Sunday, July 24, 2016

How a Pious Jew Entered the Church, and What He Found

I was a practicing, pious Jew, with all the fervour of which a young man is capable.  I loved the Law and clung to it as the vine to the fig tree.  Yet I was assailed by a terrible doubt:  we, the Chosen People, seemed pathetically faithful to the Covenant; it was God who seemed faithless.  Away with the thought:  His faithfulness endures forever!  Yes, that was the basis of all my piety:  God’s faithfulness endures, whatever the human appearances.  Then one day, suddenly like lightning on Lebanon, it struck me (not as ideas strike but as lightning strikes) that if the Covenant had been voided it was because God in His faithfulness had Himself filled the void.  If the Sacrifice of the Covenant had been abolished it could only be because God in His faithfulness had sacrificed Himself.  In a flash, as a Jew, I found myself a Catholic.  I am a convert to the Sacrificial Presence of God Incarnate in the Mass.

    I was in the Midlands at the time, working in a small factory which belonged to an uncle.  I knew no Catholic priest.  I called round at the presbytery and took pot luck.  The priest who instructed me was an astonishing fellow, although I did not recognize it at the time.  I thought all priests were as like peas in a pod.  He disapproved of the mass media, took no paper and possessed neither radio or television.  Although a man of immense culture, he paid not the slightest attention to what was going on around him.  His instructions were magnificent.  I was duly received into the Church on December 8th, 1963.  I stayed on in the Midlands until the New Year.  It was a month in heaven.

    But could I tell my family?  How could I bring shame and sorrow on my dear father’s head?  I decided to change my name and lose myself in London where nobody knew me.  I chose the name ‘Glauben’ partly because it sounds Jewish and I am proud to be a Jew, partly because it is the German for faith.  Thus I arrived in London, penniless and nameless but with the Faith.

    It did not take me more than a month in London to discover that I had not been received but deceived into the Church.  The God of my Midland priest have been the God of Israel, totally transcendent, totally “other.”  The Covenant was, is and ever shall be the Incarnation.  The Incarnation was consummated on the Cross, is consummated at Mass and ever shall be “the Lamb to whom all saving power belongs.”  All this I could understand.  It is the apotheosis of Jewry.

    And what did I find in London?  I found an idolatry worse than that of Baal or Moloch, which were at least “other” than man; a faithlessness worse than atheism, which at least knows what it denies.  I found the Catholic Church rotten with the nadir of idolatry and the zenith of blasphemy: religious humanism, the identification of God with man.  No transcendent God, no Covenant, no Incarnation, no Mass.  And they talk about ecumenism, when even a totem-worshipper would not accept such faithlessness.

    I had rejected the Synagogue one month; the next I was rejected by the Church.  I did not lose my faith. We Jews are used to exile.  I simply hung up my harp, as it were, by the waters of Babylon.

— from Bryan Houghton, Mitre and Crook, 1979, pp. 67–68.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Does Your Priest Pray? Bishop Forester on the Great Lacuna

18.  To Monsignor Charles Bouverie, D.D.
St. Vitus’ Mental Home, Epsom,
Friday, January 21st, 1977.

Dear Monsignor,

    I have followed your career with deep admiration:  Vice-rector of the English College; Rector of the Diocesan Orphanage; Parish Priest of Thistleford (a dump I know well, as I was once P. P. of Grumby not twenty miles away); chaplain to the Sisters at Hogsholt; and now assistant chaplain at a lunatic asylum.  Everyone knows why.  There is no more honourable career in the Universal Church.

    I also wish to express my profound admiration for the three publications of yours which I have read.  Your book entitled Four Abbots on Chautard, Marmion, Chapman and Vonier is admirable.  Your two long essays on “The Direct Perception of God” and “The Mechanism of Prayer” are splendid.  You are the man I want.

    I enclose an Ad clerum which I issued a week ago.  You may have seen reports of it in the papers.  Now, it seems to me inevitable that I shall have to re-open the diocesan seminary.  I only have five senior students at the moment but, even now in the first week, I have over thirty applicants of varying ages and backgrounds:  ten ex-seminarians, fifteen new vocations between 17 and 21, eight between 23 and 55.  On paper twelve seem admirable and only three more than doubtful.  I need two things: firstly, expert opinion in interviewing these men; secondly, if a reasonable number of them—say six or more—seem suitable, a Rector for my seminary.  Are you interested?  Incidentally, I have given no appointments for interview before the weekend of January 29/30th, so that you may be present to advise me if you so wish.

    I shall also want to discuss with you the curriculum.  The old system had enormous merits and I am deeply grateful for what I received at my seminary.  Nevertheless it is abundantly clear that the system has FAILED—yes, in capitals.  Every bishop, every priest had been through a seminary course.  Every bishop, every priest came away convinced that he had the answer to every question.  It only required that this be dubbed “triumphalism” and to suggest that questions are meant to be asked, not answered, for every bishop and every priest to be left dumbfounded.  We lacked the techniques to question the questions and still tried to give answers which nobody wanted.  Moreover, our certitudes were closely bound to a given set of symbols.  Change the well-defined Latin term for an undefined Greek one and every bishop and every priest found himself at a loss.  We knew the catechism by heart; mention catechesis and we are no longer sure who made us and why.  We could manage a dogmatic sermon all right but just listen to our homilies!  We were absolutely firm about confession and contrition; all our firmness vanished at the one word metanoia.  We knew exactly what the Mass was; the Eucharist is hazy.  Even the Consecration and the Real Presence have been engulfed in the mist of anamnesis.  All this is patently true, is undeniable.  We had received a solid theological training in our seminaries.  It did not stand the test.  It collapsed overnight without leaving track or trace.   It requires explanation.

    I am not saying that the seminaries were to blame for the collapse.  This would be quite untrue; there are other causes.  What I am saying is that there must have been some lacuna in the system which rendered the whole edifice vulnerable.  That it lay in the seminaries is certain, since they provided the only ground common to every priest and every bishop.  What was it?

    It is quite clear that we all believed in the Trinity; in the Incarnation, Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord; in the Seven Sacraments working ex opere operato; in the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption and so on.  Yes, we all believed in them but apparently in a disembodied sort of way, as abstract propositions not as immediate realities.  An abstract proposition can be more or less true according to the available data; realities cannot be changed because they are the data.  Unless I am talking complete nonsense, the problem thus becomes:  how is it that our seminaries failed to translate the abstract propositions of the Faith into an immediate reality?  Worse still:  how is it that students who arrived with the realities of their catechism soon found them evaporated into abstract propositions?

    I think there is an explanation.  The translation of an abstract proposition into the reality of Faith comes about on the divine side by grace but in the human response by one means only:  prayer.  As far as I know, there was not a seminary in the world which included in its curriculum a course on prayer:  its physics, metaphysics and theology.  Spiffs by spiritual directors and petty devotions are no substitute.  To my mind, the first year at a senior seminary should be devoted almost exclusively to the philosophy, theology and practice of prayer.  Incidentally, when I say “practice” I do not mean that they should be made to pray, because it cannot be done, but that they should be acquainted with how it has been done from the lapidary sentences of the Desert Fathers, through the great mystics, medieval and otherwise, down to your Four Abbots.  Also, I say “almost exclusively” because a little history and general culture would relieve the tension.  That is why I want you.  It is clear from your publications that you have the ideas and ideals which seem to me necessary.  And my opinion of your publications was not belied on the couple of occasions when I had the pleasure of meeting you.

    Incidentally, I have not the slightest doubt but that prayer is the fundamental lacuna in the clergy today.  One only has to look at Vatican II.  There were a couple of thousand bishops, all honorable men, discussing pastoral problems.  The only subject which failed to get a mention was the one that concerned their flock:  prayer.  Why?  Because it never crossed their minds; it is the great lacuna.  Later the New Ordo was produced:  it is a function designed for participation but not for prayer.  One can function it all right, but precisely in the measure that it is functional it is unprayable.  That is the trouble:  for many years now the seminaries having been churning out functionaries, ecclesiastical civil servants, instead of men of prayer, priests of God.

    There are also several purely pedagogic problems which I want to discuss with you.  Do you know that I went through my whole seminary course without having seriously to put pen to paper?  Just end-of-term examinations as a test of memory, that was all.  I consequently never had to to think but merely remember.  And I wonder how many priests have actually read a single work by one of the Fathers or Doctors of the Church?  Now that they no longer say the breviary, their ignorance in that direction must be simply appalling.

    Yes, I want to revive the diocesan seminary.  I want our perennial philosophy and theology to be taught therein.  I also want the lacunae to be filled.

    Please come to see me as soon as you conveniently can.  Please accept the Rectorship as I feel sure that we shall agree on the curriculum.

— Bryan Houghton, Mitre and Crook, 1979, pp. 60–63.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bishop Forester on Loyalty Upwards and Downwards

7. To George Weir, Archbishop of Derby.
Thursday, January 20th, 1977.

Dear George,

    Your letter caused me no surprise.  You pride yourself on being the rudest member of the hierarchy.  It is a claim in which you rarely fail.  You accuse me of holding the New Ordo to be invalid—which I don’t; of undermining the authority of the episcopate—which I am trying to restore; of being disloyal to Pope, Council, you, my colleagues, and all and sundry—which needs examining; of using the Mass as a banner for revolt—which is nonsense, etc. . . .  It is a fairly formidable indictment, isn’t it, even for you?

    However, I am interested in your accusation of disloyalty.  I know exactly what you mean but I happen to see things exactly in reverse.  The trouble is that people always think of loyalty as being due to themselves.  You automatically think of loyalty working upwards.  This is natural as you spring from a well-to-do family, employers in business and with staff in your home.  I, on the other hand, came from an eminently respectable but very poor background—hewers of wood in Roding Forest.  I, consequently, think of loyalty as working downwards.  I don’t say that the Squire wasn’t tough—he was—but we knew he would see us through:  he was loyal to us humble folk.  Incidentally, it was he, not the diocese, who  paid for my seminary—although he was a Black Protestant and always called us “my bloody Papists with too many blasted brats.”  As for Her Ladyship, she was a deal sight better than Social Security—but I must not bore you with reminiscences.  You see the point?  You blame me for not being loyal to my superiors.  It has never crossed my mind: they are perfectly capable of defending themselves and even breaking me if they so wish—and they doubtless will if I appear to succeed.  I, on the other hand, accuse you of being disloyal to your inferiors, your flock.  It has never crossed your mind, although they are totally defenceless against you.  And your disloyalty, George, is quite irreparable:  thanks to it countless of souls are seared in this life and may be lost in the next.  My disloyalty to you can do little more than melt your collar—if, in fact, I am disloyal.
    Disloyalty to the Pope is a more serious consideration.  Although I  have been a bishop for practically twelve years, I have only seen him thrice and then in a gaggle with other bishops.  He did not impress me as being a particularly congenial type:  intelligent enough, but weak and consequently devious.  He knows his mind all right, but he struck me as the sort of fellow who would get his way by hook or crook because he is incapable of getting it straight.  But that is scarcely the point, is it?  We are not talking about the Pope as a person but about the divine institution of the Papacy.  It is abundantly clear that loyalty to the divine institution is quite distinct from loyalty to its temporary incumbent.  Indeed, the two can run clean contrary to each other as history illustrates on almost every page from St Paul onwards.  My favorite example is the Blessed Colomba of Rieti.  You certainly do not know the story since your reading is confined to watching television.  (You see, I can be as rude as you if I like.)

    Anyway, Colomba was a Dominican nun who lived in Perugia.  She suffered from almost every type of mystical phenomenon—ecstasy, inedia, levitation and the rest.  The Master of the Dominicans felt uncertain whether her spirit was from God or from the Devil.  This was about 1490, when people still believed in both.  In consequence he would have the girl examined by the Holy Father himself who was on a visit to his favourite son, Cesare.  This was duly arranged.  In the great hall at Perugia, which you have doubtless visited, there sat enthroned the Sovereign Pontiff, Alexander VI, with Cesare on his right, Lucrezia on his left and the Papal Court around.  Colomba was introduced.  Upon sight of the Vicar of Christ she immediately went into ecstasy, as should all good nuns.  I seem to remember that she levitated and railed at the Pope from somewhere near the ceiling.  “You who are the Vicar of Christ and act as the vicar of Satan!  You who hold the Keys of the Kingdom but only unlock the doors of brothels!  You who are captain of the Ark of Salvation and have a girl in every port!  You who. . . .”  After twenty minutes of this sort of stuff, the Papal Court felt rather anxious for poor Colomba’s safety.  How do you get girls out of ecstasy?  However, Alexander Borgia turned to the Master of the Dominicans:  “Have no fear, my son; her spirit is certainly from God since everything she says is true.”

    I sometimes wish that I were an ecstatic Dominican nun.  I could keep going for well over twenty minutes.  What I doubt whether the sixth Paul has the humility of the sixth Alexander.  Admittedly, it is far more difficult to be humble if one sins between the ears than if one sins between the sheets.  Anyway, the point is perfectly clear:  Colomba was in opposition to the person of the Pope precisely out of loyalty to the institution of the Papacy.

    What I find astonishing in our days is that the situation is exactly reversed.  People can attack the Papacy to their heart’s content provided they do not breathe a word against the person of the Pope.  Our own ecumenists see the Pope as a Constitutional Monarch with plenty of whiskers but no teeth.  Hans K√ľng is even against the whiskers.  Dom Bernard Bresnet thinks that the Papacy should be a committee with, possibly, a lady chairman.  Professor Delumeau would prefer the pope to be the quinquennially elected President of the World Council of Churches.  All these—and I could name others—are in keeping with the present regime, and Delumeau can even expect a lollypop in his stocking at Christmas.  On the other hand, that benign old gentleman, Archbishop Lefebvre, gets into endless trouble for maintaining that the personal administration of the present Pontiff is an unmitigated disaster.

    Enough of all that.  What I am getting at is perfectly clear.  You should think twice before you start talking about loyalty.  It is certainly you are disloyal downwards.  It is also possible that you are disloyal upwards to the divine institution of the Papacy precisely by toadying to its temporary administrator.

    I could fill another couple of pages on your accusation that I use the Mass as a banner of revolt.  The trouble is that you have the mind of a drill sergeant.  You could not care less in which direction the platoon is marching provided it keeps in step.  When, at the edge of a precipice, the troops break formation and scurry off, you accuse them of indiscipline.

    Excuse me if I appear to answer you with a bit of your own coinage, but it does not prevent me from being

    Ever devotedly in Dmno,

— Byran Houghton, Mitre and Crook, 1979, pp. 33–36.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bishop Forester on Participation at Mass

    11. To the Reverend Giles Pocock, Parish Priest of Blackwater
    (Blackwater is a “plum” parish with no curates and no schools; just two Masses on Sundays. He was formerly Professor of Fundamental Theology at a major seminary.)

Dear Father Pocock,

I was most grateful to receive your letter because it put my mind at rest. I am afraid of you theologians. You seem to have gone charismatic and to “speak with tongues” which we common mortals fail to understand—although I sometimes suspect that you merely have your tongue in your cheek.

It is very good of you to consent to put the prayers of the old Offertory back in their place in spite of your reservations about their significance. I am delighted, too, that you should approve by and large of my “hybrid.” So your 9 a.m. will be the New Ordo plus the Offertory and the 11 o’clock the “hybrid.” Yes, that is perfectly all right by me. I vaguely hope, however, that from time to time you will give your parishioners the Immemorial Rite should they ask for it. Surely you have a hard core of Tridentiners who are led by the Duchess? Perhaps that is the trouble: you feel it would be unwise to allow the Duchess’ clique too openly, too easily, and too soon.

You give me, however, a quite different reason which both interests me and which I completely fail to understand. You say that on balance you disapprove of the old rite and approve of the new because it is your function “to mediate religion to your people.” Doubtless you have to mediate it to them in catechism classes, sermons, conferences and the like, but surely not at Mass? What you do at Mass is exactly the reverse: You “mediate the religion of the people to the Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ truly present on the altar.”

You seem to me to have defined with wonderful clarity the basic difference between the new rite and the old. If you think of Mass as “mediating religion to the people” then clearly it should be comprehensible, i.e. in the vernacular, and didactic, i.e. with lots of scripture readings and homilies; moreover, the people should demonstrate that they have received the message by constant “participation” at every level and in diverse forms—exclamations, hymns, gestures. If, on the other hand, you think of Mass as “mediating the religion of the people to God,” then, as a matter of fact, there is nothing for it but silence.

What do I, Edmund Forester, imagine is happening during Mass in the old rite? Quite simple. After a bit of backchat, Epistles and Gospels and things, I uncover the instruments of my craft and lay on the sacrifice of Man’s Redemption in much the same way as a plumber lays on water. Yes, but the people? They start subsiding. Some meditate for a moment but soon give up; some thumb a prayer book without much conviction; some finger a rosary without thinking; the majority just sit or kneel and become empty. They have their distractions, of course, but as far as they are able they are recollected. You see, the state of prayer of the overwhelming majority of the faithful is that of “simple regard.”

Good, they are now recollected. Human activity is reduced to its minimum. Then the miracle occurs. At the fine apex of their souls, imperceptible even to themselves, the Holy Ghost starts making little shrieks of “Abba, Father” or after the consecration, soft groans of the Holy Name, “Jesu, Jesu.” They adore: or rather, to be more accurate, the Holy Ghost adores within them. Sometimes, as I stand at the altar, I can feel the myriad little darts of adoration piercing my back and landing on the Adorable Presence. That is what I mean by “mediating the religion of the people to God.”

“Nonsense, Forester,” I can hear you say, “you are being sentimental.” No I am not; it is merely that I am fairly sensitive. How often have I been almost deafened by the piety of the faithful, now, alas, struck dumb by sing-songs!

I ought to write a thousand boring letters but I must tell you a story. I had been Parish Priest of Grumby for a couple of years. In a remote village lived a certain Mrs Donkin, mother of five children under ten, of whom the last was born after her husband was killed in an accident. They had to walk a couple of miles to catch the bus, which did not correspond at all conveniently with Masses. The mother and elder children carried the baby in turn; the toddlers toddled. Never did they miss Mass except when there was snow. Because of the bus, they arrived rather early for the 9:30 and plonked themselves down in their pew, with a potty for the toddlers, carefully camouflaged in a scarlet bandanna. There they sat. They never moved. Mrs Donkin neither stood for the Gospel nor knelt at the Sanctus. The only kneeling was when Mrs Donkin and the eldest boy were at the Communion rail.

I used to call on them about once a quarter. I was still young and had the illusion that I could “do good.” The second child was going to make her first Holy Communion and I thought it would be a good excuse to give Mrs D. a really decent missal and appropriate prayer books for the rest. To introduce the subject I said to Mrs D.: “I notice that at Mass you don’t use a rosary or missal or anything. What do you do, Mrs Donkin?” Without a moment’s thought or hesitation the answer came: “I sits there and I loves.” When anyone starts criticizing the piety of the laity, the harsh voice of Mrs Donkin rings in my ears: “I sits there and I loves.” St Teresa of Avila could say no more.

No, Father, I do not mediate religion to Mrs Donkin. By the grace of ordination I mediate her religion to the One she loves.

Forgive me, Father, but in my present troubles it is a relief to write about the only thing that matters: the adoration of God.

Devotedly in Dmno,

 —Bryan Houghton, Mitre and Crook, 1979, pp. 43–45.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Dedicatory Foreword: Judith's Marriage

I was ordained a priest on March 31, 1940. In June of that year I was appointed to Slough, an industrial suburb of London, where I founded St. Anthony's parish in the dormitory to the Trading Estate. In September 1954, I was moved to the parish of St. Edmund at Bury St. Edmunds, the County Town of West Suffolk, where I remained until Saturday, November 29, 1969. I resigned and retired as from midnight on that day. Why? Because on the following morning, the First Sunday of Advent, the New Ordo of Mass was supposed to come into force.

"But surely," one may say, "you were being rather intransigent over a bit of mumbo-jumbo?" Perhaps. But it happened to be the touchstone to a basic issue. This issue was that the new reforms in general and of the liturgy in particular were based on the assumption that the Catholic laity were a set of ignorant fools. They practiced out of tribal custom; their veneration of the Cross and the Mass was totem worship; they were motivated by nothing more than the fear of Hell; their piety was superstition and their loyalty habit. But the most gratuitous insult of all was that most Catholics had a Sunday religion which in no way affected their weekday behaviour. This monstrous falsehood was – and still is – maintained by bishops and priests who, for the most part, have never been adult laymen. Every day the Catholic workman had to put up with the jeers of his colleagues, as the more educated with their sneers. Every night they took their religion to bed with them.

I am not in position to judge other priests' parishioners. I am, however, in a position to judge what were my own. No words are adequate for me to express my admiration for the conscious faith and piety of my flock, both in Slough and in Bury. This is where the trouble lay. The reforms were based on criticism; I was unwilling to take any action which make me appear to criticize the wonderful people whom I was ordained to serve. I was perfectly conscious that I learned more about God from them than they were likely to learn from me.

Then there were the converts. I happened to be one myself. The mystery of grace is consequently not absent from my mind. I have no notion of the number I received. A couple of hundred? Perhaps more. They ranged from the highly cultured to, quite literally, tramps. To all I gave the same eternal truths. Perhaps it is pride, but I am unwilling to admit that I deceived them into the Church.

And the marriage converts. This is a breed which is normally despised. I have it in writing in the hand of a bishop. How I admired them! Of course human love has some analogy with Divine Love, or God would not have rooted it so firmly in the human makeup. I suppose I could class myself as an "intellectual convert." What does that mean? Merely that the bankruptcy of my intelligence was filled by God's grace. Marriage converts have more than I to show: their human love looks toward the Divine Love. And they are willing to prove it by an acid test: the creative act. How can anyone despise such people?

Perhaps the reason for my resignation is now clear: I was unwilling to be instrumental in any change which might cause scandal to my wonderful parishioners.

What passes belief is that I know of no book or article published within the last twenty years extolling the virtues and commiserating the sufferings of the Catholic laity. If they dared to remonstrate they were merely told that they were divisive, disloyal and disobedient. Hence the present novel. Its purpose is to show that at any rate one priest appreciates the predicament into which the laity have been put.

I consequently dedicate this little work to my erstwhile parishioners at Slough and at Bury St. Edmunds. It is a small token of my admiration for their loyalty to the Faith and of my gratitude for the example of unquestioning piety which they set me.

Bryan Houghton

Judith's Marriage