Latin Mass Society

Chairman's Blog

23/06/2016 - 10:00

Guild of St Clare: 'Memory Quilt' day course

Quilt making is not just for Americans; we have a wonderful tradition of quilt making in the UK as well. The Guild of St Clare is making this tradition available to a new generation in an initial class on quilting on 16th July. It is intended for beginners and the less experienced.

Quilting using pieces of left-over fabric is the classic of thrifty sewing; using fabric from old clothes and such-like it is a way of preserving the memory of articles which would otherwise be thrown away and forgotten. This pleasant idea gives us the notion of the 'memory quilt'.

It is also an opportunity to practice sewing-machine and many other sewing skills.

For all the details see here.

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22/06/2016 - 12:34

The EU Referendum: do you believe in politics?

Looking at the propaganda from both sides over the referendum campaign, I wanted to make a final point about the nature of the question facing the people of the United Kingdom.

There are questions to which we cannot possibly know the answer, and have good reason not to believe the predictions of the campaigners on either side. These include the kind of trade deals the UK might or might not be able to negotiate, the effect of leaving the EU on questions like Northern Ireland's relationship with the Republic of Ireland (which has been sui generis since long before we joined the EU), and the ongoing careers of various politicians.

But there is something more straightforward which has come up again and again in different guises. It is the question of whether we believe in politics.

Here is one guise it comes in. The scientists and the farmers and the fishermen and the regions and all sorts of charitable bodies who and which get money from the EU have had to ask themselves: will they be worse off if we leave the EU? If we leave, it will be up to the UK government whether they go on getting the grants, and enjoy other advantageous arrangements, which they get today. The farmers and the fishermen and the regions seem to be more confident than not that they'd be ok. The scientists and the charities appear to be seriously scared.

It is hard not to conclude that the scientists and the charities believe, having thought about it, that they have no real case for getting this money, and that any sensible future UK government would turn off the taps. It is understandable that they should vote Remain, but quite baffling that they think this would be a reason for the country as a whole to vote Remain. It is, after all, the very same electorate voting in the referendum tomorrow which will be voting in the next general election, to choose the government and set the tone of policy towards this as towards everything else. These lobbies seem to be telling us voters not to trust ourselves.

Here is another manifestation of the issue. I've heard that EU laws on animal welfare or the environment or the protection of workers or any number of other issues, are frightfully good, and that this is a reason to stay in the EU. Presumably, the thinking is that, if we leave, future UK governments will have the option of tinkering with these laws, and that the people making this argument think that, all things considered, such tinkering would not be to the advantage of the lobbies they represent. Again, they are telling the voters in the referendum not to leave such questions to the judgment of voters in future general elections: themselves.

It is a strange argument, but not an entirely unfamiliar one. Sometimes people do vote to have less say. People vote in dictators, and vote to keep them. (The referendums to maintain the regimes of Louis Napoleon and Pinochet spring to mind.) Sometimes people vote in, or otherwise willingly accept, 'technocratic' governments, made up of people who haven't come up through the normal processes of party politics, but are plucked from universities and think tanks.

What is happening in these cases is a rejection of politics. People are saying in one big vote that they do not want a say about a lot of smaller things. They do this, usually, for a limited time in a moment of national crisis, either as a result of war or unrest, or because of the collapse of the normal political institutions as a result of endemic corruption or a breakdown of the rule of law. It is characteristic of such situations that the term 'politician' has become a term of abuse. The political class is no longer trusted. Voters would rather have a general or a university lecturer running things.

The first question for us is: have we got to that situation in the UK? Are things this bad? The second question is: does the EU represent a less partisan, less corrupt, and more competent system of government that what we are likely to come up with on our own?

I think those questions answer themselves. I don't have a great deal of trust in our current elected politicians, but the EU, to me, just looks like the worst aspects of them, in a form entirely above popular scrutiny, and answerable to no one. It may have given this or that person or lobby a sweet deal on this or that issue, but that is not a reason to give up on politics. Politics is a frustrating and dirty business, but it's not as bad, in normal circumstances, as no politics at all.

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21/06/2016 - 12:02

Interview with the 'New Emangelization'

Matthew Christoff

The other day I had a Skype interview with of the 'New Emangelization Project', about evangelising men and the teaching of the Church on the father as the head of the family.

He has put the audio here - it is more than an hour long! It was an enjoyable conversation and an important topic.

I've referred to the New Emangelization website a few times; it has some useful resources, including a large collection of such interview audios (arraned in alphabetical order). Getting the views of lay Catholics - not all men - and clerics on this subject is a major part of the Emangelization project.

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20/06/2016 - 17:00

On causing scandal and reporting scandal

Today I am reposting this, from July 2015.



This is not the kind of blog which goes through people's bins - metaphorically speaking - looking for scandalous accusations to make against priests, bishops, and prominent lay Catholics. Nevertheless, I do from time to time talk about events which I would rather had not happened. Events which shed a poor light on the Church, which reveal problems. I do this because persistently to ignore the things which are causing pain, sometimes great spiritual suffering, to my fellow Catholics, where these are issues on which I would be expected to take an interest or have some light to shed, would be to a failure of charity.

That's right, a failure of charity.

Here is a parallel. Suppose that you know that a child, or indeed an adult, X, has suffered emotional or physical abuse at the hands of person Y. You meet X and say nothing about Y. Y comes into the room, you greet him warmly, show him respect and deference, shake his hand, smile, and so on. He goes off again, leaving you with X, and you say nothing about it. Or, you praise Y in X's presence, you talk about all his good qualities, you say loudly how lucky we all are to have Y among us.

Have you acted with charity? No.

This is the behaviour, of which the Church has seen far too much, of complicity. It is not just a matter of taking part in a cover-up, though that might be part of it. I want to focus on the effect on the victim. What you are saying, by implication, to the victim, is: I do not take your suffering seriously; I do not want to hear about it; your hurt and anger have no place in polite society; you, the victim, should deny your own feelings, if possible even to yourself.

These people who fall among thieves - how inconvenient they are! How embarassing! The only thing to do is to pass by on the other side. To stop would be an implicit criticism of the thieves, and that wouldn't be right.

This kind of reaction from friends and acquaintances explains why victims of various forms of abuse so often do not speak out, or not for many years. The attempt to force them to deny reality is deeply unhealthy, and can even lead to mental illness.

Now, abuse can take many forms. Not all are equally serious. I have used an extreme example to establish a principle which will apply even in less extreme cases. But we can generalise. To those who have suffered in the Church, from the unjust exercise of power, we must say: you don't need to pretend everything is wonderful in the Church for us to accept you as part of our family. We won't try to make that pretence ourselves. We can talk about the problems, and perhaps even talk about ways to alleviate the suffering, and - who knows? - how to prevent it happening again.

Notice what I am not saying. I'm not saying that the victims of abuse, or their supporters, have a blank cheque to make wild accusations, libel others, use indecent language in public forums, etc. etc..

Nor am I saying that the abusers, those who have acted unjustly, should forfeit the respect due to their offices, if any, or as human beings, or that they may not themselves need our sympathy and help. In many cases their actions have arisen from their own sufferings, for which they deserve sympathy and help, and where appropriate even justice. Again, it would be inconsistent, an inconsistencly all too avidly taken up by some in authority in the Church, to throw those accused of crimes under a bus before considering the evidence.

Bloggers have a limited role, however. We don't have the resources to carry out investigations; we don't have the authority to make judgements. What we can do is report, and sometimes put together, facts which are already in the public domain. Some people would like us to stop; that's been the cry since blogs began. If that involves looking the other way when our fellow Catholics are suffering, I'm sorry but the answer is 'No'. At least from this blogger.

For those critics of blogs who are Catholic, I would ask, what part of Canon 212 don't you understand? Speaking of the laity, it tells us this.

Can. 212 §3 They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ's faithful, but in doing so they must always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals.

Pro scientia, competentia et praestantia quibus pollent, ipsis ius est, immo et aliquando officium, ut sententiam suam de hisquae ad bonum Ecclesiae pertinent sacris Pastoribus manifestent eamque, salva fidei morumque integritate ac reverentia erga Pastores, attentisque communi utilitate et personarum dignitate, ceteris christifidelibus notam faciant.

I've written more about clerical abuse under this label here.

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18/06/2016 - 10:00

What to do about Catholic marriages

Pope Francis' words about 'the great majority' of Catholic marriages being invalid have, it appears, been redacted, in the official transcript of his press conference at the Lateran on Thursday, to read 'some' Catholic marriages. Assuming that the Holy Father had a hand in this, or at least allowed it to happen, we should understand it as his second thoughts. He acknowledges, in some sense, that what he said the first time was not right, or not wise. This ought to mean that the people criticising us for disagreeing with the Pope should now eat their words, since he agrees with us in disagreeing with what he said, but I don't suppose many of them will look at it that way.

What we can all agree about is that there is a crisis of marriage. I would also like to draw out one aspect of what the Pope said, or implied, which I also agree with: that the problem is not that people simply don't know, intellectually, what marriage is, but that, deep down, that understanding is not part of them. 'They say it', the Pope says. But in some sense, they don't grasp it. The problem, then, is not, as many people have suggested, a deficiency of marriage preparation. A course of talks could catechise couples; it cannot give them a culture or virtue.

The problem is one of formation, not knowledge. That problem manifests itself not in the nullity of marriages, but in their failure.

Of course good marriage preparation would be a good idea. What would make even more difference would be if the couples made a good confession immediately before the wedding. Getting married in a state of grace is necessary to receiving the graces of the sacrament, in marriage as with Holy Communion and Holy Orders. Perhaps bringing couples to confession should be a priority for marriage preparation. What that means, of course, in the context of couples who are mostly cohabiting before marriage, is that the marriage prep. should not be about catechesis so much as about bringing about a conversion of life. Not patting them on the back and saying, we don't condemn, and anyway you are getting married now, but rather saying: if you are to form a Catholic family, you need to straighten your lives out.

Something else worth saying is that if we suspect there is a crisis of invalidity in marriage, the Church must react as she would to a crisis of invalidity with Holy Orders or Baptism: not by bewailing the problem, but by making the sacrament valid. Call in the couples and get them to go through a conditional form of marriage with the right intentions; don't just wait for them to divorce and say, oh well it was probably invalid. The fact that this option is not being discussed suggests to me that the idea of invalidity is not being used, in this debate, in a serious way, to mean what it actually means. Invalidity is not just a handy excuse to get remarried. It is a defect in a sacrament which means that it hasn't worked. If it's not worked, it's not had its good effects. In that case it should be - and could easily be - sorted out. If, that is, we care about Catholics' marriages.

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17/06/2016 - 12:46

The Pope is wrong about Catholic marriages being invalid

Yesterday Pope Francis gave a press conference at St John's Lateran.

NBC News:
"Young people say 'for life,' but they do not know what it means," he said. And because they get married with the philosophy that a marriage can be ended if it becomes an "inconvenience," their marriages are "nulli," he said, using an Italian word that can be translated as "baseless" or "invalid."

“It’s provisional, and because of this the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null. Because they say “yes, for the rest of my life!” but they don’t know what they are saying. Because they have a different culture. They say it, they have good will, but they don’t know.”


Pope Francis attributed the marriage crisis to people who “don’t know what the sacrament is” and don’t know “the beauty of the sacrament.”

“They don’t know that it’s indissoluble, they don’t know that it’s for your entire life. It’s hard,” the Pope said.


He said that in Argentina’s northeast countryside, couples have a child and live together. They have a civil wedding when the child goes to school, and when they become grandparents they “get married religiously.”

“It’s a superstition, because marriage frightens the husband. It’s a superstition we have to overcome,” the Pope said. “I’ve seen a lot of fidelity in these cohabitations, and I am sure that this is a real marriage, they have the grace of a real marriage because of their fidelity, but there are local superstitions, etc.”

I can't find anything approaching a full and chronological transcript, but the audio is available for those who speak Italian. There doesn't seem to be much doubt about what he said or what it meant.

(Update: there is a transcript in Italian, but that's a story in itself.)

It fits in not only with what Cardinal Kasper said about the Pope's views on this subject a while ago, but with the reform of the annulment process which Pope Francis promulgated last September. This created a fast track process for granting a decree of annulment for supposedly easy cases, and the architect of the reform remarked at the time that it should be used by large numbers of people. This idea, that a huge number of Catholic marriages are invalid, seems to be floating around at the highest levels in Rome.

Pope Francis' latest remarks are not, of course, magisterial in form. There is no question of his invoking his teaching authority. It is important to say, nevertheless, that they are wrong, and the spread of this idea in the Church would be a very negative thing.

What Pope Francis is saying is not that couples are marrying with explicit reservations about the commitment to marriage, such as would traditionally satisfy a marriage tribunal ('the bridegroom told his friends the day before the wedding that he would divorce her if the marriage became difficult': things like that). He does not say that they pronounce the vows insincerely, or with cynicism. He says that they are incapable of understanding the notion of permanence, because of cultural factors.

Perhaps what the Pope has in mind, to borrow a line of argument from Amoris laetitia, is that while intellectually understanding the teaching of the Church, they do not grasp it deep down. I can understand this line of reasoning, and it may well be true. People who have been brought up in the culture of cohabitation and divorce do not have those habits of mind, those expectations and patterns of behaviour, which are so important in making a permanent commitment stick, and which (in an Aristotelian way) can be described as necessary at a complete grasp of a moral concept. However, this does not undermine the validity of their marriages.

Validity is not dependent upon such 'deep down' virtues, or a deep down 'grasp' in this sense. It depends on a relatively superficial, intellectual comprehension, and the assent of the will to that comprehended idea. We all capable of understanding what a life-time annuity is, a life-time driving ban, or an indelible tattoo. There is nothing hard to understand about the indissolubility of marriage, either. Young people may be poorly prepared to live it, but they know what it is. Furthermore, they have a right to marry, and the rest of us have an obligation to respect the validity of a marriage, unless it is shown to be invalid.

I am reminded of Pope Benedict, who remarked, on this subject:

We run the risk of falling into an anthropological pessimism which, in the light of today's cultural situation, considers it almost impossible to marry.

This is not all, however. As well as suggesting that sacramental marriages are invalid, Pope Francis suggests that de facto unions which are neither sacramental nor civilly formalised are 'real marriages' with 'the grace of a real marriage'. However, this is not so. They are not real marriages in civil law, in canon law, naturally or sacramentally, and the couples are not in a state of grace, and do not receive the sacramental grace of marriage. It is possible that the couples are acting in good faith, but you can't receive the grace of a sacrament which you haven't bothered to receive. Pope Francis' explanation for their refusal to marry is not helpful to their cause: the 'husband' is afraid of the commitment. So in these cases there is an explicit refusal of a life-long commitment. Even among non-Catholics, not obliged to follow the Church's form, such a union could not be sacramental. Even among pagans, this could not constitute a natural marriage. It may have a measure of fidelity, but it lacks the intention of permanence.

Pope Francis is down-grading at least most putatively sacramental marriages, and up-grading at least many co-habitations. The way he talks may even suggest that the 'real' marriages of the co-habitees are better than the 'nulli' marriages of those who've tied the knot in church, but I don't suppose he means that. Rather, they may meet in the middle somehow. Such a view is wrong, however, because it implies that there is no advantage to getting married after serious reflection and with sincere intentions, over co-habiting. There are advantages: married couples get the sacramental grace and have the chance, within their union, of living in a state of grace; co-habiting couples do not.
Many people are writing on this subject; I recommend Edward Peters, who approaches the matter from a canon law point of view. I don't see this as a conservative or traditional Catholic vs. liberal issue. I can't see liberal Catholics wanting to say that their marriages are invalid; even divorced and remarried couples sometimes resist that conclusion about their first marriages. This is an issue on which Pope Francis has developed his personal views, and is wrong.

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17/06/2016 - 10:00

Juventutem at World Youth Day

English-speaking young people who want to attent World Youth Day in Poland in the context of the Traditional Mass, can go with Juventutem for £299, plus travel to Krakow, which is very good value.

They will get to see Cardinal Burke, Bishop Athanasius Schneider and others.

See here for full details.

For pilgrims from the UK, America and anywhere else: deadline for booking: 26th June
Arrival in Krakow: Monday 25 July
Departure from Krakow: Sunday 31 July
Daily Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite
Daily talks on the Catholic faith by well trained clergy
Confessions and Eucharistic Adoration
Visits of splendid Krakow & Official WYD events
Included in the £299.00:

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16/06/2016 - 10:54

Vespers for St Barnabas in Merton


Last Saturday evening the Oxford Gregorian Chant group, the Schola Abelis, sang Vespers in Merton College Chapel in Oxford.

Fr Richard Biggerstaff, the Director of the St Barnabas Society, officiated.

We don't often do services in Anglican chapels, but Vespers is a rather different proposition from Mass. It was an opportunity for the Schola to tackle the somewhat different challenges of the Divine Office, compared to Mass, and to sing in the wonderful acoustic of Merton's historic chapel, as well as to honour St Barnabas and beg his interecession for the important work of the St Barnabas Society.

IMG_8964This supports Anglican and other ordained ministers who become Catholic, frequently losing their livlihoods in doing so. Go and support them through their website here.

The Schola Abelis is the only choir in Oxford focusing on Gregorian Chant. And though I say it myself, we sounded very good at Vespers. Anyone, from Town or University, who is interested in singing with us should contact us ( We don't expect previous experience singing chant - or anything else. I should mention that it is an all-male schola.

These days we are being looked after, in the capacity of cantor and trainer, by Will Dawes, a professional singer based in Oxford with an excellent knowledge of chant. Amusingly enough, he also directs an all-female liturgical choir. There is something for everyone in Oxford!

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15/06/2016 - 17:27

Pontifical Vespers in St Mary Magdalen's, Wandsworth, 8th July

The speaker at the Latin Mass Society's Annual General Meeting will be Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, Nuncio to Switzerland and former Nuncio to the Ukraine.
The evening before the AGM, Friday 8th July, he will be officiating at Vespers in St Mary Magdalen's, Wandsworth, at 5:30pm.
Saturday's feast, of SS Thomas More and John Fisher, is of such importance that this Vespers will be the 'first Vespers' of it. Vespers will be offered, however, for the repose of the soul of Evelyn Waugh, who's 60th anniversary is this year. Waugh was invited to be the first President of the Latin Mass Society, but decline; he was to die the year after the Society was established. Until his death he was the acknowlegded lay leader of the movement for the preservation of the ancient Catholic liturgy, and we owe him a great deal.
Matthew Schellhorn will lead Cantus Magnus with some polyphony for the occasion:

Giammateo Asola (1532–1609): Sanctorum meritis
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525–1594): Magnificat primi toni
Sir Edward Elgar (1857–1934): O salutaris hostia; Ave verum

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14/06/2016 - 10:10

LMS AGM & Mass in Westminster Cathedral: 9th July

The Latin Mass Society's Annual General Meeting (which is open all LMS members) is taking place as usual in Westminster Cathedral Hall, behind the Cathedral (entrance on Ambrosden Avenue), at 11am on Saturday 9th July. It will be addressed by Archbishop Thomas Gullickson, Nuncio to Switzerland. Until recently he was Nuncio to the Ukraine, and will speak about the persecution of the Church today.
This will be followed, at 2pm, by High Mass in the Cathedral (open, obviously, to everyone). This will be celebrated by our National Chaplain, Mgr Gordon Read. We are offering this Mass for the good estate of the Queen, since we have just celebrated her 90th birthday.
We have some interesting music from British composers at this Mass: see the poster below.

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