A papal audience…

“And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” 2Timothy 4:4.

I found this on YouTube the other day. I don’t know the context but I expect it’s part of a film since the camera keeps returning to a silly old biddy with tears in her eyes, and the musical score is triumphantly Protestant. At any rate, Pacelli’s nose is still intact so it was probably filmed some time in the 1940’s. It’s an extraordinary thing to watch, and rather disconcerting. Preceded by Swiss Guard, the pope is carried into St Peter’s on a sedia gestatoria and greeted by a throng of devotees, waving and clapping their hands and crying “viva il papa.” Pacelli begins by blessing the crowds but soon abandons this in favour of simply waving to them and basking in their adulation. He is carried around the high altar, blesses an infant and is then set down, greeted by a cardinal and accompanied to a throne before the altar. There he speaks briefly to the assembled people in Latin, Italian and German, before giving the Urbi et Orbi blessing. He then goes to greet the other cardinals and is carried out again, to more cries of “viva il papa.”

The pope has twice been in my presence; in Cologne in 2005 and at Hyde Park in 2010. In Marienfeld in 2005 I watched as pilgrims to “World Youth Day” rushed to get a closer look at the passing “popemobile,” trampling camping equipment in their hysteria. In 2010 I was pressured into going to see Benedict XVI by two women in my parish. I had already refused to attend a gala evening in honour of the pope’s visit to Britain at the Chislehurst Golf Club because, by this time, I had more or less abandoned the Popish creed, and only agreed to go to Hyde Park so as not to disappoint the children, to whom I was something of an avuncular figure. Nonetheless, I felt stifled and out of place and welcomed the phone call from my uncle, who had got in by waving his press pass. This afforded me an excuse to both abandon the traditionalists and have a nice (free) dinner. The next morning, however, I was thrust back into the hysterical milieu as I watched aghast at a priest who stood up and genuflected towards a television screen. The pope’s final mass was being televised in the parish club and he was giving his blessing.

There is no meaningful difference between the papal audience in the YouTube video and the events I have just described. The crowds are still there; they still cry out viva il papa. If the establishment in Rome had the prescience to abandon the tawdry, Baroque tat in favour of a white motorcar to better suit modern sensitivities, how is that different from all the spurious apologies made by John Paul II or the removal, by Benedict XVI, of the controversial prayer for the Jews on Good Friday? Rome may have been wrong about everything, but she was right in general! And she’s certainly still there. Tangentially, what always struck me during my time with the traditionalists was their unique knowledge of, and futile yearning for, all the quasi-imperial tat surrounding the popes of times past. Liturgical tradition was, to them, the suspicious by-product of the temporal power. This is confirmed by the hideous delight in the expression of that same genuflecting priest as he told me the story of Henry IV’s “road to Canossa;” but also in the traditionalists’ cavalier attitude to substituting feasts of considerable antiquity for newly-created papal ones. They are very materialistic.

I’ve spent some time since first watching the papal audience video thinking about the silly old biddy. My first reaction to her was hostile. I wanted to reach at her over the sundering years and shake her like a dog, bellowing with wrathful conviction: “this isn’t real! Get a bloody grip!” For I just cannot believe that her devotion to the Papacy comes from the wells of Christian piety. It seems to me that her devotion is vicarious, mistaken and sentimental; it’s dramatic emotionalism, and ultimately has no spiritual foundation. I speak as a pretty emotionless Englishman; I have wept copious tears in church only once in my life, and that was in the presence of the relics of blessed Thérèse of Lisieux, which I wrote about here (please forgive the saccharine tone of that post, by the way!). That was a religious experience, which nothing evil can counterfeit. By contrast, megalomaniacal popes whose bodies explode in their tombs do not provide genuine religious experiences; the “experience” lies with the people who idolise them, who have turned unto fables, as the Scripture says.


George Orwell wrote something fascinating about the futility of imperium in his essay Shooting an Elephant. You can read the whole text here. He says:

And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd – seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.

I’ve met several nominally Papalist theologians over the years; stricken, tortured types who were always wondering whether they could resign their livings. One told me at a party that he rejected the Chalcedonian Definition (that was some party!); another in a private tutorial that he just about believed that St Mary the Mother of God existed! It would be interesting to know the depth of religious faith among high-ranking members of the Vatican establishment. Do they really believe all the rubbish? I wouldn’t be surprised if pope Francis, like Fr Jack Hackett, didn’t believe in God, and that he is just the oracle of an institution that provides him with three square meals a day and a nice room to sleep in! But, like George Orwell with his rifle, the natives expect a show. I’ve often said that the Papacy is all about perpetuating its existence into the next generation, and protecting the reputation of its vast institution. Pope Francis may have a somewhat insouciant disposition to the strict interpretation of his religion, itself a flicker of honesty, but I can’t imagine for a moment that he would allow that to erode at the integrity of the institution. He won’t because he can’t. This is the futility of the Roman imperium, with all its false teaching, laid bare: Pope Francis is a prisoner of those benign, teary-eyed old biddies. If they wanted him to shoot an elephant, I have no doubt that he would shoot.

Of course, there is an alternative for the teary old biddies. It’s summed up in the injunction: get a life!

Clerical celibacy and Liturgy…

Christ is Risen!

How well do you know the “Mozarabic” Rite? For many years, all I had was a vague idea gleaned from authors like Geoffrey Hull, who, in his highly recommended “The Banished Heart,” tells a poignant and compelling story of the rite’s unwarranted persecution by the Romanising party (he also gives a comparative account of the treatment of the Ambrosian Rite and the subsequent riots in Milan which, barely, saved it from total suppression); as well as a few things I’d read in the “Tracts for the Times” (specifically tract seventy-five). I also have a CD of Mozarabic chant somewhere, sung by the specialists in mediaeval and liturgical music, “Ensemble Organum.” Otherwise I knew almost nothing about it. I have never seen a Mozarabic liturgy celebrated, and I am not prepared to travel to Toledo to be potentially disappointed by something tampered with fifty years ago at papal command.

To dispel my ignorance, I ordered two libelli from Abebooks, which have arrived this week, namely: Gregory Woolfenden’s “Daily Prayer in Christian Spain,” and Bishop & Feltoe’s “The Mozarabic and Ambrosian Rites;” both of them in the Alcuin Club series. They are very illuminating; the latter ostensibly biased in favour of the ancientry and superiority of the Old Spanish Rite (“Mozarabic” being a pejorative term preferred by the Romanisers, who saw it as a Moorish hybrid, tainted with Arian heresy). I’ve often said that the history of Christian prayer is a sad story, rather like Tolkien’s account of Gimli and Legolas walking the streets of Minas Tirith and musing on the Númenórean architecture, or Victor Hugo’s poignant descriptions of Notre Dame. The authors here, like Geoffrey Hull, write with painful regret of the florid and beautiful customs of this rite, embellished with many ancient elements lost or buried in the Roman Rite. Vespers, for example, has a lucernarium, reminiscent of Egeria’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the 4th century. Where is the Roman lucernarium at Vespers? Apart from the Lumen Christi procession from the vesperal liturgy of Holy Saturday, itself mutilated in the Pacelli reforms, it has been lost or buried in the passing years. While some traditionalists have hypocritically revived the lucernarium, the fact that they get the service times exactly wrong mars and obscures the fundamental significance of this rite in the context of Easter. If you ask me, they might as well just content themselves with the Pacelli rubbish.

The sanctorale and temporale in the Spanish Rite have propria for Mattins and Vespers on Sundays and holydays only (except in Lent and Rogationtide, which cover all the hours). Why? Because unlike the Roman Rite, with its burdensome monastic course of psalms, the Spanish Rite had a truly secular character suited to cathedrals and parishes; reminiscent of Anglican Mattins and Evensong. Of course it had a monastic rite also but that was solely restricted to monasteries. The principal difference between the Roman secular breviary and the monastic breviary is that the former comes to us from the monks of Rome, the latter from Monte Casino. All traces of the old Roman secular rite have disappeared, perhaps in Gregory VII’s reforms. The Spanish, and comparatively, the Ambrosian, Gallican, and later Anglican, secular custom is actually older, and was normative throughout Western Christendom before the Gregorian revolution.

Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most zealous reformers and political figures of the 12th century. This is the putative vision of the “lactation” of the Mother of God.

On this matter of secular versus monastic office, I remember my old parish priest (an execrable man) going into the church by himself with his breviary after some parish event to “catch up” with his office. I waited till the sacristan went home, whereupon I went into the sacristy to do some spying. Unbeknownst to the priest, I watched him as he recited the hours. I did this because I thought it strange for secular clergy to have this burden of canonical recitation on their shoulders in addition to providing three or four masses on Sundays, visits to parishioners’ homes, hospitals, prisons, schools, and all the other things expected of a pastor; not to mention a teacher in a seminary as well! I didn’t stay long but I went away with the unclouded, unchangeable view that it was wrong. It was wrong not because priests shouldn’t have high standards expected of them, a discipline of regular prayer, and a prayerbook from which to recite. It was wrong because he was on his own, in a dim church and reciting what should be sung communally in a monastery. Compare the liturgical abuse of low Mass and its insidious influence even upon the ceremonies of high Mass, at which the celebrant was (formerly) required to read even those parts sung by the choir. In a sense, the whole thing was too monastic. Even the incomprehensible (to me anyway) “liturgy of the hours,” the culmination of the rational liturgical experiment of the 20th century, sits upon a monastic foundation; a course of psalms and scripture readings. I am reminded of the abortive attempt by Cardinal Quiñones (interestingly, a Spaniard) to simplify the Breviary, shelved (whether rightly or wrongly) by Pius V but adopted as a model for Cranmer’s later reform of the Sarum office. It’s interesting to reflect upon the undoubted popularity of Mattins and Evensong within the Church of England (at least until recently) and the paucity of sung office in the Papal Communion, even after the Second Vatican Council.


An Anglican church local to me. Much healthier than mass, mass, mass, mass, mass…

The reason the Roman Rite is too “monastic” is because of the discipline of clerical celibacy, the shibboleth of the Papal Communion, a custom so intrinsic to her ecclesiology that it has survived unscathed where virtually everything else has not. It’s no coincidence that pope Gregory VII, who hated the Spanish Rite (calling it, absurdly, “the Toledan superstition”), aggressively enforced the reforms begun by his revolutionary predecessor Leo IX, who condemned the very idea of clerical marriage (nefanda sacerdotum coniugia) at the Mainz Synod in 1049. After almost a century of fierce and bitter resistance, the Gregorian revolution triumphed in 1139 with the decrees of the second Lateran synod. It was a theocratic and utopian ideal, by definition unattainable, but which has become habitual and necessary to the Papacy as the only legitimate ecclesial model. This is reflected not only in the manifest corruption and hypocrisy of the clergy, and the hysteria surrounding the mystique of the priest (ie: clericalism), but the liturgical books themselves, which became more monastic and burdensome, and therefore less accessible to ordinary people, ultimately resulting in the scenario I’ve just described, that is of a priest, sitting in a dim church, mumbling from a book while his parishioners are elsewhere and couldn’t care less about a non-eucharistic service. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council indeed tried to resolve this but couldn’t extricate themselves from the inherently flawed, monastic ideal of the priest. Even pope Francis, in all other respects “liberal,” has said that clerical celibacy is not up for debate, but what would be the point in changing the discipline now? Celibacy, and all the other uniquely Roman things, bolster his very position, and I’m sure he knows that.

This brings me back to the old Spanish Rite and the Romanisers’ intolerance of the other regional rites and uses in the West. It should come as no surprise to you that they were so despised. In the time of St Gregory the Great, Pope of Rome and Preacher of Dialogues, liturgical diversity was celebrated, as evidenced by his truly wise counsel to St Augustine: Non enim pro locis res, sed pro bonis rebus loca amanda sunt. But the true faith waned with the spread of heresy; Orthodoxy gave way to Popery; and the Babel ambition of the popes, who desired to reach to heaven with their power and to subject all Christendom to their will, left little room for rites of ancient character which did not express the ideals of reform. This was as true in the time of Charles, King of the Franks, and Alfonso IV of Castile as it was for the Ultramontanists of the 19th century; men like Cardinal Wiseman, Cardinal Manning, and Dom Guéranger. Long before Pius X, Wiseman (who in some ways was a noble man) had pushed for liturgical uniformity and Italian pronunciation of Latin in mid-19th century England, with its plurality of old Romanists and zealous converts. Guéranger, by contrast one of the most arrogant and destructive men of the 19th century, was the fiercest enemy of the (neo-) Gallican Rite, of which, like his mediaeval Romanising predecessors who heaped opprobrium upon the old Spanish Rite in the name of Rome, he was totally ignorant. I own a 1739 edition of the Missel de Paris, which I have studied, and it’s a marvelous work; a legitimate, regional liturgy, based on ancient sources. Its greatest asset, and the thing most odious to Guéranger, was that it was not Roman enough. What unites the enemies of the Spanish and other regional uses is an ideology, as irreligious as it is unscientific. It took hold of the ritualist movement within the Church of England, and won; it took hold of the cabal of Ultramontanist bishops at the Vatican synod, pressing for a definition of papal infallibility, and won. It is the ideology that the manners, customs and doctrine of the most aliturgical, corrupt place on earth are of their very essence good, catholic and authentically old, and that any deviation therefrom is axiomatically heretical, innovative, suspect, and unworthy of serious study or care.

It would be nice, I have to say, because of its unaccustomed beauty and pedigree, and legitimate variety and plurality, if the Spanish Rite could have continued unmolested to this day. It would be nice if the other regional uses and rites within Western Europe could have continued, and flourished, and had the support of sympathetic bishops, and literate priests. It would be nice if the Papacy had not mounted a brutal, thousand year assault upon the old Orthodox rites and had heeded the words of St Gregory, decrying the idolatry of a place. It would be nice if the erstwhile Orthodox Christians of Spain could have continued to pass on that which they had received from St James, and not had their cherished traditions wrested from them by tyrannous kings and reforming friars. It would be nice if anybody had at any time over the past thousand years tried to undo this terrible mistake, but nobody did, and it’s too late now.

I fear that this article grew in the telling. I’m willing to answer any questions you might have in the comments section.