29 November 2007

"The Permanence of the Sacred" - Talk by Fr. John Saward

Last Tuesday the acclaimed theologian and local priest Fr. John Saward, whom Fr. Aidan Nichols OP has called "the Balthasar of the English-speaking world," spoke to the Society. His subject was Pope Benedict's recent motu proprio liberalising use of the traditional Latin Mass. The talk, which was called The Permanence of the Sacred: Some Reflections on Summorum Pontificum, was held following the Society's High Mass using the "extraordinary form," which was celebrated in the previous week.

Dr. Joseph Shaw has posted the following report on the New Liturgical Movement blog:

Fr John Saward is Priest in Charge of the parish of SS Gregory and Augustine in North Oxford and Lisieux Senior Research Fellow in Theology at Greyfriars Permanent Private Hall of Oxford University. In his earlier life he studied Philosophy and Psychology at St John’s College, Oxford, trained for Anglican orders at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, and was Chaplain of Lincoln College, Oxford. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979, and after many years teaching theology at Catholic institutions, including the International Theological Institute at Gaming, Austria, St Charles Borromeo Seminary, Pennsylvania, USA, and Ushaw, England, he was ordained priest in 2003. Over the years he has published numerous books and articles, notably Redeemer in the Womb (1993), The Way of the Lamb (1997), and Cradle of Redeeming Love (2002); he was also the English translator of the Holy Father’s Spirit of the Liturgy (2000). He is married with three grown-up daughters.

There are pages giving his CV on several websites; the most complete appears to be the Gaming one; he also has a Wikipedia entry.

Fr Saward has not only a very serious academic interest in the liturgy (a current project is a ‘A spiritual commentary on the Roman rite of Holy Mass’, to be called Catena Eucharistica; something to look out for), but he has long celebrated the Traditional Roman Mass as a private devotion. When I became the local representative of the Latin Mass Society in 2005, I saw that he was a member; as assistant priest at SS Gregory and Augustine’s, he suggested celebrating regular First Friday Masses; it was not long before it was established that these would be sung in Term time. These have proved to be a staple for local singers wishing to participate in the Traditional liturgy. Since becoming Priest in Charge at that church, we have had Gregorian Chant Training days there, and regular Low Masses on Wednesdays. He has also extended the use of Gregorian Chant at his regular Novus Ordo Sunday Masses, with the assistance of the remarkable Dr John Caldwell, a musicologist and composer who is also the organist and director of the parish choir.

As advertised in advance on the NLM, he gave a talk this week to the Oxford University Newman Society on the Holy Father’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. He spoke to a capacity crowd in the Catholic Chaplaincy’s library, in the presence of the Senior Chaplain, Fr John Moffat SJ, several Dominicans, and me. In what follows I summarize his talk.

He began by noting that he was not (thank heavens) a ‘liturgist’, so would be talking about the dogmatic, not simply liturgical or indeed church political implications of the MP. The starting point of a dogmatic approach to the MP is St Thomas Aquinas’s remark ‘sed contra’ to objections to the rituals of the Mass (ST IIIa q.83 a.5 sc): ‘The custom of the Church stands for these things: and the Church cannot err, since she is taught by the Holy Ghost.’ (Sed in contrarium est Ecclesiae consuetudo, quae errare non potest, utpote spiritu sancto instructa.) It is not just the propositional statements of the Church which, when they have the appropriate degree of authority, can be relied upon as guided and guaranteed by the Holy Ghost, but the customs of the Church. What is practised for long ages by the most universally revered authorities cannot suddenly be said to be defective. This is exactly the point made repeatedly by Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger in his books, and which is repeated clearly by Papa Ratzinger in his Letter to Bishops accompanying the MP. What was holy yesterday cannot be harmful today; indeed, the denial of this principle ‘calls the very existence of the Church into question’ (Feast of Faith). It is for this reason that it must be understood that the previous liturgical tradition was never abrogated. This is a dogmatic matter, and in making this dogmatic point the Holy Father is doing what he always does in the exercise of his office, which is guarding the Faith.

It is in this light that we can understand the recent remarks by Archbishop Ranjith, who is working closely with the Pope on this matter, that the liberation of the Traditional Mass is a condition for the renewal desired by the Second Vatican Council. Respect for tradition is the basis for Catholics’ search for truth.

Fr Saward then gave a series of examples in which the teaching of the Church, revealed and made vivid by the Traditional form or the Roman Rite, as other ancient Rites, is obscured in the Missal of Paul VI. First, many of the orations of the 1962 Missal are addressed to the Second Person of the Trinity, and two prayers, the Suscipe, sancta Trinitas at the Offertory and the Placeat tibi, sancta Trinitase are addressed to the whole Trinity, despite the fact that the majority of the orations and other prayers use the familiar form of addressing the Father through the Son in the Holy Ghost. This twofold pattern of liturgical prayer reflects and makes manifest the Catholic dogma of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. The 1970 Missal removes almost all of the orations addressed to the incarnate Son and both of the prayers addressed to the whole Trinity. These amputations from the liturgy open the way to misunderstanding. Participants in the liturgy are no longer reminded of the co-equality and consubstantiality of the Persons of the Trinity. This is not a merely theoretical point since a whole series of Trinitarian and Christological errors, tending to the denial of Christ’s Divine nature and co-equality with the Father, have been condemned or censured by the Holy See in recent decades (cf the cases of Edward Schillebeeckx OP and, more recently, of Roger Haight SJ).

A second example, mentioned by the then Professor Ratzinger in his textbook on Eschatology, is the disappearance of the word anima, ‘soul’, from the reformed liturgy of the dead and elsewhere. Prayers addressing the soul of the dead man or woman to be buried are replaced or adapted to refer to God’s ‘famulus(a)’, God’s servant or handmaid. Again, there is no heresy in the new prayers, but the loss of the references to the metaphysical reality of the soul, and especially the soul separated from the body at death, is most unfortunate in light of theological errors on this subject, which have had to be censured (e.g. by the SCDF in 1979).

A third example is the suppression, even in prayers otherwise retained, of references to the priest’s sinfulness and compunction. Do priests no longer need to express sorrow for their sins? In the cold light of day, this and the other changes enumerated seem bizarre: what positive reason could be adduced for them?

A fourth example is the ceremonial of the Mass, such as the signs of the cross, so many of which have been suppressed in the 1970 Missal. These actions had in the past given rise to a whole genre of spiritual commentaries on the Mass, which assigned dogmatic meanings to the rituals with great consistency. Many saints, including St Thomas Aquinas, contributed to this literature, and took these signs extremely seriously. With the 1970 Missal, not only are these books rendered obsolete, but the signs themselves are no longer there to communicate their dogmatic significance to the onlooker.

Fr Saward then turned to the Pope’s exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, which is linked to the MP in an important way. The Eucharist is the sacrament of love, and the MP has charity as both its source and it object: not merely the reconciliation of Traditionalists to full communion with the Church, but more fundamentally an increase of faith and charity among the Faithful. The Mass is a source of charity since, as Aquinas teaches, the worthy reception of Holy Communion actualises charity, and makes the recipient ‘spiritually gladdened’. This is possible only, of course, to the communicant who is properly disposed, and to achieve this proper participation in the Mass, uniting oneself in intention with Christ the High Priest, is necessary.

With this is mind, we turn to the remarkably strongly-worded critique of misleading or unhelpful aspects of the 1970 Missal found in Ratzinger’s works. In The Spirit of the Liturgy Ratzinger made an extremely strong critique of Mass facing the people, warning that such Masses could and in some times and places had become a ‘closed circle’, where attention which should be fixed on God became fixed on Man; he even likened such ‘self-initiated’ and ‘self-seeking’ liturgy to the worship of the Golden Calf: the ultimate substitution of a human artifact for God as the object of worship. In that book and elsewhere, Ratzinger noted the problem of silence in the New Mass, since for the most part periods of silence in the course of Mass were only possible by bringing the liturgy to a temporary halt. On the contrary, Ratzinger argued, to be fruitful silence needs to be an integral part of the liturgy, what he calls ‘filled silence’, and not merely an artificial pause. In these and in other ways the reformed liturgy actually militates against effective participation.

In concluding, Fr Saward warned against the temptations faced by those who, like him, are ‘attached’ to the Traditional liturgy, notably pride and over-emphasis on externals. Charity, again, must be our object. To facilitate the flow of charity from our participation in Mass to our ordinary interaction, we should heed the advice of St Thomas Aquinas once more, and seek the intercession of Our Lady, always the model for the reception of Jesus Christ, and who in every danger will come to the assistance of her suppliants.

The talk was followed by questions. In the course of these Fr Saward noted the paradox that the Roman Rite, long noted for its conservatism and austerity, had lost these features in its reformed form by the addition of elements from other Rites.

He urged his audience to read books in preference to blogs!

He noted the immense importance of the published works of Cardinal Ratzinger, over the years, in forming his own thinking and that of many others, on the subject of the Mass, and how with the MP the Holy Father’s openness to criticism of the reformed liturgy was a very liberating experience. Faithful Catholics no longer feel they must suppress doubts and worries and concerns about the reform, for they have been expressed by the Pope himself.

The final question from the floor concerned the pastoral difficulty of widening the use of the Traditional Mass. There are clearly many who would, if confronted with it without further ado, find it an ‘alien experience’. One option at this point, the questioner suggested, would be to contemplate a ‘two-tier’ liturgy, the Traditional one for those who can really grasp it, and the reformed Mass for everyone else.

In response to this, Fr Saward acknowledged the seriousness of the difficulty, which he had experienced himself in his own parish. However, a two-tier liturgy is not the right answer. The Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, have no special liturgy for special groups, no ‘children’s liturgy’ for example, but one Divine Liturgy which is always sung and always rather lengthy, by Latin standards. This does not seem to create difficulties for them with regard to the young, or the less educated; on the contrary, this kind of liturgical experience is something that everyone can appreciate. It will certainly be difficult to bring the liturgical tradition, in its fullness, back into every corner of ordinary parish life, but it must at least be attempted with the help of God. The key to liturgical formation is the receptivity of children and the capacity for wonder with which all human beings are endowed. The great liturgical tradition of the Church, East and West, has the power to touch hearts.

24 November 2007

Society honours founding member, Hartwell de la Garde Grissell

2007 marks the centenary of the death of a founding member of the Newman Society, Hartwell de la Garde Grissell, MA, FSA. Following yesterday's termly mass in Brasenose College, there was a drinks reception and small exhibition commemorating Grissell. A biography was also printed in the service book:
Born in 1839, Hartwell was the son of Thomas Grissell, a prosperous public works contractor. He matriculated to Oxford University as a commoner of Brasenose College in 1859 and graduated MA in 1866. Whilst at Oxford he moved in Tractarian circles and, in 1865, published “Ritual Inaccuracies,” an attempt to reconcile the Prayer Book to the rubrics of the Roman Missal.

Grissell converted to Catholicism in 1868 and in the following year moved to Rome, where he became Cameriere (a Chamberlain of Honour) to Bl. Pius IX. The temporal power of the Pope came to an end in 1870, when Italian troops entered Rome, but Grissell nonetheless continued to serve under Pius IX and his two immediate successors, Leo XIII and St. Pius X. He was rewarded for his service, being created a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory and, in 1898, one of the four Chamberlains “di numero” (an honour usually reserved to the Roman nobility).

Whilst in Rome Grissell amassed a vast collection of relics and sacred curios, including a portion of the Crown of Thorns and the entire body of St. Pacificus. The centrepiece of the collection was the miraculous image of the Madonna called “Mater Misericordia” (now housed in the Oxford Oratory and popularly known as Our Lady of Oxford), to which the Holy Father granted indulgences at Grissell’s request. Besides being an expert in matters liturgical, Grissell was a noted numismatician and was elected to a fellowship in the Society of Antiquaries.

When not serving at the Papal Court, Grissell resided in Oxford, where he lived at number 60 The High. Here he set up a private oratory, which was frequented by many early convert members of the University. In 1877 he suggested the possibility of establishing a society for University Catholics and in the following year this idea came to fruition with the foundation of the Newman Society (which was first called the Catholic Club). Grissell was also to be influential in persuading Leo XIII to allow Catholics to enter the University; this was to result in the foundation of the Catholic Chaplaincy.

Grissell died in Rome on 10 June 1907, leaving his relic collection to the parish of St. Aloysius Gonzaga in Oxford.

21 November 2007

Newman Society celebrates 'Summorum Pontificum'

From The New Liturgical Movement
By Joseph Shaw

Today I can report a great breakthrough for liturgical renewal in Oxford: a Catholic student society has not only held its Termly Mass in the usus antiquior, but had an extremely splendid Traditional Solemn High Mass. It took place in the presence of the University Chaplain, Fr John Moffat SJ, in the chapel of Brasenose College, on Monday 19th November, at 6pm.

The student society in question is Oxford Newman Society, (and here) founded in 1878, the oldest Catholic student group in Oxford, which must be one of the oldest Catholic student societies in the world, and one of a very small number, I should imagine, to own its own altar cards. These highly decorated altar cards have been screwed to a wall for a very long time, but now they are back in use, and with them, the Church's liturgical patrimony.

The venue, Brasenose College Chapel, available by kind permission of the College authorities, is a curious mixture of styles. Most obvious from the pictures is the classical marble surround of the altar; the chapel also boasts brightly coloured fan vaulting.

The sacred ministers were Fr Dominic Jacob of the Oxford Oratory, celebrant, Fr Anton Webb, also of the Oratory, deacon, and the NLM's own Br Lawrence Lew OP as subdeacon. Mr Richard Pickett was MC; he was assisted by a team of Newman Society servers.

The Mass was a Votive Mass of Our Lady, Salve sancta parens, offered for the repose of the soul of one of the Newman Society's founders, Papal Chamberlain Hartwell de la Gard Grissell, whose centenary it was. Grissell was a great collector of relics, which established the relic chapel at St Aloyesius, now the Oratory church but in his day a Jesuit church. Unfortunately most of the relics he bequeathed to the church were destroyed by the Jesuit fathers in a moment of iconoclastic madness in 1971. It is a remarkable act of providence that one of the few that remained to await the arrival of the Oratorians was one of St Philip Neri, housed in a splendid metal bust of the saint.

This was the Oxford Gregorian Chant Society's third Mass since its formalisation this term, and the first at which they collaborated with a polyphonic choir. In my view this is the ideal, Rolls Royce option for a Mass on a special occasion: two separate groups of singers, a Gregorian schola doing the propers and a polyphonic group doing the ordinaries and motets. I am glad to say that we, the schola side of it, didn't let the side down: with the assistance of our professional coach, Mr Adrian Taylor, our usual director Mr Julian Griffiths and another experienced local singer, Dr Brian Sudlow, the eight student singers put in an extremely polished performance.

The polyphonists were organised by Mr Andrew Knowles, who did the same thing for the Masses at the LMS Priests Training Conference. Four professional singers, two violinists and an organist (with Mr Knowles conducting) performed the Missa in G by Antonio Caldara, Christian Geist's Quam pulchra es Maria as an Offertory motet, and Alba Trissina's Vulnerasti cor meum and Luca Marenzioat's O Sacrum Convivium at Communion.

The two groups of singers balanced each other extremely well, and I don't think anyone could have left that Mass without understanding at least a little about what former generations of Catholics meant by the beauty of the liturgy.

Despite torrential rain Mass was attended by about 90 people. It was followed by a the Newman Society's splendid termly black tie dinner, which was addressed by Mr Julian Chadwick, Chairman of the Latin Mass Society, who had attended the Mass

14 November 2007

Fr. Nicholas Schofield gives talk on 'Oxford's Cardinals'

From Fr. Nicholas' blog -

Last night I spoke to the Oxford University Newman Society on the subject of 'The Oxford Cardinals - from Robert Pullen to George Pell.' As far as I know, 27 Cardinals have connections with the University - some famous (like Wolsey, Manning and Newman), others less so (like the anti-pope Alexander V or William Theodore Heard, who rowed in the 1907 Boat Race). It was a highly enjoyable occasion, preceded by a meal at the Chaplaincy prepared by the members and followed by some lively discussion over port. Among the 20 or so who attended were three Dominicans, including blogger Br Lawrence Lew. Since the talk was quite late, I enjoyed some Jesuit hospitality at Campion Hall.

It brought back many memories since I was President of the Society back in Hilary Term 1996 - indeed, I was surprised to see my term's committee photo hanging on the wall in the room where I gave the talk. Looking at the youthful faces, I counted three students who are now priests. And judging from the people I met yesterday, there will probably be a significant crop of vocations over the coming years.

A visit to Oxford provided an opportunity to visit some old haunts - including the HQ of Family Publications, the Oratory Church of St Aloysius and my alma mater, Exeter College. A message on the door reported the tragic events of Monday which have been (I later discovered) reported in the papers. Two 'freshers' (first years) died within a few hours of each other: Sundeep Watts and Harcourt ("Olly") Tucker. The first died of of meningitis, while the other suffered a heart attack during a game of hockey. Oxford colleges are small communities and Exeter only has about 300 undergraduates, so the death of two promising undergraduates after just 7 weeks of University must be a terrible shock. May they rest in peace.

12 November 2007

Mgr. Ronald Arbuthnott Knox 1888 - 1957

This year sees the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Mgr. Ronald Arbuthnott Knox, former Chaplain and a keen member of the Newman.

Educated at Eton and Balliol, Knox was elected as fellow of Trinity College in 1910 and served for a time as Chaplain there. He converted to Catholicism in 1917 and was ordained to the Priesthood. Between 1926 and 1939 Knox served as Chaplain to Oxford University and was created a Domestic Prelate of His Holiness the Pope in 1936.

Knox single-handedly produced a translation of the entire Vulgate Bible and was well known for his essay writing and novels, especially his detective stories. He had an advanced sense of humour and in 1926 sparked national panic in a spoof BBC news broadcast reporting the invasion of Britain (click here to listen to a BBC reconstruction).

A fuller biography can be seen here.

R. I. P.

31 October 2007

Fr. Tim Finigan speaks about 'Humanae Vitae: 40 Years on'

From The Hermeneutic of Continuity

Last night, I was the guest at a joint meeting organised by the Oxford University Pro-Life Society and the Oxford Newman Society. There was first of all a magnificent dinner at the Chaplaincy, attended by 24 students and cooked by members of the Newman Society. The Library was full for the talk with about 40 students attending. I spoke about Humanae Vitae, 40 years on.I pointed out that Humanae Vitae was addressed particularly to married couples whereas now most people arguing about contraception are referring to non-married relationships. I looked at the breakdown of traditional Christian morality (as predicted by Pope Paul VI) and the response that we could make by upholding the teaching of Humanae Vitae and encouraging people to see that teaching as offering a nobler way of life.It was really very encouraging to meet these students and I came away with great hope for the future. The chaplains kindly arranged for me to stay at Campion Hall, the Jesuit house in Oxford. This morning, in response to requests from the students, I celebrated Mass in the old rite. The Fathers were most helpful in providing everything for the Mass which I celebrated in the St Joseph's Chapel. Jospeh Shaw took a couple of pictures of the Mass - here is one:

14 January 2007

Joanna Bogle on her talk to the Newman Society

Recently I was invited to address the Newman Society at Oxford University. This group is proud of its claim to be the oldest of the many societies established by the student body. It takes its name, of course, from the great Cardinal John Henry Newman, who, as a Fellow of Oriel College, and Vicar of the University Church, was one of the greatest figures of the Oxford of his day.

The Newman Society meets at The Old Palace, the Catholic Chaplaincy, and an excellent dinner was provided before the meeting by a team led by the chaplain Father Jeremy Fairhead -- who met me at the front door clad in a smart white chef’s apron over his clerical attire. Conversation over the meal was lively and enjoyable. We then hurried upstairs to the large drawing-room, which was simply packed for the meeting, extra chairs being carried in and a great buzz of talk: Catholic life is thriving in Oxford at the moment.

It is all very encouraging. Adjoining the beautiful 14th-century buildings of the Old Palace is the modern chapel and associated rooms -- necessary because some 300-400 people attend Mass here every Sunday, and a good number on weekday mornings too, at the smaller weekday chapel of St. Thomas More. The modern part of the chaplaincy is ugly (it was built in the 1970s!) but serviceable. It seems absurd that in this city of churches something new had to be constructed for the Catholic chaplaincy -- but making use of some Medieval or Victorian Anglican church still presents legal and other difficulties so building something new is actually simplest.

As the meeting began, I had the delight of meeting, among the undergraduates, one who had been the winner of an award presented by The Keys, the Catholic Writers’ Guild of England and Wales, a couple of years earlier as a schoolgirl. The award, presented annually for the best essay contributed by a Catholic school pupil in Britain on a given theme, had been presented at the House of Commons by Catholic MP Anne Widdceombe, and the memory of this evidently still glowed. I was thrilled to see how much it had meant to this young student, and to see that she had continued to develop her faith and was here to attend a Newman Society meeting and enjoy being part of the university’s Catholic life.

Topic for the evening was “Women and the Catholic Church”, with the sub-title “Does the Church oppress women?”, which is the title of my booklet on the subject produced by the Catholic Truth Society. It covers, among other issues, the question of whether or not women can be ordained as Catholic priests, and gives some background and thought-material on the subject. In exploring this, it emphasizes the consistent teaching of the Church on the subject, from Christ’s choice of His Apostles -- twelve men, despite the fact that it was normal among all the pagan religions of His part of the world to have priestesses, and indeed a female priesthood was virtually taken for granted in the Roman world -- right down through all the different eras of Christian history to Pope John Paul II’s authoritative statement on the subject in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

I was surprised to note, in conversation with the young award-winner, that she considered it quite normal to believe that women ought to be ordained. But I remembered that, in conversation with her religious education teacher, I had become aware that this teacher certainly supported female ordination -- and she had evidently been only too successful in communicating this to her pupils.

It’s important to understand that this support for priestesses does not necessarily come as part of a “package deal” of dissent on other issues: while such dissent is certainly the norm among older campaigning feminists, this is not the case among the younger generation of Catholics. They tend, if they are practicing the Faith at all, to be generally supportive of the Church’s message on, for example, sexual morality and particularly on abortion. They have already decided that they do want to be associated with the Church -- it isn’t just a cultural thing as it may have been in the past, and of course they are acutely aware of their many friends who have simply abandoned a Faith that was poorly taught as a result of the poor religious education and ugly liturgies that have marked the Church in recent decades.

These young practicing Catholics of the John Paul II generation have a certain openness to the possibility of Catholicism being something positive. They may even be quite keen on things like use of Latin in church, once regarded as something no one young could want. They aren’t the 1970s generation and they aren’t terribly impressed by the language and literature of dissident nuns and sloganizing ex-priests. They don’t necessarily feel any sense of resonance with talk of a “patriarchal and oppressive” Church, and they don’t buy into the whole women-have-been-oppressed-by-male-clergy-down-the-centuries idea. It’s more simple than that: they have something very positive in their attitude to Christ and to the Church, but they lack formation and a sense of belonging to a great tradition of teaching.

On the subject of priesthood, for instance, many will merely assume that, just as women are now admitted to colleges that were formerly for men only (even when I left school in the 1970s, the number of women attending both Oxford and Cambridge Universities was small: most colleges were for men only and places for women were few), and just as women now do things like fly in space and fight in front-line armies, so they will and should naturally take their place in the Catholic priesthood too.

It’s a difficult message to counter: not because it’s a profound or intellectually well-grounded message, and not because it’s a particularly valuable one, but simply because it’s so superficial. It presupposes that the priesthood is simply a job -- a very beautiful one, requiring special sorts of insights and presumably a great devotion to Christ -- but a job nonetheless.

It’s worth noting that, actually, even the basic suppositions -- that it’s right and useful to have women in a front-line army, for example -- are worth challenging. It may well be that in a couple of decades’ time -- or even earlier -- we will be questioning the current fashion for encouraging young girls in the idea that wielding a sub-machine-gun is the best use of their talents.

There is certainly a need to challenge the clichés of the “unisex” culture, which has given rise to the notion that any and every difference between the sexes should always be minimized, and that, if necessary, biological, emotional, and psychological facts should be bent, twisted, or ignored in order to fit feminist ideology. But the real issue here, when discussing the Catholic priesthood, is deeper and relates to the nature of the priesthood itself: to Christ and His Church, Bridegroom and Bride, in God’s original plan.

I think we need to start with a recognition that God doesn’t make mistakes: we may see a greater understanding of His message and teachings, but He doesn’t require that we correct things that He got wrong. He didn’t and doesn’t get things wrong. In His plan, for example, marriage was always to be between a man and a woman, always to be open to the passing on of new life to the next generation, always to be lifelong, always to be faithful. We may need to teach this in new ways, and we may gain new insights into how best to live out this teaching (compare the richness of John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” with the terse and frankly somewhat bleak sternness of the Catechism of the Council of Trent on matrimony) but the teaching itself does not and cannot change.

In looking at the priesthood, we need to understand how Christ always sees Himself as the Bridegroom: we should note how His public ministry begins at a wedding, at Cana, and how the (interesting nameless) Bridegroom and Bride are there in the picture from the start. When Christ turns water into wine -- and in this we already see a foretaste of the Eucharist, as Mary’s “Do whatever He tells you” will become Christ’s “Do this in memory of me” -- we have the beginning of something priestly, which is of crucial importance.

Christ went out of His way to show that both men and women were to be carriers of His message and part of His Church. It is to a woman at the well that He speaks of Himself as the Messiah. It is to Mary Magdalene in the garden that He shows Himself first after His Resurrection. It is a little girl -- Jairus’s daughter -- that He brings back to life and to whose parents He offers the instruction “give her something to eat”. Women will know Him as Messiah, they will rejoice at His Resurrection and in His very presence, they will be fed at His command.

Who, then, are the priests? They are certainly a mixed bunch. The call to priesthood is clearly something specific: it’s not a matter of rewarding good behavior or of using specific gifts. One denies Him, but then goes on to be the leader of the new little flock, and the rock on which the Church will be built. One betrays Him -- and alas other priests have done that since, including in our own day. One stays with Him loyally, standing at the foot of the Cross along with the women. We know the names of the Apostles, and we see the very different backgrounds from which they come -- one the owner of a small fishing business, and other a tax collector. And we note that they are all men, and all specifically called. No special gifts -- not of preaching, or of personal charm, or of spiritual insight -- seem apparent. It is just a specific call, and to men.

“But some women feel they are called too” came a voice raised at my Oxford meeting, not from the young woman with whom I had been speaking earlier, but from another, similarly placed within this Catholic community, evidently not openly disloyal to the Church, certainly not seeking to be offensive or confrontational, just genuinely puzzled. But what do we mean by “called”? Is it just a feeling? We can all have feelings that seem genuine but are unreliable and fickle. We may feel -- genuinely feel -- that we are called to marry a particular person, only to discover that he or she doesn’t feel the same way. We may feel called to have a family, yet remain childless. We may know we have certain talents, only to find that, in unexpected ways, God uses our quite different gifts and in a career or country or situation wholly different from the one we had been planning.

To check whether our “call” is from God, we have to test it against reality: to see if what we feel called to do is technically possible. If women cannot actually be priests -- if we cannot be the Bridegroom at the wedding -- then it is idle to say that we feel that we ought to be.

It is all much more nuptial than we had supposed. That Cana imagery is not mere pictures: there really is a wedding theme going right through Christ’s life and ministry -- as well as back to Genesis and forward into the vision of Heaven that we find in the last book of the Bible. Christ did not marry in this world: He had no human wife and children. But He did have a Bride -- His Church -- and you and I and all the baptized are children of that union. That is why we now refer to His Bride as Mother Church. And the wedding is celebrated again and again at every Mass -- and at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in Paradise.

Merely feeling that we ought to be the Bridegroom can’t turn us into bridegrooms. We have to ask what we are, and why God made us what we are, and whether He loves us or not. God has plenty of plans for each one of us. Discerning these need not be done in a vacuum: Mother Church helps us. She explains His teachings, shows us how (and when, and where) to pray, gives us treats and traditions, mild reproofs and gentle nudges, food for our journey and lots and lots of encouragement. The Church’s women saints and heroines show us the way: often more saintly than the priests who served or even taught them, often better known, and more worthy of being better known.

When we explore this issue of women and the priesthood we should, I think, keep in mind what happens in the life of the Church when heresies emerge: the universal pattern is for the heresy to sweep ahead and then for the Church to check it. This means announcing the truth and binding us all once again to what is right -- a service that, incidentally, is the humblest and best of the papal tasks, and one which Pope Benedict has described as being done as “washing the feet”, i.e., done in a spirit of service. With the announcing of the truth will come much -- often passionate -- debate, and perhaps the emergence of real heroes who defend the Church’s authentic teaching against all the odds. In the end, the truth will emerge more brightly: we may even have cause to be grateful for the original error, as it did enable us to be enriched by a deeper understanding.

Thus with the priesthood. A male priesthood is more important than we had thought. The notion of a priest as Bridegroom, as a Father, is one deserving of new emphasis. The nuptial imagery of each Mass is something we need to appreciate and study. The importance of marriage -- today under threat as never before -- and its true nature as a sacrament, is bound up with this. The understanding of the Church as a Bride and a Mother is important.

When we explain and discuss all this, we should do so knowing that many younger Catholics -- certainly in Western Europe and in America -- have had poor formation and catechesis, and are living out their faith in a very hostile environment. Merely to live as decent Christians -- to be faithful to prayer and to Sunday Mass, to be chaste, to live without endlessly being obsessed with material possessions and greedy for more of them -- is really commendable, given the huge pressures from all sides to live otherwise. As recently as the 1950s, it was fairly normal to be a churchgoer, absolutely odd to be openly “living in sin”, a public disgrace to be pregnant outside of wedlock, illegal to engage in homosexual acts, and crucial to be seen to dress with general modesty and to refrain from blasphemy or sexual expletives in speech if you wanted to hold down a respectable job. None of that now applies. Young people trying to live as Catholics in a modern university and take up positions in modern Western nations have to struggle to work out just what they do believe and why, and how they should live and whether it really matters.

When we tackle issues like the priesthood, feminism, and the transmission of the great truths of the Faith, we probably need more courage and more wisdom than we had perhaps once thought necessary. I enjoyed my evening with a young University audience. As the evening finished -- and it was still at the port-and-discussion stage when I left, with the conversation lively and the atmosphere good -- I knew that the Church’s authentic teaching would be discussed and explored with rigor, humor, honesty, and passion, as well as with the occasional cliché, some pomposity, loss of temper, and, inevitably misunderstanding, and confusion.

But it can stand up to all of this. In the end the truth triumphs -- and the task of the Catholic is to communicate that truth with confidence and with generosity, knowing that the work has already been done and grateful for the ministry of Peter, which keeps us all on the right track. In another hundred years, there’ll be some other young people genuinely asking questions about some other aspects of Catholic teaching (“Why bread and wine?” “Why a Cross and not some other form of death?”), which by then will seem crucial. And the Church will go on exploring the truth and re-teaching it and giving the unchanging answers with new insights.