Monday, 11 May 2020

Meeting Up With An Old Friend...

With all the churches in England & Wales closed to the laity during the COVID-19 lockdown, attending Mass isn't an option, but most (if not all) priests are still celebrating Mass privately.

Some priests have found it rather weird to offer Mass versus populum when there isn't a populum present. A few have overcome the difficulty by sticking photos of parishioners onto the pews, so that they can picture the people who should be present - of course, this risks Mass being seen as a rather exclusive club for friends of the priest. Other priests have opted to offer Mass ad orientem, which solves the problem of there not being a congregation.

Another group of priests has apparently bitten the bullet and used the time to offer the Traditional Latin Mass, or to learn how to do so. 

I have no interest in looking at recordings of Masses, other than to skip to the sermon. Livestreamed Masses are a different matter: it is definitely not the same as being physically present, even if not receiving Holy Communion, but knowing that the Mass is actually being offered "at this precise moment at this particular altar" makes it a bit more special. The Latin Mass Society has been coordinating and maintaining a list of all the livestreamed TLMs being offered around the country, which has been an invaluable resource for anyone wishing to attend virtually. I'm not aware of any such coordinated list of nationwide Novus Ordo Masses, which makes the efforts of the LMS even more praiseworthy.

Because I was involved in the choir, I never got to attend Sunday TLMs at other parish churches, and rarely managed to get to weekday Masses during term time. I had a great time during the first week of lockdown popping in to different places while Mass was going on, just to see what the churches were like, if they had music, whether a sermon was given regularly and so on. After that I settled into a bit of a routine. 


On Sundays I log in at my own parish - partly because I could sing along with the Gregorian Chant, partly because the Parish Priest, Fr. Christopher Basden, gives excellent sermons, and partly through loyalty to the Parish. Also, the Mass is at midday, so I'm definitely awake. The rest of the week is a little more flexible, depending on what time I wake up, but I usually attend the ICKSP Mass at the Dome of Home, New Brighton.

I have never been to the church in real life, so don't know the layout. The Holy Week services I saw all seemed to be at the same altar, but after the Octave Masses moved to a different altar. And now I see that they must have the High Altar and at least two side chapels. The Feast of St. Monica was celebrated in what I assumed to be the Lady chapel. I spotted a statue on a slender plinth which looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn't get the picture to a high enough resolution to work out which saint it was, only that it was a woman. I thought it reminded me of one of my favourite saints.


Last Saturday, after the Leonine Prayers, the priest and server moved towards the statue, and I realised that my initial hunch had been right: it was a statue of St. Philomena. On Saturday mornings the parish appears to have a set of devotions to her: a hymn, novena prayer and a litany in her honour. And then I discovered that the parish was properly called Ss. Peter & Paul and St. Philomena

I felt a real jolt of recognition - rather like meeting an old friend... She's a particular favourite of mine because of her habit of producing miracles to confound modernist sceptics, leading to her being called the Wonder Worker. If you want to know more about St. Philomena, you can read more over at Zephyrinus' blog.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

A Signal Lack of Faith...

The Government originally said churches could remain open for private prayer. The intelligent response from the Bishops of England & Wales would have been something along the lines of "Thank you very much for recognising the centrality of Catholics' belief in Our Lord's Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, oh, and, by the way, most churches are big enough to allow for social distancing - bigger than your average local supermarket, corner shop or Off Licence anyway - so can we at least allow people to attend Mass (without any social contact, or receiving Communion) if one happens to be going on when they turn up for private prayer please?"

Instead of this, the Bishops representatives promptly pointed out that the churches had been left off the list of organisations, groups and club meetings which had been banned, and declared that we ought to close the churches. This effectively handed the keys of Catholic churches over to the Government, while indicating that the Church hierarchy didn't consider it necessary for the laity to have any access to the Blessed Sacrament - at the same time reassuring us that Masses would still be being offered by the parish clergy. Individuals and groups calling for women's ordination accuse the Church of clericalism. Reserving access to the churches and Sacraments to the clergy is what I would consider to be real clericalism.

Please do not misunderstand me - I am not blaming priests and deacons who are saying the Mass in private under obedience to their Ordinaries, and I do not wish for them to stop offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass simply because the Laity cannot be present. I am blaming the Bishops for putting their clergy in such a position.

The Bishops having declared that being physically present in a church is not essential to the practice of the Catholic faith, it is hardly surprising that the Government is going to be reluctant to open them up again in a hurry - they were probably astounded by the ease with which access to churches for private prayer had been relinquished. It took Elizabeth I and James I considerably more effort to stop English and Welsh Catholics praying before the Blessed Sacrament - and in some parts they never fully succeeded.

And then, to cap it all, there was a tweet from the Naz Legacy Foundation promoting #RamadanAtHome. I'm very happy that people of other faiths are able to celebrate their own religious festivals - however, seeing Cardinal Nichols listed as one of the supporters planning to "attend" this online event was totally incomprehensible. I didn't notice any tweets supporting #PalmSundayAtHome #HolyWeekAtHome #GoodFridayAtHome or even #EasterSundayAtHome coming from any other faith leaders, and nor would I expect to. What is so special about Ramadan that Cardinal Nichols felt it necessary to join in with a virtual Iftar celebration? It may not have been intended as such, but it appears to indicate that the Cardinal considers other faiths to be just as valid as the Catholic faith.

Taken as a whole, this signals a real crisis in faith among members of the hierarchy.


Monday, 4 May 2020

A Change Of View...

Time is doing very odd things during this period of quarantine and lockdown.

I'm not actually sure if the days are long or not; I wake up early, and the hours appear to stretch ahead of me for simply ages, but I get to the end of each day with the distinct sense that I have accomplished very little (ok, I realise that most people will be doing rather more than me!) I find it difficult to differentiate one day from another, as there is very little happening to help identify them. At the same time, however, the weeks zip by at an amazing rate: I was sure that I'd blogged just a few days ago, and now I see that two and a half weeks have actually elapsed since my last post...

It is partly my drug-induced mental state, but some of my friends are telling me that they feel the same way. We are waiting... and no-one is certain what, exactly, we are waiting for... Without knowing what is coming up next, we cannot really prepare for it. And so the days in quarantine slip into weeks, and the weeks become months. And I worry that I am wasting this extra time I have been given... it's depressing, and anxiety-provoking.

Therefore, in order to fight against this vague feeling of angst, I have decided to change how I view the whole situation. I have drawn up a timetable (of sorts) - a list of things to be done on particular days. I can't be specific on the time of day, as that would be unrealistic - despite waking up late the other day, I fell asleep halfway through Matins and woke up two hours later, still clutching my phone. And since, on days when the weather is cold and damp, the pain can make getting out of bed a major achievement, I won't be drawing up a very long list for each day. But I will at least have something specific to aim for.

I was getting very lax before the lockdown, fitting prayer around everything (and anything) else I was doing. The forced inactivity has helped me to see that this needed to change. So I started by basing each day's timetable around prayer. Parts of the Office, Mass, the Rosary, the Angelus. Not with specific times (except for the Angelus, and, to a lesser extent, Mass - I can pick a convenient one if necessary), but linked to certain occasions, such as "after getting up". Necessary household chores have been identified and given specific days on which they should be tackled. Some things happen daily, some only once a week, some less frequently, but by allocating a slot, I can check it's getting done, and I'm not just frittering time away doing nothing. It also helps with the Examen at the end of the day: it's rather difficult to assess whether you have accomplished what you should have done if you have no idea what you should have done, which just leaves a nasty sense of generalised guilt at "not doing enough." And I'll allow some time to play with the cat, and to blog and tweet.

Looking at what I've written, it seems obvious that I'm not in Lockdown, or in Quarantine... I'm on an extended private retreat! How about that for a change of view...




Thursday, 16 April 2020

Slippery Slopes...

Those of us who oppose voluntary euthanasia have long argued that there is a slippery slope involved: once you make it seem normal to avoid any possibility of pain and suffering, it is almost inevitable that the arguments will change to encourage those who might not be too keen on ending it all because they find life unbearable to end their lives because they do not wish to cause suffering to others.

It is selfish to cling on to life, the argument will go, especially as that life is no longer of any material benefit to society, and anyway, think of the distress (and the financial strain) you are causing for your poor relatives... much better to end it all... sign here.

The pro-euthanasia lobby are quick to dismiss such warnings as scaremongering: it won't happen, because the ending of a life will be done properly, under the watchful eyes of medical staff. Poor old Auntie Flo can't be bumped off by her relatives for the inheritance because there will be safeguards...

It would appear that the passage of time has once again proved that pro-lifers are spot on, and, if anything, have understated the reality of the depths to which society will sink if we forget to treat all human life as sacred, from the moment of conception until natural death. We haven't even needed to wait for voluntary euthanasia to become legal.

It seems that, with the threat of a viral infection which predominantly affects the elderly and people with certain pre-existing health conditions, people in those vulnerable groups are being encouraged to sign DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) forms in the event that they become ill with the virus.

They are being urged to sign the forms, and even to say that, in the event of contracting the COVID-19 virus, they do not wish to be taken to hospital. The arguments used to encourage the signing of this outrageous document include that this will free up healthcare resources for younger, healthier patients, and also reduce the risk of healthcare workers contracting the virus.

You read that correctly. This is happening right now.

The situation is actually much worse. Remember all those safeguards the voluntary euthanasia crowd like to talk about? Well, they aren't worth toffee. GPs have been reported as signing forms on behalf of patients in care homes without informing relatives. They have even signed the forms on behalf of people who refused to sign them themselves.

Doesn't sound so voluntary now, does it?

This has happened without euthanasia being legalised in the UK. It will, if left unchallenged, set dangerous precedents, as did the case of Tony Bland in the UK and Terri Schiavo in the USA. If you aren't already a member, do consider joining SPUC in its fight against the culture of death so prevalent in our society today.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Maundy Musings...

For a few years now, most (if not all) of the Dioceses in England & Wales had transferred the Maundy Thursday Chrism Mass to another date in Holy Week, because the Triduum was deemed too busy for all Parish Priests to get to their local Cathedral Church and back again in time for the Mass of the Lord's Supper. And, as in most years, the first part of Holy Week is still term time, I haven't been to a Chrism Mass for ages. I used to go because I was involved in what was an annual "demo" at Southwark, thanking our Priests for all that they do (not, I hasten to add, the one calling for women priests!) and started by me and Joanna Bogle in 2003. So, for a few years now, Maundy Thursday has, as far as I was concerned, started with the Mass of the Lord's Supper, in the evening.

This year, what with everyone in lockdown and all the churches being closed anyway, I have been able to give the day a bit more thought. Resisting the impulse to check emails, Twitter or WhatsApp when I woke up, I started off with making a quick coffee (so as to avoid falling back to sleep) fed Miaowrini a handful of Dreamies (my attempt to ward off kitty-related distractions), and settled down to pray Lauds. I then checked the Latin Mass Society listings to see what time Tenebrae was occurring in different places.

To my horror, I discovered that the listing had pretty much disappeared, apart from links to a small number of Masses in the evening. The FSSP LiveMass page only appeared to show links for Mass. Fortunately I had bookmarked a few of my favourite YouTube channels, and so was able to set up a reminder for Tenebrae from the ICKSP Dome of Home, New Brighton. I then amused myself by tweeting, checking the headlines and so on.

The reminder duly chimed in, and I promptly switched to "do not disturb" mode on my phone and opened up YouTube. Alas, technology is truly wonderful, but only if it works. For some reason there was no sound. Initially I assumed they were just a little late starting, but then noticed people praying. I assumed it was my phone and scooted over to my laptop. Still no joy. I tried to find some alternative places, but was wary of relying on the feed from Warrington which had proved temperamental earlier in the week due to sheer weight of traffic. A quick plea for information on Twitter revealed that the LMS site had recovered from pre-Triduum nerves, and was listing everything again, and another friend told me that the sound from New Brighton *was* working for him. Further investigation showed that the sound was working on their Facebook feed. I am no longer on Facebook, but some pages are more public than others and work even without a Facebook account - though you can't "like" the page or video.

For some reason, the Facebook video had a much narrower field of vision, which meant that you couldn't see either the priest or the server when they were at the side of the Sanctuary. I reached a handy compromise by playing the Facebook audio stream while following the video on YouTube. There were a few laggy bits - and Facebook's streaming quality was of a much lower quality than that of YouTube, but at least it meant I could access Tenebrae.

Facebook Video Stream

YouTube Video Stream
When actually watching I was able to go full-screen to remove distractions. I was also able to follow the texts on my mobile phone... and then I discovered that Matins was immediately succeeded by Lauds, which meant I got to pray it twice!

Obviously Tenebrae is more beautiful if you are actually present - and you really need far more (and younger) altar servers in order to appreciate the "thunder" once the last candle is extinguished. For some reason, altar boys get really enthusiastic with this bit. I was hoping we'd actually get to sing it this year at St. Augustine's Shrine, Ramsgate. Alas, it was not to be... However, it was definitely an amazing start to the celebration of the Triduum, especially given the circumstances this year.

After 2 hours of Tenebrae I was ready to play with the cat, and she was definitely ready for some more treats. To my distress, I found that I only had about quarter of a bag left. Knowing the sheer impossibility of getting an online delivery to arrive before the weekend, I decided to risk popping out to the shops.

I only intended to go to the nearest supermarket that sold the varieties Miaowrini likes - she won't eat the cheese ones, though she does eat real cheese. Unfortunately I saw that the two venues nearest to home had very long queues - made even longer by the two-metre distance between each person. I didn't mind having to wait, but baulked at the prospect of walking to the far end of the queue on crutches, making my way slowly back to the shop, standing for however long it took and then walking around the shop itself. I figured out that, even if the larger supermarkets in Westwood Cross were busy with queues, they at least provided mobility scooters, and so off I went.

There were many more people out shopping compared to Sunday, but they appeared to be queuing very good-naturedly from what I could see. The supermarket shelves were better-stocked, though there were still gaps, and items such as UHT milk and pasta were still being rationed. It is possible that some people were shopping for the Bank Holiday weekend, and some were also shopping for others (they were the ones with lists, frantically searching for items they don't normally buy!) Anyway, by the time I got inside it seemed to be a good idea to get a few fresh items for myself as well as the Dreamies. I was extremely amused to note that Dreamies are now sold in claw-proof boxes as well as in bags. So they aren't just Miaowrini's favourites.

I didn't bother to buy toilet paper.

Finally arriving home, I unpacked the shopping (I had to use lots of bags and carry them in one at a time from the car, so it was quite good exercise!) and showed Miaowrini her share of the goodies...


I think she was pleased...

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Feeling Guilty...


In mid-February, as reports of the COVID-19 virus spread, people started stockpiling supplies of toilet paper. It started in Hong Kong, where an armed gang stole 600 rolls. Then there were reports of people fighting over rolls in Australia. Statements were then made about the robustness of the UK's supplies of the stuff, and people were begged not to panic buy as there was more than enough to go around. Given that the virus doesn't even cause a runny nose, let alone diarrhoea, the need to panic-buy loo rolls seemed somewhat bizarre to me. I chortled merrily at the foolishness of the general public, and continued to order my usual online groceries.

By the middle of March, with reports of a lockdown being imminent, and two online deliveries arriving without any toilet paper, I was beginning to feel a little foolish for having so sneeringly dismissed the urge of other people to stockpile. I still had "some" supplies, so I wasn't quite desperate, but the supermarket shelves were completely bare (and not just of toilet tissue) - not something I had ever encountered. By dint of phoning around, I managed to locate a packet of nine rolls (I was tipped off as to the expected delivery time - just after Mass, fortunately!) and I virtuously resisted the impulse to grab two packets. The fact that, being on crutches, I couldn't actually carry two packets had nothing to do with it...

My mother then had a grocery delivery which arrived without toilet paper. She was following official advice about the elderly staying inside for the next 12 weeks or so, and I wasn't going to be able to just pop around with a few spare rolls. A friend on Twitter pointed out that Amazon was technically out of stock, but, unlike the supermarkets, it kept the orders open until the stock arrived, and then delivered it according to their records of who had requested it first.

This seemed like a good idea, and, on the basis that toilet paper might not arrive for quite some time, I put in an order for my mother and then added a separate order for myself. My mother's supply arrived within a week. However, the predicted delivery date for my order was the beginning of May, so, not sure how things would be developing, I went ahead and ordered toilet paper in my next online delivery.

To my surprise, my next supermarket delivery actually included toilet paper. Nine rolls. I felt like celebrating... only I was feeling just the teensiest bit guilty, because I hadn't even finished my supply from February...

...but only a teensy bit, because, when I went to a supermarket last week, they had loads of rolls sitting in the aisle on a large pallet; I concluded that the panic-buying had stopped. In actual fact, it seems to depend which supermarket you go to...

Now, I mentioned previously that I'm a little out of things at the moment due to my medication. I discovered this morning that I had failed to put my watch forward to British Summer Time - ten days after the clocks had changed. And, despite noticing that there were references to Spy Wednesday on Twitter, that the Mass of the day was not that of the Lord's Supper, and that the Office I'd prayed was for the Wednesday in Holy Week, I actually somehow thought tomorrow was Friday...

Given this, it will come as no surprise to read that I forgot to amend my toilet paper order on Amazon. Reader, it arrived today. All 36 rolls.

I might find myself doing something like this...



...or even this...


Monday, 6 April 2020

Taking Liberties...

I mentioned in yesterday's post that, at least in Thanet, people appeared to be observing the Government's instructions to limit the number of times they left the house and to observe social distancing rules on the occasions that they did so.

The Government's official website currently has a banner with the following information:
"Stay at home. Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home.)
If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times. Wash your hands as soon as you get home. Do not meet others, even friends or family.
You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms."

The website itself gives more details. For example, you are allowed out for exercise, but only once per day, limited to an hour, and observing the standard distance of 2 metres. You should go out alone - unless you are with members of your household. Walking your dog should, apparently, be combined with the exercise period, and only be the one trip a day. Presumably, should you have a dog which is used to going out both morning and evening, then it has to cross its legs.

I made a few comments about the lack of consistency shown by the Bishops of England & Wales in shutting all the churches. However, the inconsistencies in official guidelines / regulations / laws* (*take your pick - it seems to depend on who's talking) is somewhat disconcerting. A lot of the goodwill which accompanied the original request for lockdown will be lost, and if this continues, it will inevitably lead to civil disobedience. From what I have seen so far, the confusion is already feeding into different conspiracy theories circulating online.

Now, it is always possible that the inconsistencies are purely and simply due to confusion, incompetence, over-zealousness, and people being, well, people. To be fair, this is the most likely reason. However, we have been lied to by various authorities and organisations right from the start, so it is hardly surprising that people worry when 2 + 2 doesn't appear to add up to 4.

Initial reports suggested that contaminated meat came from a wet-market in Wuhan, China. Bat soup was mentioned, and most of the press reports continue to push this theory (though they try to downplay the fact that it started in China because, well, racist...). The Chinese government definitely lied to the World Health Organisation about when the outbreak actually started, which made other countries slower to react to the threat than they might otherwise have been. But back in February I realised that there was a Level 4 laboratory in Wuhan (I mentioned before that I have an interest in research on viruses) and the emergence in Wuhan of a coronavirus which was carried by bats, and bearing similarities to the SARS virus was just a bit too much of a coincidence.


Two months ago I tweeted a query about this to a friend, and was discouraged from pursuing the matter, being told it was rumour-spreading, and anyway the cause was irrelevant. Now, following further revelations about safety procedures from people working in the lab, the reports of the destruction of medical files (and blood samples) on a new respiratory virus back in late November / early December and the speed with which field hospitals were constructed - practically overnight - in Wuhan once the seriousness had been admitted to the WHO, I am not the only person wondering about that Level 4 laboratory. I am not suggesting that there was a deliberate release of a biological weapon, or even that it was being researched as a biological weapon. I am of the opinion that poor safety procedures led to the escape of a virus which was being studied.

With air travel being as easy as it is, the threat of global infections has increased considerably. We have had SARS (2002-2004), H1N1/09  "swine flu" (2009-2010), MERS (2012), Ebola (2013-16) and Zika (2015-16) and with the outbreak of each of these we were warned that they could devastate the human race. We also had the normal outbreaks of "seasonal" flu, which actually caused large numbers of deaths on a yearly basis. However, with none of these did the Prime Minister of the time feel it necessary to give a press conference warning that our loved ones could die from it. The NHS came under pressure, but there was no call to shut schools across the whole country. No lockdowns. And, while the press has been critical about the delay in calling for a shutdown, it all happened relatively quickly.

So, what information about the virus prompted this action?

In a similar way, the advice about going out has been inconsistent. People are being told to work from home where possible. But, supermarkets are still open for business. Now, by reason of queuing systems, barriers around tills and limiting numbers, one can ensure a certain amount of social distancing, but it isn't easy. On the other hand, people actually are allowed to travel to work, even if they are not deemed to be essential workers, if it is not possible for them to work from home. As a result, public transport is still operating. But the Mayor of London decided to cut the number of tube trains available (in order to discourage travel) with the result that people are having to go to work on crowded trains, unable to keep their distance. Many of these workers are in the hospitals, being exposed to cases of the coronavirus... and, even if they do not have any symptoms themselves, we are told that they can still spread the virus...

Schools are still open for the children of essential workers. I am a teacher, albeit not in work while waiting for knee surgery. I know from experience the size of classrooms, and the number of children still attending school because they are considered vulnerable or are children of essential workers etc. I do not for one minute believe that the children are all being kept two metres apart. That's just not going to happen. So all these children are circulating and are presumably able to spread the virus among themselves, even if they are not showing any symptoms... and then they go back to their homes at the end of the day. On public transport, for the most part.

But people have to stay at home, and can only go out once a day for exercise. There have been reports of some people being moved on by police because they were deemed not to be exercising but were instead sitting down to enjoy the sunshine. Even though these people were observing the need to keep two metres apart, they were deemed to be breaking the regulations. Various councils, horrified, decided to close their local parks, to encourage compliance. People have been fined. It won't be long before people are arrested for non-compliance.

It is generally understood that UV radiation helps to break down viruses. Viruses are strands of DNA or RNA surrounded by a protein coat, and both DNA and RNA are damaged by UV radiation (it is what causes skin cancers.) There have been reports contradicting this, stating that the amount of UV light needed to kill the virus would be harmful to human skin, but a quick look on Google revealed at least one paper which had studied the effect of UV light on various viruses designed for "biodefense" - the authors used the data to calculate how much normal sunlight would be needed to destroy the viruses (solar inactivation) at different locations (presumably because they get different strengths of sunlight at different latitudes.) They concluded that:

"A midday solar effective flux of 0.17 J/m2254/min (implying a daily total fluence of approximately 50 J/m2254) might be “marginally effective” for inactivating viruses relevant to biodefense, e.g., a full-day exposure would produce about a 3-log decrease in infectivity for the more-UV-sensitive and much less for less-UV-sensitive viruses."

So, while sitting still in the sunshine isn't guaranteed to inactivate the virus, it isn't going to hurt. If anything, it will boost people's immune systems because of the increased Vitamin D production. And why, if social distancing is being maintained, is sitting still in the sunshine going to be so much more risky than running around? Are they afraid the coronavirus might catch up with people if they stay still? Or is it simply that the opportunity to take away basic freedoms has been too much to resist for some authorities?

As I said, the regulations being imposed are inconsistent. This has been exacerbated by what has been perceived as heavy-handed, authoritarian policing of those regulations in some parts of the country. The most likely explanation is that people in charge made sweeping regulations without thinking through the implications and are now unwilling to be seen to contradict themselves or admit overreaction. But frankly, the best way to ensure that people actually comply with whatever regulations are being put in place is to explain exactly why they are needed. Merely telling some people that they have to stay at home isn't the way to do it.

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Gremlins...

It's been a very strange Palm Sunday. For several years (almost continually since Summorum Pontificum was promulgated) I have been involved in the singing of the beautiful chants the Church has for this feast. At the start, we only attempted to sing the Rossini propers, the very simple psalm tones designed to accompany the texts of the Procession and the Mass for those who are unfamiliar with Gregorian chant (or any musical notation, in my case!) Then, when we managed to get a few more experienced singers to come along, more of the proper chants were added. This year, having joined a proper choir, I was expecting to sing the full set. God obviously wasn't too keen on the idea - all Masses were suddenly declared off limits to congregations, and churches were closed. And, just to make sure our choir director didn't have any thoughts of going ahead anyway, parishes in Southwark were instructed not to have any servers or choir.

I have often pondered on God's mysterious ways, but this seems a little over the top. I mean, he could have just given me a dose of laryngitis...

Whatever. We are having to celebrate Palm Sunday remotely. I woke up early, and, thanks to the invaluable Mass listings being maintained by the Latin Mass Society, I was able to tune in for Mass at Portsmouth Cathedral. Unfortunately, about halfway through, my medication kicked in and I fell asleep. I woke up for the Consecration, dropped off again and surfaced during the Leonine Prayers and the chanting of the Ave Regina... Even though there is no obligation to watch a Mass, I felt that I wanted to try and catch a few sermons for my edification.

It does seem that the devil is unhappy with the number of people choosing to view the many livestreamed Masses on offer. I'm not sure about viewings for the Novus Ordo, but several people have reported difficulties in getting a connection. Last Sunday there were various excuses offered, such as the sheer number of people logging on, the fact that this was totally new technology for many of the parishes involved, and the bad weather and high winds interfering with wifi signals. By this morning, however, people had got to grips with the technology and the weather was (and is) gorgeous. But several feeds were interrupted by long buffering periods, Ramsgate's Mass not only failed to stream once past the Epistle but it actually failed to record, and the FSSP Mass at St. Mary's Shrine, Warrington completely lost sound by the time they got to the Passion. Usually, at the TLM, the sound is almost irrelevant, at least for the Canon, but not so for the Passion, especially if it's being chanted!

I know, I know... everyone is at home, video conferencing, streaming programmes, using the internet. But, I haven't heard any reports of difficulties in connecting to Netflix or Amazon Prime, or of any major problems when sports events (such as football matches) are being livestreamed. It seems odd that only Masses are affected to this extent...

Anyway, at this point I decided to give up, and went shopping instead.

I have been reading about how people are being told off for not complying with social distancing requirements, and for going out to sunbathe in the park - apparently sunbathing does not count as exercise, even if one is in the middle of nowhere. I was keen to see how the message was being received in Thanet...

There were very few cars on the road, and hardly anyone on the Margate Main Sands or Westbrook Bay. This was noteworthy in itself - I live on a road by the beach, and normally, on a sunny Sunday, I have real problems finding anywhere to park when I return from Mass. Today, not only was the place practically deserted, but, on my return, I was able to park in the identical space I had vacated earlier...

The petrol station was my first port of call, and I was surprised to see that most of the pumps had been switched off. This was not due to any shortage, but purely because they were so quiet, the cashiers found it more practical to keep an eye on just a few pumps. One of the cashiers actually rushed out when she saw me arrive. "I recognised you," she said, "and we're ever so quiet, so would you like a hand filling up your car?" She even provided me with a pair of disposable gloves to use when tapping in my PIN.

The supermarket was similarly deserted. Only one door was open, but security staff were encouraging people to go straight in. One member of staff went to get a mobility scooter for me. There were empty shelves for items which could be stored such as rice, pasta and sauces, but plenty of fresh produce. I must confess to getting more than the bread and milk I had originally set out to buy, but it was such a pleasure to go round the aisles with everyone keeping a good distance and the store being so less crowded than usual that I couldn't resist buying some treats - biscuits, oranges and wine for me, Dreamies for Miaowrini. I spoke to several members of staff who were busy stocking shelves. They seemed pleased to be thanked for their efforts, and it's worth reminding ourselves, I think, that they have been bearing the brunt of the public's frustration due to queues and shortages, while being very much in the firing line for catching the coronavirus, given the number of people they encounter.

Another member of staff offered to take the mobility scooter back when I had put stuff in my car. At first she thought the battery had died, as it refused to move. I explained that it wouldn't move unless the "driver" was seated, and so she sat down... As I left the car park, I heard a distinct cry of "Wheeeeeeee! This is fun!" so I'm pleased her good deed was rewarded!

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Mass In Time Of Pestilence...

Shrine of St. Augustine, Passion Sunday
Just at the time when celebrating the Mass in time of Pestilence would be a really good thing, the whole country (and most of the world) is in "lockdown" to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Apparently, despite the existence of a Mass in time of Pestilence in the Usus Antiquior, it somehow was ditched when they produced the Novus Ordo Missal, so they had to make up a new version pretty quickly. Why didn't they just use the original Mass? The inimitable Fr. Z had a few thoughts on the matter... rather scathing and pertinent thoughts!

This lockdown is a strange state of affairs in the UK. Schools (those major institutions which are stuffed to the rafters with pathogen-incubators, (ie. children) are closed. However, in order that staff running rather vital services (such as the NHS, utilities, supermarkets and such like) are able to go to work, schools are being kept open for those children. And also for the children classed as vulnerable in any way. And for the children who have EHCPs (these used to be called "Statements" of special educational needs.) By the time you've factored in that little lot, the number of children still at school is quite high, so your pathogen-incubators are still passing stuff between themselves; that's ok, apparently, because children don't get it very severely... at least that's the theory.

Supermarkets are also open, because we all still need to eat. People who are self-isolating (either because they have the symptoms of the coronavirus or because they are in a particularly vulnerable group and don't want to catch the coronavirus) are reliant on food deliveries, but unfortunately demand for these slots has been high, and due to early panic-buying, which was allowed to go unchecked by the supermarket chains, even if you get a delivery slot there is no guarantee you can find everything you want. It's therefore often easier to go the the shops in person... but that means that people are in contact with others, thereby risking the spread of the virus...

Off Licences (for the benefit of any of my foreign readers, these are shops which sell alcohol for consumption off the premises) are considered to be a vital service, so these are open as usual. Strangely enough, garden centres are not considered vital services. If you are fortunate enough to have a garden, you can't buy seeds or whatever you need to grow your own vegetables, but you can sit among the weeds and drink yourself into oblivion.

The Government originally declared that churches could be left open, provided they weren't attracting large gatherings and that social-distancing was observed. The Bishops decided that they would shut them. All of them. Masses would still be celebrated by the clergy, but without a congregation present and behind locked doors. Some decided that even a server was too much social contact. It's a slightly disconcerting state of affairs when the country's politicians believe that churches are more necessary than do the Bishops. What does that remind me of...?



I am not a virologist. I do have quite a good scientific background, and microbiology was a large component of my B.Sc. degree. I also like reading stuff about contagious diseases, Ebola being one of my favourites, as it livens up the teaching of Biology somewhat. Teenagers are totally unimpressed by tales of the discovery of cures for anthrax and smallpox, but a brief description of the symptoms of Ebola Zaire gets even the toughest boys looking slightly queasy. However limited my experience, I do have some basic scientific knowledge. I have yet to read an article which explains why it is safe to go shopping (directly handling items that other people may have picked up and returned, as well as being unable to avoid some contact with people) but not to go and sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament to pray, or even to attend Mass. Weekday Masses are hardly crowded affairs, and the majority of churches were built for much larger congregations. Stopping the reception of Holy Communion for the laity is understandable. Closing the churches is not.

That being said, the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays has been removed in England & Wales. Many priests, wishing to offer some comfort to their parishioners, have started to livestream their Masses. I never felt inclined to watch recorded Masses, but knowing that the Mass is actually being offered then and there has a very different feel to it (at least for me!) I think that the nature of the Traditional Latin Mass actually helps here.

The Novus Ordo Mass, even when celebrated reverently in accordance with the liturgical norms, appears to me to have a more social aspect. It is almost expected that people will make the responses out loud together, to repeat the verse of the Responsorial Psalm, to offer the sign of peace to each other, and to stand, kneel and sit at the appropriate points. In the Usus Antiquior, however, the prayers are offered by the priest, and the few responses needed are made by a server who represents the rest of the congregation. The congregation itself is free to participate in whatever way it wishes. There are no rubrics to say what the congregation must do, only custom. The people can sit or kneel in silence to pray, can watch the liturgy unfold, can follow the words with a Hand Missal, can allow the music (if there is any) to lift the heart and mind to God, can meditate on the many writings of saints on the Mass, or can pray a Rosary... even getting up to light a candle or two is an option. People do not have to pray the same way at each Mass, or even the same way for the whole Mass. All the prayers of the laity are offered through the priest in the Holy Sacrifice. We aren't expected to respond in any single way.

As a result, it seems to me that the Traditional Latin Mass is much more suited to the livestream format than is the Novus Ordo. Priests who are averse to celebrating ad orientem will, I think, find the total absence of a congregation disturbing: at least one priest was reported as printing out pictures of his parishioners to stick to the pews so that he could remember them at Mass. It seems very sweet. But the Mass isn't offered solely for those parishioners who the priest can see: the Mass is attended by the whole Church: Militant, Suffering and Triumphant, and this sort of gesture weakens our perception of this truth.

Of course, there is no obligation to "attend" a livestream Mass, and some people find it to be spiritually unfruitful. Personally, while it's not a patch on the real thing, I find the availability of the livestreamed Mass a great help. I can put aside the time for God, just as I would if I was actually at church for Mass, by turning off phone notifications and not looking at anything else online. Knowing that there are other people watching at exactly the same time is a comfort of sorts, which is where it differs from an event which is merely recorded. The priests (and sometimes laity) who have taken the time to organise the hardware setup which allows the livestream to be broadcast deserve heartfelt thanks.

Finally, the Latin Mass Society has done an exemplary job of collating details of many TLMs being livestreamed around the country, so it is possible to find one happening at a convenient time, and to access the feed as easily as possible. They have also produced many free prayer resources (including information for priests wishing to learn more about the traditional Mass) and information regarding the Sacraments of Baptism, Penance and Holy Communion.


Friday, 3 April 2020

Return Of The Mac...?

It has been nearly 2 years since I last posted on this blog. This post will be a sort of stream-of-consciousness affair, just to see if I can find the old blogging mojo - and also whether anyone is still bothering to read it!

I didn't know whether I'd ever get back to blogging, though I had no intention of deleting the blog itself - as I had explained to so many people before, the existence of links from other websites meant that, if I had deleted it, a porn site would probably take over the address. Occasionally I sent out a link on Twitter, or via email, if a question arose that I'd already answered. Without wanting to blow my own trumpet too loudly, I knew that I was reasonably good at writing, and some of my stuff had been entertaining and informative. It could get a little frustrating however, that, despite all the time and research I spent on my serious pieces, the stuff people really seemed interested in was the cat posts.

I used to complain that, when I had time to blog regularly it was because I was doing nothing worth blogging about. Conversely, when lots was happening, I didn't have any free time. The past two years have borne this out - lots happened, and I didn't have the time to blog. First of all, Fr. Tim became seriously ill and nearly died. He therefore retired as Parish Priest of Margate. Thanks be to God he survived, and went off to recuperate with his sister in Bournemouth. We will all have to watch his blog, the Hermeneutic of Continuity to see where he will fetch up next.

I continued to worship at St. Austin & St. Gregory's Church in order to help Fr. Bernard McNally - he was holding the fort by providing the Sacraments. Once a new Parish Priest was appointed, I gave him a bit of administrative support until he'd had time to settle in, and then switched to attending the Traditional Latin Mass at the Shrine of St. Augustine in Ramsgate. Six months without the Usus Antiquior was almost unbearable. I was very blessed to be able to find another regular one so near to home (the Isle of Thanet is not very big, and it takes me about the same time to get to Mass in Ramsgate as it did to get to Blackfen.)

Unfortunately for me, my own health took a decided turn for the worse. I lost my teaching post, and was told that my knee joints had pretty much collapsed, meaning that I would need knee replacement surgery - the left knee first. I am now having to use crutches to get about. It took a while to get onto the hospital waiting list - there were various administrative hurdles to be negotiated - but just before Christmas I was told that I had been successfully added to the list, and it would be about 6 months' wait...

...Only, unfortunately, the whole world suddenly found that it was being shut down due to a pesky little organism called COVID-19. All elective surgery has now been cancelled. The good news is that I had managed to sort out my registration as a disabled person before the rest of the country caught the virus and blocked the government phone lines, and also that my GP had finally recognised (from the X-rays and the description of the damage to my joints by the Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon) that I was going to need something rather stronger than ibuprofen and paracetamol while I was waiting. Being on morphine has the added advantage of making my rather uneventful days positively zip by. I am doing a pretty good imitation of a cat. Apart from praying the Office, "attending" livestreamed Mass, checking Twitter and making something to eat each day, I spend most of my time napping.

Miaowrini seems happy enough with the current state of affairs. I'm home all the time, and so am available for the dispensation of treats (she loves Dreamies - I think they're called Temptations in the US) and ear-scritches pretty much on demand. She has me well-trained: she doesn't even have to miaow, she just stands and waits, looking at me expectantly. I'm such a wimp that I can't bear todisappoint such trust, and out come the treats. However, I'venoticed that she is getting fat, so I shall have to try and harden my heart against her blandishments. I can reduce the number of Dreamies dispensed at any one session anyway...

I've been through the health situation before - though it was just the one knee that time, with the added difficulty that the damage wasn't so clear on the X-rays, and it was suggested by some of the doctors I saw that the whole thing was actually in my mind. Not having to question my own sanity this time around makes it much easier to bear. However, the illness last time was the way God called me back to the Church. There is a little niggle in the back of my mind that there might be something equally earth-shattering around the corner this time too. Not sure if it's just for me (like before) or, given the weird stuff happening in the world (and the Church itself) just before this all kicked off, maybe it'll be even bigger.

Watch... and keep praying.
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