Bits and Bobs (some serious)

It’s been so long I almost forget how to do this blogging thing. But it’s coming back…

It has been busy here at Douai; that’s one excuse for the silence. Another is that it has been hard to find anything really good to write about, so it was best to say nothing, or so it seemed.

Another reason, if not an excuse, for the silence is that I found the whole blogosphere had become overwhelming. Just going through my Digg blogroll took longer and longer, even with skim reading, and it was getting more and more depressing in content. So I went cold turkey, and I have not opened Digg or looked at blogs (except through the odd single link on Facebook or Twitter) since January.

So here am I writing a blog post. The irony is not lost on me.

This morning I was reading April’s edition of The Oldie. The magazine is kindly passed on to us by a friend of the monastery, and indeed its founding editor attends Mass of a Sunday in the abbey church. It says something of my rapid ageing that I find this journal always an excellent read.

In the opening section, “The Old’Un’s Notes” I think it is called, he discusses how Swing Low Sweet Chariot came to be the unofficial English rugby anthem. I had heard the story ages ago and forgotten it but he has brought it flooding back. It is a recent tradition to sing this Negro spiritual, and it dates from 1988 when boys of our former school at Douai sang it at Twickenham to serenade Chris Oti after he had scored some tries. And it caught on, amazing in a world before digital social media. It was not lost on the Old’Un that the song is actually a plaintive cry to the Lord that he might take the singer away to any place but here. Irony again. Douai seems to have a general susceptibility to it. Of course, how many of us knew we were singing about the plague when as kiddie-winks we sang “Ring-a-ring-a-rosie”?

In the latest The Tablet, the letters (which never fail to appal) contain yet another cry for general absolution in place of individual confession. If ever there were a cause with which I have absolutely no sympathy it is this one. It expresses a desire to get grace cheap and easy on our own terms; which is no grace at all.

During the Exodus God was delivering his people Israel from bondage. It was an ordeal, through the desert of enmity and temptation and general hardship. But of course, the goal was the Promised Land, which would make all the suffering worth it. Yet Israel very quickly fell into sin, and worse, idolatry, as they made gods out of metal to suit their own tastes and replace the one God who was no fun at all. They wanted to play at religion rather than live it in its full integrity, to have the external consolations of religion without its interior obligations.

What else is indiscriminate general absolution? Forgiveness without confession. Or in reality I suspect for most of those who are desperate for it – forgiveness without true repentance. Do they think that if they stand in a room as a priest (illicitly) administers absolution, that their sins will really be absolved? Without true repentance and a firm and sincere purpose of amendment sacramental absolution is of no avail.

In fact I wonder if it is like poison, much as the Eucharist would be to one in mortal sin. As our Bishop Egan said not so long ago, to give the Lord’s Body to people living in a condition of unrepented grave sinfulness is to give them poison, as they would be bringing judgment on themselves. So it seems that to sneak into some sort of mass absolution when not truly repentant and without the resolve to move from sin is an act of sacrilege that would carry a supernatural consequence.

But if Israel is not a convincing argument let’s look at our Lord himself. Every time he forgave someone his or her sins, he did so face to face, and one on one. Forgiveness, absolution, was always a personal encounter with the Lord. To be sure it happens in order to build up the Church, but it is effected one-to-one. And it was always followed by “Go, and sin no more”.

Go, and sin no more.

It may be of relief to some to know that not only do I go to confession, but that I find it tough. It is tougher than you might think for a monk and priest to front up to another priest with a load of sin that is felt as all the more shameful because, as a monk and a priest, he has put himself to a higher standard; and that having aimed higher his failure seems all the more pathetic.

But I would not change it for the world. For even though I have occasionally postponed confession due to the challenge of articulating my sinfulness to another, I have always left the confessional immensely unburdened and liberated. For having individually confessed, I have been individually absolved, the words of forgiveness addressed to me as me, not as an anonymous member hidden in the camouflage of a group.

Why should people be denied this wonderful experience, even if they baulk at it? The Church’s laws are usually for our own good. How easily we can kid ourselves without an honesty check. Grace might be free but it is not easy, and its effects are not independent of the disposition of our hearts.

So I am afraid that I abhor general absolution, except in the exceptional circumstances for which it has been provided (imminent disaster and death, for example) and without fulfilling its absolute requirement for individual confession at the earliest opportunity afforded (though death soon after obviously removes this need); without heeding these conditions general absolution is indiscriminate, illicit and abusive, and little short of sacrilege.

Absolution is not magic. If there is no true repentance, there can be no absolution and one remains in one’s sins. Let’s follow the religion that has been given to us, and not make one up that pleases our weakness.

Lastly, thanks to Fr Blake, I have had the pleasure of watching a short video with Fr Jeremy Driscoll OSB, who has been a teacher in Rome and gave our community retreat a few years back. He has just been elected abbot of Mt Angel in the USA. The video is a few years old but still spot on, balanced and honest and utterly clear. It is about the liturgical reform and some of the misinterpretations that have been peddled in its wake. It is 5 minutes of your life that will be well spent.

11 thoughts on “Bits and Bobs (some serious)

  1. Ah Father, welcome back seems to be the appropriate wording.
    Your words of observation and teaching, which are steeped in the One True Faith, have been sorely missed… In fact I had sent you an email months back, asking for prayer in a matter but pretty much figured I had not found the proper e-mail at the monastery or that you had simply moved on to your more pressing roles as active monk verses monk of the “blogosphere”.
    Reading and following the wealth of blogs shared by others is truly daunting, especially when one’s “day job” is overtly demanding as is in your case.
    For those of us who are a bit lost in the wilderness, hearing and seeing your words of unwavering faithfulness serves as a true balm. A signpost alone a sometimes lonely journey.
    So please never feel as if it is all for naught—I’ve had a similar discussion with others–musing as to the point of writing when it seems as if I’m just writing to the wind—but as I was told that if just one person stumbles upon something written at some point down the road that is edifying and rings of God’s Truth—then none of it has been in vain or is wasted time….
    And as always you are spot on with your reflections—“they wanted to play religion rather than live it in its full integrity…” a most accurate description of both then and certainly now…we as people never seem to change, never seem to truly “get it” but the wonderment is that He never changes, never wavers, and is always quick to welcome us home with His open embrace—so press on we do….
    Blessings Father during this most holy time of reflection as we journey to the cross and all that that entails—


      1. well Father—consider this humble servant to be richly blessed by your postings—I always look forward to what you write, as it does indeed richly bless me—hence why I miss hearing your words—don’t let too much time pass between your postings—your side ministry shall we say 😉


  2. Having devoted myself as best I could to non-Catholic versions of Christianity for nearly 40 years before mercifully becoming Catholic, I’ve had ample experience of doing without the sacrament of confession and penance. It’s a spiritual impoverishment. Confession opened my eyes to how I negotiated and excused myself in the area of sin.


  3. Hello Fr.
    I have to say, firstly, that you are 100% right concerning confession, of course!
    As regards the video on liturgical reform, I have to say that the section which discusses liturgical orientation is actually pretty scary. Of course the Priest is not ‘turning his back’ on the people, but the ‘option’ of versus populum is given equality with ad orientem in this evaluation; this is nonsense! There is no precedent or justification for celebrating versus populum. None. Zero. It dates back to Luther and no further, and the theology underlying it is antithetical to Catholic teaching from AD 33 until the 1970’s, and that’s a fact.
    This is the kind of ‘dangerous conservatism’ that poses as the voice of ‘tradition’ but is really the slow poison of erosion killing the Church. It’s a prime example of what’s become known as ‘Neo-Catholicism’. Neither the rampant liberal or neo-Catholic conservative represent Christianity as handed down to us through the Fathers.


    1. Well, hello and happy Easter.

      Versus populum is a tricky one. Not historically, of course, but culturally in our context today. Now I am fairly certain that in the house churches of the primitive Church there was probably something very similar to what would be termed versus populum. That is a type of precedent. But this primitivism, or archaeologism as it is often termed, is in total contradiction to the principle of organic development. Ad orientem arose for a reason (several in fact) and stayed with the Church for all those centuries, through all sorts of cultural changes and revolutions. Sad that we abandoned it so quickly and so readily.

      The other archaeological argument misapplied was that of the basilicas, but that has been debunked fairly comprehensively now.

      My point in linking to the video was that it was good to hear a mainstream liturgist speaking the sort of sense we would not have heard from such a one 30 years ago. Let us not make the perfect the enemy of the good.



      1. Happy Easter, Fr.

        Well, I hardly know where to begin…

        Firstly, I have no idea why it’s ‘tricky’ in our context? It wasn’t ‘tricky’ in 1960, but it was by 1970? It’s not tricky in the Eastern Rite or to the Orthodox, or even to those who still celebrate the Tridentine Mass.

        I have no idea where your certainty comes from regarding early celebrations of the Eucharist? I think we can be pretty certain that the opposite is the case. The Passover was certainly not celebrated versus populum, and neither were meals in general – the primitive table was ‘horseshoe’ shaped (either literally or practically, regarding usage) leaving one side open for serving. The guest of honour, or celebrant would be seated on the right. What we do know is that we, as Christians have always worshipped toward the East, together, all facing the same direction. When prayer is mentioned by the Fathers this is always (yes, ALWAYS) the case. You will find hundreds (if not thousands) of texts supporting this, and not a single text – not one – which contradicts it. The fact that this uniformity in teaching, belief and practice is precisely what has been handed down to us alone from the very earliest of times utterly repudiates any notion of a phantom precedent. Liturgically there were variations of sorts, geographically, but facing anywhere but East was never an option. Never. As I stated previously versus populum dates back to Luther, and that’s a fact (I believe I’m correct in stating that Monsignor Gamber went to great lengths to stress this point).

        ‘Let us not make the perfect the enemy of the good’

        That is such a depressing statement, Fr. It encapsulates everything we have to fear as modern Catholics. It’s precisely the kind of thinking that brings us to this point in the first place. It’s ‘Neo-Catholicism’ itself. God help us!


      2. It’s tricky because there is a generation, two in fact, who have been formed (or de-formed as I am sure you would say) since the Council. Sledgehammers alienate such people; patient catechesis works far better, but it takes time. Priests cannot make absolute declarations very easily; our pastoral role means we must start from where people are, and lead them to where they should be. Such leading is a process, and is not effected by mere declarations.

        I am quite certain that the Eucharist was not celebrated ad orientem in the house churches of the primitive church (which is what I meant; my lack of clarity is a product of haste). Some tables were horseshoe-shaped, not all. Whatever their shape, there was very little concept of the Eucharist being celebrated facing East. Only with the destruction of the Temple was the Church finally liberated from any attachment to its worship, and the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist could come to take precedence over the meal.

        I am sorry my axiom depressed you. You obviously live in a happier place. I must deal with people who need to be convinced of the necessity of ad orientem, and I can only succeed by showing them how the good is the door to the perfect.

        If you feel the you need God’s help against people like me, why do read my blog? It obviously doesn’t help you. Or do you like being angry and launching barbs?


  4. Sorry Fr. I wasn’t ‘being angry’, and wasn’t attacking you – although I can see how it could come across that way. I actually said ‘God help us!’, not ‘me’; and I really meant ‘us’ – all of us, including you and I. I’m not saying that you are the enemy, but that this way of thinking is.
    It’s as insidious as the slow poisoning of secularism. It’s not an onslaught out of which the seeds of faith grow strong; it’s a slow death behind an NHS curtain on a hospital ward whilst daytime tv plays in the background.
    Leading people into a slightly more agreeable falsehood has nothing to do with truth.. Stating that versus populum is as valid as ad orientem further entrenches the rot. That’s not leading people in the right direction, it’s justifying the nonsense they’re being fed already.
    I’m sure, from your comments, that you don’t hold to the equality of the opposing orientations, but this video does. Falsehood isn’t good, and we cannot use what is bad in order to accomplish good, as JPII would say.
    Perhaps this is an example of how historical Catholicism and post V2 Catholicism have come to the point at which the theological divergence has resulted in, almost, two different religions?

    I really am sorry, Fr, if I’ve offended you. I read your blog because you’re one of the good guys. Forgive me.


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