I read Fr Lew’s article (October 2020) with great interest, especially as I have difficulty in saying the words of the rosary and meditating on the mysteries simultaneously. In fact I do not understand how anyone can do this. I can say the words and think about them, but how on earth can I meditate on the mysteries at the same time? This is impossible, at least it is for me.
If I concentrate on the mysteries, then I am not thinking of what I am saying, and if I am not doing that, then what is the point, as I might just as well forget about the words and stick with the mysteries? The result is that I say the words and forget about the mysteries. Am I alone in being unable to spiritually multi-task?
Fr Lawrence Lew writes:
The problem of spiritual multi-tasking is one I used to worry about, especially when I was a recent convert to Catholicism trying to learn to say the Rosary. I found it so complicated that I gave it up!
Today I worry less about focusing on the words of the Hail Mary, since these are well known and need not be concentrated upon as such. Rather, as Chesterton says, each “Ave” is like a child saying again and again to his mother, “I love you.” And I like to think that the decade of Hail Marys indicates the recommended duration spent meditating on each mystery; they help us keep time rather than demand our attention, and nor should they distract us from the mysteries of salvation being contemplated. For as St Thomas Aquinas says, the aim of prayer is to stir us up to greater love and devotion towards God, and so long as our intention in praying is to contemplate the mysteries of his love for us in order to achieve this aim, then it matters little if we focus on or can even hear the words being said!
Sister Lucia of Fatima, one of the three children who saw Our Lady of the Rosary, once said: “To pray the Rosary is something everybody can do, rich and poor, wise and ignorant, great and small.” It seems to me that one can over-intellectualise the Rosary when, instead, what matters is that we respond to Our Lady’s request with filial devotion and commit to saying the Rosary daily. In time, I’ve found, if we entrust ourselves to Mary and give her this time of prayer, she will lead us to contemplate the mysteries fruitfully.
Peter Day-Milne observes that “The bishops missed an opportunity to promote the use of the Divine Office by lay-people” during the lockdown (Letters, September). It reminds me of Paul VI’s statement that the first aim of the post-conciliar renewal of the Divine Office was to ensure that it should once again become the prayer of the whole Church, not merely the prayer of clergy and religious (Apostolic Constitution Laudis canticum, 1970). What have our bishops ever done to promote this laudable aim? In how many of our parish churches was the Divine Office regularly celebrated for the benefit of the laity prior to the lockdown? Not very many.
As Christians, it is natural for us to seek the truth – and the Church should do the same. While we have all been taken by surprise by Covid-19, one has to be discerning in how we handle the information being fed to us. This must include the nature of the disease, which part of the population has been affected the most, numbers of deaths that can directly be attributed to the disease, and then take a view on how our lives are being affected.
Our churches were shut down for the first time in hundreds of years, Catholics were deprived of the sacraments, and live streaming became the new norm. Since reopening, so many restrictions have been put in place by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales that our churches look like clinics or purifying chambers. One-way systems, restricted numbers, no singing, no Prayers of the People, no servers, no “Amen” during Communion, no bell ringing, no tea or socialising afterwards, and no teaching groups or Confirmation classes.
The official information and narrative surrounding the national lockdown has to be challenged. I hope our bishops will open dialogue with lay Catholics as such a conversation will act as a barometer of church members’ thoughts.
If we follow Jesus who said he was “the way, the truth and the life”, then why shouldn’t the Church pursue the real truth of this pandemic?
As Christians we must question things that are blatantly untrue. That is why we support the pro-life stance; that is why we value education, the needs of refugees, and have organisations to help the poor.
As someone who was at Downside in the early 1950s I feel that Thomas Romanelli is somewhat harsh in his comment that the Community is retiring from its “pastoral duty”.
While I was very disappointed to learn that the monks were proposing to leave Downside, on careful reflection it is understandable. How could a Community of about 10 ageing monks continue to maintain large monastic buildings, a magnificent library and archive and the Abbey church (raised in 1935 to the rank of a minor basilica)?
So while the decision to move is a sad one it is almost certainly the right one and we can only pray that Abbot Nicholas and his brother monks will be guided by the Holy Spirit as they try to find answers to all the problems facing them.
Regarding the future of a Downside education, from what I’ve seen of the school from a distance the Benedictine tradition and ethos are in good hands, and to quote Mr Romanelli’s words there is “a robust religious presence within the school”.
It has always been difficult to understand how John Finnis can believe that a personal morality based on natural law can turn back the tide of moral relativism that has swept through the world since the end of Christendom in Europe (Interview, October).
For a Catholic, morality reflects our love to and from God that lets us see the difference between good and evil, and inspires us to do good and avoid evil. And that love extends to my neighbour and to all my neighbours, in what Aquinas and Vitoria and Suárez saw as the ultimate society of all human beings, and to the natural world beyond.
That surely is the heart of the teaching of Pope Francis, as it was of Francis of Assisi. Our moral responsibility is personal, social and universal. We should speak out if we see evil in rampant capitalism, in perversions of humanising liberal democracy, and in the rise of new forms of dehumanising absolutism, or in the human use of the natural world. These are moral judgments, not political opinions. The City of God transcends the City of Man. But it cannot ignore it.
Professor Philip Allott
Ann Farmer’s very good letter (October 2020) made me read for a second time Professor Hutton’s interesting piece about pre-Reformation Catholicism in the August edition. I thoroughly enjoyed the re-read, but as when I first read it, I was both surprised and puzzled by his last sentence.
Since he claims to be an unbeliever, what, exactly, would “the right theology” be for him? This is all the more puzzling considering the tremendous richness of Catholic theology from the time of St John the Evangelist and St Paul right through to the present day.
I wish to comment on the letter from Nicolas Bellord, in the September issue of the Catholic Herald. I am a retired GP and a practising Catholic who is a Mass steward at my church, and I would strongly recommend that everyone who wishes to take Holy Communion should carry a pocket-sized container of disinfectant hand gel. I always put on a mask before entering church and I use the large dispenser of disinfectant provided.
Nicolas is quite right that people may touch all sorts of other things prior to Holy Communion. The answer is to use your pocket hand gel before going up for Communion. My practice is to accept the host on my right palm, lift the lower edge of the mask with my left hand to uncover my mouth, then place the host in my mouth before pulling the lower edge of the mask with my left hand. I use the gel on my hands again on my way out of church.
Dr John Noone
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