2 February 2010


No, I don't have any problem about renaming the "Purification of the BVM" the "Presentation of the Lord"; because that is what it is. But I do feel a little uneasy ... without having any cut-and-dried solutions to offer ... about some of the cultural trends behind the change in name.

To talk of "Purification", whether of our Lady or of Women after Childbed ("Churching"), would, undeniably, carry with it in our culture a sense that either the person or the process was Dirty. And most certainly neither is. So there is no doubt that the old language would impose upon us the burden of difficult explanations to a world instinctively disinclined to listen to explanations about anything from Christians. So we are best without such language. But ...

I take it that what lies behind such traditional language, and also behind the provisions of the Torah about menstrual women, is, deep down, a wholesome human instinct for rhythm, for one time not being identical with another time, which has existed in most human cultures (I would say "all" if I had not spent an entire working life bullying students into the importance, in essays, of leaving a loophole when making assertions). The woman "purifying" herself from her period, or from childbirth, is not submitting to cultic rituals implying that she is sinful or dirty or unfit for decent society. She is ritually emerging from a period of seclusion. I have heard Orthodox Jewish women referring to menstrual seclusion as safeguarding and enhancing the respect in which they are held as women.

In our society you are likely to switch on your television and see an advert for a product which, if you are a woman, will enable you to go into the circus and do acrobatics on the high trapeze any and every day of the month. Well ... I know that we have all made fun of feminist dafties who are said to devise quaint and messy rituals to honour menstrual blood. But is it really wrong to institutionalise in a society any respect for the mysteries of life and for the role which Woman, the Sacerdos Vitae, enacts within those mysteries? There is an enormous logical disjunction when our culture strips woman, as far as it can, of the the physical distinctions resulting from her procreative role ... and still wants to sleep with her.

Only Religions retain a sense of rhythm; of Fast and Feast; of recurrent cycles. And Latin and Protestant Christianity have more or less dumped all that by giving up the notion of fasting. I think many clergy (who do to some degree live the liturgical calendar by saying the Office) would be fairly staggered if they found out how little their laypeople - even the more regular members of their congregations - were aware of the passing of the Church's seasons. If we imagine they really think "Aha! White vestments! Goodie!! I wonder what festival we are so joyfully keeping today?", we are living in a fools' paradise. And, Fathers, what are your memories of negotiating with a couple who want to book their wedding for Holy Saturday?

In the world, you can eat out-of-season food any day of the year ... I know because, I shamefully admit, the other day I had some rather good Moroccan raspberries. That culture has invaded the Church. So, of course, there can be no such thing as an out-of-season woman. Raspberries ... sex ... modern Western Man (and Woman) cries: "I want it now!".

BTW, we are approaching Lent. Does any kind reader have at their finger-tips the facts about how much cereal goes into producing one pound (or khilo) of meat, and what the effect is on Global Warming of all those f**ting cows?


Fr LR said...

In this context, we would all do well to start vegetable gardening as well as keeping some kind of useful animal (cats and dogs don't really count, do they?). We just this past weekend finished off our 2009 crop of carrots and there was a general groan of dissatisfaction at the prospect of eating some bland store-bought stuff. The "labora" of Ora et labora has become the red-headed step-child of the Christian life; time is money, they say (actually time is life); folks prefer to pay someone else to maintain the rhythms of nature for them so they can consume it upon their lusts when they want it. I am far from a hard-liner subsistence Tom & Barbara Good type, but we would all do better to get our hands dirty with real black dirt as often as possible. When’s the last time we had a good perspiring going?

Cattle don't interest me so much as chickens which produce not only eggs ("My pet makes my breakfast!"), can sit in your lap but also manufacture impressive loads of guano which, mind you, is essential to bountiful carrots!

Fr. Mark Zorab said...

Personally I think eating beef very occasionally is a real 'feast' not to be taken for granted irrespective of carbon hoof print! However as a country cleric who hunts some of his own food for the family table ...(gasp, gasp I hear you say, how uncorrect can you be!) I would commend excellent wild birds that we harvest through God's providence and whose habitat we hunters preserve and enhance, partly by trying to restrict access to the domestic dog and (unsuccessfully) the vermin fox (who ate all our hens last week). Try eating Woodcock, wild duck, pheasant, partridge,venison,wood pigeon,rabbit and as Father says.. all in due season!

Fr William said...

Estimates on the cereal:meat ratio have varied widely, but a commonly accepted approximation is 3:1 for meat production (human-edible input:output) in the developed world (lower elsewhere due to the use of lower-grade feed unfit for human consumption). The table shown here indicates 2.6:1 for beef and 3.7:1 for pork.

Perhaps equally significant, meat production also requires 8–10 times more water than cereal production. "Producing 1 kg of meat requires as much water as an average domestic household does over 10 months" (that's hard to believe, but it seems well referenced.)

Farts: Beef cattle produce about 76 kg* of methane per head per year (dairy cattle rather more). Methane is 72 times more potent a greenhouse gas by mass than carbon dioxide over 20 years, or 25 times more over 100 years – the difference is because atmospheric methane breaks down over time. Even averaged over 100 years, the methane produced by one head of beef cattle in one year thus has a greenhouse effect equivalent to 1900 kg of CO₂. Of course it's much higher in the short term. To put that in context, burning one litre of petrol generates 2.17 kg* of CO₂, so your cow's annual output has an effect (reckoned over 100 years) equivalent to putting 875 litres of petrol in your car (or 2522 litres if reckoned over 20 years). As Boris Johnson said, "Save the Planet – Kill a Cow."

I hope that helps! As a dedicated carnivore – and sceptic of environmental doom-mongering – I do find these figures rather startling. (If there are any wildly inaccurate assertions, dubious assumptions or simple misunderstandings here, I would be glad to know of them. BTW, the asterisked figures above are ones for which I haven't yet found proper references.) Still, it's only two weeks until we say "Carne, vale!"

Pastor in Valle said...

Fr William — my head is spinning at your evidence, and I won't claim to understand it at all. You know what numbers do to me. So to be on the safe side, perhaps I should serve only vegetables tomorrow.

If you wouldn't mind supplying the customary liquid products from grain and/or fruit, though, I'd be grateful.

Fr William said...

Re-reading the above post, I realise the third paragraph could be rather confusing. ("2522 litres … reckoned over 20 years" could be taken to mean an average of 126.1 litres per year, which isn't much at all, and isn't what is meant. So let's try again.)

You keep a cow for one year, during which time it exudes 76 kg of methane. In the same year, you put 2522 litres of petrol in your car, producing 5472 kg of CO₂ in your exhaust. The car then goes to the scrap-heap, and the cow presumably "graduates from Bovine University" (in the memorable phrase from the Simpsons.) Neither, therefore, produce any more emissions; but the gases they produced during that year sit around in the atmosphere, doing their greenhousey worst. After 20 years, the total warming effect over that whole period of your one year of cow-keeping is the same as that of your one year of driving. Over time, however, the methane oxidises, and after 100 years less than 5g of the original 76 kg will remain. Averaged over that longer period, the cow's brief earthly sojourn will have had the same effect as if your car had burnt 875 litres of petrol.

Hope I've cleared up any confusion!

(Pastor in Valle: our motto, following Fr H's lead, should surely be "I got rhythm". I can't imagine S. Blaise would approve of us violating the natural rhythms of the Church year on his feast day! Products of grain and fruit are nonetheless eminently appropriate, and I shall see to it that they are available.)

Gengulphus said...

And, Fathers, what are your memories of negotiating with a couple who want to book their wedding for Holy Saturday?

Very straightforward, and 'negotiation' didn't come into it: Unfortunately I shall be going to the races that day.

johnf said...

We have had anthropogenic global warming, but since we know that methane is a far more efficient greenhouse gas than CO2, maybe the nomenclature should be changed.

My Greek is pretty rudimentary but can you say Bougenic Global Warming - i.e. cow made..?

Not that I believe any of this, given that the earth is currently in an interglacial period. A new ice age would be really terrifying and everyone would be encouraged to eat lots of pulses and to f*rt to save civilisation

CPKS said...

On the topic of purification, it has been explained to me that the Christian understanding is not the purging away of uncleanness, but rather the cleansing of a vessel in order to return it from sacred to normal use, as for example the purification of the vessels after Holy Communion.

Sui Juris said...

And, Fathers, what are your memories of negotiating with a couple who want to book their wedding for Holy Saturday?

Strangely enough, I had a (non-churchgoing) couple coming to book their (2011) wedding date this week and the subject came up.

"We'd like April," said the bride...and my heart sank; "but we're having lots of flowers, so it can't be in Lent."

I was staggered! Not only that, but she knew the date of Easter, knew I would be "busy" on Holy Saturday, and suggested the Saturday afterwards instead.

Miracles never cease! But of course Father's general observation is correct.

Sue Sims said...

Our hairdresser informed me that she'd be busy on Good Friday, since she was doing the hair of a friend of hers who was getting married that day. A civil ceremony, of course - but even she (who has no religious commitment of any kind) was faintly shocked.