Monday, 28 February 2011

Catholics need not apply (1)

News media are reporting a judgement in the High Court which appears to give a green light to anti-Catholic discrimination.

This is the report being carried by the Christian Legal Centre; it contains a link to the text of the judgement itself.

Thee BBC News report includes the following citation of the Chief Executive of Stonewall:
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, the lesbian, gay and bisexual charity, said: "Thankfully, Mr and Mrs Johns' out-dated views aren't just out of step with the majority of people in modern Britain, but those of many Christians too.

"If you wish to be involved in the delivery of a public service, you should be prepared to provide it fairly to anyone."
One unacceptable aspect of Ben Summerskill's comments is the characterisation of the views of Mr and Mrs Johns as "out-dated". Just because the views of Mr and Mrs Johns are not the same as those of Mr Summerskill does not mean that they should be denigrated by an ethically meaningless term like "out-dated". Rather, particularly from a representative of an organisation that proclaims respect for diversity, we should expect some respect for views that differ - I thought the phrase for that was "diversity", but it looks as if I have seriously misunderstood its meaning. A second unacceptable aspect is the implication (an implication in Mr Summerskill's remarks, but rather more explicit in the terms of the judgement itself, at least according to media reports) that people have to subscribe to a particular view of homosexuality and homosexual activity if the are to be involved in the delivery of public services. This represents an ethical totalitarianism.

Mr and Mrs Johns are Pentecostal Christians, not Roman Catholics. But, given the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it looks as if this judgement extends the barring of Catholic agencies from adoption work to the barring of individual Catholics as well. One would be forgiven for thinking that, as far as adoption and fostering are concerned, there is now a message, expressed in the jargon of equalities legislation and policies, that says "Catholics - and those who support Catholic teaching - need not apply".

[The details of the judgement raise one or two interesting points on which I hope to post in due course.]

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Christ-Church and Christ-life

The "Meditation of the Day" in Magnificat for Friday 18th February was taken from Madeleine Delbrel:
The work of the Christ-Church is that "the world be saved" - through the cross, which makes us children of God in Christ, and through the Gospel, which teaches us how to live as children of God in Christ.

The cross is not something optional, neither for the world, nor for us. Accepting the cross and taking it up is the lion's share of our work....

Christ does not provide his followeres with a set of wings to flee into heaven, but with a weight to drag them into the deepest corners of the earth... Despite any apparent contradiction, we diminish and falsify our love for Christ and the Church wherever we diminish that which draws us to the world and enables us to plunge ourselves into it. This is what the love of the world means, a love that is not an identification with the world, but a gift to it.
It is worth appreciating that Madeleine Delbrel's mission was that of living in a small community being a presence of Christ in a poverty stricken social/political miliieu.

By a curious conjunction, the "Meditation of the Day" for Friday 25th February was taken from the writings of Caryll Houselander.
As to our love, it cannot fail to be creative love it if is Christ's. Loves that we had supposed to ahve no importance but for ourselves - love between husband and wife, parents and children, sisters and brothers, the love of friends - all these natural loves, if we love with Christ's heart, increase the life of the world, and build up the kingdom of heaven here on earth. That harder love to achieve, the love of our enemies, of those who hate us and persecute us, does not merely bring us pardon in our own sins, but is redemptive; it has a reach as wide as the cross, and not only brings mercy to those who are its object, but to the whole world.

Everyone who lives the Christ-life, and therefore loves with the heart of Christ, is adding to the divine love in the world, which is the only force opposed to hate. Whether they love their betrothed, their wife, or children, or their enemy, whether their love is happy and fulfilled or is one that they must forego and seem to frustrate, they are adding to the sum total of the love that is redeeming the world.
The conjunction of the themes between the two passages is quite striking, though perhaps it is not unexpected when you consider the backgrounds of the two writers. But I was also struck by the conjunction of their terms "Christ-Church" and "Christ-life", and what that conjunction suggests about the unity of ecclesial and Christian existence.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Become One Body One Spirit in Christ: Institution Narrative/Consecration

It has been interesting to look at what the DVD resource has to say about the changes in the translation of the words that are called either the "institution narrative" or the "consecration". In the video clip describing the Liturgy of the Eucharist (in the "Celebrating the Liturgy" section of the DVD), I was interested to hear both terms being used. A quick read of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reveals a similar dual use, and also shows that, from the point of view of the teaching of the Catholic Church, the two ways of speaking cannot be played off against each other as if they represent different theological approaches ("dynamic" and "static" approaches as some would characterise them):
1353 ...In the institution narrative, the power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ's body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all....

1377 The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ
The "Explore the Text" tab in the "Celebrating the Eucharist" section of the DVD takes you through the texts and provides explanations of changes made compared to the previous translation. There is a video clip to explain changes to the translation of the words of the institution narrative. The speaker points out that the Latin text has always been "pro vobis et pro multis" - "for you and for many" - and this has always been the case. A change in the English translation does not therefore indicate any change in Eucharistic theology. The video clip points out the origins in Sacred Scripture of the "pro multis" - the accounts of the last supper in Matthew 26:28 and in Mark 14:24 (Luke's account is "for you") - and its reference to Isaiah 53:12, where the suffering servant carries the sins of many. In being more faithful to the original Latin text, the new translation is also offering an opportunity for a richer Biblical understanding of these words.

Within the context of words addressed to the community of Israel, as the speaker in the DVD points out and a writer such as Hans Urs von Balthasar concurs, the sense of "for many" is a move from a gift offered only, or firstly, to Israel to a gift that is offered to all. It's import is in favour of the universal nature of redemption/salvation offered in Christ:
.... the formula of vicarious representation ("for you", "for many", ie for all), which derives from the Songs of the Servant of the Lord (Is. 53:12) and denotes the gift of self that the One makes for the people (or here: for all), a gift of self that was first known and made, not by the Servant of the Lord, but already by others before him, especially by the Moses of Deuteronomy ... ["The Mass: A Sacrifice of the Church?" in Explorations in Theology vol.III; and also in the chapter "Going to the Cross: Good Friday" in Mysterium Paschale]
There can be no doubt that the sacrifice offered "for many" is offered for all, though it can also be added that a redemption that is accessible to all may not in the event be accessed by all, as a result of sin. This would be the position, for example, of Frank Sheed, towards the end of chapter 19 of Theology and Sanity:
Christ died for all. "But though he died for all, yet not all receive the benefit of his death, but those only unto whom the merit of His passion is communicated" (Council of Trent VI:2). Salvation depends upon our recieving the supernatural life by which we become sons of God and having ths life in our souls when we die.
The use by Frank Sheed of the phrase "Christ died for all" indicates that, for a writer who wishes to make the point that he does, the translation of "pro multis" as "for all" would not actually make any difference to the point that he makes. The translation "for many" might express a nuance that he develops, but that nuance would still be there in the translation "for all".

It would be quite wrong in my view to suggest that the change in translation from "for all" to "for many" does represent any theological restricting of the reach of the salvific work of Jesus Christ; the contrast of "many" and "few" is, in the context of the Scriptural origin of the texts, a quite incorrect contrast to draw. The correct, and most illuminating, contrast is that intrinsic to the text itself  - that between "for you" and "for many" - demonstrating as it does the move towards the universal.

Friday, 25 February 2011

The New Translation and Sacrosanctum Concilium

The Irish Association of Catholic Priests (some priests actually, since they explicitly say that they will not be representing the views of all priests) claim, here, that:
The translation [ie the new English translation of the Mass coming into use within the next 9 months] is also in conflict with the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy which has a whole section on norms for adapting the Liturgy to the temperament and traditions of people. This allows for legitimate variations and adaptations. (No. 38)
Which prompted me to go and look up the said Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy to see what it actually said. N.21 expresses four principles which govern the more specific norms for the renewal of the Liturgy that can be found in the subsequent paragraphs of the Constitution. My italics and bold are added to draw out these principles:
In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself. For the liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.

In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community.

Wherefore the sacred Council establishes the following general norms ...
I think I would argue that the use of a more sacred style in both vocabulary and language structure means that the new translation does "express more clearly the holy things they signify". And, frankly, the idea that the new texts are any more difficult to understand and to take part in than the previous ICEL texts isn't an idea that has much credibility - the DVD Become One Body One Spirit in Christ makes available a sufficient range of the new texts for you to be able to judge yourself. On more than one occasion I have heard comment to the effect that, when actually prayed in the Liturgical context, the new texts "work" better than one might expect from simply reading them on the page. The Constitution expects that the people will be "enabled to understand them with ease" and, as far as the new translation is concerned, the DVD resource is about this enabling.

It is also interesting to look at n.38, referenced in the press release to justify the claim that the new translations are in conflict with the Constitution. I include also n.39, with emphasis added to the qualifications contained in both paragraphs:

Provisions shall also be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in mission lands, provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved; and this should be borne in mind when drawing up the rites and devising rubrics.

Within the limits set by the typical editions of the liturgical books, it shall be for the competent territorial ecclesiastical authority mentioned in Art. 22, 2, to specify adaptations, especially in the case of the administration of the sacraments, the sacramentals, processions, liturgical language, sacred music, and the arts, but according to the fundamental norms laid down in this Constitution.
The new translation does not seem to me to contradict the provisions of the Constitution on the Liturgy with regard to legitimate adaptations when one bears in mind the qualifications to those provisions contained in that Constitution itself.

I would argue that the new translation is entirely in accord with the wishes of Sacrosanctum Concilium, and it is only a most selective reading of the Constitution that allows you to argue the opposite.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Representing the priests of Ireland?

When the internet was invented, I wonder whether people really thought through the implications of the hyperlink? One link leads to another link which leads to another link .... and before you know where you are you are reading something posted on the other side of the globe about an event that happened on your own side of the world.

That's how I ended up reading IRELAND: The Inaugural meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests took place on 15th September 2010, in Portlaoise Parish Centre. The Association of Catholic Priests caught the headlines when it spoke out against the introduction of the new English translation of the Roman Missal early in February 2011. The text of their press release - and most interesting comments, do read them - can be found here.

What is interesting about the article published by the National Council of Priests of  Australia is the observation that the Irish Association of Catholic Priests does not set out to represent the views of all priests in Ireland:
[The Association] will be a voice for Catholic priests in Ireland and membership is, of course, open to all priests but it will not be a voice for all priests because the effort to represent all views eventually leads to bland, inoffensive statements that end up representing no one and making no compelling point. We want to place that on clearly on the record at this point. We are not attempting to represent all priests and our hope is that this initiative will not be undermined by those who would prefer us to represent nobody unless we represent everybody.
The agenda that the Association had at its conception is expressed in the statement of its objectives; so one shouldn't really be surprised that those priests who join will have the same agenda ... and on its own admission, the Association isn't going to represent any other views. Scanning quickly some of the reports of inaugural meetings on the website of the Association at diocesan level, the impression is gained of the founding organisers spending quite a bit of time and energy promoting the Association and its agenda. One of the reports suggests that younger priests are generally not taking part ...

Some things that matter

Some things to place before God in our prayers:

Being sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity.

A deadly earthquake.

A civil war in Libya, with evidence of atrocities and of significant loss of life.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Become One Body One Spirit in Christ: the Rite of Peace

The discussion of the Sign of Peace comes towards the end of the  video clip in the section of the DVD about the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The text that accompanies the video clip, and the relevant part of the accompanying essay, has this to say about the Rite of Peace:
The Communion Rite continues with the Rite of Peace, the rite by which the Church asks God to grant peace and unity to all her members as well as to the whole human family. This prayer is followed by a symbolic gesture in which all in the assembly exchange a greeting of peace with those around them. The greeting is conveyed in words and through a sign: a handshake or embrace or kiss which is an expressionof the genuine desire that all may be at peace. The gesture is symbolic in that those nearby in the assembly with whom the peace is exchanged represent all those whose lives touch our own and with whom we need to be at peace. In the words of one Father of the Church:

"This kiss that all exchange constitutes a kind of profession of unity and charity that exists among them. Each of us gives the kiss of peace to the person next to him, and so in effect gives it to the whole assembly because this act is an acknowledgment that we have all become the single Body of Christ the Lord and so must preserve with one another that harmony . . . loving one another equally, supporting and helping one another, regarding the individual’s needs as the concerns of the community, sympathising with one another’s sorrows and sharing one another’s joys (Theodore of Mopsuestia, Baptismal homily 4.39)."

Those with whom we exchange the peace also represent the entire world community whom we, as followers and messengers of Christ, pray may experience the peace that only Christ can give. The Rite of Peace has three parts: first, the prayer for peace by the Priest; next, his wish for peace to all those gathered in the assembly, and finally, the greeting and gesture of peace among all those taking part in the Mass. It is up to the Bishops of a given territorial Conference to determine the gesture suitable for the exchange of peace in accord with the culture of their people. The exchange of peace is a solemn religious action and whatever gesture is chosen for this rite should be dignified and carried out in a reverent manner.
There are aspects of this catechesis that I find helpful and informative, but there is also a key one that I would wish to express more strongly, though it touches on a point beyond my control and beyond the control of the good sister who gives the catechesis in the video clip. Rather than saying that "whatever gesture is chosen for this rite should be dignified" - that could be said about going on stage to collect an Oscar - I think the issue is that "whatever gesture is chosen for this rite should be sacred", something implied when the exchange of peace is described as a "solemn religious action". It is not intended to be the everyday greeting that we give in the streets or at our places of work, and one can be forgiven for seeing the examples shown on the video accompanying this section of sister's catechesis as being rather everyday though carried out with some reverence. At a time when not a few are adopting the "orantes" gesture or holding hands during the praying of the Lord's Prayer, I do wonder whether the introduction of the new translation does not give Episcopal Conferences an opportunity to adopt a new gesture for the sign of peace, something akin perhaps to the Liturgical kiss of the high Mass in the Extraordinary Form, a gesture that is clearly sacred in character.

I found the identification of the three parts of the Rite of Peace useful - it is all too easy to take the exchange of the sign of peace among the congregation as being the complete Rite - and the prayer of the priest for peace gives a clearly Christological orientation to the "peace" that is exchanged. I also found the ecclesial (as opposed to a merely social) implication of the sign of peace, illustrated by the citation from Theodore of Mopsuestia, useful. It isn't just about "being friendly to someone next to you in Church"; it is about the person to whom you offer the sign of peace being representative of the Church as whole. The representative nature of the exchange also makes sense of a directive to exchange the sign only with the person nearest you in the Church - there is no necessity to exchange the sign with as many as possible. When the Rite of Peace is seen as a whole, its Christological-Ecclesial dimension is more readily appreciated.

I suspect, though, that it will take a lot of persistent catechesis before most of the faithful at Mass on Sunday come to appreciate the true meaning of the Sign of Peace. Cynically, one might insert "clergy included" after the word "faithful" in the last sentence - but my experience suggests that such an insertion is less cynical and more realistic than it would appear.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


The Radio 4 programme Beyond Belief is one that I sometimes catch when I get home from school. It provides a more thoughtful reflection on questions of religion, and religious controversy.

Last night Zero phoned me as the programme was about to begin - to tip me off to a programme about nuns. As it happens, she could probably hear Radio 4 in the background ... There is a synopsis of the programme, and it can be listened to on the BBC i-player, from this page; a podcast can be downloaded from here.

I do think that this programme is worth listening to. There are one or two lively exchanges between Sr Myra Poole and Sr Roseanne Reddy, and, from the point of view of Catholic teaching, one can feel that some of Sr Myra's positions are not one's that are readily agreed with. A female Buddhist Lama also takes part in the programme, and it is interesting to see the dialogue between Catholicism and Buddhism. A range of issues relating to religious life in the Catholic Church are well debated in the programme, and the difference between the experience of the religious life before the Second Vatican Council and that after the Council is also well portrayed. Do listen to the whole programme, since my selective comments below are not going to give a complete picture of it.

I do think that Sr Myra gives a good witness to the place of prayer in the religious life, perhaps most markedly when she recognises that the younger sisters now joining her order do not benefit from the contemplative foundation that she was able to have. I think the question of obedience, raised by the programme presenter in the context of Sr Myra's advocacy for the ordination of women in the Catholic Church (the introduction to the programme gives the impression that this now constitutes Sr Myra' s work), could have an added element. The point is that Sr Myra's subjective sense that she is following the Holy Spirit in advocating women's ordination is, in obedience, subjected to an objective judgement by her religious superior, and that these two should not be in conflict.

Other questions - such as that of the place of celibacy/chastity in religious life, raised by the negative judgement on it offered by an inserted testimony by Marian Dante, who has left religious life, and then debated by Sr Roseanne - are well debated. What I did find interesting in Marian Dante's testimony was the account of the move from a Convent life with traditional style habit to life lived in small houses wearing a modern style habit that took place in the lady's religious order following the Second Vatican Council. Marian describes herself as moving from a "very institutionalised", isolated existence to one for which she was simply not prepared - deciding to leave as she found herself teaching alongside lay teachers in London with whom she seemed to have little in common. She talks about the "scaffolding of my life" falling away.

At a purely pragmatic level, one can ask whether it was really necessary for her order to so rapidly restructure the experience of its members in the interests of renewal. Might not the transition from Convent based to community based ministry have been more gradually introduced, perhaps with the younger generation leading the transition and the older generation being allowed to retain the previous form of life? But, at the level of principle and, admittedly with the benefit of hindsight, one can ask whether or not this movement "from the Convent" towards "the world" was the right "direction" for a religious order to be taking at all. The style of small community living to which it led is now typical of the communities of the new (lay) movements in the Church, for whom the "direction" it represents is the exact opposite. For these new movements, it represents a movement "from the world" towards "the Church". The styles of life resulting from these two quite opposite "directions" of movement may be very much the same in practical import; but which is the "direction" of movement that most authentically represents Christian living?

But do listen to the whole programme.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Education Sunday

The influence of the Church in the field of education is shown in a special manner by the Catholic school. No less than other schools does the Catholic school pursue cultural goals and the human formation of youth. But its proper function is to create for the school community a special atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity, to help youth grow according to the new creatures they were made through baptism as they develop their own personalities, and finally to order the whole of human culture to the news of salvation so that the knowledge the students gradually acquire of the world, life and man is illumined by faith. So indeed the Catholic school, while it is open, as it must be, to the situation of the contemporary world, leads its students to promote efficaciously the good of the earthly city and also prepares them for service in the spread of the Kingdom of God, so that by leading an exemplary apostolic life they become, as it were, a saving leaven in the human community. [Vatican II Gravissimum Educationis n.8]
Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church has come to articulate its understanding of the work of education in Catholic schools as being one of promoting a "synthesis of faith and life" and a "synthesis of faith and culture" for its students and for the communities in which the school is located. See in particular The Catholic School nn.37ff:
These premises indicate the duties and the content of the Catholic school. Its task is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: the first is reached by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the virtues characteristic of the Christian.
The General Directory for Catechesis n.259ff summarises the Council's statement of the purpose of Catholic schools as follows, and goes on to indicate two particular situations in which a Catholic school might exist:
The Catholic school is a most important locus for human and Christian formation. The declaration of the Second Vatican Council, Gravissimum Educationis "makes a decisive change in the history of Catholic schools: the move from school as institution to school as community". Catholic schools "are no less zealous than other schools in the promotion of culture and in the human formation of young people. It is however, the special function of the Catholic school to:
– develop in the school community an atmosphere animated by a spirit of liberty and charity;
– enable young people, while developing their own personality, to grow at the same time in that new life which has been given them in baptism;
– orientate the whole of human culture to the message of salvation";

The educational task of Catholic schools is bound to be developed along the basis of this concept proposed by the Second Vatican Council. It is accomplished in the school community, to which belong all of those who are directly involved in it: "teachers, management, administrative and auxiliary staff, parents—central in that they are the natural and irreplaceable educators of their own children—and pupils, who are participants and active subjects too of the educational process".

When most students attending a Catholic school belong to families who associate themselves with the school because of its Catholic character, the ministry of the word can be exercised in it in multiple forms: primary proclamation, scholastic religious instruction, catechesis, homily. Two of these forms, however, have a particular importance in the Catholic school: religious instruction in the school and catechesis whose respective characteristics have already been discussed. When students and their families become associated with Catholic schools because of the quality of education offered in the school, or for other possible reasons, catechetical activity is necessarily limited and even religious education—when possible—accentuates its cultural character. The contribution of such schools is always "a service of great value to men", as well as an internal element of evangelization of the Church. Given the plurality of socio-cultural and religious contexts in which the work of Catholic schools is carried on in different nations, it is opportune that the Bishops and the Episcopal Conferences specify the kind of catechetical activity to be implemented in Catholic schools.
In the context of the United Kingdom, historical circumstances and the policy of the Bishops mean that our schools are funded and run on the basis of the first "model"; that is, on the assumption that most families associate themselves with the school because of its Catholic character. One can wonder at how true this assumption really is but, nevertheless, it provides in effect the specification by the Episcopal Conference of the kind of catechetical activity expected in schools. In the context of some current controversies with regard to Catholic schools, I believe that it is worth recognising the possibility of the second type of Catholic school. And, whilst much of the current controversy speaks out about the responsibilities/rights of parents with regard to the education of their children, it should also be recognised that there is also a responsibility of the local Bishop to oversee educational provision in his diocese - there is a duty of educating that belongs to the Church as well as a duty of educating that belongs to parents, though the two are distinct in nature (cf Gravissimum Educationis n.3, The Catholic School n.70 ff). According to The Catholic School n.70:
...The Catholic school in this sense, therefore, receives from the Bishops in some manner the "mandate" of an apostolic undertaking.

The essential element of such a mandate is "union with those whom the Holy Spirit has assigned to rule God's Church" and this link is expressed especially in overall pastoral strategy. "In the whole diocese or in given areas of it the coordination and close interconnection of all apostolic works should be fostered under the direction of the Bishop. In this way all undertakings and organisation, whether catechetical, missionary, charitable, social, family, educational, or any other programme serving a pastoral goal will be coordinated. Moreover, the unity of the diocese will thereby be made more evident". This is something which is obviously indispensable for the Catholic school, inasmuch as it involves "apostolic cooperation on the part of both branches of the clergy, as well as of the religious and the laity".
In the context of present controversy, there are clearly those who do not go along with the diocesan authorities in their coordination of educational work in the diocese, their "overall pastoral strategy". I am not in a position to comment on the rights and wrongs of their views, knowing nothing directly of the situations involved. I do, however, think that the public debate about such situations should give a greater allowance to the rightful responsibilities of a Bishop in his diocese towards educational policy.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ: the Liturgy of the Word

In a large part, the section of the DVD devoted to the Liturgy of the Word provides a descriptive account of that part of the Liturgy of the Mass. It takes the form of a video clip and sections of text taken from the essay that accompanies the whole section on "Celebrating the Eucharist".

According to the catechesis of the DVD, the Liturgy of the Word is to be seen as a dialogue in which God speaks to his people, and the people respond in attentive listening, in song and in a silence that permits the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts. The Ordinary Form provides for more readings, particularly on a Sunday, than did the Extraordinary Form which preceded it, so this is a more significant point in the celebration of the Ordinary Form than it is in the celebration of the Extraordinary Form.

If this is the theory, is it really the experience of our Sunday liturgy? Are we really able to listen to the readings, let alone the homily, with real attention and understanding? At the very least, I think we can recognise that it is a challenge for many of the lay faithful to do this, and that their success in doing it is likely to vary from week to week.

There are two things that I think the DVD communicates well. One is the dynamic of a Word that is read in the Liturgical assembly - and I use that word "assembly" to attempt to echo the three great gatherings of the people of the Old Testament to which Louis Bouyer draws attention, in an analogy to the Eucharistic gathering, at the beginning of chapter 3 of Life and Liturgy. The essay on the DVD gives an account of how the Christian celebration of the Liturgy of the Word has its origins in the participation by the early Christians in the Synagogue worship that comprised precisely such a reading and exposition of the Jewish scriptures; Louis Bouyer's suggestion is that this in turn has a history reaching back to the teaching of Moses on Sinai. It is therefore of the nature of the Liturgy of the Word that it is a liturgy of a word - to act it out as drama or as dance offends the nature of the Liturgy of the Word. God speaks, and we listen. As a Liturgical action, we can take part in this dynamic even if we are not able to achieve a fully attentive listening at a human level; the imperfection of our listening can be carried by the signification of the Liturgical action itself.

The second point that is well communicated is that of the particular dignity that belongs to the reading of the Gospel. The use of a Book of the Gospels on Sundays and great feasts can readily indicate this, even when Mass is celebrated without solemnity. The point is that the Gospel, being an account of the life and action of Our Lord himself represents a higher point of the presence of God in the reading of the Word, and the highest point therefore of the Liturgy of the Word.

A useful adjunct to this section of the DVD is the sections of the Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI Verbum Domini (n.55ff) which talk of the "sacramentality of the word".
The sacramentality of the word can thus be understood by analogy with the real presence of Christ under the appearances of the consecrated bread and wine. By approaching the altar and partaking in the Eucharistic banquet we truly share in the body and blood of Christ. The proclamation of God’s word at the celebration entails an acknowledgment that Christ himself is present, that he speaks to us, and that he wishes to be heard...Christ, truly present under the species of bread and wine, is analogously present in the word proclaimed in the liturgy.
Clearly we ought to listen properly to the reading of Scripture in the ordinary human sense of listening and hearing; but even when we find we are not able to do so, there remains an objective participation in the presence of God in his Word as it is proclaimed in the Liturgical action.

Trads on the run?

First there was the "restoration of the Traditional Mass" - not.

Then there was the "clarification" ...... which never came.

And now there is "panic" (summarised in this round-up at Hermeneutic) because the rumour is that an Instruction is about to roll back the provisions of Summorum Pontificum. Or perhaps not. Or may be. Ah, it must be a real rumour because Damian Thompson has re-posted a version of it.

It does seem to me sensible to expect some sort of instruction in the light of the feedback that was sought from bishops at the third year of implementation of Summorum Pontificum last September. But, of course, traditionalists are not the only members of the faithful who have a stake in that instruction - we all have.

And if traditionalists have over-valued the product from the beginning, then surely they shouldn't be surprised if, sooner or later, they face a degree of disappointment.

The King's Speech

At a certain age it becomes rather rebellious to head off to the pictures on a Friday night - and not to the early evening screening either.

Zero and I went to see The King's Speech last night, before we became the only people in the country who hadn't seen it. It is a film that is well worth seeing. The SIGNIS review summarises the film thus:
... here is a period drama that is strong on character and tension, insightful on the monarchy and its crisis in the mid-30s with the abdication and the outbreak of World War II, with George as the reluctant king.
I am not familiar with the detail of the history involved, so cannot say whether the impressions mentioned below are accurate to the true story.

I enjoyed the care that seems to have been taken with sets, a care that seemed to me to communicate very well the sense of the times being portrayed. I liked, too, some of the camera shots of Colin Firth - one particular one stuck in my mind of his face occupying the left hand side of the screen while the right hand side was empty apart from the background view of the room. Colin Firth's acting is superb - as the SIGNIS review says, you really do believe that he has a stammer.

I was intrigued by the portrayal of the Queen Mother (as those of my generation knew her) in the years before George VI became king. She seems to have been rather pushy, and very keen for the future George VI to see doctors to treat his speech impediment. This contrasts in my mind with the image of the gentle, warm figure that are my own memories of the Queen Mother, and with the very popular figure that she was in her later life.

The times being portrayed in the film offer an interesting perspective on the society of our own times. It was utterly inconceivable that the King should marry a divorcee, in the first instance because of his position as head of the Church of England. However, the film also suggests that this would have been unacceptable in both the general social sphere as well as the political sphere. Today, of course, the first in line to succeed to the throne is married to a divorcee and, whilst that has not been something universally embraced, it has not met with the scale of disapprobation that seems to have arisen in the case of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. There was some careful choreography (civil wedding followed by Church blessing) in order to respect the position of the Church of England, and of the Queen herself, in the delicate situation it presented; and widespread public support, perhaps based in the comparable marital experiences of many in our society today. A BBC website news report is here.

Another interesting point, shown in the text of the speech that Colin Firth delivers as King George VI on the day of the declaration of war on Nazi Germany, is the acceptability of reference to Christian faith in the public sphere. The speech openly asks its hearers to commit the cause of the war against Germany to God, in the expectation that they will then prevail. A recording of the original is here. In the light of more recent events, it offers an interesting apologia for the engagement in war. I do not think that the relation to Christian faith would be so readily made today.

Oh, and smoking of course. Colin Firth as (future) George VI is regularly shown lighting up, though Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue criticises him for doing so, and bans him from smoking in his consulting room on the grounds that it is not good for his voice.

The newspaper adverts for The King's Speech indicate that it contains some swearing in the context of speech therapy. The warning does not give an indication of just how much swearing there is. There is a lot. Whilst I at no point felt that I wished I wasn't there hearing it (when I saw Four Weddings and a Funeral that is how I felt after the first four words, and if you have seen that film, you will know what I am referring to - if you haven't seen it, don't bother finding out), Zero's asking me about it afterwards (I am sensitive about the subject!) has prompted two thoughts. At the time portrayed in the film, such extensive use of foul language would not have been acceptable in public so, even though its use is being portrayed in the privacy of the speech therapy, the extent shown in the film is probably excessive. If less swearing had actually been included, then a more accurate picture of the times would have been communicated. The second thought is about the appropriateness of the 12A rating given by the British Board of Film Classification. This rating says that the film is suitable for unaccompanied children age 12 and above. My view is that the extent of the swearing makes this film unsuitable for the 12-14 year age group, and that it should attract at least a 15 rating. I am surprised that the smoking hasn't made it an 18 in any case ....

Zero didn't feel that this thoroughly English film would appeal to the voters for the Oscars, lacking an appeal to an American audience.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Lambourne End

It should really be a film title, shouldn't it? It was the start and end point of the walk that Zero and I did last weekend. It is worth remembering that all of this is just 10 minutes drive from where we live.

The first part of this walk is in Hainault Forest. An emergency call to start with, necessitating a diversion from the planned route:

The route of the planned first part of our walk shown in red, the diversion in blue:

Next, it was the meadows behind the rather posh houses of Chigwell Row (in effect, their back gardens):

Didn't get a photograph of the waterworks, though, as the map above suggests, there are lovely views across east London from that part of the walk. The section of the walk from Old Farm up to Pudding Lane takes you up a hill that also gives good views behind you across east London and, to your left, over towards the southernmost end of the M11.

And ending here, back where we had begun, for dinner:

Muddiness rating: moderate.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

The NHS: fragmented care

The broadcast media yesterday were full of coverage of a report about the quality of care given to elderly people in the National Health Service.
The NHS is failing to treat elderly patients in England with care, dignity and respect, an official report says.

The Health Service Ombudsman came to the conclusion after carrying out an in-depth review of 10 cases.
The BBC News website report can be found here. The news release from the Health Service Ombudsman is here; the full text of the report is here.

It was interesting to listen to much of the coverage, and to read a blog post (and its comments) such as this one by Fr Ray. Much was said about nursing staff, their training and their need to be more caring. But two things struck me.

The first is perhaps the less significant one in terms of the daily practice on hospital wards or in GP's surgeries. And that is that a culture in which euthanasia, and/or the idea that living at the end of your life when you are ill is something that is unwelcome and to be avoided, are entertained as a legitimate options of thought and practice - such a culture has a deep rooted ambivalence about the care given to elderly patients. It will not be that there is a definite attitude of "we should not care" about the elderly, more that, at the level of culture, there will be a hesitation about it. How far this affects health care practitioners in their day-to-day work is difficult to assess but it does have a presence in the culture.

The second is much more significant in terms of daily practice on hospital wards. This is the phenomenon that I have come to think of as "fragmented care". On a typical NHS ward, qualified nurses (and perhaps student nurses on placement) are responsible for providing clinical aspects of care to patients - dispensing drugs, inserting IV lines, changing dressings etc. Health care assistants are responsible for things like washing patients, making them comfortable, changing beds and the like. They now take and record patient observations (temperature, blood pressure, blood oxygenation), though they do not make clinical decisions based on those observations. Patient meals can be the responsibility of the staff of a third party provider in addition to this. Whilst specialist aspects of patient care - physiotherapy, occupational therapy - have often been provided by people with those specialist skills, I think there is now more than in the past the provision of different components of patient care on a ward by different people. "Fragmented care".

At one level, this is purely a question of organising how the work is carried out, and, provided that the work is well organised and carried out conscientiously, it is not to the disadvantage of the patient. But I think it does also have an implicit ethical component. Clinical care is separated from personal care, the technical/skilled care from the care of the person - the realm of the nurse from that of the health care assistant. In some of the experiences related in the Ombudsman's report and in the media coverage this has been expressed as "That's not my job". The care due to the person of the patient, though, is a single phenomenon of care - so that the care that a nurse gives when setting up an IV drip or an oxygen mask is at one with that given by the health care assistant who washes the patient in the morning. If the care is truly to be the care for a person, rather than just the care for a body, then this unity of the phenomenon of care needs to be recognised and practised.

Clearly, it will never be possible for all the care provided to a patient in hospital to be given by one person, and that is not something that would be sensible to ask for. But the structural separation of "clinical care" from "personal care" is perhaps something that should be reversed or overcome. It would appear from the Ombudsman's report that elderly patients would be particular beneficiaries of such a change.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Lourdes Magazine: "The spirit of Tibhirine is alive"

The January-February 2011 issue of Lourdes Magazine carries an interview with Brother Jean Pierre, one of two monks who survived the attack on the Cistercian monastery at Tibhirine in 1996, after which seven of the monks were killed. Brother Jean Pierre and Brother Amedee, the other survivor, continue their monastic life in Morocco.

Brother Jean Pierre wrote the following in a letter sent to Lourdes Magazine in November 2010:
We were lucky to obtain a DVD of the film "Of Gods and Men". I like it very much, because it really conveys the message of what was experienced during these three dangerous years by the Community, the reasons for choosing to stay, and the difficult unanimous commitment. I like the departure in the snow, towards the mystery of the total gift of self in communion with the oblation of Christ so that the reign of Love may come on our suffering earth ... I am amazed by what the actors of the film experienced as they managed to self-obliterate so perfectly in order to enter into the spirit of the message and the people they had to represent ... I think the Holy Spirit is at work here.
When the interview asks Brother Jean Pierre what is the secrect of the monks friendship with the Muslims who surround the monastery, he answers:
Prayer. In Tibhirine the bells of the monastery rang and the Muslims never asked us to prevent them from ringing. There was a mutual respect at the very heart of our common vocation: to adore God, to praise Him and sing his glory. In Morocco, we also live this communion in prayer when we get up at night to pray at the same time as our Muslum neighbours are awakened by the muezzin. The fidelity to the times of prayer is the secret of our friendship with the Muslims. We want to be in God's presence with them, be true to ourselves in this inner light that only silence gives. Muslims teach us to pray ....
I wonder if Brother Jean Pierre's experience, and that of the two monasteries in which he has lived in the Atlas, can shed some light on the choice of a bell as one of the key symbols for the 50th International Eucharistic Congress?

Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and the World Day of the Sick

In Brentwood Diocese, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is celebrated with the Liturgical rank of feast. This is because Our Lady of Lourdes is one the patrons of the Diocese.

Paul Zalonski has posted a nice reflection for the feast.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Tahrir Square

Depending solely on the media coverage means that we probably do not have a full understanding of events taking place in Egypt at the moment. The initial protests were met with a fierce attempt at suppression by the police, since when Tahrir Square has seen mass protests, violence as pro-Mubarak forces attacked the anti-Mubarak protestors in the Square, and the Friday prayers of protestors. At least one BBC report suggests that there has been a very significant collaboration between Christians and Muslims in the anti-Mubarak protests:
Scrawled on the concrete pillar of a flyover was the symbol of a Muslim crescent embracing the Christian cross and the words: "We are all against the regime". During the big "Day of Departure" protest in Tahrir Square last Friday, Coptic Christian protesters made a human chain around their Muslim brothers and sisters as they performed the noon prayers..... The sign of the crescent embracing the cross was everywhere: From the careful calligraphy of the handmade placards, to slogans picked out in stones on the floor.

In history, Tahrir Square will, I suspect, become an icon not just for the people of Egypt but for people throughout the world. But an icon of what?

The human aspiration for freedom. For the secularised, developed nations, that an aspiration for freedom can be so clearly pursued within the practice of Islam is going to take some understanding.

An appeal for a secular state, and not for a theocracy. We have to be careful about this - and this is why I think the images of the Friday prayers in Tahrir Square are important. The appeal for a secular state does not mean the absence of religious practice and belief from society; quite the contrary. What it does mean is that appropriate autonomy of the political sphere from one religious authority, something about which Pope Benedict has spoken on many occasions and to which he referred during his visit to the United Kingdom. This has been one of the clear points emerging from the coverage of events in Tahrir Square, and it explains why Christian and Muslim can pray side by side in the square. It is interesting to see this being advocated from a Muslim perspective as well as a Christian perspective.

Sadly, also of the violence with which a repressive regime, essentially what we would call a "police state", can suppress its people. The violence perpetrated against the demonstrators reminds us of the suppression of opposition by the Communist regimes of a now-past era in Eastern Europe. The fundamental principle - violence used to suppress freedom - appears to be much the same.

A sense of Egyptian nationhood. Some of the images from Tahrir Square show demonstrators waving Egyptian flags or painting their faces in the national colours. Where, before the protests began, Egyptian nationhood would have been seen as being expressed in the person of the President, now that sense of nationhood is seen to rest with the demonstrators. There is an interesting reflection to be had with regard to what it is that constitutes nationhood for the people of Egypt. One implication seems to be the potential to build unity between those of the majority Muslim population and the minority Christian community. For a country like the United Kingdom, where the sense of national identities and its connection to the idea of a state is long established, the question of nationhood (expressed most recently in the discussion of multiculturalism) is prompted by the arrival among us of peoples of different cultures and beliefs. Perhaps we have something to learn from the Egyptian model. A key feature of that model has been the practice of religious faith by those involved in the protests. Perhaps a restoration of religious life and practice, yes, with an appropriate secularity of the state with regard to any one religion, is a key element to successful nationhood?

Thursday, 10 February 2011

"Physically ill": a Prime Minister on votes for prisoners

Imprisonment, after due legal process, as a sanction for those who break the law is acceptable as a practice in this country, and in any other country. Human rights principles, as expressed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, in the European Convention on Human Rights and, indeed, in Catholic social teaching, put the emphasis on the existence of due process and rule of law to make this a right thing to do. The question of imprisonment, purely in itself, is not unethical.

Imprisonment involves the deprivation of a person's liberty; it involves a restriction of a person's "stake", of their participation in society, in most cases for a period of time before that restriction is then removed. My own view happens to be that imprisonment should have this effect of restricting, rather than removing completely, a person's participation in society. In practice, this implies that programmes of education, rehabilitation or personal development should be available during a prison sentence. Family and societal support should also be available. All of this being subject to a test of reasonableness and appropriateness to the prisoner's particular situation. One could argue that it is part of the agenda for social cohesion.

So the idea that prisoners should be able to vote, due to be debated in Parliament today, does not seem to me to be unreasonable.

My problem is with David Cameron's reported remark, being repeated on the radio today, that he feels "physcially ill" at the thought of giving convicted prisoners the right to vote. If he had made this remark about any other group in society, there would have been uproar. Why is there not uproar because it was made about prisoners?

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Lord cares for Man in Every Situation

When Pope Benedict XVI spoke at his Angelus address on 6th February, his remarks made reference to three different contexts. He spoke of the World Day of the Sick, which occurs on Friday, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. He referred to the "Day for Life", that was being marked in Italy on 6th February. And he referred to the presence at the Angelus of delegations taking part in a conference on the topic health assistance during pregnancy, a conference sponsored by the gynaecology and obstetrics departments of the University of Rome.
I invite everyone to contemplate Jesus, the Son of God, who suffered and died but is risen. God is radically opposed to the arrogance of evil. The Lord cares for man in every situation, shares his suffering and opens his heart to hope. Thus I exhort all health workers to see in the sick person not only a body marked by fragility, but first of all a person, to whom complete solidarity must be extended and adequate and competent responses given. In this context I further observe that today is the "Day for Life" in Italy. I hope that everyone will work to make the culture of life grow, to put the value of the human being at the center in every circumstance. According to faith and reason the dignity of the person is irreducible to his faculties or the capacities he can manifest, and so it is not lessened when the person himself is weak, handicapped and in need of help....When scientific and technological research are guided by authentic ethical values it is possible to find adequate solutions for the welcoming of nascent life and the promotion of maternity. It is my wish that the new generations of health workers are the bearers of a renewed culture of life.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Can a Christian pray with the Koran?

The title is a bit provocative, suggesting as it does that a Christian might use the Koran for prayer in a kind of substitution for the Bible. That isn't what this post is really about.

Fr Christian de Cherge was the prior of the Cistercian monastery at Tibhirine, in Algeria, and was one of the seven monks of that monastery who were killed in 1996. The story of the events at the monastery is the subject of the film Des hommes et des Dieux. I am currently reading - extremely slowly - a study of Fr de Cherge's theology and experience of Moslem-Catholic dialogue. A chapter of this book is dedicated to "The reading of the Koran". For Christian de Cherge, the reading and study of the Koran formed part of his particular vocation in the Church; it arises from his specific charism rather than because he felt that it was something every Catholic should do. However, his understanding of what this involved is very carefully articulated, and very nuanced.

Christian de Cherge frequently wrote that he underook lectio divina with the Koran. When this is put into the context of the monastic life of a Cistercian community, it is important to realise that this was not a replacement of meditation on the Biblical texts by meditation on texts of the Koran. It should perhaps be more accurately seen as something undertaken alongside the more conventional Christian lectio divina. Fr de Cherge characterised the Koran as
..that which the other has received for their own ("en propre", in the original French) to support in them the taste for God...
Christian's articulation of the place that the non-Christian religions have in the design of God, and in relation to Christian faith, is quite careful. In his thought, and in his lived experience, he is not able to discern what is that design, but he looks forward to its being revealed to him when he enters heaven. So when he writes of the Koran as being "received" by Moslems he does not assert that the Koran is a supernatural gift to them but is instead recognising that in the mysterious disposition of God it is something that they possess for their good.

Christian is also clear that the Koran is a book that belongs to Moslems as their own proper possession and that, though a Christian might read, study and meditate upon it, they should not appropriate it. This has an aspect of respect towards the properly Moslem text; but it also says clearly that the Koran, as the sacred writings of the Moslem religion, should not be put on the same footing as the Bible, the sacred writings of the Christian religion. The two scriptures should not be confounded with each other, something that can be said from both the Christian side and from the Moslem side. In a very nuanced phrase, Christian could consider the Koran as having "an original link to the Totally-Other", though he is not able to fully describe the nature of that link. But he never wishes to give to the Koran and the Bible any sense of equivalence.

This has an implication for the way in which Christian de Cherge uses the text of the Koran and the text of the Bible. He reads them "side-by-side", and does not compare and contrast them to give one text a value over and above the other. Where he uses a text from the Koran that has a parallel to a text from the Bible, Christian in effect comments on both of the two texts, using the Koranic text to provide a comment on the Biblical text and vice-versa; he lets the two texts co-respond to each other. In this way he is neither offering a Christian interpretation of the Koran nor a Koranic interpretation of the Bible. The French title of a section of this chapter captures this in the word "L'intertextualite" - inter-textuality.

Christian writes that he experienced at times a sense of hearing the Word as he meditated upon the Koran, a charismatic sense of the presence of God in the words that he was reading. Again, to make sure that we understand this essentially charismatic gift - Christian is in no way asserting that the Koran is a supernatural revelation, only that it has enabled him, in the context of his unique vocation in the Church, to experience the Word of God - we have to place it in the context of Christian's understanding of the place of the Moslem religion within the design of God referred to above. Christian can write that the Moslem and the Christian have in common an experience of the Word of God; but, for the Christian, that Word is incarnate in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, whereas, for the Moslem, that Word is the written word of the Koran. For both, the Word is One and Unique.

What would Christian de Cherge's answer be to the question posed in the title of this post? If the question means using the Koran as a source of texts for use in Christian prayer, and in particular in the Liturgy, I think he would answer "No". This would represent the appropriation of the Koranic text by the Christian believer and, from the Christian point of view, an inappropriate substitution of that which is properly Christian (the Bible) by that which really belongs to Moslems. If the question means that Christians should gain an experience of the Koran as part of their engagement in Moslem-Christian inter-religious dialogue, then the answer might be "Yes".

Why I shall stand firm ...

.. in the Anglican catholic tradition" is the heading of the Credo column in yesterday's Times newspaper. It was written (the column, that is, not necessarily the headline) by Rt Rev Geoffrey Rowell, the Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe. It is a very articulate explanation of why an Anglo-Catholic might wish to remain in the Church of England after the double impact of the prospective ordination of women as bishops in the Church of England and the establishment of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in the Roman Catholic Church. It is of interest because it argues from theological principle and does not speak at the political level of "staying and continuing the fight". It is also an extremely courteous article in every respect.

I was interested to read how Bishop Rowell understands the departure of five Anglican bishops to join the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and therefore how he understands the idea of the ordinariate itself. He writes of
..the ordinariate set up by Pope Benedict for Anglicans who wish to give priority to the quest for unity and reconciliation between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, which Anglicans as a whole had welcomed warmly in the days of Archbishop Michael Ramsey..
Bishop Rowell views the welcoming of Anglican patrimony in the ordinariate as an affirmation of the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission and a challenge to Anglicans to identify exactly what that patrimony is and was. He goes on to suggest that the Anglican Covenant (and the Declaration of Assent required of Church of England clergy - see foot of the page linked) defines the nature of Anglicanism and that it is never a matter of an "anything goes" idea of Anglicanism. In essence, it is suggesting that the Anglican Communion is a part of the wider, universal Church of God expressed in different ecclesial bodies. It is very cogently argued, but there is a distinct feel that it is about giving a Catholic interpretation to something that would equally bear a Protestant interpretation. It is classical Anglo-Catholicism in the tradition of the Tractarian movement, with the plea that goes with that:
Ever since [the English Reformation] Anglicans have held that those ordained as bishops, priests and deacons, are ordained as bishops, priests and deacons of the Church of God. Change in that ordering of ministry is therefore a matter not just for the Church of England or the Anglican Communion but for all those Churches who claim to share that ministry. Developments in faith and order need this wider reference.
Towards the end of his article, Bishop Rowell gives an account of a meeting in November last with Pope Benedict XVI.
At the end of November I was privileged to have an audience with Pope Benedict, and was able to say to him that, as an Anglican bishop, standing in the catholic Anglican tradition, I - with others - wished to continue to witness to the catholic identity of Anglicanism, and received his encouragement to do so.
It would be something quite interesting if, in a kind of mirror to the beginning of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, there were to be a renewed witness to the catholic tradition within the Church of England. Clearly, in the historical context, this should be looked for at the level of charisms, the level of testimony, rather than that of the structures of the Church of England. Such a witness would be an impulse towards unity and it is this that enables us to understand why, in addition to his natural courtesy, Pope Benedict gave the encouragement to Bishop Rowell that he did.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

We should call dissent by its name

Two reports seen upon the ether in the last 24 hours have made for depressing reading. The first, and most alarming, is the report of a letter signed by one third of German speaking, Catholic professors of theology. Protect the Pope has perhaps the most pertinent comment on this. Laodicea's reaction - I am left speechless - probably reflects my own, though the comments to that post also make instructive reading.

One can perhaps see this as an example of crisis of faith as far as those engaged in the Catholic theological enterprise are concerned, a crisis of the faith of theologians. But, if the comments to Laodicea's post are an indication, and the likely support for the said theologicans that one would find if one conducted a straw poll in an average parish this weekend, then we also have a crisis of catechesis among the ordinary faithful.

The second report, which appears less alarming, is that of the call by priests in Ireland for their bishops to "delay by five years" (in real terms, stop) the implementation of the new English translation of the Roman Missal. A Catholic Herald report covers this, though the comments to it are not all helpful. What is worrying about this report is the grounds that it appears to give for opposing the new translation, grounds which seem to reflect the same sort of agenda that underlies the German memorandum. Worth noting on this second report, though, that the call by the said priests for the bishops to begin consultation passes over in silence the years of drafting and consultation that have gone in to preparing the new translation ...

I do not have exceptional political experience, though I do have some. And that experience leads me to recognise that letters with multiple signatures are not taken that seriously by politicians who receive them. When someone signs a letter that has been hawked round and put in front of them to sign, it does not always mean very much. Sometimes they haven't even read it before they have signed it (my political experience does include a rather spectacular example of this, though I suspect that university professors would have the intelligence to read something before signing it). Similarly, membership organisations might well adopt a policy on the basis of the views of their active membership without it necessarily representing the views of all their subscribing membership. So one should perhaps not give the two reports more weight than they really have.

The establishing of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in England, and the prospect of Ordinariate's in Australia and Canada, does, I think, contribute two useful contexts. The first is that it is the Catechism of the Catholic Church that is given as the measure, the rule of faith, for those members of the Church of England who join the Catholic Church in membership of an Ordinariate. This is, of course, a rule of faith that extends throughout the Catholic Church, and is presented precisely as such in the Apostolic Constituion Fidei Depositum that accompanied the publication of the Catechism. Used to judge the letter of the German theologians I expect that it will readily show that to be the dissent that it is.

The catechetical and theological crisis though arises because of the lack of the sense of the Catechism, or of similar teaching, as being authoritative for members of the Catholic Church. We need a restoration of the sense of a rule of faith handed down in the Church - not in an authoritative and fideistic manner, but after the manner of obedient acceptance in faith, hope and charity. The Ordinariate can highlight this for us.

But, if the Ordinariates do allow for married priests, albeit with qualification, and a slightly more synodical style of governance, I do think it is legitimate to ask the question: why cannot this also be allowed in the more common diocesan structures? Unfortunately, the German theologians have mixed this question with clear dissent.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ: Sacred Signs

I have been praising the DVD Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ, as I have found the sections that I have viewed very useful and informative. I continued my exploration of the DVD by looking at the section on Sacred Signs. This can be found by following the path Exploring the Mass-Theological Reflections, and clicking on the link to Sacred Signs.

This section of the DVD did raise a concern in my mind, that concern being more of a catechetical nature than of a stricly theological nature. The video clip in this section gives an explanation of the significance of the  water, of bread, of wine, of light and darkness in the Liturgy of the Church. It is at one level a very neat and well presented explanation. It's approach can be summarised by a phrase used part way through the clip:
[they are] signs out of the world, but used as sacred signs in the Liturgy.
At the very end of the clip, the speaker makes the connection between the symbolism of light and darkness, and what they tell us about the person of Jesus, and the Scriptural origin of this symbolism in St John's Gospel. And, whilst the presentation of the other sacred signs in the video clip is good, it does not indicate for us this aspect of each of those signs. One can look at them not only as "signs out of the world" but also as signs that are designated for us in the history of salvation, in the Old and in the New Testaments. It is this designation that gives the signs their "sacred" character though, as the video clip very ably shows, nature has in a way prepared them to receive this character. From a catechetical point of view, this Biblical origin of our sacred signs is more determining of the Church's use of those signs in its Liturgy than their being "signs out of the world", and it is the aspect that is missing from much contemporary catechesis for first Holy Communion. It is this origin that enables a catechist to teach them as being something that is "of God" rather than just being a "special" form of what we do in every day life.

This is not to say that the Biblical aspect of the signs used in the Liturgy is absent from the DVD. The text resources in this section, for example, include the prayer for the blessing of water used at baptism:
O God, who by invisible power
accomplish a wondrous effect
through sacramental signs,
and who in many ways have prepared water, your creation,
to show forth the grace of Baptism;

O God, whose Spirit
in the first moments of the world’s creation
hovered over the waters,
so that the very substance of water
would even then take to itself the power to sanctify;

O God, who by the outpouring of the flood
foreshadowed regeneration,
so that from the mystery of one and the same element of water
would come an end to vice and a beginning of virtue;

O God, who caused the children of Abraham
to pass dry-shod through the Red Sea,
so that the chosen people,
set free from slavery to Pharaoh,
would prefigure the people of the baptized;

O God, whose Son,
baptized by John in the waters of the Jordan,
was anointed with the Holy Spirit,
and, as he hung upon the Cross,
gave forth water from his side along with blood,
and, after his Resurrection, commanded his disciples:
“Go forth, teach all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit,” look now, we pray, upon the face of your Church
and graciously unseal for her the fountain of Baptism.

May this water receive by the Holy Spirit
the grace of your Only Begotten Son,
so that human nature, created in your image,
and washed clean through the sacrament of Baptism
from all the squalor of the life of old,
may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children
through water and the Holy Spirit.

May the power of the Holy Spirit,
O Lord, we pray, come down through your Son
into the fullness of this font,
so that all who have been buried with Christ
by Baptism into death
may rise to life with him.

Who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

R. Amen.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Pope Benedict XVI's homily for the Feast of the Presentation 2011

ZENIT have published the full text of Pope Benedict's homily for yesterday's Feast, and for the World Day for Consecrated Life.
I would like to propose three brief thoughts for reflection on this feast. The first: the evangelical icon of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple contains the essential symbol of light; the light that, coming from Christ, shines on Mary and Joseph, on Simeon and Anna and, through them, on everyone. The Fathers of the Church linked this radiation to the spiritual journey. Consecrated life expresses this journey, in a special way as "philocalia," love of divine beauty, reflection of the goodness of God (cf. ibid., No. 19). Resplendent on Christ's face is this beauty.. "....a singular experience of the light that emanates from the Word incarnate are certainly those called to the consecrated life. In fact, the profession of the evangelical counsels places them as sign and prophecy for the community of brothers and for the world" (postsynodal apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata No. 15).

In the second place, the evangelical icon manifests the prophecy, gift of the Holy Spirit. Simeon and Anna, contemplating the Child Jesus, perceive his destiny of death and resurrection for the salvation of all peoples and proclaim this mystery as universal salvation. Consecrated life is called to this prophetic witness, linked to its twofold attitude, contemplative and active. Given to consecrated men and women, in fact, is to manifest the primacy of God, passion for the Gospel practiced as a way of life and proclaimed to the poor and to the last of the earth. ..... consecrated life, in its daily living on the paths of humanity, manifests the Gospel and the Kingdom already present and operative.

In the third place, the evangelical icon of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple manifests the wisdom of Simeon and Anna, the wisdom of a life dedicated totally to the search of the face of God, of his signs, of his will; a life dedicated to listening and to proclaiming his Word.

It must be true, it was in the Times

From the "Dr Mark" column, on page 9, in the bodysoulhealth section of the Times on Tuesday 1st February 2011. The punchline comes at the end, and still amuses even though I have had a few days to reflect on the possibility that the claim made in the last sentence has some sort of basis in reality. However, there are at least two other points that are worthy of noting in addition to the punchline. Do try and spot them.
The doctor at my daughter's university has suggested that she switch from the contraceptive pill to a long-term implant because it is more effective. But I have been worried by recent reports of high failure rates. Is it really the better option?
There is no single best option for everyone - good contraceptive advice involves tailoring it to the individual - but there has recently been a move away from the Pill for younger women because of the high failure rate (if you put 20 teenagers on the Pill, at least one will get pregnant every year).
Implanon (or Nexplanon as it is now called) has a number of advantages over the combined pill: it can't be forgotten, it is not affected by other medicines, or by sickness and diarrhoea, and it doesn't contain any oestrogen (the hormone associated with health problems such as blood clots and breast cancer).
As to recent publicity involving failure rates, I am afraid these were blown out of all proportion. No contraceptive is 100 per cent effective, but Implanon is as close as you can get. Even taking into consideration recent failures (often due to incorrect insertion), it is on a par with, if not better than, sterilisation.
At the time of media coverage of the legal cases with regard to Implanon, I recall hearing a representative of the legal team who had represented women successfully claiming against their medical service providers being very careful to say that the successful claims were all based on evidence of incorrect insertion.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord: Day for Consecrated Life

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is kept in the Church as a Day for Consecrated Life. Speaking to religious on this day in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI said the following (my italics added):
...the sacrifice of the Son of God symbolized by his presentation in the Temple is the model for every man and woman who consecrates their life totally to the Lord. The purpose of this Day is threefold: first of all to praise and thank the Lord for the gift of consecrated life; secondly to promote knowledge and appreciation of it among the whole People of God and lastly to invite all those who have dedicated their life totally to the cause of the Gospel to celebrate the marvels that the Lord has worked in them....

... it is precisely and only on the basis of this faith, on this profession of faith in Jesus Christ, the only and definitive Mediator, that consecrated life, a life consecrated to God through Christ, has meaning in the Church. It has meaning only if he is truly the mediator between God and us; otherwise it would merely be a form of sublimation or of escape. If Christ were not truly God and at the same time fully man, the foundation of Christian life as such would be lacking as, in quite a significant way, would the foundation of every Christian consecration of man and woman. The consecrated life, in fact, "powerfully" witnesses and expresses the reciprocal seeking of God and man, the love that attracts them to each other. The very fact of being consecrated makes the consecrated person, as it were, a "bridge" to God for all who encounter him or her, a reminder, a reference point. And this is all by virtue of the mediation of Jesus Christ, the Consecrated One of the Father. He is the foundation! He who shared our weaknesses so that we might participate in his divine nature.