Latin Mass Society

Chairman's Blog

27/11/2017 - 11:08

The psychology of the 'rigid' personality

I've been reading Norman Dixon's 1975 classic, The Psychology of Military Incompetence. It has many insights, and also many flaws; one point of interest in reading it today is to see how psychology was done in the 1970s.

I was stopped in my tracks by one passage, a quotation (p254). It is from Peter Kelvin, The Bases of Social Behaviour, 1970. He is talking about the 'authoritarian' personality. (Elipses are Dixon's.)

These tendencies reflect on a type of individual who needs to feel that his environment is highly predictable ... he needs to know where he stands; and so he fastens on to norms: he does not 'let himself go', for fear of where this might lead; he looks to authority as a guide ... [He also] relies very heavily on stereotypes in [his] perception of the social environment. Moreover, the stereotypes used by an authoritarian personality tend to be very clear-cut, and the characteristic infelixibility of this personality leads to relative inability to modify the stereotype once it has been formed.

This is a concise characterisation of what progressives, in the Church and outside it, in the 1960s and 1970s, thought was wrong with their opponents. It also seems to match what Pope Francis has in mind when he talks about 'rigid' people. We don't have to imagine that he ever read Kelvin: these ideas which were widespread when the Holy Father was at an impressionable age.

It establishes a theoretical basis for the connections which seem to exist in Pope Francis' thinking between (1) a concern for rules / authority-figures; (2) self-restraint / lack of authenticity; (3) an inability to make nuanced judgements about persons and situations, instead attempting to force everything into one of a set of pre-determined stereotypes.

I'm not a psychologist, or a historian of the discipline, but it is apparent that this theory is dated, to put it mildly. Underlying it is a Freudian account of how character is moulded by over-bearing mothers and potty-training, and indeed there is so much emphasis on the latter that it is hard to avoid concluding that it is the author, and not the subjects, who has an anal-fixation. (Perhaps it is exposure at an impressionable age to theories such as this which explains Pope Francis' puzzling interest in coprophilia and coprophagia.)

Dixon wants to apply this theory to military organisations, and immediately runs into the problem that effective commanders are, in a popular sense, authoritarian, whereas he wants to argue that bad ones are bad precisely because they are authoritarian in the way just described. He deals with this by distinguishing the 'authoritarian personality' with the 'autocratic' one, which can include being a disciplinarian. He never sets out the distinction in detail, and it looks ad hoc. Dixon appears to put everything he personally doesn't like into his notion of the 'authoritarian' (including such disparate things as being religious and taking an interest in one's personal appearance), and everything he does like into his notion of the 'autocratic' (his is the only book where I have ever read the word 'womaniser' used as a term of praise). Dixon describes how the theory was developed with Nazism in mind, with the result that it is problematic, if not self-contradictory, to apply it to the megalomaniacs and mass-murderers of the political left. Crafting a psychological theory to further one's personal political preferences is, well, less than entirely satisfactory.

Dixon does have a lot of interesting things to say, and I will discuss them in a later post, but the significance for the Church of the problems I have identified with this theory has been incalculable.

It was psychologists with attitudes along these lines who advised religious orders and seminary directors in the 1960s and 1970s. An insider's account of this process is given by Dr William Coulson. (You can see a summary of Dr Coulson's ideas here; better still download an MP3 talk by him here. It is an eye-opener.)

On this kind of thinking, Catholic teaching is inescapably unhealthy, 'anal', because it imposes constraints on sexual behaviour. On the theory, people are well-adjusted just insofar as they are letting it all 'hang out', without guilt. Any concern with 'norms' is ipso facto a bad sign. Ritual is just the kind of thing an 'anal' person would care about, so if you don't want to be chucked out of seminary for being mentally ill you'd better not take any notice of rubrics. Political, social, or theological conservatism are all indications of a 'weak ego', a pathological need to conform and seek approval. As Pope Francis expresses it:

And I ask myself: Why so much rigidity? Dig, dig, this rigidity always hides something, insecurity or even something else. Rigidity is defensive. True love is not rigid.

Pope Francis and others of his generation can say this without any direct knowledge of the people he is talking about. Why? Because for them it is obvious. It just follows from a universal psychological theory.

The irony here is overwhelming. Didn't it occur to the religious superiors of the 1970s and later that, under their new regime, people seeking approval from their superiors out of a lack of self-confidence would be rigidly conforming to the anti-rules of liberalism? That is, not wearing a cassock, not following the rubrics, not being faithful to the office. That they would find new ways of showing off how much they were teachers' pet, not by an immaculate appearance and a pious demeanor, nor yet by vying with each other in exaggerated reactionary remarks, but instead by leaving pornography lying around and visiting gay bars. But no, liberal superiors never noticed this, because the theory was not conceived of as applying equally to any set of rules, but only to the rules of the past. The real insight behind it, that goody-goodies could be motivated by an exaggerated horror of failure with which their fragile personalities could not cope, was distorted by the social and, in the case of the Church, the theological goals of the people who applied the theory: like the drunk's lamppost, it was ultimately valued as support, not for illumination. Or, to vary the metaphor, it was just used as a battering-ram against the Faith.

Just ask yourself this. Who is the conformist, in the Church of today, in a Catholic university, seminary, or religious community: the eccentric conservative, or the one whose liberal ideas are safely within the comfort-zone of 90% or his peers and teachers? If you have a weak ego, if you are scared of being ostracised, being thought a failure, or not fitting in, will it be more attractive to you to be a conservative or a liberal?

The great value of Dixon's book, for me, was his account of what happens to the conformist when he himself becomes a superior. Dixon may have thought of his principles as only applying to conservative conformists, but there is a genuine insight here which applies to liberal conformists as well.

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26/11/2017 - 10:00

Loftus on sacrality

A glimpse of something a bit different from the everyday world.

In my last post on the egregious Catholic Times columnist Mgr Basil Loftus, I noted his hatred of the Reform of the Reform and of the Traditional Mass. This hatred extends to the Ordinariate liturgy as well, to which he referred on 7 July 2013:

How can we tolerate, let alone encourage, alternative and extraordinary forms of worship within the parameters of the Catholic Church, whether in the extraordinary form of Mass or in personal ordinariates, where the ‘clamour’ or pomp now rightfully being expunged from the Church lingers on? At the moment this is only a question. It may well soon become a real problem.

This aggressive attitude alternated for a time with expressions of a live-and-let-live philosophy, which of course has for the most part been Pope Francis' own, on liturgical matters. In his more recent columns, however, Loftus has taken a more consistently hostile view of all liturgical developments which aim at what we might call a resacralised liturgy. The 2011 translation of the Ordinary Form is an example upon which he constantly harps; others include the 'Benedictine arrangement' of candles on the altar when the priest celebrates 'facing the people' (i.e. the traditional 'big six' candles, plus crucifix, obscuring the people's view of the priest); the use of Latin; the non-use of Altar girls; the Traditional Mass; and above all the celebration of Mass ad orientem, with the priest and people facing the same way, east.

Given how utterly insignificant are the number of churches in the UK at which any of these phenomena can be found - except for the new translation - you'd think that Loftus would be able to find topics more pertinent to his readers. Why is it so important for him?

This is an example of a wider puzzle about intolerant liberals in the Church. On liturgical issues, they've won: almost every Catholic church in the developed world has been wasted by ruthless liturgical vandals, and almost every Mass celebrated in the Latin Rite is deprived of 98% of the authentic colour, ritual, and mystery which once made the Catholic Mass such a consolation for Catholics, and so awe-inspiring to non-Catholics. Ok, so a few stray priests and faithful are scratching about in the rubble, but they are not going to constitute even 10% of the Faithful in the lifetime of any member of the Vatican II generation. Why not just leave them to get on with it?

Loftus on 8th April 2016

For an expression of the liberal attitude, the extract in the photo will serve as a good example. There are various psychological explanations for the illiberal liberal, but as far as rational arguments go, it is simply a reiteration of the arguments made about the need for reform in the 1950s and '60s. It was said then that the Church was failing to make the impact she should make because the form of her liturgical and indeed cultural life was 'out dated'. Just as we need the latest cars and trains and computers (with lots of valves) in order to be efficient, so we need up-to-date liturgy, reflecting up-to-date ideas about liturgical history, scriptural scholarship, and also about effective communication, psychology, and the needs of 'modern man'.

And so we have this wonderful 'New Mass' informed by the freshest scholarship and brightest ideas, of about 1958. And this really can't be improved on, can it? Because just as the Italian Renaissance was a pinnacle of artistic achievement, so the untested enthusiasms of the late 1950s were and remain the absolute last word on the techniques of evangelisation.

Obviously, what in the liturgy was (in Loftus' words) 'culturally at odds' with the 'modern world', in the 1950s and today, was 'at odds' with it in the 1850s, and to a large extent the 1150s, because even then the Roman liturgy was famous for being ancient. Come to that, the language of the liturgy and the Bible was a cultural oddity in the 450s: it was evidently and strangely different from the language of ordinary speech. How often did people in the streets of Rome say to each other 'Quaesumus, Domine' or 'Amen, amen, dico vobis'? One might indeed ask, Is that even Latin?

So maybe the Church in her wisdom had some idea other than that of conforming the world, when it came to liturgy, just as she did when it came to doctrine. Certainly Loftus is correct to link the two. The doctrine which was a scandal to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles was able to save people from the errors of the ancient world, of the medieval era, and of the modern world alike, precisely because it did not conform too closely to changing preferences.

What is most amazing of all, however, is the idea that any alternative to the suicidally counter-productive policies of the last half-century and more would make things worse. Loftus is not alone in insisting on that. We can't, of course, know with any certainty what would have happened without the post-Consiliar 'auto-demolition' bewailed by Pope Pius VI, but we do know what is happening right now to ecclesial bodies which took the process even further. What Loftus would like to see is the Church's adoption of the model displayed by liberal Anglicanism, and if you want to know what difference this would make to the Church's fortunes, just look what it has done for Anglicans. The decade from 2005 to 2015 saw a 12% drop in their church attendance.

Just as Pyrrus realised he couldn't survive many more victories over the Romans, I don't think the Anglicans can survive much more of this kind of revival.

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25/11/2017 - 10:00

Update on Mgr Loftus

Eat your heart out, Basil. That's Archishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool with the FSSP
in Warrington, about to ordain two of their men priests.

I've not been blogging about Mgr Loftus recently; he is terribly repetetive and I've said pretty well everything which can usefully be said, while other issues have arisen. However, since the big push I made about him in March 2015 a few observations may be of interest to my readers.

Long-term readers may recall that at that time I prepared a dossier of his jems, and I didn't keep this document to myself. Reviewing my ever-growing paper archive of his columns since then, it is clear that this had some effect. Mgr Loftus must have been given some kind of warning by person or persons of authority, whether it be bishops or the Editor of the Catholic Times in which his screeds are published. So my project was not a waste of time.

The most obvious indication is the number of times he has been attacking English, Welsh, and Scottish bishops by name, or by clear implication. In the years up to 2015, this habit was completely out of control.  He attacked Bishop Hopes for pointing out the negative side of people going up to Holy Communion without thinking about it. He attacked Archbishop Mennini, the Apostolic Nuncio, for getting the Nunciature's central-heating system mended. (No, I'm not making that up.) He attacked Cardinal Nichols for versions of both crimes. He attacked Bishop (now Archbishop) Roach, then of Leeds, for getting a coat of arms. He attacked Bishop Doyle of Northampton for telling his priests not to allow teddy bears on coffins in funerals. He attacked Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen because someone had defaced a notice on a noticeboard. On serveral occasions he attacked Bishop Davies of Shrewsbury and Bishop Egan of Portsmouth.

Not content with these targets, in the most appalling terms he attacked cardinals outside the UK, notably Ranjith, Müller, Bertone, and Burke.

Since then, the only negative references to British bishops that I found on my trawl through his columns (I may have missed some) have been to Bishop Keenan of Paisley on the funeral teddy bear issue, and 'Dr Egan, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth', for saying that Amoris laetitia has not changed the Church's discipline.

It is scandalous (or ought to be) for a retired Monsignor to attack by name bishops of his former and current countries of residence, in a Catholic newspaper sold in their dioceses, for the crime of maintaining the Catholic Faith. However, in the context of his earlier columns this is astonishingly restrained.

On foreign bishops and cardinals he clearly feels less need to hold himself back, and there are ferocious assults on American bishops Morlino, Cordileone, and Chaput; on Léonard, the retired Archbishop of Brussels; on Archbishop Gänswein; on the Polish bishops; and (lots of times) on Cardinals Burke and Sarah.

Since 2015 he has become bolder in his attacks on Humanae vitae and the Church's teaching on contraception. The unlawfullness of contraception was denied in his columns on 4th Sept 2015, 10th June 2016, and again on 9th Sept 2016.

He has become bolder about the ordination of women as well, making his position unmistakable on 17th March 2017.

The issue which seems to get his goat the most (if the expression may be excused), however, is the celebration of Mass ad orientem. He can't stand the 'Reform of the Reform' and detests the Extraordinary Form, but it is ad orientem which is most consistently mentioned as a specific problem, beating even the hieratic language of the 2011 English translation of the Missal (and that's saying something). Readers were privileged to peruse the great man's rants on the subject on 27th March 2015, 8th April 2016, 28th October 2016, and this year so far on 28th July, 1st Sept, and 22nd Sept.

My conclusions from this are several.

First, it is a mistake to imagine that Loftus is immune to pressure: he has obviously felt it and responded to it.

Second, it is a great pity that the pressure didn't extend to ending his column altogether, because even from the perspective of a bishop at the liberal end of the spectrum of opinion, his columns are embarassing, and undermining of the respect due to ecclesiastical office. For example, the bishops have decided not to reopen the Missal translation issue, and would like everyone to stop attacking it and just let it bed in, but Loftus will not shut up about it.

Third, Pope Francis has been well recieved by the Loftus column, but although many inches have been devoted to ramblings about 'mercy', Loftus' agenda remains his own. It is not possible to defend Loftus' remarks on women priests or contraception on the basis of Pope Francis' words, and as for celebrating Mass ad orientem, if this is a crime then Pope Francis is a criminal too.

Fourth, Loftus continues to demonstrate that mainstream liberals in the Church are far more embittered, and far ruder about bishops, than equivalently mainstream conservatives or traditional Catholics.

No doubt some will tell me Loftus is not 'mainstream', but all I mean is that he has a huge weekly column in the Catholic Times, sold in Catholic churches up and down the land, his name appearing fortnightly on the mast-head to advertise the fact. It is further adorned, and its prestige underlined, by a photograph often so vast as to leave little room for anything else on this broadsheet page. He is allowed apparently infinite space to reply to his critics in the Letters Page, and the Editor publishes the most pathetic imaginable letters of support for the old booby, suggesting he does not have many to choose from. This is supposed to be the 'serious' Catholic newspaper, read by serious people, in contrast to the more low-brow Universe. And for all this, it remains acceptable for this column to decribe two Cardinals of the Roman Church, Sarah and Burke, as 'rigid reactionaries' (9th December 2016), as if it were the record of school play-ground.

But as a wise man once said: 'Being censorious of others is often a defence-mechanism to justify our narrow-mindedness.' (Mgr Basil Loftus, 12th September 2014).

Tu dicis, Basil: tu dicis.

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24/11/2017 - 09:45

Prayers for Advent and Christmas: Booklet

If you want to mark Christmas as a spiritual, and not merely bodily, feast, then buy this booklet of traditional prayers for the season, compiled mainly from the Raccolta, the old manual of indulgenced prayers.

My particular favourite is a Novena from the 16th to the 24th 'of any month', in honour of the nativity. It obviously has special appropriateness in December, and maintains the spiritual character of the busiest part of Advent.

The LMS on-line shop has a big range of Catholic items for Christmas: cards, advent calendars, nativity scenes, books and gifts. Go and have a look!

And if you are a member, don't forget to log in to get your 5% discount.

From the booklet's contents page:

A Note on Indulgences
Pious Exercises
Prayers in Honour of the Nativity of Our Lord

Sequence of Prayers
Prayers for the Feast of Christmastide
The Nativity of Our Lord
The Circumcision & The Holy Name
The Epiphany
The Holy Name of Jesus
Other Prayers
Prayers From Other Sources
Blessing of the Advent Wreath
Alma Redemptoris Mater
Prayers Before the Crib
The Holy Innocents

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23/11/2017 - 21:30

Disappearing 'Catholic Guilt' or disappearing Catholics?

Reposted from March 2013. This reflects the ecclesial situation before Pope Francis, but the observations about the nature of the 'Catholic population' identified in surveys is still relevant.

Venerating Our Lady of Walsingham at the conclusion of the LMS Pilgrimage

The Sensible Bond draws attention to a little-reported survey of attitudes which claims that Catholics feel little or no more compunction about immoral behaviour than the general population. He links that to the recent scandal about Cardinal O'Brien - which is very interesting, but here I'm just going to focus on the survey.

The Religion and Society Programme of the University of Lancaster has a helpful page with details of a long list of 'research findings'. The stuff about Catholic guilt is not to be found there, however, but in a press release. It is based, not on a study by sociologists, but an opinion poll by YouGov. The sample size of more than 4,400 sounds impressive, but it was conducted over the internet, and they only reached 391 self-described Catholics. This self-description, translated, in the Press Release, into the term 'practicing Catholic', comes down to whether they 'currently engage in religious or spiritual practices with other people, for example attending services in a place of worship or elsewhere, or taking part in a more informal group', where the 'group' etc. is Catholic for 'Catholics', or Anglican for 'Anglicans'. There is no reference to frequency of this vague spiritual interaction, so it would presumably include non-baptised people who go to their late work-colleagues' Catholic funerals once a decade. And if readers don't know a lot of serious-minded Catholics who'd never find themselves filling in an on-line poll, they need to get out more.

So I'd assume the survey would come out with results typical of the vast number of more-or-less lapsed Catholics, the sort of people who turn up at Midnight Mass and the occasional funeral. What does it say about them? This is the nub of it.

Would feel guilty if
All non-religious
All religious
Used pornography for sexual stimulation
Used contraception
Had pre-marital sex
Had extra-marital sex

It is clearly not the case that a (probably tenuous) connection with the Catholic Church makes no difference to attitudes. Catholics are twice as likely as non-religious people to see the moral seriousness of pornography, and nearly four times more likely to feel guilty about pre-marital sex. Fornication is not just accepted by secular society, it is pretty well required: to hold out against it is to make an extraordinarily strong statement, with huge implications for one's personal life. And yet a fifth of these 'Catholics' would feel guilty about it. Ok, so the Pentecostalists, Baptists and Muslims do better, but these groups are sociologically incomparable with the Catholic population, let alone the 'Catholic' population, and the sample sizes for those groups are scarcely statistically usable. The reported views of Pentecostalists, for example, are based on the mouse-clicks of only 25 people.

So to some extent we have a re-run here of the infamous survey in the USA which said that 98% of Catholic women were using contraception. (It turned out that NFP was taken as a form of contraception, and everyone wanting to conceive, unlikely to conceive, or not sexually active, was excluded.) However I don't entirely disagree with the Telegraph headline writer: 'Catholic Guilt is a Myth'. The reality is that we have two or even three 'Catholic Churches' to consider.

One is the hard core: the people who go to Mass every Sunday, and take it seriously. Yes, the do exist. I don't mean only people committed to the Traditional Mass, though they are certainly included in this. There are large bodies of very committed 'conservative' Catholics who can be found in selected 'conservative' parishes up and down the country. I've no idea how many there are - that's the frustrating thing. But they can be found among readers of the Catholic blogs and the Catholic Herald, they show up at Latin Mass Society, Evangelium, and Faith Movement events, they staff and support the pro-life groups, and they buy the books produced by Baronius Press, Ignatius Press, and Gracewing, sometimes from St Anthony Communications. We'd certainly notice if they disappeared. From what it is possible to tell, this constituency is growing, not declining.

Then there are the 'Catholics' who have some family connection with the Church, very often reinforced, rediscovered, or just invented for the sake of attending Catholic schools, or for the purpose of having a wedding in a Catholic church. There might be a religious image in the home because it was granny's. They are aware that the Church teaches that fornication and contraception is wrong, and they would describe people who follow this teaching as 'good' (perhaps as 'good-goody'), but despite being baptised and (often) confirmed, they take no notice of that at all. Perhaps a moral theologian could generalise about the likelihood of such people dying without a mortal sin on their souls. The existence of the Catholic school system maintains the numbers of this group, as a sort of penumbra around the visible Church.

More problematic is the third group. I am thinking of more or less 'churchy' people who go to Mass and perhaps get involved in their parishes, but, when asked, turn out not to believe in biblical inerrancy, transubstantiation, the Immaculate Conception, or the Virgin Birth. Their moral attitudes are those of their secular neighbours, but being more self-conscious about their faith than the second group, they don't just ignore the teaching of the Church, but positively reject it. Their understanding of their relationship with the Church, and the Church's teaching authority, is essentially Anglican. You find these people everywhere, but the age-profile of this group is very tilted towards the 'Vatican II generation', and the Grim Reaper is cutting them down in rows. In twenty years time they will have all but vanished. The letters pages of the Catholic press will be unrecognisable.

The Sensible Bond is correct in saying that Catholic schools and parishes, and the Church in general, have failed to inculcate into most of the 391 people taking this survey the truths of the Faith. But once we break it down, it is easy to see why. For the second of my three groups, there hasn't been any real interest in the Faith since granny passed away, and catechising them at a Catholic school must be like preaching to the heathen. For the third, they postively rejected the teachings of the Church, or most of them, forty years ago (maybe when Humanae Vitae came out), and linger in the pews solely in the expectation that the Church will come round to their own way of thinking. Teaching them, from the pulpit of a Catholic church, must be like appearing on the podium at a Humanist Association meeting.

I'm not saying that catechism in schools and the teaching coming from bishops and others has been as clear and forceful as it should be - certainly not. But there is a reason for this lack of clarity and forcefulness. It is designed, quite deliberately, to keep the second and third groups on board.

What happened in the 1970s was an unprecedented collapse of church-going by adult Catholics. But that was, in fact, only the visible half of an even bigger apostasy. A whole lot more people ceased to believe the Faith in and around that decade, but carried on with some nominal affiliation to the Church; thanks to the allure of Catholic schools, this nominal affiliation can even be passed on to the next generation. In order to maintain the fiction that the Church is far bigger than my first group alone, bishops and catechists have gone to a lot of trouble not to frighten them off, even if they are not members of the second or third groups themselves (as most 'Catholic' school teachers today probably are).

Of course this has made the situation much worse, over time, and has delayed and minimised the revival which is today, finally, beginning to be visible. But rather than say that more than three quarters of Catholics think fornication is morally fine, let us recognise that more than three quarters of the people ticking 'Catholic' on on-line surveys are nothing of the kind, and (with their parents) in most cases haven't been for forty years.

It is a very open question whether the second and third groups will stick around as the great pincer-movement we see beginning really starts to bite: I mean the pincer-movement composed of state persecution, from one side, and newly appointed, orthodox bishops and priests, on the other. I would guess they will find things too hot for them, and their nominal affiliation to the Church will be withdrawn. When that happens, we should recognise that this is to a large extent the after-shock of the apostasy of forty years ago.

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (1 John 2:19)

20/11/2017 - 11:00

The Traditional Movement and orthodoxy: Chairman's message

The Latin Mass Society pilgrimage to Walsingham, at the site of the Holy House

For those who've not seen the latest Mass of Ages, the magazine of the Latin Mass Society, here is part of my 'Chairman's Message'.


It might be thought that it would be better for those attached to the Extraordinary Form to travel light, and not associate their cause with anything else controversial: to fight one battle at a time. I know that this is not how the Latin Mass Society’s members and supporters usually feel, however. On the contrary, while the case for the holiness and beauty of the Vetus Ordo can stand on its own feet, the Mass we love points beyond itself, to the God it worships and the praying Church which it serves. It points not only to the theological truths it teaches directly, like the communion of Saints, and the reality of sin and grace, but to the antiquity, majesty, and authority, of the Church’s teaching in general.

In thinking of the role of the Traditional Mass, and its adherents, in the wider Church, it is not only in the directly liturgical area in which we bring a gift to the Church. The preservation of the ancient Mass is something of inestimable value for the whole Church, even for those who do not make it a regular part of their devotional lives. Something else of great value, however, is the existence of a robust community of believers whose respect for Tradition carries over into the theological sphere.

The prophet Jeremiah makes this point very beautifully in relation to the Rechabites of his own day (Jer 35). This was a community of Judeans who stuck literally to the command of an ancestor of theirs not to drink wine, and to live only in tents. These practices are symbolic of a special commitment to holiness of life and dependence on God, but they must have struck many of their contemporaries as archaic and unnecessary in the extreme. Jeremiah, however, contrasts the Rechabites’ fidelity with the widespread impiety and even apostacy of mainstream Judean society. The Rechabites were a witness of fidelity to Tradition in ancient Judea, a witness others sorely needed: even if other Judeans were not personally obliged to abstain from wine or live only in tents.

When it comes to the moral teachings of the Church, Catholics attached to the ancient liturgy can almost always be relied upon to hold fast also to the ancient and unchangeable teaching of the Church, coming from the Apostles, the Fathers and Doctors, and from Our Lord and Saviour Himself. This fidelity, indeed, is required of Catholics: not to attach themselves to the latest novelty, but as St Paul writes (2 Thess 2:15):

Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle. 

Itaque fratres state et tenete traditiones quas didicistis, sive per sermonem sive per epistulam nostrum.

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19/11/2017 - 06:00

Photos of St Benet's Requiem

The annual Traditional Requiem, sponsored by the Latin Mass Society, took place yesterday; here are some photographs.


Celebrated by Fr Edward van den Burgh of the London Oratory, assisted by Fr Nicholas Edmunds-Smith of the Oxford Oratory and Br Albert Robertson OP.

Mass was accompanied by the Schola Abelis of Oxford under Dominic Bevan.

I am very grateful to Fr John Saward of SS Gregory & Augustine's for the loan of the candlesticks and other items used in the Requiem.


'Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes,
Shall shine the holy glimmer of goodbyes.' (Wilfrid Owen.)

No candles at the Gospel: the acolytes stand by the deacon singing the Gospel, but without their candles.


This isn't the first time I've managed to organise a High Mass for this occasion, though most of these, since I started them in 2013, have been Sung Masses without deacon and subdeacon. With the catafalque, there is not an abundance of space, but it is possible.


I organise Masses in a number of rather small churches and chapels, and the small catafalque (which is a console table the rest of the time), with the pall which covers it exactly, has been in many of them. The rather small thurible I also aquired with such chapels in view, which tend to be the ones without thuribles of their own.


In St Benet's there is an additional difficulty of celebrating ad orientem with the altar close to the edge of the step. The footpace used yesterday is a wooden platform made specially for this purpose.


The capacity of the chapel is extremely limited, but a decent crowd came along.


May the deceaed alumni, staff, and benefactors of the Hall rest in peace.




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18/11/2017 - 21:00

The New Age and the Old Mass

Milton Manor House, Oxfordshire

Today I am publishing a new Position Paper from the FIUV on the New Age. Go over to Rorate Caeli to read it. Here I present some background and further reflections.

A few years ago on the LMS Walking Pilgrimage to Walsingham I noticed that four of my fellow pilgrims were converts to the Catholic faith from Buddhism. Buddhism is not a major religion in the UK, so the coincidence was rather remarkable. Indeed, in a number of obvious ways Buddhism presents a very marked contrast to Catholicism, and traffic between Buddhism and Catholicism tends to flow the other way. In fact, three out of these four pilgrims had been Western converts to Buddhism, before they came to the Catholic Church.

Buddhism in the West is part of a wider phenomenon, of the attraction posed by eastern spirituality to post-Christin or nominally Christian westerners. This eastern spirituality is often somewhat re-packaged for western tastes, and only the most serious-minded go the whole hog and become Buddhists. Far more popular are the (apparently) nice bits of eastern spirituality, such as reincarnation and the idea of self-realisation, without the asceticism and the infinitessimal prospects of success. Add these to a bit of Tarot-reading, Astrology, the 'all-religions-are-one' dogma of Freemasonry, and other bits of Western-inspired clap-trap, and you have the New Age Movement. This soup of influences is united by the idea that we can free ourselves from soul-cramping restrictions imposed by bad upbring, traditions, and habits, by spiritual techniques, such as meditation, perhaps aided by Yoga, or maybe even drugs.

It is easy to make it sound silly, but it is ubiquitous. We no longer live in a Christian society, but that does not mean there is no spiritual narrative guiding people's lives. Instead of seeking salvation and transformation by Christ, a high proportion of the other people on you local bus would probably agree that they are ultimately concerned with gaining self-realisation through techniques: as the New Agers say, by 'working on themselves'. It may be positive thinking, it may be the gym, it may be a new diet. But it is spiritual, in the sense that it concerns what is most central to them, and what, if anything, has transcendent value. Of course they may not use these terms, but we can determine that we are not simply dealing with material ambition, whether healthy or pathological, because it is about making themselves not just better off, but better people. In this sense, it has replaced religion in their lives - even if some of them still pop in to church occasionally.

Not all of the people on the bus who think about the kind of person they want to be can, in the end, work up the energy to give up red meat, take up Yoga, lose two stone, or whatever it is they think might help. It remains true, however, that, instead of seeking salvation from Christ, they are seeking, well or badly, self-realisation through techniques. If they are to convert to Catholicism, they will need to give up the idea that their ultimately important destiny is some vision of self-perfection. They will have got to accept, what they or their parents or grandparents rejected, the Christian narrative of sin, grace, and redemption, an external and personal God, and an eternal heaven and hell.

The New Age spiritual narrative, as I have described it, has replaced the Christan one for most of the population of the English-speaking world since the 1960s. Even if the hard-core, self-identified, tofu-eating, sandal-wearing, New Agers are relatively few, in this more general sense their ideas have won.

It is a matter of no small interest, then, why they have won, and how this victory can be reversed. I was able to consult a good number of Traditional Catholics who had spent time in the the New Age and Occult milieu, to help with the development of this Position Paper. Thus is not just armchair theorising: it is informed by first-hand experience.

So here in a nutshell is the argument of the paper. If the New Age spiritual narrative won, it must have been more attractive than the alternatives apparently available. The New Age is, among other things, a revolt against rationalism and moralism, and a search for the mysterious and transformative. The major alternative in the English-speaking world in the 1970s was a Protestantism which has ceased to believe in itself, and had never been very good at offering its adherents transformative mystery, in liturgy and spirituality. Catholicism, which had been good at doing that, quite suddenly stopped doing it, just at the moment the New Age was gaining momentum.

Here's the pitch. You're not being offered anything impressive or exciting by conventional religion? You are feeling a bit depressed and a bit uptight? Use these techniques to unlock your inner potential because, yes, you are a wonderful person, if only you knew it, and you just have to free yourself.

Those who do try the techniques can feel a bit buzzy and euphoric, and when that wears off there are more, stronger, techniques to try. Some of them contain perfectly genuine benefits, to health for example. Some are very dangerous. But you'll be dead long before you've tried them all.

The Church can't combat this by offering some watered-down New Ageism. It can offer the profound in place of the superficial, the objective in place of the subjective, and the real in place of the fake. It can offer a transcending mystery which really can heal and transform. It can open the door the New Ager is knocking on. The traditional liturgy is the ideal means to do this.

Click on the label 'New Age' to see other things I written here about it.

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17/11/2017 - 11:44

Bishop Li in

Bishop Li in 2013

Bp. Joseph Li Side, an 'underground' bishop consectrated secretly, died this morning (11:20pm GMT), aged 97. Please pray for him.

Bp. Li was a pillar of traditionalism, as well as of true fidelity to the See, in the Chinese speaking Church. 

In his nineties he translated the 1962 missal into Chinese, to aid Chinese speaking clergy in the understanding of the prayers. This massive project will continue to be of great significance for Chinese Catholics far into the future.

On a more personal level, he and some of the priests in his diocese gave the old mass movement much support.

The Novus Ordo Missae was not introduced into China until the 1980s, so there remains a generation of priests who were taught the the ancient Mass in seminary. See the FIUV Position Paper on the Extraordinary Form and China.

There is a little more about him and his activities in this UCA News report.

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13/11/2017 - 11:25

Annual Requiem in St Benet's Hall, Oxford

A High Mass of Requiem will be celebrated in the chapel of St Benet's Hall, Oxford, on Saturday 18th November at 11:30am.
All are welcome.
St Benet's is at 38 St Giles, Oxford OX1 3LN.

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