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.