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
Restrictions continue, but so does the celebration of the Church’s liturgy in this Easter season. Today is St George’s Day, an observance that always falls in Eastertide, and appropriately so since it teaches us that even in the moment of martyrdom, the final victory - for us, as it was for St George - is assured. I am, of course, naturally disappointed that St George does not possess the rank of a feast in Canada, especially given the long association of the saint and his cross with this dominion. John Cabot planted the English flag on Canadian soil in 1497, and that flag remains a constitutive part of Canadian heraldry and her national and provincial flags to this day (red and white are Canada’s colours for this reason) - an emblematic reminder of the English roots of this nation.
Which is a useful segue into my sharing, again, the following poem, so expressive of those English settlers who arrived to make a new life in this nation, but never forgot their heavenly patron, that great ‘Soul of England’.
St George that savest England,
Save us who still must go
Where leads thy cross of scarlet
Upon its field of snow.
Beyond the life of cities,
Distractions and dismays,
Where mountain shadows measure
The passing of the days.
Among the lonely snow-peaks
Where golden morning shines,
Stands thy undaunted outpost
Among the lodge-pole pines–
A little stone-built chapel
As modest as can be,
Touched with a loving glory,
To house thy God and thee.
Here, where majestic beauty
And inspiration bide,
Be thou, to make us worthy,
Our counsellor and guide.
Be with us, Soul of England,
Where the last trail puts forth,
To keep unsoiled forever
The honour of the North.
St George’s in the Pines
Bliss Carman FRSC, 1861-1929
‘This paschal mystery is truly the universal mystery: meeting the needs of all men, belonging to all, uniting all. This is the truth that comes to light in a comparison of the Christian mystery with the pagan ones in which men had sought a gratification of their desires which only the Christian mystery could provide.
… They are as a rough draft, very pale and inadequate, of what God is preparing to give man in answer to his deepest desires and infinitely in excess of his most sanguine hopes. In these mysteries, so often inconsequential, men sought, without realising it, another mystery; just as, in their false gods, they unconsciously adored the true God. One day shadows and symbols disappeared because the reality had come. Then could Christianity satisfy all the aspirations of the human soul and even teach it to desire treasures beyond the power of its own thought or imagination to conceive. Man, already in God’s hands without realising it, suddenly perceived that his own dim imaginings were, by divine intervention, transfigured and endowed with life’.
from The Paschal Mystery: Meditations on the Last Three Days of Holy Week
by Fr Louis Bouyer, Cong. Orat., 1913-2004
‘We have become “God’s own people” through the blood of our Redeemer; for in time gone by the people of Israel was redeemed from Egypt by the blood of the lamb.
…The people who were freed by Moses from slavery in Egypt, after the crossing of the Red Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh’s army, sang a hymn of triumph to the Lord; so too, since we have received pardon for our sins in baptism, we should express due thanks for the heavenly grace we have received.
For the Egyptians, who oppressed God’s people, and who stand for darkness and suffering, are an apt symbol for the sins which harass us, but which have been destroyed in baptism.
The liberation of the children of Israel, and the journey by which they were led to the homeland they has long ago been promised, correspond to the mystery of our redemption, through which we make our way to the brightness of our heavenly home, with the grace of Christ as our light and our guide. The light of grace is symbolised by the pillar of cloud and fire which throughout their journey protected them from the darkness of the night, and led them along their secret path to their home in the promised land’.
St Bede the Venerable, 672-735
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
‘“The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes’ (Revelation 7.17). What is the throne, but the throne of God, the place where he reigns in the light which no man can approach unto? And who is the Lamb in the midst of it, but our Lord Jesus Christ, God made Man, first redeeming us on the Cross, then returning with his human nature to his Father’s right hand, and sitting down with him on the throne of his glory? The Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, is here shown to us as our Shepherd, sparing and dealing gently with his people, whom he hath redeemed with his precious blood. He is our Shepherd, to feed and to lead us’.
John Keble, 1792-1866
‘The sun is setting, and our earth will soon be mantled in darkness. The Church has provided a torch, which is to spread its light upon us... It is of an unusual size. It stands alone, and is of a pillar-like form. It is the symbol of Christ. Before being lighted, its scriptural type is the pillar of a cloud, which hid the Israelites when they went out from Egypt; under this form, it is the figure of our Lord, when lying lifeless in the tomb. When lighted, we must see in it both the pillar of fire, which guided the people of God, and the glory of our Jesus risen from his grave. Our holy Mother the Church, would have us enthusiastically love this glorious symbol, and speaks its praises to us in all the magnificence of her inspired eloquence. As early as the beginning of the 5th century, Pope St Zozimus extended to all the Churches of the City of Rome the privilege of blessing the Paschal Candle, although Baptism was administered no where but in the Baptistery of St John Lateran. The object of this grant was, that all the Faithful might share in the holy impressions which so solemn a rite is intended to produce. It was for the same intention that, later, every Church, even though it had no Baptismal Font, was permitted to have the Blessing of the Paschal Candle’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
Scenes of Easter (Vigil and Day) at home in the Oratory. I share an excerpt from my Easter Day note to parishioners.
‘It can be tempting, especially in our moments of loneliness or isolation, to despair at the loss of control and freedom we’re all experiencing. It can be tempting, in the absence of our familiar routines and patterns of the spiritual life, to regard the Lent and Holy Week we’ve been through, and the Easter we’ve now entered, at best as ‘less’ than that to which we’re usually accustomed, and at worst as somehow ‘wasted’. Some of this is understandable, and I am as frustrated and bewildered as you, but we have to hold to the hope that the Resurrection offers to us, both now, and for the future.
If the liturgies of Holy Week celebrated mutedly in isolation have impressed anything upon me, it’s that the whole of the Christian life – our real life – is lived with and through the ever-present reality of the Cross, that contradictory symbol at the heart of our Catholic Faith. Holy Week, with its great narratives of death to life, darkness to light, and of faith, hope, and love lost and then restored by means of that Cross, signify that this Week isn’t some mere preparatory re-enactment of biblical events in the run-up to the Resurrection story. Holy Week isn’t just for Holy Week. It’s for the rest of our lives: the ultimate spiritual, liturgical, psychological, and mystical context for each and every one of us in our journey on the path to Heaven.
In this present time of plague, as with other times in our lives, when darkness seeks to overcome light; when death and suffering seem to have the last word, Holy Week offers us the key to understanding what’s really going on. God enters most fully into all the pain and misery of what it is to be man and he redeems it. He bows low in order to lift us up and draw us more closely, more intimately, unto himself. If we live the whole of our lives as we’ve lived this Holy Week then we’ll have a better sense of what hope is all about. Isolation, separation, darkness, despair, loss, and death have all, ultimately, been defeated. But these, for now, form the context and the content of our life, and perhaps our experiencing them this year in a more personal way has helped us to see that they are but a necessary part of the struggle; a struggle we must undergo – a cross we must all bear – in order to be brought unto the glory of the Resurrection’.
The Queen has recorded a few words of encouragement and hope on this Easter Eve. ‘Easter isn’t cancelled’, says Her Majesty, and she is right to remind us of this as we prepare to enter into this great feast. ‘We need Easter as much as ever. The discovery of the Risen Christ on the first Easter Day gave his followers new hope and fresh purpose, and we can all take heart from this... May the living flame of the Easter hope be a steady guide as we face the future’. Amen to that, and a very blessed Easter!
Whilst this continues to be a strange Holy Week, I nonetheless feel very blessed to have the support and encouragement of parishioners who join me, albeit digitally, for the offices and liturgies, especially during the Triduum, and also very encouraged by those who, each day, pop by to make their confessions. Preaching without a physically present congregation has its peculiar challenges: questions of what tone to employ, and whether to use humour (not too much of a problem on Good Friday…) have cramped my homiletic approach somewhat, but making the liturgical prayers and ceremonies of the Church available on a daily basis has been a surprisingly effective tool in the pursuit of fostering a sense of a common parochial celebration. I can only hope and pray that our absence from the Lord, and from one another, is making hearts grow fonder for both.
St John Henry Newman’s shorter meditations on the Stations of the Cross were offered at Noon, and the final meditation (for the Fourteenth Station) was particularly poignant, not only on account of this day, but also given present strictures. Saint John Henry exhorts us to ever hope and trust in Christ and so realise that ‘the greater is our distress, the nearer we are to [God]’. That isn’t the easiest of lessons to learn, but it is one that will help us to see the value in that which God has, in this time, permitted for the sake of our eternal salvation. As Newman famously wrote elsewhere, the Cross teaches us (his present-day brethren) not to live a comfortable life, nor one framed by our own agendas (however good its intentions), but rather ‘to suffer and to die’. As the liturgies of the Sacred Triduum set forth so well, we can have no future glory – no Resurrection life – without first knowing the value and purpose of suffering and, so embracing it, dying to self.
And in the garden secretly,
And on the Cross on high,
Should teach his brethren, and inspire
To suffer and to die.
Praise to the Holiest in the height,
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways.
A few shots of this evening’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper and The Watch that followed. We did what we could with the space on offer, which required a quick adjustment of the altar used for Mass to become the Altar of Repose. The Watch was, as per the episcopal encouragement, live streamed for an hour, and concluded with words from the St Matthew Passion. Thereafter the Blessed Sacrament was taken to a place of private reservation and altar stripped bare in readiness for the morrow.
Much of the day was spent preparing – spiritually and practically – for the Triduum now upon us. In regards to the former, I have been so grateful for the gift of Fr Christopher Hilton Cong. Orat.’s short fervorinos. Today’s – on priesthood and the Eucharist – was deeply personal and moving, and speaks very eloquently of these two sacramental gifts that Christ left to his Church on this Maundy Thursday.
‘“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
Fr Lee Kenyon
A Treasure to be Shared
The Acolyte’s Toolbox