Last night we took down the Christmas decorations and packed them away for another year. This annual farewell to the festive season has been the cause of no little handwringing in the Gallica household. I am of an age in which we were taught that Christmas decorations remain garlanding the house until Twelfth Night, which fell on the the fifth of January, on which day we observed the Vigil of the Epiphany. It made sense and remembering the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child formed a neat end to the season by reminding the more materialistic among us that not all gifts, however brightly they might glitter, were the pleasurable products of messrs Fry’s, Cadbury or Rowntree.
In the intervening years, crass comercialism has supplanted the sober anticipation of Advent to the extent that it seems that decorations are appearing earlier and earlier with each passing year. Scarcely has August Bank holiday passed than some idiot is festooning the outside of their house with multicoloured lights and glow in the dark snowmen. Please do not misunderstand, I am not by any means some latterday Ebenezer Scrooge, I merely hold the position that the proper place for Christmas decorations and Christmas festivities is – well – Christmas. Not September, October, November or even the four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve.
I would normally have expected the backing of the Bishops of England and Wales in this matter. One would expect these reverend gentlemen, as responsible shepherds of their flock, and heirs of the Apostles to be pretty hot about what was and was not correct and pertinent to the season and quite forthright in protecting and promoting the observance of the liturgical niceties.
You may imagine my confusion and distress when I learn that, in their wisdom, said bishops have decided to move the observance of the Epiphany to the 2nd of January, effectively slicing four days off the twelve days of Christmas. So much for His Holiness prattling on about the Treasures of the Church. It must be truly galling for the poor man to know that in urging our Bishops to be more Catholic he is talking to a brick wall.
The sexual abuse of children is a crime. No right thinking person can condone it. People are right to express their outrage and sense of betrayal whenever and wherever it occurs. They are justified in calling for those who perpetrate such crimes to suffer the full penalty of the civil law. The Church in England and Wales, as Archbishop Vincent Nichols pointed out the other day, agrees wholeheartedly with this proposal. Indeed, it has, through its Safeguarding policy, developed a system of dealing with abuse that has recieved the praise of agencies concerned with child protection and is a positive example to the rest of the world. The Archbishop was not saying that the problem has not or could not happen here. It has. It can, and in all likelihood probably will, but there is a rigorous policy in place to nip such problems in the bud and prevent, as far as is possible, further harm. I am content that, for once, the much derided Bishops of England and Wales have ensured that our children are adequately protected from this most heinous of crimes. In this alone, one could almost forgive them for the vast sums of money that their conference has wasted on less vital issues and fair-trade biscuit policies – almost.
However, the more serious matter is the damage to the reputation of The Church worldwide and the honour of the overwhelming numbers of decent, honest and dedicted clergy and religious who have seen their hard won reputation dragged through the dirt; Fr Ray Burke reports clergy being verbally abused in the street in Rome with shouts of “Paederasta”, not even His Holiness is spared the opprobrium of the hysterical and ill-educated masses. There have been, I read, a good many calls for him to resign. Though I am sure that the situation will get an awful lot worse before it begins to get better, I am also certain that the situation will get better. The reasons for my optimism being that I am reminded first of all of the promise made by Our Blessed Saviour to St Peter regarding His church; namely that He will be with it to the end of time and that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. In the last two millenia the church has weathered many more shattering scandals than this. It has survived them all, as it will survive this, just as Our Lord promised – thanks be to God.
Next I am reminded of what Our Lord said of the hatred of the world. He was hated and reviled and ultimately crucified for being Who and What He was. We are not to imagine that any of that hatred will be spared to us. I suppose, to develop the analogy of the season, that this may be a portion of the cross that we are called to carry with Him – again, thanks be to God!
Thirdly, I have long been of the opinion that in allowing the error of modernism to creep into the church and then giving it its head following Vatican II that the church has laid itself open, within and without, to attack from the forces that seek to destroy it. There is lately, about the church, the feeling of flux, a sense that a winnowing is taking place; I do get the distinct and growing feeling of wheat being sorted from chaff. It is a process set in train by our good and holy Pontiff with his motu proprio ‘Summorum Pontificum’. Naturally, the ageing hippies and happy-clappers hate him for this. Naturally, they will go looking in every dark corner for dirt to sling at him. But none of it will stick. The conclave of Cardinals who elected him may think they acted politically but, nonetheless, they invoked the Holy Spirit to inspire their choice and inspire He did. It strikes me that quite a few of our reverend fathers are shortly to discover that while God may be mocked, He may not be mocked with impunity and He will always have the last word – yet again, thanks be to God.
So, be of good cheer my brothers and sisters in Christ, give thanks to God that we stand in the shadow of the Cross, cling to it and remember that next weekend we proclaim the risen Lord.
In my youth I trained as a baker in a small, local, family run bakery. One of the joys of the job was seeing the changing seasons of the year reflected in the products we made. Easter was marked in the bakery by the production of Hot Cross Buns during Holy Week. Starting first thing on the Monday morning after Palm Sunday the sublime smell of freshly baked bread was augmented by the rich aroma of the mixed spice which was added to the buns. In my first year I was given the job of glazing the buns, by my second year I had graduated to placing the crosses on them and glazing them. They were only available for the first four days of Holy Week. The bakery, along with many other shops in town, closed on Good Friday. Only the wet fish shops stayed open and did a roaring trade while the rest of us were at church.
Legend has it that the bun and its tradition has its origin in St Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire, where Fr Rocliff was in charge of distributing bread to the poor, the pious gentleman decided one Good Friday in 1361 to mark buns with a cross in honour of the day our Saviour died for our salvation. The tradition soon spread to the entire country and has persisted ever since. indeed so esteemed was this Good Friday food that it was long believed that a Hot Cross Bun would never go mouldy (as a baker, I do not recommend testing this theory).
Earlier this year, the fourth of January if memory serves, I found myself wandering through the local branch of Tesco. It is a massive, soulless sort of place which covers around six football fields worth of good green pasture, not counting the car park, which is twice as big. And I remarked to my companion, sarcastically, that one could always tell when Christmas was over because the supermarkets began stocking up on Hot Cross Buns. And there they were, ridiculous piles of pre-packed, soggy, unappetising and largely tasteless lumps of dough, packed with e-numbers, emulsifiers and anti-oxidants, out of season and context and also bereft of meaning.
Good catholics should start to hit back at the shabby commercialism of our faith and traditions, by making their own Hot Cross Buns. They are tastier, better for you, and if you get the kids involved are a good way of reinforcing their faith and having a bit of fun too!
To help you on your way here is a recipe, courtesy of the BBC.
So Westminster is going to go to Archbishop Vincent Nichols. What does this mean in terms of the future direction of the Church in England?
Well, not an awful lot really. This appointment does not represent the handbrake turn that some Catholics had been hoping for, but I suppose that was always going to be an unrealistic expectation. Archbishop Vincent was initially recognised and schooled by Derek Worlock and was also General Secretary of the Bishop’s Conference; not exactly the ideal background for an ultra-orthodox conservative. On the plus side, he did work for sixteen years with the Saintly Cardinal Hume and, in his later years, is slowly discovering an appreciation for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. He does possess considerable media skills and, unlike Murphy-O’Connor, is not easily sidetracked by aggressive interviewers; his masterly dismissal of C4 New’s Krishnan Guru Murthy was a joy to behold.
It is odd that, although his name was on the first Terna submitted to the Holy Father, it has taken so long for this appointment to be made. The suspicion must be that His Holiness had someone else in mind who demurred and that Archbishop Vincent was always the second choice. Quite who the Pontiff’s first choice was will probably not be known for quite some time, if ever.
To get a better idea of the way that the Pope intends tackling the crisis in the Church in England we must now look at who will be appointed to replace Archbishop Vincent at Birmingham. We may expect the Pope to back up his appointment of Archbishop Vincent with someone who is similarly conservative, with a small ‘c’. One of the reasons why Fr Aidan Nichols might not have been considered for Westminster is his lack of pastoral experience. Birmingham, with the intention of then moving on to Westminster, might possibly be a solution.
If the new appointee is in the orthodox conservative mould, the pope is playing a long game and is waiting for the liberal hippies to die. If the new appointee is a liberal, there is no hope for the church and we might as well get used to the idea of married clergy, wimmin priests and all the rest of the liberal heresies!
Still, Archbishop Nichols doescome from Lancashire, so he cannot be all bad, and he does strongly support the cause of Ven. Cardinal Newman. But I think that the most important point in his favour is that he is not Murphy-O’Connor!
The prayers for the conversion of England proceed uninterrupted and my Rosary is shiny with use.
We were having a discussion about Charles Darwin at work the other day and I asked a question regarding something that has puzzled me for a long time. There are species of plants which are said to have evolved to produce flowers that resemble insects, which, so the argument goes, assists in pollination and thus proves the theory of evolution. My question is, How is a plant likley to know what an insect is, much less what one might look like or how it is likely to behave in any given circumstance?
I have heard several theories put forward in answer to this conundrum, none of which have been even remotely convincing. I must say that I am not one of those who subscribe to Bishop Ussher’s theory that the world sprang into being, complete and perfect at midnight on the 23rd October 4004BC. But then, I am not a Darwinist either.
I do not know the answer to this particular riddle. It may be that plants are endowed with senses we do not comprehend yet, but if that were so then surely all plants would be vying with each other to produce the best looking insect/flower. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.
Over the last couple of years His Holiness has acquired the reputation for upsetting folk. Where his late predecessor was all emolient niceness, PR a-go-go and fabulous photo opportunities, Benedict XVI, appears determined to plough a different furrow.
The first major upset was having the temerity to accept his election – God’s Rotwieler as Pope!! I could hardly hear the Camerlengo announce “Habemus Papam” for the shrieks and wails of The Tablet’s correspondent. Then came the Regensbourg Address which upset muslims no end, though to be frank, it doesn’t take much to upset muslims. His Holiness swiftly followed up with the Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum” which has had a “slow burn” effect, but is now really begining to set the cat among the liturgical pigeons.
From a PR perspective, reminding homosexuals and others that sex outside of marriage is sinful was not possibly the wisest move for a universal celebrity, but I do not believe that “celebrity” has ever been a consideration. Then we had the lifting of the excommunications imposed on the Bishops of the SSPX and the revelation that +Williamson entertained doubts about the numbers involved in the Holocaust. For some reason, best known to themselves, the Germans appear to have taken particular umbrage over that one. And now, almost the entire planet is up in arms against His Holiness for re-stating catholic teaching that sexual promiscuity is inherently sinful and that condom use is not the best way to prevent AIDS. It should actually be a no brainer that the only sensible way to prevent the acquisition of a fatal, sexually transmitted virus is to keep your pants on and your thighs together! But sadly that involves taking responsibility for your own life, something which the world in the 21st century is not too good at.
In among all this handwringing hoo-hah, the athiests are lauding Richard Dawkins and Polly Toynbee to the heavens for having the tremendous courage to beard this fragile eighty year old in his den, well almost. They actually decided to launch a poster campaign on London Transport with the strap line “God probably doesn’t exist, so stop worrying and enjoy your life”. Hmmm, ferocious, take-no-prisoners sort of stuff that. No arguing with that statement. A regular call-to-arms, line in the sand kind of thing. I especially liked the “probably”.
Why are athiests are so upset with a man who must be for them irrelevent at the very least, and moreover, one who has absolutely no means of enforcing his opinion. If they do not believe in God and that God speaks through his church and thus through the person of the Pope, why should anything that the Pope has to say disturb their equilibrium to such an extent that countless reams of anti-clerical, anti-papal and anti-religious diatribes swamp the printed, broadcast and virtual media?
If His Holiness is merely a sadly deluded eighty year old with a penchant for outrageous drag why are they all getting themselves into such a lather?
Unless…somewhere, at the bottom of their sad and twisted souls, there is still the unreasonably obstinate divine spark that refuses to be extinguished or silenced. A last link that, try as they might, cannot be broken. A proof beyond wonder and beyond comprehension that the love of God for his creation is unwavering, inextinguishable and absolute. I can now well understand how that realisation must annoy the pants off them!