Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shrove Tuesday

This is the traditional name given to the day preceding Ash Wednesday.

The Americans call it Fat Tuesday, owing, I guess, to the practice of clearing out the larder by eating everything therein forbidden during Lent. In many (principally Latin) countries it is known as Mardi Gras and celebrated with some abandon, but Melancholicus much prefers the traditional English name and sober manner of its celebration.

Shrove Tuesday is named from the verb shrive, which has past tense shrove and past participle shriven. This is an ancient word, going back to the earliest English and with cognates also in other Germanic languages. ‘To shrive’ is to hear confessions, and ‘to be shriven’ refers to the reception of sacramental absolution. Linguistically this is of course an archaic usage, but it is not dead even yet, for today one still encounters souls who use the traditional English terms for receiving the sacrament rather than the more common and pedestrian expression ‘going to confession’.

It is not mandatory to confess one’s sins in Shrovetide, but it is a praiseworthy practice nonetheless and makes for an excellent beginning to the Lenten fast. One should at least use Shrovetide as a time for planning—in consultation with one’s director if one has such—how one shall spend the forty days of Lent.

Melancholicus wished to be shriven on this day, but such was rather difficult as he didn’t venture out of the house except to visit the local shop, whereafter the prospect of driving into town, finding somewhere to park and locating a confessor was somewhat unappealing.

Instead he spent the day playing Rome: Total War, yes, the entire day—for this was his version of Fat Tuesday, and he shall be giving it up for Lent. Five of his cities are under siege, but the inhabitants thereof must wait until Easter to be relieved. His spiritual and intellectual life will benefit more from a renunciation of that game than it ever could abstaining from chocolate or alcoholic beverages.

In the UK and Ireland it is customary to eat pancakes on the evening of Shrove Tuesday, whence the oft-used name (particularly among children) of “pancake Tuesday”. Melancholicus continues to observe this custom in his adulthood although he now sources his pancakes ready-made in the local shop, which relieves him of the burden of frying them up himself.

Very tasty they were too.

Smasher R.I.P.

Alas, the Irish blogosphere is a sadder, colder, more joyless place than it was until lately.

For the incomparable Smasher has fared forth, perhaps to pastures greener, where one need never be anxious about dodgy homilies, mediocre bishops, or liturgical abuse.

The late savant’s obituary notice, posted by his widow Bellatrix, is so poignant it brings a tear to the eye.

With Smasher gone, who shall bait Donal McKeown for us? Who?

But since we are Christians and believe in the resurrection, we might express the hope that perhaps Smasher shall resurface at some point in the future, maybe under a different identity, and continue to edify and amuse...

Of course Smasher isn’t really dead. But he has quit blogging. Explanation here.

Thank you Therese!

Melancholicus couldn’t believe his eyes.

His sitemeter has gone haywire with activity.

He is not normally given to boasting about stats since his regular readership is so tiny, and if Infelix Ego were online for a hundred years he still wouldn’t receive as many visitors as the heavy hitters get in a week.

Investigating this sudden upsurge in activity, he traced its source to a comment by one Therese B on this post on Fr. Z’s site, in which a link back to Infelix Ego is provided. Not a few wdtprs readers have followed the link, and it has more than tripled his stats - look!

Thank you, Therese! Your blogger is most grateful.

Monday, February 23, 2009

It's forbidden, you know

This is apposite, as Lent is all but upon us.

It is customary in not a few Amchurch parishes to replace the normal contents of holy water fonts with sand, soil, pebbles, woodland detritus and sundry other unmentionables.

Melancholicus does not recall encountering this unlawful nonsense in any Irish church. But if any of his Irish readers have come across such in this country, he would be interested in hearing from them.

Here is the response from the CDW:

Prot. N. 569/00/L
March 14, 2000

Dear Father:

This Congregation for Divine Worship has received your letter sent by fax in which you ask whether it is in accord with liturgical law to remove the Holy Water from the fonts for the duration of the season of Lent.

This Dicastery is able to respond that the removing of Holy Water from the fonts during the season of Lent is not permitted, in particular, for two reasons:

1. The liturgical legislation in force does not foresee this innovation, which in addition to being praeter legem is contrary to a balanced understanding of the season of Lent, which though truly being a season of penance, is also a season rich in the symbolism of water and baptism, constantly evoked in liturgical texts.

2. The encouragement of the Church that the faithful avail themselves frequently of the [sic] of her sacraments and sacramentals is to be understood to apply also to the season of Lent. The "fast" and "abstinence" which the faithful embrace in this season does not extend to abstaining from the sacraments or sacramentals of the Church. The practice of the Church has been to empty the Holy Water fonts on the days of the Sacred Triduum in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil, and it corresponds to those days on which the Eucharist is not celebrated (i.e., Good Friday and Holy Saturday).

Hoping that this resolves the question and with every good wish and kind regard, I am,

Sincerely yours in Christ,

[signed] Mons. Mario Marini

Thanks to the Orthometer, by way of The Crescat.

The liturgical colour of Lent: not violet, but green!

The C of E, that formerly venerable institution of English culture and religion which has given us such delights as choral evensong and the Oxford Movement, but which lately has resorted to frivolous gimmicks to keep up its media profile, is now preparing for the holy season of Lent.

And what are Christians being urged to do for Lent this year?

Mortifying the body through the practice of fast and abstinence? Not a bit of it.

How about rising earlier from sleep in order to give oneself to an hour of prayer before undertaking the duties of the day? Not that either.

Or, perhaps, spiritual reading and daily meditation? No.

More frequent attendance at church services, or almsgiving, or works of charity? Not these.

No, the Church of England in general and two of its bishops in particular, have recommended that Christians give up carbon for Lent. In practical terms, this involves such practices as eschewing the use of plastic bags, washing dishes in the sink instead of in the dishwasher, insulating the house and the hot water tank, switching off electrical appliances when not in use, &c. In this wise, Lent is to be a time for reducing the size of one’s “carbon footprint” rather than a time of penance and spiritual renewal.

How thoroughly, heart-warmingly secular! How totally at one with the zeitgeist! How completely and fashionably trendy! They must have forgotten what Lent is all about. There is nothing in their lordships’ prescription, apart perhaps from the occurrence of the word Lent to which any atheist could take exception.

A secular programme for what is in essence a secular goal, and with it the Christian significance of Lent is jettisoned entirely.

Lest Melancholicus be thought of as mocking the Anglicans, he assures his readers he has no such malicious intention. On the contrary, he is pleased to offer, as an antidote to the above nonsense, some edification he found on the blog of a C of E clergyman here.

That was not my Mass

So says Elena Curti, deputy editrix of The Tablet, a journal which (like so many other things in the recent life of the Church) was once a bastion of Catholicism but is now a suppurating carbuncle of error, division and dissent.

As is by now well known across the blogosphere, the target of Ms. Curti’s invective was the traditional rite of Mass in general, and Fr. Tim Finigan in particular.

Happily for all good servants of the Lord, Ms. Curti’s hatchet job seems to have done more damage to herself and to the organ for which she writes than to Fr. Tim. Nevertheless that good priest has been maligned in a grossly offensive manner that at least one observer has considered actionable.

It is no secret that the editorial staff of The Tablet has a special animus against the old Mass. That they have such stems from ecclesiology—they have a different view of the Church and of religion, and probably a different view of God as well, to that which Catholics have always held. The old Mass is non grata in the wonderful, ‘renewed’ Church we currently inhabit because it so clearly expresses the old religion. The preference of the revolutionaries for the new Mass stems from the ambiguity of its ritual, since, given the plethora of options available to the celebrant or liturgy planner and the often sloppy manner of its celebration, the old religion is not as immediately and unambiguously expressed as in the older rite.

Melancholicus would never assert that a mere preference for the new rite constitutes an attachment to heresy, or renders one less Catholic than one’s neighbour. This rite has been normative in the western Church for nearly forty years, and it is no exaggeration to say that the majority of those who still attend Mass today do prefer it. They are accustomed to it, and where religious rites are concerned, long familiarity creates a deep attachment. Many ordinary Catholics have also unconsciously imbibed the propaganda of the liturgical revolution through no fault of their own.

So there is nothing in itself wrong with preferring the new Mass to the old, and Melancholicus would never oppose granting access to the Novus Ordo to those who desire it. Even if ideological radicals such as the likes of Elena Curti wish to attend the new rite every Sunday, so be it, it is not his place to interfere.

But what of those who desire access to the old rite? Should they not also be treated with equanimity?

While a mere preference for the new rite as the Mass to which one is accustomed is blameless, Melancholicus has always thought there is something peculiar about those whose attachment to the new rite is in part a reaction against the old.

They are suspect who wish to suppress the old Mass, or to see it suppressed. Such an attitude manifestly savours of heresy.

They are likewise suspect who, though aware of the old Mass, care nothing in particular for it and would cry no tears if it did in fact vanish, as though it were not a great treasure of the Church that ought to be cultivated and fostered with great care to be handed on to future generations. Such an attitude, while it does not necessarily indicate espousal of heretical opinions, is at the very least a ripe example of cultural and artistic philistinism.

Yesterday Melancholicus so wanted to attend the Mass of Quinquagesima Sunday instead of that for the seventh Sunday of “Ordinary Time”, but it just wasn’t available in his locality.

But he did not exclaim, with the arrogance of Elena Curti, that “that was not my Mass”. While improvements could certainly be made to the state of the liturgy as it is celebrated in these parts, the sacrifice of Calvary is still in there somewhere.

The Mass is the Mass; it is not the plaything of any priest, or layperson, or group of laypersons. It is an Actio Christi, an action of Christ, for He is both the Priest who offers, and the Victim who is offered, that the sins of many might be remitted. This is as true of even the wackiest Novus Ordo as it is of the most solemn and reverent celebration of the Latin Church’s ancient liturgy. The Mass is not a party, nor is it a simple meal, it is an august and solemn sacrifice, even the sacrifice of Calvary itself.

Each one of us knows how liturgical terrorists have obscured the sacrifice by changing the words of the rite and with the signs and gestures and other externals whereof it is composed, in an attempt to make it appear more a celebration of the community, or whatever, rather than an action of Christ. This is nothing less than a blasphemy, since it attempts to obscure a great truth that God himself has revealed to us, and attempts to refuse the greatest gift of all that He has given us. As St. Vincent de Paul said (quoted in the video below), “ceremonies may be shadows, but they are shadows of great truths, and it is essential that they should be carried out with the greatest possible attention”. And that, of course, is why the old liturgy and those who celebrate it are pursued with such bitter and fanatical zeal by our friends over at The Tablet, and elsewhere. The old Mass is unmistakably a solemn sacrifice, Calvary made present on our very altars in an unbloody manner — and that is why they hate it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Bloggers' Choice Awards

It’s that time of year again.

Although Melancholicus was sufficiently vain as to solicit nomination from another blogger, he was at least not so vain as to nominate himself!

Unhappily, though, some weeks ago he discovered through carelessly fiddling with the website, and much to his surprise, that it is indeed possible to vote for oneself—and hence through that ill-conceived experiment, his vote for 2009 is already used up.

That was not his intention. He would much prefer to have given his vote to someone more deserving. Ah well, he shall remember this lesson next year.

But, gentle reader, if Infelix Ego has in any way moved you, whether to rapture, laughter, fury, boredom or tears, do consider visiting the Bloggers’ Choice Awards and voting...

... for Mulier Fortis.

Sodality of Our Lady retreat

As he remarked in this post last December, Melancholicus feels the need for a retreat in order to clear away the cobwebs and let some sunlight into his benighted soul.

As to the contents of such a retreat, he expressed a preference for, naturally, daily Mass (usus antiquior), silence, wholesome spiritual conferences, examen and of course confession.

Members of the Sodality of Our Lady have now organised such a retreat scheduled to take place in Mount Melleray Cistercian monastery in April, and Melancholicus will be going. He can forward details to any of his Irish readers who are likewise interested in participating; just get in touch. The traditional Mass will be offered each day and, circumstances permitting, perhaps one or more of the traditional breviary offices will also be sung.

Melancholicus much misses the chanting of the office, particularly that of vespers, and more so the grandeur of first and second vespers of Sunday and of major feasts. The beauty of the Roman office chanted in choir is sublime; every now and then in maudlin mood he opens his Liber Usualis and fondly reminisces over one of the best parts of what it was like to be a seminarian in a traditionalist community. Sometimes he even goes so far as to chant the office alone. But it’s not the same.

The closest that one can come to a celebration of the traditional Roman office in Dublin is, paradoxically, solemn evensong at St. Bartholomew’s church on Clyde Road. This is an Anglo-Catholic church, which means that the liturgy is Anglican use—essentially Cranmer’s prayer book but with an admixture of Romanising elements, such as the office hymn, the plainsong antiphon at the Magnificat, the thurible, the incensing of the altar, the choir and the congregation, and the gregorian tones employed for the psalms. Driving back to Dublin on Sunday evenings for the start of his working week, Melancholicus occasionally calls in to St. Bart’s, marvelling at the beauty not only of the church itself but of the liturgy, and how strikingly it reminds him of the traditional Roman office as he knew it in seminary. It is sad that such beauty is too often alien to the liturgy as it is celebrated in Roman Catholic churches in this archdiocese.

Anyhow, I shall leave it at that, otherwise this post will descend into yet another sarcastic and bitter screed against the bugninists and the liturgical ‘reform’.

Birthday greetings

Melancholicus received this notice by e-mail, and wishes to extend his congratulations to Fr. Ó Fionnagáin (not that he reads Infelix Ego, but nonetheless). Fr. Ó Fionnagáin is one of the ‘good Jesuits’, as the following makes clear:

Congratulations to Rev Father Proinnsias Ó Fionnagáin SJ who is on the eve of his 100th Birthday. Father Ó Fionnagáin was of considerable help to the traditional movement in Ireland for many years as well as being an historian doing valuable work on the causes of the Irish martyrs. As he joined the Society of Jesus at the age of 18, he is 82 years a Jesuit; 80 years professed and 67 years a priest.

82 years a Jesuit! What a life spent in service to the Lord!

Melancholicus’ correspondent also said “I am tempted to say Ad multos annos but I am not sure of the propriety of this on such a birthday.” Melancholicus was likewise tempted, but shall prescind for like reasons.

Readers may wish privately to honour Fr. Ó Fionnagáin on his centennial birthday with a spiritual bouquet.

Iggy's rant - the riposte

Alas for Iggy! It does not look as though the masses are mobilizing behind him; his brother priests certainly aren’t. This letter from a Galway cleric appeared in yesterday’s Irish Times:

Madam, – Rev Iggy O’Donovan’s interpretation of the lifting of the excommunication of four illegally ordained bishops is unnecessarily malign and vindictive (The Irish Times, February 13th).

In 1988 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected the reforms of Vatican II, effectively turned his back on the Catholic Church and set up a schismatic “church” in his own image by illegally ordaining as bishops four men who shared his views.

This very act strikes such a blow to the unity of the Church that, in canon law, Lefebvre and the four new bishops literally excommunicated themselves from the Church.

Since then Pope Benedict, first as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and subsequently as Pope, has worked tirelessly to nudge this expanding community back into unity of heart and mind with the Church. This work of building up and defending the unity of the Church has been the central task of the papacy since the time of St Peter.

This Pope has therefore spent decades painstakingly shepherding this community back to a point where it is now very close to recognising and accepting the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. This, of course, is the Pope’s central goal.

For anyone to claim that the Pope’s intention is exactly the opposite, to undermine the Vatican Council, is both shameful and ridiculous.

The lifting of these excommunications is a gesture of clemency directed towards restoring church unity. It does not mean these individuals have already been granted full communion. They are still not permitted to celebrate the sacraments, they have no recognised pastoral charge, and their teachings are in no way underwritten by the Church’s magisterium. It is merely a confidence-building step in the journey towards unity.

Every peace process has its pitfalls. From a communications point of view it is clear that the distraction of Bishop Williamson’s dangerously wacky world-view should have been decommissioned much earlier, but the fact that the ramblings of this minor professor in Argentina did not crop up in negotiations is hardly the fault of the Holy Father himself.

Rev O’Donovan reveals ugly underlying sentiments towards the Pope when he repeats, without any context, the old calumny of Pope Benedict once being a member of Hitler Youth. The facts on this have been put on record so often that he cannot claim to be innocently ignorant. Under Hitler’s regime young children simply had no choice but to be conscripted, and the Pope has often written of how he and his family suffered because of their opposition to Hitler.

It is ironic to note that Father O’Donovan is the very last person one would have expected to argue that the ultimate penalty of excommunication should apply for sounding off in public with irrational and disturbing opinions. – Yours, etc,


Church Lane,



Melancholicus doesn’t know who Rev. Conor Cunningham is, but he likes his style. While one might take issue with his sweeping generality that Archbishop Lefebvre “rejected the reforms of Vatican II” as well as his impression that the council represents some kind of superdogma the SSPX must accept if they are to be considered proper Catholics, such is really beside the point. Rev. Cunningham makes a number of valuable points that might otherwise have escaped the notice of the average Irish Times reader, who cannot be expected to know very much about religion. He rebuts Iggy’s calumny that Pope Benedict is somehow working to “undermine” Vatican II, and draws attention to the important fact that the SSPX bishops have no pastoral charge, may not licitly celebrate the sacraments, and have not yet been granted full communion.

And as for the Nazi slur... those (Iggy?) who wish to believe that the pope was/is a Nazi already have their minds made up, their hearts closed, and will believe this calumny no matter how clearly or how often it is refuted. But Iggy may have done greater damage to himself than to the Holy Father by resorting to such an hysterical insult.

Which is no bad thing, really.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

'Iggy' gets in on the act

A ‘concelebrated Mass’ on Easter Sunday 2006. Photo courtesy of the Church of Ireland Gazette.

Remember this?

Three years ago an Augustinian priest residing in the Armagh archdiocese caused a sensation when he attempted a concelebrated Mass with a clergyman of the Church of Ireland.

The question that bugged Melancholicus at the time was not how on earth could a Catholic priest concelebrate holy Mass with an Anglican (nothing surprises him in these heady, post-conciliar days), but how a clergyman of the Church of Ireland could stoop to such popery in the first place.

The answer of course is that Rev. Michael Graham is an Anglo-Catholic, which in practical terms means he’s more Catholic than Iggy.

Yes, the priest’s name is Iggy, which one presumes is a contraction of Ignatius. Melancholicus does not know whether this is his baptismal name or his name in religion, but the fact that he has chosen so to bastardize it shows clearly the side of the cultural and theological fence whereon he sits. This is the face of ‘religion lite’, and ‘religion cool’, an attempt by this particular henchperson of newchurch to have his version of Catholicism considered relevantTM and meaningfulTM by a public so unchurched by the experience of the last forty years that they haven’t the faintest grasp of the immense differences between Catholicism and Anglicanism.

Well, Iggy has been pretty much out of the news since then, and now a golden opportunity has at last presented itself for Iggy to score a few points and let off some steam from the stinging criticism he received for being so ecumenical in 2006; and in so doing, once again to get his name in the papers and his face on the telly (or so he wishes).

There’s nothing quite like self-promotion, is there?

This time his target is the Holy Father himself, rather than those anonymous souls whom three years ago he castigated for being corrupted with piety. And the occasion? Bishop Williamson’s ‘re-incommunication’, naturally.

Taking a break from the woes of a failing economy, this from Patsy McGarry, religious affairs correspondent of The Irish Times:

(H/T to Smasher)

Holocaust-denying bishop's rehabilitation is 'crowning disgrace' of Benedict's career

THE ATTEMPTED rehabilitation by the Vatican of Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson has been described as “the crowning disgrace of Pope Benedict’s career” by controversial Augustinian priest Fr Iggy O’Donovan [McGarry is supposed to be the 'religious affairs correspondent' of this newspaper, which means that Madam invariably turns to his services whenever something of ecclesiastical interest materializes. But in the phrasing of his opening sentence, McGarry shows the same unthinking obtusity characteristic of nearly all secular journalists that covered this story. What in God's name does 'attempted rehabilitation' mean?].

He has also said that change initiated by Vatican II in the Catholic Church [ah, here we get to the real point!] has become “a debacle” [Melancholicus would agree with Iggy there; it is a debacle. But methinks that Iggy probably meant something else].

Announced 50 years ago, Vatican II, “this noble venture” [well, Pope John XXIII's intentions were good, even if the council were thwarted by revolutionaries on its very first day, revolutionaries with whom Iggy is clearly in sympathy], was now “on life support” [life support? Really? There's hope yet for all us 'corrupted with piety' types! Te Deum laudamus...]. “Almost from day one insidious attempts were made to undermine conciliar reform,” he wrote in an Augustinian newsletter [he is speaking primarily of the liturgical 'reform', but Melancholicus surmises that Iggy's opposition to Pope Benedict's restorationism goes much deeper than that]. “If anything illustrates this latter point it is the recent announcement, on the 50th anniversary of the convocation of the council, of the lifting of the excommunication of the bishops illicitly ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre.” [that was a piece of wry humour on the part of the Holy See intended for the benefit of the SSPX. But we see it has enraged the likes of Fr. Iggy, for whom traditionalist Catholics are the ultimate untouchables].

In 2006 Fr O’Donovan was bound to silence and removed from a teaching post in Rome by the Vatican [proper order] after he concelebrated an Easter Sunday Mass in Drogheda with local Church of Ireland rector Rev Michael Graham.

“We are now at a juncture where Rome demands total conformity with papal ideas and ideals in all things and not merely in those which are essential to the unity of Christian and Catholic faith,” he said [this is mere petulant lashing out in order to stir up the emotions of the mob. Rome demands no such thing].

“That is all very well but when the Holy Father is ‘accident prone’ (as the present incumbent is) the potential for damage to the church is incalculable. “The recent case of the rehabilitation of ... Richard Williamson is a prime example of this.” [Like McGarry, Iggy also likes the word 'rehabilitation' even though it has absolutely no meaning in the context in which he uses it].

President Barack Obama had “been quick to come out and admit he ‘screwed up’” in proposing Tom Daschle as health secretary.

“In the case of Williamson Pope Benedict certainly ‘screwed up’ and must be as forthcoming as Obama in admitting it,” he said [this comparison is not apt. Daschle was proposed as a cabinet appointment. Williamson has merely had his excommunication lifted, not because of his views but in spite of them. He has been appointed to nothing, and Iggy knows it].

He continued: “how a German-born Pope (and a former member of the Hitler Youth to boot) could not foresee the furore that would follow the rehabilitation of a man who denies the Holocaust leaves me baffled. It is the crowning disgrace of Pope Benedict’s career.” [this as good as calls the Holy Father a Nazi. The Hitler Youth reference is a cheap slur; it is widely known, even among secular journalists, that the young Joseph Ratzinger's membership of the Hitler Youth was not voluntary, nor did he or his family support the regime].

Reuters adds: Pope Benedict said yesterday that “any denial or minimisation of this terrible crime is intolerable, especially if it came from a clergyman [McGarry has at least included this clarification, which goes a long way to placing Iggy's self-seeking hysteria in context].

The pope also confirmed that he was planning to visit Israel. Vatican sources say the trip is expected to take place in May.

Benedict the Ordinary

From the blog of Fr. Ray Blake:

“The change from the age of John Paul “the Great” to that of Benedict, described by one French journalist as, “the Ordinary” in a way epitomises the transition of the 20th to the 21st century, it is movement to solid ground.”

Amen to that.

It is fashionable in neo-catholic circles to refer to the late pontiff as “John Paul the Great”. Melancholicus is not too troubled by this, since the cult of personality surrounding the aforesaid will diminish steadily the further the passage of time removes us from his pontificate. Whereat a sense of historical perspective will become operative.

But Melancholicus was totally unaware that there is a French scribbler who describes the current Holy Father as “the Ordinary”.

Melancholicus is not outraged. On the contrary, he regards this epithet as rather fitting. For after the freak-show circus of the last forty years, it is high time that we had some decent ordinariness in God’s holy Church. For ordinary is next to order, and order indicates everything most surely opposed to the Revolution and to its violence, its anarchy and its excesses.

Long live Pope Benedict the Ordinary! Ad multos annos.

John Paul II and Maciel

This post is not a diatribe against the late pontiff, but an attempt to understand the consistently peculiar response to allegations of clerical homosexuality and pederasty he displayed in his appointment of bishops, as well as his defence of and support for Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

John Paul II was not a man who approved of sodomy, or of the abuse and corruption of seminarians, or indeed of sexual predation of any kind. But his lack of decisive action not only in regard to Maciel but also in regard to the clerical sex abuse crisis generally, gave the impression to many observers, Catholics included, that the late pope was unconcerned about these things, or that he was unwilling to take action, or was incompetent, or all of the above.

John Paul II grew up in Poland, witnessing first the Nazi terror from 1939 to 1945, and then the deadening repression of Soviet-style communism. As a young priest, he ministered in a state which was officially atheist and materialistic. He experienced at first hand the same fraught tensions that exist between the Church and the state in every such country.

Naturally the communist regime had an interest in filling Polish sees with men known to be sympathetic, or at least not openly hostile to marxism; men who would, as it were, collaborate with the Revolution. In this way the regime exercised an influence over the Church.

Candidates for the episcopate who adhered too firmly to the social teachings of the Church as expressed in the encyclicals of the Roman pontiffs were, naturally, troublesome for the regime. The regime could prevent the appointment of such a man merely by whispering abroad that he was an active homosexual, whereat the Church would then prescind from the appointment. Candidates thus excluded were often the most Catholic, most devout and most hostile to the marxist status quo. These were often the most suitable candidates for episcopal office, and the slur of homosexuality was merely a tool employed to ensure they never achieved it.

Melancholicus remembers hearing that when John Paul II had become pope, his view of the universal Church was influenced by his experience of the travails of the Church in communist Poland. With the collapse of morals and discipline in the aftermath of Vatican II, a culture often openly favourable to homosexual behaviour bloomed in seminaries and in houses of formation. The spread of homosexuality among all ranks of the clergy in that time is well documented.

Hence, when a particular see became vacant, and the sovereign pontiff was given the terna of names from which to choose the new bishop, it sometimes happened that he would be advised not to choose one particular name on the terna, since that man was known to be given to unnatural vice.

Whereat the experience of communist Poland would kick in; the sovereign pontiff, convinced that this was only a slur by enemies within the Church to damage a saintly man’s reputation, would conclude that the accused man must be the best candidate, and so he would be appointed. In this manner, the late Holy Father appointed Daniel Ryan and Anthony O’Connell, and others too numerous to mention.

His lethargy in responding to the scandals of 2002 may in part be explained by the likelihood that he simply did not believe these allegations—at least not until the evidence had mounted up and had been placed before his eyes.

Allegations concerning the immorality of the late Marcial Maciel began circulating while the latter was still alive; in fact, there were reports that all was not well in the conduct of that priest as long ago as the 1950s. It is clear, though, that John Paul II thoroughly disregarded these allegations (he certainly knew of them) since he interpreted such allegations as the malicious work of enemies of the Church seeking to ruin a virtuous man and wreck a thriving apostolate.

Corroborating evidence for this thesis? Melancholicus has none to hand, but if anyone reading this is able to point him in the right direction, he would be most grateful.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Anti-semitism and the BBC

Roger Bolton, of BBC Radio 4’s Sunday fame, is somewhat nonplussed by the claims of the UK parliamentary committee for anti-semitism that incidents inspired by this prejudice are at their highest level since recording began 25 years ago.

The interviewee, the Rt. Hon. John Mann, is the chairman of the aforesaid committee, and he was most adamant about the rise in the level of anti-semitic incidents, which he rightly described as “disturbing in a country which prides itself on its tolerance”.

Bolton doesn’t believe it, though. Listen to his language: “reported increase ... said to be ... danger of overstating the level of anti-semitism ... incidents are pretty low level ... we’re talking about hate-mail, anti-semitic graffiti ... I don’t want to downplay this [tongue firmly in cheek] but there’s still a relatively small amount of physical assaults and things like that...”

Melancholicus is not in the least surprised by this attitude. He knoweth the BBC far too well.

But who to blame for this “reported increase” of anti-semitic prejudice? Sure, why not the Jews themselves! Mr. Bolton asked his guest if there was a danger that opposition to Israel’s actions in Gaza might be confused with racial prejudice. Melancholicus thinks that Mr. Bolton would prefer the answer to be yes, which would comfortingly imply that there isn’t any genuine anti-semitism out there, at least not really. But that would necessarily involve the corollary of the BBC admitting—at least tacitly—its own responsibility for fanning the flames with its consistently partial and one-sided coverage of the interminable Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So either way Mr. Bolton can’t win, can he?

So he seeks a scapegoat: “In the past anti-semitism has been driven by religion, Christianity in particular”. Yes, he really did say those words. Listen. It’s at 9:20.

Melancholicus shall let pass this swipe at Christianity, soft target that it is (how brave of you, Mr. Bolton), for he is more interested in the words in the past.

Thus the elephant in the room goes completely unnoticed. Anti-semitism is indeed on the rise as the elephant grows bolder, more militant, and more sure of itself. But Mr. Bolton cannot admit this, since to do so would violate one of the BBC’s most cherished nostrums of political correctness. Witness the obsession with Israel; the other “I-word” doesn’t even get a mention. Melancholicus was disappointed that Mr. Mann likewise failed to cite the Islamic impetus behind contemporary anti-semitism—but then Mr. Mann is a Member of Parliament, so he can’t be expected to have a brain.

But guess who did get a mention? Yes, good old Dickie Williamson again! Melancholicus believes there has not been a single edition of Sunday which failed to mention the holocaust-denying bishop, even in passing, since the story first broke three weeks ago. Some things never change.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The day that's in it

Today is Friday 13th.

As to why this day should be considered unlucky, Melancholicus heard an explanation from a friend of his some years ago—namely Alaisdir Ua Seaghdha—a gentleman of wide reading and intellectual acumen. This explanation does not occur on the Wikipedia page for Friday 13th, so it bears some repeating here.

If any of these orally recounted details should be faultily remembered, perhaps Alaisdir could post a correction.

The association of Friday 13th with ill-luck began after the Reformation. Prior to this great religious upheaval, Friday 13th was not considered unlucky at all—in fact quite the opposite. This was a particularly lucky day, indeed an auspicious day, since it combined two elements associated with good fortune: the sixth day of the week, and the number thirteen.

In the Middle Ages, thirteen was a lucky number since this represented the number of people present in the upper room at the Last Supper—Christ and His Apostles.

The sixth day of the week—Friday—was considered a lucky day, since this is the day on which the Redemption occurred.

So a day on which these two fell together was regarded as an exceptionally lucky day.

But after the Reformation, with the rejection of all things popish and the rejection likewise of what were considered “popish superstitions”, the association of Friday 13th with good luck came to an end. So eager were the Reformers to retreat from such superstitions that they created an alternative superstition of their own—that Friday 13th instead of being an auspicious day was rather a day of calamity and misfortune.

Owing to the dominance of Protestantism, at least in the English-speaking world, so it has remained ever since.

The idolisation of murderers

It’s happening again. Lamp-posts in Dublin city are once again festooned with images of the blood-stained terrorist Ernesto Guevara, posted up by our friends in Socialist Youth.

Once again this cold-blooded killer is held up as a great humanitarian, a folk hero, an example of courage and action, a role-model to be emulated.

Once again the citizenry, without batting an eyelid, walks past these objectionable flyers as though there were nothing remarkable about them, as though there were no offence offered to the public by this open glorification of a murderer and a terrorist.

And once again Melancholicus shall make the comparison with Heydrich:

The image on the left is of an actual socialist youth poster displayed to the public in Dublin city in recent times. Sadly Melancholicus was unable to obtain a copy of the poster currently on view, so this older image will have to suffice.

The image on the right is a photoshop mock-up created by Melancholicus. Lest readers be alarmed, he hastens to reassure them that there is no “Irish Nazi Youth”, neither is there any such body as the “Irish SS”, nor is there scheduled a public meeting in Dublin celebrating the legacy of the man who did more than anyone else to turn the final solution from an anti-semitic fantasy into a reality of blood-chilling efficiency. This poster was, of course, never publicly displayed, nor could it ever be without immediate legal consequences. The citizenry of Dublin would never tolerate such a flyer on their streets, hanging from their very lamp-posts. Yet they tolerate Guevara. Why?

Why is it acceptable to murder in the cause of the Left, and not in the cause of the Right?

Put it another way, what is it that makes murders committed by National Socialists so odious, whereas murders committed by International Socialists are of no account?

It might be objected, particularly by his unaccountably many fans, that Guevara was different from Heydrich.

Different, how?

Let's examine the differences. Aside from Heydrich being better dressed and better groomed than Guevara, there is not much to separate them. The similarities are more striking than the differences. Guevara was passionate about International Socialism; Heydrich was passionate about National Socialism. Guevara was a literary man and composed poetry; Heydrich was an accomplished musician. Guevara loved to ride about, cutting a handsome dashing figure on his motorcycle, firing from his pistol; Heydrich loved to take to the skies in his Messerschmitt, doubtless cutting a similarly handsome and dashing figure, swooping and diving and shooting down Soviet fighter planes. After the revolution in Cuba, Guevara zealously began terrorizing the natives; Heydrich did much the same thing to the Czechs during his stint in Prague. Guevara set himself to a larger task, spreading marxist ideology and fomenting revolution throughout South America; Heydrich also set himself to a larger task: without his genius for administrative organisation, the final solution might not have been possible—at least it would not have claimed nearly as many victims. And both were “martyred” for their respective ideologies.

There is at least one difference: Guevara had much the more “hands on” attitude to slaughter, as he liked to get up close and personally involved in the deaths of his victims. Heydrich preferred to murder from behind a desk, further removed from the scene of the bloodshed.

But the real difference is that the Nazis lost the war, and history is always written by the victors. National Socialism is dead, and has been fashionably loathed ever since. While it is true that there are groups of “neo-nazis” here and there, politically these will never be more than basket-cases on the very fringe, nor will they ever be able to resurrect the ideology in anything like the form it enjoyed between 1933 and 1945. National Socialism was a creature of a particular time and place. It was peculiarly German, and peculiar also to social and political conditions prevailing in the aftermath of World War I. That being so, it does not translate well to other times or venues. Should there ever be another holocaust, it will be carried out not by Nazis, but by someone else.

Yet International Socialism is not bounded by such constraints of time or place. Despite the fact that since 1917 it has spilled more blood than the Third Reich (and continues to do so), it is tolerated and even regarded as chic; some naive souls even consider it benevolent and a great blessing on mankind. The politically-correct elites that dominate social, political, cultural and intellectual life everywhere in the West lean so far to the left that even a middle-of-the-road position is viewed as unacceptably right-wing, and anything further right than that approaches—at least in their eyes—dangerously close to Heydrich.

It might be objected that the crucial difference between these two men is in the number of their victims, the manner in which their victims died as well as the motivation behind their actions. I do not accept this.

First as to the number of their victims: is it immoral to kill by the million, but not equally immoral to kill by the hundred? Furthermore, Heydrich had the resources of an advanced military-industrial state at his disposal. Guevara lacked these resources, but can we seriously doubt that had the Bolivian army and the CIA not intervened, and had he been able to impose his will throughout South America the number of his victims would have been correspondingly increased?

As to the manner in which their victims died, there may be something much more horrifying in corralling naked human beings into a gas chamber under the pretence of receiving a shower than simply shooting them in the head with a pistol à la Che, but murder is still murder.

As to the third, Guevara’s animating ideology does not exculpate him of murder. It is no use to plead that Guevara’s intentions were good, and Heydrich’s evil. Neither is it any use to cite Guevara’s concern for the poor or the working class. No small number of the poor and the working class fell victim to his pistol, or to orders given to his henchmen. That Guevara was passionately devoted to marxism is no excuse. Marxism is an evil and toxic ideology which requires bloodletting to usher in the rule of the working class; Heydrich was no less devoted to his own ideology, which also required bloodletting in order to usher in the rule of the Aryan race. Same difference, really. Murder in order to promote a select group.

Now one final poke in the eye for the socialists. It is not uncommon for Melancholicus to encounter on campus—sometimes in his own lectures—terrorist chic, namely those thoughtless youths sporting those t-shirts emblazoned with Guevara’s iconic image. The same students who wear these t-shirts probably have no idea what sort of man their hero really was. They would probably be more reluctant to don the kind of t-shirt we see in the image below:

Monday, February 09, 2009

But the penny still hasn't dropped

The newsletter from the parish on the north side of Dublin city where Melancholicus spends his working week has again popped through his letter-box.

This newsletter has in the past inspired the whole range of human emotion in Melancholicus; it has moved him by turns to surprise, anger, sadness, relief, indifference, sometimes to derision, and sometimes also to happiness whenever he found therein a nugget whereon he could blog. On one or two very rare occasions it has even edified him.

There is no edification in the current edition, but there is a line in Fr. Tully’s editorial address on which Melancholicus was able to seize with fell glee. Hence this post.

Fr. Tully is the parish priest. Actually, his name is not Fr. Tully, for Melancholicus has changed the names to protect the guilty. Fr. Tully is merely a convenient pseudonym for this man, inspired by Mark Tully, the rather pompous-sounding and extremely woolly presenter of the wishy-washy pseudo-religious programme Something Understood broadcast weekly on BBC Radio 4.

Fr. Tully is the same age (or thereabouts) as the figure after whom he is nicknamed. They both share the ecumenical and irenic world-view widespread among those who grew up in the aftermath of the Second World War. Listening to Something Understood on the BBC, Melancholicus does not remember ever having heard its presenter discourse effusively on the Second Vatican Council (he is an Anglican), but surmises that his views thereon would be no different from those of Fr. Tully, the parish priest, who never misses an opportunity to gush about the renewal that has flowed from the council like springs of clear, cool water, vivifying the parched earth and causing the grass to sprout lush and green... well, at least that’s the theory.

The repeated trumpeting of Vatican II reminds Melancholicus of the plight of an orthodox marxist who, fixated in his view that marxism is an exact science devoid of error, cannot understand why the socialist order has failed to bring about the promised utopia, and why only division, bitterness, misery, destruction and death have followed in its train.

Sometimes, however, Fr. Tully’s commentary lets slip an observation that all is not well, even in this green and sunlit vale of renewal:

“The parish community here in [censored], while it lacks the vigour of previous times, is still in a healthy condition”

There is a moment of despondency, in which a shade of reality might be breaking through—but then he checks himself, and hurriedly goes on to deny the evidence of his own eyes and ears, insisting, comrades, that the Revolution has been a tremendous success, that the people glory in it, that it has been what the Church has always needed, not noticing that the Church throve quite well without it for 1,960 years, and probably convincing himself more than convincing his readers.

He certainly hasn’t convinced this reader.

The examples of “a healthy condition” he cites are all ecclesiastical bunions, mushroom outgrowths which are not (strictly speaking) necessary to parochial life, but create the illusion of vitality so beloved of the renewalists. These include the “pastoral committee” (Melancholicus once had the misfortune of serving on such an animal, so he speaks from experience here), as well as committees for this, that and the other; the ubiquitous folk groups, naturally, whose renditions of Marty Haugen, David Haas and Paul Inwood jingles never fail to turn Melancholicus’ stomach; the various “teams” that serve in the parish (in fact this part of the newsletter is overflowing with buzzwords and management-speak), and not least, the “community” itself. “Community” is an exciting word the renewalists love to throw around. The fact that 90% of the local Catholic “community” do not participate in the life of the parish in any capacity whatever, not even by hearing the occasional Mass—a disaster candidly admitted in a previous edition of the newsletter—does not merit a mention, as it would rather spoil the picture of growth and renewal which we are supposed to believe is the legacy of Vatican II.

Melancholicus is one of those 90%. He has lived during the working week in this parish for three years, and has heard only three Masses in the parish church during that time. On each of those three occasions, he departed the church interiorly conflicted, wondering it he ought to have been present at such a mockery of the liturgy. Hence he is not minded to return thither in a hurry.

As for Fr. Tully... the evidence of the catastrophe stares him daily in the face, but still the penny hasn’t dropped.

Melancholicus doubts it ever will.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Oremus pro pontifice nostro Benedicto

As Our Blessed Lady said to the three children to whom she appeared at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917, “Pray, pray very much for the Holy Father, for he will have much to suffer”.

V. Oremus pro pontifice nostro Benedicto.

R. Dominus conservet eum, et vivificet eum, et beatum faciat eum in terra, et non tradat eum in animam inimicorum eius.

Deus, omnium fidelium pastor et rector, famulum tuum Benedictum, quem pastorem Ecclesiae tuae praeesse voluisti, propitius respice: da ei, quaesumus, verbo et exemplo, quibus praeest, proficere: ut ad vitam, una cum grege sibi credito, perveniat sempiternam. Per Christum, Dominum nostrum. Amen.

V. Let us pray for Benedict our pope.

R. The Lord preserve him, and give him life, and make him blessed upon the earth, and deliver him not up to the will of his enemies.

O God, Shepherd and Ruler of all Thy faithful people, look mercifully upon Thy servant Benedict, whom Thou hast chosen as shepherd to preside over Thy Church. Grant him, we beseech Thee, that by his word and example, he may edify those over whom he hath charge, so that together with the flock committed to him, may he attain everlasting life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Melancholicus has so far resisted the temptation to weigh in with his (admittedly worthless) opinion on the current situation involving the Holy See, bishop Richard Williamson FSSPX, the remitting of canonical penalties, and the holocaust controversy, although he has made brief reference to the matter in two or three posts from January.

He has resisted the temptation not because he is possessed of heroic self-control, but because every several attempt to post on this subject has had to be deleted as unsatisfactory. In any case, he lacks the full facts of the matter, does not have the time to inform himself by reading everything of importance pertaining to it, and there is nothing he can say that has not already been better said by others more erudite, more eloquent, and more widely read than he.

Melancholicus also wishes to retract a certain comment he made in this post below, in which, in his indignation, he accused bishop Williamson of deliberately denying the holocaust in order to forestall the lifting of the excommunications. This he now knows to be incorrect, and he regrets his audacity in publishing this rash supposition. Bishop Williamson may indeed be a man of odious views, but let us not accuse him of the kind of malice we were so rash as to impute to him. It is a dangerous thing to impute motives to other persons or to think that one knows another’s mind.

In any case, bishop Williamson has since apologized for the embarrassment he has caused to the Holy Father and to the Holy Catholic Church. But thanks to this affair, the Vicar of Christ is now exposed to a level of public opprobrium not experienced by any sovereign pontiff within living memory.

The media storm is only to be expected. Wolves will be wolves; the nature of the beast will always out.

In a fit of self-righteous indignation, Honourable Members in Westminster were last week falling over one another in their haste to affirm the historicity of the holocaust and to denounce the Holy Father with the kind of pig ignorance of which only Honourable Members are capable (this is NOT a racist comment—I listen to the brain-numbing stupidity of these mindless automatons daily on BBC radio 4’s Today in Parliament, so I know what I’m talking about), This denunciation is gloatingly upheld by the usually sensible Cranmer who, alas, sometimes cannot conceal his rabid anti-Romanism, and on this occasion—perhaps enticed by the scent of papal blood—Cranmer has chosen to side with the wolves.

But all is not relentless hostility. Consider this from the Anglican Fr. Hunwicke, whose learning, wisdom and sound common sense Melancholicus cannot praise highly enough. His blog Liturgical Notes is a must-read for anyone interested in liturgy, Church history and much more besides:

“They’re closing in on Pope Benedict XVI. In the newspapers, on the television, in the blogosphere, in debates in legislatures, in trendy magazines. They think they’ve got him.

It’s prejudice, prejudice, prejudice. In many cases it’s their atavistic gut hatred of Rome, which they were prepared to put slightly on hold if a Pope (like John XXIII) seemed to be behaving sufficiently unpopishly. In some cases it’s fear of somebody who is cleverer than they are; they don’t mind Christians as long we appear not very bright, because then they can feel unthreatened. For others, it’s because they can see Benedict as a contradiction of their own corrupt and promiscuous lifestyles. In many cases it’s the simple deep-down hatred many have of Holiness, because they are children of the Father of all lies.

This is a moment of pure contest of Evil against Good; something that we very rarely see in this world of Gray Areas. The Dark is rising. This is not a time to sit on the fence or hedge bets; to say “on the one hand ... and on the other”. This is the time to show where one stands. In years to come, the question will still be: “What did you do, when the animals were baying for Benedict XVI?”

This holy priest has said all that needs to be said. In the spirit of his closing question, let us now act. Pray, pray very much for the Holy Father, that our Blessed Lord will sustain him in this bitter hour. Let us also take the opportunity where we can to rebut the lies of half-informed and prejudiced illiterates who peddle such headlines as Pope Rehabilitates Holocaust Denier and the like. Do not let them get away with blackening our Holy Father’s good name. There is nothing we can do about their prejudice, but we must hold them accountable to the facts of the matter and not allow them to indulge in wild anti-catholic fantasies. This is all the more important when they are employed by some organ of the news media to which we can complain.

If you have not done so already, gentle reader, please consider signing the online petition of support for the Holy Father here. Melancholicus signed it yesterday, and it has received about 5,000 more signatures since then!

Here in Ireland, the matter does not appear to have been raised in the Dáil. A search for ‘holocaust’ on the webpage of the Houses of the Oireachtas returns just four hits, none of them more recent than 2007. A search for ‘bishop Williamson’ returns no hits at all, so it appears as if our TDs have not engaged in the kind of pope-baiting practiced by Honourable Members across the water. Now Melancholicus is not at all given to reading newspapers, and he has listened but sparingly over the past week to current affairs programmes such as Morning Ireland, Drivetime and The Right Hook, so it is hardly surprising that he has not heard about bishop Williamson’s controversy thereon even once. He is sure that it has been mentioned—it returns about a dozen hits on the website of RTÉ, for instance—but the Irish media are at least not running with it, nor do the public in this country appear to be in a flap about anything other than the economy. This is not because the media in Ireland are any kinder to the Church than they are elsewhere in the west, but because of the prospect that Ireland—at least according to the good people at Sky News—is now facing “a recession of nightmare proportions”. Any time Melancholicus has switched on the radio he has been confronted with some story or other of economic interest—all about banks, markets, rising unemployment, financial hardship, the loss of thousands of jobs with each passing week, and the continuing failure of the government to come up with any sort of plan for keeping the country afloat. The media are simply too fixated with the death-throes of the Irish economy and the seeming inability of Taoiseach Brian Cowen to get his act together to bother with another opportunity to spin salacious yarns to the detriment of the Church.

There is one more thing that we can do. We should all undertake to get a priest to celebrate Mass for the Holy Father. One Mass is worth more than a hundred articles rebutting the charges of the wolves.

Now it is time to head for the chapel.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The feast of St. Brigid

Today, February 1st, is the feast of St. Brigid, one of the three patron saints of Ireland — the other two being Patrick (March 17th) and Columcille (June 9th).

Very little is known of Brigid’s life, and much of what is related about her in typical biographical sketches is quite frankly unhistorical. This is due partly to the chronological distance that separates her from even her earliest biographers, and partly to the peculiar nature of Irish hagiography, which more often reflects the political conditions prevailing within the early Irish Church, with monastic paruchiae contending with one another for ecclesiastical one-upmanship, and in which the motive for writing the life of a saint was often geared towards enhancement of the social and political standing of the church founded by that saint than any concern for historical integrity or spiritual edification.

Now some readers might be tempted to cry out “modernism!”, since the modernists are well known for their cavalier approach to the lives of the saints, dismissing on the basis of higher criticism whole episodes or even entire lives as fabricated legend. But where medieval Irish hagiography is concerned, may God help us and the reputation of Holy Mother Church should even half the contents of these ‘Lives’ be true! But let us first distinguish the approach of the modernists from that of Melancholicus.

Melancholicus is a Christian, and consequently believes that miracles can happen, that they do happen, and that they have happened in the lives of the saints.

But a belief in the reality of the miraculous does not require us to give credence to every fantastic tale or to the pious fibs that abound throughout the lives of all early Irish saints. Indeed, one bemused seventeenth-century Bollandist described the contents of many such ‘Lives’ as so ridiculous that they might move the minds of those who heard them more easily to laughter and derision than to piety and devotion. This Melancholicus would not dispute, especially not after having read Whitley Stokes’ edition of the Félire Oengusso (Martyrology of Oengus) as well as Plummer’s Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae. It is a matter of sober fact that there is less edification than disedification in these outrageous narratives.

The example par excellence of the victim of such tendentious hagiography is St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland and the most illustrious name in the Irish calendar of the blessed. Patrick did not of course convert Ireland single-handed. He was assisted by others, and there was at least one mission, led by Palladius (who is otherwise unknown), which was commissioned directly by Celestine I, the pope of Rome. The names of such fifth-century missionary bishops as Secundinus, Isserninus and Auxilius (at least two of whom left their mark on place-names in the province of Leinster) are represented in the hagiography as having been Patrick’s suffragans. No mention of them, however, is recorded in Patrick’s own surviving writings, and O’Rahilly has argued (credibly to my mind) that they were associated with the official Roman mission rather than with St. Patrick. Their names point to an origin in Roman Gaul rather than post-Roman Britain, and it was from the latter that Patrick set out on his mission to bring the Christian faith to the heathen Irish.

We are fortunate today in having first-hand documentary evidence of St. Patrick’s life and career in the form of two documents written by the saint himself. These are his Confessio—a kind of apologia justifying his mission against criticism by his superiors in Britain—and his Epistola, a letter written in anguish to a British king named Coroticus after soldiers in the service of the latter had made a slave-raid against Ireland and had borne off into captivity many of Patrick’s recent converts. Sadly, although St. Patrick’s writings are the very earliest surviving documentary sources of Irish provenance, they contain very little information about the society and politics of the time, nor do they contain much in the way of Patrick’s own history. They do, however, touchingly reveal their author’s personality—a man of profound humility and charity, a man animated with love for almighty God and for souls, a self-effacing man, not proud, or boastful, or vaunting of his achievements, but one who was content to recognize himself as a sinner, as the least of the world’s cast-offs, even as a failure. It is Patrick’s humility and love which makes him truly great, and which has proved so attractive even to his most recent biographers. There is no doubt that the man truly was a saint.

Patrick died some time around the year 500. The precise year is unknown. The ‘official’ dates (for there are two) of his obituary are A.D. 461 and 493. In the course of the turbulent sixth century—a time of wars, epidemics, climatic upheaval and rapid social change—Patrick’s mission was largely forgotten, and his legacy was in danger of being eclipsed by the reputation of more recent rising stars, particularly Ciarán of Clonmacnoise (†549), Columcille (†597), Comgall of Bangor († c. 600) and the latter’s famous alumnus Columbanus (†615). In the course of the seventh century, the church of Armagh—originally established by Patrick as a diocese and now re-modelled along monastic lines—made its first bid for primacy over the other Irish churches, and began producing hagiography to that effect. The first victim of this propaganda was Patrick himself, and in effect the memory of the historical St. Patrick who so edifies us from the pages of his Confessio was effaced in favour of a literary construct modelled on the heroes of contemporary secular saga, and just as violent, vindictive, and ultimately disedifying. Readers who are interested may care to read Patrick’s own works and compare their author with the baleful figure who emerges from the seventh-century biographies by Muirchú and Tírechán.

So now, back to St. Brigid.

Quid Patricius cum Brigita? In a word, everything! The same cautionary remarks made about Patrician hagiography can also be applied to Brigid, save that while we have Patrick’s own writings to warn us against the excesses of his seventh-century biographers, we have no such check in the case of Brigid. If she wrote anything, it has not survived, and what has been written about her in the centuries immediately following her death has more to do with enhancing the political standing of the church of Kildare than with concern for the historical record.

Brigid died (at least according to the annals) in 524. The same annals also record the year of her birth—variously 452 or 456—showing that the Brigidine material was entered retrospectively at a much later date, probably as late as the ninth century. There is no contemporary witness to her life or her career, and much of what is related about her in the medieval biographies composed long after her death is freely invented—frei erfunden, as our German friends might say.

Melancholicus remembers reading Donncha Ó hAodha’s edition of Bethu Brigte in the original for his B.A. in Early Irish many years ago. This vita, which is the earliest surviving saint’s Life written mostly in Irish, may be dated to the ninth century, and hence to the Old Irish period. The pious reader who cares to read through the translation of this work will notice many unedifying features of the conduct and presentation of Brigid’s character which are hardly compatible with charity and great sanctity. There are also episodes which quite simply cannot have happened, since they contain violations of either faith or morals on the part of our saint, or reveal their spurious nature by their blatantly political overtones.

The actions attributed to our saint by the hagiographer are often too crude to be even remotely credible. In Bethu Brigte, §15, we see Brigid’s brothers displeased at her for her refusal to wed, thus depriving them of the bride-price they would get from her prospective husband. One of the brothers, Bacéne, taunts his sister, telling her that “the beautiful eye that is in your head will be betrothed to a man though you like it not”. The reaction of the genuine St. Brigid to such familial pressure would be to bear patiently her brother’s displeasure and to pray to God for him and for them all. But the response of the Brigid created by the hagiographer is utterly revolting: she gouges out her own eye and hands it to Bacéne, with the words “here is that beautiful eye for you. I deem it unlikely that anyone will ask for a blind girl”, a telling episode which reveals something of the undercurrents of Manichaeism which could be found in certain corners of the early Irish Church. As if this horrifying self-mutilation were not enough, Brigid then curses Bacéne (and his descendants!), saying without a trace of love or pity, “soon your two eyes will burst in your head”. And the childish hagiographer rounds off this ignoble paragraph with vindicated relish: et sic factum est.

Sometimes, even today, the ridiculous content of these ‘Lives’ can come back to haunt us in unexpected ways. For instance, an episode in the earliest Latin life—that by Cogitosus, which may be as early as the seventh century—sees a young woman vowed to chastity falling prey to a seducer and conceiving a child in the process. Brigid, we are told, placed her hands on the swollen belly, causing the foetus to “disappear”, after which everyone is happy again. This matter is no less fictitious than it is distasteful. In the run-up to that disastrous referendum on the protection of human life in pregnancy in March 2002, a silly woman writing in The Irish Times—without any regard to the facts of history or any understanding of the nature of early Irish hagiography—used this same fictitious nonsense to argue that in this instance, St. Brigid had “performed an abortion”. This was in order to co-opt the figure of St. Brigid for the pro-abort cadre and at the same time to undercut the authority of the Irish bishops’ conference, which was calling for a yes vote in the referendum.

Another potentially embarrassing episode occurs in Bethu Brigte, a text to which we have already referred. In §19, St. Mel of Ardagh († c. 488), being “intoxicated with the Holy Spirit”, consecrates Brigid to the episcopate, and we are told that during her “consecration” that a “fiery column ascended from her head”. This can only be recognized for what it is, namely a breathtakingly cynical attempt by the church of Kildare to make up for its embarrassment at having a woman for its founder, or at least one not in sacred orders. Though this episode is without the slightest doubt fictitious, I am surprised it has not been used by our liberal enemies as a stick wherewith to beat the Church for denying that there were “women bishops” in the early centuries of Christianity. Perhaps Melancholicus should not speak so loudly; he doesn’t want to give them any juicy ideas.


February 1st is also the Celtic feast of Imbolc, associated with veneration of the goddess Brigantia, tutelary deity of the Brigantes, a people who in the Iron Age occupied what is now northern England, a branch of whom also existed in county Wexford in Ireland, at least according to the map of prehistoric Ireland drawn up in the second century by the geographer and astronomer Ptolemy of Alexandria.

The discerning reader will notice a startling similarity between the names of the pagan goddess Brigantia and the Christian saint Brigid. In these days of weak faith it is fashionable for the figure of the latter to be subsumed into the former; in effect, ‘St. Brigid’ is merely a euhemerized version of Brigantia, not a real person who enjoyed independent historical existence. One can only conclude that the feminazis feel more empowered fantasizing about goddesses than about nuns. Scandalously, an elderly Benedictine monk from that slightly barmy community in Glenstal, county Limerick, appeared on RTÉ television some years ago and waxed lyrical about Brigantia, not at all rebutting the sexy notion that the St. Brigid venerated in Catholic tradition is ‘based’ on the pagan goddess.

If Brigid really were ‘based’ on Brigantia, how come that in the early Christian period we find her cultus in Kildare, and not in Wexford? Just a thought.

Say again brother, how many vocations do you guys get in Glenstal these days?

Imbolc is one of four feasts at three monthly intervals throughout the year, the others being Beltaine (1st May), Lugnasad (1st August) and Samain (1st November).

The neo-pagans love these festivals, even though precious little is known of their actual significance in pre-Christian Ireland. Melancholicus might add that as the Catholic religion in this country continues to wither, the vacuum left in its place is gradually being filled by ‘alternative’ spiritualities. There is even an association of some sort devoted to ancient ‘pagan’ and ‘druidic’ practices. Melancholicus remembers seeing these idiots on an RTÉ news report at Imbolc in 2002, running around a wet field with twigs and foliage tied to their bodies. There was a fire lit in the centre of the field, giving off a great cloud of grey smoke and the be-twigged gobshites were taking turns leaping through it. Heaven knows what they thought they were doing, or what they could thereby accomplish.

St. Brigid, pray for us!