A Personal Blog

Anyone looking at the parish website will notice that many of the posts are written by myself. However on the main website I need to post as neutrally as possible mindful that it’s not my website but that of the parish. This blog area allows me to post more personal and specific thoughts. I write, however, as an ordained minister of the church and so I will try always to be authentic to the teaching of the church.

Blessed Pope John XXIII, when convoking the Second Vatican Council used a phrase “in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity” (Ad Petri Cathedram, 72).  The church today is more divided than it has been since the reformation and many of the voices on the web represent the most extreme factions. As part of my pastoral role I plan to try and address some of the more contentious issues in the spirit Blessed John advocated.

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Evangelii Gaudium

Wordle: Evangelii Gaudium

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A touch of Latin Pedantry

I’m old enough to have spent the first 14 years of my life attending Mass in Latin; I also studied Latin at school so I have a fair familiarity with the Latin texts which underpin the English translation.

Now to the pedantry – when we say the Gloria we use the words we give thee thanks for thy great glory, which in normal English usage sound like we are thanking God for being God. However the Latin text reads gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam and the operative word translated as for in English is the Latin propter.

Propter means on account of or because of so if we substitute this into the Gloria phrase we get we give thee thanks because of thy great glory which sounds much more like we have a reason for giving thanks to God. If we look up glory in the dictionary we find something that is a source of honor, fame, admiration or resplendent beauty, magnificence. We are now getting closer to a deeper understanding of the words we say.

The word propter also occurs in the creed in the Latin qui propter nos homines and propter nostram salutem where propter is again translated as forwho for us men and for our salvation. Using the wordier translation of propter the translation would then read who because of us men and on account of our salvation – which, I think, starts getting at the depth of meaning in the phrase.

One of my favourite film quotes is from The Last Emperor where the young Emperor’s English tutor, played by Peter O’Toole explains why language is important:-

“how can a man mean what he says if he cannot say what he means”

Surely it is important that when we speak to God we mean what we say which means we must understand exactly what we are saying. One of my fears for the new translation is that we just change the words we say without appreciating the meaning of what it is we say -what we say should matter to us.


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The Genius of Gerard Manley Hopkins

We have several of the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins in the Divine Office as alternates to hymns. I’ve always loved both his use of language and rhythm and his sensitivity to the presence of God in nature, something  we primarily associate with St Francis of Assisi.

His poems are not immediately accessible as Hopkins crafts words in a way not dissimilar to Shakespeare but the reward for a period of contemplation is entry into a very deep spirituality.

Fr Z on his WDTPRS blog recently posted part of Hopkins poem “The wreck of the Deutschland“. This is a poem about a shipwreck in which five Franciscan nuns died. The shipwreck took place in a blizzard which explains some of the imagery of the poem.

However, at this time, I was most moved by Hopkins imagery of death

and these thy daughters

Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,
To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances.

This is an image of a shipwreck and five women, thrown overboard and drowning in the sea as a thing of beauty because of the presence of God, drawing them to Himself. Francis spoke of Sister Death, an encounter of which he was not merely unafraid but as something to which he looked forward and a prospect he embraced lovingly.

The new translation of the missal emphasises the themes of sacrifice, oblation (offering up) and sacredness. As we stumble prayerfully through these new English expressions of what is an eternal faith I am certainly forced to reconsider my own understanding of the Holiness of God and the promise of salvation and in particular to look forward to that final encounter as a thing of beauty, to be hoped for and loved.

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Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

The Catholic church has commissioned a series of polls to assess the impact of the 2010 visit of the Holy Father to Great Britain. Like any statistical research there is the possibility that you can squeeze any conclusion you choose out of the results. The Catholic Communications Network has naturally published a press release pointing out the most positive conclusions of the poll. There is still a general consensus that religion, spirituality and morals have a place in our society. However the less favourable results should challenge us:- only 52% of Catholics agree that true happiness is found in God, 59% of Catholics feel the church is out of touch with society and only 28% of the non Catholic population think the Catholic Church is a force for good.

On the visit itself the results were bemusing, although 50% of Catholics recall that the Pope visited, no individual event of importance was specifically recalled by more than 2% of Catholics.

For those who love reading statistical data the reports can be found at the Opinion Research Business website.

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New Words for the Mass – why Latin?

The post below is part of an article I couldn’t fit into the recent newsletter supplements. It’s purpose is to explain why the church used Latin for over 1500 years but also explains that Latin was not the language of Christ or the early church.

Those of us ‘of a certain age’ remember when the Mass was always in Latin and we used missals or prayer books to read the translation during mass. For most people under the age of 50 the Mass has always been in English and those under 40 might even be unaware of the role Latin plays in the Church.

Jesus probably spoke Aramaic as His native tongue and would have been expert in Hebrew, the language in which the Old Testament was written, as he frequently conversed with members of the Jewish religious elite and visited the Temple to pray. He was also probably competent in Greek as that was the language of business and travel during his lifetime. Many Jews lived outside Palestine in the Greek speaking communities of the Eastern Mediterranean and would come to Jerusalem for the major temple feasts, particularly Passover; thus, in Jerusalem, many languages would be heard on the streets. The Romans ruling Palestine would have probably spoken Greek as well since, although Latin was the official language of the Roman Empire, Greek was the language of the ruling and commercial classes.

The early church appears to have used Aramaic as its language in Palestine but Greek throughout the missionary territories including Rome. Paul wrote his Epistles in Greek and all the earliest texts of the Gospels are in Greek. However Greek influence in the Mediterranean did not extend East of Alexandria on the Southern shores of the Mediterranean or modern Italy in the North and so the Christian communities of North Africa, Gaul and Spain used the Latin of the Roman Empire from at least the 2nd Century. As the Roman Empire fell into decline during the 3rd and 4th Century, the Empire was split and its capitol was moved to Constantinople (modern Istanbul). The Western Empire ceased to use Greek during this time of change and Vulgar Latin (the language of the common people) became the language of both Church and Government in the West – the East continued to use Greek and this is the root language of the Orthodox Churches.

By the 7th Century few common people spoke Latin but it remained the language of the Church and Mediaeval education in written form. The move from Greek to Latin had taken place so that congregations at Mass could understand the liturgy, but no similar change occurred as Latin ceased to be a living language; the church did, however, instruct that Sermons should be in the language of the congregation.

The use of Latin in the middle-ages was not without it’s own difficulties. Many priests were so poorly educated that they did not actually understand the words they were saying at Mass.

Part of the drive of the Protestant Reformation was that people should read scripture and worship God in their own tongue. The Counter Reformation and Council of Trent did leave the door open for the use of vernacular languages by not forbidding them but emphasising the special role of Latin. However the violence of the Reformation probably hardened hearts to the extent that the matter was not discussed further till the Second Vatican Council.

The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) both instituted a reform of the Latin liturgy and introduced the possibility of all or parts of the Mass being said in the vernacular. The original council intent was that Latin would be retained in some parts of the mass – to emphasise the universality of the church and retain the traditional link with the past. However a rapid movement to use of local language occurred and mass in Latin became the exception rather than the rule.

Latin Mass Society and the Traditional Latin Mass

Some may be aware of this organisation and term, which is not to be confused with the changes made to the Latin after Vatican II. Some felt that the liturgical reforms of Vatican II produced a Mass which represented a rupture with the past and so they petitioned the Pope to be allowed to continue to say the Mass using the rites in place before the reforms instituted by Paul VI. The history has been painful on both sides, including the excommunications of the Bishops of the SSPX. In 2007 Pope Benedict XV issued an instruction Summorum Pontificum allowing use of the 1962 missal. The rites of this missal are always celebrated in Latin and may be referred to as the Traditional Latin Mass or the Extraordinary Form of the mass.

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