Let’s just get it over with

So, let’s just get it over with and turn Westminster… the Cathedral… the Catholic Cathedral… into a mosque.

Okay… I’m exagerating, to make a point.

Hermeneutic had this before but this is just in from the Telegraph‘s Damian Thompson: Allah’s name to ring out in Westminster (my emphases):


Where in London will you soon be able to hear the 99 names of Allah, sung to solemn music? Why, Westminster Cathedral, of course! If you thought the mother church of England’s Catholics was entirely given over to Christian worship, then think again.

Will the 99 names of Allah offend or inspire?

On June 19, Sir John Tavener’s The Beautiful Names, with a text “culled from the Koran”, will be premiered in the cathedral by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. The work has been commissioned by the Prince of Wales, who I hope will enjoy listening to the “magisterial calling out of Allah” that punctuates the 70-minute work.

Some commentators are pretty furious. They point out that, not long ago, Westminster Cathedral encountered a rather different face of Islam.

I’m not sure what to make of this. Does singing the 99 names count as an act of Muslim worship? Does the fact that the work “calls upon Hinduism and Buddhism” make it more or less acceptable to Catholics?

Maybe The Beautiful Names will be such a masterpiece that all our doubts will be swept away. But, somehow, I doubt that strict Muslims will welcome verses from the Koran finding their way into a text that juxtaposes them with elements of non-Islamic spirituality.

Like all other Catholic dioceses, the Archdiocese of Westminster displays a Karen Armstrong-style “cultural cringe” when it comes to Islam. How embarrassing if, in its willingness to embrace other “faith traditions”, it ended up being accused of the unspeakable crime of “Islamophobia”.

Let us not forget that the new Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue will be reopened

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Seamas O Dalaigh says:


    I look forward to hearing this concert piece. Mr Tavener is a composer of considerable merit. He is a friend of Mr Peter Phillips whose Tallis Scholars have done much to make his work widely known.


    James Daly

  2. Andrew says:

    More Vatican II springtime renewal please?

    I think I’ll pass…

  3. The Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialog is coming to be reopened? I have one word which I think expresses the reaction of very many……….UGH!!

  4. Craigmaddie says:

    Seamas O Dalaigh:

    Mr Tavener is a composer of considerable merit.

    His undoubted talents don’t make this any more acceptable.

  5. Aventicus says:

    What is:”willingness to embrace other “faith traditions””? There is no willingness on my part. I embrace Catholicism and that is it. Jeffry

  6. Isaac Teng says:

    I love the work of John Tavener too. But the setting for this music is so insensitive, particularly to Muslims. One would think that the most apt place for this concert to be performed would be a mosque. But alas, that could not happen. How would they approve the sacred texts of the Koran being intermingled with Hindu and BUddhistic texts. I wonder, they wouldn’t be elated either.

    To top it all, the Catholics seem so insenstive enough to play host to this. It’s not that the 99 names of Allah are scandalous in itself. They are beautiful and in a way, the titles of Allah can be similarly agreed upon by Jews and Christians. BUt the fact is, this has no place in a Christian place of worship.

    Also, since when did Prince Charles become the key ecumenist? Obviously, the very people they were trying to please and endear would not permit this piece of music in a mosque.

    How silly, the very people we try to be friendly to will end up being offended by our uncharitable acts because we do not accept the truth that there are many insurmountable differences at stake despite all of us being created in the image of the Father.


  7. Isaac Teng says:

    Also, I forgot to mention that none of these actions actually warm the hearts of Muslims. I live in the Islamic world. Karen Armstrong may indeed be an authority on comparative religion. But I live in the ‘real’ Islamic reality and even in Malaysia the word Allah (which also means “God” in the national language is severly curtailed in its use as banners in front of churches). Thus, to all you ecumenists in the Western World: Please don’t feel compelled to lecture Christians, especially in the Islamic world about embracing other faith traditions. We live in that reality each day. Frankly speaking, most Muslims find this intermingling rather offensive and further from the Truth than the Curia thinks.


  8. Tom says:

    I wonder if there is anything that the Cardinal would not do for the Prince of Wales?
    On the Monday after Pope John Paul II’s death, a friend who was present at
    the Vespers in the Cathedral which the Prince attended, told me that afterwards
    he swiftly caught up with the Prince as he was leaving by the side door to tell
    him how sorry he was that he had to postpone his wedding because of the
    Popes funeral. She reported that the Prince didn’t look very impressed, and obviously just
    wanted to leave.

    I am saddened by the notion that one of our cardinals could be starstruck by royalty, but what could be done about it. Why can’t they be starstruck by the Vicar of Christ instead?.

  9. Jon says:

    Yesterday, on the Solemnity of Pentecost, I was forced to watch my own brother on th shores of a lake be “married” for the second time in a pagan/nature/buddhist ceremony.

    And no Motu proprio.

    “Intereligious Dialogue?” Spare me.

    Pius XI, pray for us.

  10. sean says:

    I hope there are some gays there too, wouldn’t want to leave out the gays would we.

  11. danphunter1 says:

    Jesus Christ? Jesus Christ? The One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church?
    These words sound slightly familiar, but I cannot quite place them….maybe it will come to me.

  12. Jacob says:

    Everytime I read this, I have visions of an Islamist putting on his martyr’s shroud in preparation for setting off to the cathedral for the performance…

    What is the Church thinking?!

  13. Tavener hasn’t written a liturgical work, and it isn’t being staged as such (no matter that its patron may become supreme governor of the Anglican Church), and Catholic cathedrals and churches often are the venue for performances of serious music: while I am as disgusted by facile syncretism as the next fellow, and will happily pay the tax imposed to finance the Crusade, upset about this is of the same sort occasioned by the fact that Benedict XVI prayed christianiter facing… southeast when he visited Turkey. That certain Muslims, along with certain of their Christian brethren, may be irritated by this performance is yet more evidence that philistinism knows no confessional boundaries.

    Of course, if there is any credible suggestion that the Tavener at Westminster will be the occasion of violence, then the authorities ought to take that into consideration; discord and disagreement and protests, eh: we live with such things in the West.

  14. Cody says:

    Honestly, this doesn’t surprise me. It is something otherwise conservative, orthodox Catholics have come to think as a good thing, largely due to misrepresentations of Vatican 2 and JP2’s actions in the liberal media. How else can you explain the Knights of Columbus, the so-called strong arm of the Church, in their magazine “Columbia” a year or so ago, praising a priest in Iraq who helped rebuild mosques?

  15. Fr Ó Buaidhe says:

    99 Names of Allah, 99 Red Balloons, 99 Bassoons for that matter. What place does *any* concert have in a building consecrated to the worship of God? I cannot ever be at peace with the use of churches for the purpose of human entertainment.

  16. Craigmaddie says:

    Will the Blessed Sacrament be removed from the Tabernacle for this peformance?

  17. Jennifer says:

    What a horrible idea. :(

  18. danphunter1 says:

    Our Church is not just in a maelstrom of trouble, but it is pulling the rest of the world down to Davey Jones locker with it.
    Excatly when is the next Crusade?

  19. Londiniensis says:

    Just to add spice to an already heady mix, Tavener’s scoring includes Tibetan (Buddhist?) temple bells. Tavener himself has relatively recently apostatised from his once much publicised Orthodoxy, to follow the ideas of “religio perennis” as articulated by mystic Frithjof Schuon, and has been quoted (BBC Music 11/2004) as saying “all religions are as senile as one another”. If there were some intended element of inter-faith gesture behind the commission and the venue, then it’s turning into another well-meaning muddle, as I fear that devout Muslims are as likely to be offended by this as are devout Catholics.

    However, when all is said and done, whatever its (Muslim / syncretistic) inspiration, and whatever the motives behind its commissioning, this is a secular piece of music, not an act of worship, and if you have long since allowed without murmur the Cathedral to be used for concerts with paid admission, the pass has already been sold.

    I am uneasy with this, principally because for me the Cathedral is a place of Catholic worship, the seat of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, and the symbolic centre of Catholic life in this country, not a concert venue. All the rest of the brouhaha is damaging, but is a second-order issue.

  20. Tom W says:

    Craigmaddie: Yes, I understand that the Blessed Sacrament is removed from the Blessed
    Sacrament chapel during these events.

    I fully concur with Londoniniensis’ point. The cathedral has been defiled
    through it’s commercial operations as a concert hall for years. (Although I find the practise of ‘buying in’ choirs, the members of which are not necessarily Catholic, appalling as well. This is not an uncommon practise in this diocese, even groups like the LMS are guilty, although all the aesthetes will bluster and complain about this charge).

    It has never struck me as a coincidence that the now fairly well established annual Crusade of Reparation is from the Cathedral piazza to Brompton Oratory, and not in the opposite direction. Thank God for the blessing that is the Oratory.

    The Cardinal keeps making error of judgement after error of judgement,
    so please pray for him, so as to limit any future damage which may be inflicted upon the Church here due to his office, before his retirement. (He is due to enter into his 76th year in August).
    Apparantly his (very ambitious) family always believed or hoped that he would be Pope,
    as was reported by the BBC when he was named Cardinal in 2001, and so must have
    been quite shocked to find him returning with his red hat still intact after the last conclave.
    He seemed to be fairly shocked himself, after having bought in men like the
    pro-EU ex-Downing Street political advisor Sir Stephen Wall to write his speeches, and the spin doctor Austen Ivereigh to enhance his international profile. The relationships he has built up with some African Cardinals would also have been expected to stand him in good steed.

    His predecessor, Cardinal Hume, who, according to his family declared himself ‘Pope or bust!’ after making his first profession of vows as a monk, had a similar experience in 1978, returning to Westminster empty-handed. I wonder how many people in history have made the great errors that they have simply because they believed they had a yet higher destiny, and then, when their vision was restored, deeply regretted the choices they had made. Abp Derek Worlock may have been another case in point. Given the wiles of the devil, there will be thousands of examples.

    I like our Cardinal, although he has tremendous self-belief (which can be a very dangerous thing), he isn’t an intellectual, but more of a political appeaser, who seems to have been given a peaceful reign as a bishop by keeping his priests happy. (Sadly, it seems at the expense of his
    flock, but that’s another matter). Unlike some other bishops, he rarely delivers sermons which have much, or any spiritual content, and this is always unsatisfactory. As our bishops
    are very class-ridden in general, it is not surprising that they are so very out of touch with
    the lives of ordinary people, but will almost go into a stupor at the sight of a irrelevant duke
    or a royal, and being unable to recognise whole, well-balanced people, give feminists and homosexuals (the enemies of the family) full voice.

    If people feel really strongly they should meet to say the rosary outside the
    Cathedral that evening in reparation for the offence going on within. But it is
    just one of many outrages happening here. Where does one draw the line?

  21. Fr. Z,

    I don’t think you’re exaggerating one bit. England is in deep, demographically, as is the rest of Europe. And look at what is happening in France: the churches, which are publicly funded, are empty. So the Muslims want the gov’t to give some to them. The newly-elected president has promised to deliver on this.

    Little wonder the churches are empty. People see events like this concert, which, whether it is intended to or not, gives credence to syncretism, and they conclude that it must not be necessary or even important to go to church.

  22. As Londiniensis mentions, Tavener apostasized from Eastern Orthodoxy into that tiresome, oh-so-modern “seeking” that not terribly intelligent “modern” people tend to prefer. He was, so I’ve heard, put off by his spiritual director’s (a nun of great repute) decidedly non-modern, non-glitterati instruction in the faith. He refused her direction, and on the subject matter in question, he will not have found any different with another spiritual father or mother. I don’t know whether he was actually accepted into the Church already or still catechizing, however. His pseudo-Byzantine stuff was dreck, anyway, unlistenable to anyone who is familiar with and appreciates authentic Byzantine music, but it impressed people because they didn’t know any better, and Eastern Orthodoxy, with our icons and such, tends to attract a certain number of aesthetes whose interest probably lies more in the external than internal or spiritual realm. It’s very sad to read that anyone has gone in such a direction. I’ll have to add apostates to my prayers. I hadn’t realized they were missing, which says a whole lot….

  23. CPKS says:

    Cormac Cardinal Murphy O’Connor is a good man who has devoted his life to the service of Our Lord.

    John Tavener is a man into whose soul we cannot see.

    All true art is inspired by the Holy Spirit. What claims to be art should be judged like prophecy: humbly, fearlessly, and never before it has been delivered – or it will surely judge us.

  24. sean says:

    I would like to think that regardless of the music’s beauty, it shouldn’t be played in a church. I thought churches were sacred places, not music halls. This is what our churches seem to be turning into, places used for everything else but worship.

  25. Sarafino says:

    I wonder if the followers of the so called, “religion of peace” would allow the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus to be sung in one of their Mosques? The way things are going, it seems as if our religious leaders will be the very first ones to say, “There is no god but Allah, and muhammed is his prophet!”

  26. All true art is inspired by the Holy Spirit. What claims to be art should be judged like prophecy: humbly, fearlessly, and never before it has been delivered – or it will surely judge us.

    Spoken like a true art critic…. The true prophets would have something else to say on the subject. Regardless, there is no doubt that “prophetic” “art” drawing on a number of contradicting and antagonistic faiths in a genteel hugfest of Enlightened Western Cherrypicking is insulting to all the elements involved, excluding, of course, the Smugly Interreligious. The whole thing is obtuse and silly.

  27. Alan Stout says:

    Fr., I feel that your message and intentions would benefit from a more humble epistemology. Certainly I do not think non-christian performances are appropriate in a christian worship space, but I think that your comments lack an appreciation for the way God may work out salvation by means of other religions. If you believe in the strict agustinian interpretation of extra ecclesia nulla salus, and you completely dismiss the work of Karl Rahner, then I think you have resigned yourself to not really being able to communicate about issues of religious pluralism. Don’t get me wrong, this is nonsense for a Christian Church to do, but I would only note that your passionate words may have impius consequences.

  28. Fabrizio says:

    “you completely dismiss the work of Karl Rahner”

    About time someone dismissed it!

  29. Fabrizio: One of the participants here, if my memory serves, calls Fr. Rahner “doctor aequivocus“.

    But this is thread drift, if amusing!

  30. Londiniensis says:

    Drifting on, “extra ecclesia nulla salus” has I understand been heavily qualified not only by Fr Karl Rahner, but also by Pope Pius IX and, more recently and interestingly, by Abp Marcel Lefebvre. If those three agree on something . . .

    I’m not quite sure how quite this impacts discussion of the Cathedral authorities’ decision.

  31. gravitas says:

    Forget John Allen — he’s proven himself anti-tradition and bad for our movement.

    What bothers me, and it may seem little but it’s not, is the confusion by the press calling traditionals “conservatives.”

    Yes, most traditionals are conservative. But most conservative Catholics are New Mass neo-cons who are sometimes more anti-tradition than the most ultra-liberal priests.

    I just wish someone would do a mainstream story explaining the difference between conservative and traditional. Because when this motu proprio does finally come out, some of the most angry reaction will most definitely come from so-called conservative Catholics.

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