Thursday 1 July 2010

My vocation: Patristics nerd

Lest anyone think that I've given up on God, Christianity or Theology, don't be fooled by this blog's inactivity. I still read dozens of other blogs, pray for those of you who I know personally, and continue to waste huge amounts of time and money on reading a variety of theological/ecclesiological/devotional bits and pieces.

In doing so, I have discovered my true vocation in life, a calling (if you will forgive the comic hyperbole) higher than marriage, the priesthood, public life or indeed anything else on God's green earth. I was born to be a Patristics nerd.

How do I know this? Today I received, fresh from the vast crypt of Blackwell's Oxford, a copy of Irenaeus's On the Apostolic Preaching. As I received my new reading matter, a gloriously geeky grin of delight spread across my face. Perhaps it's the minimalist icon on the front cover. Perhaps it's the classical aura second century literature. Perhaps it's the sheer eccentric joy of reading something "translated from the Armenian". Who knows?

At this point, I realised this is part of a growing trend, in fact I even own another book in the same Popular Patristics Series from the SVS Press, a series which I would recommend to any potential early-church anorak. Perhaps Calvin is right about the whole predestination malarkey. Obviously some of us are predestined to be Patristics nerds.

So there we have it. A Patristics nerd. Prententious? Probably. Edifying? Hopefully. Immense fun? Definitely.

Monday 22 February 2010

How we receive communion

Once again, controversy in the Catholic blogosphere has roused me from the sleep of internet inactivity, and I reluctantly take up my keyboard. The much-debated issue of how one ought to receive the Sacrament, a particularly virulent argument in traditionalist Catholic circles, involves both the highest theological principles, and also the lowest forms of superstition and dogmatic narrow-mindedness.

First things first. I'm no namby-pamby Liberal. Neither am I a card-carrying Traditionalist (with a pointedly capital 'T'). I try to be simply orthodox when it comes to sacramental theology. Since, however, it is so easy to be misunderstood online, especially when dealing with issues which arouse odium theologicum of the most ignorant and bigoted nature. So let me make myself very clear:

The Church has ALWAYS, from the first century onwards, taught that Christ is objectively present in the Eucharistic elements. The host, the body of Christ, is given and received. It should be received with proper reverence.

I should also like to point out that there is nothing wrong with receiving 'on the tongue.' This has been a holy and venerable practice in the Latin Church for centuries, and I'm not for one minute suggesting that we reject it. Equally holy and beautiful is the Eastern Churches' practice of administering the Lamb, soaked in the precious blood, on a spoon.

Yet in recent years, it has become fashionable among some Catholics to criticse the practice of receiving communion 'in the hand'. There seem to be three main objections to this:

1. One might lose crumbs of the host in one's palm.
2. Only a priest's hands have been consecrated to hold the Sacrament.
3. It is a recent innovation.

Let me deal with each of these in turn:

1. Obviously, due care and attention must be given to the Sacrament. We must take care not to break it, lose it, drop it etc. However, it seems to me perfectly possible to avoid all of this. If one receives in the hand, in the middle of the palm, correct practice is to simply raise that palm (the left hand supporting the right hand, or vice versa) to the mouth, and consume the host without faffing around trying to pick up a morsel of bread in one's fingers. It's only then that the host breaks, or is dropped, or leaves crumbs behind.

2. I've heard this one a few times. A priests hands are consecrated that they might touch the Sacrament; ours are not. What nonsense! As some point both priests and laity swallow the Holy Eucharist, but I don't remember anyone anointing my mouth and digestive system, or any priest's for that matter. To suggest that only consecrated hands may touch the Sacrament is superstitious nonsense.

3. Many traditionalists can remember communion in the hand being forbidden in the past. It is therefore, an innovation, right? Wrong. Here's a quote from the Catechetical Lectures of the holy and orthodox St. Cyril of Jerusalem, writing in the fourth century:

When thou goest to receive communion go not with thy wrists extended, nor with thy fingers separated, but placing thy left hand as a throne for thy right, which is to receive so great a King, and in the hollow of the palm receive the body of Christ, saying, Amen.

If you prefer to receive communion on the tongue, so be it. If the Church decides to insist on communion on the tongue, so be it. It is a good and holy thing. Just please, oh please, stop portraying communion 'in the hand' as some kind of 'modernist' liturgical abuse!

Friday 11 September 2009

Embertide approaching

Remember, remember
The three days of Ember;
Abolished, forgotten
Or not?

Pass my little rhyme and the link around to other blogs once you've read it :-)

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Excellent Vocations Website

The priestly vocations website of the Archdiocese of New York is a brilliant example of how the Church can utilise modern technology to articulate it's most ancient of institutional graces. The above website shows how very far behind the English Church is in presenting the attractions of a vocation to the priesthood to young men.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Thank God!

Christ the Teacher

For good exam results!

St. Joseph of Cupertino,
Patron saint of exam candidates.

Sunday 16 August 2009


It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, without defilement thou gavest birth to God the Word. True Theotokos we magnify thee! - Hymn to the Virgin, Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Friday 14 August 2009

Seven Things

That I rather like, as tagged by Madame Evangelista:

  1. Travel. I just love to visit new places. To wander around an old town on the continent, without really going anywhere, poking my head through private doorways and stumbling upon a hidden gem is just about my favourite pastime in the whole world.
  2. Choral music. Pretentious, moi? Whether it's Gregorian chant, medieval polyphony, that stirring first movement of Mozart's Requiem, the peaceful self-confidence of a Choral Evensong, or indeed just about anything that is not written by John Rutter - I just can't help but feel closer to God.
  3. Foreign languages. Why would anybody in their right mind limit their stories, knowledge, personal capabilities, career opportunites, spirituality and even their sense of humour to the narrow anglo-saxon world?
  4. A wide vocabulary. Ok, for all my enthusaism for foreign languages, English is phenomenally interesting. It's a language of such diverse origins! For the same essential concept we almost always have a choice between (at least) an anglo-saxon and a romance word: eg, luck/fortune, gift/donation. I include in this choice words that I enjoy for the simple pleasure of saying them: "tepid", "apophatic", "lexicon", "bumblebee", "trudge"...
  5. Debate. I love a good empassioned argum... *ahem* scholarly discussion. Perhaps I've said enough... Of course not! Metaphysics is particularly good fun; but what does "fun" mean in this case???
  6. Long chats over a coffee. Catching up with friends I haven't seen in months is always fun, but even better on a sunny day in town with a hot cup of coffee or a nice cold drink.
  7. The smell of old churches. Right, I admit this one is odd, so bear with me. Never judge a book by it's cover, but feel free to judge a church by it's scent. After a good few centuries of pious devotion and hard-working care, the smell of wood polish, communion wine and insence so permeates the wooden furniture and stone masonry that the building iteself develops an atmosphere which testifies to the continuous fidelity of a community to the Divine service. Come on, you know you agree!

Thursday 13 August 2009

For the giggles.

Apologies for the lack of recent activity. Here's something to keep you amused in the absence of anything substantial:

A potential resource for Catholic schools?

Tuesday 16 June 2009


I read an article earlier today about the persecution of the Church in Russia under Stalin. Apparently, there were more martyrdoms in 20th Century Russia than during the persecutions of the Roman Empire; 17 million Orthodox and 3 million Catholics.

Since the beginning the Church has been persecuted. Christians have died for their faith for the Church's whole 2000 year existence. The 20th Century was no different. In Russia, Nazi Germany, Spain's "Red Terror", the Armenian genocide, the Istanbul Pogrom, during the Lebanese civil war, in Coptic Egypt, Kosovo and communist China.

This continues today. Radical Islamic governments and militias in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and many other nations have tortured and killed apostates from Islam to Christianity. The recent outbreak of "swine flu" in Mexico was used as an excuse by the Egyptian government to slaughter almost all the pigs in that country; all of which belonged to the destitute Coptic minority which rely on such livestock to survive. There are no signs whatsoever that our century will be any better for Christians than those previous.

What does this mean for us in the West?

  1. Faith is precious. If we are strong enough, God willing, it is something worth enduring persecution for.
  2. Martyrdom means "witnessing". Persecutions have always strengthened the Church.
  3. We are the lucky ones. We have no excuses for our petty, day-to-day apostasies; not when Christians in Iraq risk their lives to get to Mass, or Chinese Christians risk prison for possessing a Bible at home.
  4. We must strengthen our persecuted brethren. Financial aid, diplomatic pressure, humanitarian relief, and of course prayer are all things we should be contributing to the suffering Church.
  5. Christianity in the West must not go out with a whimper. By watering down Christianity to make it easier for the secular West we do the persecuted Church a terrible injustice and we fundamentally weaken our position and integrity.
  6. We must forgive. I loathe what Fundamentalist Muslims and Hindus often do to Christians in their country, but we shouldn't resent them for it. We must pray for our enemies. The very worst thing would be an anti-Muslim backlash in the Church.

Sunday 14 June 2009

Corpus Christi

I was lucky enough to be at the Cathedral today to celebrate Corpus Christi. The (rather diminished) choir sang Aquinas' exquisite texts for the feasts, to a variety of musical settings. The mass was ended with a short procession around the body of the Church and Benediction of the Sacrament.

There is something very humbling seeing a body of people kneel before a piece of bread. If it were anything other than what the Church teaches the Eucharist to be, then the whole exercise would have been the worst of blasphemies; and yet Jesus' stark and unbending words in the Gospels - "This is my body" - reassure me that we were not adoring mere bread.

The Latin origin of the word "sacrament" originally meant "pledge" or "oath". One of the reasons the Roman authorities were so suspicious, so I am told, of the Early Church is because Christians were observed to take "sacraments" as a group: to the Emperors this sounded like a revolutionary secret society! One can easily imagine the Roman establishment being fearful of Christians in the same way that the Papacy and Austria were fearful of the carbonari eighteen-hundred years later.

But a pledge is exactly what the Eucharist is. In John Wesley's Eucharistic hymn "Victim divine", of 1786, even an ardent Protestant observes that "Thou art to all already given... and shew thy real presence here." The joys of heaven which we will receive in the future are given to us in the consecrated elements in our here and now.

It is a privilege to observe this. As I'm not in communion with Rome (yet), it is moving to watch people return from the altar; some weep, others smile to themselves as if enjoying the company of an old friend, others simply whisper to the God they have received.
It is right and proper that there should be a day set aside to thank God for this great and life-giving mystery.