Saturday, 31 March 2007

An Angel at the Vatican?

When a retired Cambridgeshire police officer, Andy Key, returned home from a holiday in Rome, he noticed a strange 'angelic' form on one of his photos, taken on his Kodak Easyshare camera. The photo was taken inside St Peter's while the Holy Father was giving an address (though no information is given as to the occasion). The papers say that photographic experts are 'mystified' by the image.

It would be lovely to think that this an angel - or perhaps a saint - though I suspect it may be an optical illusion (note the strong rays coming through the window). Sorry to be cynical, but tomorrow is April Fools' Day! What is particularly interesting, though, is that for once the Pope gets a positive mention in the secular media. The press normally disregards the words of the Pope, but in the papers today it is actively suggested that a 'guardian angel' hovers in the vicinity of Christ's Vicar on Earth as he addresses the crowds. Now that's the kind of Ultramontane hyperbole that you'd expect to read in the writings of Cardinal Wiseman! Mr Key himself does not claim to be religious but says:
I didn't see anything but when I looked at the picture it looks just like an angel above the Pope's head. It can't be a trick of the light because I can't see what the light could bounce off. You don't even have to squint to make it out - it looks just like an angel.

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Thursday, 29 March 2007

Passion of the Christ - Director's Cut

For many people watching Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ forms part of their Holy Week observance. Yesterday the new double-DVD Director's Cut came through my letterbox and, unlike the previous edition, contains loads of special features. This is definitely a good investment for priests, teachers and catechists - there are features on the history of crucifixion, for instance, or what happened to the main characters after the passion, which could be used in classes.

Most amazing is the fact that this movie blockbuster has, amongst its options, a 'theological commentary.' This is provided by Fr William J. Fulco, S.J. of Loyola Marymount University, who translated the script into Aramaic and Latin; Fr John Bartunek, L.C., a former actor and author of Inside the Passion; and Gerry Matatics, who describes himself on his website as 'Founder and President of Biblical Foundations International, an apostolate that demonstrates to Catholics and non-Catholics alike the scriptural case for Catholicism and provides a critique of the sham neo-Catholicism that has captured the hearts and minds of so many contemporary Catholics.' I only listened to a short part of this commentary and the panel were explaining how the Real Presence is demonstrated by John 6 - so, it's unlike any other movie DVD I've come across! I'd be interested to know what effect it might have on non-Catholics.

The perfect DVD companion to the drama of the Sacred Triduum...

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Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Fr Cormac Rigby, R.I.P.

Please pray for the repose of the soul of a Westminster priest, Fr Cormac Rigby, who died yesterday morning at 8.30am, aged 67. He retired as parish priest of Stanmore four years ago when he was diagnosed with cancer and only expected to live for a couple of months. It was about this time that I first got to know him and visited him several times at his retirement flat in Oxford and, on one occasion, went to see The History Boys with him at the National Theatre (a play he saw 17 times). He made the most of the time left to him, which far exceeded his doctor's expectations, and cultivated his extensive group of friends. There is an interesting obituary in the Daily Telegraph, the Times and the Guardian; plus a tribute on Damian Thompson's blog.

Fr Cormac latterly became famous for his reflections in the Catholic Herald and his four volumes of sermons and (most recently) Stations of the Cross, all published by Family Publications. However, he was best known as the voice of BBC Radio 3, prior to his Ordination. According to the Telegraph, 'it was said that Rigby patented the Radio 3 voice: civilised, measured, knowledgeable, unflappable...Rigby's own presentation style was described by one admirer as "gentle and velvety-brown."' He continued to be an occasional announcer as a priest:
In 1989 Father Cormac, as he had become, was the celebrant at a requiem mass in Westminster Cathedral for the composer Sir Lennox Berkeley. When the BBC asked him to introduce a recording of the service, Rigby pointed out that he could not
do so because he was in it. Reassured that no one listening would realise this, Rigby stood in the vestry, clad in ritual vestments surmounted by a pair of headphones, setting the scene in which he would later play a central part.
As a priest, he had high standards; 'fussy liturgists irritated him as much as bossy lay people, fresh from theological courses, who thought they knew better than anyone else.'
As in his broadcasting work, Rigby took his priestly responsibilities at Stanmore extremely seriously, particularly when dealing with bereaved families, whom he always made a point of visiting at home in order to prepare for a funeral. Intolerant of other people's laxity, he believed that modern seminaries were producing many priests inadequately prepared for the ministry, and was particularly critical of what he regarded as laziness in some of his fellow priests, a malaise he felt affected the Catholic Church in Britain.
May he rest in peace.

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Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Religious Archives

Priests get used to public speaking, even if they're not particularly good at it, but I must confess feeling rather apprehensive yesterday when I spoke at a meeting of religious archivists at the swish British Library Conference Centre near King's Cross. There were about 70 in attendance, including the Chief Executive of the National Archives, and I felt very aware of my lack of professional training. Still, it seemed to go OK and I was able to avoid any difficult questions! It was a good day, despite all the ghastly jargon (eg 'profile raising advocacy,' 'visibility levels,' 'collection level descriptions,' etc), which began to get rather confusing.

It was interesting, though, to hear about the archives of other religious groups - for example, the sheer number and anti-hierarchical nature of many nonconformist sects (with curious names like the 'Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion') makes centralised archiving very challenging.

One of those present was a Mormon from Utah. The Mormons are well-known for their interest in family records; in fact the Family History Library in Salt Lake City is the world's largest genealogical library, with information relating to over two billion people. The Mormons run over 4,500 family history centres and mega websites like Their motives? These records allow them to perform 'sacred ordinances' on behalf of the dead - including baptism, confirmation and even ordination. According to the Wikipedia:
Latter-day Saints perform these proxy ordinances because they believe deceased non-Mormons are in a condition commonly referred to as "Spirit Prison." They believe that Christ went to the righteous spirits and organized a great missionary force to teach the gospel to others of the dead who, in turn, may be baptized by proxy in a temple. It is believed that the dead may accept or reject the other ordinances done by proxy on their behalf prior to the final judgement.
It's important to point out that Catholic institutions need to be very careful when approached by agencies from Utah offering to copy baptism registers and the like! Their purpose is not as straightforward as it might seem.

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Sunday, 25 March 2007

The Avila of St Teresa

Despite having been back from Spain for over a week, I'm rather behind in posting about some of the places we visited. I won't bore you with too many details.

Avila was our first stop. I had been before, but had not visited the Convent of La Encarnación, where St Teresa lived for 29 years (she is, of course, not buried at Avila but at Alba de Torres, where she died in 1582). We said Mass in the beautiful Chapel of the Transverberation, near the spot where an angel appeared to the saint holding a 'long golden spear,' with a point of fire at the end. 'With this,' St Teresa later recalled, 'he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails.' This event was celebrated in Bernini's sculpture in Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. St Teresa's heart was exeamined in 1872 and the marks left by the angelic spear could clearly be seen.

In the museum at the Convent, we could see various relics. Most famous, perhaps, is the drawing of the Crucifixion made by St John of the Cross, showing a rare understanding of perspective (for the times). It inspired Salvador Dali's painting of the Crucifixion:

St Teresa loved music and some of the instruments she might have used were on display - a sort of sixteenth century Hispanic folk group:

St Teresa was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970 - the first woman to be this designated. The Spanish celebrated by making a doctoral gown and cap for her (seen here on the right):

The saint is always associated with her confessor and fellow reformer, St John of the Cross. One thing I hadn't picked up before was just how short he was - just under 5 foot tall. Indeed, St Teresa called him 'half a monk.' With this in mind, this picture of him levitating as he counsels St Teresa is not without significance.

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Saturday, 24 March 2007

SVP Passion Play

Tonight our parish hosted a powerful Passion Play, The Road to Calvary, performed by a cast of 2o, most of whom belong to the SVP of St Benedict's church in Clydach (Swansea Valley, Wales). They've been doing this since 1984 and travel all around the country each Lent.

Jesus is played by William Facey, a lecturer at Neath College. According to the programme:

William has played Jesus for the past 15 years. Giving up to 15 performances during the six weeks of Lent is a tremendous strain both physically and mentally and during the run of the play William will lose over half a stone in weight. He will also suffer many bruises and cuts during the realistic scenes of Christ's passion.
The play was performed in the church. Purists might disapprove (don't worry, the tabernacle was emptied beforehand) but I think it provided a powerful lesson to all those that were there - because just as the actors brought St John's Passion so vividly to life in our church, so these events are truly renewed everytime we celebrate Mass and are made present during the dramatic ceremonies of Holy Week.

It's good to see the medieval tradition of 'Mystery Plays' continue - and now that I've seen the play and spent the afternoon veiling statues in the church, Passiontide has indeed begun!

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Thanks to Fr Tim for borrowing the template and adding the above picture to the title of this blog, which I'm sure you'll agree is a definite improvement. I took the shot in Rome in January - it is the view from the Circus Maximus of the Celian Hill, including the facade of San Gregorio Magno (the seedbed of the English Church) and the campanile of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (where St Paul of the Cross is buried).


Fr Finigan's Talk

As advertised earlier, Fr Tim Finigan visited the parish last night to give an excellent talk on Richard Dawkins and the existence of God. He was accompanied by Mulier Fortis. There were over 50 parishioners present, partly because Stations of the Cross immediately preceded - in fact one member of the audience confessed that he had never heard of Dawkins before coming to the talk, so I hope he won't be inspired to rush out and read The God Delusion!

The dúnadan was also present and so the four bloggers posed for photos (as seen above) and then dined at a lively little restaurant on Newington Green - a splendid meal, even including complementary glasses of calvados! The talk was part of the parish's William Lockhart Circle programme and the blogosphere is certainly proving useful in finding speakers - the next talk at Kingsland will be given by 'Auntie' Joanna Bogle on 4th May.
NB Additional links, courtesy of a kind reader, can be found here and here.

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Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Lourdes - A Place of Pilgrimage

The Archdiocese of Westminster has made its first contribution to You Tube: a well-made six minute feature on the diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, including reflections by the Cardinal and various pilgrims. If this inspires you to join the diocese at the shrine, then click here.

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Cardinal's SOR Statement

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor recently issued this statement regarding the on-going debate over Sexual Orientation Regulations (SOR):

Noting the fact that the Sexual Orientation Regulations are being voted on in the House of Commons today (Monday 19th March, 2007), I again express our concern at their impact, not only on adoption services, but on cooperation between faith-based voluntary agencies and public authorities in public funded services.

It is, surely, an abuse of Parliamentary democracy that these Regulations are being considered by Parliament only through a hurriedly arranged and very brief meeting of 16 appointed MPs, and a short debate in the House of Lords. During the House of Commons Committee meeting opportunity for serious debate was denied.

Profound public concern about aspects of these Regulations has not been heard. The debate on Wednesday in the House of Lords, although important in itself, will hardly compensate for the lack of a full debate in the House of Commons. Our society’s understanding of the pattern of family life and of the role of conscience and religious belief in public life remains a very important part of the political agenda.

You can sign a petition asking for an exemption for Church adoption agencies at the 10 Downing Street site (nearly 3,000 signatures). And whilst you're at it, there is another petition against the Abortion Act, which all are encouraged to sign.


Tuesday, 20 March 2007


Tonight I had a rare opportunity to tear away from my parish and benefit from the vibrant Catholic life of Central London by attending the magnificent opening of the Forty Hours at the Oratory. It's always good to visit the Oratory, since this was the church of my First Holy Communion and my childhood attempts at altar-serving - but the Quarant'Ore is something special.

Firstly, High Mass (Novus Ordo) was celebrated by the Provost. According to my swift calculations, 179 candles were lit during the Liturgy of the Word - such things can be done when you have a splendid seventeenth century Neapolitan High Altar with spacious gradines. The Blessed Sacrament was placed in the monstrance after Holy Communion and solemnly processed around the church, as the choir sang F. Correa de Arauxo's Lauda Sion and Palestrina's stunning Pange lingua. Then the Sanctissimum was placed on the altar, the ministers quietly left and the lights dimmed. Theatrical and baroque, yes - but I think everyone felt very much 'involved' and the ritual was a genuine means to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

Afterwards I bumped into a fellow Westminster priest and two musician friends (one of whom is the author of the Surge illuminare blog) and we retired to The Oratory brasserie, where I was able to sample an 'Oratory Burger and chips' and a few glasses of 'Holy Trinity.'

As I write this, I'm listening to the Oratory Choir's new CD: Vexilla Regis Prodeunt - Music for Holy Week and Easter - highly recommended for these final weeks leading to Easter. To quote the website, this CD:
presents a musical journey through the great liturgies of the most solemn week in the Church’s year. The spiritual power of these ceremonies, as celebrated at the Oratory, is evoked through some of the most profound masterpieces of the Latin liturgical repertoire, in which the Oratory Choir’s qualities of ‘musical self-control combined with passionate expression’ (to quote Church Music Quarterly) are famed.

Starting with the excitement and glowering splendour of Palm Sunday in Victoria’s Pueri hebraeorum and Wingham’s Vexilla Regis prodeunt, the programme continues through the dignified, reflective atmosphere of Maundy Thursday with Anerio’s Christus factus est and Duruflé’s Ubi caritas to the humbled adoration and penitence of Good Friday with King John of Portugal’s Crux fidelis and Byrd’s Civitas sancti tui. Palestrina’s Sicut cervus and Taverner’s Dum transisset sabbatum embody the gathering crescendo of joy at the Easter Vigil, and the full light of Easter Day is conveyed by Palestrina’s Haec dies and Allegri’s brilliant double-choir Christus resurgens. In addition, familiar Gregorian chants such as Vidi aquam and Victimae paschali laudes punctuate the choral progress.

Nearly all these items were recorded on the affectionately remembered 1979 LP Music for Holy Week and Easter made by the Oratory Choir under the direction of John Hoban. The longer playing time on CD means that this new recording also includes additional items including Victoria’s glorious Tantum ergo and haunting Reproaches (with a distant solo quartet singing the Greek text), Monteverdi’s intense Adoramus te Christe and Lhéritier’s refulgent Surrexit pastor bonus, now sung during Communion at High Mass on Easter morning.

The booklet documentation is comprehensive and the recording quality is superb. Like the Oratory Choir’s previous two CDs(Totus tuus sum, Maria and Jesu dulcis memoria – both acclaimed in the musical press) Vexilla Regis prodeunt has been sponsored by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, to whom go all profits from sales, and is now available in the Oratory shop at £11.50.

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Monday, 19 March 2007

The Existence of God

Answering our Secular Critics (especially Richard Dawkins)

A Talk by Fr Tim Finigan (of Hermeneutic of Continuity)

Friday 23 March 2007, 7pm

Our Lady & St Joseph, Kingsland

100a Balls Pond Rd, N1 4AG

Nearest tube: Highbury & Islington

This is being organised by the William Lockhart Circle, named after our first parish priest at Kingsland, who was the first of Newman's disciples to become a Catholic (and a Rosminian priest). All readers are welcome to come along, as are fellow bloggers (in fact, so far there will be four London-based Catholic bloggers present). The talk will be preceded by Holy Mass (6pm) and Via Crucis (6.30pm).

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Sunday, 18 March 2007

Sacristy Meditation

This was on the sacristy wall of the Convent of La Incarnación at Avila and attracted my attention. Similar inscriptions can be found throughout the sacristies of Catholic Europe. A rough translation would be: 'O Priest of Jesus Christ, celebrate this Holy Mass as if it were your First Mass, your Last Mass and your Only Mass.'

As the Holy Father writes in Sacramentum Caritatis (#94):

This most holy mystery thus needs to be firmly believed, devoutly celebrated and intensely lived in the Church. Jesus' gift of himself in the sacrament which is the memorial of his passion tells us that the success of our lives is found in our participation in the trinitarian life offered to us truly and definitively in him. The celebration and worship of the Eucharist enable us to draw near to God's love and to persevere in that love until we are united with the Lord whom we love. The offering of our lives, our fellowship with the whole community of believers and our solidarity with all men and women are essential aspects of that logiké latreía, spiritual worship, holy and pleasing to God (cf. Rom 12:1), which transforms every aspect of our human existence, to the glory of God. I therefore ask all pastors to spare no effort in promoting an authentically eucharistic Christian spirituality. Priests, deacons and all those who carry out a eucharistic ministry should always be able to find in this service, exercized with care and constant preparation, the strength and inspiration needed for their personal and communal path of sanctification...

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Saturday, 17 March 2007

Our Lady Vulnerata

In my previous post on the Royal English College, Valladolid, I deliberately didn't say a great deal about Our Lady Vulnerata. There are many things to admire in the College chapel - the golden altarpieces, for example, or the fact that 350 English Catholic exiles are buried beneath (including a holy seminarian whose incorrupt body still smells of roses) - but this battered statue of Our Lady forms the centrepiece.

Originally the statue was venerated in Cadiz, where its devotees included Christopher Columbus prior to his great voyage of discovery. However, on 21 June 1596, the town was raided by English ships under the command of the Earl of Essex and Sir Waiter Raleigh (not to be confused with Sir Francis Drake's daring raid of 1587). The Armada had been defeated only eight years previously and the purpose of the English raid was to destroy the fleet gathering in Cadiz harbour for another expedition against Protestant England. As so often happened on these occasions, the commanders lost control of the soldiers and much destruction ensued. The famed statue of Our Lady was desecrated and all that remained of the Christ child were parts of His feet on the Virgin's knee. Our Lady's face was disfigured with sword cuts and both arms reduced to stumps.

This caused great shock in Spain and it was as if Christ and His Mother had themselves been attacked. The mutilated statue was placed with great honour in the Madrid chapel of the Countess of Santa Gadea, wife of the Adelantado (Captain-General) of Castille. The story became so well-known that the English seminarians of Valladolid asked for the statue, so that the College could make reparation on behalf of the English nation. The Countess half-heartedly agreed and the statue was solemnly enthroned in the College chapel on 8 September 1600. The local bishop gave the statue the title Our Lady Vulnerata (Wounded Lady).

A new octagonal chapel was opened in 1679 and the statue placed in its present location behind the High Altar, surrounded by statues of SS Alban, Edward the Confessor and Thomas of Canterbury. Large seventeenth century paintings tell the story of Nuestra Senora La Vulnerata - including an image of the crowned statue surrounded by devotees, included Charles I (with axe in head) and Charles II!

Prayers are still said by the students for the Conversion of England before the statue and the feast of Our Lady Vulnerata is kept in the college by special indult on the Sunday after the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

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Friday, 16 March 2007

The Royal English College, Valladolid

I spent the last week at the 'Royal and Pontifical College of St Alban of the Noble English' in Valladolid (Spain), receiving some in-service training and thoroughly enjoying the College's generous hospitality and the opportunity to visit places associated with the lives of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross (more about this later).

It was also good to spend some time with H.E. the Cardinal, his auxiliary Bishop Alan and twenty of our junior priests - the priestly fraternity reaching a high point during the 'gala' meal hosted by the College on Wednesday night.

Let me tell you a bit about the amazing English College at Valladolid.

Its existence today is something of a historical accident. During 'penal times' English seminaries were established all over Catholic Europe, including the Iberian peninsula - at Lisbon, Madrid, Seville and Valladolid. The College at Valladolid was founded by the great English Jesuit, Robert Persons, in 1589.

The foundation was approved by Clement VIII in 1592, who empowered the College to grant degrees in Arts and Philosophy equivalent to Oxford and Cambridge (which, as far as the Pope was concerned, had lost such rights at the Reformation). The establishment was fully supported by the King of Spain from the first moment - and the Rector is still a royal appointment and a member of the royal household.

The first group of students included two future martyrs: Blessed Robert Drury and Blessed Roger Filcock. All in all, twenty-seven former students are recognised by the Church as martyrs. The corridors of the College are lined with paintings of these brave men - in fact, these comprise the largest single collection of portraits of the English martyrs, mostly dating from the early-to-mid seventeenth century. The College is an amazing treasure trove of our heritage (English, Catholic and otherwise) - its pigskin library is meant to be included in the Top Twenty worldwide (first editions of Shakespeare, etc).

The College is no longer a major seminary as such but organises a propadeutic year - i.e. a preliminary year for priestly aspirants before they start the seminary course proper. However, the proud traditions continue. One of my favourite Vallisoletan stories concerns the College football team of 1907:

They played against mighty Real Madrid (or Madrid F.C., as it was then called) on 28 April 1907. The score was as follows:

Royal English College 6 Real Madrid 2

Not bad considering Real Madrid were Champions of Spain that year!

More on the College (especially Our Lady Vulnerata) to follow...


Saturday, 10 March 2007

The Massimo Miracle

This Friday (16 March) sees one of Rome’s most picturesque feasts – a commemoration of the Massimo miracle of 1583. The location was the Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne, now on the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, the home of the oldest of Roman families – claiming descent from the great consul and dictator Quintus Fabius Maximus (d. 203 BC).

The miracle involved St Philip Neri and young Prince Paolo, who was lying on his deathbed. The saint was called but could not come immediately since he was celebrating Mass. By the time he arrived, the fourteen year-old had died and the family was stricken with great mourning and was preparing to wash and dress the boy’s body, as was the custom. St Philip, however, was not perturbed and sprinkled the boy’s mouth and face with holy water and lay his hands on him. He called the boy twice - ‘Paolo, Paolo’ – and he returned to life, to everyone’s amazement. The saint spoke to the boy for a quarter of an hour and finally asked him: ‘are you willing to die, or to continue longer in this life?’ Paolo replied that he preferred to die, ‘for he knew that he had a certain place set aside for him in heaven, to enjoy the splendour of God…and so, in his longing for death, as if he was entering the land of the living, he breathed forth his spirit a second time, in the sight and in the embrace of the holy Father’ (Gallonio).

The miracle provides an appropriate festa for Lent, inspiring us to consider our mortality and to live each day in readiness to meet the Lord. The ancient doors of the Palazzo Massimo are swung open every 16 March and Romans pour in, greeted by the traditional doorman.

They crowd the magnificent rooms, especially the chapel (the room where Paolo died), where Masses (in Old and New Rites) are continually said at the three altars. The Institute of Christ the King often helps with the liturgy, especially the Missa Cantata celebrated by a visiting Cardinal (all photos courtesy of them).

First year seminarians even dress as pages!

I publish this post early because I’m away this coming week at the Royal College of St Alban, Valladolid (Spain), an English seminary founded by Fr Persons during the reign of the first Elizabeth. This is not, I hasten to add, a holiday but a sort ‘in-service training week’ for a group of about 20 Westminster priests called the ‘Under 5s’ (i.e. 'baby' and 'toddler' priests in terms of Ordination year). I hope we’ll be able to enjoy the Christian heritage of Spain and not spend TOO much time in workshops discussing time-management or faith-sharing. We’ll be joined by H.E. the Cardinal and his Auxiliary, Bishop Alan Hopes. Be assured of my prayers as I walk in the footsteps of St Teresa and St John of the Cross and visit Avila and Segovia. God willing, posting will resume next weekend.

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Friday, 9 March 2007

Santa Francesca Romana

Today is one of my favourite Lenten feasts - St Frances of Rome (1384-1440). When I was a seminarist in Rome, I would often skip the boring Greg lectures and go with some friends to the magnificent Tor de'Specchi convent, almost opposite the Ara Coeli. This was normally inaccessible but on 9 March it was open all day and crowds of Romans and seminarists would crowd into the monastery. There were many opportunities to honour the saint as you visited her rooms (littered with relics), the chapel with fifteenth century frescoes, the conventual chapel (where a succession of Masses would be celebrated, including one by a Cardinal), the cloister, even the entrance (where pilgrims could help themselves to leaves from a tree which the saint planted).

The saint, like St Bridget of Sweden, was both a married woman (with two sons and a daughter) and founder of a community of women (the Oblates of the Tor de'Specchi - which still exists, though they never founded many houses and it's not strictly speaking a religious order). She suffered many trials - not least of which were the sufferings of her family due to the unstable political conditions of Rome at the time (Lorenzo was severely injured in one street battle and her son, Giovanni Battista, was taken hostage). She also had to cope with the deaths of another son, Evangelist, from the plague when he was just nine years old, and her daughter, Agnes. Yet St Frances became known for her works of charity, her efforts to promote peace in war-torn Rome and her many miracles, which she attributed to the constant presence of her Guardian Angel (visible to her alone) at her side, which became her iconographic symbol. When she committed a sin the angel would hide himself until she made an act of contrition.

Her miracles and supernatural gifts are celebrated in a series of fine frescoes at the Tor de'Speechi. For example, a globe could often be seen above her head after the reception of Holy Communion, a sign of the Real Presence:

One January, as she and her religious sisters were pruning the vines, they became so thirsty that the saint miraculously made a vine bear nine ripe bunches of grapes:

During a famine, having given all her grain to the poor, she found the granary miraculously full of good quality grain:

And rather like the early Desert Fathers, she had many battles with demons:

St Frances, along with St Philip Neri, is one of the great Roman patrons of recent times (well, recent compared to the time of the Apostles), and altars can be found dedicated to her throughout the Eternal City. The Oblates still make the oil of St Frances, a powerful sacramental for use with the sick:

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Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Lost Tomb of Jesus

Here's a clip of Chicago's Fr Robert Barron neatly destroying the recent theories regarding the Lost Tomb of Jesus. I've always admired Fr Barron's ability to communicate the Church's teachings in such an effective way (through his online sermons and DVDs) and I'm glad to see he's now using You Tube to comment on contemporary issues.


Sacred Language

It’s been a busy few days, including a visit to Holy Ghost, Balham to give a talk to the Forum Christi group; a Mass for the Good Counsel Network and, last night, a meeting of ten priests here at Kingsland. We listened to an excellent talk on sacred and liturgical language by Fr Michael Lang of the Oratory (a friend from University and author of Turning towards the Lord).

Fr Lang spoke of the importance of sacral languages, which are, by their nature, ‘conservative’ and different from everyday spoken languages. The important point was made that, when the liturgical language of the Roman Rite changed from Greek to Latin in the early centuries, this was not an example of vernacularisation (as the likes of Bishop Trautman have claimed) – the aim was not to make the liturgy more understandable. After all, those speaking Gothic or Punic would not have found a Latin liturgy more ‘accessible,’ and the Latin that was used was highly stylised (see the structure of the collects, for example).

Fr Lang suggested that the Sacred Liturgy is not primarily about communication between priest and people. Modern liturgies can be far too wordy, which serves to under-emphasise the actio which is at the heart of the Mass. Moreover, it is lamentable that the idea of sacral language is in decline just as the world is becoming increasingly globalised. In the past, people hardly left their villages and yet were happy to take part in a Latin liturgy that was truly universal; yet now, as we travel more and more, the Roman Rite has become increasingly fragmented into different language groups. A universal, sacred language is surely most appropriate in the twenty-first century – especially in a city like London, with its hundreds of spoken languages.


Saturday, 3 March 2007

Pope Benedict on the Priestly Life

The Holy Father recently responded to questions posed by seminarians of the Seminario Romano Maggiore and Zenit has provided an English translation. Here are some extracts that I found helpful - I particularly liked his emphasis on never missing out on daily Mass and his advice on preparing the Sunday homily:

On Preparing the Sunday Homily

I have a fairly simple recipe for it: combine the preparation of the Sunday homily with personal meditation to ensure that these words are not only spoken to others but are really words said by the Lord to me myself, and developed in a personal conversation with the Lord. For this to be possible, my advice is to begin early on Monday, for if one begins on Saturday it is too late, the preparation is hurried and perhaps inspiration is lacking, for one has other things on one's mind. Therefore, I would say, already on Monday, simply read the Readings for the coming Sunday which perhaps seem very difficult: a little like those rocks at Massah and Meribah, where Moses said: "But how can water come from these rocks?". Then stop thinking about these Readings and allow the heart to digest them. Words are processed in the unconscious, and return a little more every day. Obviously, books should also be consulted, as far as possible. And with this interior process, day by day, one sees that a response gradually develops. These words gradually unfold, they become words for me. And since I am a contemporary, they also become words for others. I can then begin to express what I perhaps see in my own theological language in the language of others; the fundamental thought, however, remains the same for others and for myself. Thus, it is possible to have a lasting and silent encounter with the Word that does not demand a lot of time, which perhaps we do not have. But save a little time: only in this way does a Sunday homily mature for others, but my own heart is also touched by the Lord's Word.

On Careerism in the Church

...The Lord knows, knew from the beginning, that there is also sin in the Church, and for our humility it is important to recognize this and to see sin not only in others, in structures, in lofty hierarchical duties, but also in ourselves, to be in this way more humble and to learn that what counts before the Lord is not an ecclesial position, but what counts is to be in his love and to make his love shine forth... St Augustine said: All of us are always only disciples of Christ, and his throne is loftier, for his throne is the Cross and only this height is the true height, communion with the Lord, also in his Passion. It seems to me, if we begin to understand this by a life of daily prayer, by a life of dedicated service to the Lord, we can free ourselves of these very human temptations.

On Daily Routine and the Importance of Mass and the Divine Office

I would say that it is also important in the life of pastors of the Church, in the daily life of the priest, to preserve as far as possible a certain order. You should never skip Mass - a day without the Eucharist is incomplete - and thus already at the seminary we grow up with this daily liturgy. It seems to me very important that we feel the need to be with the Lord in the Eucharist, not as a professional obligation but truly as an interiorly-felt duty, so that the Eucharist should never be missed. Another important point is to make time for the Liturgy of the Hours and therefore, for this inner freedom: with all the burdens that exist, it frees us and helps us to be more open, to be deeply in touch with the Lord. Of course, we must do all that is required by pastoral life, by the life of a parochial vicar or of a parish priest or by another priestly office. However, I would say, never forget these fixed points, the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, so that you have a certain order in the daily routine. As I said at the outset, we learned not to have to plan the timetable ever anew; Serva ordinem et ordo servabit te. These are true words.

On Perseverence

It is good to recognize one's weakness because in this way we know that we stand in need of the Lord's grace. The Lord comforts us. In the Apostolic College there was not only Judas but also the good Apostles; yet, Peter fell and many times the Lord reprimanded the Apostles for their slowness, the closure of their hearts and their scant faith. He therefore simply shows us that none of us is equal to this great 'yes,' equal to celebrating in persona Christi, to living coherently in this context, to being united to Christ in his priestly mission. To console us, the Lord has also given us these parables of the net with the good fish and the bad fish, of the field where wheat but also tares grow. He makes us realize that he came precisely to help us in our weakness, and that he did not come, as he says, to call the just, those who claim they are righteous through and through and are not in need of grace, those who pray praising themselves; but he came to call those who know they are lacking, to provoke those who know they need the Lord's forgiveness every day, that they need his grace in order to progress. I think this is very important: to recognize that we need an ongoing conversion, that we are simply not there yet. St Augustine, at the moment of his conversion, thought he had reached the heights of life with God, of the beauty of the sun that is his Word. He then had to understand that the journey after conversion is still a journey of conversion, that it remains a journey where the broad perspectives, joys and lights of the Lord are not absent; but nor are dark valleys absent through which we must wend our way with trust, relying on the goodness of the Lord. Therefore, also the Sacrament of Reconciliation is important. It is not correct to think we must live like this, so that we are never in need of pardon. We must accept our frailty but keep on going, not giving up but moving forward and becoming converted ever anew through the Sacrament of Reconciliation for a new start, and thus grow and mature in the Lord by our communion with him. It is also important of course not to isolate oneself, not to believe one is capable of going ahead alone. We truly need the company of priest friends and also lay friends who accompany and help us. It is very important for a priest, in the parish itself, to see how people trust in him and to experience in addition to their trust also their generosity in pardoning his weaknesses. True friends challenge us and help us to be faithful on our journey. It seems to me that this attitude of patience and humility can help us to be kind to others, to understand the weaknesses of others and also help them to forgive as we forgive. I think I am not being indiscrete if I say that today I received a beautiful letter from Cardinal Martini: I had congratulated him on his 80th birthday -- we are the same age; in thanking me he wrote: "I thank the Lord above all for the gift of perseverance. Today", he writes, "good is done rather ad tempus, ad experimentum. Good, in accordance with its essence, can only be done definitively; but to do it definitively we need the grace of perseverance. I pray each day", he concluded, "that the Lord will grant me this grace". I return to St Augustine: at first he was content with the grace of conversion; then he discovered the need for another grace, the grace of perseverance, one which we must ask the Lord for each day; but since - I return to what Cardinal Martini said - "the Lord has given me the grace of perseverance until now, I hope he will also give it to me in the last stage of my journey on this earth". It seems to me that we must have trust in this gift of perseverance, but we must also pray to the Lord with tenacity, humility and patience to help and sustain us with the gift of true "definitiveness", and to accompany us day after day to the very end, even if our way must pass through dark valleys. The gift of perseverance gives us joy, it gives us the certainty that we are loved by the Lord, and this love sustains us, helps us and does not abandon us in our weakness.

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Friday, 2 March 2007

Lenten Exercise

Tonight, for the first time this Millennium, I found myself in the unlikely environs of a sports centre.

It was an appropriate Lenten exercise, especially after attending a delightful dinner party last night in a neighbouring presbytery to celebrate the feast of St David, Patron of Wales. I recently mentioned in conversation to one of our Confirmation catechists that I used to enjoy playing badminton (about ten years ago) and he kindly offered to book a court. I went along apprehensively, thinking that I would barely hit the shuttlecock over the net and that I'd be utterly thrashed.

However, it turned out to be highly enjoyable and I'm delighted to announce the result. It would be wrong, of course, to gloat - but this out-of-shape 31 year-old priest beat his 26 year-old opponent by 4 games to 3. Miracles certainly do happen and I currently feel unusually healthy (though I'm sure I'll be aching in the morning).


Thursday, 1 March 2007

Notre Dame des Victoires

As you will know, two days a week I work at the diocesan archives, which are located behind the church of Our Lady of Victories, Kensington (known as 'OLV'). Earlier this week I was in Paris for the day and took the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the little Basilica of Notre Dame des Victoires on the Place des Petits-Pères (near the Palais Royal).

There are statues of 'OLV' in the surrounding street:

The church was completed in 1629 and financed by Louis XIII, who called it 'Our Lady of Victories' in gratitude for his recent victories on the battlefield. It was placed under the care of the Augustinians (or Petits Pères), who won themselves further favour with the King when one Br Fiacre obtained by his prayers to Our Lady, 'Refuge of Sinners' the birth of the long-awaited Dauphin, who would one day reign as Louis XIV. Br Fiacre had been visited by the Blessed Virgin on 3 November 1637 and undertook, on the royal couple's behalf, a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Grace at Cotignac, Provence. On his return, the Queen was discovered to be pregnant.

Two centuries later, in 1836, the curé , Fr Charles Eléonore Dufriche Desgenettes, increasingly concerned by the low numbers of practising parishioners (due to the fall-out of the Revolution), decided to consecrate the parish to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He also founded an Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Victories (approved by Gregory XVI two years later). This bore much fruit for the spiritual life of the parish and city and soon pilgrims began to flock to the church, as are testified by the 37,000 ex votos on the walls of the church. Here is a picture of an archway covered in these tablets (the bust, by the way, shows the great composer Lully, who is buried in the basilica):

There are even ex votos at the side of the confessional:

The most famous pilgrim was St Therese. In 1883 she was cured of a serious illness after a novena of Masses was celebrated at Our Lady of Victories. 'A miracle was necessary,' she later wrote, 'and it was Our Lady of Victories who worked it.' When she visited Paris en route to Rome in 1887, she confessed that only one of the city's sights filled her with pleasure: Our Lady of Victories -

The Blessed Virgin made me feel it was really herself who smiled on me and brought about my cure. I understood she was watching over me, that I was her child.
Other saintly pilgrims to the church include St Théophane Vénard, St John Bosco, St Peter Julian Eymard and Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity.

The church only had a handful of devotees when I visited, but it was clear from the lit candles and advertised events that the basilica remains one of the spiritual hearts of Paris. In the shop opposite I purchased a statue of Our Lady of Victories - seen here 'on location' in my study:

Prayer to Our Lady of Victories: O Victorious Lady, Thou who has ever such powerful influence with Thy Divine Son, in conquering the hardest of hearts, intercede for those for whom we pray, that their hearts being softened by the rays of Divine Grace, they may return to the unity of the true Faith, through Christ, our Lord. Amen. (Fr Nelson Baker)

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