay and crowning of the statue of Our Lady are almost enough to have me pack up the family and move to the Outer Hebrides. 

The post about the Rogation Days leading up to Ascension is worth a good look at as well: more lovely photos. This all makes me wonder how much tradition we've lost as Catholics in the course of my lifetime.

God bless the Transalpine Redemptorists!

Wednesday 25 May 2011

So what's going wrong in Quebec?

Institutionally left wing and anti-Catholic since (at least) the 1960s, the Canadian province of Quebec seems to be turning into a heavy-handed statist dystopia if recent news stories are anything to go by. Following in the footsteps of German and Swedish court decisions limiting freedom in education, a Quebec court recently ordered a Catholic home-educating family to send their children to state schools and (and this is the scariest bit) to send their pre-school children to state-run daycare for "socialisation". The family are backed by the  Canadian branch of the Home School Legal Defense Association who comment on the case on LifeSiteNews.  You can support the family and others like them here if you're interested.

Worse yet is the relativist  “Ethics and Religious Culture” (ERC) course forced onto all families in the province. This purports to present the spectrum of world religions and lifestyle choices from a “neutral” stance, and which teaches children from an early age that homosexuality is a "normal family lifestyle", and requires the children to question the beliefs and values from their own religious and moral upbringing. Unlike the UK's SRE courses, Quebec's ERC course is also mandatory for private schools and home-educating parents. This reminds me of a moment in the SRE debates in the Houses of Parliament a year or two ago when a Labour MP suggested that the SRE programme should be made compulsory for all children, including, and, it seemed, particularly those children educated at home. It was suggested that SRE sessions could be held in community centres and schools on weekends with mandatory attendance for home educated children. The suggestion didn't get anywhere, but as we can see from Quebec, it wasn't as far-fetched as it might have seemed at the time.

I wonder if a good measure of how much we can trust a government to govern is how much that government trusts parents to parent?

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Churches burn, the media sees nothing

The footage below is of St Mary's Coptic Church in Cairo after it was firebombed by Muslim extremists following street battles in the Egyptian capital last weekend. This week, the UK director of Aid to the Church in Need, Neville Kyrke-Smith, " called on the (British) government to uphold human rights and religious freedom as part of its commitment to overseas aid." This follows on from Scottish Cardinal Keith O'Brien's criticism of the British Government's foreign policy as being "anti-Christian"  for handing out "no strings attached" aid to countries with horrendous human rights records, particularly with regard to protecting Christian minorities. The cardinal specifically criticised a UK government plan to double overseas aid to Pakistan to more than £445 million despite a massive upsurge in violence against minority groups, particularly Christians. ACN reports that  "of the top 10 recipients of UK bilateral aid in 2009-10, as documented by the BBC, seven are countries featured in the Persecuted and Forgotten? report, which assesses areas where Christians suffer worst human rights’ abuses."

If another religious group -- say B'hai or Jains or whatever -- were having their places of worship burned, and being forced to leave their homes through violence and coercion, the liberal media  -- and our government -- would be up in arms. For some reason, when it's a Christian minority being persecuted in a non-Christian country, it's a non-story (or an "isolated event"). That simply isn't true as the facts demonstrate: there has been a global escalation in 2011 of anti-Christian violence, and the mainstream media doesn't want to know.

If you want to get a sense of how back things are, you could do worse than to check AsiaNews.it which is published by the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions. This horrendous story is not unusual:

"On March 19 a group of Islamic extremists burned alive Arshed Masih, a driver employed by a wealthy Muslim businessman in Rawalpindi. His wife worked as a maid in the same estate, situated in front of a police station. ...The couple had suffered threats and intimidation to force them to convert to Islam. ... His wife Martha Arshed was raped by police en she sought to denounce the violence inflicted on her husband. The couple's three children - ages 7 to 12 years - were forced "to witness the torture inflicted on their parents. "

Eternal Rest grant unto him O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him. Pray for the eternal repose of the soul of Arshed Masih, whom I can only believe has gone straight to heaven as a martyr for the Faith. Pray for his wife Martha and their children and for all Christians in Pakistan.  And then write to your MP and ask him what he's doing to make sure that foreign aid is tied in with a guarantee of religious freedom and human rights for all.

Saturday 14 May 2011

Universae Ecclesiae

So, in the instruction, Universae Ecclesiae, published today by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei  the Holy Father via the Vatican has urged Bishops to be "generous" in their implementation of  Summorum Pontificum. I'm particularly interested in this, as in my last parish, after the publication of SP I asked whether there might be a possibility of having an EF Mass periodically -- say, once a month, particularly as there were several families in the parish interested in the older form of the Mass. "You've had all the Latin you're going to get" was the reply I got (referring to the fact that we sang the Gloria from Mass VIII, as well as the Agnus Dei and the Sanctus in Latin at the main Sunday Mass). We, like other families in the parish, simply went elsewhere to Mass periodically to get an EF "fix" but I always felt that it was a real missed opportunity for the parish as a whole. 

Since moving house,  we're lucky enough to be in a parish with a regular EF Mass on Sundays and Saturday mornings, as well as on feast days, but I'm aware that even just down the road, things aren't so rosy. Where there is a desire for the older form of the Mass, a priest will often run into opposition from a small but vocal group of opponents. 

Usually the argument goes as follows:
"I don't like the Latin Mass. I think it's exclusive and divisive. I don't think it should be allowed".
"There are several other Sunday Masses you can go to, if you don't like Latin you can choose an English Mass in the newer form."
"I don't like the Latin Mass. I don't think we should have it in this parish. Nobody wants it. You're imposing it on us."
"A group of parishioners have asked for it. Providing an EF Mass is fulfilling a need. There are other Masses that you can go to if you don't like the Latin Mass."
"I don't like the Latin Mass. I don't think it should be alllowed. I feel excluded by it."
"Everybody is very welcome at the EF Masses, just as they are at the English masses. There is a desire for both forms in the parish, so we're providing both forms of the Mass."
"I FEEL SO JUDGED!!!" <dash off to write letter to Tablet>

**** The above is a purely hypothetical exchange. Obviously.  ****

Clearly, having the support of the Bishops would be a great help in underlining the authority of the Priest in his own parish. This is why I was dismayed to read Archbishop Nichols' comments, quick off the mark after the release of Universae Ecclesiae, saying that he did not think the Extraordinary Form “needs to be added to an already crowded seminary programme”. “It’s a skill that can be learned later in a priest’s life,”

The reason I was given short shrift when I asked for the EF in our old parish was because our PP said that he was "too old to learn all that stuff" and that his curate was too young to know about the EF.  Surely this is exactly why the EF should be taught in seminaries. Here. In England. Where there is a demand, a need, and a desire for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

There are many far more learned commentaries than mine on the Universae Ecclesiae document in the Blogosphere: see Fr Z, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, Damian Thompson and Lawrence 'Bones' England, among others.


Found two silver metal wine-glass type cups in a local charity shop for £2: the latest addition to my children's play "Mass kit". Currently a kagoul inside its pouch on a string is substituting for a thurible: does anyone have a good suggestion for a cheap-and-cheerful thurible-alike that would be an improvement on what we already have? At least my wedding present linen napkins have found a noble use at last.

Friday 13 May 2011

Fish on Friday

Thanks to Fr Z for reporting that the Bishops of England and Wales are reinstating the Friday penance - abstinence from meat and fowl starting from Friday 16th October 2011. We've done this for many years anyway (and abstained from desert on Fridays too: how holy are we?! ;-) and it's been been a small but important part of building a Catholic culture within our home. These days it's not such a huge sacrifice to avoid meat, and many types of fish are a luxury -- far more so than meat. However for a family of carnivores like mine it is a big deal, and as well as sticking to the rule by avoiding meat we also try to keep to the spirit by also avoiding luxurious non-meat meals (there would be no sacrifice in sitting down to a large plate of smoked salmon, for example).

I'm pleased by the reinstatement of the Friday penance - it won't change what we do but it will mean that other Catholic families we know, many of whom don't avoid meat on Fridays ("What? o people still do that?!" or "Oh, my Mum/Granny/Crazy Aunt  used to do that") might just start to do so now, and for my children that means more people sharing yet another little element of common Catholic culture. 

Thank-you Bishops of England and Wales!

...but I'm with Fr John Boyle when he asks "Can we have our Holydays of Obligation back as well?"

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Just as I thought it couldn't get any worse...

So I was discussing the run-in with my in-laws over the Blessed Sacrament with a lapsed C of E friend who, although in the midst of a crisis of faith herself, generally understands these things. She was quite (rightly) shocked at my in-laws' (I'm doing my best to avoid the toe-curlingly daggy "outlaws" but it's difficult as the shoe fits so well...) behaviour. Surely, she posited, the right thing to do when one finds oneself in an unfamiliar religious situation is to find out what the norm is or what the rules are, so as not to offend anyone, and then stick to those rules, even if you might not normally behave in that way. This would, for instance, include non-Muslims removing footwear and women covering their heads when visiting a mosque.

You'd think this was hard to argue with... Then...

By way of example my friend mentioned that several years ago she was invited, with her husband (a lapsed Presbyterian) to a mixed wedding in a Catholic Church. Before the ceremony she and her husband asked the priest what they should do regarding Holy Communion, as they were not Catholics and were unfamiliar with the rules. The priest told them that if they usually received Communion in whatever church they went to, then they should do the same at the wedding. In case you missed that, let me repeat: a CATHOLIC priest told a non-Catholic couple that it was OK to receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass.


Monday 9 May 2011

"I'll do what I want and you can't stop me..."

"... I don't care what you say or what anybody says. It's what I FEEL that matters!

You would be forgiven for thinking this was a bit of bad dialogue from a soap opera or an outburst by a hormonal 13 year old, but you'd be wrong. The above was my non-Catholic, non-practicing Anglican mother-in-law's reaction to having been asked -- respectfully, and with a gentle explanation as to why it wasn't appropriate -- to not go to communion when she came to Mass with us. I suspect that if we hadn't said anything she might have been put off by the simple fact that she would have been expected to receive Our Lord kneeling and on the tongue, but that isn't the point, and it would not have been worth taking the risk. The conversation was one-sided: 

"I respect ALL religions, so why can't you respect ME?" (by saying that it's just dandy for her to wander up and receive the Blessed Sacrament as part of her "experience" at our church. ALL religions? Even bad ones? Apparently there aren't any -- they're all the same. Try NOT rolling your eyes when having this conversation - I dare you!)

"It's just the same as communion at my church (i.e. Anglican), so why aren't I welcome to have it at your church?" (Yes, we tried explaining that no, it isn't the same, not at all, and had she not heard of the 39 Articles, etc.etc)

It would be tedious to repeat the entire conversation -- needless to say we tried various approaches, beginning with explaining the conditions under which a (baptised Catholic) may receive the Blessed Sacrament... The mere mention of sin and confession prompted much invective about her opinion of the Holy Father (or "The Pope" - I'm not sure if she's aware who "the Pope" actually is, and how he differs from, say, the Dalai Lama) and the priesthood which she clearly has an issue with.

"This is between me and God, it has nothing to do with you or the Catholic Church" (Except it does when you decide to have your generic "religious experience" in a Catholic Church).

My husband asked, very patiently, whether she would refuse to cover her head or remove her shoes if she went to a mosque: "Of course not!" was the scandalised reply "Why would I want to offend people?" But ... but ... but... At this point we were almost lost for words. Pointing out that a non-Catholic receiving the Blessed Sacrament would cause grave offense to Catholics, more so if that non-Catholic were to receive the Blessed Sacrament in full knowledge that they were forbidden to do so, we again requested that she *please* cease and desist. She did "but I'm only doing it for you and I feel completely unwelcome at your church!" I asked her to please not just do it for us, but to do it because it was the right thing to do.

To a large extent it's not really her fault: she's grown up as part of a generation that has had ME ME ME drilled into it since the 60s. She lives in Canada, where "Hey, it's what you feel that matters, man" is the closest you'll find to a moral absolute in mainstream thought. It's likely that nobody has ever, in her adult life, told her that she can't do something... until one day her own son says "no, you can't do that, it's forbidden". Forbidden -- the word itself is VERBOTEN in liberal culture. How DARE anyone forbid me to do anything I feel like. Who the hell do you think you are? And that was the reaction that we got -- utterly unexpectedly. I should point out that my mother-in-law has always been really easy to get on with, and both my husband and I were shocked by her vehement and hysterical reaction to our request to respect the sanctity of the Blessed Sacrament. We weren't aware that she was used to going to communion at all: the conversation had started to find out whether my father-in-law who is, technically, a Catholic although he only goes to church three or four times a year, went to communion on those occasions when he did go to Mass. My husband thought it prudent to discuss whether it was appropriate for him to receive the Blessed Sacrament when he didn't go to Mass regularly, had no intention of doing so, and didn't go to confession. It was at this point that my mother-in-law dropped the bomb that not only did f-i-l receive Holy Communion when he went to Mass, but that she did too. They sometimes go to spaceship-style "Catholic" churches in Canada, where, from what I can tell, anything goes (including non-Catholics receiving Holy Communion). To be told that this wasn't true went against all her experience. It was as though she had landed on another planet, one with different norms, and no matter how kindly, gently, or simply these things were explained to her, her reaction was to panic and lash out.

It's only fair to mention that both in-laws were given a very warm welcome at our parish, and made a great fuss of in the parish hall before Mass. They insisted on leaving immediately after Mass, saying "we're not welcome here".

It was a very sad day. Please pray for them, please pray for our extended family.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Qui bene cantat bis orat

St Augustine is often quoted as saying "he who sings well prays twice", although apparently this is contested (see Fr. Z here) and I seem to remember St. Therese of Lisieux having been quoted as saying something similar. No matter what the truth is, singing - particularly the purity of Gregorian chant- often feels as though it takes prayer onto a higher plane.

It's tiring though! Today I spent the day with the wonderful Dom Yves-Marie LeLievre OSB from Solemnes Abbey at a Gregorian chant workshop at St James', Spanish Place. It was a wonderful day, there's something spiritually invigorating about spending eight or so hours in a room singing God's praises with a group of virtual strangers, all voices merging into one. We sang Sext and Vespers and the 6pm Sunday Mass (Mass I). By 4pm my brain was turning into a mushroom, and the Latin words were bouncing around on the stave and the notes dancing off the page: it's a heavy brain workout this singing business!

Huge thanks are due to Dom Yves-Marie, Candy Bartholdus and Stan Metheny without whom this would not have happened. What a wonderful gift they've given us.

If singing is prayer twice over, I reckon that fifty or so people strengthened their spiritual armour today. Dom Yves Marie said that the Gregorian 7th mode is also called "Angelus" and the 8th is called "perfectus". It felt as though through song we managed to touch something angelic and closer to perfection than this Vale of Tears today.

Sunday 1 May 2011

Blessed Pope John Paul II, pray for us in our hour of need

I just read this story about Blessed Pope John Paul II and wanted to share it: it's a wonderful reminder of the importance of humility and the value of the sacrament of Confession, and how there is always, always hope even when things seem so very dark and utterly hopeless. Thanks to Roma Locuta Est for sharing this from the Lighthouse Media CD of Dr. Scott Hahn's talk on Confession.

A priest friend of Scott Hahn's had returned from Rome and told Mr. Hahn this story. The priest was on his way to a private audience with the Pope but was running early. He thus decided to stop in a church to pray before his meeting. On the steps of the church were a number of beggars, something fairly common in Rome. As he approached the church, the priest thought that he recognized one of the beggars. After entering the sanctuary he knelt down to pray, whereupon he remembered how he knew the man. The priest immediately rushed out and approached the familiar beggar exclaiming, “I know you. Didn’t we go to seminary together?”
The man gave a humble affirmative.
“So you are a priest then?” he said to the beggar.
The man replied, “Not anymore. I fell off the deep end. Leave me alone.”
The priest mindful of his approaching appointment with the Holy Father, said nothing more than, “I’ll pray for you.”
The familiar man replied, “A lot of good that will do.”
With that, the priest left the man on the steps and departed for his meeting. These sorts of meetings with the Pope are typically very formal. There are any number of people who have been granted a private audience at the same time, and when the Holy Father makes his way around to you, his secretary hands him a blessed rosary, and he in turn hands it to you. At this point, one would probably kiss the Pope’s ring and say something heartfelt, yet almost generic, such as asking him to pray for you, telling him you are praying for him, or thanking him for his service to the Church. However, when Pope John Paul II approached, the priest couldn’t help himself and blurted out, “Please pray for my friend.” Not only this, but the priest continued to blurt out the entire story. The Holy Father, looking concerned, assured the priest that he would pray for his friend.
Later that day, the priest received a letter from the Vatican. Excited and curious, he rushed with the letter back to the church where he last saw his classmate. Only a few beggars were left, and as luck (or grace) would have it, his friend was among the few. He approached the man and said, “I have been to see the Pope, and he said he would pray for you as well.”
The man listened.
“There’s more. He has invited you and me to his private residence for dinner.”
“Impossible,” said the man, “Look at me. I am a mess. I haven’t showered in God knows how long, and my clothes ...”
Sensing the gravity of the situation (and understanding that this man was his admission ticket to have dinner with the Pope), the priest said, “I have a hotel room across the street where you can shower and shave, and I have clothes that will fit you.”
By the grace of God, the man agreed, and so the two of them were off to have dinner with Pope John Paul II.
The hospitality was wondrous. Near the close of dinner, just before dessert, the Holy Father motioned to the priest who didn’t understand what the Pope was trying to say. Finally, the secretary explained, “He want us to leave,” at which point the priest and the secretary left the Holy Father alone with the beggar.
After fifteen minutes, the man emerged from the room in tears.
“What happened in there?” asked the priest.
The most remarkable and unexpected reply came.
“He asked me to hear his confession,” choked the beggar.
After regaining composure, the man continued, “I told him, ‘Your Holiness, look at me. I am a beggar. I am not a priest.’
“The Pope looked at me and said, ‘My son, once a priest always a priest, and who among us is not a beggar. I too come before the Lord as a beggar asking for forgiveness of my sins.’ I told him I was not in good standing with the Church, and he assured me that as the Bishop of Rome he could reinstate me then and there.”
The man then relayed that it had been so long since he had heard a confession that the Pope had to help him through the words of absolution.
The priest asked, “But you were in there for fifteen minutes. Surely the Pope’s confession did not last that long.”
“No,” said his friend, “But after I heard his confession, I asked him to hear mine.”
The final words spoken by Pope John Paul II to this prodigal son came in the form of a commission. The Holy Father gave the newly-reconciled priest his first assignment: to go and minister to the homeless and the beggars on the steps of the very church from where he just came.
The only words I can add to the incredible story are this: what a humble example we have in Pope John Paul the Great. Here is a man that was able to see not only Jesus Christ, but also the Priesthood of Christ, in the eyes of a fallen-away beggar. Not only that, but he bowed before the beggar in humility with full awareness of his own sinfulness. In doing so, the Pope gave the man the opportunity to perform the only priestly act that was immediately available to him.
As a closing remark, it is said that Pope John Paul II went to confession every week. Would that we follow this example, how many of us would be saints.

Twitch of the Mantilla to Roma Locuta Est

First post!

I've been intending to start another blog - a specifically Catholic blog - for some years now, but have always found an excuse not to start. Today, the feast of St Faustina, the event of the Beatification of Blessed John Paul II, and the feast of the Divine Mercy seemed too auspicious a day to miss.

Feeding the troops: spiritual battle cannot be waged on an empty stomach, so expect a fair bit of rambling about food on this blog. After todays Mass we had an almost-house-full. We prayed Blessed John Paul II's Prayer for Families together before tucking into an informal feast or cheese (14 varieties) bread, crackers and a massive pavolva. Food is a great way to bring people together. Families supporting other families, specifically Catholic families surrounding themselves with other Catholic families, is, I think one of the best ways to strengthen and protect our children before they head out into the world alone.

Afterwards my husband and I discussed how, when we were growing up, neither of us had any kind of Catholic community, or even Catholic friends, around us. Neither of us actually knew anyone who was a practicing Catholic, despite both of us coming from at least nominally practicing Catholic families (you know the drill - nip in late to Saturday evening Mass, then dodge out just after communion). Is it any wonder that we both lapsed?

Since reverting, repenting, and returning wholeheartedly to the One True Faith (more on this later) we've surrounded ourselves with other Catholic families, even more so since having children: the vast majority of our friends, and our children's friends are Catholic -- and real, living-it, breathing-it faithful-to-the-Magisterium Catholics at that. I hope that my children, unlike me, grow up taking their faith for granted as something normal and healthy, surrounded by others who share it so that, unlike me, they have a layer of armour to protect them when they head out into the world. Holy Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!