Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Fr Gregory Carling ordained at Parkminster

Parkminster 005

Congratulations to Fr Gregory Carling who was ordained today at St Hugh's Charterhouse, Parkminster. This is the first ordination at Parkminster for many years. God willing there will be some more ordinations and solemn professions over the next few years.

Parkminster 013The local Ordinary, Bishop Kieran Conry, celebrated the Mass, assisted by Bishop Richard Moth, a long-time friend of the Charterhouse. There were more than a dozen others concelebrating: it was rather a tight squeeze on the small sanctuary of the extern chapel. The plainchant was a trap for unwary priests accustomed to the Roman chant. The Carthusian chant is sometimes quite similar but you can be caught out by minor differences.

After Mass, there was a reception in the external guest house and time to chat until a lunch held for the bishops, and a few close family and friends. It was great to catch up with the three monks who had come from Pluscarden - Fr Gregory had been a member of their community before joining the Carthusians. Lunch ended with a small glass of Green Chartreuse: you only need a small glass.

In the afternoon, I gave my usual lecture to the novices and simply professed (today's session was on the Church as Communion.) Vespers was followed by Fr Gregory's blessing of the community, given in the Chapter House with its striking paintings of the martyrdom of the Carthusians under Henry VIII.


The novice master will be sending me a file of the booklet that was used for the Mass: I told him that chant afficionados would be most interested.

A most sensible statement by the SSPX

The USA district of the Society of Saint Pius X has replied to a news report implying that the SSPX promotes geocentrism as a Catholic teaching based upon the Bible. As well as pointing out that the SSPX holds no such position, the SSPX has issued a sensible statement on the relative competence of the scientist and the theologian:
As declared by Pope Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus, science cannot contradict the Faith:
There can never… be any real discrepancy between the theologian and the physicist, as long as each confines himself within his own lines, and both are careful, as St. Augustine warns us, "not to make rash assertions, or to assert what is not known as known.
Even today, many commonly-held tenets of natural science are merely theories, not certainties. This is not the case with the Catholic Faith, which is a certainty.

The Church’s magisterium authoritatively teaches on the correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture. As Pope Pius XII taught in Divino Afflatu Spiritu:
"The Holy Ghost, Who spoke by them [the sacred writers], did not intend to teach men these things—that is the essential nature of the things of the universe..."; which principle "will apply to cognate sciences…”
Providentissimus Deus also states that Scripture does not give scientific explanations and many of its texts use “figurative language” or expressions “commonly used at the time”, still used today “even by the most eminent men of science” (like the word “sunrise”). Such expressions are not scientific teachings about the cosmic world.

So Catholics should not use the Bible to assert explanations about natural science, but may in good conscience hold to any particular cosmic theory. Being faithful to the Church’s magisterium, the Society of St. Pius X holds fast to these principles: no more and no less. 
Catholics are free to hold geocentrism if they wish, and they are also free to deny evolution; but neither position is essential to the Catholic faith and it is a serious concern if either is seen to be necessary for the true traditionalist.

In the case of evolution, we may not hold that the soul "evolves" from matter - which would in any case be nonsense philosophically. The soul is spirit, not matter and therefore cannot evolve with or from matter but is directly created by God at the first moment of conception. However we are free (but not obliged) to accept an evolutionary view of the development of the material universe.

The SSPX does not enter this discussion but their statement sets out some important fundamental principles for those who do. If you are interested in using science as a part of apologetics, you may be interested in some of the Faith Movement's pamphlets in the Reasons for Believing series.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Restaurant sign Fail

Sometimes English is used as a sign of chic on continental Europe. Sometimes that doesn't quite work.

Luxembourg 129

I dread to think what you might be served up with at a place offering Second-Hand food and drink. Here is Fr Briggs outside a Brasserie that seems to promise more fun:


In fact we ate a light breakfast at a place with a sign whose subtitle indicated a quality which suited us:

Luxembourg 143

Notre Dame Cathedral in Luxembourg

Luxembourg 012

Recently I read Michael Rose's "Ugly as Sin" and was struck by the comments in that book about Church doors. Many modern Churches have doors with glass in them as a way of expressing openness to the world or something. The fact is that if it is daylight when you look through a door that has glazed panels, you see a relatively dark interior and probably a lobby first of all. I hadn't realised before how important it was that so many doors of fine Churches evangelise through their imagery.

Above you can see the entrance of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Luxembourg with a crowned statue of Our Lady, flanked by St Peter and St Paul. Below, St Ignatius and St Francis show the Jesuit influence in Luxembourg.

Sadly, the High altar has been denuded and the principal altar is now an uninspiring block. Nevertheless, the sanctuary is still dominated by the statue of Our Lady, Consoler of the Afflicted who has been the object of honour in the city since 1624 when the Jesuits carried her statue through the city, urging devotion to her during the ravages of the 30 years war.

Luxembourg 025

Our Lady was given the keys of the City in 1666 when she was formally nominated as Patroness of the City. The devotion was transposed to the United States when many Luxembourgers emigrated there in the 19th century. (You can read more at the Institut Grand-Ducal.)

The Church should not only raise the mind and heart to God as the visitor enters, but also on his departure:

Luxembourg 016

I have other photos of Luxembourg at my Flickr collection and will be adding more in due course.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Two fun photos from WYD

I don't look at FB much nowadays and had forgotten that my young parishioners would have put up their WYD photos there. The above one shows the firemen spraying the crowd. Below you can see how one lad got a better vantage point for his photos with the help of a few mates and an unused pallet.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Snippets from World Youth Day

Rome Reports compiled this great video of some of the best pictures from the World Youth Day and, of course, plenty of others have given great accounts of their experiences. The Catholic Herald has done a fine job - many of the articles are online but there is more in the print edition.

I spent time today reading some of the Holy Father's addresses. My own sermon this weekend is going to include this passage from the sermon at the Mass (though there were many others to choose from):
I ask you, dear friends, to love the Church which brought you to birth in the faith, which helped you to grow in the knowledge of Christ and which led you to discover the beauty of his love. Growing in friendship with Christ necessarily means recognizing the importance of joyful participation in the life of your parishes, communities and movements, as well as the celebration of Sunday Mass, frequent reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and the cultivation of personal prayer and meditation on God’s word.
I particularly liked the story of how Deacon James Bradley was informed about being invited to sing the Gospel at the welcoming ceremony. Fr Langridge of Southwark Vocations, who is always very active in getting young people to attend World Youth Days, texted him with the message:
James I’ve arranged for you to read the Gospel at the welcoming ceremony for the Pope at WYD. Let me know if that’s a problem
Auntie Joanna writes quite a bit describing the event with great enthusiasm. This was matched by some young parishioners I was able to chat to yesterday after Adoration and Benediction. I hope to hear from some others tomorrow and will ask them to do an evening for the parish to show us their photos and tell us about it all. Here is one photo from LIFE which includes Anna from Blackfen - bottom right hand corner next to the policeman:

That prime position in the crowd took six hours of waiting in the sun. An interesting detail from the long wait:
We spoke with the policeman in front of us before the ceremony, he said he wasn't very interested in the Pope, he'd worked on security when the pope visited Santiago, and thought the occasions were overhyped. He had tears in his eyes when the pope actually arrived... you can see him turning round to have a look on the picture :)

QR Codes

Fr Z has a poll running called QR Code and You. After checking on Google, I realised that they were those funny square things with dots that I had never got round to finding out about.

I now have a new poster to advertise the parish website, complete with QR code:
Now - must get a mobile version set up for the website...

... that's done now. So you can scan the QR code, jump slightly as whatever funny notification sound tells you that it is recognised, then watch your mobile screen take you to Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen mobile version.

We have just had some excellent news of a better than ever World Youth Day so please excuse me for a temporary lapse but this is way too cool.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Augusta Treverorum

Trier Dom BW 24

Photo credit: Berthold Werner Wikimedia Commons

Just 45 minutes on the train (with a fare of 8.40 euro) from Luxembourg City is Trier, the oldest city in Germany, and the birthplace of St Ambrose. We entered via the Porta Nigra, reckoned to be the best preserved Roman city gate, walked down to the the Hauptmarkt and visited the Cathedral Church of St Peter. Unfortunately, the Liebfrauenkirche is currently closed for works. I have some photos, but unfortunately the (massively annoying) internet connection here in Luxembourg will not let me upload them to flickr so I have found the above at Wikimedia.

An amazing building is the Aula Palatina or Basilica of Constantine which is well preserved and is now used for the Evangelical Church Community. Again, here is an image from Wikimedia:

Trier Konstantinbasilika BW 2

Trier is on the Moselle river: during the train journey, we passed many vineyards. For lunch we both chose Wiener Schnitzel and shared a bottle of very reasonably priced local wine at a pleasant hostelry in the centre of town. I tried to pronounce my fairly modest German as well as possible - it was good to have a chance to practice.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Reasons for going to Luxembourg


People have asked me "why are you going on holiday to Luxembourg?" As a joke I have said that it is because Luxembourg has more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than any other city in the world. In fact, Luxembourg is a beautiful city and well worth visiting for its Churches and stunning topography. I haven't been able to post many photos because of a slow connection at the hotel, but you can see a glimpse of the scenery in the photo above. Below is the glorious baroque interior,


Saturday, 20 August 2011

My new parish website

There is now a new website for Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen: I had forgotten quite how much I enjoy building websites. My old parish website was from the days before Web 2. I linked a blogger blog to it, giving it the same look and feel but was still tied to editing html if any of the static pages were to be updated. I was rather proud of the tightly written html and css which meant that the pages loaded very quickly - pretty well instantly on any reasonable computer with a decent internet connection.

However I have for some time felt that I should move to a content management system to enable me to change static pages much more quickly and to integrate the news feed properly into the site. I opted for Wordpress which attracted me as soon as I first used it on other sites. I rather rue the day that I opted for blogger for this blog, but it is good to be familiar with different platforms, and the profile of the Hermeneutic would take some re-building, so I'm not inclined to change.

I have registered the domain name; I find it difficult to resist saying the "dot org" in the way that failbog has in the signature ending to its clips. The domain name was the result of some careful thinking. People on the telephone don't always know the word "Rosary" (I frequently get letters addressed to "Our Lady of the Rosemary") but black, fen and catholic are not too difficult to get right. Over in Europe, we tend to accept that we must have or suffixes but in a slightly rebellious mood I wonder why we never ever see or suffixes. The site is hosted by Bluehost, by the way - I have found them excellent so far and very reasonable - particularly now that the dollar is only worth 60p.

There is some more work to be done on the site. In particular I have a number of pdfs to put up in the "Catholic teaching and resources" section, and most of the pages could be illustrated with nice photos. One thing that has changed over the years is that google and other search engines are now so good that it is not really worth putting up a "links" page. I remember spending many hours gathering Catholic links and checking them with Xenu.

If you have any suggestions that will not keep me up all night (I have to actually run the parish as well) I'd be grateful for your wisdom. A project for the autumn is to develop a proper email subscription mailing list since I think this will be useful as a means of communication with those who have had some contact with the parish (through baptisms, first communions, confirmations, weddings etc.) but may benefit from kindly pastoral reminders of events at the Church.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Michael Voris: Madrid and London

Everyone who is not an active follower of the Catholic blogosphere seems to know the one mainstream news item about the World Youth Day: there was a protest and the excuse for the protest was the cost of the visit. Michael Voris deals with it quite well. I would add that this demonstrates the values of the mainstream media which focusses on a protest by 150 people (a generous estimate) as opposed to the faith of the million or so who are gathering for the Pope's visit. (And in fact, the visit will cost the Spanish government nothing, but will bring in around 100 million euro to the Spanish economy.)

As I mentioned in June, Michael Voris is coming to London next Wednesday 24 August. I'm disappointed that I won't be able to get there myself, as I am away. If you are in reach of London, this promises to be an entertaining and inspiring event. You don't have to agree with everything Michael Voris says, or the way he says it - he's a guy open to debate and discussion.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The seal of confession and the virtue of religion


So why is the seal of confession inviolable? Why does the seal bind under such a grave obligation that the Church excommunicates any confessor who directly violates it? (See: The seal of confession: some basics)

There are two principal reasons why the priest must preserve the seal: the virtue of justice and the virtue of religion. The motive of justice is evident because the penitent, by the very fact of entering the confessional, or asking the priest to hear his confession (we’ll deal with “reconciliation rooms” another day) rightly expects that the priest will observe the seal. This is a contract entered into by the fact of the priest agreeing to hear a person’s confession. To mandate the violation of the seal is in effect to prohibit the celebration of the sacrament of Penance.

Much more grave than the obligation of justice towards the penitent is the obligation of religion due to the sacrament. The Catholic Encyclopaedia give a brief explanation of the virtue of religion which essentially summarises the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas. (Summa Theologica 2a 2ae q.81) Religion is a moral virtue by which we give to God what is His due; it is, as St Thomas says, a part of justice. In the case of the sacrament of Penance, instituted by Christ, Fr Felix Cappello explains things well [my translation]:
By the very fact that Christ permitted, nay ordered, that all baptised sinners should use the sacrament and consequently make a secret confession, he granted an absolutely inviolable right, transcending the order of natural justice, to use this remedy. Therefore the knowledge which was their own before confession, after the communication made in confession, remains their own for every non-sacramental use, and that by a power altogether sacred, which no contrary human law can strike out, since every human law is of an inferior order: whence this right cannot be taken away or overridden by any means, or any pretext, or any motive.
The penitent confesses his sins to God through the priest. If the seal were to be broken under some circumstances, it would put people off the sacrament and thereby prevent them from receiving the grace that they need in order to repent and amend their lives. It would also, and far more importantly, obstruct the will of God for sinners to make use of the sacrament of Penance and thereby enjoy eternal life. The grace of the sacrament is absolutely necessary for anyone who commits a mortal sin. To mandate the violation of the seal is in effect to prohibit the practice of the Catholic faith. Some secular commentators have spoken of the seal of confession as being somehow a right or privilege of the priest. That is a preposterous misrepresentation: it is a sacred and inviolable duty that the priest must fulfil for the sake of the penitent and for the sake of God's will to redeem sinners.

A possibly misleading phrase in this context is where theologians say that the penitent is confessing his sins as if to God "ut Deo." (You can easily imagine secularists deriding the idea that the priest makes himself to be a god etc.) In truth, the penitent is confessing his sins before God. The priest acts as the minister of Christ in a sacred trust which he may not violate for any cause - precisely because he is not in fact God. By virtue of the penitent’s confession ut Deo, the priest absolves the penitent and, if mortal sin is involved, thereby readmits him to Holy Communion.

There will be more to follow on the sacrament of confession. As I mentioned in my previous post, this series is not intended as a guide for making a devout confession but rather as an introduction to some canonical and theological questions regarding the sacrament which have become important recently. (For a leaflet on how to make a good confession, see my parish website.)

I have been told that the threat in Ireland to introduce a law compelling priests to violate the seal of confession has been withdrawn, at least for the time being. Nevertheless, I will continue with these posts because I think that the Irish proposal will be picked up by other secularists and may pose a problem for us. Further posts will look at the proper place, time and vesture for hearing confessions, one or two more particular crimes in canon law, the question of jurisdiction and the much misused expression “Ecclesia supplet”, and, of course, what to do if the civil authority tries to compel a priest to break the seal.

"For these millennials, faith trumps relativism"

For those outside the Church (and indeed for many inside it) the spectacle of a million young people going to Madrid to see Pope Benedict and publicly witness to their Catholic faith, is hard to understand. Anna Williams, editorial page intern at USA TODAY and a recent graduate of Hillsdale College in Michigan, neatly summarises a phenomenon that is well enough known in the Catholic blogosphere but continues to puzzle older priests, religious and laity. See: For these millennials, faith trumps relativism.
At first glance, studies such as Pew's 2010 report "Religion Among the Millennials" seem to indicate that young Catholics (age 18-29) exemplify their generation's tendency toward religious indifference. To wit, they are less likely to attend Mass weekly, less likely to pray daily, and less likely to consider religion "very important" than Catholics 30 and older. Yet the millennial Catholics who do practice and value their faith are doing something odd: They are spearheading a resurgence of traditional Catholic liturgy and disciplines that their parents and grandparents had largely abandoned.
Something that we possibly miss is the parallel tendency in other Christian communities and in other faiths: a couple of years ago I had a fascinating conversation with a liberal Rabbi who told me that some of the younger members of his synagogue were pestering him to use more Hebrew and to face East to pray.

Anne Williams picks up on this phenomenon but goes on to give a good account of the underlying reasons for it. Put simply, the 1960s style liberation has betrayed us, leaving in its wake various evils such as broken families, addiction, depression and suicide. As she says:
The anything-goes religion of the late 20th century cannot prevent nor even explain these consequences. (After all, if I'm OK, you're OK, and we can do whatever we want, why are so many people unhappy?) When every member of a society does whatever makes him feel good, the inevitable results are not personal fulfillment and communal harmony but selfishness and social breakdown.
It is great to see such an article in the secular press. I expect we will be hearing more of Anna Williams and I invite you to say a prayer for her success as a journalist.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Being fair to Canon Henry Scott-Holland

Henry Scott HollandTwo correspondents have pointed out to me that I have been unfair to the late Canon Henry Scott-Holland. The much quoted words "Death is nothing at all..." from his sermon The King of Terrors set out one of two positions which he was contrasting (the other was to recoil from death "as embodying the supreme and irrevocable disaster.") His conclusion was that both should be combined.

I would not go along with his thesis that "The contrasted experiences are equally real, equally valid" nor with some of the other things that he says, but I accept that the poor man has been badly served by having the "Death is nothing at all ..." section quoted so widely without the context of his argument and contrast.

Many thanks to those who educated me on this matter. I will make a memento for the Canon.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Death does count and is not a negligible accident

Jennifer Fulwiler at the National Catholic Register pleads with couples: Please Don't Read This Poem at Your Wedding. She is referring to a poem by Khalil Gibran which, as she rightly says, articulates our modern culture's understanding of marriage in which the individual is more important than the family unit, and marriage is seen as a path to self-fulfilment for two individuals. I would only add that artificial contraception brings this understanding of marriage into the bedroom.

Jennifer's post reminded me of my younger sister's remark in the course of an excellent talk on marriage that I heard her give some years ago: "One flesh, one cheque book."

I count myself fortunate not to have come across Khalil Gibran's poem at a wedding, but I have heard (Anglican) Canon Henry Scott-Holland's reflection on death at some funerals. Having been in parish ministry for 26 years, I have conducted hundreds of funerals, and am no stranger to bereavement myself, having mourned my brother who died in his early twenties, and both of my parents. On the basis of that experience, I find the late Canon's words actually quite irritating. Here is the text:
Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
Death is not "nothing", it is a big thing and can be devastating. Something has happened and it can seem that everything has changed. Our old life is not untouched, it has been blown apart. Yes, we should keep our happy memories and cherish them but we do not need to "force" solemnity and sorrow - they come quite naturally. Life is not the same any more and there is not an unbroken continuity - your mother, husband, brother, child is dead and it hurts. It is most definitely not a negligible accident, and grief and mourning do not mean that our loved ones are out of mind.

As Catholics we have the best possible comfort in our grief. At every Mass we pray for all the faithful departed and we should keep our own family and friends in the memento (or its equivalent in the other Eucharistic Prayers.) At Mass, we are separated from our loved ones only by the veil of signs and symbols: the whole Church is gathered together, including all of the Holy Souls in purgatory. We are not helpless because our prayers actually help our loved ones who have died.

So many people today have an extra "guilt trip" shoved on their shoulders because they are told to think that it is somehow not right to mourn. The popular transformation of the funeral into "A celebration of the life of ..." distracts people from the opportunity to do the one thing that really helps those who have died: to pray for them.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

A sermon on Church architecture

Today I had to give two different sermons. In the Novus Ordo, we are celebrating the feast of the Assumption. In the usus antiquior, it is the 9th Sunday after Pentecost. Often, when Holydays are moved to the Sunday, it is the Sunday afterwards and therefore the usus antiquior Mass is that of the Octave, so the subject of the sermon can be the same for both forms. (It does not make much sense to celebrate a feast before its proper day.)

For the usus antiquior I decided to preach on the words "Domus mea domus orationis est" with reference to the theological and spiritual significance of the architecture of a Church. It may be of interest to you (and parishioners might like to follow up the link the Duncan Stroik's article.)
The house of the Lord
My house is the house of prayer (Lk 19.46) Yet many modern Churches that we see have the air rather of a sports hall, the lobby of a multinational company building, or a Eurostar station.

Since it is supremely unfashionable to regard the Church as a museum, it is ironic that some modern Churches look just like the hall of a modern museum.

Is our reaction to these brutally minimalist and ugly buildings simply a matter of bad taste? Is it that we are really just too uncultured to appreciate the brilliant intellectual statement that these buildings make? Or have we forgotten that the Last Supper was in a simple room and not a baroque basilica?

Well if you have to be part of the cultured elite to appreciate the beauty of a Church there is surely something wrong: we have failed to cater for the anawim Yahweh, the poor of the Lord. The use of the Last Supper as a model for liturgy usually neglects the fact that everything used for such a sacred meal as the Passover or the communion sacrifice would have been precious and of the best possible quality. Building a baroque basilica is simply an extension of the will of the Lord in celebrating the Last Supper with the greatest solemnity and splendour that was available to Him.

What I would like to focus on, however, is the question of whether our reaction to such buildings is merely a matter of taste. To say as much would be to miss the point of modernist architecture which is considered by its devotees as much more than simply a matter of taste.

Following Hegel, the modernists of architecture sought to create buildings that reflected the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, in which “modern man” was unique in history. The break with the past was a necessary and radical component of the thinking behind such buildings. Hence the appearance of modernity with a brutal and “scientific” style would avoid any traditional motifs because they would compromise our radical break with the past.

Furthermore, as in movements in the plastic arts (painting, sculpture and so on) modernist architecture tries to eliminate objectivity. A painter inspired with this way of thinking will avoid any realistic representation of things in the world. As Duncan Stroik has pointed out, an architect will attempt to eliminate the distinction between interior and exterior, floor and ceiling, window and wall – sacred and profane.

Le Corbusier famously considered houses as machines for living in. Just as the form of an aeroplane would be designed to fulfil the function of an aeroplane so a house or a Church would be designed for its function. The damage of this approach was compounded by mistaking the real function of a Church, thinking that it was for the gathering of people rather than for the worship of God – so the Church was built as a machine for assembling.

The modernistic way of thinking is radically opposed to Christianity. It is not simply a matter of taste but of philosophical and theological error. We do believe in an objective reality – and that not only material but also spiritual. We do value our continuity with tradition both in doctrine and in art and architecture. And we gather in assembly not simply to be an assembly but to offer fitting worship and sacrifice to the Most High God.

Therefore it is right that our buildings should have a human aesthetic, should recognise the distinction between ground and sky, Church and outside Church, holy place and profane place, earth and heaven. We do value elements of architecture from our own Christian past. Within that tradition there is a great variety. In the West, we are familiar with the gothic and the baroque, but these and other different styles of Church architecture combine common elements of beauty, symmetry and a yearning for the transcendent.

Here at Blackfen, we worship in a Church that is not of any great merit architecturally (it is not likely to be listed any time soon) but we do at least have symmetry, orientation (the Church faces eastward), and some elements from our tradition: the arch, the roof, the raised sanctuary, and a worthy attempt with our Lady altar to draw from the beauty of the past.

These things make it possible to love our Church, to feel at home, to be motivated to improve it little by little. Most of all, we try to uphold its fundamental purpose, affirmed by the prophet and by Our Lord Himself: Domus mea domus orationis est. “My house is the house of prayer.”

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The seal of confession: some basics

Following on from threats in Ireland to require priests to break the seal of confession, I want to go through some of the basics concerning the seal, and then to deal specifically with some other questions (including what the priest might do if the civil authority asks him under penalty to break the seal.) I am particularly grateful for the manual of the saintly Fr Felix Cappello SJ: Tractatus Canonico-Moralis De Sacramentis Vol II.

This series is not intended as a spiritual guide for how to make a good confession: you can find such guides elsewhere (on my parish website for example.) What I am concerned to do here is to explain some of the canonical-theological questions that form a part of priestly theological formation but have not normally been part of ordinary catechesis for the sacrament. They are of some importance now because of attacks that have been made on the sacrament and are likely to continue.


The seal of confession is a strict obligation upon the priest to keep secret the sins that have been confessed and to abstain from any use of knowledge of those sins which might betray the penitent. The confessor may not speak in any way that might give those who hear him any grounds for suspecting the penitent of any sin that he has confessed.

A direct violation of the seal occurs when the priest reveals the identity of the penitent and the sin that they have committed. This is a serious crime in canon law and it incurs the penalty of automatic (“latae sententiae”) excommunication. This penalty is reserved to the Apostolic See which means that if a priest incurs this penalty, he can only be absolved from it by the Apostolic See. He cannot be absolved from it by another priest or Bishop.

An indirect violation of the seal occurs when the priest does not directly reveal the identity of the penitent and the sin that they have committed. This can happen if a confessor speaks of a sin told in confession without revealing who the penitent was. If people work out who it was, or even if they suspect whom it might have been, an indirect violation has been committed. An indirect violation can occur when a priest foolishly tells stories from the confessional in a sermon or in conversation. Even though he does not reveal who the penitent was, somebody might “put two and two together” and the priest has committed the crime of indirect violation. The code stipulates that this crime is to be punished “according to the gravity of the delict.”

The priest is also strictly forbidden to use any other knowledge acquired in the sacrament (i.e. knowledge about matters not connected with sin) if this would be in any way to the detriment of the penitent. This is not strictly speaking a violation of the seal itself, since it does not concern sins confessed. Nevertheless it is completely prohibited by the code, even when any danger of revelation is excluded. For example, if the confessor learned in the sacrament that a person was wealthy, it would be unlawful use of knowledge if he were to pester the penitent for a contribution to a building project, or encourage others to do so.

One matter that is sometimes not realised is that the penitent himself is not bound by the seal. A penitent is free to say that he has confessed such and such a sin (provided, of course, that he does not commit the sin of scandal.) The penitent may also give permission to the priest to talk to him about his sins outside of confession or at a subsequent confession. The priest is not to do this unless the penitent has freely and explicitly given him permission to do so.

In some cases, this is a good thing to do. A regular penitent who has explained the circumstances of his life, and past sins, to the confessor, or who has particular temptations to which he often succumbs, may give permission to the confessor to refer to this matter in order to receive appropriate counsel regularly as he engages in the spiritual battle. But the confessor may not presume this and should ask explicitly for permission if the penitent seems to presume that the priest will refer to previously confessed sins.

That’s enough for today. We also need to look at the reasons why the seal is binding, the proper place, time and vesture for hearing confessions, one or two more particular crimes in canon law, the question of jurisdiction and the much misused expression “Ecclesia supplet”, and, of course, what to do if the civil authority tries to compel a priest to break the seal.

Friday, 12 August 2011

LIFE under threat

Recently the Guardian carried a nasty piece attacking pro-life charities. The article uncritically accepts the account of a survey undertaken by Education for Choice. A pro-abortion group investigating pro-life groups: no room for bias there, eh? Archbishop Cranmer has written a robust response to the article which I commend to you: Guardian smears ‘pro-life’ charities.

LIFE was singled out for attention: the charity has become a target because it has been invited to join the new sexual health forum which advises the Government. There is also currently a push to prevent any pro-life groups from carrying out counselling; see for example the Brook and FPA joint briefing: Abortion information - the right to choose which states:
Organisations opposed to abortion should not be able to provide pregnancy advice services

  • We believe that organisations who are ideologically opposed to abortion must not be able to provide pregnancy advisory services, as by their very nature an ideology against abortion would mean it was not able to offer non-directive and accurate information, about all the choices available to women when they are faced with an unplanned pregnancy.
I know that many Catholics have expressed concerns about the “non-directive” nature of LIFE’s counselling and I agree with them. However, we need to be clear about the danger of this attack on LIFE by the agents of the culture of death. The FPA/Brook proposal is a blanket call for pro-life organisations to be prevented from giving counselling because they are pro-life. We can also expect calls for pro-life groups to be prevented from speaking in schools.

We’ll need to take a closer look at the portrayal of religion by Education for Choice. In the meantime, have a browse through their website. See, for example, the “choice” that is offered in the Get help now section.

A puzzling letter

My Catholic Dilemmas article in the Catholic Herald for 15 July was about Holy Communion. In view of a letter that appears in this weekend's issue, I give the text of my piece here:
I have always received Holy Communion and on the tongue but in my new parish most people receive on the hand. I am worried that I am standing out.

In the 1970s, permission was given by the Holy See for Holy Communion to be received in the hand. Although this permission has been granted to most Bishops' Conferences, it remains the case that receiving on the tongue is the universal practice in terms of liturgical law: a particular diocese could rescind permission for communion in the hand but it would not be lawful to forbid communion on the tongue.

Your reluctance to appear singular is understandable and your instinctive humility in this matter is praiseworthy. If we do something different from others, there can be a temptation to think that we are more devout, or to question the motives of others. Many people were taught to received Holy Communion on the hand when they were children, and others were introduced to the practice as though it is somehow more “adult.” People can and do receive Holy Communion on the hand with devotion and reverence.

A reciprocal respect should be shown to those who wish to retain the traditional practice. Pope Benedict himself, at the Papal Masses, now gives Holy Communion only on the tongue and the communicants are asked to kneel down. The papal MC has explained that this is done to emphasise the reverence and care due to the Holy Eucharist. Therefore you need not have any scruples about receiving Holy Communion on the tongue. The temptation to pride is part of our ordinary human frailty and can arise in many situations: it is not essentially related to the manner in which we receive Our Lord.

As a part of our prayers in thanksgiving for Holy Communion, in addition to prayers of adoration and praise, it is good to remember to pray for others. If you include in this a prayer for those who are receiving Holy Communion at the same Mass, that will contribute to the reconciliation at the heart of the Church which is a major concern of Pope Benedict.
This weekend's Catholic Herald carries a letter from Mr Alan Pontet-Piccolomini responding to the article. I agree with all the points that he makes about receiving Holy Communion, but am at a loss to know why it should be thought that
Fr Finigan might inadvertently have given the inquirer the impression that by continuing to receive on the tongue they are showing themselves to be "different" to their fellow communicants
The question was asking about precisely the case where the communicant was different from most people in the parish.

Even more puzzling was the assertion that
Fr Finigan's response also appeared to gloss over the example being set by the Holy Father who requires those receiving from him to kneel and receive the Host on the tongue
I do accept that there are many other things that "Fr Finigan could also have suggested to the enquirer" but the Herald is kind enough to give my column a rather prime site in the paper under the leader column, and I am limited to 350 words (an excellent writing discipline, by the way.) So the many other things that could be said on any particular question have to be said on the blog or elsewhere.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

New Abbot for Pluscarden

With commendable efficiency, the Benedictine community at Pluscarden has elected a new Abbot, Fr Anselm Atkinson, to replace Abbot Hugh Gilbert who was appointed Bishop of Aberdeen in June.

Abbot Anselm was installed on Tuesday. After making his first vows at Pluscarden in 1976, he went to Rome to study scripture and returned to the community where he taught scripture to the novices and juniors. He was ordained priest in 1982. In the late 1980s, he went to the Pluscarden's daughter house in Petersham, Massachusetts, where he became Abbot. He has also been Visitor for the English Province of the Subiaco Congregation.

Congratulations to the community at Pluscarden. Please remember them in your prayers: as well as assisting the Church powerfully through the constant prayer of the Sacred Liturgy (all sung in Latin every day) they have helped countless people through their generous hospitality. Spare a thought too for Abbot Hugh who is to be consecrated Bishop next Monday.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Fr Z under attack

Every now and then, I get a phone call or an email (usually without malice) asking about the canonical status of Fr Zuhlsdorf. I am able to assure people the he is in good standing. He is a priest incardinated in the Diocese of Velletri, with faculties from the diocese, and working outside the diocese with permission from his bishop, engaging in an apostolate of writing and speaking (as well as working on a doctorate.) He lives simply and relies on donations from people. (If you want to support him, go to his blog and you can leave a donation via the paypal button near the top of his sidebar.)

This is a fairly tough situation for a priest to be in, and Father is careful to seek the support of fellow priests (and a few friendly bishops who are grateful on their part for his support of them.) His online apostolate has brought great consolation to many Catholics and has been of significant help in promoting Pope Benedict's programme of reform and renewal in the Church. His comment is balanced, orthodox, reliable and absolutely loyal to the Holy See.

Now he is Waiting for Zagano who has been planning a hatchet piece on him for the National Catholic Reporter and trying to dig up dirt on him. The National Catholic Reporter is an influential mouthpiece for liberal Catholicism in the US, and Fr Z is a major opponent of their project. So it is not surprising that they should go after him, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this will backfire on the National Catholic Reporter. William Oddie has written an article for the Catholic Herald: Is the National Catholic Reporter (aka Fishwrap) out to get Fr Z? If so, they would be wise to think again. I don't suppose they will think again, and they probably will fire off the first salvo. So, as in Master and Commander, "We shall beat to quarters!"

Cornish seagull: sheer criminality

Thanks to defénde nos in proélio for passing this one on.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

From a riot near you

The above picture shows people in Clapham with their brooms engaged in #cleanup which shows that Twitter can be used for other purposes than organising opportunistic looting. I have seen plenty of articles asking whether Twitter or Blackberry broadcast was responsible for the riots. To my mind, you might as well blame paper manufacturers for the Russian Revolution.

The question that doesn't seem to have been raised much is whether the mainstream news reporting was responsible for some of the trouble. Wall-to-wall coverage of burned cars and thieves smashing windows might after all have encouraged others to go out and loot n'est ce pas? I'm not suggesting that the news should necessarily be censored but there does seem to be room for an examination of conscience about the coverage.

So far, London seems to be quieter tonight though there is trouble in other parts of England. In the next door parish to me, there was a self-help programme organised ad hoc by Milwall and Charlton fans to protect Eltham High Street. If you know anything about the football loyalties in this part of London, you will understand that this is a major ecumenical breakthrough. Millwall fans will know the tune to "No one loots us. We don't care."

If you are looking for an explanation of what is behind the "civil unrest" that seems to have taken everyone by surprise, here is an account from two girls in my childhood home, Croydon:

Leana Hosea speaks to Croydon looters on @bbcworldservice (mp3)

"Just showin the Police and the rich people we can do what we want" about sums it up, I think. "I can do what I want" is the net result of moral relativism applied by the ordinary teenager affected by original sin and educated in a system that undermines any real foundation of duty to God, country or neighbour.

Few people have noted the irony of the appeals by the Police to parents to "contact their children." For several decades our country has undermined marriage, the family, and the rights of parents. Agents of the state can teach your children how to have sex, give them condoms, put them on the pill, give them the morning-after pill if it doesn't work, and take them off for an abortion if that fails - and all without you having any say in the matter or necessarily even knowing about it. Now all of a sudden, we want parents to step in and tell their teenage children how to behave.


Now for one or two lighter items that have found their way onto the social media. First, what is possibly a blunder in advertising terms right at the moment:

And then a bit of good British stiff upper lip in Chiswick:

Apparently a Waterstone's employee said on the news this evening:
"We'll stay open; if they steal some books they might learn something."
Witty, but to the point when you consider that in Peckham the Pound Shop was looted (seriously!) If only there were footage of someone swaggering triumphantly down Elm Grove waving a five-pack of sellotape and a bumper bag of wine gums.

But my award goes to the tweep who wrote:
Reports from Hampton Court: A group of youths dressed in tabards and pointy shoes has just begun luting.

Looting - why not if you are a moral relativist?

Photo: Dan Kitwood
They leap upon the city, they run upon the walls; they climb up into the houses, they enter through the windows like a thief. (Joel 2.9)
On my way to and from central London this evening it was apparent that we have now become an international freak show. (See London riots: world reacts to city's 'hungry mutiny') It was a bit of a shock to exit North Greenwich Station to the announcement that buses would not go through Woolwich "due to (sic) civil unrest." I was also disturbed ( but not in the least surprised) to hear that Croydon, my Alma Mater was also featured thanks to a massive fire at Reeves Corner.

David Cameron, Boris Johnson and others are rushing back to London since the country has become a bit of a basket case and Something Needs to be Done. The best immediate remedy would be to pray for torrential rain: anyone in the Police will tell you that it is the single most effective preventative measure against any form of street crime. Failing that, what is left of our Poor Bloody Infantry will be on standby, I suppose.

Pundits are free with various observations. The top tweet at the #londonriots tag is from @mslulurose who observes:
The Youth of the Middle East rise up for basic freedoms.The Youth of London rise up for a HD ready 42" Plasma TV
That seems to be a consensus view and not many people are now trying to blame the rioting on "the cuts." The opportunity for robbery is providing rich fare for humour which we are quite good at in situations like this, (in lieu of doing anything serious about it.) One of my favourites was from the 1985 Brixton riots when I was a young curate up the road in Camberwell. People wandering along Coldharbour Lane with televisions and video recorders passed a large graffito which read "Looting takes the waiting out of wanting" - a witty allusion to a contemporary Barclaycard advert. I eagerly look forward to Matt's cartoon tomorrow on the Telegraph website.

There are reports of good Muslim men going onto the streets to defend their neighbours' property. And in this instance, why not admit that these are Muslim men, not just "Turkish people"? Their faith has provided them with something of that that social cohesion that we are all supposed to be fostering in a religious and ethical vacuum. Ultimately this fiasco in our capital city is down to relentless moral relativism and the elimination of any notion of truth. If "my view" is all that matters in every subject at school, then by the time you reach Year 11 there is no pressing reason why you should not burn cars, throw stones at police and cycle round to loot shops if that is what meets your needs during the summer holidays.

Whether through rain, water cannon, lack of physical fitness, or boredom, the rioting will stop sooner or later. Unless we recover some basic Christian values in our society it will happen again and probably more seriously during some summer soon.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Heartbreaking reportage of Sacred Heart Limerick

A few years ago, I reported on how the Church of the Sacred Heart in Limerick was to become a spa and leisure centre. Sadly, the developer who purchased the Church has taken his own life (please remember him in your prayers) and the Church is once again on the market. It sold for 4 million euros in 2006 but will now go for very much less than that - about 800,000  to 1 million is the current guess. The estate agents suggest that:
Property may lend itself to many uses such as Library / Museum /Leisure Centre / Bar / Restaurant - (subject to the necessary Planning Permission).
The reportage slideshow in the video above is by Michael O'Brien. He asked for permission to do the photo shoot in order to preserve images of this beautiful Church for posterity in case it is made into a bar or restaurant.

It would be wonderful if the Institute of Christ the King were able to raise funds to buy it instead. At 03:37 in the video there is an old picture of the Church with two angels on the altar, adoring the Blessed Sacrament. I heard that these were purchased from the previous developer by the Travellers. I'm glad about that since it means that they will be cared for and treated with reverence. And possibly, with a little friendly negotiation, they could be bought back if the Church were restored to sacred worship.

Forthcoming events

Family of Faith UK Conference. 13 August 2011 9.30am. Westminster Cathedral Hall. With Steve Ray, former Protestant Evangelist, now Catholic. (Tickets £10 advance £15 at door)

Latin Mass Society Walking Pilgrimage to Walsingham. 26-28 August. From Ely to Walsingham. Masses according to the usus antiquior. (£60 non-members; £50 members; £30 under 18 (with family group) & students.)

Anscombe Bioethics Centre. Thursday 8 September. Corpus Christi College, Oxford. (£110)
Human embryo research: Law, policy and practice

Sung Mass (Victoria's Quam Pulchri Sunt, in recognition of the 400th anniversary of his death.) Douai Abbey. Saturday 10 September 11am. Followed by Marian Procession around the grounds of the Abbey.

Catholic Boogie Night. Saturday 8 October. St Augustine's Social club, 55 Fulham Palace Rd, Hammersmith. (Tickets £5 advance £10 at door) Mass or Adoration before the boogie.

This is a new type of post. I'll try to do posts like this from time to time so that more people do get to hear about the excellent initiatives that are undertaken by good Catholics.

I receive many requests from people wishing to publicise events and I do want to help. However they can sometimes be a bit time-consuming. The most helpful thing (and the most effective way to get your event on a blog) is to send a short email with the essential information: Title, Date, Time, Place, and ... LINK.

(Sometimes I receive earnest requests to publicise an event when it has not been publicised on the website of the organisation concerned!)

Friday, 5 August 2011

Faith Summer Session - more pictures

FSS 009

A brilliant week and a chance to meet old and new friends: the Summer Session of the Faith Movement finished at lunchtime today, after a cracking talk by Canon Luiz Ruscillo and the final Mass with "Faith of our Fathers" at the end. After the youngsters swapped details to keep in touch on Facebook, and the farewells were finally completed, the Scottish coach rumbled off to the motorway, others dispersed to the four corners of England and beyond.

Never say that young people are not generous. These girls were throwing Jaffa Cakes magnanimously to the passers-by:

FSS 025

Yesterday I took the group photos: Here is the "silly" version of the "everyone" pic. It is not nearly silly enough and I will have to encourage a greater effort at buffoonery next year.

FSS 063

More photos over at the Flickr set

Secular recognition for the word "chalice"

Thankfully soon "chalice" will replace "cup" in the English translation of the Mass, as a word to indicate the kind of receptacle in which the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ is fittingly contained.

A couple of seminarians reminded me last evening of an advertisement for the new Stella Cidre (above.) I saw this on the side of the A2 a while back and meant to post about it. The advertising company seem to think that the word "chalice" indicates to ordinary people the kind of receptacle into which a precious beverage is fittingly poured. This rather defeats the argument that a word like "chalice" is too unfamiliar to use in the Mass.

(If you are minded to respond that Jesus only used an ordinary cup, please read Precious chalice or cup? first.)

Thursday, 4 August 2011

New statue of St Philip Neri at the school Newman founded

At the Oratory School near Reading, a new statue of St Philip Neri was unveiled recently. The school was founded by Blessed John Henry Newman who was attracted to the human and spiritual qualities of St Philip, and, together with Fr Faber, introduced to England his idea of the Oratory as a group of secular priests living in community.

The statue was commissioned by the school following a donation from The Tolkien Trust. The sculptor was one of the parents, himself an old boy of the school.  JRR Tolkien wrote part of the “Lord of the Rings” while staying at Chapel Cottage in the school grounds in the summer of 1949. His son, Michael Tolkien was a pupil at the school from 1934-1939 (when it was a Caversham) and later returned to teach. His daughter, Joanna Tolkien, unveiled the new statue.

It is good to hear of a school which giving such considered and tasteful acknowledgement to great Catholic figures associated with its life. Those who are going to the Evangelium Conference this weekend will be able to see the statue which is in the quadrangle outside the Morey building.

Philosophy and table football

Professor Tom Pink spoke at the Faith Movement Summer Session this morning on the culture of death and its assumptions about human nature. As a philosopher used to teaching undergraduates, he managed to deal with some complex ideas in an intelligible manner, presenting the principles that Catholics need to understand in order to combat arguments used in the public square. He was devastating on the use made of "quality of life" in order to decide that someone should be killed.

After some discussion, I took the "official" photos of the various groups who were at the Conference. I hope to upload these to Flickr later today. The above photo shows most of those who have been present for the week.

We are always keen for priests to visit. Fr Michael Cahill, of the Diocese of Meath in Ireland, is on holiday in  London for two weeks and I drove him down to Woldingham yesterday.

The conference is not all lectures: there is time for relaxation. Here, Fr Stephen Brown, an expert canonist of the Leeds Diocese is contemplating the spiritual dimension of the canons on alienation.

The sports facilities at Woldingham are used to the full by the young people. This includes some of the indoor facilities:

Unfortunately today it is pouring with rain after having been impossibly hot yesterday. It is a tribute to the spirit of the young people that they improvise to continue enjoying the week. Football will be taking place in the gym this afternoon.

Charities and respect for human life

Christian Aid collecting boxThe SPUC Charities Bulletin has been a useful guide for parish priests and others when considering whether to allow fundraising activities for particular charities. The response to recent appeals for donations to help those suffering from the drought in Africa is a reminder of how generous people can be. Unfortunately, good people often assume that if an organisation is a charity, we do not need to enquire further. Sadly, with medical research charities, we do need to know whether the charity supports embryo experimentation, to give one example of ethical problems that can occur with charities.

The SPUC Charities bulletin dates from 2006 and is in need of updating. It is good news that it is now to be an online index that will be updated as new information becomes available. See: Charities and respect for human life. Another advantage of the online deployment of this index is that people can notify SPUC of information or concerns that they have about particular charities. (Send information to Anthony Ozimic:

There are many organisations competing for the generosity of generous parishioners who conscientiously support charitable causes. The purpose of using something like the SPUC charities index is not to discourage people from giving to charity but to direct their generosity to charities that are worthy of it.

Photo Credit: Howard Lake

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Fr Briggs's silver jubilee

Fr Ray Blake has posted the above photo of the crowds making their way to the silver jubilee Mass of Fr Charles Briggs. On closer inspection, I think the ground looks a bit rougher than Chislehurst Common. In due course, there will be some other photos and I will check them carefully.

Seriously, it was a great occasion: solemn High Mass of the Holy Ghost with the Byrd 4-part setting, a couple of dozen priests in choir and a packed Church. Archbishop Kevin MacDonald preached well on the meaning of the priesthood. There was a fine reception at Camden House, currently the home of the Chislehurst Golf Club but formerly home to Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie.

There will be some photos of the Mass online in due course - today I was back at Woldingham to listen to Fr Anthony Doe, the guest speaker at the Faith Summer Session, who gave a helpful and profound introduction for the young people on the nature of contemplative prayer.

Tomorrow morning we have Professor Tom Pink speaking on Love and Life.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Faith Summer Session starts


The Faith Movement's annual summer session started today at Woldingham School. Above is a photo of last year's group. This year, we have about 200 attending, including a number of seminarians, and priests from around the country. Fr Anthony Doe will be the guest speaker on Wednesday, and Professor Tom Pink will be talking on Thursday morning. The theme for the talks is Christian love, and topics concerning love, chastity, the sanctity of life and different states of loving will be addressed during the week.

For me it is always a great opportunity to catch up with brother clergy and some great lay apostles. I hope to get some photos to post during the week.
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