Saturday, 31 October 2009

Great news...

I don't have to work weekends anymore! Today was my last Saturday - hopefully this year, but with Christmas coming up I don't suppose I can tactfully get out of every Saturday. Being my usual unhelpful self at work (hating the company that much) I do manage to get out of unwanted overtime a lot, but it does backfire somewhat when I ask to swap a day with someone for some reason and they refuse. It's a shame my last day was today, though, as we had Vespers at Blackfen. I have managed to miss all but one service of Vespers this year, since they are always on Saturdays. It would be nice to have Sunday Vespers once in a while, since this is more proper than yet another Mass - they are so commonplace. As I have said before, down with Low Mass, up with sung Office!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Another anniversary...

A bit of useless Tolkien ''trivia'' here: on this day (30th October) 90 years ago, J.R.R Tolkien received his Master of Arts degree in a Congregation. It may surprise readers, but Tolkien never in his life wrote a thesis for the purpose of earning a DPhil. I like to think that this was because he spent a great deal of his life writing theses and essays at doctoral level on complex philological stuff! He was, of course, awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters (the second highest after the prestigious Doctor of Divinity) by the University of Oxford in 1972 for his vast scholarly contribution to English language and literature.

Continuing with the Lay...

It's been a while now since I posted about the wonderful Lay of Leithian, but one thing drives out another as Barliman Butterbur would say. We have reached the stage now where Beren has declared his purposes before the King:

Silence then fell upon the hall;
like graven stone there stood they all,
save one who cast her eyes aground,
and one who laughed with bitter sound.
Dairon the piper leant there pale
against a pillar. His fingers frail
there touched a flute that whispered not;
his eyes were dark; his heart was hot.
''Death is the guerdon thou hast earned,
O baseborn mortal, who hast learned
in Morgoth's realm to spy and lurk
like Orcs that do his evil work!''
''Death!'' echoed Dairon fierce and low,
but Lúthien trembling gasped in woe.
''And death,'' said Thingol, ''thou shouldst taste,
had I not sworn an oath in haste
that blade nor chain thy flesh should mar.
Yet captive bound by never a bar,
unchained, unfettered, shalt thou be
in lightless labyrinth endlessly
that coils about my halls profound
by magic bewildered and enwound;
there wandering in hopelessness
thou shalt learn the power of Elfinesse!''
''That may not be!'' Lo! Beren spake,
and through the king's words coldly brake.
''What are thy mazes but a chain
wherein the captive blind is slain?
Twist not thy oaths, O elvish king,
like faithless Morgoth! By this ring -
the token of a lasting bond
that Felagund of Nargothrond
once swore in love to Barahir,
who sheltered him with shield and spear
and saved him from pursuing foe
on Northern battlefields long ago -
death thou canst give unearned to me,
but names I will not take of thee
of baseborn, spy, or Morgoth's thrall!
Are these the ways of Thingol's hall?''
Proud are the words, and all there turned
to see the jewels green that burned
in Beren's ring. These Gnomes had set
as eyes of serpents twined that met
beneath a golden crown of flowers,
that one upholds and one devours:
the badge that Finrod made of yore
and Felagund his son now bore.
His anger was chilled, but little less,
and dark thoughts Thingol did possess,
though Melian the pale leant to his side
and whispered: ''O king, forgo thy pride!
Such is my counsel. Not by thee
shall Beren be slain, for far and free
from these deep halls his fate doth lead,
yet wound with thine. O king, take heed!''
But Thingol looked on Lúthien.
''Fairest of Elves! Unhappy Men,
children of little lords and kings
mortal and frail, these fading things,
shall they then look with love on thee?''
his heart within him thought. ''I see
thy ring,'' he said, ''O mighty man!
But to win the child of Melian
a father's deeds shall not avail,
nor thy proud words at which I quail.
A treasure dear I too desire,
but rocks and steel and Morgoth's fire
from all the powers of Elfinesse
do keep the jewel I would possess.
Yet bonds like these I hear thee say
affright thee not. Now go thy way!
Bring me one shining Silmaril
from Morgoth's crown, then if she will,
may Lúthien set her hand in thine;
then shalt thou have this jewel of mine.''
(The History of Middle-earth, Volume III, The Lays of Beleriand, The Lay of Leithian, Canto IV, Lines 1055-1131).
J.R.R Tolkien wrote the Lay of Leithian between the Summer of 1925 and abandoned it sometime in 1931; as such, much of what appears in the Lay is incongruous with some of the later work. Therefore, I set readers a nice challenge! Can anyone spot a discrepancy between the canto I have just posted and the published Silmarillion? Unfortunately, there is no reward, unless (perhaps) you know me personally...I spotted three...

Thursday, 29 October 2009

A Grand Day Out...

''Everyone knows the Moon's made of cheese...'' quoth Wallace.

A Grand Day Out (with Wallace & Gromit) is in its 20th year now. I think that its one of the best cartoons ever made, so sweet and simple. I remember going to my friend David's house when I was in Primary School and watching it about 8 times in a row. I only stopped watching it because David's mother came in and told me off. Just a moment ago, I said to my mother that in many ways Wallace and Gromit reminded me of my dog and I (I actally have two dogs, but I prefer one to the other), and she said something that made me chuckle. She said: ''what, the dog has more sense than you?''

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Dream on...

A thought just came to me, and I should have thought of it ages ago. With the influx of so many Anglicans, clergy and all, as well as the reconciliation of the SSPX with Rome, we'll be able to have more High Mass and hopefully less Low Mass. Which is just as well because I am trying to memorise points from O'Connell...

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

I.Q tests...

I don't believe that intelligence can be measured. Having taken I.Q tests in the past, I fail spectacularly at them - getting ridiculously low results such as 75. An I.Q of 75 means I am a vegetable, and shouldn't know how to use a computer let alone maintain a readable blog. But I am not very intelligent; all I am really good at is memorising facts and dates by rote. Having said that, I know I am more intelligent than some people - even some people with University degrees, but then I guess that nowadays, having a degree doesn't mean that one is necessarily more intelligent or able than the rest of us. Anyone can go to University these days, and do a degree in something like James Bond films - all you have to do is subject yourself to a sausage factory mentality for three years, regurgitate unoriginal and derivative essays and you're laughing. Now, for people like me who can't quite fit into any category, well that's another story. I'd go back to the days, as I have said before, where University was the province of the truly intelligent and the Upper Classes. Egalitarianism is, of course, a monstrous notion. Any comments/suggestions would be welcome in the comment box...

By the way, I got this idea because Fr Finigan has put up a post about Language, Liturgy and Understanding - understanding in the literal sense.

The St Lawrence Press Ordo, MMX...

The Ordo Recitandi published by the St Lawrence Press for the Year of Our Lord 2010 is now ready for despatch. It is highly useful and I would strongly recommend it for the traditional parish. It is all in Latin of course, after the manner of the old Roman Ordos from the mid-20th century, but it is not difficult Latin, and for anyone fully immersed in Ecclesiastical vocabulary, it is very easy to read. To place your order, follow the above link.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Musings on recent years...

In April 2005, I was 17 and at Sixth Form College. On the Friday of Pope John Paul II's Funeral, we were given the day off and I watched it on the BBC news, trying my hardest to ignore the stupid running commentary of Huw Edwards. It was about as solemn and decorous as the New Rite could provide for the Funeral of a Pontiff I suppose, and Cardinal Ratzinger was the Celebrant, so I just ignored the lay readers and anything else which smacked of Novus Ordo irreverence. I only knew the name Cardinal Ratzinger before then, and I had never seen him before, but when he came out to offer Mass, I took an instant liking to him. One thing I clearly remember about that Pontifical Requiem Mass was that the Cardinal refused even once to look into the camera. I remember thinking at the time (in my quaint silly way) that my mother and I were the same age when we first saw a Papal death. My mother was born in 1961, which means that in 1978 when Pope Paul VI died she was 17 (she says that she can't remember Pope John XXIII). It was a major event, and when I returned to Sixth Form after the Easter break, I felt that during the Sede Vacante, the world lacked something essential.

I remember during the Conclave the secular media were considering the Papabile, and what the world ''expected'' of a Pope (that he be multilingual, morally spineless etc), and thinking to myself ''what has this got to do with you?'' And then finally, when the what looked like grey smoke issued from the Sistine Chapel, I was literally on the edge of my seat. Then the Cross-bearer came out, and the Cardinal Proto-deacon or whatever he is, and he announced probably the best news of my life up to that date. I was euphoric! Even more so because I was going to World Youth Day later in the year, and I would see him face-to-face. I remember that the election of an ''old conservative'' wasn't pleasing to many, even some so-called Catholics, but what did that matter? I was well-pleased. I enjoyed World Youth Day with the Holy Father for the most part, except some ghastly catechesis (with guitars, priests dressed in mufti, waving hands etc), and during the Papal Mass in Marienfeld, the Holy Father looked right at me - which is to say, he looked in my general direction from about 40 feet away!

In 2005, I attended my first Old Rite Mass - a Low Mass at the London Oratory. I can't say I was profoundly moved by it, since it was only a Low Mass, but I found it intriguing, and it was better than any Latin sung Mass in the New Rite that I had heretofore attended. I was rather confused by the Server turning in toward the priest during the Preparatory Prayers - it took me ages to figure out why he did that! At this time, I had no idea what a motu proprio was, nor did I imagine that within the next few years the Old Rite would be freed and brought rightly back into the liturgical life of the Universal Church. As the next two years passed, I remember approving of everything the Holy Father did and taught (with the possible exception of him going into a Mosque in Constantinople), and when the Motu Proprio was issued, I quoted the Psalmist: A Domino factum est istud, et est mirabile in oculis nostris (This has been made by the Lord, and it is marvellous in our eyes).

Since his election, the Holy Father has made ''ecumenism'' a major part of his Pontificate. I can't say that I approve of the Ecumenical Movement as it has so often manifested itself - Ecumenical Services, praying in common, joint declarations etc, but the approach Pope Benedict has adopted is certainly one to my liking, and very resonant. He is both benevolent and very wise. He has watered down no Church teaching - if anything, he has proclaimed the essential truths of faith more powerfully than his predecessor - but the prospects of a united Christendom seem all the more likely. I wonder that people don't see it. Secular people, and some Catholics, rabbit on and on about how ''divisive'' the Pope is, how out-of-touch with modern man, how he puts people off by making mistakes etc, but this is probably because they thrive on dispute and can't stand an orthodox and sensible approach to the Unity of the Church. The Holy Father has rightly seen the necessity of liturgical orthopraxis, how this relates to the complexities of Ecumenism, and is doing his utmost to foster that unity of liturgy and doctrine which is so needed today. I can't wait until he celebrates his first Papal High Mass in the Old Rite in St Peter's.

As regards the Anglicans; having thought and prayed earnestly about it for some days, I see now that perhaps this is the most practical and pastoral approach at the present. In any case, the Holy Father has a better grasp of these deep and complex matters than I. Maybe it is the best way to get our ancestral churches back, and who knows, maybe it will prove only temporary, and that in a generation or two, the Anglo-Catholics will be fully assumed into the Church and can finally repudiate their tradition. Step by step...God bless our wise and loving Pope!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

MCing High Mass...

I wonder when I'll be able to MC my first High Mass in the Old Rite? I have been trying to read and memorise points from Fortescue and O'Connell, and I watch all the time, but there is always something I don't know, or can't remember. I know the Rite of High Mass up to just after the Celebrant blesses the Subdeacon after the Epistle, but afterwards my mind is rather hazy. Like the Missa Cantata, however, perhaps it comes with experience rather than just reading about it. Would that there were more High Masses, and blast the shortage of priests! There are, of course, odd points in Fortescue - for example, for the Consecration, he has the MC kneeling at the Epistle corner with the Thurifer - this seems rather odd since shortly afterwards, at Per Quem Haec Omnia, he is supposed to replace the Deacon at the Celebrant's left and attend to the Missal. Also, I have never seen any MC do as Fortescue says on this point in all the time I have served or merely attended High Mass.

In any case, the Master of Ceremonies at a High Mass is there just as much for the Ministers as the Servers, and although he does less, he has to know everything - and everything is a hell of a lot! But then I expect like my knowledge of Tolkien, it comes with years rather than months of reading...

The Eye of Sauron...

''Of old there was Sauron the Maia...'' (The Silmarillion, Part V, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age).

One of the most obvious discrepancies between The Lord of the Rings and the film trilogy which shares that name is that of the form of Sauron. In the film he is depicted as a gigantic floating eyeball wreathed about with fire and lightning. I imagine that this is because the people who made the films took this quotation out of context:

''In the black abyss there appeared a single Eye that slowly grew, until it filled nearly all the Mirror. So terrible was it that Frodo stood rooted, unable to cry out or to withdraw his gaze. The Eye was rimmed with fire, but was itself glazed, yellow as a cat's, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened on a pit, a window into nothing.'' (The Lord of the Rings, Book II, Chapter VII, The Mirror of Galadriel).

The Lord of the Rings itself contains no physical description of Sauron. I believe this to be a literary device of some sort; a means of perhaps making the Dark Lord seem more menacing. So what did Sauron look like? This largely depends on which Age of the Sun one is thinking about. I think it is here worth going through the three Ages of the Sun since it is a cogent question.

As I have quoted above, Sauron was in origin a Maia, of the people of Aulë the Smith, and is thus akin to both Gandalf and Saruman. As a Maia, he had certain inherent abilities, which to Men would appear ''magical,'' although to the Maiar they were just as natural as the ability to walk or to run. One of these abilities was the ability to change shape at will. In The Silmarillion, Sauron's ''own accustomed form'' seems to have been human - it was customary for the Ainur to imitate the Children of Ilúvatar in this regard. In the battle between Sauron and Huan the great Wolfhound of Valinor, Sauron was pinned down, and in his endeavour to escape he shifted shape, from wolf to serpent and to ''monster,'' and upon his defeat, fled in vampire form, ''great as a dark cloud across the moon,'' dripping blood from his throat upon the trees. Dismayed by the downfall of the Diabolus Morgoth, Sauron abased himself and assumed the most beautiful form he could devise, and did obeisance to Eönwë the herald of Manwë. He would not, however, return in humiliation into the West to abide the judgement of the Valar for his evil deeds, and he hid himself. His temporary repentance, therefore (which was probably genuine, if only out of sheer fear of the Valar), caused a greater relapse, until slowly, beginning with good motives (the re-ordering of Middle-earth after the tumults at the end of the First Age, the rehabilitation of the wild Men ''neglected'' by the Valar, etc), he himself became a ''dark Lord.'' As one of the Maiar, however, he still had the ability to change his shape.

Early in the Second Age of the Sun, the age of Númenor, Sauron appeared to the Elves of Eregion, exiled Noldor who refused to return into the West, in his most beautiful form and assumed the name Annatar, Lord of Gifts. His counsels were especially enamoured of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, the Jewel-smiths who followed Celebrimbor, for Sauron was skilled in craft, and under his teaching, they wrought the Rings of Power. To all but the most wary he seemed fair and wise, but not all saw through his fair seeming, and Galadriel rejected him, as did Elrond and Gil-galad in Lindon. In this form he was taken to Númenor as hostage of Ar-Pharazôn, the last king, and there corrupted the already estranged hearts of the Men to idolatry. In the tumults of the Downfall of Númenor, Sauron's fair form was dragged down and destroyed, and his spirit fled back to Mordor on a cold dark wind. In the Dark Tower, he dwelt in darkness and silence until with the Ring he fashioned for himself a new form, terrible to behold, and he could never again appear fair to Men. Interestingly, this mirrors Morgoth's declension from beauty and splendour into impotence and hatred - Morgoth, who in the earliest days of Arda was brighter than the Sun and could drive all the Valar into retreat, and towards the end of the First Age duelled perforce with the Elven-king Fingolfin. Tolkien saw the physical forms of the Ainur in terms of the raiment of Men. In a certain sense, the appearance of one of the Ainur was the self-manifestation of their thoughts. Be they dark and sinful, as were the hearts of the Dark Lords, then they would appear so to Men the more evil they became.

At the end of the Second Age, in the great Battle of the Last Alliance, Sauron came forth himself after the seven year-long Siege of Barad-dûr, and faught with Gil-galad and Elendil, slaying them both, and was himself overthrown, Isildur cutting the Great Ring from his hand. In this case, he lost his physical form altogether, and we are told that: ''...he forsook his body, and his spirit fled far away and hid in waste places; and he took no visible shape again for many long years.''

During the first millennium of the Third Age, Sauron remained impotent and invisible in waste places, until he returned to Dol-Guldur in southern Greenwood the Great. We know nothing of his appearance at this time, the ''Shadow of Sauron,'' except that he exerted vast influence and dark things crept back to him, and the great forest was named anew; Mirkwood it became. It would appear that without the Ring, which was lost, he could not quickly fashion for himself a new form.

Towards the end of the Third Age, when Bilbo found the Ring in Gollum's cave, Sauron was driven out of Mirkwood by the White Council and returned again to Mordor, long-prepared by the Nazgûl. He must, by this time, have created for himself a new form. By the end of the Third Age, with the onset and duration of the War of the Ring, Sauron did indeed have a physical form. As I have said, there are no descriptions given anywhere in The Lord of the Rings, and people are often confused by constant references to the ''Eye of Sauron,'' and the ''Eye of Barad-dûr.'' There are cases in which this is clearly figurative, but others it would appear that Tolkien equates the Eye with Sauron himself - as seems to be the case with Frodo's vision in the Mirror of Galadriel; ''the Red Eye will be looking towards Isengard'' and all that.

However, Sauron clearly had a real physical form. Gollum, who had seen the Dark Lord in person, said: ''He has only four [fingers] on the Black Hand, but they are enough.'' Furthermore, there are other references which indicate Sauron's abilities to travel around freely such as, curiously, Aragorn's command that the lord of the Black Land must come forth to receive judgement from the King.

Tolkien's Letters, however, provide the answer, as they do in a lot of other cases. In Letter 246, Tolkien writes:

''Sauron must be thought of as very terrible. The form that he took was that of a man of more than human stature, but not gigantic.''

My supposition is that the ''Eye of Sauron'' is merely a metaphor for his constant vigilance - it could even refer to the Palantír of Minas Ithil which he had seized in the overthrow of that city. It would certainly explain why Denethor was driven mad, and Frodo saw the glazed yellow eye - for Sauron exerted great command over the Palantíri, and could make those who foolishly dared to look into them see only what he wanted them to see - unless they had greater will-power than he. The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien are an indispensible trove for any Tolkienist, or even someone with a routine interest in Tolkien, his work and his faith.

Quadraginta Horarum Supplicatio...

Quarant' Ore ended yesterday morning with a Missa Cantata coram Sanctissimo. I served (badly) as Torch-bearer. I believe that this was the first time I had ever attended and served a Mass completely coram Sanctissimo. It was splendid, and the devotion of others was plain to see and edifying. Fr Finigan preached an interesting sermon and began by contrasting Exposition to the Eye of Sauron, which was interesting - I had not myself thought of it like this before. Apparently many people turned to me as soon as he mentioned The Lord of the Rings; I was aware of only one person who did so, out of the corner of my eye. I was, of course, trying to be constantly aware of the immediate presence of Our Lord.

Only in hindsight have I thought completely about the superior graces of attending Quarant' Ore. A thought came to me during Mass this morning that attending Quarant' Ore was like being outside Time or in another world altogether, and that after the Blessed Sacrament was reposed, some veil was lifted or something. I must say I felt disappointed. Afterwards, I had to go to work (what a grotesque declension that proved), and trying to explain to some of my godless colleagues about Quarant' Ore was a waste of time. When I first started work, my uncle admonished me to try and keep my faith as quiet as possible in the work-place because, he said, the people I work with are either Protestants or have no faith at all. I suppose that one can only hope that the graces and blessings which emanate from the Blessed Sacrament can come in time to those with no faith at all, as well as to those disoriented Catholics who despise the ancestral forms of Liturgy.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Quarant' Ore so far...

Things are going beautifully so far at Blackfen with the Quarant' Ore. Yesterday, Mass, a Votive Missa Cantata of the Blessed Sacrament, began at 8:00pm. The visiting Schola sang the Propers and Ordinary splendidly to the plainchant melodies of Mass IV for Double Feasts. The Blessed Sacrament now exposed for Adoration, the Acolytes lit the candelabrae and other surplus candles fitting to direct attention to our Sacramental Lord and after Mass we prepared for the Procession and Litanies. Liturgical processions can sometimes be unedifyingly untidy but our procession proved quite the opposite and we processed around the church singing the praises of God with the Pange Lingua. On our return to the Sanctuary, so great was the attendance that we were obliged to halt to allow worshippers to pass. Kneeling in the presence of Christ, the Sanctissimum was incensed after which the Litany of the Saints was intoned by the Cantors. The Litany of the Saints is my favourite Litany and in the immediate presence of Our Lord the petitions held an ineffable power, not altogether comfortable, albeit fair; I felt that the hand of God had reached into my soul and stirred those regions where love, awe and reverence are mingled and lost and mean little other than the knowing that God is here with us, and He loves us. Poorly expressed perhaps but such is the way of things. The feeling was very present at the time and perhaps not recapturable - I am especially not able to articulate it with unfitting language! After Mass, many stayed to watch. I watched myself after tidying up and went home finally after 3:00am.

Today, after a long wait, I got to the church at around 5:30pm and helped the Master of Ceremonies with a few odd bits. I set the Altar Missal, the small ugly one (we used this perforce for practical reasons), and changed some candles among other things, and the time for Mass drew near. The Mass was of course a Votive Mass pro pace, a Missa Cantata, celebrated at the Lady Altar. All the servers were under 14 years old and most were under 9! The parish choir chanted the Propers to the Rossini Psalm tones which, in an odd way, was reminiscent of the ''quiet'' nature of the Second Day of the Forty Hours. The absence of the bell came as a surprise to some. During the distribution of Holy Communion, the Adoro te Devote was sung beautifully, and what a fitting hymn for Holy Communion. I don't know it by heart yet, nor did I quite understand why Christ was referred to as the ''pious pelican,'' but there we are. Fr Finigan explained it afterwards; a beautiful simile derived from legend that the pelican pierced itself to feed its young.

After Mass, we changed more candles and retired to the parish club for refreshment. It was nice to catch up with a friend of mine whom I hadn't seen for two weeks. Then we went into the small hall for tea and a bite to eat before more watching. A film was on about St Thérèse...I won't be watching that again. And then, at around 11:30pm, we went into the church to watch...gosh this is a very ''matter of fact'' way of narrating this; ''then we did this, afterwards we did that,'' but maybe you all think otherwise. Having caught up on my Rosary and watched for a while, I read De Imitatione Christi (craftily my Latin homework, but it's still devotional and edifying in the reading). I only brought one chapter, so after I had read it I took up the Altar Missal. At this point, my little friend came over to sit next to me, and together (in hushed voices) we went through the Latin of the Missal, beginning, appropriately, with the Feast of Corpus Christi. I found the instruction in the presence of Our Lord not at all untoward and I am sure that it will bring grace and consolation to both of us - almost it reached the loftiness of a spiritual talk. I'd love to be able to teach Latin one day.

That's pretty much it up to now. I left the church at 3:00am again; I'd have stayed longer only I have to work tomorrow (well today actually!) and I need to catch up on some sleep anyway. I am looking forward to the next Mass. Mac has some photos on her blog. More information on Sunday afternoon. Glory be to God!

The above image is Gustave Dore's rendering of the Beatific Vision, as imagined by Dante in The Divine Comedy. I post this image because the spiritual graces of a Quarant' Ore can be so great that they bring about visions and miracles. During a Quarant' Ore at his parish church in 1944, J.R.R Tolkien saw a vision of the Light of God in the Blessed Sacrament. I shall post more on that soon...

Friday, 23 October 2009

Quarant' Ore...

We're having the Quarant' Ore at Blackfen presently. Apparently it is also going to be held at Ealing Abbey. It is a first for many of us. I think, however, that I am on Candle-replacement duty (being at least a tonsured cleric and all!) so I best get a ''bite'' to eat and be off...

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

All this ''conversion'' etc...

I seem to be the only one in the Blogosphere silent on this issue of Anglicans and their reception into the Church. Well, it is only a kind of reception really. If they're being given all these ''privileges,'' I daresay for ''pastoral'' reasons, such as being allowed to retain their tomfool traditions and married ''clergy,'' then I can't say that this is a real conversion at all. And all this is because of the obvious shortcomings of Anglicanism - all those women and homosexual priests etc. Speaking as a cradle Catholic, I can't honestly imagine how anyone could ever have been convinced with any conviction of any of the truths of Faith as an Anglican. Anglicanism, from the outside, all seems to be riddled with pretentious theological cop-outs, half-traditions and just has a sinister air about it. If the reception of so many Anglicans into the Church is because of the issue of women Bishops, just as there was a major influx of them into the Church 15 years ago with the introduction of women priests, then my confessedly cynical mind tells me that this is just reactionary, and therefore not based on real theological conviction at all. In a way, I find it personally insulting. Because it seems to me that, by implication, they view the Church as a ''second best thing'' almost, or worse, as a place to fly to to suit their lukewarm theological views. What better time than in a post-Conciliar church!

Why can't they be received into the Church as Tolkien was in 1900? The traditional and proper way: complete repudiation of Anglicanism, with all the scaffolding and silly, meaningless BCP ritual. We must remember that the Book of Common Prayer is full of theological barbs, hostile to Catholicism, and that for all the Church's endeavours to purge it of such barbs, there are undoubtedly going to remain one or two; evil seeds sown in the dark by Cranmer, ready to grow into evil fruit to the detriment of the Faith. Cranmer, remember, understood Liturgy and hated it. And one only has to look at certain recent Anglican converts to the Faith to see what they might bring with them...

That is not to say that there are not many sincere Anglicans who have no doubt ''seen the Light'' and desire a genuine reconciliation with the Church. For such as these, I thank God for their conversion.

A frivolous post...

Sigh...the year is fading fast, so evanescent, and the clocks go back soon, cold and dark as the realm of Morgoth. I find little solace in Tolkien at present, who seems a tad ''samey,'' (would that I had the pleasure of meeting him again for the first time!) and I fear for myself - maybe this is just an off day though. I wonder if readers have had similar feelings? For many months I have been troubled by nightmares of immanent and permanent failure, among other equally troubling thoughts. I know how odd that sounds, but such are the ambivalent thoughts turning over in my mind of minds at present. I think I need a holiday or something, a real one, not just ''time off.'' Blogging may be sporadic over the next few days, for there are some important things coming up and it wouldn't do for me to be distracted by this silly blog!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Ars scribendi...

The general consensus seems to be that my style of writing is very good. I am, confessedly, rather surprised by this because I had not heretofore considered my writing to be any better than your average genius...that absurdly grandiose and arrogant quip being my Sunday attempt at humour. I am sure HH Zephyrinus II knows what I mean...

Writing requires some skill, I suppose, and intelligence. But there is probably more to it than mere skill. Superlative writing, such as you will find in the works of Tolkien, Wilde, Dante, St Augustine, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy (I have, of course, deliberately missed out many worthy writers) probably requires some art beyond skill, a special Grace from God perhaps. My own writing, however (and not that I would dream of comparing this frivolous blog endeavour to any great author), suffers something grievous. Some posts, when I read them back to myself after they are published, lack something. I think either that they are poorly expressed (as is often the case, I can't seem to articulate some thoughts - if they are ineffable then this is to be expected, but often this is not the case), have an impoverished vocabulary, or, having ''writer's block'' (as I do right at this moment, incidentally!), I make recourse to the same modes of expression and the same words (those of you who read my post about Westminster might recall that I kept saying ''beautiful'' this, and ''marvellous'' that), or I seem to fall short of actually making a point about something - this is often the case with my academic writings.

Someone suggested that I should get some of the material on this blog published. I am flattered that you think my writing is that good (whoever said it, I can't presently remember), but who would publish it, and why, and for whom? I'd have to expand and edit some of it, of course, but how do you distinguish between what is and what isn't publishable? I think I would only publish stuff for pecuniary reasons...perhaps I'd never have to work at...that place...again. If so, great! Modern literature does, of course, portray a terrible crisis of artistic competence. When I read English Literature at GCSE, we had to read the most atrocious prose and poetry imaginable from a green anthology...St Paul's Compendium of C**p I called it, and it put me off pursuing literature to A Level. Would that I had designed the Syllabus! But this rubbish modern literature, or what passes for literature at any rate, needs to be done away with and perhaps those with the talent for writing ought to replace it. The same goes for ''Harry Potter,'' a series I had not hitherto mentioned on this blog; I loathe it cordially. God help the poor children who read it, to the ruin of their taste! I am, after all, enraged by the mere fact of its existence! O tempora! O mores!

Anyway, lamely I must conclude this post as my bedroom looks like the playground of an insane child...well perhaps not that bad, but there are books and papers scattered about the place and this needs to be sorted. Naturally, having Asperger Syndrome, I am meticulous and tidy in almost every detail, but to be so inclined requires lots of time, and at the moment, this is exactly what I lack. Yes, I could have attended to it on Friday, but I was completely disinclined.


A correspondent (gosh that sounds grandiose!) sent me information about an interesting event coming up soon at the Oratory. On 29th October, Fr Thomas Crean, O.P, will be speaking on The Kingship of Christ and Religious Liberty. Fr Crean is the author of the best-selling A Catholic Replies to Professor Dawkins, and has recently published an excellent work of Catholic apologetic entitled Letters to a Non-Believer. The question of religious liberty has been one of the hottest potatoes of theological debate in recent decades. Father Crean has studied the subject in depth. Please come along if you are 18-35 and bring your friends. If you are new, do make yourself known to Fr Julian Large. As usual: refreshments afterwards.

So that's 8:00pm on Thursday 29th October AD, 2009 in St Wilfrid's Hall...

Friday, 16 October 2009

''Suicide'' in The Lord of the Rings...

I have just voted on that poll of the University of Bath on assisted suicide. Is there a more monstrous concept? Imagine standing before God on the Day of Judgement and having ''accomplice in the murder of a loved one'' on the list of one's sins. I shiver to think of my own position on that dreadful Day, and I have never made recourse to anti-Evangelical and anti-Life ''answers'' to problems that can be resolved through earnest prayer and repentance. If only people had thought not only for this life but for eternity. It basically means that not only the poor terminally ill victim has the ultimate sins of Pride and Despair on their conscience but also the accomplice in their unfortunate death. At least two people written out of the Book of Life...not to mention the lunatic Babel-building doctors and scientists who devise such abominable notions, and all in the name of ''mercy.'' Evil delusions and lies...

Suicide is dealt with few times in Tolkien, but where it is mentioned, it is rightly seen as tragic. Those familiar with The Lord of the Rings will perhaps remember this passage:

'''He will not wake again,' said Denethor. 'Battle is vain. Why should we wish to live longer? Why should we not go to death side by side?'
'Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death,' answered Gandalf. 'And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death.''' (The Lord of the Rings, Book V, Chapter VII, The Pyre of Denethor).

One of the early critics of The Lord of the Rings (I can't presently remember his name) criticized the book for containing no reference to religion. Sorry, mate, you've completely missed the point! It was Tolkien's genius to make little mention of cults (where they are mentioned, they are associated with worship of the Dark Lord, who surrounds his abode with fire) or religious practices - and yet the absence of any overt religion makes the very air of Middle-earth heavy with a deep and refreshing religious fragrance. You only have to have senses to perceive it, like small, but significant, nuggets like this quotation. Rather like the Liturgy - God reveals Himself through veiling.

Interestingly, one of the most important ends of the Istari (or Wizards) was to save the minds of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth from corruption, as much as their physical selves and their lands. Their angelic powers (they were angelic beings, the Maiar, akin to the ancient Valar) were directed primarily towards encouragement of Elves and Men to good, to deeds of valour, to unite and endure - ultimately, to put away visions of Despair and ruin. Tolkien saw them as somewhat consonant with our Guardian Angels...except that the only one who remained true to his mission was Gandalf, in a sense, the ''Guardian Angel'' of the West against the tyranny of Sauron. Imagine how he was greeted when the White Ship docked in the Bay of Eldamar...

The above painting is by Ted Nasmith, the famous Tolkien illustrator, and depicts Gandalf coming to the rescue of Faramir with Pippin through Rath Dínen. Again, not as I imagined that Street at all, but then I can't project the images of my mind onto this blog unfortunately...

The Lay of Leithian, Part III...

Let us return to the beautiful Lay of Leithian. We have seen that Daeron the Minstrel had long espied the meetings of Lúthien and Beren and that at last he had betrayed the lovers to the King. In wonder and anger Thingol spoke to his daughter, and...

Then Lúthien stepped lightly forth:
''Far in the mountain-leaguered North,
my father,'' said she, ''lies the land
that groans beneath King Morgoth's hand.
Thence came one hither, bent and worn
in wars and travail, who had sworn
undying hatred of that king;
the last of Bëor's sons, they sing,
and even hither far and deep
within thy woods the echoes-creep
through the wild mountain-passes cold,
the last of Bëor's house to hold
a sword unconquered, neck unbowed,
a heart by evil power uncowed.
No evil needst thou think or fear
of Beren son of Barahir!
If aught thou hast not flesh nor limb,
and I will lead him to thy hall,
a son of kings, no mortal thrall.''
Downward with gentle hand she led
through corridors of carven dread
whose turns were lit by lanterns hung
or flames from torches that were flung
on dragons hewn in the cold stone
with jewelled eyes and teeth of bone.
Then sudden, deep beneath the earth
the silences with silver mirth
were shaken and the rocks were ringing,
the birds of Melian were singing;
and wide the ways of shadow spread
as into archéd halls she led
Beren in wonder. There a light
like day immortal and like night
of stars unclouded, shone and gleamed.
A vault of topless trees it seemed,
whose trunks of carven stone there stood
like towers of an enchanted wood
in magic fast for ever bound,
bearing a roof whose branches wound
in endless tracery of green
lit by some leaf-emprisoned sheen
of moon and sun, and wrought of gems,
and each leaf hung on golden stems.
Lo! there amid immortal flowers
the nightingales in shining bowers
sang o'er the head of Melian,
while water for ever dripped and ran
from fountains in the rocky floor.
There Thingol sat. His crown he wore
of green and silver, and round his chair
a host in gleaming armour fair.
Then Beren looked upon the king
and stood amazed; and swift a ring
of elvish weapons hemmed him round.
Then Beren looked upon the ground,
for Melian's gaze had sought his face,
and dazed there drooped he in that place,
and when the king spake deep and slow:
''Who art thou stumblest hither? Know
that none unbidden seek this throne
and ever leave these halls of stone!''
no word he answered, filled with dread.
But Lúthien answered in his stead:
''Behold, my father, one who came
pursued by hatred like a flame!
Lo! Beren son of Barahir!
What need hath he thy wrath to fear,
foe of our foes, without a friend,
whose knees to Morgoth do not bend?''
''Let Beren answer!'' Thingol said.
''What wouldst thou here? What hither led
thy wandering feet, O mortal wild?
How hast thou Lúthien beguiled
or darest thus to walk this wood
unasked, in secret? Reason good
'twere best declare now if thou may,
or never again see light of day!''
Then Beren looked in Lúthien's eyes
and saw a light of starry skies,
and thence was slowly drawn his gaze
to Melian's face. As from a maze
of wonder dumb he woke; his heart
the bonds of awe there burst apart
and filled with the fearless pride of old;
in his glance now gleamed an anger cold.
''My feet hath fate, O king,'' he said,
''here over the mountains bleeding led,
and what I sought not I have found,
and love it is hath here me bound.
Thy dearest treasure I desire;
nor rocks nor steel nor Morgoth's fire
nor all the power of Elfinesse
shall keep that gem I would possess.
For fairer than are born to Men
A daughter hast thou, Lúthien.''
(The History of Middle-earth, Volume III, The Lays of Beleriand, pp 187-190).

Antiphona ad Offertorium...

I have often said before that I enjoy Requiem Masses - indeed, I would replace (were I ''in charge'' of things) boring Ferial Masses with Requiems for the suffering souls in Purgatory, since this is very important. I have only ever MCd one Requiem Missa Cantata before and so, trying to focus upon the ceremonies, didn't have much of an opportunity, nor have I since, to peruse the texts of the Mass - trying to remember things like ''Rex tremendae maiestatis,'' and ''Qui Mariam absolvisti,'' no candles for the Gospel, etc. I did a little of this yesterevening in the Sacristy with the old Missal, and I read the Offertory verse to myself. Isolated from my dictionary, I had to ask Fr Finigan what certain odd words meant (all of which turned out to be what I had guessed they meant anyway), and it was quite lovely. Here is the Offertory verse with my translation:

Domine Iesu Christe, Rex gloriae, libera animas omnium fidelium defunctorum de poenis inferni et de profundo lacu: libera eas de ore leonis, ne absorbeat eas tartarus, ne cadant in obscurum: sed signifer sanctus Michael repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam: Quam olim Abrahae promisisti, et semini eius. ℣ Hostias et preces tibi, Domine laudis offerimus: tu supplice pro animabus illis, quarum hodie memoriam facimus: fac eas, Domine, de morte transire ad vitam: Quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini eius. O Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, set the souls of all the faithful departed at liberty from the pains of Hell and from the deep lake; free them from the mouth of the lion, neither let them be absorbed into Tartarus, nor let them fall into obscurity: but let the holy standard-bearer Michael show them the holy light: as you once promised to Abraham and to his seed. ℣ To you, O Lord, we offer sacrifices and prayers of praise: you receive them for those souls, of whom today we make memory: make them, O Lord, to pass from death unto life: as you once promised to Abraham and to his seed.

Let's have more High Masses of Requiem and less Low Mass...! The above painting shouldn't need an introduction, but it is William Blake's rendering of the Last Judgement. It's awfully plain isn't it?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

I forgot to mention...

Being wrapped up in the Relics of St Thérèse and Latin and other things, I forgot to pay my due respects to St Edward the Confessor, the penultimate Anglo-Saxon King of the English (although he was technically half-Norman through his mother Emma, and his mother tongue was Norman-French, and he had lived in Normandy for 30 years since his mother had brought the young prince as a child refugee from the wars between the Saxons and the Danes!), who happens to be one of my favourite Saints. I think he should be, as he was in the days of the Angevins, the Patron Saint of this Isle. He at least had something to do with it. In a certain sense, he was ''bullied'' or ''forced'' into a religious life by Godwin, Earl of Wessex, but he got his ''revenge'' if that can be said of a Saint, by producing no children by Godwin's daughter, thrust upon him in marriage in 1045. He was a saintly man and a wise king, and his reign was good (even if he kept having to look over his shoulder at Godwin). I am yet, however, to read the famous Vita Ædwardi Regis. Tolkien probably knew it well. I believe, though I am not sure, that it was at around his time that the Sovereigns were first called the ''kinsman and advocate of the poor.'' Here is my translation of the Collect for his Mass. I did this in the Sacristy whilst going through the old Missal before Benediction this evening:

Deus, qui beatem regem Eduardum Confessorem tuum aeternitatis gloria coronasti: fac nos, quaesumus; ita eum venerari in terris, ut cum eo regnare possimus in caelis. Per Dominum. O God, who has crowned blessed Edward thy Confessor with eternal glory: make us, we beseech thee, so as to venerate him on earth that we may be able to reign with him in heaven. Through the Lord.

St Edward the Confessor, pray for us.

And now...

It has been a long old week for me, but very eventful and fulfilling. I have been very busy and tired (although, not half as busy as some people I know, I'll warrant) these last few days especially, and my head is still buzzing from Tuesday. I had Latin this morning, the highlight of any week (although clearly not this week), 2 hours of utter bliss - shame it is only one lesson a week - they really ought to have lessons everyday, but I don't decide that sort of thing. As it turns out, my Latin teacher was at Westminster on Wednesday to see St Thérèse. She queued up for only a short while, then one of the stewards (a former student) noticed her and ushered her to the front! Lucky for some, although I enjoyed waiting - it seemed to be part of the whole, if that makes sense. I did my boring homework in the Library this afternoon, after which I checked my emails (I only had one!), and then finished my translation of Book I, Chapter I of The Imitation of Christ. I'll post that after I go over it. I am still working on my post about Tolkien and liturgical reform. It is one of those things that I should have finished the day I started it (over a week ago!) but I just haven't found the time. Tomorrow, being the only day of the week where I am technically not required to be anywhere or do anything, I plan to spend entirely to myself - although I'll probably end up doing something anyway. Maybe I'll return to The Lay of Leithian...

By the way, if I hear anything more about essays I shall boil over...

Forgiveness from Frodo...

Quite apart from the high sentiments of great and Marian Catholicism in The Lord of the Rings (I am quite sure Tolkien would find this rendering too ''solemn!'') are the good, solid, earthy and very Hobbit-like virtues which are so intrinsic to our Faith. One of these is Forgiveness. A favourite chapter of mine in The Lord of the Rings comes at the very end of the Book, which, as you'd expect, was simply ignored in the film trilogy:

''Saruman looked round at their hostile faces and smiled. 'Kill him!' he mocked. 'Kill him, if you think there are enough of you, my brave hobbits!' He drew himself up and stared at them darkly with his black eyes. 'But do not think that when I lost all my goods I lost all my power! Whoever strikes me shall be accursed. And if my blood stains the Shire, it shall wither and never again be healed'
The hobbits recoiled. But Frodo said: 'Do not believe him! He has lost all power, save his voice that can still daunt and deceive you, if you let it. But I will not have him slain. It is useless to meet revenge with revenge; it will heal nothing. Go, Saruman, by the speediest way!'
'Worm! Worm!' Saruman called; and out of a nearby hut came Wormtongue, crawling, almost like a dog. 'To the road again, Worm!' said Saruman. 'These fine fellows and lordlings are turning us adrift again. Come along!'
Saruman turned to go, and Wormtongue shuffled after him. But even as Saruman passed close to Frodo a knife flashed in his hand, and he stabbed swiftly. The blade turned on the hidden mail-coat and snapped. A dozen hobbits, led by Sam, leaped forward with a cry and flung the villain to the ground. Sam drew his sword.
'No, Sam!' said Frodo. 'Do not kill him even now. For he has not hurt me. And in any case I do not wish him to be slain in this evil mood. He was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against. He is fallen, and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it.'
Saruman rose to his feet, and stared at Frodo. There was a strange look in his eyes of mingled wonder, and respect and hatred. 'You have grown, Halfling,' he said. 'Yes, you have grown very much. You are wise, and cruel. You have robbed my revenge of sweetness, and now I must go hence in bitterness, in debt to your mercy. I hate it and you! Well, I go and I will trouble you no more. But do not expect me to wish you health and long life. You will have neither. But that is not my doing. I merely foretell.''' (The Lord of the Rings, Book VI, Chapter VIII, The Scouring of the Shire).

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

The Little Flower...

Flos, flos, florem has always been one of my favourite Declensions in Latin, and I see that in a new light now. This evening I went to Westminster Cathedral to reverence the Relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux. I arrived at the Piazza at around 7:30pm and was greeted immediately by the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, who come regularly to Mass at Blackfen. They gave me one of their medals, which was sweet. I joined the queue, which was very long for a weekday evening, and we marched ''forward in faith,'' as it were, slowly. Passers by asked me questions about what was going on, and I was delighted to tell them what little I know about St Thérèse, although I wish that I had known more. There was an awful Ecumenical Service going on which I could see and hear on a big screen just off Morpeth Terrace as I was queuing up, but fortunately that was over by the time I got to the West Doors.

Anyway, I got to the doors after about 35 minutes queueing and bought two Roses. The procession inside the Cathedral was somewhat quicker than outside, and it was very touching to see the many devout and decorous Faithful kneeling in the side chapels and clutching their Rosaries, or in many cases just their Roses, or kneeling in silent prayer by the many votive candles. The grand organ was still playing after the service, and as I drew nearer and nearer to the Relics, encased in a glass box, something stirred in me, and a dam broke. It was at this point that I started to cry and clutched tightly at my beautiful roses for comfort and solace. I became oblivious then to the crowds, which, in spite of my snobbery the other day, weren't as bad as I thought they'd be, and the sole ultimate focus of my heart and mind was this exquisite Reliquary in the centre of the Nave. At length, I came even to the wonderful saint herself and felt something move, as subtle as it was profound, and my eyes welled with tears, thinking about my sins and the great privilege of being in the presence of this beautiful Saint. I wept with the most bitter contrition, but also in the knowing of God's presence, mediated by the Relics of this most beautiful Saint, and shared by so many Catholics in and outside the Cathedral. Of course, it was all too brief, and I was swept aside, and after a brief moment of silent prayer before the Relics, I was obliged to go off. I retired to a packed side Chapel to pray and knelt in the midst of all these roses. I got up, and went out.

I wandered about for a while without purpose, but then returned to the Piazza. It was at this point, on my way home, that I bumped into Joanna Bogle again - purely by chance! She is so marvellous, wise and very witty, and we talked for about two hours. She was there handing out leaflets for her Catholic History Walks, and I think I shall make the effort next time - they do sound fantastic! We talked about many things, but probably the most appropriate thing was the sizeable crowds, not a single file of elderly women but people of all ages - in front of me in the queue in fact was a young family with a small baby. We both agreed that Catholicism in England was vibrant, popular and very much alive - and you can't get any more Catholic than visiting the Relics of a Saint! What a marvellous and memorable evening, certainly one of the chief events of my adult life - and I had no particular devotion to St Thérèse before this week. That will change as of now, and in fact, I shall add her face to my ''saint-roll'' thingy in the side-bar!

I hope that others who visited the Relics had as wonderful an experience as I did. God bless o/

How we see ourselves...

Fr Hunwicke has a very resonant post on his blog about Identity. I have often wrestled with this point in my short, albeit evanescent life. I say evanescent because I lay in bed this morning and while staring at the ceiling I was comparing my life to that of a friend of mine 10 years my junior. I simply thought that ''10 years has gone by pretty quick'' and began to wonder what good I had done, or had been rendered unto me, in that time. I don't tend to have sentimental feelings about trivial things, but lately a sense of melancholy or loss, even of impending loss, has been creeping into the dark corners of my mind. Things aren't permanent, things can be lost, one can become lost, and frankly, I am feeling pretty hopeless about things at present. I am only 21, but I feel old - ridiculous though that may seem - and, well, wasted. There are things that I feel ought to have been done by now - I should have gone on the Grand Tour of Italy (after the manner, not in every grim detail mind you! of the 18th century Grand Tourist), I should have my Degree, I should be reading Classics, I should be well rid of that nightmare of a job by now. But I seem to be stuck in some sort of mire of procrastination, and a grim stasis of immediate and fruitless pleasures - all the while I feel the winds of change and progress passing me by, quite literally.

I read a most interesting memoir once, called Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen, a woman about 40 years older than I who has Borderline Personality Disorder (I am aware that there is a film, loosely based on the memoir, with the same name - just don't bother going to see it, it's rubbish). I enjoy works of this kind because they are very personal and eloquent - The Lord of the Rings is a similar work in this sense, it is very personal. In fact, shortly before publication, Tolkien wrote to his friend Fr Robert Murray, SJ, and remarked: ''I have exposed my heart to be shot at.'' This memoir narrates in a somewhat erratic and jumpy fashion her experiences in the McLean Hospital in the late 1960s, when she was my age. In a chapter called aptly ''Velocity and Viscosity,'' she says that mental illnesses (that is, of course, if one links Asperger Syndrome with a ''mental illness'' - I don't, nor do I consider myself to be disabled) come in two forms: slow and fast. This is not to do with onset or duration, but the quality of the illness itself. For example, the quality of a ''slow'' kind of illness would be viscosity. Kaysen does not list Asperger Syndrome in the list (it was not generally known in the '60s), but things like catatonia, depression etc. She writes:

''Experience is thick. Perceptions are thickened and dulled. Time is slow, dripping slowly through the clogged filter of thickened perception. The body temperature is low. The pulse is sluggish. The immune system is half-asleep. The organism is torpid and brackish. Even the reflexes are diminished, as if the lower leg couldn't be bothered to jerk itself out of its stupor when the knee is tapped.''

I can identify with this plethora of perceptions, to a limited extent. This is not to say, however, that my existence is juxtaposed to a constant lethargy. I think that I would contrast this experience of viscosity with the fact that my own existence seems slow but I am also at once aware that it is slow, I am aware of the plethora of perceptions and their qualities, but being aware, I cannot do anything about it. The experience is like putting one's head out of a fast-travelling car window, closing one's eyes, and feeling the wind and the sun - or that memorable and more than resonant quote from The Lord of the Rings: ''It was that more than the drag of the Ring that made him cower and stoop as he walked. The Eye: that horrible growing sense of a hostile will that strove with great power to pierce all shadows of cloud, and earth, and flesh, and to see you: to pin you under its deadly gaze, naked, immovable. So thin, so frail and thin, the veils were become that still warded it off. Frodo knew just where the present habitation and heart of that will now was: as certainly as a man can tell the direction of the sun with his eyes shut. He was facing it, and its potency beat upon his brow.''

It is a prejudice to equate Procrastination with laziness, but it so happens that people do. They are mistaken, of course, grievously so. As a student, I am expected to write essays and meet deadlines. Someone said once that meeting deadlines is like training to jump through a succession of hoops. Sometimes, however, it is quite impossible, and I fail in a severe kind of way. Say I am expected to write an essay with this title: To what extent are the modern ideas of Inter-religious dialogue and Ecumenism annexed to Relativism? This is a cogent question, but difficult to answer. Since one of the criterion for Asperger Syndrome is the presence of restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, thoughts and interests, my approach to this question is bound to be marked by the transfixingly repetitive thoughts already being repeated in my mind over, and over, and over again in so many waves - the Latin word for wave is ''unda'' from which we get our ''inundate'' - this word encapsulates the feeling in this odd way. And so, if this does not seem altogether incomprehensible, my approach to the question is impossibly difficult. It is like my thoughts - and I think constantly - are battling one with the other, or since they are transfixed and immovable sometimes, at least trying to shout each other down. Rather like the Music of the Ainur in a certain sense, with the discord of the music of Melkor, as a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes, making endless war upon the Ainur. It is rather like thinking about something ineffable and trying to articulate it - it is quite impossible. Imagine a clogged filter, with water dripping slowly through. It is like approaching an essay, an essay about a subject I have no interest in, dislodges an avalanche of thoughts that get stuck somewhere. Where do they get stuck, and why? That, I think, no one will ever know, but the answer to that question is, I suppose, the answer to all my problems...

In writing essays, I get bogged down with frivolities and minute details. I remember one essay I wrote, for which I was given a measly 2:1, I spent two days, two valuable days, ruminating over the subtler philological and theological implications of one word. In essays at Undergraduate level, this is neither encouraged nor appropriate, nor does it gain one extra marks with the tutor. I find that by focusing on details I am loosing marks. But why is this so? No one else seems to bother with details. It irritates me when I read in tomes or other books things like: ''we must needs move on for want of space'' or ''it will suffice to give a mere résumé of its contents.'' It irritates me because details are important and tributary to the whole. I have often been accused of ''not seeing the wood for the trees'' but why is this bad? Without details there would be no trees, no woodland. In an essay criteria, I am often awarded a ''satisfactory'' or even ''poor'' mark for ''focus on key issues.''

Wasting one's time thinking is an enjoyable pursuit, at least to me. I could quite literally entertain myself for years at a time just by thinking. I think about everything and anything. Thinking almost makes my job bearable, I just escape, although it doesn't always work. However, trying to think about essays and how best to complete them without being too meticulous causes immense amounts of stress. You may ask: would you wish to change your mind, your peculiar mind, for a mind better suited to academic success - sausage factory mentality in other words - just to pass your degree? I would say no, emphatically NO. I just wish that it were easier. The grievous thing about my sort of thinking, though, is that time passes by so quickly. This may be a rather lame way to end this post, but I suppose I can only re-echo Lord Henry's admonition to Dorian Gray:

''The world belongs to you for a season....The moment I met you I saw that you were quite unconscious of what you really are, of what you really might be. There was so much in you that charmed me that I felt I must tell you something about yourself. I thought how tragic it would be if you were wasted. For there is such a little time that your youth will last - such a little time. The common hill-flowers wither, but they blossom again. The laburnum will be as yellow next June as it is now. In a month there will be purple stars on the clematis, and year after year the green night of its leaves will hold its purple stars. But we never get back our youth. The pulse of joy that beats in us at twenty, becomes sluggish. Our limbs fail, our senses rot. We degenerate into hideous puppets, haunted by the memory of the passions of which we were too much afraid, and the exquisite temptations that we had not the courage to yield to. Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!'' (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Chapter II).

I am by no means advocating hedonism as the cure for perpetual stasis, but there must be something I can do. At the moment, I am enjoying Latin - I find great joy in translation. Unfortunately, I began this post by thinking about one's ''identity.'' I suppose I had better conclude by at least saying something about that! What I have written sort of evolved with the telling, and it has been interesting to relate. I suppose I most identify with a wandering Sindarin Elf in Beleriand in the quiet of the world before the return of Morgoth, or your average northern barbarian newly acquainted with the Classics - perhaps even taken to Rome by the legions. What is my purpose in life? Lord only knows...I just think that perhaps my mind is an anomaly, an enigma to the whole, I just don't quite fit in, and can only watch as the time goes by...

These are probably ravings, so forgive me if they seem altogether incomprehensible!

Aesthetics and all that...

What is the most beautiful thing in this world? I was thinking about that during the boring Ferial Mass shorn of appropriate commemorations this evening. You'd think that as Master of Ceremonies I'd be focused upon the Celebrant and Servers, but to my sorrow, my mind wandered. Beauty is not, however, something inappropriate to meditate during Mass. I have oft thought of that now hackneyed and irritating expression: ''beauty is in the eye of the beholder.'' It seems to suggest a relativistic and subjective view of the nature of beauty (beauty and beautiful are themselves, incidentally, aesthetically unpleasing words, and are quite embarrassing to say - and to hear sometimes), that the object is a tabula rasa, as it were, with the ''beholder'' projecting upon this faceless object a vision of loveliness - but perhaps there is at least some truth in it. The face of one's beloved is, I suppose, the most beautiful thing to someone in love. The Blessed Sacrament is the most beautiful thing in the world to a homo religiosus. I wonder what the most beautiful thing in the world is to me? I think that to be pierced by something so wonderful, such as reading The Field of Cormallen in The Lord of the Rings, or experiencing the eucatastrophic High Mass, a Marian Feast day, or to be haunted in the most profound and religious sense by the memory of a beautiful loved one (or relative, whatever) is the most beautiful thing in this world, as it suggests purity and poignancy. It is certainly a source of consolation amidst cares and griefs, that however miserable life might be sometimes (and it is downright miserable sometimes), God is the supreme author of loveliness. I had these thoughts also a few nights ago when walking home from church late at night after Benediction. I looked at the Moon, glowing in a frozen sky through the grey clouds, kindled tremulously to silver. My thought was that no one had ever painted it, and that the vision was therefore evanescent, and would disappear beyond all recall, even mine, but that I was privileged to see it. It was extraordinarily pretty. If only all things could be beautiful, as emanating from the love and light of God...

Are these ravings?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Sitemeter question...

I have just checked my Sitemeter, and one of the referrals to my blog today came from a google question, namely: ''was J.R.R Tolkien an atheist?''

I have no doubt that the question was asked sincerely, but I ask: are atheists even capable of creating works of aesthetic genius?

Which is better...?

Today I have been thinking somewhat about Mass and Vespers. Mass is the jewel in the crown of the Church's liturgical tradition, the meeting point between Heaven and Earth, but which is better? A Solemn Vespers in the Old Rite with six Pluvialistae, sung beautifully by a professional choir in a beautiful church such as Spanish Place or the Oratory, with the ritual carried out splendidly and reverently by the Servers, or a Low Mass in the New Rite with vulgar vernacular hymns? Am I focused too much on the ''externals'' of liturgy? That might well be a charge brought against me by a narrow-minded Modernist, making excuses for an impoverished and somewhat aliturgical ceremony, but we must remember that ceremonies are not the mere window-dressing of Liturgy. Sacred ceremonies go right to the heart of the Church's mystery, and therefore it might be asked...which is superior Liturgy? Sometimes I think that the many, too many, Masses that are on offer have made the mystery of the Mass seem complacent and commonplace to some, even the most sincere Catholics - perhaps a contributing factor in the grotesque liturgical reforms of the 20th century, and therefore sung Office has been pushed to one side. I would rather have Mass in the morning and sung Vespers in the evening, as of old, at least on Sundays. Do away with evening Masses and bring back sung Office!

Friday, 9 October 2009

The Relics of St Thérèse...

The Relics of St Thérèse have arrived at Aylesford Priory. We used to go there for Mass on our patronal Feast Day and for Corpus Christi when I was at school, and I enjoyed it there - well everything except the Mass itself of course. I have an excuse not to visit Aylesford tomorrow - I have to work - but I doubt I'd go even if I could. I am all for the reverence and veneration of Relics - it is a beautiful and intrinsic part of Catholic devotion - but I can only recall my experience of Cologne Cathedral four years ago when I went to World Youth Day. The Cathedral was so packed it vastly ruined any sense of awe or sacredness that one would have felt otherwise. My ideal experience would be to visit the Relics of the Saint in a dark and holy church at night, with only the light of votive candles to go by, and to spend about half an hour before them in silent prayer, alone. Unfortunately, at events such as these, one has to put up with people, and lots of them.

Those of you who have read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, may recall that dream the boy often had...

Latin lessons...

Forgive the lack of posts but I have been very busy these last few days. It's good to be ''back to normal'' after such a long, and somewhat stressful, holiday. I am still tired. I was dragged out by my mother to the country today - normally I enjoy days out to the country but it was damp and miserable out, and I was tired. And I have work tomorrow, o me miserum!

On Thursday I had my first Latin lesson of the Michaelmas term, and enjoyed it thoroughly. We did various ''warm-up'' exercises, one of them being a poem by Catullus about Clodia (since it was apparently ''national poetry day'') which reads: Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris. Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior. My translation was: ''I hate and I love. You will ask wherefore I do this. I know not, but I feel it being done, and I am tormented.'' Certainly an ambivalent poem. The next ''warm-up'' exercise was from the works of Ælfric of Eynsham, a 10th century Anglo-Saxon monk and homilist. The work itself is called Ælfric's Colloquy, written for boys learning Latin in a monastery at the end of the 10th century. It's quite humorous actually, and easy to read. What struck me though was this: Unusquisque scit si flagellatus erat an non [''everyone knows if he has been beaten or not'']. Now, when I read that, I asked the teacher whether ''erat'' should not be ''esset,'' naturally because ''si'' makes the sentence a conditional clause and that the verb should take the subjunctive. I was right! I was then told to go and do a Classics degree (I would if I could), but apparently this is incomplete - since I have opted to use the subjunctive ''esset.'' then ''an non'' should then be changed to ''necne'' - so said a most erudite Latinist to me yesterevening. My teacher explained that this was because of the general declension in the knowledge of Latin at around this time...

Afterwards, I went into the Library and photocopied a few chapters from De Imitatione Christi (a 1900 edition) and translated the first three paragraphs of Book I, Chapter I. I aim to have this translated by the end of Sunday. I won't look at it this evening, I am too tired. I shall just retire to my room and read some Tolkien. I am currently working on a post about J.R.R Tolkien and 20th century liturgical reform (inspired by the edifying events of Tuesday), but I wouldn't expect that anytime soon! Maybe next week sometime, it's quite long. Now that would be a great doctoral thesis! The above image is from a manuscript by Ælfric depicting the construction of the Tower of Babel - how appropriate for a post about languages!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

A Study day in Breviary reform...

This morning I made my way down to Blackfen for a Study Day of the Society of St Catherine of Siena on the St Pius X reforms of the Roman Breviary 1911-1913. Rubricarius of the St Lawrence Press delivered a most fascinating lecture (you can download it on his blog) on the subject, going through the Hours of the Divine Office and making various comparisons between different Uses (such as the Monastic Breviary), even different Rites such as the Byzantine Rite, and going through the various reasons for reform and how this relates to the modern Breviary and to the greater liturgical history of the Church. It was most interesting and edifying. One thing made everyone giggle - he said that if you imagined everyday in Lent as a ferial day, at the end of the week you'd have recited over 400 Psalms (the ferial offices being notoriously long) under the pre-1911 rubrics!

After the talk we had a short service of Benediction with a prayer for priests. I have only served Benediction on my own once before, and it was rather tricky having to juggle the offices of MC and Thurifer, but apparently my serving didn't appear too outrageous! Then we had a delicious lunch in the large hall - we are all most grateful to the ladies who volunteered. After coffee and a nice chat, we returned to the church for pre-1911 Solemn Vespers for the Feast of St Bruno. We had the appropriate commemorations too, since we are within the Octave of Rosary Sunday! By this time Jonathan, who kindly took the day off work, had come to the rescue and we both divided the offices of Acolytes, Thurifer and Master of Ceremonies between us. It was truly splendid, and a first for the parish as we agreed afterwards - the church having been built in the '30s!

I love to attend sung Offices, particularly Vespers. Alas, though, that they occur so rarely (I have served Vespers only a handful of times in my life) - I can't see why; the practicalities for a properly ordered sung Vespers are not insurmountable. I'd personally rather attend a Sung Vespers than a Low Mass. What a boon for the Church it would be if there were more sung Office and less Low Masses!

St Bruno, pray for us.


When I woke up this morning, I was too tired to even bother getting out of bed, so when my alarm went off, I re-set it for an hour later and reluctantly got out of bed then. I don't know why I was so tired, but I expect it has been a long weekend - plus I am not feeling that well. I had a meeting at noon today so I didn't have to get up at 6:30am, which was something I guess.

The meeting over, I went into the Library to do some work, but not before bumping into my beloved Latin teacher. She asked how I was, and I said: ''Haudquaquam calor solis hodie sentio'' (I by no means feel the warmth of the Sun today) which makes no sense at all of course (as she charitably pointed out!), as calor is Nominative! As I keep saying, something will click one day! After the work (frustratingly the printers were out of order) I retired to the stacks for about two hours to do some last-minute pleasure reading before all the work starts. I picked up a 1900 edition of De Imitatione Christi and sat down to read. I had planned on perhaps completing a translation of this pious work over the Summer but those hopes were dashed because of lesser academic commitments. I realised when I got to the counter that I had left my Library card at home! Alas...

At 5:10pm I made my way to Maiden Lane for Mass. Fr Finigan was Celebrant and I was his Master of Ceremonies. It would have been a boring Ferial Mass (a missed opportunity for Tolkien's Requiem, never mind) but instead we had the Mass of St Placidus, a disciple of the great St Benedict. It was a shame that it is term time though - we'd have had a full compliment of young servers then! I have just watched that video of Fr Reginald Foster on Fr Finigan's blog and was quite touched by it. I aspire to be fluent in Latin one day, but I doubt I could ever match Reggie's enthusiasm for the language. I think I am most enthusiastic about Tolkien at present...

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Lay of Leithian, Part II...

It is told in the Lay of Leithian that Lúthien fled from Beren even as the dawn of the Day was at hand, and he lay in a swoon as one who is slain. The Lay continues:

He lay upon the leafy mould,
his face upon earth's bosom cold,
aswoon in overwhelming bliss,
enchanted of an elvish kiss,
seeing within his darkened eyes
the light that for no darkness dies,
the loveliness that doth not fade,
though all in ashes cold be laid.
And he begun the payment of anguish for the fate that was laid upon him. But beyond his hope she returned to him, and long ago in the Hidden Kingdom she laid his hand in his.
Beyond all hope her feet returned
at eve, when in the sky there burned
the flame of stars; and in her eyes
there trembled the starlight of the skies,
and from her hair the fragrance fell
of elvenflowers in elven-dell.
Great was their happiness, and together they walked the woods and sang as they went. But Daeron espied them, and he was wrathful, for he too loved Lúthien.
''Hateful art thou, O Land of Trees!
May fear and silence on thee seize!
My flute shall fall from idle hand
and mirth shall leave Beleriand;
music shall perish and voices fail
and trees stand dumb in dell and dale!''
Many noticed the hush upon the land, and Thingol asked Daeron why this should be so, and thus were Beren and Lúthien betrayed to the King.

Nivea! Nivea!

Since it is a special Marian feast in our parish, I thought I'd post one of my favourite ''Marian'' hymns from The Lord of the Rings. Enjoy:
Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear!
O Queen beyond the Western Seas!
O Light to us that wander here
amid the world of woven trees!
Gilthoniel! O Elbereth!
Clear are thy eyes and bright thy breath!
Snow-white! Snow-white! We sing to thee
in a far land beyond the Sea.
O stars that in the Sunless Year
with shining hands by her were sown,
in windy fields now bright and clear
we see your silver blossom blown!

O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
in this far land beneath the trees,
thy starlight on the Western Seas.

J.R.R Tolkien kept a Rosary forever at his bedside. He was so pious...


I have to go back out in a minute for the Rosary Procession at my parish, but I thought I'd squeeze a quick post in before so. Yesterday morning at Mass and Benediction I began to think about things I had not really truly considered before. It occurred during the O Salutaris Hostia that I realised that I was chanting along with the very same liturgical hymns that J.R.R Tolkien himself would have chanted. Of course, I knew this before, but I hadn't thought much about it, as it were. This is one of the amazing things about the Catholic faith; it is catholic across time as well as space - linguistically too, not just in terms of the faith. Since the genius of the Church is to use a non-vernacular Sacred Language, the best of them all too (I love Latin!), we can rest assured that perhaps unlike our ''separated brethren,'' our common faith as Catholics is exactly the same as the faith of all the holy and heroic Saints and Confessors who came before us, such as St Edward the Confessor, or even closer to our own time J.R.R Tolkien (my mother was a school-girl when he died).

I had thought of taking down the previous post (someone at my parish had read it), but it received an encouraging comment, and perhaps by venting frustration in some small way we can clear the way for God's Grace. Small things at a time...

The above painting is probably my favourite depiction of The Crucifixion, and is by the Renaissance master Pietro Perugino. Michelangelo was of course not the only one who painted the Sistine Chapel!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Lessons in humility...

Today is the Feast of St Therese of the Infant Jesus. I have no particular devotion to her, but Fr Finigan spoke of a certain incident in his Sermon on her life this morning - that she was accused (wrongly) by her Mother Superior (who didn't like her very much) of breaking a vase, amongst other imperfections against the Holy Rule, but that she just apologised and carried on. This is an example of true humility - the ability to accept gratefully any humiliation or wrong in the knowledge that it is as nothing compared with the suffering of Our Lord. It is all well and good feeling remorse about our faults during Sermons and Liturgy though, but actually living out the Christian life is infinitely more difficult. I have just come in from an agonizingly bad day at work (even worse than usual), and thinking about it now (perforce) just makes me realise how spectacularly I fail at humility - or for that matter, just about every other Christian virtue. I cordially loathe my job, everything about it; I find it demeaning and depressing beyond my worst nightmare. Today was especially bad because I was being spied on by a Manager, after which I had a sort of informal ''appraisal'' about how best to offer customer service and other retail merchandising hogwash. I scored 9/10 (probably only that high because I knew I was being spied on), which means that I have to undergo the whole thing again. The thing I failed on was not smiling, not making eye contact and not instigating a conversation with the customer. He did explain to me that a supervisor had informed him that I found eye-contact somewhat difficult, but that still didn't stop him putting the cross in the box. He then went into a well-rehearsed ''lecture'' on more retail rubbish (I am trying desperately not to swear!) and I just sat there nodding, thinking: ''this means nothing whatsoever to me'' (or something conveying a similar sentiment). I then explained in the most diplomatic terms I could devise how the nature of this specific work was unsuitable for me and that I was eager to go back to my old quasi-respectable job.

Later on, I had the ''customer-from-hell'' - a woman with a chip on both shoulders. Without going into details, she just managed to create a scene and cause everyone within the vicinity an inconvenience just because she couldn't add up. After arguing with her for about 20 minutes, a supervisor graciously intervened and I just sat back feeling especially bitter about things. This is what I mean about conveniently forgetting about the requirements of one's faith when thrown in the deep end and asked to put it into practice. I just wish I could get out of it. For what I put up with at work, it makes me almost weep to think about what I am paid for it. The things I would like out of working life are dignity, respect, recognition, quiet, intellect and enjoyment - my current occupation is devoid of all those things, and what is worse, is that the prospect of these desired things is slowly slipping away. I need a miracle, and certainly lots of prayers.

Am I too bitter and dismissive? I may yet be immature in the spiritual life, but perhaps one can say that at least the desire for Christian perfection is there. I just need to clear out the cobwebs of resentment and arrogance so that the light of God's love can pervade over my soul. I may read St Therese's Little Way when I get time, small things at a time and all that.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Oratio Dominica in lingua Eldarum...

For any readers who like this sort of thing, here is the Lord's Prayer in Quenya. Tolkien composed this in the 1950s:

Átaremma i ëa han ëa, na aire esselya, aranielya na tuluva, na care indómelya cemende tambe Erumande. Ámen anta síra ilaurëa massamma, ar ámen apsene úcaremmar sív' emme apsenet tien i úcarer emmen. Álame tulya úsahtienna mal áme etelehta ulcullo.


The Lay of Leithian, Part I...

It is told in the Lay of Leithian that Beren came into Doriath the mere shadow of a man, the last Man of Dorthonion, bent and weary with a long exile and the torment of the dark vales of Ered Gorgoroth. But coming upon Lúthien dancing among the hemlocks on a summer evening and all weariness left his limbs and he was as one under a spell of enchantment. But Lúthien fled from Beren, and he wandered once again, only this time he was dumb, but in his heart he called her Tinúviel, which is Nightingale in the tongue of Beleriand. He wandered long, until Autumn and Winter were passed and the first signs of Spring were come, and once again he saw her, dancing upon a hillock, only this time she sang also. The Lay continues:

Thereafter on a hillock green
he saw far off the elven-sheen
of shining limb and jewel bright
often and oft on moonlit night;
and Dairon's pipe awoke once more,
and soft she sang as once before.
Then nigh he stole beneath the trees,
and heartache mingled with hearts-ease.

A night there was when winter died;
then all alone she sang and cried
and danced until the dawn of spring,
and chanted some wild magic thing
that stirred him, till it sudden broke
the bonds that held him, and he woke
to madness sweet and brave despair.
He flung his arms to the night air,
and out he danced unheeding, fleet,
enchanted, with enchanted feet.
He sped towards the hillock green,
the lissom limbs, the dancing sheen;
he leapt upon the grassy hill
his arms were empty, and she fled;
away, away her white feet sped.
But as she went he swiftly came
and called her with the tender name
of nightingales in the elvish tongue,
that all the woods now sudden rung:
''Tinúviel! Tinúviel!''
And clear his voice was as a bell;
its echoes wove a binding spell:
''Tinúviel! Tinúviel!''
His voice such love and longing filled
one moment stood she, fear was stilled;
one moment only; like a flame
he leapt towards her as she stayed
and caught and kissed that elfin maid.

As love there woke in sweet surprise
the starlight trembled in her eyes.
A! Lúthien! A! Lúthien!
more fair than any child of Men;
O! loveliest maid of Elfinesse,
what madness does thee now possess!
A! lissom limbs and shadowy hair
and chaplet of white snowdrops there;
O! starry diadem and white
pale hands beneath the pale moonlight!
She left his arms and slipped away
just at the breaking of the day.

The above image is again by Ted Nasmith - one of his ''sketches.''