Friday, 14 September 2012

Sweetest Wood and sweetest iron, sweetest weight is hung on thee!

 Today, along with the feast of the Presentation, is perhaps one of my favourite feasts. It is perhaps one of the richest in theology, symbolism and devotion, as the texts, especially of the office, prove.


Why does this feast occur on this day? It is an odd time of year to sing Passion-tide hymns. Today, according to legend, commemorates the day when the emperor Heraclius carried the Cross back to Calvary, it having been stolen by Chosroes, the emperor of Persia. He, having been safely defeated (or rather murdered by Siroes, his son), was out of the way, and the Cross could be brought back. However, when Heraclitus was the gate which led to Calvary, he found himself rooted to the spot, unable to advance. The bishop of Jerusalem (Zacharius) then pointed out to him that if he wished to follow Christ's road to Calvary, he should imitate Him in His poverty and humility. So Heraclius stripped himself of his robes of state, which he happened to be wearing, and took up the Cross, and carried it easily to Calvary, then put it back where it belonged. Truly, we should glory in the Cross of Christ. And nothing else.

As I said, the Office for today gives us Venantius Fortunatus' three great hymns to sing once more: Vexilla Regis, Pange lingua & Lustra sex. These, I think, are three of the deepest hymns the church has at her disposal. When sung in Passion-tide they have an understandably doleful air to them; but today the glory of the Cross shines through. Today it is not the tree of shame and humiliation, but, because of Christ's redeeming work, it is the tree of glory. The hymns portray this beautifully, and use a very ancient motif, which still persists in many places, of personifying the Cross: they speak not only of, but to the Cross. (I suppose much in the way I speak to recalcitrant photocopiers, but with a degree more tenderness and without threats of violence if it doesn't start doing what I want it to).

Thou alone wast counted worthy,
This world's ransom to uphold;
For a shipwrecked race preparing
Harbour, like the Ark of old;
With the sacred Blood anointed
From the smitten Lamb that rolled.

In this verse alone, we see a great deal of depth in one word: the Ark. This takes us down the path of the various things foreshadowed, fulfilled & completed in the Cross; beginning with the Ark, the forerunner of the church: made of wood, like the Cross, it gave safety in the floods, so to, the Cross gives us safe harbour through the storms, changes and chances of the world (a religious sister, on the day I was received, told me that the church was truly like the ark: the stench inside would be unbearable, were it not for the floods outside. I think there is a little truth in this). The old testament reading in the ordinary form gives us Moses and the serpents, another type of the Cross: Moses staff, with the serpent entwined about it gives healing to those bitten by the snake, by their gazing on it. In a final twist against the spoiler, he is outwitted by the Cross: we can see the Devil dogging the footsteps of Christ on the way to the Cross, and it is easy to imagine the serpent entwining itself about the base of the Cross in a final attempt to thwart the inevitable. This is alluded to Christ Himself in conversation with Nicodemus in John 3: the Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent. We also see in the wood of the Cross the wood of the table of the Last Supper, the wood of the barque of Peter.

The motto of the Carthusians is Stat crux dum volvitur orbis- the Cross is steady as the world turns. I would go further and say that the world turns around the Cross: there are few sensible historians, I think, who would deny that in those three hours Christ hung on the Cross, the world changed forever. No event had the same effect on the world as when an itinerant preacher in a back-water of the Roman Empire was put to death. The whole world, even the whole universe, turns on that one point fixed point in history.

+Fulton Sheen was fond of pointing out the threes: 30 years our Lord was hidden in Nazareth. Three years he preached. Three hours he suffered. And on the third day He rose again. Those 33 years changed everything. Those three hours proved beyond a doubt that God so loved the world.

Therefore, to quote St. Paul and the authorised version, it behoveth us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

O cross, our one reliance, hail!
Still may thy power with us avail
To give new virtue to the saint,
And pardon to the penitent.

On a personal note, today is also a glorious day, not only for the implementation of Summorum Pontificum, but also it the anniversary of my acting as Subdeacon for High Mass for the first time.
Source

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Blessed be the Name of Mary, Virgin and Mother!

Altar panel by Henry Victor Milner

By way of an effort to get back into blogging, after another very long absence, may I offer a litany and a ditty. I profess authorship of neither; the litany is of the Holy Name of Mary (it is her feast today) and comes from Bl. John Newman's book Meditations & Devotions whereas the ditty is of slightly more dubious origin.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.

Son of Mary, hear us.
Son of Mary, graciously hear us.

Heavenly Father, who hast Mary for Thy daughter, Have mercy on us.
Eternal Son, who hast Mary for Thy mother, Have mercy on us.
Holy Spirit, who hast Mary for Thy spouse, Have mercy on us.
Glorious Trinity, who hast Mary for Thy handmaid, Have mercy on us.

Mary, Mother of the Living God, Pray for us.
Mary, Daughter of the Light Unapproachable, Pray for us.
Mary, our light, Pray for us.
Mary, our sister, Pray for us.
Mary, stem of Jesse, Pray for us.
Mary, offspring of kings, Pray for us.
Mary, best work of God, Pray for us.
Mary, immaculate, Pray for us.
Mary, all fair, Pray for us.
Mary, Virgin Mother, Pray for us.
Mary, suffering with Jesus, Pray for us.
Mary, pierced with a sword, Pray for us.
Mary, bereft of consolation, Pray for us.
Mary, standing by the Cross, Pray for us.
Mary, ocean of bitterness, Pray for us.
Mary, rejoicing in God’s will, Pray for us.
Mary, our Lady, Pray for us.
Mary, our Queen, Pray for us.
Mary, bright as the sun, Pray for us.
Mary, fair as the moon, Pray for us.
Mary, crowned with twelve stars, Pray for us.
Mary, seated on the right hand of Jesus, Pray for us.
Mary, our sweetness, Pray for us.
Mary, our hope, Pray for us.
Mary, glory of Jerusalem, Pray for us.
Mary, joy of Israel, Pray for us.
Mary, honour of our people, Pray for us.

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us.

V. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
R. Blessed art Thou among women.

Let us Pray
O Almighty God, who seest how earnestly we desire to place ourselves under the shadow of the name of Mary, vouchsafe, we beseech Thee, that as often as we invoke her in our need, we may receive grace and pardon from Thy holy heaven, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

At the Name of Mary
Every knee shall bow
Every tongue confess her
Queen of Heaven now.
Tis the Father's pleasure
We should call her Mum
For our Blessed Saviour
Came forth from her tum.

Hopefully I shall once again begin to think of things to say on a more regular basis.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Walsingham. The Story so Far.

I must confess I have, over the past few months found the thought of my 'blog something of an embarrassment, as one might find the sight of a somewhat wilted plant that is entrusted to you and which you never quite get around to watering until it's far too late. In fact, I've just realised it's been a bout a year. Well I'm determined to do something about this, and so am writing of a series of generic posts on various themes close to my heart; and few things are closer to that pump than that of Our Lady's Shrine in England: the greatest jewel in Her Dowry.

This year is, as many will know, the 950th anniversary of the apparition to the Lady Richeldis of Our Lady, asking her to build a Shrine there. All of this is covered by far more learned persons than myself, not least Fr. Michael Rear's new book on the history of Walsingham. I have had a brief look, and it seems a most well written and balanced history of the place. Much as his biography on Blessed John Henry Newman is. In this post however, I am more interested in the emotive qualities of the place.

Over the summer, I undertook an annual walking pilgrimage to Walsingham, starting 50 miles away in Brandon on a Friday, and arriving in time for the Pilgrim Mass at the Shrine on the Sunday. This is the 6th one I have completed having been on it every year since it was first organised. I am also proud to say that I am the only person to have walked each one and not chickened out at some point, complaining of blisters or some anything else. It is one of the highlights of my year, and I hope it continues to be for many years to come.

Anyway, the highlight of this weekend is, for me, the last mile, from the Catholic Shrine, into the village, where we go to the Parish Church for Benediction, and are then free to wander as we choose. I usually take a group of bewildered Catholics to the Other Shrine in Walsingham. The one down the hill from the Friday Market. It is about this Shrine and the people around it, and what they mean to me, that I would like to speak.

I first came to Walsingham on the Anglican Grand National in, I suspect, about 2000. I had never been before, and was not sure what to expect. Granted, I didn't see it at its finest- the seething hoards of pilgrims made it difficult, but I made friends then, and had a thoroughly nice day out. I remember going into the Shrine for the first time, after the Mass and Procession from the Abbey Grounds; with my father and brother. We went through the front doors, and I was hit by serveral things: the almost overpowering scent of a mix of the most beautiful incense (no ordinary Hays & Finch stuff this) and several Imperial tons of wax being burned; the almost blinding heat coming from near countless candles, and the crush of bodies: far too many for what is, in reality, a very small church, certainly a very crowded one, not designed to hold what felt like thousands of pilgrims which crowded in there. I also remember the very striking white on blue image of the Annunciation that is the first thing you see when you go through that door, and which reminds you that this is what this place is about first and foremost: God announcing His will to Mary, and beseeching Her co-operation in His plan of Salvation. I remember very little else of that day, except visiting the Holy House, and seeing the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham there, on her processional hearse, and the niche empty, and thinking she would look far better up there than down here. This brief glance was enough to give me a taste and made me realise I wanted more. I knew I was 'igh in those days, but I knew little about it all, but was determined to find out more, and I felt that Walsingham held the key.

I determined to learn more about it, and was loaned Fr. Stephenson's wonderful books Walsingham Way and Merrily on High. Both full of anecdotes and exceedingly entertaining. I was overjoyed when I saw both had been re-printed.

Subsequent visits were made within the context of Youth 2000 visits, when I was still and Anglican: a family with whom I was friendly went along every year, and invited me to join them. Of course, I was keen to go back to Walsingham, so came along, and would go down every morning to the Anglican Shrine to serve the 7.30 Mass, before coming back up for breakfast. I am possibly one of the few people who can claim to have served at every major Altar in Walsingham: both Parish Churches, the Holy House and High Altar of the Anglican Shrine, as well as the Slipper Chapel and the Chapel of Reconcilliation, not that this really matters.

The time I spent at Youth 2000, whilst not being quite my thing musically and liturgically, had a profound effect on my desire to be received into full Communion, especially the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament that went on all through the weekend. This is ironic really, as the Shrine was one of the few things that kept me in the Church of England. How could I bear to leave behind everything that was Catholic in the Church of England? As it was, it was Lourdes that made me a Papist, but that is another blog post.

The Shrine is one of those places that I always see something new in to admire. Mostly due to the work of the artist Enid Chadwick who, along with Martin Travers, is my favourite church decoraters. There are also some of the remnants of the Master's European Holdays, such as the dreadful statue of St. Philip Neri. The origin of the quite frankly terrifying statue of he who is referred to as St. Cure d'Ars is unknown to me; but in the semi-darkness he looks positively sinister.

The chapel of the Resurrection and St. Jospeh is possibly my favourite in terms of it's design: it is tucked away in a dark and secret corner, and every inch of it is covered in paintings, including the illustration of Fr. Hope Patten's cat, looking on as a priest elevates the host, with a server next to him enthusiastically rings the Sanctus bell.

I see that I have gone for one and a half pages, which is quite long enough, and I have not said anything that I wanted to. Perhaps that will be for another post, now that I have satisfied myself that I have laid some of the ground work.

A clergyman of my acquaintace, now a secular Priest in Communion with Rome introduced to me Michael Yelton's biography of Walsingham and its restorer, which answered a nagging feeling I had long harboured within me, as I know, it has nagged within the breasts of many Anglo-Catholics, that leaving for the Italian Misson was in some way betraying the Catholic party of the Church of England, and certainly I was made to feel that way by some when I did leave. However, that biography, right at the end, relates a conversation between Fr. Hope Patten and another, in the late 1950s, shortly before the dear Father went to his eternal reward. He remarked: “the game's up, we can't carry on like this. We shall all have to become Roman Catholics.” Sadly he died before he was able to carry out this threat. I always try to go and visit his grave beside the entrance to the Anglican Parish Church in Walsingham and say a prayer for his soul.

Pray for him, and pray for the reunion of Christendom, as he doubtless did every day of his life.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Patrimony

Although I have not been an Anglican for a significant length of time (6 years, since you ask), I do consider myself to have been very much formed by what I learned there, and how I learned to do things, which continues to effect me, and I affect it at times, as I feel my Catholicism is a major part of who I am. The recent, wonderful, marvellous, stupendous events in places such as Allen Hall, Westminster Cathedral and the illustrious church of St. Aloysius in Oxford, and also the pesterings of people to write more frequently on this blog have been important factors in my deciding to put some thoughts down about how I feel about the Anglican Patrimony.

I must confess, I am slightly puzzled as to where “Anglican” Patrimony begins (I think Fr. “Patrimony” Hunwicke and I are in agreement on that, which is re-assuring); and is it Anglican Patrimony which I am most interested in, or rather Anglo-Catholic Patrimony? Where does one begin and the other end? Alright, what do I think of as Anglican Patrimony? Well...

The English Hymnal (I was reared on it)
The English Missal (the finest work of liturgy never approved by any Ecclesial Community)
the Book of Common Prayer (obviously not the Black Rubric though) and especially Prayer Book Evensong.
The Authorised Version
Cassocks with 39 buttons and 5 pleats
Taking Liturgy seriously.
Sir Ninian Comper.
The Great Fathers (Ancient and Modern- I'm thinking of People like Lancelot Andrewes, Thomas Ken, the Oxford Movement, the slum Fathers such as Fr. Stanton, Dom Gregory Dix, and the monks of Nashdom and many others)
The Parson's Handbook
Ritual Notes
Martin Travers
The Restored Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Moving the hand back to the centre when making the Sign of the Cross (so it goes head, middle, left, right, centre)
The “Catholic” Societies of the Church of England.
National Pilgrimages.

These are just some disorganised jottings, but those things do largely sum up what I feel is/was best about Anglicanism. They do have an Anglo-Catholic flavour to them, but then my Anglicanism always had an Anglo-Catholic flavour to it. I think they are a list of things that I miss about the Church of England; I have not included hymns I miss- most of them are in the English Hymnal anyway. I also think that this list would be slightly different from former Anglican to former Anglican- something which I do not miss about the Church of England, which I think Anglo-Catholicism had a lot to do with: no two churches did things in quite the same way- Gf the poem “Oh it's just the usual thing”. Most of it is transportable to the Ordinariate as well- though I can't see the Parson's Handbook putting in a re-appearance somehow! It would be nice though, if the 39 buttoned, 5 pleated cassock became the cassock of the Ordinariate though, I think- some distinguishing mark. And of course, most right thinking people, both sides of the Tiber, would admit to feeling most at home in Fr. Hope Patten's Chapel of Ease dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, just down from the Friday Market. I can't go in there without feeling utterly overcome with emotion, and I hope I always do: I do think there are very few places which are closer to heaven than that Shrine; especially when you learn something of the characters who were responsible for its establishment, and those who beautified it. But it's atmosphere is one of the most overpowering prayer. But I digress- The Shrine is worthy of at least one post of its own.
None of these things is especially Anglican, it must be said- with the exception of Prayer Book Evensong; but I wonder what percentage of normal parish churches still use it- and how many Anglican Clergy are able to say the Communion service competently.

So I wonder if, instead of the Patrimony being “things” it is more a mentality, and upbringing. Of not reducing everything to the lowest common denominator (something of which the Catholic Church, certainly in this country, seems distressingly guilty of)- of taking pride and time in what is done, and how it is done- preaching for example: the average standard of preaching used to be an awful lot higher in the Church of England than in Rome. I suspect this is changing though- but I always felt that Anglican clergy took it far more seriously than their serperated brethren. Also, and this is one of my great bugbears- liturgy. Doing it as well as possible- taking it seriously and doing it well. There was a very telling picture in the set of the Ordinations at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday- it showed the three ordinands sat next to each other, all bolt upright, looking straightforward, hands on knees, feet planted squarely on the ground- sat smartly, tidily and uniformly. If you look at secular clergy concelebrating it is difficult to find five out of 20 who are sat in the same way- unless its with arms folded and legs stretched out, looking relaxed and comfortable, and not akin to being sat in front of the telly. Alright, this is an exaggeration, but not much of one. But this seemliness in liturgy is something which is very, very Anglican. I wonder if this is part of the reason why there are such strong friendships between the Oratories and Anglicans.

Since writing the above paragraphs, I have listened to the press conference of the first Ordinary of the Ordinariate of Our Lady Walsingham (I said she was Patrimony: Fr. Hope Patten & Fr. Fynes-Clinton would be pleased, I'm sure): The Rev'd Fr. Keith Newton. He makes a very good point, which, I must confess, in my narrow-minded and blinkered way I had not considered: Anglican Patrimony is not just liturgical. What does this mean? I'm not sure: Fr. Newton speaks of the Church of England communicating to the unchurched masses, as that oh so important “presence” in the local community, and hopes that the Ordinariate will bring something of the Established Church's respectability with it. So do I- it's another little step towards the conversion of England. However, what is forgotten (or may be not realised) is that yes, the local parish church is a presence in the “community”, but it is a largely irrelevant and ignored one. I strongly suspect that the vast majority of people will not have any idea of the name of their local Vicar, or their Bishop (if indeed they have a local Vicar- they may be in a 6 parish benefice, which sees it's Vicar once in a blue moon, if there's an “R” in the month). Now it is true, these same people probably have not the foggiest who their local chaplain to the Papist Mission is either, but it is not the Established Church.

I must confess, that, when Fr. Newton mentioned non-liturgical patrimony, my thoughts ran to a poem, which oozes patrimony in abundance: the Anglo-Catholic Congresses and a certain verse in particular:
We, who remember, look back to the blossoming May-time
On ghosts of servers and thurifers after Mass,
The slapping of backs, the flapping of cassocks, the play-time,
A game of Grandmother’s Steps on the vicarage grass-
“Father, a little more sherry? - I’ll fill your glass”

You see; I'm too steeped in Anglo-Catholic Patrimony. I'd also like to finish with the last verse of the above poem:

Yet, under the ‘Travers baroque’, in a limewashed whiteness,
The fiddle-back vestments a-glitter with morning rays,
Our Lady’s image, in multiple-candled brightness,
The bells and banners – those were the waking days
When Faith was taught and fanned to a golden blaze.
I do hope so. I really do hope so.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

What is Truth?

By popular acclaim, I have decided to write another post. It has been quite a while.

I might go a bit Patristic on this...

I have been attempting to engage a self-proclaimed “atheist” in debate. This isn't an easy thing to do: without being snobbish (well trying not to), I find it very difficult to engage in debate with anyone who hasn't been taught how to, or indeed, has an Arts degree, where you tend to pick up the basics. It started, as many things do on Facebook: a friend of mine had linked to the Holy Father's recent words on social networking sites, and the care we should take when approaching them: not creating a persona for ourselves, engaging in them in a Christian manner, and so on; much of which he has said in one form or another over the last few years or so of his Pontificate. A friend of my friend then posted a somewhat derogatory comment on the Holy Father's most illustrious words, without any qualification, I think the words were “utterly ridiculous” or something of that nature. I took offence at this on one count, having always been taught “if you haven't got anything nice to say, don't say anything at all”*, however, it was not so much that she was criticising the Holy Father that irritated me (a great many people do, as well we know), but rather it was the absence of any qualification to the statement: three years of a degree, and a good many years spent in the company of Dominicans have taught me to back up my arguments with evidence, reason and logic: this she did not do.

I therefore felt within my rights to point out that the Holy Father was actually making a few very good points about decent use of the internet. One or two other people, one of whom I did not expect to chime in support for His Holiness, did so. From the comments of the Holy Father's most recent detractor it became apparent that it was not his comments she took issue with (I doubt she read them through to the end) but rather the person who made the comments. She accused him of being na├»ve and out of touch, and that his “opinions” were “outdated”. Each comment she made ignored any previous questions she made, which were answered. She then did the most wonderful thing. She said that it didn't really matter what he or anyone else said, she would not change her opinions. This was something akin to dynamite for myself (less charitable than whom there are not many) and I must confess to a sin against charity by pouncing on it and accusing her of being somewhat narrow-minded and bigoted in her refusal to listen to Truth. She then stated that we had no clue as to what the Truth was. And there it was, shining down the millennia: Pilate's question to Jesus: “what is Truth.”

It was something that had been occupying my thoughts for a while: seemingly that every successive generation of government has played Pilate (and I can't help feeling, especially in the last 100 years) and stood before the Church to ask her “What is Truth?” and then, as Pilate did, not hung around, but gone out to the crowd to ask their opinion instead, who would rather see the criminal released than the Christ.

Why?

Why is it that the secular world will seemingly never listen to the voice of the Church? I cannot help suspecting that it is the voice, rather than what is said. Par example. The Church has said for yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeears beyond telling that life begins at conception and that contraception doesn't work overly well in stopping spreading STDs. Now, many trendy lefty types (I use this term advisedly) have scoffed at these out of touch, stuck in the mud celibates. What could they possibly know about sexual morality and human life, and it's beginning and end? Well, as it has turned out, quite a lot, as I'm sure we all know. But this is sadly irrelevant, because morality has overtaken science: it doesn't really matter if life begins at conception and ends at death- quite often life wouldn't be very nice for them, so it's best if we bump them off now, to save us, I mean them, embarrassment and pain.
Talk about a voice crying in the wilderness... However, I do rather suspect that the Church will still be answering the question at the top of this page long after the current political and moral ideas have faded from memory. We always have before.


*And latterly: “if you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come and sit next to me”

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Forgive my absence...

But I have had a rather busy month or so.

I had a rather nasty attack of pancreatitis, which saw me in hospital for the best part of a week, and which was painful to say the least. Thankfully I was dosed up to the eyeballs with painkillers (who says modern medicine is a bad thing?), and slept for the majority of the first two days. I also had an ultrasound exam, and an endoscopy: not the most enjoyable experience of my life, but it was somewhat fascinating to see what my insides looked like. It turns out I have neither stomach ulcers, nor gall stones; and since I haven't been near any scorpions this only leaves one reasonable option, which is alcohol intolerance, which is somewhat upsetting, as I do enjoy the occasional Gin: I have been told not to drink for at least the next six months, possibly never again. This is something of a shock, but is emerging as not a bad thing.

The other thing which has happened is that I have moved house, job and city, all in one go. I have returned to Leicester, where I spent many formative years, to take up the post of Sacristan and cleaner to my home parish. I had an e-mail from Fr. Prior, offering me the post, as their Sacristan has gone on to pastures new, for whom I was very pleased, as he has been a wonderful inspiration and example to me.

I was somewhat shocked to be offered the post: it is a very difficult job to do well, as I'm discovering; but the community have been very kind and welcoming, and understanding of my mistakes &c, as I settle in.

The days are quite long, and fairly hard work- both physical and mental work, as well as prayer: as well as three- four Masses a day (at least one in the Extraordinary Form) there is Office twice daily, and also there is an active devotional life in the parish, with exposition on Wednesdays, and perpetual novena on Saturdays. I am also taking some getting used to the change in timetable and having to get up and got to bed two or three hours earlier than I'm used to. However, once I'm up, and have sung the Office and served Mass and it's not even 9am, it does feel all very constructive, and very worthwhile as well.

This is also where the not drinking comes in handy, as it means I'm less inclined to slip out for a pint or what have you. I am working to the principle that God has created me for some definite service, and, since He knows what He is about, has decided to remove this particular pleasure from me, for one reason or other, which I may not like in the short term, but he knows what he is about. It also means I'm more likely to make it to Lauds.

Monday, 23 August 2010

On the Worthlessness of Mary

Will great round to writing the next day of Downside up in the near future. In the meantime, here is a little something on our Lady- my first attempt at anything homiletic/ theological.

Our Lady has a great many, very beautiful titles: Mirror of Justice, Seat of Wisdom, Tower of Ivory, Ocean of Bitterness, House of God, Morning Star, Mother of Perpetual Help, and so on ad infinitum. For every conceivable aspect of human need, there is a title of Our Lady that we may name her, and beg her help and intercession and gain what we require, either for spiritual or material aid.

This is all well and good- I have an especial devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, who’s intercession I have sought a great many times, and never without success. She is also Patroness of my diocese (Middlesbrough) - but one title we never hear is “Mary most Worthless”. I was suddenly, through misreading “worthiness” struck by this; that Our Lady, the Mother of God, and Assumed and Glorious Queen of Heaven, conceived without sin, and first of all creation, is in fact, of herself of no worth.

Except for Grace.

Through the operation of Grace; that is through the loving kindness of our God; all generations call her blessed. It was Grace that rescued her from ever being in original sin, and from ever committing the slightest sin making her the fairest of all women. None of this is achieved by herself through her own merits. Without God deigning to bestow on her an infinite number of Graces, and making her the Theotokos, she would have been no better than she ought to be; just like the rest of us.

And yet she is just like the rest of us; she was created by God, in His image and likeness, as we all are; she is a God bearer- as we all are whenever we receive Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament; she is a recipient of God’s mercy and loving kindness; and many, many other ways.

I am nervous of the term which seems to be so prevalent among the Orthodox Churches of “Deification”. I don’t know why, it is a very good term for what God desires to happen to us, that over time, as with John the Baptist, He increases, as I decrease, we draw closer, and closer to the Godhead, until we become God: until we are so lost in God, so hidden in the face of the Almighty (to quote Bernard of Clairvaux) that all our flaws have been lost, even our littlest sins and peccadilloes are smoothed away that we achieve (I don’t want to use the phrase, but work with me on this) perfection- we become one with the Godhead.

This is what, I think, has happened to Mary; she has become so intimate and so close to God; not just because she bore Him for nine months in the womb, not just because she was the one who taught Him his religion, because our Lord says in response to “Blessed is the woman who bore thee”, “Nay, Blessed rather is he who hears the word of God and keeps it”. Would our Lady be so worthy of praise if she had not been the perfect example she was? What if she’d gone off the rails and hit the Gin? Who knows? Does it really matter? Probably not. I suspect that was nor part of the Almighty’s plan, to which she was utterly submissive.

But the impression I get is that she is worthy of praise and adoration because she is the most perfect follower of Christ, more so than for her having borne our Lord in the womb. But she did, and she is and she was, if that makes sense. And through this, through her pondering all things in her Immaculate Heart, she drew ever closer to God and closer and closer and closer, until she had diminished to the point where she only displays the will and love of God- can one think of Mary except as the God bearer? Would we think of her at all if she had not been the God bearer, if she had instead become a proud and domineering housewife, feared and respected in Nazareth? I suspect not; her name would have died with the last person who remembered her. So through her humility, through her utter obedience to God, through her loosing herself totally in Him, she has become Mirror of Justice, Seat of Wisdom, Tower of Ivory, Ocean of Bitterness, House of God, Morning Star, Mother of Perpetual Help, &c., &c. And not Mary most worthless, Mary most unremembered.

This may all be abundantly clear to everyone, but it had never really occurred to me.