Saturday, 31 March 2012

Vatican II – It was only a Council!

Last time I said that the Church regularly changes bits of Councils or modifies them or even ignores them. This shouldn’t come a great surprise, but I suspect that it will do because we have fallen into the trap of poring over every line, meaning and nuance of the Documents. They are infinitely important because we have given them an infinite importance.

But even that is not really true. Both sides can quote Councils! On one side “Actual/active participation in the Mass” on the other “retention of Latin and Gregorian Chant having pride of place”.

We bang on about what the Documents say but selectively read them. Who could forget that sweet Document “Inter Mirifica” a Decree of the second Vatican Council. Well, actually almost every one. No one really looks at it any more. Of course it is not a Dogmatic Constitution so is not up there with the big four – but it has the same authority as the one which changed our relations with the Jewish people, Nostra Aetate, or the Decree Christus Dominus the reading and interpretation of which rewrote the theology of being a Bishop.

Now all I want to say is that before we start trading texts and Documents, we have to realise that these are to a large extent dependent on the authority we give them and are not set in stone. Certain things within them will be, but a lot will not. Already we ignore parts of them and we selectively read others.

They are not the be all and end all. Nor should they be. Nor will they be.

But this is not to say that their effects have not been extraordinarily important. But that is different from the Documents themselves. It is the effects that I’m interested in.

So let us look at the period before the Council, again being very aware of the dangers of reading into history what we want or expect to find.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Vatican II – What is a Council?

Before talking about the Council, perhaps we should put Councils in their context. We have to avoid polemic on either side. Some will say that Councils are or were the way that the Church was run until the rise of the middle ages when the Papacy took over. Others claim that Councils have no real place in the running of the Church and are a minor inconvenience every now and again.

Neither of these in wholly right. They couldn’t be. So what is a Council?

Well, there have been 21 of them. They have often been called to sort out a disputed point of theology (but not just for academic purposes). So, for example, the Council of Ephesus in 431AD decreed that Our Lady could rightly be called ‘Mother of God’ thus stating an eternal truth about the divinity and humanity of her Son. Others settled political questions of the relationship between Church and state, such as the First Lateran Council of 1123AD. Still others condemned heretics and heresies, such as those of Wycliffe and Hus by the Council of Constance in 1414-1418AD.

In truth we have to say that Councils did seem to have a role in the periodic life of the Church. However the last great Council which in practice changed this was the Council of Trent (1545-1563AD). Why do I say that this changed it all? Simply because after that Councils no longer had that same role in the life of the Church.

Now you can argue back and forth about what you think should happen, but the simple reality is that Councils disappeared off the agenda for a good 300 years until the First Vatican Council in 1869. This seemed to seal the fate of the Councils by defining the long believed Dogma of Papal Infallibility. The Pope could teach in ways different from Councils.

Councils really had changed dramatically from a periodically used arm of the Church.

It does not follow, of course that just because we used to do things, like have Councils, that we should have them again all the time. If someone suggests this then I offer them the ancient practice of public confession of sin. They then see the point. Indeed when we resurrect things, we usually change them into something that we like, modifying the original to make it more palatable. A good case in point was the newly written Eucharistic Prayer Two. Said to be based on Hippolytus (though in reality Hippolytus never wrote it) all the nasty references to Hell were cut out.

Just because something happened in the past does not mean that we must revive it. A man dies for a reason – it is foolish to dig up his rotten, mouldering flesh.

So…  in a nutshell, Councils did lots of different things at different times in history but hadn’t for quite a long time.

The important thing about them is, of course, that the Church ignored chunks of them and sometimes simply overturned them.


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Vatican II - been and gone

Second Vatican Council

I think that it is fair to say that the second Vatican Council is fairly important.

I am not a master of understatement and so let me tell you exactly what I mean by that.

Primarily I mean that the aftermath of the second Vatican Council has changed the ordinary experience of the Church for her faithful, brought about a crisis of identity in her priests and fundamentally rewritten her theology of episcopacy (what it means to be a Bishop).

Exactly what that means for each group I will try to look at over the next few weeks. Of course it is a moot point what the relationship between the Council and the effects is. I used to think that the relationship between the two was that the time after the Council had been hijacked and that the Council had said and done nothing much. I don’t really think that anymore. I think that the Council brought about a mindset which is reflected in the Documents and also is writ large on the history and practice of the Church afterwards. The mindset is the dangerous thing.

Consecration of a Bishop
Let’s be honest, Councils come and go… but the Word of the Lord (and the Magisterium of the Church) continues forever.

In theology there is a current debate as to what happened at the second Vatican Council, if there was a break with previous belief or not. On one level I don’t think that this matters much as the Church will right herself – she always does.

No, what I am more worried about is the belief of the faithful (the second Vatican Council has changed the ordinary experience of the Church for her faithful), the position of the priest (it has brought about a crisis of identity in her priests) and, most worrying of all the position of the successors of the Apostles (for it has fundamentally rewritten her theology of episcopacy: what it means to be a Bishop).

The Church will always right herself
But a word of comfort before we get too despondent. When I was in my first parish as a newly ordained priest, the Permanent Deacon there was very protective of his position and of his very existence in Holy Orders. It took me a while to realise that what was going on was that he was fighting a battle which he had had to wage twenty years ago. The world had moved on. No matter the rights and wrongs of the resurrection of the Permanent Diaconate, it existed for me in a normal way.

The world has moved on after the second Vatican Council. It is history. We live its effects but that is all. Wait another ten or twenty years and no one will have a lived experience of it.

There are certain battles which are history and need to be buried. So take comfort that we can move forward sensibly.

Much more interesting is what effect it has had, and continues have on us now…

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Vatican II – its Impact on Quadratic Equations

Blessed John XXIII, Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council

The 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council

It has been a long time since I have written a sustained series of articles on a given subject. In the past I have jotted things down because I used to write things for the back of my bulletin. That discipline has gone now, sadly. But I miss the joy of having stuff to do and just getting on and doing it.

Shiny Euro Cent Coins

I try to tell the boys that getting on and doing it is a fun thing to do, but they just look at me as if I’m completely mad. Which is quite a tall order as I just spend S2 Religion polishing euro cent coins of low denominations with the French equivalent of Brasso, and not one of them batted an eyelid.

There is much in the world written about Vatican II, and so I thought I’d wade in. As has been rightly pointed out, sometimes I can be a little opinionated, so I want to preface all of this by saying that what will follow is opinion. But if every Tom, Dick and Henrietta are banging on about it, then I’m going to as well.

Gasp! Shock! Horror!

I’ll try to do them in bite size 400 word morsels, and not make them too stultifyingly dull. But I cannot promise that.

I can’t be bothered to document things either – sorry about that, but I have to teach boys, not the quadratic equations in the title, but how to expand the brackets (x + 9)(2x – 4), so I’ve got no time for faffing about.

Hard Maths. The level is a little above my boys at the moment.
So this falls well into the category of Fr Rowe banging on about things.

What could possibly go wrong!!!

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Passiontide and the Veiling of the Statues

This was the Chapel before...

This half-way through...

This is the completed chapel this year. I say 'this year' because I have not been able to cover up the high statues. I thought that this might be the case. Next year I will try to get some tower rigged up so that I can get them all done. As I said to one of the other masters 'thats my next two weeks of religion classes sorted out!' A bit flippant, but it is a catechetical opportunity par excellence. Pity other places don't do it.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Scouts go to meet St Louis-Marie Grignon de Montford

The Chavagnes Scouts and a Morris Minor
Our Scouts are walking this weekend about 30 miles in two days to the shrine of Saint Louis-Marie Grignon de Montford. I will go to St Laurent sur Sevres to say Mass for them on Sunday evening.

The packing of the boys into the cars went well, and the trusty Morris did us proud.

Does a Scout Master really need so much wine for two days?
Mr Tyldesley swore that all of these provisions were not being taken, but I am very suspicious!

They were dropped off at this place where there was an attractive 15th century chapel. It was fortified during the hundred years war.

The boys looked off into the distance at the horrors that were in store for them...

Scout staring into the distance. Yes, it is that far away.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Veiling - The Saga Continues

Veils waiting to be ironed
So, the material was bought, and now the veils are in process of being made, but there is still the problem of how I cover the high statues. I fear that they will have to remain open to the public gaze!

The High Statues are high indeed
We'll see...

What could these be?
Soon to be Tabernacle Veil

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Integral Confession

God is present in every Confessional
I've had a few interesting moments in the past few weeks contemplating the Sacrament of Confession. I suppose that it will always be in my mind, and that is no bad thing! In a rather good book I wrote on the subject (link here) I said that the Sacrament was a weather vane for the spiritual life - don't think that you're on the right track if it has been many, many years since your last Confession.

I just had a rather long conversation with someone about this and after we had gone round and round the subject a number of times it still comes back to the simple fact that the norm is full, integral Confession, and we need it to be.

Yes we can have communal penitential services, but that leads to full integral Confession.

Priest Hearing Confession
But if Priests give off any hint that they have more important things to do, then Satan will rejoice and the faithful will not come.
And if Priests suggest that the faithful no longer need Confession, then Satan will rejoice and the faithful will not come.
And if Priests put on penitential services and there are not enough Priests, and the Priest then goes out, thanks them all for coming, apologises and says that they might like to come back at another time, then Satan will rejoice and the faithful will not come.

Why? Because we are telling them that there is something more pressing than their Confession... and it may have been set up that way, with the lively expectation that there will not be enough Priests. And if they only come once a year, when do you think they will return?

Montgomery Clift in I Confess
Now, I have been called a rigorist before (not by anyone, to my knowledge, who has experienced the Sacraments from me) but with Confession I take no prisoners. It is THE most important Sacrament in the everyday lives of people. I know that you need Baptism to receive the rest and that the Holy Eucharist is the fons et origo - the fount and origin - of all the others, but confession is the Sacrament that resets the spiritual life after our sin. And that's what is needed now: a re-set, a re-start. If you're doing fine then the Sacramental life of the Eucharist is sublime, but unless the grace of Confession has been given and received, then it does no good.

Anything that downplays Confession is not of God.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Saint-Anne d'Auray

Monday saw a visit to Saint-Anne d'Auray, a shrine to the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The web-site guide is here.

My motivation for going was no more than I had seen it on a map and thought 'that might be interesting'.

The whole village is given over to the shrine and it dominates all, far and wide. The Sanctuary is largely victorian with a very impressive array of confessionals as you enter. It has ever been that pilgrimage sites attract confessions. But when I saw the confessionals resplendent with TV screens, I have to admit that my heart sunk a little.

But, and this is a big but, there was a Priest on duty to hear confessions all day long. Now that is impressive. It is what should happen but as we know to our cost, in is not always what we find. In the spirit of 'always avail yourself of the Sacrament if possible', I was grateful for the kind ministrations of a fellow Priest.

High Altar

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Get your Hands off that Altar

One of the challenges is educating boys not only in academic subjects, but also in their response to the divine, is the central tenet of our faith – that God became man in Jesus Christ.

I have spoken about this before, here, here and here.

This means that the world has been sanctified not only because it was made by God, but also that God entered into His creation. Created things were joined to the one who had created them. This is the reason why the Sacraments work – the created things (external signs) are vehicles of supernatural things (inward invisible grace).

But it also means that the Holy Things (externals used as vehicles of supernatural grace) must be preserved and guarded.

Introibo ad altare Dei

Why? Because we are human and thus a bit stupid. There must be a relationship between what we say and what we believe. If I say that I love you and yet spend all my time with my friends and ignore you, not answering pour telephone calls and avoiding your company, then you can very well question my love. My words and my deeds must match up.

If I say that this is the most precious book that I possess because it was given to me by my father,  and that I would never part with it then, then you can quite correctly call me a liar if I then exchange it for a the price of a hamburger, simply because I have forgotten my wallet.

Again, words and actions must add up. If not then people will quite rightly not believe what I say.

I think of this for two reasons.

First I have had to remind one of my altar servers this week that when they genuflect close to the Altar, then they are not to put their hands on it as a way of hoisting themselves up. I know that at various points during the Mass the Priest is allowed to touch the Altar in such a manner, but not an altar server.

Why? Because this is the Altar of God where the divine sacrifice of God to God takes place. This is Calvary where the Precious Blood of the Lord is spilled for our redemption. This is not a shelf or a table to put things on. It is consecrated and set apart for a supernatural purpose.  If I allow him to use it as a table then how can I tell him that it is the Altar of God? If I reduce it to the status of his desk then I cannot expect him not to treat it like a desk? If he treats it as a normal table then soon he will think of it as a normal table – and further, normal things happen on normal tables, not supernatural things.

Our limited humanity will make it difficult to believe that profane things carry sacred significance.

Will Holy Mass ‘work’ using a dirty coffee cup and the dregs of last night’s wine glass? Well, yes. But it is not suitable, it is not fitting. In an emergency, no problem, but if that becomes normal then when I say to you that this is the most precious thing in the world – the Holy Blood of God made Man – then I cannot blame you if you say “I do not believe that you would treat something so precious with such little respect”. It is important that my altar-server does not slouch on the Altar in the Chapel.

So what about this…

…what does this say? Boys and girls slouching on the Altar as part of a play in Clifton Cathedral.

This is not the Holy Place where Heaven and Earth are joined.
This is not the place where the Priest in mournful silence mounts the Hill of Calvary to be crucified for the sins of the world.
This is a stage set for a play. It may be a holy play, but it remains a play. So then what is the Priest doing in his fancy clothes on a Sunday? A play like this one?

And even this is offensive. This is supposed to be the Last Supper, with women taking the place of the disciples. When will people get it into their skulls? It is at best confusing, at worst offensive to portray the Disciples as women. It is de fide – thus to be definitively believed by all Christ’s faithful – that the words ‘do this in memory of me’ were the moment of the first ordinations to the Sacred Priesthood (the role and power fulfilled on the Cross). So here we have boys and girls slouched on an Altar re-enacting the Last Supper, with girls playing the parts of men, receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

From this do you believe that the Altar is the place of sacrifice?
Do you believe that this holy place containing the relics of the saints is precious, cherished and loved?
Do you see the intimate moment between Christ and the men He had chosen to be His first Bishops – a sacred act of Ordination, example and sacrifice?

If you do, then your faith is stronger than mine. If this happened in the morning, then I could not expect an altar server to treat this table with any more respect than a counter of a shop in the afternoon. And this same altar server will have seen, in my Cathedral, a representation of the Disciples as women receiving the Sacrament of Ordination.

Thanks very much. Teaching the faith is hard enough without this kind of ‘help’.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Saint Goustan and the Fish

Saint Gousan with his fish
(fish hidden for copyright reasons)
The story goes like this...

Goustan was born in Cornwall in 974 and was kidnapped by pirates when he was 18 years old. As they went on their piratical way Goustan hurt his foot. He was abandoned on the Island  of Houat, near Vannes. His life was saved through God's intervention with miraculous fish.

Hence the fish (actually probably a porpoise) with Saint Goustan.

Each day Goustan ate a part of the fish and kept the rest for the next day. Then miraculously each day the fish was made whole again.

Saint Goustan went on to found a monastery having been converted to the faith by Saint Felix. Now Saint Goustan is the patron saint of fisherman.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Saying sorry to Goustan

St Goustan with a fish
It all started like this. There was a chap here called Goustan, and I refused to believe that it was a name. That's not strictly true... I  refused to believe that it was a proper name. I just thought that his parents had had fun with anagrams of the word 'nougats' and other confectionary based delights. He had vehemently asserted that Goustan was a proper Breton name and that I was an uncultured peasant for not knowing about him.

The Church of St Sauveur in Port de Saint Goustan
So this Monday I went to a shrine of Saint Anne, more of which later, near Auray in Brittany. And there in the city is Port de Saint Goustan. 'Hmmm' thought I, 'that's a bit rum', so I went to investigate. The Church is dedicated to St Sauveur but there he is, standing in the pulpit! St Goustan and a fish. Looking all reproachful and 'so I don't exist, eh?' and accusatory.

A very nice Church with a ship in a case almost obscuring St Joseph.

I'm not entirely convinced about the meaningful Lenten sand and stones bit...

Meaningful sand and stones
...but Our Lady rescuing souls from the flames of Purgatory is surely good.

Our Lady rescuing sinners from Purgatory
So to all you Goustans out there, I apologise, your holy patron does exist. And he seems to be rather fond of fish.
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