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.

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.