Letters & Emails

Comments of the week

When penance was performed in public

SIR – Like most Catholics, I’ve always believed that what takes place in the confessional is strictly between the priest and the penitent. Thus it was a surprise to discover that in bygone times the situation could be different. Dom FO Blundell OSB, in the first volume of his Old Catholic Lancashire (1925), told of an incident in the chapel of Birchley Hall near Wigan. “The discipline of the Catholic Church in past ages,” he wrote, “required that those who had shocked the public conscience – particularly by sins against the Sixth Commandment – should publicly expiate the scandal. It happened in the year 1801 that a certain man of the congregation created a great scandal by a gross act of immorality; and one Sunday, clad in a white sheet, he was made to kneel at the altar rails, confess his crime, and receive the reproofs of his pastor” (Rev Henry Dennett, 1754-1803).

A later parish priest, the historian Rev Austin Powell, claimed that this was the last canonical penance of which there was any record in England, though others might have occurred in the Scottish Highlands until a later date.

Perhaps readers know of other instances in which canonical penances were imposed.

Kevin Heneghan
St Helens, Lancashire

Fond memories of our parish priests

SIR – Like Damian Thompson (Cover story, July 14) we too experienced the very saintly Fr Albert Tomei, from the time of our arrival in St Margaret’s parish, Carshalton Beeches, in 1969 until his untimely death, run over while crossing the road in 1975, just before he was to celebrate his Silver Jubilee. I think he was still in his sixties.

My memory is that he was obedient to the changes brought in after Vatican II; for example, I remember his explaining the Bidding Prayers in relation to worship in the very early Church.

There would have been no point in re-ordering St Margaret’s, which was a cramped 1930s “mission hut”, destined to be demolished in the early 1980s and replaced by the present building.

Fr Tomei was quaint but he was also a superb preacher and often very entertaining. He got the essentials right. At a time of turbulence his constants were personal prayer and “hold on to Rome”. (Perhaps Rome was more reliable then.) His sermons at Sunday evening “Rosary, Sermon and Benediction” week by week constituted a veritable course in Church teaching.

In his time as parish priest he also brought two local Cof E clergy into the Church of Rome.

Gerald Soane
Sutton, London

SIR – Fr Michael Nugent, whom I knew extremely well for 30 years until his death in 1990, would have been greatly amused at the sight of Damian Thompson’s family tiptoeing its way back to orthodoxy after sampling the liturgical fleshpots of Berkshire.

It was no wonder that Fr Michael resembled an Irish country parish priest – that was the background, after all, of this farmer-priest, including that of his two priest brothers.

It is not true to say that Fr Michael had an undying admiration for Mrs Thatcher: he was greatly amused at her tenacity and stridency but wholly critical of most of her policies, especially those relating to the North of Ireland. However, Damian Thompson is absolutely accurate in his description of Fr Michael saying Mass with visible joy, as he puts it so well.

Peter Cullinane
Havant, Hampshire

SIR – In response to Damian Thompson’s remark that “there is almost no one left who grew up with the 1962 Missal”, Benjamin Hazard suggested that “historians could compile research relating to the experiences of those who celebrated and witnessed the Mass before Vatican II” (Letter, July 21).

I grew up with the 1962 Missal, and in 2001 published a comprehensive picture of parish life in the era before Vatican II. Based on unpublished sources, interviews and numerous parish records, Held In Trust – Catholic Parishes in England and Wales 1900-1950 (Saint Austin Press), covers every facet of Catholic life at that time.

A picture emerges of a strong faith, nurtured by Mass and Sacraments in the face of suspicion and prejudice, which contributed to the survival and revival of the Catholic Church as we know it today.

June Rockett (Mrs)
Salisbury, Wiltshire

When more is less

SIR – Fr Raymond de Souza raises the question of the lectionary in his article on “liturgical reconciliation” (Comment, July 21). He declares that the OF lectionary is an improvement because it “includes far more Scripture than the EF one”.

However, bigger is not always better, and if this is the only – or even primary – justification for declaring the OF lectionary an “enrichment”, that is not good enough. A qualitative, rather than quantitative, analysis of the two lectionaries is required.

Is it really, for example, an “enrichment” that Ephesians 4:25-28, verses read every year in the EF (19th Sunday after Pentecost), and containing the well-known advice “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (v 26), are nowhere to be found in the entire OF lectionary? Or that the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), read in the OF on the 33rd Sunday per annum in Year A, has an optional short form that omits any mention of the men with two and one talents, thereby completely gutting the parable?

Moreover, the “wide consensus that the OF lectionary is superior” is, in my own experience, not anywhere as common as Fr de Souza supposes. In the nine years since I converted to Catholicism, I have come across an increasing number of clergy and lay people who are decidedly unsure about the supposed benefits of key aspects of the OF lectionary, such as the three-year Sunday cycle of readings.

Matthew Hazell

The case for the DUP

SIR – The debate over the DUP and the Catholic vote (Letter, July 14) is most interesting. The Northern Ireland Catholic bishops issued sound election advice before the Assembly and general elections. Catholics were called upon to consider the defence of the unborn and traditional marriage. Neither of the nationalist parties fulfilled this criteria. Only the DUP and the anti-Good Friday Agreement Traditional Unionist Voice took unequivocal pro-life and pro-marriage stances.

Our Blessed Lord teaches us that he who puts family and other interests before him is unworthy of him. That also extends by logic to national identity, and sadly the majority chose tribalism. However, several Catholics (some publicly) voted DUP, as they no longer have any desire to be part of an increasingly secularised nationalism, advocating union with an anti-Catholic southern Republic, and reject the pro- same-sex marriage agenda of Sinn Féin and the SDLP. Indeed, Sinn Féin is also committed to a more liberal stance on abortion.

The drums of the Orange Order still resound, but the nationalists parties are a more potent threat to the Catholic Church, by their abandonment of Catholic ethics.

Robert Ian Williams
By email