Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

The English ethos
August 14, 2010, 12:07 pm
Filed under: Devotional | Tags: , , , , ,

I have been very sorry to read, on some other blog sites, expressions that seem to me very far from our English way of doing things. Some examples: hopes that in the new Ordinariate, female altar servers will be banned, that communion in the hand will be banned, that this or that liturgical practice will be banned. I do not think that banning things is the best way of proceeding, when all we are talking about is not some undoubted teaching of the Church, but usages that some think irreverent, others find helpful.

Some of the suggestions I have read remind me of the Rabbinic and Pharisaic principle of “putting a hedge round the Law” by making regulations so detailed that the least putative infringement of the main Principle should become impossible. Sometimes practices or behaviour are condemned as irreverent when they are clearly not intended to be so, and therefore will not be taken as such by our Lord. Rather, they offend the sensitivities of some worshippers, who should not allow themselves to be distracted by them.

I am not a great fan of Fr Faber’s style, but in his hymn “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” he hits the spot:

For the love of God is broader than the measures of man’s mind;

and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.

But we make his love too narrow by false limits of our own;

and we magnify his strictness with a zeal he will not own.

The beauty and dignity of our English style of worship is not achieved by detailed rubrics, but by the application of an instinct for what is fitting, which derives from a firm understanding of essentials, and a desire to lead others to a deeper appreciation of the things of God.

Yet I cannot forget these words of J.R.R.Tolkien as a remedy for the feeling that one must have a “nice” Mass in order to be devout (Tolkien was writing to his son in 1963):

“I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only to easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children… open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair unkempt and uncovered. Go to communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. (It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand- after which Our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.)”

He added, “for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place.”


5 Comments so far
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Well said Father.Of course women or girls should not be banned from serving. Some of the best and most devote servers I have experienced have been girls and women, most of whom are dead set against the ordination of women. If the Ordinariate is going to be a missionary organisation we need to encourage rather than exclude.

Comment by Father Mervyn JenningsSSC

Hullo, Father! Nice of you to visit my blog and add it to your own blog list! Much of the hardline tendency seems to emanate from the USA, but I think we need to nip it in the bud over here. Altar servers are not apprentice priests (or next we shall be told to exclude married men!) and a lot of the trouble with the MOW is lack of understanding of what Catholic priesthood is.
To me, “Catholic” says “inclusive”, “comprehensive”, “all-embracing”, and a clear and uncompromising stand on doctrinal and moral issues must go with a clear understanding of what those are, and how they differ from matters of discipline, culture and custom.

Comment by Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC

I wonder are the latest calls for altar-girls et al., to be banned related to Arbp. Burke’s comments regarding same in the context of TLM?

If so, then I don’t believe that the ‘banning’ issues will arise for the Ordinariate, because the Ordinariate is wholly distinct and not ‘TLM-lite’.

I may even go so far as to suggest that the ‘English Ethos’ that Fr. Paul describes is rather a ‘Catholic Ethos’. This is simply because the meaning of catholic or universal in latin ‘unum versus alia’ refers to “one with respect to many”. One faith uniting many traditions. Some catholics mistakenly view universality as homogeneity, thankfully Pope Benedict is not one of them!

Comment by Jakian Thomist

Thanks; v encouraging. But I’m always puzzled, and a bit annoyed, when blog postings elsewhere, concerning ‘tat’ – what bishops should wear, the niceties of birettas &c – attract far more enthusiastic comment than a sane post like this. Seems to indicate some very odd priorities.

Comment by Edwin Barnes

Oh dear! I confess to having posted on Birettas on Fr Tomlinson’s blog- twice! Bless me, Father, for I have sinned!

Comment by Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC

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