Friday, 19 December 2008

Time Travel to Madrid

I had a good time in Madrid when I was there at the end of September: a long time ago I know, but worth mentioning nonetheless. I was very fortunate because it turned out that the priests I was to stay with were building a new parish in the north of the city: as a result they were staying in an appartment right in the centre of town, on the Plaza de Oriente. Below is a view from the flat: in the distance is the new Cathedral and to the right the Palas Real.

As a result I ended up having to walk only 3 minutes to classes every morning, on the Via de Arunel, unlike the 20 or so minutes I had to travel for class in Salamanca. The classes were intense, one-on-one, but I learned a lot. Happily I ended up getting good marks at the Intermedio-Alto level. My reading of the language is much better - and it means I can read the works of my Director, Luis Ladaria, and other people whom he has directed in studies concerning St Hilary.

Madrid is a fine city. I was able to use my Spanish alot and also do some sight-seeing. The Prado, with its fine collection of art, impressed me deeply. I spent some time looking at Velázquez, El Greco, Goya, Murillo and many others (including a tour in Spanish from one of my Spanish teachers of Picasso's Guernica). I especially enjoyed Murillo, and his intimate, gentle portrayal of scenes from the life of Our Lord and the saints, bringing out the humanity deeply, simply, while combining these sometimes with scenes of Divine glory. Amongst many I very much liked the picture below of the Holy Family:


This picture, not exactly the best in the world, I took at the weekend when the river Tiber rose to its highest level in 40 years. The bridge in the distance gives some indication of how high it got - normally one can see most of the supports of the bridge.

Another fascinating aspect of this was the impulse of the Romans to take their passaggiata to see the spectacle and enjoy it. When something dramatic happens here, they all gather round, making it feel like a family event. There were streams of people, young and old, groups, couples and individuals, going to and fro to observe and record the river. I suppose it happens all over the world, but there is something distinctive in the festive manner in which they do these things here.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Adveniet Christi Nativitas

Babbo Natale is Italian for Father Christmas. He is a tradition here in Rome too, with even young people dressing up as him and skating around the city.

The city really does take on the sense of preparation for Christmas during Advent. Everywhere there are large Advent wreaths in churches and basilicas. At the church called Ara Coeli, there is a remarkable, rather trussed up statue of the Bambino Gesu (Baby Jesus), venerated by many Romans. At the Piazza Navona, the square is filled with stalls selling various goodies - from food and drink and gareish decorations to crib sets and impressive extras for these scenes of the Nativity. Most churches set up their own Nativity scenes - with mountains, houses, scenes of town and village and country life, animals, people, caves, flowing water, lights and many a variation thereof. The church of Ss Cosmas and Damian takes the biscuit: they are worse than even Sainsbury's or Tescoe's. Those supermarket chains start their Christmas display in November or even October. The church of Ss C and D have their crib scene up all the year around - but it is worth seeing!


Yes, hello. I haven't done this for a while. I have received numerous comments from friends concerned that I had never quite made it out of Spain. They are usually quite disconcerted to find I am not languishing in some dark Spanish gaol.

I got back to Rome at the beginning of October and since then have been plodding away at my work. That's probably why I haven't been doing a lot on this blog! My laziness in that area hopefully is balanced by my industry in the other...

I haven't been to many exciting places either so have not many splendid photographs to put on. However I did manage to take some photographs of the River Tiber in fuller than full spate. There has been a prolonged deluge of rain which raised the Tiber to levels not seen for 40 years. It was fairly dramatic. I will post some photos later. There were even large floating barges and bars which were dragged away, smashed, sank or wedged into the arches of bridges. Sadly, also a yound Irish man fell in and was drowned. Requiescat in pace: and may his family have the comfort and peace of Christ Himself.

Saturday, 20 September 2008


I am in Madrid at the moment, doing a course in Spanish (since my doctoral director told me that some of the literature I would have to read - necessarily secondary literature, but nonetheless important - would be in Spanish). It has gone well. I spent two weeks in the lovely city of Salamanca and now am stationed in the capital city.

Spanish is an interesting language - much closer to Latin in many ways than, surprisingly, Italian. For example, the verb "to go" - IR - follows the same pattern in the imperfect tense/time as Latin: iba, ibas, iba, ibamos, ibais, iban. The same is true of the verb "to be" - SER - which is as follows: era, eras, era, eramos, erais, eran (I couldn't type the accent on the "e" of "eramos").

Yet other differences occur. For example, the Spanish equivalent to the English word "too" is "demasiado" - where on earth did they get that?!

Language is an interesting reality. So many different senses, tastes, approaches that are revealed in one word or verb in a particular language are hard to have translated into another, and yet we try to do exactly that - to translate. Despite the variability, there is a relationality to language that indicates the relationality of knowledge - otherwise Google or Microsoft could not function towards, in and from China. This shows us that when people say that knowledge is relative they do not realise that they are proving the possibility of truth and objectivitiy in knowledge. "Relative" is really another name for relational, and relational implies an objectivity that is translatable despite the inadequacy at times of the human intellect to do it justice fully - though even here instinct itself or intuition comes to the aid of mere rationality and thereby shows the objectivity of existence and the relational objectivity of human apprehension. At the same time the relative or relational nature of language and knowledge implies a real elasticity which corresponds to the elasticity of the evolution of the universe- an elasticity which is not, in the terms of a given reality, infinite, but historical and thereby finite, but nonetheless real and so opening up the forms of reality to further development and change.

Anyway, enough of that. Below is a picture of the beautiful Plaza Mayor (Main Square) of Salamanca - something that Madrid certainly is unable to match.

As for my summer supplying in a parish in Scotland, another post will have to do...

Monday, 30 June 2008

Onus on the thronus

Fr Jonathan Hill has an excellent post from 13th June looking at the comments of a Fr Daniel O'Leary in an article profiling him and his recently published book. Follow the link over there --->

As for Fr Hill's question at the end of that post about a picture of me on the throne at the church of Saint Gregory here in Rome, I am happy to publish the following picture


Contra Dicta

Following my "counter-petition", I received a number of messages of support. I also received from the address of the petitioners a reply from a certain Simon Brook who decided I had some questions to answer! The parts in normal black type are the original counter-petition; the parts in red type are Simon Brook's questions and comments; and the parts in blue are my replies.

Sent: Friday, 13 June, 2008 2:00:46 PM
Subject: re Petition

(This is my text with spelling mistakes corrected and clarifications)

Dear petitioners

As a Catholic priest ordained 15 years ago and now doing further studies in Rome I would like to:

1. Affirm my wholehearted support for the ancient practice of celibacy for the presbyterate in the life of the Church Voluntary celibacy is indeed a great gift to the Church, but has it been worth paying the price for the sexual difficulties of so many celibates in the last few decades, or can one justificiably question the value of an imposed discipline of this sort?

I think it is simplistic to make the link between celibacy and "the sexual difficulties of so many celibates in the last few decades". There are many reasons for these difficulties. The Church of England has many sexual and relationship problems with its clergy, many of whom are married. A married clergy therefore does not solve sexual/relationship problems amongst clergy. One could argue, for example, that because the average profile of a child abuser is a married man with some kind of real or legal relationship of kin to the victim, that a married clergy does not solve the deeper problems of child abuse either. I have been involved with child protection work in my own diocese and it is clear that the pathology of child abuse amongst clergy is not reducible to the question of celibacy, since the abuser is one who will abuse in or out of a stable relationship. I won't deny that there have been problems - but much of them has been due to a tendency to reduce clerical celibacy to an "imposed discipline" rather than the deepest expression of the heart of the priesthood as the spousal relationship of Jesus Christ to His one bride the Church. Perhaps what we should question is not celibacy but rather the deplorable lack of formation - theological, personal, human, psychological, spiritual and ascetical - that has characterised the liberalised form of seminary and clergy formation since the Council. Without such foundations celibacy is going to be harder to live; but the knock on effect is that this lack of formation and liberalism in doctrine has meant that many of our people have not been formed well for relationships and for marriage. The cultural crisis of sex and relationships which has characterised our modern era has had a very destructive effect in the lives of so many of our people and they have been ill-served by the Church whose clergy were not formed in the deeper catechism of Christian living and the ideals of Christian holiness in life. So I think it is too simplistic to situate "the sexual difficulties of so many celibates in the last few decades" within the context of celibacy as an "imposed discipline": one needs to address the profound doctrinal/spiritual/moral crisis since the Council and the sudden shift of culture since the 1960s - that's the wider and more complicated context for this question.

2.. Affirm my wholehearted support for the maintenance of clerical celibacy as a necessary sign to the world of the priority of the Kingdom of God and the call of Jesus, of love for Him and for His Church over other earthly ties How can an obligation (imposed on western rite clerics not previously employed as Protestant ministers) be a necessary sign of the Kingdom?

"It was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer..." "I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!" There is a deeper link between obligation and commitment and love than meets the eye. Christ did the will of the Father - He came not to do His will but that of the one who sent Him - and this is a missio, an "obligation" - which is also freely accepted. I am not sure your implicit view of human freedom really can make sense of the possibility of love with and through obligation: the sacrament of marriage imposes obligations in love. The Tradition of the Church has always been that once ordained a man was no longer free to be married - this is an obligation which does not necessarily inhibit freedom but manifests the priority of the heard and accepted call from God over one's own desires and aims in life. An obligation can indeed be a sign of the Kingdom - of the priority of God's call. Christ's call imposes obligations which manifest the free nature of His call and the free nature of our response while at the same time maintaining a necessary structure of consequences - so that it is possible to refuse absolutely the call to salvation, a decision God respects in freedom, but a human being is obliged to answer that call positively if they wish to be saved (I am not here excluding salvation for non-Catholics!).

3. Affirm my support for celibacy not just as a discipline but as a practice grounded in the example of the Lord Himself, as a way of life that expresses the heart of the priesthood as a complete self-giving for the Church, as Christ gave Himself totally for His one bride - and so affirm that there are good doctrinal and theological reasons for this practice But why then has the Church allowed married clergy in the Eastern rites for so long - or is their sacramental ministry characterised as second class?

It has done - but there is a sense in which the Eastern churches recognise a two-tier system to their priesthood. The unmarried clergy are the ones who can become bishops. The implication of course is that only a celibate can fully represent the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders. The very fact that once ordained one cannot marry in both Catholic (in all the rites) and Orthodox Churches- a position I presume you would not accept - highlights the deeper understanding of the nature of the mystery of Holy Orders. The history is still being discussed and disputed - but as ever it is not simple, from those who would argue that mandatory celibacy was merely an 11th-12th century imposition to secure Church property from the hands of children of clergy, to those who argue that after ordination the married priest had to live a life of continence (no longer as husband and wife, but brother and sister) and that the Eastern practice of the priest abstaining from sexual relations prior to celebrating the Eucharist is a throwback to the more ancient practice.

4. Affirm my wholehearted assent for the Church's definitive teaching concerning the reservation of the sacrament of Holy Orders to men alone What is the difference between infallible teaching and definitive teaching? Why did the Church ordain women in the past? Was Paul III's teaching on slavery in his Motu Proprio of 1548 definitive?

First of all, definitive teaching (i.e. teaching "to be held as definitive" ["tamquam definitive tenendam"] - Lumen Gentium 25) is infallible teaching. Lumen Gentium 25 presents the 3 levels, as it were, of guaranteed or infallible teaching - re matters of faith and morals, and truths needed to safeguard the revealed deposit of faith: a. a definition by a Council, united to the Pope; b. a definition by the Pope ex cathedra; c. teaching by the college of bishops united to its head (the successor of St Peter), though dispersed throughout the world, in day-to-day teaching. The first two are commonly designated exercises of the extraordinary magisterium and they require it to be clearly asserted that this is a definition. The last is the ordinary exercise of the teaching authority - magisterium - in matters to be held by all. A good example of this would be the descent of Christ into hell - never defined by Council or Pope, but held as part of the Faith by those who are in communion with the Successor of St Peter.
I presume you accept this teaching of Vatican II.
Women were not ordained priests in the past. Deaconesses did not have the same sacramental functions as Deacons. Epiphanius of Salamis tells us: "It is true that in the Church there is an order of deaconesses, but not for being a priestess, nor for any kind of work of administration, but for the sake of the dignity of the female sex, either at the time of baptism or of examining the sick or suffering, so that the naked body of a female may not be seen by men administering sacred rites, but by the deaconess" (Against Heresies 78:13 [A.D. 377]). And the Council of Nicea in 325 "Similarly, in regard to the deaconesses, as with all who are enrolled in the register, the same procedure is to be observed. We have made mention of the deaconesses, who have been enrolled in this position, although, not having been in any way ordained, they are certainly to be numbered among the laity" (Canon 19 [A.D. 325]).
There is no evidence for women as priests or bishops in the Catholic Church. I notice for example that has a picture of a mosaic from the church of St Praxedes in Rome and says underneath

"This archaeological photograph of a mosaic in the Church of St. Praxedis in Rome shows, in the blue mantle, the Virgin Mary, foremother of women leaders in the Church. On her left is St.Pudentiana and on her right St. Praxedis, both leaders of house churches in early Christian Rome. Episcopa Theodora, "Bishop Theodora " is the bishop of the Church of St. Praxedis in 820 AD."
This is just not true and is a serious misrepresentation which no serious historian or archaeologist would maintain. There was one Bishop in Rome at the time - Paschal I. The depiction is in fact in a mausoleum built by Pope Paschal for his mother Theodora. She is the one depicted and "Theodora episcopa" really means "bishop's mother". No-one has ever seriously maintained that the Virgin Mary was appointed an apostle by her Son. Praxedes and Pudenziana - the tradition is that they were daughters to the senator Pudens who gave hospitailty to St Peter. They were not leaders of the Church in the apostolic/sacramental sense.
As for claims of ordination, St Augustine of Hippo tells us: "[The Quintillians are heretics who] give women predominance so that these, too, can be honored with the priesthood among them. They say, namely, that Christ revealed himself . . . to Quintilla and Priscilla [two Montanist prophetesses] in the form of a woman" (Heresies 1:17 [A.D. 428]).
We could go on and on. There is no convincing argument from Tradition re the ordination of women.
As for Paul III's Motu Proprio of 1548, you are probably referencing Noonan's article on his matter. A useful and nuanced response to this is found in A Response to John T. Noonan, Jr. Concerning the Development of Catholic Moral Doctrine, by Patrick M. O'Neil found in "Faith and Reason".
The history is complicated and, as you are well aware, there is not a common line of development in the teachings of the Popes: some of the teaching seems to be aimed at practical circumstances, some decisions are made in terms of punishments as a result of warfare, others seem to accept slavery as the lesser of two evils, others see it as a right of masters, others as a duty of masters to care for the children of slaves. So it is clear to me that the Motu Proprio isn't to be seen as "definitive": it isn't a formal definition; and it does not seem to lay claim to an enduring doctrine or truth. Naturally, therefore, I do not see all Papal pronouncements as definitive - just as Pope Benedict's latest Motu Proprio re the Tridentine Mass cannot be seen as an exercise of definitive teaching. It is clear from Lumen Gentium 25, that there are different degrees of teaching. The question of the ordination of women has a far surer pedigree - the Tradition goes back to the apostles. If you again look at Lumen Gentium 25, it gives the conditions for such definitive teaching.

5. Affirm my wholehearted assent to all of the Church's teachings, not as "Vatican policies", but as the teachings of Jesus Christ who gave His teaching authority to the Church's Magisterium Cardinal Hume said that the teaching of the Church on priesthood was confused (Foreword to Michael Richards People of Priests) so is there no a hierarchy of truths or are 'all of the Church's teachings' defined without room for doubt, confusion or development? Where can one find a definitive statement of all infallible pronouncements made since 1870? Why do you argue that matters of discipline demand the assent of faith - surely this belittles faith? On what authority did the Church reverse St Paul's acceptance of slavery?

The hierarchy of truths does not mean of course that some teachings are "more true" and others are "less true": it refers to the relationships that bind the truths to each other and which centre in upon the foundations of Christian Faith. Here is what the decree on Ecumenism had to say about it at Vatican II:
"Furthermore, in ecumenical dialogue, Catholic theologians, standing fast by the teaching of the Church yet searching together with separated brethren into the divine mysteries, should do so with love for the truth, with charity, and with humility. When comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or "hierarchy" of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith. Thus the way will be opened whereby this kind of "fraternal rivalry" will incite all to a deeper realisation and a clearer expression of the unfathomable riches of Christ."
Thus it is a confusion of terms to relate the hierarchy of truths to the issue of disputed and unanswered questions.
I do believe there are many controverted questions in theology; the Church has chosen not to speak on many matters. There is room for dispute, discussion and questions. My point is that this is very different from dissent. I would say that an authentically Catholic approach is willing to discuss and delve and make full use of one's critical faculties in the many, many areas of dispute and discussion; however, this does not presume ill-faith int he successors of the apostles and the Magisterium, and it also involves an attitude of reverence towards the teaching of those who are given the task of teaching the Faith as Bishops - as referred to in Vatican II's Lumen Gentium 25:
"Bishops who teach in communion with the Roman Pontiff are to be revered by all as witnesses of divine and Catholic truth; the faithful, for their part, are obliged to submit to their bishops’ decision, made in the name of Christ, in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind. This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency with which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated."

There is no definitive list of infallible pronouncements. Again terminology is important: the only infallible definition since Vatican I was that concerning the Assumption by Pope Pius XII. There has been plenty of definitive teaching since - such as when the Bishops throughout the world united to the Pope proclaim the bodily resurrection of Christ. Indeed, the whole point of Vatican II's explanation of definitive teaching is that it happens all the time - not on an extraordinary occasion, but in the bishops' ordinary mode of teaching in dioceses etc.
I do not argue that matters of discipline demand the assent of faith. I carefully used the word assent. I wanted to include the notion of Faith where it is needed in terms of Revelation, but the notion of assent includes more in its embrace - thus referring to matters that require acceptance (e.g., matters defined infallibly that have not been directly revealed but are needed to safeguard the deposit of faith).
re St Paul's teaching on slavery: St Paul was responding to the fact of his time and giving pastoral advice. Again, we could go into this at great length. The real question is, do you accept that the Church can teach infallibly? Do you believe what Vatican II says on this matter in Lumen Gentium 25?

6. Affirm my prayers for those who have left the priesthood to get married, but my disagreement that they should be allowed back to active priestly ministry still married - such a move would be discouraging to those who have tried to maintain the promises they made at ordination and is a sign of a lack of respect to them Should we therefore disapprove of the decision by the authorities to ordain for the presbyterate married ex-Anglican clergy?

The cases are very different. You mentioned the practice of eastern Churches. After ordination, a priest is not allowed to get married. To do so, violates his promise and the Tradition of East and West. The broken promise is a serious matter and it requires repentance and a change of life. Some men cannot do so and have received laicisations. I have known a few myself and admire them greatly. But to say that they could return to priestly ministry with no attempt to resolve the situation by which they broke their initial promise is failing to take promises seriously. It sens a bad signal to those who are divorced and remarried - that they cannot come back to Communion because they are laypeople; but a priest can do anything, not resolve his situation and still return to ministry.
I think it is disingenuous to imply that the situation of those priests who left the priesthood to get married, many in very painful circumstances, many of them fine men, is equivalent to that of married former Anglican clergy. A

7. Deprecate this petition as an attempt to further the culture of dissent in the Church, a dissent whose real nature is a refusal to believe and so is opposed to the full act of faith, and so will do no good but will serve to encourage division in the Body of Christ Are the faithful not encouraged by canon law to express their needs to their pastors?

Yes, but remember Lumen Gentium 25 referred to above.

8. Acknowledge that there is indeed a crisis in the life of the Catholic Church, but this has been caused by dissent from the teachings of the Church, a lack of thorough Catholic catechesis, a lack of holiness and prayer in the life of the Church, an unwillingness to evangelise culture with the fullness of the Catholic Faith and a growing antagonistic secularism in the world which dissent actually promotes. Are there not seriously devout Catholics who disagree with your condemnations among the lower and higher clergy to say nothing of the holy and prayerful laity? Were Galileo and Rosmini dissidents? Were those who criticised John Paul II's protection of Marcial Maciel dissidents, without the fulness of faith or seduced by antagonistic secularism?

There is always room for criticism and for correction of errant Pastors. Again, the questions of Galileo and Rosmini are more subtle than just, "I dissent from the Church's teaching." Galileo was not alone in suggesting heliocentrism - Copernicus did so too and even his patron the Pope was sympathetic to the idea, as was Cardinal Bellarmine. The reasons for the condemenations are various - and there were mistake and human pride involved too on both sides.
I am not judging anyone's holiness or lack of it in these matter's. I just do not believe that dissent forms part of the act of faith. Yes to criticism, yes to correction of pastors for weakness and corruption and delusion and worldliness and pride and bad decisions: but Catherine of Siena's amazing action was born not out of dissent but the act of faith and a real reverence for the role of the Pope.

Is it all not, unfortunately, quite as open and shut as you suggest?

I think you will see that my position is far more nuanced than you would imagine me to be in your any caricature. The real question to be answered is: if the Pope decided tomorrow that women could be ordained priests, would we all have to accept it? Could I dissent from it? Would it have to be imposed throughout the Church? Would it be definitive? I have a sneaking feeling you would use all the authority of the Church to impose this, while at the moment you deny that the Church has the right to impose a decision which runs contrary to your opinion. I do not want to be uncharitable in saying this. Perhaps you believe that we could have an Anglican model where different dioceses could decide their own practice - but then the Catholic Church's foundation would be undermined at the very least. I do not see how one could operate such a decision without a requirement of assent (not necessarily of faith!), obedience and obligation. I am not against that, but you seem to be. Or is it just a political manoeuvre: dissent from the use of such means until dissenters actually have control of them?

I have spent alot of time on this over the past hour. I have to study and so will not have time to go back and forth like this. Thank you for your correspondence. I wish you every blessing and grace.

Yours in the Faith

Friday, 13 June 2008

Joy of the Faith

And for a better perspective on the true nature of our Faith, with which the dissenters mentioned in the earlier post would not identify, have a look at

I am grateful to Fr Avram at Peregrinus (click to your right) for this recommendation. There is a good video on the site called Epic. Have a look... It's about the joy and good that our Catholic Faith really brings to our world.

Church of Santa Prassede

This week my good friend Fr Stephen Brown from the diocese of Leeds was visiting me here in Rome. I would study in the mornings and then we would do something in the afternoon. One day we made a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Maria Maggiore - Mary Major's or the Greater St Mary's, as a friend of mine dubs it. Afterwards we went to one of my favourite churches in Rome, across the street from the Basilica - Santa Prassede. Saint Praxedes was the sister of St Pudenziana - whose story I recounted briefly in my posting of 27th February. The mosaics in Santa Prassede are wonderful - dating back to around 822 when it was put together during the reign of Pope St Paschal I. The Pope is actually shown on the mosaic with a square nimbus behind his head, rather than a round halo - a sign that he was alive when the depiction was made. I forgot to take some photographs of this but I did take some of the chapel of St Zeno. This is the ceiling inside - showing Christ in glory surrounded by four angels:

The chapel was built by Pope st Paschal for his mother, Theodora, as a mausoleum. He was a thoughtful son: she is even depicted inside the chapel and the square nimbus behind her head indicates that she was alive while her mausoleum was being prepared...

Such a thoughtful boy was Paschal! The writing above and around her says, "Theodora Episcopa." This does not mean in this context "woman bishop" but "bishop's mum"! I want to clarify that for budding women priest dissenters out there.

Notice above them the Lamb of God on a small hill with four rivers flowing from Him, from the Temple, and deer drinking in life from those fountains.

Also inside the chapel, to the right of the mosaic above, is this vivid depiction of the harrowing of hell.

Christ in glory (pace Hans Urs von Balthasar) goes down to hell and leads Adam and Eve out of the infernal regions to share in His divinity. I cannot make out who the two others are depicted here - one with a halo and the other with what seems like a beard. Any ideas?

Assent, not dissent

I noticed in the Daily Telegraph that a group of organisations and some public figures have lent support to a petition calling for the ordination of women, married priests and the return to active ministry of those who left the priesthood to get married. They claim there is a crisis in the Church and that there are no theological or doctrinal reasons for celibacy among the clergy. They want this petition to be circulated in parishes on 29th June - just think, on the feast day of the Rock of Faith and of the Preacher of the Faith a petition which dissents from the Faith!

The usual cabal of organisations are involved - you can see who they are from the members of their ad hoc committee:
Michael Winter (Movement for a Married Clergy), Valerie Stroud (We Are Church UK), Maureen Robinson (wife of a resigned priest, originator of the petition in the UK), Frank Pycroft (Catholics for a Changing Church), Ianthe Pratt (Catholic Women’s Ordination), Jackie Hawkins (New Wine), Jackie Clackson (Housetop), Simon Bryden-Brook (The Living Word Trust, European Network – Church on the Move)

I decided to send them my counter-petition as follows:

Dear petitioners

As a Catholic priest ordained 15 years ago and now doing further studies in Rome I would like to:

1. Affirm my wholehearted support for the ancient practice of celibacy for the presbyterate in the life of the Church

2. Affirm my wholehearted support for the maintenance of clerical celibacy as a necessary sign to the world of the priority of the Kingdom of God and the call of Jesus, of love for Him and for His Church over other earthly ties

3. Affirm my support for celibacy not just as a discipline but as a practice grounded in the example of the Lord Himself, as a way of life that expresses the heart of the priesthood as a complete self-giving for the Church, as Christ gave Himself totally for His one bride - and so affirm that there are good doctrinal and theological reasons for this practice

4. Affirm my wholehearted assent for the Church's definitive teaching concerning the reservation of the sacrament of Holy Orders to men alone

5. Affirm my wholehearted assent to all of the Church's teachings, not as "Vatican policies", but as the teachings of Jesus Christ who gave His teaching authority to the Church's Magisterium

6. Affirm my prayers for those who have left the priesthood to get married, but my disagreement that they should be allowed back to active priestly ministry still married - such a move would be discouraging to those who have tried to maintain the promises they made at ordination and is a sign of a lack of respect to them

7. Deprecate this petition as an attempt to further the culture of dissent in the Church, a dissent whose real nature is a refusal to believe and so is opposed to the full act of faith, and so will do no good but will serve to encourage division in the Body of Christ

8. Acknowledge that there is indeed a crisis in the life of the Catholic Church, but this has been caused by dissent from the teachings of the Church, a lack of thorough Catholic catechesis, a lack of holiness and prayer in the life of the Church, an unwillingness to evangelise culture with the fullness of the Catholic Faith and a growing antagonistic secularism in the world which dissent actually promotes.

Yours in the Faith

Fr David B Barrett

Casa Santa Maria
Via dell'Umilta 30
00187 Rome

Wednesday, 11 June 2008


At this time, lots of students here are finishing their doctorates after 3 years of steady study and others are completing their licences. They return home to their dioceses for different assignments - some to parishes, others to seminaries, chaplaincies, chanceries and other roles. Returning home is seen as very positive by the priests here - a chance to engage in the mission of the Church and to bring the Gospel of salvation to a world so in need of it.

Fr Martin Edwards of the Archdiocese of Southwark spent time here this year studying for his doctorate. It was good to have him around. He does a lot of very fine work for the important charity Aid to the Church in Need, work which benefits the Church at a universal and not just local level. He takes the work with the charity seriously and I would encourage anyone to contribute to its fine work. He has been great fun here at the Casa and a good example of priesthood to us all. We took him to Castel Gandolfo in April as a farewell trip to wish him well. Below he is sitting in the square at Castel Gandolfo with Fr Larry Kozak and Fr Patrick Beidelman:

Winner of "The-most-unfriendly-fountain-in-the-World" Award

I am proud to announce the winner of "The-most-unfriendly-fountain-in-the-World" Award. It goes to a fountain not far from the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi. This is it:

The notice in stone says in Italian, "Pena un scudo e perdita de panni per chi lava in questo fonte." Roughly translated, this means, "Fine of one scudo and loss of clothes for whoever washed in this fountain." To re-inforce its friendly message, the next notice underneath says, "Aqua non potabile" - "undrinkable water."

And if you still don't believe that all this adds up to a very unfriendly fountain, look at the colour of the water below:

Northampton in Assisi

After plundering Rome, the Cathedral group marched up to Assisi (by coach). They invited me to join them. I took a day off from study on Friday and made the trip north to St Francis' home town. I had qualms whether I should take time from my studies but as one priest said here at the Casa, "It's always a good thing to spend time with St Francis in Assisi." He was right.

I spent the night there and joined the group for various activities. They were staying at La Rocca Hotel - known to generations of English College students for its hospitality, good pasta and reasonable rates and rooms.

I managed to offer Mass at the Basilica of St Francis in the evening. It's an impressive place: right down in the crypt is the tomb of St Francis. This was only discovered in 1818 after about two month of excavations: the grave had been most carefully hidden to escape being stolen or desecrated. On top of this is built two other churches, one on top of the other and it is this vast complex that forms the Basilica. It was built after Francis' death in 1226. By this time the Franciscans had already arrived in England (in 1224, in fact). One of their number was a priest, Richard of Kingsthorpe, a well-known and impressive preacher. Obviously because of his links (Kingsthorpe is now on the north side of Northampton), by 1230 a friary had been established in the town and it was at the Franciscan St Andrew's church there that Blessed Duns Scotus was ordained to the priesthood on 17th March 1291.

The present Basilica is the fruit of great medieval Italian architecture - its frescoes, particularly those by Giotto in the upper Basilica depicting the life of St Francis, are wonderful. I think my favourite place is the quiet crypt of San Francesco's tomb and the rest of the lower church - dark, colourful, tranquil.

The tranquility soon vanished - that night the pilgrim group held a quiz night, which was loud and fun. But the beauty of Assisi had obviously touched everyone in the group. Many people said how peaceful and graced they felt the town to be. Its beauty stays with you for a long time.

Northampton in Rome

I haven't done much of this recently.

The other week a group from the Cathedral in Northampton, led by Canon John Udris, came to Rome on pilgrimage. It was great to see them. On Sunday 25th May I joined them at the church of St Gregory the Great - I have mentioned it before on here. It was a lovely Mass, led by Canon John and with Deacon Philip Nash assisting.

After Mass I showed to the people the famous Chair of Pope St Gregory from which he sent St Augustine to England. I managed to persuade the good Dean of Northampton Cathedral into the throne. He looks very apostolic...

The group spent about 5 days in Rome. For some it was the first time in Europe, on an aircraft and in Rome. Lots of bravery awards!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Deliciae Latinitatis

The other day saw another Latin class with Fr Reggie Foster. The course has been such a help and I have seen a marked improvement in my Latin. The classes, as noted previously, are always entertaining: firstly, because Fr Reggie's system for teaching is clever and brings out the challenge and the fun of the language; secondly, because his enthusiasm (and that's a weak word) is so evident and infectious.

The other day, one of the class reacted to what seemed an odd facet of Latin by saying, "Ah! It's just perverse!" To which Reggie roared, "Perverse?! It's divine and glo-o-orious!"

Later on he waxed ecstatically, "Latin is the best thing that ever happened to humanity, because without it we would be floating around like a bunch of ninnies."

More Latin to come this afternoon...

I saw the director of my doctorate today, Fr Ladaria. He seems happy with the progress of work and with the title chosen. He is himself an acclaimed theologian and expert on St Hilary. He is Spanish, originally from Mallorca, and has taught at the Gregorian for many years: I remember doing courses with him on theological anthropology, protology and eschatology when I was first here. He is currently a member of the International Theological Commission, having been nominated and appointed for it in 1992.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Elevamini, portae aeternales, et introibit

For the past two weeks or so a number of us have been tracking Canon Michael Griffiths' progress on the RMS St Helena. The website for the ship has a function which shows on a map exactly where the ship is in the world, its speed, the height of waves and so forth.

I am pleased to say that he has arrived safe and sound at St Helena. He arrived on Thursday evening. There is no port and so he had to climb off the ship into a smaller boat to be taken to shore. There the local Anglican bishop very kindly came to meet and welcome Michael and gave him some generous hospitality. I spoke with Canon Michael on the telephone the next morning and he sounded very well and very excited. He had had a good voyage and had already been given a good welcome by some of the islanders. God is good.

In the circumstances, this is a very appropriate picture of the then Fr Michael visiting St Peter's: I took it with the great statue of St Helena herself in the background.

Surrounded by history

I can't remember if I mentioned that I moved room in February. My new room is on the 3rd floor and is on the inside of the house, overlooking the garden, looking towards the Quirinal Hill. It is quieter than the other room and so I am getting better sleep than before - Deo gratias.

This building was given to the Americans by Pope Pius IX because he wanted them to be closer to him at his palace on the Quirinal. We are at the foot of that hill, not far from the entrance to Trajan's Forum. There must be a wealth of archaeology beneath this site and even in the garden there are remnants of ancient pillars and other assorted masonry. Everywhere in Rome there is evidence of this marvellously alive city's history amidst the teeming of tourists, pilgrims, Italians and varieties of immigrants. For example, on the ides of March some of us passed the statue of Julius Caesar on the way to a Station Church and noticed that some flowers had been placed there by some admirer to commemmorate the anniversary of his assassination. That event was seen by the perpetrators as the only way to secure liberty (or their own interests); it became the means ultimately of ushering in exactly what they had tried to prevent - an on-going royal/imperial style of government.

English Martyrs

If you want to know more about the Martyrs of England and Wales, then please do see Richard Marsden's blog "Bashing Secularism": he has been posting helpful biographies about many of the canonised martyrs. The link is down there ---->

In an age of relativism, the martyrs remind us that there are absolute values and truths that claim our adherence; and they remind us that the only martyrdom worthy of the name is undertaken for the objetive truth, not for what I think is my truth, and it is done in perfect love. Not so long ago I heard a priest preach that we could pray to the Anglican martyrs of the Reformation as well as the Catholic ones. Firstly, I wouldn't presume to have the charism of infallibility to canonise saints and encourage people under my pastoral care to pray to them: that's why we have a canonisation process, otherwise any priest could start getting parishioners to pray to all sorts of exotic people. Secondly, I would be cautious about saying that just because they persevered in their Anglican faith to the end, that means they are martyrs. Just because someone dies for their faith it does not make them a martyr in the proper sense - otherwise we would end up saying the 9/11 terrorists were martyrs: there has to be an objective criteria - that of faith, hope and love - and faith, hope and love are by nature ecclesial and thus Catholic (see Lumen Genium 8!). I hope and pray that those who died so horribly for their Anglican faith are indeed in heaven and that we might merrily meet there, as St Thomas More prayed - but to start equating what they endured with martyrdom in the proper Catholic sense ends up relativising the martyrdom of the Catholic saints. The Forty Martyrs didn't just die for their belief - they died for the Faith of the Church and they did so with an exquisite charity that continues to touch the heart and inspire it.

Salvi eritis, omnes fines terrae

One of the reasons I returned to England on Easter Sunday was to attend the Farewell Mass for Canon Michael Griffiths at Our Lady Help of Christians parish in Luton. Fr Pat Beidelman from the Casa here joined me and we concelebrated the Mass at 10.00am. It was a very moving event. The church was full and many of the people were visibly weeping. Canon Michael himself was moved throughout the Mass and asked them to pray for him, as he would for them, as he made this tremendous move to the island of St Helena. As he left the church the people began to cheer and clap him. He went inside to the sacristy and removed his vestments and began to ready himself to leave the parish immediately. Here he is with St Helena hat ready:

As he left the church, he found the carpark was now full of people who wanted to see him off. The altar servers waved Welsh flags and they had secured the services of the infamous Frosty the Snowman!

Fr Jonathan Hill was driving the Canon down to Portland for his ship, but there were now so many cars parked and people gathered around, cheering, clapping and waving flags, it became difficult for them to get going. Indeed it was proved hard for Michael even to get to the car in the first place, so many people stopped in, shook his hands, hugged hima nd even asked him to bless them!

The next day I drove down to Portland and joined the two priests for an evening. We had a lovely time together. The next day I took him down to the port to board the ship, the RMS St Helena, after Fr Jonathan had bidden farewell. Michael and I spent some time chatting and praying and then the time came for me to leave. Here is the last picture I took as he was about to enter the terminal. I was sad to leave him, and for him to leave so many who love him here, but glad too that the Lord has called him for this generous work amongst a people who have no access to a priest and to the sacraments of eternal life. "What man among you, having one hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it?" Michael goes to an island known as "The ends of the earth": we pray that there too the Lord may continue His work of salvation.

On-going non-blog

Easter came and a trip to England in Easter week and then back here and a steady application to work - these are some of the reasons why the blog hasn't been done. I have had a number of people asking me why I haven't been active, blogging - hence the excuses.

Easter was wonderful in Rome (though Easter Sunday saw a deluge) and with a good number of priests from the Casa I was able to attend many of the Papal Masses and Liturgies and distribute Holy Communion at some of them. Despite the ranting and raving of The Tablet, the Liturgies were conducted prayerfully and beautifully, with a good balance of new and old. I laughed when I read The Tablet's lament about Cardinal deacons dressed in dalmatics and mitres: the implication was that this was PRE-CONCILIAR - i.e. Bad Church Era - but I spotted a picture I took with my family in 1993 of the Easter Urbi et Orbi and (shock and horror!) there were those pesky Cardinal Deacons in dalmatics and mitres who had obviously time travelled either forward from Bad Church Era or back from Bad Church Era - the Sequel (i.e., now). It really does show the silliness of The Tablet and its antipathetic attitude to Rome, to the Pope and ultimately to Catholicism (e.g., frequent dissenting articles concerning contraception, and even editorials implying that the Church is too strict on ruling out abortion in certain cases). Tablet Catholicism, as I like to call it, has evidently found a new recruit in Tony Blair - but you can go to other websites, such as the Hermeneutic of Continuity and others, to find a more detailed analysis of what the "convert" has been saying and doing.

Earlier in Holy Week I was able to go on retreat to Rocca di Papa, to a very cold convent there, and again this was with priests from the Casa. Rocca di Papa is lovely location, with wonderful views towards Rome, Castel Gandolfo and, in the distance, the Mediterranean. It was here that the founder of the Focolari movement, Chiara Lubick, died while we were on retreat. The area has a history that reaches back into antiquity, though the town itself got its name through the residence of Pope Eugenius III (1145-1153). On top of the nearby Monte Cavo there stood a temple dedicated to Jupiter Latiaris and to reach it the ancient Romans had to climb a Via Sacra, that winds its way even today to the top and is in a fairly good state of preservation. In pre-Republican times and after the mountain was a venerated place of pilgrimage for the Romans: Tarquinius Superbus, the last of the Kings of Rome, built the temple here in about 520BC; newly chosen Consuls in the Republican period had to travel to Monte Cavo and sacrifice in the Temple, announcing the Latin Vacations; and a Consul who defeated Rome's enemies in warfare would come to the same place to celebrate the victory given him by the gods. I walked to the top of Monte Cavo following the Via Sacra - a good bit of exercise and an opportunity for some beautiful views.

On the way to the Via Sacra I took a picture from the town: the glow in the distance are not clouds but the reflection of the sunlight upon the sea.

This is part of the ancient Via Sacra which I briskly climbed - the small chapel on the path was a welcome respite:

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

On-going Station Churches

Yesterday and this morning the two station churches were a little closer to home, little more than a skip and a hop from the Casa. The first church was that of Santa Maria in Via Lata, an old favourite of mine, and the site of a very old church (though rebuilt many times) going back to the 5th century, having beeen built over what was most probably a warehouse: the remains of this are in the crypt area (not presently open) and it appears the building was a very large one - around 750 feet long! The church is decorated with very fine baroque and the sancturary enshrines the beautiful 13th century ikon of the Vergine Avvocata. There is Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament here each day where the sisters pray for peace in families, among Christians and in the world. I know too that the church has some link with St Ignatius and the early Jesuits but I think I may have to read up a little more on that before daring to say anything.

Another likeable thing about the church is that Blessed Pius IX was once a Canon of the church and in one of the aisles this lovely monument can be found which commemorates the surpassing in 1871 by Pius of the duration of St Peter's pontificate. There is a monument that commemorates the same event too at St Peter's: the observant pilgrim can see it above the seated statue of St Peter in the nave of the Basilica.

This morning we rolled over to the church of San Marcello, like yesterday's church situated on the Via del Corso. The church has links with the the great but shortlived pontificate of its namesake. The brutal persecution of Diocletian (284-305) left the Church in Rome in disarray, with dissensions caused by impenitent apostates who demanded a return to the Church but without penance, the absence of Church property caused by confiscation and the absence of a Bishop or Pope, the previous Pope Marcellinus having died in 304 (it is not clear if he died a natural death or was a martyr).

Pope Marcellus was elected in May or June of 308 but only reigned until 309. In that time he appears to have managed to create some order for the disrupted life of the Church: he organised Rome into 25 districts (tituli) - the 25 titular churches of the 7th century are based on this reorganisation. Each of these was to be led by a priest who would ensure that the ordinary life of the Church continued in its preparation of catechumens for Baptism, the celebration of the Eucharist and the commemoration of the great martyrs, the fair administration of the sacrament of Penance and the burial of the dead. The crisis of apostates however ended up causing more divisions, even bloodshed, and as a result, according to Pope St Damasus, the Emperor Maxentius had the Pope sent into exile by the end of 308 or even the beginning of 309. He died soon afterwards and was instantly venerated as a martyr - in 309 probably on his feast day 16th January. Some stories have him ending up as a stable boy by order of Maxentius, but this account of his end seems to originate in the 5th century. The church is meant to be one of the 25 original parishes of Rome and reputedly Macellus used the house of a lady called Lucina which stood on this spot as some kind of oratory. St Marcellus was buried at the catacombs of St Priscilla and his relics later moved to this fine church.

The church houses the Crucifix of St Marcellus which survived a conflagration that destroyed the old church here in 1519. It is highly venerated in Rome as miraculous and is carried through the streets in times of trial and anxiety, and also in anticipation of major events - it was carried through Rome in preparation for the Second Vatican Council.

At the back of the church is this wonderful frescoe of the Crucifixion painted in 1613 by Giovanni Battista Ricci:

And there is also this interesting painting of the conversion of St Paul. Notice the way in which Christ is directly above the fallen Saul, reaching down to him: all the rest of the painting appears to fade into the background beside these two figures, one in the dpths of the earth, the Other reaching with the depths of love into the depths of sin.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

St Helena

My good friend, Canon Michael Griffiths, heads out to St Helena in two weeks. Some in Rome have met him and many have been impressed by his generosity in this move. According to Fr Tim Finigan, at the Hermeneutic of Continuity Blog, there is an article about the impending move at the website of the Evening Telegraph, a paper known to many of us who had been curates or parish priests in Coby, Kettering and Wellingborough.

He will be very much missed in Luton. This is what he managed to do with his church at Our Lady, Help of Christians, as parish priest. I am sure St Helena will very much benefit from all the colour he will bring...

Canon Griffith moves to St Helena for a two year period: look at Google Earth to see how remote a place St Helena is. Yet, he is guaranteed a good welcome: his reputation as a fine parish priest has already reached the island and both Catholics, Anglicans and others await his arrival with great enthusiasm. Oremus pro eo...

Thursday, 6 March 2008

La Primavera

It is the 6th March. Spring is in the air. But not in our air: it has been cold and Rome has received a fair dousing of rain. Yesterday morning saw an early departure for the Basilica of San Paolo fuori le mura - or St Paul-outside-the-walls, or sometimes even St Paul-without-the-walls (except it does). We were leaving at 5.50am to make the long trek there by foot: I saw the need for my umbrella (bought last summer in Poitiers when France was inundated by rain in August - that must make it an 8th class relic of St Hilary), since the rain was hitting the cobbles outside the Casa hard and determinedly. A group of 8 of us had arisen for the walk and we set off with umbrellas, rosaries and bags at hand (or in hands). The rain soon stopped and we were no longer afflicted by it for the rest of the walk - an answer to heartfelt prayer!

The Mass at San Paolo was led by the Beda College and their Rector. It is a wonderful Basilica. What a shame, however, that the original structure only (!)endured for 1500 years before succumbing to a devastating fire on the night of 15th-16th July 1823, as the Great Survivor of the Napoleonic era himself, Pope Pius VII, lay dying not far away! The present reconstruction followed the original's plan faithfully, but the sense of the ancient isn't quite there. It is still impressive, however, and well worth seeing - particularly for the tomb of St Paul the Apostle. The mosaics in the apse and on the triumphal arch are worth seeing too - sadly I didn't take any pictures this time: Fr Avram has a few on his Peregrinus website.

The previous day we had been to the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso. The Venerable English College led the Mass, though the Rector was unfortunately unwell. The College schola sang beautifully at Holy Communion. The VEC was founded in 1579 as a seminary though it had previously been the English Hospice in Rome from 1362, receiving pilgrims and illustrious visitors as guests. It is where I studied for the priesthood and it has a moving history of student martyrs: when men went there to study for the priesthood during the Reformaton period they took an oath to return to England as soon as was possible after ordination in order to bring the Faith back there. Doing so carried the threat of death: they were already by law traitors for studying at a seminary abroad and the penalty for traitors was to be hung, drawn and quartered - a nasty, bloody and painful way to die invented by Edward I. Yet they returned nonetheless and 44 of them ended up being killed in this or similar ways over a period of about 100 years. They, like the other English Martyrs, are the true glory of England and a powerful witness that to die for the truth of the Faith, in charity, is sometimes what is asked of us; they show that the Truth is important and the Church's teaching is more than a set of Vatican policies that can be changed at will, according to a more political approach to the Church and her doctrine (as evinced often by many an editorial in the Tablet). These teachings are revelations of the Mind of Christ and revelations by God of who He is, of who we are and what we are called to be.

The present church of San Lorenzo was built on top of another one built in the time of Pope St Damasus (366-384) on the site of his house. Pope Damasus was one of the great Popes of history. Not only did he commission St Jerome to produce a standard Latin translation of the Bible (the Vulgate), but he also sought to affirm the truths of the Faith in the great tide of conflict that had arisen with Arianism, continuing to sweep the Church mainly due to prevarication and compromise among many Eastern Bishops: in Synods in Rome in 368 and 369, he condemned Apollinarianism (which kind of fused the Divinity and humanity of Chrit into one nature - thereby destroying the difference between the two and, according to some, creating a new reality) and Macedonianism (a form of Arianism which also denied the Divinity of the Holy Spirit) - a good 10 years or so before the East eventually got round to condemning them at the First Council of Constantinople in 381 to which Damasus also sent Legates. St Athanasius had previously condemned Apollinarianism in a synod in 362. The Church in Rome had tended to side with Athanasius since he was faithful to the Council of Nicaea (325) and so it tended to be suspicious of the many Eastern Bishops who refused to support Athanasius: there had been a long history of mutual suspicion in the East, of dependence on the apparatus of the Imperial state for the imposition of theological positions (often heretial ones) and of disagreement about terminology concerning the Christ and the Trinity. Damasus maintained the faithful stand of his two predecessors, Liberius I (352-366) and Julius I (337-352), which meant support for Athanasius was essential. Sadly, the difficulties of the time meant that his dealing with the Cappadocian Father, St Basil, was cautious to the extreme, based mainly on the suspicion that Basil was dealing too generously with those who had been homoeousians and others who had not accepted the full Faith of the Church. Basil was deeply saddened by this as he had a deep respect for the role of Rome in the life of the universal Church.

The Papacy of Damasus also saw a large amount of church construction. He had a love for the martyrs, particular for St Lawrence: he had the Basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le mura restored and built the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso also in his honour. The present church replaced the structure of Damasus in the 15th century and the church forms part of the splendid Palazzo dell Cancelleria - that graceful 14th century product of Renaissance genius, which now houses the main Tribunals of the Church (apart from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), including the Sacred Rota (translated on one Italian website as the Holy Wheel!). The facade of the palace is often missed by passers-by and in doing so they fail to see a building of fine elegance and simple nobility: the courtyard of the interior is similarly a pleasure to behold. A picture can be seen on Fr Avram's blog - another plug for my illustrious neighbour. The Cancelleria also gives its name to a series of reliefs from the 1st century now on display at the Vatican Museum: they were found underneath the Cancelleria in the 1930s and are well worth a look.

I found the picture below on a website: it shows a view of the Cancelleria from the Campo di Fiori. But note the style of clothes, the car and the poster of the Communist Party - another era...

The church inside is very spacious and the altar itself is by Bernini - I had always wondered why it put me in mind of the one at St Peter's until I found out the name of the architect. Pope St Damasus is buried beneath it, as are the martyr St Eutychius and St Hippolytus. Before the Mass, the priests seated themselves in the stalls behind the altar; the kind parish priest switched on extra lighting - colossal blazing bulbs at eyelevel, blinding the clergy, at the helpful hour of 6.55am: one illumination none of them wanted. A helpful MC rapidly switched them off.

I used to like to pop in here to pray as a student, particularly before this lovely ikon of the Black Madonna enshrined here at the Blessed Sacrament Altar.

I thought back to one of the previous parish priests, Mgr Cecchi. Don Cecchi was a wonderful old priest: he had been a Papal Monsignor and owned a vast array of Papal memorabilia he had collected, including a cassock of Pope John XXIII. At Christmas Midnight Mass, the altar servers would march up and down the aisle ringing bells at the Gloria, with wings tied to their back. He used to stay with us at the English College Villa (Palazzola) and I would sometimes accompany him back into Rome - a journey of invocation and deep in-takes of breath as the good Don Cecchi failed to keep any lane discipline, talked ceaselessly and occasionally at 60mph put the car into reverse gear. He was a fine old priest, though, and arranged each summer for the College students to have a tour of the Papal gardens at Castel Gandolfo. Requiescat in pace.

Sunday, 2 March 2008


The 4th Sunday of Lent: we are half way through Lent and we have barely dented March. There is another list of fine churches to visit in the coming week for the station Masses.

On Thursday we went to the church of Santi Cosma e Damiano. Fr Avram has a great picture of the church on his blog. It's a marvellous place: the deep blue of the apse mosaic makes a deep impression and the whole piece is imbued with a sense that it is impervious to time - so much so that, according to one of the priests there, visitors often go around the church and ask the clergy to show them the ancient mosaic.

And ancient it is. The building had been a library, the famous Bibliotheca Pacis, built by the Emperor Vespasian about 75AD: here many of Rome's spoils of war could be seen on display and it was to here, according to Josephus, that the treasures of the Temple of Jerusalem were brought in triumph - including the Menorah whose image can be seen even now on the nearby Arch of Titus. We often think of the Romans as agents of preservation in Antiquity, a force of great culture and civilisation but they were more often than not agents of destruction, crushing, destroying anihilating any city that opposed them, caring not for the beauty that was erased but determined to exact a punishment that would be total and perennial - hence Carthage, Corinth, and Jerusalem. Anyway, the first library was destroyed by a fire in 191 and subsequently restored/rebuilt by Septimius Severus. Added to it was the temple of Romulus built by the Emperor Maxentius in honour of his son Valerius Romulus who died in 309 and was subsequently declared a god. You can see the temple in the picture below which I took in October: look at the centre of the picture; ignore the obvious looking temple slightly to the left; the temple of Romulus is that roundish or hexagonal shaped building with what looks like a mini cupola on top; it is attached to the church of Ss Cosmas and Damian behind - the one with the arch windows.

In 527 Pope Felix IV converted the library and temple into a church dedicated to the two physician martyrs, twin brothers, who were killed during the persecution of Diocletian in Cilicia. The mosaic dates from 527 - only the images of Pope Felix himself and of 3 sheep below him were heavily restored after an earthquake damaged them. It is also damaged by a restoration of the 17th century: this had to solve the problem of dampness and disease and so a floor was place at the present level; the crypt below was the original level of the church and it is there you can find the spot to which the remains of the two saints were transferred. Despite all this, the mosaic is a great favourite and truly remarkable. This picture gives an impression of the look of the church (I have to improve my photographic skills!). You can just about make out the triumphal arch which is the same age as the mosaic: it is this which is partially covered by the new but necessary walls built around 1632.

The Christ in the mosaic is the Christ of the Parousia, coming in glory, to judge the living and the dead; the saints on either side welcome him and you can see Pope Felix presenting the church to the Lord (one of the priests at the church says that many think the face on the mosaic of Felix is what remains of the original figure). Notice the phoenix in the top left hand corner on a palm tree: the tree represents victory and the bird is a symbol of the resurrection, of eternal life. Christ is pointing to it and in His other hand He holds a scroll - the Gospel itself, the new Law: if we follow this new Law, Christ is saying, then we will reach the resurrection to new life.

Underneath the ain mosaic the sheep representing the apostles go to great Christ the Lamb in the centre. It is a wonderful image: the four rivers pour out from beneath Him and give life wherever they flow.

Finally, of note also in the church is this rather interesting 8th century Byzantine image of the crucified Christ:

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The Blood of Martyrs...

Yesterday morning saw the station Mass celebrated at the church of Santa Pudenziana. The church is one of the oldest in Rome, going back to about 390AD, though it has been rebuilt a number of times. The apse mosaic mostly dates from the time of the original church - again making this probably the oldest mosaic in Rome, despite some damage being done to it in a restoration and redecoration of 1589. There in the middle is the magnificent figure of Christ beneath a jewelled cross: enthroned in glory He is blessing the assembled apostles and the two women who represent the converted Jews and the converted Gentiles, all gathered into the new Israel, the universal Church. They are either presenting wreaths of worship to Christ or holding them over the heads of the two great apostles, Peter and Paul. If it is the latter, perhaps it is meant to reflect the words of Paul in Galatians 2:7-10, where Peter is described as apostle for the circumcised and Paul as apostle for the uncircumcised or Gentiles. The figures are very Roman: Christ, according to some commentators appears like Jupiter (the text he holds reads, "Dominus conservator ecclesiae Pudentianae"); the apostles are in Senatorial togas - there should be 12, but the restoration of 1589 cut them off! Of note too are the 4 creatures from Ezekiel and the Apocalypse representing the Evangelists, which are said to be their oldest preserved representations - I particularly like this chap- or lion - or St Mark:

St Pudenziana with her sister St Praxedes were thought to be daughters of the senator Pudens who housed St Peter upon his arrival in Rome. They survived the initial persecution and are said to have collected the bodies/relics of those martyred, placing them in the well still seen in the church. They too eventually died for Christ. What gives credence to their story is that the churches of St Pudenziana and Praxedes (one of my favourites) were constructed very early on - 4th and early 5th century; it is possible that some kind of monument or oratory was built by Pope St Pius I in around 150 at the site of the church of St Praxedes - the same period when a monument was built over the tomb of St Peter (an altar said to include part of St Peter's altar table is in the church, in the chapel presented by the first Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman).

Below is a painting of the two good sisters gathering relics and placing them in a well - forgive the flash! In the background is an area of execution with all sorts of implements of torture and death, including a Catherine Wheel.

This morning we all trooped over to the church of San Sisto Vecchio: it is a longer walk and it took us past the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus, then the Baths of Caracalla, while we prayed the rosary and carried "The Case". The church was reputedly built on the site where Pope St Sixtus II (257-258AD) met St Lawrence as the Pope went to the Catacomb of Prætextatus to address a gathering of the faithful, perhaps even to offer Mass. The story of this meeting is described by most as a legend. Nevertheless what followed certainly was not. The Emperor Valerian had unleased a fairly severe persecution against the Church, after a brief respite following the terrible Decian attack on Christianity which saw the torture of the great Origen. Valerian forbade the gathering of Christians in any place, even in cemeteries. Sixtus (often written as Xystus in Latin) was specifically breaking the Imperial Law since he was going to comfort and encourage this secret assembly of the Christians of Rome. St Cyprian of Carthage writing a letter in this period tells us briefly what happened (Sixtus had helped to ease relations with the African Bishops after a period of tension and so was appreciated by Cyprian for his gentleness): "You should know that Sixtus, furthermore, was executed in a cemetery on August 6, and with him four deacons..." The soldiers found him in the act of preaching and it is thought that he was beheaded there and then - though some suggest he may have had a short trial and then returned to the cemetery to be executed. A couple of days later St Lawrence too was executed. This year marks the 1750th anniversary of their martyrdom.

Below is the exterior of the church - my pictures inside were not too successful! There's a better picture on Fr Avram's blog (the jokes are worse though). The Romanesque belltower dates from the 12th century.

Mgr Cecchio, the Rector of the North American College, gave the homily. He recalled how St Dominic had lived at the this church and how St Thomas Aquinas too had spent some time there. The church was a place of saints, of men and women who through the ages had prayed and loved God and neighbour. It made me think that despite the assertion of many guides that there is not anything too remarkable about the church, it really had a history that belied its appearance - a history of saints that stretched right back to Sixtus and Lawrence and which surrounds and encourages us today.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Exotic Basilicas and Exotic Popes

I was asked after what I wrote yesterday why I should be interested in Blessed Pius IX. I suppose there are many reasons - his witness, his sufferings, his important work for the First Vatican Council, not to mention his unique sense of humour. Two other important reasons spring to mind. Firstly, he was the Pope who established the North American College here in Rome at what is now known as the Casa Santa Maria - where I am presently living: something for which I am very grateful! Secondly, he restored the hierarchy to England and Wales in 1850: part of this restoration included the establishment of my own Diocese of Northampton. The move created great excitement and there was a strong desire for the "conversion of England" - something we still await but also still long for. There was a fair amount of interaction bewteen Rome and the fledgling Dioceses. One of the fruits of this was apparently that Provost Husenbeth of Northampton managed to secure two peculiar priviledges for the Chapter of Canons in Northampton: firstly, each Canon could wear a ring; secondly, the mozetta worn by the Canons would be the same as the Pope's. These concessions were ratified by Pope Benedict XV. The decisions of the two Popes are referenced in our Diocesan Archive. Another eventual fruit of this interaction came during the papacy of Leo XIII when one of the thousand detailed copies of the ikon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour (Help) was given to the church of Our Lady at Great Billing - and that church was recently made the Diocesan shrine by our present (and twelfth) Bishop of Northampton, the Right Reverend Peter Doyle. The depiction of Pius IX is to be found hanging in the refectory here at the Casa: you can spot the mozetta...

Today was mostly a sunny day and certainly a productive one: a full morning in the library, some more time there this afternoon and evening, and Latin with Fr Foster. At the moment St Hilary's commentary on one of the psalms is taking the form of a deep meditation of Christ's prayer during His Passion - very appropriate for Lent.

This morning the station Mass was held at the Basilica of San Marco, dedicated to the Evangelist, and rebuilt a number of times over the centuries. It still houses a beautiful mosaic in the apse, put together during the reign of Pope Gregory IV (827-844): he can be seen in the mosaic with a square blue nimbus behind his head - a sign that he was alive at the time this was done. The other figures are St Mark the Evangelist, St Felicissimus, Christ, Pope St Mark (who built the first basilica here and to whom it was eventually dedicated in addition to the Evangelist), St Agapitus and St Agnes. Below the figures Christ is depicted as the Lamb of God around whom gather the 12 sheep representing the apostles. Pope St Mark built the basilica over an older oratory - but he had little time to enjoy the fruits of his labour. Consecrated on 18th January 336, he died on 7th October the same year, of natural causes, and he now lies in the Basilica of which he is co-patron.

The Basilica is an exotic mix of styles, with fine 18th century baroque, a 9th century apse and crypt, a 15th century coffered ceiling. Mercifully, the view of the apse mosaic is not blocked by a baldachino as is the case with the church of Santa Prassede. San Marco serves as the national church of the Venetians; one of its titulars was the Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Albino Luciani: he eventually became Pope John Paul I in 1978 and, like Pope St Mark, had a very short reign of only 33 days, dying too of natural causes.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Sunday at San Lorenzo

On Sundays the great American College Circus doesn't head out to the station church of the day. I decided this afternoon therefore to head out on my bike and go to the church of the day - San Lorenzo fuori le mura: it was a beautiful afternoon marred only by the sight of me huffing and puffing my way up the hill of the Via Nazionale. Somewhere after Termini I got lost, but eventually I arrived at the Campo Verano, site of a very old cemetery, catacomb and San Lorenzo. It was to here on 19th July 1943 that Pope Pius XII rushed with his secretary Monsignor Montini, the future Paul VI, having heard that bombs had dropped on the area after an allied air raid missed Tiburtina train station. It was a dramatic gesture: he came with money which he had quickly withdrawn from the Vatican Bank and this he distributed to the needy; he also comforted the injured and anointed the dying, eventually returning to the Vatican with his white cassock stained with blood. He was the first on the scene month later when the San Giovanni quarter was bombed: a wonderful statue stands to commemorate his actions outside the chrch of Santa Croce, placed there by the grateful Roman people who considered him to be "Defensor Civitatis". There is a memorial of the 19th July incident in the porch of the church:

Also in the porch area are some beautiful 13th century frescoes, damaged by the bombing but very carefully restored. They detail the lives of Saints Lawrence and Stephen - the first martyr and one of the first deacons of the Church:

The porch contains 3 ancient Roman sarcophagi. One of them is carved with busy scenes of the wine harvest, with small cherubic figures doing all they can to gather in the grapes:

The church is has its roots in the 4th century. St Lawrence was martyred in 258 in the persecution which also saw the beheading of Pope St Sixtus II: tradition says that he was roasted to death on a large griddle, though some think he too may have been beheaded. His body was brought to the Campo Verano and buried here. A church was subsequently built when freedom came to the Church and San Lorenzo was subsequently declared a Patriarchal Basilica by Pope St Leo the Great (440-461) - one of the 3 minor ones in the City. It has had a few serious modifications: the nave dates from around 435, the chancel from around 585 and the apse was built over Constantine's oratory which enclosed the tomb of Lawrence. Subsequent changes by Pope Honorious III (1216-1227) resulted in what is seen today.

Inside there is a marvellous Cossmatesque floor from the 12th century and the ambone is from the same period, with the Paschal candlestick incorporated into its structure.

Below the High Altar and the baldachino dating from 1147 is the monument enshrining the remains of St Stephen and St Lawrence.

Behind this can be found the slab on which Lawrence's body was laid after martyrdom. This is in an area that leads to the tomb of Pope Pius IX - indeed, Blessed Pius IX, the extraordinary Pope of the 19th century whose reign was longer than any other Pope (1846-1878) and who has been notoriously represented in history - though not as terribly as his successor, Pius XII. Pius IX was a man of great holiness who suffered terribly as an anti-clerical state rose to bring about the unification of Italy: he had originally sympathised with the unification, but its eventual course proved to be deleterious in many ways to the Church.