Monday 29 November 2010

Sri Lanka: A splendid welcome home for Cardinal Ranjith

Crowds thronged the new Cardinal's route in an outpouring of joy and love. And what fun it seems to have been!

I don’t need to say anything more, except that this wonderful scene has gladdened my heart.

Sources acknowledged, with thanks: White Monks at Sri Lanka, via The Eponymous Flower, via Messa in Latino.

Friday 26 November 2010

A day for nascent human life, without the nascent?

The English and Welsh Bishops’ Conference website informs us that, in calling for a day of prayer for all nascent human life, the Holy Father expressed his general intention for the day as follows:

The purpose according to the Holy See is to “thank the Lord for his total self-giving to the world and for his Incarnation which gave every human life its real worth and dignity,” and to “invoke the Lord's protection over every human being called into existence.”

It can, I think, safely be assumed that, leading on from this general intention, the Pope envisaged that the prayers themselves should refer specifically to such examples of nascent life as the human embryo, and the child in the womb.

Here, in magnificent response, are the US Bishops’ worship resources for prayers of supplication, most helpfully linked from the E&W Bishops’ site:

Supplications for Vigil for All Nascent Human Life

Let us pray to God, the Father of Life and Font of all Mercy:
Lord, have mercy on all who have sinned against life.

You knit us in our mother’s womb,
— Preserve all children from bodily harm
From the moment of conception.

Your Son ennobled all human life when he became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary,
— Enlighten our minds to see the dignity of every human life
From its earliest embryonic beginnings.

You are author of science and knowledge,
— Bring an end to the destruction of human embryos
In research facilities and IVF clinics.

You are the law-giver and ruler of the world,
— Help us to overturn unjust laws that permit the destruction of innocent lives,
And guide our public officials to defend the littlest among us.

You love those who are afflicted,
— Help parents of unborn children with disabilities
To cherish the baby you have entrusted to their care.

Your Son, Jesus, healed the sick,
— Guide all doctors to be guardians of life,
Especially the lives of unborn children with serious health conditions.

Lord, you are love and mercy itself,
— Draw all who have acted against innocent human life
To repentance and forgiveness,
And heal them through an outpouring of grace.

The US Bishops’ prayers, beautiful and comprehensive as they are, have been composed for a vigil service, and might need some trimming for use in the bidding prayers at parish Masses. I mention this because the English Diocese of Clifton has announced its own plan for the day: an hour of quiet vigil in the cathedral before the 6.00 pm Mass, and a bidding prayer at every parish Mass that weekend.

A vigil of quiet prayer will be held in the Cathedral at 5.00 pm on Saturday, before the celebration of the First Mass of Sunday.

Bishop Declan has written to all our parishes. He said: “I would like to ask you to include the following prayer in your intercessions at Masses that weekend:

‘In union with the Holy Father we thank the Lord for his total self-giving to the world and for his Incarnation which gave every human life its real worth and dignity. Let us ask the Lord's protection over every human being called into existence. Lord hear us.’”

This is, just about word for word, the Holy Father’s general intention. Since Bishop Lang has omitted any specific reference to nascent human life, which is after all what the day is about, I very much hope that the clergy of the individual parishes will insert their own references to it.

Update, Sunday 28th November: The bidding prayer was included at the Mass I attended, using the exact wording requested by the Bishop. No explanation or context was given. There was no mention of nascent life, the embryo, the unborn child, or the child in the womb. There has been no mention of the day of prayer in the weekly newsletter, either last Sunday or this.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Pope Benedict and the Graham Greene Scenario

I had hoped to draw this analogy out in more detail: the soul, apparently lost in sin, and yet, the glimmer of hope for salvation ...

But, do you know, I think I'll give it a miss. Except to say one thing: that it will be an appalling thing if, as a result of the maelstrom of false interpretation, vulnerable wives who have so far managed to resist the overtures of their HIV-infected husbands, find themselves under pressure to give way, on the false claim that condoms are both "approved" and "safe".

I don't intend to repeat what is well known about the incomplete security of condoms. We're not talking simply about "accidents" here, or "taking a chance": we are talking about death, and about orphans. Yes, it would be an appalling thing.

Amidst all the confusion spread by the secular media and, as I am led to believe (Sorry, I can't bear to read them), by one or two Catholic commentators and spokesmen, there have been shining examples of robust defence and clarification. I can't approach their quality. You can find most of them as links from that ever-useful listing-site, British Catholic Blogs, but here is a selection:

A loyal but frank critique, from Fr Boyle of Caritas in Veritate:
Did the Pope say it's okay to use condoms?

Detailed background, from Fr Finigan of The Hermeneutic of Continuity:
Can we disagree?
Catholic Reactions
Divisions at the Vatican
"Do you think that's wise, Sir?"

A clear analysis and defence from Fr Hunwicke, the Anglo-Catholic (and, I hope and pray, Ordinariate-bound) priest whose blog is entitled Fr Hunwicke's Liturgical Notes.

And, to conclude the list, a short but very clear post from Ben Trovato, the Countercultural Father. I particularly liked this:
What he [the Pope] actually said was very specific: in the case of somebody who is in a very bad place, then the intention of minimising harm to others might be the start of a moral awakening.

Valiant as these and others have been, it is surely, to use the modern idiom, "down to" the Holy Father to sort this out personally, not only because the misunderstandings have sprung from his own words, but because he is the only person with the authority to do so. Do you remember the searing letter he wrote at the time of the Williamson controversy? Is this now the time for another such letter? If so, his words will somehow have to be heard above the din of the media storm.

My brain feels as if someone has been polishing it with sandpaper. I'm going to give it a rest for a few days. ITV3 is repeating episodes of Foyle's War all this week. A diet of bombs, murder and mayhem is just what I need to soothe my frazzled nerves.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Times gone by: Iconoclasm in an English village church

The pretty village of Aldbourne, in Wiltshire, is near enough to our home to make a pleasant day out, with a good lunch at one of the village pubs. The picture is courtesy of Wiltshire County Council.

The village, and the exterior of the church, came to fame in 1971 as the location of one of Doctor Who ’s adventures; for it was here, as enthusiasts will recall, that Jon Pertwee encountered The Daemons. If you are nervous, perhaps it’s best not to open the link !

There are two family monuments in the church. One, which includes two kneeling figures, is here:

The other, designed originally for two people, contains a group of six figures:

According to the parish leaflet, the figures appear to be unrelated to the family for whom the monument was built. Whether this is the case or not, someone evidently thought them worth keeping; and thank goodness, because they are very fine.

They are arranged as a family of father, mother, three sons and a daughter. As was customary, the little figures of the sons, however young they were when they died, are complete with full moustaches and beards.

It is not unusual to find in pre-Reformation English churches that iconoclasts have been at work, either during the Protestant Reformation or during Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth. Here you can see a particularly distressing example.

On each monument, every figure’s hands, originally joined in prayer, have been hacked away. Judging by the costumes, which date, I think, from the late 16th century, the damage appears to have been perpetrated during the Commonwealth, or perhaps earlier, during the Civil War, which the county of Wiltshire did not escape.

What sort of spirit would possess any kind of Christian, that he or she could do such a thing? That they should be so convinced of the evils of popery that the sight of hands joined in prayer should so enrage them?

I hope you will find this interesting. I think these mutilated figures speak to us, in their poignant state, of a far better faith than that of their attackers. In this respect, the iconoclasts did not succeed.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

The Ordinariate, and a happy memory of Anglican pilgrims in Rome

As many readers know, the Holy Father’s General Audiences, on Wednesdays in St Peter’s Square, are delightful occasions. I particularly love the series of introductions, listing the groups attending that day. Those who are introduced may sing a song; or produce musical instruments and play a tune; but most of them simply leap from their chairs to cheer and wave. It is all very unsophisticated and innocent and happy.

At the audience my husband and I attended, on 7th May, 2008, there came a point in the introductions when the priest announced a group from England, saying: “We welcome a group of Anglican pilgrims from the parish of …”. They jumped up from their seats and waved to the Holy Father, and cheered him with great excitement. He looked for them and saw them, and smiled, and waved back, and blessed them. And they sank back onto their chairs, their faces shining with pleasure.

It was beautiful. My eyes filled up, as they do when a thing of spiritual beauty washes over me; and as they are doing now as I remember the scene.

I wonder how that little group has fared since then? And whether, at some date in the near or distant future, one or more of them may make their way along the path to the Ordinariate? By far the majority of Anglicans will not, I am sure. But those Anglican pilgrims had the desire to be there in Rome, to see Pope Benedict, and to take part in this wonderful, familial gathering; and they experienced, by the look of things, all the joy and gladness of the day. Who knows what the good Lord has in store for them?

It is a fine thing that the five Anglican bishops have announced their intention to be a part of this grand adventure. They are a vanguard of experienced men, of considerable seniority. This is just what the embryonic body needs. Their presence and leadership, whether in an official capacity or simply by virtue of their moral status, will help to give it a sense of shape and strength, which can only serve to encourage those who are at an earlier, more tentative stage of the journey. May God bless them each step of the way.

Monday 1 November 2010

The Blessed Cardinal's Robes at Birmingham Museum

A small but fascinating exhibition is currently on display at Birmingham Museums and Art Galleries. It consists of items on loan from the Birmingham Oratory, relating to the life of Blessed John Henry Newman.

Most particularly, and touchingly, it includes his cardinal’s robes.

A friend and I saw the exhibition recently. I can heartily recommend it. It continues until 6th January 2011. The museum is situated within comfortable walking distance of Birmingham New Street Station.