Signs of New Life

I am not a professional journalist, but as one who enjoys writing in my native language, I recognise talent when I read it. I refer to the young author of Liturgia Causa who lives in the south-east of England.

Suburban life, working hard to earn a living and seeking to live out a spiritual ideal are rather hard to combine. I am lucky to live in the countryside and work at home, but still have to fight the same combats as all my contemporaries, namely keeping finances above water and paying the bills. Unlike priests in the “mainstream” churches, I share the common lot of humanity, having to cope with the ups and downs of running a house, managing money and making the right decisions. My good friend Patricius has his life and has to try to live in a world that seems to run like a machine, soulless and merciless. It is in such a condition of life, amidst closed-down churches and people who don’t even think about Christianity, let alone care – that we think about things like the liturgy.

For some time, Liturgia Causa has lain dormant for the reasons its author has given in a number of poignant postings. It is tempting to be judgemental about the attitude that seems to reflect the spiritual malady of acedia, what modern medicine would call depression and what the rest of us would term as tiredness of life. I correspond with Patricius and exchange ideas, and I find him a sincere young man. Having lived in the traditionalist Roman Catholic world – and having left it, I sympathise with many of his concerns. I cannot relate to much more than a very small part of Catholic Christianity and I acutely understand what keeps most people away from churches. That brings loneliness, except that I find company in the secular world between those who love music and those who love boats and the sea – and often the two go together. The Christian ideal is something that is lived in the desert, whether it is really the desert or the sea, or the world of people who are not Christians and are interested in other things or ideals. We can do what we want ourselves, without expecting the same from anyone else.

Just yesterday, he posted To kindle the ashes… He evokes the image of the crocus flower coming up through the snow. We’re a long way off yet, as we haven’t even reached the Winter Solstice and the feast of St Thomas, in just a little over one week. In spite of the season, it is still possible to be getting one’s life into order and thinking about what one really wants. Some of the things Patricius brings up take years to sort out, and we are alone in doing so. These are things that we have to do ourselves, because no priest or member of the medical profession can offer anything more than generalities and often hyperbole.

This is something I often encountered, namely, a desire for excellence in liturgy or any other aspect of church life or life in general. When those around us show only a relative interest in what impassions us, frustration is the result. The obvious choice is that the question itself is really unimportant and that we should rearrange our priorities in life, or be prepared for a long solitary slog and harmonise our solitary part of life with the part of life involved in family and occupational life. These are struggles many of us go through, when we treasure what others consider as junk to be taken to the municipal dump.

One thing I love about Patricius is his transparency. This is perhaps truly the freshness of spring that the rest of us in the post-war generation have lost. He knows that there is a discrepancy between his thought and idealism and the sensus communis of the crowd. He is aware that judging others for the lack of interest in what he seeks to promote flew back in his face. The matter in hand is the liturgy of the Church, and for all of us, how it relates to the rest of life. The problem is that it doesn’t, because the world has moved beyond the old medieval world view of Christendom. Our western world is secular and its god is money.

I have lived through a similar crisis over the years, but in my own way. Certainly, my clerical training in seminary gave me another perspective, together with my years of solitude and finally marriage with a “cultural Catholic” girl. I lived through the Ordinariate movement years and the splits in the TAC. At the end of that, I put what is left of my vocation to the service of the very marginal ACC in England, and my own priestly life is lived as a solitary. My wife gladly comes to Mass when she feels like it, but is distant from a Church that just cannot and does not relate to our present condition as human beings.

In the end, one can either kick everything in the teeth as an act of nihilist revolt, or simply persevere in what little we have and are. Patricius still lives his interior combat, not being a priest or someone with experience of clerical life. A change is required but of my own making and that entails eshewing that godly vice in my life, namely sloth. He indeed has got it! What he chooses to do about it is up to him. I have given him the address of my Bishop and one of our priests who lives not far from where he lives, and he can contact them if he wants. I think my Church is near to his liturgical ideals, using the Anglican Missal, essentially the Roman rite in English of before the Pius XII reforms of Holy Week.

Patricius lost his dog this year. I lost two of them, and I also lost my mother. Life has to go on, and he knows that. Things won’t be the same as before. The way to get out of a dark place is to get moving and hit the “reboot” button. We all have the things we like doing as hobbies, and those are different from person to person. He is more of an intellectual than I am, more indoors and in libraries or other quiet places. What about work? Most of our work is boring drudgery, but we have to establish our own priorities in life. I would hate to be employed in retail trading. I worked in a music shop when I was 18-19 and most of it was packing mail orders and filing order forms and invoices in the office. The only way is to make a decision about what we really want to do in life, and carry it through. There are various possibilities like higher education or travelling. That’s up to him.

There’s something that Patricius is good at – writing. There’s something of the Evelyn Waugh in him, the eternal satirist. Writing is something you have or don’t have. We all (or nearly) all learn to read and write thanks to modern education. Most people read newspapers and novels – and of course the internet – and write e-mails and letters. Few of us find the energy to write substantially. Blogging offers many possibilities of becoming an amateur journalist or commentator on myriad topics in life. If we are motivated to write books, that’s another possibility – and then getting them published. That has always been hard, even for the best writers. There is always the saying that artists are only appreciated after their death! I earn my living hacking out technical translations for business and industry. I seem to do a good job in spite of not having a degree in translation, but hands-on experience which is a lot more useful. In that way, I am a professional writer. So, perhaps, all we can do in the way of creative or artistic writing is to work in that perspective to leave our own epitaph behind so that someone will have a Mass said for our soul – and get by in another way. That just about describes my own vocation as a priest!

Patricius‘ writing is often quite shocking. But, is that not the charm of it? That is his style. It isn’t mine. I am of a mind to compromise and conciliate. His is to clash and oppose, and that brings the suffering of solitude. I remember the comparison made between John Henry Newman and Fr Tyrrell. Newman was the diplomat who sailed close to the wind without getting caught in irons. Tyrrell was the pugnacious Irishman who got himself excommunicated and banished, taken into a religious community so that he wouldn’t be out in the street, and had to work himself out in the mess he had allowed himself to get into. His early death from sickness was perhaps a relief for him! How far are we willing to go to compromise for the sake of a modus vivendi with the world, and how much are we willing to suffer to have things our own way?

I don’t suppose there’s much advice I can offer, except that he do what he thinks is right, somewhere between calling St Joseph Joe the Working Class git (I celebrate SS. Philip and James on 1st May) and being ready for some accommodation and compromise for the cause of the liturgy. Finally, it’s all about knowing what you want in life.

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13 Responses to Signs of New Life

  1. Patricius says:

    Thank you for the link, father. On the subject of Fr Tyrrell, I would heartily recommend his letters. They are full of wisdom and written beautifully. I read them in the Theology Library at Heythrop for the first time (now some years ago) and, I think, they were a turning point for me. Heretofore I had conceived of Fr Tyrrell as some ungodly heathen who infiltrated Christ’s Church and endeavoured to bring her down from inside. These days I would say that he was a poor soul who suffered much at the hands of an Italian peasant and was finally thrust out and died ignominiously, being refused Christian burial. Of course, the actions of pope Sarto are above reproach these days as he is now style “saint” Pius X. It begs the question: if it is the custom of the Roman communion to canonize their most arrogant and destructive popes, why not go through a list of some of the more colourful pontiffs from the 10th and 15th centuries? I mean, did anybody want a “saint” Pius X? What ever happened to diocesan bishops adding the name of a popular martyr or confessor to the sanctoral litany?

    It’s St Lucy’s Day today. What a wonderful reminder of a distant light shewing us the way of prudence.

    • Father Martin says:

      I very much empathize with Patricius’s opinions. I was about his age when I was ordained, I was of the belief that at the mere sight of a traditional altar (tabernacle, six candlesticks and a crucifix surrounded by clouds of incense) Catholics would turn from their errors, Vatican II, etc., and embrace the “True Faith”, boy was I wrong. The only hope we have of preserving our liturgy, traditions and customs without constantly fighting a rear guard action against the Papal Mafia is to renounce the papacy, IN TOTO. That leaves us with only two options, either an orthodox Continuing Anglican church, such as the ACC or one of the Western Rite Orthodox bodies which functions without Byzantine intrigue. If Patricius can find a bishop which is traditional and orthodox perhaps he should consider ordination, if the rest of the world “goes to Hell”, as it appears to be doing, at least he could rely on himself and a few like minded colleagues regardless of jurisdictional affiliations.

    • Indeed, Patrick, I have Christianity at the Crossroads by Tyrrell and the story of his life by J. Lewis May. His writings are quite beautiful and he was a beautiful soul. Discovering his variety of “modernism” was a dazzling revelation. One thing that got me into trouble with my old superior was the above-mentioned book being seen on my bookshelf in my room at seminary.

      I want to wish you courage in getting your blog going again, and please try to heed some of my “advice”. Keep things rational and your emotions out.

      Just another thing to add. When you describe Pope Pius X as an “Italian peasant”, I think you see the wrong reason for his rigid policies. Farming and fishing folk may lack the culture of which some of us have had the benefit through education and a privileged family. But, they can be the salt of the earth. One of the loveliest people I know is a fisherman at Veules les Roses who goes out in his boat in almost all weathers. We often find each other on the sea – only that he’ll be going to sea when it’s too rough and cold for me! Those people are the salt of the earth. I quote from Oscar Wilde:

      Like all poetical natures he loved ignorant people. He knew that in the soul of one who is ignorant there is always room for a great idea. But he could not stand stupid people, especially those who are made stupid by education: people who are full of opinions not one of which they even understand, a peculiarly modern type, summed up by Christ when he describes it as the type of one who has the key of knowledge, cannot use it himself, and does not allow other people to use it, though it may be made to open the gate of God’s Kingdom.

      In the case of Pius X, it was not because he came from a poor family but because he inherited the intransigent and rigid model of Catholicism from his predecessor-but-one, Pius IX. He was actually quite gentle, inspired as he was by St Francis de Sales. Like Leo XIII, I think he was manipulated into a rigid attitude, and he understood nothing about so-called “Modernism”. Evidence of this is that he made no distinction between German liberal Protestantism and Harnack and Tyrrell’s attempt to formulate an apologetic method against it, as Newman fought against the same kind of thing in regard to Latitudinarianism in the Church of England. He was badly informed about anything outside neo-Thomist scholasticism and seemed to be simplistic. I don’t blame everything on the Pope, but more on some of the members of the Curia of that time, Mery del Val in particular.

      See my old article on the Sodalitium Pianum.

      • Dale says:

        I think Patrick is referring to a type of clever, devious peasant; ones who by every means in the book climb the ladder of ascent, be it ecclesiastical or political, but they never leave behind their hatred and fear of those better educated and refined, whom they often destroy because they are presumed to pose a threat.

      • Yes, indeed, such people exist. They are the people aimed at by Oscar Wilde as those made stupid by education, book-learnt sots as an old song goes. The problem is having an intelligent way of processing information and not simply being the “Modern Major General” of Gilbert & Sullivan. Some of those nouveaux riches are now driving Mercedes cars and pushing real estate prices sky-high.

  2. Dale says:

    Fr Anthony, you posited: “Most people read newspapers and novels”; having now lived almost thirty years in the United States, I can readily say, that at least here, almost no one reads anything anymore. I have had students simply state to me, “I have never read a book.” And these are college students. We are both very out-of-date and, thank God, behind the times.

    • My sister-in-law (my brother’s wife) told me this year that she found I had no reference to the modern world. My 1960’s up in the North Country were like the 1950’s for anyone else who lived at that time. Isolated as I am over the past more than thirty years, I think and talk like people from the beginning of the 20th century. Indeed, that was my greatest difficulty feeling my way into the translation profession – knowing nothing about modern business and industry. I have learned quite a lot now, but I don’t like it! Technology-wise, I have assimilated the computer, internet and the basic cell phone. I am now at the stage where Smart Phones and I-pads are beyond me, and my “progress” has stopped.

      • Father Martin says:

        Father Anthony,

        I’ve yet to have a cell phone. Fr. Christopher Morley, Jr., an Anglo-Catholic priest and friend during my days at music conservatory, once told me he regarded the telephone as “an element of surprise” this, of course, was decades before caller ID. He died two years ago at the age of 94, I’ve often wondered what he thought of the rapid changes in technology which occurred in the last years of his life. Did his phone-phobia abate with the invention of caller ID? Another friend, also deceased, once said we were dinosaurs. Are we also headed toward extinction?

  3. Neil Hailstone says:

    I cannot understand the comment from Patricius about St Pius X. He was and is a popular Saint. Many miracles have been attributed to him. He is certainly popular in Quebec. I used to use the Metro in Montreal on a frequent basis and would travel through a station named after him.

    His encyclical Il Fermo Proposito was very timely teaching given the social difficulties at the time of writing. It stated principles which taken alongside Rerum Novarum formed a most helpful work for Christians and others concerned with, social, pastoral, political and governance issues. I would describe him as a champion of ordinary working people.
    I am not qualified to discuss the finer points of his theological teachings.

  4. Rubricarius says:

    May I echo your words Fr. Anthony about Patricius. He has a superb style of writing and his posts are always stimulating and thought-provoking. More important than that though is his fresh insight into liturgical matters and I suspect Patricius, although he doesn’t necessarily realise it, has the makings of a future significant liturgical theologian. On a personal level I much appreciate his friendship.

    I think it is quite easy to dislike Pius X: his destruction of the venerable Roman Psalterium obviously springs to mind, his inversion of the order of Christian initiation etc but the spiteful way he dealt with men like Tyrrell was most distasteful. ‘Italian peasant’ is quote from Adrian Fortescue.

    I thought the expression ‘Joe the Working Class git’ was shocking but shocking in the right sense that everyone should be shocked that the May 1st feast was ever issued destroying as it did the venerable, if relatively modern, Solemnity of St. Joseph and riding rough-shod over the ancient Western tradition of SS Philip and James heralding the month of May.

    • Thank you, Rubricarius, for your kind words. He, you and I are of a school of thought that was also shared by the late Fr Frank Quoëx, a priest of the Institute of Christ the King and who joined the Archdiocese of Vaduz shortly before his untimely death from cancer at the age of only 39. Fr Quoëx believed that everything in the liturgy had a reason as well as its historical origin. The liturgy is not some kind of “decoration” to illustrate doctrines or pious practices. It is the bedrock and the structure of the Church. When it is arbitrarily changed, it is destroyed a little, and then a little more. A Church that has no liturgical tradition is like a boat that has no rudder, sail or engine. The result is the desolation we now observe.

      The first major reform of the liturgy, putting law over custom, was that of Pius V in 1568 and 1570, and then there was a series of successive modifications either to correct what was wrong or for a “pastoral” reason. The first truly “pastoralist” Pope was Pius X (1903-1914) who reformed the Breviary along more or less Quiñones lines and allowed children to receive Communion before Confirmation. Reforming the liturgy always causes problems, something like medical treatment or surgery to a human body – medicine might cure disease and deformity but it always leaves its mark. Something that is repaired always has to be repaired again. Perhaps a liturgy that is never reformed has the ability of healing and repairing itself, and of nourishing the communion of the Church. We need to observe the Eastern Orthodox with their Byzantine Liturgy, even though, for example, the Russians had reforms in the seventeenth century causing the schism of the Old Believers. When one starts remaking and reforming, one is never satisfied, and the remedy is always believed to be further reform. That is what happened with the Anglican 1662 rite and the Germanic Old Catholics from 1910 – they whittled the missal down to book no more than half an inch thick!

      Sometimes it is good to be shocking, if we have the humour and sense of satire behind it. It’s a dangerous game to play especially in a world that finds our extremely minority views exaggerated. I remember the way of Fr Quoëx, the manner of a quiet and contemplative gentleman, always ready to back up his convictions in the light of his extensive studies and knowledge of the Roman liturgy. We have to take care not to sound shrill, but rather to say things as they should be said – in place. Apart from that, we continue with our silent witness and offer our liturgies and prayers each day throughout each successive year.

      Fr Quoëx had a lot of influence on me at seminary. He gave several of us a photocopy of Msgr Gromier’s criticism of the Pius XII Holy Week ceremonies, and I published it on the Internet. It is now all over the place together with my translation of it into English. French version. Perhaps someone has done a better translation than mine by now. The Scylla and Charybdis of the liturgy are archaeologism (trying to recover the liturgy of, for example, Hippolytus) and pastoralism (nothing to do with farming methods but “bringing the liturgy to the people”). The Proto-History of the Roman Liturgical Reform by Dr Geoffrey Hull is also something to be read carefully.

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