Sunday, April 27, 2008

Extraordinary Ascension High Mass

Traditional Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord
Solemn High Mass
in the Extraordinary Form
of the Roman Rite ('Tridentine')
Birmingham Oratory

8pm - Thursday, May 1st 2008

"For those who wish to observe the scriptural anniversary of the Ascension, forty days after Easter, there will be a Solemn High Latin Mass in the Extraordinary rite (1962 Missal) on Ascension Thursday, May 1st, at 8 p.m."

Most Catholics in England & Wales are forced now to celebrate the 40th day of Easter, the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ on the following Sunday (ie. 43 days after Easter). Here is the perfect opportunity to observe this important feast of Our Lord on the day it is properly intended. Tailored Mass books and full translations are provided, which will make it perfect for newcomers to the Tridentine Rite.

Please do remember to begin a Novena to the Holy Spirit; 9 days of prayer before Pentecost, beginning this Friday, in the same way as the Apostles and Our Lady. The transferral of the Feast to Sunday loses this important connection, which all novenas are based upon.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

New Poll

Transferral of Holy Days in England and Wales
Its been a while since I did a good ol' poll about matters liturgical and otherwise. This isn't a new topic, although with the liberation of the older form of Mass, it is perhaps now possible to observe the traditional feast days of our country on their proper days.

So what do you think?

Next Thursday Anglican churches across the country will be observing the feast of the Ascension: 40 days after Easter. However, we in the Catholic Church, the so-called "fullness of Faith" are forbidden from observing this feast, and instead will have to wait till Sunday, 43 days after Easter. The rationale for our bishops to change this was something along the lines of people not bothering to go on Thursday (despite it being a holy day of obligation previously) and therefore missing out on an important feast.

I will leave it to you to decide.

What do you think about Ascension Day being moved to Sunday? free polls

Newman News

Very exciting for the Birmingham Oratory, and indeed the whole of English Catholicism, is the process of beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who founded the church we attend in the mid-nineteenth century.

Just a couple of days ago, the local rag the Birmingham Mail reported further on this matter. Of particular note is this paragraph:
The priest, who lived from 1801 to 1890, will be given the title "blessed" in a ceremony later this year and be only a step away from Sainthood.
The Roman Catholic Church has accepted that he was responsible for a miracle in which an American clergyman was "cured" of a crippling spinal disorder.
Just how much truth there is to the article, is anyone's guess, but we certainly know that things are moving swiftly indeed. Yesterday evening, this news seemed to have been confirmed by Fr Gregory Winterton (of the Birmingham Oratory), announcing before Mass that the medical investigations have come to a conclusion.

It always amuses me the way the media, when reporting on this matter, uses the word "cured" in apostrophes, obviously highlighting scepticism. The word 'cure' does not necessarily imply miraculous and supernatural causes. It is simply a state of fact: someone is free of previous disease. In this case, of course, a supernatural and spiritual cause is the only possible explanation, and medical science is not able to provide any other. Deo Gratias!

For more about Newman, see my previous post, or the Oratory website.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Easter Sunday

« Holy Saturday
Easter Sunday

Resurrexit Sicut Dixit
He is risen, as he said

This season in the Church now celebrates the risen Christ, and recalls the events which occurred before He ascended into Heaven to take His eternal place at the right hand of the Father, Almighty God. For us, in the Church Militant here on earth, we rejoice ever anew in the victory over Sin which Christ constantly wins for us in our lives. Fresh from the repentance of lent, and the self-denial of earthly attachments, we look towards the Resurrection of us all which is promised to occur at the end of time. Having died with Christ through our baptism, we now rise with Christ and live anew in Him. It is this new life which will bear witness on the day of judgement, and this new life of Grace which will enable us to exist with God in His heavenly glory.

After the barren solemnity of lent, which I have already described, the Church is now transformed with light, flowers, candles and music. Atop a huge pedestal in the sanctuary, stands the Paschal candle, which symbolises the Light of Christ, and from which all the newly baptised receive the flame to light their own candle. This is perhaps the part of the liturgical season where symbolism is at its richest.

We glory in the relics of Our Saints, and at this time of year we especially recall the Martyrs of the Church. This is because we know that in their earthly bodies they were sanctified by God to the utmost, and therefore we await the transformation of their earthly bodies into heavenly ones come the day of judgement. But even before that day, they reside with God in Spirit, and enjoy the beatific vision. We therefore seek their prayers as powerful intercessors before the throne of God. Above is pictured the Oratory's founding Saint, Philip Neri, whose shrine in our church is modelled on the Roman Oratory's.

Laying away all malice, and all guile, and dissimulations, and envies, and all detractions, As newborn babes, desire the rational milk without guile, that thereby you may grow unto salvation: If so be you have tasted that the Lord is sweet.

1st Epistle of St Peter 2:1-3

I especially thank the Lord at this time for the gift of Faith. Without this gift and driving force, our efforts in life will be sadly in vein. Although I was baptised as an infant, and always part of God's family, it took some time for me to truly nurture that gift of Faith and make it alive in my life. Faith in our Creator and His plan for us to be His children; this should be the essence of all our worldly endeavours, including both rational discovery and emotional connections.

In this age of renewal and redemption, let us constantly have before us the words of St Paul:
Purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new paste, as you are unleavened. For Christ our pasch is sacrificed. Therefore let us feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

1 Corinthians 5:7-8

Monday, April 07, 2008

Holy Saturday

« Good Friday
Holy Saturday
There is no Mass today. There is only waiting. God is in the grave. Tenebrae is publically celebrated in the Oratory early on Holy Saturday morning. Tenebrae literally means shadows. It features a hearse of 15 unbleached candles which are one by one extinguished after each psalm is recited. The true symbolism of this seems somewhat lost when this ceremony is performed in the brightness of the morning as opposed to the gradual impending darkness of the previous evening, although perhaps the candles are extinguished to show the gradual prevailing of dawn, and therefore the reducing necessity of the candlelight. I'm sure that had Tenebrae been said at such ungodly hours, I would not have been willing to partake in it! But the liturgy speaks for itself; the most poignant reading from an ancient homily gives us an insight into this silent day:
What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'My Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

'See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

"The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.
In contrast to the previous day's Tenebrae, the ministers do not wear elaborate vestments; only choir dress. Like all effective liturgy, it sets our hearts, minds and bodies fully towards the service of God. This day is often an empty one, patiently awaiting Our Lord's resurrection. Public participation in this special office gives us great interior participation into the mystery of our redemption. What a shame that this sort of Catholic devotion has been swept away by the tide of fashion and change, and how blessed we are at the Oratory to be able to continue with it.

Epic Catholic Advert

This video will change your life! A wonderful American advertisement which is enticing thousands of people to the Catholic Faith. Never have I felt so proud of my Faith; it was a real boost for me to watch this. Go to Catholics Come Home to see the whole initiative.

Sorry I couldn't manage to embed the video; I hope you will follow the link to watch the 'epic' trailer! Its just fabulous!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Good Friday

« Maundy Thursday

Good Friday

This is undoubtedly the most solemn and muted of the Church's feasts. I'm sure that it would be even more striking if the previous use of black vestments were retained. Today is about death and mourning. After the previous day's glorious opening of the Triduum, we are left with an altar stripped and bare, not to be used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass until Easter. We recall how Our Lord completed His sacrifice for us, and venerate a crucifix which is carried and unveiled before us. Like on Palm Sunday, the Passion is sung by three deacons, and thus the sacrifice which is made ever present in the Eucharist is presented specially today as the one sacrifice which Christ offered alone on the cross to reconcile a fallen humanity with God.

Ecce lignum Crucis, in quo salus mundi pepéndit
Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the saviour of the world

Veníte adorémus
Come let us adore him

The congregation all file up and take turns to kiss the feet of our saviour crucified, once the crucifix has been unveiled. This is a very moving occasion, and brings to mind the scene in the film 'The Passion' when the women at the foot of the cross kiss Our Lord. Doubtless Mel Gibson was moved by this tradition from the Good Friday Liturgy: a ritual which expresses our interior love for the wood of the Cross, derived from a forth century custom of venerating a relic of the true Cross.

St Peter gives us some striking words about the crucifixion, which are given to us in the liturgy for Good Shepherd Sunday (the day I write):
[Christ] who His own self bore our sins in His body upon the tree: that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice: by whose stripes you were healed. For you were as sheep going astray: but you are now converted to the shepherd and bishop of your souls.
1 Peter 2:24-25
Jesus has taken upon Himself the ultimate punishment for our sins. The very act of crucifixion is by its nature a result of the barbarity of sinful humanity; the punishment a decadent and cruel civilisation inflicted upon its subjects. This torture, cast upon the pure and spotless 'Lamb of God' shows us the way the divine plan includes the greatest act of love imaginable. He not only redeemed us with His blood; He spilt every last drop of it for us.

In Christ's suffering and death, he opened up for us the way to eternal life - removing the eternal punishment our separation from God's love had inflicted upon our souls. This separation stems from disobedience to God, expressed perfectly in the story of Adam and Eve, whereby they eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - representing our constant attempt to decide our own relativistic morality. Truth is in God's grasp, and he conveys that perfect Truth through His divine Son.

In the Old Testament, when the High Priest had performed the ancient animal sacrifice of Atonement, he would then eat the victim which had been slain. The sacrifice here symbolised the ritual taking away of sins from the community of Israel. In Christ's sacrifice, this principle is perfected, as a divine victim appeases a divine and eternal justice which no amount of animal oblations could satisfy. But now, how do we consume the sacrifice offered? Through Holy Communion at the Mass. Such a heavenly food actually associates us with the community of Saints in Heaven, and sanctifies our souls.

Good Friday is the foundation of all Grace, the Sacrifice whereby Christ opened up the floodgates of Heaven so that we can transform our lives and fit us for eternal happiness and glory.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Maundy Thursday

After an Easter lull in blogging, I will now recount some of the events leading up to Easter in the life of the Church.

Maundy Thursday

Knowing that the Father had given him all things into his hands, and that he came from God, and goeth to God; He riseth from supper, and layeth aside his garments, and having taken a towel, girded himself. After that, he putteth water into a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
St. John 13:3-5

It is worth reflecting on how St John wrote his Gospel, in particular the way he seems to omit the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. His Gospel was the last written, and therefore assumes that the early Christian communities would have had a clear understanding of many of Jesus' actions already, both from the synoptic Gospels, and also from oral tradition. As we can see clearly from St Paul's letter to the Corinthians, the institution of the Last Supper and its relevance to the celebration of the Mass was of central importance to their communal life.

Rather, St John expounds the doctrine of the Eucharist in two clear ways: Firstly by showing how the disciples were prepared to accept the difficult idea through Jesus' early teaching in Chapter 6. Here, by the Sea of Galilee, he feeds five thousand of his followers, predicting the substantial way his own body would be multiplied to feed humanity. Next, after he had miraculously passed over to Capharnaum, He exorted those who followed Him, "Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto life everlasting, which the Son of man will give you." He then went on to explain, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world." Many of his followers could not fathom this statement and departed from Our Lord there and then. But the twelve disciples, although not understanding the intricacies or implications of His teaching, continued with Him, knowing that He alone had the "words of eternal life."

Next St John uses Jesus' profound example of washing the feet, which St Peter in particular found repulsive (how could a master wash his slave's feet?) in order to show us the meaning of the Eucharist. It is on the same occasion as when the other Evangelists recall Jesus' words about the bread being His Body: "after supper".

For this day of Passiontide, the emphasis shifts from penitence to joy. The ministers wear white vestments to symbolise the glory of the Mass being realised. The Crucifix is veiled in white rather than the previous colour of purple, almost highlighting that his Passion and its subsequent glory, had already begun. In the very early Church, this is the day when public penitents were reconciled with the Church through confession, after the 40 days of Lent. Incidentally, Holy Mother the Church is more relaxed in this regard nowadays, but equally acknowledges that we are all penitents, and no longer singles out any one of us for the wearing of sackcloth and ashes!

As a special ceremony, we also see the Maundy or Washing of the Feet, undertaken by the Celebrant (who always represents Christ at the Mass) who kneels before each one of twelve parishioners, and washes and kisses their feet with the assistance of the Deacon and Subdeacon.

Mandátum novum do vobis: ut diligátis ínvicem, sicut diléxi vos.

A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you.

The imitiation of Our Lord's love goes far beyond physically washing people's feet (although I know of many Christians who rightfully imitate this very principle, for example at the Fireside Centre for homeless people in Birmingham). Our Lord was showing us that the love which comes from God is so pure that it is completely selfless, and always at the service of others. Thus St John also states "In this we have known the charity of God, because he hath laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." For Our Lord goes on to say, "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Ultimately today is about the joy that we can call ourselves "Brethren in Christ" because he has exulted us, from mere servants of God, to friends: who know of God's plan and His love for us.

Pope Benedict draws on these themes in his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) which seems to portray the drive of his whole pontificate:
The Eucharist draws us into Jesus' act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving. The imagery of marriage between God and Israel is now realized in a way previously inconceivable: it had meant standing in God's presence, but now it becomes union with God through sharing in Jesus' self-gift, sharing in his body and blood.
The Holy Father draws from this principle, the way that we as believers should manifest the love of the Trinity (which is in itself, perfect love of the Holy Spirit, between God the Father and God the Son) in our charitable activities.

In my vocation of Marriage I am called to place this 'servant love' of Christ before everything else that I do. Of course that is not always easy, but true love never is. The element of sacrifice involves no longer being free to follow every whim and desire, but placing the needs of the family first. This is the only equation for happiness within marriage, and something I was reminded of by the minister at our wedding. A simple practical example is doing the washing up! A job that, rather than always palming off on others, we can embrace and perform joyfully for the sake of the spouse.

Next I will reflect on Good Friday, seeing how Jesus' example of self-giving love was made manifest in His sacrifice upon the cross, and what that greatest act of love means for us believers.