New Year 2021

One side of me is tempted to join the chorus of those who are glad to see the back of 2020 in order to hope for something better in this new year. I might think of our present time becoming a repeat performance of the 1920’s. They emerged from World War I and then the Spanish flu. Then the dictators came onto the scene and the world only seemed to find some semblance of sanity in the 1950’s except for the arms race and the Cold War. The enemies have changed but the humanity / inhumanity goes on as before. I too am faced with that terrifying mystery of “other people”. A long time ago, I arrived at the conclusion that this is society and how society has always been and always will be. However, individual persons are generally good, kind and human – just as long as they have something of their own souls and haven’t succumbed to “mass humanity” as men like Rob Riemen and Thomas Mann call the sort of people who worshipped Hitler in the 1930’s and became fanatics.

Were the 1920’s like the 1820’s? They were the heyday of the Romantic Movement in the wake of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Does history revolve in cycles of one hundred years? I think a long and critical look would cast doubt on such a theory. We are all concerned that everything is becoming politicised and polarised. We are no longer debating like gentlemen but shouting at each other to make the opposite person shut up. The Coronavirus has brought bitterness, conspiracy theories as all epidemics do, political conflict and cultural strife.

For a long time, I have made a distinction between the human persons I know and the anonymous mass of “other people”, to which I add that I am their “other people”.

We enter a new year. One of hope? The vaccines against the Coronavirus are coming thick and fast, but many people are minded to refuse them. Personally I fear the vaccine much less than the disease itself. I will stick to the mainstream narrative that affirms that there is a disease that causes death and disability for life, and that science has come up with these vaccines. If we refuse the vaccine, we can only be less afraid of the disease – or deny that it exists. Collective humanity seems to have a very low level of intelligence, the same lesson we learned a hundred years ago with the upsurge of populism and the dictators.

Isolating and observing the lockdowns have been very difficult for many people. An advantage is that there is very little flu, and even the common cold is severely limited by the precautions we take against the Coronavirus. Going a little deeper, the curb that has been put on our social life has forced us to live with ourselves. Solitude is not loneliness. All too often, we look for supply in other people when we need to find God within.

Insofar as such lessons are learned, I am optimistic that our 20’s might bring the optimism and the fruit of resilience as when the world slowly emerged from the hecatomb of 1914 to 1920 (if we indeed include the Spanish flu). That optimism was short-lived and ended with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the causes of political extremism as we are seeing again now. Perhaps those years were fun, at least for privileged people, as described in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted, the halcyon days of Et in Arcadia Ego. If we want a longer-lasting peace, then its roots must be that much more profound.

I wish for us all the end of this virus, not that we may “return to normal” but find a new mind and spirit, one of reason and creative imagination.

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Macron the Philosopher King?

When considering political figures, it is almost a “new orthodoxy” to think and say the opposite, and even see a plot. Something President Macron said a couple of days ago struck me in contrast to his usual fashion of expressing things in the national or common interest. In particular, a read the news article in Le Point of 22nd December 2020. His keynote was “We have become a victim and emotional society”.

I was taken back to many of my reflections on Romanticism in the decades following the French Revolution and the Terror. The basis of that new way of thinking was the Age of Reason with the imagination restored to man’s wholeness. It is a major tenet of St Thomas Aquinas that reason has to take primacy over the passions. The Romantic is not an anti-rationalist but wants the wholeness of human experience. I doubt that Macron would directly subscribe to such ideas. He is pragmatic – and he is a banker. He does his job in such a way as it works. However, these reflections show something that stands out in the political world from pure considerations of money and particular interest.

Society is deeply disturbed by the crisis caused by the pandemic, identity politics and polarisation. Above all, conspiracy theory is gaining ground, often with the most grotesque and irrational ideas. The French are a “people of paradoxes”. I sympathised with the early yellow jacket (Gilets Jaunes) movement, because Macron’s politics seemed to be serving only the wealthy, using ecological concerns to tax ordinary people that much more. Then the movement became violent and bestial. Its agenda was no longer ordinary hard-working people with ever-shrinking budgets but violent anarchists and nihilists like in late nineteenth-century Russia.

This article suggests that Macron has acquired experience from these crises in a country that resisted Nazism during the Occupation and has ever since been suspicious of any kind of authority, legitimate or not. There is the old canard about everything being allowed in England unless it was forbidden, everything being forbidden in Germany unless it was allowed – and everything being forbidden in France, but you would do it all the same. It is an undisciplined country, but one that will not incline to excessive or irrational authority.

Taken to excess, this a priori refusal of authority becomes a “permanent poison”, a vicious circle, a crisis of identity and conspiracy theory – the very driving force behind Nazism and Stalinism.

Macron notes a “Manichaean” view of history, a “society of permanent emotion”. The victim is vindicated above all things and crushes reason. Such a mentality cannot accept complexity and will not listen to the other person’s word. According to some psychologists I am reading, the world has become narcissistic in the meaning of the disordered personality. Wearing a mask has become a sign of respect for others, but many people have just not got it. Life is about their convenience.

He is a convinced republican, in the French, not American, meaning of the word. France was once a kingdom, and the Aristocracy and the Church themselves attracted the anger of the Jacobins and people reduced to extreme poverty. Then came five republics. No political system is perfect, but it seems to be suited for modern times in the task of upholding freedom and democracy. De Gaulle’s answer to the defeat of Nazism seemed to  inspire people in those days. Some dream of bringing back the King, someone with a more or less legitimate bloodline – but it won’t happen, even in spite of the writings of the Marquis de la Franquerie.

What the French Republic has offered is a secular state in which, in theory, different religions, cultures and philosophies can thrive, something like in the USA. The one condition is that of integration and respect for others. I am a foreigner in this country, and I was asked for several things when France granted me citizenship. First of all, there was an adequate use of the French language to live and work here. Another was to be financially independent, at least at the time of application. Another was to know at least the basics of French history and how the state institutions work. I have to admit I am a little vague, but constant exposure to the news media brings me notions of the Government, the President and the Prime Minister, the Assemblée Nationale and the Senate. The system is essentially divided, like most modern countries, into the Legislative, the Executive and the Judicial – the famous separation of the three powers. This makes France an état de droit, a state of law, with no one being above the law. There are abuses and corruptions, but they seem not to go as far as some other countries, even united and disunited kingdoms!

It could be better, but it could also be much worse. In spite of the horrors of the Terror, Robespierre and the Jacobins, the Revolution began by heralding a system of liberté, égalité et fraternité – to which Wordsworth responded: Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive. But to be young was very heaven”. France has been very nasty with the Church through anti-clericalism, as has Italy. Many of the clergy in the late nineteenth century brought it upon themselves. That is something I can understand through my erstwhile contact with intégriste Catholicism! Modern France is tolerant. Distinctions are made between fanatical Islamists and terrorists on one side, and ordinary Muslims living in the country as we all do, on the other. The law is equal for all, at least it should be. Macron has attracted a lot of anger for his position on the kind of Islam that would conquer and take over France if it got half the chance. From what I have heard him say, I find his position perfectly reasonable and responsible. He is also right in asking us to love this country. I think I do, in spite of my frustrations with many things. Otherwise it would be more proper to go and live somewhere else.

There has been less of the Woke phenomenon here in France than the USA, but it has taken hold as an ideology. To give in to that ideology would be no different than submitting to Hitler or Stalin in other times. We cannot “cancel” the history of a nation any more than our own personal lives.

In every human society, there has to be authority and law. I have often expressed a certain form of anarchism in my own thought, but the human soul can only escape the constraint of law through the life of the spirit. This is an idea of St Paul in regard to the Mosaic law, but this will also apply in a modern secular state as in the canon law of the Church. Freedom is spiritual, and the lower man sinks into sin and selfishness, the more he has to be constrained with bit and bridle.

He said (my translation): “All contemporary societies live according to this kind of horizontalization, contesting any form of authority, including academic and scientific authority“. He added “The psychological and social consequences are terrifying because we end up not believing in anything any more“, and he describes a “vicious circle: a levelling out, which creates skepticism, generates obscurantism and which, contrary to the Cartesian doubt that is the foundation of rational construction and truth, leads to conspiracy theories“.

Here he was speaking about the pandemic crisis. The conspiracy theorists seem to have no positive message to convey: no vaccination, no lockdowns, no masks or barrier gestures. Either they would have the virus infect millions of people and kill as many as the Spanish Flu, or force state authorities to discredit themselves and say that it was all a “plandemic” to turn the world into an Orwell-style dystopia. I wonder if such people think so far beyond their own bestial comfort. Their message is none other than the nihilism of Dostoevsky’s Demons or the mentality denounced by Nietzsche.

For a State leader to understand such subtleties, as did great men like De Gaulle, is a great gift to us. We have all to work for a revival of reason and objectivity enriched by our use of creative imagination and the fulness of the human person. Macron’s message is one of positive humanism. I think he believes in God, but France does not allow a public figure to take sides publicly with religious beliefs. French secularism is more restrictive than its American counterpart, and perhaps a dose of the French brand would do some good in regard to fundamentalist Christianity and the kind of ideology that destroys faith and love of God. Macron is President of France and knows the game and how it works. He might not survive the election of 2022 and we might get a wild-eyed demagogue, but we will remember Macron as a man of thought, values and principle.

His thoughts leave me with hope that there may be light at the end of the tunnel and a new paradigm to come.

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My Country

All I seem to have left of my country is to listen to Vaughan Williams and this lovely movement from his Bucolic Suite:

The reality is somewhat different, and it brings tears to my eyes as I make the best of life just over the Channel.

The first looming shadow is no-deal Brexit. It effects are already felt as the lorries are “stacked” all the way along the motorway. The ports are not ready any more than the parking areas for freight vehicles waiting for their turn for transport to France by sea. I am beyond polemics or cheap political shots. The damage being caused is appalling, as humanitarian organisations are bearing the brunt of feeding starving children of very poor English, Welsh and Scottish families. It is not by hazard that I choose this second piece on the old medieval hymn Dives and Lazarus. I would not like to be in the place of the rich man after his judgement!

The second is the new strain of SARS-CoV-2, which will be 70% more infectious than the one we have in most of Europe. I thought it was already as easy to catch as a common cold! We are waiting for more scientific information about this new strain. PM Johnson has imposed Tier 4 lockdown restrictions on the south of England. It was the only thing he could do. Too bad for secular Christmas and the hopes families had for getting together! I just hope the new strain will be kept out of continental Europe, but it will come. We must pray that we will start getting vaccinated before this new strain breaks the capacity of the hospitals.

I don’t think I have been to England for more than two years, or any other country outside France. I have taken the restrictions seriously, not only to avoid the disease, but to protect others just in case I catch it. This seems to be the minimum of human empathy and Christian charity! I seethe with anger as I hear about Londoners fleeing their town to go and infect other parts of England and here on the Continent. I hope the police are doing their job well, turning them back to their homes.

Who is to blame for all this? We all are as sinful humans, just like in those dark September days of 1939. Then, our people pulled together and Hitler was beaten. Surely, we can again care for each other and beat both the virus and the stupidity that brought about this caricature of British exceptionalism. May the Lord have pity on us!

Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo: facta est quasi vidua domina gentium: princeps provinciarum facta est sub tributo.

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Fourth Sunday of Advent

I am still nervously exhausted and will not be recording anything. The only thing I can do presently to bring anything good to others is by writing. Like Lent, this is a holy season that brings us the joy of the third Sunday, yet with our awareness that not all is well in ourselves in the face of God.

Like at other times in history, we suffer adversity through the pandemic, either by directly catching the disease and sufferings its symptoms – or by our life being curtailed by lockdowns and curfews, the fear of being vaccinated with something completely new. We are in an increasingly noisy world with conflicting “truths” and ideologies, between conservatism and “woke” and many others. We are far from the silence of the Stille Nacht and the effect that snow has of absorbing sound. I spent Christmas 1985 in the Swiss mountains with the young man who introduced me to the Dean of the theological faculty at Fribourg University and helped me get accepted. Those few days in one of the highest villages in Europe taught me the meaning of silence.

In the Office of the Mass according to the Use of Sarum, we find:

Remember us, O Lord, according to the favour that thou bearest unto thy people ; O visit us with thy salvation ; that we may see the felicity of thy chosen ; and rejoice in the gladness of thy people, and give thanks with thine inheritance. Ps. We have sinned with our fathers, we have done amiss, and dealt wickedly.

Rorate was said last Ember Wednesday, to the surprise of those used to the Roman rite. This piece reflects the patience of the People of Israel, the chosen people as they hoped for the coming of the Saviour, who is not far away now. The language is that of the Prophets, and we Christians look forward in the same way to the coming of the Sacramental Mystery of Christ in the liturgy of Christmas. We also look to the Parousia, in the form of our own death to this world and the resurrection of the body in whatever form that might take.

The Epistle resumes the Gaudete Office of last Sunday “Brethren, rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice…” “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord” precedes the blessing given at the end of Mass in the Prayer Book. This Sunday is most certainly in a changed tone from the eschatological themes of the first two Sundays and the prophecies of St John the Baptist, which continue this day.

We do well to refresh our knowledge of the enigmatic John the Baptist who met his violent death at the hands of Herod. The Wikipedia article is very full, and I will not attempt to resume it. The writings in the Gospels are enigmatic, as they are in the Nag Hammadi Scriptures. John is described as sent by God, but that he was not the light, but “came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that through him everyone might believe“. John neither confirms nor denies being the Christ or Elijah or ‘the prophet’, but described himself as the “voice of one crying in the wilderness”. This biblical figure is highly mysterious, and I will not try to speculate here.

An important aspect of prophecy is the miracle, the sick being healed, the deaf being made able to hear, sight given to the blind. All these things happened during the ministry of Jesus. These signs gave credibility to the message he taught.

The Communion verse says: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel. These words come from Isaiah vii.14 and are repeated in Matthew i.23. ιδου η παρθενος εν γαστρι εξει και τεξεται υιον και καλεσουσιν το ονομα αυτου εμμανουηλ ο εστιν μεθερμηνευομενον μεθ ημων ο θεος – Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

Again, the meanings of words need study. One such is the word translated into virgin. The Hebrew would tend to mean young woman (Jungfrau in German), but the Greek of the Septuagint gives παρθένος, unambiguously meaning virgin. Some biblical scholars have referred to this words meaning an ancient title for the Holy Spirit rather than a human person, perhaps connected with the Άγια Σοφία, the Holy Wisdom of God. There is an apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews in which Christ refers to the Holy Spirit as his mother. The Virgin Birth is a vital point of Christian orthodoxy, but the controversy needs to be studied with a critical mind.

Why Emmanuel as a name for one who is usually called Jesus or Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ‎)? I recommend reading Immanuel. It seems to be a name of symbolic value, more than our own Christian names we are given at our Baptism.

I would also like to emphasise contemplating the great O antiphons (from page 38). I have linked to the English version, but the Latin version is found here (from page 36). These are beautiful prophetic texts to begin and end the singing of the Magnificat at Vespers. They will take us to the 23rd December with the singing of O Virgo Virginum, which is why Sarum gives O Sapientia on the 16th and not on the 17th as in the Roman Breviary.

From a point of view of personal feelings, Advent has always brought melancholy, and this year is no exception (apart from the things going on in my life), but also a longing for God through the gloom of the coming Solstice. When I was in York, I frequently attended Evensong in York Minster and absorbed the organ music, the service settings and anthems, the solemn prayers from the Prayer Book. It was the stuff of my Anglican roots, but yet a perpetually unsettled mind and yearning for something I would never find by my own strength. This is Advent, the Sehnsucht of God’s people and each of us.

Modern secular Christmas devastates me, and I pray that the restrictions on Christmas gatherings will bring some to stop and think what Christmas really is other than consumerism, overeating, getting drunk and bringing up old family feuds and disputes. I have done the Christmas tree, and Sophie and I have bought the necessary foodstuffs for the Christmas dinner. I am likely to be alone (apart from the celestial beings) at Midnight Mass and the Mass of the Day. Indeed, those to whom the liturgy means nothing do better to stay away. Over the years, Christmas and Easter have been times of intense suffering, and I hope this will soon change. My hope and prayer is that God’s grace will renew my vocation as a priest and give it new meaning.

This coming week will bring us into Christmas. My prayers will be with those who are alone and who cannot even get to church, for the homeless and destitute. We will find joy insofar as we have grasped something of the real Christian meaning of this feast. In the gloom and the silence, may we find the Light shining from the Ungrund.

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A Day in the Life of Salisbury Cathedral, ca. 1500

Dr William Renwick “will be presenting this lecture ‘live’ on Youtube this coming Friday at 1:00 pm UK time. It should probably also be available for later viewing. This illustrated lecture will describe in outline what Friday December 18 would have been like some 500 years ago in Salisbury Cathedral, from the tolling of the bells for matins around 3 a.m. until the evening worship concludes with the antiphon to the Virgin in the Salve Chapel.

I will do my best to be with him or watch the recording afterwards.

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Rejoice in the Lord Alway

We arrive at the third Sunday in Advent, and I offer this recording by St John’s College in Cambridge of Purcell’s “Bell Anthem”, Rejoice in the Lord alway. These are the words of the Officium (Introit) of the Mass. They set a similar tone to the fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare.

Gaudete comes from this text of St Paul (Philippians iv.4–6):

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

It is translated into the English text used in Purcell’s anthem, which is clear and easy to understand.

We rejoice because the object of our hope is near. We are exhorted to continue in our patience without anxiety, showing our gratitude and limpidity in the sight of God. We address our desires and needs to God in all simplicity. We might see an image of this hope in the anxieties and needs of our own time as the world has seen in times past in the midst of wars, epidemics of disease and other adversities. Indeed, this Christmas is going to be pruned back in some of its secular and social dimensions, leaving us to make the best of what we have.

Like Lent, Advent was once a forty-day fast beginning on the day after Saint Martin (11th November). For this reason it was called Saint Martin’s Lent, known as early as the fifth century and still in use in the Ambrosian Rite. We have the echo of this longer Advent in the Sarum Use with the Sunday next before Advent, rather than the Nth Sunday after Trinity. From the ninth century, Advent was reduced to four weeks (a period starting four Sundays before Christmas). It kept its character as a period of fasting and prayer. Like the Lenten Laetare, this Rose Sunday (Rosensonntag in German) gives a break to the rigours of the fast and penitential character with a little respite.

Christian joy does not depend on our being consoled from the exterior but it is the experience of divine love, and that nothing can take it away, no adversity or even the inevitability of death. This should be the true spirit of Christmas.

Here is another one of my favourites, Orlando Gibbons, This is the Record of John, sung by the choir of Kings College Cambridge directed by David Willcocks.

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Simplified Sarum Ordo

Here is my simplified Sarum calendar from December 2020 to end of November 2021. I have given only the Sundays and Feasts, so you are advised to consult the rubrics of the missal, breviary, pie and customary to establish priories of memories and suchlike. I hope in time to develop a methodology to produce a complete ordo for each year.

This ordo can be freely printed for liturgical use or reference.

You can also refer to Dr William Renwick’s perpetual Sarum calendar:

This kalendar is valid for all years.  It consists of three sections.  Section 1 runs from January 1-January 14.  At this point Section 2 begins.  Section 2 has five parts, each corresponding to one of the five weeks during which Septuagesima, Easter, and all the other days of the moveable part of the year occur.  Section 3, again valid for all years, takes up the kalendar during the week July 29-August 4 and completes the year.
Sections 1 and 3 (single document)
-Section 2, year 1: Septuagesima falls on January 18-24; Easter falls on March 22-March 28.
-Section 2, year 2: Septuagesima falls on January 25-31; Easter falls on March 29-April 4.
-Section 2, year 3: Septuagesima falls on February 1-7; Easter falls on April 5- 11.
-Section 2, year 4: Septuagesima falls on February 8-14; Easter falls on April 12-April 18.
-Section 2, year 5: Septuagesima falls on February 9-15; Easter falls on April 19-April 25.

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Past the Million

Looking at my blog statistics, I started this blog in January 2012 after having deleted The English Catholic. It has been going for nearly nine years. It has been viewed 1,005,050 times. The daily rate of viewing tends to fluctuate between 100 and 200.

Thank you all for your fidelity and interest, which encourages me to write new postings with an original mind.

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Freedom and Tyranny

I find this lecture very powerful in the effort to affirm our individual freedom as opposed to being the property of the totalitarian state or other group of dominant dogs. I recommend listening to it with attention.

An essential condition is keeping a critical mind in regard to anyone else’s promises. Scepticism is particularly important in our critical thought about the “orthodoxies” and the legitimacy of doubt and the suspension of judgement. Newman was surprisingly sceptical in regard to Catholic doctrines, which gave force to his convictions when he accepted them. It is not so much an attitude of denial but rather of requiring more information in order to reach a judgement. This is an interesting dialogue on this subject.

We have to challenge excessive certitude, both in others and ourselves. There are many things in our everyday life where we have to keep our thought critical and free. I think particularly about a lot of the hype surrounding the Covid pandemic, the so-called “Great Reset”, conspiracy theories, populist politics, the very dangerous turn in human psychology which becomes almost analogous of the movements of a hundred years ago.

Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew x.28.

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Excita, Domine…

This is a spiritual conference for the Sunday Last before Advent. I have not recorded Mass today.

To be frank, I am going through a period of tiredness and SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and I am sure that the lockdown has taken its toll. I also face personal issues.

Indeed we need to wake up, become aware of the threats around us and our own individuality and relationship with God. The confusion caused by things we are told officially, but don’t stand up, also adds to the tiredness and our morosity.

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