Sunday, 15 March 2020

Why not receive in the hand?

With the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic, we have been requested by our bishop either to receive in the hand or make a spiritual communion.

I am grateful that he did not mandate this, as that would seem to be beyond his authority, but a request is understandable (though I understand that there is no evidence base for it...)

However, I believe that obedience is best practiced when we don't agree with, or sympathise with, the authority; but I am under the authority of my bishop (and he is generally a good chap), so I will obey.

I am also grateful that he explicitly mentioned making a spiritual communion: it makes it clear that he has some understanding of the sensitivities about this issue amongst some of his flock.

For myself, therefore (and I only speak for myself) I shall be making a Spiritual Communion for the foreseeable future.

I have noticed some odd comments on social media about people making this decision, and they show a startling lack of awareness about the considerations that might inform such a decision.

So here are some of the reasons why I will not receive in the hand.

I remember when this was introduced; the arguments used didn't convince me as a teenager: they look even thinner now, with the benefit of experience and hindsight.

Indeed, much of the reasoning seemed completely specious: Communion in the hand, we were told, reminds us that we have become temples of the living God; brings out the truth that we are sharers in Jesus' priesthood; is a more mature and adult gesture...

I defy anyone to justify such twaddle.

Paul VI himself disagreed. In Memoriale Domini, which dealt with this issue (as communion in the hand hard been introduced by disobedient priests in Holland and Germany) he insisted on the traditional way of receiving. He polled the bishops of the world, who were overwhelmingly against the innovation, and he reiterated the dangers of communion in the hand, including a decline in reverence and a decline in belief in the Real Presence.

However, in a pastoral gesture, he said that were the practice was already established, the Bishops' Conference, if they wished (by a 2/3 majority) could ask Rome for permission to continue the practice.

Scandalously, not only did the bishops where the practice was established petition Rome, so did many other Conferences. And through this back door, the tradition of the Church and the clear direction from the Holy Father, and the views of the majority of the world's bishops, were all overthrown.

Since then, I have also  learned that the much-quoted lines from St Cyril of Jerusalem were very carefully selected to make it seem as though this were a return to an ancient practice.  But what St Cyril practiced was very different: immediately after the oft-quoted lines about making the left hand a throne, he continues "Then, carefully sanctifying the eyes by touching them with the holy Body...." One can see why the Church developed a more fitting manner of reception... Clearly that is not what was being reintroduced. Instead, what we were being taught to do was exactly what the Protestant reformers of the 16th Century had invented. These reformers, of course, were concerned to eliminate anything redolent of belief in 'a sacrificing priesthood possessing powers denied to the laity, or the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament.'

So, given its genesis in the reformation as a gesture opposing Catholic teaching, its initial introduction in the 60s by disobedient clerics, the clear intention of Memoriale Domini and the world's bishops when the issue was addressed, and the subsequent chicanery of the E&W (and other) hierarchies in introducing this, and distributing dishonest propaganda about it; and finally, given my own observation of the truth of Paul VI's warnings of the probable consequences... no, I will not avail myself of this practice.

(For more information on this, and the source of my direct quotations, see Communion in the Hand and other Frauds, by Michael Davies)

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

The First Commandment

In the light of recent events in the Vatican, and the various reactions to them, I have been pondering the First Commandment.

And the Lord spoke all these words:
I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.
Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth.
Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them: I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me:
And shewing mercy unto thousands to them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Of course, the modern enlightened mind realises that the idea of God being jealous is clearly a nonsense, so we can disregard this passage...

However, I have an old-fashioned, unenlightened mind, so I treat it differently.  Of course, God as jealous is anthropomorphic - a metaphor. So, of course, what I want to understand is what the passage really means; and to inform that, how has the Church, the guardian and interpreter of Sacred Scripture, under the tutelage of the Holy Ghost, understood this.

The Penny Catechism is always helpful (I am a simple, as well as old-fashioned and unenlightened, soul).  It explains the first commandment (in part) thus:

181 The first Commandment does not forbid the making of images, but the making of idols; that is it forbids us to make images to be adored and honoured as gods.

182 The first Commandment forbids all dealing with the Devil, and superstitious practices such as consulting spiritualists and fortune tellers, and trusting to charms, omens, dreams and such-like fooleries.

Which is pretty clear.

And reflecting further on this, I was thinking about the folly of thinking that one can break God's commandment.  In one sense, one can, of course; but at a deeper level, one can only break oneself against the commandment.

If one takes the Law of Gravity as an analogue: one can defy the Law of Gravity by throwing oneself from a high building; but actually, the law takes effect, and one is damaged - or indeed killed - by the subsequent fall.

I think that the Commandments of God are the same; the implicit second half of each commandment is '... or you will bring spiritual death on yourself, (and harm to others).'

And these Commandments apply to all humanity. It is true that the subjective guilt may be less if one is genuinely ignorant, but these are bad things for people to do.  Not bad (only) because they offend a jealous God (to talk in metaphor - as that is the principle way in which we can talk about God) but bad because they are bad for us, in just the same way that jumping off a high building is bad for us - they will damage us (and normally, hurt others, too).

That is why any enculturation that encourages the pagan to persist in pagan practices is wrong; and any enculturation that encourages Catholics to indulge in pagan practices is even more wrong. Not only is it offensive to God, but it is necessarily damaging to the spiritual welfare of all involved.

However much indigenous people may revere Pachamama, we may not do so, nor encourage them to continue to do so, even out of the wish to befriend them.  We may not do evil that good may come of it.

Not to mention the small matter of scandal...

I end with my usual caveat: I am no theologian, merely an old-fashioned, unreconstructed and rather simple Catholic: I am always open to correction by those better informed.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Our Lady Who Turns Her Face to the Wall

Some years ago, my late mother gave me a small statue of Our Lady of Torreciudad.  She sits on top of the chest of drawers by my bed, in the corner of the room.  And she turns her face to the wall.

Or to be more accurate, perhaps, she turns her whole self to the wall.  She does this gradually, over time, so I don't notice it happening, until suddenly, one day, I see that she's facing the wall (or nearly) and turn her back.

The explanation, of course, is simple and natural; the statue has come free of its base, and every time I shut one of the drawers, it shifts a little on its base, with the net result I have described.

But because I am a very simple soul (or a very profound one - you decide) I see meaning in such things. There's a line in CS Lewis somewhere (That Hideous Strength, I rather fancy) about Our Lord doing all things for all people. 

And so I ask myself, why would Our Lady turn her face to the wall?  And the answer, of course, is sin.  So now I have developed the practice of only turning Our Lady back to face the room when I have been to confession: and when she turns to the wall, I know it's time to go again.

And that works pretty well...

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Guilty or not guilty?

I have followed the story of the trials of Cardinal Pell (as best one can, given the information management strategies in place for much of the time); not least because I have met him, and have walked the pilgrimage to Chartres with his (then) personal secretary, Fr Mark Withoos (now Brother Augustine Mary, OSB). So I am not an impartial observer: I have personal reasons to believe him innocent. But that is not what I want to write about here (and for good accounts of why the verdict against him is suspect, see here and here)

But I am blogging because I have something to say which is from a fairly unusual perspective: I have been on the jury of a rape trial.

I need to proceed with some caution, as it is an offence to talk about anything said in the Jury room, even once a trial is over.

Therefore I will give no clues about the location or date of the trial, nor any indication of any remarks made by any individual juror. Instead I will recount my own impressions, feelings and reactions to the experience, in the hope that they will shed some light.

The first thing to say is that I found the experience harrowing. Listening to the woman in the case describe the years of controlling behaviour (another charge) and multiple counts of rape and sexual abuse that she was accusing the defendant of perpetrating, was terrible. I quickly found myself thinking, imagine if this was one of my daughters - and feeling extremely angry as well as profoundly upset.

But listening to the defendant, conscious of the assumption of innocence as the foundation of our system of justice, I consciously tried to imagine that it was my son in the box, accused of all these foul deeds, so as to listen without the previous anger distorting my judgement.

In the event, the evidence was confused and confusing. Both witnesses had mental health issues; both contradicted themselves, let alone each other. Their lives were chaotic, and they both demonstrably lied on more than one occasion.

That made it extremely difficult to reach a clear view as to what had happened.

But in the Jury room there were two people who had swallowed the 'Believe the victim' narrative so strongly that they found a guilty vote on each charge to be easy. The rest of us were less convinced.  Indeed, it was hard to believe the victim when she gave contradictory accounts of the same event: which version should we believe?

But the amount of pressure I felt to conform to their view was substantial. It was moral cowardice not to convict this evil man, in the eyes of some.

After the trial (and outside the Jury room, so I can mention it) one of the other Jurors thanked me for the role I had taken in reminding people of the standard of proof required by law: beyond reasonable doubt, and for standing up to those trying to exert moral suasion. Without me, she said, she and others might have felt obliged to fall in with their view.

In the event, we could agree no verdict on the rape and abuse charges. 

Given the sustained campaign against the Catholic Church in general, and Cardinal Pell in particular, in Australia, along with public pronouncements from the highest quarters about believing victims, in the run-up to his trial, it seems to me quite likely that the Jury room in that case was a much more pressurised environment.

I believe a serious miscarriage of justice has taken place, and I think I have some insight into at least one of the contributory factors.



Sunday, 23 December 2018

The Great Antiphons: O Emmanuel

Today is the seventh and final Great O AntiphonO Emmanuel.  As always, this is the antiphon sung just before the Magnificat at Vespers. It is the last, because tomorrow's Vespers, on Christmas Eve, is the First Vespers of Christmas.


O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Here is the final part of Pärt's Sieben Magnificat Antiphonen.




O Immanuel, unser König und Lehrer, 
du Hoffnung und Heiland der Völker: 
o komm, eile und schaffe uns Hilfe, 
du unser Herr und unser Gott.

O Emmanuel, our king and counselor, 
Thou hope and saviour of the nations: 
O come, make haste to help us, 
Thou our Lord and our God, our God.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

The Great Antiphons: O Rex Gentium

Today's Great Antiphon is O Rex Gentium.



O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

And here is Arvo Pärt's setting:




O König aller Völker, ihre Erwartung und Sehnsucht,
Schlußstein, der den Bau zusammenhält,
o komm und errette den Menschen,
den du aus Erde gebildet!


O king of all nations, their expectation and desire,
Keystone, which holds all things together:
O come and save mankind,
whom thou hast formed from clay! 

Friday, 21 December 2018

The Great Antiphons: O Oriens

Today's Great Antiphon is O Oriens.


O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Here is Arvo Pärt's setting:


O Morgenstern, Glanz des unversehrten Lichtes:
Der Gerechtigkeit strahlende Sonne:
o komm und erleuchte, die da sitzen in Finsternis,
und im Schatten des Todes.
O morning star, incandescence of pure light, 
radiant sun of righteousness; 
O come and enlighten those who sit there in darkness 
and in the shadow of death.