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Sunday surprise: two small items for your contemplation

Monday, June 13th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — the heart speaks for itself; the recusant pyx to truth of a higher order ]
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Two for your contemplation

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It’s the second of these that really takes my breath away.

Recusants were the British subjects who remained Catholic in faith and practice at a time when the newfangled Protestantism made that behavior a heinous offence, punishable at times by death.

It has been the life and martyrdom of the Jesuit scholar and priest Edmund Campion in Elizabeth‘s reign and under her increasingly repressive laws — as Evelyn Waugh describes him in his book of that name — which engraved in me the heroic role of the recusants, and among them of their “massing priests” and the sacrament they brought to their faithful recusant remnant.

Michael Robinson notes in Newman’s Quest for the One True Church writes:

The Catholic majority did not submissively acquiesce to Elizabeth’s scheme. Much has been written of the fate of the priests, educated and ordained abroad, who were accused of treason, tortured, then hung, drawn and quartered; but as the Catholic Church went underground the laity also began to take enormous risks. Catholic gentry opened their stately homes up to the missionary priests. Escape routes were devised, with the diminutive Jesuit layman St. Nicholas Owen leading the way in ingenious acts of carpentry. He created hiding-holes for priests, their vestments and other liturgical items, that were so effective that centuries passed before some of them were discovered. In 1620 he died in the Tower of London under torture, taking his secrets with him.

Campion himself gets to the heart of the recusant matter, though, in the first salvo of his celebrated Brag — addressed before his capture to those who might capture him, the “Right Honourable, the Lords of Her Majestie’s Privy Council”:

I confesse that I am (albeit unworthie) a priest of ye Catholike Church, and through ye great mercie of God vowed now these viii years into the Religion of the Societie of Jhesus. Hereby I have taken upon me a special kind of warfare under the banner of obedience, and eke resigned all my interest or possibilitie of wealth, honour, pleasure, and other worldlie felicitie.

Waugh emphasizes, in turn, the significance of a priest as one who says Mass, ie whose sacramental act “in the person of Christ” continues the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, turning the very bread and wine of the offering into the body and blood of Christ, while they retain their outward and physical form, following the words of Christ at the Last Supper:Take, eat; this is My body and Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood.

It was this transformation, this transubstantiation of bread into the very body, wine into the very blood of Christ, which so frightened and infuriated the Protestants. As Waugh notes:

Whatever the sectional differences between the various Anglican groups, they were united in their resolve to stamp out this vital practice of the old religion. They struck hard at all the ancient habits of spiritual life — the rosary, devotion to Our Lady and the Saints, pilgrimages, religious art, fasting, confession, penance and the great succession of traditional holidays — but the Mass was recognized as being both the distinguishing sign and main sustenance of their opponents

To be a priest, a Jesuit, and above all the great scholar Edmund Campion SJ, was to court death for treason. But the priest’s duty was to bring that sustenance, the blessed sacrament, to the faithful — and when they could not attend Mass, it could be carried to them in just such a silver box on a string as is illustrated above. This pyx, as it was called, would have carried the body of Christ to the needy, hidden on a chain under the shirt, and on pain of most painful and drawn out death.

It is for this reason that the recusant pyx, beautiful as it may be, means so much to me, and I hope to have conveyed something of that sense to you also: seldom if ever has a container carried a freight so exalted in service to a people so spiritually hungry, under so grave a threat.

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But to relax a little…

The situation was fraught, and increasingly so, for those who remained loyal Catholics — and yet just as there were pockets of recusants still faithful to the old ways, there were pockets of allowance made for them in certain circumstances. Waugh puts it nicely:

In many places the priest would say Mass in his own house for the Catholics before proceeding to read Morning Prayer in the parish church; occasionally, it is said, he would even bring consecrated wafers and communicate his Catholic parishioners at thesame time as he distributed to the Protestants the bread blessed according to the new rite.

Thus also Queen Elizabeth I herself favored the composer William Byrd enough that he was able to compose not only works suited to the Protestants (Anglicans) such as his four Services, but also Masses for specifically Catholic use, in three, four, and five voices.

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Byrd for Her Protestant Majesty, Queen Elizabeth:


The Nunc dimittis (Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace) from the Great Service

Byrd the faithful Catholic, for his fellow recusants:


The Agnus Dei from the Mass for five voices, Westminster Cathedral, Pope Benedict XVI celebrating

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Sources:

  • Norfolk Heritage Explorer, June – Broken Heart
  • Annie Thwaite, Revelation and Concealment: Flipping the pyx
  • Sunday surprise: fish tank

    Sunday, March 6th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — by Royal Command — swords & ploughshares ]

    SPEC DQ fish tank

    Sources:

  • Telegraph, Tanks dumped in Gulf of Thailand
  • Green Diary, Thai Army dumps disused tanks in ocean to create new reefs
  • Fidei Defensor — Henry VIII, Defender of the Faith

    Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — Catholic Vespers at Hampton Court, February 2016 ]
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    chapel-royal-hampton-court

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    Yesterday, February 9th 2016, the (Cathlic) Cardinal Nichols celebrated the beautiful Vespers liturgy in Henry VIII‘s old chapel at Hampton Court Palace in London, with the (Anglican) Bishop of London and Dean of Her Majesty’s Chapels Royal, Dr Richard Chartres, delivering the sermon:

    chapel royal

    As the Guardian reported:

    Almost half a millennium after the Act of Supremacy, which declared the Tudor king as the supreme head of the Church of England and formalised the break with Rome, England’s most senior Catholic cleric celebrated Vespers in the palace’s Chapel Royal on Tuesday evening.

    The scent of incense filled the air beneath the chapel’s magnificent blue and gold ceiling as a small procession made its way towards the altar. Vincent Nichols, the Catholic archbishop of Westminster, in a gold mitre and brocade robe, walked a few steps behind Richard Chartres, the Anglican bishop of London and dean of the royal chapels, in a symbolic gesture of reconciliation.

    The first Catholic service in the chapel for more than 450 years was hailed as “one for the history books” by John Studzinski of the Genesis Foundation, which jointly organised the event with the Choral Foundation. “Dialogue between faiths is much needed and welcomed in these turbulent times. We need to recognise that we have more in common than not.”

    And Vatican Radio:

    World renowned ensemble ‘The Sixteen’ which specializes in early English polyphonic music, will perform works from the Reformation period, highlighting how – in the cardinal’s words – “music can help us rediscover our roots and shared heritage” [ .. ]

    Cardinal Nichols notes that the music has been chosen to fit the history of the Chapel Royal, featuring composers like Thomas Tallis who “lived through all the turbulence of the Reformation of 1535” and the subsequent decades during which, he says, the situation in England was “quite porous and quite subtle”. Tallis and others wrote both Catholic and Anglican music and in many ways, the Cardinal says, “the Chapel Royal captures the fluidity and ambiguity of the age”.

    **

    So — two senior clerics belonging to rival churches managed to join in prayer — is that such a big thing?

    If religion is a semi-cultish fad or superstition, nah. If religion is a major aspect of culture, maybe. If the divisions in Christianity are an offence against the God of Love and a voluntarily imposed obstacle to the workings of Love in the world, then yes, and this is a step in the right ecumenical direction.

    From a secular British perspective, leaders of two rival versions of the same superstitions managed to agree with one another long enough to hold a joint press conference and a concert. The concert was first rate, the setting historic, the seating limited – tickets were allotted by ballot – and the whole event worth maybe a human interest column in the day’s news, well behind the bombing of some city in Syria.

    Let’s call that the perspective from the ground up.

    **

    But hold it. The secular mind works from the facts, the “material world” as Madonna put it, with priority given to survival, food, shelter, and other needs – but to the sacred mindset, it is the spiritual world, the world of inspiration and joy that takes priority. Myth, ritual, dream, poetry, romance – these are the elements in human culture which must deeply touch our hearts, our souls — and from that perspective, the event yesterday at Hampton Court was anything but unimportant.

    Let’s call this the perspective sub specie aeternitatis — from above. Rene Daumal describes its benefits in his brilliant mountain-climbing novel, Mount Analogue:

    What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.

    Monarchy, like religion, is a matter of myth, ritual, dream, poetry, and romance. The stories of the kings and queens of England are replete with myth and legend – King Arthur, Guinevere, Sir Launcelot, the Holy Grail, Glastonbury. The royal year is shot through with ritual – the great Royal weddings, Trooping the Colour and Changing of the Guards, the opening of Parliament, the races at Royal Ascot, the tagging of swans during Swan Upping, and towering about them all, the successive Coronations of sovereigns down the ages.

    In sum, the monarchy embodies, for those who see it, the dreams and poetry of the nation, its traditions and its aspirations. And pageantry is at the heart of those dreams, its richest expression, just as liturgy – the performance of the rites and services of the church — is at the heart of the church’s dream, each being the enactment, with all solemnity and symbolic force, of a great ordering and binding principle.

    Where the prayerful and celestial liturgy of the church and the grand traditions of the monarchy come together, the spirituality, the pageantry, the music, the gorgeous robing, the sacred architecture and yes, nobility, come together to stir the deep national memory, elevating us to that double sense of identity conveyed in the great hymn, I Vow to Thee, My Country, with words by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice and music by Gustav Holst. This hymn rang out in a multitude of voices at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, at the Festival of Remembrance, at the funerals of Princess Diana, of Baroness Thatcher and Sir Winston Churchill, and it articulates the sense of a double world – “my country” and “another country”, the material and spiritual worlds in harmonious continuity – which is buried deep in the British consciousness.

    I vow to thee, my country

    I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
    Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
    The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
    That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
    The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
    The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

    And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
    Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
    We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
    Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
    And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
    And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

    That “other country” calls to mind Blake’s Albion, the sleeping Britain — the Britain of a possibility that transcends the Gross National Product, and lies at the heart of Britain’s reluctance to give over its sovereignty to the bureaucrats of Brussels.

    All this is evoked by the grand ceremonial of Catholic Vespers accompanied by the prayers, incense and choral voices raised in prayer to the gilded rafters of Henry VIII’s Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace, where Catholic worship last took place in the reign of “Bloody” Mary Tudor (1553-58). It is, if you will, a foretaste – in high British ceremonial style — of paradise.

    And so yes, from a ceremonial, symbolic and mythic perspective, it was and is a big deal. It is a moment rich in the tapestry which interweaves heaven and earth, the sacred and secular realms – not to mention two great rival religious traditions. For yes, it was Catholic against Protestant that warred in Europe and gave us, finally, the Treaty of Westphalia, and the concept of the nation state, Catholic against Protestant that echoed from the Battle of the Boyne to the Belfast Troubles, Catholic against Protestant that sent Guido Fawkes plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament in an earlier era of sectarian hatred and religious terror…

    **

    King Henry VIII was granted the title of Defensor Fidei or Defender of the Faith by a grateful Pope Leo X in 1521, in recognition of a treatise, Defense of the Seven Sacraments, which he had written attacking the “reformed” teachings of Martin Luther. In 1530, however, Henry broke from the Papacy and Catholic Church to establish the Church of England under his own royal authority, and was excommunicated and the title papally withdrawn. No matter, the British parliament confirmed Henry in the title soon after in its new sense, as Defender of the Faith of the Church of England – a title which continues to be held by British monarchs to this day.

    During the coronation ceremony, the monarch swears an oath to govern the far-flung territories of the Commonwealth “according to their respective laws and customs”, “to cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed” in all the monarch’s judgments; and to protect the Church of England, of which the monarch is Supreme Governor. At the most recent British coronation, that of Queen Elizabeth II, the Archbishop of Canterbury asked:

    Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?

    — to which Her Majesty responded:

    All this I promise to do. The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.

    It is the Coronation Oath too, along with the twin sectarian meanings of the title Defensor Fidei, which is in play as we approach afresh the meanings of church and state, constitutional monarchy, in times both ecumenical and sectarian, secular and sacred, traditional, vitally present, and forward looking. The Catholic liturgy of Vespers, celebrated yesterday with all dignity and ceremonial in Henry VIII’s own chapel at Hampton Court is a reminder and a promise of the high spiritual, ritual and cultural possibilities to which our British traditions invite us.

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    vespers-at-the-chapel-royal

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    A video of yesterday’s ceremonial is not yet available, but I imagine this was the Magnificat that Harry Christophers and his choir sang…

    I could live my life out under the shelter of such Magnificats.

    This just might be my Favorite Party Political Poster of All Time

    Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — at least for the moment ]
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    — since I am a Brit, Arthurian, a child of Albion, a lover of poetry and myth..

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    .. and partial to Python:

    Of royalty and wildlife

    Thursday, August 6th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — observing with interest the slow turning of the tides ]
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    That was then:

    This is now:

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    To be honest, the best graphic match would have been one between Anup Kaphle‘s imag of George V‘s kill in Nepal:

    Nepal George V hunt

    and Declan Walsh‘s picture of a Pakistani hunting party’s trove of houbara bustards —

    Pakistani Bustard hunt

    I just couldn’t resist the BBC’s amazing picture of the bustard in their tweet, though — hence my choice in the DoubleTweet above.

    **

    Truoble in paradise for a Saudi prince:

    Fahd bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, the governor of Tabuk province — along with his entourage had killed 2,100 houbara over 21 days during last year’s hunt, according to an official report leaked to the Pakistani news media, or about 20 times more than his allocated quota.

    That’s from Walsh’s piece. Also:

    Cargo planes fly tents and luxury jeeps into custom-built desert airstrips, followed by private jets carrying the kings and princes of Persian Gulf countries along with their precious charges: expensive hunting falcons that are used to kill the white-plumed houbara.

    And in case a tie-in with counterterrorism might be appropriate, given my usual interests, there’s this —

    In recent times the hunts have also played a role, albeit unwitting, in the United States’s war against Al Qaeda.

    Osama bin Laden took refuge at a houbara hunting camp in western Afghanistan in the late 1990s, by several accounts, at a time when the C.I.A. was plotting to assassinate him with a missile strike.


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