On Sunday morning [the second in Eastertide, 2008] I was
snowed in. Hence I could not travel to Mass at Farnborough Abbey. Hence
that evening I had to satisfy my obligation to attend Mass by attending
my local parish Church - St Bede's, Basingstoke. Mgr Vincent Harvey presided
at the typically casual and irreverent event - I was going to write "spectacle",
but really it was so dull, tedious
and uninspiring that it couldn't possibly justify such an epithet.
The most remarkable aspect of the performance was the enthusiastic singing
of Mgr Harvey [the Vicar General of the Diocese of Portsmouth], who seemed
to fancy his distinctive vocal talents.
Never mind! As modern liturgies go it was "all right"
- in the sense that (by modern norms) there were no obvious "abuses" -
not that I tried to check for any! I was trying very hard to pay as little
attention as possible to what Mgr Harvey was getting up to, so as to mind
my blood pressure. Oh, sorry, I'm wrong. I'd forgotten that changing texts
from the published norm still counts as an abuse. I can't be certain (because
I wasn't following what Mgr Harvey was saying in a missal) but I'm pretty
sure that he deviated significantly [in favour of "political correctness"]
from the official text of the eucharistic preface. Of course, there was
nothing "any good" about the liturgy either. It was conducted in an off-hand,
slovenly and casual manner. Every attempt was made to emphasize aspects
- such as the offertory and peace - that are (at best) of secondary importance
and to de-emphasize the central act of Eucharistic Offering.
Enough! My business today is not to critique Mgr Harvey's
liturgical ineptitude, but to discuss Catholic catechesis. Hence, on to
Clearly, this catechesis is at the very least seriously defective;
arguably it is materially heretical. Note that it was being delivered by
the Vicar General of the Diocese of Portsmouth: the priest who is the Bishop's
deputy and so should be an exemplar of the presbyterial ministry!
It was suggested that we should "pray with Jesus" - not
"to Jesus", but "with Jesus".
Now, this is not an absolutely wrong idea; but in the way
it was put across it definitely gave the impression that:
"Jesus is a human being just like us" and
"Jesus has a relationship with God just like ours".
These two propositions are - of course - heretical.
I am not aware of anywhere in the New Testament where it
is suggested that Christians do, did or should "pray with Jesus".
When He gave us his model prayer, He said "when you pray"
not "when we pray".
In the Garden of Gethsemane He said "Sit here, while I go
yonder and pray."
The "consecrated elements" were referred to as the "bread
and wine of life".
Nowhere in scripture (still less, Catholic/Orthodox Tradition)
are the contents of the consecrated chalice referred to as "the wine of
The consecrated bread is only so referred to because Jesus
called Himself [not the eucharistic bread after consecration] "The Bread
It was stated that in our Eucharistic practice we discover
God in each other, just like we discover God in our secular dealings.
No clear distinction was made between Christian fellowship
and worldly society.
No mention was made of either the Sacramental or the Sacrificial
nature of the Eucharist.
No mention was made of the fact that in the Eucharist we
meet God objectively and transcendentally; in a way that is of an entirely
different order than how we encounter God in our day-to-day affairs.
What was said could best be understood in terms of "the sign
of peace" being the essential part and focus and summit of the Mass.
It was stated that in our practice of the Eucharist we
should not reflect on God's glory or on the gift that is received or anything
of this kind, but rather - as soon as communion has been received - we
should hurry out of the church to get involved, once more, in the troubles
of the world; just as the two disciples hurried from Emmaus back to Jerusalem.
It was suggested that the fact the the Mass does not terminate
with the communion of the laity - and with them exiting the church immediately
after receiving communion was a bad thing and a defect in the present celebration
of the Mass.
Now - rightly or wrongly, I believe that in point of fact,
the ancient practice was to terminate the Eucharist with the communion
of the faithful, with no concluding blessing or prayers of any kind; but
this does not mean that the laity scarpered as soon as they had received
Apart from anything else, it is highly plausible that they
spent a good deal of time in conversation and general friendly interaction!
It is precisely because of this kind of uncatholic catechesis
and eucharistic praxis that I systematically absent myself from my own
parish. As far as I can perceive reality, what goes on there is an entirely
different religion - in spirit and in practice - from that which I profess
and which is presented and practised at Farnborough Abbey.
Yesterday I had the great pleasure of entertaining, James,
the sixteen year old son of an old friend of mine, Amanda.
I should first tell you a bit about Amanda, James and
his older brother, Stuart. Amanda has a deep faith and a heart of gold,
but is not well versed in theology and is pretty much a "Vatican II Catholic".
Both of her sons are/were students at St John Fisher School, Surrey; one
of the best non-fee-paying Catholic schools in the country; where the conservative
"Faith Movement" started and has a continuing influence. Both Stuart and
James attended many meetings of the "Faith Movement", have been to many
years of "Religious Education" classes, and have attended Church in a "vibrant"
Roman Catholic parish: "St William of York" where they must have heard
about 300-800 sermons. They have been brought up in a loving Catholic family
and have been encouraged to develop a personal faith at home.
Stuart is my GodSon and is a deeply spiritual
young man. He is pretty committed to God and Jesus and the Catholic Religion.
However, when I started to get to know him properly, about a year ago,
it became clear that he knew almost nothing about Catholicism, or the Church
or about being a Catholic - except in the most superficial terms. He was
sure that he wanted to be a Catholic, but he had very little idea as to
what he was supposed to believe about anything or how he was supposed to
live his life - apart from generally "being nice". He had no real experience
of studying the Bible and his idea of personal prayer was at the level
of "lists of petitions", like the bidding prayers of the Novus Ordo Mass.
The only adequate phrase to describe his state of theological, spiritual
and ethical formation (and this is no reflection on Stuart as a person,
whom I have come to love and respect!) was "Pig Ignorance".
Back to Monday and to James.
It is apparent that contemporary Catholic catechesis has
entirely failed him. This is in spite of the fact that he is keen to understand
and finds no difficulty in following my explanations of Catholic belief
and practice based on systematic philosophy, orthodox theology and reference
to Scripture. Under my occasional and irregular mentoring, he has come
on leaps and bounds in his understanding of the Catholic Faith; but he
still has a very long way to go - as do we all, of course!
This is a terrible indictment of contemporary Catholic
catechesis. If it was going to succeed with any-one, it should have done
so with Stuart; but it hasn't. It hasn't even succeeded in making him the
kind of "Catholic" that, I expect, the people delivering the catechesis
would have liked him to become. Stuart has a spiritual affinity for traditional
worship, even though - until I could expose him to it - he had never known
anything other than trendy, progressivist, happy-clappy, "Catholicism".
James is a very private person. He is a deep, clear and
incisive thinker. He is, rightly, suspicious of any and all people that
he perceives to be trying to influence him. It takes a good deal of effort
- backed by a degree of integrity - to win his trust and friendship. He
is, in my view, even more intelligent than Stuart; having a command of
English far beyond the norm for his age. When I first started to get to
know him properly - about six months ago - he had just decided to give
up on Catholicism. When I asked him why, he produced the following deeply
After hearing this from him (at the end of a long conversation
about other matters) I sought permission from his mother, Amanda, to try
to engage him in an informal reflective catechetical process, so as to
encourage him to revise his view of the matter. She refused to encourage
or envisage any such; on the basis that it was up to James to decide what
he believed and it might do more harm to pressurize him than to "just leave
him be". I was very upset with this decision, as I was pretty sure that
James had never had a real chance to learn about Catholicism [even though
he had been brought up in a "Catholic" family, listened to many "Catholic"
sermons, received communion many times and attended a "Catholic" school
for years] any more than had his brother, Stuart.
Major Premise: The true religion [if there was such
a thing] would make people happy.
Minor Premise: Catholicism doesn't make people happy.
Conclusion: Hence Catholicism
is a false religion.
Over the next few months I sought to win James's trust
and friendship in various ways, without the help of his parents, and eventually
did so. This process resulted in yesterday's meeting.
I asked him about his experience of "Religious Education"
at his "good Catholic school". He replied that it was simply "worthless".
This did not surprise me, given the many long conversations I had had with
his elder - and more "spiritual" - brother. When I probed further, he explained
that it was all about "What the adherents of various religions typically
believed regarding 'issues'" and was focussed on "facts" rather than understanding.
He explained that there was an opportunity for the students to say what
they each "believed" too - but there was never any presentation of why
some belief might be thought to be true, nor any systematic explanation
or defence of the Catholic Faith.
When asked to name the sacraments, he listed the seven
specified by Trent - but under their modern names. When asked to give an
account of what he's been taught [not what he himself believed] about:
This after ten years of Catholic Religious Education! Jame's
issue is not that he finds the lures of contemporary society or the claims
of modern science - or anything else - preferable to the Catholic Faith.
The fact is that he has no real idea of what the Christian Gospel is supposed
to be, or of the content of the Catholic Faith. He has never had any of
this presented to him in a coherrent or credible manner. It shouldn't need
to be said, but just in case any-one misconstrues what I have written:
"The Trinity", he produced a clear
and unambiguous classical Sabellian account of the matter.
This certainly did not surprise me, as I've heard the same
thing from a number of Catholic and Protestant pulpits over the last few
"The Incarnation", he disclaimed
any ability to do so whatsoever.
"The Eucharist", he gave a Zwinglian
account in terms of a communal meal at which people receive some "blessed
bread and wine" and think about and remember Jesus.
This is, of course, exactly the kind of belief that would
have been inculcated by the sermon I heard on Monday.
"Purgatory", he gave a pretty
good - but naive - account, missing out any notion of "punishment".
he said that he'd never even heard of it!
What I write here is intended as a critique of
"the modern Roman Catholic Church" as an organisation; not Amanda, not
any member(s) of her family! None of what I write about here is their fault.
It is the responsibility of the leadership of "the modern Roman Catholic
Church". Amanda (and other parents) should never have been placed in the
exposed position that I have described. Parents cannot be expected - as
a generality - to be evangelists, apologists or theologians. They require
and should be able to expect support from professionals who have the appropriate
charisms and training. They were "set up to fail" by the Church leadership
who have withdrawn this support from them. I don't blame Amanda - or other
parents - for this one bit!
I then spent a good deal of time explaining to James the
first things about the Gospel and about Jesus' promise of "Eternal Life"
and the "Resurrection" - all of which seemed to be pretty new to him. I
tried to convince him that his syllogism failed because:
Amanda's only "fault" was to trust the Catholic Church's
present leadership and to be suspicious of me: an out-of-work meddlesome
acquaintance, with no relevant qualifications and who is in serious dispute
with the Catholic Church's present leadership on a wide range of important
issues and, indeed, pretty much its entire "orientation". Some kind of
fault! Who could blame her for this? I certainly don't!
Update [July 2012] Stuart has just informed me that he has
given up on the faith. He had put himself in grave danger of lapsing by
travelling to the Far East in pursuit of work and Asian girls, to a place
where it was inconvenient to practice his religion and where he had no
access to Traditional Liturgy or any kind of spiritual direction or pastoral
care. I had expected that this would be the outcome, but was still very
upset to learn that what I feared would happen had indeed happened.
He had no real idea of what the Catholic Faith is, even though
he'd supposedly been subject to systematic "indoctrination" for ten years
The same went for most people who were supposed to be "Catholics"
- including many of the Church's leaders.
Hence, the fact that what "passes for Catholicism" regularly
doesn't make people happy doesn't mean that "real Catholicism" is a false
It only means that the sociological entity "the contemporary
Roman Catholic Church" is a very, very poor implementation of "the Ideal
Holy, Orthodox, Apostolic and Evangelical Catholic Church of Christ".
Update [December 2014] Stuart visited me this week. This
was the first opportunity we have had to discuss why he lapsed. Stuart
still vaguely believes in God - or at least some kind of "creative intelligence"
- and is still committed to an objective account of both epistemology and
ethics. He seems to have fallen away from the Church for the following
His religion was never really personal; but mostly a matter
of external observance. The catechesis and formation he received never
had any spiritual depth.
He found that - apart from me! - every Catholic he met seemed
not to be in any way a better person because of the practice of their religion;
but rather that Catholicism tended to make people worse. Stuart thinks
that religion tends to bring out the worst in people; making them either
self-indulgent or self-righteous.
Stuart feels that he does not really "belong" in the Church
as he finds the attitudes which are common their repellent. Moreover he
found that professing to be a Catholic caused him to be ostracised by secular
folk, as they assumed that he bought into the negative outlook and inhumane
image which the contemporary Church projects: basically anti-women, anti-homosexual,
Stuart finds that the practice of Catholicism is not in any
way attractive or appealing. He said that he had found the Novus Ordo Roman
liturgy as performed at Farnborough Abbey something of an exception.
Some Catholics seem to be blasé about truth and tend
towards irrational sentimentalism or anti-intellectual "hippy style" self-indulgence,
along the lines of: "if it feels good it must be right; and in any-case
it is true for me! Who are you to tell me different? Everyone has a right
to their own opinion!" This is very much the outlook of Stuart's mother.
I have met many other such people in "progressive" Roman Catholic circles
- and, more recently and tragically, in the UGCC parish which I used to
Other Catholics are authoritarian and narrow in their thinking.
They only use "reason" to rationalise pre-determined positions and never
to explore or deepen their understanding of the faith. Such people are
terrified of doubt or uncertainty. For such people obedience is the only
real virtue: once one believes that the Catholic Faith is true, one completely
discharges one's religious obligation by handing over one's conscience
and judgement to the hierarchy and in particular the Vatican and the Pope
Stuart told me of a friend of his, whom I met once, Matthew.
Stuart used to like and respect Matthew as someone with a good intellect;
but more recently Matthew had given Stuart the impression that he thought
that the human intellect was little more than a play thing: something which
one could amuse oneself by exercising, but not a worth-while tool to disclose
what was true: only "faith" (more accurately "uncritical acceptance of
the Catholic Magisterium in all its particulars") could determine truth.
Matthew went to seminary, and Stuart assumes that he is now a priest.
Stuart also told me of the Dominican priest who was the chaplain
for Catholic students in Leicester. I met this man once myself and fell-out
with him quite quickly as he played the "I am a priest, therefore I know
better than you" card. On one occasion, Stuart had asked him a probing
question and the priest had answered with a "party-line response"; but
Stuart had thought that he saw fear in the priest's eyes, as if the man
knew deep inside that the answer he was giving was not adequate (perhaps
even false) and was afraid of what this meant for the substance of his
entire belief system.
On another occasion, Stuart put forward one of my ideas which
he had found interesting to a priest only to have it dismissed out of hand
as not worthy of consideration.
It makes me angry
that those in charge of Catholic catechesis have
allowed the situation to develop that deep thinking, spiritually minded,
intelligent young people can emerge from what should have been a process
of philosophical, theological and spiritual formation with no idea whatsoever
of what the Gospel of Jesus is or of the history of the Church or of the
content of Her Dogmatic teaching or of the relevance of it to their daily
It makes me angry
that these people will take no responsibility
for the abject failure of their project to make the Church "relevant to
the Modern World".
It makes me angry
that they will not reverse the "modernization"
of the Church that has destroyed Her soul and rationale.
It makes me angry
that there is no opportunity for me to address
this situation in the way that I know that I both want to and am able to
do, simply because I am "too traditionalist" in my views.
From three correspondemts:
"Your papers on Catholic teaching
have been quite interesting. I wish you had taught my RCIA class. Our
director of religious education decided to present catholic teaching on
a level suitable for twelve year-olds. She was concerned that the people
in the class would become confused or bored with a more advanced presentation
of the faith. I have been in church since I was a toddler so her presentations
had only a little new information for me." [August 2002]
"I had long ago visited [your web
site], but this time I came to it with a new insight and a new perspective.
Although I am quiet new to the Church, many of the reasons I came to
the Catholic Church to start with aren't evident or present anymore.
I originally was drawn to the Catholic faith through the catechism and
then through much reading (although I think I could have saved much time
by reading your site first). The tradition and liturgy spoke to me in a
way that no other faith had up to that point.
I started RCIA over two years ago
with the inquiry phase, but it became very clear that I already knew
more about the church and the faith than many of my well intentioned members
of the RCIA team. This only strengthened my resolve to join the Catholic
Faith. I then moved into the next phase right before Easter. My first celebration
of Easter in the Catholic Church was a very moving and spiritual one. Never
before had I experienced the true meaning of Easter as I did then.
Soon though, certain things began
to bother me. I noticed that very few people would genuflect when coming
in for Mass, or would bow to the alter when they passed it. I knew this
was a tradition and one that showed great respect to the holiness of the
place. I asked the members of the RCIA team and their response was
"We used to genuflect when the host was kept at the front of the church,
but since we now keep it in a room off to the side we no longer feel it
necessary." I understood but their reply only troubled me more. I asked
that while would explain the lack of people genuflecting, but what about
them not bowing to the alter? "Oh, the priest does that for us." and
that troubled me even more. These are just a few of the examples of
what I've experienced since I started on the second part of my journey.
There are more, but from reading your site I'm sure you know already what
I've been feeling." [November 2002]
"I can think of at least three seperate
occasions when I have tried to convert to Roman Catholicism. I've attended
RCIA in a couple of typical parishes and really just found them wanting.
Most people seem to have been there just out of convenience for reasons
of getting married, etc. I haven't met anyone who comes to the Church from
the perspective of having not found Truth in other churches and out of
a deep hunger for the Sacraments. My most recent experience in an RC parish
found catechists who were spewing theology that was far more liberal than
the most liberal protestants I have know." [September 2008]
This is the way that the Church dies, and it deserves
to do so!
"And will not God vindicate his elect,
who cry to him day and night?
Will he delay long over them?
I tell you, he will vindicate them
Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes,
he find faith on earth?"
|Before the 1970s I had never met a Catholic who claimed
to believe anything else about the Trinity except that God is three distinct
persons in one divine being: Father Son and Holy Ghost. This is because
we had learnt well our catechism; the Mass, Sacraments, and Devotions were
very much centred upon the worship of the Holy Trinity; and our creeds,
prayers and catholic language in general explicity and clearly professed
belief in the Trinity of God and the Divnity of Christ.
I remember no hint of modalism or sabellianism. We spoke
of the Tabernacle as God's house, the Sacred Host as God's Body, the Mother
of our Lord as God's Mother, knowing that it was the Second Person of the
Tirnity, not the First or the Second. We said that God was born, God died
and God rose again for our sakes. Nobody doubted that Chist is God, that
the Father and the Holy Ghost are also God, but not Christ.
This changed slowly but surely after the Second Vatican
Council, due to ecumenism and rapproachment with liberal protestantism,
the total abandonment of cathechesis of children and youth, the expunging
from the Mass, Sacraments and Devotions of any reference to the Trinity
and to Christ's Divinity. Eventually the language, beliefs, hymns and devotions
of many of the Catholic laity - especially younger Catholics who grew up
without catechism - changed too; from a clear Catholic Orthodoxy
to a muddled, vague belief in a unitarian God - with Jesus as His adopted
human Son and the Spirit as a sort of meaningless wind - akin to
modern liberal, protestant (semi)-Arianism.
Still, most Catholics my age still know that there are
Three Distinct Persons in One Godhead. The majority of Protestants
seems to have abandoned Orthodox Trinitairian belief and worship much earlier.
Offically we Catholics still profess pre-Vatican II Trinitarian
Orthodoxy; but in practise, many no longer seem even to have heard of the
Holy Trinity: certainly not those who were brought up with the Novus Ordo
Missae and Catholic mis-education classes on Saturdays. [A Catholic
Priest (November 2009)]