21 September 2014

Is this year a record?

On 24 August I  gave an account of the superiority of the rules in the pre-Pius XII liturgical books, which enabled a Double of the Second Class to supersede a Dominica post Pentecosten. Thereby those who are at Mass only on Sundays are exposed, something like every six years, to one of the Church's major festivals.

This year, as well as Doubles of the First Class (Ss Peter and Paul; Christ the King) and Second Class feasts of the Lord (Holy Cross; Dedication of the Lateran Basilica) which supersede Sundays even under the Novus Ordo, we have Ss Lawrence, Bartholomew, and Matthew (today) turning up on Sundays. And - in Oxford - S Frideswide, Double of the First Class, will occupy Sunday October 19. Annus vere aureus! This year's Sunday Letter is e.

I wonder if anyone has the leisure to find out whether this year is a record, or whether there are other Sunday Letters which, under the 1939 rubrics, are even more generous to the Sanctorale than is Year e?

19 September 2014

S Januarius and the Ordinariate

Oxford is a city of secrets; and one of its best kept secrets is its very personal relationship with the 1630s, an interesting decade when the Ordinariate very nearly happened ahead of its time. There appeared to be exciting ecumenical possibilities between England and Rome, partly helped by Charles I's laudably uxorious infatuation with his Queen Henrietta Maria.

First stop, if one wishes to do a pilgrimage to the 1630s, might be to contemplate the glass in Magdalen Chapel; 1632 and a baroque reinterpretation of the 'perpendicular' schemes in the windows of All Souls, New College, and elsewhere, each light being occupied by one saint. That in itself is interesting in a period commonly supposed to be 'Protestant'; and the selection of saints is even more so. They are not, as you might expect, a predominantly Biblical band; indeed, numerically they are less biblical than the saints in Oxford's medieval glass. Some of them, interestingly, are saints whose very existence plays a deft game of hide-and-seek with the canons of Enlightenment historicity, such as S Catherine with her wheel. There is S Anne 'Mater'; and S George; and S Januarius. S Januarius!! That admirable Saint who, this very day, has been celebrated in Naples, with supplications that, by the annual miracle of the liquefaction of his blood, he will guarantee the safety of that city! Many of the Saints in the window are so deliciously obscure that I cannot find them in my Dictionary of Saints. There is a strong cohort of Fathers: Ss Cornelius and Cyprian; Basil; a brace of Gregories; Dionysius; Polycarp; Hippolytus; Ignatius; Irenaeus; Clement. All this is faintly reminiscent of the Tractarian period: Fr Faber would have been happy writing biographies of Ss Eulalia and Theodosia; while Blessed John Henry Newman would have felt at home among the Fathers (one recalls that feature of his character which Dr Manning never stopped suspecting: 'the old patristic Anglican tone'). A most provocative curiosity: only one of the saints is wearing a halo. She is labelled 'Sancta Maria Deipara'.

A quiet saunter along the curve of the High brings one to the porch of the University Church, built in 1637, grandly and exuberantly baroque, its twisted columns identical with those supporting Bernini's canopy in S Peter's, Rome; a tantalising hint of the Catholic Baroque England that just might have been. Enshrined within a jolly ensemble of classicising details is a female Figure royally crowned and holding a Child ... the 'Sancta Maria Deipara' we met in Magdalen. The statue in this porch was listed on the indictment of Archbishop Laud when he was to be martyred for being Popish. Sancta Maria Oxoniensis, ora pro nobis! Et beate Gulielme Laud, sis memor nostri!

A third statio is much more private; no public thoroughfare. The back quadrangle at S John's was built by Archbishop Laud in an elegant Renaissance style; a statue of blessed Charles Stuart at one end looks across to a statue of Queen Henrietta Maria. An interesting suggestion of the workings of Providence: that it was a King who had no mistresses, and promoted a culture of Married Love, who received a crown of martyrdom ... am I right in thinking that the same may be true of Louis XVI?

If you want to have a better look at Queen Henrietta Maria, you could try the Old Common Room in Merton (the college in which the Queen resided during the Civil War), but they probably wouldn't let you in. But not to worry: there is another portrait of her in the Ashmolean, in the same excellent room in which you can admire the bust of Pope Benedict XIV, Papa Lambertini.

In the Cathedral, in the Lucy Chapel, you will find monuments of the royal servants who died (sometimes under arms) while the King and the Court were in Oxford, quorum animabus propitietur Deus (as well as the Shrine of S Frideswide and a bust of beatus ille Doctor Veritatis Edward Bouverie Pusey).

What more could a visitor want?

18 September 2014

Thanks ...

 ... to all those who offered comments during the last fortnight, while I have been away on a family holiday. I have read them all; many I have enabled, but some rejected.

I remind all who try to comment that my Blog has a firm policy of rejecting comments which are disrespectful towards our beloved Holy Father, or towards the English Catholic Hierarchy, either collectively or individually. Nor do I accept comments which I fear may upset individuals or cause any divisiveness in the Church. So you could save yourselves some time by not submitting such comments!

I had better make clear that I do not do Facebook, largely because I do not know how to do so. So it is not possible to contact me by that means. If you wish to contact me ... as one highly valued reader has tried to ... the simplest way is to submit a comment to the blog marked PRIVATE and including your email address. I will then delete the comment but be able to get back to you.

17 September 2014

The demise of Friendship

It is not easy for us to understand the concept of Friendship as it existed in earlier Christian societies, because of presuppositions innate in our own society; a society which, compared with earlier societies, seems to me to be riddled with abnormalities.

The most obvious of these is the assumption that the only relationships that can exist between humans must necessarily be sexual or have strong sexual components. Thus people can even assume that the great love that existed between David and Jonathan must have been sexual. But, given the prescriptions in the Torah concerning homosexual actions, such an eisegesis is manifestly ludicrous. Quite apart from that, the other textual evidence concerning David and Jonathan is very far from suggesting that the tradition regarded them as 'homosexuals'. Their love 'surpassed that of women'; this means that it was not a physically transposed version of the sexual relationship of man and woman in which (except that anus is substituted for vagina) the physical and emotional modalities are closely parallel. It means that it was different in kind. In the Greek epic tradition, the great love between Achilles and Patroclus is contextualised by the information that, in the hut they shared, each slept with his own concubine.

I believe that another problem arises from a Romantic preoccupation with an intense, exclusive and (commonly in literary terms) often 'tragic' passion between lovers. This owes a great deal to stories such as those of Aeneas and Dido, and to some of the plays of Euripides (especially those with 'Cretan' connexions). What is forgotten nowadays is that this love was commonly regarded as a 'madness' and as a 'wound' and that it always ended in blood and tears. Perhaps a significant moment in cultural history was when Shalespeare's Romeo and Juliet was transformed into an opera with a happy ending. In earlier societies, to 'be in love' was commonly shameful; even being 'in love' with a spouse. A Greek who was deeply fond of his wife might use the verb philein, which he would also use for his affection for brother or son, rather than eran. Paris flirting with his wife among her maidservants is, as far as Homer is concerned, reprehensible; Hector, who will not even cross the threshold of the room where this is happening (still less sit down beside his sister-in-law and Talk Things Through), is commendable.

The modern concept of the relationship between husband and wife as uniquely, absorbingly, profound, and exclusive of all other deep relationships, is not easily paralleled in earlier societies of which I have any knowledge. The social conditions which have created it have created also and inevitably a matrix in which homosexual partnerships mimic it. That this whole scenario, whether heterosexual or homosexual, has its problems, is suggested by the breakdowns in structured relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual, formal or informal, which surround us.

It is also worth recalling that the very concepts of 'homosexuality' and 'heterosexuality' are not much more than a century old. The modern assumption of a sexual 'orientation' is anachronistic as far as earlier societies are concerned. In the ancient society to which we have the most extensive literary access, that of ancient Athens, a variety of sexual activities may be described or referred to, but without the modern delimitations. Different actions might be performed by different persons in different contexts and at different stages of their lives, but modern categorisations ('gay', 'straight', 'bi') are unknown, however readily Athenian comic authors might find it dramatically appropriate to mock an individual for a personal predilection.

Such Athenian societies would have regarded as the purest delirium the idea that two men (or two women) should vow and live a 'monogamous' life together. Indeed, I do not find it in the least surprising that more 'advanced' homosexual thinking nowadays also derides this model, argues that homosexuality is inherently promiscuous, and regards the promotion of homosexual patterns of monogamy as being a heterosexual imperialist attack upon - and attempt to control - homosexuals. Given the evidence, and the presuppositions, that view seems to me to have a lot to be said for it.

My argument is that a particular and dominant modern model of 'heterosexual' marriage (or quasi-marriage) is historically atypical, unsustainable in itself, and has done great harm by evoking mirror-image mimicries of itself among people who are deemed to have 'homosexual' 'orientation'. In particular, it has rendered incomprehensible the notion of a deep but asexual relationship.

'Friendship' has become little other than a way of referring to the people one has a drink and a gossip with after work, plays golf with on alternate Saturdays, or has to dinner three or four times a year.

16 September 2014

Newman's sexuality

I think it was Henry Chadwick who once dropped the hint that anybody genuinely interested in the sexuality of Blessed John Henry Newman should have a look at his relationship with Maria Giberne. There is certainly evidence in his letters that Newman regarded the love which St John had for him, and that of Maria, as of the same nature; and felt the same response to the affection of each. He records his deep sorrow that he had never disclosed to St John before his death his appreciation for St John's devotion to him: which proves that not only was the relationship not physically intimate; it was not even emotionally intimate. Newman, that is, was too shy even to say to his closest friend  ...

There is a long history in the Christian tradition of thinking about such friendships. S Aelred wrote about them. Byzantine sources, notoriously, provided liturgical rites for sanctifying such friendships, which even included rituals borrowed from the liturgies of matrimony. Notoriously, these analogues have been used to support 'gay marriage'. But in an age when legal codes commonly provided severe penalties, not excluding death, for sodomy, the assumption enthusiastically made, that those composing and celebrating such rites were cheerfully and consciously providing publicly sanctified occasions for genital relationships, is nothing less than plain dippy. A person who could believe that, could believe anything; there is probably little point in reasoning with people who have stationed themselves so far apart from the world of reality and from what is historically probable. But the question of Friendship does require re-examination simply because it is a part of our Tradition which is suffering something of an eclipse.

15 September 2014

But when are the Ember Days?

WHICH WEEK ARE THE EMBER DAYS?
According to the pre-modern versions of the Roman Rite, and the Book of Common Prayer, the September and December Ember Weeks come respectively after the festivals of the Holy Cross and S Lucy. What a nice easy rule. A child can apply it. So that is where you will find them in the ORDO which I compile, and in the admirable Saint Lawrence Press ORDO.

So why, in ORDOs printed according to the 1962 Roman books (LMS; SSPX), does the September Ember Week, this year, come a week later?

Technically, the reason why the Ember Weeks come where they do is that, in the Breviary, their readings are tied into those of the week after the Third Sunday of September. Before 1962, the "First" Sunday of September might actually be at the end of August. So, this year, August 31 is the official First Sunday of September. But the 1962 revisers, dippy lot of cleverclogs, changed this so as to be clear-cut and logical ... First Sunday of September for them has to mean literally First Sunday of September. Hence (if you're still interested) the Third Week of September starts September 14 according to the old reckoning, but not until September 21 according to 1962.

As so often happens when people try to tidy things up and to be neat and logical and clever, this decision of 1962 led to the potential dislocation of the Ember Week from its ancient mooring to Holy Cross Day.

IMPLICATIONS OF THIS
Since the 1962 rite lasted in widespread use less than a decade, I find it hard to take it seriously in those matters where it conflicts with what the Latin Church had kept easy and natural for centuries.

Summorum pontificum, I presume, took the 1962 books as normative for ecumenical and practical reasons: because this is what the SSPX had done since Archbishop Lefebvre changed his liturgical policy around 1974. Logically, the 1965 rite should have been regarded as the last integral edition of a Missal before the Novus Ordo. But, although the 1965 Ordo Missae was ordered to be printed in editions of the Missal* and was declared typica in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, it seems that no copies of the Missale Romanum with the 1965 Ordo Missae in it ever in fact did roll off the printing presses. (Anybody got one?)

But it appears that the 1962 Missal was never technically declared typica in the legal forum (AAS) in which it should have been so declared!!! Arguably, it does not exist (see the thread attached to my piece of 11 July 2014).

1962 should be regarded as an interim stop-gap.

Circa-1939ish should be the starting point for a measured, sensible reconstruction of the Vetus Ordo.
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* The 1967 variations were never promulgated as an Ordo Missae, simply as Variationes ... inducendae; nor were they ordered to be incorporated into a complete Missale, as the 1964 Ordo Missae was, nor were they declared typica in the AAS.

14 September 2014

Eat the Fat and Drink the Sweet

The Ember Days of the old (Tridentine and Prayer Book) liturgies began life as pagan Roman Harvest Festivals, celebrating the gathering-in of the corn, the wine, and the oil. The Church of Rome christianised them; pointed out in her lections that the Torah refers to analogous agricultural festivals; and turned them into fasts so as to eliminate the excesses of pagan celebration.

The September Ember season is, in my view, the most fun, because the down-to-earth agricultural liturgical texts have not been overladen with themes of Advent, Lent, or Pentecost, as those of the other three Embertides have been. So let's wallow in the Harvest Festival joy of this week's liturgies, and let's enjoy it all the more by doing it with the Tudor English texts in your English Missal ... go and blow the dust off it! ... Sing we merrily unto God our Strength, make a cheerful noise unto the God of Jacob ... behold, the days come when the plowman shall overcome the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed: and the mountains shall drop sweet wine ... and they shall plant vineyards and drink the wine thereof ... eat the fat and drink the sweet [sounds like a gastronomic reworking of Fr Zed's motto, doesn't it?] ...

But these Ember Days were  fast days! Look at the Collects: 'O Lord, who sufferest us to offer unto thee this solemn fast: we beseech thee, that thou wouldest likewise bestow upon us the succour of thy pardon'. And the Gospels are concerned with healings, because healing and exorcism were linked with fasting. The Church became supremely potent to heal and to cast out demons, through her sacred ministers, because she had humbled and purified herself before the Lord with fasting. And at these times the Church besought God to send down the Holy Spirit for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God by the imposition of the Bishop's hands, having prepared herself by communal fasting (cf Acts 13:1-3). S John Paul II used to prepare himself to administer Holy Orders with fasting and discipline.

I wonder if the disappearance of Fasting is one of the reasons why the Devil has so much power over members of the modern Church. And ... by the way ... the disappearance of fasting in the Western Church is not an area in which we can heap all the blame on Paul VI. As so often, it was Pius XII who got there first.

13 September 2014

WHAT DOES INTERFAITH DIALOGUE SMELL LIKE?

Ecumenism, and Interfaith dialogue, have for long been done in an accepted and unquestioned way which is quite inimical to the admirable instincts of the present Holy Father Pope Francis. Let me explain what I mean.

Such dialogue has tended to be attractively scholarly and impressively academic. The participants have been persons whose qualifications, based upon their published work or upon the teaching positions they hold in academe, have been such as to demonstrate their eminent suitability for their selection. Their meetings have taken place in elegant surroundings conducive to courtesy and the very best manners. And the topics have usually been academic. Take ARCIC. It was, in the era when ARCIC was directed towards full organic unity, naturally felt suitable that all the half-millennium-old areas of division .... Justification ... Transubstantiation ... Priesthood ... should be sorted out. So, words and nuances being deftly weighed up, beautiful verbal formulae were crafted, refined, and agreed. (Topical and live questions such as the Ordination of women were, naturally, ignored, because even the most imaginative wordsmiths cannot fudge them. You either ordain humans of the female gender, or you don't.)

But let us take up instead the instinct manifested by our beloved Holy Father's memorable phrase that shepherds should smell of their flocks. Apply that to Interfaith dialogue, and what do you get? At random, for starters, let's consider dialogue with Islam. What would such dialogue smell like? If conducted by participants who smelt of the constituencies they represented? If it dealt with topics that smelt of the real world, rather than with crafting statements that smelt of the lecture-room and the history book? So ... what topics?

Perhaps violence, and not least sexual violence, is most in the news at the moment. Here in England the media have been dominated daily by stories from city after city in which gangs of Islamic men of Pakistani origin have targeted, groomed, raped, abused young white girls in (literally) thousands. In the Middle East, we have heard how ISIS, after capturing a town and slaughtering men and boys, rounds up girls and women, checks them for virginity, and auctions them. They are then forcibly converted to Islam, forcibly married, and raped. Subsequently, their 'husbands' may desire to divorce them and sell them on, although their value at auction will have been diminished by 'use'. Those kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls, who have now so gracefully faded out of the headlines, were declared to be destined to a similar fate.

It would be ridiculous, not to say wickedly inflammatory, to imply that all adherents of Islam share the same characteristics, any more than all Christians, or even all Catholics, are the same. Nor should all Catholics, or all Moslems, be regarded as in some way guilty of and answerable for whatever some other of their coreligionists are reported to think or to do, or to have thought and done in the past. That would be plain unjust as well as plain untrue. But the Church should avoid the other extreme, which could be characterised as the Nice talking to the Nice. Partners in Dialogue on each side should represent the the complete spectrum of the varied tendencies within their tradition. There is no point in dialoguing only with those with whom we ourselves happen to feel most comfortable, those who smile sweetly at us. If anything, it is those who are the least 'clubbable', those who interrupt us in mid-sentence with an angrily jabbing forefinger, that should be given the most detailed hearing. In particular, it would be as well never to use terms which have become laden with approval or disapproval, but which are actually meaningless. I have in mind, in particular, the terms 'moderate' and 'extreme'.

Partners in Interfaith Dialogue should also, I suggest, be less academic, and very much smellier. An exiled bishop, perhaps, who smells of his defiled churches, his slaughtered menfolk, his raped and beaten womenfolk. A Christian woman, if one could be found, who smells  of the violence she has undergone. And, of course, Moslems would be entitled to nominate imams who had seen their mosques being stolen and converted into churches, their women and girls raped by Christian gangs; as well as women representatives who had suffered horrible atrocities at the hands of Christians. Some academics, naturally, could still be there, smelling of their books, to make their own relevant contributions. The meetings would happen in centres of conflict ... Baghdad, perhaps, or Damascus or Cairo, alternating with whatever 'Christian' cities the Islamic side nominated as having hosted anti-Islamic violence (Srebrenica, perhaps?). Archbishop Michael Ramsey memorably described Anglican theology as Divinity done within the sound of Church Bells. I suppose I am suggesting Interfaith Dialogue done within the sound of gunfire and screams.

We have Pontifical Councils for Interfaith dialogue, and all the rest of it, splendid bodies of men with the most splendid intentions, which are presumably funded ultimately by the alms of the Faithful. In future, activities which these bodies finance should smell of the current realities. They should have the authentic smells of blood, of cordite, of semen.

11 September 2014

VATICAN OPENNESS

Even critics of Pope Francis can hardly deny that he has placed openness at the forefront of his pontificate. The Catholic Church now has policies with regard to clerical sexual abuse which prioritise transparency first, transparency second, transparency third. Gone, happily, are the days of the cover-ups; of accepting the claims of well-heeled psychiatric quacks to be able to cure paedophilia; the policy of giving a delinquent priest a good telling-off and then sending him off to a new parish; of bullying victims to make them hold their tongues. No longer is 'the Church's reputation' regarded as the most important thing to be 'safeguarded'. (Not, of course, that the Catholic Church was anything remotely like uniquely guilty. The recent history of the Anglican diocese of Chichester has been exposed to public view .... and what a nasty can of worms has been opened up. And gracious me ... the words 'BBC' and 'celebrity' now attract the same aura of suspicion that the word 'priest' acquired a decade ago. And recently we learned that for decades the English liberal professions ignored the evidence for the activities of Pakistani Moslem paedophile gangs because Guardian Readers, passionate to hear any alleged dirt about Catholic priests, did not want to be told nasty things about people with brown skins.)

Pope Francis has also got a grip upon the problem of secrecy in the Church's apparently previously dodgy financial structures. Cardinal Pell guarantees that all will be open and above board. And so he should and so it should be. In the modern world, if you try to hide your seedy secrets, it makes things all the worse when eventually the Truth gets out. Mafia contacts ... dead bankers dangling from bridges ... Masons hiding in the wings ... such would not be a culture which had much potential to enhance the Church's reputation. Three cheers for Cardinal Pell, and six cheers for the Holy Father himself.

One of the major cultural changes, both in the Church and the World, during the last decade, has been this loss, by monolithic and armoured institutions, of the power to defend their secrets against the intrusions of inquisitive media. Military and diplomatic secrets are no longer pilfered by being encoded in microdots and left in safe drops by characters out of John le Carre; modern Information Technology gives power to whistle-blowers to unload secrets by the million upon the hungry media, contained in some jolly little memory stick. It may be amusing for an American President to know what the German Chancellor sings to herself in her bath, but, unless he is stupid, he knows that sooner rather than later the snooping done for him by his spooks will get itself into the headlines and him into trouble (good zeugma, yes?). Then, the more he puffs and blows to persuade Mr Putin or whoever to extradite the whistle-blower, the stupider he will look. And while, previously, Establishment persons and their narratives had little trouble hogging the media, the recent English scandal about the treatment of the family of the little boy with the brain tumour has demonstrated that perfectly ordinary people can now get their side of a story up and running. Dodgy days for the Great and the Good.

Frankly, as a naive and, you are probably anxious to tell me, simplistic product of the 1960s (ordained to the Sacred Priesthood in the very Year of Revolutions itself, 1968), I rather welcome this atmosphere of openness and transparency. Quite apart from anything else, it is quite fun to have it made so demonstrably clear that the Great and the Good are generally so much less than great and almost invariably only rather selectively good.

Whatever else he achieves, Pope Francis has already done the Church a permanently good turn by embracing - and enforcing - openness. He has already ensured that his will go down in history as a significant Pontificate; the moment when the Church's Senior Management genuinely realised what the landscape of the Third Millennium is really like.

Viva il Papa!!
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Footnote: The Congregation for Religious, in its handling of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, both the Brethren and the Sisters, would do well to take the Holy Father's policies about openness on board.

9 September 2014

A very long shot

Not long ago I was looking at some rather Arts'n'craftsy stained glass in a domestic porch, with these words from Timon of Athens written on them (Act 1 Scene 2):

Ceremony was but devised at first
To set a gloss on faint deeds, hollow welcomes,
Recanting goodness, sorry ere 'tis shown;
But where there is true friendship, there needs none.
Pray, sit; more welcome are ye to my fortunes
Than my fortunes to me.

If you explain to me that these elevated sentiments of hospitable generosity only led to problems in the life of Timon, I shall send Timandra to breathe her infections all over you. What I am wondering is whether, just possibly, some erudite reader might know of this sort of glass ... made by whom? ... or this quotation being used in this sort of context ... during that sort of period ... er ... anything, really ... er ...

7 September 2014

Bring back the Freaks

Oxford, perversely, pedantically keeps its own time, so that Cathedral services begin five minutes later than Greenwich Mean Time (or British Summer Time). Perverse; but distinctly more rational than celebrating the S Giles' Fair, the 'Giler', a week later than S Giles' Day. Which is what happens.

The broad thoroughfare which leads Northwards out of Oxford will, at midnight tonight, metamorphose like Cinderella's pumpkin into a vast Fair (returning to pumpkinhood 48 hours later). In Dacre Balsdon's words, S Giles ceases to be a murderous highway of fast-moving traffic and becomes a playground instead. "It is a tightly packed confusion of booths and hurdy gurdies, fat women, fire-eaters, performing fleas, fairing, streamers, and warnings against pickpockets". When Pam and I were undergraduates, Fr John Hooper used to emerge from S Mary Mags with his bucket and his aspersorium on the Monday morning, and douse the whole business with holy water ("Over 'ere, Favver, give us a bi' more over 'ere").

Things aren't what they were, and I don't think we'll go this year. Traditional Freaks ... Dwarfs and Fat Women and the World's Tallest Man ... are no longer politically correct objects of mirth (or wonder). My own favourite Freak ... the Spider Girl (a young women miraculously disposed to resemble a large arachnid with a human face) ... has, I am sure, long since collected her bus-pass. The performing fleas would simply invite a demonstration from the Animal Rights people ('Free the Fleas' a good tongue-twister?). The dour, merciless Puritanism under which we now spend our days decrees that the most exciting or Freakish thing you can now see at the Giler is candy-floss.

But Freak-shows are very much in the Oxford - and Anglican - tradition ... as was pointed out by Canon Arthur Couratin, once the Principal of S Stephen's House ['Staggers'], England's premier seminary. When sacerdos ille valde magnus Bishop Kirk of Oxford purposed solemnly to administer Holy Orders in his Cathedral Church of Christ ... or to sing Pontifical High Mass there on the Solemnity of S Frideswide ... Arthur used to turn up with an immaculately trained team of seminarians to serve. A few days before one such occasion, Mr Dean Lowe observed "I suppose we shall have Arthur Couratin here next Sunday with his travelling circus". In Oxford, there are worthy souls who, like the disciples in the accounts of the Lord's Miraculous Feedings, gather up in their baskets all such waspish remarks "so that nothing be lost". On having this comment faithfully reported to him, Arthur observed "Well, old man, I'd rather belong to a travelling circus than a permanent Freak-show".

Dr Eric Mascall, who preserved the story, admitted that, while this less than wholly flattering description of the Oxford Cathedral Chapter was no doubt exaggerated, "the Chapter of Christ Church when I came to know it was certainly a remarkable assortment of clergymen". (Fr Eric was objective enough to recognise the possibility that he might himself have seemed to some observers to merit being bracketed among the capitular Freaks.)

Perhaps it is part of the calling of the Ordinariate to revive the good old Anglican Patrimonial tradition of Freak-shows. They are exactly what the culturally impoverished English Catholic Church needs in order to put some oomph into its public image. Part of the New Evangelisation?
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AFTERWORDS: The Giler, fifty years ago, was that bit more surreal because it coincided with the Staggers House Retreat (Staggers was then just round the corner in Norham Gardens), so that you might see little knots of seminarians gawping at the Freaks while carefully maintaining Greater Silence.

It could have been commented that Canon Couratin, being a habitue of Parsons' Pleasure, must himself have made an intimate study of Freaks. If it wasn't, it has been now.

6 September 2014

A splendid idea

Andrew Burnham has suggested that the Ordinariate might take over the Catholic Shrine at Walsingham, which the Marist Fathers are now unable to staff.

What a very splendid idea this is. After all, the Holy See gave to the Ordinariate our Lady of Walsingham as Titular. Walsingham has for nearly a century been at the heart of the Anglican Catholic identity.

Practical advantages of many sorts will spring to the imaginative minds of readers. One that occurs to me is that, while the Administrator would need to be young and vigorous, retired priests could be made use of ... such extra pairs of clerical hands are very useful in busy places, and the Ordinariate might find it easy to recruit retired Anglican clergy for such a purpose. When I first got to know Walsingham, the twenty-odd shrine altars were busy in the mornings as all the retired clergy who had sought Walsingham for retirement said their private Masses.