The commemoration of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady on the Friday in Passion week provides for us the opportunity to prepare to enter through the threshold of the Church’s most solemn time in the company of she who is the Mother of Christ and, by his command, our mother also. In the example of Our Blessed Lady we are presented with a model of the Christian life in every aspect and virtue, but in a particular way we are shown how we must be configured to bear the weight of the Cross of Our Lord and Saviour, so that we might also enjoy the fruits of his sacrifice in the bliss of the beatific vision. That is to say, in the person of Our Lady we see how we should journey through the coming days of Holy Week, and in particular the Sacred Triduum, so that the Paschal celebrations might be for us more than an outward observation of the Church’s external life, but an internal and interiorly transforming experience of God’s grace: his divine mercy poured out for us in the blood of the Son of the eternal Father who has become the Priest, the Altar, and the Lamb of Sacrifice.
In the traditional ceremony for the opening of the Holy Door at the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome, the Holy Father struck the sealed door three times with a small silver hammer. Having been walled shut since the conclusion of the previous Holy Year, the masonry was then removed in one go, by means of an elaborate pulley system, before the door frame itself was sprinkled with lustral water. Only then would the pilgrims, led by the Holy Father, pass through the door and into the Basilica Church, often on their knees and kissing the door on the way.
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the ways of thine Only Begotten Son: that through his advent we may be worthy to serve thee with purified minds; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
As in the days before this holy season began, so today the Church calls upon her Lord to stir up our hearts in preparation for the advent of Christ; his twofold coming in the nativity and in judgement at the end of time. This sacred time calls us to a certain penance and purification that we may be worthy to serve our Almighty Father; the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The Collect, directed as always to God but setting the “agenda” of our ecclesial and common prayer, reflects this sentiment, and denotes a specific purpose: to serve thee with purified minds.
Deliver us, O Lord, we beseech thee, from all evils, past, present, and to come; and at the intercession of the blessed and glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with thy blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and with Andrew, and all the Saints, favourably grant peace in our days, that by the help of thine availing mercy we may ever both be free from sin and safe from all distress.
One element of the Communion Rite in Divine Worship: The Missal that has been retained from the Anglican missal tradition is the embolism, the prayer immediately following the Lord’s Prayer, and as it is found also in the older form of the Roman Rite. This short prayer, traditionally said by the Priest as he takes the paten into his right hand to collect the consecrated Host, first making the sign of the cross over himself with what Arthur Couratin, the Anglican liturgical scholar and Principal of Saint Stephen’s House, Oxford, apparently liked to call “the flash of the paten”, stands out as somewhat peculiar to ears more familiar with the amended version found in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite but, today, also for the specific reason that, together with Our Lady and Saint Peter and Saint Paul, it mentions the apostle Saint Andrew, whose feast we keep.
What a wonderful summer weekend in Hampshire with my parents and sister! This has to be the major benefit of living a somewhat nomadic existence before I head to Washington DC this summer. Yesterday we visited The Vyne, a nearby National Trust property (above) with beautiful grounds and a very elegant house, and then today we went together to the Reading Ordinariate Group for their Solemn Mass, which I concelebrated with Fr David Elliott, the Group Pastor.
After Mass the group had decided they wanted to take me out for lunch before I fly off, and so we headed to a pub on the outskirts of the Wellington Country Park for a good meal and a chance to catch up and say our farewells. One of the advantages of the smaller groups in the Ordinariate – as opposed to the larger parishes I’ve been working in – is that you can really get to know each other; there’s a beautiful pattern that emerges in the lives of people who come together for the Sunday Eucharist, spend social time together, and even go – en masse- on pilgrimage (Rome this year; Poland next). I’ve been very fortunate to be on the fringes of that in Reading and assure them of my prayers as they continue to move forward.
This past week I have been in Tunbridge Wells and in Crawley, giving talks on the New Evangelisation, and on Sacred Music. You can listen to my talk from Tunbridge Wells here, and you can always come to Part II of the Sacred Music this Thursday in Crawley. Details of that are here.
Earlier this week I met with Mgr Keith Newton, my Ordinary, who has asked me to undertake a licence in Canon Law starting this August. This will involve a three year course of study at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC, during which time I will also live and work in a parish in the DC metro area.
I am really grateful for this opportunity to return to studies, as well as the chance to live in the US – particularly in Washington – and to experience the enthusiasm and vigour of American Catholicism. It will be a particularly great blessing to also have the stability and day-to-day normality of living in a parish for more than a few months!
Particular thanks should go to the clergy and faithful of the parishes in Chelsea, Soho, and Balham, who have put me up and put up with me over the last two years. They have been wonderful places to begin to learn what it is to be a priest, and I remain in their debt. Please pray for me as I make this move!
Judging by the excitement that black smoke has, twice, caused the world since yesterday, this is an extraordinary moment in the life of the Church. Again. For the past month the eyes of the world have, if not been fixed on Rome, at least occasionally glanced in her direction. We have several international media networks topping their 24 hour news cycles with shots of the Sistine Chapel and the famous chimney, and simply thousands of journalists have descended on the Eternal City to report on events. As I said yesterday, too, we have an unprecedented representation of Catholics in the social media arena, who are contributing well to the story and rhetoric and commentary of this event.
In the business of evangelisation, this is a moment of grace. We are in the spotlight and, despite the attempts – justified and otherwise – to bring the conversation back to the sins of a few, we are being given an opportunity to speak openly, confidently, and warmly of the love of Jesus Christ and the place he has, through Holy Church, in the contemporary world.
We are also being presented with a moment of grace as individuals. How reliant we are on the Holy Spirit! In this period of transition, we must be even more trusting of the Lord, even more dependent on his will for us and his Church. As I have said before, this really is a Year of Faith – forcing us to reflect on our lives, and on the need we have of the Lord. In prayer and in fasting, and in a good daily meditation – even a holy hour! – we have the opportunity to draw closer to the Lord in this time, who is our guardian and guide. Amongst all the excitement and chimney-watching, let us united ourselves to the will God and, with the Cardinals in the conclave, make this prayer our own: Thy Will Be Done.
As the College of Cardinals gather to celebrate the Mass pro eligendo Papa in the basilica of Saint Peter, this morning, faithful from across the world will be tuning in to join them in prayer and in curiosity. Since the announcement of Pope Benedict’s resignation in early February, the Holy See Press Office, together with the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, Vatican Radio, CTV – the Vatican TV service, and other communications agencies for the Catholic Church, have been servicing a massive worldwide audience, keen to know every conceivable detail of the conclave process.
What is new, even since the election of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, is that this is being done more and more through electronic media. Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter are providing regular updates from the sources, as well as information from journalists. Most importantly, though, a new dialogue has formed between the Catholic faithful and the media, as snippets of information are gathered together from across the Twittersphere and from comment pieces on blogs and websites.
Yesterday’s BBC Radio 4 Sunday programme explored the idea of the moral authority of the Church in the light of what we can all recognise to be scandals. At this time when we are praying for the election of a new Pope, such a topic will indeed be in the mind of the Cardinal-Electors, as much as those who look to the Church – from within and without – for moral guidance. Do these scandals undermine the moral authority of the Church? Can the Church proclaim truth despite, and even through, her failed members and leaders?
Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, whose parish I was covering this weekend, spoke on the programme. He ably described moral authority as ‘the ability to speak on moral issues, it’s the ability to pronounce on right and wrong, it’s the ability to mediate to people what is not just the opinion of the Church, but what is the authoritative teaching of the Church – that which must be obeyed, as Canon Law says, with religious obedience of the will’. He went on, ‘In other words it’s not just another of the things offered in the great marketplace of humanity, it’s something which can be taken as true and believed as true. That’s what moral authority is: it’s the ability to speak truth’. That is important. Moral authority is the revelation of truth which, as the Catechism says, is always from God: ‘The authority required by the moral order derives from God’. (CCC §1899).
Today is Day 25 of 40 Days for Life and I’m privileged to have been asked to write this short meditation for those supporting this great initiative. Today’s intention is that those who carry out abortions may have their hearts converted. The text is Luke 23: 34: ‘And Jesus said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’.
It may be naive, but there must be some sense in which those who are involved with this most heinous of crimes against the dignity of human life, are unaware of the depth and seriousness of what they are doing. If they understood fully what was going on, what damage they were doing, then I cannot believe any human would be capable of carrying out this offence.
We rightly make public our opposition to these horrors, but in our hearts too, we must pray that those who are unable to see what they are doing might have their hearts converted. We read regularly of stories of abortionists who have had a conversion experience – often through the witness of a soul whose life has been cut short by them. We might, as a discipline that turns our anger into love – the only force which can bring about true change – pray that more such conversions might come about, as powerful expressions of the love of the Lord, whose incarnation brings a special dignity to the lives of all humans from conception to the natural death.
May the saints – whose lives show us the conversion we all require – support us in this task. And may the Lord use us as his instruments, to show his love to a world which so badly needs it, especially in these darkest of circumstances.
Let us pray.
Almighty and ever-living God, you show us in the lives of the saints the need we have of your mercy and grace, so that our hearts may be conformed to that of your Son. Grant, we pray, that the hearts of those who commit crimes against the dignity of human life, may be so infused with your love, that they may come to depend entirely on you and, in so doing, become the strongest advocates of your mercy and grace. We make this prayer through the same, Christ our Lord. Amen.