Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Hic precursor Domini natus est...

The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.
Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.
Meanwhile the child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel.
Luke 1:57-66,80

Monday, 22 June 2009

I am an Ultra-Catholic....

My attention was drawn to this funny poem by Fr. Philip on Sunday, because of the line about colonial prelates. We had the Bishop of North Malawi, the Rt. Rev. Christopher Boyle, at S. Magnus to preach, and Mass was followed by a BBQ outside. I know that the poem has done the rounds, and many of you will have already read it a few times, so why not commit it to memory? Never know when it might be appropriate to recite it....

I am an Ultra-Catholic - No 'Anglo-,' I beseech you!
You'll find no trace of heresy in anything I teach you.
The clergyman across the road has whiskers and a bowler,
But I wear buckles on my shoes and sport a feriola.

My alb is edged with deepest lace, spread over rich black satin;
The Psalms of Dâvid I recite in heaven’s own native Latin,
And, though I don't quite understand those awkward moods and tenses,
My ordo recitandi's strict Westmonasteriensis.

I teach the children in my school the Penny Catechism,
Explaining how the C. of E.'s in heresy and schism.
The truths of Trent and Vatican I bate not one iota.
I have not met the Rural Dean. I do not pay my quota.

The Bishop's put me under his 'profoundest disapproval'
And, though he cannot bring about my actual removal,
He will not come and visit me or take my confirmations.
Colonial prelates I employ from far-off mission-stations.

The music we perform at Mass is Verdi and Scarlatti.
Assorted females form the choir; I wish they weren't so catty.
Two flutes, a fiddle and a harp assist them in the gallery.
The organist left years ago, and so we save his salary.

We've started a 'Sodality of John of San Fagondez,'
Consisting of the five young men who serve High Mass on Sundays;
And though they simply will not come to weekday Mass at seven,
They turn out looking wonderful on Sundays at eleven.

The Holy Father I extol in fervid perorations,
The Cardinals in Curia, the Sacred Congregations;
And, though I've not submitted yet, as all my friends expected,
I should have gone last Tuesday week, had not my wife objected.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Sacred Heart of Jesus.....and other things

Perhaps I’m wrong to do so, but I frequently identify the Sacred Heart of Jesus with the Eucharist. In the image of an abused, bleeding, tortured heart, that is at once aflame with caritas, I see the folly of divine love which is made real flesh in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The mystery of the Sacred Heart, in which God the creator of all “divest himself of glory” in order to subject himself to our harshest abuses, is too much for us to understand. And yet by launching ourselves into the depths of this mystery we are bathed in the light of God’s boundless love, the contradiction of His humanity and His Divinity, the paradox that we receive sacramentally in the Eucharist. From the flame of his Sacred Heart, Jesus offers to set light to our hearts, so that we might, if we’re willing, be burned up by the fire of that love. In the Mass too, we are invited to join the oblation of ourselves to that unsurpassable Sacrifice of Calvary and make ourselves “victims” of a love that we cannot describe.

There is a definite link, then, between what happens on our altars today and Pope Benedict’s institution of a Year for Priests on the 150th anniversary of the death of the Saint Curé d’Ars, S. Jean-Marie Vianney. The enduring teaching of the Curé is that of total dependence on the love of the Eucharistic Lord, and the way in which he viewed the Sacrament of Holy Orders in relation to the Sacrament of the Altar. Fr. Jeffrey Steele has drawn our attention to these lovely words from the Curé :

If I were to meet a priest and an angel, I should salute the priest before I saluted the angel. The latter is the friend of God; but the priest holds His place. St. Teresa kissed the ground where a priest had passed. When you see a priest, you should say, "There is he who made me a child of God, and opened Heaven to me by holy Baptism; he who purified me after I had sinned; who gives nourishment to my soul. " At the sight of a church tower, you may say, "What is there in that place?" "The Body of Our Lord. " "Why is He there?" "Because a priest has been there, and has said holy Mass. "What joy did the Apostles feel after the Resurrection of Our Lord, at seeing the Master whom they had loved so much?The priest must feel the same joy, at seeing Our Lord whom he holds in his hands. Great value is attached to objects which have been laid in the drinking cup of the Blessed Virgin and of the Child Jesus, at Loretto. But the fingers of the priest, that have touched the adorable Flesh of Jesus Christ, that have been plunged into the chalice which contained His Blood, into the pyx where His Body has lain, are they not still more precious? The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus. When you see the priest, think of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

But the Eucharist is not the only Sacramental ministry which the priest undertakes in order that we might meet our Lord. In response to figures published in an Italian newspaper which reveal that only 2% of practising Catholics in Italy go to confession more than once a month, the Pontiff had the following to say (taken from this article in the Times) :

"Priests ought never to be resigned to empty confessionals or the apparent indifference of the faithful to this sacrament. In France at the time of the Cure of Ars, confession was no more easy or frequent than in our own day, since the upheaval caused by the revolution had long inhibited the practice of religion. Yet he sought in every way, by his preaching and his powers of persuasion, to help his parishioners to rediscover the meaning and beauty of the Sacrament of Penance, presenting it as an inherent demand of the Eucharistic presence."
The pontiff said that St. John Mary Vianney's followers knew "that their parish priest would be there, ready to listen and offer forgiveness." Penitents had from all over France, and he was often in the confessional for up to 16 hours a day, with his parish dubbed "the great hospital of souls."
The Pope urged priests to learn from St. John Mary Vianney to "put our unfailing trust in the Sacrament of Penance, to set it once more at the centre of our pastoral concerns, and to take up the 'dialogue of salvation,' which it entails". The French saint had "awakened repentance in the hearts of the lukewarm by forcing them to see God's own pain at their sins reflected in the face of the priest who was their confessor", while for those who came to him "already desirous of and suited to a deeper spiritual life" he had "flung open the abyss of God's love, explaining the untold beauty of living in union with him and dwelling in his presence."

On reading the article, I was shocked to find out that ONLY 30% percent of Italian Catholics never went to confession, as I assumed that many more people had absolutely no interest in this Sacrament. I’ve always seen it as a failure in catechesis on our part that so very few Anglicans go to Confession regularly, if at all. It is purely anecdotal evidence, of course, but in my experience, I have never seen a penitent make their confession before Mass in an Anglican church, and indeed only once after. In churches that have a regular time for confessions, if I do go then, I am normally the only one. At least we can take comfort from the fact that in the Roman church the situation is hardly better!

I hope that what I say doesn’t sound like a boast, and I’m definitely not trying to present myself as a model penitent, but I will speak of myself only because I cannot imagine a spiritual life without confession, and thanks to God I have the opportunity to go about twice a month. What drove me to the confessional for the first time was the weight of my sins, which I had prayed for the grace to see. I realised after my first confession that it’s all very well making a general confession at the beginning of Mass, or making a quick private prayer after realising some sin has been committed, but I know now that the surest way of knowing that a sin has been both truly admitted and truly forgiven is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the confessional, one kneels alone facing Christ, represented by His priest. In speaking the sin aloud, the penitent is vulnerable, exposed to the unease of sharing something so intimate with Christ in the presence of another person who is capable of, though not disposed to, judgment. The confessional is a foretaste of the judgment, when we will stand alone before the Saviour and be held to account. It takes a great deal of trust in Christ, and in his Priests, to make that journey to the confessional, but that trust is repaid a thousand times if one receives absolution. In the Creeds we affirm our belief in “the forgiveness of sins”, and how sweetly we can sing those words when we have truly tasted that forgiveness; the inestimable gift that is not deserved, but which is freely given.

So I hope that the observance of this year for priests will be accompanied by an increase in recourse to their ministry of Reconciliation. It would be a tremendous mark of respect for and trust in a priest to ask him to hear your confession. If you were once a regular penitent but have now lapsed, heed the Pope’s call to go back! If you have never made your confession before, then do your research and make an amendment to go. You will discover that there is nothing oppressive or frightening about confession, only beautiful and joyful. Any priest would be happy to answer questions about confession, regardless of whether you want to confess or not. It’s not for nothing that this Sacrament has been called “the dialogue of salvation”. God has said the “ice-breaker”; why not answer back?

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Faith and Practice : Head Covering

After writing a little bit about the tradition (or rather, obligation) of Friday Penance, I inteded to write a little about the tradition of women covering their heads in prayer, and men uncovering. However, I've decided instead to merely collate some texts that are written with more eloquence than I could hope to reproduce myself.

As I mentioned in my last post, head covering for women (and uncovering the head for men), is something I have been thinking about a lot recently. Focusing first on head coverings for women, here is a little piece that has been widely reproduced online:

Why Wear the Veil?

In ancient traditions dating back even thousands of years, the “veil” represented purity and modesty in many religions and cultures. A veil, or head covering, is both a symbol and a mystical sacrifice that invites the woman wearing it to ascend the ladder of sanctity.

When a woman covers her head in the Catholic Church it symbolises her dignity and humility before God, not men. It is no surprise women of today have so easily abandoned the tradition of the chapel veil (head covering) when the two greatest meanings of the veil are purity and humility.

The woman who covers her head in the presence of the Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is reminding herself that she must be humble before God. As with all outward gestures, if it is practised enough it filters down into the heart and is translated into actions that speak volumes. The “veil” covers what the Lord calls, in Holy Scripture, “the glory of the woman”, her hair. Covering her hair is a gesture the woman makes spiritually to “show” God she recognises her beauty is less than His and His Glory is far above hers.

In doing this she is reminded that virtues cannot grow in the soul without a great measure of humility. So she wears the veil to please God and remind herself to practice virtue more ardently.

There is no other piece of clothing a woman may wear to serve this function. The veil symbolically motivates the woman to “bow” her head in prayer, to lower her eyes before the great and mysterious beauty and power of God in the Blessed Sacrament. By the bowing of her head and lowering of her eyes, she is more able to worship God in the interior chapel of her heart and soul.

The veil or head covering a woman wears gives a beautiful sense of dignity to a woman. When she wears it, she identifies herself with God’s greatest creation, the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God. There was none on earth that loved and loves the Lord Jesus more than the Blessed Virgin Mary. In her love, her humility breathed forth like sweet scented incense before God. The veil she wore symbolised her purity, modesty and of course her profound humility and submission before and to God Almighty.Those women who love Jesus must come to realise the imitation of His Mother in wearing a chapel veil (head covering) and in other virtues is a small sacrifice to make in order to grow in spiritual understanding of purity, humility and love.

The covering of a woman’s head in Church is a striking reminder of modesty, something all but lost in the society of today. Modesty and purity walk hand in hand.

When a woman veils her head she is shielding her heart to be wooed by the love of God in the Blessed Sacrament. This is a mystical ‘country’ that only the Eternal Father may enter. Her veil is like the lighted lamps of the virgins waiting for the Bridegroom, an indication that she is prepared to receive Him at a moment’s notice; an aureole of her spiritual love for the Bridegroom. Wearing the veil is an act of love of God.

Why should a woman wear a head covering or veil in church? Not to be praised, not to go along, not for tradition’s sake, not to stand out in the crowd, not because you say or I say or anybody says…But because she loves our Eucharistic Lord Jesus and it is another small sacrifice she may offer for her soul’s sake and for the sake of many souls who have no one to offer for them. Amen.
(Sr Patricia Therese, OPB)

While I think the tone of this piece might be a bit much for many women, one thing that comes out of it very well is the fact that covering the head is an external manifestation of an interior piety. It is not, and should never be, enforced from without, by men or by women, but rather it comes from within, from the Christian woman's own soul.

One thing this piece doesn't deal with is the actual scriptural basis for headcovering, which is found in Corinthians. I hand you over to the blogger Catholic Knight:

The Scriptural case for the chapel veil...

1st Corinthians 11:2-16

I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you...

The tradition of the chapel veil comes from Christ, by way of the Holy Spirit, through St. Paul, for Paul mentions later in this same epistle: "What I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. If any one does not recognize this, he is not recognized." - 1st Corinthians 14:37-38 St. Paul commends the Corinthians for keeping the chapel veil tradition, among other traditions, and then he continues in chapter 11...

....But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God...

Here we have the central point of misunderstanding. This verse has been misused time and time again as a means of male superiority. Not only is this a misreading of the text, but it completely misses an important theological point Paul is trying to make. This chapter of Corinthians is entirely Eucharistic, in the sense that it centers around the Eucharistic celebration (or the mass). The following verses (17-34) deal entirely with the celebration of Holy Communion. When Paul says the head of every man is Christ, what he's saying is that Christ came in the form of a man. He's making a statement about the incarnation. He's saying that Christ came in human form, and because of this, the man becomes a physical representation of Christ -- particularly if he is a husband. When he says the head of every woman is her husband, he is not saying that women are inferior to men in any way. What he's saying is that if a husband becomes the physical representation of Christ's incarnation, than his wife becomes the physical representation of Christ's spouse -- or the Church. When Paul says "husband" here, he is referring both to earthly husbands, and to Christ himself. That being the case, wives take on the symbolic role of the Church. Paul continues in chapter 11...

...Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head...

Again, this goes straight back to the incarnation. All of this is a symbol of what we Catholic Christians believe about Christ, his incarnation, and the Eucharist. Paul tells us that if a man covers his head during mass, he dishonors his spiritual "head" which is Christ. In other words, a man who covers his head during mass dishonors Christ, because his action of veiling himself sends the physical statement that Christ was not incarnate as a man. The woman, on the other hand, representing the Church, ought to cover her head because if she believes that Christ is truly incarnate, she should veil herself as a sign that the Church has been made holy by Christ as his spouse. In doing so she honors Christ as a symbol of his sanctification on the Church. She also honors her husband with a physical sign that he represents Christ, because Christ came in the form of a man. The chapel veil is a sign of holiness because Christ has made his Church holy, and women represent the Church as the "bride" of Christ. It is a sign that the Church is covered and under Christ's protection. This is the symbolism of the Church's relationship to Christ. It is not so much a statement of a particular woman's holiness, but rather the Church's holiness. Paul continues...

-- it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil...

Here Paul is really laying it on thick, and he has good reason. He's trying to convey a big theological point. Customs in the church are not the result of random happenstance. These things exist for a reason. Under the Old Covenant, both Jewish men and women covered their heads during worship, but the early Jewish Christians changed that custom for a reason. They wanted to make this practice of veiling a symbol of Christ's incarnation, like they did with so many other Jewish traditions, and as Paul mentions in chapter 14 (cited above) these things are not trivial man-made customs, they came from the Holy Spirit Himself. Here Paul is telling us that it is shameful for a Christian woman not to cover her head during mass, and he is using an illustration from antiquity that has to do with punishment. In ancient times, women would have their heads shaved publicly as punishment for lack of modesty. It was a form of public humiliation. Here Paul is not advocating the shaving of a woman's head for refusing to wear the chapel veil, but rather, he is trying to convey the seriousness of the imagery. When a Christian woman refuses to do this, she is in effect saying (though perhaps not intentionally) that Christ was not incarnate in the form of a man. Granted, in modern times this is almost certainly not the intention of any woman who refuses to veil during mass, but what Paul is telling us here is that every custom in the Church has meaning, and because of that, failure to keep those customs also has meaning, whether one intends to convey that meaning or not. It's sort of like bowing, kneeling or genuflecting before the Eucharist for example. Catholics do these things in mass for a reason, and that reason is to stress the real presence of Christ in the blessed sacrament. In practice, we are bowing, kneeling and genuflecting before our God and King, whom we profess to be really and truly present in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. That being the case, if one fails to bow, kneel and genuflect, what kind of signal does that send to those around him/her? One may not intend to send any signals of disrespect, but invariably one can, whether one intends to or not. The custom of the chapel veil has similar significance. Paul continues....

...For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels....

Here we have another commonly abused passage. Again, Paul is not trying to bolster male dominance here. Remember, we have to keep the context of this chapter in mind, and the context of 1st Corinthians 11 is the Eucharistic celebration. Paul calls man the "image and glory of God" for one reason and one reason only -- because Jesus Christ (who is God) was made incarnate as a man. Then he expounds on this by pointing out that the woman is the "glory of man" (or mankind). This is meant to be a complement. Of the two human genders, women are far more "glorious" then men in their appearance, beauty, voice, fashion and general gracefulness. The hair was considered a woman's crowing glory in Biblical times (Song of Songs 6:5). Beyond that, women bear the special gift of motherhood. In that, God touches them in a way no man has ever experienced. The Scriptures tell us that God Himself fashions the unborn child in the womb, and plants a living human soul inside the body of a women when she becomes pregnant (Psalm 139:13-16). In this way, God touches the body of a woman in a way he never touches a man's body. This makes the woman's body a sacred vessel of God's creative powers. It is something that is particularly holy, and must be respected as such. It is no wonder why women are called the "fairer sex." Paul is agreeing with that here. However, Paul is also reminding women not to get too prideful. He reminds them of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, where the woman is made to complement the man, and not vice versa. Now we learn that the chapel veil is also a sign of personal humility in addition to the Church's holiness. The woman not only covers her head as a sign of her belief in a incarnation, not only to show how Christ has made his Church holy, but also to cover her "glory," as a sign of humility to show that she is not vain or overly proud of her womanhood and beauty. The veil or headcovering is a symbol of the woman's acceptance of her role in society, the family, and the Church, in accordance with God's will. It is an imitation of the Virgin Mary, who wore such a headcovering.
Then St. Paul says something very curious. He says the woman ought to veil her head during mass "because of the angels." Paul tells us that the angels participate with us during mass, and this is reinforced by the writings of St. John: "And another angel came and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense that he might offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which is before the throne." (Revelation 8:3, see also Matt. 18:10). The angels watch everything that is going on during mass, as they participate in the same liturgy we do. They are also well aware of the customs of the Church and what they mean -- even the custom of veiling. Angels are offended when we ignore or refuse to follow any liturgical custom, whether it be failing to kneel or veil in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord.

...(Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.)...

If ever there was a verse to counter the abuse of male dominance, this is it. If ever there was a verse to prove that St. Paul was not a male chauvinist, this is it. Paul follows his previous verse, reminding women to be humble, with this verse, reminding men to be humble too. He doesn't want the men to use what he just wrote as a means of beating down the women in a form of male superiority. He is reminding the men that they are not superior to the women, but rather fully dependent on them, and that both genders come from God. One cannot be "better" than the other. Then he continues with some rhetorical questions to back his point...

...Judge for yourselves; is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that for a man to wear long hair is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her pride? For her hair is given to her for a covering....

Paul is not prohibiting hair styles here. To focus on hair styles is to miss the point. Paul is simply asking a few rhetorical questions based on popular culture. In most cultures women have longer hair then men, and when they do, it usually looks better. He's saying that when a woman has long hair it usually looks beautiful, and when a man has long hair, it usually looks a little odd. In some cultures, long hair is considered a sign of femininity. So if a man has long hair, it looks feminine in those cultures, and that is "degrading" to him. What Paul is doing here is he's appealing to nature. He's saying; "Look, even mother nature teaches us the same lesson. She gives women long hair as a covering and it looks good and proper on them." Then he concludes with this interesting verse...

...If any one is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God.

Some Bible versions have mistranslated this verse to say "we recognize no such practice, nor do the churches of God." This mistranslation is often used to negate the previous first half of the chapter. In other words, those who abuse such mistranslations say that Paul spent half a chapter, explaining a deep theological principle pertaining to a custom he applauds the Corinthians for keeping, only to say in this last verse that they really don't need to keep it. Such interpretations are silliness. The proper translation is rendered here as "we recognize no other practice." Here Paul is telling the Corinthians not to get too contentious over the chapel veil custom, because he's not going to burden them with anything else beyond that. He's not going to tell men and women how to dress. He's not going to tell them what kind of a veil they should wear, or how they should wear it. He's simply saying that this is the custom as it is practiced in the "churches of God" and they recognize no other practice beyond this.

So the chapel veil has nothing to do with male dominance. It has nothing to do with subjecting women under male authority. It has everything to do with Christ's incarnation, and the real presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Amen. I think this piece deals very well with some parts of scripture which many of us these days have difficulty applying to our lives. Notice that this passage also contains an instruction for men to uncover during prayer, and I'd like to dwell on that for a little, considering how, aside from the biblical injunction, uncovering the head influences our approach to worship as social and cultural beings.

Until very recently, the hat was widely seen as a sign of man's place in society. Indeed it was for some, an essential aspect of manhood ; no self-respecting Victorian gent would leave home without his hat. Similarly, the flat cap of the working classes was something worn with pride as a symbol of rootedness in the cherished social order. It is only since the 1960s that men have given up on the hat. However, vestiges of this social conditioning remain. Everyday I see scores of teenagers wearing baseball caps, even when travelling on the underground and even inside buildings. Additionally, these baseball caps are worn with the shiny black and gold 59fifty label still attached (something to do with the hat being brand-new as an overt display of wealth). These same teenagers often wear their hoods up, or when it is too hot to wear a hoody, they wear the hood over their cap and let the rest of the garment hang down their back. This is something I have never seen girls do, presumably because of their extravagant hairstyles which don't allow for hair to be covered by a hat. This might be jauntily placed pony-tails, or braids, but anything as long as it's elaborate and features plenty of gaudily-coloured hair ties.!

If we assume then, from this most current of examples, that the normative fashion is for boys to cover their heads and girls to uncover them as a sign of social status and in conformity with prevailing worldly fashion, should we be surprised, then, that the church demands that we do the opposite in our worship? On entering the church building, we are coming into the presence of God, and the appropriate response to that divine presence is to relinquish our worldly social order in exchange for God's order, and scripture asks us to make this one concession for the Glory of God.

Ah! But what about the Biretta, you might ask. Well, it is true that this piece of headwear stands out as being permitted, formally required, to be worn at certain points during the Mass. The priest is directed to come to the Altar covered, and to cover there, and to resume the Biretta when seated and when in procession. Bishops also wear the Zuchetto, or skullcap, as part of their choir dress. In both cases, however, the head is uncovered during the most solemn moments of the Mass ; to hear the Holy gospel, and during the consecration of the elements and communion. The Biretta or Zuchetto is only worn as a mark of office when that is required: the priest as teacher, in some places, wears the Biretta when preaching.

After considering these points, the opportunity to worship God in the simple act of covering or uncovered the head seems too precious to pass up. So why do we not more readily do so? I remember serving at High Mass one Sunday morning in winter, and a member of the serving team arrived late. Since he had a shaved head, and the church was only just heating up, he left his woollen beanie hat on. Under the swelling notes of the Gloria, I saw our priest beckon an acolyte over to the sedilia and then send him over to the offending congregant to demand that he remove his hat. If we are so strict in the rare cases that a man enters the church with a hat on, why are we so reluctant to encourage women to cover their heads? Whenever my hair is long, I regret it most when serving at Mass, because if I serve as Subdeacon and wear the Biretta, it seems to inappropriate to uncover my head and still have to worry about arranging my hair again, and I wish it were already shaved. There are so many small things we can do to worship God, let's not pass up on the traditional practice of millenia for the sake of our own embarrasment or attachment to social norms and trends.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Corpus Christi Procession at S. Magnus

Here are a few pictures from the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament which took place after the Mass of Corpus et Sanguis Christi. As you can see, we processed around the Monument to the great fire, which is our nearest large public space, being a short walk up the hill.

Here you can see our flower-girl throwing rose petals down before the Blessed Sacrament.

Since our canopy is beyond use, it has been our custom for some time to use a liturgical umbrella, which Fr. Philip picked up in Ethiopia. I'm sure that the amount of Gold in it makes it liturgically legal for use in such processions, don't worry yourselves over THAT.

People find their places in the church before Benediction is given, and our Heavenly Father demonstrates his approval with a shaft of sunlight directed at the Blessed Sacrament. You'll also notice in these pictures a good turn-out for the Mantilla. I've been providing them for use for the last few Sundays, although I've given them away to women who would like to use them regularly. I will be making more myself this week, if only I could lay my hands on some tasteful scalloped lace edging.....

Shortly before Benediction...

The faithful kneel in rapt silence, adoring the Most Blessed Sacrament as sunlight cuts through the heavy haze of incense smoke.
There's one story I love which is told by one of our servers, Br. Deiniol, about a church he used to go to. There was an ecumenical programme there once which involved an exchange between the local Anglican and Methodist congregations so that they might better experience the other's worship life. So, the Anglicans went to the local Methodist Chapel for Evening worship with plenty of robust hymnody, and the Methodists were invited the following Sunday to Solemn Evensong and Benediction at the Anglican church. After the service, a Methodist lady was asked if she enjoyed Benediction : "Oh yes" she said, "lovely! Especially the bit near the end when the Minister picked up that carriage clock and it struck three". I fell about laughing.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Corpus Christi and then some....

There are some Holy Days which are ordered, under the newer directions, to be moved from their traditional mid-week position to the next Sunday. The Ascension is one such feast, and Corpus Christi is another. If I can, I like to attend both celebrations, just to make sure that I’ve really done the feast. This year, having attended no less than three celebrations, I feel as if I’ve really DONE Corpus Christi. I can’t help feeling that for the next week, my housemates will be asking me to refrain from belting out Sweet Sacrament Divine when I’m in the shower, and I might even be asked to spare innocent travellers on the Piccadilly line the higher notes of All for Jesus.

So, on Thursday I went along to All Saint’s, Margaret St, the original bastion of “High Church” (as far as Baptists and Methodists are concerned), for their wonderful yearly celebration. After a very dignified and solemn celebration of the Mass, the large numbers of pilgrims form a procession which winds its way down onto busy Oxford Street, before heading back to the church, where Benediction is given. Unfortunately this year, the police didn’t want to escort the procession down Oxford Street, as I remember happened last year, and so open competition for pavement space occurred between the procession and pedestrians. The preacher, Bishop of Ramsbury the Rt.Rev. Stephen Conway, gave a lovely sermon about something or other (my memory, not his preaching!) and the Mass was served by legions of children from All Saint’s, Notting Hill, who also served food at the reception afterwards.

Our celebration at S. Magnus was on the Sunday, where a Solemn Mass was offered, and a procession made up to the monument. This was the first outdoor procession of the Blessed Sacrament during my time at S. Magnus, and I will always remember the horrified looks of tourists at the monument, and the bemused stares of motorists on Lower Thames Street, as Our Lord is confidently carried over a pedestrian crossing on red! Pictures of this procession coming soon…

Yesterday evening then, I also went with a few others from S. Magnus to the Solemn Evensong and Procession at St. Mary’s, Bourne St. On entering the church, which I haven’t been to in some time, we were greeted with the sight of an immaculately arranged path of fragrant foliage for the procession, and an enormous green Baroque exposition throne in the Lady Chapel. The Solemn Evensong was very beautifully sung by Fr. Alasdair Coles and his choir, the congregation singing the Pange Lingua in English. The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were by Byrd. The Salve Regina, directed to be sung by the choir, was enthusiastically taken up by the congregation, before Bishop Robert Ladds began his sermon. He made a very eloquent comparison of the box of precious ointment poured out by Mary onto Jesus’ head and the precious ointment of the Eucharist which is present in our Tabernacles, inviting us to “break” open the tabernacle more frequently to receive the outpouring of blessings available to us therein. We then sang two Eucharistic hymns while the clergy prepared for the procession, before belting out O salutaris hostia to the tune of Jerusalem. The procession stopped at the Lady Chapel and we sang Tantum Ergo, the versicle Panem de caelo with the collect sung by the vicar before Benediction was given. I have to say, this is the first time I have ever been to Benediction in an Anglican church sung entirely in Latin. The hymn Lauda Sion was picked up again for the procession back to the high altar, over the foliage, which smelled by this point like a Neal’s Yard Remedy. Benediction was given again by the Bishop, the divine praises said and Laudate Dominum omnes gentes with the Antiphon Adoremus insterted after each verse of the psalm. All in all, a real assault on the senses, but in every way a beautiful evening.

I returned home exhausted, not least because of the heat we had during the day. Such a beautiful weekend though, and I hope for many more summer weekends like this. After all the extravagant worship I’ve been involved in this weekend, what have I taken away? Well, I feel convinced that, as the Bishop said, our worship of God should be spontaneous, generous and expensive. We should never be cheap in giving ourselves to God, but rather offer the most expensive parts of ourselves to Him. Our yearly exercise in this kind of expensive worship is Corpus Christi, when we pour out our love and devotion to Christ, illuminate his shrine with hundreds of candles and shower Him with fragrant gifts. We do this because we are confident of his gift in return, something that we are unable to match: His eternal, boundless love for each and every one of us and his memorial of that ceaseless love, His Holy Eucharist.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Faith and Practice : Friday Penance

A defining feature of the Catholic faith, which sets it apart from innovative forms of Christianity, is the belief in tradition. Motivated by Christ’s promise to us that the Holy Spirit will guide His Church through the generations, Catholics believe that whatever was deemed good enough for the Apostles and Saints is good enough for us too. As a consequence, they affirm many pious practices and customs which are not directly commanded in scripture, but which point to an interior piety and offer a discipline that leads to holiness. So many of these practices have been absorbed into our daily lives, and even into local and national cultures, that we often overlook their origins and purpose. Other customs which were once seen as essential to the sound practices of the faith have now fallen by the wayside, considered old-fashioned or unnecessary, or even a hindrance to our spiritual growth. As one Eastern Christian writes :

We can always make innovations and change what our Holy Fathers and Mothers, Sisters and Brothers have kept for us intact for 2000 years--the Church canons, fasts, rules--etc. None of these later served as an obstacle to them to obtain sanctity and salvation. In fact, they believe that these were the means the Apostolic Church handed down to us from Christ. Strange that we would think so much differently than them, that we would think we are somehow wiser now than they, more understanding and compassionate, more liberated! We can change the rules and whatever we like, but let us not expect the same results!

One practice that was once universally commended is regular fasting and abstinence. In the East, the patterns of fasting, i.e. reducing one’s intake of food to one meal a day continue to be more widely observed than in the West. Most notably, Copts in Egypt and Ethiopia fast for roughly half the year. Apart from the fasts of Lent, Advent and certain ancient Vigil fasts, which I won’t go into now, the Western church has recommended that Christians fast on Fridays, as a weekly observance of the day of Christ’s passion, and regular way of doing penance for our sins. This fast was once binding on all Catholics on every Friday of the year, not only during Lent, but it is an observance that has been largely neglected in the last century.

Throughout most of the Church’s history, the Friday fast, as well as the other fasts of the year, were widely observed, and the Friday fast was explicitly defined as abstaining from eating flesh-meat (fish being allowed) on all Fridays of the year by Pope Nicholas I. The Friday fast is also enjoined by the Book of Common Prayer, which also denotes every Friday of the year, unless it be a feast day, as a day of fasting. However, the fast was only made obligatory in the Roman Church 1917.

In September 1983, Canons 1252 and 1253 reaffirmed the Friday observance, but added that Bishops may allow other forms of penance to replace the fast on Fridays outside of Lent only:

Canon 1253 It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

This recommendation contains much potential for an improved observance of Friday as a day of penance, by freeing it from exclusive association with abstaining from meat, and encouraging other “exercises of piety”….The problem is that it has been largely ignored! Few clergy now inform the faithful of their obligation to fast on ordinary Fridays and many Anglicans would think of it as a continental Roman Catholic custom to eat fish on Fridays which does not have anything to do with them. Many people are unaware of their obligation to at least perform some form of penance on Fridays.

To my mind, this abandonment of the Friday penance is lamentable, since its regular practice has much to offer anyone seeking spiritual growth. If you want to keep the custom of the universal church by performing penance on Fridays, why not…

Abstain from meat, and eat fish or vegetarian food on Fridays:

This practice can be most easily incorporated into one’s weekly routine. If you have a canteen at work, they might offer fish and chips on Fridays anyway, and most places have a vegetarian option. If you cook for your family, why not make Friday fish night. Treat the kids to something special, either from the chippy, or learn new and inventive ways to prepare fresh fish. Nutritionists are always telling us the benefits of eating oily fish regularly, so why not take up their advice and make Friday the night you eat it? If you’re dining out, you can easily select a fish or vegetarian option without causing inconvenience to your dining party. Whatever you do, remember that the meatless dish on your plate is meatless for a reason, and try to say grace!

Go to Confession on Fridays

Friday lunchtime or after work can be a convenient time to start making preparation for your Sunday Communion through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Most people find Saturdays very busy, and that confession times for Saturdays often don’t suit. So why not look for a church near your workplace or home that offers a Friday lunchtime Mass, or is at least open at that time, and schedule a regular confession for then. Although Saturday evenings are the traditional time to start making preparation, many people use that time for socialising, so it might not be a bad idea to free yourself up and make Thursday night or Friday the time for self-examination, and then take up your preparation again on Sunday morning by reading psalms or the office on the way to Church.

Pray the Rosary on Fridays

If you don’t do it daily (and most of us don’t!), why not set aside Friday as the day that you do. Either pray the Sorrowful Mysteries that are traditionally assigned to Friday, as a way of drawing your mind to our Lord’s passion, or else pray the mysteries in turn each Friday, but make your prayer intention one of reparation for sins committed.

Find out what Friday devotions are on offer

Some churches offer “exercises of the Passion” on Fridays, which might involve the way of the cross or other meditations. Seek them out and discover a variety of devotions to add to your prayer life.

Keep a Friday box for charitable giving…

…or make it your habit to empty a box for loose change every Friday, making sure to add something extra. Traditional wisdom asserts that fasting is a pointless act unless it is done in a spirit of charity and love, so think about what you’re giving up, and how little others have, and make the effort to give charitably on Fridays.

Whatever Friday penance you decide to take up, make sure to pray for the grace to perform it well and consistently!

Monday, 8 June 2009

The story we tell...

…is that on the Sunday of his elevation to the See of Canterbury, on the Sunday after Pentecost of 1162, S. Thomas Beckett determined that this Sunday should from henceforth be dedicated to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Offices and Masses of the Holy Trinity had already existed for centuries, but Pope Alexander II had refused to institute a feast of the Holy Trinity on the grounds that every single day was dedicated to the Trinity, whenever the doxology Gloria patri… was pronounced. Many years after S. Thomas, Pope John XXII finally confirmed the dedication of this Sunday as a distinct feast, as its celebration had spread from Canterbury to the rest of Western Christendom. In a sense, Trinity Sunday was the gift of Canterbury to the rest of Europe, a day set aside to consider that God, in His infinite charity and wisdom, has chosen to reveal Himself to us in three Persons.

On Trinity Sunday yesterday, results of the European Parliamentary elections were broadcast, and it emerged that our gift to Europe this time round, is to elect two MEPs from the far-right, racist British National Party. In the midst of a general movement to punish the Labour party, a significant portion of the rejectionist vote went to a party that is not only opposed to the European project, but is virulently against the values of openness, inclusivity and social equality that we Britons idly like to claim as our own. At the risk of sounding as if I’m politicking excessively, I have to make the point that the BNP offers no coherent, realistic way forward for Britain’s economic problems, or the reform of parliamentary democracy. The party manifesto is rather more focused on issues of race and ethnicity, claiming that native Britons are discriminated against in favour of immigrants, and advocate voluntary repatriation of non-Caucasians; as far as we Christians are concerned, destroying families, coherent communities and kicking the sojourner out of our midst!

But it would be pointless to dwell in despondency, or to make mildly shocking pronouncements against universal franchise. We shouldn’t be surprised that the regions of the UK that voted for the BNP are facing increasingly isolation from the economic and political life of this country. Anyone living in the North of England, especially outside of the major cities, must feel as if they are frequently overlooked by investors, and that they have dropped off the map as far as government initiatives in education and culture are concerned. The long demise of the North is nothing new, and the transformation of former industrial centres into university towns has not brought significant benefits to the local population. In fact, under the new regime of granting almost anyone the right to award a degree and filling new, inferior universities with high fee-paying foreign students is surely only going to exacerbate the anxieties of the white working class that the BNP claims to represent.

What are they offering that’s so good? Well, in this climate of mistrust in political life, fear is the greatest currency and the more of it you can provide - the more access you can get to an individual’s deepest anxieties - the better. It would sound extravagant to say that BNP voters were in the grip of the devil, but this is what Satan is; the creeping fear and despair that work against God’s freely given gifts of faith and hope. Fear is what imprisons us; it’s what turns us away from God, and away from our neighbour. Fear is the enemy of truth.

I’m not about to launch a massive Europe-wide evangelisation programme, much as I’d love to! However, I do think a bit of practical, day-to-day evangelism is demanded of us by the Gospel. If we can be a people who stand for the truth, if our word can be trusted and if our worship of the Triune God is seen as worship that dispels fear, then we have taken the first step. Passing this on to others in our household, town, city, nation or continent allows us to take the second. Fides, spes et caritas…Faith, Hope and Charity are the virtues that we proclaim, and blasphemy, despair and hatred are the sins against them. We really need to be tireless in proclaiming these virtues, in living them and in teaching them, and zealous in fighting whatever opposes them. They are only the seed of our future, but without them, everything else is groundless. Let them be the guiding principles of our political system, let them play a part in addressing the problems of those victims of despair, let them be the beginning of boundless grace and our endless freedom in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Can anyone tell me....

...what's happened to S. Mary's, Somers Town on Eversholt street, near Euston station? I sometimes drop in there if I ever have to walk to Camden from my work near St Pancras, and on doing so today, I noticed a few changes since my last visit.

The overall impression is much more like a church than I last remembered it! The pews have been re-orientated from the circle they were in before and now all face towards the High Altar. The nave Altar has been put back into the sanctuary and is now much closer to the lovely High Altar and Reredos which is the main ornament in this sparse church. This re-positioning of the altar seems to have necessitated another welcome change - no more celebrant's chair facing away from the Altar of Reservation! This is an abuse all too commonly seen these days in churches that follow a more informal style of liturgy, but in fact it is not to be tolerated. Our churches were built with one focus: Christ, and to place a chair for the celebrant with his back to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is a grave offence. For a priest to sit in a position that is literally centre-stage during the liturgy is also inappropriate. When not performing some liturgical action at the altar, surely the priest should sit in some place aside from the altar, not obscuring it or pulling focus from it, especially if our Lord be there upon it.
Another change I noticed was a slimming down of shrines. There is now one Shrine of Lady in the nave, and another in the South side of the Church. There is also now a distinct Side Chapel, where I didn't notice one before. Such considerations are pastorally important, as a side chapel allows Masses to be said during the day when people might wish to come and pray before the Tabernacle in the main body of the Church.
It seems S. Mary's has been scrubbed up and turned around for the better, and I'd love to know who is responsible for the changes. I love having that church so close to my work, and I've often dropped in on lunchbreaks and spent some time with Jesus, especially during Lent, taking my place along with the homeless and the travellers who tend to hang around near the station. Long may the ministry of S. Mary's continue in this part of London. I only pray that whoever rearranged the furniture has the opportunity to see to that nasty colour on the walls!

Monday, 1 June 2009

June is the Month of the Sacred Heart

After the joy of the Ascension, and the thrill of Pentecost, we are moving into Ordinary Time and the Green Sundays after Pentecost/Trinity which all seem to melt into one long memory of cucumber sandwiches, fruit loafs, church fetes, and (if you chose your church well) Pimms on the terrace. During this longest of the lirtugical "seasons", we run the risk of losing our focus. We can feel as though we're not really going anywhere, just drifting through another summer, going on holiday, skipping Mass to sunbathe etc. We need to think hard, now, what it means to be a people of Pentecost, and to seize this outpouring of the Spirit, the Spirit that guides us and nourishes us as living water.

This is the genius of the Catholic practice of assigning certain devotional foci for the months of the year. We all know May is Mary's month, and now in June, we're in the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We have some good feasts to look forward to in the near future; Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi, but during our down-time, perhaps we should make use of this powerful devotion to focus ourselves more intently on Christ. Indeed, devotion to the Sacred Heart is designed to appeal to the cooling hearts of Christians, as Pope Pius XI said :

"From among all the proofs of the infinite goodness of our Savior none stands out more prominently than the fact that, as the love of the faithful grew cold, He, Divine Love Itself, gave Himself to us to be honored by a very special devotion and that the rich treasury of the Church was thrown wide open in the interests of that devotion."

The prayers, litanies, novenas and other devotions to the Sacred Heart all begin with the acknowledgement of our own weakness, that we frequently don't love God with our whole hearts, as we are commanded to. In venerating the Sacred Heart, we are making reparation for that sin of indifference, and we are rekindling the fires of holy love in our own hearts, being set alight by the love of Christ.
And let us not forget that the Sacred Heart of Jesus is also his Eucharistic Heart. That Holy Heart, set aflame with love for us, yet crowned with thorns and weeping blood, is Cor Jesu Eucharisticum, the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, given up for us, and to which we join our meagre offerings. So go to Mass in June, make it a resolution to attend the Holy Mysteries whenever you can, for what else are we giving thanks for in the Eucharist other than God's immense love for us, symbolised by the radiant, tortured heart of our Saviour.
Meanwhile, why not make use of some of these devotions...?