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Monday, December 27, 2004

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Going to Christmas Mass twice

Due to one of those weird things that happen in families, I ended up going to Mass twice on Christmas Eve: to a "Children's Liturgy" at 7.00 pm and then, later, to Midnight Mass in the Traditional Latin Rite. It gave me a good chance to make comparisons.

In some ways, it was like two different religions, and a mark of how far the rites have diverged, at least in their superficial aspects. The Children's Liturgy was packed out. There was a Christmas play put on by the children from the local Catholic school. Unfortunately, it was of limited appeal to me because my child was not involved and I was too far away to see clearly. The acoustics prevented full appreciation of the carols. Also, the cadences suggested that some of the carols had been rendered into "inclusive language" - with punchy lines like "pleased as man with men to dwell" changed somehow. Oh, dear.

There were also the lay ministers of the eucharist, altar girls and all the other features of the modern mass in its current form.

It was, however, at a moderate hour, whereas Midnight Mass in the Latin Rite means literally a midnight start. It is not a vigil mass, but a mass held on Christmas Day itself. As I told my daughter afterwards, it was the best of Western culture, with fine liturgy and chant, as well as enough of the common touches, such as carols in English, to remind one that Christmas is the most "down-to-earth" (in every sense) of the Church's great feasts. The carols were not de-sexed and I was spared the sight of parish matrons handing out hosts in persona Christi. The only offbeat moments were provided by the traditional jester on such occasions, the cute, confused, littlest altar boy. The main problem is that it ended at about 1.30 am, and as the organist tinkled away at the end of the mass, it was hard not to feel quite played out. And it makes one feel tired on Christmas Day itself.

What would have been ideal was the Midnight Mass service at 7.00 pm, but nothing is perfect in this vale of tears ...

Julian

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Saturday, December 18, 2004

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On "Currency Lad" and Catholicism today

Currency Lad wrote this recently (I have interspersed my comments in bold):

" I don't subscribe to Gibson's Tridentine Catholicism. No Catholic can remain a Catholic if he or she rejects the teaching authority of Vatican II. It was the most authoritative ecumenical council in church history and it called for change. "

Comment: I am not sure why Currency Lad believes that Vatican II was "the most authoritative ecumenical council in church history". There is great confusion, even in Rome, as to the exact standing of the council documents, but it is often argued that they contain little that is infallibly stated and fundamentally new; that they provide very little in the way of a mandate for much of the change that has occurred; and that they should, like all church documents, be read in the light of tradition. They contain some surprising things: the need to maintain Latin and Gregorian chant in use; the need to educate boys and girls for their different roles in life; the need to pay due respect to tradition and to teach only in line with that tradition. Anyone who refers to them is in for a few surprises. They are emphatically not the carte blanche that church liberals claim.

" Gibson rejects a lot of that change. Unfortunately, it was the Cromwellian demolition job done on traditional Catholicism in the 1970s and 80s that drove Catholics like him away. Ninety per cent of that destructiveness was nowhere authorised by the documents of Vatican II and was antithetical to the personal religiosity of Pope John XXIII - the jolly but immensely shrewd Bergamese who called the Council in the first place. Having said that, the use of Aramaic and Latin throughout Gibson's film was a splendid idea and didn't diminish one's concentration or focus in the least. Let's face it, there was always something silly about the likes of John Wayne proclaiming at the foot of the Cross, "Truly, this was the Son of Gard." Away from the cinema, however, I'm not sympathetic to the Latin revivalists - virtually none of whom understand the language and only embarrass themselves with their ignorant mumblings. "

Comment: As a "Latin revivalist" I naturally take exception to this. For pity's sake, there is a translation provided in the missal! I was a poor Latin student, but I can always follow the English translation. The Latin language is mainly important as a focus of unity and a bulwark against the endemic meddling which is such a hallmark of the modern vernacular mass. At high masses, one does not need to speak the Latin at all, as an ordinary massgoer. At low masses, one may, if one wishes, join in the responses at the dialogue masses. Learning to pronounce Latin is not the work of a few moments, but nor is it rocket science. Anybody with the slightest sense of history and a Catholic spirit will love the Latin Mass.

" Nor, sadly, do I feel drawn to the mainstream Church. The last time I attended Mass was at St Stephen's six years ago. As I left, a troubled homeless man was asking members of the departing congregation to sit down and talk to him. He was obviously mad but yours truly was dumb enough to do so. I watched as everyone rushed away, eyes averted. They'd just received Christ and within five minutes they'd rejected Him already. Such is religious life for everyone, including me. "

Comment: Be fair. Why expect people to deal with someone who is "obviously mad"? How is one to deal with him? There are dangers. There is a reason why members of the St Vincent de Paul society go on home visits in pairs. There is a Christian virtue known as Prudence.

Further comment: Humanly speaking, Vatican II has been a disaster. Very few dispassionate observers can deny this. To the extent that it was a pastoral council and intended to improve the quality and quantity of Catholic life around the world, it has failed. Both quality and quantity have declined. The present Pope has been portrayed by the media as an arch-conservative. In fact, he may well be the most liberal pope in history. He is very much a man of Vatican II. His official writings are notoriously unclear and very hard, at times, to square with Tradition. He also seems to have the same "tin ear" as Paul VI when it comes to disciplinary issues. John Paul II has given us altar girls, communion in the hand, lay ministers of the eucharist, and he has tacked on five extra ("luminous") mysteries to the traditional rosary. These have not satisfied liberals (who are insatiable, truth be told); they have upset conservatives; and they have bored everybody.

Vatican II would not be the first council in church history to have been a failure. Most Catholics of my generation greeted it with enthusiasm as obviously a good thing, hubris of which we all stand guilty. However carefully nuanced and however optimistically and enthusiastically applied, it has proven to be a disaster. It is truly "back to the drawing board" for Catholics.

One thing is clear. The liberals have been effectively in control in the Catholic Church for about forty years now. Conservatives (e.g. Cardinal Pell) have been less in evidence. And Traditionalists have hardly been visible at all, except as a butt for rude remarks about the Latin Mass. The results are now in ... an ever-widening collapse in numbers, practice and morale.


Julian

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Thursday, December 09, 2004

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The Flores hominid or "hobbit" discussed

Today, the Australasian Society for Human Biology, meeting in Canberra for its 18th Annual Conference, discussed the Flores hominid. The "hobbit". The consensus is that there is no consensus. One distinguished scientist argued that the skull is simply pathological - a microcephalic. Another distinguished group of academics argued that it is in fact an early form of hominid, which survived on Flores alongside modern man until very recently.

I suggested from the floor that the "hobbit" might be an extreme pygmoid type, associated with the rainforest palaeoenvironment.

In discussion afterwards, it was put to me that the evidence that the Flores hominid's environment was rainforest is by no means certain. I also heard more detail on the possibility that the skull is simply that of a microcephalic.

Years ago, I found a copy of a funky little book in the Hancock Library, at the Australian National University. It was called "Bird-Headed Dwarfs", by H. Seckel. Not at all the kind of book that I thought would have any deep significance, despite being interesting. But somebody at the Australian National University has borrowed it recently, and used it to help test the hypothesis that the Flores "hobbit" is a microcephalic dwarf. Suddenly, microcephaly is a hot topic.

So, what do I think - pgymy; "Lost World" ancient hominid survival; microcephalic anomaly; something else? I'll fall back on that useful phrase, "more work is required ..."

Julian

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Tuesday, December 07, 2004

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"Mad as a Meat Ant"

This paper "Dietary fats and body lipid composition in relation to hibernation in free-ranging echidnas" by Falkenstein et al. has, I think, solved an old puzzle for me. Years ago I noticed that our housecats were very excited and pleased by the scent of crushed meat ants (Iridomyrmex) on my boots. I assumed that there was something in the ants' bodies that "turned on" cats, and I actually did some experiments with formic acid, without success. I found the Falkenstein paper today, which mentions the abundance of oleic acid in meat ant bodies. I also found out very recently that oleic acid is one of the important constituents of the pheromone that cats wipe on objects with their chins. It is possible to buy a synthetic mixture of fatty acids - including mostly oleic acid - which can be sprayed around a home to comfort cats and improve their behaviour in various ways. So - I now surmise that what my cats were reacting to so delightedly was the oleic acid released by the crushed meat ants.

Julian

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Sunday, December 05, 2004

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On the veiling of women and the principle of non-contradiction

An excellent piece by Fiat Mihi on this fraught issue. See her 4 December 2004 entry. Something Catholic women did for two thousand years, until somebody decided it was not a good idea, for some reason, don't ask why ...

Now some Catholic women are doing it again, much to the scandal of the worldlings.

Julian

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