Sunday, October 29, 2006

Liturgical Adventures in Rome

I was delighted to find that the FSSP church was about 5 minutes walk from the Casa del Clero and went to the evening low Mass one night. Fr Devillers was the celebrant. I hadn`t packed a missal and could make out very few words of the Mass, which was surprising given that it is such a tiny church, but I found the whole thing very moving. I rarely have the opportunity to just attend a low Mass and because I don`t think the `dialogue Mass` is a good idea I worry what people must make of the lack of congregation vocal participation, but I was pleased to say I found it very prayerful and I suppose I was just glad to be in a place where people felt the same about the liturgy. I went back on Sunday morning for the Missa Cantata which was attended by about 30 people in all including a good number of seminarians. I was pleasantly surprised when a four part choir started to sing the ordinary although I forgot to ask anyone which Mass setting it was. I had a chat with Fr Kramer after Mass who had no news about the forthcoming liberalisation of the traditional Mass although I had met a seminarian during my stay who knew someone who knew someone who had seen a signed copy of the new indult! Fr Kramer had also been at the CIEL conference but somehow we hadn`t met each other there.

On Sunday afternoon I went for a walk around the churches of Trastevere with Fr John Cooper. He is keen on the new movements and wanted to find the San Egidio community. We noticed that they were celebrating a Mass in Santa Maria in Trastevere at 5pm so we went in for it. I had heard of the Sant` Egidio community in the context of inter-faith dialogue and Fr Greg Price said they had stopped some wars in Africa but I wasn`t expecting anything interesting from a liturgical point of view. My memory of Italian Masses was that the music mainly consisted of hymns to tunes such as the Old Hundredth. However I was quite impressed. There were no hymns at Mass. The music was provided by a choir which sang rather in the style of the Russian Orthodox and from their Mass books they have a certain number of set pieces to be sung as the introit or offertory etc. There wasn`t an instrumental group which I had rather expected. The Mass was concelebrated by about 7 priests. I wondered if they might have some special practices like the Neo-Catechumenate but there were only a couple. During the Gloria a priest brought the lectionary from the back of church and a very large candle, like a paschal candle, accompanied it which was then placed on the epistle side. The Gospel itself was read from the pulpit halfway down the aisle and halfway up a pillar, so it wasn`t possible to incense the book but the acolytes and thurifer stood in the nave facing the priest reading the Gospel. Holy Communion was given by intinction which I also thought was interesting. Overall I was rather encouraged.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Spotted in St Peter`s

While in St Peter`s on Monday night for the Mass for the opening of the academic year, I spotted the illustrious priest blogger Fr Tim Finigan of the Hermeneutic of Continuity. ( Seen here standing higher than the rest.) I took my picture first but I see he has posted the picture he took of me before I got round to posting. He has thus achieved more than I have managed as I haven`t got my own picture on this blog as yet! We have a mutual friend in Fr Charles Briggs of Chislehurst whose lunch appointments with Fr Tim are a regular feature of his blog. Fr Charles was meant to be coming to stay at Forest Hall this weekend but has had to postpone his trip until November.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

I returned yesterday afternoon from a week in Rome with three priests of our diocese. Here they are enjoying a drink on the roof of the Casa del Clero with St Peter`s dome in the background. They are Fr John Cooper, episcopal vicar for religious and parish priest at Morpeth. I had my last year as a curate with him in 1994-95 at Morpeth and go back once a month to celebrate a traditional Latin Mass there. Also present were Fr Ian Jackson, parish priest of Ashington with whom I`d been to Rome in 1987 and Fr Martin Morris, parish priest of Hebburn. It was a very relaxing trip as there was nothing I was particularly desperate to see. I had thought that I should go somewhere I`d not been before and planned to get to Tivoli but in the event settled for heading off for Santa Costanza on the Via Nomentana as I`d never been to see its 4th century mosaics. I also just had time to pop into the adjacent Sant Agnese. An interesting feature of that church is the gallery called the matroneum which I assume was the place for women to attend Mass: not an arrangement I can remember seeing before.We saw the Pope at the Wednesday General Audience and again on Monday night at the Mass in St Peter`s for the opening of the academic year. Sitting beside me in St Peter`s were a group of young American religious in grey habits. I asked them who there were and they said they were from the Society of our Lady of the Trinity. As we have a parishioner, Br Martin McGough trainging with that order I asked if they knew him and a couple of them had actually been novices with him!There were 9 priests of our diocese out in Rome when we were there. Easy Jet is doing well out of the clergy of Hexham and Newcastle! Also staying the Casa and flying back with us were Fr Michael Weymes who comes from Longbenton parish which I also look after and Fr Greg Price, who spent a number of years with the Camillians before becoming a priest of the diocese. Here is Fr Price with two of our group by the `tank` at the English college where we were invited for lunch by the new spiritual director, Mgr Phil Carroll, who is also from our diocese. Three others were out with pilgrim groups.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

New Parishioner

This morning after Mass I was delighted that Dr Nico Forraz introduced himself as a new parishioner. The name did not ring a bell immediately but when he said that he worked at the Newcastle Centre for Life on stem cell research and had been invited to see the Pope in the summer. I remembered reading about that encounter earlier this year. Nico works on stem cell research which avoids using embyros. I look forward to talking to him at greater length and hope he can give a talk to the parish some time about his work and the issues involved.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Opus Dei

On Wednesday I went to the afternoon of recollection for priests that we have twice a year in this diocese given by Fr Andrew Byrne of Opus Dei. He has been coming here for about ten years if I remember correctly. There was some raised expectation this time because for only the second time ever it had been mentioned in the Ad Clerum. The last time this happened, about eight years ago, we attracted ten priests. Unfortunately this time it omitted to say that Fr Byrne is from Opus Dei and only three of us turned up. Instead of meeting in a parish, as we usually do, we went to the convent of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Sunderland where we attracted three of the retired priests who live there too. The sisters were very welcoming despite having a golden jubilee of profession that day. However as we had about six non-retired priests last time it looks as if it is not now enough to rely on the Ad Clerum and I`ll have to go back to ringing up the priests who`ve expressed an interest to invite them for the next recollection in Lent.

By a coincidence at the parish reading group this week there had been talk of Opus Dei. We met to discuss the book `The Path to Rome` which is a collection of accounts of recent conversions. We had two new people at the meeting and one seemed to regard Opus Dei with suspicion. As Fr Byrne had given a talk to the parish in the Lent talk series with the title `What is Opus Dei` which many of the reading group had attended, our new member was immediately told how impressed they were by Fr Byrne and his talk about Opus Dei. With all the interest in the Da Vinci Code the Opus Dei topic had been the most popular of the lenten talks. I was hoping to have a series of talks in the autumn too but fear that it is too late now and we may have to wait until Lent next year.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Spot the difference

I mentioned in previous posts that my move last year was rather stressful. I can`t find any pictures at the minute of the interior of St Joseph`s Gateshead but it is a mid-nineteenth century Gothic church built to impress. The picture opposite shows the new sanctuary at Forest Hall. The old sanctuary has been closed off to make a much needed church hall and a new one built on the side of the nave as shown here. I have been able to make some changes to the sanctuary with the consent of the bishop and the parishioners. Now it looks like this. Not hugely different but a few significant changes such as moving the tabernacle, the introduction of a `big six` and an altar frontal. However there are still other difficulties such as the lack of a central aisle which makes funerals and weddings difficult and the lack of a pipe organ. (The remains of the original lie in the choir loft while we have a small electronic keyboard downstairs which is hardly used as we have no-one to play it.)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Latin Mass Murmurs

Yesterday in the Times there was an article which claims that the Pope is about to make access to the traditional Latin Mass in its 1962 form far more accessible in the Church than has been the case hitherto. The article traces the claim to Fr Martin Edwards who told him that Cardinal Zen had recently told him this is going to happen. I rang Fr Edwards who I`ve known for many years at about lunchtime and he had no idea that the article was in the Times and was somewhat surprised.

I have long been involved with celebrating the traditional Latin Mass. When I was at St Wilfrid`s in Gateshead bishop Ambrose kindly gave me permission for a weekly Sunday Mass in 1996. On taking over St Joseph`s I moved the Mass there as it was a more central location. After I left St Joseph`s the new bishop decided that the Latin Mass should continue there on a Sunday. Unfortunately I now find myself in the strange position of being unable to celebrate that form of the Roman Rite on a Sunday although bishop Dunn has said I can say a private Mass which I do on a Saturday morning. It`s probably not that private now I`ve mentioned it here! However I am thrilled by this news about a liberalisation of the traditional Mass and look forward to being able to celebrate it more often again. I rely on the excellent Rorate Caeli blog for news on this matter. If it is true that the traditional Mass is to be known as the `extraordinary` form of the Roman rite we should be seeing a lot more of it if the term is used in the same way as `extraordinary minister of Holy Communion` seems to be used!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Poles have arrived

I have heard stories about parishes in other parts of the country where the congregation has increased dramatically because of Polish immigrants. This has not happened as yet in this part of the world. However on Sunday after Mass I was told by the person who wanted to shut the church hall door that there were men who wanted to speak with me. They didn`t have a word of English apart from `Poland`. Strangely, while they had not been to Mass they had spotted that we had a table tennis table in the hall. One of them opened his bag and produced a table tennis racket and a box of table tennis balls. The other had a few words of German. I tried my German and established that I was going to lock the hall now and they could not stay to play table tennis. I couldn`t understand how they had come prepared for table tennis on the off chance we had a table. Not quite the Polish invasion I was hoping for.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

New Ormston Singers

On Saturday night to celebrate our patronal feast we had a concert by the New Ormston Singers. I had thought of having some kind of parish celebration quite a while ago. My first idea had been to involve the parish youth group which while thriving does not have an explicitly Catholic focus. I suggested to the chairman of the parish council that the youth group present a dramatisation of the battle of Lepanto ( cf. previous post), with vague images of childhood visits to Peasholme Park in Scarborough and its naval battle going through my head and also a thought that we could include the Chesterton poem `Lepanto`. However this all began to look rather difficult despite the agreement of our parish council chair (who also runs the youth group). So we decided to have a concert. I rang a contact in the New Ormston Singers without knowing anything about them. What a wonderful night they gave us. They are a band of keen singers who performed a selection of light classics and songs from the shows. The music ranged from West Side Story to La ci darem la mano from Don Giovanni and Laudamus Te from Mozart`s Mass in C to a favourite of mine, John Ireland`s Sea Fever, and Vilja from the Merry Widow. The accompanist struggled manfully with our small electric keyboard. Everyone seemed to enjoy the music and the food ( organised by the social committee). I hope we will invite the New Ormston Singers back again before too long. They explained that I had asked for a programme of light music but that they can do more serious stuff. Maybe I should ask for some Wagner next time!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Feast of the Holy Rosary

Today is the Patronal Feast of the parish. At the Latin Mass this morning I spoke of the origin of the feast and its connection with the appeal by St Pius V to Catholic Europe to pray the Rosary to save Europe from Turkish invasion. The victory at Lepanto on October 7th 1571 was taken to be an answer to prayer and this day became the feast of the Holy Rosary. Tonight we have a concert in the parish hall by the New Ormston Singers as part of the celebrations.

Friday, October 06, 2006


A friend has mentioned that the title of this blog may attract a certain amount of interest from Wagnerians. If you are a Wagnerian I`m afraid you will find little of interest here: I resolved at the age of 40 to listen to the Ring but now at 47 I have only got half way through and haven`t started Siegfried. However I was sent this from Wikipedia:

Siegfried is the third of the four operas that comprise Der Ring desNibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), by Richard Wagner. It receivedits premiere at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 16 August 1876, as part ofthe first complete performance of The Ring.Noted excerptsAs with the rest of the Ring, a few excerpts are heard outside the operahouse. The most common heard excerpt from Siegfried is the ForestMurmurs.

That`s about it for Wagner on this blog.

Parish Mission

Last Sunday the parish mission, given by the redoubtable 77 year old Fr John Edwards S.J. of Farm Street, came to and end. It began on Saturday 23rd September rather dramatically. Because of a misunderstanding, Father did not realise we have a vigil Mass on Saturday at 5.30pm: his train was due in at 5. I was saying the 5pm Mass at Benton and got back to see Father in full flow having arrived by taxi and having made it in time to preach. I was somewhat alarmed not to be able to see Fr Milburn who was meant to be saying the Mass but later discovered that he was sitting in the front row of the congregation.

I first met Fr Edwards at Ushaw at the end of 1983. I had just arrived at seminary and was somewhat surprised by what I found there. Father`s college retreat was a rock of certainity in a sea of confusion. He was the only retreat father I ever went to talk to in all my time at Ushaw. I resolved that whenever I became a parish priest I would invite him to give a mission. He came to St Wilfrid`s in 1998. When I became parish priest at St Mary`s I called him again and arranged another mission. The talks hadn`t changed since 1998 or even not that much since 1983 but as Father says if something is perfect it doesn`t need changing!

I was impressed by Father`s stamina. He gives the same mission service twice a day. It consists of an instruction, an action ( such as coming up to put a few grains of incense in the thurible before the Blessed Sacrament exposed) and a way of prayer followed by Mass. The themes were: " Is our Catholic faith true?"; " Why go to confession"; " The life of grace"; " The problem of evil" and "Our Dead". This last talk was particularly moving as Father spoke of his time as a gunnery officer on board a destroyer in the Korean war and the time he had to shell a village occupied by Chinese troops. He spoke of seeing Korean civilians on the beach watching his ship and how despite his best efforts shells fell on the beach. He told us how he prays every day for those he killed and for two of the crew who were killed by enemy fire. Unfortunately the attendance at the weekday talks was lower than Father would normally expect as a proportion of the Sunday congregation. However there was a good turn out for the children`s service on Saturday morning when Father asked children to bring models of angels or candles or cribs that they had made. This was preceded by the Saturday morning Tridentine Mass which attracted a good crowd.

On Saturday evening and Sunday morning Father had a captive audience and gave a commentary on the Mass. Memorable was his claim that if the Church ever said to you that you don`t need to attend Mass on a Sunday it would be lying. It could never say that there was anything more important for a Catholic than to attend Mass where we come to Calvary and the first day of the Resurrection and where we receive the body of Christ in Holy Communion.

Father does not charge for his mission but instead leaves out envelopes for contributions. I am happy to say that he collected £1070. I look forward to inviting him back at a later date.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

First Post

Today I started this blog more or less by accident as I wanted to comment on someone else`s blog and found that the only way to do so means you have to create your own. So here it is. I have been parish priest of St Mary`s for just over a year. I had ten years at St Wilfrid`s in Gateshead the latter two of which included also looking after St Joseph`s, the mother church of the town. Forest Hall was something of a surprise move. I also look after the parish of St Peter and Paul at Longbenton and as of the beginning of September am the moderator of a cluster of parishes including St Aidan`s, Benton and St Teresa`s Heaton. Fortunately Fr Kellet is still at St Teresa`s at Heaton and between us we run St Aidan`s. I am ably assisted by the ever amazing Fr David Milburn, now 80 years old, and living at St Peter and Paul`s.