Friday, 30 June 2006

Diocesan Saints

St Claude de la Colombière

This morning I was invited to the Archbishop’s Council in Westminster. This meets every week in the Upper Library of Archbishop’s House and consists of the Cardinal, his four Auxiliaries, various other diocesan dignitaries and a couple of invited guests. It might sound a bit intimidating but there is a relaxed atmosphere, which immediately puts you at ease.

The reason I was there is that I’m involved in revising the diocesan calendar. We already have a number of diocesan commemorations in the existing Ordo, such as SS Mellitus and Erkenwald, early bishops of London, and the martyr St John Southworth. It would be good to see a few more of our London saints remembered, though, such as the Carthusian Martyrs (11th May), St Richard Reynolds, the Bridgettine martyr of Isleworth (14 May) and St Claude de la Colombière (15th February), the spiritual director of St Margaret Mary and a great promoter of devotion to the Sacred Heart, who lived at St James’ Palace as chaplain to Mary of Modena in the late 1670s.

We’re nearly ready to finalise our proposals but, although the Cardinal is keen to push ahead, we have to await the approval of Rome and also the finalisation of the new English translation of the Roman Missal. This is going to take time. Still, it’s great to be involved in making people more aware of and devoted to our local saints through the Sacred Liturgy.


Wednesday, 28 June 2006

A Busy Day Off

Over the last 24 hours I've given my Crusades talk twice. They both went fairly well, although it's such a large subject that I soon found myself entering dangerous waters over such areas as the life of Mohammed and Christian communities in the Middle East (about which I'm no expert).

Last night's talk was at the Holy Ghost, Balham - where Fr Stephen Langridge (of Southwark Vocations fame) is parish priest and my old University chum, Fr Marcus Holden, is curate. This morning I went to neighbouring St Bede's, Clapham Park, blessed with a large presbytery which hosts various priests' meetings during the year, thanks to the generosity of the PP, Fr Christopher Basden. 19 brother priests were present, mostly from Southwark, though the only other Westminster priest was Mgr Canon Frederick Miles (Prot Ap), former Rector of Spanish Place, who I was particularly delighted to see. Here's a picture of the assembled company gathered at the luncheon table:

A trip to Thorntons bookshop on the Fulham Rd followed, which has a large basement of Catholic secondhand books (pure bliss!). I bought an 1898 life of St Hugh of Lincoln (£2), a two volume life of St Philip Neri by Cardinal Capecelatro (£10) and Kirk's famous biographical survey of eighhteenth century English Catholics (a bargain at £4). Here's a snap of my friend, Fr Richard Whinder, hunting for treasures:

New UK Priest Bloggers!

There has suddenly been an 'explosion' of priest blogs in the Archdiocese of Southwark. Fr Tim at Hermeneutic of Continuity has up until now been flying the flag on his own - or, at least, I thought he was, but today I discovered Fr John Boyle has a blog, South Ashford Priest, as does the Vocations Director, Fr Stephen Langridge, Southwark Vocations Blog (though I might anger our own diocesan vocations director if I forward too many people to this site - London is split into three dioceses, which creates some light-hearted rivalry!!!).

I met Fr Boyle today at a clergy luncheon and above is the obligatory 'Bloggers Meet' photo (not very good of me). If you're a UK priest reading this, why not start your own blog?

Tuesday, 27 June 2006

The Body of a Martyr

In the Archdiocese of Westminster, today is the memoria of St John Southworth (1592-1654), one of the many martyr priests who lived and died in London during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Originally from Lancashire (always a strongly Catholic area), he is particularly remembered for working with the plague stricken in London during the epidemic of 1636. In this demanding work, he was joined by another future martyr, St Henry Morse (known as the 'Priest of the Plague'). Southworth was arrested several times, and on one occasion released at the intercession of Queen Henrietta Maria. He was finally condemned to death during the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell and hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 28th June 1654. Southworth is singled out in our diocesan calendar because his body was re-discovered in 1927 and moved to a special shrine in Westminster Cathedral (see picture above).The story of his body is as fascinating as that of his life. After the execution, the martyr's body was sent overseas thanks to the Howard family and ended up at the English College, Douai, where it was buried beneath St Augustine’s altar. There the martyr remained for nearly a century and a half, the centre of a local cult. In May 1793, as the College community prepared to return to England as a result of the Revolution, the body was hidden beside the malt kilns used for making the College beer. Two other great College treasures were hidden in a wooden box that was buried eight feet away from the body: part of the hairshirt of St Thomas Becket and the biretta of St Charles Borromeo. Sadly the College never returned to France and the Douai buildings were sold in 1834 for use as a barracks. In 1927, as workmen were demolishing the old buildings, Southworth's leaden coffin was discovered, with his well preserved body inside. We have some amazing photos of the body in the Archives, showing his head (complete with Cardinal Richelieu-style moustache) sewn onto his body. X-rays revealed that the body had been quartered: 'the head had been cut off probably with an axe or chopper, and both legs had similarly been severed: there was a violent cut through the dorsal vertebrae, and the pelvis was irregularly broken in two.' The wooden box containing the other relics was also found. Unfortunately, in their hope of finding hidden treasure of a different kind, the French workmen threw away what they assumed to be a bit of old cloth. Thus the hairshirt of Becket was irretrievably lost. However, three pieces of St Charles' biretta were saved and are now kept at St Edmund's College, Ware (Hertfordshire). The rediscovery of Southworth's body was, indeed, providential. He was beatified by Pius XI on 15 December 1929, together with 135 other martyrs, and his body solemnly translated to Westminster Cathedral in 1930. His body now rests near the streets in which he laboured, especially during those difficult times of plague.


Monday, 26 June 2006

'Disorderly Sounds'

On Sunday Pope Benedict attended a concert of Sacred Music given by the Sistine Choir in the chapel of that same name. They were directed by 89 year-old maestro, Mgr Domenico Bartolucci (who led the choir between 1959 and 1997).

At the end of the performance His Holiness said: 'Sacred polyphony, in particular that of what is called the "Roman school," constitutes a heritage that should be preserved with care, kept alive, and made better known, for the benefit not only of the scholars and specialists, but of the ecclesial community as a whole...An authentic updating of sacred music can take place only in the lineage of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.'

In an interview published in Monday's La Stampa, the former Archbishop of Ravenna, Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, agreed: 'Benedict XVI is right, Mass is a meeting with God and to meet God sacred music is better than the turmoil of electric guitars, hand clapping and the hustle and bustle of disorderly sounds.' Tonini said that in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, 'making mass more popular and inviting could be understood.' However, the Cardinal added, 'we exaggerated and now I believe it is legitimate to consider as over this season of breaks with tradition.'

That's the good news. The bad news is that, even with the involvement of Mgr Bartolucci, the Sistine Screamers sounded as bad as ever when I listened to Vatican Radio - at least to my English ears!


Sunday, 25 June 2006

Marks of Christ?

I never thought I'd post on the subject of Christian tattoos! I don’t find tattoos a very appealing subject, partly because I have to pass a rather seedy tattooing shop every time I walk to my local station. However, one of the books I’m reading at the moment is Nick Groom’s fascinating The Union Jack: The Story of the British Flag. In looking at human signs and symbols, he notes that the ancient Britons were famed for their tattoos – indeed (and I didn’t know this), the word ‘Briton’ literally means ‘people of the designs’ (from the Celtic Priteni). At least, that’s one theory.

Tattooing, says Groom, was popular among the early Christians, although the custom was later prohibited by the Church. Some scholars believe that St Paul himself was tattooed with Christian symbols, as possibly indicated by his admission, ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus’ (Gal 6:17).

This inspired me to put 'Christian tattoos' into Google, which came up with some interesting info. A fifth century monk is reported to having a tattoo on his thigh that read: Manim, the disciple of Jesus Christ. In a commentary on Isaiah written in 528, Procopius of Gaza reported that many Christians were tattooed on the arms with a cross or Christ's name. Christian pilgrims arriving in the Holy Land often received tattoos as an indelible souvenir of the event, while medieval Crusaders sometimes had tattoos of the cross on their hands or feet to indicate their desire for Christian burial.

A bit of trivia: Did you know that Edward VII, George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicholas II (an Orthodox saint) and Winston Churchill all sported tattoos? Such are the curious byways of history.

The Calming of the Storm

In today’s Gospel we hear the story of a great storm and two different reactions to it. First is the response of the disciples: fear and panic. The Jews were not a great seafaring people and the sea came to symbolize the dark powers of the world – in the Old Testament, think of the waters of chaos during the Creation, or the story of Great Flood or the drowning of the Egyptians in the red sea. It is little surprise, then, that the disciples react in this way, crying to Jesus for help – ‘Master, we are going down.’

Jesus, meanwhile, is asleep. Not because He is disinterested but because He has perfect trust. He remains peaceful and still amidst the fear and panic. ‘Why are you so frightened?,’ he finally asks His followers once He has awoken and calmed down the storm, ‘How is it that you have no faith?’ Life is full of stormy weather – strong winds and powerful waves. We can either shout and panic like the disciples, as we ride an emotional roller coaster through the ever-changing fortunes of life, or we can have true faith in God. Perhaps the disciples had a similar reaction at the time of the Crucifixion – ‘Master, do you not care? We are going down.’ We can imagine Christ answering ‘Quiet now! Be calm…How is it that you have no faith?’ And on the third day the storm breaks into a glorious sunrise.

God is in control, even when everything seems to go wrong. That’s exactly what happened to Job – he lost his animals, all his children were killed and he developed a dreadful disease (probably leprosy). He complained to God during his personal storm – and God answered from the heart of the tempest: ‘Who pent up the sea behind closed doors when it leapt tumultuous out of the womb…Come thus far, I said, and no farther: here your proud waves shall break.’ God is the Creator; He is in control; He has His plan which we can’t even hope to understand; He can bring order out of the waters of chaos. Jesus demonstrated this in calming the storm, as He did once more when He walked on the waters.

We need to stay close to Jesus on the boat and rest in His Sacred Heart. After all, Our Lord made great promises to St Margaret Mary for those who had an especial devotion to His Sacred Heart: ‘I will give peace in their families. I will console them in all their troubles. They shall find in my Heart an assured refuge during life and especially at the hour of death.’ In other words, if we live in Christ, if our hearts beat with His Heart, if our eyes see with His eyes, if our will is united to His Will – then we will be granted great peace and security amid the storms of life.

O Heart of love, I put all my trust in Thee; for I fear all things from my own weakness, but I hope for all things from Thy Goodness.

Saturday, 24 June 2006

Bertone the 'Fix-It' Man

Here are some perceptive comments on the new Cardinal Secretary of State, courtesy of the insightful John L. Allen Jnr (writing for the National Catholic Reporter). Judging from his words, it's going to be an interesting, hopeful and colourful few years. The rumour about Cardinal Re moving to Genoa is also intriguing and would change the political contours within the Vatican:
Bertone earned a reputation as a "fix-it" man under Ratzinger. He took the lead in publishing the infamous "third secret" of Fatima, and also was the point man for the Vatican during the soap opera in the summer of 2001 surrounding the on-again, off-again marriage of Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo to a follower of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

A Salesian, Bertone did his license in theology on "tolerance and religious liberty," destined to be critically important issues in relationships with both Islam and China, and then completed a doctorate at the Salesianum in Rome -- ironically, on the governance of the church under another Pope Benedict, this one Benedict XIV. Bertone eventually became the head of the canon law department at the Salesianum, and participated in the revision of the Code of Canon Law in 1983. In 1988, Ratzinger named Bertone as part of the commission that handled negotiations with the breakaway Society of St. Pius X, known popularly as the "Lefebvrites."
His academic ascent was rapid, and from 1989 to 1991 he served as the rettore magnifico, roughly the chancellor, of the Salesianum. In the early 1990s, Bertone was also tapped by the Secretariat of State as part of a European commission designed to aid the newly emancipated countries of Eastern Europe to prepare constitutional and legislative documents.

Bertone is a staunch conservative on doctrinal issues, and a man with a very positive and optimistic spirit. In true Salesian fashion, he is good at youth ministry, and has made outreach to the young a priority in Genoa. One of his first outings as archbishop was to a local disco, where Bertone was photographed on the dance floor. He has also taken a few turns at providing colour commentary during broadcasts of Italian soccer matches.

Bertone's appointment was widely expected, given his ties to the pope. Benedict's emerging approach to top appointments seems to be to tap men with whom he has a close relationship of trust, regardless of whether they fit the traditional profile for the post. (This was the case, for example, in his appointment of Cardinal William Levada as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

Many in the Secretariat of State are nonplussed by the appointment, since they regard a background in Vatican diplomacy, including a few tours in postings around the world, as a sine qua non; one told me last week that being Secretary of State is "no place for on-the-job training."

Currently, rumours in Rome suggest that Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, may replace Bertone in Genoa. If so, combined with the recent transfer of Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe from the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples to Naples, it would mean the exit from the Vatican of the most senior officials associated with the diplomatic corps, and would be widely read as "clipping of the wings" of the church's diplomats in favor of officials with a stronger doctrinal background. Sepe's replacement, Cardinal Ivan Dias of India, although a longtime diplomat himself, is also known for a strong set of theological convictions close to those of Benedict XVI.

The logic for Bertone's appointment, aside from his personal connection to the pope, is no doubt that he can ensure that concerns of Catholic identity trump the logic of compromise that is often the stuff of diplomacy. Further, he's an Italian who knows the world of the Vatican well.

It will be interesting to see, especially in the early stages, if Bertone's relative unfamiliarity with the inner workings of the Secretariat of State renders him dependent upon the very diplomats he was named to oversee. Such is sometimes the case with "outsider" appointments, and hence observers will be paying careful attention for early assertions of independence from the man who is now, in effect, the Vatican's Prime Minister.

One sign to watch for may be Bertone's line on China. As a Salesian, he will have considerable sympathy for Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, also a Salesian. Under John Paul, the diplomatic corps was frequently leery of Zen because of his outspoken challenges to Chinese authorities on religious liberty, at a time when improved relations with China is a top Vatican priority. Benedict's appointment of Zen as a cardinal suggested a break with this atmosphere of caution, and Bertone's appointment may well embolden Zen and the other critics of the Chinese authorities even further.


Death of Darwin's Tortoise

Occasionally you discover a connection that makes the past seem less distant. For example, my father met an old man in the 1950s who clearly remembered his grandfather, a veteran of the Battle of the Trafalgar (1805). Likewise, the last known American Civil War widow only died in 2004 - Alberta Martin had married the Confederate veteran, William Jaspar Martin, in 1927 when she was 21 and he was 81.

As I listened to Radio 4 last night (as I often do before going to sleep) I heard that Harriet the Tortoise had died after a short illness at her home in Australia Zoo, Queensland (owned by that irritating TV crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin). Tradition says that she was one of three tortoises taken from the Galapagos Islands by Charles Darwin during his 1835 voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. There are reasons to doubt the accuracy of this story, but DNA confirms Harriet's remarkable age - 176, making her the oldest animal in captivity (until yesterday)!

When Harriet was born in 1830 William IV succeeded George IV as King of Great Britain, Louis Philippe became King of France, Andrew Jackson was US President, Berlioz wrote his Symphonie Fantastique, Pius VIII was Pope and the Catholic Hierarchy hadn't yet been re-established in England and Wales (in fact, Catholic Emancipation was only passed the previous year)!

Luckily she remained blissfully ignorant of the way the world had changed beyond recognition since then - spending her decades happily munching grass and posing for photographs. According to the BBC, 'her keepers put her longevity down to a stress-free life.'

Friday, 23 June 2006

Investiture of a Knight

This morning I attended a magnificent Pontifical High Mass at the London Oratory, at which a friend of mine was invested as a Knight of Magistral Grace in the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (better known as the Order of Malta).

The Mass was celebrated by Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow and Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor preached. The entrance procession was partricularly impressive - the main doors swung open as the choir sang Elgar's Ecce Sacredos Magnus and a long procession of robed Knights and Dames ambled up the nave, their differing grades signified by colourful banners, and, in the case of the Grand Prior, a huge sword. A pleasant luncheon followed in the Oratory garden, the guests sitting under the shade of a large marquee. I didn't dare take photos during the Mass for fear of being escorted out by a knight on either side!

The Order of Malta is a hidden gem in the life of the Church, noted today for its great (and largely unnoticed) charitable work. Originating as the Knights Hospitaller of St John in the aftermath of the First Crusade, the Order was set up for the defence of the Holy Land and the assistance of pilgrims. Its motto is Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum ('Defence of the faith and assistance to the poor'). It was one of the most prominent medieval Military Orders, which combined religious vows with military service (as Desmond Seward's book puts it, they were 'monks of war'). Knighthood was seen as a path of sanctification - Our Lord told St Bridget of Sweden: 'a knight who keeps the laws of his order is exceedingly dear to me. For if it is hard for a monk to wear his heavy habit, it is harder still for a knight to wear his heavy armour.' Indeed, the Order boasts 18 saints and beati, including (most recently) Blessed Karl, the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor.

The Order of Malta is both a religious order and a Sovereign entity, with observer status at the United Nations and ambassadors to some 92 countries. Their HQ at the Palazzo Malta on the Via dei Condotti in Rome is extra-territorial and seen by some as the smallest 'country' in the world (about half the size of a football pitch). The Orders issues its own stamps, car plates, passports (to a handful of senior officials) and currency (officially the scudo).

The current Grand Master (the 78th since the Blessed Gerard in the twelfth century) is an Englishman, His Most Eminent Highness Fra' Andrew Bertie, 'Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, Most Humble Guardian of the Poor of Jesus Christ.' He was elected in 1988, holds the rank of a Cardinal Deacon in the Church (with the diplomatic honours due to a Head of State) and is distantly related to the Queen. Pope Benedict received Fra' Bertie in audience today, on the vigil of the Order's Patronal Feast.

The Grand Priory of England was only restored in 1993, after a gap of 450 years caused by the Reformation, but dates back to 1144. The Order runs the St John and St Elizabeth's Hospital in London (where Cardinal Hume was cared for in his final weeks) and 76 residential care homes in the UK.

Christian chivalry is thus truly alive and well in the twenty-first century!

Thursday, 22 June 2006

New Secretary of State

As most of you will know by now, 71 year-old Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, presently Archbishop of Genoa, will replace Cardinal Sodano (who will be 79) as Secretary of State in September. He is a Salesian and a theologian rather than a diplomat, having been Secretary to Ratzinger at the CDF.

Various news agencies have called him 'hardline,' partly because of his recent condemnation of The Da Vinci Code (anyone remember that book?) as 'a sackful of heretical lies.' The Times (which should know better) said that, according to some, 'putting a Ratzinger-Bertone alliance at the top of the Vatican hierarchy meant that the Church would be in the hands of "arch-conservatives" at a time when many Catholics, especially in the Third World, are calling for reform.' Hmmm.

The Holy Father has long experience of working with his new no.2 and it will be interesting how the 'Ratzinger-Bertone alliance' bears fruit after the Sodano era. Despite his age, Bertone will instantly be raised in league tables of papabile. He is an attractive figure with evident humanity. A keen Juventus fan, he is the first ever Secretary of State to have acted as a football commentator (on Genoese TV).

Once, while speaking on human cloning, Bertone added: 'an exception might be made in the case of Sophia Loren.'


Virgin Birth Insurance

The BBC reports that since 2000 three sisters from Inverness, Scotland have insured their virginity in case they immaculately conceive Our Lord as He makes His Second Coming. If this happened they could claim £1 million - 'they say if Christ came again they want to give him a lifestyle commensurate with his status and the money would pay for that.' Luckily, has withdrawn the cover, following protests from the Church.

What a weird, confused world we live in!


Wednesday, 21 June 2006

St Walburga and her Miraculous Oil

While our thoughts are directed towards Gerrmany and the World Cup, it is time to acknowledge one of the many Anglo-German saints from the early Middle Ages (and one of my favourites) - St Walburga. I said Mass at her shrine back in February, when I led a pilgrimage to Bavaria.

According to tradition, Walburga was born in Devon around 710, the daughter of St Richard, often referred to as ‘King’ of Wessex, and ‘Queen’ Wuna. It was a family of saints, a pedigree that would serve her well in the future: her uncle was the great St Boniface (Archbishop of Mainz) and her brothers were St Winnebald and St Willibald, who would later become Abbot of Heidenheim and Bishop of Eichstätt respectively.

Walburga received a solidly Christian upbringing. The family said their daily prayers before a wooden cross that was erected on their land and, in 720, she entered the double monastery at Wimborne (Dorset). Under the direction of St Tatta, the abbey had gained a reputation of learning and holiness, and it would prepare Walburga for her missionary years in Germany. Around the same time, her father and two brothers embarked on a pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land. However, her father developed a fever and died at Lucca, where he is venerated to this day as ‘St Richard the Pilgrim’ at the church of San Frediano. The brothers went on to Rome, where they split up – Winnebald joined a Benedictine monastery and Willibald travelled to the Holy Land.

During this period St Boniface was busy consolidating the Church in Germany, establishing monasteries and bishoprics. His collaborators included, by the 740s, SS Winnebald and Willibald. It is perhaps no surprise that in 750 St Walburga travelled to Germany to assist her kinsmen in this great work. It is said that, as she crossed the Channel, a terrible storm arose, which was stopped only by Walburga’s prayers - the miracle was traditionally commemorated at Eichstätt on 4th August. She may have stayed in Antwerp, where she is venerated as patroness, before going to Mainz to meet her uncle. She then settled down at Tauberbischofsheim, under St Lioba, a relative and another member of the Wimborne community, who had moved to Germany in 748.

It must have been a great joy to be near her brothers, after many years of separation, and Walburga eventually moved to Heidenheim, where Winnebald had founded a double monastery, based on the English model (as found at Wimborne). After his death in 761, Walburga’s surviving brother, Willibald, now bishop of Eichstätt, appointed her Abbess, with government over both the monks and nuns. She was also skilled in medicine and did much to look after the sick and dying.

The legend contains various miracles worked during her life. One night, one of the monks refused to accompany the saint to her cell at night with a lit candle. Shortly afterwards, the nuns found the abbey illuminated by a mysterious light. The saint cried out: ‘O Lord, as a humble maid who committed my life to you since my youth, I thank you for granting this grace. You have honoured me in my unworthiness with the comfort of your light. This sign gives courage to the souls of your handmaids who are dependent on me. And you have driven out the darkness and our fear through the bright light of your mercy.’

When Walburga died on 25th February 779, she was buried at Heidenheim. However, the double monastery did not survive long and under Willibald’s successor, Bishop Gerhoh, it was occupied by canons. Devotion to Walburga waned to such an extent that in 870, as workmen were restoring the church, the saint’s tomb was desecrated. The outraged saint appeared to the bishop, Otgar, complaining that her remains were being trampled upon ‘irreverently by the dirty feet of the builders.’ Shortly afterwards, the north wall of the church collapsed, which was widely interpreted as a sign from heaven. The body of Walburga was quickly exhumed and translated to Eichstätt on 21st September, and her cult was revived. A community of canonesses initially cared for the saint’s tomb, until a Benedictine Abbey of nuns was founded there in 1035, which survives to this day. During its long existence, the Abbey has founded many daughter-houses, including Minister Abbey in Kent and several across the Atlantic: Latrobe (Pennsylvania), Canyon City (Colorado), and Boulder (Colorado).

In 893, some of St Walburga’s relics were transferred in solemn procession to the monastery at Monheim, which also became an important pilgrimage centre. The priest Wolfhard recorded 54 miracles at Monheim between 893 and 900.

The fame of St Walburga rests in the miracles claimed after her death rather than the details of her life. When the tomb was opened in 893, ‘the workmen found the venerable bones of our holy mother Walburga moistened as if with a film of spring water, so that they were able, as it were, to press droplets of dew-like liquid from them.’ This ‘oil’ (Walburgisöl) has been constantly flowing from Walburga’s shrine, between the months of October and February, for over 1,200 years, stopping only, we are told, during a period when the town was under interdict and after blood was shed in the church by armed robbers. Chemical tests have revealed that the ‘oil’ is actually natural water, although its contact with the bones of the saint justifies its use for pious purposes and is a powerful example of Church’s treasury of sacramentals – visible things that lead us to the invisible.

The ‘oil’ is collected from a shaft built under the tomb and the Abbey contains an impressive collection of glass phials used to contain the substance, some of them dating back to the sixteenth century and covered in damask and brocade. The nuns see it as their special apostolate to distribute the oil – both locally and around the world – and to deal with the many prayer requests that are sent to the Abbey. The walls of the chapel containing the saint’s tomb are covered in hundreds of ex voto paintings, depicting favours granted by the saint – especially concerning escapes from disease and accidents and successful childbirth. The baroque altarpiece in the main church, next to the shrine, depicts St Walburga in glory, with angels pouring drops of the holy oil over a group of the faithful.

The life of this princess from Wessex is an important one in the annals of the German Church, but the cult that developed after her death is even more remarkable. Devotion to St Walburga is particularly strong in Germany and the Low Countries, although she is widely neglected in the land of her birth (at least, outside Preston). She is rightly celebrated as one of the Elaephori, or oil-yielding saints, together with the likes of St Nicholas, whose shrine at Bari (Italy) also produces a mysterious manna. Little bottles of the Walburgisöl, diluted in water, are available from the Abbey, and prayer requests can be sent to Abtei St. Walburg (e-mail:

O God, the gifts of whose grace no man can count, grant us, we beseech thee, to experience the might of the advocacy with thy mercy, in our behalf, of blessed Walburga, the virgin, who not only hath left us a bright example of purity of life, but yet gladdeneth us by the working of many miracles. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.


Monday, 19 June 2006

Playing at Mass

This wonderful picture (hat tip to Catholic Church Conservation) reminded me of my own childhood, when (like many other future priests) I played at saying Mass. I didn't have such elaborate 'play vestments,' but I had a fairly decent altar (my bedroom desk), pretend tabernacle (a toy policeman's helmet) and pulpit (a chair). Did any other readers play at celebrating the Sacred Liturgy?

Clerical Dress

Popped into the archives this afternoon to show around some applicants for the post of assistant archivist. Fr Mark Vickers (currently of Sacred Heart, Ruislip) was doing some research on Cardinal Bourne and found a fun article from The Tablet of 8th December 1900, which cites a recent lecture on 'Clerical Costume.'

It began by quoting Carlyle:
Of Church clothes, especially recognised as Church clothes, I remark fearlessly enough, that without such vestures and sacred tissues, society has not existed, and will not exist. All-important, all-sustaining are the Church clothes to civilised or even rational men.
However, the lecturer noted that the art of the clerical tailor could be challenging:
Among the leading peculiarities in the clerical figure, I find a great percentage have one or more of the following distinctions: (1) Head forward, (2) prominent blade bones, (3) hollow at back of waist, (4) large shoulders, (5) one shoulder larger than the other, and one consquently lower.
I don't yet recognise myself in this description, but time will tell...

In The Tablet of 9th March 1901 there is a short piece on 'the war against the cassock in France' (this was, of course, a time of great anti-clericalism):

If the anti-cassock campaign happened in England it would be more intelligible, for in England cassocks are novelties, and their appearance, connected as it is with a certain creed, may give alarm to people averse from that creed. But in France it requires a remarkable degree of what used to be called pretrophobie, an absolute indifference to the picturesque, to object to as familiar a sight as a country Don Abbondio pensively coming down the path, or a busy Paris vicaire conning his breviary in the tramway car. Imagine Rome without its motley crowd of priests, monks, and nuns, or Oxford without the gowns...

Hmmm - I rather like the word 'pretrophobie' and must use it more often. There is plenty of it about - I've even experienced it from fellow priests when they've met me wearing a simple clerical shirt while they've been in lay clothes.

In early 1901 forty corporations had decreed that 'priests shall appear in public in habit a la francaise...Of course M. le Cure only laughed at the extraordinary idea that he should appear without his soutane' and there were many transgressions of the law. However, 'one bishop appeared in Paris in a coat and knickerbockers, whereupon people branded him as a base flatterer of the worst passions. I rather think that he is a man not quite free from the vanities of this world, and who boasting, like the fourth husband of the wife of Bath, a pair of good legs was yearning to show them.'

CIEL UK Colloquium

Fr Michael Lang of the Oratory has asked me to advertise the International Colloquium being organised by CIEL (Centre International d'Etudes Liturgiques) at Oxford from the 13th to the 16th September 2006. Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos will be present and will celebrate the closing Mass according to the Rite of 1962 in the glorious thirteenth century chapel of Merton College, Oxford.The title of the Colloquium is 'The Genius of the Roman Liturgy: Historical Diversity and Spiritual Reach.' Papers will be given by leading experts, including Eamon Duffy ('Benedict XVI and the Liturgy'), Sheridan Gilley ('Roman Liturgy and Popular Piety'), Fr Michael Lang ('The Early Development of Christian Latin as a Liturgical Language') and Alcuin Reid ('Sacrosanctum Concilium and the Organic Development of the Liturgy'). There will be a daily High Mass, Vespers and Compline.

This should be a great event for the world of liturgical scholarship and also for Catholic Oxford. For more details click here.

The Dancing Jesuit

St Ignatius Loyola, St Aloysius Gonzaga and St Edmund Campion would be rather surprised to learn that the man in the picture is actually a Jesuit, Fr Saju George, S.J., the so-called 'dancing priest,' who begins his English tour later this week. This includes concerts at the Balaji Temple, Birmingham and Farm Street Jesuit Centre in London as well as performances during Sunday Mass at St Catherine's, Bristol (Fr Saju will provide a dance of self-offering, a Gospel meditation and a thanksgiving dance or Keerthanam after Communion).

Fr Saju is attempting to 'Christianize' Bharatanatyam, a sacred dance which (in recent centuries) was often performed by prostitutes in Hindu temples - so much so that it was abolished in 1947. As Fr Saju explained to Brendan McCarthy in this week's Tablet, this ban led to its 'spiritual reinvigoration.' The dance, he said,
involves a commitment of the whole person, body and soul. Everything that is danced is in praise of God. God may be Shiva or Krishna - or one of the other gods of the Hindu tradition...As a Catholic I found that the dance may be in its traditional roots Hindu, but that it had the potential to express a Catholic commitment to Jesus through our own psalms; to make the spirit of the Bible alive in dance or movement.

The website advertising the tour claims that Fr Saju is following in a long tradition of Jesuit involvement with dance:

Alongside the important development of secular and romantic ballet at the French court of Louis XIV sacred ballet underwent a comparable development in many Jesuit institutions of higher learning. Suzanne Youngerman writes that ‘in Paris the students were joined by the most famous dancers of the Paris Opéra, and the ballets were choreographed by the same prominent dance masters, such as Pierre Beauchamps and Louis Pécour, who created the masterpieces of the secular theatre’.

Youngerman writes that the Jesuit ballets ‘differed from their secularly sponsored counterparts in having no female performers or romantic plots and in always having a moral point’… ‘They performed plays at different times throughout the year, but the principal event was during graduation. They generally staged a five-act tragedy with a biblical, classical, or national theme. A four-act ballet was performed between the acts of the play. The ballets were sometimes loosely connected to the play, but they did not deal overtly with religious themes, favouring the Greek mythological or allegorical plots prevalent also in the court and opera ballets. They were performed in the colleges throughout Europe and were immensely popular…’

Indeed, one of the great pioneers of ballet in the reign of Louis XIV was Fr Claude Francois Menestrier, S.J. author of Des ballets anciens a modernes (1682). But can we compare the stately ballet of baroque Europe (still a Catholic culture) to a pagan art form used in the context of the Sacred Liturgy?

Sunday, 18 June 2006

Our Corpus Christi Procession

This afternoon we had our Corpus Christi Procession, jointly organised by the four local parishes (Our Lady of Willesden, Willesden Green, Stonebridge Park and Kensal Rise) and this year following a fairly long route between the Cardinal Hinsley School and the Church of the Transfiguration, Kensal Rise.

These processions are still quite unusual in England, though they're becoming more common, especially in the aftermath of the 'Year of the Eucharist.' They're also made easier by the ethnic diversity of a city like London - our procession was one of three religious processions occuring in our area today, including a large Hindu celebration in Willesden. If other religions have the confidence to hold processions, then why can't the Catholic minority?!

The procession went well. I had my first ever ride in a police vehicle, as we quickly surveyed the route beforehand - parishioners were bemused to see me clambering out of the police van in my cassock accompanied by two officers. There was only one mini-disturbance, when a troubled woman started following us and, at one point, stroked the back of my cope and then the head of one server, but she was soon escorted away.

I thought of the Holy Father's words in his Corpus Christi homily last year as we made our way through the streets (stopping for Benediction in one person's front garden):
The force of the sacrament of the Eucharist goes beyond the walls of our churches. In this sacrament, the Lord is always coming to the world. This universal aspect of the Eucharistic presence is shown in the procession of our feast. We take Christ, present in the figure of bread, through the streets of our city. We entrust these streets, these homes, our daily life, to his goodness. May our streets be Jesus' streets! May our homes be homes for him and with him! May his presence penetrate our everyday life. With this gesture, we place before his eyes the sufferings of the sick, the loneliness of youth and the elderly, temptations, fears, our whole life. The procession is intended to be a great and public blessing for our city: Christ is, in person, the divine blessing for the world. May the ray of his blessing extend over all of us!

On reaching Kensal Rise, we had a moving ferverino from Fr Paul Brophy, Administrator of Five Precious Wounds, Stonebridge Park. He also acted as our musical director - he is a talented musician and a former member of the Tallis Scholars and Monteverdi Choir. His picture is below - as you can see, the glare of the sun was so strong that he needed protection:

A great day - beautiful weather, a procession of at least 250 faithful, our First Holy Communion children scattering rose petals in front of the Sanctissimum. Like many popular devotions it had its chaotic moments - we suffered from the lack of a proper MC and it wasn't as streamlined as a ceremony in Rome or Westminster Cathedral. But it was a sincere and loving expression of faith in the Holy Eucharist, the 'source and summit' of our Christian lives.


Saturday, 17 June 2006

Trooping of the Bearskins

Today is a red letter day for Londoners - the Queen's Official Birthday and the spectacular Trooping of the Colour on Horseguards Parade. The Queen will arrive with the Duke of Edinburgh in Queen Victoria's 1842 phaeton carriage, followed by Prince Charles, the Princess Royal and the Duke of Kent on horseback. Prince Harry will appear for the first time in military uniform. The colour will be trooped this year by the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards. Since it's the Queens 80th birthday (officially), a 'Feu de Joie' will be fired.

The sight of hundreds of guardsmen in their red tunics and black bearskins is enough to warm the heart of every God-fearing Briton. However, the dress of the Guards Division is not without controversy. In the face of opposition from animal rights activists, they have been experimenting with bearskins made of synthetic fur, but these have been pronounced inadequate - they get easily waterlogged, apparently, and lack the 'life' and 'bounce' of real bearskins.

So, Her Majesty's Army will continue buying up to 100 bearskins a year from licensed Canadian fur traders (at a cost of around £650 each). This demand consititutes a tiny proportion (under 1%) of the Canadian black bears killed each year. They are not an endangered species but the army has pledged to re-use as many old bearskins as possible.

Much as I love tradition, with temperatures forecast at 28C I won't be wearing a bearskin myself - I need to prepare myself for wearing a cope in similar temperatures tomorrow as we have our Corpus Christi procession through the streets of Willesden and Kensal Rise!

Friday, 16 June 2006

Keeping the Coffee in the Cup

The US bishops have approved over 60 amendments to the English translation of the Missale Romanum (despite the best efforts of liberals like Bishop Trautman), marking a key step towards the publication of the new version of the Order of Mass. Readers will be familiar with many of these changes. The response ‘and also with you’ is replaced by ‘and with your spirit.’ The Confiteor includes the lines, ‘I have sinned greatly ... through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault’ rather than 'I have sinned through my own fault.’ The Creed begins ‘I believe’ instead of ‘We believe,’ the Sanctus starts ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of hosts’ and the cup in the Roman Canon becomes a 'precious chalice.'

These are more accurate translations than those of the early 1970s and it is hoped that they will be carefully introduced and explained to the faithful, to prevent any unnecessary divisions over liturgical changes. Still, problems remain - such as the perenially controversial pro multis ('for many') which remains as 'for all.'

Most interesting, from the English point of view, is the intervention of Bishop Arthur Roche of Leeds (formerly an Auxiliary in Westminster), who spoke to the American bishops in his capacity as President of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL).

He spoke about the theory of ‘dynamic equivalence,’ now hopelessly outdated, which was behind the first translations. This was achieved when ‘a translator detaches the "content" of an utterance from the "form" in which it is expressed’ – so that we get ‘from east to west a perfect offering may be made’ rather than the more correct ‘from the rising of the sun to its setting.’ The new translations are concerned with ‘formal equivalence,’ faithful (though not necessarily literal) translations, which will involve greater theological precision (with especial emphasis on the links between Sacred Scripture and the Sacred Liturgy) and a rediscovery of the ‘courtesy’ of the Missal (addressing God with humility and respect).

‘If you try to carry a cup of coffee across a room too quickly,’ he said, ‘much of the contents may spill. This time, we have tried to keep the coffee in the cup.’ Better late than never!

Bishop Roche was obviously quite a hit – Rocco of Whispers in the Loggia names him ‘Winner of the Week.’ Why? Because he seems to have achieved the feat of 'soothing many skittish US bishops, spearheading a months-long campaign which promised them that their concerns on the translations and their implementation would be assuaged, and brokering the deals which secured the highly-sought, seemingly-quixotic approval of the American conference on his Commission's text.' This will only fuel speculation that in the Bishop of Leeds there could be a future Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.

Thursday, 15 June 2006

More Pictures of Tuesday's Mass

Your humble blogger in the midst of his fiery sermon (!)

The Rector of the Shrine, Fr Stephen (he's the one in blue) and the 'altar party' - fiddlebacks are the only option in the present heat wave!

(Photos courtesy of Br Aldo Leone of the Heralds of the Gospel)


The Abbot of Farnborough

Great news from St Michael's Abbey (courtesy of Joee Blogs and also my friend Fr Richard Whinder, who is visiting the Abbey) that Dom Cuthbert Brogan has been elevated to the abbatial dignity, making him the third Abbot of Farnborough. He has been Conventual Prior now for (I think) ten years and, when he was first appointed, was the youngest major religious superior in the world.

I first visited Farnborough in 1996 and, thanks to its proximity to London and welcoming and amenable atmosphere, has often been the destination for my retreats and short breaks. A few weeks ago I reported my visit there with our confirmandi. Roman Miscellany wishes Abbot Cuthbert well in his new role - I'm sure he will be a worthy successor to the first Abbot, Dom Fernand Michel Cabrol, the great liturgical scholar. Ad multos annos!

A Time to Keep Silence

A visit to some parishioners meant that I only caught the second half of The Convent, the much-heralded BBC sequel to last year's The Monastery. The Poor Clares of Arundel came across fairly well (though it's sad they don't sing more of their Office) and it was good to see some shots of Fr Tim Madeley, the Dean of Arundel Cathedral, who joined our pilgrimage to Bavaria in February. But I must confess I began flicking around the channels - and a last minute goal by Germany against Poland meant I missed the close of the documentary. I wonder, if Pope Benedict had visited Poland after this match, would his reception have been less friendly?

However, this week I've been reading a fantastic book about the monastic life: A Time to Keep Silence (1957) by Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor. The book, which is still in print, contains beautifully written accounts of the author's experiences at St Wandrille de Fontanelle (in France), the 'Rock Monasteries of Cappadocia,' and the famous houses of Solesmes and La Grand Trappe.

Here, for example, is his eloquent defense of the monastic life, which Joseph II would have benefitted from reading:

But what good do [the monks] do, immured in monasteries far from all contact with the world? The answer is - if the truth of the Christian religion and the efficacy of prayer are both dismissed as baseless - no more than any other human beings who lead a good life, make (for they support themselves) no economic demands on the community, harm no one and respect their neighbours. But should the two principles be admitted - particularly, for the purpose of this particular theme, the latter - their power for good is incalculable. Belief in this power, and in the necessity of worshipping God daily and hourly, is the mainspring of Benedictine life...With this daily, unflagging stream of worship, a volume of prayer ascends, of which, if it is efficacious, we are all the beneficiaries. (pp32 & 34).
Part of this prayer is Compline (my favourite hour):

The whole service is a kind of precautionary exorcism of the terrors of the night, a warding-off of the powers of darkness, each word throwing up a barrier or shooting home a bolt against the prowling regions of the Evil One.
'Scapulis suis obumbrabit tibi,' the voices sing, 'et sub pennis ejus sperabis.'
'Scuto circumdabit te veritas ejus; non timebis a timore nocturno.'
'A sagitta volante in die, a negotio perambulante in tenebris ad incursu et daemonio meridiano.'
One by one the keys turn in the wards, the portcullises fall, the invisible drawbridges touch the battlements...
Procul recedant somnia
Et noctium phantasmata
Hostemque nostrum comprime
Ne polluantur corpora
The windows are barred against the lurking incubus, the pre-eighth century iambic dimeters seal up any remaining loophole against the invasion of the hovering succubi. (pp44-45)
Talking of which, I must sign off now and recite Compline. Tu autem, Domine, miserere nobis.

Wednesday, 14 June 2006

'The Shrine of Saints'

Here's my sermon from last night - which may not mean much if you've never been to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Willesden:

I’m sure you’ve all had a chance to admire our new sign outside the entrance of this church. At the centre are three figures. In the middle, as you would expect, is Mary, the Mother of God, who we venerate as the Protector of London under the ancient title, ‘Our Lady of Willesden.’ On either side of her kneel representatives of the many thousands of pilgrims who have made their way to her shrine here at Willesden over the centuries. They’re not just any ordinary pilgrims, but two men who have since been canonised by the Church: SS Thomas More and Josemaria Escriva.

We can take great pride in this. Willesden may not have the picturesque setting, quaint tea-shops or even the richness of tradition that a shrine like Walsingham has – but this is the ‘shrine of saints.’ These two saints are indeed, at first glance, rather different from each other – a sixteenth century English Lord Chancellor and martyr, and a twentieth century Spanish priest and founder of Opus Dei. They came from different backgrounds and followed different vocations. Yet there are two things, at least, which they have in common.

First of all, and most obvious, is their love for Our Lady. St Thomas More often made the pilgrimage to Willesden, both to see his adopted daughter, Alice, who lived nearby, and to pray before the ‘Black Madonna’ at the church of St Mary (about twenty minutes walk from here). His familiarity with the shrine is expressed in some of his polemical writings where he cites the example of Willesden in defending the practice of pilgrimages against the attacks of the early Protestant reformers. More’s last visit to the shrine was in April 1534, just before his arrest, trial and execution. We can imagine the saint praying for strength and perseverance at the foot of the statue – and we know from the history books that his prayers were answered.

St Josemaria also had a great Marian devotion and ended most of his talks and reflections with a reference to the Mother of God. He often repeated the words, ‘All with Peter to Jesus through Mary’ – for Escriva, devotion to Mary not only brought the faithful to her Divine Son, but also made them ‘feel closer to the other members of the mystical body and more united to its visible head, the pope.’

There is a story that, as he walked around the streets of Madrid in the early days of Opus Dei, he would always stop at any street shrine of Our Lady that he passed. There was one in particular, located near the royal palace, before which he would sometimes kneel in the street for up to an hour, causing passers-by to think he was a madman! As Opus Dei grew, St Josemaria made many pilgrimages to shrines around the world. He visited this very church on two occasions, during his trips to London. On 15th August 1958 he made a private pilgrimage here and re-consecrated Opus Dei to the Name of Mary (as he did every year). He returned on 17th August 1962, this time with his future successor, the Servant of God Alvaro del Portillo. They recited the Holy Rosary and bought some images of the statue to distribute to members of Opus Dei in Hampstead.

Our two saintly pilgrims were not only faithful sons of Mary but also pioneers of the lay apostolate – both teach us about being a Christian in the world, one through his writings and vision, the other by his example in life and on the scaffold.

As a priest, St Josemaria’s principal concern was to help people become saints in the midst of the modern world. He once said: ‘Your duty is to sanctify yourself. Yes, even you. Who thinks that this task is only for priests and religious? To everyone, without exception, Our Lord said: Be ye perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect.’ And so, in 1928, he founded Opus Dei to help men and women sanctify their work and themselves ‘in the world.’ Today it has well over 80,000 members. Tonight we’re delighted to welcome Mgr Nicholas Morrish (Regional Vicar of Opus Dei for Great Britain), Fr Joe Evans and other members of the Prelature who join us as we bless our sign board, which is thought to be the first public image of St Josemaria in this country.
It is little surprise that St Thomas More is one of the patrons of Opus Dei. Escriva admired More because he faithfully followed the dictates of his conscience and the teachings of the Church while living in the world as a husband, father, thinker and politician. He tried to balance the duties of citizenship with the duties of discipleship, but his ultimate witness was that the things of God always have primacy. Hence his famous last words that he was ‘the King’s good servant but God’s first.’

As well as blessing the new signboard, tonight we will bless a copy of our processional statue, which will be taken around the homes of Catholic Londoners. We also have amongst us a Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima, blessed by the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II. As the image of Our Lady of Willesden makes its way around London, so the Heralds of the Gospel will take this statue around the country.

We pray that as these families take Our Lady into their homes, they will both honour her and learn to follow her. Mary stands apart as the Mother of God – a privileged, once-and-for-all vocation. As today’s saint, Anthony of Padua (known as the ‘Evangelical Doctor’ and the ‘Hammer of Heretics’), once said:

O inestimabilis Mariae dignitas! O inennarabilis gratiae sublimitas! O investigabilis misericordiae profunditas!

O inestimable dignity of Mary! O indescribable sublimity of grace! O incomprehensible depth of mercy! Has so much grace or mercy ever been given to an angel or man as has been given to the Blessed Virgin, whom God the Father wished to be the Mother of His Son?

But she also remains one of us, the first of the redeemed, a creature who leads the way for we who strive to follow. That’s why the imitation of Mary is the natural result of devotion to Mary. After all, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, the Immaculate Mother of God was a lay woman, living ‘in the world.’ Her life was not as picturesque as we might think; a life full of mundane domestic details; a life enveloped by silence; a life surrounded by poverty and sacrifice.

We can imitate her love, which was without limit. Love is not just about gushy feelings – it must flow into our actions. Mary’s love was not only expressed in words to the Angel Gabriel through her fiat, but was expressed in every moment of her life – even during the hard times, when she must have felt anything but sentimental. Her love extended to watching her Son carry the cross to Mount Calvary, where He died in agonising pain.

We can imitate her faithful obedience to the will of God. Our Lady says few words in the Gospels. She comes across as a listener, a contemplative in the world who ‘ponders what she doesn’t fully understand and asks about what she doesn’t know.’ Despite the prophecy of Simeon, Mary life was full of unexpected joys and sorrows, but even her darkest moments did not affect her obedience to God’s will. She did not live on the surface of events, where things can go so easily up and down – rather she was anchored in God, sheltering in the shade of the Almighty, confident that He would triumph in the end.

We can imitate her humility. St Josemaria said that ‘the mystery of Mary helps us to see that in order to approach God we must become little…To become children we must renounce our pride and self-sufficiency, recognizing that we can do nothing by ourselves.’ We can follow her by sanctifying and offering to God even the smallest details of our lives (whether it be at home, at college or at work).

We can imitate her orientation to Christ – not only her Son but also her Lord and her God. She leads us to Him – so beautifully expressed in the statue of Our Lady of Willesden, who presents the child Jesus to us, with His arms unstretched in blessing. She is the Hodegrita, the way-pointer; she points us to Him and says, ‘Do what He tells you.’

Perhaps tonight we’ve hit upon what makes Our Lady of Willesden such a distinctive shrine. The ‘spirituality of Willesden’ (if I might coin a phrase) is precisely this: to honour and imitate Mary and be led by her to Jesus in the midst of twenty-first century London. The presence of the shrine in a busy, cosmopolitan part of London witnesses to the fact that sanctity is possible in every walk of life, just as it was possible for Mary in Nazareth 2,000 years ago, just as it was possible for St Thomas More at the court of Henry VIII, just as it was possible for St Josemaria Escriva by founding Opus Dei. It is possible because of the grace and love of Almighty God. It is possible because of the intercession of Our Lady.

This evening, then, we follow in the footsteps of the saintly pilgrims to Willesden, St Thomas More and St Josemaria Escriva, and pray that we who make this pilgrimage will one day enter our Heavenly Homeland. We pray that, like Our Lady, we will turn towards her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. In the words of St Anthony of Padua, we pray:

We ask you, Our Lady, you who are called the morning star,dispel with your light the thick fog of allurements to evilwhich fill our souls. Like the light of the moon, replenish our emptiness, and dissipate the darkness of our sins, sothat we may attain the fullness of eternal life and the lightof never diminishing glory. With His help, who made you ourlight, and although born from you, gave you life. To Him be honour and glory from age to age. Amen.

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Heralds of the Gospel

Yesterday was quite a day! Having celebrated the parish Mass in honour of St Anthony of Padua (ad orientem, since his statue stands near one of our side altars), I spent a gruelling day at the archive, packing fifty large crates with some documents which we're moving to Hendon for storage. Then back to the Shrine for a Mass organised by the Guild of Our Lady of Willesden, at which our new sign was blessed. Since this includes the first 'public' depiction of St Josemaria in this country, two priests of Opus Dei were present - Mgr Nicholas Morrish and Fr Joe Evans.

A recently discovered copy of our processional statue of Our Lady of Willesden was also blessed. This will make its way around the homes of Catholic Londoners, who want to receive Mary into their homes. In the Spirit of Vatican II, there were at least four statues of Our Lady of Willesden in the church last night - the original, two processional statues and a smaller version, which a parishioner wanted to be blessed!

There was also a pilgrim statue of Our Lady of Fatima, blessed by John Paul II, which is being sent around families all over the country. This is the charism of the Heralds of the Gospel, an impressive International Association of Pontifical Right, founded in Brazil by Fr John Scognamiglio Clá Dias and now with a base in London (at Hampton Wick). This consists of consecrated lay associates, who live in community and are dedicated to Our Lady (especially under the title 'Queen of the Third Millennium'). They make use of the media and the arts to spread the Gospel - they even have an instrumental and vocal ensemble, The Knights of the New Millennium, which has produced a number of CDs. They also accompany pilgrim statues of Our Lady of Fatima around dioceses, parishes and homes, hence their presence here last night. As you can see in the picture above, they have crusader-like habits! That's me in the cassock, by the way, and the man with the beard is Rick Miller, Master of the Guild of Our Lady of Willesden.

Sunday, 11 June 2006

World Cup 2010?

The captain of the Vatican City prepares for kick-off at their World Cup debut


'He took the tankard...'

The German-speaking Church has produced some of the glories of Catholicism (whether it be Haydn's Masses or amazing rococo churches like the Wieskirche), but this ain't one of them. The photo (which has appeared on Catholic Church Conservation and The Cafeteria is Closed) is taken from a ghastly First Holy Communion Mass in Catholic Austria. Much as I like the beer from those parts, I think I would have personally opted for a tulip-shaped chalice at Mass.

My New Parish

Last week I said that I would be moving parish in September. Since the announcement has now been made in my new parish, I can now reveal on this blog that I'm going to Our Lady and St Joseph's, Kingsland - a busy parish in the Hackney area (towards the east of London). I'm delighted that my parish priest will be Fr Christopher Colven, who (like my current PP) is a convert from Anglicanism. Here's a picture of him (courtesy of the parish website), which also includes a view of the church interior (not at all bad for a church opened in 1964):

The parish newsletter this week put the news of my appointment in the following words:

We have a new assistant priest who has been appointed to Kingsland from September. His name is Fr Nicholas Schofield and he is at present working at Our Lady of Willesden parish. Father Nicholas is 30 and was ordained in 2003. He read history at Oxford (graduating with a first class degree) and then trained for the priesthood at the English College, Rome. Because he is an historian (with several published works to his name) he is also the Diocesan Archivist – as was a former assistant here, Father Ian Dickie, before him. This means that he will spend two half days each week at the Archives in Kensington. Father Nicholas is very much a “son” of the diocese as his family live at Rickmansworth: we look forward to getting to know him.

Kind words (and, I hasten to add, I did not write them myself) - though I hope parishioners aren't expecting a world-class, best-selling historian! Anyway, do remember the parishes of Willesden and Kingsland - and your humble blogger - in your prayers. Thanks.


Saturday, 10 June 2006

On Football and Catholic Paraguay

All of England, it seems, stopped this afternoon for the much-hyped World Cup match against Paraguay (even though it was just a first round game). The Willesden presbytery was able to pause to watch the match, helped by the absence of phone calls and visitors at the door.

It was a typical England performance - a lucky start (the first ten minutes saw an own goal for Paraguay and the substitution of their injured No 1 goalkeeper), some moments of world-class play and a very uneasy, nerve-racking second half. But we just made it to gain the all-important three points.

Still, I've always had a soft spot for Paraguay. For one thing, it's always a promising sign when a country's capital city has a good Catholic name like 'Asunción.' For another, one of the great moments in the nation's history came with the creation of the Jesuit 'reductions' in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These were almost independent states under the control of the Society of Jesus. Their creation led to a small crop of martyrs, canonised by John Paul II in 1988 - SS Alphonsus Rodriguez, Juan de Castilo and Rocco Gonzalez (1628). The regimes were pretty advanced for the times: there were free public services (such as schooling and medical care), the death penalty was abolished, the indigenous peoples were catechised using their local languages, and the Jesuits protected them from the slave trade. Literacy levels were almost 100%.

When the reductions worked, they seemed like an almost utopian society based on the Gospel. Even Rousseau (not known for his pro-Catholic views) admitted that they were 'one of the most altruistic ventures in human history.' However, not surprisingly, the colonial powers of Spain and Portugal were opposed to the 'reductions' and the Jesuits were eventually expelled in 1767.

Predictably, even the world of Catholic news today is full of football stories. The Rector of Glasgow's Scotus seminary has suggested that Scottish fans who don't support England during the competition may be sinning (England is the only United Kingdom side to qualify for the championship). 'If a Scot has an automatic negative reaction to supporting England,' says Fr McFadden, 'then they would have to question where that feeling is coming from.'

Friday, 9 June 2006

Nottingham's World Cup Chapel

Fr David Cain of the Nottingham diocese

The World Cup has kicked off and so a new 'religious' fervour sweeps across the world - for one billion people the next four weeks will be spent worshipping at the shrine of football. According to the BBC, one priest of the diocese of Nottingham (in the Westminster province) has even set up a 'World Cup Chapel' in the complex of his Cathedral:

A Nottingham priest is hoping to draw football fanatics into church by creating his own World Cup chapel. Father David Cain has decorated the parish centre at St Barnabas' Cathedral with flags of nations competing in the World Cup. Fans will be allowed to come into the Roman Catholic church and pray for their team during the tournament.

Father Cain also hopes the display will encourage different nationalities to join together. He said: 'Understandably, many people will be fiercely cheering on their own nation. I believe sport, and football in particular can provide a great bridge in promoting harmony between nations despite differences that exist in race, religion or politics.'

He said the late Cardinal Hume was a big supporter of Newcastle United and Pope John Paul II was a keen footballer and goalkeeper in his younger days. Father Cain said the main places where people engage in communal singing are in church or on the terraces.

Sadly, the chanting of drunk England supporters in the streets of Frankfurt this evening were not exactly according to the Gregorian modes of the Liber usualis. However, we pray that every man in the England team will do his duty tomorrow afternoon as they face Paraguay.

A Bellocian Day-Off

This Wednesday I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Steyning. It had all the ingredients of a satisfying dies non. A lazy morning (part of which was spent reading Asterix stories - it's amazing the books you find in people's guest rooms), followed by a hearty pub lunch at The Fountain Inn, located in the village of Ashurst. Not only has the inn counted Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Paul McCartney among its regulars, but it is briefly mentioned by Hilaire Belloc in The Four Men (an account of a boozy ramble through the Sussex countryside). With its sixteenth century interior and huge inglenook fireplace, it was the perfect place to guzzle down a Steak and Ale Pie and a pint of Harveys Best. Most importantly, it had no piped music - and is thus mentioned in my favourite pub guide, The Quiet Pint (see link below). You can see why Belloc liked the place.

After lunch I went for a ten mile ramble on the South Downs (those who know me will be amazed by this, since I'm not exactly 'Fr Sporty'). I made an epic ascent up the eastern face of Chanctonbury Ring, which stands at a majestic 700 feet (!). This hill, which was once an iron age fort and the site of a Roman temple, has a bad reputation, due to its more recent connection with UFO watchers and other strange goings-on.

According to one legend, it was created by the Devil, who was furious at the conversion of England thanks to 'apostles' like St Cuthman (see my separate post). The Devil became so angry that he decided to dig a channel by night to let in the sea and drown the Christians of Sussex. Fortunately, St Cuthman found out the Devil’s plan and tricked him by holding a candle behind a sieve and knocking the local cock off its perch. When the Devil saw the light and heard the cock crow, he fled the scene, leaving his great plan unfinished and giving us a complex of hills (the mounds of earth from his digging), including Chanctonbury Ring and the nearby ‘Devil’s Dyke.’

Still, on reaching the summit, I blessed the surroundings and then lay down in the sunshine to read the Venerable Bede - I'm preparing a talk on St Augustine of Canterbury for a conference, so I thought I'd better do some homework. It took several hours to get back - but it was a most satisfying day and I even felt strangely healthy after my exertions!

The Story of St Cuthman

Earlier this week I stayed at my aunt and uncle's house in Steyning, a sleepy little town in West Sussex. Though now about five miles from the coast, this was once a prosperous port with a market and a mint. This thriving centre for trade was known as the Portus Cuthmanni (Cuthman’s Port), named after the local saint, whose picture appears on the town sign. He has a rather bizarre icongraphic symbol: St Cuthman is normally shown pushing his mother around in a wooden wheelbarrow. More recently he achieved further fame by becoming the subject of a play by Christopher Fry, The Boy With a Cart (1939). This was performed at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, in 1950, directed by John Gielguid and with Richard Burton playing the part of St Cuthman. Who, then, was this Anglo-Saxon saint, who managed to attract the attention of one of our finest modern playwrights and two of our greatest theatrical knights?

The earliest surviving written record of Cuthman’s life is a volume of the Acta Sanctorum, published by the Bollandists at Antwerp in 1658. According to the story, Cuthman was a shepherd who grew up either in the West Country or at Chidham, near Chichester. He was probably born in the late seventh century and may have been baptised by St Wilfrid himself, the ‘Apostle of Sussex.’ Even as a young boy, Cuthman showed signs of his closeness to God. One day, while tending his sheep, he drew a line around them with his staff so that he could get away to collect food. On his return, he found that the flock had not left the invisible boundary. This miracle may have taken place in a field near Chidham, which for centuries was known as ‘St Cuthman’s Field’ or ‘St Cuthman’s Dell.’ It was said that a large stone in the field, ‘on which the holy shepherd was in the habit of sitting,’ held miraculous properties.

A turning point in Cuthman’s life was the death of his father, which left both him and his mother destitute. They decided to leave their home and journey eastwards – in the direction of the rising sun. By this time, Cuthman’s mother was an invalid and so he had to push her in a wheeled wooden cart. A rope that stretched from the handles to the saint’s shoulders helped carry the burden. When the rope snapped, he made a new one out of withies. The local haymakers laughed at Cuthman’s rather pathetic efforts, but Providence soon responded to their merriment by sending a sudden rainstorm, destroying their harvest. Later versions of the story say that, from that moment onwards, it always rained in that field during the haymaking season.

Cuthman decided that once this replacement rope made of withies broke, it would be a sign from God to settle at that place and build a church. This happened at Steyning, which, according to the Acta Sanctorum, was ‘a place lying at the base of a lofty hill, then woody, overgrown with brambles and bushes, but now rendered by agriculture fertile and fruitful, enclosed between two streams springing from the hill above.’ The Bollandist monks have also provided us with Cuthman’s prayer as he reached this blessed spot:

Father Almighty, you have brought my wanderings to an end; now enable me to begin this work. For who am I, Lord, that I should build a house to your Name? If I rely on myself, it will be of no avail, but it is you who will assist me. You have given me the desire to be a builder; make up for my lack of skill, and bring the work of building this holy house to its completion.

And so, this unlikely builder began constructing a worthy sanctuary in honour of the One who had guided him safely along his journey ad orientem. Many of the local inhabitants helped him in this great task and on one occasion, according to the legend, he even received Divine assistance. The builders were having trouble with a roof-beam, when a stranger appeared and provided them with a solution. When asked his name, the newcomer replied: ‘I am He in whose name you are building the church.’

And so he built a wooden chapel in Steyning, probably on the site of the present church of St Andrew’s. This building was certainly well established by 857, when King Ethelwulf (father of Alfred the Great) was buried there.

It seems that pilgrims visited the tomb of St Cuthman and that his intercession led to many cures. During the reign of St Edward the Confessor, the church at Steyning was given to the Abbey of the Holy Trinity at Fécamp, Normandy. This Benedictine house, founded in the seventh century, is famous for its ‘Benedictine’ liqueur, which today is commercially produced in the grounds of the old abbey. It was to this monastery that the Black Monks took the body of St Cuthman and his feast (8th February) was celebrated at many of the religious houses of Normandy. Thus, St Cuthman became well known on the continent – as can be seen in a mid fifteenth century German engraving of the saint by Martin Schongauer and in the writings of the seventeenth century Bollandists.

Meanwhile, the church at Steyning was rebuilt and dedicated to St Andrew. However, St Cuthman was not forgotten in his beloved land. A ‘Guild of St Cuthman’ was in existence at Chidham on the eve of the Reformation and a misericord in Ripon Cathedral supposedly depicts him pushing his mother in a three-wheeled barrow.

The colourful tale of St Cuthman presents us with a charming example of filial piety, prayer, evangelisation and church building in Saxon England. In the words of Christopher Fry:

It is there in the story of Cuthman, the working together
Of man and God like root and sky; the son
Of a Cornish shepherd, Cuthman, the boy with a cart,
The boy we saw trudging the sheep-tracks with his mother
Mile upon mile over five counties; one
Fixed purpose biting his heels and lifting his heart.
We saw him; we saw him with a grass in his mouth, chewing
And travelling. We saw him building at last
A church among whortleberries…


Thursday, 8 June 2006

Wayside Shrines

I don't normally consult Anglican papers, but the Rev'd Lynda Barley made an interesting point recently about how modern faith tends to be expressed in images rather than words. She uses, as an example, the 'shrines' to victims of road accidents, often with a picture, an insciption, soft toy and/or a bunch of flowers (still in their cellophane wrapping). On a grand scale, of course, this 'popular religiosity' was evident after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales or 9/11.

Of course, Christianity has always been 'incarnational' - using tangible, visible things to express faith in the invisible. Perhaps Barley's observation is, in part, a reaction to the wordiness and banality of so much modern liturgy. I think some of the dullest services I've encountered are those on Radio 4 early on Sunday morning, which I often listen to as I get ready for the day. OK, it is radio - but there are so many words. Images, symbols and the like (and silence!) are much more pastorally effective - and the Catholic Church has long recognised this.

Here's part of the report, courtesy of The Church of England Newspaper and Matt Creswell:

IMAGES ARE the new words for people today, according to new research published by the Church of England. Roadside shrines, bouquets and teddies, combined with widening appeal for prayer stations, labyrinths and beads are all indicators of this trend it was claimed this week.

The research, carried by the Rev Lynda Barley, Head of Research and Statistics for the Archbishops’ Council, was published this week in her book Christian Roots, Contemporary Spirituality. People have “almost journeyed full circle”, she argues, from the days when the gospel was communicated by
stained-glass windows to the non-literate congregation. Her book acknowledges that while public recognition of faith in Britain has declined over the last 50 years, there is still a latent spirituality detectable, especially at times of crisis: “Faith is bubbling under the surface of modern day Britain,” says Dr Barley.

Another Tradition Destroyed

Sad to read that St Hilda's College, Oxford has voted to open its doors to men, despite the fact that the graduate students (MCR) had voted against the decision 4-1. St Hilda's was, until now, the last surviving girls-only College at Oxford (though Cambridge still has three!). When I was up at Oxford St Hilda's wasn't exactly considered to be one of the best and we called the students 'Hildabeast.' But that's not the point. As today's Daily Telegraph's leader suggests, 'the college has been bullied and pestered into conformity on spurious financial grounds,' and, besides, 'just as nature abhors a vacuum, the university's policy-makers abhor a historical anomaly.'

'While preaching diversity, the university has suppressed choice.'

Tuesday, 6 June 2006

Arinze and Liturgy

The appearance of Cardinal Arinze's podcast elsewhere in the blogosphere reminded me of a useful link to His Eminence's superb talk at Westminster Cathedral back on 1 April (and this is no April's Fool). It's old news, of course, and aroused a lot of interest at the time - but such are the number of Catholic links on the web that it's easy to miss gems like this.

At one point Arinze talks of the Mass as 'the supreme act of adoration, praise and thanksgiving which humanity can offer to God.' After all, 'God is not our equal. He is not our colleague. He is our Creator. Without Him we would not exist at all. He is the only necessary being. It is normal that we acknowledge this fact.' One way of expressing our adoration is by genuflecting every time we pass the Tabernacle - 'a reverential and deliberate act and not a careless bending of the knee to the nearest pillar.'

This is why the Tabernacle should be at the centre of the church (Arinze said, off the cuff, that the only exceptions would be a church like St Peter's, Rome or Westminster Cathedral and not just a large parish church). He noted that 'in some of our churches some misguided person has relegated the tabernacle to an obscure section of the church. Sometimes it is even difficult for a visitor to locate where the tabernacle is, that the visitor can say with truth with St Mary Magdalene: "They have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they laid him" (Jn 20: 13).'

Talking of churches and liturgy, there is much excitement in our diocese with the opening of a 'new cutting edge church' - click here to check out pictures and the full story!

666 and St Norbert

A priest friend of mine is seeing the bishop about a possible new appointment later today - and is rather concerned because this is the much heralded 6/6/06 (or 666, the dreaded number of the Devil)! Internet Padre has some fun information about this date - with the release of the remake of The Omen, some expectant mothers are hysterically fearing the advent of lots of little Damien's!

At least 6/6/06 is the Feast of St Norbert (c.1080-1134), founder of the Premonstratensions, and anyone feeling nervous can trust in his protection. According to one online biography:

As all great and saintly enterprises are exposed to the most violent attacks, it ought not to surprise us that religious Orders, especially in their infancy, are a constant target for the fury of Satan, for he naturally does all in his power to prevent the raising of establishments which he knows to be fatal to his empire. Thus the Patriarch of the Monks of the West had no sooner formed his great project of founding that grand Order, which throughout the course of its history has done so much for the good of religion, than Satan came to declare war and to frustrate his plans. Many times did he frighten the masons and even break down the walls they had built. Thus also at Premontre, especially during the absence of Norbert, Satan never ceased in his endeavors to disturb the young community. Their holy lives aroused his anger, and the progress of their new building seemed to make him desperate. Sometimes he appeared with a number of his satellites to attack Premontre as a band of armed soldiers attacks a stronghold. The religious as well as the other workmen felt plainly on these occasions the presence of some invisible enemy preventing them from working until they sprinkled holy water all over the place. On one occasion especially, all were greatly disturbed and felt obliged to call the Prior. Blessed Hugh came and banished the evil one by the sign of the Cross. At other times Hugh commanded Satan in the name of Norbert to depart, and the evil one obeyed. It happened on one occasion when Hugh was exorcising one of the laybrothers, that the devil confessed openly that he was that same spirit whom Norbert—'that white dog whose birth should be cursed forever'—had expelled from the girl at Nivelles. He left his present victim under loud protestations, showing incidentally Norbert's great power over evil spirits.

As the Latin tag went:

Quum Nivigellae Batanam de corde puellae
Propulsas, album te vocat canem.
Tartareum dum nempe lupum mordesque jugasque
Ipse fuga Domini Te probat esse canem

(When at Nivelles St Norbert drove out the evil spirit from a young girl, Satan called him a white dog. His continual chasing of Satan proves that Norbert is the dog of the Lord.)


Monday, 5 June 2006

St Boniface

As we prepare for the 2006 World Cup, which kicks off in Munich at the end of the week, it's appropriate that we celebrate today the great English martyr and 'Apostle of Germany,' St Boniface (c.675-754, sometimes called Winfrid).

There's more to St Boniface than his rather eccentric name. He was born in Crediton, Devon, where his National Shrine is located, became a monk and in 716 started his missionary work in what is now Germany and the Netherlands. His preaching converted many pagans and he was not afraid to use muscular methods to win souls for Christ. One of his finest moments came when he cut down Thor's Oak, a tree that was held sacred by the Hessians - an axe is still one of his symbols. He used the wood of the oak to build a chapel.

St Boniface became a bishop (eventually gaining Mainz as his metropolitan see) and did much to 'create' the German Church by founding the bishoprics of Buraburg, Salzburg, Regensburg, Freising and Passau. He was assisted by a whole legion of English missionaries (that are largely forgotten by modern English Catholics) - St Lull of Malmesbury, St Burchard (Bishop of Wurzburg), St Wigbert (Abbot of Fritzlar), St Leoba (Abbess of Bischofstein), St Thecla (Abbess of Kitzingen), and the three siblings: St Willibald (Bishop of Eichstatt), St Winnebald (Abbot of Heidenheim) and St Walburga (the great miracle-working nun).

St Boniface was murdered by a band of aggressive pagans during his last mission, to Friesland, and he is buried in Fulda. St Boniface has been called 'the first European' and the great Catholic historian Christopher Dawson speculated that he 'had a deeper influence on the history of Europe than any Englishman who ever lived.'

St Boniface wrote many letters, which are well worth reading. One includes the following, which provides us with food for thought as we keep his feast:

In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life's different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on her course.

Let us stand fast in what is right, and prepare our souls for trial. Let us wait upon God's strengthening aid and say to him: 'O Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations.' Let us trust in him who has placed this burden upon us. What we ourselves cannot bear let us bear with the help of Christ. For he is all-powerful, and he tells us: 'My yoke is easy, and my burden light.'

Let us continue the fight on the day of the Lord. The days of anguish and of tribulation have overtaken us; if God so wills, 'let us die for the holy laws of our fathers,' so that we may deserve to obtain an eternal inheritance with them.


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