Sunday 28 February 2010

Bishops and bishops

As English or Welsh Catholics it is perhaps unsurprising if we are sometimes inclined to be somewhat sceptical of our bishops. "After all," it will be (has been) said, "all but one of them caved in to Henry VIII's government in 1532." It is, rather embarrassingly, true and we, perhaps, cast around looking for the Saint John Fisher of our day. What is unfortunately forgotten, however, is that at the accession of Elizabeth I and the reinstatement of the schism the figures were completely reversed!
Only one bishop accepted the Elizabethan settlement. All the others refused it and were deprived of their sees. As far as I am aware none were actually put to death but they have a claim upon our affections second only to the martyrs themselves. In fact in all but the shedding of their blood they deserve to be called martyrs. Theirs was a silent, largely invisible, witnessing as they disappeared from view, frequently - as in the case of Richard Pates, the last Catholic bishop of Worcester, dying in exile. In short there is a true story to be told of English episcopal heroism that generally goes unremarked.

Perhaps it is true today.

I can certainly understand how laypeople who find themselves "in the front line" defending a Catholic position can, at times, feel dismayed by the apparent silence or aquiesence of our shepherds in the face of public attack. Sometimes, however, silence is the only proper answer. Pope St Clement I in his Letter to the Corinthians in a memorable phrase speaks of Our Lord Jesus Christ who "spoke up for the truth before Pontius Pilate". Much of that "speaking up", we find in the Gospel, was, paradoxically, silence.

Back these bishops!

The Pastoral Letter of the bishops of Hallam, Leeds and Middlesborough is here.

Saturday 27 February 2010

Church Militant!

God bless and defend the bishops of Hallam, Leeds and Middlesborough who are standing up to the government and taking the fight to preserve their Catholic adoption agency to the High Court! They need and fully deserve the support of all the Catholics of England and Wales - not least that of those of us in the other dioceses. Let Satan's allies tremble!

Second Sunday in Lent

Monday 22 February 2010

St Peter's Chair

Indeed...but it's his coffee table I've got my eye on!

Sunday 21 February 2010

Lent On

My services not being required in these parts today, I betook myself to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Liverpool for mass. Cleverly, I thought, I would take my Gregorian Missal with me so that I could follow the Introit word for word and neume for neume. Alas it was not to be. The regular choir were on holiday and then, as it transpired, the girls choir, which had been going to deputise, had been unable to get there. A couple of good cantors, nevertheless, pulled things together, leading the Responsorial Psalm and the Mass XVIII Sanctus and Agnus Dei while providing a solo Kyrie by Langlais, a piece by John Ireland at the Offertory and a Tantum Ergo by Faure at Communion. There were two hymns - at the entry and after Communion. The latter was the lugubrious "Jesu lover of my soul let me to thy bosom fly" which I think is by one of the Wesleys, and to the tune "Aberystwyth". I know Lent is supposed to have a somewhat sombre character and we are to follow Our Lord into the wilderness but steady on there! Aberystwyth...?

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Tuesday 16 February 2010

"He dyed a papist"?

I am not a regular listener to "The Archers" on BBC Radio 4 but have dipped into it at odd times over the years. Somehow I have managed to hear one or two of the more dramatic episodes this way. This weekend I got the death of Phil Archer and it was every bit as memorable as that of Doris Archer some thirty years ago. There I seem to recall the news of the death being taken to the church where Evensong was in progress so that the episode ended not to the usual tumpty tumpty tumpty theme but instead to the strains of "The Day thou gavest, Lord is ended"coming from the church. I suspect one would have had to have had a heart of stone not to have roared with laughter!

Fast forward thirty years to the death of Phil and his exit was also marked with music- a recording he had evidently been listening to when Jill, his wife, entered to find him dead. The music was from Elgar's "The Dream of Gerontius"- precisely the instrumental introduction following the death of Gerontius and just before he sings "I went to sleep and now I am refreshed" and prior to meeting his Guardian Angel who will escort him into God's presence before bidding him farewell at the entrance to Purgatory.

One thing that has never ceased to amaze me about "The Archers" set, as it is, in the countryside of the English Midlands, is its take on the religious and cultural life of the region and, in particular the fact tha,t while the Church of England features prominently, the Catholic church simply doesn't seem to exist. There is a Hindu solicitor who celebrates Diwali- and I wonder how many of those does one encounter in the rural midlands(!)- but I have yet to encounter a Catholic character. How very different from the region I knew in my youth! Rather I suspect we hear a coutryside imagined in Birmingham.

It was in Birmingham, of course, that Newman originally wrote his poem and it was in Birmingham that Elgar had the first performance of "Gerontius"- a disaster, by all accounts. "It stinks of incense!" Sir Charles Villiers Stanford declared- which was a quaint way of expressing antipathy to "popery". So my surprise at hearing of Phil Archer's departure to the strains of "Gerontius" may be imagined. Who knows? Perhaps in time it may be rumoured that he, like another (but real) midlander four hundred and forty-six years earlier, "dyed a papist"!

Monday 15 February 2010


of Pope Benedict's visit here!

Saturday 13 February 2010

England Expects!

I have just discovered on the website of the Diocese of Westminster that the Spectator debate on 2nd March is "England should be a Catholic country again". Following so soon after the frightful "Intelligence Squared" debate it is good to see that we appear to have some more credible speakers. Along with Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor Piers Paul Reed and Dom Antony Sutch are supporting the motion. At the very least I know who they all are and have heard them speak at some time or another. Opposing are Lord Harries of Pentre Garth, Stephen Pound and Matthew Parris. Harries is a former Anglican bishop of Oxford and Pound is a London Labour MP.

England should, of course, be a Catholic country again. I doubt that the motion will be carried but at least there is a decent team- the first XI and not the reserves like last time!

Saturday 6 February 2010

Wednesday 3 February 2010


If you haven't yet done so please consider signing the online petition supporting the holy father's visit to Great Britain. Find it here.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Papal Visiting

Half my lifetime ago when we learned that Pope John Paul II was going to visit Great Britain I was, initially, not particularly enthusiastic. I couldn't see the point. No previous reigning pontiff had visited these shores and I was not aware of their having been any less a success for all that. Indeed I was quite blase about it. "We don't want a pope to be gallivanting about," I said, "but to guard the deposit of faith and lead the Church on earth." Besides, I had already seen him in the flesh three years earlier when I was in Rome for the first Easter Triduum of his pontificate. In fact I had been pretty close to him as he had blessed the new fire and paschal candle in the narthex of St Peter's basilica. As the visit drew closer, however, my attitude changed- not least because there seemed to be a risk of it not going ahead, thanks to the antics of our insane war-mongering Prime Minister.

Gradually it also dawned upon me that, during the proposed visit, the Church in England and Wales would be on show as never before and that, therefore, one had a duty to "stand up and be counted", as it were. "Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia"! As Catholics we were now free to profess our faith openly in a land where once, for centuries, in fact, the faith had been forced underground. Then, as the visit got under way, I found myself caught up in the excitement and snatching every possible opportunity to see the Pope on the television. Alerted by the news on the Saturday evening that already the roads to Coventry Aiport were busy, our family set off and arrived as the sun was setting. Along with thousands of others we spent the night on the grass in the open and saw a glorious summer dawn before the helicopter bearing the holy father arrived and he celebrated the mass of Pentecost Sunday. Then it was home in time to watch his arrival at Liverpool with the warm welcoming crowds and- not forgetting- the amusing comic sideshow of Rev Ian Paisley and his loopy chums protesting. Happy days!

Since then the world has changed. This country is remarkably different. It was post-Christian in 1982 but didn't know it. It is so today and revels in it. Commenters on a recent survey of social attitudes marvelled at increasingly liberal attitudes towards issues of sexual morality contrasting these with a more "conservative" stance regarding taxation. I think they missed the point "liberal" or "conservative"simply doesn't get it. The attitude is simply "I have a right to anything I want and I dont want to pay for it." In 1982 a Christian might be regarded as a fairly harmless eccentric. Today one is a reproach. It is not, sadly, that one is a better Christian. It is simply that we live in a world more hardened in vice.

Yet it would be a mistake to regard the situation in 1982 through rose tinted spectacles- as somehow ideal. The enthusiasm outside of the Church, particularly in the establishment and media, for Pope John Paul was born largely of a recognition of him as an ally against the Soviet Union. Once the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet empire folded increasing prominence was given to dissidents within the Church. By 1995 it was clear that many of these delightful people wanted him dead. But God is good.

My fear, as Pope Benedict's visit is announced, is that protesters will, this time, form something more than a comic sideshow. I shall pray that I am mistaken in this.

Monday 1 February 2010

God Bless Our Pope

On the day we heard officially of the promised visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Great Britain an old favourite of mine! I recall having, as an eight year old schoolboy, joined in singing this upon our receiving the news of the election of Pope Paul VI. (With thanks to Gillibrand of Catholic Church Conservation)