Wednesday 31 December 2014

Most popular posts of the year

I thought it would be of passing interest to look at the top ten most visited posts on my blog in 2014.

In the top position, and by a considerable margin, is the long and detailed post I wrote about the Trouble at Blackfen in September.

The second most visited was a post in October about the aftermath of the Conry scandal, which I called Toxic Ignorance and in which I suggested that those who promoted and protected Conry, even if ignorant of his behaviour, were still culpable, and owe us an explanation, an apology, and amends.

The third most visited post was one written largely by my brothers, who found themselves Welcoming Cardinal Kasper's Pastoral Solicitude.

The follow-up post to Toxic Ignorance, posted the following day, was the fourth most visited: More on Ignorance, and Other, Darker Matters

At number five, was my fisk of the ludicrous letter sent by Fr Butler, suggesting he, and not the Holy See or the CBCEW, was best placed to regulate liturgy in this country: The Butler Affair.

In at number six was the first post that was not prompted by external events, but rather by a question raised on Twitter by my old friend Stuart James, who expressed surprise and wonder at the visceral negative reaction to the Traditional Latin Mass from people who were not required to attend it anyway. I thought out loud about that here: Why is the Traditional Latin Mass So Hated?

Number seven was one of the posts in which I took a dissenting view from many in the furore about the Protect the Pope blog in May: More on the Protect the Pope saga... Number eight was as post on the same subject, posted a couple of days earlier: The Apostle in Lancaster.

Number nine was the Finals of the Pastoral Challenge: Nichols Contra Mundum

And number ten was my initial post about the Blackfen news: Trouble at Blackfen?  It was particularly interesting to me that this was so visited, as it said very little: but that was an indication of the keen interest, and indeed concern, with which the unfolding events at Blackfen were being watched.

The conclusion I draw is that the posts about the crisis in the Church are the ones that attract a lot of viewers (and are typically tweeted about etc). 

However, I will not be influenced by that to seek to blog only about such matters. I will continue with my rich and idiosyncratic mix of  posts about Chant and other music, my parents, my kids, liturgical changes, pop psychology, morality, the media, humour, rhetoric... and anything else that my magpie mind sees glistening in the sun...

Tuesday 30 December 2014

E F Masses in Lancaster Diocese, January 2015

Jaunary's Masses in the Extraordinary Form in the Diocese of Lancaster: 

Sunday 4,  6.00 pm    Most Holy Name of Jesus 
Our Lady & St Joseph, Carlisle

Tuesday  6,  7.00 pm   The Epiphany of Our Lord 
St Walburge, Preston

Sunday  11,   6.00 pm   Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph 
Our Lady & St Joseph, Carlisle

Sunday  18,  3.00 pm   Second Sunday after Epiphany 
St Peter's Cathedral, Lancaster

Sunday  18, 6.00 pm   Second Sunday after Epiphany 
Our Lady & St Joseph, Carlisle

Sunday  25,  6.00 pm   Third Sunday after Epiphany 
Our Lady & St Joseph, Carlisle

Shrine Church of St Walburge, Preston 
Mondays – Fridays: 12 noon, Low Mass 
Saturdays: 10.30 am, Low Mass 
Sundays: 10.30 am, Sung Mass

St Mary Magdalene, Leyland Road,Penwortham
Sundays:  8.30 am

St Catherine Labouré, Stanifield Lane, Leyland
Sundays: 11.30 am

Wednesday 24 December 2014

A Christmas Verse

A few days ago, I promised some 21st century poetry. I am not sure I can honour that promise, but here is some 21st century verse...

A Christmas Verse

Our mighty Father's timeless Word,
Creator of the earth and skies,
Of man and mountain, beast and bird:
Our God within a manger lies.

To undo evil wrought by hate
In paradise, by Satan's lies,
When Adam of the apple ate:
Our God within a manger lies.

He left his high celestial throne
Remaining hidden from the wise
And calls the shepherd-folk his own:
Our God within a manger lies.

The mighty One whose power made
All things, now powerless He cries,
He's hungry, cold, and e'en afraid: 
Our God within a manger lies.

The stars He set to rule the night
Are dimmed by Mary's tender eyes
Alight with love as in her sight
Her God within the manger lies.

To Father, Son and Holy Ghost 
The Angels sing in their surprise,
And we rejoice with Heaven's host:
Our God within a manger lies.


My Mother's Carol

Here is a verse written as Christmas carol by my late mother.  It is sung to the tune of Let all mortal flesh keep silence, but without the repeat of the first line of melody.  That apparently is how it was originally written (a Picardy carol tune) and the editor commissioned my mother to write a lyric that honoured that. (In the book, the editor notes: The association of this tune with a solemn eucharistic hymn in English hymn books should not prejudice its interpretation here: it is a French peasant carol and should be sung simply and more or less in speech rhythm).  

For myself, I find it almost impossible to sing the tune without the repeated first line.

Anyway, here is my mother's lyric: 

God in highest heaven seeing 
All man's bitter grief and shame
Laid aside his power, his majesty, his bliss, 
To the rescue swiftly came.

God the Son, the Word eternal
Made himself a man on earth,
Entering a world that he himself had made
Through the lowly gate of birth.

There the baby lay in a manger
For his mother had no bed
Thirty years went by, and still the Son of God
Had no place to lay his head.

Yet he did not rest till, testing
Every depth of utter loss,
He, the Lord, was hanging, nailed through hands and feet
Stripped and dead upon a cross.

Jesus, Master, King of glory, 
Teach us loving you alone,
With a joyous will to follow you in peace
By the road that you have shown.


Requiescat in pace

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Meditation on the Nativity

Meditation on the Nativity

All gods and goddesses, all looked up to
And argued with and threatened. All that fear
Which man shows to the very old and new -
All this, all these have gone. They disappear
In fables coming true.

In acts so simple that we are amazed -
A woman and a child. He trusts, she soothes.
Men see serenity and they are pleased.
Placating prophets talked but here are truths
All men have only praised

Before in dreams. Lost legends here are pressed
Not on to paper but in flesh and blood,
A promise kept. Her modesties divest
Our guilt of shame as she hands him her food
And he smiles on her breast.

Painters' perceptions, visionaries' long
Torments and silence, blossom here and speak.
Listen, our murmurs are a cradle-song,
Look, we are found who seldom dared to seek -
A maid, a child, God young.

Elizabeth Jennings

Christmas Suite in Five Movements

Christmas Suite in Five Movements

1 The Fear

So simple, very few
Can be so bare, be open to the wide
Dark, the starless night, the day’s persistent
Wearing away of time. See, men cast off
Their finery and lay it on the floor,

Here, of a stable. What do they wait for?
Answers to learned questions? No, they have
Been steeped in books and wear the dust of them.

Philosophy breaks all its definitions,
Logic is lost, and here
The Word is silent. This God fears the night,
A child so terrified he asks for us.  
God is the cry we thought came from our own 
Perpetual sense of loss.
Can God be frightened to be so alone?
Does that child dream of the Cross?

2 The Child

Blood on a berry.
Night of frost,
Some make merry, 
Some are lost.

Footsteps crack
On a pool of ice. 
Hope is back.  

This baby lies

Wrapped in rags, 
Is fed by a girl. 
O if God begs, 
Then we all hold

Him in our Power. 
We catch our breath. 
This is the hour
For the terrible truth.

Terrible, yes, 
But sweet also.
God needs us.
Now, through snow,

Tomorrow through heat
We carry him
And hear his heart
And bring him home.

3 A Litany

Mary of solace, take our hope,
Girl untouched, take our hands,
Lady of Heaven, come to our homes,
You bring Heaven down.

Mary of mercy, learn our laws,
Lady of care, take impulse to
Your heart, give us grace, 
More than enough
And a relish for
The renewal of love.

Queen of formal gardens, reach our forests, 
Girl of the fountains, come into our desert.
Mary of broken hearts, help us to keep
Promises. Lady of wakefulness, take our sleep.
You hold God in your arms, and he may weep.

4 The Despair

All night you fought the dream and when you woke
Lay exhausted, blinded by the sun. 
How could you face the day which had begun?
As we do, Christ, but worse for you.  You broke
Into our history. History drives you on.

Love before this was dust, but it was dust
You took upon yourself.  Your empty hands
Have scars upon them. You have made amends
For all wrong acts, for love brought down to lust. 
God, the world is crying and man stands

Upon the brink of worse than tragedy.
That was noble. Now there’s something more
Than careful scenes and acts. Some men make war
On you and we feel helpless, are not free
To struggle for you. God, we’ve seen you poor

And cold. Are stars dispensing light that you
Should find the universe turned... can it be
Away from you? No, no, we cannot see
Far or fully. Christ just born, you go
Back to the blighted, on to the thriving Tree.

5 The Victory

Down to that littleness, down to all that
Crying and hunger, all that tiny flesh
And flickering spirit - down the great stars fall, 
Here the huge kings bow.
Here the farmer sees his fragile lambs,
Here the wise man throws his books away.

This manger is the universe’s cradle,
This singing mother has the words of truth.
Here the ox and ass and sparrow stop, 
Here the hopeless man breaks into trust.
God, you have made a victory for the lost.
Give us this daily Bread, this little Host.

Elizabeth Jennings

Monday 22 December 2014

On Not Lying to the Dying

I have just listened to a fascinating TED talk about dying.

The speaker, Matthew O'Reilly, is a veteran paramedic first responder, and draws on his own experience of comforting many critically injured people in their last minutes.

He admits that he used to be scared of being honest with them about their impending death and would not tell them the truth; and he relates the experience which changed his approach, and led him to conclude that 'it was not my place to comfort the dying with my lies'.

Of course, as Christians, it is vital that we are told we are dying, if that is the case, so that we can prepare ourselves with an Act of Contrition and other prayers.

What really caught my attention, though, is that even for people of no faith, there are three things that concern them in their final moments. Here they are in Matthew O'Reilly's words:

'a need for forgiveness,' 
'a need for remembrance... a need for immortality within the hearts and thoughts of their loved ones, myself, my crew, or anyone around'
'[a] need to know that their life had meaning.'

Christmas is the Feast that speaks of God's desire to forgive us, no matter what the cost, His desire to share our mortality, and to share his immortality with us, and above all His gift of new life that gives meaning to our lives.

Pray for the dying at this great feast of the Birth.

A Favourite Christmas Poem

This is still one of my favourite Christmas Poems. I am not quite sure why. But it has that haunting quality - hanging around in the back of your mind and leaping out at you occasionally and surprising you -  that marks the very best poetry, in my opinion.

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 ways 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.

T S Eliot

Sunday 21 December 2014

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Today is the Fourth Sunday in Advent.

Here is the Collect from the traditional Roman Mass:

Excita, quǽsumus, Dómine, poténtiam tuam, et veni: et magna nobis virtúte succúrre; et per auxílium grátiæ tuæ, quod nostra peccáta præpédiunt, indulgéntia tuæ propitiatiónis accéleret.

Arise in thy strength, we beseech thee O Lord, and come in might to our aid; that by the work of thy grace, that good to which our sins are a sore hindrance may, in the fullness of thy forgiveness, speedily be vouchsafed to us.

And here is the rather wonderful Offertory, which a couple of us will be singing at the EF Mass at Our Lady and St Joseph's in Carlisle later today.  You may just recognise the text:

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.  Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui.

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

Yet More Christmas Poetry

This is a poem by Anne Ridler (1912 - 2001), who was a good friend of my mother, who was also called Anne. In recognition of that, the copy of her Collected Poems which she gave to my mother is inscribed with this quotation from Charles Williams, of whom both Annes were fans:

"A voice went calling by me, and e'er the voice had ceased,
The Mother of the Mother of God ascended in the East..."

Anyway, without more ado...

Christmas and Common Birth

Christmas declares the glory of the flesh:
And therefore a European might wish
To celebrate it not at midwinter but in spring,
When physical life is strong,
When the consent to live is forced even on the young, 
Juice is in the soil, the leaf, the vein,
Sugar flows to movement in limbs and brain.
Also, before a birth, nourishing the child,
We turn again to the earth
With unusual longing - to what is rich, wild,
Substantial: scents that have been stored and strengthened
In apple lofts, the underwash of woods, and in barns;
Drawn through the lengthened root; pungent in cones
(While the fir wood stands waiting; the beech wood aspiring,
Each in a different silence), and breaking out in spring
With scent sight sound indivisible in song.

Yet if you think again
It is good that Christmas comes at the dark dream of the year
That might wish to sleep ever.
For birth is awaking, birth is effort and pain;
And now at midwinter are the hints, inklings
(Sodden primrose, honeysuckle greening)
That sleep must be broken.
To bear new life or learn to live is an exacting joy:
The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way
It will happen, or master the responses beforehand.
For any birth makes and inconvenient demand;
Like all holy things
It is frequently a nuisance, and its needs never end;
Strange freedom it brings: we should welcome release
From its long merciless rehearsal of peace.

   So Christ comes
At the iron senseless time, comes
To force the glory into frozen veins:
   His warmth wakes
Green life glazed in the pool, wakes
All calm and crystal trance with living pains.
   And each year
In seasonal growth is good - year
That lacking love is a stale story at best;
   By God's birth
All common birth is holy; birth
Is all at Christmas time and wholly blest.

Anne Riddler

Saturday 20 December 2014

Christmas Poetry (again...)

Skipping lightly over the 18th and 19th centuries, on the basis that all the good Christmas poems have been set to music and are widely known, let's explore some of the byways of the 20th century. We may even end up in the 21st - but not today.

Here is a verse by Stevie Smith, for whom I've always had a certain fondness since seeing the play Stevie in 1977 starring, if I remember aright, Glenda Jackson. It was written by Hugh Whitemore, more famous for Breaking the Code. 

This is, I think, typically idiosyncratic.


A child is born, they cry, a child,
And he is Noble and not Mild
(It is the child that makes them wild).

The King sits brooding on his throne
He looks around and calls a man:
My men bring me a heavy stone.

My men bring me a purple robe
And bring me whips and iron goad.
They brought them to him where he strode.

My men bring gold and bring incense
And fetch all noble children at once
That I shall never take offence.

The men fetched the noble children away
They lifted them up and cried: Hurray.
The King sat back and clapped their play.

All noble mild children are brought home
To the wicked King who has cast them down
And ground their bones on the heavy stone.

But the child that is Noble and not Mild
He lies in his cot. He is unbeguiled.
He is Noble, he is not Mild,
And he is born to make men wild.

Stevie Smith

Friday 19 December 2014

More Christmas Poetry

I can't be doing with Thomas Tusser and Wynken de Worde, so following St Robert Southwell, I thought we could move on a little (chronologically - arguably backwards spiritually) to John Donne,  John Milton and George Herbert.


Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

John Donne


On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity

On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity
This is the month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav’n’s eternal King,
Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.

That glorious Form, that Light unsufferable,
And that far-beaming blaze of Majesty,
Wherewith he wont at Heav’n’s high council-table,
To sit the midst of Trinal Unity,
He laid aside, and here with us to be,
Forsook the courts of everlasting day,
And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.

Say Heav’nly Muse, shall not thy sacred vein
Afford a present to the Infant God?
Hast thou no verse, no hymn, or solemn strain,
To welcome him to this his new abode,
Now while the heav’n, by the Sun’s team untrod,
Hath took no print of the approaching light,
And all the spangled host keep watch in squadrons bright?

See how from far upon the eastern road
The star-led wizards haste with odours sweet:
O run, prevent them with thy humble ode,
And lay it lowly at his blessed feet;
Have thou the honour first thy Lord to greet,
And join thy voice unto the angel quire,
From out his secret altar touched with hallowed fire. 

John Milton


Christmas (I)

After all pleasures as I rid one day,
My horse and I, both tired, body and mind,
With full cry of affections, quite astray;
I took up the next inn I could find.

There when I came, whom found I but my dear,
My dearest Lord, expecting till the grief
Of pleasures brought me to Him, ready there
To be all passengers' most sweet relief?

Oh Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,
Wrapt in night's mantle, stole into a manger;
Since my dark soul and brutish is Thy right,
To man of all beasts be not Thou a stranger:

Furnish and deck my soul, that Thou mayst have
A better lodging, than a rack, or grave.


Christmas (II)

The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
      My God, no hymn for Thee?
My soul's a shepherd too; a flock it feeds
      Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.

The pasture is Thy word: the streams, Thy grace
      Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
      Outsing the daylight hours.

Then will we chide the sun for letting night
      Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should

      Himself the candle hold.

I will go searching, till I find a sun
      Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
      As frost-nipped suns look sadly.

Then will we sing, and shine all our own day,
      And one another pay:
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
      Till ev'n His beams sing, and my music shine.

George Herbert


Is it me, or does this all really sound rather Protestant - and, dare I say it dull - compared with St Robert Southwell's poetry?  (Though if I'm honest, the Catholic Metaphysical Poet, Richard Crashaw, doesn't do much for me either...)

By special request...

New Heaven, New War

Come to your heaven, you heavenly choirs,
Earth hath the heaven of your desires.
Remove your dwelling to your God;
A stall is now his best abode.
Sith men their homage do deny,
Come, angels, all their fault supply.

His chilling cold doth heat require;
Come, seraphins, in lieu of fire.
This little ark no cover hath;
Let cherubs’ wings his body swathe.
Come, Raphael, this babe must eat;
Provide our little Toby meat.

Let Gabriel be now his groom,
That first took up his earthly room.
Let Michael stand in his defense,
Whom love hath linked to feeble sense.
Let graces rock when he doth cry,
And angels sing his lullaby.

The same you saw in heavenly seat
Is he that now sucks Mary’s teat;
Agnize your king a mortal wight,
His borrowed weed lets not your sight.
Come, kiss the manger where he lies,
That is your bliss above the skies.

This little babe, so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake.
Though he himself for cold do shake,
For in this weak unarmèd wise
The gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field;
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns cold and need,
And feeble flesh his warrior’s steed.

His camp is pitchèd in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall,
The crib his trench, hay stalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that he hath pight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly boy.

St Robert Southwell


New Prince, New Pomp

Behold, a seely tender babe
In freezing winter night 
In homely manger trembling lies;
Alas, a piteous sight! 

The inns are full, no man will yield 
This little pilgrim bed, 
But forced he is with seely beasts 
In crib to shroud his head.

Despise him not for lying there, 
First, what he is enquire, 
An orient pearl is often found 
In depth of dirty mire. 

Weigh not his crib, his wooden dish, 
Nor beasts that by him feed; 
Weigh not his mother's poor attire 
Nor Joseph's simple weed.

This stable is a prince's court, 
This crib his chair of state, 
The beasts are parcel of his pomp, 
The wooden dish his plate. 

The persons in that poor attire 
His royal liveries wear; 
The prince himself is come from heaven;
This pomp is prized there.

With joy approach, O Christian wight, 
Do homage to thy king; 
And highly prize his humble pomp 
Which he from heaven doth bring. 

St Robert Southwell