Saturday, 3 June 2017

Novena for Pentecost: day 9


Bottega di domenico ghirlandaio, ascensione, antifonario edili 148 f. 47v. biblioteca medicea laurenziana.jpg
Bottega di domenico ghirlandaio, ascensione, antifonario edili 148 f. 47v. biblioteca medicea laurenziana


Come, O Divine Spirit, fill my heart with Thy heavenly fruits, Thy charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, faith, mildness, and temperance, that I may never weary in the service of God, but by continued faithful submission to Thy inspiration, may merit to be united eternally with Thee in the love of the Father and the Son. Amen.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and seven Glory Be's

Friday, 2 June 2017

novena day 8 - For perseverance in our vocations


Bielorussian icon

Today's suggested intention - that we might all actively discern, follow and persevere in our vocation in life, both in terms of state of life, and the particular things God asks us to do within that:

Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to my soul the mysteries of heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, power and beauty. Teach me to love them above and beyond all passing joys and satisfactions of the earth. Help me to attain them and possess them for ever. Amen.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and seven Glory Be's

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Novena day 7: For the strengthening of families

Benvenuto Tisi da Garofalo, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome1510 - 20

And for the last three days of the novena, I'm suggesting a focus on the particular concerns of the laity: today for the strengthening of our families, that those families broken might be reconciled and rejoined; that the ties that bind families together might be strengthened; that those isolated from their families might find a way back.  The prayer:

Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide me in all my ways, that I may always do Thy holy will. Incline my heart to that which is good; turn it away from all that is evil, and direct me by the straight path of Thy commandments to that goal of eternal life for which I long. Amen.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and seven Glory Be's

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Novena day 6: for faithful priests and bishops


Pietro Perugino, Polittico di San Pietro, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, 1496 - 1500

And today, perhaps you could pray especially for the needs of our faithful priests and bishops, especially those offering the traditional mass:

Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten our minds, that we may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation; and may merit at last to see the eternal light in Thy light; and in the light of glory to have a clear vision of Thee and the Father and the Son. Amen.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and seven Glory Be's

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Novena Day 5: for the conversion of the clergy

Andrea Mantegna, Uffizi Tryptich, left panel, 1460 - 1464

And for today's intention, consider praying for the conversion of bishops and priests who have fallen into heresy and/or immorality, especially those involved in the cover-up or perpetration of child abuse and other sins:

Come, O Blessed Spirit of Knowledge, and grant that I may perceive the will of the Father; show me the nothingness of earthly things, that I may realize their vanity and use them only for Thy glory and my own salvation, looking ever beyond them to Thee, and Thy eternal rewards. Amen.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and seven Glory Be's

Monday, 29 May 2017

Novena for day 4 of Ascensiontide: for vocations to the priesthood

Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry
I'm offering this next set of three prayers in the Novena for priests, today for perseverance and vocations for priests for the traditional Mass for Australia, including the FSSP; do join me if you would.  Here is the novena prayer:

Come, O Blessed Spirit of Fortitude, uphold my soul in times of trouble and adversity, sustain my efforts after holiness, strengthen my weakness, give me courage against all the assaults of my enemies, that I may never be overcome and separated from Thee, my God and greatest Good. Amen. 

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and seven Glory Be's.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Novena for Ascensiontide day 3: For the revival of religious life in Australia

Giotto

The prayer for day 3 of the Novena is set out below.  And having prayed for two new traditional religious communities in Australia, perhaps today a good prayer intention would be for a revival of religious life in Australia more generally?
Come, O Blessed Spirit of Piety, possess my heart. Enkindle therein such a love for God, that I may find satisfaction only in His service, and for His sake lovingly submit to all legitimate authority. Amen.
Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and seven Glory Be's

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Novena for Ascensiontide Day 2: For the Daughters of the Maternal Heart of Mary

Vatican Codex, 1162

For today's installment of the Novena, I wonder if you might pray for aspirants for the emerging new traditional religious community in Sydney, the Daughters of the Maternal Heart of Mary.

Come, O blessed Spirit of Holy Fear, penetrate my inmost heart, that I may set Thee, my Lord and God, before my face forever; help me to shun all things that can offend Thee, and make me worthy to appear before the pure eyes of Thy Divine Majesty in heaven, where Thou livest and reignest in the unity of the ever Blessed Trinity, God world without end. Amen.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and seven Glory Be's

Friday, 26 May 2017

Novena for Ascensiontide: Day 1: For Our Lady of Cana Priory's postulants

Meister des Rabula-Evangeliums 001.jpg
Rubula Gospels, c6th


Today is traditionally the start of the Ascension novella, modelled of course on the very first novena of the nine days of prayer laid out in Acts that stretched between the Ascension and the first Pentecost.

The novena to the Holy Ghost provided below asks especially for the gifts of the Spirit for ourselves, gifts we most certainly need in these difficult times.

But can I ask you also to consider perhaps offering today's novena also for the intention of the perseverance of the four young men who were formally accepted as postulants for the emerging new Australian monastery in Tasmania on the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians?

Here is one of the traditional sets of prayers for day 1:

Almighty and eternal God, Who hast vouchsafed to regenerate us by water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given us forgiveness of all our sins, vouchsafe to send forth from heaven upon us Thy sevenfold Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and Fortitude, the Spirit of Knowledge and Piety, and fill us with the Spirit of Holy Fear. Amen.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and seven Glory Be's.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

The feast of the Ascension and a Church 'for the baptised'


BambergApocalypse10Ascension.JPG
Bamberg Apocalypse, c11th

Today is, traditionally, the feast of the Ascension, an event that occurred forty days after the Resurrection, as Acts 1 reminds us:
The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, of all things which Jesus began to do and to teach,  Until the day on which, giving commandments by the Holy Ghost to the apostles whom he had chosen, he was taken up. To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion, by many proofs, for forty days appearing to them, and speaking of the kingdom of God.
And eating together with them, he commanded them, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father, which you have heard (saith he) by my mouth.  For John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence.They therefore who were come together, asked him, saying: Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? But he said to them: It is not for you to know the times or moments, which the Father hath put in his own power:  But you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth.
And when he had said these things, while they looked on, he was raised up: and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they were beholding him going up to heaven, behold two men stood by them in white garments. Who also said: Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount that is called Olivet, which is nigh Jerusalem, within a sabbath day' s journey.  And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James of Alpheus, and Simon Zelotes, and Jude the brother of James. All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.
Ascension Thursday on Sunday!

Yet for some strange reason, which I can't help but think is really about clerical convenience (because why should priests have to celebrate more than one Mass a day, or rearrange their schedules to put on Mass at a time convenient to the people rather than them?), it is actually celebrated in most parishes on Sunday instead these days.

This seems to me to be a classic example of what is currently being described by some as the operation of the 'church of the ordained' rather than 'the baptised'.

Because what the baptised - clerical, religious and lay alike - surely really need most is help to fight off the forces of secularism in our world, help to consecrate our time and space to Christ.

We need feasts like the Ascension breaking in and disrupting our day to day lives and calling us back to fidelity and mission.

The importance of sacred time

Much of the formation of the liturgical calendar, the process of the Christianisation of time, seems to have occurred, or at least been codified, in the fifth century, and the Divine Office readings for today (in the traditional form) reflect that, with Pope Leo the Great (c400-461) reminding us that:
After the blessed and glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, wherein the Divine Power raised up in three days the true Temple of God Which the iniquity of the Jews had destroyed  God was pleased to ordain, by His Most Sacred Will, and in His Providence for our instruction and the profit of our souls, a season of forty days which season, dearly beloved brethren, doth end on this day. During that season the bodily Presence of the Lord still lingered on earth, that the reality of the fact of His having risen again from the dead might be armed with all needful proofs.
The number of days, in other words, is important.

It mirrors for us the forty days of preparation before the commencement of Christ's ministry, of fasting in the desert, which we remember in Lent each year.

It connects us to several Old Testament events that foreshadowed the coming of Christ, such as Moses' forty days on Mount Sion with God, receiving the law.

And it foreshadowed the final destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, some forty years after the crucifixion.

A feast of mission

How ironic then, that this great feast above all, which especially remembers the commissioning of the apostles to go out and evangelise the world, should be subsumed into a Sunday and thus downgraded!  Here, as a reminder, is the Gospel for the Mass of the feast today, from St Mark 16:
 At length he appeared to the eleven as they were at table: and he upbraided them with their incredulity and hardness of heart, because they did not believe them who had seen him after he was risen again.  And he said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned.  And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues.  They shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover.  And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God.  But they going forth preached everywhere: the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.
But perhaps our hierarchy are too busy planning their annual Ramadan parties Iftar meals to be bothered actually proclaiming the Gospel?

Nor are so-called Concerned Catholics, concerned primarily about power rather anything else as far as I can see, any closer, in my view, to a prescription for the recovery of the Church.  I'm not disputing that there is a need for much greater accountability and transparency on the part of the hierarchy.

But it is simply naive to think that having more women in positions of power will change anything, and creating new structures will surely just entrench a new group of people in positions of power rather than necessarily changing behaviours fundamentally.

Recovering our Church

Rather, if we truly want to return to being a 'church for the baptised' we need to focus on recovering a genuinely Catholic morality and spirituality, and the most important dimension of that is through the liturgy.

The sanctification of time and space, including through the cycle of feasts, is an important part of that.

So perhaps, rather than providing free publicity to other religions by hosting Iftar dinners, the bishops could this year instead devote the time to considering the restoration of symbols that were once equally important to Catholics, such as Friday abstinence, a genuine Eucharistic fast, and an actual Lenten fast.

Perhaps so-called 'Concerned Catholics', instead of trying to carve out positions of power for themselves could give consideration to how to make their parishes genuinely engaging places for seekers to come into, not least by persuading their priest to resacralise the liturgy rather than imposing themselves on it.

And perhaps all of us, even if we can't find or get to a Mass that is actually celebrating the Ascension today (ie an EF Mass), could try and find some way of commemorating the day, perhaps by saying Vespers of the feast as a devotion, for example using this helpful ap.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Vocational discernment weekend for women: 14-16 July



Please keep in your prayers if you would, an emerging religious community in Australia, the Daughters of the Maternal Heart of Mary.

This is a new, semi-contemplative community based in Sydney, and living a life of prayer and work according to the spirit of St. Benedict, with Mass in the Extraordinary Form and the Monastic Office chanted in Latin.  The charism of the group involves interceding for all Priests and praying daily for the Holy Father, bishops, priests and seminarians.  They also assist priests in various works, including teaching catechism, visiting the sick and sewing liturgical attire.

A vocational discernment weekend for young women is being held on July 14 -16, and will:
  • enable participants to explore the life and charism of the Daughters of the Maternal Heart of Mary;
  • include conferences on the religious life, vocation discernment and the spirituality of the community; and 
  • provide opportunity for silent recollection, praying the Monastic Office and participating in some of the active apostolates of the community.
Those interested in participating can find further details here.

Monday, 8 May 2017

St Augustine on the pilgrim Church

I previously posted some extracts from a letter of St Augustine on the meaning of the Easter season, and here is the next part.

He starts by reminding us that faith has to be reflected in our works:
This passing from death to life is meanwhile wrought in us by faith, which we have for the pardon of our sins and the hope of eternal life, when we love God and our neighbour; for faith works by love,  and the just shall live by his faith...
St Augustine goes on to talk about the virtue of hope, which requires that we rise with Christ in this life by living our lives with an orientation towards heaven: we must 'set our affection on things above, not on things on the earth'.  

There is of course, more to come though, since though
...we have by faith the first-fruits of the Spirit; ...we groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body: for we are saved by hope. While we are in this hope, the body indeed is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness...But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwells in you.
We must therefore, with the help of grace, work for our salvation:
This renewal, therefore, of our life is a kind of transition from death to life which is made first by faith, so that we rejoice in hope and are patient in tribulation, while still our outward man perishes, but the inward man is renewed day by day.  It is because of this beginning of a new life, because of the new man which we are commanded to put on, putting off the old man, purging out the old leaven, that we may be a new lump, because Christ our passover is sacrificed for us;
 This not just a message for us individually though, but applies to the Church as a whole:
The whole Church, therefore, while here in the conditions of pilgrimage and mortality, expects that to be accomplished in her at the end of the world which has been shown first in the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the first-begotten from the dead, seeing that the body of which He is the Head is none other than the Church.

Friday, 5 May 2017

St Augustine on the call to conversion

These are dark times, and the key question that confronts each of us is how to deal with them.  The answer, of course, starts not with others, but with ourselves.

St Augustine on Easter

And on this topic, I came across, today, a rather good meditation on the Easter season and the call to conversion, in the form of a letter of St Augustine (No 55) so I thought I would post it (or at least selected extracts from it) in parts over the next few days, with a few comments.

The letter starts as a response to a question about why Easter is celebrated on a different date each year, rather than being a fixed date like Christmas:
You ask, Wherefore does the anniversary on which we celebrate the Passion of the Lord not fall, like the day which tradition has handed down as the day of His birth, on the same day every year? and you add, If the reason of this is connected with the week and the month, what have we to do with the day of the week or the state of the moon in this solemnity? 
The Life of Christ and the institution of the sacraments

The difference, St Augustine replies, is that Christmas is not connected with the sacraments:
The first thing which you must know and remember here is, that the observance of the Lord's natal day is not sacramental, but only commemorative of His birth, and that therefore no more was in this case necessary, than that the return of the day on which the event took place should be marked by an annual religious festival. 
The celebration of an event becomes sacramental in its nature, only when the commemoration of the event is so ordered that it is understood to be significant of something which is to be received with reverence as sacred. 
Therefore we observe Easter in such a manner as not only to recall the facts of the death and resurrection of Christ to remembrance, but also to find a place for all the other things which, in connection with these events, give evidence as to the import of the sacrament
 Transition from death to life

The theme we should dwell on, he argues, is not the Passion, but rather the transition from death to life signified by these events:
For since, as the apostle wrote, He was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification, a certain transition from death to life has been consecrated in that Passion and Resurrection of the Lord. 
For the word Pascha itself is not, as is commonly thought, a Greek word: those who are acquainted with both languages affirm it to be a Hebrew word. It is not derived, therefore, from the Passion, because of the Greek word πάσχειν, signifying to suffer, but it takes its name from the transition, of which I have spoken, from death to life; the meaning of the Hebrew word Pascha being, as those who are acquainted with it assure us, a passing over or transition. To this the Lord Himself designed to allude, when He said, He that believes in Me is passed from death to life. (John 5:24) And the same evangelist who records that saying is to be understood as desiring to give emphatic testimony to this, when, speaking of the Lord as about to celebrate with His disciples the passover, at which He instituted the sacramental supper, he says, When Jesus knew that His hour had come, that He should depart from this world unto the Father (John 13:1) This passing over from this mortal life to the other, the immortal life, that is, from death to life, is set forth in the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Anna Silvas, Amoris Laetitia and the call to prayer

Those who are following the internal ructions over Pope Francis' seeming promotion of the abolition of the concept of the need for repentance from sin in the context of marriage and related sexual sins will know that a Conference of laypeople was held in Rome last week on Amoris Laetitia a year on.

The various talks from the Conference are being published over at Vox Cantoris Blog.

Anna Silvas

One of the key speakers at the conference was University of New England academic Dr Anna Silvas, and her talk is now available online.  Here is a taster to encourage you to go read the whole thing:
...Two years ago or so, a young friend of mine who is a teacher and passionately committed in her Catholic faith, took a new job in a new Catholic School. One day some of her Year 8 students did a class exercise in ‘politics’. Her students were in the second year of high-school, so they had been through eight years of Catholic schooling, and through the whole sacramental ‘program’—horrible word that; what does its use signify? She asked that if they were a candidate for an upcoming election, what would would be their policies. To her surprise, every one of them, except for one boy, nominated same-sex marriage and the LGBT agenda. So she began to engage them in remedial conversation. That brought home to me how far the values of a purely secular modernity have more ascendency among ‘Catholics’ today, than the values of the life in Christ and the teachings of the Church...
Now, in the few short years of Pope Francis’ pontificate, the stale and musty spirit of the seventies has resurged, bringing with it seven other demons. And if we were in any doubt about this before, "Amoris Laetitia" and its aftermath in the past year make it perfectly clear that this is our crisis. That this alien spirit appears to have finally swallowed up the See of Peter, dragging ever widening cohorts of compliant higher church leadership into its net, is its most dismaying, and indeed shocking aspect to many of us, the Catholic lay faithful...
Pope Francis has absolutely no intention of playing by anyone’s ‘rules’—least of all yours or mine or anyone else’s ‘rules’ for the papacy. You know well what he thinks of ‘rules’. He tell us so constantly. It is one of the milder disparagements in his familiar stock of insults. When I hear those who lecture us that Pope Francis is the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Church today, I do not know whether to laugh at the naivety of it, or weep at the damage being done to immortal souls.... 
My dear fellow-believers in Christ Jesus our Lord, this false spirit shall not, cannot ultimately prevail... 
The call to prayer

Dr Silvas' talk includes a call to prayer, following the examples of St Benedict, St Bruno and many others down the ages, and reaching back to the examples of Our Lord in the Gospels.

I think she is absolutely right on this: the best thing we can all do is learn especially the prayer of the Divine Office, perhaps adding Prime and Compline to our daily regimes.  I will say more on the value of this form of prayer as an aid to rebuilding the broken down walls of the Church in future posts.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

ANZAC Day



Please pray for the repose of the souls of all those killed in our wars, and all those who have served.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Sacra liturgia Conference



Thinking of heading to Europe in the near future?  Then why not consider timing your visit so you can attend the Sacra Liturgia conference in Milan!

The liturgy and the life of the Church

In the conference announcement, Bishop Dominique Rey, Bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, France, noted that:“
Sacra Liturgia’s initiatives serve as a reminder of the primacy of grace in Christian life and mission. Our worship of Almighty God comes first. It forms us and nourishes us and only when we are thus equipped can we carry out our particular mission in the world. That is why the Sacred Liturgy is, as the Second Vatican Council so clearly taught, nothing other than the source and summit of Christian life. That is why I have convened Sacra Liturgia conferences in Rome, New York and London and why, next June, we shall meet again in Milan.  The question of authentic liturgical formation and celebration remains crucial for the Church and for her mission in the twenty-first century.”..
Conference programme

Here is some of the background from the Conference website:
The conference is open to all.
 From June 6-9, 2017, conference sessions in both Italian and English, with simultaneous translation of all presentations, will be held at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) which is centrally located in Milan next to the Basilica of Saint Ambrose, where many of the conference's liturgical celebrations will take place.  
The full programme to be released at Easter will include Vespers and Mass according to the Ambrosian Rite (in both its ancient and modern uses) in the Basilica of Saint Ambrose, the Metropolitan Cathedral (Duomo) and in other locations to be announced. One afternoon will be kept free for cultural visits including a special visit to the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana and the Duomo. 
Full time registrations are open now. Part time registration will be possible after Easter when the full conference programme is published. 
Delegates are responsible for their own accommodation arrangements. The Sacra Liturgia Secretrariat is happy to give recommendations for local accommodation upon request.
Speakers lined up include Cardinals Burke and Sarah, and many prominent priests, religious and laity.

You can find more information on the conference website.

**PS Latest advice is that tickets are likely to sell out early, certainly by the end of April.  So if this impulse is on you, you might need to  move fast!

Monday, 10 April 2017

RIP John Clarke **


On the weekend one of Australia and New Zealand's greatest satirists, John Clarke, died aged 68, while walking in the Grampians with his wife, Helen.  He had two daughters.

Satire is a difficult genre, but one vital, in my view, for the health of any community.

And Clarke's incisive, searing, bone-dry pieces of social and political commentary have long played an important role in exposing things for what they are.

He first gained fame in New Zealand in his persona of Mr Fred Dagg Esq.   His absolute best work, in my view, was the TV show The Games, made in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics.

But it is his weekly political pieces, of which I was privileged to long ago hear some the very first efforts, as a teenager growing up in New Zealand, that have surely had the most impact over the years.

I have to admit that I'm one of that loyal band of fans who waited eagerly each week for his Thursday spot on the ABC, and have done so for many years now, and will miss his work immensely.

Please pray for the repose of his soul.

**Obituaries

I'm adding some links to, and short extracts from, the best obituaries as I find them.

Tony Wright (Fairfax):John Clarke: words and ideas were his delight; nature his sustenance
John Clarke seemed to operate at a higher plane than the rest of us.
His eyes twinkled with secret mischief, as if life never stopped showering him with a stream of lunacy that only he could interpret satisfactorily.
He neither drank nor smoked: his vice - better to call it his delight, for there was an attentive elegance about him - was observing.
Watching him surrounded by friends at his dinner table at the terrace house he and his wife Helen shared in Fitzroy was to study an artist at work.
As the guests - a barrister here, a landscape painter there, characters of note and not, friends from the inner city and from the country - stoked themselves on wine and launched themselves with a little of their host's dexterous prodding into increasingly unrestrained conversation, John Clarke, utterly sober, grew intoxicated, the eyes dancing.
He was drinking in voices, words and ideas....
Robyn Williams (ABC): John Clarke was a genius, a friend and a man of science

...The first thing to understand about John Clarke is that he was a genius. He cherished words and used them in such wonderful ways: as a big beery singer; as a sensitive poet; as a sheep shearer in wellies singing to the stock; as a playwright; as a slightly amused politician sitting with Bryan Dawe never missing a beat, never recording a bummer; and as a conversationalist...
 The second thing is that John's comedy and satire was as cutting as a laser beam, but it was never snide or bilious. He was there for the fun and the gentle send up — far more effective than the steel-capped boot.
The third thing to understand is his scholarship. Read his classical works rewritten. They capture the essence of every artist he emulated...
Max Gillies (Guardian): a sardonic dramatist who punctured pomposity
When their going gets particularly sticky, politicians invoke our Values. John Clarke had no need to invoke them – he exemplified them. Those Anzac values of the sardonic viewpoint and the absurdist consciousness, together with a delight in their fanciful expression...
 His art erupted from a molten core of outrage, fed through an intricate analytical array and finally seduced by the delight in its expression.




Pray the Office...




Buy the book then go to my Saints Will Arise website to learn how to use it (link also in the book itself).

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Canberra-Goulburn update: positive steps

Apologies for the quietness, I've been ill and preoccupied with other things.

But I thought I should provide an update on the situation in the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese that I have previously reported on, particularly as they represent a welcome step forward.

In short, the Archbishop has commissioned an outside review of what occurred, and committed to making it (and the response) public.  Bravo!
Re. Independent Review following decisions about residential arrangements at Lanigan House
Mistakes have been made and I accept full responsibility for my poor judgement in deciding to place Fr Brian Hassett, a retired priest removed from ministry due to allegations of abuse, at Lanigan House in Garran.
I sincerely apologise for the hurt and pain that my decision has caused across the Canberra community over the past fortnight.
Last night, 16 March, I attended a meeting of parents, families and staff at Saints Peter and Paul primary school, Garran. Questions were asked, concerns raised and mistakes highlighted.
As a result of the failings in how this matter was dealt with, I have decided to launch an independent review of the decision to relocate Fr Brian Hassett to Lanigan House.
Barrister, Ms Jane Seymour, will carry out this independent review.
The review will investigate the basis for the original decision, the evidence used including the findings of the risk assessment, the key people involved in the decision and the legislation that was relied upon at the time of the decision.
The review will also examine my response to the matter once the location of Fr Brian Hassett became public and community concerns were raised.
The findings and recommendations of the review will be published in May 2017 and my response to the review report will also be published in June 2017.
I reiterate that as a Church we cannot be careful enough in the area of child protection. The lessons learnt from this experience must change our processes to ensure that such failings do not occur again.
The statement is slightly strange in that there is no signature on it, so we have to presume that the 'I' in question is the Archbishop, and not the media advisor contact or some other diocesan official, but still.

The terms of reference for the review can be found here.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Mea minima culpa

Just by way of a footnote to my earlier post today on the latest Canberra developments, can I recommend a couple f other opinion pieces.

First Jack Waterford's deadly piece from the Canberra Times and John Menadue's blog.  Here are a couple of extracts:
The major intersection between the child abuse royal commission and the Catholic Church went into act four over the past week. The drama, plot and moral of the miracle play would be much enhanced if scene one, rather than scene four, of act five began with the resignations of each of Australia’s archbishops, along with that of the nuncio, the archbishop representing the Pope in Australia.  
Each is, no doubt, a splendid person whose services would be much missed. But each represents in a real way the organisational and leadership failures that have brought the Church in Australia to its lowest ebb. Mass resignation would be a tiny, inadequate but still entirely appropriate act of atonement – a compound Yom Kippur – for both the personal failings of most of the archbishops, representing Australia’s capital cities, and for the institutional failings of the offices they hold and their predecessors....
No doubt, the creation of some episcopal vacancies would be a bitter blow to the hundreds of thousands – once millions – of Catholic parishioners who would be suddenly deprived of their archbishops’ spiritual guidance, zest for the good life and penchant for travel at the front end of jet aircraft... 
 I come from within the bosom of the Catholic Church and, from 56 years ago, was a regular altar boy, proficient in my Latin responses (which I understood) to the priest’s words. The early part of the Mass included the confiteor, or confession, and, within it, the server would say “peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo et opere: mea culpa” (here, one theatrically struck one’s tum), “mea culpa” (strike breast again), “mea maxima culpa” (strike breast again): I have sinned exceedingly, in thought, word and deed: through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.
A reading of royal commission transcripts made me wonder whether the modern form is “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea minima culpa“. Penance has not yet been performed.
 And also on John Menadue's blog, a response from Garry Eastman, who points out that there are now no abuse survivors on any of the institutions supposedly dealing with abuse in the Church:
There are now no survivors or parents of survivors on the Commission nor are there any on the Australian Towards Healing or Melbourne Response agencies for handling complaints by victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The same criticism applies to the Truth, the Justice and Healing Council and the newly created company, Catholic Professional Standards Ltd.  
He is also damning about the bishops' refusal to take responsibility in front of the Royal Commission:
For all the heartfelt gestures by bishops appearing at the Royal Commission, nothing of substance has changed. The greatest failure of responsibility was to leave it to Francis Sullivan, the Director of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, to respond in tears to counsel Gail Furness’ listing of the extent of abuse in the Catholic Church. Where was Archbishop Hart, President of the Bishops Conference, offering a response and shedding a tear?
Please do let me know if you have come across any other responses (or written them) to this continuing disaster.

Our bishops as Jobs?!

There is a quite extraordinary article in today's Canberra Times in which Archbishop Prowse of Canberra compares himself to the Biblical figure of Job, and tells us how 'he had needed emotional support' to deal with the criticisms made of him in relation to the handling of an abuse case.

Really?

Job 

As it happens, I'm reading St Gregory the Great's Commentary on Job as my book this Lent, and I have to say that I struggle to see the relevance of Job in this situation.

Job, you will recall, is described by the Bible as a 'simple and upright man, who feared God and avoided evil', but who loses his family, property and health due to a series of trials God allows the devil to make of him in order to test him.

The Book of Job, the introduction to the edition of the commentary I'm reading, describes the book of Job as:
 a searing theological reflection on divine justice and the suffering of the innocent. The book begins with God, impressed with Job’s innocence and uprightness, allowing Satan— here conceived as a kind of prosecutor of the heavenly court, not the devil—to test if Job’s piety is genuine and not simply the result of his being the beneficiary of divine favor. Satan orchestrates a series of disasters to induce Job to curse God. In short order Job suffers the devastating loss of his flocks and children. He is then afflicted with physical pain. Even his wife rails against him. After these calamities, he is visited by three friends who attempt to comfort him: Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Na’amathite. Job winds up debating with them because they insist that he has somehow sinned. They accept the idea that divine justice is retributive: God gives you what you deserve. But Job is certain of his innocence and claims that he has done nothing wrong to warrant such suffering. (Mark DelCogliano)
So is the Archbishop really comparing any opprobrium he may have incurred due to the actions of paedophile priests to the sufferings of Job?  Personally I would have said the victims of abuse might more properly be cast as the Job's in this situation.

And is the Archbishop really saying he has done absolutely nothing wrong at all in the handling of the current and other scandals?  Is he truly comparing those who like myself are criticising him to Job's so-called friends?  That is a bit disappointing given that he had, I thought, more or less admitted that perhaps he had stuffed up last week.

The role of the bishops

It is true of course that most priests are not paedophiles, and the Archbishop rightly calls those who are Judases.

But the issue the Royal Commission, loyal Catholics - and everyone else - keeps stumbling over is the cover-up, mismanagement and apparent lack of empathy and self-awareness of the hierarchy in responding to the 'Judases'.

So far we've learnt that, as far as I can gather, when the priest was removed from ministry, no one actually admitted this to his parishioners immediately; instead they were told he was sick.  So others who might also have come forward with complaints were not encouraged to do so, and others were encouraged to continue in the delusion that this was a holy priest, resulting in new pain for the victims as some of their fellow parishioners turned on them in the media last week.

There should have been a proper process to clear the air, allow everyone involved to come to terms with what had happened, and deal with the fallout both when he was initially removed from ministry, and when the claims against the priest were substantiated.  And again now.

Secondly, there seems to have been no consultation or even information on his placement in Canberra provided to those who needed to know, viz at the very least, the principals of the two primary schools located where he was housed.  The Archdiocese has admitted that the special needs school was not informed, but claimed that the Principal of the Catholic school was - but the Principal disputes this and so far no documentation has been produced to counter his claims.

At the very least it seems that the Canberra Archdiocese's record-keeping practices were poor, and oversight and review processes were inadequate or non-existent.

We've also been told that that the priest placed near two schools was or is 'virtually immobile' and so couldn't have posed a risk to anyone.  Without knowing more details of his medical status it is impossible for us to assess the validity of that claim, but if he really is paralysed, with no possibility of temporary or permanent remission, it seems odd to me that he isn't in a nursing home or some other full-time care facility.  And what about the other two priests removed from previously resident there, and now suddenly moved in response to potential 'community concern'?

David, the Ninevites and penance

The right response to all of this is surely to admit that the Archdiocese - and Archbishop - stuffed this one up.  The Archbishop said as much last week.  Or was that just his spokesperson?  According to the Canberra Times:
When Fairfax Media called the archdiocese on Monday night after speaking to Father Brian at Lanigan House, a spokesman said he was "not even going to pretend it's a good look".
The sensible approach, I think, would have been to follow this up not with protestations of innocence, but with a commitment to bring in some outside expertise to review what happened, make a report on it that would be publicly available and includes recommendations to ensure there are no future repeats.

And with a commitment to do penance for this and many other similar and related cases.  This is, after all, the Archbishop who 'declined' to attend healing service for victims late last year.

The Biblical text it seems to me that the Archbishop and all concerned might care to contemplate is Matthew 18:
At that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying: Who thinkest thou is the greater in the kingdom of heaven?  And Jesus calling unto him a little child, set him in the midst of them, And said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven. And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.
Who are the real Judases here?

To me this latest salvo on the part of the bishop raises afresh the question of just when the bishops will realise that it is them, and the systems and structures they have adopted to uphold their crumbling empires that are the scandal, not just the odd Judas?

The continuing scandals are the product of lax morality and a corrupted theology; of a failure to uphold and teach what the Church has always held and believed about what constitutes sin and its consequences.

The product of a liturgy that reflects a twisted clericalism that places the priest and not the sacred presence of Our Lord at the centre of the Mass; that views the Mass as a celebration of a community centred on the priest, not a sacrifice offered by him in persona Christi.

It is a product of a mentality where the Church's charitable efforts have become commercialised and conformed to societal norms rather than the Gospel, in the interests of obtaining Government funding.

Of a world where dealing with hurt feelings are apparently of more importance than taking appropriate action.

Lent and repentance

There are plenty of Biblical types for those for whom the scales eventually drop from their eyes, and do penance.when they are finally confronted with reality: David when confronted by the prophet Nathan; and the Ninevites, warned (eventually) by Jonah, who told them that they had forty days before God destroyed them.

The forty days warning given to the Ninevites  is a number that calls to mind this sacred time of Lent.

I'm no Jonah, but I do rather think that the clock is ticking.

Penances for Lent: say the Gradual Psalms




I  should perhaps have drawn attention earlier here to the series I'm posting on one of my other blogs on saying the Gradual Psalms.

It is not too late to start this, particularly if you haven't yet settled into saying some extra prayers for Lent.

The Gradual Psalms and the spiritual ascent through humility

The fifteen Gradual psalms, Psalms 119 to 133, were originally used both as pilgrim songs and liturgically: they were probably originally sung on the journey to Jerusalem, as well as liturgically when priests and people ascended each of the fifteen steps of the outer Temple to the inner at Jerusalem, on the three major feasts of the Jewish calendar.

As the temple itself was viewed as a microcosm of heaven, they seem always to have been interpreted as a mystical ascent to heaven as well.

The Gradual Psalms are traditionally used both devotionally, as a group, and as part of the Divine Office.

St Benedict Rule and Office, drawing on Patristic and monastic tradition, actually makes a link between these psalms and Jacob's Ladder, which he argues we climb through humility, and fall from through pride.

The Gradual Psalms arranged for devotional use

You can find the whole set of the Gradual Psalms arranged for devotional use here.  Traditionally the first five psalms are said for the souls in purgatory; the second five for the forgiveness of our own sins; and the third and final set for our specific intentions.

Alternatively, you could take one of these psalms each day and meditate on it.

Either way, to help you in this endeavour, I'm posting notes on each of these psalms over at my Psalm Domino blog.  You can find the first couple over there already:

Friday, 3 March 2017

Canberra cover-up update

In my last post I commented on an unfolding scandal in Canberra.

Canberra mismanagement

The short version of the story is that a priest was removed from his parish in 2013 following inappropriate conduct towards children.  The latest report says that although two particular cases were substantiated, he was the subject of 'sustained complaints' during his tenure in the parish.

But when he was finally removed, instead of telling his parish the truth, they were simply told that he was ill.

And he was then housed next to two primary schools (one of them for particularly vulnerable special needs children).

The latest update...

On the positive side, the claimed lack of alternative accommodation has apparently been miraculously resolved and he has been moved.

But also, it seems, so have two other priests also removed from ministry!

And claims that the Catholic primary school at least was consulted are being hotly disputed by the former principal of the school in question.

You can read more of the gory details here.

All in all, an unfolding disgrace that begs the question of what else has been going on under cover of clerical and episcopal privilege in this archdiocese.

Meanwhile in Rome...

Meanwhile in Rome, one of the member's of Pope Francis' special commission on child abuse has resigned in protest at the opposition encountered within the Vatican to its work.  One of the key recommendations of the Commission that has been stymied was a proposal for a tribunal to hear allegations against negligent bishops...

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Lent: if only our leaders would do some real penance for the cover up and mishandling of abuse complaints

I've refrained, up until now, from commenting on the spectacle of the Australian Archbishops in their recent appearances in front of the Royal Commission on child abuse.

But as today is the first day of Lent it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the need for prayer and penance not just for our own sins, but for those committed  - and continuing to be committed - by those who claim to lead us.

Child abuse and the Church

Let's start with the facts.  

The Royal Commission identified a total of 1,880 Catholic perpetrators, including 572 priests, abused 4,444 children in 1,000 Catholic Institutions in Australia between 1980 and 2015.   The real number of victims is likely to be much higher.

What continues to appal the laity though is not just the crimes themselves, but how they were and are being handled.

The cover-up.

The refusal to be upfront about what had happened; to be pro-active in identifying and helping other possible victims.

The failure to take appropriate action  - both in relation to individuals and structures - to prevent recurrences.

The reluctance or outright refusal to help victims

The continuing lack of empathy.

The Royal Commission hearings gave no good indication that our leaders have actually taken genuine stock of what they need to do and acted; quite the contrary.

Indeed, what we saw was an unedifying refusal to defend essential protections that all of our spiritual health depends on, such as the seal of the confessional; and more indications of negligence, incompetence and worse. 

The failure of leadership 

The old saying is that the fish rots from the head and this is of course particularly true in the Church.

There are repeated, well-documented, stories in credible places such as the UK Catholic Herald to the effect that Pope Francis' version of  'mercy' is, far from clamping down on this problem, leading him to reduce the penalties imposed on some paedophile priests.  Worse, it seems to be a highly selective mercy, based on who you know.

An extremely incisive satirical blog, Eccles is Saved recommends giving up the Pope for Lent.  

I can't claim this one for Lent as I've long since given up on (reading anything by) Pope Francis on the grounds that I rarely find his comments edifying or spiritually nourishing, quite the contrary.  But if you haven't as yet, I recommend giving serious consideration to this one!

Canberra scandal

And as the Pope leads, so our bishops follow.  

Take the case of the Canberra Archdiocese where it was revealed yesterday that a priest who had been removed from ministry for inappropriately touching children had been housed next to two primary schools, allegedly because there was no where else 'suitable' to house him.  

Really?  In the whole of Canberra there was absolutely no alternative accommodation?  

Sorry Archbishop but that explanation beggars belief.  

Even more gob-smacking is the revelation that when the priest in question was 'moved on', his congregation was not, apparently told the truth about what had happened, but instead was told that he was sick.

This didn't happen years and years ago.   Rather it all played out in 2013, presumably shortly after Archbishop Prowse was appointed to the job.

It seems that nothing has changed at all.

Yet today the Archbishop has issued a Lenten message trying once again to say all the right things, and embarking on a 'listening tour':
I also committed to a listening tour throughout our Archdiocese, to visit and talk with victims, their families and shocked communities. I want to assure the victims that we will focus on their care and on the prevention of further abuse. It is my highest priority across the Archdiocese. My aim is to conduct these listening sessions during Lent. The hope is then to invite people to an appropriate combined liturgy of healing/lament before Holy Week. Further details will be made available later.
Listening vs doing

Frankly I can't see the point of a 'listening tour'.  The hierarchy in Australia (and most other places) has consistently shown that it is utterly incapable of genuinely listening.

Instead, what we need is some doing.  

Here are my suggestions.

1. Resign


First, all those bishops and other clergy who have been complicit in covering up abuse - including feeding the laity 'alternative truths' about their priests - need to resign forthwith.  

The most egregious case, in my view, Archbishop Philip Wilson of Adelaide, who continues to be the subject of a criminal investigation in relation to covering up abuse claims, yet remains in place.

Nothing the hierarchy does will have any credibility whatsoever while those who are, on the face of it, part of the problem, remain in place.

2.  Take responsibility for your priests


Secondly, we need a commitment from our priests and bishops that all serious sins on the part of the clergy, not just child abuse, will be treated appropriately.  The horror of child abuse could only occur because of the failure of genuinely catholic moral theology to be taught and practised.  

Priests who conduct sexual affairs with adults, practice homosexuality or otherwise fail to live a life consistent with their vocation are, in my view, just as potentially dangerous to souls.  Their double lives impact their immediate victims (for sexual sins by the clergy pretty much invariably involve abuse of power, cover-up and impacts on third parties).  But they also impact on their congregation, for few compromised priests are sufficiently hypocritical as to preach truth.

Yet at the recent Royal Commission hearings, how heard that Archbishop Coleridge of Brisbane, doesn't believe that whether priests are keeping their vows of celibacy is any of his business!

It is true of course, as the bishop comments, that priests of a diocese are not the bishop's employees. 

But aren't they supposed to be something much closer than that, his spiritual sons, his close collaborators?  

Surely one of the the bishop's most important roles is ensuring that his priests have the spiritual support and professional oversight they need.  Indeed, the Code of Canon Law actually says:
With special solicitude, a diocesan bishop is to attend to presbyters and listen to them as assistants and counselors. He is to protect their rights and take care that they correctly fulfill the obligations proper to their state and that the means and institutions which they need to foster spiritual and intellectual life are available to them.

3.  Refresher courses


Thirdly, and not unrelated to this, we need all of our clergy (including our bishops) to be given refreshers in solid moral theology based on St Thomas Aquinas.  All too many of them are the products of the faux theology of the 60s and 70s.  

Let them now be taught actual Catholicism, and be required to swear to uphold the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for example.

4.  Genuine transparency


Archbishop Coleridge amongst others talked about the need for greater transparency.  So I looked at the Brisbane website - does it include any information on abuse claims made, payouts etc?  The answer as far as I can see is no.

But of course transparency has to go much further than just the issue of child abuse, which is, as far as I can see just the tip of the iceberg of the Church's problems in Australia at the moment. 

5.  Public penance


Finally we need to see all those involved doing public penance.  

The idea of Lent is that before we celebrate the reconciliation of man and God we first acknowledge and do penance for our sins.  In an earlier era, public sin meant public penance, and the abuse scandal would best be addressed, in my view, by reviving this idea.  

Let's see all of those who have failed to act, who covered up, who misjudged the responses -  as well as those priests and religious who committed the crimes - wearing sackcloth and ashes and embarking on some genuine fasting this Lent.  

And let's see those found guilty genuinely committing to a life of prayer and penance to atone for their crimes.

What we can do:  Pray and fast

I hold out no hope that the Church in Australia will actually seriously consider or do any of these things.  There seems to be every indication that our leaders will continue to keep their heads in the sand and continue to ignore ever declining congregations and practice.

And in the face of the failure to teach (or worse) on the part of the Pope, we can have no hope of positive intervention from there.

Instead we need to look after our own spiritual lives.  The Catholics of Japan, after all, held fast for centuries with only the sacrament of baptism to sustain them; the time is surely coming (or in some cases is already here) where we too, may similarly be forced to rely on God alone as our help.

But there are things we can do.

Pray and fast this Lent, and offer our penances as reparation for the harms done.

Sing the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office, since the laity too, under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, are designated by the Church to offer this prayer liturgically. 

Read Scripture regularly, with the help of good orthodox commentaries.

And study the Catechism and other suitable texts to make sure you know the faith well and can defend it.




Thursday, 2 February 2017

Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy on Amor Laetitia

The Australian Confederation of Catholic Clergy, as part of the International Confraternities of Catholic Clergy (a group with member associations in Ireland, USA and England) has posted a statement in support of the dubia submitted by the four Cardinals on the interpretation of Amor Laetitia.

The statement says:
As members of the International Confraternities of Catholic Clergy we believe there would be great value in an authoritative interpretation of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia in line with the constant teaching and practice of the Church. This statement comes in light of continuing widespread divergence of understanding and growing divisions in practice. A clarification is clearly needed to correct the misuse of the Apostolic Exhortation to undermine sacred Tradition. We therefore thank the four eminent Cardinals who have recently submitted their dubia to the Holy See, requesting such clarification. The Confraternities recognise that this action has been taken out of love for the Church and concern for the salvation of souls. As the Cardinals themselves have made clear, this step has been taken with deep respect for our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and should not in any way be used to foster divisions in the Church. The grave danger to the unity of the Church due to increasing moral relativism must be honestly faced and clearly remedied.
As pastors of souls, we are well aware of the many challenges facing the men and women of today. We strive to help our people, often living in complex situations, to hear the call of Christ and his Gospel. This task is made easier when the Church expounds her teaching boldly and clearly. It is also essential that the Church’s discipline must always follow her dogmatic teaching. In particular, since at the present time there is much confusion, it is necessary to make clear that Holy Communion cannot be given to someone choosing to live in a sexual relationship with a person other than their validly espoused husband or wife. Those who find themselves in this situation are of course deserving of pastoral support and must be helped to play as full a part in the life of the Church as their circumstances allow. In connection with this, it is important to state that conscience is not a law unto itself replacing the holy law of God with private judgment, but rather an echo of the voice of the Creator. The dignity of conscience must be assisted to overcome all ignorance and protected from becoming ‘practically sightless as a result of habitual sin’ (Gaudium et Spes, 16)
Requesting such a clarification, which reiterates the perennial teaching of the Church, is an act of filial love by faithful sons of the Church who turn to our Supreme Shepherd seeking his paternal guidance. It is our desire that this elucidation will enable us and other Catholic priests and deacons to carry out our ministry in ways that are faithful and effective. We hope that this request for clarification may be an occasion for the Holy Father to feed and tend the flock entrusted to him by the Lord and to support us, the clergy, in doing the same.
The war is hotting up friends; please keep these priests in your prayers.   The Confraternity website has a prayer for priests that you could use for this purpose.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Patronal feast of Our Lady of Cana Monastery

For those interested in the progress of the new Australian monastic foundation in Tasmania, a note that today (the second Sunday after the Epiphany) is its patronal feast.

Father Prior's post on the website discusses the feast, and the importance of Our Lady's intercession at the marriage feast, then concludes:
...Many years ago, faced with the continual requests for an Australian foundation, I turned to Our Lady, and I said to her, "Tell Jesus, 'They have no monks'!". Well, She heard that prayer and Jesus has allowed Himself to be moved. Australia is about to have its monks, and they, like the tasteless water of Cana, are perfectly incapable of satisfying anyone's desire for nourishing spiritual wine. But if the Divine Word steps into our lives, and hears the further prayers of His Mother, then we can hope that the monks to be will truly become men of His Sacred Heart, and that they will offer, with incessant praise and labour, the life and example and words of salvation for many souls who will come their way in the hope of finding God. 
Thank you for praying for Notre Dame Priory, the monastery of Our Lady of Cana, whose patronal feast is this Sunday, 15th January. Pray that it may be firmly established and grow and prosper, and that all of its members may ever walk in the ways of salvation and perfection.
Please keep the foundation especially in your prayers in this lead up to its formal inauguration on February 22. 

Monday, 2 January 2017

On the sixteen (!) days of Christmas...

Prophets window, Notre Dame, Paris


Numbers are important in Scripture and the tradition, laden with symbolic meaning.

And the Christmas season, once upon a time, played on several of them - octaves, the twelve days of Christmas, the forty days of the whole Christmas season (up to the feast of the Purification), and so forth.

Over the last couple of centuries, these times have been progressively eroded, with the Christmas season becoming ever shorter.

This year however, due to the oddities caused by 'Epiphany Sunday' a strange reverse occurs: in the Ordinary Form the Christmas season actually lasts almost as long as it does in the Extraordinary Form, stretching to some sixteen days.

The twelve days of Christmas

The twelve days of Christmas, which traditionally stretched between the feast of the Nativity and the Epiphany, for example, are meant to suggest to us governmental perfection and completion - hence the twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, and so forth.

My own theory is that our ability to recognise these symbolic meanings was destroyed by the invention of chapter numbers for the Bible in the fourteenth century, and then verse numbers in the sixteenth: convenient those these reference points are, by seeing so many numbers when we read Scripture, we no longer notice the important ones that really matter.

Be that as it may, the destruction of tradition has been a progressive affair.

The Christmas season was cut back from forty days, making a fitting counterweight of feasting to offset the fasting of Advent, to end after the octave of Epiphany.

The various Octaves and Vigils that used to be celebrated at this time were abolished.

And then, in most recent times we have come to the curious phenomenon of moving feasts of obligation to the nearest Sunday.

1962

The net result of these changes is that in the 1962 calendar, from January 2 to January 5 have become Class IV days, instead of Octave days of St Stephen (Jan 2), St John (Jan 3), Holy Innocents (Jan 4) and the Vigil of the Epiphany (Jan 5).

The 1962 reformers actually didn't do too bad a job, in my opinion, in selecting texts from the season to create the 'Ordinary of Nativitytide' in the Divine Office.

But the net result is that we do lose some of the reminders that the Incarnation turns the world upside down, and the world does not much like the fact.

We lose the bitter-sweet mix of texts that serve as a reminder that Christmas is not just about sentimentality; rather, that to follow Christ is to follow the way of the Cross.

Sixteen days of the Incarnation?

Is there any symbolism, though, in the number sixteen, the length of this year's Christmas season in the Ordinary Form?

Happily there is, according to the sixth century writer Cassiodorus at least.  His commentary on Psalm 16, which he sees as dealing with the Incarnation and the two natures of Christ, points out that there are sixteen 'canonical' prophets in Scripture "so that the Lord's incarnation is seen to be worthily proclaimed by this number, in which the chorus of the prophets is seen to be assembled".

There is rather a need of prophets in our own time, holy men and women willing to speak truth to power, so perhaps there is indeed something providential in the number given these difficult times for both Church and State....