"In the Name of the Father: Homilies for Sundays and Feast days in the Extraordinary Form Calendar," edited by Julien Chilcott-Monk. Canterbury Press Norwich. £19.99 list price.
This is an excellent book for those who attend the old rite of mass on Sundays and feast days. It contains short homilies on the Gospels of the Sundays and major feast days throughout the year. That this should have been published now is a very welcome development, and indicates a wish by those who attend the old mass to nourish their spiritual life on it, and to engage in Lectio Divina based on the readings in it. Books of this type were of course common in the past. For the Novus Ordo, they still are, although the style isn't necessarily the same as that presented here.
The idea from this book was from one of the Oratorian fathers of Oxford - Fr. Dominic Jacob - to whom the book is dedicated. Most of the contributors, other than the editor, are priests of the Oxford Oratory, or other priests with either an Oratorian or an Oxford connection. Most of them will be well known to regular attenders of the old rite in southern England. One or two Oratorians are omitted, which is a pity - their erudition would have added to the book.
The first sermon I read, for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, by Fr Anton Webb, was a masterly exposition of the Gospel of the day. The miracles of healing that Our Lord worked in Capernaum, related in the Gospel of St John and in the Synoptics, are compared. They are not the same miracle: in the one, the centurion, a gentile, shows great faith to the extent of not needing our Lord to come in person; in the other, by contrast, a ruler, a Jewish official from Herod's court, shows very limited faith, and needs to check on the time that the miracle took place to be reassured. Different qualities of faith, but even the limited faith of the ruler had its value. "We all have small beginnings and advance at different rates ... the greater example of the centurion urges us to press on and never to think that we have enough faith."
The sermon for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost, by Fr Nicholas Schofield, has a different flavour. It is certainly not lacking in learning, with a reference to St Augustine, and such examples from history as we would expect from the author. However, the sermon overall recalls us to the basic realities of the spiritual life - death, judgement, hell and heaven - in a thoroughly traditional, yet not pessimistic, manner. The liturgical year is passing away; so is this world. Let us always live mindful of its end, and our own. "These considerations should not make us morbid or lead us to despair. Rather, they challenge us to examine our lives, to make the most of God's grace and continual mercy, and strive for holiness."
The Sermon for All Saints Day, by Fr Dominic Jacob, is one that I have heard in church, so I greet it as an old friend. We envisage a great gulf between the saints in heaven, and ourselves in the here and now. We marvel at the words and works of the great saints - more admiration than emulation, often. But we are called to join them, that countless host that no man can number, who are commemorated on this day, so that eventually this will be our feast day too. Also, remember, that the saints weren't born as such - many of them started out with their full share of human failings. "We see in them what we are called to be, and are encouraged because they too experienced failure, trial and sin, yet by God's grace were strengthened to overcome the weakness of human nature."
There is a diversity of style in these sermons: some show biblical scholarship, some knowledge of the Fathers, some great insight into the spiritual life, some knowledge of the saints, and others simple piety and devotion. What they have in common is a straightforward focus upon the faith, and spiritual life, rather than merely academic points, or merely commonplace anecdotes. It is all practical - what must we do, and what must we know, to be saved - and a lot of learning is worn lightly. In the preface, Monsignor Antony Conlon - himself a skilled preacher - explains that genuine preaching isn't about artistry or stirring up the emotions, so much as the preacher putting his gifts at the service of the Church, in a spirit of docility and humility. He suggests that the Novus Ordo can encourage a style of preaching which is excessively autobiographical, with more emphasis on entertainment than on obedience, sacrifice and self-control. "Some forms of preaching thought to be pastorally effective remain only on the level of the ethical and humanitarian, and ignore the doctrinal and catechetical." These faults are absent from this volume, and it is better for it.
One further defect of many sermons, that isn't mentioned, is that they are often too long. I have heard too many a preacher, who would have given an excellent short sermon in ten minutes, lengthen it to twenty minutes or longer, and thereby ruin his good work. Few mass-goers have the patience to listen to long sermons with attention, and few preachers have the time or the talent to deliver engaging long sermons. The time for lectures is not during mass. Although the sermons in the book vary in length, they are all short, and in this also would be good models for others to follow.
Having praised the book highly, now to its main defect. It is regrettable that content which is of such high quality, and from a reputable publisher, should have been presented rather shoddily. It has, in fact, an air of being rushed, with the usual processes of copyediting and proof-reading being neglected. Those things that can be corrected by a spell-check are correct, but Latin words, punctuation, and some of the facts, are incorrect.
Some blemishes I noticed fairly quickly were:
1. The Transfiguration is referred to, both in the contents and in its proper place, as being on 4th August (rather than 6th);
2. Sometimes the S - standing for saint - has a full stop and sometimes not; at one point, John Henry Newman is referred to by the initials JHM;
3. In the preface, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum is referred to as Romanum Pontificum;
3. Multiple typos in the Latin texts, for example:
In Anniversario Dedicatione Ecclesiae - should be Dedicationis, since it's the church that is dedicated, not the anniversary;
In Exultatione S. Crucis - should be Exaltatione;
Under 2nd February, the Nunc Dimittis is quoted inaccurately - plebes is given instead of plebis, and a similar error is made on 6th Sunday after Pentecost;
On Pentecost, terrarium is given instead of terrarum;
Famillae is given instead of Familiae for the Holy Family.
(This list isn't exhaustive.)
Now anybody can make an odd typo. It seems a pity, though, that there are so many typos in the Latin. If Latin sentences are given, they should at least be checked, and the impression given here is that nobody has cared enough to do this. This detracts from the quality of the book.
Overall, definitely worth having. Royalties from sale of the book will go to the Oxford Oratory "Renewal and Reaffirmation" appeal. The renovation of the Oratory Church is partially complete, but much more money is needed to finish the task, and this is a cause well worth supporting. From the Oratory Lodge, it costs the list price of £19.99; it's cheaper on Amazon, but less goes to the Appeal!