Friday, October 31, 2008

Winter Chill

As the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are My ways exalted above your ways, and My thoughts above your thoughts. And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return no more thither, but soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall My word be, which shall go forth from My mouth: it shall not return to Me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it.
Isaias 55:9-11

It's a little early for snow, but I'm sure that it signals the winter before the autumn is even over! The colours of brown and yellow are beautiful, and so long as one is wrapped up with a roaring fire and cup of tea at home, it is probably my favourite season!

There have been fireworks everywhere for 'Diwali', and tonight is All Hallows Eve: we can fix our minds on the true Light of Christ, and His Saints who we hope and pray to become. All through Jesus and Mary.

Newman - Vigil of Reception

Update: BBC video report available here

Wendy and I have just attended the vigil of reception for the remains of Cardinal Newman. We are not used to proceeding through several police officers to get to the upper cloister hall at the Oratory House! Perhaps this is a precaution based on certain militant homosexuals who loosely associate themselves with the Catholic cause. The officers were good natured and pleased to give their assistance.

The upper cloister hall hosted a moving and austere tribute to the founding father of its congregation. We were greeted at the door by the Parish Priest Fr Guy Nicholls, and given some literature on Newman and a pamphlet guiding us through what was on display, which I shall quote from. There is strictly no photography allowed.

The location itself was fitting: Father John Henry Newman opened this very room in May 1859 as part of their school. It was the place where his remains lay in state before his requiem Mass and procession to Rednal. The display had as its centre point, at the far side of the room, a glass Casket Reliquary which contained some of the most important remains. These will be the focus of the ceremony incorporated into Sunday's High Mass (which I hope to write about, but again will not permit photography). In it are:

1) Some locks of the Cardinal's hair. These now take on a special significance, since in the absence of any further earthly remains, they will provide first-class relics to be presented to the Pope. These in the casket will remain in the Oratory Church, but there were several others on display in another cabinet which will presumably be presented to other significant places.

2) A piece of linen thought to be stained with the Cardinal's blood. This had been kept by the Sisters of the Spiritual Family The Work. They look after the College at Littlemore, where I have yet to make pilgrimage. This is the place where Newman became a Catholic in October 1845, after seeking out an almost monastic existence away from his work as Vicar of St Mary's in Oxford.

3) A small crucifix which was found in Newman's grave; made of wood and with a silver edging.

4) Some of the soil from the area where Cardinal Newman's coffin had been, in a silver topped container.

5) A Tassle, barely recognisable, which is presumably from Newman's Cardinal hat.

To each side of the glass Casket was placed two further glass cabinets which contained other artifacts and relics for the purpose of display:

In the cabinet on the left were some of the brass remains from Newman's coffin. These included one of the handles (the other three are still being restored), the brass nameplate, and the ornate brass Cardinal's hat with its accompanying tassles and cross. Photos of the latter two items have previously been published by the Oratory Fathers and can be seen on the News section of the website.

In the cabinet on the right was the remaining fragments of Newman's hair in various little frames, one of Newman's Rosaries, one of his breviaries, a red biretta and zuchetta, and two of Newman's letters to Gerard Manley Hopkins when the young poet was thinking about becoming a Catholic.

On the stage behind all these precious artifacts where two of the Cardinal's cassocks (one made of fine red silk, the other simpler and black with red piping) and his crozier. There was also a portrait on display by Claude Pratt. As we left the hall, Wendy recorded some special intentions in a book provided, which included the hope of having a second child. To attribute this to the great Cardinal's intercession would be a great blessing.

It was initially planned to be a great sarcophagus containing the earthly body of Newman. But he was to have his simple and noble wish - to return to the dust from which he had been formed, sharing the same place as his good friend and fellow priest, Ambrose St John, who died 15 years before.

It was this friend that Newman felt had been specially given him by God following the painful conversion away from the Anglican Church, and the loss of so many whom he held dear. It was Ambrose who was Newman's constant companion from then on; in life and death. Such a friendship should deserve our admiration and inspiration towards Christian Charity, and certainly not any distortion and manipulation into something unholy.

I went to sleep; and now I am refreshed.
A strange refreshment: for I feel in me
An inexpressive lightness, and a sense
Of freedom, as I were at length myself,
And ne'er had been before. How still it is!

The Dream of Gerontius - John Henry Newman

Special Masses over the next two days are:

Friday 31 October at 8pm - Votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament, celebrated by Bishop William Kenney, CP, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham.

Saturday 1 November at 8 am - Votive Mass of Our Lady, celebrated by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster.

Saturday 1 November at 9.30am (cloister chapel) - Low Mass for the Feast of All Saints according to the 1962 Missal

Saturday 1 November at 11 am - Votive Mass of St Philip Neri, celebrated by Bishop Philip Pargeter, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham.

Sunday 2 November at 11am - (invite only) Novus Ordo Pontifical High Mass for transferred feast of All Saints, celebrated by Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham.

N.B. Above Mass will be televised live on EWTN
From The Oratory, Birmingham England. Solemn High Mass & Translation of the Remains of John Henry Cardinal Newman.
Sun 11/2/08 5:30 AM ET & 2:20 AM PT
Sun 11/2/08 12:00 PM ET & 9:00 AM PT

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Faith, the Family, the Future (Part One)

...So is the title of a bold new weekend conference which has just taken place at the All Saints Pastoral Centre in London Colney. Unfortunately we forgot to take our camera with us, and so were unable to take any photos of the beautiful location. Below is a linked photo from their website. The building itself was built in 1901 by Leonard Stokes as a convent for the All Saints sisters, with an adjoining chapel designed partially by Sir Ninian Comper completed in 1927. I noted the area designated as the Blessed Sacrament Chapel was set up with Old Rite altar cards, but I was unable to ascertain the significance of these!

Accommodation for families and delegates was provided in the nearby SPEC centre, which is designed as a youth centre for the Archdiocese, in what must have been an adjoining house for the old convent. I am sorry not to have been able to share with you photos of all of this, but you can follow the links to find out more. Although these rooms weren't quite as well designed for adults, perhaps in subsequent years some rooms in the main Pastoral Centre building will be acquired. The SPEC centre did provide a welcome focus for the residential delegates to eat meals together and share company. It was also the location of lots of children's activities which ran alongside the main lecture programme. Under 7s enjoyed such fun as Catechism from the Sisters of the Community of St John, Saints Trail, Amazing Saints, and Music Workshop! There was also a programme for 7-12 and 13-18 year olds.

The main programme of lectures will have caught the attention of most delegates. Fr Roger Nesbitt gave a talk entitled "Re-Affirming the Family" which drew from material he presented at the 2008 Faith Summer Session. This focussed especially on the difference between the sexes, and the way that all this has been preordained by God to serve Christ, just as the whole of creation has.
He chose us before the foundation of the world... his purpose he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Ephesians 1:3, 9-10

He then demonstrated that Marriage was originally conceived as a perfect, indissoluble union of Man and Woman, as outlined in the book of Genesis. This material I am familiar with from the little I have read from John Paul II's Theology of the Body.

The establishment of Marriage as a Sacrament of the Church followed Christ's words as recorded in St Matthew's Gospel (19:6) whereby he returns Marriage to its original dignity, following a period of corruption by Sin; throughout the Old Testament it is demonstrated that the original relationship between man and woman became threatened by discord, domination, jealousy and conflict. It is ultimately this pattern we have become accustomed to, as had the Jews at the time of Jesus who were familiar with Moses' teaching on divorce. The best way Marriage can be seen prefigured in the Old Testament is through God's nuptial covenant with his people Israel: a commitment of true fidelity. We then see in Jesus' early ministry his self-manifestation at the Wedding of Cana; Marriage thus becomes an efficacious sign of Christ's presence.
By coming to restore the original order of creation distrubed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to "receive" the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ's cross, the source of all Christian life.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1615

This talk therefore helped to introduce the divine purpose of this weekend's conference: to encourage Catholic families to grow in Faith and Love, confident that their chosen way of life is built upon and nourished by God Himself.

A fitting question from the audience asked Fr Nesbitt to address the popular suggestion (not least from among whole Bishop's Conferences) that the discipline of the Church should be relaxed upon those couples who have become remarried after the so-called 'death' of a previous marriage. Fr Nesbitt was adamant that he could not envisage a change in Magisterial teaching on this issue, simply because it is based on a faithfulness to Christ's specific teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. "For the Church to do so would lessen Her devotion to Christ." I thought this an important point to stress, since relationship breakdown is often the cause of antipathy towards the Church by Catholics. I feel that more needs to be done to encourage a positive and pious state for those who suffer a marriage breakdown. Instead, what often seems to happen is poor individuals feel themselves "damaged goods" and open up to any relationship which seemingly eases the pain of loss they feel.

I will continue with a commentary on another talk I attended; Fatherhood by Johannes Waldstein, and my own reflections on this topic. My congratulations to all those who were responsible for this endeavour, and everyone who helped make it possible. Our family benefited from the intellectual drive which is aimed at bringing about a Culture of Life amidst our often dark and hostile culture.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Newman Arrangements

The following press release is available on the official Cause Website. I was anticipating that the arrangements may have to change slightly, and it seems that the new plan is much more appropriate given the lack of physical remains. As an apt commenter recently noted: "His work lives on in his writing and intercession and there is enough DNA in the mss of his letters to provide relics in abundance, if you need to have them".

Picture: The brass Cardinal’s insignia from the coffin of John Henry Newman recovered from his grave at Rednal on 2 October 2008. Picture by Peter Jennings - copyright of the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory

We, after all, pray to the Saint in heaven, and ask for their assistance based on their position of favour with God; it is really little to do with what they leave behind. I must stress that the veneration of relics is not worship in itself, but a way of feeling close to the Church Militant, and something to spur us on in hope and faith. In this regard, I have always stood in awe at the artifacts already available in the Oratory House for inspection: Newman's original writings, his missal, his mitre, walking-stick, rosary etc. In a way, the vessel of our bodies has less permanance and importance than these items of devotion which persist and stand for something even more transcendant.

So now we are blessed to learn that over the period of 31 October - 2 November, there will be four bishops celebrating Mass at the Birmingham Oratory: including the Cardinal and primate of our country. I hope if you are able to be in Birmingham for this time, you will be able to attand these events and pay respects and prayers to the relics and artifacts which have been prepared for public veneration.

Also continue to pray for the successful progress of the cause of beatification in Rome.

Statement by Peter Jennings, Press Secretary to the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory and for the Cause of the Beatification and Canonisation of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890), Friday 10 October 2008:


“I am able to announce that the remains of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) will be placed in a glass-sided casket in the Upper Cloister Hall at the Birmingham Oratory, on Friday 31 and Saturday 1 November 2008.

The remains will include locks of Cardinal Newman's hair, already in the possession of the Fathers of the Oratory, a small cross and clothing found in the grave, and some wood from the Cardinal’s original oak coffin.

Everything recovered from Cardinal Newman’s grave is presently in the care of one of the country’s leading specialists in conservation, the York Archaeological Trust, including the brass Cardinal’s insignia that decorated the top of the coffin.

The times during which visitors will have an opportunity to pray in the presence of the remains are 9.00 am to 8.00 pm.

Over these two days the following special Masses will be celebrated in the Oratory Church:

Friday 31 October at 8pm - Votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament, celebrated by Bishop William Kenney, CP, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham.

Saturday 1 November at 8 am - Votive Mass of Our Lady, celebrated by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster.

Saturday 1 November at 11 am - Votive Mass of St Philip Neri, celebrated by Bishop Philip Pargeter, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham.

2 NOVEMBER 2008,


“High Mass will be celebrated at the Birmingham Oratory at 11am on Sunday, November 2, the transferred Feast of All Saints. The celebrant will be the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham. The Very Reverend Paul Chavasse, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory and Postulator of the Newman Cause, will preach.

During this Mass the remains of John Henry Cardinal Newman will be solemnly placed in the Chapel of St Charles Borromeo, a friend of St Philip Neri, situated to the right of the Sanctuary. They will rest in the Chapel while the step by step process of Cardinal Newman's Beatification continues in Rome.

The meticulous exhumation of Cardinal Newman's grave at Rednal on Thursday 2 October 2008 did not recover any human remains. The Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory have decided that the specially made marble sarcophagus intended to receive Cardinal Newman's body will not now be placed in the church as originally planned.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

No Physical Remains Found of Newman

There has been a press release published on the recently created website for the Cause of the Venerable Cardinal John Henry Newman. Please follow the link.

It is interesting that the Venerable Cardinal leaves us nothing of himself. Perhaps it is something of his humility and virtue, his simple desire to be buried amongst his brothers, that God has allowed this interesting course of events. I reproduce the contents of the press release below:

Statement by Peter Jennings, Press Secretary to the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory and for the Cause of the Beatification and Canonisation of Cardinal Newman, Saturday 4 October 2008:

“The grave of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801 - 1890) was excavated with the utmost care on Thursday 2 October 2008, Feast of the Guardian Angels.

Cardinal Newman died on Monday 11 August 1890 and was buried in the small secluded cemetery at the Oratory House, Rednal, near Birmingham on Tuesday 19 August 1890. He was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II on 22 January 1991.

During the excavation the brass inscription plate which had been on the wooden coffin in which Cardinal Newman had rested was recovered from his grave. It reads:

‘Eminent [issimus] et Reverend [issimus] Joannes Henricus Newman Cardinalis Diaconus S Georgii in Velabro Obiit Die XI August. MDCCCXC RIP’

English Translation:
‘The Most Eminent and Most Reverend John Henry Newman Cardinal Deacon of St George in Velabro Died 11 August 1890 RIP’

Brass, wooden and cloth artefacts from Cardinal Newman’s coffin were found. However there were no remains of the body of John Henry Newman. An expectation that Cardinal Newman had been buried in a lead lined coffin proved to be unfounded. In the view of the medical and health professionals in attendance, burial in a wooden coffin in a very damp site makes this kind of total decomposition of the body unsurprising. The absence of physical remains in the grave does not affect the progress of Cardinal Newman’s Cause in Rome.

The Birmingham Oratory has always been in possession of some actual physical remains of Cardinal Newman. These consist of some locks of hair, some of which were sent to Deacon Jack Sullivan prior to his inexplicable cure.

These, together with items found in his grave, will be housed in a casket for a Vigil of Reception on Friday 31 October and Saturday 1 November, to be followed by the High Mass of All Saints on Sunday 2 November at 11.00 am, when the casket will be placed in the Oratory Church, Edgbaston.”

The Very Reverend Paul Chavasse, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory and Postulator of the Newman Cause said: “The lack of substantial physical remains does nothing to diminish our deep reverence for Cardinal Newman. Yesterday’s outcome seems to have a Providential significance.”

Father Chavasse added: “In the ‘Dream of Gerontius’, Cardinal Newman reflected on the experience of death. He wrote:

‘I went to sleep; and now I am refreshed. A strange refreshment: for I feel in me an inexpressive lightness, and a sense of freedom, as I were at length myself, and ne’er had been before’.

The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham said: “The establishment of this new location in the Oratory Church for our last bodily contacts with Cardinal Newman is an important moment and one that many people will want to mark with prayerful thanksgiving.

Picture is of the brass inscription plate on the wooden coffin in which Cardinal Newman was buried, recovered from his grave at Rednal on 2 October 2008. It is taken by Peter Jennings, and is the copyright of the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Latest on Newman Cause

Please follow this link to an article published yesterday by The Times Online.

The transferral of Newman's remains is a very special time, and I hope that you would unite your prayers with the Oratory Fathers at this busy time. I would imagine that there will be an opportunity to see the remains lying in state (in a suitably presented fashion) on the 31st October and 1st November, but all the details of this are not available yet.

It's interesting to note that there will be booking forms taken for the reinterment Mass, taking place on the transferred Feast of All Saints, Sunday 2nd November 2008. I'm sure lots of people will want to attend this event.

Incidentally the theologians working on the cause in Rome have not made any definitive decision, but rather asked for more time to study the case. We must avail ourselves to Rome and not be too presumptous about where all this is going.

A new website has been set up which should be fully operational soon. It will have downloadable forms for the reinterment mass available as of Monday October 6th, and will also have a paypal facility for donations towards the cause.