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The Archbishop of Canterbury faces a daunting task in this Godless country

A funeral in Ireland reminds me how Christian that country still is in comparison

By on Monday, 12 November 2012

Fraser Nelson’ article about the new Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt. Rev Justin Welby, in the Telegraph last Friday, noted two aspects of our country that still remain in my mind. Referring to Bishop Welby’s predecessor, Rowan Williams, Nelson wrote, “Dr Williams has had to keep the Church alive in one of the least religious countries on earth.” Further on he commented, “…being Christian in Britain now means being part of a minority, and that the Church’s mission is to explain the Word of God to people who have grown up having never heard it.”

I don’t know why the phrase “one of the least religious countries on earth” struck such a chill in my heart. Of course, I know it to be true; you only have to read about the Government’s latest pronouncements on moral matters, follow the statistics of ever-falling church-going numbers, or realise that almost all the people you might bump into in the course of the day “don’t do God” as Alastair Campbell put it so elegantly when he was Tony Blair’s Director of Communications and Strategy, to be aware of its obviousness.

The UK today is simply mission territory – just as much as Africa was in the 19th century, but with the added complication that we are a sophisticated, rich, multi-cultural, post-Christian territory rather than a poor, pagan and exploited one. If it is hard for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle, it is surely just as hard to try to evangelise him. In Ireland last week for my brother’s funeral, I was struck forcibly by the contrast with this country when it comes to rituals of mourning. Admittedly we were in a small town on the Cork estuary rather than in a big city, but I had a powerful sense of a community that still retained a religious outlook on life. During the Removal at the undertakers the evening before the following day’s Requiem and burial, the coffin was uncovered in the chapel of rest. The door to the street was also open so that anyone could call by to pay their respects to the dead man and to offer their condolences to the family.

This was not a noisy “wake”; it was both very prayerful and at the same time appropriately sociable. “I’m sorry for your troubles” people said as they came in and greeted the mourners. Over a hundred people visited the undertakers to make their farewells, to share their memories of my brother and to listen to the short prayers offered by a local priest.

Most of them then joined us to walk behind the hearse through the streets to the parish church, where the coffin was placed beside the altar overnight. Passersby stood in respectful silence as our procession moved on its way. The next day, after the Requiem Mass, it was the same. Those who attended it walked slowly behind the hearse through the town towards the cemetery. Again, the general public stopped its business to mark the solemnity of a local man’s journey to God; a Christian community acknowledging the death of one of its members.

It made me think that you can tell whether a society is religious or not by the way it marks death. Over here, “the least religious country on earth”, death is hidden, not open; a private, not a community event; an affront to the bustle and business of the living. In Ireland, still a country of deep religious sensibilities despite the weakened authority of the Church, death is integrated into life: the necessary gateway to the life of the world to come. An Englishman who contacted me after hearing of my brother’s death told me he wished people would live by Christian principles as it would make life kinder all round, but that he had “a problem believing in life after death”. In Ireland people are still open to the profound mysteries of faith; death is an event to be marked by reverence, not merely respect. Here, funerals are so often neo-pagan celebrations of life, characterised by beer bottles left at the graveside. The new Archbishop of Canterbury is facing a daunting task.

  • teigitur

    Do you accept these key doctrines? If so why attend the SSPX?

  • EditorCT

    “Some claim”, therefore, what is in opposition to the teaching of the Church, Alan. The fact that a dogma is not defined until later, doesn’t mean that is wasn’t believed until the time of definition. Quite the opposite. The Church teaches that everything in the deposit of faith (that which is essential to believe) was revealed before the death of the last Apostle.

    Until Vatican II, Councils were called only to correct an error and/or define a dogma that was being challenged. This nonsense about opening the Church to the world is a very VERY new use of Church councils. I think we can rest assured that it is a one-off aberration. We won’t see its like again, please God.

    The teaching of the Church is, I repeat, that everything we believe was there from the beginning, from the time of the Apostles.  Indeed, the error which you appear to espouse (that because several centuries elapsed before papal infallibility was defined as such, it is a relatively new teaching) was condemned and proscribed in Lamentabili Sane, Syllabus condemning the errors of the Modernists, July 1907:  here are three pertinent condemnations:

    (The following beliefs are condemned and proscribed) :

    Revelation, constituting the object of the Catholic faith, was not completed with the Apostles.


    The dogmas of the Church holds out as revealed are not truths which have fallen from heaven. They are an interpretation of religious facts which the human mind has aquired by laborious effort.


    Opposition may, and actually does, exist between the facts narrated in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s dogmas which rest on them. Thus, the critic may reject as false, facts the Church holds as most certain.   END OF EXTRACTS FROM LAMENTABILI SANE.

    The above (dogmas present in the Church from the beginning) is a central teaching of Christ’s Church – to which, whether he likes it or not, the new “Archbishop” of Canterbury does not belong and is, therefore, not validly ordained – and no Catholic should fall into the Protestant error of claiming human genesis from revealed Catholic truth.

  • EditorCT

    If you really don’t know the answer to that by now, I am not the gal to help you. Like the SSPX I adhere to every dogma of the Church.  Why not go and read up on the subject.  It’s rivetting. And illuminating. I’ve known more than one disillusioned convert to the Faith to turn to the SSPX after such research. Go on – NOW!

  • Alan

    I agree of course that any truth of religion must have been a truth from all time. But this is not the same as saying that every Church doctrine was known to the Apostles.  I doubt, for example, if the Immaculate Conception would have meant anything to them.  It is also a fact that the power and predominance of the Papacy has varied enormously over the centuries, and in different places. 

  • EditorCT

    The Church teaches that when Christ said He would send the Holy Spirit to bring back to mind all that He had taught the Apostles, that is what He meant, and it is thus that the later definitions (not new teachings) were formulated.

    It’s amazing to see how little preaching is going on in Catholic churches these days.  You should be suing your clergy for millions!

  • Sweetjae

    “like the SSPX I adhere to every dogma of the Church”…..really, well, one important dogma of the Church is that a catholic MUST assent and give whatever level of obedience it demands or else one is separated from Her.

    Don’t accuse us about the blind obedience thing, because in reality it’s the SSPX who adhered to that motto by blindly submitting their obedience to their own ability and authority to interpret both Scripture and Tradition.

    You people also always tell us that Faith suprecedes Obedience, that we must only be Obedient to Faith, we understand that but what you don’t understand is, “Without Obedience there is NO Faith in the first place!!! That imcludes even your pre-VII faith, let me ask you this, why do you accept the Catholic Faith in the first place? Because of what?

  • EditorCT

    St Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, reminds us that to be a Catholic we must “obey when one is bound to obey” but not indiscriminately.  There is nothing that the SSPX bishops, priests and laypeople do not obey, that is mandatory.  YOU, on the other hand, do not obey all that you are bound to obey because you have chosen to set aside key doctrines in the interests of “obeying” new ideas that are not even placed before us as necessary! I’m thinking of the fads such as ecumenism and inter-faith “dialogue” which places the One, True  Church on the same level as false religions.  THAT is contrary to the will of God, taught to us, infallibly, by pope after pope right up to 1962.  YOU are disobedient to the entire Tradition of the Church – therefore YOU need to explain upon what do YOU base your faith.  Not Catholic Tradition, that’s for sure. Or you wouldn’t be joining in the applause for the appointment of yet another schismatic “archbishop”.

  • Sweetjae

    Rubbish, calling Archbishop Muller of the CDF a heretic! He had already put an end to this controversy due actually to the lost in translation by his most recent interview.

    The Diabolical disorientation that Our Lay warned is pertaining to some people in the Church hierachy being obedient to themselves rather than the Pontiff and the Church, that including the modernists and ultraTrads like the SSPX.

  • EditorCT

    Rubbish. Muller’s words are there, clearly exposed by people using the original text, and there is no question that he is, as the public record shows, a material heretic. Not a formal heretic because the Pope has not asked him to renounce his heresies, thus he has not refused to obey. Truly, you couldn’t make it up.

  • Alan

    You quote from an encyclical that Catholic dogmas are “truths which have fallen from heaven” (rather like what Muslims claim for the Koran).  In which case, you can hardly claim to justify them by quoting from scripture, i.e. by interpretation of “religious facts” which is condemned by that same encyclical!  Put yourself in the position of a non-Catholic: would you really be impressed by truth-claims not based on any kind of interpretation of “religious facts”? 

  • EditorCT

    Semantics. Are you not aware that Catholic dogma is revealed truth (that is “truths which have fallen from heaven”!)

    Hey, I was merely quoting directly from Lamentabili Sane, but if you know better, then you just go right ahead and believe whatever you choose.  Who cares, anyway, these days, about holding a false belief, one that is “condemned and proscribed” by the Church?  Everybody does it, so why not you?  Goodness, you could get a job writing for the Catholic Herald with that on your CV!

    But I recommend reading the Syllabus of Errors for yourself, first. Just to be sure you want to link divine revelation of Catholic dogma with Islam. Puleeeeeeeese!

  • karlf

    I saw this article and it made me think of you:

  • cullen

    Well there’s horrific news from Galway today. A women died in child-birth (or properly miscarriage). Needlessly. 

    Ireland’s “catholic sensibilities” can make us very, very good. Funerals conducted well, joint-first “safest country for a woman to have a child”. But it all falls apart when catholic dogma is put before life-saving medicine. 

    I feel utterly shamed to live in a country where a dying woman, asked, for what could have been a life saving procedure. But was then told she was in “a Catholic country”.

    I used to be angry at the church, but of course that fell away with age. Now I think I was wrong, perhaps my best reaction is a mix of rage and utter distain.

  • Sweetjae

    I also have known one disillusioned convert to the faith to turn and found his church….his name, Bishop Williamson and before him Fr. Kelly of the SSPV.

  • Sweetjae

    Yes obviously they (SSPX) accept except those from a duly convened and legitimate act and authority of the Church and Council.

    They are the ones who will say “approved!”

  • cullenD

    You fail to say how long 12 billion can be fed. Currently we rely on petro-organic fertilizers, which are limited. Machines that work from oil to harvest and oil to distribute that food to the people.

    Which do you think will run out first? Our ability to grow crops, thanks to our sun’s current energy. Or our ability to grow and transport food by use of the sun’s past energy?  

    The only question is the timescale. 200, 300 or 400 years?

  • cullenD

    Far too much experience with funerals. The attrition rate amongst my family  is scary.
    But I was speaking of protocol rather than religion. I showed the youg’uns how to act, not how to think.

    Then you touch on a bugbear of mine. Why should schools have to teach religion? Surely that is the job of parents. 

    The idea that schools should teach kids everything is just lazy. Parents should pass on their beliefs, by way of a medium they chose. 

  • teigitur

    I have heard that. I think it would be wise to wait for all the facts. I have never, ever in all my career heard of someone dying for want of an abortion, and of septicaemia?? Very strange.

  • teigitur

    You can relax Damo. Generally they don t. Parents are lazy, no doubt about that, their chosen medium is usually the schools, they fail too.

  • EditorCT

    You need to be very VERY sceptical about anything you hear in the news in this part of the world. Remember, they’re pushing for abortion to be legalised in Ireland.  Abortion is not a “cure” for anything – check out this link on the Galway story.

    One more thing. If you feel only anger, rage and disdain for Christ’s Church, instead of the love you should have learned at your mother’s knee, then you will always fall prey to these attacks on the Church, especially those camouflaged as  “concern” for a patient, the poor, whatever. The news media couldn’t care less about anyone – unlike Christ and His Church..

  • EditorCT

    You need to be very VERY sceptical about anything you hear in the news in this part of the world. Remember, they’re pushing for abortion to be legalised in Ireland. Abortion is not a “cure” for anything – check out this link on the Galway story.

    One more thing. If you feel only anger, rage and disdain for Christ’s Church, instead of the love you should have learned at your mother’s knee, then you will always fall prey to these attacks on the Church, especially those camouflaged as “concern” for a patient, the poor, whatever. The news media couldn’t care less about anyone – unlike Christ and His Church..

  • Alan

    So, did Syllabus Errorum’s condemnation of religious freedom fall from heaven?  And where does that leave para.14 of Pacem inTerris? 

  • EditorCT

    The authority of encyclicals is not the same as the authority of a solemn definition. Definitions require an assent without any reservation – we are obliged to accept and believe them (as with the Syllabus of Errors)

    Anything from the modern popes, including the author of Pacem in Terris (John XXIII) requires discernment.  Popes are going beyond the scope of their authority if they contradict what has always been taught before. Catholic Social Teaching requires that Christ the King is the head of every nation under heaven – no other religion has “rights” which take away from the worship owed to Christ, to God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost alone. And never before in the history of the Church has any pope said that the followers of a false religion has the “right” to worship their false god in public. Private has always been tolerated, for the purpose of keeping good order in society, but not public. In any event, there is no “command language” in Pacem in Terris (as there is in the Syllabus of Errors) to make that encyclical binding on the Catholic conscience.  And note that the extracted quote from Pius XII given to support para 14 of Pacem in Terris should be interpreted as referring to the one, true religion – not false religions. It’s a kind of naughty use of Pope Pius XII,  (and later Pope Leo) because these popes were not talking about “religious freedom” as it is now understood – although I’m told by my friends in the world of education that we are not supposed to say “naughty” any more, especially not to naughty children!

    I’m struggling with time management now so, much as I’ve enjoyed our little game of tennis, I’ll have to bow out – one of those days stretches before me. And anyway, there are two classes of people I’ve found it pretty well useless with whom to debate; one is the sedevacantist brigade and the other is the novus ordo/modern Catholic. They’ve made up their minds and I ain’t gonna change them.   I leave you with this simple rule of thumb: when you discover something that appears to condone what you are seeing, hearing or reading about the modern Church, check what the Church has always taught: if the subject matter (such as popular attitudes to religious freedom) contradicts previous teaching, it’s and error and cannot be binding. You know it makes sense. Or you should…

    God bless!

  • cullenD

    “This part of the world” happens to be my second favourite city in the country I live in. So I don’t need a patronising reply telling me to be sceptical about news reports. 

    I am pro-choice, I am also fully aware that I am in a minority. So I, along with most other people who share my view, am not “pushing for abortion to be legalised”. It is already legal here. I want the medical profession to be given clear guidelines as to when abortion can be used to save a mother’s life. Which is exactly what Irish law states.

  • Sweetjae

    Taking AB Mueller’s words out of context to fit your idea and bias to whomever you dont agree with. Repent!

  • Lee

    He is just and people get exactly what they deserve. Its only in Jesus that Christians are ‘saved’ from what they really should receive as a judgement. Its Gods grace and love that offers this to us. We should be fearful we don’t abuse what is freely given.

  • Dante

    Mr Phillips sounds very sweet but a little naive to confuse what one sees as religious expression at Irish funerals. Its merely a way of being, partly political as funerals are social and networing events where the butcher and baker have to make an appearance as it helps business and not to show would most certainly hinder businesss.