Sunday, 28 December 2008

Urgent prayer-request for Gaza

You will all probably be watching the news bulletins about the Israeli air-strikes on the Gaza strip with shock and horror. Please pray for the peoples of the Middle East during this difficult time:

-For the hundreds of dead and injured in the Gaza strip,

-For those inside Israel who suffer from Qassam rocket attacks,

-For an immediate end to the violence and for the Spirit's guidance towards a full, workable and lasting peace in Israel/Palestine.

You might want to address your prayers to Our Lady, Queen of Palestine. This devotion started during the violent uprisings of the 1930s and has continued to this day. The Daughter of the Holy Land and Mother of all who trust in Christ sustains us by her constant intercession, and will surely hear our prayers.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Midnight Mass, S. Catherine's, Bethlehem

Ah, to be in Bethlehem for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem travelled to Manger Square to say Midnight Mass at S. Catherine's church, and he was welcomed into the city by legions of local scouts playing bagpipes. In deference to a long-standing tradition established by Yasser Arafat, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, also attended, along with the Christian mayors of Bethlehem and Beit Jala, home to the Latin Patriarchal Seminary.

One thing to note is the presence of a biretta in a photo available here In my experience of Latin Catholicism in Egypt and Palestine, ecclesiastical dress in the Middle East tends to conform to the "polyester practical" school of thought. However, the Patriarch of Jerusalem seems to be quite enthusiastic for the restoration of various symbols of office.

Pilgrim numbers have been up in Bethlehem this year, which is something to be thankful for. The security wall has been slowly strangling the town over the last few years, exacerbated by the ring of expanding settlements that will soon encircle Bethlehem completely. There have been some ugly settler incidents in the municipality this year, most notably around the village of al-Khadr, where the shrine of St. George lies, and in the villages of al-Ta'amrah where settlers from Tekua frequently attack Palestinian farmers, and temporary road-blocks around the settlements disrupts the local agricultural economy. At least foreign tourists and pilgrims won't have to look far for the ugly 8-metre concrete slabs of the separation wall. The area around the main checkpoint where tourists from Jerusalem arrive may have the look of a normal border crossing, but for the time being foreigners still have to queue with locals and can easily observe the oppressive system of permits and finger-printing in action for themselves. I really hope to go back to the West Bank this year, possibly to visit the Parish we have just twinned with, and I will definitely try to get to Bethlehem if I can. If anyone is going on pilgrimage, please let me see the photos!

Photos of the liturgy courtesy of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Midnight Mass, Ss Peter & Paul, Wantage

High Altar and Crib

Merry Christmas to one and all, hope everyone is enjoying the Feast of the Nativity. I am currently unable to move very far or very quickly, or even maintain a face-to-face conversation without falling asleep, and this due to the excessive amount of free-range turkey and Pastis I have consumed today. So I find myself at the computer desk, eager to add some pictures of the church I visited last night for Midnight Mass. At least this only involves moving part of my upper body...

My parents have recently moved to rural Oxfordshire, and I spent some time worrying about where I would go for Midnight Mass that would be within easy driving distance of my parent's isolated cottage. I got onto the FinF website and eventually found the Parish church of Ss Peter and Paul listed in nearby (15 miles) Wantage. I rang the rector and learned that although the church isn't actually FinF, the current vicar, Fr. Salter, is supportive. In this part of Oxfordshire, you throw a penny and hit a woman-priest, the area is so saturated with female clergy, and this made me all the more pleased to find an Anglican church that I could go to.

Chancel, with some beautiful monuments

The church bells were peeling just before midnight in the busy town-centre of Wantage, the pubs were absolutely brimming and it was nice to find the town's church quite busy too. I slipped into some latecomers' seats behind a pillar while the choir was singing Mattins of the day in a darkened church. At Midnight, the Mass itself started and a huge altar party wound its way around the church, depositing en route the considerably-sized choir in the stalls at the back of the nave. The liturgy was modern Roman, High Mass said from a modern portable nave altar, with a carol in place of the Psalm and a protracted exchange of the peace before the canon (it's my custom at such moments to be overcome with piety and drop to my knees in fervent prayer, thus avoiding having to shake hands with every Tom, Dick and Eileen), which is all very standard I suppose. The music was Schubert's Mass in G, which I was very excited about. Unfortunately, one of the violins had tuning issues, but the choir (all presumably unpaid non-professionals) did really well and the music truly contributed to the dignity of the occasion.

One thing really annoyed me, however: the thurifer, who had customised the standard attire of cassock and surplice by wearing a bright pink feathery hair-band on her pony-tail, decided to remove her 6-inch heels during the readings and never put them back on, padding around the church in tights instead. Any self-respecting server knows that apart from health and safety concerns around the charcoal, it is bad form to serve at the altar both in heels and barefoot. I know it's wrong to notice all of this but I couldn't help it, plank in my own eye etc but honestly, a man has limits.

The Mass ended with a procession to the crib, where the Celebrant carried the Bambinello in a cope and humeral veil to the crib, where the scene was lustrated and censed and the blessing given.

I didn't take pictures of the liturgy, but I managed to take a few snaps of the church afterwards. I have to apologise for the poor quality, but flash didn't look good and, well, I don't have a decent camera. The chancel is beautifully adorned, and the low, stone arches of the nave give a sort of basilica effect to the building. However, the narrow lines of this old church are quite at odds with modern tastes in liturgical celebration, and so Mass from the High Altar would be quite unacceptable to a modern congregation. Unfortunately, this means that with the addition of a nave altar and the focus of liturgical activity being so close to the congregation, the impression is one of a slightly squashed arrangement with only half the space in use. This is quite normal however in similar churches, and indeed any church where a nave altar has been preferred, and is truly endemic in our cathedrals.

Blessed Sacrament chapel with MU banner

I would like to thank Fr. Salter for his help and for letting me take some photos of the church. Please do visit if you ever find yourself in this part of Oxfordshire; one thing I've realised this week is the unfortunate state of the Church in some parts of rural England, with some impressive pockets of enthusiasm like Ss Peter and Paul. It's very important to pray for Anglicans in rural parishes who don't enjoy easy access to the various networks or abundance of churches to chose from, such as we enjoy in cities.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Advent III - Gaudete Sunday

The Gospel

I've just come across some photographs from Gaudete sunday and thought I'd best share them straight away. They were taken from the organ loft by a visiting singer, and I thank him for kindly letting me post them here. They are not of the best quality, which is a result of the poor lighting from that angle and the billowing clouds of incense which regularly choke the poor choir.


I ought to explain that we don't have a rose High Mass set to be worn, although the chasuble is decent. That is why the Celebrant, Fr. Aidan Harker is wearing pink, whilst the Deacon (Fr. Warner) and the Subdeacon (me) are wearing some very fetching purple vestments.

The canon

Elevation of the Chalice

From the organ loft you can really appreciate what Travers was going for with that extra height on the reredos and the Rood on the top. It sort of reminds me of some Belgian churches, although I've never seen anything anywhere that reminds me of S. Magnus.

Advent IV and the Krib is up!

Advent IV went very well today with a High Mass at S. Magnus, and the church was packed to the gunnels on what is supposed to be a busy shopping weekend. People were sharing their plans for going away for the coming feast, or if they're staying in London, making arrangements to get home after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. A table in the crypt was heaving with Christmas cards left in piles arranged by name, and I got a real sense of being part of a very close and stable congregation, even though half the people at Mass were visitors. I had some friends come to Mass as well, which is quite unusual, as I rarely succeed in convincing non-Christian friends that S. Magnus is worth getting out of bed for. It really was a joyous occasion to lift the spirits on an otherwise dark and dreary day.

A donkey looks on, choking on an artificial pine-needle. When there was no room at the inn, someone suggested the bandstand at the end of the road.

The Christmas Crib has been put out in the Church, taking the place of the rather under-loved Pieta shrine (more about that at a later date). The Crib occupies an old doorway which has been filled in, and which is treated as a sort of rotating shrine area; normally it houses the Pieta, in Eastertide it is where we put the Easter Garden etc.

Coloured lights in the Kylie Kristmas Krib
I think the crib deserves to be called "glorious"; how many other churches have such a posh stable? I think it's the top part of a palanquin that fits over a processional (fibreglass) statue of Our Lady of Walsingham which is knocking around downstairs. The Bambinello Himself is currently secreted away in the sacristy, and the Magi are waiting for their star near the Christ the King altar. Expect more pictures soon.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Pig-themed disappointment

I wanted to just post this article from Ynet, the website of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Achronot, because it made me so mad that I had to scrape my spleen off the floor after reading it and so wanted to invite comment. The reason being, the article is about trying to create a secular identity based on, but in part negating, a religious heritage. Among my generation, I hear a lot of “Yeah I suppose I’m Christian...BUT….” and I suppose this about something similar, albeit much more bizarre.

I also wonder how people feel about the fifth paragraph. I found it quite racist, in that it replays Jacky Mason style humour based on nothing more than stereotypes of Jews, as well as throwing in something about terrorism, which is a blatant swipe at Palestinian Arabs.

I can’t belive Ynet published this really, because while they generally carry a broad range of opinion pieces from every quarter of the Israeli political spectrum, I’ve never seen anything like this before. Please comment away!

Jews or pigs?

I refrain from eating pork not due to religious concerns, but because it's an unmistakable anti-Jewish symbol

Assaf Wohl

It was reported this week of a court ruling ordering the Tiv Taam branch in Givatayim to remain closed on Saturdays. At first I was overcome with joy. What a nice judge who's guided by social principles and looks after the workers' right to rest on Shabbat.

But as I was humming the "Internationale" it struck me that this wasn't actually a case of socialism, but rather of surrealism, because pork meat will continue to be sold in public by the chain in the land of the Jews on every other day of the week.

My attitude towards pork isn't influenced by a religious or Godly edict. I don't eat pork, period. Not because God doesn't allow this or out of consideration for religious or vegetarian sensitivities.

My God couldn't care less what I put in my mouth, and I tend to take advantage of this from time to time. But I refrain from eating pork first of all because I'm Jewish. And true Jews have their red lines, even those who don't believe in a divine being that oversees the consumption of non-kosher meat.

Pig's head no different than a swastika

So, what's the story with pork? Well, if you think about it, there are several traits that characterize Jews: Jews find it hard to compliment others; they don't win Olympic medals or blow themselves up in buses. And they also don't eat pork. Why? Because there are some things Jews simply don't do.

Because unlike shrimps, lobsters and other kinds of sea food, pork isn't eaten not because it's non-kosher, but because it's a symbol. It has been an unmistakable anti-Jewish symbol for generations and generations. For a nationally-conscious person, a pig's head isn't very different from a swastika

The Hanukkah holiday is approaching. It commemorates a period in which those forced to give up their nationality and eat pork overcame the soldiers of the evil Seleucid Empire.
And what has changed since? What will those pork-eaters tell their children on the festival of lights? That they are willing to launch a war for the freedom of eating pork meat? That they are ready to fight only to be able to wave this anti-Jewish symbol in no other place but the land of the Jews?

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Starting at the beginning

Ironing plain cottas for Advent

If you've managed to avoid learning/reading/hearing about Advent until now, you've done pretty well. My liturgical diary has a couple of pages inserted before Sunday 30th November 2008 which explains the season of expectant waiting, preparation and penance before the coming of the Saviour. At least I think it does, because I haven't been bothered to read it yet. Similarly, I find myself flicking through the first few pages of my "new" Layman's Missal (1962), preferring to skip the first few pages of dense text about the nation of Israel heaving etc in order to get up to speed with the juicier Advent collects, the Rorate Coeli and - so as not to get caught out next time I go to S. Silas, Kentish Town - to learn and commit to memory the plainsong for the antiphon Alma redemptoris mater....

For years now, Advent has pretty much been a "pre-Christmas period" outside of Church. We all (quite rightly) have a good whinge about the lights and Christmas trees going up in October, and how the popular enthusiasm for watching the Sugababes flick a switch on Oxford street doesn't quite carry over into a mass return to religion come Christmas morning Mass.

It doesn't take much to remind us, in the midst of all this shopping, party-planning and stirring up our Christmas puddings (which Anglican pedantics will have done last Sunday), that the Church has a liturgical year, a rhythm of its own that runs in tune - not so much with the seasons of nature - but with the history of man's redemption. This week, countless people looked on in horror as a bloody drama unfolded in Mumbai. The end result of the killing spree and subsequent hostage-taking is about 172 dead. It took three days for Indian security forces to bring the attacks to an end after long, protracted gun-battles with the attackers. Immediately, the authorities suggested a link with the old enemy, Pakistan - perhaps to disguise the fact that they really had no idea who the attackers were, and had not been able to prevent the attacks. The news feed style of contemporary broadcasting, by which we are literally "fed" with news as it happens, only serves to underline the banality of suffering and death in our world. Yet we need nothing else to remind us that we are so close to, yet so far from, our Salvation. We are still locked in the same cycles of sin and death, the nations are still heaving in distress while complacent regimes look on, just like Israel in Roman shackles. We would be entirely foolish, and irresponsible as Christians, if we were to try to skip these pages to get to the good stuff; if we were to abandon the world in search of our own, individual, salvation. While the seasonal words we read about waiting, expecting, hoping for the Saviour might become jaded over time, there is no better time than the here and now to re-engage with the horrors of our broken and sinful human societies whilst being entirely reinvigorated by that hope that comes directly from faith in God.

So it is that we should start at the beginning. At S. Magnus, we begin the Advent liturgies with the traditional prayers at the foot of the altar, where the sacred ministers recite together Psalm 42 with the antiphon "Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam...I will go unto the altar of God..." before making a confession of sins in the Confiteor prayer. These prayers always remind me of the Gospel story of the Publican and the Pharisee. In contrast to the self-aggrandising Pharisee, the publican stood far from the altar, not even presuming to raise his eyes to God, where he beat his breast and said only "Have mercy on me Lord, for I am a sinner", and it was his prayer, not the Pharisee's, that found favour with God. Just as in the Gospel, so it is in the traditional liturgy; the priest brings the sins of the faithful to the foot of the altar with faith and humility before offering the sacrifice of Calvary. Starting at the beginning means starting work with ourselves, with our own sinful and fallen nature, always hopeful of the Salvation that was won for us in Christ.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

S. Catherine of Alexandria - Egyptian Martyr

Perhaps I’m a bit morbid, but the first thing that comes to mind when I think of S. Catherine of Alexandria is the horrific way in which she was condemned to die; by being lashed to a ‘breaking wheel’ where should would be beaten about the limbs with a cudgel. I can’t imagine a more excruciatingly painful way to torture a person to death than by breaking their bones one by one. Unless the condemned received blows to the internal organs, which resulted in a relatively quick death, it could take days to die from the shock. For further humiliation, the victim’s limp body would be woven between the spokes of the wheel, which would be hoisted into the air for the birds to peck at.

According to the hagiography, Catherine escaped this fate by a miracle – the wheel broke when her body touched it - and she was instead decapitated. Like many early Christian martyrs in Egypt, Catherine’s “crime” was to speak out against the persecution and murder of Christians by the emperor Maximus. Catherine took her complaint straight to the palace, and succeeded in converting the emperor’s wife and many pagan advisors to the Faith, before being martyred with them.

If only Egypt during the Roman persecution were such a distant memory, but alas, the modern Republic bears a striking resemblance; a country where - to use a common clichĂ© – acts of state violence, torture and intimidation are systematic. Organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International regularly report on incidences of state brutality by the Egyptian police, Internal Security or other state apparatus: torture in custody, physical violence against demonstrators and intimidation of reporters. Indeed, Reporters without Borders ranked Egypt 143rd out of 167 countries for press freedoms in their 2006 report, citing strict press censorship laws and harassment of journalists, which means that those who speak out about the cruelty of the authorities quickly become victims themselves.

While I was a student, I lived in Egypt for nine months during 2005/6. I tried as much as possible to spend most of my time with Egyptians, especially non-English speakers, to get beyond a guide-book “feel for the place” and really get to know Egypt intimately. I soon recognised the iron grip in which the Egyptian state holds its citizens, and came to understand the effect of that corrosive fear and dread by which a despotic government holds an entire society hostage.

In late 2005 I used to go to a language school in the Mohandiseen area of Cairo, not far from the traffic island in front of the Mustafa Mahmud mosque. The area had recently become famous because a few hundred Sudanese refugees had occupied the traffic island and had set up camp there to protest at the UN refusal to move them to another country of asylum, claiming they faced racist discrimination in Egypt. Their demands certainly didn’t strike a cord with most Egyptians, who resented the claims and thought their protest was about opportunism rather than human rights. I remember walking past the traffic island to get to school and being hit by the awful stench of human sewage running into the drains. The whole place was rank and squalid; once I saw a Sudanese woman dressed in a bright yellow t-shirt standing over a drain taking a shower from a bucket of dirty water, while raw excrement ran between her feet. There were scores of dirty children crammed into little round tents made of old blankets and torn protest banners hanging from street-lamps shuffled limply in the breeze.

On New Year’s Eve 2005, I was in an internet cafĂ© checking the news headlines when I found out that overnight, the police had removed the camp on the traffic island and had detained the protesters, including the women and children. Pictures emerged a few days later that showed hundred of state security men dragging protesters from their tents, and those that resisted were drenched by a water canon. Mothers were separated from their children as they were shoved onto buses with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and taken to military detention centres outside of Cairo. Many were released from detention during January; the fate of some remains a mystery. Four months later I was discussing all of this with a coordinator at the refugee centre in Cairo’s Anglican cathedral. She told me how many of the people from that traffic island were starting to come forward to register for help at the centre but that most of them didn’t have any form of documentation with them, since everything had been soaked through by the water canons and dumped afterwards by the police.

A year later, I was in a friend’s car when someone in the front seat passed me his mobile phone and said “watch this”. The video he’d opened showed a man stripped from the wait down with legs tied up and suspend and his arms trussed behind his back being sexually assaulted with a wooden stick, apparently by police officers. The footage had been filmed by one of the policemen on his mobile phone, and sent to his friends before it found its way onto the internet. After a public outcry, a local newspaper managed to track down the victim; a 21 year old minibus driver called Emad el-Kabir, and they provided him with lawyers and encouraged him to press charges. When he did so, he in turn was arrested. One of the Egyptian bloggers that broke the story and who posts other evidence of police brutality, Wael Abbas, has been harassed constantly by the police ever since. Fellow blogger, Nabeel Soliman, was also arrested and sentenced to four year’s jail for contempt of religion, insulting the president and spreading false information. Since then, various evidence of torture in police custody has been collected by human rights groups and independent bloggers, exposing them to great danger. Although charges are occasionally brought against the authorities, they result in few convictions.

I remember reading somewhere that saints in every age give to society not what it wants, but what it needs; always standing against the specific moral bankruptcy that plagues their era. For S. Catherine, this was the persecution of Christians by a pagan regime, and she was martyred because she refused to consent to this. She feared no one but God, and received the crown of martyrdom for dying in His name.

Perhaps the legacy of S. Catherine in the country of her birth is the vision and optimism of those who stand against tyranny and intimidation, whether or not they are Christians. Like S. George, whose birthplace near Bethlehem is marked by a church and a mosque on the same spot, S. Catherine is one of those Middle Eastern saints who manage to bring Muslims and Christians together around a shared understanding of sanctity. Human rights activity in Egypt offers the chance for Christians and Muslims to transcend the inter-religious tensions that blight that society in the name of a common goal of justice for all. They, then, can take heart from the example of this great Saint, who believed, even unto death, that…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Feast of Christ the King

My church is happily blessed with an altar dedicated to, and featuring an impressive image of, Christ the King, whose feast we keep today. The feast of Our Lord under this title was formally instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925; a period that was something of a high watermark for Anglo-Catholicism, especially in its papalist manifestation. As a result, many devotions popularised in Rome at this time found their way into the shrines and chapels of Anglican churches, which is probably why we have a statue of the Little Flower, S. Therese de Lisieux in the gardens of the Walsingham shrine. In 1925, the rector of S. Magnus the Martyr, Fr. Henry Joy Fynes-Clinton was in the middle of renovating the church, and commissioned Martin Travers to do the work. The mark of Travers, and indeed Fr. Fynes-Clinton, is indelibly imprinted on the interior of the church. One of the statues created by Travers during the 1920s renovation is the reredos of the Christ the King chapel, which is based on the famous Ghent altarpiece. It shows Christ on his throne of glory, vested as a priest and wearing a three-tiered Papal tiara, which some people take to be an allusion to the Holy Trinity. I often relish the fact that before this image stands the original "holy table" of Wren's church, a relic from the dark days when Protestantism held sway at S. Magnus.

Rolling out holy chapatis

We kept today's feast with a Solemn High Mass, celebrated by Fr. Philip, deaconed by Fr. Aidan Harker and subdeaconed by your scribe. Christ the King is also by custom the date of our annual "curry lunch", which raises money for charity. It is also marks exactly one year from my first visit to S. Magnus when I had recently moved to London, knew hardly anyone and slept on a futon in the house of a family friend. I felt stupid for having moved to London with about £20 in the bank, depressed because my search for a job had come to nothing and anxious that I wouldn't even be able to afford Christmas presents for my mum! With those memories in mind, I couldn't help but get misty-eyed at today's Gospel :

For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in...

Exactly a year ago, I walked out of S. Magnus the Martyr church fed to bursting with delicious food and drink, and completely warmed through by the generosity, kindness and good company of the group of people I had never known before then. I went back the next week, and the next and am still loathe to miss a single Sunday away from the church. I can never fully convey to people who ask me about S. Magnus the value of being part of a living, worshipping community, in which the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed and lived; I can only invite them to experience it for themselves.

Friday, 21 November 2008

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

On the 21st November, Western Catholics keep the feast of the Presentation of Mary, the event of Mary’s presentation by her parents Anne and Joachim at the temple in Jerusalem, where she would be consecrated to God as an act of thanksgiving for her birth.

The event is not recorded in the New Testament, but rather in the Protoevangelium of James; an apocryphal text that fills in the detail of Mary’s birth, early life and the birth of the Saviour. Since the origins of this feast lie outside of canonical scripture, its observance is regarded as a pious tradition. After spreading from the East and establishing itself at the Papal chapel in 1372, the feast was suppressed by Pius V, reintroduced by Sixtus V, elevated to a Greater Double under Clement VIII and made a Memorial by Paul VI. The association of Mary’s entry into a community of consecrated virgins at the Temple has also marked this feast as Pro Orantibus day, a day of prayer for cloistered religious, who live a life totally dedicated to God in prayer, silence and concealment.

Despite the apocryphal origin of this feast, the presentation of Mary is not at variance with our encounter with her in scriptural events: the Annunciation, the Nativity… Mary at Cana….Mary at the Cross. Artistic representations of the Presentation in Eastern Iconography or the lavish illustrations found in Medieval breviaries show Mary as a tiny figure, dwarfed by her parents and by the high priest waiting to receive her at the Temple steps. She is Mary alone, a small child of perhaps three years, probably frightened but ultimately trusting, in the way that children naturally are, as she climbs the temple stairs. This image of Mary echoes that of the Annunciation, when Our Blessed Lady, no doubt threatened by uncertainty and perturbed by the appearance of an angel, resigned herself totally to the will of God; accepting with humility and grace an uncertain future with simple faith. In the presentation, the child Mary makes a wordless fiat in true discipleship of her Son, who said : except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Mary’s Presentation of herself to God’s service so early in life is like our prayer of Morning Offering, when we pledge to offer to God all the prayers and deeds, joys and sorrows of the day to come, although we don't yet know what they will be.

This feast is a day on which to be consecrated anew, to be edified by the example of Our Lady, and to pray fervently to God, in union with his Blessed Mother and all our brothers and sisters in religious communities, who pray with us, for us, in the unity of one spiritual body.

Collect: O God, Who didst will that this day the ever blessed Virgin Mary, dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost, should be presented in the temple: grant, we beseech Thee, that through her intercession, we may be worthy to be presented in the temple of Thy glory. Through our Lord.
-1962 Daily Missal

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Gothic versus Latin – the historical roots of chasuble warfare

Any hardcore trad flicking idly through liturgical manuals or vestment catalogues from the unassailably ‘Trad’ decades of the 40s and 50s may be perturbed to see emerging from the yellow, dusty pages of their Burns and Oates library the roots of a conflict where there is much wailing, and gnashing of teeth. The issue is the very same one that concerns us today; namely, Roman/Latin chasuble versus Gothic. The continuing strength of feeling manifested by both camps in this interminable war for aesthetic predominance in Catholic worship is evinced by such things as the Facebook ‘Society for the Promulgation of the Latin Chasuble’ where fans of the fiddle back share images of their favourite vestments and add derisive comments to photos of anything else. Add to this the insistence of some Catholics on promoting the poncho as a liturgical vestment under the title of “the fuller shaped chasuble of the early Church” and we have the roots of a bitter and protracted War of the Vestments.

Back to the dusty yellow books, a pile of which is slowly growing on my desk at work. While looking toward post-War Catholic literature for vestment patterns and other sound advice, I came across a book called The Making of Church Vestments by Graham Jenkins, published in 1957 by Challoner, London. Mid-way through the chapter on chasubles, the author is compelled to make “a digression” in which he fulminates against the Latin cut and dismisses the Victorian Gothic vestment as inauthentic, selections of which are worth quoting here:

“When vestments were specified and codified, art began to influence the style and decoration of vestments …Once the early conservatism and deliberate simplicity had gone, the artists freely expressed themselves in the decoration of vestments…Of the vestments the chasuble was the most affected … With the arrival of elaborate decoration, heavy materials, gold wire and jewels, the chasuble became heavy and stiff, with a growing inconvenience to the wearer. Thus the sides were hacked away more and more as time went on; probably the baroque period reduced the chasuble to its smallest dimensions and in slightly later times the splendour of real baroque deteriorated to tawdry and commercial imitations. (Fig. 12)”

The picture at Fig. 12, which I am unable to reproduce here, shows a pear-shaped chasuble laden with raised gold-work embroidery and applied pieces of metal-work, including an image of Our Lady in a glory. I think it looks quite nice.

“…In This country, mainly through Pugin and the Gothic revival, there arose a move to be rid of the very small vestment, and a creation arose which has since been called the “Gothic chasuble”. This was not very large, but the vestment was at least carried over the shoulder and some way down the arm. Mostly the back and front were identical, falling to a point at the base... Since this period, the square vestment has been called “Roman” and the pointed variety “Gothic”. It is misleading terminology, and has led to confusion.”

On this last point, the author is quite right. Both terms disguise a multitude of varieties. Not all chasubles that are square at the bottom are called Roman, as indeed the Spanish cut ends in this shape, despite being heavily cut away behind the shoulder-blades. Nor is everything floppy to be called “Gothic”, as Jenkins goes on to explain:

“As the liturgical movement prospered in this century, a move began to restore the fuller shaped chasuble of the early Church…Thus in our own time there are three main distinctions which for want of better names must be described as “Roman” (square), “Gothic” (pointed), and the full vestment.

The author ends his evaluation of the different types with the assertion that:

“There is no point in perpetuating Victorian or nineteenth century continental vestments in the twentieth century. The present trend is towards simplicity with good shape and sober decoration.”

This last passage is probably the only frightening thing in an otherwise harmless book, for the author’s obvious distaste for the artistic heritage of Catholic Christendom, and his promotion of the paired-down and simplified “full chasuble” on account of its supposed antiquity of design foreshadows much of the iconoclastic behaviour that occurred in churches along with the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.

It is this “full chasuble” which is promoted by liturgical modernists to this day. Made of cheap, synthetic fabrics and decorated with any possible number of designs (see the aforementioned Facebook group for some truly hideous examples), this type of vestment is now the standard in most Roman Catholic churches in the UK, and has been carried over to Anglo-Catholic parishes that use the modern Roman rite. Its cheapness means that many identical chasubles can be bought relatively cheaply for Concelebrated Masses, clergy in choir-dress having practically disappeared for the sake of including everybody in the actions of the liturgy.

I do wonder what on earth could have justified the insertion of this thesis on the chasuble into a small book which otherwise contains practical advice on how to make vestments: perhaps the very same factors that caused J.B. O’Connell to put his foot down in the 1956 edition of The Celebration of Mass. In the chapter on Sacred Vestments, he notes the interest of the Sacred Congregation of Rites in the revival of Gothic vestments by some dioceses in Western Europe, quoting:

“…the Congregation of Sacred Rites thinks that the reasons which led to the change in question may be of some weight, having referred the matter to our most holy Lord, Pope Pius IX, it has been decided cordially to invite your lordship, in so far as these changes may have taken place in your diocese, to explain the reasons which led to them.” P.235

At that time, the only form of chasuble allowed was that in use in the Roman Church, the square-shaped Latin vestment. For O’Connell, the subject of vestment shape is not one of mere taste or preference, but rather of canonical obedience:

“According to the legislation of at present in force, then, for Churches of the Latin Rite, in the making and use of vestments, it is not lawful, without consulting the Holy See, to depart from the present received usage of the Church of Rome, and introduce another style and shape, even an old one.” P.235

The other style and shape to which O’Connell is referring here is explained in a footnote on p. 234, and is identified as “that which would be called now the medium-sized medieval chasuble”, in other words the “full chasuble” previously discussed.

Again, it strikes the reader as highly unusual that an issue such as this would concern O’Connell so much as to dedicate two whole pages and copious footnotes to this issue, especially in a chapter that is otherwise light on vestment history, and even ignores the question of whether or not a Deacon’s dalmatic and a Subdeacon’s tunicle are, or should be, materially the same vestment. The proper shape of the chasuble in the Latin rite was clearly a subject of some controversy well before the 1960s, and it seems that the rebelliousness of certain English diocesans chimed well with the “out with the old, in with the new” ethos of liturgical reform. Ironically the same obstinate attitude in the same places is preventing a full roll-out of the ‘reform of the reform’ under the current Pontiff.

Back to the present time then, and the competition between various vestment shapes is still on. While the full horror of the poncho-chasuble appears to have abated, and the trend is now, as we know, towards a resurgence of “traditional” aesthetics in the celebration of both novus ordo and usus antiquior rites, fault-lines are already emerging and they appear to be geographical. In the UK, it seems that both Anglican and Roman Catholics have taken on the “Roman” style of vestment as the most appropriate shape for traditional liturgy. The ‘English Use’ aesthetic in Anglo-Catholicism has long been diluted and absorbed into the mainstream of Anglican liturgical life, although in London at least it remains strong in centres such as All Saints’ Margaret Street and St. Cyprian’s, Clarence Gate. For Roman Catholics, the Gothic shape has, perhaps, suffered from its similarity to the limp, synthetic vestment of yesteryear and the generation of young, conservative Catholics that is driving the new liturgical movement in this country tends to prefer Latin over Gothic.

However, the trend in the States appears to be quite different. Gothic High Mass sets feature prominently on the new internet markets for parishes taking up the Extraordinary Rite. In the land of EWTN, the candy-land Gothic aesthetic dominates, as evinced by the recent refurbishment of Seton Hall Chapel (photos available here). The same principle extends to the re-discovery of literature aimed at explaining and teaching the Tridentine Mass. A British reprint of Rev. William O’Brien’s 1933 book, In Sacristy and Sanctuary, features original illustrations of a priest vesting in a highly-decorated alb and Latin chasuble. In an American reprint of the booklet How to Serve Low Mass and Benediction by the same author, the same illustrations have been copied and adapted by a new artist and the fully-vested priest is now shown wearing a pointed Gothic chasuble and Roman biretta.

A year on from the issue of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, it is still far too early to tell whether the trend towards traditional liturgy will affect the Catholic mainstream. It’s my own opinion that the Tridentine Mass will not take off (unfortunately) in every Roman Catholic Parish, and will probably never re-establish itself as the main Sunday service. On the other hand, the rediscovery of what was abandoned after Vatican II will affect the look of Novus Ordo masses everywhere, as the Catholics attempt to recover the dignity and order embodied in the usus antiquior. Expect to see quality vestments of both Latin and Gothic forms to be part of this.

Elsewhere, Anglican Catholics in the Forward in Faith grouping are by necessity sharing in each other’s Sacramental lives, and this closeness and cooperation has stirred the waters of our liturgical life. I know that my church, we are constantly being kept on our toes, as some spikey parish down the road resurrects such practices as the silent canon, last Gospel or even deacon's "broad stole"! The ultramontanism of some parishes in Forward in Faith and the self-consciously loyal “Englishness” of others means that for as long as there are Catholics, both vestment shapes will have their partisans. The reader of dusty old copies of Fortescue, Muller and Kuenzel, (or hopefully, one day, modern reprints of these books) need only know to which side he belongs.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

S. Magnus Day 2008

I mean, why don't I just add some more pictures? This is our patronal festival 2008, when the church was packed to the gunnels, probably to hear the sermon by the Right Reverend Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, which was quite good actually.

The Entrance procession

Fr. Philip Warner (Celebrant)

Dean of St. Paul's

"Suscipiat Dominus sacrificium de manibus tuis, ad laudem et gloriam nominis sui, ad utilitatem quoque nostram, totiusque ecclesiae suae sanctae."

"Sursum Corda"

"Deo gratias"

The shrine of the Saint

Solemn Votive Mass of Our Lady

I thought it might be a nice idea to post some pictures of life at my church, St. Magnus the Martyr by London Bridge in the City of London.

On this particular occassion we celebrated the jubilee of the ordination of Fr. Aidan Harker, a former monk at Nashdom Abbey and a regular at St. Magnus. Fr. Harker celebrated a Solemn Votive Mass of Our Lady (which gave us a chance to show off a new set of white vestments) assisted by Fr. Daniel Humphreys as Deacon and your scribe as Subdeacon. Fr. Graeme Rowlands from St. Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town acted as Assistant Priest in cope.

I'm quite proud of these particular photos, because they exhibit the resurrected humeral veil in use at a High Mass. In my experience, there are very few Anglican parishes in London using vaguely "Roman ceremonial" that actually use the humeral veil at High Mass, either because they never have done or because they follow the rubrics of the new Roman rite.

There are more photos available on our parish website

Q & A

-Why does this blog have such a pretentious name?
Ex fide isn't that pretensious really, if you think about it, and it's only two words long. The two words occur together in the Latin phrase "ex fide fiducia" meaning "confidence comes from faith" and occur together twice in the Epistle of S. Paul to the Romans 1:17 :

"iustitia enim Dei in eo revelatur ex fide in fidem sicut scriptum est iustus autem ex fide vivit"

"For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
-New International Version
As an Anglican Catholic with a strong leaning towards traditional liturgy and teaching and a passion for the reunion of Catholic Christendom, faith is something I need plenty of!
-Fine, so what's it going to be about?
Hopefully this blog will be a place to share Anglican news and views liturgical resources, photographs, videos etc. I need plenty of feedback and would love to hear from interested people.
-Aren't there better blogs that already do that?
Yes, I'll list links to them when I get permission from their creators.