Friday, 24 February 2012

And now it's Lent

Well, we have forgotten so far to undertake our annual tradition of putting an excerpt from our daily Lenten reading, so I suppose there is no reason to start now!

Every year, Father Spiritual Director selects a classic Christian spiritual work for us all to read during Lent, with a small reading planned for every day. We started with The Introduction to the Devout Life, by St Francis de Sales, then we had Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich, and last year, The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis.

This year, we are reading the Cloud of Unknowing, by Unknown. It is a spiritual letter written at the end of the thirteenth century from (probably) a hermit priest in the Cistercian, probably in the East Midlands, to a young man. It's been on my bookshelf to read for ages, so I'm glad I'm finally doing it.

The book, of course, starts with a very well-known prayer, used in the Sarum liturgy before the protestant reformation in England, and, thankfully, was kept alive by the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, heavily amended over the centuries, a prayer known as the Collect for Purity.

In the Catholic context (many nations before the reformation used their own versions, or uses, of the Roman Rite, and some dioceses even had their own rite altogether. In southern England, the Use of Sarum - or Salisbury - was the common manner of celebrating the Roman Rite until 1549), it was recited in the vestry before the Mass. The priest would enter the sacristy, and put on the sacred vestments. Then he would recite the Veni Creator Spiritus, and then recite the Collect:

O God,unto whom all hearts be opened,all desires known,and from whom no secrets are hid,cleanse the thoughts of our hearts,by the impouring of thy Holy Ghost,that we may perfectly love thee,and faithfully serve thee.Through Christ our Lord.Amen.

In Latin of course!

Maybe we could say this prayer every morning this Lent.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Just another manic Monday...

Like the fact that Sandringham was in a different time-zone until 1936, so is the case in Oscott. Thursday is Oscott Monday, because Wednesday is our day off. So in Oscottspeak, Tuesday is Friday.

And seminary is full of surprises.

I was a little bleary eyed this morning, so I took a double take as I saw the bishop of Middlesborough and the bishop of Hexham and Newcastle on the sanctuary for Mass.

The I remembered that today, there is a meeting of all the bishops, or their delegates, of the dioceses which send their students to Oscott here today at the invitation of His Grace the Archbishop. Unlike Oscott, Ushaw was a provincial seminary (it was administered by the province of Liverpool, which includes many dioceses), whereas Oscott is a diocesan seminary, and the Archbishop of Birmingham is its sole president. With the greater number of dioceses and congregations using Oscott as 'its seminary', however, it seems fitting now to begin a dialogue about the running and upkeep of the seminary looking through the eyes of the wider Church.

So we are hosting not only the Archbishop of Birmingham, and the bishops of Middlesborough and Hexham and Newcastle, but the Archbishops of Cardiff and Liverpool, the Bishop of Hallam, the Bishop of Northampton, and the Bishop of Chunavia, as well as the vicars General of Salford, Shrewsbury and Leeds, and delegates from Motherwell and Nottingham.

So there will be zucchetti flying all over the place today.

We are also hosting our own administrator, Father David, by happy fault, who is representing the diocese of East Anglia. We only have three seminarians now... keep praying!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Is it St Valentine's Day?

It is. Happy St Valentine's day to you all!

Though St Valentine was expunged from the universal calendar in 1969, he still remains a saint, is still in the Roman Martyrology, and can still be venerated liturgically, when permitted. St Valentine, a third-century priest - there are, actually 14 Valentines; I think one of them is in Scotland, but the famous one is in Rome - whose relics were translated to their site of burial on this day, after his martyrdom by decapitation prompted by his miracle cures (this was a time of persecution in the Church). Given the tremendous familiarity of his name, and the potential benefits for evangelisation that this could have wrought for the Church in our times, it seems a shame that he was not deemed to be sufficiently venerated to eliminate him from the day-to-day life of the Church militant, but still, he has looked down on many generations of Oscotians from the stained-glass window, wearing his green cope, and holding his martyr's palm (wedged in between St James the Apostle and St Bernard of Clairvaux)

Also on this day, just over a thousand years ago, died St Cyril, a bishop in south-east Europe. He was a Greek, who, along with his episcopal and blood brother, St Methodius - or St Methodist, as a friend accidently called him today - (who died on 6 April, sixteen years after his brother) were missionaries in the areas we now call Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. 

They lived in a time before the great schism which divided the Church between the east and west, the most painful tear in Christ's sacred body, and, though they were bishops of the Greek rites, their efforts were lauded by their brother bishops in the west, so much so, that the Pope, upon the death of St Cyril, instructed that his funeral be conducted as if the Bishop of Rome were undertaking the rites himself. St Cyril is buried in Rome. What great model missionary bishops these saints are, and great patrons of the unity of the Church; in fact, they are the patron saints of Europe. 

In our country, it is very easy to think of oecumenism as our relationship with the protestant communions, but the most ancient and most disastrous of breaks forces us to look east, towards our brothers and sisters in the one, true Church, whose spiritual home is Constantinople, the other Rome. St Cyril and St Methodius must be weeping in heaven at our human frailty, but they must also be interceding with the Lord, that our hearts will soften to our historic bitterness and intellectual wrangling. How ironic, that the filioque should crop up in my lectures this morning!

So while we can be a little sad that we have lost something by replacing St Valentine with St Cyril and St Methodius, we can rejoice at their prayers for their spiritual children here on earth, both in the east and west. And besides, saints in heaven don't get jealous; they know better than that. 

Perhaps, today, we can also pray for an election of a new bishop for our own diocese, asking the intercession of these bishops, and also, that Roman priest!

O God, eternal shepherd,
who govern your flock with unfailing care,
grant in your boundless fatherly love 
a pastor for your Church
who will please you by his holiness
and to us show watchful care.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


There is something quintessentially
English about a Krama
Well, it's been a couple of weeks since we returned from Cambodia, and, needless to say, has provided much material for conversations since we have been back at Oscott this past week-and-a-half. Like the rest of the continent, Oscott has been covered in a blanket of fluffy snow; a stark contrast to what we came back from, though one cannot but admire our western maritime climate for its marvelous eccentricities.

It is taking a long time, for me at least, to ruminate upon my two-week experience in Cambodia, though I'm sure I'll have further reflections to make when I see the millions of photographs we brought back with us. Oscott is now veritably littered with authentic Khmer scarves from the Arrupe centre in Battambang, that I brought back with me as gifts. Needless to say, being that they appear to be something very different indeed in our own culture, those who received one from me didn't know whether to wash up with it, or eat cream-tea off it.

During our stay, we visited Kompong Thom, Kompong Kor, Siem Reap (made famous, perhaps, by the Angkor Wat world heritage site, where we spent a day, and saw lots of monkeys), Svay Sisophon, and Battambang. Of course, while staying in those places, we had several day trips to other centres within the parishes.

Even if we hadn't taken a picture of absolutely everything and everyone, I would like to think that I would have remembered all of the faces that we met. As I said to a bemused congregation in Battambang, and later on, recycled the same material in Ta Hen, that even though we could not speak the language, we recognised the welcome by the warm and beautiful smiles. Language is not just about words, after all.

I'd like to thank everybody in the Apostolic Prefecture who looked after us. We were greatly touched by the welcome we received, and we shall keep the Prefecture and its members in our prayers. I hope that you - if you are reading, which I'm sure somebody is! - enjoyed our visit as much as we did, and please pray for us too.

Another tour of 'Suffolkian' churches

When I was at liberty before term started again in January, I spent a few days in Ipswich, and took the opportunity to visit a few of the parishes that I had missed out on during my last visit. This post is about history, so don't continue reading if that will bore you!

The Chancel of St Mary of the Assumption.
The Anglo-Catholic high altar and sacra-
ment house, juxtaposed with the vibrant,
yet stark clear east window. Some of the
windows are Ninian Comper; this one isn't.
The very reverend dean of Ipswich suggested a visit to the Anglican parish of St Mary of the Assumption in the village of Ufford, just north-east of Woodbridge, for its antiquarian novelties.

I often enjoy visiting ancient parish churches. Many of them have been damaged irrevocably over the centuries, though there are a few exceptions, and, of course, the Catholic revival in the Anglican church from the nineteenth-century sought to restore (well, restore is a bit of an exaggeration, perhaps!) something that was lost during the various protestant reformations.

There is an Anglican parish church in my own parish which has largely survived - the rood and ceiling are still intact, peculiarly so for the heart of Cromwell country - and I was reminded of this familiar church when I walked into the Assumption, though, clearly, the present pastor is a little higher than most!

The six-metre high baptismal font cover.
The structure is fifteenth-century, but the
features are a more modern introduction.

The pelican soars into the clerestory.
Many of the features are original, from the ceiling to the ornate (recent) baptismal font and 15th century cover, which extends almost the entire height of the interior structure. There are many such font covers in the east of England, but this must surely be the largest, surmounted, as it is, by the pelican in her piety. Many of the intricate decorations, however, were added in the last century.

As well as the font cover, part of the original rood screen survives. The rood itself is long-gone, but it's beam is still situated between the nave and the chancel, as does the dado-screen. That, however, still has some faint remains of the original paintings of various saints. Many such examples are extant in Suffolk and Norfolk, as explained by Eamon Duffy in his book, Stripping of the Altars, a must have for any Oscotian. In fact, plate 67 in the second edition is a picture of a carved pew-end from this church, another fifteenth-century survivor.

St Thomas of Canterbury, Woodbridge.
Much altered in the past, but is in the long
process of being restored. One of the finest
churches in the diocese, then, I am biased;
I understand my mother was baptised here.
Moving from the fifteenth to the nineteenth, I next visited the Catholic parish church of St Thomas of Canterbury in Woodbridge. I thought this church would be older than the gothic-revival movement, but it only appeared on the scene in 1850. Needless to say the influence of Pugin hadn't reached East Anglia by then! Neo-classical is, I think, one of my favourite architectural expressions, even though Pugin - an artist I admire deeply for his conviction, piety and unparalleled sense of taste and proportion - didn't think much of it. There aren't many examples in the entire country of this architectural style in the construction of Catholic churches; the other notable example in our diocese being St Edmund in Bury St Edmunds (incidentally, St Francis Xavier in Hereford is a copy of our own St Edmunds, and is a fine example of right-worship in a neo-classical setting). I was pleased to see that 'altare privilegiatum' still hangs underneath the baldacchino in St Thomas's. When this statement appears, it means that masses celebrated upon that altar provide a plenary indulgence to the holy soul for which the sacrifice is offered at that moment, provided that the mass is a Requiem mass, unless the rubrics prevent that particular celebration. All altars are privileged on All Souls' Day, and it used to be that some priests were granted a 'personal privilege'. I bet they were in high demand for funerals! Assuming that the new altar in this church was dedicated to St Thomas when it was installed after the previous one was removed, it retained the privilege. "Ah, but those things are not important anymore," I can hear somebody say. Lumen Gentium 49-51 provides a little foundation stone for our belief about life after death, as does the Credo of the People of God, composed by Paul VI at the conclusion of the last Year of Faith in 1968 (see Neuner-Dupuis 39/21; sorry that I can't provide a Denzinger reference, as mine stops eighteen years to soon). Perhaps we could re-discover this beautiful modern creed as we prepare for the new Year of Faith to be inaugurated by Pope Benedict in October this year, as the Church turns her mind and heart to the new evangelisation.

St Francis Xavier, Hereford, administered by the Benedictines.
A fine example of restored architecture in the context of a
liturgical celebration which is both modern and edifying.