Saturday, 23 January 2016


Green to purple in a rush tomorrow. In St Thomas More, Iford, the Parish celebrates the third in Ordinary Time (heart-stirring title) and within minutes the Ordinariate will be keeping Septuagesima in its customary purple. Good that we were permitted to renew some of those old titles - not least because for us this is a countdown to Lent, a time for preparing 'to starve thy sin, not bin' (Herrick), the third before Lent.

It is good to have such distinct ways of celebrating in the Ordinariate. Perhaps the time will come when we shall be trusted to exercise a little more freedom, for instance in restoring the Ascension and Epiphany to their traditional dates, rather than shunting them off to some already occupied Sunday.

There are more important things, though, than these liturgical niceties. If Anglicanism's greatest gift is to take root in the Catholic Church, then some day it must become usual for married men to be ordained, rather than simply permitting this as an extraordinary event needing special dispensations. Fortunately we have a married Ordinary in England, who understands this rather better than others, even bishops, might do.  Not that marriage has always been simply taken for granted among Anglican clergy. When as a curate I wanted to become engaged I had to seek the permission of my training Vicar, and of the Bishop. Perhaps that no longer happens, but it certainly did in the '60's in Portsea.

Today I met a layman who works in another diocese, promoting youth work. He said how he knows several married former Anglican priests. They seemed to him more 'rounded' (his word) than many Catholic priests, with a real generosity of understanding of the human condition. He did not mean to denigrate the celibate Catholic clergy; they had their own special charisms. But it was something he reckoned was a gift, coming into the Church through "Anglicanorum Coetibus". If that is true, and I hope it is, then it seems to be part of the 'patrimony' which we are enjoined to share with the rest of the Catholic Church. Pope Francis has spoken of the need for us all to be ready for change. Such a change might begin in a very small but important way by seeing clergy wives not as an embarrassment to be tolerated, but as a great gift to the Church. Just an idea....

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Christmas Afloat

Arcadia seen through Strelitzia; in the Azores

'That'll be a nice holiday for you, Father' said most people hearing I was to act as Chaplain for nine days aboard P&Os' 'Arcadia'. Well, yes - but it was rather more than that.

One of many midnight masses in the crew mess
Every evening we were at sea the Crew (many from Goa, Kerala and other parts of India, many too from the Philippines) wanted to have Mass. Most evenings that took place in their mess - not easy with others recently off duty having a meal in the adjacent half of the mess - but it was a great experience. They are very keen on singing, and everything that could be sung was sung. For the Christmas Midnight, and again on Christmas Morning, we had joint masses for Crew and Passengers - the midnight absolutely packed in a very large Restaurant.with the Crew providing the choir.

These seamen are amazing. They seemed genuinely sorry that we would not be with them to celebrate a New Year Mass. The Port Chaplains from the Apostleship of the Sea ("Stella Maris") give what support they can, but on most of the Cruise Ships there is no full-time chaplain, and P&O invite us aboard only for Christmas and Easter. For long periods of the year the men and women are without the Church's ministrations.
After a 9am Mass with Passengers
Amazingly, the ships are not long enough in harbour for anyone to get to Mass. Arcadia said goodbye to one set of cruise passengers in Southampton on Saturday morning, and by three the same afternoon the next lot of us were installed. In the meanwhile stores had to be loaded, cabins (more than a thousand of them) cleaned, sheets, towels &c all changed, food prepared and minor repairs effected. It is a huge labour.

Spot the Donkey; just behind the Holy Family.
Crews of other vessels - tankers &c - have even less shore time, and those who work to keep the merchant fleet afloat are away from homes and families for months on end. Often what they earn is sent back to support an extended family. Yet they keep remarkably cheerful. Look at the crib they made in their mess. It is based on a world map, with the Holy Family in the middle and sheep and others dotted around the continents. You might be able to make out who occupies the British Isles; it is a donkey. They were pleased I had noticed it!

Other Christmas things have been made for the celebrations; an entire ginger-bread village decorated with sweets; and cakes with elaborate icing.most of their lives at sea, yet who have no security

The edible Christmas Village

I am writing this chiefly to encourage anyone who can to support the work of the Apostleship of the Sea (Google it for details): and to ask you to spare a prayer for men and women who spend most of their lives at sea, yet who have no security and are engaged just one trip at a time. Their devotion to Christ and his Mother and to the Church is humbling. It is a privilege for any priest to have a chance to serve them, even if only briefly.
The crib [ready for the Bambino] with some of its makers
We were sad to leave them; hard to realise that less than 24 hours ago we were at Nelson's Dockyard in Antigua
Pillars from a Boathouse in Nelson's Dockyard, Antigua

Saturday, 12 December 2015

CÉLIBAT DES PRÊTRES [Priestly Celibacy]

It is a hot topic, priestly celibacy. As a priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, I am, you could say, a 'potential' celibate priest. The vows I took on ordination as a Catholic Priest included the promise not to remarry should my wife (absit omen) pre-decease me. I have no problem with that, and I believe that celibacy for many priests is a great blessing, both to them and to the Church.

The question of required celibacy for all priests and Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, though, just will not go away. The title at the head of this Post is taken from a study by Jean Mercier, CÉLIBAT DES PRÊTRES  which has as its sub-title   La discipline de l'Église doit-elle changer?    ('Should the Church's discipline change?')  Mercier is a journalist working particularly on questions of religion for the French religious weekly "La Vie".  It is not only in Germany that this is a live question.

The picture above is from the cover of another study. This is by a Professor of Sociology at the Catholic University of America. In America the Catholic Church has lived with the reality of married priests for many years now. It was in 1980 that Pope Saint John Paul II responded to American Anglicans [Episcopalians] who had sought union with the Holy See. So began the process which became the Pastoral Provision. Accordingly in America there have been married Catholic Priests for more than thirty years. Sullins' book, as might be expected from a Sociologist, looks at the facts and figures of the effect of this momentous change. The Pastoral Provision did not, though, alter the principle of universal celibacy for Catholic Priests. For every married Episcopalian minister to be ordained a Catholic Priest, there has to be a specific dispensation.

I said 'universal celibacy'. Well, it has never been entirely universal.  It certainly was not in the immediate post-Apostolic age ('Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once' I Tim 3. 2).  The Orthodox Churches of the East have continued down the years to ordain married men, and for centuries the Churches of Rome and Constantinople were undivided. Within the Catholic Church since the Great Schism there have been Eastern Rite bodies, Uniate Churches, which have been permitted to maintain their own discipline in this matter - though in the United States such permission was withdrawn at one time, with the result that many sought reunion with official Orthodoxy. At the Reformation, the marriage of the clergy became a touchstone of Protestant orthodoxy - with the consequent hardening of discipline in the Catholic Church

With Pope Francis' concern for re-examining Marriage Discipline, Divorce and Nullity the question of Celibacy has arisen very naturally. Sullins' book in particular provides some unexpected results. For instance in America he finds that married priests are more conservative than their celibate colleagues on most matters, even including celibacy. They think that priests should generally not be allowed to marry. Perhaps there is need for a parallel study in England. I suspect that the result might be somewhat different. In America, former Episcopalians seem to me to be more conservative not only in religious but also in political matters. In England, I fancy our outlook is less homogeneous. It would be surprising if our Ordinariate priests were of one mind over politics - some, I am sure, will be Corbyn supporters, others will vote Tory. Although too, there are many who belong to the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, even among them there will be those who hope that the Church's discipline regarding celibacy might be altered.

If your French is not up to Mercier's book, then do at any rate get "Keeping the Vow". It undermines the argument that 'Celibacy makes a priest more available to his parishioners' or that a married priest would cost a parish more than an unmarried one. On the other hand, it also will set you thinking whether the married priest is necessarily more able to respond to people with marital problems - and certainly it shows, as many of us have long believed, that the problems of paedophilia are no more prevalent in the Catholic Church than in other Christian groups.

The Ordinariate, so far as I can see, has no desire to rock and ecclesiastical boat, or upset any ecclesiastical apple-cart. For all that, surely the experience of married clergy coming from Anglican and other churches into the Catholic Church should be a great resource in any discussion concerning the rules about priestly celibacy? Will dioceses, will even Rome, be prepared to listen to these men - and equally to their wives? Perhaps there might even have been some advantage in including one or two married Catholic priests, possibly an Ordinary and an ordinariate wife, in the recent Rome Synod on the Family.

Keeping the Vow D,Paul Sullins. OUP   ISBN 978-0-19-986004-3  
CELIBAT DES PRETRES Jean Mercier DDB  ISBN 978-2-220-06591-5
 [Both Available through Amazon]
I am grateful to Fr Allan Hawkins for commending both these books, and actually providing me with Mercier's.

Monday, 9 November 2015

SO WHOSE CATHEDRAL IS IT? - Worship Catholic & Protestant contd.

This morning we celebrated the dedication of the Cathedral Church of Rome, St John Lateran. I had just been reading more of Cobbett's 'Rural Rides' and this section seemed especially appropriate for today.
Constable's Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows
Cobbett wrote "  (T)hose that revel in the riches of these endowments... abuse and blackguard those of our forefathers, from whom the endowments came, and who erected the edifice, and carried so far towards the skies that beautiful and matchless spire, of which the present possessors have the impudence to boast, while they represent as ignorant and benighted creatures, those who conceived the grand design, and who executed the scientific and costly work. These fellows... have the audacity, even within the walls of the Cathedrals themselves, to rail against those who founded them; and RENNELL and STURGES, while they were actually, literally  fattening on the spoils of the monastery of St Swithin, at Winchester, were publishing abusive pamphlets against that Catholic religion which had given them their very bread.

St Osmunds Catholic Church, Salisbury
For my part, I could not look up at the spire and the whole of the church at Salisbury, without feeling that we live in degenerate times. Such a thing never could be made now. We feel that, as we look at the building   It really does appear that if our forefathers had not made these buildings, we should have forgotten, before now, what the Christian religion was!"

Since Cobbett's day the Tithe system, which he railed against, has disappeared. Inequalities in stipends have been partly levelled out. But still the Church of England by law established holds on to the spoils of the Reformation, and merrily flogs off parsonages and even churches to enable it to continue to live beyond its means.

From the Church of England Website:

A Christian presence in every community

Around twenty Church of England church buildings are closed for worship each year. The list shown below gives information about buildings that are available for disposal and are being marketed for a suitable alternative use. Some of these are already under offer, but it may be worth registering an interest with the Diocese or Agent concerned in the event that the current proposed use does not proceed.
Further information about the procedures involved may be found on the closed churches pages on this site.
The Church Commissioners give no warranty as to the accuracy of the description of the property in this list.

Addendum: I just came across this in the Commissioners' prospectus for St Peter's Leicester. Suggestions for change of us of the Charnel House are invited  EB

 The churchyard is approx. 0.881 acres (0.356 ha) and includes a separate small mortuary/charnel house.  Suitable for a range of uses

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Worship: Catholic & Protestant

William Cobbett: Englishman
There is no excuse. I came to William Cobbett very late in the day. Yet at one time my grandparents lived in Botley in a house called Cobbett's Cottage, and my grandfather worked the kitchen gardens of the big house which once must have belonged to Cobbett. At last, I am remedying my omission. First I read Anthony Burton's biography of the great man, entitled simply "William Cobbett: Englishman." Now I am enjoying accompanying Cobbett on his "Rural Rides".

He made these journeys on foot and on horse-back in the first quarter of the 19th Century. The wars with the French were recently ended, there was terrible rural poverty. As he comments on the state of the crops through the counties where he travels he also notes the situation of the farm workers. Where the land is rich, it has been enclosed by wealthy land-owners, and the poor are treated as slave labour. They fare much better in the poorer lands, where it has not been worthwhile for the rich to take them in; so they are able to keep pigs and poultry and gather wood for their fires; Elsewhere, they are persecuted for daring to snare a rabbit or kill a deer, and the harshest of penalties are handed down to them by those landowners and their friends.

He is very harsh too on the Church of England with so many of its clergy in sinecures, living off tithes extracted from struggling farmers. Hatred of the French, and of Catholicism, was deeply engrained in England by this time; yet Cobbett often has a good word for both the Catholic Church and for France. Forgive a rather long extract from his visit to Tenterden in Kent.

"The church at this place is a very large and fine old building. The tower stands upon a base thirty feet square. Like the church at Goudhurst it will hold three thousand people. And, let it be observed, that, when these churches were built, people had not yet thought of cramming them with pews as a stable is filled with stalls. Those who built these churches, had no idea that worshipping God meant, going to sit to hear a man talk out what he called preaching. By worship they meant very different things; and, above all things, when they had made a fine and noble building, they did not dream of disfiguring the inside of it by filling its floor with large and deep boxes made of deal boards. Some were not stuck into pews lined with green or red cloth, while others were rammed into corners to stand erect, or sit on the floor. These odious distinctions are of  Protestant origin and growth. This  lazy lolling in pews we owe to what is called the Reformation. " ... "I often wonder how it is,that the present parsons are not ashamed to call the churches theirs! They must know the origin of them; and, how they  can look at them, and, at the same time, revile the Catholics, is astonishing to me."

The history of Pues
Something of the same feeling saw the Cambridge Camden Society publishing a paper read to them in 1841 on the History of Pues.  Like Cobbett a chief argument against Pues was that they "shut out the poor, who ought if there be any difference, to be first cared for in church, not last." The writer goes on to ask, "What is the History of Pues, but the history of the intrusion of human pride,and selfishness, and indolence, into the worship of God?" What we have come to call the Oxford Movement was just getting into gear and we should recognise Cobbett as one of its progenitors.

So to return to Cobbett. He was not only hard on the Church of England. "This evening I have been to the Methodist Meeting-house. I was attracted,fairly drawn all down the street, by the singing. When I came to the place the parson was got into prayer. His hands were clenched together and held up, his face turned up and back so as to be nearly parallel with the ceiling, and he was bawling away, with his 'do thou' and 'mayest thou' and 'may we' enough to stun one.  Noisy, however, as he was, he was unable to fix the attention of a parcel of girls in the gallery, whose eyes were all over the place while his eyes were so devoutly shut up. After a deal of this rigmarole called prayer, came the preachy as the negroes call it; and a preachy it really was. Such a mixture of whining cant and of foppish affectation I scarcely ever heard in my life." So, if you have not yet read Cobbett for yourself, ask Father Christmas for the Rural Rides. I wish he were around to comment on some of what we dare call worship today - in both Catholic and Protestant churches.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Ascribe unto the Lord

Is there any hope of rescuing one element of Anglican Patrimony - the Ascription at the end of a sermon? Always, as I remember sermons from my youth, the preacher ended by ascribing the glory to God  This was also how that great master preacher, Austin Farrer, would end his sermon, and often it would take up the theme of what he had been preaching. So for example in the last of a series of sermons preached in Pusey House in 1963, a sermon on Sanctification, he concluded: "This is the will of God. Your sanctification. And why is it his will? That he may enrich you with the glory of his works, the truth of his love, and the vision of  his countenance, both here and in that heaven which beholds him face to face; where to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, three Persons in one God, is worthily ascribed what is most justly due, all might, dominion, majesty and power, through ages everlasting." Not just an ending, a poetic peroration.

When a sermon ended like that, the congregation could respond with a heartfelt "Amen".

Today, the ascription is almost always missing; but often the preacher himself ends his sermon simply by saying "Amen". Now that is just extraordinary. "Amen" signifies agreement. Does the preacher expect the congregation to join him in saying "Amen"? Surely not; And if the preacher believes what he has preached, he has no need to say "Amen".That is the response to something, particularly a prayer, which another has uttered.

During eight years at St Stephen's House I tried to teach something of the art of preaching - homiletics to give it an unnecessarily pompous name. In particular I explained how best to end a sermon. I think my words went unheeded, for I still hear former students at the conclusion of a sermon just saying "Amen" - as an indication that, there you are, take it or leave it, I'm done.

Where Farrer does not give an ascription he often ends with words of  Our Lord, which again can properly evoke an "Amen" - in the sermon before the one already quoted he concludes, "He said unto them, All power is given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore make disciples of all nations; Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world".

I think in many printed sermons the ascription does not appear, simply because everyone would have know it ended with the preacher saying something like "To the One Wise God, Living and Eternal, be all praise and glory, now and for ever". Certainly he would not have wanted anyone saying "Amen" to his own words. Newman often has something of Our Lord's at the end of his sermons; for instance, "Christ says for us continually, 'Father, forgive them' for they know not what they do'". Once again, a congregation might properly respond 'Amen' to that. (This from sermon XVII on Subjects of the Day, 1853).

I have a few sermons on my shelves; so J B Lightfoot in 1872 had as a final sentence on 'The triumph of failure' "Trust God,who is One, and not the world because it is many. Then your triumph is assured. 'This, this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith'   In similar vein G R Prynne in St Peter's Plymouth in 1876: "Blessed Jesus, let thy words come with power to our hearts. Give us grace to do what thou dost command, and then command what thou wilt".

So, dear preachers, do be careful what you say "Amen" to - for it is probably just an opinion of your own. It really does matter how you end your sermon. Safest and best of all, ascribe the Glory to God - then your poor hearers will at least know that you have finished (even if your sermon might have ended some time earlier).

Thursday, 24 September 2015

All at Sea

Today a group of clergy met in Southampton at the HQ of the Carnival Group (CUNARD and P&O) to prepare us for Chaplaincy over the Christmas period.

Southampton Port Chaplain (rt) with a seasoned ship's Chaplain
Fr Roger, the Port Chaplain for Southampton (and half the South Coast) was on hand to give a broad perspective of the work he undertakes on behalf of the Apostleship of the Sea (Stella Maris, as it is better known among the Crew). Cruise liners make up only a small part of his job; there are many more men and women involved in running the many merchant ships which dock in Southampton each year, and F Roger seems to manage to get on board most of them and knows many of the crews personally having met them during his five years of service.

Atrium of the Carnival HQ
Carnival were great hosts,and told us about their work (very much PERSON focussed, both crew and passengers). They are on hand 24/7 in case of emergency and I know from peronal experience how good they can be at such times. When a Crew member died in Portugal earlier this year they had a member of staff on board with in 24 hours to assist his widow, and the next day flew another two staff members and me to meet the ship in Seville and stay with them for a few days to offer help and counselling - and a requiem mass.

The Headquarters of Carnival is very near the docks in Southampton, and we were shown round and met many who work there. It is a very large undertaking, and the dedication of everyone in the company is hugely impressive.

Seeing round the building gave a very different perspective (in all senses of the word) of the operation of the Cruise and Liner World.
Salvina from Stella Maris and Fr Priestly on top of the world

Salvina Bartholomeusz is the link all volunteer chaplains have with the Apostleship, and she is a huge encouragement to us all, ready to answer questions, give advice, and generally keep a very diverse bunch of clergy in some sort of order. Some of us are retired, others are in chaplaincy work and there are full-time parish priests. We included Irish, English, Indian and Philippino clergy - the last two especially welcome since many of the crew members are either from India or the Philippines.

Priests from Birmingham (IUniversity Chaplaincy) and Wash Common  (Parish priest in Newbury)
If clergy read this blog, by all means volunteer if you can for this important work; but realise that it means being on hand 24/7 throughout a cruise, for Crew principally but also for Passengers and that most days you will celebrate a midnight Mass for the crew as well as an early daytime one for the passengers. Above all, please support the work of Stella Maris - with money, if you can, but especially with your interest and your prayers.

Briefing Session