Joseph Ratzinger, the pope of Rome, travelled from Edinburgh to celebrate a Roman Catholic mass in Bellahouston Park, Glasgow. About 65-70,000 people attended, which contrasts with the 250,000 who turned out at the same location in 1982 to see pope John Paul II (which has been claimed to be the largest religious service ever held in Scotland).
The speeches reveal why this date was chosen – it was “the feast of St Ninian”. The pope of Rome possibly aspires to be in line with Ninian, who was one of the earliest Christian missionaries in Scotland and who is known as the Apostle of the Southern Picts. Rome wishes to lay claim to Scotland, just as his beatifying of John Henry Newman on British soil is Ratzinger’s manner of laying claim to England. The timing of the visit can be viewed also as an attempt to trump any celebration of the 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation of religion in May 1560.
One BBC commentator suggested that he was in Edinburgh as a head of state, and in Glasgow he celebrated the Roman mass as head of the Roman Catholic communion. In this sense, Glasgow was given more prominence than Edinburgh, and he was evidently more relaxed in a place where he was top dog.
The rock concert stage set-up in Bellahouston Park had the added feature of a gruesome crucifix prominently displayed on stage, highlighting the Roman Catholic adoration of images – just as the BBC would later on Saturday night concentrate its cameras on the Roman monstrance during the papal mass at the vigil in Hyde Park, London. Roman Catholics believe the monstrance contains the actual body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, and this is displayed for them to adore. A crucifix is not an empty cross, a symbol used by many Christians, but a cross with the image of a man supposed to represent Christ, contrary to the second of the Ten Commandments which forbids making images for worship. Roman Catholics explain away the second commandment by including it under the first commandment, thereby trying to justify the worship of God by images. This necessitates a re-numbering of the Ten Commandments so that the tenth commandment about coveting is split in two. So when a person quotes “Thou shalt not kill” as the fifth commandment, you know he/she is a Roman Catholic.
In his speech of welcome, Mario Conti, Roman archbishop of Glasgow, mentioned the execution of John Ogilvy in the middle of a list beginning with Ninian and ending with John Henry Newman. He said that he was “hanged for his obedience to the Holy See”. It is true that he was a martyr for the papacy, but he was actually hanged for treason. The martyrdom theme was mentioned again in London speeches. Roman progress in Britain was the theme, as Conti reminded his audience that David, the son of Roman Catholic saint and Scottish Queen Margaret, “revived the ancient bishoprics”.
The theatrics of the occasion included putting the mitre on and off Ratzinger’s head. The BBC commentator explained that the pope of Rome takes his mitre off for higher authority, so what does it mean when it was replaced on his head before the reading of the epistle of Paul to the Romans 12:3-13? It is part of the pope of Rome’s delusion of grandeur that he considers himself to be above all earthly authority and, as this symbolism shows, above the Word of God. Such delusion gives force to Richard Dawkins’ diatribe against religion.
The sacrifice of the Roman mass
As Ratzinger bowed to the crucifix and circumambulated his altar waving incense in the air, some incense was put on him. The BBC narrator explained that he was ‘incensed’ by a deacon – rather the audience should be incensed that walking about with incense can be considered a serious act of worship to the living God. He prayed that “our sacrifice may be acceptable to God” and then this modern pope of Rome celebrated mass in Latin. Mario Conti at his right hand continued in Latin also – to the enlightenment of some of the assembled masses who recited the collective Lord’s Prayer in Latin (Pater noster). So as to be left in no doubt, the crowd was told that “this is the Lamb of God” as the white-robed officials handed out communion, with a plate held below the chin of the recipient of Ratzinger’s wafers to ensure that none of their sacred host was dropped on the ground.
This visit was an attempt to put a Roman Catholic stamp upon the religious and secular affairs of Scotland. Its mesmerising effect was not lost on Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, who was seated prominently in a front row alongside Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister. He commented afterwards: “This was a great day for Scotland.” Salmond is a Presbyterian who has actively embraced the multifaith agenda and courted the Islamic vote in Scotland.
Nor did it fail to impress David Robertson, editor of The Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland, and minister in St Peter’s Church, Dundee. On his Facebook entry he wrote: “Just been on Radio Scotland to welcome the Pope to Scotland! I honestly think his book on Jesus is one of the best I have ever read. I think he is an intelligent and thoughtful man and I regard him as a Christian brother. I disagree with the office of Papacy and other things. But you have to ask why the militant atheists are so vicious against the Catholic church – because they are the biggest obstacles to the secularisation of our society – in general the Protestant churches have been pathetic in resisting this. I personally thank the Lord for this Pope.”
Ratzinger came across as a mild, old man, which is likely to sway the gullible; but his words were as dogmatic as ever. John Haldane, the BBC guest with Sally Magnuson, reminded viewers that people thought of Ratzinger as strident, but this showed him to be a gentle man with delicacy and “maybe we should think again”. This was expanded – his toughness was not hardness of personality but commitment to truth. So his toughness was acknowledged: but it is not truth but the dogmatism of the papacy which needs to be noted. As head of the office of the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Inquisition, Ratzinger was labelled with the nickname of Rottweiler, so that the Roman hierarchy was unsure how he would be received in Britain. They have been surprised at his positive reception.
What truth? Secular and/or religious?
In Edinburgh he spoke against militant atheism and told the media to be more responsible; in Glasgow he spoke about the dangers of relativism. Ratzinger did not fail to use strong language, revealing the iron fist inside the velvet glove. This secular agenda, with which many could identify, should not hide the religious agenda nor the errors promoted by the Roman papacy.