Tuesday, April 16, 2013


There are few occasions when I have to give a pupil what amounts to a D+ in old school grade. Mathematically speaking, this usually means that I have, in my class, a lad who has very little grasp of mathematics at all but will still put in all he can to try and make the best of what he's got. He'll plod on undaunted, trying to fathom why on earth it should be that dividing by a half is the same as multiplying by 2, but make very little if any headway in making mathematical progress. Because class sizes in the "bottom set" mathematics classes are small, one can learn a great deal about the humanity of some students which it is not possible to see in the "top set" which are usually full of industrious characters who need very little assistance in trying to understand the material.

Once all the mists of exams and results have cleared, I hope that my departing students realise that there really is no such thing as "top set" and "bottom set" and that these grades, indeed the whole exams system, is merely a means to an end - a measurement of education designed to give students some idea of where they should go and where their true interests lie. Even then, the system is a very poor indicator to the outsider. An A* grade invariably tells me very little about a student applying for a university place. Whilst a student can find pride or disappointment in their grades in comparison with the effort they have put in to achieving those grades, these grades are only a guide for that student to reflect what they mean.


Well, this grade sums up this little blogling at the moment. You might think I'm being unduly harsh on myself and what I write. You may even think I deserve an E- (or an F, if you're of the Stateside system). However, until I explain the grading, you haven't really got a clue what I mean, and this is the dilemma many of us face when trying to interpret a student's portfolio of grades.

In fact, this is my 500th post, hence the D. The plus is simply an indication that I intend to keep writing, and now you know that, you can draw better conclusions. This is not a statement about the quality of my posting (which I leave you to judge) but about the quantity. Likewise, one doesn't go to school in order to get grades, but to learn for oneself. It is not the grade that is the outcome, the outcome of one's education is what one goes home with at the end of the school day, what one retains, and how that education enables one to shape one's own life for the better.

The same is true for the Mass, believe it or not.

As I was walking back from Synod, I walked past one of those soap-box evangelists ranting and raving about the judgement of God and accepting Jesus Christ as one's personal saviour. Seeing my collar and saturno, he bawled, "the Sacraments cannot save you! Repent and know Jesus." Looking at the people passing him by (for there were no crowds around him) I could see on their faces, the rolling of their eyes, the slightly quickened step away from him, that this man was not reaching them. Rather than drawing these folk to Christianity, it was clear he was pushing them away. Can I give him a D+ for wasting his effort? Of course not!!! I can't tell what seed he has sown, and I pray some good may come out of his declamation, but given that he clearly does not understand what sacraments are, I feel justified in thinking that he needs to do some work at understanding what he is supposed to be preaching. After all, sacraments are all biblical - each one of them: accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour is not.

Many misunderstandings about Sacraments come from people who make materialistic measurements of them. All Sacraments are given to us for the express purpose of bringing the reality of the Grace of God closer to us. That grace is presented each and every time without fail when the correct form, intention, matter, and minister are all present. If the Deacon is standing in the wrong place at High Mass, this does not invalidate the sacrament. Using fizzy pop and a digestive biscuit instead of wafer and wine does.

A materialistic viewpoint will only pick up on the three physical requirements for a sacrament, the form, matter, and minister. It will not pick up on the intention and it is this intention that needs to be nurtured during the Mass through the care and diligence in observing the liturgy as best as one can. A Mass that becomes a spectacle for its own sake, or some form of "Songs of Praise" entertainment, is actively endangering the Catholic intention of the Holy Mass.

To grade the Mass by number of fundaments on pews or by appreciation rating misses the point spectacularly. It is only what one goes away with at the end of Mass that really means anything, and that thing will be precisely what this soap-box preacher desires, namely another instance of receiving Christ as our Lord and Saviour albeit in sacramental form. It is not the Mass that should be graded at all. In fact, nothing should be graded save only for one to examine one's heart and soul in the progress towards the Divine Master. Our salvation really does require our work as well as our faith, but God will be the one who grades that! If we can work at our intentions at Mass and indeed in all the other Sacraments we receive, then we will have our work recognised and rewarded. God's grading means a lot more than a D+ or even an A*!

500 posts and, Deo volente, more to come. Thank you for reading and may God bless you!

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