Sunday, 27 May 2007

Where I'll Be Spending the Bank Holiday

Our parish was founded by the Rosminians in 1854. I'm currently working on two projects: a history of our parish school (est. 1855 and still going strong) and a life of our first parish priest, Fr William Lockhart (the first of Newman's disciples to be received into the Church). Unfortunately (!), the Rosminian archives are centralised at their house in Stresa, on the southern shore of Lago Maggiore and not far from the Swiss border. So I pulled the short straw and the school is funding my short trip to the Italian Lakes to look at the Kingsland file! Before coming to this parish, I didn't know much about Rosmini (a sometimes controversial figure, whose works were formerly placed on the Index) and his Institute of Charity, so it will be a fascinating few days.

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The 'Baptism' of Bells

(H/T to the Lion and the Cardinal)

In some older books, you will see references to the blessing of church bells as a 'baptism.' Of course, bells were not baptised (that is reserved for human beings), but the rite bore many similarities to the sacrament: the bells were exorcised, washed with holy water, anointed with the holy oil of the sick (outside) and chrism (inside) and given a name. In some places, they even had a sort of godfather. The bishop prayed that 'at their sound let all evil spirits be driven afar; let thunder and lightning, hail and storm be banished; let the power of Thy hand put down the evil powers of the air, causing them to tremble at the sound of these bells, and to flee at the sight of the holy cross engraved thereon' - a rather beautiful sacramental!

I mention this because I recently found a pile of parish newsletters from the mid 1960s. When the church was built in 1964 the bells were ‘baptised’ and given the names of Gabriel (the traditional name for the Angelus bell), William (after the late Cardinal Godfrey and two of our former parish priests), John (after John XXIII), Paul (after Paul VI), Carmel (Cardinal Heenan’s second name), Joseph (our glorious patron), Monica (from our daughter parish at Hoxton, which became the first post-Reformation Augustinian house in England) and Scholastica (after our other daughter parish at Clapton).

I'm not sure what the modern bell blessing rite involves - I suspect a liturgy of the word, intercessions and a general prayer over the bell.

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Saturday, 26 May 2007

The Saint of Pentecost

I've just celebrated the Vigil Mass of Pentecost - and, this year, there is a rather nice coincidence since today is the Feast of that great saint of the Holy Spirit, St Philip Neri.

As I'm sure you know, as a young man it was his custom to spend whole nights in prayer in the catacombs, the underground burial places of the early Christians outside the walls of the City. On the vigil of Pentecost in 1544, St Philip was praying in the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian, on the Via Appia, as he had done many times, and asked God to give him the Holy Spirit. St Philip was suddenly filled with great joy, and had a vision of the Holy Spirit as a ball of fire. This fire entered into St Philip’s mouth, and descended to his heart, causing it to expand to twice its normal size, and breaking two of his ribs in the process (a fact later proven by his autopsy). He later said that it filled his whole body with such joy and consolation that he finally had to throw himself on the ground and cry out, “No more, Lord! No more!”

During his lifetime many people noticed that he seemed always to be warm; he was often flushed, and would walk around with his cassock unbuttoned at the chest, even in the middle of winter. Not only that, but several of his disciples reported that his heart used to beat violently when he prayed or preached, sometimes enough to shake the bench on which he was sitting. Some people could hear his heart beating across the room, and others experienced unspeakable peace and joy when he embraced them and held their heads to his breast.

St Philip's experience of the Holy Spirit was unique - but we pray that the same Spirit will come upon us this Pentecost. Leo XIII said that ‘if Christ is the head of the Church, the Holy Spirit is her soul.' He abides in each member of the Church as the dulcis hospes animae (sweet guest of the soul), so that we receive His consolation and strength and bear witness to Christ, just like the apostles on the day of Pentecost and just like the lives of countless saints down the centuries.

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Thursday, 24 May 2007

My Fourth Birthday

I suppose that, alongside the liturgical calendar, we each have our own private calendar marking key moments in our life, especially relating to the life of grace (baptism, confirmation, marriage, conversion, etc). Today, the Feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, is the fourth anniversary of my priestly ordination at the hands of Bishop George Stack. How time has flown!

I think it's the first time I've been in the parish for my anniversary: last year I was on a conference at Ushaw and the first two years I was on holiday. But what better way is there to spend an ordination anniversary? - celebrating Mass in the parish, visiting the school, dealing with all the requests that come via the door and phone, writing sermons and classes, etc - all the things that fill most days but which I never write about on the blog because (a) it's not appropriate and (b) it would be rather boring!

For my meditation this morning, I turned to Leo Trese's A Man Approved and came across this timely passage:
Sometimes we priests feel that we are very busy men - and, within our own limited environment, quite important persons. We may be in parish work, instructing converts, visiting the sick, catechizing youngsters, administering temporalities....However, regardless of which group may claim me, it is profitable for me to remind myself again and again that there is only one thing I do which pertains essentially to my priesthood. There is only one thing that is of transcendent importance, and that is my offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. By eternal standards, nothing else I do matters much.
Looking at my posts last May, I was reminded that today is the first anniversary of the sudden death of Fr Todd Reitmeyer, a fellow priest and blogger. May he rest in peace.


Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Danse Macabre

Hidden in one of the rooms at Hare Street are a series of tapestries that Robert Hugh Benson made and, during his lifetime, hung around the house. Some of these depict the Legend of the Grail; others the Dance of Death, a popular subject with medieval and Renaissance artists. These were kept in the 'tapestry room,' which was used for guests - especially, Benson one day remarked, Anglican clergymen. The usual figures appear, though with an Edwardian colouring: the Pope (above), the Cardinal, the soldier and so on:

Finally - and this is a note of optimism and belief in the redemption - comes the funeral of death itself, with the creepy skull thuribles being swung by a skeleton:

No wonder my friend who slept in this room had a disturbed night!

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

The Home of Robert Hugh Benson

I spent the night with some friends at Hare Street, Hertfordshire (just north of London) - the former home of the convert writer Mgr Robert Hugh Benson (author of Lord of the World, Dawn of All, Come Rack! Come Rope!, etc) and, since Benson's death in 1914, the country house of the Archbishop of Westminster. From the above picture you can see how we spent the afternoon: reading in the garden and also catching up on the Divine Office:

In the grounds is a charming memorial chapel:

Mgr Benson himself is buried in the nave:

I said Mass for the repose of Mgr Benson's soul - quite a different feel to Masses in a busy urban parish, with the background sound of birdsong, flies buzzing around and the summer sunshine streaming through the windows.

There is a charming rood above the screen dividing chancel from nave:

Above the side altar there is a statue of Our Lady, carved by Mgr Benson. She is shown trampling some rather frightening demons - demonstrating his rather macabre interest in the occult (as also seen by his ghost stories). He called it Notre Dame des Diables.

As I celebrated the sacred mysteries, I almost expected Benson to make the responses from his tomb! Hare Street is, I most confess, a rather spooky place - there is supposed to be a haunted room and one member of our company had a rather disturbed night, though I suspect he was dreaming. It is certainly a 'magical' place: an Edwardian time-warp full of character, with Benson's own carvings up the stairs and elsewhere - even an imaginary hiding-hole:

I could easily have spent a few more nights at Hare Street and hope to return in the autumn!

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Sunday, 20 May 2007

Lucca's Baptism

This afternoon I baptised Lucca Xavier Di Stasio Paulinus Campbell, the son of parishioners Gary and Maria. His father, who is on my adult confirmation course, reads this and other blogs, so I thought I'd better include a picture. Congratulations Lucca!


Viri Galilaei, quid admiramini aspicientes in caelum?

'Where he is gone, we hope to follow'
(Ascension Preface I)

'In the person of Christ, we have penetrated the heights of heaven'
(St Leo)


Change of Habit

As I sit here at my computer, I can clearly hear the drums and shouts from our monthly Nigerian Mass. For some reason it made me think of the final scene of Elvis' last movie, Change of habit (1969), which presents the rather novel spectacle of Mr Presley singing and playing the guitar at what seems to be an interim Mass (just before the 1970 Missal). The celebrant is ad orientem and the offertory procession is unusually reverent. I love the grumpy priest! Do any American readers recognise the church?

The film is all about Sister Michelle (Mary Tyler Moore) meeting a doctor (Elvis) whilst on pastoral placement. You'll be pleased to know that in the end she defeats temptation and dumps Elvis in order to go back to the convent.

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Saturday, 19 May 2007

Stonyhurst's Royal Relics

I've already posted about the relics of the English martyrs kept at the beautiful Jesuit college at Stonyhurst, Lancashire:

There are also some fine royal treasures. Firstly, this stunning chasuble commissioned by Henry VII for use in Westminster Abbey. They were used for state occasions and taken over to France for the Field of the Cloth of Gold (1520), when Henry VIII met Francis I outside Calais. The original set of 29 vestments was mostly destroyed at the Reformation, but a cope and chasuble survive at Stonyhurst.

This Book of Hours was printed at Lyons in 1558 for Mary Tudor - note the Tudor badges of the rose and pomegranite on the cover. It then passed to another Mary - the Queen of Scots - and she took this book with her to the scaffold in 1586, where she recited the Little Office of Our Lady:

This frame contains assorted Jacobite relics - including the flesh of James II, part of the waistcoat he was wearing when he died and the blood of the Jacobite 'martyr,' Lord Derwentwater:

There is a Stuart Room at the College, with some charming Jacobite portraits, including this one of Maria Clementina, the mother of Bonnie Prince Charlie:

Finally, a fine binding showing the arms of the Cardinal Duke of York (the bicentenary of whose death we'll be marking in July):

Thanks to Jan Graffius, Stonyhurst's dynamic curator, for letting me use the photos I took during my tour.

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Thursday, 17 May 2007

The Inquisition Myth Perpetuated

Not much blogging these last days since things have been busy in the parish and archive, plus I've had a priest friend staying.

On Monday night (the beginning of my day-off) I went to the cinema - the only film which looked mildly interesting was Goya's Ghosts, which I hadn't heard of before. Set in 1790s/1800s Spain, it is a lavish costume drama with some impressive set-pieces but weak characterisation. Weakest of all is the perpetuation of the myth of the Inquisition:
  • torture is used indiscriminately and with the slighest excuse (in actual fact there was a strict code regarding its use and it was heavily restricted, especially by the late eighteenth century)
  • torture (or being 'put to the question') is presented as part of the Church's teaching: if the accused is innocent God will give surely him the strength to stick to the truth; therefore a person who confesses is infallibly guilty. This is, of course, complete rubbish
  • the dungeons are dire - in actual fact Inquisition prisons compared favourably to secular ones
  • all the clergy and religious in the film are corrupt and tyrannical

As well as basing its depiction of the Inquisition on post-enlightenment anti-Catholic literature, the film also attacks the tyranny of rationalism and the French Revolutionary forces, which at least restores some balance!


Sunday, 13 May 2007

Our Lady of Fatima

Today is the ninetieth anniversary of the first of the apparitions at Fatima. It's also (a providential coincidence) the ninetieth anniversary of the episcopal ordination of Eugenio Pacelli, who as Pius XII was a great promoter of the Fatima message, and the twenty-sixth anniversary of the assassination attempt on John Paul II (the fact the bullet avoided all major organs was a result, he believed, of Our Lady's protection).

At Kingsland today we welcomed Br Aldo and Br Michael of the Heralds of the Gospel, together with members of their Third Order. They are a private association of pontifical right, originating in Brazil and with a house in London - in Hampton Wick (near Hampton Court Palace). At three of the morning Masses we started with a procession of the statue of Our Lady of Fatima and a prayer of consecration. Most impressive of all was the long queue of people after each Mass, waiting to venerate the image and receive from the Heralds a prayer card. Thanks to Br Michael, I thought I might post a few pictures to give you some of the 'flavour' of the morning. Popular piety is such an important part of the Church's life and much more accessible to the people than some other attempts at making the faith 'meaningful.' As one of the Heralds said, Our Lady is the 'key' that leads people so effectively to her Son.

P.S. The Heralds joined us for lunch (before going onto an Anglican church to preach the message of Fatima!). Also present were the two presbytery dogs, Oscar and Bruno, who were joined by their friend, Titus. Here are the three of them waiting on the stairs to see what was going on in the kitchen.

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Saturday, 12 May 2007

Catholic England's Top Five

Mulier Fortis has just tagged me - the challenge is to list my five favourite places in Catholic England. Sadly I assume that this excludes Catholic buildings now in Anglican hands, Scottish wonders like Pluscarden Abbey and our English Colleges in Rome and Valladolid. I'm also going to exclude Westminster Cathedral and the London Oratory since I'm sure every one else will mention them.

Here are five of my favourite places:
  • Oxford - the city has so many Catholic connections (saints, martyrs and modern apostles like Newman and Ronald Knox) and many impressive Catholic centres within a short distance, including the Oratory, the Old Palace (University Chaplaincy), Blackfriars, Greyfriars, St Benet's Hall (OSB), Campion Hall (SJ) and Grandpoint House (Opus Dei).
  • Farnborough Abbey - a little piece of France in the heart of Hampshire. Despite being a Bonapartist shrine, the architecture is stunning, the liturgy dignified and the printing press prolific. Best of all, it's within easy reach of London.
  • National Shrine of Our Lady of Willesden - not in the most beautiful part of London but it's a stunning and unspoilt 1931 church, complete with High Altar and baldacchino, with a shrine to Our Lady that restores a medieval devotion and was visited by St Thomas More. Plus it was the church of my Ordination!
  • St James', Spanish Place - another beautiful London church with a fine musical and liturgical tradition.
  • Stonyhurst - the Jesuit school in Lancashire that has England's greatest treasure-trove of Catholic relics. Talking of Lancashire, I could also add St Peter's Cathedral, Lancaster, and St Walburge's, Preston, to my 'Top Five.'
Hopefully that's broad enough - I don't want to be accused of bloc voting (as we disgracefully saw in this evening's Eurovision Song Contest)! I could have included many other places (Cheadle, Ware, Downside, etc). Consider yourself tagged if you're reading this and would like to have a go at this meme.


Friday, 11 May 2007

A Somerset Retreat

Just got back from a wonderful retreat at Downside Abbey in Somerset. This is the senior Benedictine house in Britain, recently having celebrated its fourth centenary of foundation. It has moved location over the years: first Douai in Flanders (until the French Revolution), then Acton Burnell in Shropshire and, from 1814, Downside. The abbey is famous for its school and for producing six martyrs (including SS John Roberts and Ambrose Barlow), a Cardinal (Aidan Gasquet) and eleven bishops (including some of the first members of the Australian hierarchy).

It's a good place for retreat - spacious grounds, decent accommodation, one of the best Catholic libraries in the country and, most importantly, a stupendous church, the work of architectural greats like Giles Gilbert Scott, Edward Hansom and Ninian Comper. Above is a view of the church (a minor basilica) from the exterior - pretty amazing given that the nave was built in 1925! There are many interesting tombs in the church, including that of Bishop Charles Walmesley, who, as Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, consecrated Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore - he is thus the father of the American hierarchy!

The sacristy is interesting, with cubicles for each priest (including guests!):

Here is the altar of St Placid where I celebrated Mass this morning:

The last thing you expect to see whilst on a retreat is a military parade. Tuesday evening saw the school training corps 'beat retreat,' complete (much to my delight) with some Scottish pipers. It was very impressive! In the background you can see the original monastic church and the main school buildings:

Before leaving today, I went for a walk with my fellow priest retreatant. We passed the medieval church in Stratton-on-the-Fosse, with one of the more unusual church dedications: St Vigor (who was a disciple of St Vedast and sixth century bishop of Bayeux - as you all know).

Outside the nearby village of Holcombe there is an isolated medieval church - there used to be a surrounding village but this was devastated during the Black Death in the fourteenth century. So only the church survives, with its burial mounds.

Local tradition suggests that Holcombe saw the creation of the familiar nursery rhyme: 'Ring a ring o'roses/A pocketful of posies/Ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo/We all fall down.' This described the sudden onset of the disease - a red rash, smelly sores (the smell was hidden by posies), sneezing and death. The folk memory is continued in a local pub, Ring O'Roses, where we stopped for a glass of local ale. I'm sure the Abbey's friendly guestmaster, who happens to be the grandson of Hilaire Belloc, would have approved!

The return to 'reality' is always rather difficult after a restful retreat - not helped by a long journey and an encounter with an aggressive homeless lady as I got to the front door of the presbytery (one of our 'regulars'). Still, I certainly feel my batteries are fully recharged.


Monday, 7 May 2007

On Retreat

Back on Friday!


Saturday, 5 May 2007

Papal Regensburg

I don't want to sound like a nerd but while in Regensburg (or Ratisbon) I passed this attractive house, not far from the gothic Cathedral:

The bell revealed whose house it is:

The Holy Father's elder brother, Georg, lives here, cared for by his trusty housekeeper, Agnes Heindl. For a split second I was tempted to ring the bell for a photo opportunity before pulling myself together! Mgr Georg must get his fair share of nuisance calls: the plaque placed on the house by the Chapter of the Johanneskirche publicly says that it was here that Pope Benedict met his brother on 13 September 2006:

Georg is now retired (as his brother, before his election, hoped to be by the age of 80) and says his daily Mass at the Johanneskirche, next to the Cathedral:
And here's one of various papal teddys currently available in the Bavarian shops:

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