Wednesday, 26 July 2006
Tuesday, 25 July 2006
One Night in Liverpool
Just back from my brief visit to the Catholic Record Society Conference at Liverpool Hope University. Before catching my train I had a very enjoyable lunch with the Prior of Downside and a simply professed Knight of Malta.
The highlight of the conference (so far) was a talk by Dr Peter Leech about the Roman Catholic Chapel of King James II at Whitehall (1686-88). During the brief years of his reign, James had a separate Roman Catholic establishment at Court. At Midnight Mass 1686 the King’s new Catholic Chapel was officially opened at Whitehall. Designed by Christopher Wren, with interior carvings in stone and wood by Grinling Gibbons and paintings by Benedetto Gennari and Antonio Verrio, it was one of the most lavish ecclesiastical buildings in England to be built after the Reformation. The maestro di cappella was the Italian composer Innocentio Fede (born circa 1661) from a famous musical family who dominated music in Rome in the last quarter of the seventeenth century.
Sadly the chapel was destroyed in the great Whitehall fire during the reign of Queen Anne, but much of its contents have survived – the organ case is in St James’, Piccadilly, some of the sculpted angels are in the church at Burnham-on-Sea (Somerset) and Gennari’s Annunciation altarpiece is at the Ringling Museum of Art, Florida.
The Conference numbered about 60 people. I was asked to be principal celebrant at the Mass this morning in the University Chapel. In looking for the sacristy, I accidentally stumbled into the Muslim prayer room! The Mass had two ‘firsts’ for me – the first (and last) time I’ve celebrated the holy mysteries with a pebble arrangement on the altar and the first time I’ve been the principal celebrant with a bishop concelebrating (not theologically ideal, I know, but I did ask the bishop whether he wanted to be chief celebrant instead).
PS I also popped into the famous R.C. Metropolitan Cathedral (above) - not my style but there is, at least, a prayerful atmosphere inside (unlike the Anglican one down the road).
Sunday, 23 July 2006
The Irish Saint of Melk
One of Austria’s top tourist destinations is the Benedictine Abbey of Melk (above). Most people go, of course, because of its spectacular position, perched over the River Danube, and its baroque architecture, built very much on the grand scale. When I made the journey there last Tuesday, I’m pretty sure that I was one of the few people on the train who was also intending to pay my respects to an Irishman, St Coloman (or Colman), whose relics are enshrined in the beautiful church.
Rather amazingly this obscure Celt was the patron saint of Austria before his contemporary, St Leopold, replaced him in 1663. We know nothing about Coloman’s early life, except that he came from Ireland (or possibly Scotland). Later tradition identifies him as a King's son and he is often shown in pilgrim's garb, with a crown at his feet.
Around 1012 the saint embarked on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, as many did at the time despite the perils of travel and the unstable situation in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the region around Vienna was also volatile, with ongoing conflict between the Austrians, Bohemians and Moravians. St Coloman, with his strange language and clothing, was captured at Stockerau on suspicion of being a spy. Unable to defend himself owing to the barrier of language, he was hanged from a tree on 13th July 1012.
Perhaps the people of Stockerau found out his real identity and began to feel guilty for a cult of ‘Coloman the Martyr’ soon emerged and miracles were claimed. When, on 13th October 1014, his body was moved to Melk, it was found to be incorrupt. His remains still rest there, now ornamented by a Baroque altarpiece, with the saint kneeling at the foot of a rather striking obelisk ascending towards Heaven.
Many churches are dedicated to him in German speaking lands, including this famous pilgrimage church (Wallsfahrtskirche St Coloman) in Schwangau, Bavaria, not far from Mad King Ludwig's Schloss Neuschwanstein. It is believed that St Coloman passed through the area on his way to the Holy Land and that he rested, preached and/or even pastured cattle here. This perhaps explains the colourful celebrations on the Sunday nearest to his feast (13th October), the Colomansfest. The little church is surrounded by several hundred horses and decorated carriages. After Mass, the devotees of the Irish pilgrim ride around the church three times to receive his blessing - followed by a feast of beer and meat. Here's a picture I took of the church through a coach window back in February.
The Melk website draws out the contemporary relevance of the saint: 'in our times, where listening to each other has become increasingly difficult, he can be seen as a contemporary saint, as he, stranger in a strange land, was not understood. Whoever is different, looks or speaks differently, makes himself suspicious, causes fear, and can easily become the victim of prejudice.'
The Head of St Cordula
As you can see from the photo, priests know how to have fun on holiday!
My travelling companion in Vienna, Fr Richard Whinder, has long had a devotion to the virgin martyr, St Cordula. She is little known in the English-speaking world, but von Balthasar used her story in his book Cordula oder der Ernstfall (1966), later published in English as The Moment of Christian Witness. Little is known about her, except that she was one of the 11,000 companions of St Ursula, who made a pilgrimage to Rome and ended up being martyred at Cologne. As Cordula witnessed the massacre of her 10,999 companions, she took fright and hid in the ship. Ashamed of her cowardly (but very human) action, she came out the next day and was promptly martyred - which is why her feast (22 October) is the day after that of St Ursula and her company.
On Friday we were given a fascinating tour of the treasury of Stift Klosterneuburg (not normally open to the public), thanks to our host, Dom Daniel Nash. Imagine Fr Richard's delight when a cupboard was opened to reveal various skulls of early martyrs, including St Cordula and some of her 'Saint Companions.' The picture above captures the moment of his fervent veneration...
Other highlights included some stunning vestments (made from fabric, not leather):
and the Archducal Crown of Austria, which has been housed at Stift Klosterneuburg since the seventeenth century. Below the crown you can see a papal excommunication directed against all those who remove the crown from the Stift for prolonged periods - including (and it will come as no surprise) the reformist Joseph II, who took no notice of such traditions!
Hurrah - Another English Priest Blogger!
Something Old and Something New
Catholic Record Society
According to the website, 'the Catholic Record Society, which was founded in 1904, is the premier Catholic historical society in the United Kingdom and is devoted to the study of Roman Catholicism in the British Isles from the Reformation period to the present day.' I encourage any readers with an interest in English Catholic history to join - for an annual subsciption of (I think) £25 you get two copies of its substantial and highly respected journal (Recusant History) and either a monograph or a volume from the famous blue-bound Records series. In this day and age, this is good value!
Saturday, 22 July 2006
Church Tax and Leather Chasubles
To my mind one of the great problems is that, due to the present arrangement between Church and State, people are obliged to pay Church Tax (about 1% of income). If someone decides not to pay, they have to make a written declaration and are, in the eyes of the local Church (though not of Rome), effectively excommunicated – they have ‘left’ the Church and cannot therefore receive the Sacraments. In fact, there is even a special burial service for non-tax payers, which is directed more to the consolation of the bereaved (who presumably have paid their tax) than suffrage for the departed. This must lead to many tricky pastoral situations.
Recent scandals have also rocked people’s confidence in the Church: most notably the resignation of the Archbishop of Vienna, Hans-Hermann Cardinal Groer, in 1995 over allegations of pedophilia, and the thousands of pornographic images found on the computers of St Pölten seminary in 2004 (leading to the departure of Bishop Krenn).
You would expect Austria to be a fairly conservative place, full of nostalgia for the days of the Habsburg Empire and maintaining an oldie-worldie way of life, especially in the many rural and mountainous areas. So it might seem surprising that Austria is the birthplace of the ‘We Are Church’ movement, which promotes the ordination of women, the ending of priestly celibacy, the free choice of birth control methods and the declericalisation of the Church. Its 1995 Kirchenvolks-Begehren (Petition of the People of the Church) on these matters claimed half a million Austrian signatories.
These groups prove that the spirit of Joseph II is (sadly) well and truly alive in modern Austria! My visit revealed a telling sidelight on the reforms of this eighteenth century Emperor (his portrait can be seen above). Obsessed with making the Church (and especially the religious houses) more ‘useful’ and ‘practical,’ he passed laws covering the smallest ecclesiastical detail. He even decreed that leather vestments should henceforth be used, which were supposed to last longer than cloth ones. In actual fact, they required extra care and the examples I saw at Melk and Klosterneuburg looked in pretty bad shape. The thought of wearing a leather chasuble in the present hot weather is not a pleasant one! But that’s what happens when change happens for change’s sake, without proper consideration.
Blogs at the Stift
Also, during my stay at the Stift, I was introduced to an amusing blog called The Far Sight, run by 'Leo,' which aims 'to show the world how beautiful and necessary the cappa magna and other things long gone and forgotten are.' One post that caught my eye was My Ten Favourite Arguments Against the Cappa Magna, with appropriate rebutals. Worth checking out!
Requiem for a Princess
The Legend of St Leopold
I'm back from Austria! Tired, with sore feet but refreshed after four nights at the wonderful Stift Klosterneuburg. Some of the Canons Regular are conversant with the Catholic blogosphere - one member of the community even has two blogs - so I should publicly acknowledge here their very generous hospitality.
Over the next few days and weeks I will gradually post various Austrian pictures and items - and I think a good place to start is the charming legend of St Leopold, one of the patrons of Austria and the founder of Klosterneuburg.
St Leopold III 'the Good' (1073-1136) was a member of the Babenburg dynasty (the dominant ruling house in Austria before the Habsburgs) and, from 1095, the Margrave of Austria. As well as consolidating Babenburg power and promoting peace, St Leopold is chiefly remembered as a founder of monasteries - Heiligenkreuz, Kleinmarazell, Seitenstetten and (most importantly) Klosterneuburg, which became his residence and (eventually) his final resting place. In fact my guest bedroom was almost directly above the chapel where his relics are kept, so I developed quite a devotion to him during my stay!
The legend of the founding of Klosterneuburg is a particularly charming one. St Leopold married Agnes, an influential lady in her own right as the widow of Frederick I of Swabia and the mother of Conrad, the future King of Germany (she was thus the mother of the Staufer dynasty). On the day of the wedding, a gust of wind blew her veil from her head as the happy couple were standing on a balcony of their hilltop castle at Leopoldsburg. A careful search was unable to retrieve it but Leopold made a vow that if he found the veil he would thank the Lord by building a church on the spot.
Nine years later (in 1114) he found the veil in an elderberry tree while on a hunting expedition. As can be seen in the painting above, Our Lady appeared and ordered the building of what would become Stift Klosterneuburg.
The Schleierlegende ('Legend of the Veil') is picturesque but full of historical inaccuracies - at the time of the wedding there was no castle on the Leopoldsburg and there was already a settlement at Klosterneuburg (in fact, there has been a human presence here since the Stone Age). The legend is only first mentioned in written form in 1371 and has since been much celebrated in art. But that's not to say that we should disregard the legend. The essential truth is that Klosterneuburg owes its foundation to Leopold and Agnes - and, given it is the story of a noblewoman's veil, perhaps Agnes played a central role.
The veil and parts of the elderberry bush are still kept in the Stift's Schatzkammer (Treasury) - the latter formerly being kept in the centre of the magnificent branched candlestick, donated to the Stift by its founders (below).
Ever since St Leopold's canonisation in 1485, his feast (15th November) has been a red letter day at Klosterneuburg, when his relics are displayed for public veneration (you can see his skull, dressed in the archdukal crown, in the picture below). Devotees traditionally slide down the side of a giant wine barrel (Binderstadel) that is kept in the monastery cellar and holds 56,000 litres - the ceremony is called Fasselrutschen. 'Where the Catholic sun doth shine there is laughter and good red wine.'
Sunday, 16 July 2006
This is where I'll be tomorrow
Yes, it's time for my long-awaited holidays and on Monday morning I fly to Vienna with Fr Richard Whinder to spend a week at Klosterneuburg, the 'Austrian Escorial.' Expect lots of posts when I get back - but, sorry, I'm not the king of blogger who spends his holiday hunting out internet cafes!
Thanks for your support over the past few months - Roman Miscellany has now received over 5,000 visitors and on one day this last week (Tuesday) there were, for some obscure reason, 250 hits!
See you soon and God bless.
Saturday, 15 July 2006
A Day at the Shrine
However, today was one of those days when our shrine felt like a shrine. At 9.30am I gave a talk on Our Lady Of Willesden to 30 recently confirmed people from the parish of Wood Green, who stayed for our morning Mass in honour of St Bonaventure at 10am before continuing their ‘pilgrimage’ at Thorpe Park (a theme park near London).
Then, after spending an hour in the confessional box, it was time for the Day of Pilgrimage of Reparation for Sins against Human Life, which was also being held at other British shrines (including Walsingham and West Grinstead). The day involved a Procession, Solemn Mass (in honour of Our Lady, the New Eve – the Marian supplement to the Missal has some beautiful Masses), Talk (courtesy of the Good Counsel Network), Rosary, Prayer of Papal Entrustment, Exposition and Benediction.
This ties in with the diocese’s Open the Doors Festival of Faith this weekend – when ‘everyone in the Diocese is invited to share the life of our parishes, schools and communities with the wider community.’ Some parishes have been very creative, organising a Mystery Play (Barnet), a Fair at Westminster Cathedral (complete with Morris Dancers and a performance by the wonderful Cathedral choir) and a Forty Hours Devotion in the Central London churches. As well as our Pilgrimage of Reparation and Consecration, Willesden is holding an 'International Mass' (!) tomorrow (eg with bidding prayers in languages I've never heard of, like Tagalog and Akan), followed by a parish festa.
I'll certainly miss the Shrine when I leave!
Friday, 14 July 2006
Of course, this might superficially seem tempting. I celebrated the ‘Solemn Evening Mass’ in my parish for the recent Holy Days of Corpus Christi and SS Peter and Paul and, out of nearly 900 Mass-goers, only about 60 or 70 turned up. Moving these beautiful feasts to Sunday would mean the whole Mass-going parish could join in the celebrations.
Commenting on this, Cally’s Kitchen admirably says: ‘the grounds for this is that people simply aren't attending Mass on those days, so there is no point in having them. Well, if I wanted an easy religion that pandered to my every want and desire I would become an atheist and start worshipping myself, or a liberal Christian, which would amount to the same thing. Catholicism is beautiful. It is bold and adventurous. But, to paraphrase Aslan, it is not easy.’ Amen to that.
Instead of resigning ourselves to failure, we should actively educate parishioners on the importance of Holy Days. Even John Wilkins, former editor of The Tablet, admits that ‘Holy Days are very much part of the rhythm of the Catholic year.’ They also help form our identity as Catholics. The historian John Bossy, in looking at the distinctive feast days of English Catholics during the days of persecution, speaks of their ‘seasonal nonconformity.’ Likewise, as believers living in a secular world, I think we also need to build up our communal identity though our feasts, fasts and ‘seasonal nonconformity.’
I personally think that our Holy Days should be kept and, if possible, be either half-days or complete holidays in our Catholic schools. Those who can should be encouraged to take time off work, just to mark the day as special and to make going to Mass less burdensome. This used to be the case – the word ‘holiday’ comes from ‘Holy Day’ and in the thirteenth century there were as many as 85 Holy Days when no servile work was allowed. After all, our Holy Days are much more meaningful than Bank Holidays and celebrate key moments in our salvation history.
We often forget Canon 1247: ‘On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass. Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.’ A Holy Day is supposed to be an extra Sunday – and not just a case of fitting a Mass into an otherwise ordinary and busy weekday. Taking time off work may not be possible for many people but we should do something to rediscover the festivity of these Holy Days and not compromise by getting rid of them.
An Exciting New Catechetical Resource
Well, Fathers, that's about to change. The Catholic Truth Society is launching a superb new catechetical resource, Evangelium. This has been written by two young priests who trained with me at the Venerable English College, Rome. According to the website, ‘Evangelium is a resource which enables all parishes to run courses for adults on the Catholic Faith. It offers an excellent grounding in the full panorama of Catholic beliefs. A modular resource, it follows the same division as the Catechism of the Catholic Church into Creed, Sacraments, Morals and Prayer. It is adaptable to different parish situations and can even be led by non-experts when necessary.’
It is based around slide presentations using PowerPoint – and, judging from the samples I’ve seen, these look very impressive and are illustrated by the Old Masters (which is rather refreshing). The slides could be used for RCIA, Marriage Preparation, Confirmation and other parish groups. Fr Tim of Hermeneutic of Continuity is reported as saying, ‘I think the course is absolutely excellent’ – so it must be OK!
At last, English Catholic catechesis has entered the twenty-first century and the age of Benedict XVI!
Thursday, 13 July 2006
St Henry, Emperor
Today is the optional memoria of St Henry (972 - 1024) - a saint I'll definitely be celebrating at the 7pm Mass because 'Henry' was one of my Confirmation names (the other was 'Richard').
St Henry succeeded his father as Duke of Bavaria in 995 and was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1002. His cult developed along the same lines as that of St Edward the Confessor - St Henry is remembered as a just ruler, a defender of the Church, a friend of the poor and a model of virtue (indeed, he and his Queen, St Cunegund, are said to have vowed themselves to perpetual chastity). He considered abdicating and becoming a monk after Cunegund's death but the Abbot of Verdun persuaded him to persevere in his imperial vocation.
He died on 13 July 1024 and was canonised in 1146 - he is buried in Bamberg Cathedral (a See which he founded in 1007):
Wednesday, 12 July 2006
A Catafalque for John Paul II
Many Masses were celebrated for the late John Paul II on the first anniversary of his death back in April. However, not many of them can have matched the splendour of the Requiem organised by the Fraternity of St Peter at S Gregorio dei Muratori, their small but charming HQ in the Eternal City. Thanks to Fr Richard Whinder for recently telling me about the pictures on their website, FSSP in Urbe.
On Rochets, Saroziums and Almutiums
This happy group shows members of Stift Klosterneuburg [Stift means an ancient monastic 'endowment' or 'foundation'], with their Provost in the centre (who has the privilege of dressing as a bishop). The most striking element of the habit is the long white ribbon, which is called a sarozium. The word derives from sacrum rochettum (sacred rochet), a garment today reserved for prelates and some chapters of canons, which in its full form resembles a long surplice with tight-fitting sleeves. Here is Thomas à Kempis (of the Congregation of Windesheim) wearing his rochet:
The solemnly professed Canons Regular of Stift Klosterneuburg wear full rochets at liturgical functions:
The canons originally wore the rochet all the time. At one stage in its development, the rochet looked a bit like an apron, as seen in this portrait of Andreas Mosmiles, a seventeenth century Provost of Stift Klosterneuburg:
Or this unusual picture of St Anthony of Padua, who before joining the Franciscans was a Canon Regular of the Holy Cross of Coimbra:
For practical reasons the rochet was reduced to the sarozium (and the cassock, originally white, became black), as demonstrated by this handy picture:
The sarozium is a reminder that the canon is dedicated to the service of God not only when he is in choir but wherever he is. Here is the Freench spiritual master, Raymond Jordan (d.1400), showing off his sarozium in a much later painting.
On solemnities the canons at Klosterneuburg wear a violet mozzetta over the rochet:
Previously they wore a fur cape with tassels called an almutium. This can often be seen in paintings of the Czech martyr, St John Nepomuk, who was thrown off a bridge for not divulging the secrets of the Confessional - see, for example, this lovely painting by Szymon Czechowicz:
The Ultimate Liturgical Gadget
Plans for my New Study...
If only! These pictures show the famous baroque library at Stift Vorau (Augustinians) in Austria.
Tuesday, 11 July 2006
A Photographic Link to the 'Ancien' Regime
This time next week I'll be on holiday in Austria - and to get in the mood I'm revising my Habsburg history and listening to Mozart and Johann Strauss CDs. Such preparations reminded me of the recent discovery of a unique photograph, reported by various newspapers and blogs such as Cally's Kitchen.
The photo (seen above) dates from 1840 and was taken at Altötting, home of the great shrine of the Black Madonna and near the Papal birthplace of Marktl-am-Inn. The gentleman in the centre is the Swiss composer, Max Keller, and the little old lady none other than Constance Mozart (1762-1842), widow of the composer, pictured just two years before her death. She looks like any other old lady in the 1840s but she truly belongs to another age - the twilight years of the glittering European courts on the eve of Revolution. It's fitting - and rather wonderful - that such an item has been discovered on Mozart's 250th birthday.
Early photographs are always fascinating and catapult you into bygone days. I remember reading in an Italian book that the first Pope to be photographed was Gregory XVI (1765-1846). I would love to see the daguerrotype taken on that occasion - does anyone know anything about it?
Benedict on Benedict
'Born in Norcia about 480, Benedict's first studies were in Rome but, disappointed with city life, he retired to Subiaco, where he stayed for about three years in a cave - the famous sacro speco - dedicating himself wholly to God. In Subiaco, making use of the ruins of a cyclopean villa of the emperor Nero, he built some monasteries, together with his first disciples, giving life to a fraternal community founded on the primacy of the love of Christ, in which prayer and work were alternated harmoniously in praise of God. Years later, he completed this project in Monte Cassino, and put it in writing in his Rule, the only work of his that has come down to us.
Amid the ashes of the Roman Empire, Benedict, seeking first of all the kingdom of God, sowed, perhaps even without realizing it, the seed of a new civilization which would develop, integrating Christian values with classical heritage, on one hand, and the Germanic and Slav cultures on the other.
There is a particular aspect of his spirituality, which today I would particularly like to underline. Benedict did not found a monastic institution oriented primarily to the evangelization of barbarian peoples, as other great missionary monks of the time, but indicated to his followers that the fundamental, and even more, the sole objective of existence is the search for God: Quaerere Deum. He knew, however, that when the believer enters into a profound relationship with God he cannot be content with living in a mediocre way, with a minimalist ethic and superficial religiosity.
In this light, one understands better the expression that Benedict took from St. Cyprian and that is summarized in his Rule (IV, 21) - the monks' program of life: Nihil amori Christi praeponere. "Prefer nothing to the love of Christ." Holiness consists in this valid proposal for every Christian that has become a true pastoral imperative in our time, in which one perceives the need to anchor life and history in solid spiritual references.
A sublime and perfect model of sanctity is Mary Most Holy, who lived in constant and profound communion with Christ. Let us invoke her intercession, together with that of St. Benedict, so that the Lord will multiply also in our time men and women who, through an enlightened faith, witnessed in life, will be in this new millennium salt of the earth and light of the world.'
Happy Feast everyone!
The Pope and the Grail
Monday, 10 July 2006
Conference for Young Catholics
A Tale of Two Cups
Talking of cups, the Holy Father made sure he was back in Rome to see the Azzuris win the World Cup, with the help of an unfortunate head-butt from the winner of the Golden Ball award. I missed all the action since I was entertaining a Singaporean friend from University, although I must admit the Pizza Express overlooking the Thames near the Globe Theatre was blissfully quiet. I’m glad a great Catholic nation is top of the footballing world (as is normally the case), even though one ecstatic Italian fan said: ‘This is bigger than the Pope - this is bigger than life.’
I was living in Rome when Lazio won the Italian League – and Rome erupted into all-night partying. With the flags and chanting I thought for a moment that a revolution had started. I’m sure the Holy Father wasn’t able to get much sleep last night!
Saturday, 8 July 2006