Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Wiseing Up after Dumbing Down

For so long 'dumbing down' has been the path taken by many institutions. The National Trust and English Heritage have sometimes seemed determined to turn the country into a kiddies' theme park. Is there just the beginning of a return to sanity, a real attempt to recognise the history of the places in their care? Certainly the latest English Heritage members' magazine has given me some hope. Instead of highlighting the "Murder Mystery" events taking place at Rievaulx this summer, they have a major article on ILLUMINATING THE PAST.

Rievaulx: in the care of English Heritage
It is not long since the history of Monasticism was either ignored (as the National Trust would do at such sites as Mottisfont - Rex Whistler and rose beds being far more entertaining than old ruins) or the 'history' would recount familiar fables about the debauched lives of monks and nuns, and the wonderful clean-up job done by our late gracious monarch Henry.

Now English Heritage is opening a new museum and visitor centre in Rievaulx devoted to telling the story of how the religious life was led there for four hundred years. There is recognition of the holiness of the monks of Rievaulx, witnessed by the many lay people seeking monastic ground for their final resting places. We read how the decline of the Abbey after the devastation of the Black Death was followed by a great revival in the 15th Century. The Heritage magazine goes on to tell how the place was flourishing right up to its ruination at the 'reformation'. It even has put in its museum a great mass of lead, melted down from the abbey's roofs and windows, which, it says "vividly evokes the rapaciousness of Henry and his followers".

Mottisfont: House North Side, formerly Nave and Crossing of the Church
Even the National Trust now has a little (albeit rather shabby) account of the Priory of Mottisfont before its annexation by one of Henry VIII's chums. Are we then at last getting away from the Whig view of history? Can we hope for even the Church of England one day admitting its complicity in the blackest period of our nation's history, when the Church was plundered so that the Tudors could finance their anti-Catholic vendetta? It may be only one step in the right direction, but English Heritage should be congratulated on taking such a step. Can we hope that even the BBC might one day follow suit and atone for the distortions of Ms Mantel's Wolf Hall?

Thursday, 28 April 2016

After Malines

York Diocese decided to have a little revival of the Malines link back in the 1980's; I'm not sure of the date, maybe it was 1981, just sixty years after the original conversations had been started by Cardinal Mercier and Lord Halifax. Whenever it was, I was there because many of us who went were chosen because we were elected representatives of the  diocese on General Synod.
Lord Williams of Oystermouth

Now there is another revival of Malines: Vatican Radio News tells us
"Catholic and Anglican theologians have been meeting together near Rome to discuss ordination rites within the two communions, as well as the significant ecumenical implications of Pope Francis’ recent document ‘Amoris Laetitia’. A meeting of the Malines Conversation group took place from April 17th to 22nd at Rocca di Papa, south of Rome, culminating in an ecumenical evensong celebrated by Archbishop Arthur Roche of the Congregation for Divine Worship."

Cardinal Danneels
On that visit from York diocese we met many leading Belgian Catholics. Chief among them was Cardinal Godfried Danneels, at that time Archbishop of Mechlen Brussels; and he has been chairing this new meeting together with Lord Williams of Oystermouth - better remembered as Rowan Williams, one-time Archbishop of Canterbury.

Curiously, there appears to be no-one there from the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. I say "curiously" because the erection of the Ordinariates seems to me to be one of the fruits, indeed perhaps a very rare and precious fruit, of the otherwise rather fruitless ARCIC conversations of the last forty-seven years (Really. I have checked - amazingly that is how long ARCIC has existed). 

There was a comparable lack of imagination when the Holy Father convened the consultation on the Family. At that time others said how contributions from married clergy might have informed the discussions. Now a similar opportunity has been missed with the Malines revival. It almost looks (surely this cannot be so?) as though the Ordinariates were seen as an embarrassment, to be hidden away from polite ecumenical discourse. From our perspective as members and so insiders, the Ordinariates are a great step forward in ecumenism. When will official Rome and Canterbury also share that opinion?

Monday, 25 April 2016

Twisting a Tale of the Ordinariate

That Latinate wonder, Fr John Hunwicke (whom God preserve) has posted a cautionary 'Tale from the Ordinariate' about the experience of a Priest who presumed to replace a "eucharistic service " (curious name, since the Eucharistic Prayer is missing from it) with a real Mass. He was met with considerable annoyance by the lay people ousted from their ministry. I have not experienced that; indeed when I have offered to say Mass on a day usually served by the laity, the extraordinary ministers here in Lymington have seemed very happy to have the Mass rather than simply Communion from the Tabernacle. What's more, if I turn up unannounced on a Sunday and concelebrate with the parish priest, there is a little shuffling about at the back of church while the lay ministers decide who will stand down; but someone always does, to allow me to administer Communion instead of one of the lay assistants on the rota.

Our Lady of Mercy & St Joseph: Lymington Catholic Church
We are very fortunate in this part of the vineyard in having a few retired priests around. This morning Mgr Peter Ryan said the Mass of St Mark and I concelebrated with him. He is retired, from the diocese of Liverpool, and has a very busy retirement ministry, On Wednesday I shall be able to give our Ordinariate priest in Bournemouth a little time out - which I expect he will fill with hospital visits since he is Chaplain to the Royal Bournemouth as well as Parish Priest of St Thomas More AND pastor of our Ordinariate Mission. On Thursday I regularly say Mass for Fr Marcin the Polish parish priest in New Milton - and this week I shall also substitute for him on Friday. On Saturday I am usually in Lymington, enabling our Parish Priest to get to one of the other churches in his care. That evening I am also celebrating the vigil Mass of Sunday for him - and on Sunday morning both the Parish Mass and the Ordinariate Mass at St Thomas More, Iford. Never a dull moment - and I know this is very much how things are for my fellow 'retired' Ordinariate priests.

I think some of the Bishops of England and Wales recognise this; but apparently there are some who are a little reluctant to admit that the Ordinariate is a gift to the whole Church. They are content for us to fill gaps; yet I understand they are reluctant to make room for further newcomers from Anglican Ministry. Their argument seems to be that Anglicanorum Coetibus was set up to bring entire congregations into the Catholic Church and they see no need for admitting individual clergy. I believe this is very short-sighted. We have a few seminarians in training, but not enough to fill the ranks of priests who will retire in the next few years. There are some very good Anglican clergy ready to join us; but not if there is no bishop ready to ordain them as Catholic Priests at the request of our Ordinary. I know, for instance, of some Anglican School Chaplains who are contemplating the move. They cannot come with a group of laypeople. There must be an opportunity for such men to be made welcome in the Catholic Church. Perhaps we should all remember what dear Papa Benedict said about the need for generosity towards former Anglicans. Maybe remember too that the aforementioned polymath Fr Hunwicke had been for most of his ministry a School Chaplain. There are also parish clergy who look forward to a move into the Ordinariate.

If there is to be continuity and if the Ordinariate is to fulfil its vocation (spelled out most helpfully by David Murphy in his recent "Reflections" - you can read them on the Ordinariate Expats' blog, 'Ordinariate News') then we must have a continuing stream of priests coming from the Anglican tradition, bringing with them their pastoral skills and particular Anglican charisms. I do hope the hierarchy will be supportive of our Ordinary in ensuring a succession of priests for the Ordinariate.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

A Timely Warning

The past few days I've been on Retreat at the Oratory School, led by the Rector of the Shrine at Walsingham, Mgr John Armitage. Five of the priest retreatants were members of the Ordinariate, which was a good proportion. The addresses were good, the prayer time very helpful, but as always I took a book or two along.
Mgr John Armitage
One of  those (plucked at the last minute seemingly at random from our bookshelves) was Leslie Paul's "Sir Thomas More" - a short biography which my wife had when she was still at school - so it is not in the forefront of  Thomas More scholarship. One paragraph though caught my attention. Maybe it is because years ago I went to Romania with one of our St Stephen's House Ordinands, to attend the ordination of a young Orthodox priest who had studied with us in Oxford for a year. In one of the churches in Brasov was a map of Europe - England out on the edge, at the centre Romania. During that visit we went up into the mountains of Transylvania. All I knew about that part of Europe was the name of Vlad - whom we called "The Impaler". In Romania though he is a national hero, who saved Christendom from the invading Turks.

This came back to me as I read a page in Paul's book  on Thomas More - here it is:
"The Papal supremacy was, in More's eyes, the guarantee of the spiritual unity of  Christendom. It was useless to pretend that the Bishop of Rome was just as other bishops; to assert this was to discredit Christ's word to Peter. And if Christendom rally existed, then it must have a head for the same reason that a country had a prince; the head was either Pope, or General Council, or Pope appointed by General Council. If the unity was broken by denying the papal supremacy, then, no matter what justifications might be produced for it, the victory was one for the forces of darkness.They needed little encouragement. More asserted that the surrender to the 'great Turk' within a nation meant ultimate victory for the infidel who was fighting his way up from Constantinople into the heart of Europe in More's own lifetime; and whose menace was so little understood that one Pope at  least was prepared to make an alliance with the Turks in order to defeat his European enemies, and the Lutherans would rather the Turks had Rome than the Popes.Such was the measure of European folly. The papal supremacy and European unity went together,destroy the one and it would be impossible ever again to guarantee the other; disorder and dissension would increase everywhere, and Christ's church itself be endangered. In disowning his debt to Europe, Henry VIII was turning his back on European civilization, and More was virtually the only layman in England who saw what it all implied for the future."

Hagia Sophia debased with Minarets: so what of St Paul's in London?
We need a new Statesman of More's calibre to tell our politicians that any deal which would let Turkey into the European Union would be madness; that to speak of "Christian Ideals" without mentioning Christ or his Church is purest fantasy; and that we should discriminate carefully which 'refugees' we allow into the country - persecuted Christians first, then other minorities suffering at the hands of Muslims. Remember history.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Mother of us All

The Prodigal Son... or the parable of the two sons - was given us today for the second time in nine days (we heard it as the Gospel two Saturdays ago). Had we been celebrating the Scrutinies we should have had the Man born Blind. But nothing about  Mothers. The Catholic Church really misses so many tricks; and none more than on Mothering Sunday. Passing the Anglican Parish Church today the street was clogged with cars - no doubt because of the popularity of Mothering Sunday. They seem to do better on this day than we do.

Perhaps the Ordinariate can try to remind Mother Church that the whole "Mothers' Day" business came from popular Catholic piety. We should not let people suppose that it is the invention of florists - any more than Easter is just a confection of the chocolate egg industry. There used to be so many popular festivals, Whit Walks at Pentecost, clipping the Church in mid-Lent. Today the Catholic Church is too puritanical. We need to get out on the streets carrying images of our Patrons in procession,  When our post-enlightenment Englishmen and women go on holiday, they are often fascinated, thrilled even, at the exuberance of continental Catholicism. We should bring back some of that colour and joy.

Thankfully, some of our folk seem to be getting the message. At the end of Mass there was a bucketful of daffodils, and the children distributed them as people left Church. But can't we remind our precious liturgists (I use the adjective in more than one sense) that Mothering Sunday happens because the old Epistle included the phrase about "Jerusalem above, which is the mother of us all". We are not shy about Mary - so why not thank God on this day for our earthly mothers, for Mary the mother of the Lord, and for mother Church who nourishes us all?

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Defending the Nation

Portchester Catle: Roman Walls, Norman Keep -and on the hill above, A Palmerston Fort.
Old haunts for a day off: Jane had trained as a teacher in Portsmouth, her second job was at Arundel Street School. While she was there we met - I was serving my title in the City at St Mark's in North End. Today though it was the Navy which occupied us - a visit to the 'Historic Dockyard'. During our time (heavens - more than fifty years ago) the Dockyard was still expanding - it even swallowed up St Agatha's Portsea. Now it has shrunk drastically; 'Gunwharf Quays' is a shopping experience, and much of the rest has been handed over to the heritage industry. A harbour boat trip set us thinking.

Tudor Round Tower at the harboour entrance; in the sea beyond a Palmerston Fort
The Romans had seen the importance of the great natural harbour, and built their Castle at its northern end. The Normans after their invasion fortified the castle, built its keep and a church within the walls. In Victoria's reign Lord Palmerston persuaded Parliament of the need for a chain of forts; on the hills behind Portsmouth and out at sea; one of these is now a hotel, where you could stay overnight for something over £200. They are known as Palmerston's Follies.

With these static defences there were also ships. Henry VIII had the misfortune of seeing his flagship the Mary Rose sunk during a battle with the French just off Southsea Castle. We could not see her today; she is having yet more money spent on her preservation in the recently constructed museum right next to Nelson's flagship, Victory. That vessel too is being restored once more; her masts are down so she looks a little ragged.

Workmen in the Bows of Warrior
We did, though, go on board Warrior. She and her sister ship (long since scrapped) were State of the Art vessels in 1860. Even now the scale of her boilers and engines is astonishing. Within thirteen years she was out of date, and began a downward spiral.Then in the 1970's she was rescued, and many millions were spent on her restoration. Today once again heritage lottery money (£2.5 million in the latest fork-out) is paying for more work. All this expenditure on heritage is no doubt very commendable. But what about the Navy of today? As we went round the harbour there were just four vessels which are still in commission. One of them, a destroyer. is, I think something of an embarrassment to the MOD. Cheese-paring had meant the engines originally fitted were not up to the job, and are having to be replaced.

Amending a new Destroyer
I love the Royal Navy. My father served from Boys' Service (in 1926) until he was invalided out a couple of years after the war. He had been on submarines before the war, and on destroyers throughout the Russian Convoys. In that campaign he was mentioned in despatches, and carried shrapnel in the back of his neck until he died. His last commission was on a netlayer, HMS Guardian, one of the smallest ships in the fleet. Some of my happiest childhood memories were of being taken on board ships - the smell of tar and engine oil is tremendously evocative of those days. Eating in the Wardroom (a rare event) was incredibly special.

I wonder though if the admiralty has its priorities right. There are more admirals in the Navy today than there are ships in commission. Huge sums are being spent on two aircraft carriers - but not yet on the aircraft to fly from them. There is wrangling about replacing the ageing fleet of nuclear submarines.About all this there is a whiff of Palmerston's follies - no shot was ever fired in anger from any of them. Perhaps though that was the point; they were a deterrent.
Boat-builders at work

One place that really thrilled us on our visit was a great shed where old craft were being restored or re-created. There they undertake training courses for people wanting to learn about boat building, and on display are many different craft - a boat from a Royal Yacht, a two man midget submarine (the cockle-shell heroes), all manner of small tugboats and sailing vessels. At Dunkirk it was largely amateur sailors who risked their lives to rescue troops from the beaches. Maybe one day we shall have to look again to our volunteers, when the Navy has shrunk too small to keep us safe.

Haslar and Gosport on the West Bank of the Harbour: what a sky!

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Food for Thought

The first child said Shrove Tuesday was about pancakes. The second thought that Ash Wednesday had that name because we eat Hash on that day.

That's about the limit of popular understanding of Christian Festivals and Fasts in England today. Just occasions for eating particular foods. So the shops are full of Easter Eggs just now -   if you wait until Easter they will probably be half price since no one will want them then. Hot Cross buns you can get at any time. The eating bonanza above all others is of course Christmas; when throughout the time leading up to Dec 25th you can get special restaurant meals - unavailable after that date.

So today, when she was offered special cut-price chocolate and replied. "Sorry - I've given up chocolate for Lent" she who is generally obeyed was quite pleased when the assistant paused and said "Lent? That's something to do with Easter isn't it?" At least he seemed to have more of a clue than the Anglican diocese of Leicester, who appear to think Ash Wednesday is 'cup cake day'. Maybe evidence that the Church of England really is the fruit-cake church. Happy Chinese New Year!