Friday 27 May 2011

Reordering realities

The news that the Archbishop of Liverpool has been persuaded not to host Methodist Ordinations in his Cathedral Church is interesting. The original faux pas is hardly surprising given Archbishop Kelly's "creative" take on liturgy and the extraordinary blindness towards visual symbolism manifested by so many clergy over the last forty or so years.

It was with something approaching delight that I attended much of the Holy Week liturgy in Liverpool this year celebrated by one of the auxiliary bishops who was content to "say the black and do the red". In contrast to last year when the Archbishop had presided, we saw the return of the New Fire at the Easter Vigil, the Exsultet sung by an ordained minister and the bishop presiding from the Cathedra during the readings rather than going in for an ostentatious display of how, "just like us" the archbishop and his ministers were listening to them from seats placed in front of the people in the front row and then his racing across to the ambo to deliver the benefit of his thoughts on the last or subsequent reading. (Decorum! Please!)

This might appear to some as nit-picking. Please bear with me.

Visual symbolism is important. Although it may at times appear as inconsequential as a background- mere "wallpaper"- it can convey meaning more powerfully than words and with profound consequences. Two stories come to mind.

A friend once told me of his experience of watching Andy Warhol's film "Sleep". If I remember correctly, all that happens is that a man enters, gets into bed and falls asleep against a window background of a New York night-time skyline with lights flickering and sometimes being switched on or off. For an age all that is seen is the gentle rise and fall of the man's breathing. According to my friend's report, at about 2 a.m., in this night time screening, the man turned over. The effect of this simple movement upon the audience was, I am told, like an earthquake! Indeed I can believe it. The meaning of a visual event, it seems to me, draws much of its power from the expectations set up by whatever has preceded it.

Another story and another friend. Not a Catholic, he told me of how, when he was about seven years old the church his family attended burned down. From then on God had ceased to seem real to him. I think we could say that he was scandalised by that event. It is his story that comes to mind whem I reflect upon the reordering of churches that followed in the wake of Vatican 2. Or, rather, upon the psychological impact that reordering had upon the People of God.

One of the first things one was taught to do upon entering a church was, having blessed oneself with holy water, to genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle before taking one's place. This response was further reinforced when those on the sanctuary passed before the Blessed Sacrament and, similarly, genuflected. Suddenly, in the mid sixties things began to change. Frequently, the tabernacle was moved from its central position but perhaps more often with the altar re-sited forwards the celebrant would be interposed with his back to the tabernacle- the same going for servers and other ministers.

Now this position was not entirely new for the sacred ministers. In administering the sacraments
- a priest giving Communion or a Bishop confirming or ordaining- the minister would have had his back towards the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle even before the changes. What was new was that this obtained throughout the whole of the mass. It was clearly different and I would suggest that there can have been few Catholics for whom this did not, at some deep level, register as a psychological earthquake. No, we were told, this did not mean a lessening of respect for the Blessed Sacrament. No?

As the wag said, "You could have fooled me." Suddenly symbols were being either inverted or discarded. To invert or discard a longstanding symbol is not a negligible act. It reflects upon those realities thus symbolised.

Sunday 22 May 2011

Still Here!

There are those who live as if there were no tomorrow and then there are those who live as if they were going to live in this world for ever. Having lived through at least two ends of the world -well they say what goes around comes around- there might now be some excuse for my falling for the latter temptation!
Back in the early 1970s the Jehovah's Witnesses were expecting the end of the world to come in 1975. I particularly recall a footballer, who played for Wolverhampton Wanderers, giving up his career to spread the J.W.'s message. Interviewed on "Midlands Today", he was asked, "And what will you do if the end of the world doesn't come in 1975?" His reply was "I'll throw my Bible away." Whether he did or did not, we never learned. Rather like the weather forecast, it was one of those things where I wished there had been some follow up.

I have heard that the Jehovahs use a somewhat dodgy Bible translation, so it would, perhaps, have been no great loss for him to have ditched it. Nevertheless even with decent translations some of these weird sects seem to manage to come up with some bizarre ideas. "Out to lunch" might be one assessment. Or, as Fr Longenecker, puts it, "gone camping"! What is particularly galling is the media's tendency to characterise such people as representing "Christian" beliefs.

Thursday 5 May 2011

Sign of the Cross

It always seems to me that I am doing a very positive and solemn kind of thing when I mark a cross beside the name of a candidate on a ballot paper.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Invisible man killed...

...and buried at sea.

And the atheists think us credulous!

Monday 2 May 2011

About those trees...

If I were a parish priest, the royal wedding, given the way that royal doings have a tendency to become fashionable, might provide some cause for concern. I mean what is one to say to the couple who wish to place a line of potted trees up either side of the nave for the celebration of their nuptials?
Fear not! The solution is to inquire as to whether they belong to the bridal party - or to that of the groom. In the present instance I understand that the arboreal specimens in Westminster Abbey were there as friends of the groom's father. In fact their conversations are said by some to be legendary.

Fortunately few non-royals are likely to admit to talking to trees!

For St George's day

The Rolling English Road

 Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
 The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
 A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
 And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
 A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
 The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.
 I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
 And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
 But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
 To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
 Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
 The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.
 His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
 Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
 The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
 But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
 God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
 The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.
 My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
 Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
 But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
 And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
 For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
 Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.
                               G.K. Chesterton