Monday, 30 January 2012

It snowed!

In Chavagnes! yes. Snowballing was  forbidden in the front court yard, but I still managed to get a boy right down the back of his neck before being told off by Mr Usher!

Even the car is covered! Poor car!

Friday, 27 January 2012

St Teresa of Avila in Ecstasy

My printed hanging of St Teresa of Avila in Ecstasy is up in my room. It looks very smart. It is based I assume on Bernini's sculpture. The account of her ecstasy is found in her autobiography (this culled from Wikipedia - so its bound to be true!):
I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.
I have not found too often printed versions of this. Posters, of course, by this hanging really is quite fine. It's about four foot by three - so a reasonable size. 

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Burns Night

Burns night notice by our art department under the direction of the Boyles Family
In fine form and fine fettle, our school celebrated Burns Night. We were helped enormously by a Pipe Band from Nantes, the Askol Ha Brug Pipe Band of Nantes.

Refectory in glorious array
Preceding their arrival we congregated in the library to drink aperitifs (non-alcoholic for the boys, of course) and sing Scottish songs, accompanied on the pianoforte by Mr Tyldesley, and gently crooned by Mr McDermott, Mr Crawford, and the assembled masses. It was at this moment that we realised just how depressing much Scottish music is... "What did you get form your own true love? I got as cup of poison as she died."

Depressing Scottish songs sung with a smile on the face
Everyone was in their finery with kilts on show.

Mr and Mrs McDermott

The family of Mr Usher, our head of the senior  boys
The Pipers were excellent, here come clips form them. The sound reverberating in the school was extraordinary!

All together a piece of Scotland in the Vendee... strange yes, but quite wonderful.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

I Thirst for your Soul

This is the sentiment found in a Church on my travels last Monday. It was written under the crucifix.

It uses, of course, the words of Our Lord on the Cross, "I thirst". This physical thirst confronts us with the humanity of Christ. He thirsted in His humanity, but also He thirsted in His Divinity, not for a water to satisfy the body, but for the souls of believers.

On the Cross, even at that moment, Our Saviour thirsted for our soul. He desired that we come to His poor, crumpled body. Even then, our soul had no hope except in Him.

J'ai soif de ton âme!

I thirst for your soul... not for my own good, but for yours. Not out of my need but from your wretched state.

I thirst for you...

The Handing in of Guns

Mr McDermott and the weapons
Not usually a subject which is broached in most schools, or if it is then usually it is accompanied by terrible headlines and horror stories. But not here in Chavagnes. The photo is of Mr McDermott being given a series of guns, five in all I think, from our boys.

WHAT!!! I hear you cry! But this is terrible! What dereliction of duty! Guns in a school!!!

Have no fear - they are only the sort of guns the fire clay pellets. But we decided (quite sensibly in my opinion) that they should be in the hands of the teachers. We know exactly what to do with them...

Olympic shooting in the modern Pentathlon
... organise a tournament of markmanship of course - what else!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

To the Washing Place with you...

Such was the exciting nature of our Sunday walk, as we went to the Laverie du Pontereau. This was the outdoor place where the people of Chavagnes (the women I suspect) went to do their washing in yesteryear.

The boys, I suspect, do not ponder much on these things - seeing rather an opportunity to try to jump into water or push Mr McDermott in! Or even, in the case of the boy on the left, ignoring the whole thing and read a comic book on the Smurfs instead.

But if you do think about it, what a different world when people had to come together to do things, like washing, or shopping, or even working. I do not glorify the past - who would not prefer an indoor washing machine or the convenience of supermarkets which are open all day long.

No, but what I mean is that the experiences, and thus in some manner, the very mentality and shaping of the minds of the people at that time would have been different because of such communal activity.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Shiny old things

Little Candlestick
On a recent trip to an Emmaus (info and details here), I came across two forlorn little candlesticks, about 8" high or so. After the liberal application of Miror formule Cuivre (Brasso to you and me) they came up a treat. And €10 the pair not bad at all.

Before and after shot. Thank God for Miror (Brasso).

Now, there is a train of thought that says "do you really need more of that?" Actually it is my mother's train of thought, who does not see wonderful stuff, but just more stuff. I say you can never have enough of certain things, and little candlesticks are one of those things. If nothing else it now means that we are up to 20 candles on the altar for Benediction,and that can only be a good thing, non? So while there is a € in my pocket and a shop to go through, that number will go higher and higher!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Sacred Heart in the Supermarket

This is the symbol of the Vendee: twin hearts, a crown and a cross. This is the Sacred Heart and the Crown of France. "Faithful to Both" as the motto says,  utrique fidelis.

How cool to have a Sacred Heart in a supermarket!

In fact, schoolboy french lingo, "C'est hyper-cool, mec!"

Friday, 20 January 2012

In the News

The Boy Bishop of Chavagnes - photo Fr Anthony Talbot
There is a very good article in the Catholic Herald about our school. Link Here.

Great quote from Mr McDermott, our headmaster

It’s a great life out here, and I thank God for looking after us. 

Thursday, 19 January 2012


In the town of Bouin in just to the north of Chavagnes and near the coast is an unassuming Church. Of course it looks quite monumental from the outside as many of them do, but inside there are three wonderful baroque altarpieces.

 It is dedicated to Notre Dame, and is built in the style of the fourteen century.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Final Word on Evil Modern Theology

...I doubt it will be the last word, but never mind.

Someone asked me if what I had said contradicted the celebration of the EF Mass. It would seem on the surface of it that the New Mass was designed to have a meaning which was easily accessible, and which could speak to all people, who then, if they need to would be able to look further into it.

I have much sympathy with this view. Contrary to some I am not of the opinion that those who reformed the liturgy had evil motives (some of them had motives which I violently disagree with, and which have, I am sad to say, proved themselves to be destructive to the Church, but that is to mix motives with results and that is just not on). I think that what they wanted to do was actually in accord with what I have outlined. They wanted to produce a pristine liturgy, when the 'noble simplicity' of the signs spoke to people, without commentary.

By the way the phrase 'noble simplicity' now makes me feel more than queasy as it was used in seminary to justify the destruction of anything of beauty or complexity - a rose is beautiful, complex, and has a noble simplicity.

So if this was the intention, what went wrong? Well we all know the problems of archeologism (returning to the past for its own sake) namely:

  • We really have no idea what went on liturgically in the early Church - all that priest-turning-his-back-on-God business proves that.
  • There is a reason liturgy develops.
  • We all want a golden age until we have toothache, and then we want modern anesthesia.
  • Why would we choose 4th century Rome, or Ephesus or any other time or place as the perfect moment? 

etc. etc. So archeologism as an end in itself is not going to work (it can be used in service to a greater whole, such as relearning the ancient chant of the Church, but not if we recreate a historical 'reality').

So if the New Mass does not deliver on 'clarity' then why not? I think it is all to do with... too many words. This is both in readings and in stripping everything away except the spoken word. There is nothing else to look at. You cannot engage in paraliturgical activity. You cannot say the rosary, you cannot read different prayers from those that the priest says. You are a slave to the action of the Priest - you are tied to him, as if by strings. Ironically what was supposed to free the liturgy from being Priest-centred (only the action of the Priest) has tied the people to him. In a world of choice, there is no choice, in a world of freedom, there is no freedom. Stand up, sit down, say this, listen to this. This is passivity dressed up in external action.

I'm not just criticising the New Mass, but rather pointing out areas of unintended consequences. Either you are 'involved' (thus one of the club) or passive. Either you understand the hidden messages in art or scripture of whatever, or you do not.

If you came to Holy Mass from outside, you would experience rites, language and symbolism of a group of people of whom you are not a member, the group is in relationship to each other - you are not a part of it. If you go to an Extraordinary Form Mass, then you experience the rites, language and symbolism of an act of worship which you are in relationship to. You may not have the faintest idea of what is going on, but you and everyone else is in the same boat. You are all in relationship with what is beyond you. You can stand in awe at something which is there, as opposed to standing outside a circle of worshippers.

I can bang on like this for ever, but I'll stop now. It is interesting when you thing of things in this way. It is all a bit counter-intuitive.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Evil Modern Theology Revisited

Seeing our refectory, I described it as 'incarnational'. It is recognisable as what it is, and what it is has the obvious ability to elevate the individual. The signs and symbols are accessible.

Modern theology moves this into a representational symbolism, which is not accessible, except to those in the know. If you like it is a kind of modern gnosticism. I know, of course, that symbolism has been used in Christian art and architecture for centuries, but only as something which gives an obvious picture an extra depth. In accord with classical Biblical interpretation, you should not just have hidden interpretation, or mystical interpretation, but also a plain meaning. One can go deeper if one has the time and the inclination, but one should also be able to stay on the surface.

The Annunciation by Jan van Eyck - full of symbolism but with an obvious and plain meaning.
A picture of the Annunciation can be filled with any number of hidden references that one is able to 'read' if one knows the key - symbols of virginity, of the presence of the Holy Spirit, of the crucifixion and death of the  Son who is about to exist in her womb... but if it is not recognisably the Annunciation, then these other symbols only have meaning for the smug club who understands such things.

This is what I hate, anything that transforms our religion into a smug club for those who have the time (and education) to 'read' the hidden things.

Incidently this is one of the reasons why the revision of the Lectionary was such a disaster in my opinion. Simply put, huge chunks of dislocated Old Testament Scripture were inserted into Holy Mass. If you happen to go to daily Mass you will hear them 30 times in your life, on Sundays perhaps 20 times or so. They will generally not be preached on, nor explained. If you are clever, and have the education and intelligence to go to Bible study groups, then you can have access to them. If you do not have the time nor the inclination (and there is no obligation to study the Bible after all) then it is a 'closed book'. It becomes hidden.

Please follow the link below
Getting back to the smug club. I came to this conclusion and this comparison having seen an installation of a religious image in a school in my British Diocese. Please look at the pictures here, or none of this will make any sense. I am not making any judgement on its merit as 'art' - or its meaningfulness for the children who are there at the moment. But it is not immediately accessible. It has no plain meaning. It is at best, in the theological terms that I have just outlined, a secret coded image which is meaningful for those in the club.

When the Rites of the Church are shrouded in mystery, then the symbols which explain and expand them must work on numerous levels, and these levels must be built one on top of the other. The base is a plain reading, a plain representation, something that everyone, be they four or ninety four, can access. When it becomes clever, then it stops being Catholic.

We are both clear and clever. We can be only clear, but we enter dangerous water if we are only clever. The modern Church (and I would also say modern liturgy) tends towards being too clever, becoming too smug.

The result of the Incarnation was that it was accessible (had a plain meaning) and was infinitely deep, far beyond our understanding. He was human with warmth, and recognisable.

Faith, practice, theology, architecture, art, liturgy must imitate God-made-man. God became man, then we went further into the mystery.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Chavagnes College Refectory and the Evils of Modern Theology

The Chavagnes Refectory
I know this is not the most exciting title for a post, but what I want to do is to give an example of where I think modern theology/Church practice/everything I don't approve of... has gone wrong. And I want to do it through comparing and contrasting two places.

This all comes about because of the background to the picture about the choir which I posted the other day.

I want to look at our refectory (dining hall, salle polyvalante). You can see that it is ordered. There is a high table where the masters eat breakfast and the evening meal (we all eat together at lunch). This shows order and difference.

Christmas Tree (bush?) in the Refectory. The picture on the wall is Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.
The room itself is well appointed and interesting, with things to see and engage the mind. Also there is clutter, and things that need to be tidied away. Just in case you thought it was all order and discipline, then have no fear.

Two House Tables. Far left Rochejaquelein, and closer Charette.
The portraits of the people the Houses are named after are on the walls behind the houses.
The House Portraits give a sense of identity and distinction. This house is Cathelineau because it not Suzannet and we have a better picture than you... etc. This gives the boys a sense of pride and communal expression. And it is something that they can see. They are spatially away of it (it is on this table and not that one) and it is iconographic (it is this picture and not that one).

And speaking of iconography, these two photographs are of the most important objects in the room, The crucifix and the Blessed Virgin. We have crucifixes and statues everywhere, so they are not something new or different for the boys. But they are proper depictions. This is a man on a cross and he is being crucified. Then we can take the boys to an appreciation that this is THE God/man on the Cross and He is being crucified for us. The images are immediately accessible to the boys from the age of 10 to 18. He looks like a man on a cross and she looks like a woman with a crown of stars.

What I want to say is that this is an incarnational room. It depicts the faith in accessible terms for everyone. Not for the initiated or clever or those looking or hunting for it, but in easy images. It is ordered, hierarchical, giving identity and purpose.

It is a Catholic room.

I'll get on to the rest later!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Preparing for Rome

Altos finishing choir practice
During half term in February, the school choir is going to Rome to sing in various places. You can see where when and how and the like on Mr McDermott's blog here.

The boys are brushing up their polyphony. This is something excellent about this school. There is no choice as to whether a boy sings or not. If they have the voice, then they are in the choir. This gives them the opportunity of singing in a group, working together, producing something of honour and beauty, which, if we are honest, they probably would not choose to do if given a straight "do you want to sing in a choir".

It is of course important that they have choices, but these have to be limited, after all they do not have a choice but to get up in the morning, or brush their teeth (a lesson some still have to be reminded of!), or to go to biology or history or Holy Mass. In an all boys school it is easier for them to sing as it simply is a manly pursuit.

Choices are all well and good, but they have to be informed, and also tempered by what is best for the community.

So they sing... and no matter what they might say every now and again, they actually like it. It is also quite bizarre to hear boys harmonizing pieces of Mass Settings as they wander along, or kill time, or annoy you in a lesson!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Ciborium Veil

One of the dangers of letting a boy loose on Fortescue (the rubrical book on how to do almost anything in the Extra-ordinary Form) is that they keep finding things that you should be doing.

Such is the case with the ciborium. Previously (this is a terrible scandle - not for the faint ears) I had simply been using an unveiled ciborium (a ciborium being the silver thing that the hosts are brought to the altar in before they are changed into the Body of Christ, and which they are preserved in in the tabernacle).

Ciborium veil in process of being made
So I was INFORMED that we needed to have a ciborium veil. Quite correct, of course. So I have made one. It is just a circle of material, hemmed, with a hole in the middle for the cross on top of the ciborium to go through. I think it looks quite smart.

The finished article
I'm now working on a Monstrance cover... because similarly I was INFORMED... !!!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

So Who's Missing?

Just what was the fate of this schoolboy?
This photo was taken at the end of the last term. I'm used to seeing blazers lying about, and also ties... but shoes??!!

So either it was the rapture or spontaneous combustion (though there were no scorch marks). As we welcome the boys back tonight, we'll eventually be able to see... just who didn't make it.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The King of the Smurfs

Galette des Rois

On the Epiphany the French eat cakes.

The cake in question is the Galette des Rois, the Kings' Cake, or the cake which is about the kings, or something like that. According to the Internet (Oh great and wise wisdom) the feast of the cake was bound up with a kind of role reversal, akin to the Boy Bishop. However, as this depends on the Cake only existing in Royal circles, that seems a little odd. Also it is dependent on ancient Roman practices, which I fear may be a kind of false archeologism, which we hate.

Anyway, the thing about the Galette des Rois is that there is a thing baked into it. In this it reminds me of a Christmas Pudding which has a sixpence baked into it. Alas this does not really happen anymore. I remember it as a boy, but that was when we made our own Christmas Pudding, and I have not done such a thing since my days at L'Arche Lambeth. Originally these were crib figure in metal or pottery, and one could get the Virgin or the Christ Child.

The Smurf Crown
Now things are a little different. Eating supper last night with Mr McDermott and Mrs McDermott, we too had a Galette des Rois, but this was a Smurf one. (French for Smurf is Schtroumpf). And I found it so got to were the crown above. The figure within was a standing up thing with Les Schtroumpfs written on it.

I, Fr Rowe, the winner of the Standing up Thing
So much for Kings, and Christmas, and baby Jesus. And I suppose I should have mourned the passing of the religious symbolism of it. But in the middle was a little joy, because the standing up thing was made of ceramic, and no where on the packaging did I see:

WARNING - May contain ceramic Schtroumpf

For once it was not 'elf and safety gone mad!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Mexican Kings

Happy Epiphany!

In Mexico it is traditional for children to put polished shoes stuffed with straw out for the arrival of the Kings. The camels eat the straw and the Kings leave presents. 

Kids get stuff and parents get polished shoes. Everyone wins!
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