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
Come down, O Christ, and help me! reach Thy hand,
For I am drowning in a stormier sea
Than Simon on Thy lake of Galilee:
The wine of life is spilt upon the sand,
My heart is as some famine-murdered land
Whence all good things have perished utterly,
And well I know my soul in Hell must lie
If I this night before God’s throne should stand.
‘He sleeps perchance, or rideth to the chase,
Like Baal, when his prophets howled that name
From morn to noon on Carmel’s smitten height’.
Nay, peace, I shall behold, before the night,
The feet of brass, the robe more white than flame,
The wounded hands, the weary human face.
Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900
Yet earth was very good in days of old,
And earth is lovely still:
Still for the sacred flock she spreads the fold,
For Sion rears the hill.
Mother she is, and cradle of our race,
A depth where treasures lie,
The broad foundation of a holy place,
Man’s step to scale the sky.
She spreads the harvest-field which Angels reap,
And lo! the crop is white;
She spreads God’s Acre where the happy sleep
All night that is not night.
Earth may not pass till heaven shall pass away,
Nor heaven may be renewed
Except with earth: and once more in that day
Earth shall be very good.
Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
I’m asking very nicely now. Please help, Saint Blaise.
I can remember childhood days,
white candles held in front and crossed on my frail neck,
how from behind them I would look,
a roe behind two branches, apprehensively.
Mid-winter, and Saint Blaise’s Day,
my eyes were blinking, fixed upon the aged priest
wholly intent on praying just
to you, but bending over me kneeling before
the altar; true to sacred lore,
he muttered in a learned language neither I
nor he well understood. Yet my
health was preserved; you understood the formula;
you kept from me diptheria,
and inflammation of the tonsils, even croup,
with this result: I have grown up,
keeping, for half a century, so very well
that I’ve not thought of you at all.
O Bishop of Sebasta, don’t be hurt by my
ingratitude. Help me today!
You know the childish way in which we all go on:
we don’t look back, we cut and run
away along the drifting highway, letting go
the hands of higher beings; you
just smile at us as adults do, being wise, not hurt
by what is simply lack of thought,
smiling at us once more when, troubled, we return,
as I, I must admit, have done
today with beating heart… Please smile at me, Saint Blaise!
Yes, smile at me, upon my knees
before your simple altar-stone, a whimpering whelp –
smile if you like, Saint Blaise, but help!
The trouble is, you see, a treacherous disease
is killing me, starting to squeeze
my larynx tighter, and my air is running out,
just as a climber’s breath comes short
and climbing gets more difficult, or like a ton-
weight on my back; so I go on
in everlasting panting, while the surgeon’s knife
is threatening to preserve my life
by cutting up my wretched throat, that very throat
which I, farsightedly, held out
(remember, Blaise!) between your candles long ago…
Your consecrated larynx too,
when those so-wicked heathen were intent on killing,
blunt knives cut: so you know the feeling!
You know the blade’s edge and the taste of blood, you know
moments of desperation too
in the contraction of the torn windpipe, the fight
in terror as we suffocate.
Help! It is over now for you, you know it all,
you wise grown-up! You know quite well
what pain is bearable, how much is not too much
even for all the goodness which
is God, and what life’s worth… And even, maybe, that
death is nothing to write home about.
Mihály Babits, 1883-1941
O God, who makest us glad with the yearly festival of blessed Blaise, thy Martyr and Bishop: mercifully grant that, as we now observe his heavenly birthday; so we may likewise rejoice in his protection; 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.
Jingle, jangle, star and spangle,
Over the wilderness wide,
Tall camels sway in the wilderness way
With their spacious, spongy stride.
And three grave kings with mystic things,
In search of the King Who is King of kings,
Three steadfast spectres ride.
Stars are shining, silver lining
Leaves of the palm trees grey -
If God should call, forsaking all,
Man must take the wilderness way;
And these must ride, nor ever abide,
On a road so long, through a world so wide,
To a Babe on a bed of hay.
‘Dearie, Dearie’, blessed Mary
Croons to her little Son.
And the three grave kings with their mystic things
Kneel low to Him, one by one;
And glad they are, though they came from far,
That they followed the light of the guiding Star
That led to Mary’s Son.
Father Andrew SDC, 1869-1946
The red king
Came to a great water. He said,
Here the journey ends.
No keel or skipper on this shore.
The yellow king
Halted under a hill. He said,
Turn the camels round.
Beyond, ice summits only.
The black king
Knocked on a city gate. He said,
All roads stop here.
These are gravestones, no inn.
The three kings
Met under a dry star.
There, at midnight,
The star began its singing.
The three kings
Suffered salt, snow, skulls.
They suffered the silence
Before the first word.
George Mackay Brown, 1921-1996
Sidney Godolphin, 1610-1643
O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy Only Begotten Son to the Gentiles: mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may be led onward through this earthly life, until we see the vision of thy heavenly glory; through the same 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. - Divine Worship: The Missal
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod’s jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
John Donne, 1572-1631
O Lord Jesus Christ, who by thy wondrous holiness didst adorn a human home, and by thy subjection to Mary and Joseph didst consecrate the order of earthly families: grant that we, being enlightened by the example of their life with thee in thy Holy Family, and assisted by their prayers, may at last be joined with them in thine eternal fellowship; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Before the paling of the stars,
Before the winter morn,
Before the earliest cock crow,
Jesus Christ was born:
Born in a stable,
Cradled in a manger,
In the world his hands had made
Born a stranger.
Priest and king lay fast asleep
Young and old lay fast asleep
In crowded Bethlehem;
Saint and angel, ox and ass,
Kept a watch together
Before the Christmas daybreak
In the winter weather.
Jesus on his mother’s breast
In the stable cold,
Spotless lamb of God was he,
Shepherd of the fold:
Let us kneel with Mary maid,
With Joseph bent and hoary,
With saint and angel, ox and ass,
To hail the King of Glory.
Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
Music the fiercest grief can charm,
And fate’s severest rage disarm:
Music can soften pain to ease,
And make despair and madness please:
Our joys below it can improve,
And antedate the bliss above.
This the divine Cecilia found,
And to her Maker’s praise confin’d the sound.
When the full organ joins the tuneful quire,
Th’immortal pow’rs incline their ear;
Borne on the swelling notes our souls aspire,
While solemn airs improve the sacred fire;
And Angels lean from heav’n to hear.
Of Orpheus now no more let Poets tell,
To bright Cecilia greater pow’r is giv’n;
His numbers rais’d a shade from hell,
Hers lift the soul to heav’n.
from Ode on St Cecilia’s Day by Alexander Pope, 1688-1744
Scarce lay the blossoms of her golden hair
Warm as a leveret in her mother’s hand
When on the wall her shadow gliding there
Haunted her young years with its stern demand.
She coveted no worldly vanity
As the tall steps she climbed with girlish grace,
Approaching unperturbed the galaxy
Of aged priests who kept the holy place.
She looked not back. There on the stone floor lay
The apple that her father gave as token
Of tenderness for all her tenderness.
She entered joyfully that blessed day
The templed walls, herself a shrine unbroken,
To wait till time shall reach its fruitfulness.
Ruth Schaumann, 1899-1975
For the Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall not grow old, as we who are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We shall remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night.
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
Laurence Binyon CH, 1869-1943
Conference between Christ, the Saints, and the Soul
I am pale with sick desire,
For my heart is far away
From this world’s fitful fire
And this world's waning day;
In a dream it overleaps
A world of tedious ills
To where the sunshine sleeps
On th’ everlasting hills.
Say the Saints – There Angels ease us
Glorified and white.
They say – We rest in Jesus,
Where is not day nor night.
My Soul saith – I have sought
For a home that is not gained,
I have spent yet nothing bought,
Have laboured but not attained;
My pride strove to rise and grow,
And hath but dwindled down;
My love sought love, and lo!
Hath not attained its crown.
Say the Saints – Fresh Souls increase us,
None languish nor recede.
They say – We love our Jesus,
And He loves us indeed.
I cannot rise above,
I cannot rest beneath,
I cannot find out Love,
Nor escape from Death;
Dear hopes and joys gone by
Still mock me with a name;
My best beloved die
And I cannot die with them.
Say the Saints – No deaths decrease us,
Where our rest is glorious.
They say – We live in Jesus,
Who once died for us.
Oh, my Soul, she beats her wings
And pants to fly away
Up to immortal Things
In the Heavenly day:
Yet she flags and almost faints;
Can such be meant for me?
Come and see—say the Saints.
Saith Jesus – Come and see.
Say the Saints – His Pleasures please us
Before God and the Lamb.
Come and taste My Sweets – saith Jesus –
Be with Me where I am.
Christina Rossetti, 1830-1894
1. Her Virgin eyes saw God incarnate born,
when she to Bethlem came that happy morn:
how high her raptures then began to swell,
none but her own omniscient Son can tell.
2. As Eve, when she her fontal sin reviewed,
wept for herself and all she should include,
blest Mary, with man’s Saviour in embrace,
joyed for herself and for all human race.
3. All saints are by her Son’s dear influence blest;
she kept the very fountain at her breast:
the Son adored and nursed by the sweet Maid
a thousandfold of love for love repaid.
4. Heaven with transcendent joys her entrance graced,
next to his throne her Son his Mother placed;
and here below, now she’s of heaven possest,
all generations are to call her blest.
Thomas Ken, 1637-1711
(Anglican Bishop of Bath & Wells, 1685-1691)
Fr Lee Kenyon