14 August 2010

Papal Infallibility & The Assumption

(Murillo, Assumption of the Virgin, 1670,
Oil on canvas. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg)

Readings for the Assumption

Do you believe the Pope to be infallible? Do you think, in matters of faith and morality, the Pope is able to speak with such authority that it must be held to be true by all Catholics? Well, that is our understanding. This is the teaching of the Church going back well over a century now and yet it has often been cited as one of the whacky things that Catholics believe. It will be raised in the media as we prepare for the Holy Father’s visit next month. Surely no man can be without error, people will say. Of course these people misunderstand the teaching of Papal Infallibility, yet today is a perfect example of what we mean by it. Let me explain.

In 1946 Pope Pius XII polled the Catholic bishops throughout the world and after their affirmative response; he officially promulgated the dogma of Mary’s assumption on 1st November 1950. The Pope spoke, ex cathedra, infallibly. We, therefore, as dutiful Catholics hold this dogma of our faith to be absolute. Quite simply: Mary was assumed into heaven. No doubt whatsoever. Now, do we know this to be true because the Pope says so, or is it, as I suspect, because we simply know it as truth and, therefore, believe it. It’s a simple question to always ask yourself: is it true because we say it is, or do we believe because it is true!

Whilst there may be no explicit evidence within scripture for this truth; I don’t recall reading the Angel saying to Mary, “oh, and by the way, because you have said yes to be the Mother of God it means that you’re going to be assumed into heaven one day”, there is none the less clear signs within both Scripture and especially within our Tradition that bears witness to this special honour for Our Lady.

In the Gospel Elizabeth says two very interesting things during her greeting of Mary: she refers to Mary as “the mother of my Lord” and also “she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Thus, we have long held that the ravages of the tomb would never touch such a chosen one as Mary. Once Christ had died and then rose from the dead, it must surely be only natural that which was the way of the Son would be replicated in the mother. It is interesting to wonder if the dragon in the book of the Apocalypse somehow represents the decay of the tomb from which the child is snatched up to heaven and the woman is safely removed to the desert to await her turn and thus follow the son. To be assumed into heaven in due course. We will hear, in a moment, the priest say to God: you would not allow decay to touch her body, for she had given birth to your Son. In a sense, Mary’s assumption is pretty obvious really.

When Pope Pius declared this to be true, then, he wasn’t coming up with something new. Often, the harsh critics of Papal Infallibility will say: if the Pope loses the plot then, and says so and so, you have to believe it! As though Catholics were not born with reason and will believe anything and thus, subtly, those who would criticise us can declare all truth to be flawed: All truth to be simply a matter of choice and why is your choice any more important than mine?

We are not talking about who is right and who is wrong. We are taking about the truth revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Always, this is our starting point. Everything points to this. Mary’s assumption has its basis in being the Mother of God: thus is makes clear sense that she should be born immaculate and that she is, for us, the model of all humanity. Not only our personal model but also she shows the Church the way; not only in destiny but via the right route. We prayed at the beginning of Mass: May we see heaven as our final Goal and come to share her glory. We will conclude by praying: may we “be led to the glory of heaven by the prayers of the Virgin Mary.” Amen!

Thanks to Mary, and her assumption, we are able, therefore, to make very clear to people exactly what we mean by Papal Infallibility. This has been our understanding for well over a century now; can anyone actually name a time when it seemed like a daft idea. We love the Pope and we will give him due reverence and we are proud to listen to him speak!

13 August 2010

St Margaret of Scotland

I know we're a little early (16 Nov) but it's always good to seek the intercession of those whom you feel close to, spiritually. So, with this in mind:

St Margaret of Scotland
Pray for us

First Blessings

H/T to Vincenzo over at SANCTE PATER for this video of an FSSP priest giving first blessings. It's lovely to see the crowds who, clearly, seek the spiritual blessings. At the risk, however, of sounding Palagian, I thought he might have put a little more effort into his work!

12 August 2010

Quote of the day...

Recently a parishioner gave me the following quote from Marcus Aurelius, one time Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher...

Press on steadily. Keep to the straight road in your thinking & doing and your days will ever flow on smoothly. The soul of man, like the souls of all rational creatures, has two things in common with the soul of God: It can never be thwarted from without, and it's good consists in righteousness of character and action and in confining every wish thereto.

Wonder what Russell Crowe thinks of that, then!

11 August 2010

Lead Kindly Light

(Newman, centre right, 3rd cleric from the right with cotta)

Jackie Parkes, I see, has a new blog: Lead Kindly Light, which you can link to here. Delighted to see she has a copy of the unfinished portrait of the meeting of the hierarchy at Oscott College in 1852 (if memory serves me correctly). It is a delight to see the painting again, which I passed many a time on my way up to see the Rector, over the years!

Newman RIP

10 August 2010


Remember, today, in prayer all those who are ordained Deacon, both transitional and permanent. Especially, we pray for Deacons Gerry and Pat, here in the parish, and for Craig and Padraig at Oscott, who are preparing for ordination to the presbyterate next summer.

8 August 2010

Fides et Ratio

Readings for 19th Sunday, Year C

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” These are the words of the great Doctor of the Church, St Thomas Aquinas. On the face of it we may conclude that if you don’t have faith, then you will never understand what it is that Catholics believe. Or you might conclude that it is only to those whom the Lord has given the gift of faith that salvation is possible suggesting that Catholics are the lucky ones and everyone else is condemned. This is simply not true.

Faith is a gift, a wonderful gift, which comes from the Creator of all humanity. I can think of no reason why God would not give a person this enlightening gift. Rather it is a little like we are given a birthday gift which relies upon batteries. How often have we found ourselves searching through draws and boxes on Christmas morning looking for batteries for the children? Perhaps in an age which relies so heavily upon battery operated items this is now less a problem, but I digress. The gift of faith, which we have all been given, relies upon the batteries of reason to get it going.

Pope John Paul II, in his mind-blowing encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio says: Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth. This brings to mind an image of the human spirit like some graceful butterfly, full of colour and wonder and beauty soaring toward heaven and coming ever closer to being with Jesus. As though heaven were some distant plane upon which we know we shall find the most treasured and striking of flowers upon which to land, toward a light that gives warmth, love and comfort. Surely this is something we all seek in an age of ugliness amid the harsh reality of our lives. It’s not a daydream, however, but rather it is our destiny.

Oscar Wilde, I think it was, said that scepticism is the beginning of faith. He talks, one suspects, of the need for reason in matters of faith. Faith may well be blind, but we need the clear sight of reason to bring that faith into its full light and beauty. If faith is gift, then we might say reason is natural to us. We all, regardless of our faith, have an innate desire to know the truth. Those, however, who have found the batteries can get the toy going and see creation in all its wonder. Pity those who have batteries, but no toy to play with!

Perhaps the greatest of all scientist, a man of outstanding reason you might say, Albert Einstein, said once: There are only two ways to live . . . one is as though nothing is a miracle . . . the other is as if everything is. So today we have that choice of how we are to live our lives. Do we believe, or do we not.

6 August 2010


In thanksgiving, on this wonderful feast, for our friends at St George's, Worcester and for a God-given opportunity to gaze upon the original earlier this year! It never ceases to amaze me that though once I had the opportunity and money to see all that I wanted, it just never happened. Giving it all up, seemingly, has opened horizons I could only ever dream about. Thanks, Jesus.

4 August 2010

Newman by Fr Michael Rear

There is little time within an Assistant Priests schedule for reading, it seems to me. Perhaps, one wonders, if I spent a little more time in prayer then I would have the time for uplifting spiritual reading as contained within Blessed John Henry Newman by Fr Michael Rear. Fr Michael presents a short but excellent biography of Newman. Clearly, in this fervent time of Newman-appreciation in which we are all gripped, it's good to take time and learn about the man who will be declared Blessed by the Pope in a few weeks time.

If you have time for only a brief introduction to the man, then Fr Michael's account comes very highly recommended. The blurb on the back of the book states:

Newman’s life spanned nearly the whole of the 19th century, spent almost equally in the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. Michael Rear begins by exploring Newman’s immense influence on the Anglican Church, and the events that led to him being denounced as a traitor’ and virtually expelled from that Church.

Only after four years of prayer and of his study of the development of doctrine, did Newman find his way clear to enter the Catholic Church. Founder of the Oratories, of a school, and a university in Ireland, his views on the laity, papal infallibility, education, and conscience led to misunderstanding, until, at the age of 78, he was made a Cardinal. A century later he was called an ‘unseen presence’ at the Second Vatican Council, and revered for his holiness.

His prediction of the secular society, in which Religion, ‘is a private luxury, which a man may have if he will; but which… he must not obtrude upon others, or indulge in to their annoyance’, has a very contemporary feel.

Treat yourself: though at £4.95 it's not great value for such a brief book. Mind you, better value than other's I've read! Buy it here.

A great pleasure to spend time with one holy priest on the feast of another. St John Marie Vianney: Pray for us. Soon-to-be Blessed John Henry Newman: Pray for us.

2 August 2010

It's getting very exciting now...

H/T to Love Undefiled by Robert Colquhoun for pointing out this great video. I'm so excited I could crush a grape!


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