30 April 2008


How extraordinary (a fashionable word)! While the C of E debates what sort of structures it will give to those who cannot accept women bishops ... will the bishops of the traditionalist minority be Ordinaries with jurisdiction? ... a divertingly similar debate is enlivening the Traditionalist RC blogosphere (go to WDTPRS and find the Papa Stronsay article). Apparently a thriving Traditionalist Redemptorist community on an Orkney island are investigating what Rome might allow them. Fascinating. Will Roman Rigidity be more flexible and generous than Anglican Liberalism? Quite possibly. The Anglican establishment is amazingly broad, tolerant, inclusive .... except in one tiny area. That is: if anybody suggests that diocesan bishops might lose the merest smidgeon of their territorial jurisdiction. On that question, our bishops hold views that make the definitions of Vatican I on Papal Primacy and Infallibility look as flabby as a week-old meringue. Rumour has it that before Consecration those nominated for Anglican bishoprics are subjected to a medical examination the main part of which is a test of their anal retentiveness.

Seriously, what happens to those RC traditionalists tentatively knocking at Rome's door might ... I don't quite know how to finish this sentence.

27 April 2008


I was so infuriated I switched the radio off: it was the sound of Professor A C Grayling misrepresenting the Christian Faith. He clearly loathes it and doesn't like to let pass an opportunity of attacking it in his popular journalism. But this was a program about the philosophy of Materialism; and he assured the listening millions that Christianity was a dualist religion, based on an opposition between Spirit and Matter which regarded the latter as inherently bad, the former as inherently good. I don't suppose we shall ever know whether this assertion is based on dumb stupid ignorance or on a wilful desire to misrepresent and thus traduce Christianity. But it sounds mighty strange as our minds turn to next Thursday's celebration of the Ascension - of the taking of that Body which was conceived in a woman's womb to the heart and throne of Godhead; the ultimate deification of matter. Regnat caro, as the ancient Office Hymn says (I quoted it only the other day: Flesh is reigning).

Oops: did I say that we shall be observing the Ascension on Thursday? Bad news from Rome: the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei has ruled that even those who use the Old Mass by virtue of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum must, in deference to the English Roman Catholic hierarchy, transfer it to Sunday. One can see the logic of a common date for celebrating festivals: I believe that the Vatican expects Latin Catholics living in countries of predominantly Oriental rite to keep the Julian Easter. But the transference of the Ascension seems illogical: this transference is envisaged in the rubrics of the new rite as an option available to hierarchies who seek Roman consent, but the old Missal offers no such option. And PCED may have pandered to the Westminster hierarchy at the expense of convincing traditionalists wavering between SSPX and FSSP that Rome can indeed not be trusted to prevent vandal hands from mutilating the 1962 Missal. The Church of England (it isn't often I say something like this) is more sensible in leaving a number of feasts (for example, the Epiphany; although not, as it happens, the Ascension) to be transferred or not at the decision of the parochial minister - a good example of that principle of subsidiarity which wisely lies at the heart of Summorum Pontificum. And I've never heard of this leading to pastoral problems.

I won't say that the solution for traditionalist Roman Catholics will be to attend Anglican Churches: partly because it would be cheap and vulgar but mainly because I have no interest in weakening the allegiance to the Holy See of those who are fortunate enough to be in unimpaired communion with her. But if somebody secured the services of a SSPX priest to say Mass of the Ascension in Oxford on Thursday and wanted to use S Thomas's Church free of fee (we have splendid sets of Latin vestments, with maniples; a Missale Romanum; and Latin Altar Cards) I'm not sure I'd say No.

22 April 2008

O grant us life that shall not end

I am glad we use Latin texts for Benediction here at S Thomas's. To sing Aquinas' original text of the O Salutaris reminds one that what he actually wrote was vitam sine termino. Literally this means 'life without a boundary mark'. Perhaps this means more than just 'bodily death won't be the end of everything'. Our life even in this present age itself has no boundary stones if we are in Christ so that our life is hidden with him in the Father. Everything is ours; there are no oysters we cannot open and enjoy provided we possess God's grace to use as a shucker.

Is Benedict an Anglican?

Our Holy Father has abandoned the bent crucifix which his more recent predecessors carried in favour of a straight golden cross without a figure upon it. And 'traditionalist' RC bloggers explain this by pointing out that the Crucifixion was not the end of the story: i.e. the empty cross is a pointer to the Resurrection.
Dead right. But the whimsy of this is that such is exactly the reason 'modererate ' Anglicans used to give for having crosses rather than crucifixes on their altars. So perhaps Benedict is plummeting in what we Anglicans call 'Churchmanship'.
But stay. This very cross is the one which was used by that great pontiff, my hero Blessed Pius IX! Was Pio Nono also a crypto-Anglican? We should be told. Open the Vatican Archives.

21 April 2008

Pope preemptively Torpedoes Manchester

Just as we all get excited about the forthcoming publication of the report of the Manchester Group - which will make proposals about how the Church of England can have 'women bishops' while making a space for those who cannot accept them - the Sovereign Pontiff has scuppered the whole project below the waterline. Here is what he said to an ecumenical meeting in America on April 18.

''Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself. Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called 'prophetic actions' that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition. Communities consequently give up the attemt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of 'local options'. Somewhere in this process the need for diachronic Koinonia - communion with the Church in every age - is lost, just at a time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel.''

Doesn't this just about say it all? And succinctly?

20 April 2008

Patron Saints

A dippy item on the radio this morning; someone has written a book claiming that the Undivided Trinity is a theological prop for the Union in Diversity of ... guess what: the United Kingdom. When will these people learn that all political arrangements are transient and include flawed elements. And the United Kingdom particularly so; it had its genesis in the unwholesome imperatives of the whig agenda after the Dutch Invasion; subsumed Ireland only in 1800; lost most of it little more than a century (of bungled rule) later; and retains only a questionable and debated hold over the part of Britain which Whiggery tried to rename Northern Britain. It seems to me that a much more useful theologoumenon is the suggestion in Fr Aidan Nichols' The Realm that Christians should think of having a bipolar existence. We belong to a cultural construct which is 'at once internationalist as the Church of all nations, and yet patriotic'. And surely our priority must be S Paul's striking metaphor that our politeia is from above: our real passports are issued neither by England nor by the UK nor even by Europe, but in heaven. That is why S George - feast on Wednesday - is such an ideal Patron for England. He never came here; indeed, Provincia Brittannia had not even become Angleland when he bore witness. He reminds us that faith in Christ, even unto death, is what takes priority by several thousand miles over narrow nationalism.

And that dippy 'Trinitarian' admirer of the UK suggested that the UK needs its own patron Saint. He suggested S Aidan on the grounds that he has Irish, Scottish, and English connections. Well, I've nothing at all against S Aidan. Far from it. But my alternative proposal (granted that the UK does need a patron) would be S Theodore: a Greek-speaking Syrian monk sent by a Pope of Rome to be Archbishop of Canterbury.

I feel myself a Christian before a citizen of the UK. Indeed, I feel myself a Latin Christian in my culture before I think of myself as English. I feel quite as much at home in still-quite-Catholic Western Ireland or worshipping at a Latin Mass in Avignon as I do in England. Perhaps sometimes a bit more so. Am I a disgrace?

15 April 2008

English Catholic Hymn Book

Having found a lovely little pile of small green hymn books, apparently dating from the 1930s, in a cupboard at S Thomas's, I'm busily working out how to incorporate its contents into the Sunday hymn pattern. Perhaps May is the time to start. 936 begins 'The happy birds Te Deum sing,/'tis Mary's month of May./Her smile turns winter into spring,/ And darkness into day.' (Does anyone know who wrote it?) It will go nicely to the tune of 'O little town of Bethlehem'.Then there's 928, 'O Mother! will it always be,/That every passing year,/ Shall make thee seem more beautiful,/ Shall make thee seem more dear'. That, of course - no prizes - just has to be by the greatest of the Romantic poets, Fr Faber. It will go to the tune of 'It came upon the midnight clear'.

A lot of the hymns can be identified from the Westminster Hymnal (does any church still use that?), but I'd be glad for the key, if anyone can provide it, to the authors of the rest. The only unhappy gap in it seems to be its lack of Cardinal Wiseman's 'Full in the panting heart of Rome'. Perhaps the advocates of a non-papal Catholicism could do an Anglicanised version celebrating their own infallible magisterial Organ: 'Full in the panting Synod halls /Within Church House's peeling walls/From pilgrims lips that kiss the ground/Breathes in all tongues one only sound/ God bless our Synod, great and good.' or something like that.

9 April 2008


Why in Oxford, of all places, should there be no active branch of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary? So Jill Pinnock and I are having a go at revival: on Thursday May 8, in Pusey House at 7.30, Stratford and Leonie Caldecott will talk on Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the poetry of G K Chesterton and G M Hopkins.
Can readers suggest what might be suitable topics for such a group to engage with?


Sancta Maria ad nives: After Cornwall, off with the Parish Pilgrimage to Walsingham as the trees in S Thomas's churchyard look totally magical in their filligree of April snow. And in Walsigham, the biggest snowflakes I have ever seen. But how well the Shrine looks; what a privilege to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at our Lady's feet in her Holy House. For our concluding Mass, I offered a votive of our parish patron, S Thomas of Canterbury, patron of the first Oxford parish in which the Catholic tradition of worship began to be restored. I pointed out that our Lady's image was crowned with the Oxford Crown, given to our Lady in the early days of the Shrine's restoration by Fr Roger Wodehouse, Curate of S Thomas's (he was responsible for our baroque altar and the picture within it of our Lady di Foligno) and then Vicar of S Paul's, one of S Thomas's daughter parishes in West Oxford. A century after Walsingham became a shrine, England's second great shrine grew out of the martyrdom of S Thomas and about this time our church was built. And so after Mass we made a pilgrimage to Canterbury: that is, to the chapel a few feet east of the Holy House where S Thomas is potrayed in the frescoes and a relic of him kept for veneration. We prayed here, remembering that as ours is a religion of God incarnate in a girl's womb, so also it was in the body that our Saviour won his Easter victory, just as in their bodies his martyrs by testimony came to glory and we ourselves hope at the last en somati to rise again. Then we each venerated the relic with a kiss.

My normal place of worship when in London being, of course, the Brompton Oratory, I have often taken part in the weekly veneration of the relic of S Philip Neri (who, curiously, shares the same chapel at Walsingham as S Thomas). After we have kissed the relic, the priest taps the heads of male but not female worshippers with the reliquary. On such excellent authority, I too did this.

But can anyone explain the reason for this custom? Is it because ... but no: I'll see what wiser heads can suggest.