As Evangelical leaders go, Tim Piper is a big cheese. The twitter feed of his DesiringGod has half a million follows. I was therefore saddened to find him pedding falsehoods about Catholicism. Below I include some transcript quotations from his video ‘Can a devout Roman Catholic be saved?’. On points A and B, he offers highly questionable interpretations; on points E and F he says things that are positively misleading. But on points C, D, G he makes claims that are simply factually false. One must be charitable and assume he is merely ignorant about the basics of certain fundamental Catholic doctrines; but then one must reflect that it’s sad that a man of such strong faith has apparently never read even a basic primer about Catholic doctrine. Here are the points, then:
A. The Pope
should be concerned the Roman Catholic Church elevates the authority of the
Pope, and the Church Councils, when speaking in their official capacity as
teachers of the Church, to the same level as holy scripture. This has led many
Roman Catholics away from a personal engagement with the scriptures into a
reliance on the Church, even though the Church is fallible”.
Well, it depends what you mean. All
the Fathers of the early Church saw themselves as clarifying doctrine only in
order to safeguard the faith of the apostles as truly recorded in the Bible.
Bishops certainly have no authority to teach anything contrary to the faith of
the apostles: that is what they exist to teach and defend. But the Church can
come to a fuller intellectual expression of certain mysteries that she has
always felt (e.g. Peter and Paul did not have it in mind to make the
Christological declarations of, say, Chalcedon, but they held the same faith as
the fathers of that council). The Church, as Body of Christ, is analogous to a
living person, who retains his identity, but develops a greater self-awareness
as he grows, in response to experience and tribulation.
For us, the whole community of the
Church, if it settles on an opinion, is infallible: see the guarantee of Christ
‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against [the Church]’. It is not obvious
that Scripture tells us that the Church is fallible when it settles in an
opinion is this way. Indeed, the great fundamental Church Councils only had the
power that they did, because everyone accepted the infallibility of the settled
opinion of the Body of Christ.
As an additional point, those same
fathers from whom we derive our heritage accepted the Petrine primacy. Pope Leo
I offered a solution that solved some of the problems of expression that the
Council of Chalcedon faced, and the acts of the Council record the acclamation
of the Bishops: ‘This is the faith of the fathers, this is the faith of the
Apostles. So we all believe, thus the orthodox believe. Anathema to him who
does not thus believe. Peter has spoken thus through Leo.’.
As I say, in most countries vernacular
Catholic bibles became available almost as soon as literacy rates grew in the
early modern period. But Catholic laymen clearly heard and knew important bible
phrases and passages long before that. Chaucer was obviously much more educated
than the average man, but he puts plenty of biblical references into many of
his characters’ mouths.
Further to that point, one wants to
avoid a theology in which illiterate people who belong to societies too poor to
produce many Bibles can’t be saved—that, after all, was the condition of almost
everyone before the invention of the print-press.
be concerned that the Blessed Virgin Mary… is elevated to a position in
practice when she mediates between the people of God and the son of God in a
way that undermines the direct priestly ministry of Christ between his people
and God. This elevation of Mary beyond anything in the scriptures based solely
on tradition distances the people of God from personal fellowship with Jesus.”
don’t see, either in theory or practice, that people who have devotion to Mary
have a lesser love of Jesus: if anything, they generally have a greater one,
since we honour Mary as having brought our saviour in the world.
teaching of baptismal regeneration. The idea that an appropriate putting of
water on the baby’s head by the very work of the water, ex opere operato, … in
the priestly act, causes a chance in the nature of the baby from lost in
original sin to saved through regeneration. This notion has produced I would
say untold unfounded confidence in the people of God who have little or no
personal faith or relationship with Christ or loved Jesus yet believed because
of their baptism that they were heaven-bound.”
The phrase ‘ex opere operato’ was
developed in tandem with, and as a partner, to, the phrase ‘ex opere operantis’
(‘from the work of the one working’). The two phrases exist to make it clear
that it is God, and not the minister, who effects the sacrament. The preacher
has misunderstood the point of the phrase—it’s an anti-Donatist thing, by
The Holy Spirit’s action makes the
sacrament. But God is faithful to his promises, and, having given us baptism,
he will always provide his grace whenever someone is baptized in faith.
‘Priestly act’. If possible, a
Catholic is supposed to be baptized by a priest or deacon. This is because the
Church wants to ensure that the minister of baptism always performs it in faith.
But any Christian may administer a valid baptism.
which the very present Pope himself… has offered in our day. It involves
certain kinds of pilgrimages, or buildings, or special payments, which one can
perform or attend so that an indulgence is granted by the pope which provides
forgiveness of sins. This is an appalling detraction of the absolute uniqueness
of the death of Christ as the forgiveness of sins, and personal faith as the
means by which that provision becomes ours.!
Indulgences do not provide
‘forgiveness of sins’. They do not affect our eternal destiny in any way. They
provide remission from some of the temporal punishment that we have accrued through
a sin committed and repented of before the indulgence is obtained. A
short, highly biblical explanation of ‘temporal punishment’: https://www.catholic.com/tract/primer-on-indulgences
To obtain an indulgence, one must
make an act of sincere faith, as well as performing a good work.
In 1567, the Church declared that
almsgiving/payment could not satisfy the ‘good work’ criterion for an
indulgence. The Church realised that this was a source of abuse. The abuse was
almost entirely conducted by roving sharksters who had no official authority to
grant indulgences whatsoever.
The implication (‘in our day’) that
the Church would ever change its fundamental teachings is false. The Church
does not contradict herself.
E. Justification by Grace
Catholic insistence that justification insists in the infusion of righteousness
which as our own virtue qualifies us to be accepted by God…”
misleading. It is God’s work in us that enables us to get to heaven, but he
wants our freely willed cooperation in that work.
centrality of the Mass in the Roman Catholic practice, in which the bread and
wine are actually transubstantiated: they become the physical body and blood of
Jesus so that the Lord’s supper takes on a power of salvation by the entering
of the body and blood of Jesus into us…”
The eucharist is a source of grace
to those who receive it in faith, but it doesn’t save us in itself.
One must at least admit that
transubstantiation is the most literal reading of Scripture: ‘this is my body…’
etc. It was also quite evidently the faith of the fathers—they all showed great
reverence for the eucharist.
be concerned about the doctrine of purgatory, in which a person after death may
be given another chance of bearing some punishment so that finally they can
make their way to heaven after doing appropriate penance there. The bible holds
out no such hope for those who die in unbelief….”
is not a place where one can earn salvation, or change one’s eternal destiny in
any way. (That’s of course impossible: cf Heb. 9:27). Purgatory is a state
people are in between death and heaven—a cleansing preparation for the beatific
vision. It is strongly indicated in 2 Maccabees 12:43-46 (which raises the
whole issue of the Canon!). Again, if you were interested, the starting-place
would be https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/Purgatory
your London home was subject to daily harassment and brutish intimidation, far
from anyone you could really trust. Suppose you lived there with your wife and
four-year old child. Suppose you thought you very likely had coronavirus, and
suppose your wife had just become very sick. Suppose you could drive your wife
and child somewhere else, without stopping; somewhere where young adult
relatives could care for your child if you and your wife became incapacitated; a
place where you could, however, keep your family isolated if that didn’t
happen. What would you do?
Suppose that you then had a nasty bout of probable coronavirus,
recovered, still felt strange, and wanted to get back to London to help
coordinate national government. Might you not take a brief test-drive, stopping
nowhere special, and then drive back to work?
Those are the questions that our
media do not want to ask. Why? Because they hate Dominic Cummings. He’s a
maverick, an outsider—just look at his dress sense—; he’s a game-changer; and—quelle
horreur— he’s a Brexiteer. Therefore, it seems, he’s also fair game for a
Unfortunately for the media, though,
at yesterday’s press conference Cummings was the witch that wouldn’t float.
Politically dangerous but personally quiet and sincere, Cummings offered a
reasonable account of his movements, quoting the government guidelines, which
tell us to use our grown-up judgement if we have young children. Beth Rigby of
Sky suggested to him that he had ‘badly misjudged the public mood on this’. In
reply, Cummings explained that any public anger was largely due to
misinformation (he was too polite to say ‘fake news’). As he quietly insisted
over the course of the interview, stories that he had stayed with his parents,
that his parents had looked after his children, that he’d had a jolly at
Barnard Castle, and that he’d gone back to Durham after his return to London,
were all false. One’s overall impression was that the mad-but-loveable inventor
Sergei the Meerkat had accidentally teleported himself into Orwell’s Ministry
of Truth. But it took courage for Cummings to hold his line as he did, and one
couldn’t but conclude that that courage came from his conviction that he’d done
right by his family.
The media were really contemptible. One journalist suggested that, in
using his discretion regarding his young child, Cummings had used a ‘legal
nicety’, adding “there may be some legal loophole, but you’ve broken the spirit
of it” [sic]. (Laura Kuenssberg would later write that Cummings ‘at the very
least broke the spirit of the lockdown rules’). The concept of ‘breaking the
spirit of the rules’ of course makes no sense when the rules allow discretion,
and in any case suggests a worrying conflation between the Coronavirus guidelines
and actual law. Indeed, ‘loopholes’ are things one finds in complicated statute
laws that judges must apply strictly—not in guidance that’s supposed to be
followed and enforced with good sense. (I.e.: if the letter of the law says ‘use
good sense’, then it’s impossible to break the spirit of the law without
breaking the letter, and so the concept ‘the spirit of the law’ is redundant). The
media’s use of such terms for the coronavirus guidelines is Orwellian and
Another hack tried to magic up some mud, trying to suggest that Boris
Johnson took no interest in Cummings’ movements until the issue had become
publicly damaging. But as Cummings explained, his movements were hardly a
natural priority for the PM, and, when they had discussed them after Cummings’
return to London, they had both still been feeling pretty strange.
Robert Peston said “your own scientists are worried that, by introducing
some element of personal discretion into the rules, you are putting lives at
risk”, his tone suggesting that ‘personal discretion’ was an inherently
repellent notion. But of course that discretion was always there, even if the
public didn’t perceive it to be. Technocratic Peston came across as inhumane.
One Guardian woman then suggested that Cummings ought not to have
made use of his parents’ spare cottage; for most people don’t have access to a
spare house. He should have suffered like everyone else, she suggested. Well, I
suppose that that idea accords with the Guardian’s blinkered notion of
‘fairness’, but what’s fair about putting your child, and anyone who might have
had to care for him, at unreasonable risk? The same journalist also asked a
typical barrister’s question: ‘you also just mentioned that you have made other
mistakes…can you point us to any more of them?’, thus implying that Cummings had
conceded that his travelling was a mistake (he hadn’t).
If this sorry episode has taught us
anything, it’s that the broadcast media think they can destroy anyone who lies
outside the acceptable range of political thought, by manipulating the opinion
of a seemingly credulous public. I sincerely hope they don’t succeed.
Yet none of this unedifying furore
could have arisen if it weren’t for our absurd sensitivity about ‘protecting
the NHS’. As Kathy Gyngell has rightly said, Cummings—however unjustly—has
suffered from the oppressive ‘lockdown’ culture that his government has created,
and the media hysteria around it. The problem isn’t just that the media hate him;
it’s also that, lemming-like, they are willingly acceding to a dangerous
mentality, almost a dangerous new legal culture. Perhaps you will recall the
old joke: in England, everything is allowed that is not expressly forbidden; in
Germany, everything is forbidden that is not expressly allowed; in France,
everything is allowed that is expressly forbidden. Britain seems to be slipping
uncritically, almost unconsciously, into the second model.
 Laura Kuenssberg, ‘Dominic
Cummings’ press conference did not answer fundamental question’, BBC News, 26th
May 2020, available athttps://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-52802703
A few weeks ago, writing in TheConservative
Woman, I complained about the wooliness of Britain’s official and ‘expert’
thinking about coronavirus[*].
In this, I feel increasingly vindicated. British government ministers have
repeatedly said that the government’s response to the coronavirus would be ‘led
by the science’. But the result has been self-contradictory, absurd, and, at
times, comical—as when one senior scientist, the architect of our current
lockdown, exempted himself from the lockdown in order to meet his married
Today, I want to ask how this could have
happened. I want to ask how my country, and so much of the Western world, came
to accept narrow, largely mediocre experts as the leaders of our public
discourse; how policy became excessively ‘evidence-based’ and naïve. I won’t be
rejecting the value of elite, highly capable experts, some of them highly
specialized; but I’ll be asking how we gave our minds over to a spurious scientism,
and consequently lost our instincts for freedom and self-reliance.
So then: how did we accept this cult of
expertise? To answer this, we first need to consider what carried authority in
the West before the cult took hold. Prominent among these old authorities were,
firstly, wisdom; and secondly, intelligence. Both concepts used
to play a role in our nations’ debates that has now been ceded to expertise.
I’ll consider wisdom first.
First, what is wisdom? This has always been
a hard question, but nowadays most people would struggle even to see the point
of it. Today ‘wisdom’ sounds a quaint notion; a concept from a past age. Young
people probably encounter the word ‘wisdom’ more often in mediaeval-themed
computer games, as a graded attribute of characters, than they do in the real
world. And if one sought to understand ‘wisdom’ through film and television,
one might suppose that it were the exclusive property of Buddhist monks and far
Nevertheless, most people can still agree
on some features of wisdom. Principally, wisdom is characteristic of the
elderly. This is because it grows from experience, calmly reflected upon. Wise
people are those who have accepted life’s sufferings, people who have ‘seen a
lot’. Secondly, wisdom is broadly untheoretical: the wise man generally doesn’t
have a grand theory of everything; nor need he be a genius. Third: because it’s
untheoretical, found alike in pauper, king and scholar, wisdom is also
culturally specific; a person becomes wise by calmly absorbing experience in an
ordinary, tradition-bound way. Many pieces of wisdom transcend cultures, of
course; but even so, the wise Buddhist is very different from the wise
This account of wisdom gives us a clue
about why it lost its social role. Wisdom, as I say, is culturally specific.
It’s therefore hard for it to function in a society with many different
fundamental philosophies of life, many different traditions and faiths. A
monocultural society can look to the wise to settle its differences, but a diverse
society can’t. A diverse society therefore tends to look for some other source
of authority on political and social questions—one that purports to be more
culturally neutral and objective. A debased notion of ‘science’ and ‘expertise’
usually gets the job.
This need for a supposedly culturally
neutral means of settling our differences explains why society has been placing
an ever-greater faith in experts and expertise. Ironically, though, the same
need has also weakened the best sites of expertise of the Western world. These
sites, especially universities, used to owe no-one an account of their
admissions decisions. Academics used their wise judgement, and admitted
whomever they wanted to admit. They judged not just by candidates’ examination
results, but also by their broader intelligence.
This kind of free exercise of wise judgement,
however, is unsustainable wherever wisdom is ceding ground to an overweening
expertise. For ultimately such judgement can’t be theorized or explained: but a
philosophically diverse society tends to demand theories and explanations for
everything. Even where such a society inherits the traditions of a more
monocultural one, it cannot accept those traditions as authoritative. Hence
wise ‘gatekeepers’—be they admissions dons or Colonels interviewing prospective
officers—are soon forced to judge their candidates more and more by their
candidates’ qualifications, and less and less by their own experience. Soon one
needs a qualification for everything.
This leads me to intelligence. I
suspect that the meaning of ‘intelligence’ has shifted a little, so that it now
refers to mere speed of brain, or perhaps measured I.Q. But intelligence is
really something more than that: it is the capacity to understand the world, to
interact with it successfully. It is something incisive, and broad-based. It
implies a good sense, an ability to bear in mind the relation of theory to
reality, and not to get lost in woolly abstraction. It implies imagination,
too: the intelligent person is able to see the big picture, and to get inside
the minds of other thinkers, entering into that imaginative sympathy from which
true understanding flows. Exceptionally intelligent people are capable of
quickly grasping almost any problem put to them, and of asking the searching
questions that solve said problem efficiently. In the more specialized
disciplines, they criticise and adapt theory, rather than simply deferring to
it. Furthermore, intelligent people use language precisely, concisely, and
effectively. In societies that respect them, they set standards of writing and
speech that encourage accuracy and careful analysis.
This level of intelligence is rare. In my
own country, until a very few years ago, all top judges had it. Until 30 years
ago so did all senior civil servants. Until about 50 years ago, so did many
cabinet ministers. In Britain, perhaps a few thousand living people have it at
any one time.
A few more people have minds which manifest
these features to a slightly lower degree. For example, I would guess that
about one in twenty people have the right kind of brains for university
education. (For others, it is simply not worthwhile. One cannot learn and
successfully employ highly theoretical knowledge just by effort and rote
learning; one needs some sympathetic imagination, and some good scholarly
Unfortunately, though, there is a fatal
problem with this truth about intelligence. It is inegalitarian. It jars with
the idea that one can be whoever one wants to be. Hence egalitarian societies
tend to ignore it as much as possible. Indeed, the same is true of wisdom:
wisdom is unevenly distributed, and differs from one culture to another;
therefore it is not something that egalitarian societies can acknowledge,
because it is a site of difference between people and peoples.
Now, when a society is both egalitarian and
philosophically diverse, as ours are, this side-lining of wisdom and
intelligence tends to work out very badly indeed. As we have seen,
philosophically diverse societies need expertise to fill the space in their
discourses that wisdom will inevitably vacate. They also to tend to develop
qualifications for everything, in order to eliminate the kind ofwise judgement
that can’t be justified on a government monitoring form. (And there will
be government monitoring forms, because, as we have seen, philosophically
diverse societies take no traditions for granted).
But when egalitarianism is added to
philosophical diversity, these processes gain speed. This is because
egalitarians assume that differences in apparent mental capacity and
insightfulness are largely due to differences in education and privilege. The
don’t believe that anyone is really wiser or more intelligent than
anyone else. They reject the idea that most people cannot become learned
experts, and they resent the fact that—until they came along to spoil things—a
few, highly intelligent, people used to have a very disproportionate influence
on policy-making. They deride the fact that ministers and civil servants—and even
some parliamentarians—used to debate policy by reference, firstly, to timeless
ideas such as those of Aristotle; and, secondly, by reference to
tradition-bound wisdom and instinct.
For egalitarians have an alternative to
tradition-bound wisdom, and to the kind of learning obtainable only by the most
intelligent. They believe that, everyone being equally talented, the best way
of making decisions is to ensure that everyone becomes an expert in something.
They believe in objective sciences of everything, and they believe that
academic talent is so widely spread that all these objective sciences can be
fully staffed. In other words, egalitarians don’t want policy to be decided
through ferocious, good-natured debates quoting Cicero, Aristotle and national
tradition; they want policy to be decided through endless worthy, drab conferences
quoting endless turgid, un-incisive specialists on every possible question,
always from a viewpoint that misses any moral or spiritual features of reality
that aren’t immediately visible. For they think that elitist, classical
education, and tradition, are mere bluster and superstition. Egalitarians want
to put modern men (and women) in power—people with long words and short
And so egalitarians found more and more,
narrower and narrower research departments at more and more universities, until
almost everyone becomes an expert. Soon no-one is entitled to take a synoptic
view, because that would be to intrude into other experts’ territory. The big
landscape in the ministry gets thrown out of the window, to be replaced by lots
of little conceptual artworks—fatuous, puerile, brutally expressed, and missing
This, then, is the counter-intuitive truth:
the cult of expertise, deferential though it has become, is actually a product
of egalitarianism. For we can only have an expert for everything if we accept a
quality of ‘expert’ that elitist societies would find risible. On the other
hand, if we accept that very few people are intelligent enough to be experts,
then we are likely to respect the opinions of highly intelligent people, even
on matters about which they don’t have as much detailed knowledge as some
specialists now do. We will then enjoy the big, bold, stimulating thesis
without feeling guilty that we should be listening to the narrow, worthy, bland
research paper instead. And we will accept two points: first, that there simply
can’t be an expert on every question; second, that the really valuable experts
that we do have are only valuable insofar as they have the kind of intelligence
described above. We will realise that research can get society nowhere unless
the researchers have sharp logic, and incisive critical instincts. And because
we will understand that good research ultimately relies on ordinary sharp
reason, and on imagination, rather than on mere training and qualifications, we
will demand clear explanations from experts, and we will know not to trust them
if they can’t give them.
None of this is to decry deep learning, of
course. On the contrary, my point is that deep learning in the things that
really stretch and form the mind—philosophy, difficult languages, hard
sciences, and the like—is something that only a few will ever achieve. And once
we accept that a man who knows his Aristotle and his Augustine is more likely
to say something interesting about the art and culture of, say, Stoke-on-Trent
than is the man who’s spent his life studying the history of Stoke-on-Trent,
rather than harder texts, then we have a concept of useful expertise that
isn’t divorced from intelligence. We’ll also be much more able to tie expertise
and intelligence together with the good judgement that is wisdom.
We as a society will then be employing much better concepts than we do now!
Now, there is a chance that we are just
starting to move in this direction. The coronavirus has shown us that purely
expertise-led policy, unguided by wise and intelligent generalists, quickly
becomes absurd and ineffective in equal measure. But there is another side to
these matters that I want briefly to mention. For I fear that we will never
fully shake off egalitarianism, and its disastrous effects, until we return to
the Faith. The reason for this is simple. Egalitarianism is erroneous; it is a
bad characterization of reality. But what are the alternatives? If we
acknowledge that people’s abilities differ quite markedly, then what reason do
we have to value them? Some sort of fascism would seem to be the only
alternative to egalitarianism: for if people are really very different, then
why not make those differences the basis of our politics?
This logic makes perfect sense, if one has
no faith. Indeed, all atheist societies really do tend towards either fascism
or communism—or, often, a precarious mix of both. One either acknowledges
difference, and makes it the basis of one’s politics; or one pretends that difference
But faith—especially the Faith—offers
an alternative. The Christian can rejoice in the great diversity of gifts and
qualities spread amongst humanity as part of God’s wondrous providence. He can
believe that people are complementary, and yet that, since God loves them all
equally, so should he. Nor is this an abstract, ‘spiritual’ belief. For the
Christian, every man—be he never so humble—exists for a reason. And even if
that reason is that, through a devout and humble life, he should contribute in
one moment, in some tiny way, to the safety of a single soul, then his
existence is of infinite value.
In our civilization, it’s that kind of
thinking—the ability to acknowledge difference, and yet love all—that built
everything that is rational, everything that is effective, everything that is
good—and everything that is true.
WHEN the Prime Minister addressed the nation on Easter Day, he perhaps
didn’t realise just how religious his words would sound. Mr Johnson, newly
recovered from coronavirus, was understandably emotional in his ‘Lazarus
speech’ on the great feast of Christ’s Resurrection: ‘We will win because the
NHS is the beating heart of this country. It is the best of this country. It is
unconquerable. It is powered by love’.
But intentionally or not, Mr Johnson’s words had a clear cultic
significance. For even by Easter, ‘our’ NHS (is the ‘our’ really necessary? who
else has one?) was quickly becoming an object of worship. And as Thursday’s weekly
‘Clap for our Carers’ sessions—now officially dedicated to all key workers, but
still largely perceived to be for the NHS—have swept the country, this NHS cult
has become even bolder. Suddenly the busybody on your street is the local
Muezzin, calling everyone to prayer at 8pm, sharp, with his virtue-signalling cycling
shorts and his overbearing tambourine. Duly summoned, the men of the street then
compete to be the loudest, highest-handed clapper, while the women ensure that
the children are holding up their NHS rainbows suitably conspicuously. Additionally,
many people bring bashable din-making kitchenware. Truly, Britain is now a
In successive weeks in April, ‘Clap for Our Carers’ fell on Maundy
Thursday (just after the Eucharist of the Last Supper), on Easter Thursday, and
on St George’s Day. It thus stole primacy of honour and cult from, successively,
Christ’s agony, Christ’s resurrection, and our national saint. In what bolder
way could a new national religion stake its claims? Indeed, the founder of ‘Clap
for Our Carers’ has stated that she wants the weekly clapping to continue even
after the Coronavirus problem has ended.
An ongoing Thursday Obligation to Clap sounds uncomfortably like Catholics’ (now
suspended) Sunday Obligation: the kind of duty properly owed to God alone.
But am I being merely melodramatic? Could one not argue that ‘Clap for
Our Carers’ is an entirely natural and healthy reaction to current
circumstances, comparable to the spontaneous nightly clapping that arose in
Italy during the worst of the crisis there?
To answer this, one must understand the agenda behind our recent NHS
adulation. In recent years a section of the country’s political, public-sector
and media leaders, and celebrities, have coalesced around a shared instinctive
sense, which for a few has become a conscious theory. This instinctive sense, where
articulated, runs roughly as follows: Our nation is deeply divided on the most
profound and eternal questions of life. But the NHS offers something we call
all agree on; an altar around which we can gather; a possible source of social,
doctrinal, and cultic unity. For people who believe this, the Coronavirus
offers the perfect opportunity to build up this altar; and ‘Clap for Our
Carers’, and one-minute silences, offer the perfect means of doing so.
Yet this attempt to make the NHS into a national altar is very dangerous.
One offers worship to the thing that one sees as the source of highest values
in life: theists worship God, regarded as the source of eternal truth, justice,
and the like; hippie idealists worship the rock stars, as the source of hippie
idealism; materialists worship the shopping centre, as a source of things to
buy. If the NHS is the source of any value, it is the value of the preservation
of mortal life. Worship of the NHS therefore implies that the preservation of
mortal life is our highest value.
But, as highest values go, this is deeply inadequate. For sure, the
preservation of mortal life is a very important end; life is intrinsically
valuable. But what makes human life so valuable in the first place, is the fact
that we humans can interact with a world of eternal values: we can freely
choose to pursue good or evil, justice or injustice. Hence the paradox of human
life: we can best affirm the value of our lives by being willing to put them at
risk for truth, or justice, or love. Civilization depends on this paradox: we
need policemen to risk their lives for the rule of law, we need soldiers to
risk their lives for just causes; we need journalists to risk their lives to
expose corruption; indeed, we need ordinary citizens to risk going out of the
house in the mornings, motivated by a sense that they ought to be useful. If
the mere continuation of mortal life is one’s highest aim and value, then life in
fact has no value.
Many NHS doctors and nurses understand this perfectly well. Many are motivated
by a sense of justice and love, and they know that the NHS, for its all bulk,
is not the source of these eternal values. Therefore, they don’t worship the
NHS; indeed, many of the them belong to other, older faiths. The problem does
not lie with these laudable, self-sacrificing people; it lies with those who
would make the NHS into a religion.
Now, it must be said that, as religions go, the new NHS religion that I
have characterized above sounds seductively inoffensive. In substituting a
transient value—the preservation of people’s lifes—for eternal ones like
justice and truth, it seems to avoid debate about fundamentals, and all the intransigence
and inhumanity that such debates can provoke. But I say again: if there is no
value in life except the value of going on living, then going on living is
itself worthless. This is why medical organizations like the NHS are not
complete in themselves. The NHS is supposed to save life; but, in a society
that increasingly looks to no moral authority except the NHS itself, the NHS now
kills a great many people through abortion. Already, mothers of Downs babies
often feel great moral pressure to kill their children; they face the
insinuation that their babies will be a burden on the NHS. One woman recently
explained to the Sun that, at a sonogram for her Down’s-Syndrome child,
who was 38-weeks old, a sonographer reminded her that an abortion was possible,
since her child was disabled. The NHS’ attitude, claimed the mother, was that
Down’s children ‘were of no value’.
Indeed the actress Sally Philips, who has a son with Down’s Syndrome, has recently
accused the NHS of adopting ‘eugenic thinking’.
Today, the old and sick are enjoined to stay at home to ‘protect our NHS’; tomorrow,
will they be enjoined to pop into the euthanasia pod, also to ‘protect our
NHS’? Maybe: for without values higher than the NHS, everything is on the
table. Contrary to politicians’ naïve dream, there is no such thing as a comfortable,
viable, consensual, life-affirming NHS Religion that we can all settle into,
escaping the need for those invidious debates about eternals. Life is a
spiritual fight; there are no mere spectators.
BUT we do have an Established Church. What have the Church of England’s
bishops been doing to resist this looming spiritual and sentimental calamity?
The answer would seem to be—nothing. Until very recently, the Church of
England had not only closed its churches to its congregations (that might have
been reasonable), but it had even banned its own clergy from celebrating services
within them—even clergy who lived on-site, or in an attached building. One
bishop praised this extreme measure as ‘setting an example and model of what
the Government is requesting in a desperate bid… to protect our NHS’.
But by that logic, I ought not to have gone into my garage, since that’s also a
few steps from my front door. (Maybe ‘the science’ would have told me that it
was a risk? Or would the NHS gods have punished me?)
But there’s more. As the Times
reported on Maundy Thursday, the Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, and the
Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, have banned volunteer clergy without
experience of hospital chaplaincy from ministering face-to-face in NHS
hospitals, citing safety concerns. Thirteen clergy had volunteered to perform
this essential Christian ministry within the Barts NHS Health Trust—the trust
that runs London’s new Nightingale Hospital, plus five permanent hospitals. But
in accordance with the bishops’ ruling, the only face-to-face Anglican
chaplaincy services in the trust’s six hospitals will be provided by the two
pre-existing professional hospital chaplains.
This, moreover, is despite the fact
that NHS hospitals themselves are eager to train volunteer chaplains. As the
Rev’d Tascha Critchlow, head of chaplaincy at St Bart’s Hospital—and an
Anglican herself—said to the Times,‘The hospital would welcome
qualified professional volunteers [i.e. professional clergy, not necessarily
professional chaplains] who can give end-of-life care and provide solace. We
would train them and give them personal protective equipment’.
The bishops seemed oblivious to this need. In fact, the Bishop of
Chelmsford (the Archbishop-designate of York) suggested that the
non-professional volunteer priests whom he’d barred from face-to-face service could
make themselves useful in other ways—including by helping NHS workers with
their shopping. Meanwhile,
the Bishop of London, having on Maundy Thursday confirmed her ban on volunteer
chaplains’ serving face-to-face,
then offered an Easter Sunday reflection on the importance of touch. Dame
Sarah—herself a former Chief Nursing Officer of England, who took theology
classes, and was ordained, in-post—reflected ‘I was encouraged to hear last
week both the government’s Chief Nursing Officer and the head of the Royal
College of Nursing telling us that nurses won’t let patients die alone…Touch is
central to Jesus’ relationships…Touch brings reconciliation, reconciliation to
a community and to God, it brings restoration of relationships and healing’.
In sum, then, the Church of England has now bequeathed the sacred duty
of the visitation of the sick to health-workers; and meanwhile, it’s converted
its priests into health-workers’ personal shoppers. The problem here isn’t the
brave health-workers; it’s the church.
Nevertheless, Dame Sarah—to return
to her—is right about the importance of touch. Indeed, her words are borne out
by the experience of Fr James Mackay, volunteer Catholic chaplain at the NHS
Nightingale London, who has organized a rota of 9 Catholic priests, who provide
a permanent presence in the hospital during working hours, and a 24-hour
on-call service at other times. As he recently explained to the Catholic
called me at 10am – it wasn’t his day on – and said he got a call for a patient
at 4am. It meant so much to the family member that a priest was there giving
the last rites and was able to be there in that patient’s final moments. […]
walking down the concourse at the Nightingale last time I was in and I was
stopped five times. Four out of those five times they started with: ‘I’m not
religious, but…’ I think that engagement in conversation with someone who is a
symbol of perhaps the transcendent, something outside of this pressurised
environment, is proving so important for people spiritually and
psychologically. I can’t move now without a conversation starting up. It is so
important for us to be present in this way.
Of course, many Anglican priests
have offered to perform these services too. Some would express their desire to
minister in biblical, Evangelical terms; others would share high, catholic ideals
of priesthood. From the writer’s own, Catholic, point of view, such attitudes
are but two sides of the same coin, and are highly laudable. But the Church of
England’s bishops—who are, after all, appointed by the state—seem to have
nothing to say to the NHS Religion except ‘we’re right behind you’.
One is tempted to imagine a dystopic
future, in which the ancient bishoprics and archbishoprics of England have
become ex-officio appointments for senior NHS clinical directors, and in which
the media follow King William and Queen Kate as they lead us in national
worship on the 5th July, the foundation day of the NHS, at a
blue-and-white-bedecked Canterbury Cathedral. More likely—if we continue on our
current path—state ceremonies will continue to be nominally Christian, but our
national spirituality will become more and more inward-looking, focused on the
mere preservation of people’s mortal lives, especially our own. Truth, justice,
and the sanctity of things—even of very young and very old lives—: these will mean
little to us, when we have the religion of the NHS.
The question is: which moral leaders will have the foresight to denounce
this idolatry, and to set us on a better path?
 Boris Johnson on Twitter,
12th April 2020, available at https://twitter.com/BorisJohnson/status/1249336590482243585
 ‘Mum’s FURY Doctors tried
to get me to abort my baby at full-term because he had Down’s Syndrome’, The
Sun, 14th December 2019, available at: https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/10530353/abortion-pressure-nipt-downs-syndrome/
 ‘Miranda actress Sally
Phillips accuses NHS of endorsing eugenics by ‘pressurising’ women to abort
babies who – like her 14-year-old son – have Down’s syndrome’, Mail Online,19th June 2019, available at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7160281/Miranda-star-Sally-Phillips-accuses-NHS-pressurising-women-abort-babies-Downs-syndrome.html
 ‘Churches now closed to
clergy as well’ Church Times, 24th March 2020, available at https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2020/27-march/news/uk/churches-now-closed-to-clergy-as-well
 ‘Church of England bishop
bans hospital chaplains from the bedsides of sick and dying coronavirus
patients amid fears they will spread infection’, Mail Online, 9th
April 2020, available at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8203567/Church-England-bishop-bans-hospital-chaplains-bedsides-sick-patients.html
 ‘Church of England bishop
bans hospital chaplains from the bedsides of sick and dying coronavirus
patients amid fears they will spread infection’, Virtue Online, 9th
April 2020, available at https://virtueonline.org/church-england-bishop-bans-hospital-chaplains-bedsides-sick-and-dying-coronavirus-patients-amid
 ‘A letter regarding hospital chaplaincy’, Diocese
of London, 9th April 2020, available at https://www.london.anglican.org/articles/a-letter-regarding-hospital-chaplaincy/
 ‘God has touched the world
and we are not alone’, Dame Sarah Mullally, 18th April 2020, on her
blog Contemplation in the shadow of a carpark, available at: https://sarahmullally.wordpress.com/2020/04/12/god-has-touched-the-world-and-we-are-not-alone/
 ‘Catholic priest who
created 24/7 chaplaincy at Nightingale describes experiences on wards’, The
Catholic Universe, 23rd April 2020, https://www.thecatholicuniverse.com/catholic-priest-who-created-24-7-chaplaincy-at-nightingale-describes-experiences-on-wards-52245
In today’s Catholic discourse, the label of ‘reactionary’ is used all too easily in discussions about liturgy, and I may well be called reactionary for what I am about to say. Let me first state, then, that I am hardly the progressive’s idea of a typical ‘reactionary’: I attend parochial Ordinary Form masses almost exclusively, and I think that–despite their banal texts, which I find rather lacking in spiritual, intellectual and literary excellence– Ordinary Form masses can be, and sometimes are, done in an edifying way; nor do I think that every idea behind the reform of 1969 was wrong in principle.
Nevertheless, I read Latin very readily, and so I had not long been Catholic before I discovered the Roman Breviary of 1960, finding it richer and more reverent than the adequate-but-bland Liturgy of the Hours. Hence I go to parochial Mass in the Ordinary Form, but I say some Offices in the Extraordinary Form.
Now, one thing
that becomes obvious when one leads this liturgical double life, is that the
old and new liturgical years have radically different shapes.
Tempus Post Epiphaniam
Ordinary Time (Resumed)
Tempus Post Pentecosten
The two calendars below also show something
of the difference in shape. Here is the new calendar for 2020 (minus optional
memorials, which are rarely kept):
And here is the old calendar for 2020. One can see Septuagesimatide in purple from the 9th – 25th February, and the Vigil and Octave of Pentecost from the 30th May – 6th June. (Note also the ember days on the 23rd, 25th, and 26th September, and the vigils on the 23rd June and the 14th August):
As we can see, then, the new Form has five distinct seasons, and one Ordinary of Seasons (Ordinary Time), whereas the old Form has twelve distinct seasons. And what I want to suggest today is that each of the seven lost seasons of the old Form (Epiphanytide, Time after Epiphany, Septuagesimatide, Passiontide, Ascensiontide, the Octave of Pentecost, and the Time after Pentecost) guarded the faithful against serious errors, all of which are prominent in today’s Church and world. This, I will argue, is a good reason for restoring the old seasons to the new Mass. (Note: my argument will lead me to compare the old and new Missals, but here I do not mean to criticise the new Mass as such—only its defective calendar, and the consequences thereof).
To show the value of the lost seasons, I will now consider them in order.
In the new
calendar, the time between the feast of the Epiphany and the Sunday thereafter
forms part of the generic Christmas season. But in the old calendar, the time
between the Epiphany and the 13th January inclusive forms the season
To understand the
value of this season, we need first to take a closer look at the Epiphany
itself. After Christmas has told of the birth of our Lord, the feast of the Epiphany
tells the story of the Magi. It explains that, prompted by their wisdom and
learning, and guided by the star, they travelled long and hard to find and
honour their newborn saviour. Thus Epiphany reminds us that all wisdom and
philosophy leads to the Faith; that the Faith satisfies the human mind as well
as the human heart, and explains and perfects all the long preceding ages of
human striving after beauty, truth, and God.
In keeping with the importance of this point, the eight days between the Epiphany and the the Baptism of Christ inclusive are, in the old calendar, days of Epiphanytide. The ferial readings are of the Epiphany, until the following Sunday intervenes (the Sunday of the Holy Family); thereafter, the ferial readings continue the important theme of wisdom by telling us of the youthful Christ’s astonishing teaching in the temple (Luke 2:42-52), and by reminding us that our reason needs to be grounded in our Faith if it is to be of use (Rom 12:1-5). The collect in this period is itself a prayer for sight: ‘O Lord, we beseech you, bestow heavenly piety upon the prayers of your suppliant people, so that they may see what needs to be done, and that, seeing it, they may gain the strength to do it.’
In the new calendar and Form, however, the days between Epiphany and the following Sunday are generic days of Christmas, in which the readings follow what one can at most term a very loose theme of Christmastide, the baptism of Christ, and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (1 John 3:22-5:21, Matt 4:12-17, 23-25, Mark 6:34-52, Luke 4:14-22, 5:12-16, John 3:22-30). Even the official rationale for the Christmas schema sounds rather half-hearted (Lectionary for Mass, ‘Introduction’, chap. 5, par. 96.):
From 29 December on, there is a continuous
reading of the whole of the First Letter of John, which actually begins
earlier, on 27 December, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, and on 28
December, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. The Gospels relate manifestations of
the Lord: events of Jesus’ childhood from the Gospel of Luke (29-30 December);
passages from the first chapter of the Gospel of John (31 December – 5
January); other manifestations of the Lord from the four Gospels (7-12
This is a shame, because Epiphanytide, as presented in the old calendar, protects Catholics both from relativism and from Evangelicalism.
Let’s first consider relativism. Relativism is the theory that no one culture, belief or religion can be shown to be make more sense than any other. Epiphanytide refutes it by reminding us that the Magi, though far distant from the Jews in space, culture, and language, were nonetheless able to find their Jewish saviour, and, what’s more, to find him by exercising their wisdom and reason. This proves that the Faith has a universal rational appeal. It is the natural end-point of all human reason, and it therefore cannot be dismissed as ‘just one religion amongst many’, or as just a feature of one culture.
As I say, Epiphanytide also protects us from evangelicalism—a largely good, sincere, and worthy movement, but not one that Catholics gain by joining. For evangelicals tend to see ‘Christianity’ as standing in a striking discontinuity with all previous human reason and ways of worship; rather unhistorically, they regard the unity for which Christ and Paul prayed as possible if only everyone would read their bibles prayerfully; and finally, they base their distinctive theology on some logically and linguistically problematic interpretations of certain key bible passages. In other words, the evangelical faith has some irrational and some anti-rational aspects. But Epiphanytide reminds us that such a faith cannot be wholly correct; for it shows that the true Faith is rational.
Here we might note that, since the reform, South American Catholicism has been decimated (or worse) by Evangelical preachers, and the wider Church afflicted by relativism.
The Time after Epiphany, and Septuagesimatide
Moving on, the old calendar’s Time after Epiphany then continues these themes, providing more of a sense of narrative direction than Ordinary Time, the first chunk of which now begins in the new Form. (Ordinary Time is supposed to be a kind of generic or timeless ‘Time’; that is, an ‘Ordinary of Seasons’). But then, 17 days before Ash Wednesday, the old Form drops the word ‘Alleluia’ from its liturgies, and moves to the Season of Septuagesima, with purple, penitential vestments.
This period is a preparation for Lent, which itself is a preparation for Easter; and some people nowadays quite reasonably ask why we need a preparation for a preparation. Well, the answer is simple. Lent is about fasting and spiritual preparation; but Septuagesimatide explains why we need to go through that uncomfortable preparation in the first place, steeling us for our Lenten resolutions. For its theme is Original Sin: the readings at Mattins are from Genesis 1:1 onwards, and the three Sunday collects (said in the office and at Mass) remind us of our fallen nature, and our absolute need of God’s grace, starting with the following:
O Lord, we pray, look with a kindly eye upon
the prayers of your people, so that we who are justly afflicted for our sins may
be mercifully freed, to the glory of your name. Through the Lord…
Meanwhile, at Mass, we have the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-16), the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-15), and then Jesus’ prediction of his passion, and healing of the blind man (Luke 18:31-43): these remind us that we cannot rest on our spiritual laurels, or be confident in our own goodness or salvation; and that we cannot be healed except through the Cross.
Now, it is surely noteworthy that today, when Septuagesima has long been suppressed, the Catholic faithful and the culturally Christian world have almost entirely lost their sense of Original Sin. Even the ‘I confess’ at Mass is usually omitted, apparently on the grounds that is unnecessary; and confessionals are under-used. Besides, our society today believes that God or the world owes it something, and is complacent in its pretended enlightened goodness. During Coronavirus, people have been very quick to ask ‘where is God?’, as if we deserve better of him. But, as one Italian bishop put it after a recent earthquake, we should of course be asking, ‘Where is man?’. How greatly the world needs some Septuagesima sensibility today!
To continue our narrative: both calendars now move into Lent. Then, after four weeks, the old calendar shifts a spiritual gear, entering Passiontide. The Lenten seasons of Lent and Passiontide are both about fasting and preparation, but Passiontide narrows our focus, unflinchingly reminding us of our Lord’s suffering. Most instances of the Gloria patri are dropped from the Extraordinary Form Passiontide liturgy (only those said after psalms in the Office, and at the beginning of each Hour, remain), and the Canon of the Mass now begins with the Preface of the Holy Cross, which focuses on the Passion, rather than the Preface of Lent, which focuses on fasting:
Preface of the Holy Cross
Vere dignum et iustum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere: Domine, sancte Pater, omnipotens aeterne Deus: Qui salutem humani generis in ligno Crucis constituisti: ut, unde mors oriebatur, inde vita resurgeret: et, qui in ligno vincebat, in ligno quoque vinceretur: per Christum Dominum nostrum.
It is truly right and just, our duty and our
salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks: Lord, holy father,
almighty and eternal God, you who have set the salvation of the human race on
the wood of the cross; so that, whence death had arisen, thence life should
rise again, and he who had conquered through wood, should in turn be conquered
by it: through Christ our Lord.
There is, then, a heightened sobriety, a
bleakness, a sense of expectation in these two weeks of Passiontide, which
cannot be sustained through the entire Lenten season. Passiontide draws us into
the sacred action of the Triduum, and helps us to unite ourselves to the cross.
The new calendar, however, fails to do this. In the new, generic Lent, the Glorias are never suppressed. Moreover, though the new missal does contain some passion-themed prefaces, the Fifth Sunday of Lent does not use one, meaning that Sunday attenders hear only the proper preface of Palm Sunday (peculiar to the new Form), which is arguably less graphic and visceral than the Preface of the Holy Cross (and certainly far less memorable):
It is truly right and just [etc]. For though
innocent he suffered willingly for sinners and accepted unjust condemnation to
save the guilty. His Death has washed away our sins, and his Resurrection has
purchased our justification.
This is regrettable, because Passiontide introduces us to a mystery that the modern world has almost completely forgotten: the redemptive power of suffering. Indeed the modern world barely even admits that suffering is the default condition of man in his earthly journey. Hence, Coronavirus has come as a terrible shock. Before it, we had long believed that every accident, every misfortune, must be an aberration, for which someone was to blame, and for which some new precautionary procedure could profitably be devised. An adequate understanding of psychology, neurology, and an adequate education, we believed, would prevent all such accidents. And even when we encountered suffering, we treated it as something to be medicalized. Perhaps coronavirus has forced us to reassess things; but a familiarity with Passiontide would have made it less of a shock, and would now be helping us to trust that God is with us even now; that there is some point and meaning to even the worst events in life.
No Catholic liturgy embodies the modern, suffering-denying, view, of course; but the new calendar does not contradict it nearly as clearly as the old one. For without a clear Passiontide, everything in the Lenten period becomes just a little sanitized. Indeed, one might well suspect that the key problem with modern Catholic liturgy is that it lacks a Passiontide sensibility: all too often, it adopts that wearingly chronic, salvation-assured jollity that many Protestant churches took to, once their notion of total depravity had become too bleak to cognize any longer. Yet such an attitude is not a satisfying or satisfactory intellectual response to our earthly journey in ‘this vale of tears’. Indeed, liturgy infected by it lacks dignity and rational authority: it will do little to convince any thinking person that the Faith is grounded in reason.
Moreover, if coronavirus helps our societies again to be aware of the reality of suffering and death, and of our need and duty to trust in God even in the very worst times; but if the Church goes on sidelining such things in her liturgy: then even to believers her services will look increasingly irrelevant, and will seem to have nothing to say about the things that really matter. The old system of seasons is timeless; the new one already looks like an outmoded product of the 60’s, a relic of a theology overtaken by events.
I should be clear what I am saying here. I do not mean to suggest that Catholic liturgy should be of a Calvinist, whitewashed bleakness. I am, however, saying that it should not be it be happy-clappy and shallow. Theologically, the Church has the resources to hold the awe-full and the joyous together; but how often does she do so today? I suspect that a restored Passiontide would allow her to achieve this urgently-needed integration once again. In a suffering world, we cannot know the joy of the resurrection unless know Calvary too; and Passiontide helped us to do this.
Passiontide over, the old calendar now accords with the new until the Ascension. But between the Ascension and Pentecost, the old calendar keeps the season of Ascensiontide—whereas the new calendar continues with a generic Easter. Now, in this period, the new Mass does retain some distinctive post-Ascension features, such as Ascension-themed prefaces. But the Ascension theme is much clearer in the Extraordinary Form, with its distinct Ascensiontide season: aside from the Preface of the Ascension, the Ascensiontide gradual chants exult in the Ascension story (unlike the Ordinary Form’s responsorial psalms, which take their place), and so do the Offertory Antiphons (which are usually omitted in said Ordinary Form masses). The old calendar also grants the Ascension the dignity of a vigil day, which helps us to prepare for the great mystery to be recounted.
The old Ascensiontide thus makes the Ascension of Our Lord a more prominent and memorable part of the liturgical year. This is helpful, because a key aspect of the mystery of the Ascension—one that has been largely forgotten today, with tragic consequences—is that Our Lord’s Ascension was bodily. The modern person tends to see the body as an instrument or tool of gratification, to be shaped, surgically altered—or assigned a sex—according to its ‘owner’s’ whim. But if Our Lord Ascended bodily, then our bodies cannot be mere shells; our very nature as men must be one that unites our body and soul. Furthermore purity and respect for one’s body, the following of a philosophy of life that tends to lead to health, an avoidance of physically unhealthy practices, and a respect for sexual difference, must all be important. All these are points that the world—and even some parts of the Church—would do well to learn once again.
The Octave of Pentecost
Ascensiontide, the old calendar moves to the Vigil and Octave of Pentecost.
In these nine days the old Mass employs the Preface of the Holy Spirit, a
proper Communicantes, a proper Hanc igitur, a proper Sequence, and the red
vestments of Pentecost, plus the special hymn Veni creator spiritus at
the office of Terce. The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the Octave are Ember
(fasting) Days, in which we try to heighten our readiness to receive the
Spirit. The seasonal Sequence well illustrates the tone of the period:
Come, Holy Spirit, send the rays of your
light from heaven. Come, father of the poor, come giver of gifts, come, light
of hearts. O best of consolers, welcome guest of the soul, sweet consolation; O
rest in labour, cool in heat, solace in weeping. O most blessed light, fill the
innermost hearts of your faithful. Without your power, there is nothing in man,
nothing that is not harmful. Cleanse what is sordid, water what is dry, heal
what is wounded. Soften what is hardened, warm what is cold, correct what is
astray. Grant to your faithful, who trust in you, the holy sevenfold gifts.
Grant the reward of virtue, grant the deliverance of salvation, grant eternal
The mindset that such passages instil in the hearer provides an excellent defence against another error, namely Pelagianism. For the Vigil and Octave of Pentecost, including the Ember Days, remind us of our urgent need of the Holy Spirit’s illumination, and the fact that we have to make an effort to be receptive of Him. Moreover, this season helps us to put our interfaith efforts into context. It reminds us that, though non-evangelizing dialogue and diplomacy is vital and fruitful, our most important task as Christians is to spread the faith: for the gifts of the Holy Spirit provide the deepest and fullest justice and peace in the world.
Once again, we must therefore look with some regret upon the state of the new calendar. Indeed, its omission of the Octave of Pentecost is perhaps its most extraordinary and inexplicable defect. It constitutes a huge curtailment of the concluding mystery of Easter—and of the primary celebration of one Person of the Trinity. If the Roman Rite was already marked by its austere, binitarian atmosphere, the removal of the Octave of Pentecost takes it beyond the bounds of theological and liturgical good taste.
Given this omission, one has to mention that Pelagian attitudes are rife in today’s Church; and indeed that too many Catholic parishes have become inward-looking and non-evangelizing, with no confidence in their own ability to offer anything beautiful or inspiring to the outside world. Too often, such communities seem to believe that the Church’s mission to promote justice and peace is primarily to be fulfilled through non-evangelizing dialogue.
On the first point, the recent remarks of the ever-rewarding John Haldane are worth quoting in full:
…Catholics beginning in the US but now
throughout the West have absorbed and internalized as matters of faith, which
they are not, the prevailing cultural and political norms of progressive and
conservative sections of secular society. The first thing to note is the
destructive effects of this, including a corruption of conscience, excusing
among one’s own what one would condemn in one’s opponents, and a lack of
charity regarding the motives and behaviour of anyone with whom one disagrees.
There is also a form of displacement of the attention due to God towards moral
causes: in the case of the right towards battling against abortion, euthanasia
and homosexuality; in the case of the left towards campaigning against world
poverty, capital punishment and global warming.
Both Jesus and Paul are strong in their denunciation of idolatry, i.e. the putting in place of God, and worship of God, various forms of natural or human construction, including ‘works’. Paul is also very clear that nothing human beings do matters so far as their salvation is concerned save to the extent that it is redeemed by the grace of Christ’s sacrifice and that sacrifice alone. This warns us against the spiritual vice of meritorianism: religious pride is pharisaism.
The Time after Pentecost
A final problem about the new arrangements for Pentecost leads us, lastly, to the old Time after Pentecost, as contrasted with the Ordinary Time of the new calendar. Pentecost ought to lead us naturally and smoothly into Trinity Sunday, in which we celebrate the Father, the ascended Son, and the descended Holy Spirit, the fundamentals of our salvation history having been recounted. Hence, in the old calendar, Trinity Sunday immediately succeeds the Ember Saturday of the Octave of Pentecost. But in the new calendar there is now a rather pointless period of six days of Ordinary Time between Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday. These days do not have the narrative function of the old Time after Pentecost, in which we reflect on the mysteries presented in the first half of the liturgical year; and they compromise the pattern of exposition-and-then-reflection that the old system embodied. Indeed it would be no exaggeration to say that the loss of the Octave of Pentecost undermines the whole balance and rationale of the Christian liturgical year.
This six day interlude is of course only possible because the new calendar removes all sense of liturgical progression from the ‘Green’ seasons: Ordinary Time is, as I say, an Ordinary of Seasons, a sort of neutral or timeless liturgical time; and this contrasts with the Time after Epiphany and the Time after Pentecost, which are inherently integrated with the movement of the liturgical year.
Now, the great problem with a timeless liturgical time, is that it gives the impression that the Church is no longer a corporate community for salvation, united on a journey, with a sense of movement and purpose, but is instead a mere voluntary club for the sequential exposition of the scriptures. ‘Ordinary Time’ is almost an insult to a parish’s strenuous and joyful journey through Lent, Easter and Pentecost; its name and its rationale imply that it in no way consolidates or extends that journey. Hence Ordinary Time may well have contributed to the loss of the sense of corporate salvific purpose in the Church today.
This completes the cycle of the liturgical year. What, then, are our conclusions? Of necessity, this has been a linear and detailed article. But I think that we can draw our findings together. The missing seasons, fundamentally, show us our need of God: Epiphanytide, our need of God if we are to follow and develop our rational faculties; Septuagesimatide, our need of God’s forgiveness; Passiontide, our need of the saving passion of the Son; Ascension, our need for God to bring our bodies and souls back into their proper order; Pentecost, our need of the Holy Spirit. Without this sense of need, Christmas becomes a nice story, Lent a useful discipline, Easter a joy to the faithful; but each becomes something that one can take or leave as one wills. We forget that the world urgently needs converting.
Naturally, the Church as a whole never forgets these things, nor does the modern calendar make it impossible for her to communicate them. But it does make it harder. It does mean that simply living the liturgy protects one against today’s typical errors much less well than it ought to do. I am in my twenties, and it will be the task of my generation to recover the many good and viable traditions that the Church jettisoned in the 1960’s. In my view, the first things to be recovered are the old seasons, along with their clear, distinctive liturgical characters.
 This, a least, is a point that the Vulgate Latin seems to make.
Douay-Rheims has ‘For I say, by the grace that is given me, to all that are
among you, not to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise, but to be wise unto
sobriety, and according as God hath divided to every one the measure of faith.’.
 ‘Vota, quaesumus, Domine, supplicantis populi caelesti pietate prosequere:
ut et, quae agenda sunt, videant, et ad implenda, quae viderint, convalescant’.
 ‘Preces populi tui, quaesumus, Domine, clementer exaudi: ut, qui iuste pro
peccatis nostris affligimur, pro tui nominis gloria misericorditer liberemur’.
 For a good explanation of this, see
‘Orazione dell’Umile; sopra la terza Beatitudine: Beati qui lugent: quoniam
ipsi consolabuntur’, in Joseph Antonius Saxius (ed.), Noctes
Vaticanae: seu Sermones Habita in Academia a S. Carolo Borromeo Romae in
Palatio Vaticano Instituta, Joseph Marellum: Milan (Mediolani), 1748,
pp.56ff, available online. It
could be said that Luther’s great failing was his inability
to hold the awful and the joyous together, both in his own psychology and in
 ‘Veni, Sancte Spiritus, et emitte caelitus lucis tuae radium. | Veni, pater
pauperum, veni, dator munerum, veni, lumen cordium. | Consolator optime, dulcis hospes animae, dulce refrigerium. | In labore requies, in aestu temperies,
in fletu solacium. | O lux beatissima, reple cordis intima tuorum fidelium. |
Sine tuo numine, nihil est in homine, nihil est innoxium. | Lava quod est
sordidum, riga quod est aridum, sana quod est saucium. | Flecte quod est rigidum,
fove quod est frigidum, rege quod est devium. | Da tuis fidelibus, in te
confidentibus, sacrum septenarium. | Da virtutis meritum, da salutis exitum, da
perenne gaudium. Amen. Alleluia’.
 I should say that this is comparatively rare in the U.K., from which I write.
 John Haldane, ‘It’s Déjà vu all over again’, New Blackfriars 2018
Does your priest bow his head when he says the name of Jesus or of Mary at Mass? Doing so is a fine, reverent tradition; like all such things, it is particularly popular amongst the most hard-working and devoted and popular priests. (Oh how the laity respond when a priest is always ready to talk after Mass, always ready to give blessings and advice and consolation etc.!)
But anyway: it is a good practice. That’s why I was interested to discover today that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal—which is so often unhelpfully vague, so that it’s hard to know best practice without knowing the older rubrics—not only mentions the bowing of heads at the aforementioned Holy Names, but prescribes it. I was even more interested to read that it prescribes the very same bowing at every mention of the name of the saint in whose honour the Mass is celebrated. This latter practice I have never seen anywhere. Perhaps it’s something to revive? Certainly I bowed my head at the name of St Charles Borromeo today, after whom I took my confirmation name!
Here’s the relevant passage (GIRM 275a):
A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are
named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of
the Saint in whose honour Mass is being celebrated.
We can also find the practice prescribed by the the old Roman Missal of 1962 (the Missal of the Extraordinary Form), which also tells priests to bow their heads at the Pope’s name (Ritus Servandae in Celebratione Missae chapter V no. 2):
Cum in oratione,
vel alibi in Missa, pronuntiatur nomen IESU vel MARIAE, itemque cum exprimitur nomen
Sancti vel Beati de quo dicitur Missa aut fit commemoratio, vel Summi
Pontificis, sacerdos caput inclinat.
When in the oration, or elsewhere in the Mass, the name of JESUS or MARY is said, or the name of the Saint or Blessed for whom the Mass or commemoration is offered, or the name of the Supreme Pontiff, the priest inclines his head.
Henceforth, I shall always bow as GIRM 275a instructs, and I shall readily explain to priests and others why I am doing so. Please do join me in this!
Some weeks ago I suggested that the Church’s failure to excommunicate Governor Cuomo of New York, and other practising Catholic politicians who promote abortion, made it more difficult for the faithful to uphold the Church’s teaching on the topic. Indeed, I might have put this another way: if the Rock of Truth is overgrown with weeds, it is harder to cling to it.
Well, pursuing the old-form* Pontificale Romanum (the book of rites that bishops perform), I find vindication for my view in the rite of major excommunication:
Cum ego N. talem primo, secundo, tertio, et quarto, ad malitiam convincendam, legitime monuerim, ut tale quid faciat, vel non faciat, ipse vero mandatum hujusmodi contempserit adimplere; quia nihil videretur obedientia prodesse humilibus, si contemptus contumacibus non obesset: idcirco auctoritate Dei omnipotentis Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, et beatorum Apostolorum Petri et Pauli, et omnium Sanctorum, exigente ipsius contumacia, ipsum excommunico in his scriptis, et tamdiu ipsum vitandum denuntio, donec adimpleverit, quod mandatur; ut spiritus ejus in die judicii salvus fiat.
Which means (in suitably solemn and legalistic language):
WHEREAS I N. have now lawfully warned X. for a first, second, third and fourth time that, for the purposes of overcoming his wickedness, he should refrain from doing, or not doing, such-and-such a thing, but he has disdained to fulfil my order to that effect; and whereas obedience would appear to avail little to the humble, if the contempt of the insolent man should do him no harm: therefore, by the authority of God the Almighty, Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit, and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and of all the saints, I, being forced to action by this man’s obstinacy, do excommunicate him by this decree, and I mark him out as one to be shunned, until such time as he fulfil what I have ordered; in order that his spirit might be safe on the day of judgement.
*As I mentioned in a previous article, the texts of modern liturgical books are usually not available online.
The official blessings of the modern Roman Rite are set out in the Book of Blessings (Latin original: De Benedictionibus) of 1987 (second ed 1990). Unfortunately, as with most modern liturgical books, one can’t access its contents online. However, at https://sanctamissa.org/en/resources/books-1962/rituale-romanum/ , one can access the second section of the 1962 edition of the old Rituale Romanum, the ‘Benedictionale’, which is once again valid thanks to Summorum Pontificum. And pursuing its contents, one finds a rich array of blessings and devotions that have sadly been allowed to lapse. To raise awareness of them, I list them below. If you see one suited to you, ask your priest to do it! (I could be wrong, but I think that these blessings, though given in Latin, may be said in any language; after all, a priest is perfectly entitled to make up a blessing on the spot. The blessing to make holy water, and other quasi-liturgical blessings, may be exceptions to this).
As I understand it most of these blessings can in fact be found in the modern Book of Blessings, though the Rituale versions are a bit grander. To give you a flavour of the Rituale ones as listed below, here is an English translation of the central prayer of the ‘Blessing for an Automobile or other Vehicle’, with its rather nice nod to the Ethiopian of Acts 8 (courtesy of Sancta Missa):
‘Lord God, be well disposed to our prayers, and bless this vehicle with your holy hand. Appoint your holy angels as an escort over it, who will always shield its passengers and keep them safe from accidents. And as once by your deacon, Philip, you bestowed faith and grace upon the Ethiopian seated in his carriage and reading Holy Writ, so also now show the way of salvation to your servants, in order that, strengthened by your grace and ever intent upon good works, they may attain, after all the successes and failures of this life, the certain happiness of everlasting life; through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.‘
Available in the Roman Ritual 1962
Blessings for Special Days
and Feasts of the Church Year
Rite for Providing Holy Water
The Sunday Blessing With Holy Water
Blessing of Wine (Two Forms)
Blessing of Epiphany Water (on the Eve of Epiphany)
Blessing of Gold, Incense, Myrrh (on Epiphany)
Blessing of Chalk (on Epiphany)
Blessing of Homes (on Epiphany)
Blessing of Candles (on the Feast of St Blaise)
Blessing of Throats (on the Feast of St Blaise)
Blessing of Bread, Wine, Water, Fruit for the Relief of Throat Ailments (on the Feast of St Blaise)
Blessing of Homes (on Holy Saturday and during Easter)
The Easter Blessings of Food
Blessing of Crosses which are to be set in vineyards, fields, etc., on or about May 3
Blessing of a Bonfire on the Vigil of the Birthday of St. John the Baptist
Blessing of Herbs on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Blessing of Seed and Seedlings on the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Blessings of Persons
Blessing of an Expectant Mother at the approach of confinement
Blessing of a Mother After Childbirth
Blessing of a Woman After Childbirth in a case where the child was stillborn or died after birth
Blessing of an Infant or Little Child
Blessing of a Child
Blessing of Children when on some special occasion they are assembled in church for this purpose
Blessing of Children on Feastdays of the Holy Childhood Association
Blessing of Pilgrims before they set out for the holy shrines
Blessing of Pilgrims on their return
Blessing of Sick Pilgrims
Blessing of a Sick Adult
Blessing of Sick Children
Blessings of Animals
Blessing of Cattle, Herds, Flocks
Blessing of Horses and Other Animals
Blessing of Sick Animals
Blessing of Fowl or any Kind of Bird
Blessing of Bees
Blessing of Silkworms
Deprecatory Blessing Against Pests
Blessings of Homes,
Buildings, or Places
Blessing of a Cornerstone
Blessing of a Private or Domestic
Blessing of an Apartment or a Home
Blessing of Homes (two Versions)
Blessing of a Bridal Chamber
Blessing of a School
Solemn Blessing of a School
Blessing of a Library
Blessing of an Archive
Blessing of a Seminary
Blessing of a Printing-Office and
Blessing of a Hospital or Sanatorium
Blessing of a Radio Station
Blessing of the sea
Blessing of Fields, Mountain-Meadows
Blessing of Orchards and Vineyards
Blessing of a Granary or the Harvest
Blessing of a Mill
Blessing of a Stable for horses,
Blessing of a Fountain
Blessing of a Well
Blessing of a Bridge
Blessing of a Lime-Kiln
Blessing of a Blast-Furnace or of a
Blessing of Stone-Quarries
Blessing of a Marble-Factory
Blessing to Ward off Floods
Blessings of Places
Designated for Sacred Purposes
Blessing and Laying the Corner-Stone of a Church*
Blessing of a new Church or a Public Oratory
Rite for Reconciling a Profaned Church
Rite for Blessing a new Cemetery*
Rite for Reconciling a Profaned Cemetery
Rite or Shorter Form for Consecrating a Fixed Altar which has lost its consecration if the table or mensa was separated from its support, even if only for a moment.
Another Rite or Shorter Form for Consecrating a Fixed Altar which has lost consecration by serious breakage or by the reliquary tomb having been broken or opened
*by the Ordinary or a Priest delegated by him
Blessings of Things
Designated for Sacred Functions or Other Sacred Purposes
Blessing of an Antimension which by a special Apostolic indult may be used in the celebration of Mass in mission territories, in place of an altar-stone or portable altar*
Blessing of a Tabernacle, pyx, Ciborium for reserving the holy Eucharist
Blessing of a Monstrance or Ostensorium for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament
Blessing of a Reliquary
Blessing of Oil-Stocks
Blessing of Sacred Vessels or ornaments in general
Blessing of Altar-Linens
Blessing of a Corporal
Blessing of a Pall
Blessing of a Purificator
Blessing of Priestly Vestments in general
Blessing of any Priestly Vestment
Solemn Blessing of a Cross
More Solemn Blessing of a Cross
Solemn Blessing of an Image of our Lord Jesus Christ, the blessed Virgin Mary, or any saint
Blessing of a Clerical Cassock (a candidate for holy orders, who has obtained permission to wear the clerical cassock, may wish to have this garment blessed. The clerical aspirant, holding the cassock folded over his outstretched arms, kneels before the priest)
Blessing of a Cincture to be worn in honor of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessing of a Cincture to be worn in honor of the blessed Virgin Mary or a canonized saint
Blessing of a Habit to be worn in honor of the blessed Virgin Mary
Blessing of a Habit to be worn in honor of the blessed Virgin Mary or a canonized saint
Blessing of a Cincture to be worn in honor of St. Joseph, spouse of our Lady
Blessing of Lilies on the feast of St. Anthony of Padua
Blessing of a Processional Banner of any society
Blessing of Candles
Blessing of a Church Organ
Blessing of a Church Bell designated for a church that is merely blessed or for an oratory*
Rite for Erecting Stations of the Cross
BLESSINGS OF THINGS DESIGNATED FOR ORDINARY USE
Blessing of Bread and Pastries
Blessing of Grapes
Blessing of Wine for the Sick
Blessing of any Kind of Medicine
Blessing of Beer
Blessing of Cheese or Butter
Blessing of Lard
Blessing of Oil
Blessing of Salt or Oats for Animals
Blessing of Seed
Blessing of any Victual
Blessing of Fire
Blessing of Linens for the Sick
Blessing of a Stretcher, Ambulance, Wheelchair
Blessing of an Automobile or Other Vehicle
Blessing of an Airplane
Blessing of a Railway and its Cars
A More Solemn Blessing of a Railway and its Cars
Blessing of a Ship or Boat
Solemn Blessing of a Fishing-Boat
Blessing of Tools for Scaling Mountains
Blessing of a Seismograph
Blessing of a Telegraph
Blessing of an Electric Dynamo
Blessing of a Fire-Engine
Blessing of Molten Metal for a Bell
Blessing of a Bell not designated for a church or oratory
Blessing of Mobile Film Units for Road Safety
Blessing of Anything
to a Bishop but may be delegated to a Priest