Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Consenting Adults Myth (or heresy)

There is a popular and prevalent truism that what consenting adults get up to in privacy is nobody's concern but their own.

And like so many truisms, there is some truth in it - but taken as an absolute it is clearly fallacious.

Let us say that I choose to embark on an affair with a consenting woman, a wife and mother. The popular wisdom is that that is nobody's business but our own. In the sense that the late unlamented News of the World has no right to pry, that is largely correct. But the matter is not one of indifference to others. Obviously our respective spouses have a strong interest in the matter, as do our children. But so too should society at large. For such matters are not really private, however secret we may keep them. Actions have consequences, and bad actions tend to have bad consequences.

In this case there are several risks: that one or two families may be broken up - resulting in problems which others will have to live with or attempt to resolve; that one or both of our spouses will be depressed, suicidal, damaged emotionally - resulting in problems which others will have to live with or attempt to resolve; that we set an example to others that such behaviour is acceptable - resulting in problems which others will have to live with or attempt to resolve; and so on.

For this reason, civilised societies have always agreed that sexual relations are a legitimate matter of interest to society. At the societal level, marriage is the structure established to regulate them. By entering into a sexual relationship (heretofore marriage being the accepted way of doing that) one undertook certain commitments. Because sexual intimacy is principally about babies and bonding, the commitments reflect that: in particular the commitments to affection, fidelity and permanence. These are to ensure that children are brought up in a stable environment, and that neither party is abused and abandoned.

By turning its back on the need for such a contract to legitimise sexual intimacy, modern society is sowing the wind - and we are already beginning to reap the whirlwind: but it will get much, much worse.

Saturday, 30 July 2011


Is there anyone out there who can design a cool logo of some sort for men who have never used a condom to put in their blogs or www sites?

It's a serious question, as I think we need to bear witness to the fact that there are many of us, that we are healthy, and that we stay that way (and if married respect our wives that way) by the simple (though difficult) practice of chastity.

Condom-free zone?...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


In all the coverage of the tragic events in Norway - and the subsequent attempts to link the man responsible to Christianity, to far-right politics, to freemasonry or whatever, one thing struck me.

His father, understandably trying to distance himself from the man who had just murdered scores of people, said that he had had almost nothing to do with him since he was very small.

I was reminded of Raoul Moat's tragic cry: 'I've got no dad.'

I think we are seriously in trouble when the father of a clearly very disturbed murderer thinks he is exonerated because he has not been involved in his son's up-bringing...

Monday, 25 July 2011

Popular posts

I've just been having a quick look at my stats, and was interested to see which have been the most popular posts.

Here are the top five.

1 Methodist 'ordinations' at Catholic Cathedral?...

2 The Rubrics (?) of the New Translation

3 Liturgical infantilism v. liturgical wisdom

4 Beyond Satire: Queuing as Reverence

5 Ave, Regina Caelorum

Some of the reasons for this are more about exposure than intrinsic merit. The Methodist 'Ordinations' post was picked up by James Preece and others, and credited (though with what basis, I don't know) in the Catholic Herald with contributing towards the Vatican's blocking of the proposed 'ordinations'. Likewise, the Liturgical infantilism post was awarded WDTPRS kudos on Fr Z's blog, which caused a flurry of hits.

Not quite so sure why the others scored so highly apart from their intrinsic merit, of course!

Over the last month, the top posts have been:

1 The Rubrics (?) of the New Translation (not sure why?...)

2 So, to summarise... (mentioned by James Preece which generated a lot of hits)

3 Non-directive Abortion Counselling (subject of a number of posts around the place including Catholic Herald)

4 More on non-directional counselling (ditto)

5 Tell Out My Soul (not sure why...)

Any reader insights welcome!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

A Clean Start

Charlie and Dominique finished school for he summer yesterday, so this morning seemed a good day for us to go to confession Bernie came too, just back from her trip to Barcelona which was a great success. Ant is away at present

This afternoon was sunny, so Charlie Dominique and I cycled to a nearby village which has an open air swimming pool. For about 20 minutes, we were the only ones in the pool, which is always great fun.

All in all, I feel very clean for the start of the school holidays (shame I still have to work, but you can't have everything...)

Thursday, 21 July 2011

What have I started?

Meanwhile, another hare I started continues to run around the Catholic blogosphere.

I posted here about Life and non-directive counselling, and followed it up here and here.

This was picked up by James Preece here prompting an opposing point of view from Caroline Farrow here. That in turn led to Joseph Shaw blogging about it here. Dr Shaw's post was then the subject of an article in the Catholic Herald here, which resulted in a debate in the comments section and a post by Sean Gough defending Life's position here.

I am glad this is being debated, as I think it a very serious question.

I will blog further about it soon...

CTS aren't the villains of the piece...

I have had a further tweet from CTS responding to my query about the status of the ¿rubrics? (Reading all that Spanish has given me a taste for inverted question marks!)

CTSpublishers CatholicTruthSociety
@CCFather We will try to clarify. Part of the trouble has been trying to fit a now much longer text into an affordable booklet size.

I have no doubt (and this is confirmed, I think, by their earlier comment that 'There was much last-minute editing on these booklets due to changes we received late,') that they did not write the rubrics (if such they are) which I was calling into question.

So on the cock-up/conspiracy front, I think we can say they have held their hands up honourably to a few mistakes due to the rush and last-minute changes - but the conspiracy I imagine (to keep us in ignorance of our right to kneel for communion etc) originates elsewhere...

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The CTS responds...

I tweeted @CTSPublishers to alert them to my post about the rubrics, as I thought they might be interested. (Many others were - possibly as a result of it being mentioned in a tweet by Holysmoke, it has become a much-visited page - not far behind the Methodist Ordinations post...)

I have just had two tweeted responses:

CTSpublishers CatholicTruthSociety
@CCFather Thanks for pointing out these issues which I will pass to our editorial team.

and then a few minutes later:

CTSpublishers CatholicTruthSociety
@CCFather There was much last-minute editing on these booklets due to changes we received late, but we'll correct on reprint where needed.

I will watch with interest.

I would also be interested in the status and origin of these ¿rubrics?...

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

On second thoughts...

On second thoughts, I should have obtained the official Latin text of the rubrics and compared them with the English.

But on third thoughts... I am actually just like everyone else, someone who turns up and gets given a book, mass card or whatever. Why should I not be able to trust them?

My real sympathy, of course, goes out to the expatriate Spaniards in this country, who, using the Libro de Oración Común will never understand (unless they read the English translation) that queueing is so revered in this country that it has become a sign of reverence...

The other thing that really needs to be said is that the new translation itself is a vast improvement on the poor mis-translation it replaces, in so many ways. I record my first experience of it here.

It delights me to see the back of the Acclamation 'Christ has died etc' which was a translation of precisely nothing in the Latin text, simply something inserted into the English (by the translators?). No problem with it as an acclamation, but not at that moment in the Mass.

Imagine the apostles in the Upper Room. Our Lord walks in to greet them, and on seeing Him, James turns to John and says: "Christ will come again." Doesn't quite work, does it.

My late mother, much more docile and obedient than me, could never bring herself to say it, but formulated her own version:

"Christ has died
Christ is risen
(sotto voce) Christ is truly present on the altar."

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Rubrics (?) of the New Translation

Well that was fun!

I have just spent a few hours comparing the rubrics in various CTS publications of the new translation of the Mass.

This was prompted by Fr Finigan’s comments on the Rogue Instruction and the comparison at Catholic Book Reviews of the Spanish and English rubrics in the CTS’s bi-lingual Simple Prayer Book.

I have used four versions for comparison, all published recently by the CTS and all given the imprimatur within days of each other (between 18 - 23 May, 2011) by +Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark.

The four versions I compared are:

  • The Order of Mass in Latin and English (hereafter TOOM)
  • The Libro de Oración Común (Spanish text, hereafter SP)
  • The Libro de Oración Común (English text, hereafter ENG)
  • The Order of Mass New English Translation (Mass Card - hereafter MC)

The first thing to note is that it is unclear if the comments in red (in TOOM & MC) or their equivalents in black (in SP and ENG) are rubrics or not, as Catholic Book Reviews points out.

The red is suggestive (pace Say the Black, Do the Red) but I do not think it conclusive - not least because of the variance.

However that doubt is itself unhelpful: are these prescriptive, descriptive or someone’s aspirations? It is not at all clear.

The second thing to note, as Andrew pointed out at Catholic Book Reviews is that the Spanish (SP) is very different from the English (ENG) in the same book. ENG, TOOM and MC are identical in parts, close in other parts, and diverge in others.

So let’s look at some specifics.

In TOOM and MC these comments are generally in red as noted above. However there is a difference even in this in the very first example. TOOM reads: ‘Before Mass begins, the people gather in a spirit of recollection, preparing for their participation in the Mass.’ This is printed in black; MC has the identical words, but in red. ENG has the identical words, in black (there is no red in ENG). SP has: We stand to welcome the Priest as he approaches the altar and kisses it. If no chant has been intoned, the entrance antiphon is recited.

Well, that’s an interesting difference for a start.

It is even more interesting if we skip ahead to the final rubrics, which in TOOM and ENG read: Then the Priest venerates the altar as at the beginning. After making a profound bow with the ministers, he withdraws; because in neither TOOM nor ENG is there any mention of the Priest venerating the altar at the beginning. MC has no equivalent here, doubtless for reasons of space.

But SP has The Priest kisses the altar with veneration, as at the beginning, and once he and the other ministers who have assisted in the celebration have made the due reverence, he retires to the sacristy.

Is it me, or is there a marked difference in tone between the English and Spanish rubrics - in terms, say, of reverence...?

As has already been pointed out over at Catholic Book Reviews, in SP The priest reads the entrance antiphon of the day whereas in ENG and TOOM The Priest, or a Deacon, or another minister, may very briefly introduce the faithful to the Mass of the day.

Following this theme of what we used to call the Proper of the Day, we find more discrepancies. In TOOM and ENG we have After the Liturgy of the Word, the people sit and the Offertory Chant begins. The faithful express their participation by making an offering, bringing forward bread and wine for the celebration of the Eucharist. But in MC we find During the Offertory Song the faithful bring forward bread and wine for the celebration of the Eucharist. The Priest offers prayers of blessing (my emphasis).

In SP we have The priest presents to God the gifts of bread and wine which, by the Consecration, will become the Body and Blood of the Lord, with no mention of either chant or song (an important distinction!) - but with a mention of something rather more important.

At Communion, ENG and TOOM have While the Priest is receiving the Body of Christ, the Communion Chant begins. This is omitted from MC - doubtless, once again, for reasons of space. SP likewise has nothing about the singing (if any) at this stage.

Some other differences caught my eye, too.

At the start of the Liturgy of the Word, TOOM has: By hearing the word proclaimed in worship, the faithful enter again into the unending dialogue between God and the covenant people. But both ENG and MC have: By hearing the word proclaimed in worship, the faithful again enter into a dialogue with God. There is no equivalent in SP.

Once we reach the Creed there is more divergence. TOOM says: On Sundays and Solemnities, the Profession of Faith will follow. During Lent and Easter Time, the Apostles’ Creed may be used. In ENG, that becomes: On Sundays and Solemnities, the Profession of Faith will follow. The Apostles’ Creed may be used. MC has no instruction, but simply prints both. SP simply has The congregation stands to make the profession of Faith (and prints both versions).

If the Apostles’ Creed is only to be used in Lent and Easter Time, that could usefully be made clear. For who will doubt that some priests, doubtless with the intention of getting through Mass quickly (though that intention may not have been so evident in the homily) will choose the Apostles’ Creed on a regular basis... If it is not only to be used in Lent and Easter Time, why the instruction in TOOM?

These divergences are more puzzling because of the number of occasions on which the words are identical across the three English versions. Clearly some attention has been paid to this at some stage, and the important things, such as the Sign of Peace, are scrupulously mandated in identical wording, to leave nobody in any doubt that they are obligatory: Then the deacon or priest adds: .... And all offer one another the customary sign of peace. But of course the Sign of Peace is not mandatory, as Fr Finigan has pointed out. And the Spanish is more honest here: Then, if it is deemed opportune, the deacon or the priest adds:... And all offer one another the sign of peace according to local custom.

It is similar for the reception of Holy Commmunion. TOOM and ENG have identical wording: The communicants come forward in reverent procession. They receive Holy Communion standing and after making a preparatory act of reverence by bowing their head in honour of Christ’s presence in the Sacrament. Despite the pressure on space in MC the shorter version there still covers the essentials: Communicants come forward in reverent procession. They receive Holy Communion standing.

Regular readers of this blog (Oh, OK.... The regular reader of this blog) will know my views on reverent queuing... But notice again how our legitimate option, and the preferred option of our Holy Father Pope Benedict, is completely omitted. SP has no instruction at this point.

We are exhorted to stand and pray after Communion, too, which seems alien to my sensibilities...

As I reviewed these differences, the same question kept going through my head: conspiracy or cock-up? In life generally, I incline to suspect cock-up more often (though conspiracy is so much more fun...). However, in this instance, I think it is a mixture of the two.

I think there is a definite agenda running through the English, and it is not in favour of, let us say, traditional reverence. I also think there is a large degree of carelessness too.

And I think both are wrong, when it comes to something as fundamental as how we worship at Mass.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Great Pro-Life Witness

Witness to Love
contains some excellent quotations from the debate currently underway in Poland on a motion to ban all abortions in the country.

To give you a flavour:

“The current law considers the disabled and people conceived in rape as second category citizens. How else can we treat the disabled and the people conceived in rape living around us, if we think that at some stage in their life, they can be killed if this is more comfortable? Such laws discriminate against the disabled and discriminate against those conceived in rape. We have to change that as soon as possible.”

MP (Mr) Jan Dziedziczak, Law and Justice party.

There are many more, so go over and have a read.

Banging on about non-directive counselling...

So there I was, at the level crossing, about to cross the high speed line. There was a lady standing there, and I asked if she was crossing too.

'Oh, I'm waiting while the white light goes on,' she said.

Sure enough, by the trackside, there was a sign: Do not cross while white light is showing.

As an accredited non-directive counsellor, I could not, of course, tell her directly that her dialect use of the word while (by which she meant until, since she came from the Nottinghamshire/Lincolnshire border where that usage is common) was different from the meaning intended by the signwriter.

Instead, I asked her questions to help her clarify her options, and in particular her understanding of the word while. But as an autonomous individual, she made her own choice to stick with her understanding of while. And as she walked in front of the 3.15 to Paddington, I reflected on the ethical way in which I had handled the conversation.

Or to put it another way, there is a time and a place (arguably) for non-directive counselling, but when somebody's life is at stake due to ignorance (for example) that is neither the time nor the place.

So, to summarise...

- So, to summarise, Vincent, we have one school which is achieving outstanding results.

- Oh, dear!

- It has a truly Catholic ethos: pupils attend Mass weekly, pray daily and have a vibrant Catholic identity.

- Worse and worse!

- Parents are committed to the school and to maintaining its ethos.

- Parents! Who needs them!

- The intake is broad from many cultures and all social strata.

- So what are you doing about it?

- Well, we're changing the admissions criteria, so only families rich enough to live locally will be able to attend.

- Good, good...

- We're excluding any parents from the governing body.

- What about parent governors?

- Oh, they're parents - just not of children at the school!

- Well done! Genius!

- We're lucky that the excellent headmaster has retired, so we'll be able to appoint a more appropriate one.

- How are we to ensure we get the right person?

- We have packed the governing body with our people, so that should be all right.

- Good - it sounds as though we are on the right track.

- But the parents are revolting!

- Tell me about it...

- At a meeting we called the other night, some 400 were questioning our policies and intentions.

- So how did you respond?

- Oh, we didn't go...

[So take a look at the petition, and if you agree with it, sign it (go on, you know you want to really!)]

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The ethics problems of non-directive counselling

Joseph Shaw the LMS Chairman, picks up the issue of Life's 'non-directive counselling' over at Joseph Shaw's Philosophy Blog.

Well worth reading.

Blondpidge takes a contrary view here - with which I disagree. She seems to think the alternatives are either Life's approach or 'An approach which from the outset tells pregnant women what they should do' which, she points out: 'is, in any event counter-productive.'

But that I see as a straw man: one can take a very sympathetic and exploratory approach, gradually leading someone to consider the reality they are contemplating. That would not meet the criteria for non-directional - but it might meet the criteria for moral...

New fun at Mass...

I have been reading the new CTS booklet: The Order of Mass in Latin and English - New English Translation.

Call me pedantic, but this made me laugh: He (the Deacon or Priest about to read the Gospel) makes the Sign of the Cross on the book, and together with the people, on his forehead, lips and breast.

I have visions of the whole congregation queueing (reverently of course) to make the Sign of the Cross on his forehead, lips and breast, together with him.

(I scarcely dare post this, as history shows that whatever absurd liturgical idea I imagine, reality trumps it...)

More seriously, the new translation is a massive improvement. But I still think a universal language (Latin, for example) would be even better.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Vaughan School Petition

The saga of the Vaughan School continues. The government is consulting on some of the issues raised by the diocese's, err, novel interpretation of the rules... That is likely to result in a clarification that would have worked in the Vaughan parents' favour; but it may be too late, as the current placemen on the governing body will have appointed a new headmaster pleasing to the Educational Bureaucrats (but not the Vaughan parents) by then.

So take a look at the petition, and if you agree with it, sign it (go on, you know you want to really!)

H/t Linen on the Hedgerow

A sense of the Sacred

One of the important truths about Christianity that many seem to lose sight of is that it is a fulfilment of the Old Testament. For this reason, we should see the formation of the Jewish people over the centuries as part of our formation.

One of the features of Jewish religion is a strong sense of the sacred. Consider the temple: as you entered, you knew you were entering a space set apart: it was walled with gates through which you had to pass. That led you into the court of the gentiles: anyone was allowed in. Within that was a more restricted space, where only Jews were allowed; within that, steps up to a space more more restricted still: only male Jews; within that, more steps and more restrictions: only the priests; and finally, the Holy of Holies, into which only one priest might go.

What a great way to symbolise the fact that we are dealing with something of importance - something sacred.

In the same way, as with most religions, they used a formalised hieratic language for prayer; substantially different from the Aramaic of everyday speech.

And of course the significance of the sacrifices was that things were set aside from human use, and dedicated to the sacred rituals.

In Catholicism, we had all of this: a sacred space, the sanctuary, into which only male ministers might enter; a sacred language, Latin, that signified the formal prayer of the Church; sacred vessels which only the ordained might touch...

And then in a fit of enlightenment, we jettisoned all of that. Everything is so much more friendly and inclusive nowadays - but what happened to the sense of the sacred?

That is why even the little things (girl altar servers, women readers) matter: they undermine a tradition founded on centuries of divine education of a holy people.

Of course, one can get too obsessed with the minutiae of ritual, and we are constantly reminded how Our Lord upbraided those who did so. But to veer to the other extreme and jettison the sense of the sacred almost entirely - and practically all the symbolic reminders of it (treating the altar - the stone of sacrifice - as an ordinary table, for example...) - has been disastrous.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

More on non-directional counselling

I ended my last post with three questions about Life's use of non- directional counselling: could they? Should they? And what does it do to them if they do?

Could they?

The idea of non- directive counselling is that the counsellor should use open questions and active listening to help the client to clarify his thinking and understanding and to reach his own conclusions, leading to positive (from the client's point of view) actions and outcomes. When skilfully practiced, with a client who has a well-formed conscience, it can be a beneficial approach.

It is actually extremely hard to do when the counsellor has a strong point of view on the topic under discussion. Even if the counsellor manages to refrain from leading or prejudicial questions, there is a host of ways (from the intake of breath, the raised eyebrow or the smile to the tone of voice, intonation patterns used in questions etc) in which the counsellor may inadvertently confer positive or negative judgements on what the client says.

With good training and regular practice, of course, some people will become skilled in this; but when the stakes are as high, the beliefs as strong, and the passions as involved as they are in discussing the issue of abortion, I suspect that total impartiality at every level is rarely achieved. And if it is, what does that do to the counsellor? (I will come back to that question below.)

Should they?

This strikes me as much more contentious. I imagine that the reasons for Life adopting this approach are several:
If they explicitly offered pro-life counselling, they would not be reaching women who need help and support
Non-directional counselling is respectable in academic, counselling and political circles
It may well be that on occasions a non-directional approach helps women with well-formed consciences to reach the correct decision: that is, not to have an abortion.

However, one is driven to ask, what is their objective in offering counselling?

Is it in the hope of persuading women not to have abortions, albeit through a non-directional approach? And if that is the case, does not that place at least an implicit lie at the heart of their work in this arena? And does that not also make the likelihood of a truly non- directional approach much less?

Or is it for some other reason? In which case, how are they being true to their pro-life mission? And does not that place a lie at the heart of their relationship with those who support them as a pro-life organisation?

So it seems to me that there is here an issue of organisational integrity that cannot easily be resolved.

I should add that if the women with whom they are engaging were likely to have well- formed consciences, then the approach might be defensible, at least on pragmatic grounds. William Coulson was for a long time the right hand man of Carl Rogers, the famed and acclaimed prophet of non- directional counselling. A Catholic, Coulson eventually recanted from his work with Rogers, recognising the enormous damage it had done, not least in Catholic circles. Coulson's point was that if someone lacked a well-formed conscience, then to throw him entirely onto his own resources when addressing serious and difficult issues was inhumane. He will inevitably fall back on the standards of the world (or, I would add, the flesh or the devil...)

In our current culture, the average woman is subjected to so much propaganda normalising abortion, and selfish decision making (autonomy, independence, liberation, self fulfilment etc) that to deny her any other perspective is a likely to lead in a particular direction. So how non- directive is that in fact?

My third question is, what does it do to committed pro- life people to be taught to practice, and then repeatedly to practice, non- directional counselling about this issue?

My concerns are that it attacks their own integrity, and that it will also expose them to great distress as women leave their meetings and go off to abort their children; the counsellor will always be wondering, at some level, could or should I have done more to help that woman and save that baby's life?

I do not wish to denigrate Life, an organisation for which my wife and I have both worked for many years, and which does a huge amount of good work. But I do believe that this is too important an issue to be left unaddressed.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Non-directive Abortion Counselling

On this morning's Sunday programme (radio 4 UK) there was an item on moves to require women seeking an abortion to receive counselling from someone other than an abortion provider prior to making the decision to abort their baby.

Needless to say, Marie Stopes were on to say how the fact that they have both a financial and a philosophical interest in abortions in no way meant their counselling was partial... I found this scarcely credible.

There was also a spokesman from Life. She made the point that many women who come to Life for post- abortion counselling tell the same story: they go to someone like Marie Stopes looking for a place to talk, and find that before they know it they are on the abortion treadmill.

However her next point I found more troubling: Life offer non-directive pregnancy counselling.

I have a few problems with this, given that they are an avowedly pro-life organisation:
Could they?
Should they?
And if they do, what does that do to their counsellors?

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Tell Out My Soul

I have long had an ambivalent relationship with this hymn by Timothy Dudley-Smith (one-time Anglican bishop of Thetford).

The lyrics, as far as they go, are fine, and the tune is eminently singable.

However, given it is a paraphrase of the Magnificat, it strikingly (and, I have heard, deliberately) omits Our Lady!

So I have decided to rectify this with a new verse.

I imagine T D-S's lyrics are copyright, though they are easily available on the internet...

Here is my proposed second verse:

Tell out my soul, His favour shown to me:

He has looked down upon my lowliness.

From this day forth all men will honour me

For He hath deigned to share His holiness.

It's not perfect, and anyone who can do better is welcome to try.

Given how hymnbooks change lyrics willy-nilly for various spurious reasons, I think it would be excellent for Catholic hymnbooks (at least) to include a Marian verse - that is of course, a better reflection of the Scriptural origins of the hymn. Anyone who knows a Catholic hymnbook editor, feel free to pass it on. All royalties waived...