Tuesday 29 December 2009

The Theme of the Kingdom

Thank you to Patricius and to JARay for their interesting comments on my previous post about the Luminous Mystery, “The Proclamation of the Kingdom”. It certainly seems to invite us to mine an extensive Scriptural seam.

JARay thinks of this Mystery in terms of the sending out of the 72 disciples: the ones who “came back rejoicing” at the wonders they had been able to perform through the power the Lord had given them. I like the idea: I am particularly fond of this episode.

For myself, the words that immediately come to mind are “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, spoken first by St John the Baptist, and then, following John’s imprisonment, by Jesus Himself, when He begins His own public ministry with the same words. But then I feel I have to look further: in particular, to those famous passages of gathered-together teaching in St Matthew’s Gospel:

The Sermon on the Mount, dealing with the morality and prayer life of the subjects of the Kingdom. This is the context in which Canon John Udris presents the Mystery, in his beautiful booklet “A New Illustrated Rosary” published – with a most charming and moving selection of mediaeval pictures - by the excellent Family Publications of Oxford.

The Parabolic Discourse, describing various characteristics of the Kingdom’s growth and its preciousness.

The parables attached to the Eschatological Discourse, warning us to live our lives in readiness to be called to account, because the Kingdom has an aspect of futurity as well as a presence among and within us.

And, of course, I think of the tremendous scene in which the Keys of the Kingdom are entrusted to St Peter.

Having written the above, I’m sure I have only touched on the subject – as evidenced by this article in New Advent’s Catholic Encyclopedia. All in all, there is so much to this Mystery – so different from all the others - that I feel I may benefit from meditating on just one or two aspects of it each time it is prayed.

Monday 21 December 2009

The Luminous Mysteries

Father Hunwicke's blog has raised in passing some interesting points about the Rosary, and in particular the Luminous Mysteries.

I have made two pilgrimages to Walsingham, the second of them about five years ago. During each visit we followed the custom of praying the Rosary as we walked in procession from Friday Market to the Slipper Chapel. The first time, we prayed the classical Rosary of fifteen Mysteries, finishing it when we were still at some distance from the Chapel. From that point we trudged along in silence; and then, as we approached the Chapel, its bell rang out to welcome us. It was a beautiful experience.

On the second visit, the Rosary included the Luminous Mysteries. The sound of the bell competed with our Glorious Mysteries; and we were well into the grounds before we had finished. I felt a slightly harassed atmosphere had overtaken the proceedings. I don’t know if they still attempt the twenty Mysteries these days.

This is only my personal view, but I don’t think the Luminous Mysteries should automatically be included in the recitation of the Rosary; and indeed I understand that they were offered by Pope John Paul II as an optional addition. Perhaps they could be prayed at times as a separate devotion. Each of the Luminous Mysteries is certainly of great importance as a subject for contemplation; although I confess that I have found “The proclamation of the Kingdom” to be rather diffuse, unlike the precise events referred to in the other nineteen Mysteries.

It took me some years to appreciate that the traditional three chaplets were not intended to say everything about the life of Christ, but were devised to represent the story of salvation as witnessed and experienced through the eyes of His beloved Mother. Once I had absorbed that, I started to appreciate – and, I hope, to benefit from - the riches of it. For the most part, I prefer to stick with this form of the Rosary.

Having said that, it happens just now that I am saying several chaplets each day, and I have started praying the Mysteries of Light to provide some variety. Still finding “The proclamation of the Kingdom” rather diffuse, though!

In case I’m not able to post anything more before Christmas, I’ll take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Day.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Evesham: A Wonderful Solemn High Mass

Thank you so much to the priests, the servers and the splendid choir for a wonderful Solemn High Mass yesterday evening at the church of St Mary and St Egwin in Evesham.

If you are in that part of Worcestershire, do visit the attractive little town of Evesham, and the fine old Catholic church on the High Street. The interior appears to have been very little affected by the post-Vatican II changes. The altar rails remain. A freestanding altar has been installed in front of the high altar; it is built of stone, of a similar design to the high altar, and is at a lower level. There is enough space beween the two to allow for the offering of Solemn High Mass at the upper altar. There is a beautiful reredos behind the main altar and behind each of the side altars; these two being hinged altarpieces or tryptychs. All were inset with lovely paintings.

We arrived about half an hour before the start of Mass, which allowed me enough time to follow the Stations of the Cross. They were startlingly vivid and affecting, painted in a style which made me think of continental Europe in the late Middle Ages. As I progressed from one Station to another, it was genuinely upsetting to see the face of Christ showing increasing evidence of His pain and suffering. It was a remarkable experience.

The Mass itself was so absorbing that I quite forgot about the intervening altar. When I was not watching the proceedings I was praying the prayers in my book, as were many others in theirs, no doubt; and the choir was singing and responding (joined at times by the congregation), and there was a general profusion of participatio actuosa: a tremendous sense of all of us being united with the priest who was making present this greatest Work of all.

Since the Mass was offered in celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the choir sang the Ave Maria during the Offertory. I find some musical settings of the prayer too syrupy; but they chose the setting by Jacobus (or Jacques) Arcadelt, a version which seems to combine stirring power with calm dignity and serenity. It was beautifully done, and I found myself moved to tears.

The church was well on the way to being full. It must have been a real joy to the priests and to all those involved who had put in such sterlng work, to have so many present for this happy occasion. Very well done!