Friday 31 August 2012

A big thank-you to Canon MacDonald of Cheltenham

From next Wednesday, 5th September, the people of the Gloucestershire town of Cheltenham and its surrounding area will once again be able to attend the Traditional Latin Mass in the town. It will be offered at 6 pm on the first Wednesday of each month, at the church of St Gregory the Great. The parish website is here, and contains a link to its latest newsletter. I was delighted to see that the following announcement appears:
Monthly Mass in the Extraordinary Form

Beginning this week, on the first Wednesday of each month, an extra Mass will be offered at St Gregory’s according to the older Latin form of the liturgy. Fr Alex Redman of the Latin Mass Society and parish priest at Dursley has kindly agreed to take on this responsibility and the Masses will be celebrated at 6.00pm in St Gregory’s. All welcome. The parish Mass on Wednesdays will continue to be celebrated at 9.30am as usual.
There are three parishes in the town. All the Masses and other services, in all three churches, are published in the newsletters of each of the parishes. I am delighted to see that the forthcoming Extraordinary Form Mass is included in the list for all to see.

I think the announcement in the St Gregory’s newsletter is very well worded, and I particularly like the warmth of “All welcome”. Thank you so much, Canon MacDonald!

Picture from Google Images, courtesy of the website of St Gregory's sister-parish of St Thomas More.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Shoulderings, Part 3 of 3: The Garment

And then there is the garment, or robe. A strange thing to consider in regard to shouldering a burden, but please bear with me.

I should mention at the start that I haven't included St Paul's references to the wearing of armour, except incidentally in one quotation.  I'm considering the garment as the sign of conversion and faith, of the joy of repentance and forgiveness, of responsibility, and of glory.

Conversion and faith
Here is a stern warning in Matthew 22: 11-14: “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

There is a helpful footnote to this text in my Bible: “The wedding garment represents the dispositions necessary for admission to the kingdom”.

The joy of repentance and forgiveness
Here is the beautiful conclusion to the parable of the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15:21-24: “And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ ”

This is a mixture of Scripture and personal anecdote.  Here is St Paul to the Romans (13:11-14):
"... You know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand.  Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires."

The idea of putting on Christ, like a garment, is a vivid and indeed a physical image.  "Image" it may be, but St Paul seems to be urging it as a reality: that virtue - in its original meaning of strength and manliness - is a spiritual garment; that Christ Himself is our garment and our virtue.  That when we try to do good and avoid wrongdoing, it is a manifestation of that garment resting on our shoulders.

And now the personal anecdote.  I'm rather prone to daydreaming.  A bad habit in many ways, but occasionally it is more considered and it leads to some useful reflections.  This particular one, which was rather gloomy, ended with a heartfelt little prayer of that odd sort we make up ourselves, barely articulate:  "I'm just a bit of rubbish."  I'm making no claims for what came next, because it sounded suspiciously like my very own voice in my head:  "Yes, but you're My bit of rubbish; so put this robe on."  Well, the first idea made me laugh; but the second gave me quite a start.  Interestingly, it was this experience that prompted the reflections that led  to this series of posts on the various kinds of shoulderings.

But back to the robe or garment.  I can't back this up with any quotation, but it feels as though each person's garment is perfectly suited to that individual.  Also, that it is a working garment, laid on our shoulders for a purpose. Each of us is to be , in an important or obscure way, an envoy, an ambassador. 

By temperament I am nearer to the unconfident end of the scale. With that in mind, if it were only me doing this work of giving witness, it would be utterly daunting. But I now try to think of myself as wearing this robe, at moments when I would otherwise quail and retreat; and there is a dignity about the knowledge of it, and a kindliness, and these qualities are not mine, but the Lord’s, to Whom the garment really belongs. It is one of those surprising little joys of life to have become aware of this.

It was while I was mulling over this little series that I was reminded of another robe, in a much darker scene. Here it is, in John 19:2-6: “The soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on His head, and clothed Him in a purple robe; they came up to Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck Him with their hands. Pilate went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in Him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’ When the chief priests and the officers saw Him they cried out, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’ ” 

The soldiers used the robe to mock what they had been told about Jesus, and the crown of thorns both to mock and to torture Him. In the minds of the Jewish leaders it probably went too close for comfort, contributing to the frenzy of their rejection.  As for us, we see the Suffering King, His suffering inseparable from His kingship.  This is a dark glory.

In happy contrast, another Scriptural passage has been brought to my mind.  This one concerns a garment of unalloyed glory. It is from Revelation 19:7-8: “ ‘The marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure’ – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”  If I'm to get my fine linen, it's definitely a work in progress ...

Finally ...
...  to tie everything in this series together, there is a phrase from the New Testament which occurred to me while I was writing these posts: “The weight of glory”. These words appear in St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (4:16-18), and they seem to link together the different kinds of shoulderings: the unseeing quality of our lives, like the lives of the oxen; the affliction of our personal crosses; and the glory the Lord intends for us.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer man is wasting away, our inner man is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Picture from, via Google Images

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Shoulderings, Part 2 of 3: The Cross

The cross, and indeed the Cross. Luke 9:23: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Matt 10:38: “He who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” Very sobering, that second one.

And then there is the Cross, on that dreadful journey to Calvary. Matthew 27:32: “As they were marching out, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry His cross.”   The second and third accounts of the scene each add a detail.  Mark 15:21: “And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry His cross”; Luke 23:26: “And as they led Him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus.” 

Several years ago I heard some words in a young priest’s homily which have remained with me ever since. He said, “For each of us, the cross is that thing which we would least wish to bear.”*

Simon most certainly did not want to bear it. He was forced.

St Alphonsus Liguori, in his reflection on the fifth Station of the Cross, attributes the conscription of Simon to the fear of the Jewish leaders that Jesus would die on the way to Calvary, when they wished him to die an ignominious death on the cross. This passage gave rise to a strange experience some weeks ago, when I was standing at the fifth Station in the church of St Mary-on-the-Quay in Bristol.

In this representation, Simon is bent forward with the full weight of the cross on his back. He has turned his face in our direction, to look up at Jesus, Who is walking beside him. I had a horrible intuition from the look on Simon’s face: he knew all too well that this was no act of compassion he had been forced to undertake. He was carrying the cross so that in a little while Jesus would undergo a far, far more terrible agony. He was in fact making it worse for Jesus. And he knew it. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for his unwillingness: a sense of desperate pity that would have preferred the poor suffering Man to die quickly under the weight of the cross, and get it over with. But Simon had no choice. The sheer awfulness of it suddenly became very real to me. You never know what will come to you when you follow the Stations of the Cross.

*As a matter of interest, the priest was Dom Paul Gunter, who is now the Secretary of the Liturgy Commission of the Bishops of England and Wales.

Picture from, via Google Images

Monday 13 August 2012

Shoulderings, Part 1 of 3: The Yoke

I thought I would gather together some of the passages in the New Testament which refer to the shouldering of a load. It is not a complete collection, but I thought you might like to see the results. It’s quite long, so I’ve divided it into three instalments.

The Yoke

Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Shoulder My yoke, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden light.”

When we think about it, that is a most astonishing thing for a wandering preacher to say. It pierces to our hearts; what must it have been like for those who heard these words actually spoken by Jesus?

To people in Britain, the idea of the yoke tends to conjure up the solitary yoke of the milkmaid. The older ones among us may remember the large roadside advertisements, showing the Ovaltine milkmaid. I don’t know why it took me so long, but I must have been in my forties when I first began to associate the yoke of Christ with the shared yoke of the oxen.

I have heard it said that the farmer takes an ox that is new to the work and teams it with a more experienced animal. As they go along, the older ox guides and supports his partner. Thus the weaker partner is never left to cope alone; and neither are we.

Another important feature is that the oxen cannot see behind them. Their work is just to go on, ploughing the land. It is the farmer who decides what to plant, sows it, waters it and harvests it. I suppose it never occurs to the oxen that the crops are the fruit of their labours. But perhaps the Lord may grant us a glimpse, one day, of the harvest - whether small or great - that has been gathered from our unseeing efforts.

Picture from, via Google Images

Friday 10 August 2012

"To work for the eternal benefit of every area of life"

Here is a quick translation of an interesting article I read today in Messa in Latino .  It is in fact an editorial published by Radicati nella Fede (Rooted in the Faith). The translation may contain a few mistakes, but it was done in some haste.  I ought to be getting on with other things, such as the ironing.

Summorum Pontificum: A double-edged sword

Don’t worry, we do not want to criticise the Holy Father’s document, we only want to say that it can be used in different ways, depending on people’s intentions.

Indeed, we have witnessed a strange phenomenon, these past five years: everyone, or nearly everyone, has appealed to Summorum Pontificum, whether those who wanted the return of the tradition of Catholicity to the churches, or those who wanted to obstruct it, to prevent it from disturbing the new process of violent modernisation which had been introduced nearly half a century ago.

We had already stated this in July 2007. Enthusiasts began to celebrate in the Vetus Ordo (the traditional Mass), rejoicing in the liberalisation miraculously wrought by Benedict XVI, and the curias intervened to say that what they were doing was not the real intention of the Holy Father. Let us all spare ourselves the shilly-shallying of that time, with the bitter disputes as to what was a “private Mass” and what wasn’t: it reached the point of claiming that priests were free to celebrate the “old” Mass alone, behind closed doors, with, at the most, one well-trained server … the more private, the more likely to die out, it has to be said! … it reached the point of requiring the details of everyone who requested and attended the traditional Mass, contrary to “privacy”; they tried to forbid catechesis and preaching. All this was done by referring to various juridical quibbles in the papal document: to juridical quibbles, not to the substance.

Then they decided to discredit the traditional faithful behind the scenes, with the magic words … “They are disobedient”, without providing any further details.

In a Church where chaos reigns over everything, where very few now accept all the truths of the Creed without exclusion, where the Commandments are accepted or rejected as one pleases, where parish priests can hardly ask anything of the faithful any more, for fear of being subjected to public judgment, where the Pope is criticised according to personal taste (sympathetic/antipathetic), where even in the confessionals the moral law is often made up by the priest on duty at the time, who is more or less “open” to the new and urgent needs of human life, it is very strange that the only ones who are “disobedient” are the priests and faithful who love Tradition!

Is it not that the question of obedience is brought up only to stop the return to Tradition? How many faithful have been scared off like this, by hissing in their ears, “Watch out! They are disobedient”? But have those who have hissed in this way subsequently taken care of their listeners’ souls? We fear not; their only desire was that of detaching them from Tradition.

It is a thing that remains the central point of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, the substance of it: “The traditional Mass was never abolished”. This is the clear point. It is necessary to start from this in order to understand one another. The traditional Mass is not a concession, it is a reality, it forms part of the life of the Church. Hence it is a matter of justice not to stop it, this Mass of all time, not to impede its fruits, either by the explicit means of prohibitions, or by those crafty methods of instilling doubts.

It was never abolished. So leave it free to work for the eternal benefit of every area of life. It was never abolished, it has been the Mass of centuries and centuries of Christianity, it has made the saints of the Church … and so, what are you afraid of? Yes, what are you afraid of? If the faith of the Church is the faith of all time, why be afraid of the Mass of all time? Unless someone thinks that the faith changes in accordance with the particular era; but this is another story; it is called “modernism”; it is a beautiful, good heresy – or, on the contrary, it is the same as all the heresies.

And so, the person who thinks it is necessary to modernise the faith is the disobedient one: and this is disobedience, the unique and most serious disobedience: the disobedience not only against human laws, but against the faith.”

Picture from (The Archdiocese of Washington) via Google Images