New Oratory

I have already posted these photos to Facebook to announce the “birth” of a new oratory in my little house near Ambrières les Vallées in the Mayenne. I have resumed the dedication to St Martin of Tours of my old chapel in the Vendée. Interestingly enough, the Vendée and the Mayenne are part of the Pays de la Loire. The fatherhood of the holy Bishop of Tours is a part of this area, though my present home is barely out of western Normandy.

I use the term oratory to mean a place of prayer as opposed to a mission or a parish church. I make no pretence to any relationship with the Oratory of St Philip Neri, though I have a great admiration for the Fathers and the spirituality mapped out by the extremely eccentric Apostle of Rome. This is the intimate heart of my life as a priest and a contemplative. I keep an image of St Philip Neri near my stall.

I made the altar when I was in my old home in the Vendée (until 2005). The sacristy  needs elements still in cardboard boxes somewhere in my workshop or in the two large tents I pitched in the garden for temporary storage. I made this altar when I was still under the influence (not of drugs) but my time at Gricigliano, though I went more for Renaissance simplicity than flamboyant baroque. I have had to forsake the “Dearmer” style for lack of space. I intend to make some altar frontals. I will offer the first Mass on Saturday, Feast of Saints Philip and James.

The chapel is installed in a tiny upstairs room with the altar to the side to avoid blocking the window. The single choir stall faces the altar, and the rest of the room is taken up by the sacristy. Without any physical barrier between the chapel and the sacristy, the room is divided into two.

This oratory is not intended to receive churchgoers, but is a my private place of prayer and liturgy. Should a ministry be needed in the future, it would be possible to look into an outside place for a mission and I could provide the altar (presently dismantled) from the chapel in Normandy. A chaque jour suffit sa peine…

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Oratoire Saint-Martin

Here is a brief posting to replace an earlier one which expressed a lack of prudence on my part. The most I will say is that I am now separated and many things remain in the air. In the meantime, I have a new rented home in the Mayenne and will make the best I can of life.

This experience has brought home to me the idea of self-reliance and taking responsibility. There is no place for “quietism”! My life will be centred around the little oratory (place of prayer) where I have an altar to celebrate Mass, the workshop and my office and library all over the house.

I hope to continue my ministry of study and writing, promoting the practical revival of the use / rite of Sarum and an authentic contemplative life without delusion or pretension. St Martin’s Oratory will also be a kind of “sanatorium” to recover from many things I fail to understand fully myself. The essential is to take everything day by day, baby steps in this kind of “re-birth”.

These little limbs,
These eyes and hands which here I find,
These rosy cheeks wherewith my life begins,
Where have ye been? behind
What curtain were ye from me hid so long?
Where was, in what abyss, my speaking tongue?

When silent I
So many thousand, thousand years
Beneath the dust did in a chaos lie,
How could I smiles or tears,
Or lips or hands or eyes or ears perceive?
Welcome ye treasures which I now receive.

I that so long
Was nothing from eternity,
Did little think such joys as ear or tongue
To celebrate or see:
Such sounds to hear, such hands to feel, such feet,
Beneath the skies on such a ground to meet.

New burnished joys,
Which yellow gold and pearls excel!
Such sacred treasures are the limbs in boys,
In which a soul doth dwell;
Their organizèd joints and azure veins
More wealth include than all the world contains.

From dust I rise,
And out of nothing now awake;
These brighter regions which salute mine eyes,
A gift from God I take.
The earth, the seas, the light, the day, the skies,
The sun and stars are mine if those I prize.

Long time before
I in my mother’s womb was born,
A God, preparing, did this glorious store,
The world, for me adorn.
Into this Eden so divine and fair,
So wide and bright, I come His son and heir.

A stranger here
Strange things doth meet, strange glories see;
Strange treasures lodged in this fair world appear,
Strange all and new to me;
But that they mine should be, who nothing was,
That strangest is of all, yet brought to pass. – Thomas Traherne

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Sarabande for the Morning of Easter

One of the glories of Herbert Howells to wish all my readers a happy Easter. I will shortly be going to my chapel to restore the Blessed Sacrament to its place in the hanging pyx above the altar from where it has lain in the Sepulchre since Good Friday (Use of Sarum). That little ceremony will be followed by Mass.

May this Easter bring us all increased faith and hope in these times of uncertainty and the continued scourge of the coronavirus.

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Catholics, the Paradox

Most of my readers are probably familiar with this film giving a caricature of the Vatican II reforms in the 1960’s and the following decade, and of the traditionalist reaction. The drama is centred in a monastery on the remote coast of western Ireland.

As the film progresses, we gradually move from a rough bog-Irish traditionalist rebellion to a battle for faith. I see in this film a very interior conflict between a certain form of exterior religion and its inadequacy in dealing with the great existential questions of humanity in the face of God and his own inner consciousness.

Indeed, I always return to the same thought: as religion became more exterior and concerned for very little other than morality, it lost its essential meaning. I see this both with the “modernism” coming from the clerical bureaucrats in Rome and this kind of rough and mechanical Deus ex machina. The rough and untidy appearances of the lay faithful and the monks show a resemblance to our conventional notion of the medieval era shortly before the Reformation, something Romantics tend to idealise. Having studied the period a little, I am ready to believe that medieval Catholicism was very healthy in most places as attested in Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars, but compromised by superstition and externalist “pharisaism” in other contexts. Several commissions of prelates at the Council of Trent reported some quite serious liturgical abuses as they recommended that the Roman liturgy should be standardised and codified. Here is not the place to go into the details. I touched on this subject in my university work Missa Tridentina, which you can download and read.

The film and its leading actor Trevor Howard playing the part of the Abbot bring us the audience to some fundamental questions about the nature of prayer, whether it is truly a way of communicating with the Divine, the raw existential questions. How do we deal with the challenge of it all coming to an end and being replaced with someone else’s piety and ideology?

Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down – Mark xiii. 2.

In particular, we need to ask ourselves what it all means to us, whether it is just tradition and “what we do”, or whether there is truly a spiritual transfiguration in the liturgical symbolism through initiation and liminality. The questions being asked here are the meaning of the old liturgical rites and the notion of miracles, especially the pilgrimages made to Lourdes by quite materialistic-minded people for the sole purpose of their physical health. The film is remarkably well acted with this understanding in mind.

Whilst I have no sympathy with the 1960’s construction intended to construct a “new orthodoxy” and a religion for modernity, as if we were all as “modern” culturally, I can understand how it all happened in the late 1960’s and the early 70’s. At the time, I claimed not to believe in God though I was a little boy. I was attracted to my native Anglicanism and later to Roman Catholicism through beauty and the notion of a culture that stood away from modern brutalism. My scepticism, or rather my mind to suspend judgement until I would be convinced by the evidence, stayed with me. I could not fit into the mechanism of the well-honed machine or the political ideology of l’intégrisme.

I recently wrote on Facebook:

What we call fundamentalism is above all a literalist interpretation of the written word, where an allegorical, analogical or symbolic interpretation would be more appropriate. We tend to use the word “fundamentalism” like “intégrisme” in French. It is a radicalised attitude admitting no dialogue or healthy doubt or scepticism of the lower “degrees” of truth. Like political fascism, it has to define itself in opposition to its “enemy”. It also reveals a particular personality profile assimilated to “cluster B” disorders.

“Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them.” ― Umberto Eco, “The Name of the Rose”.

Much of Christ’s teaching against the leaven of the Pharisees needs to be meditated upon to grasp its inner meaning.

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. (…) Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.Matthew xxiii.

In the end of the film, the Abbot loses the ability to pray the Our Father. The monks behind him are waiting for the firm and fatherly leadership they were used to. But that is now gone. The Abbot reacted as many did in those days and now. What was the use of it all in the face of the challenge from Rome, the collapse of any coherent underpinning of what they believed they stood for? What is the alternative?

There is another meaning which I sense with the current pandemic and the destruction of social life in most of the world. The “progressive Catholic” agenda largely came from a reaction against the totalitarian regimes that caused World War II. We lived a time of individualism, humanism and liberalism. We now arrive at the dystopian spectre of Orwell and Huxley, which they could see in the 1940’s long after the death of Hitler and the defeat of Nazism. That spectre is something typified by the Chinese-style lockdowns to contain the spread of Covid 19. Humanism can and must be sacrificed by those intégristes of medical science.

Our love of tradition and beauty are a double-edged sword, holding us suspended between our aspirations and loyalty to tradition, our love of freedom and our fetish for bondage. I fear much more than insipid ideas of uniting Christian churches and Buddhism. I see the harshness of Russian and Chinese authoritarianism bearing down on the world as our democracy buckles and collapses under the weight of populism. As it happens in exoteric religion, it happens in politics.

The only way is inwards, the quest for God and our own consciousness of the spirit. If liturgy can arise from that vision, then we will have something that nothing could ever break. The producer of that film was remarkably lucid in his time (1973).

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Le Mieux est l’Ennemi du Bien

I am quite impressed by the way academics, politicians, lawyers and others are reflecting about our society and the unhealthy trends that need to be challenged. The French lawyer Mireille Delmas-Marty summed it up as “The dream of perfection is transforming our constitutional state based on the rule of law into a police state”.

This observation immediately refers to the present pandemic and the various degrees of lockdowns and other restrictions designed to relieve the hospitals of excessive numbers of sick people needing intensive care. Then, in came an insidious ideology that determined the way things were done in New Zealand and Australia together with a few oriental countries – Zero Covid, meaning maintaining lockdowns regardless of the human and economic cost until the disease is totally eliminated. On the surface, it seems a very good idea, but is it realistic?

Recently the media ran a story about a young man who was sanctioned during the first lockdown by the police even though his attestation of being outside for exercise was in order. The police decided that his wearing flip-flops instead of proper running shoes was proof that he was not out for exercise. He appealed and it seems that he has good grounds for winning. A woman was also sanctioned for buying sanitary protection in the supermarket with her “essential” foodstuffs, because the police saw the hygienic product as “non essential”. I think she also got her fine quashed on appeal. Zero Covid, zero risk, etc. The powers being given to the police, or simply being assumed arbitrarily, are quite alarming. France is quite particular in that the ideology of the Jacobins has never really gone away. They don’t chop off heads any longer, but France is Paris and Paris is France! In other countries, England has always been a country of fairness, dialogue and reasoned debate, but it is drifting. Ireland has the strictest lockdown of all.

The keyword is safety and security, the two words being the same in French, sécurité. In past years, the political authorities vowed to eliminate terrorism after the atrocities committed by Daesh and other religious groups. The beginning is appealing, but then what is the cost of such safety and security? It is a dream of a world without risk, without crime and without sickness and death. No one must be allowed to die of anything! The price of such a dream is the nightmare of fear.

Many of us remember our childhood in the 1960’s or 70’s, or earlier. We took more risks riding bicycles around town, climbing trees and buildings. I once rode my bicycle into the side of a car. One second earlier and I would not be writing this article now. The driver took me home to my parents, and I told them the truth that the accident was my fault. I still have a photo from about 1970 of our school recreation at Millan Park in Ambleside and boys jumping off rocks about six to ten feet high.

Such a feat can result in a broken leg or a sprained ankle, but I never knew such a misfortune to happen. We learned the parachutist’s fall as he makes his legs give, and he rolls over on the ground to absorb the final shock of landing. Then we climbed up and did it again! I suppose it was no more dangerous than skateboarding.

O felix culpa! is an exclamation sung by the deacon at the Paschal Vigil. It is an understanding of the Fall and sin as having a positive outcome. It is a paradoxical idea. The Redemption would never have happened without the fault of Adam. This is a notion we will find more profoundly expressed in Jakob Böhme’s theology of the Ungrund. Similarly, to deprive mankind of any risk or danger in a prudent balance between risk and the desired result is to deprive us of our humanity. Many things we do are potentially dangerous, from getting out of bed in the morning to driving a car, repairing an electrical device (of course we are going to switch it off and pull the plug out!), crossing a road, going sailing, anything. We measure the risk and decide for ourselves to what extent that risk is acceptable.

Much has been said about the Nanny State and citizens being treated like children. In the case of the Covid pandemic, most of us follow the rules, wear masks, sanitise hands, greet people by an elbow touch. Some couldn’t care less and crowd into limited places without barrier gestures, and we all pay the price through the next lockdown. Perhaps the law courts should bring back the pillory and the stocks for those flouting the rules without care for anyone else! Another Latin expression came into my mind, Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. In law, it means that if a witness tells a lie, he has no credibility in anything else he says. Here I have the impression that the ZeroCovid people would find a case of the virus in one place and everywhere has to be quarantined. Not everywhere has the same density of infections.

I think there is progress at the level of the French government. It looked like a general national lockdown at the end of January. At the beginning of March, Dunkerque and Nice are in local lockdown for a few weekends and on the same curfew as the rest of us during the week. Decisions are currently being made for other places according to the levels of infection by variant strains. Already, President Macron is talking about loosening some of the restrictions in four to six weeks. It sounds just like Boris Johnson in England. Political points? Certainly, but maybe a break in the monolith of the ZeroCovid ideology which is more far-left than anything else.

It is still not easy to anticipate where things will go. Hopefully, most of us in the riskier age groups will be vaccinated by this summer. Here in France, I don’t expect to get my jab before mid May 2021, but maybe the Johnson & Johnson will make a big difference to the slowness of the operation here in France. My sisters in England are already vaccinated. I surmise that what is in the heads of presidents and prime ministers is that as many as possible will be protected and natural “herd” immunity will hit the younger age groups with few or no symptoms. Some scientists are more optimistic about longer-lasting immunity. Then of course, there will be other strain mutations and it will end up as just another version of the common cold. The question now is finding an acceptable level of risk against the needs of human beings to live normally and the state of the economy. A more pragmatic approach is prevailing, and this seems to be to be wise.

We still have many things to watch out for in the way as a gradual slide into totalitarianism and a post-human future of “perfect” technology. The reality is that our technology is far from perfect and banal faults and outside interference can stop something from working properly. I was brought up in a time when you gave a faulty machine a good bash with a hammer or a fist – and that would overcome the bad electrical contact and the machine would work again without an expensive repair job! Humanity trumps the machine.

Again, I bring up the notion of Romanticism, of rational humanism, the triumph of man over the machine. Here, the machine can mean a car or a computer, but also an ultra-rational system that replaces intuition and the kind of thought that includes risk in the paradigm. It is the abiding theme of Frankenstein and nearly all science fiction books and films throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, up to our own time. They are prophecies.

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The Force of Scepticism Grows

I have already written on this subject, and I remind the reader that for me, scepticism means having an open mind because truth, which is transcendent, cannot always be perfectly known. You are most welcome to peruse my old articles of this subject as it has evolved in my mind.

There is a recent article by Freddie Sayers We need Scepticism more than ever.

Freddie Sayers is a journalist and interviewer who runs the UK-based alternative media platform UnHerd. He is critical of the policy of lockdowns in most countries that have implemented them and has been supportive of the Great Barrington Declaration and scientists like Dr Sunetra Gupta.

Without expertise in epidemiology and virology, I can only say that I find a great diversity of expert scientific opinion about what to do about the Covid epidemic. I was taught at school and university that science was supposed to be more objective than that – the deduction of certainty from repeatable experimental evidence. What I do find alarming is the association between some opinions and political positions. I am also frightened by the prospect of dystopian policies being promoted by extremely rich people and politicians who should be more responsible. Am I a conspiracy theorist? I don’t know, but Nazism in the 1920’s to 1940’s was a conspiracy, and was very real to those who died under that regime. It can happen again, and I fear that it will.

One thing that contributes to this fear is what the Dutch thinker Rob Riemen called mass humanity. Modern humanity is leaning increasingly towards an ideology of resentment, inciting anger and fear, the need for scapegoats and hatred of the free mind. In his book To Fight Against this Age (New York 2018), Riemen draws on the wealth of humanist thought of Thomas Mann and Albert Camus among other lights of the twentieth century.

It is important to question the prevailing status quo and “orthodoxy” of science (based on conjecture) and political ideology. It was only during the Enlightenment that scepticism became more mainstream. Can anything in the world really be known?

Sayers packs a lot into his article, which you can read from the above link. Perhaps scepticism of the open-minded and enquiring kind will prove to be a light in the darkness in these coming years.

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Post-Institutional Catholics

Update: this article of mine inspired another blog article Is the Pope Catholic? Who cares!?

I have already criticised Pius IX’s infallibilist ideology as something that is intellectually absurd, and which is in fact the basis of sedevacantism. I find this interesting:

Three dominant narratives have framed Vatican II : forced continuity (Conservatives); formally authorized secularization to religious institutions and theological propositions (Liberals); and demonstrable discontinuity, with a helping of latent apocalypticism (Traditionalists). There is an emerging movement. The Traditionalist narrative has a certain amount of momentum – there are, as De Mattei notes, more voices questioning the events of the 50s through the end result of the 70s.

Catholicism in the 1950’s, often seen as halcyon days, contained the seeds of its own destruction. Alan Watts was writing in 1947, in the heady days of Pius XII! Perhaps there may be a new tendency that combines liturgical traditionalism with a critical attitude in regard to the Papacy.  I encountered this when I was at Fribourg University, especially with a few German priests I knew.

* * *

I am thankful for the work Dr William Tighe does most days to provide a few interesting links to current events surrounding the Church. This link made my blood boil.

I don’t know which planet those people, including the Pope, live on – but most of us are worn down and alienated, or never had anything to do with this clerical organisation.

I was talking with a friend of mine a couple of days ago. We both know a brave parish priest in the area of Sens who came up with the most damning reality check. When I was a seminarian in the early 1990’s, we had a visit from a French archbishop looking for traditionalist priests. During a talk he gave us, he forecast that most French dioceses had about ten years’ life left in them. The statistics of French people going regularly to Sunday Mass in their parish churches was averaged out to about 5%. That was early 1992. This priest in France (for whom I have installed an organ in his church) talks of 0.06% in a particularly degraded diocese with two cathedrals and a large area. What do we conclude? It’s finished.

The Pope seems to be pandering to Mr. Biden and an American world, but American Christianity too is dying. As often, I return to the quotation from a man who was far from being a saint in his 1947 book, Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion.

The present low ebb of Church religion consists in the fact that rarely, even for Church people, does it give the soul any knowledge of union with the reality that underlies the universe. To put it in another way, modern Church religion is little concerned with giving any consciousness of union with God. It is not mystical religion, and for that reason it is not fully and essentially religion.

If we are going to talk of institution, authority and magisterium, we have to remember the foundation of all that – Christ and an idea of life that contradicted that of the world of which the institutional church (and Old Testament Judaism) is a part. Pope Francis cites the example of the Old Catholics rejecting the definition of Papal infallibility at Vatican I, and uses the example to condemn dissident and even critical minds of our own time about Vatican II. The old cracked record goes on and on in a kind of infernal circle. Perhaps Francis the Jesuit sees himself as the new Pius IX who feels infallible *. Quite honestly, it is revolting and supremely cynical.

* I have mentioned this notion is several postings in this blog, and I really think I should give my source: August Bernhard Hasler, How the Pope Became Infallible, New York 1981, p. 113 “Many people claimed that Pius IX actually spoke of feeling infallible”. I must admit that Hasler was of a similar mind to Hans Küng, namely theological liberalism. At the same time, his historical work seems to be honest. Pius IX was on record as having shown signs of what might now be interpreted as mental illness and an inflated ego. Naturally, the notion of infallibility will be an insult to an evolved notion of truth and foundationalism.

In his criticism of post-institutionalism (if anyone would use such a label to identify themselves), Mattei makes a distinction between those who are keeping their heads below the parapet and those in “open revolt”. So post-institutionalism is a dead end… Fine by me, since I am neither pre, post or institutionalist. My own world is so far away from that polarised world in America that is now influencing the media and popular culture over here in Europe.

I belong to an institutional church as a priest, but one that is anchored in Anglicanism. Most of us ordinary folk are far from the authoritarian culture of Rome since the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and the days of the three popes strutting around Europe like some caricature from Palmar de Troya! It is legitimate to aspire to a different form of Catholicism, something like the vision of Western Orthodoxy, a more spiritual than political Old Catholicism and Anglican Catholicism. We can unite body and soul without getting into the kind of cognitive dissonance associated with the modern Papacy, the Vatican Bank, paedophile clergy, big money and favours gained from American presidents. If that is the institution and spiritual life is not possible without it, it is time to read Nietzsche!

In my conversation with my friend, we talked about the traditionalist societies, fraternities and institutes we knew, and how everything has remained so static and sterile in the name of stability. Doubtless, those men have lived through their inner conflicts and Angst. Like a man stuck in a toxic and childless marriage, they are unable to see a different horizon. Am I able either? It is the question I keep asking.

Such a level of thought is probably going to bedevil every man who is considering the priesthood, whether in a diocese, a religious order or some traditionalist institute trapped in its pseudo-baroque rigidity. Many have fallen by the wayside as priests or seminarians. They would be dismissed as the chaff who were not part of the elected and chosen elite. These are human souls, and most of us have turned over the page and moved on. A part of the purpose of this blog, especially when I once called it New Goliards, is a testimony from the casualties of the anti-Christian ideology represented by Papal institutionalism.

In my thoughts, I keep returning to Oscar Wilde. He was not the wisest of men and got himself put in prison through his own appalling choices, but he took the consequences with courage.

You may realise it when I say that had I been released last May, as I tried to be, I would have left this place loathing it and every official in it with a bitterness of hatred that would have poisoned my life. I have had a year longer of imprisonment, but humanity has been in the prison along with us all, and now when I go out I shall always remember great kindnesses that I have received here from almost everybody, and on the day of my release I shall give many thanks to many people, and ask to be remembered by them in turn.

The prison style is absolutely and entirely wrong. I would give anything to be able to alter it when I go out. I intend to try. But there is nothing in the world so wrong but that the spirit of humanity, which is the spirit of love, the spirit of the Christ who is not in churches, may make it, if not right, at least possible to be borne without too much bitterness of heart.

I know also that much is waiting for me outside that is very delightful, from what St. Francis of Assisi calls ‘my brother the wind, and my sister the rain,’ lovely things both of them, down to the shop-windows and sunsets of great cities. If I made a list of all that still remains to me, I don’t know where I should stop: for, indeed, God made the world just as much for me as for any one else. Perhaps I may go out with something that I had not got before. I need not tell you that to me reformations in morals are as meaningless and vulgar as Reformations in theology. But while to propose to be a better man is a piece of unscientific cant, to have become a deeper man is the privilege of those who have suffered. And such I think I have become.

What has become of Roman Catholicism represents for some of us a spiritual prison, condemning us to circular ways of thinking and endless paradoxes. Wilde did not know the infallibility of Pope Francis, but of Pius IX, the bourgeoisie and the clerocracy. Christ was absent from all that. The body of the Church had to be elsewhere if the spirit could be recognised. The Victorian prison killed Oscar Wilde, not immediately but through the illness that would take him after his move to Paris and his inability to rebuild his broken life.

Some of us have been broken to a lesser extent by what proves simply to be unredeemed human nature, sadism, pride, cruelty, dominance, hypocrisy and every other sin of the spirit. If institutionalism is merely a cover for these sins in a corrupt state like many governments of countries have become, then the institution no longer means anything.

That, my friends, is the cause of empty parish churches and empty seminaries.

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Ceremonies of the Sarum Missal

A very kind friend bought and sent me a copy of R.J. Urquhart’s Ceremonies of the Sarum Missal. It is not a book I would have bought myself given its high price set by the publisher T&T Clark. I was grateful for this most generous gift.

On the back of the book are found three brief reviews including Fr John Hunwicke. I was rather surprised, since Fr Hunwicke had tended to be more “Roman” than “English”, favouring the English Missal as an Anglican and the Roman rite as a priest of the Ordinariate. He notes the influence of Fortescue and O’Connell, The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described in its various editions. Christopher Hodkinson of Wyoming Catholic College in America speaks of a “renaissance” of the Sarum liturgy. Because of this book?

Is there such an opposition between the approach of Anglican Romanticism as exemplified by the likes of Percy Dearmer and the actual available sources which could be re-interpreted into an over-regulated Roman Catholic rite? Reading the introduction, I certainly sense the stuffiness of Roman Catholic canonical regulation and the obstacles intended to keep the Use of Sarum in a museum rather than considered on a par with the Dominican and Ambrosian rites. Nevertheless, this book was written and published in order to facilitate the practical use of this rite in more than hypothetical and abstract terms.

When the Ordinariates were set up under Pope Benedict XVI, some were of the opinion that Sarum would be the most appropriate rite, either in Latin or “Prayer Book style” English. However, most of the former Anglicans who formed the Ordinariate, at least in England, had used the English Missal and the Pauline Roman rite. Their liturgical practice was exactly aligned with English Roman Catholicism. Sarum was never a part of their experience of Anglicanism or Roman Catholicism. Why was this book published as late as 2020? Perhaps it is an appeal for the liturgical status quo of the Ordinariate to be modified or diversified? Is there a “market” for such a thing?

This book is as meticulously researched as Dr William Renwick’s chant books for the Office and the Mass and Fr Sean Finnegan’s forthcoming missal. I understand that the missal will be edited in such a way as to allow any priest used to the Roman rite to “say the black and do the red”. These three men have been doing the brunt of the work. I was dreaming about Sarum as long ago as the early 1980’s and I approached it from a Romantic point of view, knowing that human culture is the vehicle and vector of the presence of Christianity in a population. I was less equipped intellectually and in terms of methodology.

Personally, I come somewhere between “authentic” research and Romantic reconstruction à la Dearmer. I think we need both approaches rather than introduce denominational red lines, at a time when Roman Catholicism continues in its crisis of identity between authoritarianism and over-regulation, on one hand, and the temptation also faced by reformed Christianity in the face of modern culture. Dearmer lived at a time when non-conformity to the Prayer Book was severely sanctioned in the Church of England. He did what he could, in the same way as the London Oratory makes the Pauline liturgy look like something from eighteenth-century Rome. Perhaps one should be in possession of both this book and the Parson’s Handbook!

As a priest who celebrates daily Mass according to the Use of Sarum, this book will be of help in verifying the interpretation I have already made of the available rubrics and comparative approach with the French uses and the Dominican rite. I find it amusing that some make such ado about whether or not the altar has a post-Tridentine style tabernacle or altar cards. I have a small card with the Offertory prayers and the Placeat tibi lying flat on the altar. I can recite the Gloria and Credo by heart, but many priests have need to read them each time. Aesthetically, the altar without the clutter of altar cards and pots of flowers is a great improvement like in the monastic tradition. As a cradle Anglican, I was used to altars without tabernacles, and I use the hanging pyx to reserve the Blessed Sacrament.

One thing I discovered in France was the relative lack of regulation and a more flexible approach than in England. I speak of the country parishes with priests ordained in the 1940’s and 50’s, without the rubricist attitudes found among English conservative Catholics and Roman-style Anglicans. I am afraid that this book might encourage the introduction of a “post-Tridentine” rubricist mentality into the Sarum Use whose obsolescence has preserved it! Are we going to introduce the bobbing of genuflections and assimilation to the “extraordinary” Roman rite? I am a little guilty of such myself by wearing my old Roman vestments and using an early nineteenth-century French baroque chalice. Should we introduce Newman’s idea of organic development or Benedict XVI’s hermeneutic of continuity?

We could conjecture what might have happened had Sarum survived into the baroque era. The Roman genuflections would certainly have been introduced together with fiddleback vestments and altars with gradines and tabernacles. Should we introduce all that now, or Mass facing the people, microphones and pop culture? Should we go “Dearmer”? This is the danger of a self-conscious revival of a rite with all the necessary indults and permissions from Rome and the local Roman Catholic bishop. I feel easier with a simple blessing from my Archbishop and just getting on with it with what I have.

I suspect that something that was once the life of country parishes would be killed by over-regulation and its being “harnessed” in the Ordinariate and groups of people with special interests. I have encouraged this development, and almost found consolation in its not happening. I almost feel afraid, like when I see the first Christmas things appearing in a supermarket from October, more than a month before Advent. The big risk now is “artificial” Catholicism as what happened with the traditionalists – and the death of parish life in the country. It is a little like large numbers of Parisians buying holiday houses in Brittany!

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A Glimmer of Light

I have made a new discovery whilst looking through my notifications on Facebook. I found some comments mentioning my writings, but of a singular shallowness. The original poster of the thread gave a link to a page of a site that I had not yet seen.

I am still discovering this site and its keeper, who appears to be a man in his 60’s living the good life in Michigan with his family. He resonates with my own thought and intuitions through his interest in Romanticism, Jakob Böhme, Berdyaev and the general movement in reaction to modernism and technocracy. This site is worth discovering at the same time as I unearth articles of a rare lucidity.

Sometimes, Facebook, with the shallow ideas of some about what clothes they wear to Mass, can reveal treasures. Above all, I have the impression of being a dim light among others for a new movement of thought and art in a world that flattens humanity under the weight of viruses, lockdowns and prospects of “great resets”.

I will be looking through this website with great interest.

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Oscar Wilde

This is an extraordinary film from 1960 about the downfall of Oscar Wilde in the 1890’s. We are very lucky to have the whole film available on YouTube. I find it very well acted. I first saw it more than thirty years ago, but only now did I really appreciate the personalities of Wilde, his wife Constance, Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas) and the pompous and angry Marquis of Queensberry.

On the YouTube page containing the film, you will find extracts from a review attesting the quality of the acting and authenticity of the screenplay. The one question remains: what was Wilde doing with cheap and vulgar “rent boys”?

As the film went on, I had the impression that Wilde was acting out the Greek tragedy Antigone by Sophocles – English translation and the moving German text which was set to music by Mendelssohn. Throughout the trials and consultations with his solicitor, Wilde seemed to be bent on destroying himself by trying to be too “clever” with the prosecution and defying the advice of his own counsel.

First of all, the vile Marquis of Queensberry had a visiting card delivered to Wilde with the words “posing as a sodomite”. In what way was that libel? The matter was private and did not involve anything said or written in public. The portrait of Queensberry showed an abusive and violent man who mistreated his wife and his children alike, a perfect picture of the pathological personality. I detected the same toxic traits in “Bosie” which showed through his manipulative arrogance. Wilde also lived far beyond his means and I had little sympathy for any of them other than Constance and the two children.

I often quote from Wilde’s De Profundis as he seemed to have an understanding of the noblest aspects of humanity, after two years of the hell of a Victorian prison. He was so badly destroyed that he was unable to rebuild his personality or spiritual life when he lived in Paris, and ended his life most tragically as meningitis ate his brain away. What was the nature of that love that dare not speak its name? The line was actually written by “Bosie”, not Wilde. The expression is conventionally taken to mean homosexuality, something that was severely repressed in the Victorian era. At his trial, Wilde attempted to give a more noble explanation on the basis of friendships between mature men and boys in the ancient Greek culture. St Paul was explicitly severe about homosexuality in the Epistles to the Romans and Corinthians in particular. Homosexuality in the New Testament is a particularly interesting article giving various exegetical approaches to the various Pauline and Old Testament texts. Some liberal scholars interpret the texts as a prohibition against paedophilia and prostitution, but more conservative exegetes hold a complete condemnation of all same-gender sexual acts and relationships. I would as a priest be more inclined to discourage physical sexual acts in favour of the kind of friendship described in De spirituali amicitia (Spiritual Friendship) of St Aelred of Rievaulx, a Christian counterpart of Cicero’s De amicitia. St Aelred, as Abbot of a large monastic community, would have been very severe on physical sexuality between monks. But the friendship he described is perhaps a love that forgot to speak its name over the centuries. I think we do well to read this work, which has been translated from Latin into English and other modern languages, and discern the spirit of this venerable idea of friendship, real friendship, between two human persons. Churches and priests need to develop a truly pastoral approach in helping men to transcend their sexual desires through profound friendship and spiritual life. It is easier said than done, but the feeling of “falling in love” can be a dangerous and catastrophic illusion.

I suspect that Wilde lied to the court when he denied having “it” with rent boys. He is not the saint many would like to believe. How would a man of that level of culture and nobility of spirit get mixed up with such lowly persons? As for taking the Marquess of Queensberry to court, when setting out on vengeance, one must first dig two graves. Being blinded by love can lead a person to abdicate reason and common sense to a degree that self-destruction is the only issue. How else would Wilde have been so reckless in putting all his faith in his wit and sense of humour? A court of law is no place for such foolishness! His attitude was probably not far from contempt of court.

Constance could only do what she could for the good of her children, as a woman of her time. Today, the equivalent would be a case of a paedophile who abused children sexually, a priest or a teacher in particular. She showed her pain and sense of duty in forcing her husband after his release from prison to give up his parental rights. The couple never divorced. I saw in the portrayal of this woman a profound altruism, sense of duty and genuine care for her discredited husband.

I don’t think I can draw any absolute conclusions from this reconstruction of long-dead historical figures. I am very fond of Wilde’s work. I have several of his plays in videos that I can watch. The Picture of Dorian Grey is haunting, to say the least, and an incredibly fine understanding of the human soul. The little stories for children like the Happy Prince are just as profound in their tenderness. The two post-incarceration works De Profundis and The Ballad of Reading Gaol show Wilde in his pain after having suffered such a disproportionate and soul-killing punishment for his indiscretions. The Soul of Man under Socialism was a prophetic piece of writing for a century of which he saw only the first year.

What do I conclude? I can only observe the cruel division between a spirit of such nobility and sense of the transcendentals of truth, beauty and goodness, a Romantic to the last, on one hand, and someone who perhaps shared the narcissistic traits of Bosie and his violent and abusive father who was fanatically bent on Wilde’s destruction. I think I understand the spirit of contradiction in ideas like Work is the curse of the drinking classes and overcoming temptation by giving in to it. He waged war on conventional morality and the self-righteousness of the Philistines of his age. In his opposition to hypocritical moralism, he overstepped the fragile line into sin and suffering.

He died a hundred and twenty years ago, and his grave is found at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. The monument is of a singular ugliness in my opinion. Wilde left his mark, certainly on me.

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