Breaking Blackfen

Alternatively, and somewhat bewilderdly entitled Why is the EF so Hated?

Look at this flagrant display of Catholic worship- how awful! Tear it down!! (Picture by Mulier Fortis).
Looking at CC Father's restrained and thoughtful breakdown of the recent sad events at Blackfen, it really is hard to see what exactly is behind what has happened. Is Fr. Steven acting unilaterally or is this a strategy from above? If so, what on earth are the powers that be thinking?

One things is for sure, Fr. Steven's actions are very, very odd. Just a few years ago Fr Steven Fisher was the hero of the Latin Mass Society. And he denounced the cowardice of his Diocese in changing the terms of reference of the Catholic Children's Society to accommodate gay/lesbian adoptions.
It was also reported on Forest Murmers that he argued against the censorship of priest-bloggers on his own blog.

But now his blog has closed.

He was in his previous parish for just two years and has not been replaced (It is now served by a priest from a neighbouring parish.).

If one was unaware of this background and history, one could possibly assume that Fr. Steven's actions have been motivated by a perception that there is a need to get back all the parishioners that Tim Finnigan purportedly alienated, perhaps it is considered that many of them were so upset about Fr. Tim's introduction of one EF Mass on Sunday that they have stopped going to mass anywhere? Obviously this consideration takes precedence over the small (?) number of people who have been attracted to the EF from miles around? Of course, this is not the case. The EF was packed at Blackfen.

Still, this must have been part of a plan surely? Will the bishops be delighted? Well, Fr. Tim's initiative was not the Nuchurch Big Tent Catholicism 'lite' policy of extinction that seems so in vogue. But it is hard to see a deliberate plan at work here.

Fr. Tim had worked hard for more than ten years and part of his work was to facilitate a deeper spiritual engagement for those that wanted it. He did this by a limited introduction of the EF, something that many Catholics seem to absolutely hate for some inexplicable reason, just as they hate the fact that, notwithstanding forty plus years of poor liturgy, and all their best efforts frankly, the EF has not been stamped out and young people flock to it wherever it is allowed to proliferate. 

However, I doubt that Fr. Fisher was actually sent there with a mandate to stop it: Father Tim was moved to a larger parish with two churches and a full scale hospital. That would very much appear to be a promotion rather than exile, and is the sort of move that would be expected for a priest of his age and experience. Many would consider such a move as a sign of respect from the Archbishop. Moreover, his replacement was known to say the EF. I honestly don't think Archbishop Smith could have done more. However, everyone seems to be surprised that Fr. Fisher has stopped the EF totally.

Looking at this from a business perspective, you have to try to objectively assess what the motivation could possibly be. Someone has spent more than ten years building up something which has become a beacon for the surrounding area, a success in what it does, attracting people from miles around to take part in something authentic and legitimate. This venture is so successful that it has achieved international acclaim. You inherit this success story and your first move is to dismantle the very principle that made it a success. Objectively? I really can't see that the strategy makes any sense whatsoever. In fact it seems to be complete madness. Surely there would be some middle ground that would better serve Christ and His flock at Blackfen?

As I have said before, I am not fanatical about the EF, but I do recognise its power to inform and increase the sense of reverence and awe which is lacking from much of our liturgical praxis. In discussions with young people throughout my diocese, this idea comes up again and again. They all find that attending the EF informs the way they attend the ordinary form. They speak to me about the explanations in the missal teaching them things about how to pray the Mass which they had no idea of, the incredible depth of the prayers, the meaning of every sign and word and how knowing these details make the Mass something potent, something important, something real and relevant. So if they love it so much, if it is serving to inform them about what the Mass is and what it does, if it facilitates a deepening of faith, a deepening of commitment, an increase in their love of Christ and their love of the Church, why on earth would you stifle it?

Seriously, this sort of thing creates stumbling blocks for devout anglo-catholics who seek to join with us in full communion. They see that our hierarchy persecutes and shuns good liturgy and they hesitate. You have to wonder with them why on earth anyone would do that?

I think what is clear is that this is not a conspiracy or a directive from the bishops. I think that looking in that direction will not help anyone, although as a manager, I think Archbishop Smith would be well advised to step in sooner rather than later from a pastoral perspective and find out what is going on. I am sure that this is Fr. Fisher. I think, that being the case, those who are concerned would be best to approach the situation with caritas and most importantly, with prayer.


  1. The surprising and shocking thing is that this happened so quickly. It would be more understandable if Fr Fisher, after several months in the parish, had come to the conclusion that introduction of the EF was causing so much bad feeling that it had to go. In such a case he would be acting within the terms of 'Summorum Pontificum' Art. 5 'avoiding discord and favouring the unity of the whole Church'.But to trash everything after just two weeks.. that smacks of a predetermined plan.
    The parishioners (and surely, however many outsiders attended, there are enough actual parishioners to form a 'stable group') can of course appeal to the archbishop (SP 7) who is 'strongly requested', but not obliged, to satisfy them and then to Rome.
    Why is the EF so hated? Political reasons in my experience. 'Liberal', for want of a better word, Catholics resist anything which they associate with what one of my fellow parishioners called 'the bad old days'. I think the EF symbolizes to them a Church where the laity were subjugated to priests who 'turned their backs' on them, prayed in a language that most didn't understand (although we were taught in school what the Latin meant) and told them that certain things they might want to do were sinful. And in a way I can sympathise with that- traditionalists tend to the other extreme and idealise a Church which, given the way in which things fell apart in the 1960s and 1970s,obviously had underlying problems.
    What I don't sympathise with is people who throw their toys out of the pram and stop attending Mass because they don't like something the priest has done. I detest my parish priest's fondness for folk Masses (main Sunday Mass). However he's a good, hardworking elderly priest of the old school and he says a second, less conveniently-timed Mass for, as he says, 'people who don't like hymns'. So I go to that, but if it didn't exist (and when he retires it may not), I'd have to endure the alternative.
    Thanks for a sensible post and the opportunity to consider the issue in more than 140 characters.

  2. I think it unlikely that anyone attending Blackfen will cease to fulfil their Sunday obligation. St Bedes Clapham and The Oratory are within reach as are various irritatingly "one Sunday per month" parishes further out(though not as convenient, no doubt). Source: LMS listings

  3. I think things have reached the stage where some sort of official response from the diocese is needed. Whatever the truth or not of the allegations, it appears something happened which caused a congregation of over 100 to fall by over 50% in a week. Given that the Church requires all Catholics to attend Sunday Mass under pain of serious sin, this in itself, if true, is a scandal in the geniune meaning of the word whatever the cause of it.

    If what is alleged to have happened at the Domine Non Sum Dignus is true, then that is particularly disturbing. Many people go to the EF because rightly or wrongly they are appalled and scandalised at Cramnerian and post Cramnerian practices occuring at Novus Ordo Masses such as communion in the hand, standing for communion, no plate being used at communion to catch fragments, shaking hands at the pax domini, girl altar servers and regular use of extraordinary ministers in non extraordinary situations, none of which were mandated by the council. That they do this is, of course, an implicit rebuke and criticism of the England and Wales heirachy, who have chosen to allow these practices in England and Wales, and could forbid them tomorrow if they wanted to. I think this is what infuriates the heirachy more than anything else.

    Given that Cramner introduced communion in the hand, among other things, with the intention of undermining "superstitious" belief in the real presence, it is not unthinkable to construe that rejecting communion in the hand, by going to the EF, is an implicit accusation of Heresy against the heirachy. It is therefore, I suspect, seen as a major act of "civil disobedience" against the heirachy by some of them.

    Therefore that the apparent core of the matter at Blackfen revolves around an alleged attempt to introduce such novus ordo rubrical innovations is very significant indeed, especially because this is not the first time Archbishop Smith has had this attempted under his watch causing scandal which reached the national press, as Mr Thompson reported a few years back

  4. A couple of points: I am told that many of those who used to attend the EF on Sunday mornings at Blackfen, last week went to local parish OF Masses. Of course they would not fail in their obligation, but they had been so upset by the first of Fr Fisher's Sunday EF Masses that they chose to go elsewhere next week. Clapham and Kensington are both a fair way from Blackfen...

    It has also been suggested to me that Margate does represent a demotion for Fr Finigan. It is a much poorer area, with more problems, a much smaller Mass attendance & income, and much more work to be done. I was told that 'the Bishops should not be allowed to get away with passing it off as anything other than a major demotion.'

  5. The low mass said on Saturday at 10.30am is now Novus Ordo as he didn't have any servers to assist him and fr fisher has stated that he is introducing com munition under both kinds and will be introducing extraordinary ministers. The writing is on the Wall many will people will be going else where

  6. Could I suggest that the language of "promotion" and "demotion" is not appropriate for use in relation to parish appointments? And even if it is to be used, would Our Lord regard as a "demotion" the appointment of one of His pastors to a parish that is in "a much poorer area, with more problems, a much smaller Mass attendance & income, and much more work to be done"? It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I think it highly likely that Fr Finigan became a priest precisely to minister to people in such circumstances.

  7. Ben, I think Fr Finigan has effectively answered you in his latest blogpost: "I'm getting to know more parishioners, the children from the school did the readings beautifully at the early Mass, the servers were great, it was another glorious day in Thanet, and I am still tempted to pinch myself to check that I am not dreaming."


    Fr. Fisher leaves the priesthood, 9 months after worrying about the liberals who were put off attending mass because of one Tridentine Rite mass.


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