Friday, 12 January 2018

The Collect: Christ who prays and is also the prayer

Pope Francis is currently offering a series of General Audience catecheses on the Eucharistic Liturgy. I quite often wonder whether, in the ordinary practice of parish life, it might be more pastorally useful for priests to preach on Liturgical texts other than the Scriptural readings. Very often the ecclesial sense of a feast day is more readily perceived in the Collect or Preface than it is in the Scripture readings. English clergy at least seem to have imbibed from somewhere the idea that the homily is only to be based on the Scripture readings of the day. But the General Instruction of the Roman Missal n.65 actually reads (with my italics added):
The Homily is part of the Liturgy and is highly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an explanation of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of listeners.
Pope Francis General Audience addresses appear to offer a resource for this wider approach in preaching.

The most recent General Audience included a rather elegant observation on the Collect. As well as the easily recognised idea that, in this prayer, the celebrating priest draws into one the prayer of all those present, Pope Francis also commented on the posture adopted by the priest during the praying of the Collect (English translation is my own, as full English translation is not yet available on the website of the Holy See):
Il sacerdote recita questa supplica, questa orazione di colletta, con le braccia allargate è l’atteggiamento dell’orante, assunto dai cristiani fin dai primi secoli – come testimoniano gli affreschi delle catacombe romane – per imitare il Cristo con le braccia aperte sul legno della croce. E lì, Cristo è l’Orante ed è insieme la preghiera! Nel Crocifisso riconosciamo il Sacerdote che offre a Dio il culto a lui gradito, ossia l’obbedienza filiale.
[The priest recites this supplication, this prayer of collection, with extended arms and the attitude of the "Orantes", assumed by Christians from the first centuries - as the frescoes of the Roman catacombs bear witness - to imitate Christ with his arms open on the wood of the cross. And there, Christ is the "Orantes" and is at the same time the prayer! In the Crucified we recognise the Priest who offers to God the cult that is owed to him, to be exact filial obedience.]
The thought that, in the Collect, the priest represents both Christ as one who prays and at the same time the prayer offered is, I think, quite striking.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Three actions of the Magi

I rather like Pope Francis' homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany:
Three actions of the Magi guide our journey towards the Lord, who today is revealed as light and salvation for all peoples. The Magi see the star, they set out and they bring gifts....
Seeing the star. This is where it starts.....
Setting out, the second thing the Magi do, is essential if we are to find Jesus.....
Bringing gifts. Having come to Jesus after a long journey, the Magi do as he does: they bring gifts. Jesus is there to give his life; they offer him their own costly gifts: gold, incense and myrrh. The Gospel becomes real when the journey of life ends in giving. To give freely, for the Lord’s sake, without expecting anything in return: this is the sure sign that we have found Jesus.
In his discussion of "setting out", Pope Francis included the following:
Jesus makes demands: he tells those who seek him to leave behind the armchair of worldly comforts and the reassuring warmth of hearth and home. Following Jesus is not a polite etiquette to be observed, but a journey to be undertaken. God, who set his people free in the exodus and called new peoples to follow his star, grants freedom and joy always and only in the course of a journey. In other words, if we want to find Jesus, we have to overcome our fear of taking risks, our self-satisfaction and our indolent refusal to ask anything more of life.
The reference to the armchair put me in mind of Hans Urs von Balthasar's more forceful comment in the Preface of his short book about the significance of martyrdom in the Christian life, whose English title is The Moment of Christian Witness .
A criterion has a stimulating effect, even if one uses it only in a purely experimental way to exercise one's imagination. If you say to Georges Bernanos, "Come along with me. It's the Ernstfall - the crucial moment in Christian experience", the old grumbler will get up out of his armchair without so much as raising an eyebrow and follow you like a lamb. But if you go to Reinhold Schneider, the author of Winter in Vienna, and say the same thing to him, there is no telling what might happen. Whether you would finally manage to get any response at all from those who have been "demythologised" and converted to the world, I do not know. They have already explained everything away and are left with a merely symbolic belief in a message that they understand only by analogy. For them, both the belief and the message are worth dying for only by analogy, just as they consider their Christianity worth living for only by analogy to something else.

Monday, 1 January 2018

"Devotion to Mary is not spiritual etiquette; it is a requirement of the Christian life." UPDATED

This is the concluding paragraph of Pope Francis' homily at Mass on 1st January 2018:
Devotion to Mary is not spiritual etiquette; it is a requirement of the Christian life. Looking to the Mother, we are asked to leave behind all sorts of useless baggage and to rediscover what really matters. The gift of the Mother, the gift of every mother and every woman, is most precious for the Church, for she too is mother and woman. While a man often abstracts, affirms and imposes ideas, a woman, a mother, knows how to “keep”, to put things together in her heart, to give life. If our faith is not to be reduced merely to an idea or a doctrine, all of us need a mother’s heart, one which knows how to keep the tender love of God and to feel the heartbeat of all around us. May the Mother, God’s finest human creation, guard and keep this year, and bring the peace of her Son to our hearts and to our world. And as children, with simplicity, I invite you to greet her as the Christians did at Ephesus in the presence of their bishops: “Holy Mother of God!”. Let us together repeat three times, looking at her [turning to the Statue of Our Lady beside the altar]: “Holy Mother of God!”.
The video of the Holy Father's Mass can be found on the Vatican YouTube channel here. The moment at which Pope Francis invites the congregation to join him in the acclamation "Holy Mother of God" occurs just after 37:00. You might also like to look at the ending of the Liturgy, with the singing of the Alma Redemptoris Mater, and Pope Francis venerating the statue of Our Lady and, as he leaves the altar, venerating the image of the Infant Jesus.

It is worth reading the complete text of the homily, as mainstream news media appear to be following the Associated Press coverage which represents only a small section of the whole.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Can personal values be detached from Christian belief? UPDATED

There is a passage in Romano Guardini's book The End of the Modern World where the author suggests that, when the sense of the personal value of human existence is separated from its roots in Revelation, though that sense of personal value may survive for a time, it will eventually fade. The passage occurs in section V of the last chapter.
Personality is essential to man. This truth becomes clear, however, and can be affirmed only under the guidance of Revelation, which related man to a living , personal God, which makes him a son of God, which teaches the ordering of His Providence. When man fails to ground his personal perfection in Divine Revelation, he still retains an awareness of the individual as a rounded, dignified and creative human being. He can have no consciousness, however, of the real person who is the absolute ground of each man, an absolute ground of each man, an absolute ground superior to every psychological or cultural advantage or achievement. The knowledge of what it means to be a person is inextricably bound up with the faith of Christianity. An affirmation and a cultivation of the personal can endure for a time perhaps after Faith has been extinguished, but gradually they too will be lost.....
Guardini identifies a dishonesty on the part of modern man:
Modern man's dishonesty was rooted in his refusal to recognise Christianity's affirmation of the God-man relationship. Even as the modern world acclaimed the worth of personality and of an order of personal values, it did away with their guarantor, Christian Revelation.
It is interesting to read this in the context of Pope Benedict XVI's remarks about the relationship between religion and political life at Westminster Hall:
The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is not so much to supply these norms, as if they could not be known by non-believers – still less to propose concrete political solutions, which would lie altogether outside the competence of religion – but rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles.....
I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization. 
It is also interesting to read, or listen to, the Christmas messages of the leaders of the three major political parties in the same context. These messages can be found here: Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and Vince Cable.

In the cases of Jeremy Corbyn and Vince Cable, one is led to wonder whether they are in fact Christmas messages at all. The separation of human values from Christian belief is absolute. Guardini's critique applies in all its rigour.

Theresa May fares better in maintaining a connection between our country's "Christian heritage" and the values that are shared across society as a whole. One wonders whether, speaking in a more strictly individual capacity rather than that of a party leader, she might have maintained that connection more strongly.

One can notice the difference between these messages and that of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, with its explicit affirmation of her Christian inspiration (at 6:24 ff).

Pope Francis' Urbi et Orbi address also represents an example of human values that are firmly rooted in Christian revelation, with an affirmation of the incarnation of Christ preceding his survey of, and intercession for, regions of the world suffering from conflict:
Before the mystery of the Word made flesh, Christians in every place confess with the words of the Evangelist John: “We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only-begotten Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).

Thursday, 7 December 2017

To understand Pope Francis, read Guardini

I am about to start reading a book by Romano Guardini. It is entitled The End of the Modern World, though the copy I have just bought includes the text of a subsequent work by Guardini, Power and Responsibility.

Pope Francis began higher studies looking at the thought of Romano Guardini, though he did not complete those studies. Footnote 182 of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium references a quotation from The End of the Modern World. The Encyclical Letter Laudato Si cites the same work by Guardini in several places.

If you really want to understand Pope Francis, read Romano Guardini. It will be a better read than the latest recycling of inflammatory gossip masquerading as journalism....

Saturday, 2 December 2017

An unacceptable representative of patrimony?

Fr Hunwicke (or JH, if we adopt his own manner of referring to those in high ecclesial office) makes great play of the Anglican patrimony that has been brought into the Catholic fold in the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

In richly Anglican fashion, he represents Pope Francis as the leader of a "party" in the Church:
The difference in our present situation is that one of these "schools" or parties - the Bergoglianist - is headed by the Roman Pontiff himself (or else by individuals who have worked themselves into the position of being able to manipulate the papal office). This is confusing; Christifideles are not accustomed to having to make the distinction between what the Pope does as the head of a party; and what he does by virtue of his Petrine Ministry. But we are left with no alternative except to work within this confusing situation. The pope is the boss, and this, clearly, is how he wants things.
JH then goes on to argue that unpopular (to some) passages of Amoris Laetitia (clearly an exercise by Pope Francis of his office as successor of St Peter whatever JH and other commentators might say about it not being a magisterial document) can be seen as the actions of the leader of a "party" in the Church rather than an exercise of office, and so be considered non-binding.

And now JH has indulged in what can only be described as character assassination of Pope Francis:
Would you like a careful explanation of PF's skills in playing people off against each other, in making use of a person and then discarding him, in ruthlessly humiliating or disposing of people whose aptitude for sycophancy he finds insufficiently crafted? It's all here....
It has, I think, become so clear as now to be uncontroversial that what you get in PF is not what it says on the tin. He is not a kindly humble avuncular figure with a winning smile and a passion for cripples and babies, who spends his days and nights thinking about the poor. He is a hard and determined politician with a vindictive temper and an appetite for power and a disinclination to let anybody or anything stand in his way. .....
Persistent discrediting of the Successor of St Peter is simply not Catholic. And presenting it under the guise of an Anglican Catholic patrimony, and, so ironically, in the language of "party" in the Church familiar to the Church of England, does not make it any more acceptable:
And the Anglican Catholic Patrimony has been transplanted, surely, for the good of all Catholic Christians. Papa Ratzinger replanted us within Christ's Catholic Church Militant here in Earth so that we can share and proclaim our experience. So that we can tell our fellow Catholics: "If you go down that path, we can explain to you here and now exactly where you will end up. We can show you the map. We have already visited the future ... the future to which Bergoglianism beckons the Catholic Church ... and, believe us, it does not work."
It is doubtful that JH should be seen as an authentic representative of Anglican patrimony for the wider Catholic Church.

All the Cathedrals (7): Brecon

There is a short climb up a hill from the town centre in order to reach Brecon Cathedral. As Cathedrals go, it is on the small side, but it gains something of clean lines as a result. The information panels that are displayed in the Cathedral can be downloaded from the Cathedral website (it is best to use the "download pdf" link from each of the pages, and to read the downloaded version). Following each of these information panels will allow you to make a "virtual visit" to the Cathedral.

The present Cathedral has a foundation in Norman times, though another Church may have pre-dated it on the site. Like a number of English Cathedrals, it shares the narrative of Benedictine monastery established or rebuilt in the Norman time, with the monastic community coming to an end with the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. Before dissolution, it appears to have been a centre of pilgrimage, with the crucifix of its rood screen being the subject of particular veneration by visitors. Unlike some of the larger Cathedrals, after the dissolution, Brecon became a parish church. It gained its status as a Cathedral as recently as 1923. Some rebuilding took place in the 14th century, and, like a number of other Cathedrals, there was a restoration in the Victorian era.

The oldest feature of the Church is thought to be its font, dating from the  original Norman foundation (see the first of the information panels). A nearby stone column features a number of mediaeval stone masons marks.

At the time of our visit, the sacrament was reserved in a veiled tabernacle in the St Keynes chapel (see the information panel on the St Keynes chapel) rather than the wall shrine more customary for the Church of England, suggesting a worship of an ecclesiastically "high" character. An interesting feature of this chapel is the stained glass window showing Brychan, Cynog and Alud, pioneers of Christianity in the area.

Another feature of the Cathedral, that is well described in the relevant information panel, is the Harvard Chapel in its role as the Regimental chapel of what is now, after the amalgamation of its former regiments, the Royal Welsh regiment. Do download and read the information panel. A visit to this chapel acts as a reminder of the impact on local communities of warfare on the scale that was seen in the 20th century.

The highlight for me, however, was the reredos in the main sanctuary of the Cathedral. This is described in the information panel on the sanctuary on the website. Dating from 1937, it really is a lovely work. Where the reformation sought to remove such features as the previous reredos and the rood screen with its venerated crucifix, the presence of this reredos restores something of a Catholic character to the Church.

Brecon Cathedral enjoys a more "homely" feel than some of the other Cathedrals that we have visited, and this is probably due to its smaller size. It is worth the walk up the hill to visit.