Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

As I opened my Enchiridion Indulgentiarum over my corn flakes this morning, I was overjoyed to discover that:

Plenaria indulgentia conceditur christifideli qui, in ecclesia vel oratorio, devote interfuerit sollemni cantui vel recitationi [hymnus] Te Deum, ultima anni die, ad gratias Deo referendas pro beneficiis totius anni decursu acceptis.

Which, in my holiday fatigue, I translated to read, "a plenary indulgence is granted to the faithful who, in a church or oratory, devotedly present the solemn singing or recitation of the hymn, Te Deum, on the last day of the year, to give thanks to God for the blessings received over the whole of the year."

If you are lucky enough, in your parishes, to be able to attend a liturgical or para-liturgical celebration of the end of the year, and the start of the new year, I'd strongly encourage you to go. What a wonderful way to usher in the new civil year, and to start as we mean to go on! If not, remember to thank the Lord for the blessings and graces he has worked in our lives this year. Some of those blessings we may not be able to see very clearly, but there are there whether we've noticed them or not, just like our guardian angels. 

And, if you don't know the Te Deum, he's a lovely recording for you to listen to right now. 

We praise Thee, O God: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord. All the earth doth worship Thee and the Father everlasting. 

To Thee all Angels: to Thee the heavens and all the Powers therein. To Thee the Cherubim and Seraphim cry with unceasing voice: Holy, Holy, Holy: Lord God of Hosts. The heavens and the earth are full of the majesty of Thy glory.

Thee the glorious choir of the Apostles, Thee the admirable company of the Prophets, Thee the white-robed army of Martyrs praise, Thee the Holy Church throughout all the world, doth acknowledge.

The Father of infinite Majesty, Thine adorable, true and only Son, also the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete.
Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ. Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father. Thou having taken upon Thee to deliver man didst not abhor the Virgin's womb. Thou having overcome the sting of death didst open to believers the kingdom of heaven. Thou sittest at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge. We beseech Thee, therefore, help Thy servants: whom Thou has redeemed with Thy precious Blood. Make them to be numbered with Thy Saints in glory everlasting.
Lord, save Thy people: and bless Thine inheritance. Govern them and lift them up forever. Day by day we bless Thee. And we praise Thy name forever: and world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord, this day to keep us without sin. Have mercy on us, O Lord: have mercy on us. Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us: as we have hoped in Thee. O Lord, in Thee have I hoped: let me never be confounded.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

End of Term

Today is the end of our autumn term.

Congratulations to those three students from the dioceses of Liverpool, Salford and Motherwell, who, this morning, received the ministry of acolyte from Father Rector, during the celebration of the Mass.

Today, during our anticipatory Christmas lunch, we also said goodbye to Anne Clibbery, who has been working as the college cook for 28 years, and has just retired from her venerable post. The first event at Oscott in my first year was a presentation of a Benemerenti medal to Anne, a gift from Pope Benedict, in recognition for her years of service to the Church here at Oscott. Little did she know that she would be making the Pope's pudding a year later! We hope that Anne will continue to visit us, and we wish her all our love.

Finally, we finish our term with trumpets galore at the annual carol service, for the domestic staff and their families, and for those involved with our local pastoral placements. I'll be reading the story of the fall from Genesis at the pulpit; I hope I don't fall down all those stairs in the darkness!

With our best wishes and prayers for you all for the Christmas season, and for the new year.

Oremus pro invicem!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

WWJD?... go to Mass

I've always cringed at the question, 'what would Jesus do?'

Bishop Davies of Shrewsbury said recently:

For you will sometimes hear people say, “what would Jesus have done, what would Jesus have said,” as if He were some distant figure of history whose words and actions we can now only guess at. In the reality of the Eucharist, in the reality of this Mass we hear what He says to us, what He now does for us.

As we prepare ourselves for Christmas in this half of Advent, let's remember, as Bishop Davies reminds us, of the words Blessed John Paul II gave to the world on his last world youth day:

...the same Redeemer is present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. In the stable of Bethlehem he allowed Himself to be worshipped under the humble outward appearances of a new born baby by Mary, by Joseph, by the shepherds; in the consecrated Host we adore Him sacramentally present.

That's why we have cribs in many of our churches! When St Francis was a deacon in Assisi, he brought in the farm animals during the Mass to re-create the nativity scene. There was no baby Jesus figurine in this scene, however; the baby Jesus is Jesus in the Eucharist, on the altar! 

For the bread and wine we will place on this Altar after the words of consecration are spoken, His words “This is my Body, This is my Blood,” are no longer bread or wine but Christ our Lord Himself given for us. And once we know and recognise this we would never fail to find our way here at the beginning of every new week of our lives.

Take a look at the whole of Bishop Davies' sermon, 'we cannot live without Sundays', to a youth gathering in his diocese; he speaks very eloquently of distractions from our Sunday Mass attendance, and is very pertinent, especially preparing for Christmas next week. 

Monday, 12 December 2011

Ad multos annos

I was quite surprised when His Grace the Archbishop walked out of the sacristy this morning to celebrate the low Mass.

Today is the thirtieth anniversary of his ordination to the sacred priesthood, and it is touching that he should decide to celebrate this occasion with us in Oscott. We even had wine with lunch; so much for revision this afternoon! The seminary was the first place he visited after his enthronement in my first year, and we always enjoy his visits, because he evidently loves our college very dearly.

In a brief sermon during the Mass, Archbishop Longley thanked the Lord for his many years of priestly ministry and service at the altar, the greatest grace that has been bestowed upon him. It is a great encouragement for us seminarians to hear such words, and to see the example of a good priest who loves his priesthood very deeply.

He was ordained to the diaconate and presbyterate in Wonersh seminary at the start of the 1980s. He often speaks very fondly of East Anglia in conversation, and knows our diocese very well!

Though, as seminarians of another diocese, we are not his own students, Archbishop Longley still looks after us during our time here in Oscott; we thank the Lord for calling him to the priesthood, and to the episcopate as bishop of the church in Birmingham, and we thank him too for his prayers, pastoral care and affection.

Ad multos annos! 

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Well, I've just done my ecclesiology exam, and now I'm turning my mind to John's gospel, which is tomorrow morning. First, however, one should mention that today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

There are many Americans in our diocese - one of them became a seminarian, so happy feast Henry! - and, when I was a student in one of our universities, I remember the Spanish-speaking students from Latin America always put of a great celebration in honour of Our Lady, and Mass was celebrated largely in Spanish. I specialised in early modern Spain and Spanish America before I arrived at Oscott all those years ago, so I'm feeling particularly festive myself!

When missionaries arrive in a new land, they often convert places of pagan worship into Christian centres of worship. Just look at the Pantheon in Rome; no longer a temple to all the Mithraic gods, but now the Church of Our Lady and All Martyrs. Or think of the magnificent Cathedral in Cordoba; you'd think it was a mosque. It was built as one! St Boniface, one of my favourite saints, had a habit of chopping down pagan trees and building churches on them too.

This ancient practice, a custom found not only in the Christian religion, but is common in almost all religions, and even political philosophies, did not stop in ancient times, but when the 12 Franciscan missionaries arrived in the New World back in 1512, they also copied this practice.

There was a pious belief, proposed principally by the Jesuits later on in that century, that the religions of the ancient Americas were so 'in-tune' with the Christian religion, that an apostle must have been to the continent (Bartholomew was said to have travelled to Peru - historical nonsense of course, but fun all the same). In the Andes, in South America, for example, there was an ancient understanding of a separated priesthood, distinct from the people. That wasn't a peculiarly Christian belief, until one discovers that the people also believed in a fellowship of sharing bread, and confessing sins to priests, and veneration of the dead. I think Lumen Gentium refers to such things somewhere in chapter 8!

One of the beliefs of the Mexica was in a mother-goddess, whose principal temple was found in a village called Tepeyac, down from the road from Tenochtitlan. This temple was torn down, and, later, a Christian Mexican experienced a vision of Our Lady, whose image was left in-printed inside his poncho, which he used to carry roses which Our Lady presented to him to take to his bishop. A shrine grew up, and the rest is history!

Recently, because of the image's association with the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady (the feast is kept within the octave, after all), Our Lady of Guadalupe has become a patron of the pro-life movement, and is often invoked as Patroness of the Unborn.

We pray for Our Lady's intercession for missionaries and the American Churches, which many East Anglian priests have served, especially in the Society of St James, and also, that Our Lady's prayers and example might soften the hearts of those involved with abortion to the truth, and comfort those left indelibly hurt and damaged by this practice.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

A herald of glad tidings

It is that time of year again.

Panic sets in, and everybody rushes to the shops to buy supplies, everybody is writing, and getting buried under reams of paper.

Ste Thoma Aquinatus, ora pro nobis!
No, it's not preparation for the Christmas holidays, but the exam season, which necessarily for Oscotian seminarians, is always the dominant theme for Advent.

Our exams begin today (though some 'starred students', as we call them, had their first exams yesterday), so please keep us in your prayers in a particular way over the next few days!

Because of the number of seminarians in the house, many of the written exams will take place in the Northcote Hall this year. I'll be spending at least 6 hours in there before the end of Wednesday myself! This was a lecture theatre before student numbers dropped at the end of the last century, so it is really great to see it in use as it was originally intended to be used.

A larger than life statue of St Thomas Aquinas looks down over the hall from above the pulpit, keeping all the seminarians in his prayers, I'm sure! Philosopher and theologian, he has all our best interests close to his heart!

Please also keep in your prayers the preparations for our annual Advent carol service, which takes place every year, for the domestic staff and their families, and those involved in our pastoral placements. Making sure everything, especially the music, turns our marvelously, takes a lot of effort and time for the musicians and singers, who are juggling carol-singing with their revision!