Francis Fever

I love Papa Francesco

It could be my misanthropic side or maybe I’ve just got a very short attention span or perhaps a combination of the two, means that I’m hoping that Francis fever will shortly subside, once the inauguration Mass has taken place.

That’s not to in any way question our new Holy Father, or throw any of his qualities into doubt, far from it, the Conclave played a blinder with that googlie (indulge me a little Bernard moment to mix my sporting metaphors here) but the constant focus upon Pope Francis, the style of his papacy and his personal gracious humility and simplicity, could I think, become counterproductive.

It’s marvellous that here we have a new Pope who has really got the media buzzing, proving that Catholicism is not as irrelevant as they would have us believe and that coverage has been incredibly positive, aside from one poorly researched attempted hatchet job from the usual suspect, the Guardian, but human nature loves nothing better than to build people up, if only to knock them down again, ably aided and abetted by the media.

My concern is that this important theme of poverty could swiftly start to become jaded and has the capacity to be caricatured and used as a weapon against the Holy Father, when and if, he does something wholly in keeping with his vocation, by a media who may not fully understand the implications of the office and responsibilities of the Vicar of Christ. Such as, for example, when he travels. Fr Ray Blake highlights an essential point, namely in order to be loyal sons and daughters of the Church we really need to get to grips with and actually understand what is meant by poverty. Anyone who thinks that the Vatican museums or Roman churches can or should be sold off to the highest bidder needs a reality check.

I cannot help but think that the very last thing Pope Francis wants is to be revered as some sort of living saint for the fact that he lives out the values of the Gospel and of his religious order. Whilst it’s entirely laudable that he does so, he is not the only priest or bishop to follow in the footsteps of Christ in this way. I know at least one UK diocesan bishop who drives about in an average non descript car, has very little in the way of personal staff and goes about with absolutely no pomp and ceremony whatsoever. A parish volunteer once related to me about how they once told a man that he couldn’t use a particular space in the church car park, because it was reserved for the bishop who was coming to do confirmations, whereupon the response was a fairly nonplussed, ‘I am actually the bishop’ much to the poor man’s mortification! He had been expecting a grand personage in a smart vehicle, not a low-key looking priest.

Pope Francis may well be on his way to sainthood, as are hopefully all of us, but he is not there yet and the very reason that he took us all by surprise is precisely because he had kept an extraordinarily low profile in the run-up to the conclave, he doesn’t do self-promotion and thus had fallen off everybody’s radar, including the most seasoned vaticanisti. This self-effacing man, whilst indicating that his papacy will be very different in style, does not want to be admired, far from it, but to lead us to Christ. The theme could wear thin very quickly not to mention backfire, if it is over-egged or swift conclusions drawn and I can’t help but wonder how soon we may see the satirists draw unkind Uriah Heep portraits. My mind drifted back to how Fluck and Law of Spitting Image portrayed Pope John Paull II, with a shudder.

Pope Benedict XVI was the one who laid the groundwork in terms of demystifying the papacy, not least by resigning it. His several books that were written in his own name, alongside his prolonged interview with Peter Seewald in Light of the World, in which he let people into his own personal reflections, showed, that in his words upon his election in 2005, that he was ‘a simple worker in the vinyard of the Lord’. Pope Francis seems to have the ability to breathe new life into the Church, he seems to be the right man at the right moment, he could do for the Papacy what Princess Diana did for the Royals, not forgetting that Diana’s charism with the poor and the sick was, however inadvertently, following in Christ’s footsteps, Francis is clearly able to speak from the heart, off the cuff, to rip up formal protocols and win hearts and minds for Christ, but he may not have been able to do so, if Benedict had not already shown the way. Pope Francis is very much what the church is aching for, but the likes of Cardinal Mahoney ought to remember that it was thanks to the Emeritus Pope, that this has been made possible. If we are to remember that the papacy is not a personality cult, then we also need to remember to keep some of our admiration and respect in proportion, before going overboard about a people’s pope. I think Pope Francis will do great things for us, but only if we give him the space, instead of projecting our own interpretation onto him.

As for the matters liturgical, I hate to rain on Rorate Caeli’s parade, but it seems to me, they are forgetting one vitally important point here, in that like everybody else, the Pope is a servant of the liturgy. I know liturgy matters, I’m not a traditionalist, but equally I appreciate the importance of the liturgy in orientating us towards Christ and subjugating our will to His. Liturgy is not about how we “feel” and what gives us the warm and fuzzies, but worshiping God as he has instructed us to do so , in a way that is noble, reverent, respectful, transcendent and mysterious. I guess I’m torn on this, because whilst appreciating the desire for a simpler style, there is a part of me that thinks, look, the Vatican has all these wonderful vestments in its various wardrobes, they aren’t going to sell them, go on, they might as well use the sparkly threads every once in a while. The whole thing is very hard to get right. One doesn’t want vestments that are just so ornate and dazzlingly beautiful that they detract from what’s going on in the Mass, equally we don’t want vomit inducing ’70s lairy florescent vulgar murals, neither does one want a priest that appears almost liturgically naked, his very simplicity being a statement and thus a distraction. The mystery and nobility needs to be retained, but I’m absolutely no expert, I’ve no idea how. It would clearly be a shame if Benedict’s reforms went by the wayside, his papacy was about making sure that the entire Church faced in the same direction, towards God (one of the reasons I’m all in favour of ad orientem) and Pope Francis will continue what Benedict did for the liturgy, in terms of prayer and action.

On the subject on nobility, though it’s as the result of a happy accident, I think we also do need to remember that the Pope is also the Head of State (albeit small), a role which enables the Holy See to achieve a vast amount in terms of international relations and behind-the-scenes negotiations and peace agreements so it is only right and proper that a certain respect is accorded to him in this office. Back to the unprepossessing bishops that I can think of, I think we need to remember that even though one may live simply and reflect this in dress or manner of transport, the dignity of office, the fact that a bishop, cardinal or Pope is one of Peter’s apostles, should never ever be forgotten. I know Anglicans who have often been flummoxed by this, forgetting that an appearance can often belie the office. One of the interesting contrasts I find between the Anglican and Catholic bishops I know, is that the Anglicans are all about the ecclesial purple and pectoral crosses and piping, the Catholic Bishops tend to be a lot more discreet in their dress, often leading to others perhaps treating them with inappropriate informality and yet Catholic bishops hold infinitely more power over their diocese than their Anglican counterparts. The commentators on Rorate Caeli need to remember exactly who they are talking about and the allegiance which is owed to him, Pope Francis has the keys of St Peter, the power to bind and lose.

None of this is to diss our new pontiff, but more to add a note of caution. Yes, we should be delighted that so far, the signs are looking promising, but Joseph Shaw has wise words on Papolatry and prudence. I can see attacks on the Church, on our new Holy Father really intensifying in the near future, from all quarters, including from within, as we have already seen. Whilst I take CS Lewis’ guidance to heart about the equal and opposite errors with regards to thinking about the devil, it seems to me that the reaction, the anger, whether that be from Rorate Caeli, the liberal press or hostile Anglicans, seems to flow from one cause. We have a great new Pope, who promises so much in terms of the New Evangelisation and the reinvigoration of the church. One who is going to re-sanctify the church and bring Christ to the world, especially the poor, sick, the needy, the elderly and the unborn in the twenty-first century. Not only that, technically we have TWO Popes, no matter how bizarre that seems. Not one pope, but two. One who will be actively leading us in prayer and holiness and another former pope, who will be storming the heavens on behalf of the church, with a life of prayer and penance. Think about that for a moment. I said in a previous post that we had two-for the-price of one in Pope Francis, with the merger of the Jesuit and Franciscan. Actually we have that in an actual physical sense, two popes together working for the church although in very different ways. One public and one private. They are even meeting privately next week, in order that Benedict may pass on some of his wisdom and experience to help Pope Francis in some of the difficult decisions. This is unprecedented stuff.

The power of two extraordinarily holy, deeply spiritual and wise men, leading the faithful in prayer. It can be no surprise that someone is angry, someone is furious, whenever great good happens, retaliation always occurs. Someone else has got Francis fever, which is why we need to all be on guard.



(Oh and as aside, to the critics who are claiming that the Church’s teaching on sexuality and priestly celibacy is misguided because it’s difficult but who are lauding the Pope’s zeal for the poor. The response to which is doing what is right, is not always the same as what is easy. I wonder what they would make of being informed that technically they should be giving at least 10% of their income away to charity. That’s not easy either, especially in these troubled times, but does that mean that it’s equally quite so misguided and wrong? If chastity and celibacy are wrong because they are allegedly difficult and challenging then why doesn’t giving a significant proportion of your income away, fall into the same category?)

A little treat

It’s rare for me to diverge from my usual blither into the more esoteric territory of sacred music, not least because I’m bound to offend at least one person, but this delightful new setting charmed my socks off!

Absolutely glorious. Can we have more of this please? ¬†You don’t even need the accompanying choir or harmony, the top line in itself is beautiful and relatively simple.

For those who haven’t already come across this – it’s the Mass of the English Martyrs, by Jeff Ostrowski. Sublime. How do we make this mandatory in all Norvus Ordo Masses? The score is free, no copyright issue – choirmasters start downloading and get singing. It’s even been scored for higher and lower voices.

A perfect Mass setting for the ordinations of those to the Ordinariate or indeed former Anglican, convert clergy…

Enjoy. (h/t chant cafe)

Holding the Baby?


Today was Theodora Mary Elizabeth Farrow’s baptism. She is now cleansed of Original Sin and is part of the Christian family. We had quite a low-key affair being less than two weeks away from moving house, but God willing there will be an enormous celebration at some point in the next eighteen months for all extended family and friends.

Just one wee question, to which I’d be grateful to know the answer. Why, in the New Rite of Baptism does the priest not hold the baby during the act of pouring the water over the baby’s head? Depending on the height of the font, potentially the baby can end up at something of a peculiar angle with the parent awkwardly holding squirming infant with their head pointed downwards, aimed in the general direction of the font almost like they are going to have a hairwash with all the blood rushing to their head.

Personally I’d like to see the priest take the baby in his arms whilst baptising. There is something very reassuring and symbolic about the priest, in personae Christi, cradling the baby in his arms and welcoming them into the bosom of Mother Church. Is it a Health and Safety initiative? Does the priest have to undergo risk management and need a certificate in baby cuddling or is there something symbolic I’ve missed? It would be a shame to have a generation of priests fearful of baby handling.

In the meantime Teddy’s missed her evening bath tonight as she still smells so delicious from the chrism oil. I never wash the babies after Baptism until all the oil has totally worn off, which won’t take too long at this rate as I keep sniffing her head!

Lost liturgical heritage

I was minded to look at the newsletter from my old school earlier and have taken the inevitable trip down memory lane. One of these days I really should knuckle down to writing a pseudonymous autobiography, however what jumped out at me was the invitation to attend an Easter celebration at the school, for an “afternoon of creative liturgy and sharing of the Paschal journey”.

This sums up my liturgical background quite neatly and why, unlike some Catholic bloggers, I rarely write about the liturgy, because put very simply, I am liturgically illiterate, for a variety of reasons.

Although technically a cradle catholic, my grandfather was a benefactor of and greatly involved in the rebuilding of Buckfast Abbey, where he is buried and where I was baptised. My mother is a lapsed catholic; she is of the generation who was misled by the press and her priests and felt a great deal of hurt and disappointment when Humanae Vitae was issued. My father was, although he claims he is now lapsed, a staunch Anglican and a fierce admirer of Martin Luther, “one of the greatest men who ever lived”.

Thus my upbringing or Christian formation was far from conventional, religion was barely mentioned, let alone practiced at home, apart from the regular arguments between my parents as to who was the most wicked of the Tudor monarchs and whether Mary or Elizabeth numbered a higher heretic body count, when both would become amusingly tribal. I have a vague memory of asking why lying was wrong and being told that “Jesus doesn’t like it”, which meant nothing and later on in my teens, repeating in an RE essay, my mother’s mantra that the Pope was really very wicked owing to his stance on condoms, in the attempt to be the cool kid and stir up a bit of controversy. But other than the Pope being wrong on contraception, Smithfield bonfires and the merits of Martin Luther, religion didn’t feature at all in our house, unless it came up in the context of school.

My father is rather a fine organist and played for 30 years in our local C of E parish church as well as leading the choir, hence my sister and I were both recruited to join when I was seven and we regularly attended the morning service and Evensong (complete with a copy of the Enid Blyton to read during the boring bits). Evensong seemed to consist of lots of old tone deaf people warbling, hurried putting down of a book, standing up, turning 90 degrees, singing “Glory to the Father and to the Son, And to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and shall be forevermore Amen”, before settling back down to the book again, before another bout of singing. Not to mention burning fingers on the hot water pipes underneath the choir stalls where the books were quickly stowed.

I had absolutely no idea whatsoever that I was a Roman Catholic, or what that meant, until my sister started secondary school, at the local private Catholic boarding school. I remember the night before she started, her hurriedly being taught how to make the sign of the cross, in true nuns on the run style. My mother literally told her, “my father used to have a funny rhyme, spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch”, before dissolving into peals of laughter. She was instructed to take communion, simply by joining the queue and copying what everyone else does. When we went to the obligatory Masses on Parents’ weekends etc, I was horrified. Though my parents were totally charmed by the Headmistress in full Joyce Grenfell swing during the pre-Mass warmup of hymn singing “C’mon gels, give it some welly”, it all seemed very evangelical or Pentecostal to me. I equated Catholics with Gospel choirs and the Kenny Everett character with the big pointy hands.

My father was torn between abhorrence, embarrassment and hilarity. He chose the latter. One of the things that I’ve always admired about my father is that from an early age, he always taught me to think for myself and not to give two hoots about what anyone else ever thought. He never does. So during Mass he would literally hold his nose and belt out “Our God Reigns – Down the Drains” or “Jubilate Have a Chapati” as loud as he possibly could, before cackling evilly adding “utter tripe” in a not-so-sotto voce.

When I started at the school, my sister and I were summoned to a meeting at the Rector’s house one Saturday morning. He made the point that given we were both baptised Catholics, yet we regularly attended his church, a decision really needed to be made as to what denomination we were going to be. I was happy to stay as a C of E, the music and weirdness of the nuns at my school frankly terrified me, I had absolutely no interest in being a Catholic whatsoever, but obviously a decision needed to be taken about confirmation. We came home rather confused, told our parents that we had been told to choose, whereupon my mother, who has an inbuilt terror of nuns and consequences of not doing what we were told, rushed off to Sister Mary Francis, who decreed that we absolutely must be Catholics and therefore attend Mass with the boarders every Sunday morning.

So that’s what happened and subsequently I became a boarder. I never had any catechesis or took First Holy Communion, I simply lined up and copied what everyone else did. Genuflecting was never explained, it was just something that we all did in rows upon leaving the school chapel, and it took me years to work out what ON EARTH was that funny thing people did at the start of the Gospel. Why did everyone scratch their nose, chin and neck. I copied doing a funny thing with my thumb without having any idea what it was I was supposed to be doing and hoping that no-one would ever notice. I don’t think that they did.

Despite being an ostensibly Catholic school, there was absolutely no catechesis whatsoever. We all had to take Religion as a compulsory GCSE, but no talk of sacramentals whatsoever. The nuns seemed to do their own thing, so long as everyone went to Mass every Sunday and on Feast days that was it really. I don’t really remember much teaching on Catholic ethics either. It did feature as part of the GCSE, we covered abortion and euthanasia, but that was about it. Contraception was certainly talked about and covered in great detail. We had several informative talks from the local FPA clinics, we all knew about the methods that were available then, about condoms, the pill and the signs and symptoms of STDS, but no-one ever told us not to go and have sex, or that sex was evil, dirty and wicked, contrary to common perceptions about Catholic schools.

The liturgies were chock full of Taise, Farrell and Christopher Walker. We weren’t averse to the odd bit of liturgical dance. Once, as a punishment, from what I recall, a group of us were recruited to join Mr Reece’s Morris dancing club, in which we had to learn to Morris dance in time for the Christmas Carol service. I can never again hear “O Little Town of Bethlehem” without chanting rhythmically “step – caper” at the end of each line. Yes, Clare P and I danced, complete with strap-on bells, jangley sticks and waving of handkerchiefs in the Sanctuary in front of the altar. As did the modern dance group during the Good Friday liturgy. Nobody knew any different.

I could relate various anecdotes for hours, one of these days there is an autobiography dying to be written, but needless to say it was guitars galore. At Easter, everyone, day-girls included, had to stay for the entire weekend, engaging in various Easter activities, from baking Easter chicks with the hard-pressed kitchen staff, to desert island discs in Poles’ common room. (Sarah Askew very daringly brought along Madonna’s Like a Prayer, radical rebel that she was, and I thought it was cool and hard to bring It’s a Sin, by the Pet Shop Boys). There was some bizarre bonfire type activity as part of the vigil, involving people dancing around it in a manic fashion, pretending to be drunk on mulled wine and singing “We are an Easter People and Alleluia is Our Song”. I cringed, wore a black spotty shirt from Kensington Market on top of a Cure t-shirt and pretended I was cooler than the rest of them to hide my embarrassment.

So, given all of that, the fact that I am now a practicing Catholic, is something of a surprise. This is not a post for conversion story, but amusing reflection and reminiscences aside, I actually feel really rather cheated. I appreciate all of the intellectual arguments around the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, but I find it really hard to “get into”, probably because a trendy Novus Ordo is all that I am used to. The demands of young children don’t make this any easier, it is hard enough to concentrate, focus and pray at ANY form of the Mass, when you have 3 children to be keeping an eye on, and because my eldest isn’t used to the extraordinary form either, she finds it terribly boring. I am normally too self conscious about noisy babies and toddlers ruining the silence for other people, to get into the habit of attending. It’s one of the things, I have promised myself I will seriously explore when the children are a little older.

Though I have largely outgrown the happy-clappiness and charismatic music of my schooldays, I prefer the commons all sung and preferably in Latin, this has been an acquired taste, as has plainsong, which has as much to do with my father’s own musical tastes, than any Catholic upbringing. There are many Catholics of my age and older who have experienced, if not as zany, a similar liturgical upbringing. The Novus Ordo is what we are used to, and the Extraordinary Form, just seems alien. Pope Benedict has done much in terms of liturgical reforms, however it isn’t all filtering down to Parishes. The sung vigil Mass on a Saturday night in my parish is an altogether different and more preferable experience to the Sunday morning service which is tailored to families and seems to feature the same four hymns.

It’s a very hard balance, “One more step along the way I go” may be a crowd pleaser, but the problem is, for people who are brought up solely on this stuff, they are missing an important part of our cultural heritage as Catholics. It is not for nothing that we are part of the Latin rite. I am fortunate, in that unlike many I did Latin GCSE at school and hail from a musical family, so the chants are not unfamiliar, my father is also an aficionado of plainsong and high church liturgical music which was passed down to us as children, but for many, “If I were a butterfly” seems a perfectly reasonable thing to be singing in Church.

At the moment there seems to be a rather unnecessary divide between those who would prefer the EF Mass and those who are terrified that it’s going to become compulsory and must be stopped at all costs. I’m not sure that I understand it. In my world it would be horses for courses, those who want the EF should be able to access it as they wish, equally the Novus Ordo should not be spurned for those of us who have grown up with it and can’t quite get to grips with priests facing away from us, a silent canon and lots of incomprehensible gestures. But what we do need to ensure, is that non of our culture, none of our rich liturgical heritage is done away with. Having the Mass in the vernacular is one thing. Holding hands around the altar whilst singing the Caribbean Our Father quite another.

Rather than polarise the two camps, it seems sensible to keep the EF, but also gradually reform the Novus Ordo in order to more properly reflect the changes of Vatican II and get rid of the liturgical abuses that sets everyone’s teeth on edge. In that way, the EF may become more accessible to many and seen as complement, not a threat. The Lord is equally present through the sacrament at both kinds, even though the Heavenly Host may not be singing Colours of Day.