We offered a very moving Solemn Requiem yesterday for Remembrance Sunday, concluding with the Absolution of the Dead, wherein we remembered and prayed for all those who gave their lives for others in the conflicts and wars of the past. On Saturday evening the annual Festival of Remembrance was broadcast on the BBC. One of the poems read aloud was the very moving High Flight, written by a 19 year-old RCAF pilot just a few months before his death over the skies of England. I’m surprised, after learning more about the fame of this poem, that I’d never come across it until this past weekend. I reproduce here.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee Jr, 1922-1941
Almighty and everlasting God: give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for Trinity XIV, Divine Worship: The Missal.
Heaven’s great triad still abideth,
The divinely blended Three,--
Faith, Hope, and Charity,--
Over all supreme presideth.
Faith in Him whose love protecteth,
And through sorrow, sin, and strife,
As His power to all gave life,
All controlleth, all directeth.
Hope – that like a constellation,
Ever smiling from above,
Brings with ever-living love
God’s bright promise of salvation.
Charity – of all supremest,
Greatest, noblest of the three--
Beam upon us, Charity!
Bringing blessings as thou beamest.
John Bowring, 1792-1872
Blessed was the day
and welcome was the hour
whereon God’s Virgin Mother
was brought forth.
For of that birth
and said in prophecy
that a noble tree would spring
out of the root of Jesse,
and that this tree a bloom would bear
on which the Holy Spirit
of God himself would rest.
Blessed was the day
and welcome was the hour
whereon God’s Virgin Mother
was brought forth.
King Alfonsus of Castile, 13th century
O Lord, we beseech thee, bestow on thy servants the gift of heavenly grace: that as our redemption began to dawn in the child-bearing of the Blessed Virgin Mary; so this festival of her Nativity may yield us an increase of peace; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Christ Jesus on a certain day
Upon a mountain went to pray,
Commanding Peter to be there,
And John and James to join in pray’r:
When, lo! the fashion of his face
Was alter’d through exceeding grace,
And all his garments glist’ring white
By far outshone the morning-light:
And, lo! two men talk’d with them there,
Which Moses and Elias were,
Who came in glory from their peace,
And spake to him of his decease,
To happen in a certain space,
And nam’d Jerusalem the place.
Peter mean time and th’ other twain
Slept sound, and when they woke again,
The bright appearance that he made,
And two men with him they survey’d:
Now haply as they went away,
The elder saint began to say,
‘Lord, it is pleasant to abide,
‘And in this place let us provide
‘Three tabernacles for the three,
‘Elias, Amram’s son, and thee’
This spake he on that great event,
Not understanding what he meant.
A cloud descended over-head,
And cover’d them, as this he said;
And now their hearts began to quake,
As in the cloud they entrance make:
And from the cloud a voice there broke,
Which thus the trembling saints bespoke,
‘This is my best beloved Son,
‘Attend that his commands be done!’
When those disciples heard the sound,
They straight fell prostrate to the ground.
But Christ approaching to their aid,
And touching them, ‘Be not afraid,
(He cry’d) ‘but instantly arise’
And when they lifted up their eyes,
No man they either see or hear,
Save Jesus only standing near:
And as the mountain’s brow they leave,
From Christ they this command receive,
‘This vision to no man explain,
‘Till Christ your Lord be ris’n again.’
Our Saviour’s want, and friendless state,
Which all the race of worldlings hate,
Were one great cause the restif Jews
Did his blest ambassage refuse:
Hence ev’n the very twelve were prone
To flee and leave the Lord alone
He therefore shew’d this glorious sight,
Transfigur’d into ghostly light,
To fortify the faith of those
Which from the chosen he had chose.
The caution giv’n, that they should hide
This vision, till their Master died
And rose again, was on this wise,
Lest envy ’mongst the nine should rise;
Or drive the Jews by crime on crime,
To cut off Christ before his time.
Christopher Smart, 1722-1771
When blessed Marie wip’d her Saviours feet,
(Whose precepts she had trampled on before,)
And wore them for a jewell on her head,
Shewing his steps should be the street
Wherein she thenceforth evermore
With pensive humblenesse would live and tread:
She being stain’d herself, why did she strive
To make Him clean who could not be defil’d?
Why kept she not her tears for her own faults,
And not his feet? Though we could dive
In tears like seas, our sinnes are pil’d
Deeper then they in words, and works, and thoughts.
Deare soul, she knew who did vouchsafe and deigne
To bear her filth, and that her sinnes did dash
Ev’n God himself: wherefore she was not loth,
As she had brought wherewith to stain,
So to bring in wherewith to wash;
And yet, in washing one, she washed both.
George Herbert, 1593-1633
Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother;
Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea, thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother,
Thou hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room
Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb.
John Donne, 1572-1631
‘Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest;
and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life:
no man cometh unto the Father, but by me’. (St John 14.5-6)
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come.
Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
Almighty and everliving God, who for the greater confirmation of the faith didst suffer thy holy Apostle Thomas to be doubtful in thy Son’s Resurrection: grant us so perfectly, and without all doubt, to believe in thy Son Jesus Christ; that our faith in thy sight may never be reproved; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fisher and More! in you the Church and State
Of England—England of the years gone by--
Her spiritual law, her civil equity,
Twins of one justice, for the last time sate
On equal thrones. ’Twas England’s day of fate:
Ye kenned the omens and stood up to die:
State-rule in Faith, ye knew, means heresy:
That truth ye wrote in blood, and closed debate
By act, not words. A blood as red, as pure,
They shed, that brave Carthusian brotherhood,
St Bruno’s silent sons. Martyrs! be sure
That o’er the land, thus doubly dyed and dewed,
The Faith your death confessed, shall rise renewed--
A tree of peace for ever to endure.
Aubrey de Vere, 1814-1902
O Holy Ghost, whose temple I
Am, but of mud walls and condensed dust,
And being sacrilegiously
Half wasted with youth’s fires, of pride and lust
Must with new storms be weather-beat;
Double in my heart Thy flame,
Which let devout sad tears intend; and let
(Though this glass lanthorn, flesh, do suffer maim)
Fire, Sacrifice, Priest, Altar be the same.
John Donne, 1572-1631
Come with birds’ voices when the light grows dim
Yet lovelier in departure and more dear:
While the warm flush hangs yet at heavens’ rim,
And the one star shines clear.
Though the swift night haste to approaching day
Stay Thou and stir not, brooding on the deep:
Thy secret love, Thy silent word let say
Within the senses’ sleep.
Softer than dew. But where the morning wind
Blows down the world, O Spirit! show Thy power:
Quicken the dreams within the languid mind
And bring Thy seed to flower!
from the Letters of Evelyn Underhill, 1875-1941
For those able to join me, it was a joy to be to resume public Masses yesterday, the last day of Eastertide and the great solemnity of Whitsunday. We had good numbers for both Masses, with blustery wind blowing through my domestic oratory at the morning Mass to add to the atmosphere and drama of the occasion. The afternoon Mass - our first in church since mid-March - was a particularly special moment. The light was clear and bright, the air crisp, and there was an overwhelming sense of calm and peace over the whole church. The choir, assembled in their (socially distanced!) loft, sang Hassler’s Missa Secunda, and motets by Palestrina and Attwood, and the final Regina Caeli was sung lustily by all, with a palpable sense of joy and relief. And now the Octave - Whit Week - begins!
Whitsuntide by Emily Manning, 1845-1890
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.
from Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot OM, 1888-1965
I am Matthias; I am he who covers
The cloudy opening of the uttermost prison,
Where on went down - and is not re-arisen,-
Out of the Twelve who were the Lord Christ’s lovers,
About my name upon this day there hovers
A rumour of despair and desolation;
And even the Holy City’s glad salvation
Sighs for the memory of its exciled rovers.
I am Matthias, yea, and am another,
Installed within the bishopric of my brother;
I who am his oblivion am his fame.
I am the dream, upon your strife attending,
That all things, bound to a most perfect ending,
Shall be made one by Christ’s invincible Name.
Charles Williams, 1886-1945
Be thou then O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my forward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
O God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer;
Worldmothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.
Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ, 1844-1889
John Keble, 1792-1866
I was the one who waited in the garden
Doubting the morning and the early light.
I watched the mist lift off its own soft burden,
Permitting not believing my own sight.
If there were sudden noises I dismissed
Them as trick of sound, a sleight of hand.
Not by a natural joy could I be blessed
Or trust a thing I could not understand.
Maybe I was a shadow thrown by one
Who, weeping, came to lift away the stone,
Or was I but the path on which the sun,
Too heavy for itself, was loosed and thrown?
I heard the voices and the recognition
And love like kisses heard behind thin walls.
Were they my tears which fell, a real contrition
Or simply April with its waterfalls?
It was by negatives I learnt my place.
The Garden went on growing and I sensed
A sudden breeze that blew across my face.
Despair returned but now it danced, it danced.
Elizabeth Jennings CBE, 1926-2001
O take away your dried and painted garlands!
The snow-cloth’s fallen from each quicken’d brow,
The stone’s rolled off the sepulchre of winter,
And risen leaves and flowers are wanted now.
Send out the little ones, that they may gather
With their pure hands the firstlings of the birth,--
Green-golden tufts and delicate half-blown blossoms,
Sweet with the fragrance of the Easter earth;
Great primrose bunches, with soft, damp moss clinging
To their brown fibres, nursed in hazel roots;
And violets from the shady banks and copses,
And wood-anemones, and white hawthorn shoots;
And tender curling fronds of fern, and grasses
And crumpled leaves from brink of babbling rills,
With cottage-garden treasures—pale narcissi
And lilac plumes and yellow daffodils.
Open the doors, and let the Easter sunshine
Flow warmly in and out, in amber waves,
And let the perfume floating round our altar
Meet the new perfume from the outer graves.
And let the Easter “Alleluia!” mingle
With the sweet silver rain-notes of the lark;
Let us all sing together!—Lent is over,
Captivity and winter, death and dark.
Ada Cambridge, 1844-1926
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
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
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
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
Fr Lee Kenyon
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