Sunday 29 December 2013

The Problem of the Offertory

I have had to return Bugnini to the Library, (hence the pause in my commentary).  I plan to buy a copy - I had rather hoped Mrs T or one of the little Ts would produce one for Christmas, but it was not to be.

In  the meantime, I have been reflecting.

Above all, I have been reflecting on the underlying view of liturgy, as manifested in the changes.

Bugnini refers to the 'problem of the Offertory' as a given. As far as I recall (and, as I say, I no longer have a copy to hand) he does not actually define that problem anywhere.  But I think from things I have read and heard elsewhere that the perceived problem of the Offertory was that it pre-empts the Canon and, in particular, the consecration.

Michael Davies, of course, had another view, pointing out that Luther's objection was that: From this point (the offertory) almost everything stinks of oblation!

Whichever view one takes, it is quite clear that the Offertory was subject to the greatest changes of any part of the Mass (you can see the old and the new texts together, here, and Bugnini's explanation of the process (though not really the reasons) on Ttony's blog, here)

Incidentally, one of the things some objected to was the Lavabo, as it was not really necessary unless the celebrant had had to dirty his hands, by preparing incense etc.

All of this, I think, is illustrative of a larger point. That is, that people were conceiving of Liturgy in a very linear, logical, one-dimensional way - a bit like a mathematical formula. If x, then y, and so on, with no room or reason for repetition or recapitulation.

But I think a better analogy is a great symphony. The Mass is (inter alia) to teach us, certainly. But that does not have to be in a dull logical fashion. It could teach us in the way that beauty teaches us.  In a symphony, a theme is introduced, repeated, varied, left for a period while another theme is introduced, and then recapitulated, and so on. The cumulative effect of that is very powerful.  And so it was in the Mass.

The penitential theme is introduced at the start of Mass, but is regularly recapitulated, in the Canon and in the repetition of the Confiteor before Communion.  The encounter with the Word of God progresses from the word of the Old Testament, to the Word revealed in the Gospel, to the Word made present sacrificially on the altar, to the Word received by each communicant, and so on.  Thus, the Offertory introduces the sacrificial theme, which is brought to a climax in the Canon.

This allows for another aspect which musicians will grasp: counterpoint.  One of the fascinating things about our Faith is the balancing of things that seem to pull in opposite directions: the Omnipotent as a human baby is one; the virgin birth is another; the altar as place of sacrifice and table of the Banquet of the Lamb… petition and thanksgiving... justice and mercy… joyful and sorrowful mysteries… the Easter People in this Vale of Tears…

The traditional rites allowed for this play of tensions: first one theme comes to the fore, then another, then the first is reprised, and finally there is a climax and a cadence.

The traditional funeral Mass is a prime example: ranging from the awe of the Dies Irae to the beauty of the In Paradisum and the angel welcoming the soul into paradise.

Yet, it seems to me, the modern liturgists have little sense of this.  All is logical progression: we have an Act of Penance, then the Liturgy of the Word, then the Preparation of the Gifts, then the Eucharistic prayer, then the Peace, then the Communion, then the Dismissal.  All very orderly, none contaminating the other but rather all hermetically contained - and all (it seems to me) rather one-dimensional. 

It is, perhaps, no coincidence that so many of those who signed the famous Agatha Christie indult request were prominent figures from the world of the arts and literature.

Friday 27 December 2013

Thomasina the Tank Engine

It is quite understandable - and, quite possibly, justifiable, right and proper - that people are laughing at the campaign launched today by Mary Creagh for more girl trains in Thomas the Tank Engine.

However, perhaps it behoves us to inhibit our natural response and ask if she is onto something.  Perhaps the formation of our daughters' minds by this stereotyping is inhibiting their growth and development and their life choices.

But somehow I don't think so. Based on a small, completely unscientific selection of the women and girls I know, it seems unlikely.

I know a disproportionate number of women and girls who have been raised in traditional or conservative ways, with no quarter given to gender theory and other such…

Yet, most of the traditionally-minded women I know are feisty and individual; and the rising generation of younger women and girls in those circles are more so.

Of course, I look to my own daughters first, having been brought up to believe that a mother's place is shackled in the kitchen, and that they should, of course, pursue girly subjects.  So Ant has has picked up a 1st in Maths at Masters level.  Bernie is doing what the BBC seems to think is a girly subject: Fine Art - following in the footsteps of such docile and submissive women as Renoir, Gaugin, Monet, Mondrian, Picasso, and so on.

Looking around at their friends, I see similar: intelligent, independently-minded and fearsomely confident young women - all raised by people with views as reactionary as mine.  Odd, isn't it?

Few of them aspire to be train drivers, though...

Thursday 26 December 2013

Christmas Poems First...

It is all too easy to forget that many of our Christmas Carols were first written as poems, and later set to music.

There is a risk that we sing them without stopping to recognise the poet's skill and the real meaning.

Of course, much of the Victorian verse/carol repertoire is a bit too… well Victorian (as an example of bathos it is hard to beat 'his children crowned,  // All in white shall wait around.')

But Christina Rossetti's famous poem is still very good (and fortunately has been brilliantly set to music, too).

In The Bleak Mid-Winter

In the bleak mid-winter, 
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter 
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him 
Nor earth sustain; 
Heaven and earth shall flee away 
When He comes to reign: 
In the bleak mid-winter 
A stable-place sufficed 
The Lord God Almighty, 
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim 
Worship night and day, 
A breastful of milk 
And a mangerful of hay; 
Enough for Him, whom angels 
Fall down before, 
The ox and ass and camel 
Which adore.

Angels and archangels 
May have gathered there, 
Cherubim and seraphim 
Thronged the air, 
But only His mother 
In her maiden bliss, 
Worshipped the Beloved 
With a kiss.

What can I give Him, 
Poor as I am? 
If I were a shepherd 
I would bring a lamb, 
If I were a wise man 
I would do my part, 
Yet what I can I give Him, 
Give my heart.

Christina Rossetti

She also wrote this, which I find less good, but not as bad as it looks at first sight…

Love came down at Christmas,

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,

Love for plea and gift and sign.

Christina Rossetti

Another Christmas Poem

For some reason, I was a little preoccupied yesterday, and failed to post any more Christmas poems.

But here is one to make up for it, by Rudyard Kipling.  An odd choice perhaps; he was nothing like the racist that some paint him (despite having an inverted swastika on his book covers - which I suspect some have never got beyond).  But he was a Freemason, and no friend of Catholics, and he was far from orthodox.  However, I love his short story about the saved desperately dragging souls through the battle lines into Heaven, and I find this poem very evocative, in its own way.

Christmas in India
Dim dawn behind the tamerisks - the sky is saffron-yellow-
As the women in the village grind the corn,
And the parrots seek the riverside, each calling to his fellow
That the Day, the staring Easter Day is born.
Oh the white dust on the highway! Oh the stenches in the byway!
Oh the clammy fog that hovers over earth!
And at Home they're making merry 'neath the white and scarlet berry -
What part have India's exiles in their mirth?

Full day behind the tamarisks - the sky is blue and staring -
As the cattle crawl afield beneath the yoke,
And they bear One o'er the field-path, who is past all hope or caring,
To the ghat below the curling wreaths of smoke.
Call on Rama, going slowly, as ye bear a brother lowly -
Call on Rama - he may hear, perhaps, your voice!
With our hymn-books and our psalters we appeal to other altars,
And to-day we bid "good Christian men rejoice!"

High noon behind the tamarisks - the sun is hot above us -
As at Home the Christmas Day is breaking wan.
They will drink our healths at dinner - those who tell us how they love us,
And forget us till another year be gone!
Oh the toil that knows no breaking! Oh the Heimweh, ceaseless, aching!
Oh the black dividing Sea and alien Plain!
Youth was cheap - wherefore we sold it.  Gold was good - we hoped to hold it,
And to-day we know the fulness of our gain.

Grey dusk behind the tamarisks - the parrots fly together -
As the sun is sinking slowly over Home;
And his last ray seems to mock us shackled in a lifelong tether.
That drags us back how'er so far we roam.
Hard her service, poor her payment - she in ancient, tattered raiment -
India, she the grim Stepmother of our kind.
If a year of life be lent her, if her temple's shrine we enter,
The door is hut - we may not look behind.

Black night behind the tamarisks - the owls begin their chorus -
As the conches from the temple scream and bray.
With the fruitless years behind us, and the hopeless years before us,
Let us honor, O my brother, Christmas Day!
Call a truce, then, to our labours - let us feast with friends and neighbours,
And be merry as the custom of our caste;
For if "faint and forced the laughter," and if sadness follow after,
We are richer by one mocking Christmas past. 

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Christmas Verse

How does one follow Gerard Manley Hopkins?

There is only one possible answer: Ogden Nash.  (Actually, now I've thought of it, Hilaire Belloc and Beachcomber are also  correct responses).

I think this will be the only secular verse I post (at least today) in my Christmas sequence.

The Boy Who Laughed at Santa Claus 

In Baltimore there lived a boy.
He wasn't anybody's joy.
Although his name was Jabez Dawes,
His character was full of flaws.
In school he never led his classes,
He hid old ladies' reading glasses,
His mouth was open when he chewed,
And elbows to the table glued.
He stole the milk of hungry kittens,
And walked through doors marked NO ADMITTANCE.
He said he acted thus because
There wasn't any Santa Claus.

Another trick that tickled Jabez
Was crying 'Boo' at little babies.
He brushed his teeth, they said in town,
Sideways instead of up and down.
Yet people pardoned every sin,
And viewed his antics with a grin,
Till they were told by Jabez Dawes,
'There isn't any Santa Claus!'

Deploring how he did behave,
His parents swiftly sought their grave.
They hurried through the portals pearly,
And Jabez left the funeral early.

Like whooping cough, from child to child,
He sped to spread the rumor wild:
'Sure as my name is Jabez Dawes
There isn't any Santa Claus!'
Slunk like a weasel or a marten
Through nursery and kindergarten,
Whispering low to every tot,
'There isn't any, no there's not!'

The children wept all Christmas eve
And Jabez chortled up his sleeve.
No infant dared hang up his stocking
For fear of Jabez' ribald mocking.
He sprawled on his untidy bed,
Fresh malice dancing in his head,
When presently with scalp-a-tingling,
Jabez heard a distant jingling;
He heard the crunch of sleigh and hoof
Crisply alighting on the roof.
What good to rise and bar the door?
A shower of soot was on the floor.

What was beheld by Jabez Dawes?
The fireplace full of Santa Claus!
Then Jabez fell upon his knees
With cries of 'Don't,' and 'Pretty Please.'
He howled, 'I don't know where you read it,
But anyhow, I never said it!'
'Jabez' replied the angry saint,
'It isn't I, it's you that ain't.
Although there is a Santa Claus,
There isn't any Jabez Dawes!'

Said Jabez then with impudent vim,
'Oh, yes there is, and I am him!
Your magic don't scare me, it doesn't'
And suddenly he found he wasn't!
From grimy feet to grimy locks,
Jabez became a Jack-in-the-box,
An ugly toy with springs unsprung,
Forever sticking out his tongue.

The neighbors heard his mournful squeal;
They searched for him, but not with zeal.
No trace was found of Jabez Dawes,
Which led to thunderous applause,
And people drank a loving cup
And went and hung their stockings up.

All you who sneer at Santa Claus,
Beware the fate of Jabez Dawes,
The saucy boy who mocked the saint.
Donner and Blitzen licked off his paint.

Ogden Nash

Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
A Catholic tale I Have to tell!
And a Christian song I have to sing
While all the bells in Arundel ring.

I pray good beef and I pray good beer
This holy night of all the year,
But I pray detestable drink for them
That give no honour to Bethlehem.

May all good fellows that here agree
Drink Audit Ale in heaven with me,
And may all my enemies go to hell!
Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
May all my enemies go to hell!
Noel! Noel!

Hilaire Belloc

If anyone knows of any verses by Beachcomber on the subject of Christmas, do let me know!

Yet more Christmas Poetry

I often find Gerard Manley Hopkins hard work; but this is a lovely - and accessible - poem.

Rosa Mystica

'The rose is a mystery'--where is it found?
Is it anything true? Does it grow upon the ground?
It was made of earth's mould, but it went from men's eyes,
And its place is a secret and shut in the skies.
In the gardens of God, in the daylight divine,
Find me a place by thee, mother of mine.

But where was it formerly? Which is the spot
That was blest in it once, though now it is not?
It is Galilee's growth: it grew at God's will
And broke into bloom upon Nazareth hill.
In the gardens of God, in the daylight divine,
I shall look on thy loveliness, mother of mine.

What was its season then? How long ago?
When was the summer that saw the bud blow?
Two thousands of years are near upon past
Since its birth and its bloom and its breathing its last.
In the gardens of God, in the daylight divine,
I shall keep time with thee, mother of mine.

Tell me the name now, tell me its name.
The heart guesses easily: is it the same?
Mary the Virgin, well the heart knows,
She is the mystery, she is that rose.
In the gardens of God, in the daylight divine,
I shall come home to thee, mother of mine.

Is Mary the rose then? Mary, the tree?
But the blossom, the blossom there--who can it be?
Who can her rose be? It could but be One
Christ Jesus our Lord, her God and her son.
In the gardens of God, in the daylight divine,
Show me thy son, mother, mother of mine.

What was the colour of that blossom bright?--
White to begin with, immaculate white.
But what a wild flush on the flakes of it stood
When the rose ran in crimsonings down the cross-wood!
In the gardens of God, in the daylight divine
I shall worship His wounds with thee, mother of mine.

How many leaves had it?--Five they were then,
Five, like the senses and members of men;
Five is their number by nature, but now
They multiply, multiply--who can tell how?
In the gardens of God, in the daylight divine
Make me a leaf in thee, mother of mine.

Does it smell sweet, too, in that holy place?
Sweet unto God and the sweetness is grace:
The breath of it bathes great heaven above
In grace that is charity, grace that is love.
To thy breast, to thy rest, to thy glory divine
Draw me by charity, mother of mine.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Still More Christmas Poetry

…and then, of course, there is always Chesterton.  Not best known as a poet (arguably with good reason) but at his best very invigorating and offering typically paradoxical insights.  

Anyway, I'm a fan, and this is my selection of Christmas poetry, so I can include what I choose.

A Christmas Carol 

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.) 

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down. 

Gilbert Keith Chesterton

The House of Christmas

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wife's tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Christmas Poetry (part ?/?)

Patricius (of the always interesting Porta Caeli blog) reminded me, in the comments box, of this poem by St Robert Southwell (though I realise this may not be what he had in mind).  I have sung this in my time, but cannot find the setting I know on Youtube.  I see that Sting has covered it, but forbore to listen to that.  Caveat lector.

The Burning Babe

As I in hoary winter's night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow ;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear ;
Who, scorchëd with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I !
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns ;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men's defilëd souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I callëd unto mind that it was Christmas day. 

St Robert Southwell

Looking online for that also led me to this, which I had not previously known. It is simply splendid:

The Nativity

Behold the father is his daughter's son,
The bird that built the nest is hatch'd therein,
The old of years an hour hath not outrun,
Eternal life to live doth now begin,
The word is dumb, the mirth of heaven doth weep,
Might feeble is, and force doth faintly creep.

O dying souls! behold your living spring!
O dazzled eyes! behold your sun of grace!
Dull ears attend what word this word doth bring!
Up, heavy hearts, with joy your joy embrace!
From death, from dark, from deafness, from despairs,
This life, this light, this word, this joy repairs.

Gift better than Himself God doth not know,
Gift better than his God no man can see;
This gift doth here the giver given bestow,
Gift to this gift let each receiver be:
God is my gift, Himself He freely gave me,
God's gift am I, and none but God shall have me.

Man alter'd was by sin from man to beast;
Beast's food is hay, hay is all mortal flesh;
Now God is flesh, and lies in manger press'd,
As hay the brutest sinner to refresh:
Oh happy field wherein this fodder grew,
Whose taste doth us from beasts to men renew!

St Robert Southwell

Medieval Christmas Poetry (2)

My favourite medieval poem for Christmas is this Hymn to the Virgin. The trick of inserting rhyming  Latin into rhyming English, whilst making the meaning quite clear, really appeals to me.

This is from about 1300.

Of on that is so fair and bright
Velut maris stella
Brighter than the day is light
Parens et puella
Ic crie to the, thou see to me,
Levedy, preye thi Sone for me,
Tam pia,
That ic mote come to thee,

Al this world was for-lore,
Eva peccatrice
Tyl our Lord was y-bore
De te genetrice
With ave it went away
Thuster nyth and comes the day
The well springeth ut of the

Levedy, flour of alle thing
Rosa sine spina
Thu bere Jhesu, hevene king,
Gratia divina
Of alle thu ber'st the pris,
Levedy, quene of paradys
Mayde milde, moder es

What do you mean, it is not obvious?  OK, here are some clues:

on - one; levedy - lady; thuster - dark; pris - prize.

Velut maris stella - like the star of the sea
Parens et puella - mother and maiden
Eva peccatrice - by Eve's sin

Ask in the comms box if anything else needs elucidating (and correct all my errors…)

This has been set to music often, with varying success… A quick visit to Youtube will give several examples.

Medieval Christmas Poetry (1)

This verse is from the early thirteenth century; you may recognise some of the lines, as they are quoted in another, much more famous poem quoted below, which has been set as a Christmas Carol. 

Bringing us bliss now, the birds are all singing;
Branches sprout leaves and the grasses are springing.
Of one that is matchless my utterance sings
Chosen as mother by the King of Kings.

Taintless she is, and unspotted by sin,
Descended from Jesse, of kingly kin.
The Lord of mankind from her womb was born,
To save us from sin, who would else be forlorn.

'Hail Mary, full of grace! And may Our Lord
Be with you!' was the Angel Gabriel's word.
The fruit of your womb I declare shall be blest.
You shall carry a child beneath your breast.'

This greeting and word which the angel had brought,
Mary considered and pondered in thought.
She said to the angel, 'How could such thing be?
Of knowledge of man my body is free.'

She was virgin with child and virgin before,
And still virgin yet when her Baby she bore.
Never was maiden a mother but she;
Well might she the bearer of God's Son be!

Blest be the Child, and the Mother, too, blest,
And where her Son suckled, blest the sweet breast!
Praised be the time such child was born,
Who saved us from sin, who would else be forlorn!

[Trans: Brian Stone]

This second verse is from a minstrel manuscript form the early fifteenth century, and clearly draws on the earlier one.  Dew is a long standing literary figure for virginity: here the conception of the Son is seen as enhancing, rather than ending Our Lady's virginity.

I sing of a maiden
That is matchless,
King of all kings
To her son she chose.

He came as still
Where his mother was
As dew in April
That falls on the grass.

He came as still
To his mother's bower
As dew in April
That falls on the flower.

He came as still
Where his mother lay
As dew in April
That falls on the spray.

Mother and maiden
There was never none but she;
Well may such a lady
God's mother be.

(For those who like such things, here is the original:

I syng of a mayden
þat is makeles,
kyng of alle kynges
to here sone che ches.

He came also stylle
þer his moder was
as dew in aprylle,
þat fallyt on þe gras.

He cam also stylle
to his moderes bowr
as dew in aprille,
þat fallyt on þe flour.

He cam also stylle
þer his moder lay
as dew in Aprille,
þat fallyt on þe spray.;

Moder & mayden
was neuer non but che –
wel may swych a lady
Godes moder be.)

Christmas Poetry (continued...)

Another favourite Christmas poem is Betjeman's famous one.

I think Betjeman is much-maligned, and wrongly so.  Yes, he can seem trite and twee - but that, I think, is artifice designed to create an effect, and the effect is what he does once he has established that tone, and the impact it has.  Christmas is a fine example of that, in my view; and the kids love it, too.


The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

John Betjeman

Monday 23 December 2013

Christmas Poetry

I am not easily shocked, but I do feel somewhat taken aback at how little Christmas poetry I have posted to this blog.

For us, sharing poetry is always a part of the Christmas celebrations, yet I find that I have only posted a couple of Christmas poems - both by my mother's friend, Elizabeth Jennings, here and here.

So I shall start to make good that deficit.  

This is one of my favourites: Eliot's Journey of the Magi

The Journey of the Magi 

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

Monday 9 December 2013

Non Directive Counselling (again)

You can tell an article is good (and well-researched, and generally worthy of approval) when it quotes this blog (at least, if it does so approvingly!)

However, this one (by Andrew, who also blogs at CTS Reviews) also set me thinking of the other side of the coin: the claim by abortion providers to offer non-directional counselling (a claim the article mentions but does not delve into).

For Rogers' method to work (and I think almost any therapeutic counselling, the bogus claims of NLP notwithstanding) requires several sessions and the passage of time between them.  Clearly, in the context of a single 'counselling' session in an abortion clinic, that is not available.

Moreover, the setting and context are not conducive to a non-directive approach, as both the woman and the counsellor enter the session with clear assumptions of the likely outcome, and in the case of the counsellor, a probable bias in favour of a particular outcome (or she would not be working for an abortion provider).  To put that at its mildest, that will be a view that abortion is a potential good solution for the woman.

The issue of the urgency of the decision is a real problem: people's reaction to unwanted change is complex and unfolds over time: disbelief, shock, anger, denial, and hopelessness are all reactions that arise - and can be worked through over time. We all know that many an unwanted pregnancy has resulted in many a much-loved child.  A decision made in a hurry may often be repented later.

For all the questioning of Life's policy in the article, it should be noted in their favour that they will always make time to support a woman through this storm of emotional responses:  as much time and as many sessions as a woman wants. That is a claim the abortion-providers certainly cannot make.

Sunday 8 December 2013


Today is the Second Sunday in Advent.

It is also the day on which the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin is normally celebrated.

In the new calendar, the Feast of Our Lady gives way to the Sunday; so the Feast is celebrated tomorrow.

I understand the idea, I really do.  But the reality is different.  Who will go to Mass tomorrow to celebrate the Feast? I would love to - but there is no Mass in our Parish Church tomorrow. I am sure that is true elsewhere, and I am also sure that even when there is a Mass tomorrow, the numbers attending will be far smaller than today's.

So the net result is that most of us will miss out on the Mass for this Feast: and that seems to me to be a shame.

In the traditional rite calendar, the Feast is celebrated, with a commemoration of the Sunday, too. So it is quite legitimate to celebrate the feast today, at home.


Here is the collect for the Second Sunday of Advent, in the Extraordinary Form:

Excita, Dómine, corda nostra ad præparándas Unigéniti tui vias: ut per ejus advéntum, purificátis tibi méntibus servíre mereámur.

Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the ways of thine only-begotten Son; and with minds undefiled to pay to thee the homage of our service.

This is the prayer we say around our Advent Wreath for the whole of this week.


And here is a recording of the Chant Offertory for today's feast in the Extraordinary Form.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.  Benedicta tu in mulieribus. Alleluia.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, alleluia.

Friday 6 December 2013

Figures of Advent

On the advice of The Dumb Ox on Twitter, I recently bought Fr Alfred Delp's Advent of the Heart. I had not previously known of this heroic young Jesuit priest, who was arrested and ultimately executed by the Nazis.

This book contains both sermons he preached before his imprisonment, and also meditations which he wrote (while handcuffed and under watchful guard) and had smuggled out of prison.  It also has the texts of the Mass (EF) in Latin (and translated into English) for the four Sundays of Advent, as his sermons drew heavily on them.

I have read a few of these and found them profoundly moving.  I wish to write about the first: Figures of Advent, which was written in Tegel Prison, Berlin, in December 1944, some 9 months before he was killed: clearly knowledge of his approaching death lends a particular resonance to the theme of Advent.

He starts with the startling phrase (which is a recapitulation of sermons he has preached previously): Advent is a time of being deeply shaken, so that man will wake up to himself. He proceeds to draw to our attention three types calling out and touching mankind: the Voice Calling in the Wilderness, the Angel of the Annunciation, and the Blessed Mother.

His meditation on the Wilderness is clearly referring to Nazi Germany; but equally clearly to any time and place in this vale of tears, and he concludes: 'They call man to the potential of averting the spreading wilderness, which is about to fall on him and crush him, by means of the greater strength of a converted heart.'

He then moves on to the figure of the Angel; and conjures up the image of the quiet angels of the annunciation who 'speak their message of blessing into the distress, and scatter their seeds of blessing that will begin to grow in the middle of the night'. Again, this is no empty piety: this is written by somebody acutely aware of 'the terror of this time.' So he continues: 'to believe in the golden seeds of God that the angels have scattered and continue to offer an open heart are the first things we must do with our lives. And the next is to go through these gray days as announcing messengers ourselves.'

Finally, he turns to the figure of our Blessed Mother, 'the most comforting figure of Advent.' He reflects on the mythic prefigurement of the divine motherhood, and the wonder of its reality. 'The gray horizons must light up. Only the foreground is screaming so loudly and penetratingly. Farther back, where it has to do with things that really count, the situation is already changing. The woman had conceived the Child, sheltered Him under her heart, and has given birth to her Son. The world has come under a different law.'

I hope that this gives some flavour of the rich and moving quality of his reflections: really the whole thing cries out for quotation, and my comments cannot do it justice.

But I strongly recommend this as Advent reading, if you want, as he proposes, a true Advent of the Heart.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Well, that's the kids' presents sorted...

I don't normally get organised for Christmas this early in Advent.

Indeed, to my children's' continuing horror, I never buy a tree until the very last minute, as I refuse to have it in the house, still less decorate it, before Christmas Eve (when we put the Carols  and Lessons from Kings on, as an indispensable part of the Christmas Eve ritual).

However, thanks in large part to Ttony, of the excellent Muniment Room blog, I have sorted their presents out already. (Kids, if any of you are reading this, look away now!)

We have decided to give them all a sum of money to invest in Kiva.  For those who are unfamiliar with it (as I was until Ttony pointed it out to me) Kiva is a micro-finance organisation, which supports people in the developing world by giving them small loans to turn their projects from dreams into reality.

I think the kids will enjoy choosing a project to support each, and following its progress, and eventually getting the loan sum back to invest in another project.

I also think it will help them to learn and remember some important truths.

I foresee this becoming their annual Christmas present: so they have much to thank Ttony for!

Sunday 1 December 2013

The First Sunday of Advent

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.

Whilst the experts on the Pray,Tell blog are quick to proclaim that Advent is not a time of penance, I demur.   

Having discussed this last year with my friend the Part Time Pilgrim, I threw down the gauntlet again on Twitter, and this time we made some progress.  After a bit of to and fro, he explained that his concern with my position is that Advent should not be seen as the same as Lent.  I agree: the two are different.  Advent is a time of joyous preparation for the coming of Our Lord (memories of his first coming, and looking forward to his second, of course). But both of these considerations naturally lead us to listen to the words of St John the Baptist: Repent!

We think it important to keep our Advent Celebrations quite distinct from our Christmas Celebrations - though they are related, they are two different seasons of the Church's cycle, with different themes and moods.

So as ever, we will celebrate Advent by saying our prayers around the Advent Wreath, singing O Come O Come Emmanuel and having a reading as we add another character to our Jesse Tree. We will also say the wonderful collect from the traditional Roman rite of the Mass:

Arise in thy strength we beseech thee O Lord and come; from the dangers which threaten us because of our sins, be thy presence our sure defence, be thy deliverance our safety for ever more. 

For those who love Latin, or those who fondly remember my introduction to Liturgical Latin, here is the collect in Latin. too:

Excita, quǽsumus, Dómine, poténtiam tuam, et veni: ut ab imminéntibus peccatórum nostrórum perículis, te mereámur protegénte éripi, te liberánte salvári.

The Marian Antiphon changes today from the Salve Regina to the Alma Redemptoris Mater, which we will sing until the Feast of the Purification (February 2nd).

Alma Redemptoris Mater

Alma redemptoris mater, 
quae pervia caeli porta manes,
et stella maris succurre cadenti
surgere qui curat populo.  
Tu quae genuisti, 
natura mirante, 
tuum sanctum Genitorem.  
Virgo prius, ac posterius, 
Gabrielis ab ore, 
summens illud ave, 
peccatorum miserere.

Mother of the Redeemer, who art ever of heaven
The open gate, and the star of the sea, aid a fallen people, 
Which is trying to rise again; thou who didst give birth, 
While Nature marveled how, to thy Holy Creator, 
Virgin both before and after, from Gabriel's mouth 
Accepting the All hail, be merciful towards sinners.

(Translated by Blessed John Henry Newman)

(For those who prefer a more contemporary sound, try The Dogma Dogs: It's Lent - but note that this is not for Liturgical Use!)

So today we will be out in the frost, collecting holly for the wreath, up in the attic looking for the advent calendars, Jesse Tree book etc, and I will be singing the Alma Redemptoris throughout the day...

Anna's Jesse Tree blog, means that Bernie, at university, can be with us spiritually at the end of each day as we recall Salvation History.  Ant is currently in residence, having finished her degree in the summer.