Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Ash Wednesday

"Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris..."
-Genesis 3:19

Monday, 23 February 2009

The Eucharist for Lent

Lent is almost upon us, quite frighteningly early, and I thought it might be as well to share some ideas I have for keeping Lent this year. We all know that Lent is a season of penitence, contrition, fasting and fervent prayer, which is all designed to bring us to an interior conversion, a re-alignment of our lives so that we may be totally renewed by the glory of the Resurrection. But for those of us who try to achieve this conversion year in year out every Lent of our lives, a certain vigilance is necessary, so that our spiritual methods remain vital and dynamic.

I have to commend the writers of the Women’s Guild blog, who have suggested learning a common liturgical prayer each week during Lent, in order to embed them in our minds and hearts. While I will try to follow them in this exercise, my personal plan is to approach Lent through the Eucharist, and my reading for this season will kick off with God is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life by Pope Benedict XVI. While I will be making an extra effort to attend the Holy Sacrifice during the coming weeks, I will try to focus on making regular visits to Christ in the Tabernacle and on making adequate preparation for Holy Communion.

Some might find it strange to focus so much on the Blessed Sacrament during a penitential season which is has its eyes so firmly set on the Cross of Jesus. So what really is the relevance of the Eucharist to the Lenten season?

Well firstly, we must remind ourselves that the Mass makes present the Sacrifice made by Christ on the Cross, and that to this Sacrifice “full, perfect and sufficient” that is it, we add our own “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving”. The language of the Prayer Book reminds me of the Eucharistic life model outlined by Dom Gregory Dix in some of his writings. He urges us to offer up all that we have and all that we are – our prayers as well as our trials - to God. The traditional Lenten observances of fasting and increased charitable giving fit quite comfortably into the Eucharistic life-vision provided by Dix. Additionally, the Sacrament of Penance, of which we are told to avail ourselves often during Lent, has as its aim the reconciliation of man with God, and men with each other; an aim which is ultimately achieved through the Incarnation, when God makes His communion with man and through His Eucharist men make communion with each other.

In John’s Gospel, Christ answers our superficial question about the Eucharist: “What is this bread?” and answers “This bread is my flesh, given for the life of the world.” The whole Bread of Life discourse found in chapter 6 of John’s Gospel provides us with a way to view the Eucharist that is entirely consonant with the themes of Lenten conversion. In verse 27 Jesus says “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you.” What clearer way is there than this to tell us what Christ demands of us in this earthly life? When we turn to sin, we toil, under Satan, for things that might appeal to us, but which ultimately “spoil”, and our souls won’t escape that putrefying effect of sin. Yet when we toil for God, when we store up spiritual grain in heaven, then we are truly on the path to new life. The notions of spiritual food and drink outlined in this Eucharistic discourse also link us to our practice of fasting and abstinence. Jesus in the Eucharist helps us to discern that which we much renounce, and that to which we must hold tight; that which pollutes and that which washes us clean. The discipline of fasting before receiving Communion reminds us of that time before sin entered our world. Forty days of fasting then seems barely enough to prepare us for the Paschal Feast of Easter.

Lenten observance and the Eucharist, then, have a common purpose, which is to cleanse us of our sin. Our liturgy during the coming weeks will also reflect that theme. The secret prayer for Mass on the Third Sunday in Lent asks “Lord, May these offerings wash away our sins, and hallow the minds and bodies of your servants for the celebration of this sacrifice”. Those who do not make a habit of the Asperges ceremony before Sunday Mass during the rest of the year may do so during Lent. Following Mark’s Gospel we come across the passage where Jesus cleanses the temple, which has become a den of thieves. In the Eucharist, we are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. Just as our conversion leads us into obedience to God the Father, our Lent should lead us to God to the Son, who comes to us Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament.

We can see then, that the Eucharist can be a focus for our observance of Lent. I hope to be inspired by Pope Benedict’s book, but if any readers would like to suggest further reading material then let me know.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Next time you go to Florence, don't forget to swing by the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, just behind the famous medieval Cathedral that seems to be the main draw, but which is really quite plain inside. Among the treasures in this museum, which I admit is heavy on stonework and half-smashed statues of cherubs and the like, is this pieta by Michaelangelo. In later life he became obsessed with this motif, bashing out statues in an attempt to find the perfect composition, before he managed to create the sublime work we find today in S. Peter's Basilica. In the image above, Christ is cradled by Nicodemus (some say Joseph of Arimathea), which is widely believed to be a self-portrait. This is also the only known instance of Michaelangelo damaging his own work: apparently he got angry at a difficult grain in the marble and smashed off Christ's arms in temper!

Although there isn't much in the museum by way of vestments, this fine set was in display along with some church plate. I think what we see here is a fairly typical Roman style of chasuble, rather than something local to Florence, but if anyone knows more than me, please illuminate us in the comments box!

And this dalmatic. Ive seen plenty of pieces with shoulder fastenings, but never fastenings on the underside of the sleeve.

On to the cope. Quite lovely, goes with the above set. Presented here as an episcopal vestment. Sigh. I suppose in most of Italy de nos jours, it is only ever that.

The museum also has a fascinating collection of reliquaries, including one shaped like a hand, which houses the forearm of some Saint whose name I couldn't read. I do wonder though, when these reliquaries will be going back onto altars. I do agree that they need to be on display, but I can't help feeling that Italian churches could do with sweeping the spider plants and poinsettias off the altar gradines and replacing them with some of these treasures.

Friday, 13 February 2009

It's everyone's problem

In the past few weeks, the UK media have reported several cases of anti-Christian discrimination in the workplace, where conflicts of interest have arisen between those people seeking to defend their religious convictions and integrity, and those who believe that doing so threatens the rights of others, and the balance of a multi-cultural, multi-faith and inclusive society. First there was the Baptist nurse, who was suspended and investigated after offering to pray for a patient’s recovery. Then there was the controversy over the motion passed by the General Synod of the Church of England affirming the uniqueness of Christ and encouraging a greater emphasis on evangelism in the Church, which one bishop claimed would jeopardise interfaith dialogue by “bringing a megaphone” to bear on discussions. Now the Archbishop of York has thrown his weight behind a primary school receptionist who is facing the sack after seeking support from Christian friends when her daughter was reprimanded for talking about Jesus in class.

Indeed, in the last few years, some claim that we are facing a groundswell of anti-Christian discrimination in this country. The Daily Mail quotes…

Former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe said: 'There is now daily evidence of
Christianophobia in this country and it is high time that it was tackled. It is
wicked to scold a small child for talking about Jesus. Even if the child was
talking about going to Hell, that is what Christians believe.'

One MP has called for a debate on what he believes is “systematic and institutionalised” discrimination against Christians, but does this all add up to a specific wave of anti-Christian sentiment in Britain?

It sometimes seems to me that our society, like others in the developed world, is suffering from a sort of faith-related schizophrenia, which like the genuine psychiatric condition can be defined as “a severe mental disorder characterised by some, but not necessarily all, of the following features: emotional blunting, intellectual deterioration, social isolation, disorganised speech and behaviour, delusions, and hallucinations.” Just like individual sufferers of schizophrenia, our society is likely to experience a cacophony of voices that conflict with each other and bring confusion and disorder to reign. Indeed, the fact that our social discourse is made up of so many dissonant parts that make up the whole means that I cannot comfortably declare that Britain is, as a whole, heading in a specifically anti-Christian direction, or in any direction at all: the voice of those who decry what they perceive as an increase in anti-Christian discrimination, like the voice of those squawking, triumphalist Dawkinsian Atheists, is just one voice among many.

This is why our society lurches from one extreme to the other; because we are all vulnerable to the attractions of consequentialism, and because extremists always shout the loudest. One moment we hear accusations that Islamophobia is rife in political and public institutions and the next we hear accusations that the authorities are exhibiting favouritism by falling over themselves to defend Muslims and their religion before all others. Undoubtedly there will be some who feel this now, in the wake of the Home Office’s decision to deny Dutch MP Geert Wilders from entry to the UK, citing public safety concerns over his anti-Islamic views, at the same time that anti-Semitic violence is increasing and Christians are feeling like the latest victims of a policy of radical inclusivism.

But as one Muslim commentator said this morning on BBC Breakfast, why should we have anything to fear? He argued that Muslims who firmly believe in the divine origin of the Qur’an may be offended by Geert Wilder’s film about Islamic extremism, but that they have nothing to fear in a public debate of the issues, however extreme the views expressed.

So how do we need to speak in this cacophony of voices? How do we respond to the call to evangelise our country in the face of such hostility? Is there a solution, a response, to the fractured, conflicting and confused society we live in?

I believe firmly in the power of prayer. To me, this is just something that Christians believe in. When a school secretary is berated for requesting the prayers of her friends, I believe the best response is to stand by those prayers, to stand in those prayers and to make them real. What an example she provided for us in turning first to prayer before anything else and what a response that demands from us, a united response in solidarity. This is why we so needed this motion to be passed by Synod, to be renewed in and united around the person that gives meaning to our lives: Jesus Christ. This is why we are lucky to be tested so hard; by the outrages of church politics, by the economic recession, by the attacks of people who are hostile to religious faith. As Anglican Catholics, I sometimes feel that we don’t take the full brunt of the attack on Christians, whereas those belonging to more openly evangelical protestant communities do. It seems that those hostile to Christianity, whether they be disciples of radical Atheism or self-satisfied liberals view us as quaint, benign or frivolous and not to be taken seriously. Yet we are at risk of being voted out of our own church by forces within it hostile to our beliefs, and the lessons are there to be learned. The test of our faith is whether we can stand by it in a fight, and we know, like the apostles knew, that the only weapon we have to wield is prayer.

I also believe that the unique witness of Christianity is in bringing hope, and in our society there is no more costly gift. Costly because it is so difficult to convince others to cling to hope when everything seems lost, but costly also because it demands from us a total fidelity to the one in whom we hope. Let us respond to the challenges we face, the many and diverse challenges, by sharing our hope with others. This is what evangelism is really about, not megaphones and placards. We need to lead by example: the example of Christ.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Ian Blair and Synod

With thoughts returning again and again to the upcoming meeting of General Synod, I came across this interesting article on the Times Faith news webpage, about one of the motions being put before Synod this week. The proposed motion is to ban Church of England clergy from membership of certain “racist” political parties, such as the BNP, and has already faced opposition from some bishops as an infringement of human rights. The motion is backed by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, and his argument informs the first part of the article:

Church of England clergy could be barred from membership of the far-right British National Party under a controversial motion to be debated this week, The Times has learnt.
The move, which coincides with intense public debate over race and equality, is backed by Sir Ian Blair, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who will attend the General Synod to support a policy borrowed from the Association of Chief Police Officers, which bans officers from joining the BNP.
In his first interview since leaving Scotland Yard, Sir Ian said that his Anglican faith had been a great comfort and support during difficult times as the country’s most senior policeman. "I used to say to my wife, if I did not have my hour and a half on a Sunday morning, the week was going to be much more difficult," Sir Ian said.
He saw a parallel, he said, between the Church and the police in that both "need to be able to welcome people from all backgrounds". He added: "The issue around race is about equality. I am on that wing of the Anglican Communion that is very much in favour of women priests."

Sir Ian will sit at the Synod with the proposer of the motion, which states that clergy and lay staff of the Church cannot belong to any organisation which contradicts "the duty to promote race equality". The motion specifically identifies the BNP.

Now, while I believe that a BNP-free Church of England would be no bad thing, I have serious concerns about the particular view of the Church of England that has motivated the proposal of this motion in the first place, and which is quite clearly expressed here by Sir Ian Blair.

We read that the motion is consistent with "a policy borrowed from the Association of Chief Police Officers", and that the ex-Commissioner "saw a parallel, he said, between the Church and the police in that both "need to be able to welcome people from all backgrounds"." As a Catholic, I believe that the view that supposes the established Church of England to be merely an arm of the state that is subject to the same regulations as any other government department, and that Her ministers are effectively civil servants who, in exchange for a guaranteed covenant of workers’ rights are duty-bound to perform the bidding of Synod (a judicial committee) is a constant threat to the ecclesial integrity of our church. As long as this view prevails, and in reality it is already enshrined in the legislation of establishment, then we will suffer no end of woe.

It was the bullish Establishment mentality that sparked the Oxford movement and, ultimately, the Catholic revival in our church, but it has been a root cause of splits and divisions ever since. The notion that the Church of England is subject to employment laws that guarantee gender equality in the workplace hugely influenced the church to move to ordain women to the Priesthood, and (quite logically and fairly if you take that position) more recently to the Episcopate. Now, according to this motion, the Church of England has a duty, like any other government body, to promote racial equality by proscribing certain political affiliations. I’m not too interested in the rebuttal that claims that such a move would be an infringement of human rights, but I would be shocked and appalled if any diocesan Bishop in the Church of England would happily allow a clergyman in his diocese to take up full and active membership of a party like the BNP. Furthermore, I find the idea that the Church lacks the capacity to respond to and deal with racism and hatred towards immigrants pretty patronizing.

It does not surprise me that the ex-Commissioner is "in favor of women priests", and nor am I surprised that he enjoys an hour and a half of church each week to get him through. For according to the view of the Church that he expresses here, the Christian faith can be packed into a weekly Sunday morning slot, from which it can never escape; the state’s adopted ideas of race and gender and the value of equality are more important that "outmoded" Church teachings about the same and matters of faith and morals should be determined by a vote in Synod. Of course, as Catholics we cannot agree.

Our Christian faith preaches the fullness, the comprehensiveness of God’s will, revealed in Christ Jesus, and our faith teaches also that whether we like it or not, we are called to accept and conform to that Divine will. By coincidence, another motion proposed calls on Synod to recognize the uniqueness of Christ in an age of multi-culturalism, which liberals fear implicitly states the Church’s duty to proselytize from other faiths. What is Synod saying if they feel unable to affirm that motion? There may be bits of it that I don’t like sometimes, or bits that I find hard, but the Faith cannot be diluted to make everyone happy, nor can the Faith be sanitized and sterilized for public benefit, or bent to conform with society’s fluctuating notions of what is fair, right and good. Whether in a democracy or an autocracy, the Faith is non-political. Shouldn't this be true of the Church that teaches it? The next week or so will reveal how much the Church of England as a whole values that Faith, and if Synod determines that man’s law is above God’s law, and that innovation is better than tradition, then we who are ardently in love with the Church of England and desire never to leave Her, whether we like it or not, will find ourselves hopelessly spurned.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

In praise of the Silent Canon

Because I enjoyed reading it so much, and thinking about it so much, here is a wonderful blog entry by Fr. John Alexander SSC from his site Videtur Quod in praise of the so-called silent canon. Comments can be viewed here

Let me be clear. In my fifteen-plus years so far in the Sacred Priesthood, I have never actually recited a Silent Canon, though I have been accused of it. Nor am I planning to do so anytime soon.What I have done on a number of occasions is recite the Canon of the Mass (a.k.a. the Eucharistic Prayer), under cover of the choir singing a choral setting of the Sanctus and Benedictus, so that the words were inaudible to all but those standing with me at the Altar.The drill is as follows. After I intone the Sursum Corda and Preface, the choir launches into the Sanctus. Meanwhile, I recite the Sanctus quietly at the Altar; and then, while the choir is still singing, I continue with the first part of the Eucharistic Prayer, up to the Words of Institution. Then, when the Sanctus is finished—as far as the first Hosanna in excelsis—the bell rings and everyone gets down on their knees. I then recite the Words of Institution, with the requisite elevations and genuflections. Then the choir resumes singing at Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini (or in the case of certain French Requiem Masses, with the Pie Jesu). Meanwhile, I recite the rest of the Eucharistic Prayer, up to the final doxology, Amen, and introduction to the Lord’s Prayer, which I intone aloud after the choir finishes singing.So, it’s not really a silent Canon at all. With the exception of the Words of Institution (which I say aloud in the hearing of the congregation) and the final Doxology (which I intone aloud likewise in the hearing of the congregation) it’s a mostly inaudible Canon but not a silent one.And yet. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to do the full silent Canon. I’ve only ever seen it done once, at a parish that offers what is now called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Without cover of music, one simply recites the full Eucharistic Prayer, Words of Institution and all, in a bare whisper inaudible to anyone other than God …What I’m describing epitomizes everything that modern liturgists despise. And yet my hunch is that rather than excluding the faithful from the liturgical action, the effect is quite the opposite. The silence draws the people in and unites their prayers with the Prayer of the Priest at the Altar--who of course stands facing ad orientem, in the same direction as they do.The interesting thing is that while the Silent Canon is certainly not part of the mainstream Anglican tradition, I can’t find any rubric in the BCP 1979 explicitly forbidding it. There is the old requirement that the worship of the church be conducted in a language understanded of the people, but is there anything similar requiring that it be recited at a volume audible to the people? Perhaps readers of this blog can fill me in on this point.Several years ago, I received an anonymous note after Mass complaining about the noise of the fans we use in the church on hot summer days. The note read in part: “The entire service was a waste of my time, for I could not hear a single word that was said.” (Or words to that effect.) Admittedly, the noise of those fans resembled the whine of airplane propellers, and I have since replaced them with quieter ones.But I wished I could have explained to that person that the purpose of liturgical prayer is not primarily the instruction or edification of the faithful, much less their entertainment or aesthetic gratification. I wished I could have explained that regardless of what this person could hear or understand, his assistance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, by presence and prayers, was anything but a waste of time. But the Silent Canon itself makes all those points much more forcefully and eloquently than any such explanation ever could.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Usus Antiquior in Seville

Check out this picture of an Old Rite Mass celebrated in Seville, which was posted on the New Liturgical Movement site. This picture shows how, as the Usus Antiquior is revived across Catholic Christendom, so too are the traditions that accompanied it when it was the norm. In this picture you can see some examples of the local Spanish use of the Roman rite, such as the ridiculous (i.e. just about right) number of candles on the altar, the Spanish cut of chasuble, and the acolytes and thurifers in tunicles instead of Roman cottas.

There are plenty of interesting comments to read on the New Liturgical Movement post, some people asking about the tunicles. Apparently the confraternity involved, "el Silencio", has the particular privilege of vesting their acolytes in tunicles which is an established and ancient custom in Seville ( also practiced in France, particularly Lyons, and possibly also in Salisbury.

One hopes that such questions and research might lead to more discussion about the status of minor orders in our own church. I am personally in favour of a serious revival of the minor orders, and the liturgies and customs attached to them. It is common to invite a layman to act as Subdeacon at a Solemn High Mass, and there have long been altar societies like the GSS in the Church of England, but how much better would it be, from a pastoral perspective, to reinstitute minor orders? Surely if members of that group which we now call "servers" were given differentiated roles, and solemnly inducted according to traditional Episcopal liturgies, their value to the worshipping community would be more clearly stated, and their morale enhanced. And what a good way to get young people involved, and to keep them involved, in the liturgical life of the church.

In many Orthodox churches, the minor orders have this function of rewarding service to the church and recognising a particular level of commitment. For example, it is not uncommon for ex-seminarians who have decided that they don't have a calling to the priesthood to marry and be ordained Subdeacon. Readers traditionally receive the tonsure in a special service.

In some parts of Western Christianity too, the minor orders have been retained; the FSSP and other traditionalist Catholic organisations still ordain their seminarians to the subdiaconate. In the Anglican communion, one can train to be a Reader and march around in a blue tippet, although in this case the focus is on the licensing of a lay minister rather than the ordination of a person to Minor Orders. The traditional view of Minor Orders has held that they are a sacramental, that is, something which manifests the respect due to the Sacraments, and as Catholic Anglicans looking hard at the church of the future, perhaps it is time to seriously reconsider these forms of ministry.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Candlemas at S. Magnus the Martyr

So here are some pictures from this morning's liturgy. We started off in purple for the blessing of candles and procession, as was normal practice before the 1962 Missal. Before vesting, the question did occur as to why we should be wearing a penitential colour for the pre-mass ceremonies, and several ideas were advanced. The tone of the ceremony has echoes of Advent and the action of blessing candles recals the Easter vigil, when purple is worn in both cases to symbolise the world before the light of Christ. On this feast, the purple also symbolises Israel awaiting redemption, who is personified by Simeon and whose canticle we sing before Mass. The change to Gold obviously symbolises, among other things, the light of Christ

The blessing of candles
Distributing candles
A short pause during the singing of the Antiphon
Introibo ad altare dei


Censing the oblation


Ecce Agnus Dei...


The Angelus is sung at the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

The Sunday of Candlemas is also when we bless throats and invoke the intercession of S. Blaise, in anticipation of keeping his feastday in the week.