Friday, 18 November 2016

Fanaticism - the Ornaments of Churches Considered

A bench end in, I think, a Suffolk church. A poppy-head, they call it, though that is a distortion of the original term (poupée, doll's head). This is especially doll-like; a carved infant in swaddling clothes. It came to light when I was sifting through old photographs in preparation for a move. But look closely at the doll. It has been defaced, just one among thousands of pieces (we would call them works of art) which were so hated by 'reformers' in the sixteenth century upheavals during the Tudors' reigns, or a century later under the Commonwealth.

This Puritan spirit has surfaced in many churches at many times. It was thriving in the East during the Iconoclast controversy. It spurred on the 11th Century reforms of Citeaux - though the Cistercians built great white-washed barns for themselves rather than destroying the churches of others. 
In the eighteenth century there were Parliamentary debates about whether it was fitting that stained glass originally made as a gift from the Dutch to Henry VII for his Chapel in Westminster might be allowed to fill the East Window of the Church of St Margaret Westminster - the parish Church of Parliament. That window had almost miraculously survived from the sixteenth Century, hidden by a succession of guardians; the last Abbot of Waltham, the Earls of Ormond, then Thomas Bullen (Anne Boleyn's father!). At one stage George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, owned it; and sold it to General Monk, who buried it through the Civil War. When New-Hall where it was installed by Monk fell into decay it was sold again; and eventually was bought in 1758 by a Parliamentary Committee set up to repair and restore St Margaret's. 
A little over a century later battles raged over liturgical attire and practice, and whether the Bishop of Lincoln might be permitted to wear a surplice and light candles in his private chapel. So perhaps it should not surprise us that the spirit of Puritanism is also found in Islam. Whether depictions of the Buddha or Pagan Temples in Palmyra, to ardent Muslims these are not works of art, they are an offence to true religion and only fit for destruction. We may not approve of the destruction, whether in our own history or present day Islam, But perhaps we can make a start at understanding people's motives, even if we do not approve of them - what was that about Cecil Rhodes' statue in Oxford?

Palmyra: now destroyed

Friday, 28 October 2016

Naked I came into this World .....

Too Much Stuff
Downsizing, they call this exercise which my wife and I are currently undertaking. I was in the mid-cull of some more books when the phone rang. "How are you, Michael?" I asked when the caller told me who he was. "Dying" came the reply. And so he is, in a hospice preparing to make a good death.

That phone call shone a new light on what we are doing with a move. We are getting ready to die. So we certainly should not grumble about it, as I had been doing. It is a great opportunity for deciding what our successors might find useful or consider beautiful (as William Morris has it). If an item does not measure up to either, and is not essential for our daily living in the next few months, then OXFAM or the tip is the answer. A few special books might find particular good homes. Newman's 1843 Sermons from the University Church in Oxford are in the very middle of the picture above, and the Bournemouth Oratory must have a library.  But no books will be needed on our last voyage. Here we know we are just strangers and pilgrims (so good to have Our Lady of Walsingham for our Ordinariate's Patron), so let's try to value every opportunity for letting go of the encumbrances of STUFF.

More Stuff

Please pray for Michael Walter, Priest of the Church of England, and for St Christopher's Hospice.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Bridges & the Ordinariate in Dublin's Fair City

A first visit to Dublin has set me wondering. Bridges - Pope Benedict as Pontiff - Pontifex Maximus - the Bridge-builder - and the Ordinariate as a Bridge. In Dublin, where the population is predominantly Roman Catholic, there is a Catholic pro-Cathedral (below). It is a fine neo-Classical building. But why only a Pro-Cathedral?

One explanation I heard was that when the Irish Free State was set up a century ago it was supposed that the Church of Ireland, the Anglicans that is, would happily hand over one of the two ancient Cathedrals which had been in their possession since the Reformation. They could hardly need two such buildings within half a mile of each other.

Christ Church Cathedral

St Patrick's
Today a century after the 1916 Rising Christ Church and St Patrick's are both in the hands of the Church of Ireland. The former seems to do a great tourist trade, though it is largely a Victorian rebuild.  St Patrick's, too, had a make-over thanks to a Guinness (picture left). There seems to be a very generous spirit among the Irish. In the Castle State Apartments, which are used for grand events (such as the visit of the Queen to Ireland) the reception Hall still has on its walls portraits of Victoria and Albert, and of most of the Viceroys. The Chapel within the Castle also has the names of former Viceroys (together with St Patrick) carved along its balconies (below). Yet none of this has been vandalised. Other places which were once under Colonial rule have generally been less merciful towards their former overlords.

St Patrick & the Duke of Devonshire

Best of all, outside the City Hall stands a postbox proudly bearing the cipher of Edward VII. Is it possible that in England we could improve relations between the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches? Not with another endless round of ARCIC conversations but with a more generous attitude to sharing. Perhaps the best thing I did in fifty years of ministry as an Anglican priest (perhaps the only really good thing) was to start the experiment of the shared use of St John's (Anglican) parish Church. That was forty years ago, and both Bishops were determined it would just be an experiment. The experiment seems to be working, and still between the early Communion service and the later Parish Eucharist there is a Roman Catholic Mass in St John's. I know there are other instances of such sharing - but it ought to be commonplace. In many Anglican parishes a small congregation struggles to find the money to keep the building standing; yet often (and this is mostly true in our larger Cities) a neighbouring Catholic Church is bursting at the seams and has to have a succession of Masses throughout the day to accommodate everyone.

There are so many other things we could and should share. Within the Ordinariate I think particularly of our friendships. Can we not engineer meetings when Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics might meet socially and talk freely about our concerns, instead of sniping and point-scoring at a distance? I think I am still a life member of Forward in Faith - yet I do not even receive New Directions any longer, nor am I invited to the annual Assembly or any of its meetings. What are we afraid of? So many Anglican clergy have remained in the Church of England for good and honourable reasons, and we Roman Catholics should honour this instead of implying that they are just cowardly. It is good that Fr Paul Benfield writes about Anglican matters in our Ordinariate magazine. Perhaps there could be a reciprocal arrangement for New Directions? [And since writing this I find that such an arrangement already exists; Simon Cotton has a column. Sorry I did not know this before I wrote - just hope we can increase and build on all the contacts we have]

When Newman left the Church of England, he described it as The Parting of Friends; yet I have a copy of Pusey's University sermons, a copy he had given to his daughter Mary. In it he has written a footnote in his own spidery hand telling of a very kind correspondence between him and Newman forty years after Newman had left the University Church in Oxford. (His memorial, rt. in the Dublin Catholic University Church). We really should be keeping all our friendships in better order, if we are to make the Ordinariate a bridge rather than an obstacle between our two communions.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Liturgy: the work of the People

“We do not come to the Church to celebrate what we have done or who we are. Rather, we come to celebrate and give thanks for all that Almighty God has done, and continues in His love and mercy to do, for us.  What He does in the liturgy is what is essential; what we do is to present our ‘first fruits’—the best that we can—in worship and adoration. When the modern liturgy is celebrated in the vernacular with the priest ‘facing the people’ there is a danger of man, even of the priest himself and of his personality, becoming too central."

Of course Cardinal Sarah is right. There are these dangers in vernacular liturgy celebrated facing the people. I could wish though that the good Cardinal had also pointed up some of the dangers in a liturgy not "understanded of the people" (Cranmer, I believe) and also in 'ad orientem' celebrations.
It is possible for a mass to become so liturgically correct, so observant of every foot-note in Fortescue and O'Connell,  that those celebrating (not least, but not only, the Servers) can lose sight of what they are about. I have witnessed 'North end' celebrations in the Church of England which were deeply devout and prayerful. Equally I have seen priests celebrating Mass facing the apse who have been quite switched off - and certainly inattentive to the needs of the worshippers as they gabbled the Latin and dropped into supposedly pious inaudibility, while self-important servers fussed about the altar. 
When we began to adopt the westward facing Eucharist in my CofE days I tried, with my curates, to recognise some of the pitfalls of that change. We spent time together with members of the congregation working out how best to introduce liturgical change. Yes, one could become too informal, more a ringmaster than a celebrant. It was more important than ever to focus on the sacred elements rather than on one's fellow worshippers. Those dangers are still present now that I am a Catholic . Attentiveness, attention to the text, clarity of speaking, refusal to rush, all these and more are needed to give the Mass its proper dignity. There is no place for idiosyncratic modes of speech, or elaborate gestures.
The Ordinariate, I hope, brings with it as part of its patrimony a reverence for "the beauty of holiness". But this does not depend on choreography of Byzantine complexity, Latin vestments more suited to the Knave in a pack of cards than to the reality of the human body, or language from fourth century Rome or sixteenth century England. Repeatedly through history there have needed to be reforms, usually of over-elaboration and clericalism in worship which have treated the laity as mere pew-fodder. We should be grateful to Cardinal Sarah for reminding us that all our worship ought to be focus on the Almighty. Perhaps, though, his particular remedies are only suitable for relatively few Cathedrals and greater churches. More important by far is to get the music sorted out. Drop the meaningless ditties of the 20th Century or the maudlin attention to death of the 19th. Restore to the Catholic Church some of the treasures of hymnody and psalmody from previous generations [and our own], and there is a chance that the people will discover something of God in the Church's worship. For where two or three are gathered together in his name (and no advice in scripture on which way they should be facing) there is the Lord in the midst of them. (Matt.xviii 20)

Saturday, 9 July 2016


Arundel Cathedral: Our Lady & S Philip Howard 
One of our priests claimed a first in Arundel. As an Anglican he had celebrated in the Nave of the Parish Church. Ever since the Reformation that has been the Parish Church for the Church of England. Then after Anglicanorum Coetibus and his reception and Ordination in the Catholic Church he had celebrated Mass in the east end of the same church, which thanks to the Dukes of Norfolk had remained Catholic. So it is easy to see why such a place as Arundel was chosen as one of the Pilgrimage goals for the Ordinariate in this Year of Mercy.

The pilgrimage began in the Fitzalan Chapel, the quire of the old Parish Church, where our Ordinary was joined by a number of pilgrim priests hearing confessions in readiness for Mass. There, surrounded by the tombs of generations of Dukes of Norfolk and their kin the divided history of our nation became apparent. So many had suffered deprivation and worse at the hands of successive Tudors and Stuarts. Yet still the Duke of Norfolk remains, Earl Marshal and hereditary Marshal of England.
The Catholic East end of the Parish Church
So, for instance, the organisation of a Coronation is his responsibility. We processed, almost two hundred of us, from the Chapel across to the Cathedral. The Mass was celebrated by our Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton, with a dozen or so concelebrants. who like the lay pilgrims came from across southern England. We were from Pembury and Deal in the east to Salisbury and Bournemouth in the west; from the balmy southern depths of  Eastbourne and the Isle of Wight to the frozen northern wastes of Reading and London.

Mass ended (when the organist finished his voluntary) with prayers at the shrine of St Philip Howard, one of the forty English Martyrs.

At St Philip's Shrine

Then we scattered across the town for lunch, and met again in mid-afternoon at the Cathedral for Benediction.
Communion being administered in the Cathedral

A great day, owing much to Fr Neil Chatfield's organisation. On unfamiliar territory his serving team did very well. Mgr Keith's sermon was especially apposite in such a setting. There were occasional logistical hiccups - a few people were mislaid for a while, there was no way of communicating with the Organist - but everyone seemed to have had a great pilgrimage, and greatly valued the chance of meeting and catching up with old friends and making some new ones.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

No Ordinary Day

St Thomas More dressed overall
St Thomas More in Iford is a Catholic Parish Church, the home too of the Bournemouth Ordinariate and also of a congregation of Syro-Malabar Catholics. Today our Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton, experienced all three during his visit. He preached for the parish Mass, celebrated and preached for the Ordinariate, and joined in the procession in the afternoon in honour of Saints Thomas the Apostle and Alphonsa, The Kerala Indians really know how to decorate a Church for a Festival; later they added coloured umbrellas and banners; all very jolly.
First umbrella in place

For us in the Ordinariate July 3rd, being a Sunday, had no special mention of Thomas the Apostle - though of course he appears in the Ordinariate Canon of the Mass. It is good to know he is not forgotten in the Syro-Malabar Rite. The Anglican Church where I began to learn the faith was St Thomas' Keyham in Devonport. In those distant days we celebrated him on December 21st, the very darkest part of the year, and even if it fell on a weekday,and despite being only a few days before Christmas, there would be good numbers in church both early in the morning (7am I think) and in the evening.

Chatting over the Bring and Share Luncheon
Mgr Keith had a very upbeat message for us all, reminding us of our vocation to evangelize. After Mass there was a terrific buffet lunch prepared by Madeleine, Lisa and their helpers, and before he left us to go to the Festival Mgr Keith stayed on for a while to give us further encouragement and advice, and to listen to some of our grumbles. The collect alas was in  bowdlerised form once again ['that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises which exceed all that we can desire' has had it balance upset with the addition of 'in all things' before 'and above all things'. American inclusivity, I suppose - in case something feels left out; and might even sue!] And of course "man's understanding" has to become "our understanding". Thank goodness the Catholic RSV does not go down that particular PC road. But we overlook these shortcomings when we can have such a joyful and tuneful celebration.
St Thomas the Apostle and St Alphonsa ready for the processio
May Blessed John Henry Newman, St Thomas More, St Alphonsa and St Thomas the Apostle pray for us, and bring us into ever closer unity with one another and with our Blessed Lord.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Tin-Eared Liturgists

Wiiliam Topaz McGonagall 
Florence Foster Jenkins; what a woman! She almost provoked a riot at Carnegie Hall when she gave concert there. We have just been to see Meryl Streep in the role, at our little local Cinema in the Community Centre. She reminded me of other dear deluded souls, who thought they were something they were not. Thomas Bowdler was perhaps the greatest of them all, supposing he could improve on Shakespeare and make his plays more family-friendly and more 'relevant' (dangerous idea). Then of course there was the inimitable, but often imitated, William Topaz McGonagall of Dundee, who immortalised the great Tay Bridge disaster and thought he was writing epic poetry..

This week, though, in the Ordinariate liturgy, we have discovered another contender for the title 'King of the tin-eared'. I do hope someone can tell us who it is who manages, with just a word or a phrase, to destroy the poetry of Cranmer's collects. Is it perhaps the same person who fiddled about with the Prayer of Thanksgiving? I wrote about those amendments in a previous post. Here is what Cranmer gave us in the collect for Trinity IV:

"O God, the protector of all that trust in thee,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy;
increase and multiply up on thy mercy,
that thou being our ruler and guide,
we may so pass through things temporal,
that we finally lose not the things eternal:
Grant this, O Heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake, our Lord."

Our liturgical genius, whoever she or he might be, excised the phrase
'that we finally lose not the things eternal' and substituted
'that we lose not our hold on things eternal'.

Does this improve the sense of the collect? Does it make the rhythm, the poetry, any better? Does it substitute acceptable catholic theology for Cranmer's protestantism? Surely none of these things. It just makes the collect end 'CLUNK' for all of us who have known the original from our earliest days. There are many more examples of this sort of rabid tinkering, and I shall hope to point them out as they occur in the liturgy. Then perhaps when our beloved Ordinariate Divine Worship comes to be revised in a century or two these 'improvements' can be reversed.