Sunday, 31 December 2006

New Year Traditions


The Roman and Julian Calendars considered 1 January to be the beginning of the year but, although the twelve month cycle (commencing with January) was used by the medievals, the numbered year only began with a major feast like Christmas (in Germany and early medieval England) or Easter (in France between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries).

Between the thirteenth century and 1752 the English New Year began on 25 March, the Annunciation. What could be a more appropriate date for the start of the year than the Feast of Mary's fiat and Christ's conception? In later years the English observed this Calendar in order to be different from much of Catholic Europe, which from 1582 started adopting the Calendar of Pope Gregory XIII (the Gregorian Calendar) and (from the sixteenth century onwards) celebrating New Year on 1 January - but I think we can forgive them this given the beautiful symbolism of beginning the year with the Annunciation.

Incidentally, one survival of this old way of dating is the UK Tax Year, which still begins on 6 April. As the Wikipedia admirably explains:

This reflects the old ecclesiastical calendar, with New Year falling on March 25 (Lady Day), the difference being accounted for by the eleven days "missed out" when Great Britain converted from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752 (the British tax authorities, and landlords were unwilling to lose 11 days of tax and rent revenue, so the 1752/3 tax year was extended by 11 days). From 1753 until 1799, the tax year in Great Britain began on 5 April, which was the "old style" new year of 25 March. A 12th skipped Julian leap day in 1800 changed its start to 6 April. It was not changed when a 13th Julian leap day was skipped in 1900, so the tax year in the United Kingdom is still 6 April.

Tonight at Kingsland we have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (from 11.30pm) and Midnight Mass, which I've been asked to organise. I thought I might use the opportunity to include two popular traditions. During the Adoration we will recite the Te Deum, to thank God for His graces in 2006 - there is a plenary indulgence attached to doing this on 31 December, under the usual conditions. Then, at the end of the Midnight Mass, we will sing the Veni Creator Spiritus - once again there is a plenary indulgence for doing this on 1 January, as we invoke the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the year. In many places this is done in a separate service. Last December I remember visiting one of the Castelli towns outside Rome and studying the Christmas programme of the Duomo, which included the New Year's Eve Te Deum and 1 January Veni Creator. I think it's a bit more wholesome than watching the various TV specials with a glass of liqueur balanced on the armchair (as I have had to do occasionally in the past!).

Happy Feast of the Holy Family to you all!

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Saturday, 30 December 2006

Catholic Pilot's Blog

A friend of mine from University - and sometime President of the Oxford University Newman Society - has just started a blog called Swept Wing. It's not really a Catholic blog as such and is written by Mark Richmond, a Boeing 737 pilot with British Airways. In his profile, he writes:
My favourite destination is Bologna, the home of delicious risotto. My least favourite is Jersey for its unfeasibly short runway with a cliff at the end.
Having said that, his opening post is all about that most Catholic of authors, Hilaire Belloc.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Mark!

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Friday, 29 December 2006

St Thomas' Day


For the English Catholic, today is one of the most irritating days of the Church's Year. It's the feast of St Thomas of Canterbury: one of our greatest saints; celebrated by Chaucer and T. S. Eliot; the Patron of the English Secular Clergy and of the Venerable English College, Rome; whose shrine was one of the most popular in the Middle Ages. At any other time of the year it would be a Feast, if not a Solemnity, at least in this country. But because it falls in the Christmas Octave, one of our most important feasts is sidelined as a 'Commemoration' - not even a Memoria. In the old days a fuller celebration was allowed since it was a Double of the Second Class in England and Wales (and First Class in Northampton and Portsmouth) and up until the introduction of the new national propers in 2000 it happily counted as a Feast.

This time last year Becket was nominated as one the 'Ten Worst Britons' by a BBC panel of 'experts,' together with Jack the Ripper and Oswald Mosley. A journalist phoned me up to get my opinion, which is recorded here.

One of my most treasured possessions is a reliquary containing relics of some of the great English saints: St Thomas of Canterbury (at the top); St Richard of Chichester; St Edward the Confessor; St Edmund, King and Martyr; St Wilfrid and St Bede the Venerable. All of these are First Class, with the exception of St Richard. I will place the reliquary on the altar when I celebrate Mass this evening:
Finally, let me mention my favourite St Thomas story. The men of Strood in Kent (now part of Rochester) sided with the King in his dispute with Becket and cut off the tail of a pack-horse carrying supplies to the Archbishop's kitchen, in order to humiliate him. One source says that several horses were mutiliated and their riders wounded; others that it was Becket's horse that was attacked. When the Archbishop heard of this, he condemned all the inhabitants of Strood (or even the whole of Kent) and their descendants to be born with tails! Another version of the story of 'Kentish Long-Tails' is that it was a punishment for their ill-treatment of St Augustine and his monks, who were beaten and had fish-tails tied to their backs, 'in revenge of which, such appendants grew to the hind parts of all that generation.' If any readers can supply evidence of modern Kentishmen with tails, then please leave a message.

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Thursday, 28 December 2006

Pius IX's Aftershave


I had a lovely Christmas - and, like most of my priestly readers, received my fair share of chocolates, bottles of wine/spirit and aftershaves as presents. Indolent Server, Dominicanus and Idle Speculations have just alerted us to the ultimate clerical toiletry (sadly too late for this Christmas): the cologne favoured by Pio Nono. According to The Pope's Cologne website:
The Pope’s Cologne is a classic Old World cologne made from the private formula of Pope Pius IX (1792-1878). We obtained this formula from descendants of the commander of his Papal Guard and lifelong friend, General Charles Charette. We have followed this complex, exclusive formula meticulously, using the same essential oils that his perfumers used 150 years ago. We believe that we have succeeded in capturing the same fragrance that he and those around him enjoyed so long ago.
There can't be many saints or beati who have their own range of perfume!

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Monday, 25 December 2006

A Happy and Blessed Christmas to all my Friends in the Blogosphere!


'God's sign is simplicity. God's sign is the baby. God's sign is that He makes Himself small for us. This is how He reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with His strength. He takes away our fear of His greatness. He asks for our love: so He makes Himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into His feelings, His thoughts and His will; we learn to live with Him and to practice with Him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand Him, welcome Him, and love Him.' (Pope Benedict XVI, Midnight Mass, 25 December 2006)

Hodie Christus natus est:

Hodie Salvator apparuit:

Hodie in terra canunt Angeli, laetantur Archangeli:

Hodie exsultant justi, dicentes:

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Alleluia.

Noé, Noé, Noé!

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A Christmas Sermon

We tend to think of the Christmas story in a rather sentimentalised way – the cosy manger, the picturesque shepherds, the happy angels, the friendly ox and ass. It’s the beautiful scene that we see on countless Christmas cards. But let’s never forget that the Christmas story contains pure dynamite. It literally turned the world upside down.

The traditional Christmas Proclamation puts Christ’s birth in context: at a particular moment (the 149th Olympiad, the 752nd year after the foundation of Rome and the 42nd year of Augustus’ reign) timelessness entered time, the invisible God became visible. Today we marvel at the fact that the baby boy lying wrapped in swaddling clothes is the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah.
He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And his shelter was a stable,
And his cradle was a stall;
With the poor and mean and lowly,
Lived on earth the Saviour holy.
C. S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia stories, puts it well:
The Second Person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man – a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular colour, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.(Mere Christianity)
From the first moment of His life on earth, it was clear that Jesus would be a very different Messiah from the one the Jews expected. He came to set Israel free – not from its temporal enemies but from evil, sin and death. He didn’t come as a powerful military leader but as a powerless infant. He is a great King but His first palace was a humble, dirty, uncongenial stable. Mary and Joseph could not even find a room in the inns of Bethlehem, a backward town on the margins of the Roman Empire.

The new-born King’s first courtiers were not the rich and powerful but local shepherds – and remember that shepherds in Jesus’ time were considered dishonest and listed among those ineligible to be judges or even witnesses in a law court. Outcast from respectable society but these rustics were visited by angels and became the first to pay homage to the new-born King.

Our Lord was born into poverty – He who created the Universe had nothing to His name: no clothing, no toys, no home, no food. And here’s the twist – that hungry baby came to be our food. It is indeed appropriate that בית לחם, Bêth lehem means ‘House of Bread’. It was in the ‘little town of Bethlehem’ that the ‘Bread of Life’ came into the world. At every Mass, but in an especially meaningful way at Christmas, Our Lord Jesus Christ is ‘born again’ as the priest says the words This is my Body, This is the cup of my Blood. He comes to us to be our spiritual food. Just as the shepherds worshipped Christ in the crib, so we worship the same Christ present on the altar; hidden then as a helpless child, hidden now beneath the forms of bread and wine. In the Holy Eucharist Christ makes for himself a ‘house of bread’ and at Communion we truly have amongst us Emmanuel – God with us.

We rejoice today because that powerless baby has come to do battle with sin and death. In the end He triumphed – but He triumphed through a degrading death on the cross and resurrection on the third day. The mysteries of Holy Week and Easter are never far away from our Christmas celebration; they fulfil the story that begins today. Our traditional decorations of holly and the ivy remind us of this – ‘the holly bears a prickle, as sharp as any thorn’, and ‘a berry, as red as any blood,’ making us think of the Passion; the ivy (and also the evergreen Christmas trees) signify the everlasting life which Christ won for us through his death and resurrection.

That’s why we rejoice today. That’s why we sing carols. That’s why writers and artists have celebrated the Christmas story down the centuries. Not just because we feel sentimental about the baby boy born to Mary and Joseph, but because that birth means something – it turns the world upside down, it defeats the world of darkness, it brings light into the world and it opens our way to Heaven.
Come to Bethlehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing:
Come, adore on bended knee
The infant Christ, the new-born King.

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Sunday, 24 December 2006

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Another carol with (possible) recusant origins is The Twelve Days of Christmas.

Some people claim that the carol originated in the English Catholic Community. According to this theory, the persecuted Catholics had to find ways of expressing their faith through codes and signs. The seemingly innocent Twelve Days of Christmas is thus, in reality, a coded mini-catechism of the Catholic Faith. Thus:

My True Love = the Father/Jesus Christ
Partridge in a Pear Tree = Jesus Christ
Two Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
Three French Hens = the Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity) or the Holy Trinity
Four Calling Birds = the Four Evangelists
Five Golden Rings = the Pentateuch
Six Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
Seven Swans A-swimming = the seven sacraments/ the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
Eight Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
Nine Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit [there are twelve fruits but it is proposed that forbearance is combined with patience, goodness with kindness and self-control with chastity, thus making nine]
Ten Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
Eleven Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
Twelve Drummers Drumming = the twelve articles of the Apostles' Creed

It's a beautiful theory but there is no hard evidence that the song has recusant origins - indeed, with the exception of the seven sacraments, all these truths are accepted by the Church of England and would not, therefore, need to be 'coded'. Moreover, the meanings are obscure - you would expect that the coded language in a catechetical song would have at least some relevance to the thing signified - but how, for example, do 'nine ladies dancing' remind somebody of the Beatitudes?! At the end of the day, we just don't know for sure the origins of the carol.

Mgr Mark Langham left a comment on Adeste Fideles, which inspired this post. He says: 'I was once told that the song of the "Twelve Days of Christmas" is based on Latin texts, as heard by a non-literate congregation. Thus, "A Partridge in a Pear Tree" was originally "Apparuit in Partibus". I have found no corroboration of this or, indeed, any hint at what the other 'days' might represent. Any clues?" I've never heard of this theory before - can any readers help or suggest Latin texts that might have been corrupted into other lines of the carol?

The familiar version of the Twelve Days of Christmas was first published in a childrens book called Mirth Without Mischief in 1780. Based on an earlier French version, it was designed to be a memory and forfeit game to amuse the children during Christmastide.

Even if the recusant background behind the Twelve Days of Christmas is not historically accurate, the symbolism is still a helpful way of catechising children in the truths of the Faith in the form of a memory game. So, whatever the real origins of the carol, we shouldn't simply write it off as a 'nonsensical' secular song. After all, so many of our Christmas customs have pagan or secular origins that were later Christianized for the glory of God!

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Film Meme

Cally's Kitchen has tagged me with the following meme:

My Favourite Film - I love the Ealing Comedies and I think Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) is superb. Dennis Price plays Louis Mazzini, a junior and disinherited member of the noble D'Ascoyne family, who kills his relatives (all of whom are played by the peerless Alec Guiness) so that he can become Duke. The script sparkles with wit, such as Louis' comment after shooting down Lady Agatha in her hot-air balloon: 'I shot an arrow in the air / She fell to earth in Berkeley Square.'

My Favourite Religious Film - hmmm, a difficult one. Some of my favourites are listed below, but one that isn't is A Man for All Seasons (1966), starring my talented namesake, Paul Scofield (without an 'h').

My Favourite Film Priest - I think it has to be Fernandel playing the lead character in the Don Camillo films - comic acting, yes, but also a very human and masculine portrayal of Priesthood. The scenes in which Don Camillo dialogues with the miraculous crucifix in his little church are a beautiful essay in prayer.

My Favourite Film Nun - three clear contenders: Audrey Hepburn (as Sister Luke in The Nun's Story, 1959), Ingrid Bergman (as Bing Crosby's side-kick, Sister Mary Benedict, in The Bells of St Mary's, 1945) and Sydney Penny (as St Bernadette in Jean Delannoy's beautiful The Passion of Bernadette, 1989). I'd be happy to have any of these working in my parish!

Can I tag Fr Tim, Valle in Adurni and the Westminster Cathedral Administrator (if a meme doesn't compromise the semi-official nature of his blog)? - but only if they have time during the 'twelve days of Christmas.'

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Adeste Fideles



Here's the third in the Roman Miscellany carol series. Adeste Fideles was not written by St Bonaventure, as some people think, but by an eighteenth century English recusant, John Francis Wade. He spent most of his life in exile overseas because of his Jacobite sympathies and was strongly associated with the English College, Douai. The tune was probably based on the Air Anglois in Favart's comic opera Acajou.

The popular carol was first used by the English Catholic Community and it gained the name the 'Portuguese Hymn' simply because it could be heard at the Portuguese Embassy Chapel in London (the extra-territorial embassy chapels were open centres of Catholicism in Protestant London during 'penal times', often with impressive musical and liturgical resources).

In 1841, nearly a century after its composition, the carol was translated by Frederick Oakeley. He became a Catholic in 1845 and, after Ordination, founded the Mission of St John's, Islington - just down the road from my current parish.

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Saturday, 23 December 2006

In Dulci Jubilo



In Dulci Jubilo: this is one of my favourite carols (here performed by King's College, Cambridge). This type of carol is called 'macaronic' - the text is a mix of Latin and vernacular (another example is the Boar's Head). In Dulci Jubilo first appeared in manuscript from around 1400, but its origins are normally dated to Blessed Henry Suso's vision one night in 1328. According to an early life of the Dominican mystic:

Now this same angel came up to the Servant brightly, and said that God had sent him down to him, to bring him heavenly joys amid his sufferings; adding that he must cast off all his sorrows from his mind and bear them company, and that he must also dance with them in heavenly fashion. Then they drew the Servant by the hand into the dance, and the youth began a joyous song about the infant Jesus, which runs thus: In dulci jubilo etc.

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Roman Pifferari


It is a spectacle at once edifying and picturesque, to see a street in Rome brilliantly lighted by thousands of luminous specks [the lights before the street shrines], like the fire-flies of Italy, and resounding with the rustic music of the pifferari of Calabria or the Abruzzi. At all times these mountain musicians assemble a great concourse of people at the foot of the Madonnas, especially in Advent; for they seem anxious to introduce by their rural airs the feast of the shepherds, the most holy night of Christmas. (Abbe Orsini)

A familiar aspect of the traditional Roman Christmas - which is sadly becoming less common in the twenty-first century - is the presence of pifferari (bagpipers) on the streets.These musicians originally came from the Abruzzi to the Eternal City at this time of year to play devotional music before the shrines. However, they could be a nuisance. Stendhal complained that the pifferari 'have been waking us up at 4 in the morning. It's enough to make man hate music.' They could even introduce lyrics questioning the virtue of the wives of those who failed to give them donations! After a Christmas in Rome, some of these pipers could return to the Abruzzi with as much as 100 scudi.

The following video gives a good impression of what these instruments sound like. Be patient, the zampogna (pipes) only get going about 45 seconds into the footage! It may not be your cup of tea, but you immediately think of the shepherds (often shown with bagpipes) adoring the Christ Child in the great Old Masters.

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The Kraken Awakes

(Tsunemi Kubodera/AP)

'And God created the great sea-monsters, and every living creature that moveth, wherewith the waters swarmed, after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind: and God saw that it was good' (Genesis 1: 21, ASV version). Fantastic creatures can often be found in mystery plays, pantomimes and films at this time of year - but here's a real life monster. A live giant squid has been caught on camera for the first time, in the Pacific 600 miles south of Tokyo. The female squid was comparatively small - a mere 24 feet long - but these creatures can grow to a length of at least 60 feet. The Giant Squid has often been considered semi-legendary, but the recent catch shows that they probably exist in large numbers at the depths of the ocean! For the full story, as reported by the Telegraph, and access to the amazing footage, click here.

Benedicite, cete et omnia,
quae moventur in aquis, Domino!

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Friday, 22 December 2006

The Boar's Head - Servitur cum Sinapio


A carol I've always loved - but one that is sadly not suitable for liturgical use - is the Boar's Head Carol. First published in 1521, the carol is particularly associated with The Queen's College, Oxford, where it was sung every Christmas as the boar's head (complete with apple in the mouth) was ceremonially carried into the dining hall). Washington Irving, in his Old Christmas (1886), described a similar scene:

There was now a pause, as if something was expected; when suddenly the butler entered the hall with some degree of bustle: He was attended by a servant on each side with a large wax-light, and bore a silver dish, on which was an enormous pig's head decorated with rosemary, with a lemon in its mouth, which was placed with great formality at the head of the table.

According to legend, a student of the College, while walking in a nearby wood, was attacked by a savage wild boar. The student saved himself by stuffing his book of Aristotle into the boar's mouth, as he exclaimed:'Graecum est, non potest legi' ('it's Greek, it's unreadable'). The boar ended up being served at table - and so it passed into an annual custom. Here is one version of the carol - I particularly like the line about serving it with mustard (sinapio)!
The boar's head in hand bear I
Bedecked with bay and rosemary,
I pray you, my masters, be merry,
Quot estis in convivio. [so many as are at the feast]

Caput apri defero,
Reddens laudes domino.
[I bring the boar's head, giving praises to the Lord]

The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land,
Which thus bedecked with a gay garland
Let us servitur cum sinapio [serve it with mustard]
Caput apri...

Our steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of bliss
Which, on this day to be served is
In Reginensi atrio [in the Queen's hall].
Caput apri...


Click here to listen to a lively version courtesy of the King's Singers. The picture at the top of the post, by the way, was taken in Rome this time last year. I rather like cinghiale (wild boar) and the dish makes me think of the grand banquets in the Asterix books. Wild boar was particularly popular as a Christmas dish in the past because it came to symbolise the Babe of Bethlehem's victory over sin (the ferocious boar was a symbol of evil).

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Preparing the Way for the Lord



Greetings from a very cold London. As you can see from the photo I've just taken from my study window, it's foggy (hence all the chaos at the airports) and London feels rather Dickensian at the moment (though thankfully it is fog rather than smog).

Any infrequency in blogging is caused by all the preparations for Christmas, which certainly succeed in building up the Advent sense of expectancy. This morning, for example, some chaps in the parish began the difficult task of erecting our giant crib (a la Piazza San Pietro), which stands on the busy roadside outside the church and acts as a local landmark over the coming weeks. It will hopefully be finished tomorrow:



Meanwhile, the church was filled with flowers and decorations - there's going to be a rather colourful feel to the Fourth Sunday of Advent, but this can't be helped this year with Christmas falling on a Monday:


Over the last week, two mosaics commissioned by the Parish Priest have been completed, which makes our 1960s church seem a bit more festive. These include a blue border around the statue of Our Lady (resembling a Rosary) and an image of the Flight into Egypt in the porch (this was deemed a fitting subject because of the many ethnic groups in our parish).


Good luck with all your preparations for the Holy Night!

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Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Distracted by the trappings

Today I felt 'Christmassy' for the first time, thanks to the cold weather and our school's excellent Christmas concert, which I attended this evening (based around Dickens' Christmas Carol). I even rushed out to a local supermarket to buy some drinks for our family get-together, which takes place in the presbytery next Thursday. Such a Yuletide mood will come in handy over the next few days, as my thoughts turn to the content of my Christmas sermon, but I keep having to remind myself that there is still a purple candle waiting to be lit on the Advent wreath and there is much interior preparation needed before 25 December.

With this in mind, the Holy Father's words at today's Audience seem very opportune:
“The Lord is at hand: come let us adore him!”. In these last days of Advent, the liturgy invites us to draw close to the stable of Bethlehem contemplating in awe the birth of the Redeemer. Full of joy and thanksgiving we recall how the Creator of the universe, out of love, came to dwell among us. For many centuries Israel had awaited the Messiah, imagining him as a powerful and victorious leader. Instead, the Saviour was born in absolute poverty, and the true light who enlightens all people was not accepted by his own (cf. Jn. 1:9-12).

Do we still await the Saviour? Today many consider God irrelevant; an obstacle to success. Even believers sometimes seek tempting but illusory shortcuts to happiness. And yet, perhaps even because of this confusion, humanity seeks a Saviour and awaits the coming of Christ, the one true Redeemer. We Christians, through our witness against those who offer a ‘cheap salvation’, defend the truth of Christmas which Christ brings to every person of goodwill.

Let us then with Mary and Joseph prepare to open our hearts to the Lord who is at hand. Do not be distracted by the trappings! Be watchful and pray! In this way our homes will welcome Jesus with faith and love.

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Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Vatican FC


The BBC has a report about Cardinal Bertone's speculations regarding a Vatican football team. I've always thought that, if San Marino has a football team that competes at an international level, then why can't the Vatican. A combination of Swiss Guards and Brazilian seminarians might make a lethal combination. Apparently, 'the Vatican has in fact twice fielded a side to play in yellow and white shirts - against national teams from other mini-states such as Monaco and San Marino. Both matches ended in a goalless draw.'

However, Vatican watchers will be relieved to know that the new Secretary of State told Vatican Radio, 'I have more important things to do than managing a soccer team.'

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Repeal Vote

Just to quickly underline what Fr Tim and other blogs have been suggesting: BBC Radio 4's Today programme, which I normally listen to while dressing and shaving in the morning, has come up with a Christmas 'legislative wish list'. People are invited to send in nominations for one British law that should be repealed. It would be great if as many Catholics (and people of good will) as possible could nominate the Abortion Act of 1967, even though there's a good chance the panel of experts and politicians won't include it in the shortlist. It's worth a try - nominations can be sent off via the Radio 4 Christmas Repeal Vote page but must be completed by 20 December. It would be a good work of witness in the final week of Advent.

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Monday, 18 December 2006

Fishers of Men (Full Version)

Fishers of Men

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I know this is old news, but I recently found the full 18 minute version of the inspiring Fishers of Men video on MySpace. Produced by the American Bishops' Conference, many British readers will not have seen it yet. Following on from my recent post on books on the priestly vocation, I recommend this short film to all discerning their vocation. We need more productions like this!

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Sunday, 17 December 2006

The True Spirit of Christmas

Christmas Linebacker

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This great video comes via fanatholic - I think every parish should be policed by a 'Christmas Linebacker' who puts the 'Christ' back into 'Xmas.'

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Gaudete and O Sapientia

The original purpose of Gaudete Sunday has been rather lost over the centuries – especially with the commercialisation of Christmas in our own times. Advent is supposed to be a penitential season as we prepare and purify ourselves for the great celebration of Christmas. At one stage, Advent lasted forty days, though it was subsequently shortened to four Sundays. Gaudete Sunday parallels Laetare Sunday in Lent – a sort of mid-Season breather, when we swap the sorrowful purple vestments for more cheerful rose-coloured ones and wait expectantly, with increasing urgency, for the coming of the Lord.

Today, then, is half time in the Advent Season. The last fortnight our readings have focussed on the Second Coming; now we consider the First Coming and reflect on the familiar Christmas Story. The closeness of Christmas is why the prophet Zephaniah tells us to ‘shout for joy’ and ‘exult with all your heart’ and why St Paul writes ‘I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord’.

This year Gaudete Sunday coincides with 17 December and the start of the Great 'O' Antiphons, chanted or recited before and after the Magnificat at Vespers. These are a beautiful expression of the Church's expectancy as we approach Christmas and use the great Messianic titles of Sacred Scripture.

Less well-known is the fact that if you take the first letter of each of these Messianic titles in reverse order - Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia - they spell ero cras (Tomorrow I will come) - a powerful message for 23 December, the last day of the antiphons.

Most of us will have heard of the 'O' antiphons, but very few of us will have heard them sung, unless we belong to a religious community or have an enlightened (and musical) pastor. I, for one, am more familiar with Charpentier's Antiennes 'O' de l'Avent (H.36-43), which I have on CD, than with the chant, which I've never heard 'live'.

There are some online resources to help priests and laity alike learn these venerable antiphons and add them to their repertoire. Scott Turkington sings O Sapientia as found in the Liber Usualis, complete with Magnificat (via NLM). The excellent English Dominican blog, Godzdogz, has usefully produced videos of the Dominican 'O' antiphons, complete with the musical score.



O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner. O come to teach us the way of truth.

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Versus Apsidem

Just read a great post from Don Marco about how a year ago he started saying Mass facing east in the Monastery of the Glorious Cross in Branford, Connecticut (Benedictine nuns), where he is Chaplain. For the benefit of visitors, he pinned a 'pastoral notice' in the monastery narthex:

It is good, from time to time, to break with routine and do what we do daily from a different perspective. Given that the reformed liturgy gives the priest the option of standing in front of the altar, one with the people, for the Eucharistic Prayer, I will avail myself of this option during the seven days before Christmas. We are no longer accustomed to doing this, but it remains a venerable and perfectly legitimate practice. It is especially suited to these last days of Advent when the whole Church faces in one direction, scanning the horizon, waiting for the coming of her Lord.

Pope Benedict XVI explains this very well. He says, “Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. It is not (in the Eucharistic Prayer) a question of dialogue but of common worship, of setting off toward the One who is to come. What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle but the common movement forward, expressed in a common direction for prayer.”

Let us then welcome a change in our routine during these last days of Advent, not for the sake of change, but in order to advance together toward the Lord who came, who comes, and who is to come.

Well put - and the usage has been used at Branford ever since! It's always good to make use of the legitimate options provided by Holy Mother Church. By the way, Don Marco's blog, Vultus Christi, is beautifully presented and well worth a visit.

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Saturday, 16 December 2006

Online Library

H/T to Dappled Things and Hermeneutic of Continuity for drawing our attention to two great liturgical books now available on the web:
  1. The Marquess of Bute's rather eccentric edition of the Roman Breviary (this link is to the first volume only).

More marvellous still is the website that provides these books (all out of copyright) - www.archive.org. Next time I'm writing an article or a talk, the online library will prove to be invaluable. For example, I typed in a few random keywords (which will tell you something of my present historical interests) and found:

  1. Richard Challoner's Garden of the Soul and Lives of the Desert Fathers

  2. Newman's Lives of the English Saints (the link is to the volume covering St Augustine of Canterbury)

  3. The complete works of Cardinal Wiseman, such as his Four Lectures on the Offices and Ceremonies of Holy Week, as performed in the Papal Chapels.

  4. The whole of Pastor's monumental History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages (translated by Antrobus).

  5. A book I've been looking for and only ever found in the monastic library at Farnborough Abbey - Dunbar's Dictionary of Saintly Women (Vol 1 and 2), which contains lots of obscure details you won't find elsewhere.

  6. Gillow's Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics.

  7. Benedict XIV's important work on Heroic Virtue.

And so on! Visit the site and type in the subjects that interest you.

NB The picture shows the fabulous Bibliothek at Stift Admont in Austria.

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The Friars of Canning Town


Looking back at this blog, there aren't many posts about my parish and the activities that take up 95% of my time. Of course, it wouldn't be appropriate to publish posts about many aspects of priestly ministry since it would be an abuse of the 'internal forum.' However, I will write a little about today, when I took 21 of our teenagers to Canning Town (East London) to visit the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal for a Confirmation recollection day (see group picture above).

The Friars are based at St Fidelis Friary on Killop Close, in the midst of a housing estate. The building was originally a parish hall and is used by the Friars, amongst other things, as a soup kitchen for the poor.

I greatly admire the Friars, partly because they are so good at talking to young people - the American accents, long beards and radical lifestyle all helps to make them appear authentic and appealing as followers of Christ. We had a series of talks on the meaning of Confirmation and the importance of Mass and Confession. We then had an opportunity for Confession and, as far as I know, every young person went - inspired, no doubt, by the talk one of the brother's gave, mentioning things like pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol and bad pop music. Here is a photo of Br Martin in full flow. Note the very Franciscan life-size crib behind him. We later said Mass beside it, which I found quite moving:


In the break there was an opportunity to play basketball. I chose to remain a spectator but took the following pictures, just to show that the Franciscans know how to combine praying with playing:



And finally here's an exclusive video of a Friar playing basketball (apologies for the quality).

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Friday, 15 December 2006

Bluefriars

Now, I've heard of the 'Blackfriars' (Dominicans), 'Greyfriars' (Franciscans) and 'Whitefriars' (Carmelites), but I only came across the 'Bluefriars' the other day on the Wikipedia. 'Bluefriars' was the name apparently given to the members of the College of Bonhommes at Ashridge, Hertfordshire. This house was founded by Edmund, Earl of Cornwall in 1283, who granted it a major relic that he had obtained from Germany - a phial of the Precious Blood. This made Ashridge a centre of pilgrimage up until the Reformation and the pilgrims included Edward I (at Christmas 1290) and the 'Black Prince' (who was considered the second founder of the house).

The 'bonhommes' were a community of priests who followed the Rule of St Augustine and were ruled over by a 'Rector' and his assistant, the 'corrector.' Nobody seems to know much about them - even whether to correctly describe them as monks, friars or canons! Clad in their grey-blue habits, the brothers never grew beyond the mother house at Ashridge and further foundations at Edington, Wiltshire and (possibly) Ruthin, Denbighshire (North Wales). Some confuse them with the Grandmontines; others accuse them of Albigensian sympathies (although this may be due to a confusion with the bonshommes, a name sometimes given to the Cathars).

When Henry VIII broke with Rome the relic of the Precious Blood at Ashridge was declared to be nothing but coloured honey and the house was dissolved and passed into the hands of the Crown and (between 1604 and 1848) the Dukes and Earls of Bridgewater. The seventh Earl built the present neo-Gothic Ashridge House, now a business college.

The last Rector of the College of the Bonhommes, Thomas Waterhouse, like so many, made no public protest at the Dissolution but privately adhered to the Old Faith. He carefully preserved his priestly vestments, which he bequeathed to various churches at his death in 1554.

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Wednesday, 13 December 2006

St Lucy's Slipper

I love the Advent saints - and today it is the turn of the Sicilian Virgin Martyr, St Lucy. She is an appropriate saint for the Season for her name is derived from lux (light) and points towards the coming of the Light of the World, her Bridegroom, in just over a week's time. According to the Julian Calendar, 13 December was the longest night of the year. In Sweden her feast is celebrated by processions and carol-singing, in which one young giril dresses as St Lucy in a white gown and wearing a crown of lit candles.

St Lucy is popularly invoked against eye problems and blindness - despite the tradition that she tore her eyes out in order to put off a suitor (which is why one of her iconographic symbols is a plate with her eyeballs!).

This time last year I was in Rome and, to mark the feast, visited the little-known church of Santa Lucia in Selci on the Esquiline Hill. The convent of Augustinian nuns is best known as one of the chief dispensaries of relics (which is referred to as the Lipsanoteca) - provided you have a letter of recommendation from a bishop. The little church was 'baroque-ified' in the seventeenth century, thanks to the likes of Maderno and Borromini. The doors are opened every 13 December and Romans pour in to pray to the martyr, attend one of the many Masses, pick up a santino or bottle of St Lucy's oil and venerate the relics. The body of the saint is claimed by the church of Santi Geremia e Lucia in Venice (near the railway station) but Santa Lucia in Selci boasts the relic of St Lucy's slipper. The picture below is an 'action shot' of a pilgrim wiping the shoe-shaped reliquary with her handkerchief!


Columna es immobilis, Lucia, Sponsa Christi!
Update: Mgr Mark Langham has a wonderful post of the Swedish Sankta Lucia festival that took place at Westminster Cathedral, complete with a young girl wearing the crown of five candles (which, Mgr Langham observes, is very similar to the head-dress of the Bridgettines).

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Tuesday, 12 December 2006


Our Lady of Guadalupe


In 1754 Benedict XIV declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the Patroness of New Spain and fixed 12 December as her Feast. It's a great celebration and one that only recently made the Universal Calendar. Even though it displaced St Jane Frances de Chantal (now 12 August), I was pleased because a rather decisive event in my life happened on 12 December thirty-one years ago (at around 4pm). I met the other involved party - my parents - last night for a wonderful meal at Il Portico restaurant on Kensington High Street (the most authentically Italian place that I've been to in London). This morning I said an early Mass in the Lady Chapel at Kingsland in honour of Our Lady of Guadalupe and, on returning to my study, found a present from my parish priest - the new book on Sir Ninian Comper (famous Church architect) by Anthony Symondson, SJ, and Stephen Bucknall. So the day has got off to a good start!

Today is also my dies non - so my plan is as follows: do some Christmas shopping, go to the Travellers Club on Pall Mall (the one-time home of Mgr Alfred Gilbey) where a friend is hosting both myself and Fr Whinder, go with the said Fr Whinder to the Holbein in England exhibition at Tate Britain and then return to the presbytery and curl up with a good book.

Happy Feast, especially to Roman Miscellany's American friends!

PS I met up with the dúnadan on Sunday evening and had a meal in Cally's Kitchen. Click here for pictures of the Roman Miscellenist meeting 'Berrydict' the cat!

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Sunday, 10 December 2006

Roman Dress

H/T to Andrew Cusack for this recent picture of three seminarists of the Scots College, Rome. Certainly when I was a student in Rome (at the turn of the Millennium) these could be spotted quite regularly at big functions. On one famous occasion, reported in the national papers, the British seminarists gathered in the cortile of the Palazzo Doria Pamphili to greet Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh, who were visiting Rome during the Holy Year. The English students were told by the staff not to wear cassocks, which we could wear officially for Masses at St Peter's. Needless to say we felt rather under-dressed in our clergyman suits when the Scots turned up en masse in their colourful attire!

Up until the 1960s it was easy to identify the different national Colleges through their distinctive dress. If you think the Scots were striking in their heather-coloured garb, then look at the students of the German and Hungarian College, who were known as the gamberi cotti (boiled lobsters) on account of their red soutanes.

It was said that such conspicious costume was devised so that they could be spotted easily and not fall prey to behaviour inappropriate to ecclesiastics. Another version is that they were given scarlet so that they were not be blamed for incidents for which students of the English College were really responsible!

The members of the Ruthenian College (founded 1897) were equally colourful, sporting a blue cassock and an orange sash (some sources say yellow)!

The students of the North American College (NAC) wore a black cassock with blue piping and a crimson sash, as you can just make out in this photo of the College's first students:

The students of the Venerable English College had black cassocks without a sash, over which they wore a soprana, a sort of sleeveless academic gown with 'wings,' originating from the Jesuit habit. The most distinctive part of the dress of a Venerabilino was the 'soup plate hat' on which the brim on either side was joined to the crown by two cords.


The second photo shows an unusually snowy St Peter's in the mid-1950s. The chap in glasses second from the left is now Archbishop of Liverpool.

Such ecclesiastical dress must have made Rome a very colourful place indeed. In her superlative Companion Guide to Rome (first published 1965), Georgina Mason notes with regret that 'these rules were general until the last few years, but things are changing fast and already many of them are of purely historic interest.' Zadok the Roman has a full list of the Roman 'seminarian dress of yore.'

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Saturday, 9 December 2006

Books on Priestly Vocation

Joee Blogs has tagged me, challenging me to list some 'brilliant' books on the subject of vocation. Forgive me if I concentrate on the priestly vocation:

Religious Vocation: An Unnecessary Mystery, by Richard Butler OP. There aren't many books on vocation itself but I found this one useful when I was recently preparing a talk on Priesthood and Vocation. First published in 1961, this book is chiefly about vocation to the Religious Life, which Butler refers to as an invitatio rather than a vocatio - in a sense everyone is called to the Religious Life because it is basically a living out of the evangelical counsels, but most of us are prevented to do so because of circumstances (family, job, etc). Butler also makes the important point that vocation is an 'unnecessary mystery.' Many people procrastinate because they wait for a clear sign from God. Of course, this only happens rarely - initially the key thing in discerning a vocation is a right intention and the appropriate gifts of nature and grace. The long years of formation will help the individual and the Church decide whether this call is real. Vocation shouldn't be a conundrum and, in a sense, you have to be prepared to make a leap in the dark and get the ball rolling rather than procrastinate and wait for a 'feeling' that you are called.

Priests for the Third Millennium, by Timothy Dolan (now Archbishop of Milwaukee). To my mind the best modern book on the Sacred Priesthood. It is a collection of conferences by Mgr Dolan when he was Rector of the North American College, Rome, and they are lively, direct and frequently hit the nail on the head.

Vessel of Clay, by Leo Trese
I love this book by another American priest, Fr Trese. Published in 1950, it is effectively a 'day in the life of a priest' and each chapter signifies a different time of the day. Thus Chapter One is '6.30am' and begins:

One hand gropes for the alarm clock, two feet hit the floor. Another victory is achieved; another day begins. Sometimes I feel that a priest's salvation is determined during those first ten seconds after Big Ben sounds his call. It is so easy to say to oneself, "Just five more minutes." The five minutes become fifteen or thirty, and then there is a quick splashing of water and a mad dash for the altar.
I'm sad to say: been there, done that!


The Joy of Priesthood, Fr Stephen J. Rossetti
Another American book, published by Ave Maria Press last year. It is very accessible and, written as it is by a priest psychologist (with his head firmly screwed on), it contains some interesting observations. One chapter proposes that society is biased against masculinity and that the modern Church promotes mostly feminine virtues (listening, caring, nurturing, etc) but that priests must have the confidence to be masculine as well (direct with a clear identity and loyalty to the Church).


Finally, a trilogy of English authors on Priesthood: Cardinal Manning's Eternal Priesthood (probably one of his best books), Bishop Bernard Ward's superb Priestly Vocation and Ronald Knox's incomparable Priestly Life. These should be easily available via abebooks.

Hope that helps!

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Friday, 8 December 2006

A Festal Day

A busy day with two parish/school Masses, a morning spent running round the presbytery like a headless chicken and a delightful festal lunch with the Ursulines of Jesus in the neighbouring Convent (luckily they are a French Order, founded in the Vendee, and so there was a good bottle of Bordeaux!).

Then I made the journey to Epsom for the Ordination of Bruno, the last of my seminary contemporaries to be ordained. I am now officially a dinosaur and won't be automatically on the Ordination invitation lists in the summer.

St Joseph's church in Epsom (diocese of Arundel and Brighton) is as modern as they get. There is very little religious iconography - indeed when we sang the Salve at the end of the Mass none of the concelebrants could find a Marian image to turn to! I think this photo, borrowed from the comprehensive parish website, gives a good impression of the interior (note the full immersion font):


Everyone got a sore neck during the Liturgy of the Word since the readers and cantor were effectively behind us. The tabernacle is hidden behind the glass screen that surrounds the sanctuary. I had a good view of the ordinand's family from my seat - and they are quite a family! Fr Bruno's sister belongs to the Community of St John and his sister-in-law is the courageous Abigail, a recent 'Catholic Woman of the Year.' It was lovely to see the joy on their faces. In the Order of Service, Fr Bruno wrote a brief introduction to the ceremony and chose a beautiful quote from St Gregory:
This configuration [of the priest] to Christ and to his ministry is essentially founded on a deep personal bond with Jesus Christ. Saint Gregory the Great, the spiritual father of the English clergy, eloquently speaks of this essential connection between the interior life and ministry: "What else are holy men but rivers that water the parched earth? Yet they would dry up if they did not return to the place where they began their course. That is, if they do not abide in the interiority of the heart and do not bind themselves fast with chains of longing in love for the Creator, their tongue withers up. But out of love they continually return to this inner sanctuary, and what they pour out in public they draw from the well of love. By loving they learn what they proclaim in teaching."

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Thursday, 7 December 2006

Paths to Holiness


Tonight at 7pm I will be leading the first of three Advent recollections (all on Thursday evening). Or, at least, when I say 'lead' I really mean click the play button on our new super-duper laptop/powerpoint projector combo.

I'm using the Untold Blessings DVD originally produced for the Archdiocese of Chicago, which I have already mentioned on this blog. The presenter is Fr Robert Barron of Chicago's Mundelein seminary, who mixes a lively, almost 'evangelical' style with solid Catholic teaching and images from the spiritual masters like Aquinas and Chesterton. Over the three Thursday sessions he'll be guiding us in the three 'paths to holiness,' starting with tonight's first step: putting Christ at the centre of our lives. Fr Barron uses two powerful images from the medieval cathedrals. Firstly, the Rose Window of Notre Dame, Paris, which stands for the well-ordered soul, displaying integritas, consonantia and claritas. Secondly, the Wheel of Fortune (not the game show!), which reminds us that we must not ride on the rim of the wheel (life's ups and downs, clinging to the things of this world) but rather be anchored on Christ and assume an attitude of detachment. I hope the session will go well - it's my first initiative in Kingsland, so prayers please! I think I'm the only person in this country to use this excellent material and I recommend it to priests and catechists...

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Wednesday, 6 December 2006

Onomastico


Today is my onomastico - the Feast of St Nicholas (which is, scandalously, an optional memoria). My patron has been abused and misrepresented over the last century as the benign and bumbling Santa Claus - a result of the Reformation and the collapse of the veneration of the saints.

Santa reminds us that St Nicholas is the patron of children but, in truth, there is little that is fluffy about the saint. When I visited Bari in August, there were no sentimentalised images of the saint or Santa outfits; he came across as a manly, passionate defender of Truth, a powerful intercessor in Heaven and a very human saint with a quick temper (rather like St Peter).
One of the main concerns of his life, for example, was fighting the heresy of Arianism. According to an early biography, ‘thanks to the teaching of St Nicholas, the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as a death-dealing poison.’ There is even a story of the saint attending the Council of Nicaea and becoming so angry at the blasphemies of Arius that he went over to the heretic and punched him in the face. The bishops imprisoned St Nicholas for his assault, depriving him of his Episcopal dignity and burning off his beard. However, in prison he was visited by Our Lord and Our Lady, who restored his office and set him free. It’s a great story, even though St Nicholas is not recorded as attending the great Council, but it says something about the saint’s zeal.

Another example of the saint’s manliness and ‘righteous anger’ was his order to cut down a tree dedicated to the goddess Diana, much to the fury of the Devil. A fine fresco in the saint’s basilica in Bari shows the saint wielding the axe himself (rather like St Boniface cutting down the Sacred Oak).

The people of Bari take St Nicholas very seriously indeed. In particular, there is a strong devotion to the 'manna' of St Nicholas, a liquid that is apparently produced from the saint's tomb. This is extracted every year on 9 May (Feast of the Translation of St Nicholas), diluted and distributed to pilgrims (especially the sick). Between 1954 and 1957 the bones were exhumed during the renovation of the crypt and exposed to the public. The bones were frequently seen to 'perspire' and a linen cloth that was in contact with the bones was found to be soaking wet. The holy manna is traditionally put inside specially painted bottles.

A tenth century Greek wrote that ‘the West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, his name is revered and churches are built in his honour. All Christians reverence his memory and call upon his protection.’

Last May, when Pope Benedict visited Bari on his first papal pilgrimage, he referred to 'fortunate Bari, a city that preserves the bones of St Nicholas, a land of encounter and dialogue with our Christian brethren of the East.' As a saint who unifies East and West, St Nicholas takes on a great deal more significance than the lightweight caricature who can now be seen in a shopping centre near you.

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Another Seasonal Recommendation

Here's another new recording which I'd like to highly recommend to readers searching for presents or needing some seasonal inspiration: Christmas Vespers at Westminster Cathedral (on the Hyperion label).

It presents 'an adorned version of the Office of Vespers as it might be heard on the eve of Christmas in Westminster Cathedral' - by 'adorned' read 'Old Rite,' since there are five psalms, no bidding prayers and everything is sung in Latin. The recording includes Tallis' Magnificat, Victoria's Alma Redemptoris, Schutz's Hodie Christus natus est and Langlais' Fete for organ. It demonstrates the Cathedral's liturgical excellence and the famous Westminster sound.

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Monday, 4 December 2006

Queen's English?


Interesting report in the Telegraph explaining How Queen's English Has Grown More Like Ours. Professor Jonathan Harrington has undertaken a scientific study of Her Majesty's voice, as recorded in the Christmas Broadcasts over the years.

In 1952 she would have been heard referring to "thet men in the bleck het". Now it would be "that man in the black hat". Similarly, she would have spoken of the citay and dutay, rather than citee and dutee, and hame rather than home. In the 1950s she would have been lorst, but by the 1970s lost. And indeed, the Queen's first Christmas broadcast was pure Dartington Crystal. She began: "As he (King George VI) used to do, I em speaking to you from my own hame, where I em spending Christmas with my femly."
According to royal biographer, Kenneth Rose

She has become definitely less upper class — dropping an octave and coming nearer to her own "Queen's English", by which I mean nearer to standard English. There have always been variations in royal speech. The Queen Mother was the embodiment of the upper class lady in the first class compartment, while George V was more like a hoarse country gentleman. Edward VIII adopted a kind of upper class cockney, talking of "moi house", but after his marriage began to sound more American.

About two or three years ago I was sitting next to the Queen at tea and she remarked that some of her grandchildren talked Estuary. I think she was talking about the Phillips children — but then Princess Anne always sounded a little suburban. And then there's Prince Edward, who sounds a bit Estuary — whereas the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester are proper country gents.

But readers will be relieved to hear that the Queen may be 'drifting slowly downstream towards Estuary, but she has a very, very long way to go before she gets anywhere near the open sea.' Gaud bless 'er!

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Sunday, 3 December 2006

Desert Island Discs

And now for something completely different...

I'm a keen armchair musician, although sadly (despite taking lessons in the Highland Bagpipes as a teenager) I play no musical instrument. As we approach Christmas, I thought I might provide my shortlist of some of my favourite recordings at the moment. Any of these would make a fine present for family or friends.

Charpentier, Music for Christmas
A beautiful disc of seasonal music from the French baroque composer, Charpentier, played by Canada's Aradia Ensemble and at a bargain price. The selection includes ten charming Noels (capturing the mystery of Christmas night) and the extensive In Nativitatem D(omini) N(ostri) J(esu) C(hristi).


Monteverdi, Vespro della Beata Vergine (2 CDs)
This is a much recorded piece - and deservedly so - but the new recording from Paul McCreesh's Gabrieli Consort has already become a favourite of mine.

Handel, Messiah (2 CDs)
Another popular piece which I love listening to at this time of year. This new release from Naxos is the first modern reconstruction of the Handel's London performances of 1751. It's inexpensive and features the famous choir of New College, Oxford, and the rising countertenor star, Iestyn Davies.

L'Arpeggiata
I love early music and over the last few years there have been many lively and imaginative recordings, especially in the world of Spanish American Baroque. I'm a big fan of Christina Pluhar's L'Arpeggiata group and their 'fusion' of different musical genres (early music, jazz, folk), using authentic instruments (Pluhar herself is a noted theorbo player). Their latest CD, on the Naive label, is called Los Impossibles (featuring the King's Singers and coming with a free DVD) but Amazon have no links to it. So, to get you started, try All'Improvviso. Andrew McGregor of the BBC referred to its 'toe-tapping continuo on baroque guitars, harp, lute and theorbo, some sparkling cornet-playing and lively strings, and you have crossover of the highest quality, from performers who recognise no boundaries in 400 years of music. Magical results, from the meanest ingredients, and it ought to be available on prescription to the clinically depressed.'

Le Voeu de Louis XIII
Many early music and baroque CDs have great interest for the Catholic. This fine recording from the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles provides a musical reconstruction of Louis XIII's consecration of France to Our Lady on 10 February 1638.

Hang On Little Tomato
And just to show you that I do listen to music composed after the French Revolution, here is a stylish and mellow album from Pink Martini. According to the band's founder, Thomas Lauderdale, 'we’re kind of like musical archaeologists, bringing melodies and rhythms from different parts of the world together to create something which is modern.' This is the perfect CD to put on at the end of a busy day:

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Advent I - A Homily

Happy New Year to all of you!

Once again we start our journey over the next fifty-two weeks, commemorating the chief mysteries of the Faith as we pass from Advent to Christmas, from Lent to Easter and through the weeks of Ordinary Time, which this year will focus particularly on the Gospel of St Luke. Our liturgical journey begins today with the First Sunday of Advent.

Advent is one of my favourite times of year – the traditions, the feasts, the hymns and the excitement leading up to Christmas make it a very beautiful period indeed. But it is also one of the least understood Seasons and every year it is an increasingly up-hill struggle to resist the commercialism of Christmas and observe Advent in any real sense. This year I heard the first rendition of Silent Night in late October thanks to a busker on the Underground; already the decorations and trees are up and Santa seems to have arrived in the local shopping centre.

Advent 2006 is only three weeks long, since (rather confusingly) the Fourth Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve, so it is important that we make the most of it. None of us, priests included, will be able to avoid carol services, nativity plays and Christmas parties over the next few weeks – not to mention the writing of Christmas cards and last minute shopping for presents. But there are some things we can do in order to ensure that our Advent is in tune with the mind of the Church.

Just as Easter (the Feast of the Redemption) has Lent as a time of preparation and purification, so Christmas (the Feast of the Incarnation) has Advent, which is sometimes called the ‘little Lent.’ We don’t normally think of Advent as time for giving things up or taking extra things on, but that is very much its spirit - a great opportunity for changing our spiritual gears, for cleansing our consciences by going to Confession, for giving up bad habits and for spending more time in prayer, spiritual reading and good works.

Advent is a time for waiting. We wait expectantly, together with the prophets and the people of Israel, for the coming of the Messiah, born in a stable in Bethlehem. We also await His Second Coming – this is actually the focus of the first two weeks of Advent. You probably noticed that our Gospel today makes no mention of Mary or Joseph or angels or shepherds or innkeepers, but rather of signs in the heavens, of ‘nations in agony’ and ‘men dying of fear,’ and of ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.’ We begin the Church’s year by looking to the end of time and asking how watchful and ready we are for the Lord’s return. This is perhaps the key question we ask ourselves in Advent and it should encourage our meditation and lead us to form good resolutions for the new ecclesiastical year. Are we awake to God and awake for other people?

Everybody loves Christmas and I for one am itching to play my CDs of Christmas music and put up the crib in my study. However, let us not forget that the three weeks of Advent are followed by the twelve joyful Days of Christmas. Indeed, the Christmas Season continues until Candlemas (2 February) – it is only then that the great Christmas Tree and giant Nativity scene on St Peter’s Square in Rome are taken down. The weeks after Christmas are the proper time for decorations, trees and carols. Now is the time for stepping back and spending time in prayer and penance as we wait for the comings of Christ at Bethlehem and at the end of time.

By all means buy your presents, write your cards and stock up with bottles of wine and mince pies. But let’s not allow the empty commercialism of the shops and the media prevent us from keeping Advent seriously – so that by the time we reach 25th December we will have changed interiorly and have drawn closer to the Babe born for us at Bethlehem.

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New Westminster Bloggers!

Great news - the august Archdiocese of Westminster has at last produced two new bloggers, now added to my blogroll. Solomon, I Have Surpassed Thee is the blog of Mgr Mark Langham, Administrator of Westminster Cathedral, containing news and views from this famous basilica (including a good post on St Juthwara). Newman House is a blog from the chaplaincy of the London Universities, including some good photos of Cardinal Arinze at the recent Academic Mass. Please check them out!

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Saturday, 2 December 2006

Ratzinger on Advent

What is Advent? Many answers can be given. We can grumble and say that it is nothing but a pretext for hectic activity and commercialism, prettified with sentimental cliches in which people stopped believing ages ago. In many cases this may be true, but it is not the whole picture.

We can say the reverse, that Advent is a time when, in the midst of an unbelieving world, something of the luminous quality of this lost faith is still perceptible, like a visual echo. Just as stars are visible long after they have become extinct, since their erstwhile light is still on its way to us, so this mystery frequently offers some warmth and hope even to those who are no longer able to believe in it.

Advent is a time when a kindness that is otherwise almost entirely forgotten is mobilized; namely, the willingness to think of others and give them a token of kindness. Finally Advent is a time when old customs live again, for instance, in the singing of carols which takes place all over the country. In the melodies and the words of these carols, something of the simplicity, imagination and glad strength of the faith of our forefathers makes itself heard in our age, bringing consolation and encouraging us perhaps to have another go at that faith which could make people so glad in such hard times.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Seek That Which Is Above (1986), pp16-17

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Friday, 1 December 2006

In Memoriam

I heard yesterday that Dom Bernard Orchard OSB, monk of Ealing Abbey, died on Tuesday, aged 96. I met him a few times as a University student and consulted his books of Biblical scholarship as a seminarian. He was a great promoter of the primacy of St Matthew's Gospel (as opposed to that of St Mark) and compiled a synopsis of the Gospels in Greek and English. He was also general editor of the celebrated Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (1953) and in 1981 was named titular Cathedral Prior of Canterbury. His passing constitutes an end of an era - he was clothed as a novice at Downside way back in 1932 by the great Dom John Chapman, author of the Spiritual Letters and the maxim, 'pray as you can, not as you can't.'

Uniquely, another member of the Ealing community died on the same day as Fr Bernard. May they rest in peace.

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Salvete flores martyrum!

As Fr Tim has reported on Hermeneutic of Continuity, a small group of priest friends gathered together today to celebrate the forty-four martyrs of the Venerable English College, Rome. This was one of many such gatherings up and down the country. Our location this year was St Mary Magdalen's, Willesden Green (which neighbours my old parish of Our Lady of Willesden). The church looked rather impressive, despite its 1930s vintage:


After Mass and Te Deum we had some champagne. Meanwhile Fr Tim, after sitting for over an hour in choir, needed a cigarette break, which was caught on the camera of the Roman Miscellenist. Fr Tim was following in the footsteps of St Pius X, who I believe was himself a chain smoker, and St John Kemble, not one of the Forty-Four but a priest martyr who calmly smoked his pipe just before his martyrdom in 1679.


We then sat down for a fine meal, courtesy of a team of kind parishioners, followed by liqueurs and cigars. I should stress, in case any readers of a more delicate disposition are shocked, that for most of us this is a very occasional pleasure, reserved for the great feasts of the Church:


The assembled company are (left to right) Fr Hugh MacKenzie (our generous host), Fr Tim Finigan (blogger extraordinaire), Fr Mark Vickers (new chaplain to the University of Hertfordshire), Fr Marcus Holden (co-author of Evangelium), Fr Richard Whinder (a familiar face in the blogosphere), your humble blogger and Fr Stephen Boyle (brother of South Ashford Priest). Note the two 'orbs' in the photo - perhaps a sign that the martyrs were present with us?! Finally, here's a shot in sepia:


A great festal day, constituting a sort of 'carnevale' before the penitential season of Advent...

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Martyrs' Day


I'm posting this early because 1 December is 'Martyrs' Day,' the Feast of the Martyrs of the Venerable English College, Rome (my alma mater) and a day of several celebrations around the country (normally involving Holy Mass, a huge meal and lots of Italian digestivi). It's a wonderful start to a very festal month, which also includes the Immaculate Conception, my birthday and, of course, the Christmas Octave.

The feast is comparatively recent. From what I can tell, it dates to the rectorship of Mgr (later Cardinal) William Godfrey, who later wrote:
Sherwin, Walpole, Morse, Hart, Buxton, Lewis and all the rest of the gallant company seemed to me to live again in those young men who were my fellow students, or who, in the days when I was Rector, were given to me to be led to the same priesthood and to the same altar and sacrifice. Together we kept the anniversaries of those brave servants of Christ who were men of our own house. We placed flowers and lights before the picture of the Blessed Trinity which the martyrs themselves had venerated. We asked the Holy Father to grant us a special feast of our College martyrs on December 1, the day of Ralph Sherwin’s passion. The special Mass and Office which we submitted were approved, and the feast of the Venerabile Martyrs, celebrated as a Festa nel coro e nel refettorio, brought
us a peculiar domestic joy beyond all telling… While fingering the pages of our own Liber ruber [College register, sanctified by the blood of the martyrs - hence the name] we did not think that other books of the same kind were being made and that the day would come when the simple words Martyr factus est might be written alongside the names of men with whom we conversed in the halls of the Gregorian University, and whom we saw with books under their arms treading the Roman streets or walking on the Pincio in the evening sunshine. Yet it was so.
I fondly remember the Martyrs' Days I spent in Rome. It was a day off lectures (at least unofficially), and most of our time was spent in the refectory (eating), in the Cardinals Corridor (drinking) and, most importantly, in the chapel (where we celebrated Mass and then, in the early evening, recited Vespers, venerated the relics of the martyrs and chanted a Te Deum in their honour). O felix Roma!

I've always had a special devotion to the College's proto-martyr, St Ralph Sherwin (see picture above), who not only studied at the Venerabile but also my old College in Oxford - Exeter College. He was arrested shortly after returning to England and was hanged, drawn and quartered, together with SS Edmund Campion and Alexander Briant, at Tyburn on 1 December 1581. He was aged only 31. Shortly after leaving Oxford I penned a short pamphlet on the saint, which I believe can still be purchased from the Association of Catholic Women, if anyone is interested.

Buona festa to all Old Romans!

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