‘“For the joy that was set before him”, Jesus endured the cross. So must we bear all the discipline of God. Our sufferings do not come to us because God has withdrawn his loving purpose, but because we need them in order to be fitted for that purpose.
If we could have loved God in some better way than by suffering, Jesus would have chosen that better way. Oh, it is sweet to suffer, since Jesus has suffered! Suffering is no transitory trouble. Suffering is, to the faithful in Jesus Christ, the very beginning of eternal joy. Suffering makes life sweet by expectation. Death sums up all the sweet hopes of life, and admits the faithful to the secure possession of that which they have desired.
…It is darkness which prepares us, darkness which preserves us, darkness which perfects us.
…If we would really share the joy of the resurrection, we must accept it as a true solace for all times of suffering. As we are Christ’s members, we must own the power of his resurrection working within us, while we are made conformable to his death. As suffering and death are the porch through which we pass to joy, we must find the power of love strengthening us in all suffering to feel the sympathy of his presence. He who has not shared the cross cannot share the resurrection’.
Richard Meux Benson SSJE, 1824-1915
Since blood is fittest, Lord, to write
Thy sorrows in, and bloody fight;
My heart hath store; write there, where in
One box doth lie both ink and sin:
That when sin spies so many foes,
Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes,
All come to lodge there, sin may say,
No room for me, and fly away.
Sin being gone, oh fill the place,
And keep possession with thy grace;
Lest sin take courage and return,
And all the writings blot or burn.
George Herbert, 1593-1633
A few pictures of today’s Mass for Palm Sunday, offered in the domestic oratory, which included the Blessing of Palms and the recitation of the St Matthew Passion, and boosted by some sung prayers and a bit of Merbecke. Palms, originally intended for church, were repurposed, and blessed palm crosses were, following Mass, placed outside the house for collection by parishioners. It was both touching and encouraging to spy a steady stream of parishioners throughout the day making the journey. I noted also that a goodly number watched the live stream of the Mass and it was a real comfort to celebrate and preach in the knowledge that I wasn’t really ‘alone’. Much is said in this new dispensation about the necessity of such online provisions for the sake of the faithful. And I’m sure that’s true, but I’ve been surprised at just how important it’s become for me - as a priest without his people - to be supported by the ‘presence’ of so many watching, listening, and praying behind me.
The experiment with live streaming Mattins and Evensong also seemed to work, and so this is how Holy Week this year goes. There are possibilities to be realised in this time; things to be lost, things to be gained. Fears to be dispelled. Our faith, our hopes, and our loves to be deepened. No use lamenting. Crosses must be borne. A journey must be had. A Resurrection we await.
O God, fill us with the divine humility of Christ: that, having the same mind that was also in him, we may look not every one on his own things, but every one also on the things of others, emptying our wills of pride, and our hearts of complaining, and laying down our glories before the cross; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Given the present absence of much parochial activity, today was a surprisingly busy eve of Palm Sunday. Changed – simpler, even – circumstances to usual preparations seem to have created more logistical challenges and obstacles to be overcome. How to convey the dramatic power and glory of Saint Matthew’s Passion narrative sans Chronista, Christus, Synagoga, and Victoria’s sublime choruses? How loud do I have to raise my voice in order to be heard on the livestream? Is that too loud? Will the birdsong coming through the open window distract? The logistics of how to make it all work in a tiny space are new. Finding a table (and a cloth, and a basket) for the palms. Remembering to have holy water ready. And the palms themselves (can’t unwrap them too early, lest they dry out before Mass). Knowing what sits on the legilium, and what doesn’t, and what I might need ready at the altar. Making sure folk know what’s on, when, how to access it. And so on. Laying out the vestments. Tending to the candles. And so on as Holy Week progresses. At present, then, parochial ministry is as much a matter of remembering things as it is tending to hearts, minds, and souls with the right words in homilies, the creative availability of the Sacrament of Penance, and new ways of keeping people together and connected. Such is the gift and the opportunity of ministry in these days.
Lest, though, we feel too overwhelmed or confused by this Holy Week now upon us, perhaps there’s something apposite in the muddled preparations and their inherent emotions of disorientation and loss, tinged with hope for a brighter future. Is that not the story of this Week, and the mood of Palm Sunday, in particular? Christ rides on in majesty, yes, but he rides on to die. The 17th century Welsh mystical poet, Henry Vaughan, captures the tenor well, and helps to put all this into its proper perspective.
Put on, put on your best array;
Let the joy’d rode make holy-day,
And flowers that into fields do stray,
Or secret groves, keep the high-way.
Trees, flowers and herbs; birds, beasts and stones,
That since man fell, expect with groans
To see the lamb, which all at once,
Lift up your heads and leave your moans!
For here comes he
Whose death will be
Mans life, and your full liberty.
from Palm-Sunday by Henry Vaughan, 1621-1695
In both the Ordinariate and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite, one week exactly before Good Friday, Our Lady of Sorrows is today commemorated. In the Ordinariate it is known as ‘Saint Mary in Passiontide’, a day to recall the sufferings of Our Blessed Lady at the foot of the Cross of her Son. A poem to share for this day, Pietà, by the Welsh Anglican priest R.S. Thomas (1913-2000), written in 1966.
Always the same hills
Crown the horizon,
Of the still scene.
And in the foreground
The tall Cross,
Aches for the Body
That is back in the cradle
Of a maid’s arms.
It is the greatness of Thy love, dear Lord, that we would celebrate
With sevenfold powers.
Our love at best is cold and poor, at best unseemly for Thy state,
This best of ours.
Creatures that die, we yet are such as Thine own hands deigned to create:
We frail as flowers,
We bitter bondslaves ransomed at a price incomparably great
To grace Heaven’s bowers.
Thou callest: “Come at once” — and still Thou callest us: “Come late, tho’ late” --
(The moments fly) --
“Come, every one that thirsteth, come” — “Come prove
Me, knocking at My gate” --
(Some souls draw nigh!) --
“Come thou who waiting seekest Me” — “Come thou for whom I seek and wait” --
(Why will we die?) --
“Come and repent: come and amend: come joy the joys unsatiate” --
— (Christ passeth by...) --
Lord, pass not by — I come — and I — and I.
Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
Although the following was penned 137 ago this Lent, Edward King’s words, especially in the first paragraph, seem almost prophetic. A reminder, perhaps, that the feelings and emotions associated with the present abnormality in our domestic, social, educational, working, and ecclesiastical lives, is nothing new, and that in all and through all there remains an abiding, unchanging, and objective joy underpinning all things and events in our individual and corporate lives. Can we, then, see this time as an opportunity to give up ourselves and so grow in trustfulness and hopefulness?
‘[Y]ear after year, as Passiontide after Passiontide goes round, and we see people getting old around us, and more nervously distrustful, and more melancholy, and undergoing all the manifold sufferings of this world, getting out of spirits, and feeling themselves failing, and that they cannot enjoy things as they used; money and pleasure will not do what they used for them; they feel physically used up – we feel that all this is not so with the spiritual nature. The nearer we get to God the more we see of Him; the more satiated we are with love for Him; the more spiritual power we receive; the more strength comes to us. And all this grows, as year after year in Passiontide we gain an ever-increasing trust in the death of Christ. And whether it is a wet or fine Easter; whether we have a fine service here in London, or a dull one all alone down in the country, this unchanging joy is the same in our hearts, the joy which makes Good Friday indeed good, and Easter Day exceedingly bright, the one thought, He died for me!
When we really realise this, we dare think of His coming again in great glory, we dare look forward to the Judgement Day, and on to heaven beyond!
We ought, each one of us, to be growing in this spirit of even trustfulness and hopefulness, for we know there is nothing of our own to trust in, but only the merits of Christ. And this spirit would be growing in each one of us, if we did not shrink from availing ourselves of all the helps He has provided for us in His Church. We should be able to say, “The Precious Blood of Christ cleanses me from all sin. It is mine. It marks my soul”.
… Do not let Passiontide come and go this year, as if the Atonement was a distant thing – with no particular application to yourself – but try and bring it home in this way to your own soul, and you will find an ever-increasing and abiding peace.
He gave up all, and died for me; the very least we can do is to give up ourselves entirely to Him. Do not go and use this means of grace selfishly, in order that we may say, “Oh, I feel so happy; I am cleansed from all my sins!” But what must follow? We must give ourselves to Him. Let this one act be our chief devotional exercise this Passiontide – to reconsecrate ourselves, for the rest of our lives to His service’.
from an address given in Lent 1883 by Edward King, 1829-1910
(Anglican Bishop of Lincoln, 1885-1910)
In pious memory of Father Andrew SDC, who died on this day in 1946, a passage from a Holy Week meditation on the death of self.
‘The whole reason of our Lord’s death was that there might be life more abundant.
We have to try to die with our Lord if we would rise with Him. Our Lord’s life was in a mystical sense a daily dying. There came the day when He completely died, in darkness, shame, and pain, and in proportion to the completeness of His death was the completeness and the perfection of His Resurrection.
All of us have some particular weakness of our own, a quick temper, laziness, or some kind of selfishness. It is to this that we must learn to die daily, if we would live the new life in Christ. If we allow our bodies by their desires to dull our devotion and obscure our spiritual vision, then we live to the flesh and die to Christ, but if we keep them in subjection, then we die to the flesh and live to Christ.
We must die to our own self-will. The reason we do things should be because we believe them to be in harmony with the will of God. We must die to our own self-love. The saints have always been at peace with themselves, because they have never thought about themselves. Only out of the death of self-love can there be a resurrection to the love of God’.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
The framer called to say that the print was ready for collection, and so off into the strong winds of Vancouver Island it was. There is no lockdown here (yet), and so long as folk observe the requisite social distance and keep to under 50 then British Columbians are free to move around and pick up their much-anticipated framed prints. I began to collect these 1970s Church Literature Association reproductions of the works of the artist Martin Travers (background here, especially in the comments) after an initial benefaction by Mgr W. This copy comes via Glastonbury and, appropriately, has made its home on the wall on this Monday of Passion Week, thus lending itself to an excerpt from Mgr Ronald Knox’s sermons on the Cross, preached four years after the creation of the original Travers image. Hard to beat the heady fusion 1920s Catholic art and homiletics...
‘In the words of the Imitation of Christ, we have to live a dying life. A life from which the thought of our death-bed is never wholly absent, giving us a contempt of worldly things, giving us a sense of urgency and haste, because our time is so short. “Ye are dead” (St Paul tells us), “and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. As the children of Israel passed to their deliverance through the dark waters of the Red Sea, so Christ, our Leader, delivered us by passing, on Good Friday, through the dark gates of the tomb. In baptism, we have all mystically achieved that ordeal by water, we have all been mystically identified with Christ’s death – buried with him (St Paul says again) in baptism. “As dying, and behold we live”; it is only in proportion as we are dead to the world that we live to him.
As Christ upon the Cross in death reclined,
Into his Father’s arms his parting soul resigned,
So now herself my soul would freely give
Into his sacred charge to whom all spirits live;
So now beneath his eye would calmly rest
Without a wish or thought abiding in the breast;
Save that his Will be done, what e’er bedite,
Dead to herself, and dead in him to all beside’.
Mgr Ronald Knox, 1888-1957
Today’s historic Rededication of England as the Dowry of Mary – centred naturally on the Image of Our Lady of Walsingham, the premier Marian shrine in that realm - brought to mind memories of many happy and peaceful pilgrim visits to Our Lady’s sanctuary there. Walsingham has long held a special place in my devotional and spiritual life; a place that offers safe harbour, protection, respite from the busyness of the world, and the sense of home beyond home. Entering into the Holy House – which remains the first pilgrim port of call in the village for those of us in the Ordinariate, as it did in our Anglican days – is an act to be accompanied by deep sigh of relief. Words from the 43rd Psalm, fittingly part of the Introit for today’s Mass for Passion Sunday, mark every pilgrim’s First Visit – ‘I will go into the house of the Lord, even the house of my joy and gladness’ – echoing and underlying that sense of homecoming and also of the joy – Mary’s joy – in the mystery of the Incarnation, to which Walsingham bears witness.
A fourth Canadian pilgrimage was planned for the spring of next year but, as with much else, that has had to be put on hold until a clearer path can be discerned in the wake of evolving circumstances due to the global pandemic. So for now, and for a little while longer, as with the Eucharistic fast, may we be content with and comforted by many spiritual visits to Walsingham, pledging our love and devotion to Our Blessed Lady, under that ancient title, and pleading to her for the conversion of England (and wherever else we may live), the restoration of the sick, consolation for the afflicted, and peace for the departed.
Here is Fr Alfred Hope Patten’s (Anglican) prayer ‘to Our Lady of Walsingham When Absent’, from an old copy of the Walsingham Pilgrim Manual.
Most holy Virgin! I prostrate myself in spirit before thy Shrine at Walsingham, that Sanctuary favoured by thy visits, favours and many miracles. I unite myself with all those who have ever sought thee, and do now seek thee, in that holy place, and join my prayers with theirs. But especially I unite my intentions with the intentions of the Priests who offer the holy sacrifice upon thy Altar there. I offer thee my love and devotion, asking thee to remember for all eternity that I am numbered among the pilgrims who have sought thy intercession in the Sanctuary of thy choice. I renew the promises and intentions I made when it was my privilege to salute thee at thy Shrine in the Vale of the Stiffkey. Dear Mother, Our Lady of Walsingham, remember me.
This evening my family and I completed our novena to Our Lady of Walsingham and recited the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary in preparation for tomorrow’s rededication of England as Our Lady’s Dowry. In normal circumstances, in the context of the parish’s Sunday worship, we would have done our bit to celebrate this historic occasion - the renewal of a personal promise of the English people, and of the entrustment vows made by King Richard II in 1381 - with formal devotions before the parish’s Image of Our Lady of Walsingham, and sprinkling with holy water from the village.
Alas, it is not to be. Instead, the rededication will now take place behind closed doors in churches and homes across England and the world, as indeed will be the case here in Victoria. Following the Noon Mass I will lead our prayers and conclude with the Act of Entrustment. It may, on the surface, seem the circumstances have rendered this day all a bit low key, but that would be to miss something of the essential nature of this timely consecration. The absence of a big ‘do’ should not be interpreted as a failure; rather it offers an opportunity to emphasise the personal and intimate character of this consecration; that it is about dedicating oneself and claiming Mary as my Queen and my Mother; that England, and its diaspora, are converted not by grand gestures but by small acts of witness and of love.
I’ll let Fr Christopher Hilton, Cong. Orat., a much-revered family friend and priest of the Manchester Oratory, have the last word on all of this. Listen to what he has to say. His memorisation of a section of Cardinal Newman’s introduction to his Second Spring sermon is a particular a joy to behold.
‘Arise, Mary, and go forth in thy strength into that north country, which once was thine own, and take possession of a land which knows thee not. Arise, Mother of God, and with thy thrilling voice, speak to those who labour with child, and are in pain, till the babe of grace leaps within them! Shine on us, dear Lady, with thy bright countenance, like the sun in his strength, O stella matutina, O harbinger of peace, till our year is one perpetual May. From thy sweet eyes, from thy pure smile, from thy majestic brow, let ten thousand influences rain down, not to confound or overwhelm, but to persuade, to win over thine enemies’.
St John Henry Newman, pray for us.
Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.
Some encouraging words and practical advice from the late Cardinal Hume on the theme of pain and suffering. As we enter this Sunday into Passiontide and contemplate the reality of a church-less Holy Week, it will be especially important to draw as close as we can to the Crucified One and so lay before God all that does not make sense, all that seems lost, all that hurts. We can be honest with God about how we feel, but only if we seek, in exchange, to understand truly how God is always honest with us - especially in those difficult and often unwelcome moments of suffering and loss - about the reality of our lives, our loves, our very purpose in this life and the next.
‘Suffering comes to each one of us. We cannot escape it. The list is familiar: illness, mental anguish, old age, loneliness, heartbreak, disappointments, unkindnesses, the loss of a loved one – everyday problems no doubt, but painful experiences which can drain us of energy and take the joy out of living. It is easy to allow ourselves to become bitter and unhappy. We refuse to accept. We do not try to understand, and the pain is then worse. How do we escape from that danger?
It is, I suggest, by realising that every pain and each trial is a call from God to each one personally to become holy, to draw closer to him. God speaks clearly through pain. It is not that we should seek suffering for ourselves, that would be wrong. It is a gift from God rich in blessings and reward, but only if it makes us more Christ-like and greater lovers of our Father.
In times of trial we must never cease to pray… we can pray, as he did on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That is a powerful prayer when the trial is very great. Our Lord’s suffering was so intense that he felt that even his Father no longer cared.
There will be times when we shall feel incapable of using words or, even more difficult, of having fine thoughts. It is helpful then just to sit or kneel, gazing at the crucifix. That is an excellent way of praying. You may feel wretched, overcome, sad, bewildered – but go on looking at the crucifix and it will tell you its secret. We shall understand that suffering and pain, and death as well, have now a special dignity and value precisely because Christ, who is God, experienced them’.
Basil, Cardinal Hume OSB, 1923-1999
Some timely words by the great Father Andrew, a monk of the Anglican religious community, the Society of Divine Compassion.
‘In Lent we gaze at the divine figure of our Lord, and two things are brought specially before us, His temptation in the wilderness, and His suffering and death at Jerusalem. For Him, as for us and for every one, the real religious conflict must be fought in solitude... Lent calls each one of us personally to imitate our Lord’s retirement into the wilderness by the deepening of our own spiritual adventure, to honour His Passion by bringing into our lives deliberate self-denial, to expect that the reality of our faith and prayer will have its proving in the common contacts and experiences of life. The Christian’s faith issues in the Christian’s life; the Christian’s life is proved by the Christian’s sacrifice. We have to fight out our own spiritual battle in solitude and silence’.
- Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
A sunny and warm start to the afternoon today, which cheered the four of us gathered for Mass on the solemn feast of the Annunciation (‘of our Lady’, as the 1662 Prayer Book calls it), offered for the recovery of a parishioner following recent surgery. Daffodils were picked from the garden and placed next to the statue of the Madonna and Child, happily recused from their sad abode in a West Lancashire storeroom a few months ago. Last year I posted the following, by the essential Caryll Houselander. Her words this Lady Day - rich in the language of surrender, trust, and sacrifice - are worth repeating, not only today, but time and again as we seek meaning and pupose amidst the things we have involuntarily surrendered.
‘Our Lady said yes for the human race. Each one of us must echo that yes for our lives. We are all asked if we will surrender what we are, our humanity, our flesh and blood to the Holy Spirit and allow Christ to fill the emptiness formed by the particular shape of our life. The surrender that is asked of us includes complete and absolute trust; it must be like Our Lady’s surrender, without condition and without reservation. What we shall be asked to give is our flesh and blood, our daily life, our thoughts, our service to one another, our affections and loves, our words, our intellect, our waking, working and sleeping, our ordinary human joys and sorrows - to God. To surrender all that we are, as we are, to the Spirit of Love in order that our lives may bear Christ into the world - that is what we shall be asked. Our Lady has made this possible. Her fiat was for herself and for us, but if we want God’s will to be completed in us as it was in her, we must echo her fiat’.
Caryll Houselander, 1901-1954
First Evensong of Lady Day has been said and tea and cake enjoyed to celebrate, in more muted a manner than usual, the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Our Lady of Walsingham, enthroned just to the left of where I say my Office, has been a great comfort in these days, especially as we’ve worked through the novena to her in preparation for Sunday’s rededication of England as her dowry. One of the prayers in the second form of the novena, as provided in the Ordinariate’s rather excellent St Gregory Prayer Book, addresses Our Lady with these words, ‘Our Lady of Walsingham, we commend to thy loving intercession our parish, its priests, deacons, and people. Guard us beneath thy loving protection from sin and sorrow, shield us against pride and envy, and all the snares of the devil; and teach us, loving thee, to love the Lord Jesus, and all souls for his sake’. Loving protection is absolutely what we all need at the moment, and Our Lady doesn’t disappoint in offering her loving maternal consolations and protection, especially in moments of great anxiety and distress.
Which is a nice segue to an e-mail received from my colleague Mgr Wilkinson this morning. He says that ‘one way we can keep our people focused on the season is through [the St Gregory Prayer Book]. There is of course a whole section on Lent and on Passiontide, and on Our Lady. People don’t know... what to say... this book would help them’. And he’s right. The book has proved indispensable on a number of liturgical and pastoral occasions; a treasury of our Anglican patrimony, user-friendly and full of gems not easily found elsewhere. I heartily recommend it, and even have a lead on a much-reduced offer. Contact me for details!
Lord, teach us how to pray aright
With rev’rence and with fear;
Though dust and ashes in thy sight,
We may, we must draw near.
We perish if we cease from prayer;
O grant us power to pray.
And when to meet thee we prepare,
Lord, meet us by the way.
James Montgomery, 1771-1854
Trying to settle into a new pattern I’m not altogether enthusiastic about is a challenge; especially for those of us who are priests, and particularly when one stumbles upon - or almost over - the large box propped up against the front door containing palms of varying dramatic size and purpose for two Sundays hence. It wasn’t the most welcome reminder of the weirdness of this time, or of the context-to-be of my first Holy Week in a new parochial setting. Oh well. Into the cool of the garage the box goes for now, its contents waiting to adorn - unintentionally and, I’m sure, flamboyantly - the inadequately sized domestic oratory on the second Sunday of the Passion.
The ‘work from home’ prescription doesn’t quite gel with the job description of a clergyman, especially beyond the confines of a monastic house... Nonetheless, like my cloistered brethren, I am grateful for the anchor that the Divine Office and Mass afford in gathering up into God not only the prayers and aspirations of my absent fold, but of my own desires and longings also. I feel kept on the straight and narrow: purposeful and useful, if only in the fulfilling of the very minimum of my priestly life.
How to find that anchor beyond the altar and the prie dieu, especially if, for a time, one no longer has access to it? Being creative with how to keep folk together - in touch, in communion, in sacris - is a test for priests and lay folk alike in these odd days of Minding the Gap. Social media helps to a degree, so too live streaming Masses and the like, but there may be a risk in the novelty of such things. I don’t know. Perhaps it will usher in a re-awakening of man’s lost love. We can certainly hope. All the same, we might, usefully, use this time - and its attendant hunger and thirst - for more intentional prayer, deeper self-examination and reflection of the things of the Spirit, inspired and out of the ordinary acts of charity, study, self-denial, sacrifice... in short, the things of Lent. Because seemingly in spite of all else, that hasn’t been cancelled. Our lives may yet be framed by its disciplines, themes, and challenges so that out of the chaos and confusion of those things to which we might it find difficult to adjust, accept, or believe, God may bring order, purpose, and meaning.
‘In order to try you, God puts before you things which are difficult to believe. St Thomas’ faith was tried; so is yours. He said “My Lord and My God”. You say so too. Bring your proud intellect into subjection. Believe what you cannot see, what you cannot understand, what you cannot explain, what you cannot prove, when God says it”. - St John Henry Newman.
An overcast Mothering Sunday today, in more ways than one, brightened a little by the use of an old rose Low Mass set in the Spanish style. This set, used only once a year, was given to me almost two decades ago by my then-Anglican parish priest in Manchester. He had, in turn, been given it by his confessor, a monk of the Anglican Benedictine community at Nashdom. So, a nice bit a patrimony on this most patrimonial of Sundays.
Had normal service been in operation we would have enjoyed the return of the organ, flowers at the altar, beautiful Marian hymns, rosa mystica incense, and the distribution of daffodils and simnel cake. Alas. Our opening hymn for the Solemn Mass was to have been The God of love my Shepherd is - the 23rd psalm - appointed for this ‘Refreshment Sunday’ in the English Hymnal. Words by Herbert, music by Dr Charles Collignon, who taught anatomy, of all things, at the University of Cambridge in the second half of the 18th century. His tune is thus called ‘University’. I think it sublime and deeply fitting for this time.
1. The God of love my Shepherd is,
And he that doth me feed;
While he is mine and I am his,
What can I want or need?
2. He leads me to the tender grass,
Where I both feed and rest;
Then to the streams that gently pass:
In both I have the best.
3. Or if I stray, he doth convert,
And bring my mind in frame,
And all this not for my desert,
But for his holy name.
4. Yea, in death’s shady black abode
Well may I walk, not fear;
For thou art with me, and thy rod
To guide, thy staff to bear.
5. Surely thy sweet and wondrous love
Shall measure all my days;
And, as it never shall remove,
So neither shall my praise.
George Herbert, 1593-1633
Under the watchful and maternal care of Our Blessed Lady, a Mass of Our Lady on Saturday was offered today for my absent parishioners, concluding with the Ave, Regina Caelorum. A number of penitents came for confession afterwards. Thoughts turned to Donne.
Absence, hear thou my protestation
Against thy strength,
Distance and length:
Do what thou canst for alteration,
For hearts of truest mettle
Absence doth join and Time doth settle.
Who loves a mistress of such quality,
His mind hath found
Beyond time, place, and all mortality.
To hearts that cannot vary
Absence is present, Time doth tarry.
My senses want their outward motion
Which now within
Reason doth win,
Redoubled by her secret notion:
Like rich men that take pleasure
In hiding more than handling treasure.
By Absence this good means I gain,
That I can catch her
Where none can watch her,
In some close corner of my brain:
There I embrace and kiss her,
And so enjoy her and none miss her.
‘That Time And Absence Proves Rather Helps Than Hurts To Loves’
by John Donne, 1572-1631
A view from my seat in my domestic oratory which also serves, following the daily private Mass, as a location for the faithful to come and make their confessions (albeit outside, duly observing the 6 ft required for proper social distancing!)
As I sit and wait, I pray and reflect on the dizzying events of recent days: the loss of life, the loss of employment, financial woes, families disrupted, normal friendships suspended, the fear of infection. And in my own sphere of godly work, the increased level of anxiety amongst the faithful, now travelling through the second half of this Lenten season in isolation, without opportunity to attend Mass, and facing the incomprehensible experience, for the first time in their lives, of Holy Week and Easter without the beauty, grandeur, and force of the ancient and sublime liturgies that signal the change in spiritual mood and tempo from Passiontide grief to Resurrection joy.
Recognising the great privilege I have in being able to offer the Holy Sacrifice in the presence of my family, I’m equally cognisant, perhaps more now than at any time in my life of priestly ministry, that what I offer to God I offer with a responsibility more intense and demanding than I’m able to recall. The hopes and fears, the hearts and minds of the faithful and their intentions, are with me more sharply, more painfully, and I feel it. Achingly so.
These domestic surroundings will now replace, for a time and season, the familiar setting of the parish church. It’s not the same, of course, but that difference has brought into sharper focus, for me at least, the great privilege of this Eucharistic banquet we so often take for granted. Perhaps, then, we can hope that this period of unforeseen Eucharistic fasting will make hearts grow fonder, rekindling a longing to return to God, their first love, and joy of their youth.
Glancing, in between words and ritual actions in the Mass, through the window into the emerging spring garden beyond, I’m reminded by George Herbert that hope is never far behind; that even as I plead the Lord’s Passion and Death, he ‘turneth all to gold’.
Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see,
And what I do in anything
To do it as for Thee.
A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.
This is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold;
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.
from The Elixir by George Herbert, 1593-1633
The first of many, alas, private Masses to be offered following the suspension of all public Masses in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter and the Diocese of Victoria. Today we honoured, with as much solemnity as could be mustered given the circumstances, Saint Joseph, Spouse of Our Blessed Lady and patron of Canada. This is indeed a painful time for those unable to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion; certainly a lot more than most intended giving up for Lent... As I go to the altar each day, though, I carry with me the hearts and intentions of those unable to be physically present with me in pleading the Holy Sacrifice. After today’s Mass we said the following prayer, apposite in its wording for our time, invoking the help of St Joseph.
To thee, O blessed Joseph, we fly in our tribulation and, after imploring the help of thy holy Spouse with confidence, we ask also for thy intercession. By the affection which united thee to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God and by the paternal love with which thou didst embrace the Child Jesus, we beseech thee to look kindly upon the inheritance which Jesus Christ acquired by his precious blood, and with thy powerful aid to help us in all our needs.
Protect, most careful guardian of the Holy Family, the chosen people of Jesus Christ. Keep us, loving father, from all pestilence of error and corruption. From thy place in heaven be thou merciful with us, most powerful protector, in this warfare with the powers of darkness; and as thou didst once rescue the Child Jesus from imminent danger of death, so now defend the holy Church of God from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity. Guard each of us by thy constant patronage, so that, sustained by thy example and help, we may live a holy life, die a holy death, and obtain the everlasting happiness of heaven. Amen. - The English Ritual.
V. Abide in me, and I in you;
R. For without me ye can do nothing.
Merciful Jesus, living in Mary, come and live in us thy servants: inspire us with thy purity, strengthen us with thy might, make us perfect in thy ways, guide us into thy truth, and unite us to thyself and to thy whole Church by thy holy mysteries; that we may conquer every adverse power and be wholly devoted to thy service and conformed to thy will, by thy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Christ, the everlasting Son of the Father, the Catholic King: come thou thyself to rule in our hearts, that the hatred of sin, the love of thy presence, the light of thy truth, and the joy of the Holy Ghost, may be there enthroned; and then in thy mercy bring us to the Kingdom where thou reignest in the glory of the eternal Trinity, for ever and ever. Amen.
In union, dear Lord, with all the faithful at every altar of thy Church where the blessed Body and Blood are being offered to the Father, I desire to offer thee praise and thanksgiving. I believe thou art truly present in the Most Holy Sacrament. And since I cannot now receive thee sacramentally, I beseech thee to come spiritually into my heart. I unite myself unto thee, and embrace thee with all the affections of my soul. Let me never be separated from thee. Let me live and die in thy love. Amen.
I worship thee, Lord Jesus, and kneeling unto thee, as thou didst come to Mary, I pray thee come to me. O most loving Jesus, O most blessed Saviour, come to me, I beseech thee, and unite me to thyself. Thou I cannot now receive thee sacramentally, yet I believe that thou art able, even when received by faith and desire only, to heal, enrich and sanctify me. Come thou spiritually into my heart. I desire to unite myself to thee with all the affections of my soul. Possess me wholly; let the consuming fire of thy love absorb me, and thy presence abide so intimately in me, that it will be no longer I that live, but thou who livest in me. Come, Lord Jesus, and dwell in my heart. Amen.
1. New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove;
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life and power and thought.
2. New mercies, each returning day,
Hover around us while we pray;
New perils past, new sins forgiven,
New thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.
3. If on our daily course our mind
Be set to hallow all we find,
New treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.
4. The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we need to ask,
Room to deny ourselves, a road
To bring us daily nearer God.
5. Only, O Lord, in thy dear love
Fit us for perfect rest above;
And help us, this and every day,
To live more nearly as we pray.
John Keble, 1792-1866
‘Life among other things is a great choice. Hell and heaven have to do with the individual will and that will’s choice. Each one must make his own choice. “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light” (St John 3.19). There is a story of a tyrant who made a man forge the chain with which he bound him. Our fatal choices are links in the chain that our will forges. Again, each one in holding to his choice will grow like that which he has chosen. Forgiveness does not mean that God says, “We will let the matter drop”, but that the will of the penitent effectively chooses the will of God. God’s mercy can never be indulgence for sin. God will abide by that choice which He has revealed to us in the character of the Beloved Son in Whom He is well pleased’.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
It is my Lent to break my Lent,
To eat when I would fast,
To know when slender strength is spent,
Take shelter from the blast
When I would run with wind and rain,
To sleep when I would watch.
It is my Lent to smile at pain
But not ignore its touch.
It is my Lent to listen well
When I would be alone,
To talk when I would rather dwell
In silence, turn from none
Who call on me, to try to see
That what is truly meant
Is not my choice. If Christ’s I’d be
It’s thus I’ll keep my Lent.
‘For Lent, 1966’ by Madeleine L’Engle, 1918-2007
‘As E.L. Mascall points out, it is the devil’s work which is always manifested in useless activity. Who as “a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…” He does not need to devour anything because he is not hungry; he just cannot keep still, and I suspect that we can get Satan into something of a diabolic panic if we show him that we can keep still. “Whom resist steadfast in the faith;” the stand-up fight has to come in the end, but it was Jesus’ forty days of silent preparation that got Satan bewildered and groggy in the first place.
…Lenten discipline is not for seeking the Lord, but for adopting the position where he can find us, in silence and solitude, in patient waiting not in hectic activity’.
Martin Thornton OGS, 1915-1986
Fr Lee Kenyon
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