Friday, 29 September 2006

Cardinal O'Malley on Daily Mass

I was very pleased to read the following on the Boston Cardinal's blog:
It’s the ideal that priests say Mass every day. It’s the greatest prayer that we can offer for the Church and for our people. That was why we were ordained. I would never miss the opportunity to say Mass. Each time we say Mass, the whole Church is present, even if we are alone.In the Mass we pray for the Pope, the other Bishops, for the living, for the deceased…everyone who has ever been part of the Church is part of the celebration of the Mass. It’s the greatest service that we can give.

So far, I've had the chance to say Mass every day since my Ordination - luckily when travelling to Australia I stopped off at Singapore and said Mass in a packed and very hot pilgrimage church. Anyway, what Cardinal O'Malley writes goes against the popular belief (in some quarters) that private Masses are to be discouraged, especially 'if we are alone.'

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A Perfect Evening

It must be that time of year - I've been tagged in return by Valle Adurni and asked to name five historical figures I'd like to spend an evening with (excluding Our Lord and His Blessed Mother). Well, Fr Sean has already named two people who would be in my A-List: St Philip Neri and Mgr Ronald Knox. So, apart from these, I'd nominate:
  1. St Francis de Sales
  2. St Ralph Sherwin (Protomartyr of the English College, Rome)
  3. Dr Samuel Johnson (token non-Catholic - though he was fairly sympathetic and was also a Jacobite)
  4. Pope Benedict XIV (see picture above)
  5. Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman

Oh dear, they are all men and mostly clerics - just for balance I should have included St Teresa of Avila or Mary of Modena (our last Catholic Queen).

I wonder who Dappled Things and Joanna Bogle would choose?


The Importance of the Antependium

An altar frontal with the arms of 'Henry IX' (the Cardinal Duke of York)

The great thing about blogging is that you never know what you'll end up posting. Until I accidentally found the reflections penned by Dom Daniel Augustine Oppenheimer, CRNJ (Prior and Founder of the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem based in Saint Louis), I never thought I'd end up considering the humble altar frontal (biretta tip to the New Liturgical Movement).

According to Oppenheimer, 'from Christian antiquity the altar has always been understood as symbolic of Christ Himself. In both the eastern and western Churches the altar has been the object of artistic embellishment for the sake of increasing faith regarding its holiness...The antependium is an essential liturgical accoutrement whose absence form churches now is but one more sign of liturgical ignorance.'

His argument is that an unveiled altar diminishes belief in its holiness (rather like an unveiled tabernacle). Oppenheimer also regrets the disappearance (from the sixteenth century onwards) of cancelli (choir curtains) and vela (altar hangings) because 'the mystery occuring on the altar had to be shielded from the eyes of men.' This tradition was particularly rich in England.

It's well worth a read!



Angelum pacis Michael ad istam
Caelitus mitti rogitamus aulam,
Nobis ut crebro veniente crescant
Prospera cuncta

Angel all peaceful, to our dwelling send us,
Michael, from heaven coming to befriend us,
Breathing serenest peace may he attend us
Grim war dispelling.

(from today's Hymn, Christe, sanctoruum decus Angelorum)

Today is not only an important feast in the Church's year but also the traditional start of Autumn - the autumn term at Oxford, Cambridge and a handful of other Universities is still called 'Michaelmas.' St Michael was an appropriate Autumn saint, protecting the children of God from the growing darkness that will only be broken at Christmas with the birth of the Light of the World.

Today is also the 150th anniversary of the opening of the original church here in Kingsland. The opening was a rather grand occasion - Pontifical High Mass was celebrated by Bishop Roskall of Northampton in the presence of Cardinal Wiseman, who 'delivered a most striking and eloquent discourse from the steps of the altar in which he drew a most eloquent contrast between the angelic administrations recorded in Scripture and the Old and New Testament Law respectively.'

After Mass there was a grand luncheon, followed by Pontifical Vespers, presided over by the Cardinal. Dr Manning (future Cardinal) preached and Bishop Roskall gave Benediction. The Fathers of the London Oratory assisted with the Sacred Liturgy and, as noted before, a hymn specially written for the occasion by Fr Faber was sung (There are many saints above).

Quite a day - with the involvement of three of the great figures of nineteenth century English Catholicism (Wiseman, Manning and Faber). The church no longer exists - a pity since the architect was Mr Wardell, also responsible for the splendid Cathedrals of Sydney and Melbourne.

I shall be celebrating Mass this afternoon in our primary school, which is near the site of the original church, but I've got a feeling the liturgy will not be quite as grand as that of 150 years ago!

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Thursday, 28 September 2006

The Sarum Usage

Valle Adurni has some wonderful photos of the Sarum Mass he celebrated at Candlemas 1997 in the chapel of Merton College, Oxford - complete with beadle, three crucifers, two thurifers and coped cantors. This followed the High Mass for the Translation of St Frideswide in 1996, organised under the auspices of the Oxford University Newman Society (during my term as President). I was MC on both occasions and I look back with great pleasure to the celebration of our ancient liturgy in such splendid medieval surroundings.

The picture, by the way, is a rather charming illustration of the order of a festal procession from the Sarum Processionale of 1519. Clerics are denoted by their tonsures!


Good King Wenceslas

There are some juicy feasts this week - and today's is one of the most intriguing. We all know 'Good King Wenceslas' from the Christmas carol, but this has more to do with John Mason Neale (who wrote the lyrics) than the saint himself. In fact, St Wenceslas has very little to do with Christmas and seems a rather obscure subject for a carol.

He was born around 907 in the castle of Stochov near Prague. The castle no longer exists but an oak tree still stands, which was said to have been planted by his influential grandmother, St Ludmila, to mark his birth and was watered by the baby's bath water.

Christianity was still relatively new to Bohemia when St Wenceslas became Duke in 921 - SS Cyril and Methodius had planted the Gospel there just over half a century previously. However, there were strong anti-Christian forces, including his mother, Drahomira, who became regent on the death of his father (the saint was aged only 14). Wenceslas gained power thanks to a coup in 922 and his mother was banished. He formed links between Bohemia and the Holy Roman Emperor, defended the Church and (as suggested by the carol) gave alms to the poor.

Drahomira was not the only unpleasant member of his family. His brother, Boleslas, was busy trying to expand his power base, especially after Wenceslas married and produced an heir. On 27 September 929 Boleslas invited the saint to celebrate the Feast of SS Cosmas and Damian (now on 26 September) at Stara Boleslav and, the following morning, killed him outside the church, just after Matins. His dying words were 'Brother, may God forgive you.'

Yet St Wenceslas is remembered more for his good works than his martyrdom:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

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Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Back in Time

Roving Medievalist tagged me a week or so ago with the question: if an angel could take me back in time, what five things or occasions would I like to experience? Ignoring Biblical events - and thinking very much on the spur of the moment - an interesting itinerary for time travel might be:
  1. St Augustine's first meeting with King St Ethelbert on the Isle of Thanet (Kent), 597.
  2. A day trip to either London or Oxford around the year 1500 to visit the churches and religious houses on the eve of the Reformation.
  3. Hear Palestrina conduct the Sistine Choir, Monteverdi direct Vespers at San Marco or Farinelli sing.
  4. Sit in choir at Frascati Cathedral for the enthronement of Henry Stuart [above], the Cardinal Duke of York and son of 'James III' (who sat in state on the sanctuary) in 1761. The fountains in the town square flowed with red wine afterwards.
  5. Be present at Newman's 'Second Spring' Sermon at Oscott in 1852.

Now I'm supposed to pass this 'meme' on - so, if they read this, I will challenge Hermeneutic of Continuity, Valle Adurni, Joee Blogs, Cally's Kitchen and Ignatius Paul. It would be intriguing to see what they propose...


Tuesday, 26 September 2006

The Feast of the Anargyri

Today is the feast of everyone's favourite medical saints, Cosmas the Physician and Damian the Apothecary, known as the Anargyri ('the silverless' or 'the unmercenaries') on account of their practice of not charging for their services. No wonder they were so popular. The twins famously grafted the leg of a dead Ethiopian to replace a living man's ulcered leg, a 'miracle' much celebrated in art:

They brought many of their patients to Christ but were finally condemned to death under Diocletian around the year 300. After various gruesome tortures they were beheaded, together with their other siblings Antimo, Leonzio and Euprepio.

Their basilica in Rome, not far from the Colosseum, was built in the sixth century by Felix IV and is famed for its mosaics. Such were the saints popularity in the seventh century that, as well as the celebration of 27 September [changed for some irritating reason to 26 September in the New Calendar], there was an addition feast in Rome on the following Sunday, die domenico ad sanctos Cosmae et Damiano ante natale eorum. This was for the benefit of the workers who could not attend the celebrations during the week.

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Sunday, 24 September 2006

Our Lady of Ransom

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom. It has a special relevance to England and Wales and used to be in our national calendar, until she was replaced by Our Lady of Walsingham in 2000. A pity that we couldn't celebrate both titles since the idea behind Our Lady of Ransom was praying for the 'ransom' of England as 'Our Lady's Dowry.' The Guild of Our Lady of Ransom continues to promote the work of England's conversion, which is today as necessary as ever.

The origins of the Feast can be found in the little known Mercedarian Order. This was founded in the early thirteenth century by St Peter Nolasco and St Raymond of Penafort (who can both be seen at Our Lady's feet in the picture above) to ransom Christian slaves taken by the Muslims during their frequent raids on Europe. The Order's original name was the 'Order of the Virgin Mary of Mercy of the Redemption of Captives of St Eulalia' (an early martyr venerated in Barcelona).

According to the Constitutions, Mercedarians were 'to visit and to free Christians who are in captivity and in power of the Saracens or of other enemies of our Law… By this work of mercy… all the brothers of this Order, as sons of true obedience, must always be gladly disposed to give up their lives, if it is necessary, as Jesus Christ gave up His for us' (this is known as the Fourth Vow of the Order, in addition to poverty, chastity and obedience).

Incidentally, my favourite Mercedarian saint must be St Mary of Cervellon (1230-90), who supported the work of ransoming Christian slaves by her prayers and penances. She is venerated in Spain as a patron of sailors and is often shown holding a ship (as in the picture below).On several occasions she even appeared in the sky helping the ships that were sent to redeem captives. Little wonder she is called Maria de Socos ('Mary of Help').

Christian captives in Muslim lands were a huge problem up until the seventeenth century. Barbary pirates even troubled English waters - 466 English ships were taken between 1609 and 1616 and a thousand people were taken captive after a raid on the West Country in 1625.

We ask Our Lady of Ransom to intercede for Christians who experience hardships in Muslim countries today.

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Spiritual Childhood

In today’s Gospel, we once again see Jesus turning the values of the world upside-down. Jesus talks about His forthcoming passion and death. But, as with so many other occasions, the disciples fail to understand, they just don’t get it. They are busy arguing which one of them is the greatest. So, Jesus calls the Twelve around Him and presents a little child to them as a model of discipleship.

The saccharine image of Jesus embracing the little child is a familiar one and yet, for the time, it was revolutionary. In antiquity, children stood for very little. Unwanted children were simply discarded and infanticide was very common. Seen as incomplete human beings, they had no prestige or status - even a great thinker like Plato put children on the same level as slaves and beasts. Children stood for nothing and yet here we find Jesus, the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah identifying Himself with a little child.

What is Our Lord saying to us? We all know that children are far from perfect - they can be very selfish and cruel, they can be silly and irresponsible, they can just as much be a cause of sorrow as of joy. But, despite all this, we can learn great spiritual truths from children.
First of all, children know their limitations and are absolutely dependant on adults, especially their parents and guardians. A child is full of expectations and has faith that it will receive everything it needs, whether it be food or the latest computer game. Likewise, as God‘s children, we need to entrust God with everything. Faith involves having the attitude of a child and recognising who is really in charge - God our Creator and not us creatures.

One of the great modern saints, St Therese of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun who died at the age of 24, lived each day with an unshakeable confidence in God's love and acknowledged everything as a gift. She described her ‘little way’ in these terms: ‘it is to recognize our nothingness, to expect everything from God as a little child expects everything from its father; it is to be disquieted about nothing…To be little is not attributing to oneself the virtues that one practices, believing oneself capable of anything, but to recognize that God places this treasure in the hands of his little child to be used when necessary; but it remains always God’s treasure.’

Another great thing about children is that they are always themselves. This is demonstrated by the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. As you will remember, two swindlers come to the court to sell clothes made of their unique material, which was ‘invisible to any man who was unfit for his office or unpardonably stupid.’ The Emperor commissions a suit and wears it at a great procession - everybody pretends to admire the non-existent clothes until a little child shouts out: ’But he has nothing on at all!’ The adults are full of pride and don’t want to lose face - like so many people, they’re busy trying to become somebody or something else. They make life so complicated. The child, on the other hand, is simple, innocent, direct, not afraid to be himself and speak the truth. And that’s what we should aim at - to be who God intends us to be and not to pretend to be someone else.

Inspired by the Gospel, let us become like little children so that we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Being childlike doesn’t mean being childish or simple-minded. It does mean abandoning ourselves to God and entrusting everything to him. It does mean becoming the person God wants us to be - being ourselves. And it does mean being young in spirit - cheerful rather than solemn, full of wonder at God’s creation rather than being cynical. ’Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’


Saturday, 23 September 2006

The Ups and Downs of Church History

The following are the words of the Holy Father during his meeting with priests of the diocese of Albano on 31 August:

In the century of the Reformation, the Catholic Church seemed almost to have come to her end. This new current which declared: "Now the Church of Rome is finished", seemed to triumph. And we see that with the great saints, such as Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Charles Borromeo and others, that the Church was resurrected. In the Council of Trent, she found a new actualization and the revitalization of her doctrine. And she lived again with great vitality. Let us look at the age of the Enlightenment, when Voltaire said: "At last this ancient Church is dead, humanity is alive!". And instead, what happens? The Church is renewed.

The 19th century became the century of the great saints, of new vitality for a multitude of religious congregations, and faith is stronger than all the currents that come and go. And this also happened in the past century. Hitler once said: "Providence called me, a Catholic, to have done with Catholicism. Only a Catholic can destroy Catholicism". He was sure that he had all the means to be able at last to destroy Catholicism.

Likewise, the great Marxist trend was convinced that it would achieve the scientific revision of the world and open doors to the future: the Church is nearing her end, she is done for! The Church, however, is stronger, as Christ said. It is Christ's life that wins through in his Church.

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Presbytery Dogs

Meet Oscar, one of the presbytery dogs. I'm gradually getting to know them, although they bark when they hear me moving around and the other one, Bruno, is very shy. As you can see from the photos, Oscar has been distracting me from the final stages of composing tomorrow's homily on spiritual childhood - and this post is another distraction! Right, better get back to work...


Friday, 22 September 2006

Blogging Matters

Just returned from a relaxing drink with parish blogger, the dúnadan (Cally's Kitchen). We briefly discussed the low profile of English Catholic blogs, when compared to our American friends. Mega-blogger Joee Bloggs has now been given the opportunity of appearing on a BBC Radio 5 Live bloggers show, thus representing the English Catholic blogosphere - please do leave a comment on his blog to help make this a reality!

By the way, Cardinal O'Malley of Boston is experimenting with blogging as he makes a ten day visit to the Eternal City - click here to read his posts.


Thursday, 21 September 2006

Fr Cantalamessa speaks to the priests of Westminster

'Inservice training' seems to be the theme of the week. Having listened yesterday to the theologian, Fr John Saward, today it was the turn of Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher to the Papal Household, who spoke to the priests of Westminster at our Pastoral Centre in London Colney. His theme was a commentary on the Veni Creator Spiritus.

A large concelebrated Mass followed in a specially erected marquee. Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor was the chief celebrant - not only as our Ordinary but also because on 28 October he celebrates his Golden Priestly Jubilee. An excellent buffet lunch followed and, because of the fine weather at the moment, we sat in the gardens of the Centre, which was formerly a rather grand Anglican convent.

It was good to meet brother priests and it was especially impressive to see our bumper crop of seminarians. In case you haven't heard, here is the report from the diocesan website:

The September start of the 2006 academic year has seen 14 new students start training for the priesthood at Allen Hall, the Diocese of Westminster’s seminary in Chelsea, London. This is the largest intake for six years and brings the total number of students being trained as priests at Allen Hall to 37.

Eight of the new seminarians are students for the Diocese of
Westminster. The other new arrivals include those training for the Diocese of Lancaster and the Order of St. Augustine. Out of the total number of 37 students now at Allen Hall, 18 have been selected for the Diocese of Westminster and are expected to serve as priests in some of its 216 parishes.

The new seminarians for the Diocese of Westminster studying at Allen Hall, who range from 24 to 52 years of age, come from a variety of backgrounds, including IT, teaching and school chaplaincy. Five are from the UK, one is from Zimbabwe, one from the USA and one from Poland.

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Wednesday, 20 September 2006

Priestly Compunction

I popped over to Holy Trinity, Brook Green (a 20 minute walk from the archive) today for an excellent lunchtime talk given by Fr John Saward (sorry about the poor quality of the photo above). It was organised by the 'Giffard Club,' an informal support group for priests ordained since 2000 and working in the London area (of which I'm a founder member). It takes its name from Bonaventure Giffard (1642-1734), one of our great Vicars Apostolic.

Fr Saward, a former Anglican minister, is a fairly recently ordained priest of the Birmingham Archdiocese and currently parish priest of SS Augustine and Gregory's in Oxford. He may be a young priest (in terms of Ordination) yet he is one of our best theological writers, responsible for some beautiful works that draw on the full riches of the Catholic tradition - I particularly recommend his The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty (Ignatius, 1997), Cradle of Redeeming Love: The Theology of the Christmas Mystery (Ignatius, 2002), The Way of the Lamb: The Spirit of Childhood and the End of the Age (T & T Clark, 1999) and Sweet and Blessed Country: The Christian Hope for Heaven (Oxford, 2005). We eagerly await his forthcoming work on angelology.

Today's talk was on an appropriately priestly theme, looking at the sense of sin in a priest, especially in relation to the Sacred Liturgy. He started by examining the prayers of the Classical Roman Rite, which clearly emphasise the priest's unworthiness to celebrate the Divine Mysteries and his dependence on God's grace - for example, the priest recites the Confiteor separately from the people and breaks the silence of the Canon with the words Nobis quoque peccatoribus.

Although these themes are not lacking in the Novus Ordo, they are underplayed. This is strikingly obvious in the changes to the Perceptio Corporis tui, which the priest has the option of reciting before receiving Holy Communion. This traditionally read: Perceptio Corporis tui, Domine Iesu Christe, quod ego indignus sumere praesumo, non mihi proveniat in iudicium et condemnationem; sed pro tua pietate prosit mihi ad tutamentum mentis et corporis et ad medelam percipiendam: Qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum. Amen.That is, Let not the partaking of thy Body, O Lord Jesus Christ, which I, all unworthy, presume to receive, turn to my judgment and condemnation; but, do thou, in thy loving kindness, make it to avail me to my healing and safekeeping in body and in soul, who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. The underlined phrase was omitted in the Novus Ordo for no apparent reason beyond boosting the priest's self-esteem!

Fr Saward suggested that priests need to rediscover the sense of sin in the liturgy - not because of any Jansenist rigorism or scrupolisty but simply to restore the balance. Some good ideas were produced by the discussion:
1) it's important to treat the sacristy less as a busy meeting room and more as part of the church, where the priest prayerfully prepares for Mass. St Vincent Ferrer made the sacristy a powerful symbol, comparing even the walking of the priest into the sacristy before Mass to the Incarnate Word entering the womb of Mary and the putting on of the vestments to Christ taking on our flesh - the priest does act in persona Christi, after all. In other words, the sacristy is not just a functional room where the priest gets vested. Times of silence just before and after Mass are essential.
2) priests should make better use of the traditional prayers before and after Mass, as found in most Missals.
3) priests might like to recite the Aufer a nobis prayer as they approach the altar, especially if there is a long-ish procession. This would lead to a heathy sense of compunction - 'Take away from us our iniquities, we beseech thee, O Lord; that, being made pure in heart, we may be worthy to enter into the Holy of Holies. Through Christ Our Lord.'

Had a good chat afterwards with a guest at the Giffard Club, Fr Tim of Hermeneutic of Continuity, who also has a post on the meeting.


Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Il Miracolo é fatto!

The new Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Sepe, presided over his first Feast of St Januarius (San Gennaro) today, with the famous liquefaction of the martyr's blood, which is then venerated in the Cathedral throughout the day.

The fourth century bishop has long been a patron of Naples but it was only in the seventeenth century that he became the chief patron following an eruption of Vesuvius in 1631 (the most serious eruption since the one that famously destroyed Pompeii in 79 AD). As the lava flowed towards the city, the saint's head and blood were taken in procession to the Porta Capuana. The Archbishop made the sign of the cross with the holy phial and the 'proud clouds of burning matter' began to dissipate and change direction, thus saving Naples.

Since then the miracle of San Gennaro has been the great Neapolitan festa and its failure has been a feared portent of evil (eg 1939 - foretelling the advent of war).

I'm currently reading Tommaso Astarita's superb Between Salt Water and Holy Water: A History of Southern Italy (2005). A passage at the end of the chapter on religion in the early modern period provides a (secular) apologia for today's celebrations and points towards the 'Eternal Baroque.'
It is easy, from a modern perspective, to find much of Baroque Catholicism in the Italian South somewhat entertaining in what to us may appear as its wackiness. But the seventeenth century witnessed a lot of religious strangeness across the Christian world. Members of many sects spoke in tongues - and Quakers quaked - in England; in Scandinavia, Germany, England, and Massachusetts - much more aggressively than anywhere in Spain or Italy - thousands of alleged witches were tortured and burnt at the stake by secular and clerical authorities; educqated elites, and masses of the uneducated, had no problem believing that their neighbours flew at night to attend gatherings where they worshipped and copulated with the devil. The severe political instability, religious conflict, continuous warfare, famines, and economic crisis of the age may help explain these behaviours and beliefs.

In that context, the religious practices of the southern Italians may still appear excessive and somewhat primitive, but they also seem comparatively harmless, especially in terms of the numbers of victims of religious persecution. The practical help that so many southerners sought in their religious and ritual life appears the wiser course when confronted with what some contemporaries were doing. In the following century, during the Enlightenment, northern Europeans - in the name of rationalism - liked to scoff at southerners' approach to religion. Today, when church pews are often empty across Europe, but Pope John Paul II has declared more saints than his predecessors over the previous five centuries combined, six million pilgrims a year seek divine aid at Lourdes, and millions more visit other miraculous sanctuaries and shrines, the southern Baroque approach looks prescient.

Amen to that!

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Monday, 18 September 2006

Demonstration at the Cathedral

I'm sure most of you have seen Catholic Londoner's excellent 'exclusive' report about the militant anti-Benedict demonstrations outside Westminster Cathedral yesterday. I feel duty bound to acknowledge Joee Bloggs since, thanks to a link to Roman Miscellany on his much read post, I've so far received 390 hits today!

Of course, the Cathedral is no stranger to mass hysteria. When the Cathedral foundations were being laid just over a century ago there were reports in the extreme Protestant press that these would become the dungeons of a new Inquisition!

Likewise when Pope John Paul celebrated Mass there in 1982, Ian Paisley and his friends organised a demonstration protesting against the visit of the 'Anti-Christ.'

Such is the cross we bear when we witness to the 'Faith of our Fathers.'


In Honour of St Joseph

My new parish of Our Lady and St Joseph, Kingsland, has a proud (though largely forgotten) boast - when the original church was opened on 29 September 1856, the great hymn writer and Founder of the London Oratory, Fr Frederick William Faber, wrote the following for the occasion in honour of our heavenly patron (and patron of a happy death):

St Joseph, Our Father

There are many saints above
Who love us with true love,
Many angels ever nigh;
But Joseph! none there be,
Oh none, who love like thee, -
Dearest of Saints! be near us when we die!

Thou wert the guardian of our Lord,
Foster-father of the Word,
Who in thine arms did lie:
If we his brothers be,
We are foster-sons to thee, -
Dearest of saints! be with us when we die!

Thou wert Mary's earthly guide,
For ever at her side,
Oh! for her sake hear our cry;
For we follow in thy way,
Loving Mary as we may: -
Dearest of saints! be with us when we die!

Thou to Mary's virgin love
Wert the image of the Dove,
Who was her Spouse on high;
Bring us gifts from Him, dear Saint!
Bring us comfort when we faint;
Dearest of saints! be with us when we die!

Thou wert a shadow thrown,
From the Father's summit lone,
Over Mary's life to lie;
Oh be thy shadow cast
O'er our present and our past;
Dearest of saints! be with us when we die!

Sadly o'er the desert sand,
Into Egypt's darksome land,
As an exile didst thou fly;
And we are exiles too,
With a world to travel through;
Dearest of saints! be with us when we die!

When thy gentle years were run,
On the bosom of thy Son,
Like an infant didst thou lie;
Oh by thy happy death,
In that tranquil Nazareth,
Dearest of saints! be with us when we die!

Granted, it doesn't exactly merit a place in The Oxford Book of English Verse - but it would be good to revive it in the parish for which it was originally written. Can any enterprising reader suggest a hymn tune to which it could be sung (preferably not Shadows of Day, if at all possible). Thank you!

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Saturday, 16 September 2006

Benedict XVI on Islam

Here's the other side to the story - an extract from the Holy Father's now virtually forgotten address to Muslim representatives at Cologne on 20 August 2005.

'Past experience teaches us that, unfortunately, relations between Christians and Muslims have not always been marked by mutual respect and understanding. How many pages of history record battles and wars that have been waged, with both sides invoking the Name of God, as if fighting and killing the enemy could be pleasing to him. The recollection of these sad events should fill us with shame, for we know only too well what atrocities have been committed in the name of religion.

The lessons of the past must help us to avoid repeating the same mistakes. We must seek paths of reconciliation and learn to live with respect for each other's identity. The defence of religious freedom, in this sense, is a permanent imperative, and respect for minorities is a clear sign of true civilization. In this regard, it is always right to recall what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council said about relations with Muslims.
The Church looks upon Muslims with respect. They worship the one God living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humanity and to whose decrees, even the hidden ones, they seek to submit themselves whole-heartedly, just as Abraham, to whom the Islamic faith readily relates itself, submitted to God.... Although considerable dissensions and enmities between Christians and Muslims may have arisen in the course of the centuries, the Council urges all parties that, forgetting past things, they train themselves towards sincere mutual understanding and together maintain and promote social justice and moral values as well as peace and freedom for all people (Declaration Nostra Aetate, n. 3).
For us, these words of the Second Vatican Council remain the Magna Carta of the dialogue with you, dear Muslim friends... Christians and Muslims, we must face together the many challenges of our time. There is no room for apathy and disengagement, and even less for partiality and sectarianism. We must not yield to fear or pessimism. Rather, we must cultivate optimism and hope. Interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends.'


New Monument to the Beheaded

As a child I loved visiting the Tower of London and was always fascinated by the plaque on Tower Green commemorating those who were 'privately' beheaded there (normally women of high rank), including Blessed Margaret Pole (Countess of Salisbury and the mother of Cardinal Pole) and three Queens of England (Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Grey).

Blessed Margaret Pole

That plaque has just been removed and replaced by....a glass pillow. As its creator, Brian Catling, explains, 'it became clear to me that the essential image at the heart of the monument must be one of repose, a side step to the act of violence. The square glass pillow is a replacement for the block; a gesture of repentance.' This is set within two engraved circles, one with a poem (written by Mr Catling) and the other with the names of the executed. 'Before, people would come and stand in front of the small plaque that used to be here – they just stood and didn’t know what to do so I thought: 'let’s give them something to do', they now have to walk around it to read the poem – they have to engage with it.' Catholic pilgrims, of course, have never been at a loss of what to do - they could 'engage' with the hallowed spot by saying their prayers.

Tower Green, of course, is not to be confused with Tower Hill, outside the walls of the fortress, where most Tower executions took place, including those of SS Thomas More and John Fisher and Blessed William Viscount Stafford.


Anti-Papal Persecution

I wonder how many of the protestors above actually read Pope Benedict's erudite lecture in Regensburg? How many of them realise that, as The Times leader points out, the real target of the address were Western materialists?

None of them, of course - they have been fired up by militant fundamentalists who try to equate the opinion of Manuel II Paleologus, quoted by the Holy Father in an academic context, with official Vatican policy. And, it must be said, the Western media hasn't exactly helped either, with the usual references to the crusades and Inquisition - though it is, I suppose, refreshing to see the Holy Father in the headlines and even on the front page of The Sun.

Ruth Gledhill in today's Times says:
The tragedy of the episode is that the Pope was arguing against the idea that violence can be justified in any religion. He was making the case for the compatibility of reason with religion at a time when fundamentalism is gaining terrifying ground across the religious spectrum. The irony is that the Islamic response illustrates how desperately the world needs to hear his message.
We pray that today's saint, Cornelius, Pope, martyr and scapegoat*, will intercede for the Holy Father and give him strength.

* Pope Cornelius was imprisoned after the Christians were blamed for the Roman plague epidemic of 252. He died from the harshness of his treatment.


Friday, 15 September 2006


Stabat Mater Dolorosa
Iuxta Crucem Lacrimosa,
Dum Pendebat Filius.


A Local Link to Pre-Reformation Days

Much of Greater London may seem little more than a sprawl of modern suburbs, but if you scratch the surface you soon find links to the more distant past. My new parish of Kingsland grew as a suburb in the early nineteenth century - and there are some quite pleasant terraced streets - but the name of one of the local stations, 'Canonbury,' takes us immediately back to the Middle Ages. The name 'Canonbury' originates from the 'Canons Burgh' - the manor which belonged first to the bishops of London and then, from 1253, to the Augustinian Canons of St Bartholomew's Priory in Smithfield. Another part of London to the west, Canons Park (on the Jubilee Line), also got its name from this religious house.

Above are pictures of Canonbury House and Tower (Canonbury Place, N1), which I passed on my afternoon stroll today. The tower (which you can see above) dates from the rebuilding of the manor by Prior William Bolton just before the Reformation (mercifully he died in 1532, just before things got really sticky). Apparently you can still see traces of his heraldic device on parts of the building, so I must go back with camera in hand to find these.

At the Dissolution the manor passed into lay hands - including, for a few years, Thomas Cromwell (boo, hiss). Famous residents have included Samuel Humphreys (Handel's librettist), Ephraim Chambers (the encyclopaedist), Oliver Goldsmith and Washington Irving.

It's great to have a link to Catholic England just five minutes walk from the presbytery, even though part of the building is now used for the Canonbury Masonic Research Centre, which describes itself as 'an educational institution for the independent study of Freemasonry and the traditions linked to it, and of mystical and esoteric traditions worldwide.' I wonder what the good Prior Bolton would think of all this!


Pius IX's Sedan Carriage

I mentioned in a recent post that I possess a model of a sedan carriage of Blessed Pius IX and a reader has requested a close-up photo. Apologies, I wrongly stated that this was the carriage used for the Pope's flight to Gaeta (just over the border in the Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies) during the Revolution of 1848, when the Pontiff crept out of the Quirinale dressed as a simple priest. It's actually the carriage he used on his triumphal return to Rome from Gaeta on 12 April 1850. As John Francis Maguire put it, 'amidst a dense mass of human beings, through which French and Roman troops with difficulty preserved an open space, Pius made his entry. Such was the enthusiasm now manifested, that one unacquainted with the Italian character might have supposed the people had suddenly gone delirious.'

The model, by the way, was produced by Brumm and can often be found on e-bay, as I did.


Thursday, 14 September 2006

Every Liberal's Worst Nightmare

(Picture courtesy of

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'Roman Miscellany' At Home

I love nosing round people's homes (and especially presbyteries) and so, with this mind, I thought I might publish some photos of the study in my new parish, the most photogenic of my rooms. It's a way of celebrating the end of the most intensive stage of unpacking and moving in.

Here's the fake mantelpiece, above which you can see two large prints of SS Boniface and Willibrord (dating from 1714), an oval Agnus Dei (blessed by St Pius X) and a small eighteenth century painting of St Walburga. Below in a sort of converted bread bin is a zucchetto used by John Paul II during his pilgrimage to Great Britain in 1982 - it recently came into my possession and I'll take it into the diocesan archive soon. On the shelf are some of my favourite nic-naks - you know, the usual things like a model of the carriage in which Blessed Pius IX fled to Gaeta in 1848, a statue of St Nicholas, a bust of Pius XI and a Benedict XVI incense burner (you put an incense cone inside the figure and sweet-smelling smoke comes out of the mouth - I bought it at the Abbey of Diessen in February):

Turn round and you'll see my (untidy) desk and the computer on which this blog is composed. The cupboard on the left stores my collection of relics and you can just see, on top of the far bookcases, some Venetian masks and an imitation Zulu War helmet.

It's the perfect room for a twenty first century curate, full of gaudium et spes!

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Triumph of the Holy Cross


Monday, 11 September 2006


Today the Holy Father visits Altötting, which for over a Millennium has been the spiritual centre of Bavaria. Although it is little known outside of Germany, it is listed as one of the ‘Shrines of Europe,’ together with Lourdes (France), Loreto (Italy), Fatima (Portugal), Czestochowa (Poland) and Mariazell (Austria).

Pope Benedict, who today follows in the footsteps of Pius VI (1782) and John Paul II (1980), was born a few miles away in the little village of Marktl-am-Inn. Writing shortly before his election as Supreme Pontiff, he said that ‘pilgrimages together with my parents and siblings to this place of grace form a part of my earliest and most treasured memories.’ As a child, the Holy Father was especially impressed by the Gnadenkapelle, ‘with its mysterious darkness, the preciously dressed black Madonna surrounded by offerings, [and] the quiet prayer of so many people.’ He also delighted in the stalls selling souvenirs and devotional objects, ‘which stood before me like many wonderful promises, even if my parents lacked the means to buy a lot of things from them.’

The Gnadenkapelle is said to stand on the site of a Roman Temple, later Christianised by St Rupert – indeed, tradition identifies this as the site of the baptism of Duke Theodo in 680. Certainly in the eighth century Altötting was a centre of the Bavarian court and the following century Duke Carloman founded a monastery there in honour of the Blessed Virgin.

The miraculous image of Our Lady, darkened by the centuries and vested in jewel-studded robes, probably dates from about 1330, though it may be a copy of a much older statue. In 1489 a grief-stricken mother brought her three-year-old child to the Black Madonna after drowning in the River Inn and prayed fervently for a miracle. The child was brought back to life. Shortly afterwards another child, this time crushed by a farm wagon, was also healed. The fame of Our Lady’s miracles spread and the shrine soon attracted crowds of pilgrims. It soon became rich and the shrine’s Treasury has an impressive collection of votive gifts, including the famous Goldenes Rößl (Golden Horse), made by French goldsmiths around 1404.

Altötting maintained its princely connections. In 1623 Duke Maximilian I declared the Black Madonna as ‘Patron of Bavaria’ and a letter of personal consecration, written in his own blood, is kept near the statue. Near the miraculous statue stands a silver sculpture of another Duke, Maximilian Joseph, who had been cured of a childhood illness through the intercession of Our Lady. Since 1561, the hearts of the Bavarian ruling dynasty have been placed in silver urns in the chapel sub umbra Magnae Mariae, ‘in the shadow of the great Mary.’ The last of the 24 hearts to have been placed here was that of Crown Princess Maria Antonia in 1953.

Altötting is also famous as the home of St Conrad of Parzham (1818-94), a Capuchin lay brother and mystic at the town’s friary. For more than 40 years Conrad worked as doorkeeper, meeting pilgrims, obtaining supplies, dispensing alms, and giving spiritual advice. He also worked with abandoned children. In particular he was noted for his gifts of prophesy and of reading people's hearts, rather like Padre Pio. He was, however, a man of few words and, according to one witness, ‘his bearing was always recollected. His glance was turned inward, toward God dwelling in his heart, with whom he was always in contact.’

Conrad died on 21st April 1894 and was canonised by Pius XI in 1934, the first German saint since the Reformation. Pope Benedict was present at the celebrations in Altötting at the time of the canonisation. ‘It was unimaginable at the time in our area,’ he wrote, ‘that a Christian household could be without a figure of the holy porter. We knew of his unwavering patience and also knew that he could look out from his cell up to the sanctuary and that this look, in which his whole life was gathered, conveyed the goodness that allowed him to become holy.’

Altötting, the ‘Lourdes of Bavaria,’ is a flourishing centre of Marian devotion in the twenty-first century. As many as 60,000 pilgrims arrive there by foot at Pentecost and solemn celebrations are especially centred around the month of May and the Feast of the Assumption, when a candlelit procession makes its way around the Kapellplatz. This fine square provides a large space for processions and open-air devotions, with the shrine and the collegiate church off SS Philip and James in the centre.

The most poignant reminder of the intercession of Our Lady of Altötting is provided by the 2,000 votive paintings that cover the outside walls of the chapel. These are but a small selection of the 50,000 votive tablets that have been presented to the shrine over the years. Many of them bear the words Maria Hilf! (‘Mary, help!’) and they vividly portray the many different ways in which Our Lady has assisted her children: recoveries from serious illness, escapes from life-threatening accidents, even soldiers who have safely returned from war.

Inspired by over 500 years of prayerful witness at Altötting, let us, in the words of Pope Benedict, not fail to ‘pray to Mary, Mother of the Lord, so that she will enable us to feel her love as a woman and a mother, in which we can understand all of the depth of Christ's mystery.’


Sunday, 10 September 2006

A Blogging Parish

Well, I survived my first Sunday in the parish - a fairly light one since I only celebrated the Saturday Vigil and this morning's 'Sung Latin' Mass but nevertheless surprisingly draining, since everything and everyone is new. One couldn't ask for a more friendly and welcoming parish, though.

A rather unique aspect of the parish is that we can boast three Catholic bloggers - I doubt any other English parish can claim this. Apart from yours truly, we have Ignatius Paul (a blog of only one post so far - but the blogosphere awaits with great eagerness the next entry) and Cally's Kitchen. It was good to meet Malcolm, the author of the latter, at Mass this evening, as reported on his blog, and encourage readers to visit his site.

This evening I met a priest friend at Canary Wharf for a wonderful meal (with a Breton theme - including some wonderful Breton cider and haddock pancakes), after which I had a glass of wine with two other contemporaries from seminary, both of them priests of the diocese of Brentwood (and one of them acting as the diocesan Vocations Director). Living on the east side of London certainly has its benefits!

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Saturday, 9 September 2006

Papal Bear

So, the Pope has arrived in his beloved Bavaria and has kicked off this very personal pilgrimage in Munich. A (non-Catholic) German friend who was present texted me to say that the Holy Father delivered a beautiful speech, in which he compared himself to the bear of St Corbinian.

St Corbinian was an eighth century Frankish bishop who did much to establish the Church in Bavaria and founded a monastery in Freising. Since Pope Benedict started his episcopal ministry in the diocese of Munich-Freising, the symbol of his saintly predecessor (a bear) appears on his arms. And therein lies a story.

According to legend, during a journey to Rome the saint's horse was killed by a bear. After the animal was reprimanded, the bear was commanded to carry the bishop's load to the Eternal City, where it was set free. This is a neat symbol not only for the saint's 'taming' of paganism by bringing the Faith to southern Germany, but also for the burden of the episcopal office. No wonder that Ratzinger felt close in spirit to this beast of burden when he became a bishop in 1977 and (even more so) after his election as Supreme Pontiff. Pope Benedict said today that St Corbinian's bear helped him renew his 'yes' to God on a daily basis. Indeed, the Pope wryly noted that, while the bear was set free in Rome, in his case the Lord had decided differently. Let us pray that the Holy Father will be supported in the carrying of his great burden.


Friday, 8 September 2006

Launch of Evangelium

Today was my first working day at my new parish. However, I managed to whizz down to Westminster for the launch of Evangelium, an exciting new catechetical programme produced by the Catholic Truth Society and written by my contemporaries at seminary, Fr Marcus Holden and Fr Andrew Pinsent. Having now purchased and viewed the CD-ROM, I unreservedly recommend the programme - it manages to transmit the timeless truths of the Faith in a new and 'modern' way, with an impressive use of Christian art.

There is a full report of the launch by Fr Tim over at Hermeneutic of Continuity - including a picture of myself (in the middle), with Fr Alexander Master to my right (a friend of mine from Oxford) and Rev Bruno Witchalls to my left (the brother-in-law of Abigail Witchalls, 'Catholic Woman of the Year'). Just behind me, though obscured by my head, is 'Aelianus' of Laodicea and you can just see the back of another University chum, now a member of the Community of St John.


The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin

Benedicta et venerabilis es virgo Maria!


Thursday, 7 September 2006

Every Vestment Tells A Story...

No - sadly this chasuble is not something I found while unpacking my boxes! It's actually part of a High Mass set from the Anglican church of St Mary Magdalene in Millfield, Sunderland (north east England) and it may hold a 'dark' secret. According to Sunderland Today, the silken vestment is thought to have been given to a German priest by no less a figure than Adolf Hitler, before he rose to power. It ended up in Sunderland after the recipient fled to England at the outbreak of war. However, no one can remember the name of the priest and the story remains an intriguing but unprovable tradition. If true, the gift would seem to be rather out of character - after all, the dictator was recently declared by Vatican exorcist, Fr Amorth, to have been possessed by the devil. Anyhow, Hitler's chasuble was used for Anglican services up until a few years ago.

Wednesday, 6 September 2006

Where Did You Get That Hat?

(with thanks to Corriere della Sera)

The sartorial reforms continue at the Vatican with the advent of the papal capello rosso at today's audience. Actually, to be fair, it's not a restoration since John Paul II was often spotted in the hat, especially in his early days.

Anyway, three cheers for the Holy Father. I wonder how many priests will now be dusting their own capelli?!

PS For more pictures of ecclesiastical headgear, visit Don Jim's capelli e galeri photopost.


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