Sunday, 28 December 2008

Urgent prayer-request for Gaza

You will all probably be watching the news bulletins about the Israeli air-strikes on the Gaza strip with shock and horror. Please pray for the peoples of the Middle East during this difficult time:

-For the hundreds of dead and injured in the Gaza strip,

-For those inside Israel who suffer from Qassam rocket attacks,

-For an immediate end to the violence and for the Spirit's guidance towards a full, workable and lasting peace in Israel/Palestine.

You might want to address your prayers to Our Lady, Queen of Palestine. This devotion started during the violent uprisings of the 1930s and has continued to this day. The Daughter of the Holy Land and Mother of all who trust in Christ sustains us by her constant intercession, and will surely hear our prayers.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Midnight Mass, S. Catherine's, Bethlehem

Ah, to be in Bethlehem for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem travelled to Manger Square to say Midnight Mass at S. Catherine's church, and he was welcomed into the city by legions of local scouts playing bagpipes. In deference to a long-standing tradition established by Yasser Arafat, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, also attended, along with the Christian mayors of Bethlehem and Beit Jala, home to the Latin Patriarchal Seminary.

One thing to note is the presence of a biretta in a photo available here In my experience of Latin Catholicism in Egypt and Palestine, ecclesiastical dress in the Middle East tends to conform to the "polyester practical" school of thought. However, the Patriarch of Jerusalem seems to be quite enthusiastic for the restoration of various symbols of office.

Pilgrim numbers have been up in Bethlehem this year, which is something to be thankful for. The security wall has been slowly strangling the town over the last few years, exacerbated by the ring of expanding settlements that will soon encircle Bethlehem completely. There have been some ugly settler incidents in the municipality this year, most notably around the village of al-Khadr, where the shrine of St. George lies, and in the villages of al-Ta'amrah where settlers from Tekua frequently attack Palestinian farmers, and temporary road-blocks around the settlements disrupts the local agricultural economy. At least foreign tourists and pilgrims won't have to look far for the ugly 8-metre concrete slabs of the separation wall. The area around the main checkpoint where tourists from Jerusalem arrive may have the look of a normal border crossing, but for the time being foreigners still have to queue with locals and can easily observe the oppressive system of permits and finger-printing in action for themselves. I really hope to go back to the West Bank this year, possibly to visit the Parish we have just twinned with, and I will definitely try to get to Bethlehem if I can. If anyone is going on pilgrimage, please let me see the photos!

Photos of the liturgy courtesy of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Midnight Mass, Ss Peter & Paul, Wantage

High Altar and Crib

Merry Christmas to one and all, hope everyone is enjoying the Feast of the Nativity. I am currently unable to move very far or very quickly, or even maintain a face-to-face conversation without falling asleep, and this due to the excessive amount of free-range turkey and Pastis I have consumed today. So I find myself at the computer desk, eager to add some pictures of the church I visited last night for Midnight Mass. At least this only involves moving part of my upper body...

My parents have recently moved to rural Oxfordshire, and I spent some time worrying about where I would go for Midnight Mass that would be within easy driving distance of my parent's isolated cottage. I got onto the FinF website and eventually found the Parish church of Ss Peter and Paul listed in nearby (15 miles) Wantage. I rang the rector and learned that although the church isn't actually FinF, the current vicar, Fr. Salter, is supportive. In this part of Oxfordshire, you throw a penny and hit a woman-priest, the area is so saturated with female clergy, and this made me all the more pleased to find an Anglican church that I could go to.

Chancel, with some beautiful monuments

The church bells were peeling just before midnight in the busy town-centre of Wantage, the pubs were absolutely brimming and it was nice to find the town's church quite busy too. I slipped into some latecomers' seats behind a pillar while the choir was singing Mattins of the day in a darkened church. At Midnight, the Mass itself started and a huge altar party wound its way around the church, depositing en route the considerably-sized choir in the stalls at the back of the nave. The liturgy was modern Roman, High Mass said from a modern portable nave altar, with a carol in place of the Psalm and a protracted exchange of the peace before the canon (it's my custom at such moments to be overcome with piety and drop to my knees in fervent prayer, thus avoiding having to shake hands with every Tom, Dick and Eileen), which is all very standard I suppose. The music was Schubert's Mass in G, which I was very excited about. Unfortunately, one of the violins had tuning issues, but the choir (all presumably unpaid non-professionals) did really well and the music truly contributed to the dignity of the occasion.

One thing really annoyed me, however: the thurifer, who had customised the standard attire of cassock and surplice by wearing a bright pink feathery hair-band on her pony-tail, decided to remove her 6-inch heels during the readings and never put them back on, padding around the church in tights instead. Any self-respecting server knows that apart from health and safety concerns around the charcoal, it is bad form to serve at the altar both in heels and barefoot. I know it's wrong to notice all of this but I couldn't help it, plank in my own eye etc but honestly, a man has limits.

The Mass ended with a procession to the crib, where the Celebrant carried the Bambinello in a cope and humeral veil to the crib, where the scene was lustrated and censed and the blessing given.

I didn't take pictures of the liturgy, but I managed to take a few snaps of the church afterwards. I have to apologise for the poor quality, but flash didn't look good and, well, I don't have a decent camera. The chancel is beautifully adorned, and the low, stone arches of the nave give a sort of basilica effect to the building. However, the narrow lines of this old church are quite at odds with modern tastes in liturgical celebration, and so Mass from the High Altar would be quite unacceptable to a modern congregation. Unfortunately, this means that with the addition of a nave altar and the focus of liturgical activity being so close to the congregation, the impression is one of a slightly squashed arrangement with only half the space in use. This is quite normal however in similar churches, and indeed any church where a nave altar has been preferred, and is truly endemic in our cathedrals.

Blessed Sacrament chapel with MU banner

I would like to thank Fr. Salter for his help and for letting me take some photos of the church. Please do visit if you ever find yourself in this part of Oxfordshire; one thing I've realised this week is the unfortunate state of the Church in some parts of rural England, with some impressive pockets of enthusiasm like Ss Peter and Paul. It's very important to pray for Anglicans in rural parishes who don't enjoy easy access to the various networks or abundance of churches to chose from, such as we enjoy in cities.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Advent III - Gaudete Sunday

The Gospel

I've just come across some photographs from Gaudete sunday and thought I'd best share them straight away. They were taken from the organ loft by a visiting singer, and I thank him for kindly letting me post them here. They are not of the best quality, which is a result of the poor lighting from that angle and the billowing clouds of incense which regularly choke the poor choir.


I ought to explain that we don't have a rose High Mass set to be worn, although the chasuble is decent. That is why the Celebrant, Fr. Aidan Harker is wearing pink, whilst the Deacon (Fr. Warner) and the Subdeacon (me) are wearing some very fetching purple vestments.

The canon

Elevation of the Chalice

From the organ loft you can really appreciate what Travers was going for with that extra height on the reredos and the Rood on the top. It sort of reminds me of some Belgian churches, although I've never seen anything anywhere that reminds me of S. Magnus.

Advent IV and the Krib is up!

Advent IV went very well today with a High Mass at S. Magnus, and the church was packed to the gunnels on what is supposed to be a busy shopping weekend. People were sharing their plans for going away for the coming feast, or if they're staying in London, making arrangements to get home after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. A table in the crypt was heaving with Christmas cards left in piles arranged by name, and I got a real sense of being part of a very close and stable congregation, even though half the people at Mass were visitors. I had some friends come to Mass as well, which is quite unusual, as I rarely succeed in convincing non-Christian friends that S. Magnus is worth getting out of bed for. It really was a joyous occasion to lift the spirits on an otherwise dark and dreary day.

A donkey looks on, choking on an artificial pine-needle. When there was no room at the inn, someone suggested the bandstand at the end of the road.

The Christmas Crib has been put out in the Church, taking the place of the rather under-loved Pieta shrine (more about that at a later date). The Crib occupies an old doorway which has been filled in, and which is treated as a sort of rotating shrine area; normally it houses the Pieta, in Eastertide it is where we put the Easter Garden etc.

Coloured lights in the Kylie Kristmas Krib
I think the crib deserves to be called "glorious"; how many other churches have such a posh stable? I think it's the top part of a palanquin that fits over a processional (fibreglass) statue of Our Lady of Walsingham which is knocking around downstairs. The Bambinello Himself is currently secreted away in the sacristy, and the Magi are waiting for their star near the Christ the King altar. Expect more pictures soon.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Pig-themed disappointment

I wanted to just post this article from Ynet, the website of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Achronot, because it made me so mad that I had to scrape my spleen off the floor after reading it and so wanted to invite comment. The reason being, the article is about trying to create a secular identity based on, but in part negating, a religious heritage. Among my generation, I hear a lot of “Yeah I suppose I’m Christian...BUT….” and I suppose this about something similar, albeit much more bizarre.

I also wonder how people feel about the fifth paragraph. I found it quite racist, in that it replays Jacky Mason style humour based on nothing more than stereotypes of Jews, as well as throwing in something about terrorism, which is a blatant swipe at Palestinian Arabs.

I can’t belive Ynet published this really, because while they generally carry a broad range of opinion pieces from every quarter of the Israeli political spectrum, I’ve never seen anything like this before. Please comment away!

Jews or pigs?

I refrain from eating pork not due to religious concerns, but because it's an unmistakable anti-Jewish symbol

Assaf Wohl

It was reported this week of a court ruling ordering the Tiv Taam branch in Givatayim to remain closed on Saturdays. At first I was overcome with joy. What a nice judge who's guided by social principles and looks after the workers' right to rest on Shabbat.

But as I was humming the "Internationale" it struck me that this wasn't actually a case of socialism, but rather of surrealism, because pork meat will continue to be sold in public by the chain in the land of the Jews on every other day of the week.

My attitude towards pork isn't influenced by a religious or Godly edict. I don't eat pork, period. Not because God doesn't allow this or out of consideration for religious or vegetarian sensitivities.

My God couldn't care less what I put in my mouth, and I tend to take advantage of this from time to time. But I refrain from eating pork first of all because I'm Jewish. And true Jews have their red lines, even those who don't believe in a divine being that oversees the consumption of non-kosher meat.

Pig's head no different than a swastika

So, what's the story with pork? Well, if you think about it, there are several traits that characterize Jews: Jews find it hard to compliment others; they don't win Olympic medals or blow themselves up in buses. And they also don't eat pork. Why? Because there are some things Jews simply don't do.

Because unlike shrimps, lobsters and other kinds of sea food, pork isn't eaten not because it's non-kosher, but because it's a symbol. It has been an unmistakable anti-Jewish symbol for generations and generations. For a nationally-conscious person, a pig's head isn't very different from a swastika

The Hanukkah holiday is approaching. It commemorates a period in which those forced to give up their nationality and eat pork overcame the soldiers of the evil Seleucid Empire.
And what has changed since? What will those pork-eaters tell their children on the festival of lights? That they are willing to launch a war for the freedom of eating pork meat? That they are ready to fight only to be able to wave this anti-Jewish symbol in no other place but the land of the Jews?