Saturday, 26 November 2011

Advent of Advent

Well, it shall nearly be new year, and, probably, if you are reading this, it already is!

So happy new year.

Oscotian tradition dictates that we have an advent wreath during the season, as most parishes do, which has become just as much a Catholic tradition as it is already a protestant tradition, being Lutheran in origin and all. I remember that we had red candles as a little boy in Germany in good Saxon tradition!

I've spent the afternoon working on this year's wreath with brother choir-master, which is a little smaller and stumpier than the one I did last year with brother organist. That was so big and full of pine-cones, that you couldn't see the choir on the other side of the chapel! Though some of the brethren don't like as much extravagance as I do when it comes to floral arrangements; the rocket-shaped gladioli erupting from the paschal candle last Pentecost was a step too far for some!

Waiting for Advent: our austere little wreath!
Brother Sacristan hasn't changed the frontals yet
(More astute readers will notice that our candlesticks
have changed. The Pugin ones came down today
to be sent to the repairers)
So we wish all our readers, and all the faithful in East Anglia, and very happy and healthful new year!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Pope in Africa, on vocations

An extract from an address by Pope Benedict during this weekend's apostolic visit to Benin:

Dear priests, the responsibility for promoting peace, justice and reconciliation falls in a special way to you. Owing to your reception of Holy Orders and your celebration of the Sacraments, you are called in effect to be men of communion. As crystal does not retain the light but rather reflects it and passes it on, in the same manner the priest must make transparent what he celebrates and what he has received. I thus encourage you to let Christ shine through your life, by being in full communion with your Bishop, by a genuine goodwill towards your brother priests, by a profound solicitude for each of the baptized and by great attention to each person. In letting yourself be modelled on Christ, you will never substitute the beauty of your priestly being with ephemeral and at times unhealthy realities which the contemporary mentality tends to impose on every culture. I urge you, dear priests, never to underestimate the unfathomable riches of the divine grace placed in you and which you have been called to live at the service of peace, of justice and of reconciliation. 
Turning now to you, dear seminarians, I encourage you to place yourselves in the school of Christ in order to acquire those virtues which will help you to live the ministerial priesthood as the locus of your sanctification. Without the logic of holiness, the ministry is merely a social function. The quality of your future life depends on the quality of your personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, on your sacrifices, on the right integration of the requirements of your current formation. Faced with the challenges of human existence, the priest of today and tomorrow – if he wants to be a credible witness to the service of peace, justice and reconciliation – must be a humble and balanced man, one who is wise and magnanimous. After 60 years in priestly life, I can tell you, dear seminarians, that you will not regret accumulating intellectual, spiritual and pastoral treasures during your formation.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

300th post! And Christmas puddings...

God makes good all things, and all truth is truth in virtue of Christ the Lord. So, I have just been inspired to write this 300th post of our blog after being reminded on the radio to stir up my Christmas pudding mix this Sunday!

For the feast of Jesus Christ, Universal King, the seminary traditionally travels to Mass in our neighbouring parish bearing that dedication. It's also the first time that the new, bigger college has travelled en masse to Mass.

This feast was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to combat the dismissal of Christ, and the Christian religion, as the rightful centre of the life of all people. It was originally intended to be celebrated on the last Sunday in October, interrupting the ordinary (post-pentecost) liturgical cycle, so that the Lord's feast is celebrated, followed by a celebration of his royal court in heaven (All Saints' day) a few days later, anticipating the royal authority which he already holds over those in heaven is extended over all those inhabiting the earth. In the liturgical reforms, the feast was moved to the last Sunday before Advent, dedicating the whole year to the King of the Universe. I think it works either way; I like both symbols!

There was one unfortunate effect of moving Christ the King to the last Sunday of the year, however, because it means that a beautiful opening prayer (collect) for that Sunday gets left out of the liturgy.

We have been hearing in the Office of Readings lately many prophesies concerning the coming of the Messiah (in fact, we first heard from Isaiah in August, so central is the Incarnation of the Divine Word in our religion), and, those who attend Mass in the extraordinary form of our rite this weekend will hear a prayer which can translate into English as:

Stir up the wills of Thy faithful people,
we beseech Thee, O Lord;
that they more earnestly seeking the fruit of good works,
may receive more abundantly the gifts of Thy loving kindness.

When Christ the Lord comes to claim his royal crown over the earth on the day of judgment, we will cry this prayer, asking the Lord for his mercy and loving kindness, to deliver us from our earthly desires, and give us faith to live wholly for him.

As the Gospel for that Mass tells us, "then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty; ... Heaven and earth shall pass away, by My words shall not pass away."

In Advent, we not only prepare for Christmas, but also Christ's second coming, of which he speaks here in this Gospel passage. As Pope Pius intended, the feast of Christ the King reminds us that, as our response, we should daily allow Christ to come on clouds descending into our lives, where he reigns as King.

So that's while we call this Sunday, Stir Up Sunday. Even making our Christmas puddings should remind us of this reality, so it is to be a Christian. It reminds us of our Christmas day feast, but also, the reason why we celebrate that feast. Let's recover our culture!

Christ is not just for Christmas.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Revised Roman Missal and musical settings

Fr Guy Nichols, C.O.
Thanks for Fr Guy Nichols Cong. Orat., who, for a number of weeks, has been presenting a series of lectures on chant and the Mass, with particular attention paid to the chants given in the revised translation of the Roman Missal.

Now the books themselves have been delivered, we can use them, as we have been doing at Oscott since half-term. I can tell you that even as something as simple as the beautiful re-rending of the collects and proper prayers of the Mass has had a profound influence on my spiritual life, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. Now every time I open my breviary and see older, more sub-standard translations of the prayers, I want to weep with despair. Praise God; we are living in a wonderful and grace-filled time. Let's make the most of it!

It used to be said that Mass was sung, and indeed, the whole of the Mass (except the homily!) can be sung. The liturgy is our best act of worship we give to the Lord, so we should give our best, our finest talents, in the liturgy, always and without exception. The revised Missal provides various tones for the whole Mass, and with Fr Guy, we've looked at, and sung, English Collects, Prefaces, the Eucharistic Prayers, the Ordinary, and, not from the Missal, but from a new Graduale Parvum, English antiphons and graduals (the alternative for responsorial psalms). These are all very simple, and most parishes have, somewhere in the pews if it hasn't already been discovered, some degree of musical talent. The congregation and small choirs can, and are already, singing and enjoying the new, simple music.

Don't just eat the scraps, but sit at the table, and dine upon the banquet!

This is the first, most simple and obviously effective way to restore our much ill-treated Catholic heritage, now we are in the era of the New Evangelisation.

He who sings, prays twice, as St Augustine opined. Indeed, why pray once when you can pray twice!

I cannot find any of the sung texts from the missal (probably not looking in the right places!), but here is a simple and beautiful setting we sing at Oscott from an organisation which has produced an exciting new hymnbook, very much in the true spirit of Vatican II.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Armistice Day

Yesterday was Armistice Day, and tomorrow in the UK is Remembrance Sunday.

What a co-incidence that Armistice Day (which commemorates the cease-fire at the end of the Great War in 1918) fell on the feast-day of St Martin of Tours, Martinmas, one of the Church's most ancient and solemn feasts, and one which commemorates both the patron saint of soldiers and of conscientious objectors.

St Martin was a Roman soldier who, upon seeing a beggar, cut his cloak with his sword, and placed it upon his shoulders. Christ the Lord revealed himself to be the beggar in a dream, and Martin left the army to seek baptism in the nearest town, now called Tours. He was accused of cowardice, but his later life shows his bravery.

The Church at this time was suffering a great division over its belief in the nature of God and Christ. The Bishop of Tours, St Hilary, was expelled from the city, and Martin travelled around southern France and northern Italy preaching the Gospel, and even found himself exiled.

When Hilary was restored to his see, Martin returned and established a monastery, and was popularly acclaimed bishop when the see became vacant. A little reminiscent of the later St Boniface, Martin was a vociferous opponent of paganism, and he himself to an axe to a great pine tree worshipped by the local people, at great threat to his own person, so great was his love for Christ in others, he completely forgot himself.

Such is the love that many have themselves faced death on behalf of others, and died in the great wars of the last century, and they continue to offer their own lives today in diverse conflicts. Conscious that East Anglia has a large number of military personelle, and an important heritage in its involvement in the two world wars, being so close to the front, we unite ourselves in prayer this weekend, and, indeed, throughout the year, with the armed forces, alive and dead, and continue to beseech the Lord to soften the hearts of men and women for the propagation of peace.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Christmas is coming...

Christmas stamps in the UK alternate every year between a 'secular' theme and a 'religious' theme, though 'religious' stamps are always available upon request every Christmas. It is the turn of 'religion' this year to appear on our stamps, and Royal Mail has just released this year's issues.

Each stamp features a (bad, in my view) picture, and a scripture reference. I was quite pleased that the second-class stamp features the angel appearing to St Joseph (patron saint of the Universal Church) in a dream, and you shall call his name Jesus. Though I do think that most people would probably find this scene a little spooky, and wouldn't know what it is about. Unfortunately, Joseph often gets missed out in nativity story. In the film, unimaginatively called the Nativity Story, Mary and Joseph arrive at night in the village of Bethlehem, and Mary is about to give birth, so Joseph takes her from the colt, and carries her through the town with a great sense of urgency. Our salvation is urgent, and Joseph carries it all in his arms. Every time I watch this film, and this scene (saccharine-rich, though it is), I can't help but weep for the beauty of what it symbolises!

First-class is the Madonna and child, and stamps to Europe feature a tightly-wrapped Lord in a manger (or trough, I suppose we should say nowadays) adored by a cow and a donkey.

I like to bulk-buy stamps at Christmas-time, which isn't such an easy thing to do now with the rocketing price of Royal Mail postage, so that I can send all my mail franked with the Incarnation of Our Saving Lord.

Jesus is not just for Christmas.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

New swashbuckling traditions

It's Oscott's new tradition (since my first year) that a public bonfire and fireworks display takes place on the sports' field, organised by a local pentecostalist group for the local community of Kingstanding. That's what happened again year, just after the conclusion of our three-day silent retreat. We at Oscott take these anti-Catholic demonstrations with much lightheartedness, of course, though the condition of our hosting the event is that a Guy is not burned on the bonfire! 

Guy Fawkes, a convert to Catholicism, was executed in 1606, along with many of the other conspirators, for plotting to assassinate the king and his parliament. I remember always being the most vociferous complainer at school about bonfire night, so, as is my own tradition, I've offered a rosary for the martyrs, who are not canonised.

After the plot failed in 1605, a service of thanksgiving was incorporated into the Book of Common Prayer, which came to become Bonfire night in our modern idiom, after the king ordered fires be lit to commemorate the failure of the plot. Bonfire night is, of course, on Saturday.

I braved the windy roof of the tower to take a few snaps for our loyal readers, so take a look. Taking pictures of fireworks is not easy, but hopefully you can make something out; you can just about see the chapel belfry on one picture!

Guy himself was arrested in Westminster, but some of the other conspirators fled to Stafforshire, one of England's Catholic heart-lands. Spurned by many Catholics (including some who were martyred themselves later; these men knew many of our canonised martyrs personally), they ended up in a house near Dudley. It's quite moving to think that they passed through this area, and died for the faith just down the road. You never know, they could have even ridden up from London on the Chester Road!

Who'd have thunk it? The Bishop of Rome himself would walk the same streets as they did four centuries later... Talk about time healing!