Friday, 24 February 2012

BBC Four's 'Catholics' - count me out

I chanced to come across a programme last night with the title of 'Catholics.'

Deeply suspicious, I sat back and watched only to witness some pretty bland television producing going on.

Would you go for a pint with these men?
It's the Linen on the Hedgerow acid test!
At first I convinced myself that this was a fly on the wall about Anglican seminarians, so fey and oblique were the comments being made by this group of young men.

And then, as reality began to dawn I imagined that this was an intake from the Ordinariate, still yet to be grounded in Catholic theology and philosophy.

One young man struggled to describe what the Mass meant to him.
I cannot recall his precise words so shall not attempt a complete quote but he waffled on, not once mentioning that it was an unbloody sacrifice, a repeat of Calvary with the continuing Victim redeeming us with His sacrifice.

He finished by saying (after many errs and pauses): "It's the Mass"

Most of those involved were asked to state what the priesthood meant to them. No one appeared to have an authentic viewpoint on this, no one mentioned that they were going to be "other Christs."

If they had been adolescent social workers I would have said that their views were reasonable if a shade green.

But these were Allen Hall seminarians!
The Bishop who ordained them was Archbishop Vincent Nicholls of Westminster - shock, horror! These were Catholic young men.

Small wonder we are in a mess. Is this the best that the seminaries can do?

A seminary, in one respect, should be like a University (Redbrick, of course).
It should accept a green student at one end and churn out a mature, literate, well rounded individual at the other.

I am trying very hard not to pick on individuals and to spread the load of criticism but really we do need some SSPX theology and spiritual integrity injected into the system.

Whenever I come across this sort of evidence, the more I feel less and less Catholic in the modern sense.

I have nothing in common with these people, seminarians, lecturers, Bishops.

We belong to different faiths.

Another X for the Bishops I'm afraid.


  1. The trouble is that the bishops downwards don't know either. On the Rumsfeld scale of unknown unknowns they are pretty near the top, otherwise they would never have let the cameras in. Should I watch this as a Lenten penance? Or should I stick to Plan A and take a friend out to her birthday lunch and cry into my crab salad?

  2. Knowing how these programmes are organised and edited, I think you may be a little unfair towards the seminary and the students. I also caught five or ten minutes of it and heard one seminarian speaking about the ontological change through ordination. It is a difficult concept and I thought he had done well to explain it - he did say it is about Christ acting through the priest and that the priest is able then to speak the words of Christ. Given that this is for the general public and not for Catholics well-versed in the Faith, I thought it was pretty good. It is never easy to present what you would like to on these programmes and I think you should be a bit more understanding of those men.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with Fr John Abberton's view. I watched the whole programme and did so with some anxiety because there was the potential for a hatchet job. There still is- in the following programmes!
    I was impressed with all the seminarians and priests and thanked God for these good men who, in giving themselves to Christ, give themselves to the likes of us- and to others besides! I thought they coped remarkably well with the interviewing style which I know I should have found difficult. The leading question was invariably followed by a long silence where the subject is left conscious of being "under the spotlight" and probably wondering if he has said enough.
    I was particularly impressed by the priest whose moment of vocation occurred when he walked into Leeds Cathedral during the Forty Hours Exposition (He seemed to be describing a fairly traditional Exposition- unlike the more slimmed down versions we have tended to see in recent years!)I thought we were given a wonderful picture of God working upon a soul by the seminarian who came to the realisation that the life he was leading at the time "just couldn't be right". We saw them learning LATIN! We heard several speaking of the centrality of the Blessed Eucharist - so, all in all, I was very pleased with what I saw and heard. What comes next- we shall see. I am not sure but I think we could be in for some flakey lay people.

  4. Fr J and Patricius - I am floored! (or, flawed).
    I tried to be as kind as possible in my post but, in reality the programme was horrendous. Shallow and vacuous.
    Sorry to disagree so strongly.

    1. "Shallow and vacuous" are merely opinion words. What particular words or statements or facts did you find shallow and vacuous?

    2. Gabriel Austin - of course they are opinion words, my opinion. The whole shebang was shallow and vacuous.

  5. Richard, we don't need some SSPX theology and spiritual integrity, we need catholic theology and catholic spiritual integrity, nothing else...

    1. Aren't the two - Catholic spiritual integrity and SSPX spiritual integrity - just about the same?

    2. Ah, Frischer Wind and Herr Scmenz, the modern church is lacking in Catholic theology and spiritual integrity - but the SSPX has got plenty of both.

  6. I too watched the programme and found it at best - boring. But, I hasten to add, not particularly from the seminarians perspective, but from the level of engagement in the little clips from the 'teaching sessions'. It all seemed rather passive with no hint of lively exchange, debate or even questioning. Do you think they all tried to look as holy as possible and ended up being so contained that little joy escaped? I think the priest who taught homiletics summed it up when he said that the seminarian was meant to be preaching 'good news!'.

  7. So I did my Lenten penance and watched the programme and it wasn't that bad. What I witnessed was a group of sincere young men wishing with their hearts and minds to serve God. I wouldn't say that the seminarian who was trying to explain the Mass was necessarily unformed or uniformed. I think he found its mystery to be so profound as to be ineffable.
    To get the feel of a seminarian's life you'd need to do a whole year's filming and then edit it into a series on its own. Where this programme fell down was in the clips of lectures which looked as though they were staged for the TV cameras, with the students looking uncomfortable.
    Perhaps the cameras were not at the seminary long enough to get everyone relaxed about their presence. It seemed to me that several of the seminarians were very self-conscious, some to the point of dumbness. Were they being cautious in order not to scupper their chances? It's also possible that the seminary designated who would speak to camera.
    In the circs, my Lenten penance must be to admit my reaction in advance of seeing the programme was too harsh. Which is why I'm not hitting the delete button so that my error of judgement remains as a rebuke.

  8. Manifestly they all shared the same faith and felt it deeply and wished to be priests for entirely selfless and doctrinally correct reasons even if they didn't articulate it in exactly the way that suits the host of this blog. And given that the bishop who celebrated the service which saw the fourth year students confirmed in their "candidacy" ended his speech by a toast to the Holy Father which everyone joined in then anyone who says that he is of a different faith ought to do a bit of soul searching, particularly focusing on spiritual arrogance. You get an obviously sympathetic documentary from the BBC of all things and then you go on about how those featured it don't meet your exact specifications!
    Get a life and grow up! And stop going on about being of different faiths. or you might wake up to find that indeed you are and it would be your loss.
    Off to bed now in a furious bad humour.

  9. Genty, you have the charitable touch, I would like to think you correct.

    Anonymous Yorkshireperson - I have worked with students for 23 years and would have judged those young men as being at A Level stage; definitely not Undergraduates.
    That may be enough for a liberal, woolly church but it is not good enough for the Catholic Church.

    1. Just spotted this. Firstly only ended up anonymous because of technical ineptitude and still can't work out what to do being new to blogging but I am called Mary and I am from Yorkshire! I didn't say anything at all about their intellectuall ability and actually on the basis of an hour's programme I don't see how you could possibly form a proper opinion anyway BUT if grey matter were the deal breaker then the Cure of Ars would never have been ordained. And I don't think it at all edifying for someone who professes to be loyal to the Pope to be so disrespectful of his properly authorised priests and bishops in this country. As Fr Levi remarkd they have ther authority from him. That attitude leads to a belief that we being the small group in question are proper Catholics and nobody else is whch is just as destructive of the unity of the Church as the opposite Spirit of Vatican 2 clique wih who I have no sympathy either. Finally why on earth should it be thought vulgar to toast the Pope at such a Catholic gathering? Good job no one told Blessed John Henry

  10. Dear Richard,

    It would seem fortunate for these young men that they are answering God's call (a call which has been validated for them by God's Church) rather than yours.

    I pray that you have a blessed and joyful Lent.


  11. Way to go Richard! I don't know though, perhaps 'Catholics - Count me out' sounds a little arrogant. Indeed, judging by your post and subsequent comments I'm guessing that any one of those seminarians could put you in a Catholic theology head-lock. As Fr Levi comments 'they are answering God's call (a call which has been validated for them by God's Church)'. Kind of important that, or is 'Richard Collins' the Pope's online pseudonym?

    I've got your number 'Richard'. Scoop of the century.

  12. Fr Levi - I think they are answering the call of social piety, not God's at all.

    Billy P - Arrogant? Please refer to a dictionary.
    None of those seminarians could put a theology head-lock on an unconscious three year old charismatic.

  13. and yet the Church, to whose Magisterium you are loyal, has declared they have answered Gods' call (or at least has taken them deeper in the process of discerning whether they truly have a vocation to the priesthood).

  14. Fr Levi - not the Magisterium, that resides within the See of the Vatican. The Seminary Admissions Director and the local Bishop have made that declaration.

  15. Ah, but from where does their authority derive?

    I'm sure we could bat this back all day, Richard. Perhaps we can agree that these young men are making huge sacrifices in order to serve the Church - even if their undrstanding of the Church does not agree with yours? The path they are choosing to take is deserving of encouragement and support ... for who is not to say that they will not, with time, God's Grace, & your prayers, become priests at whose celebration of the Mass you will happily be able to say 'Amen?'

  16. Fr L - I agree with that and Amen.

    Now a seemingly impertinent series of questions for you. I think they are relevant to our "batting"
    1. Do you celebrate the EF Mass as well as the OF?

    2. Do you encourage reception of Holy Communion kneeling and by mouth as per the Holy Father?

    3. Has your parish a choir that sings plainchant regularly?

    4. Do you celebrate Mass Ad orientum?

    I wish you a penitential and reflective Lent, (in all humility). God bless.

    1. And there's the rub.
      The Pope doesn't celebrate in the EF, we are told but I did see him celebrate in the OF at Cofton Park. (And pretty good it was too - God was there and everything!)

      From today's Mass readings:
      Leviticus 19: 1 - 2, 11 - 18

      15 "You shall do no injustice in judgement".

  17. [ar·ro·gant   [ar-uh-guhnt]
    1. making claims or pretensions to superior importance or rights; overbearingly assuming; insolently proud: an arrogant public official.
    2. characterized by or proceeding from arrogance: arrogant claims.

    Your arrogance derives from the fact that you adjudge the intellect of the seminarians to be lower than yours because they do not, in extremely brief snippets of speech, off the cuff, on camera, in a one hour telly program, elucidate the full meaning of the Mass (as you would like it), and further implicitly hold judgement over the capacity of the bishops to ascertain the validity of a young man's calling to the priesthood.

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  19. I'm glad we've found something we can agree on!

    As to your being 'impertinent' ... I see no reason not to answer your questions ... I imagine they stem from wishing to know where I stand on issues that are important to you?

    1. No, but I wish I was in a postition to;
    2. Yes, but can not insist;
    3. Yes;
    4. No; I have done; it is what I grew up with; I identify with the theology of it (even if I can also understand the prevelance of ad populum). Currently it is not a possibility.

    I think you might learn more if you clicked on the link to my blog.

    Thank you for your kind wishes - keep me in your prayers, if you will.

    God bless,


    1. Dearest Father:

      May I respectfully reply to your replies?

      1. You are in a position to. Summorum Pontificum makes that perfectly clear. You may say the ancient rite Mass any time, in any Church, for any reason, every day - and no Bishop has the LEGAL right to stop you.

      2. Yes, you most certainly can, and I'm certain you could find a tactful and charitable way of reintroducing this into your Masses.

      3. This is very good news.

      4. See my replies to #1 and #2. It is a "possibility" - if you will but enact it.

      With every good wish...

    2. Dan,
      I wish everyone was as encouraging of their priests as you. But I think if you look at my blog, the reasons for my answers will be more explicit to you.
      May God richly bless you.

  20. Billy - why is that "the rub"? The HF has opened the door to all priests to celebrate Mass in both forms.

    Fr L - thank you. I had already looked at your blog. Of course, I will pray for you and your family. God bless.

  21. If I have to explain, you won't understand.

    1. Mr Pips:

      Not being on the exalted level of deeper understandings that you are, perhaps you would kindly enlighten my poor mind on what you meant by "the rub"?

      I would be most interested.

  22. I agree with Richard that the documentary was dire. The entire environment off the King’s Road looks depressing. It was a depressing place when I first visited more than 30 years ago and nothing much has changed other than the rector would appear to be less hostile to the papacy (although toasting the Holy Father during a barbeque bordered on the vulgar but let’s not be too harsh).

    These young seminarians, moulded in the image of their formation teams and ordinary, came across as both sounding and looking like miserable old men. Some just gaped gormlessly at the camera, others were faintly camp whilst another roadie seemed desparately unhappy.

  23. Thank you SV, this Thursday's programme will be interesting, it's on First Holy Communions, stand by for more blandness.

  24. Dire but more for the fact it showed young men being educated to consider themselves part of a "men in black" separatist movement rather than human beings helping ordinary people find their way in Catholicism. A man in a dog collar is still a human being, beautiful but flawed, something which training appears not to acknowledge.