Simon Cotton on the best Catholic blogs, written by clergy, laymen and laywomen, on both sides of the Atlantic
Just as there are still some formidable blogs in the Anglo-Catholic/Ordinariate ranks, so the best Catholic blogs are powerful advocates of orthodoxy. The best known is probably Fr John Zuhlsdorf’s What Does the Prayer Really Say? (WDTPRS), which combines ‘Slavishly accurate liturgical translations & frank commentary on Catholic issues’. Fr Z regularly compares the collects for the Sunday masses, examining the traditional Latin prayer from the 1570 Missale Romanum, and more recent versions, and looking back at earlier sources – at the time I’m writing, he comments that the collect for the 15th Sunday on Ordinary Time (10 July) can be traced back to the seventh-century Gelasian Sacramentary and maybe to Ambrose of Milan or Augustine of Hippo.
His commentary on this prayer is followed by an accurate translation of the Latin, which stands in awesome contrast with the banal simplicity of the 1973 ‘lame-duck ICEL’ version, which is to be superseded by a greatly improved ICEL version of 2011. If he was a British blogger, Fr Z would doubtless be savaging the Tablet; instead his usual target is the National Catholic Reporter (to which he refers as the Fishwrap, reminiscent to this writer of those past days when one’s fish and chips indeed came wrapped in a newspaper).
Hermeneutic of Continuity
On this side of the Atlantic, several clerical blogs present themselves for our particular attention, three emanating from clergy to the south of London. Fr Tim Finigan’s Hermeneutic of Continuity derives its title from an address of Pope Benedict XVI to the Curia on Thursday, 22 December 2005, in which the Pope referred to a ‘hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’ which resulted from an incorrect interpretation of Vatican II, leading to a rupture with authentic Catholic tradition, and causing a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. A hermeneutic of continuity looks to the parable of the householder: ‘Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old’ [Matt. 13.52].
Fr Finigan is a busy parish priest, in the best blogging tradition, whose parish of Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen is near Sidcup. The blog addresses the life of the parish and issues like prayer and apologetics, but does not duck political comment when that is called for. Nor does Fr Ray Blake, of St Mary Magdalene’s, Brighton in Father Ray Blake’s Blog. He is another priest who favours Fr Z’s advice to ‘say the red and do the black’ when it comes to the liturgy. But he also posts thoughtful blogs; just look up what he said on 25 June 2011 in ‘The Other Victims’ or on 23 June 2011 on ‘Charismatics’. While he admits that in some parts of the world the Charismatic movement has been Catholicized, in others:
‘Private Revelation, especially through lay leaders seems to trump official Church teaching. Its main consequence is however its effect on Catholic thought, especially in preaching and teaching, primarily because here it shows its Protestant roots, in that it puts forward a preference for personal experience over and against the Magisterium. In this it easily becomes both anti-historical and anti-intellectual, in short Catholic-lite.
It seems to dominate our schools and catechesis partly because it is by nature ‘person centred’, and also because it is so easy for a partly formed teacher or catechist to put forward their own opinion as fact, rather than seek to understand and make their own two thousand years Catholic Tradition, a Tradition developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and authenticated by Christ’s promises to the Apostles.’
Father Seán Finnegan of Shoreham-by-Sea blogs under the title Valle Adurni, and has also lately commented (12 July 2011: ‘The First Person’) on the danger of ‘quasi-authoritative private revelation. The leaders of these groups believe themselves to be in some way divinely appointed to teach and lead. They speak with an infallibility that the Pope could only dream of and their pronouncements must be treated as divine revelation.’ He goes on to remind us of the Montanists (alive and well in the CofE, do I hear you say?).
On the Sacraments
Fr Seán is one of many Catholic priests who are supportive of the Ordinariate, and also keeps a watchful eye on Anglican blogs, even unto Ugley Vicar, when on 29 May 2011 (‘The Bleedin’ Obvious’) he comments on the ontological nature of the Catholic understanding of the Sacraments:
‘To a Catholic mind, the question is not just a moral one, but an ontological one. Priesthood and a fortiori Episcopacy are about more than just headship or leadership. This is because we believe that sacraments actually do what they say on the tin, and we ask not just ‘may’ or ‘should’ somebody do it, but ‘can’ they do it? To make a priest you have to do more than simply putting a vestment on and calling them a priest; a bishop is more than a pointy hat and a curly stick.’
After discussing the links between Catholicism and science, he continues:
‘For a Catholic, as for a scientist, we need to know whether if I do x, y will follow. We know a male priest can do the biz: why introduce variables that we cannot be assured will work at all? When I die, I want to be properly absolved, not simply to be comforted by somebody (of either sex) saying that surely God wouldn’t (read ‘oughtn’t’) to send me to hell. I want assurance that my sins are forgiven, not warm words and a comforting opinion that just might be rubbish, and dangerous rubbish.’
Nor are these the only clerical blogs worth a read, others include Forest Murmurs, from Fr Michael Brown, at Forest Hall, oop beyond Newcastle, Fr John Abberton’s Stella Maris, and Fr Stephen Wang’s Bridges and Tangents, which combines attention to contemporary culture with some serious moral reflections. But I must leave the clergy to pass on and point out the sheer number and variety of blogs produced by lay Catholics.
Shooting from the hip
There are some excellent, punchy, blogs from male hands. Laurence England’s blog from Brighton, That the Bones You Have Crushed May Thrill, is written by an unemployed Catholic who takes the problems of the down-and-out as seriously as orthodox Catholicism,
It is a long time since the days when we were told that the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act would help just a few women who were, in Caroline’s words, ‘genuinely tragic and hard cases’. Words like ‘drive’, ‘coach’ and ‘horses’ associate themselves in my mind.
North American writers
Then from the other side of the Atlantic, there’s The Crescat, a single mom, who combines humour with a fascination for smells, bells and eye candy (like the Swiss Guard) as well as honestly admitting her own failings and frustrations (how honest are we?). Hilary White, a Rome-based Canadian (Orwell’s Picnic), is currently writing movingly of her struggles with chemotherapy.
Humour and controversy are great, in the right places and at the right time. But we are not in religion primarily for those things. In 2009, Bishop Edward J. Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa set up the Benedictine Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle; this community has the mission of Eucharistic Adoration for the sanctification of priests. The Prior of the community, Father Mark
Kirby, blogs under the name Vultus Christi. Its title is a reference to Psalm 27, ‘Tibi dixit cor meum, quaesivi vultum tuum, vultum tuum Domine requiram: ne avertas faciem tuam a me’ (‘Seek ye my face; my heart said shooting from the hip at both liturgical abusers and at Brighton and Hove City Council. James Preece on Catholic and Loving It calls a spade a spade, and possibly a shovel and all sorts of other things, when he lays into Catholic Voices, euthanasia and the chairman of the governors of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School. Teachers will enjoy, or maybe squirm, reading his 8 June 2011 blog ‘John O’Donnell: Am I lesser Catholic’.
Curt Jester, from Jeff Miller (‘a former atheist who after spending forty years in the wilderness finds himself with both astonishment and joy a member of the Catholic Church’) is under the patronage of the Blessed Miguel Pro SJ, one of the martyrs of the suppression of Christianity in between-wars Mexico, and whose last words, before the soldiers shot him, were ‘Viva Cristo Rey!’.
A majority of the lay Catholic blogs seem to be written by women. In auntie joanna writes, you can follow how the Catholic writer and speaker Joanna Bogle travels the length and breadth of Britain; it is more than a diary though, as it gives real insight into Church life up and down the country. Mac McLernon’s Mulier Fortis is produced by a secondary school science teacher, and gives vignettes of parish life and much that goes on beyond, as well as starring her two cats, Furretti and Miaowrini. Mary O’Regan’s The Path Less Taken is again produced by a busy writer. She regularly posts on holy saints, especially that humble servant of God, Padre Pio, but also regularly demolishes the stories pedalled by the abortion industry.
Caroline Farrow, in The Catechesis of Caroline, also tackles moral issues head on (and has suffered from trolls in the comment box and on Twitter for her pains). Read her posts of 24 June 2011, ‘The facts about LIFE’ and 8 July 2011, A‘ victory for feminism’, and reflect upon how the contraceptive culture and cohabitation has done no favours at all to women.
unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek. Hide not thy face far from me’). The posts that it contains are a rich source for meditation; start anywhere, but why not begin with Father Mark’s thoughts posted on 1 July 2011, ‘This one thing does love ask’;
Hermeneutic of Continuity
Fr Ray Blake
Bridges and Tangents
Catholic and Loving It
The Path Less Taken
Catechesis of Caroline