Today is palm Sunday. Traditionally, normally, we would gather on the village green to bless palms and process to the church, whose doors symbolise this day the gates of Jerusalem. As they are opened and chants intoned so holy week begins. Christ enters Jerusalem and is now on his way to the Cross. We are called to follow every step of the way.

This year there is to be no procession. I wonder if and when this last occured in England? Nor are we allowed to bless palms for distribution to the faithful. Instead a simple service must be offered on behalf of the congregation by clergy alone in buildings whose doors cannot be flung open. It is profoundly difficult to accept and feels wrong for us as Christians. Yet plague is upon us and sanctions have been put in place for our safety. It is these that prohibit us from gathering.

Perhaps this dislocation, this period of deprivation, can be used to our advantage this meagre Holy Week? Perhaps our absence can make our hearts grow fonder as we yearn for Christ and hunger for Sacraments we so often take for granted? Doubtless this will be true for the devout. But the nominal will doubtless slip away. As on the first holy week I suspect our Saviour will have few disciples remaining faithful this year.

One way to keep holy week and not slide is to make use of our live streamed services. Today a simple Palm Sunday liturgy, with a short sermon, will be live streamed on our Facebook page at 9:30am. You do not need to join facebook to view it and can watch later if necessary. Do please join us. Do take part.

And if watching do leave a comment. It is wonderful to know who is watching. So far the services have been watched by several hundred each day. Which is very encouraging. But it would be lovely for us priests to know who they are! We miss you.

Holy Week 20/20 is set to be a muted affair due to the ongoing saga of Coronavirus. Because of this a dispensation has been given regarding the obligation to attend Mass on Easter day. But this does not mean we abandon Holy Week and take a holiday from the faith. It remains a sacred time for Christians that needs to be observed and honoured. How then do we keep a good holy week in our homes?

One way is to tune into Mass at St. Anselm’s each day. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week we shall hold Mass at 9:30am. The link is easily found on our parish facebook page.

On Maundy Thursday we shall screen Mass at 7pm. There will be no foot washing ceremony for obvious reasons and no procession or public vigil after Mass. In addition we cannot receive the holy oils because Chrism Mass has been postponed. But we will hold a devout Mass and you can join your prayers to ours and make a spiritual communion from home.

On Good Friday I shall screen stations of the cross at 2:15pm which will be followed by a shortened liturgy for Good Friday. This would be a good day to watch a film like ‘the Passion’ or ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ in the evening. It is a day on when all of us can and should fast.

On Holy Saturday I shall offer a shortened version of the Easter Vigil at 8pm including singing of the exultet. On Easter day Mass will be held at 9:30am. Do tune in and join us for all of these services. Let us keep Holy Week as best as we are able to in these challenging times. Mass today is at 9:30am and you can watch by following this link.

Each day live mass will be streamed on the parish Facebook page at 9:30am until the end of the quarantine period when our church doors can re-open. Do tune in and spend a half hour prayerfully hearing the Mass from home and making a spiritual communion. It will help us remain connected as a parish. You do not need to be a member of Facebook to take part but if you do make a profile then you are able to listen to it after the appointed time and at your leisure.

From tomorrow I shall be live streaming Mass from St. Anselm’s church on our parish Facebook page. Those who are already signed up to Facebook can view these services by visiting the parish page at the right time and watching live. If you have not signed up for Facebook then it is easy to do so and free. Just make a profil then search for ‘Saint Anselm’s Roman Catholic Church’ or use the link above once signed up which will take you there.

The first live Mass will be broadcast at 9:30am tomorrow morning. Please be patient if it is not smooth running on the first attempt!

Last week Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark produced this short video encouraging us to take part in the rededication of England as Mary’s dowry. Many of us did this last Sunday but if you have not yet offered the devotion then it is not too late. You can find instructions here.

The video also reminds us that the Rosary is a powerful devotion that has not been taken from us at this time. In our family we are offering a short rosary every evening and praying for the parish and various needs. Perhaps you could start praying a decade of the rosary each day also during this time of isolation?

I have been mulling the decision to close churches. Though it maybe the right decision in the present circumstances it still doesn’t sit right with me.

I am not knocking the episcopacy. The decision to close is a heavy cross for them to bear and I know it goes against their instincts as much as my own. It was taken in love and in the interest of protecting the vulnerable not least the many elderly clergy in this country. In terms of ‘health advice’ the decision is easily defended.

But we must also ask at what cost to the faith? I fear it might be a heavy one if people ask ‘where was the church in time of crisis’ and the answer is ‘at home and in isolation.’ This is not where the early church were found when the went to the sick and offered dignified burial to the departed. It is not where the 19th Century clergy were who bravely ministered amidst cholera and typhoid. What would they make of the decision to comply with government directive and shut doors? That is not an easy question to answer given that we have a better medical knowledge than them regarding the risk of infecting others. Like all questions thrown up by this virus- the answers are complex not easy.

Regardless the situation at present is this: Churches are closed yet abortion mills, off licenses and supermarkets are open. The posties, builders and bin collectors work but clergy sit at home. This is uncomfortable because it teases out an alarming fact. Christian worship is clearly being treated as a form of personal entertainment by government and our bishops have accepted that decision. We have been placed in the category of non-essential services- with cinemas, restaurants and pubs – not into the category of essential services with pharmacies, grocers and off-licenses.

What does this say about our NEED for the sacraments? This question must be addressed by the bishops as a matter of urgency because for as long as off-licences are open and churches are closed the only possible conclusion for people to make is that our need for Mass is less than our need for a bottle of claret. And any Christian worth their salt knows this isn’t so. If people can socially space in stores can they not socially space in churches?

This is not a flippant question given that I minister in a parish less than a mile from hospital. A number of my congregation work in that hospital and I am in communication to assure them of my prayers, especially those working on the Covid 19 wards. They are rightly apprehensive being not only medics but husbands, wives, mothers and fathers. Pray for them. Not least as they are deprived of Mass at the exact moment they need it most. I feel rotten and impotent seeing them risk everything to care for the sick whilst not allowed to risk much less myself to minister, in return, to them.

The response of those who endorse church closure will be obvious and wise. We deprive people only temporarily to minimise risk and lower the curve for the health service. And in the coming weeks, as bodies undoubtedly stack up, that decision will seem wiser than ever. And we also must remember the hospital chaplains who are, very much, about the work needed at this time. So I am not encouraging dissent here only, I guess, mourning a loss of congregation and lamenting an inability to be there for people at this time. It hurts.

In obedience and loss then we Christians must hold onto the fact this lock down is but temporary. Church doors will open again. So temporary we can do. Let us use the pause to deepen our commitment. May the absence of what we love make our hearts grow stronger. But we cannot keep this up for very long…

If the lock down is not temporary surely we must think again? Perhaps commissioning ‘virus priests’ to tend the sick and workers? Because church is NOT a non essential luxury for people of living faith. It is essential and we cannot live without the grace communal worship brings. Let me be clear; I would rather contract virus and die in a nation whose churches are open than remain for long in a nation where worship is banned.

A vigil is upon us who value daily Mass. We wait in prayer and obedience. But we cannot wait for very long because man does not live by bread alone.

NB: the photo is from the archives, taken when Fr. Leviseur found the church of Quo Vadis in Rome shut some years ago…he wasn’t impressed!

2020 was set aside within the Catholic church for the rededication of England as ‘Our Lady’s dowry’; a title the nation held in pre-reformation days when this country was proud of its Catholic heritage. As part of the rededication the image of Our Lady of Walsingham was being taken to Parliament for a special Mass. And Catholics across England were asked to spend 33 days dedicating themselves to Jesus through Mary. Many of us did this in recent weeks as part of our private devotions.

As part of this national initiative, which Covid 19 threatens to thwart, we had been scheduled to also dedicate our entire parish in an act of corporate worship. This can no longer happen in the manner planned until lockdown is lifted. But it does not mean we give up! Rather we join together in prayer, though separated, each from their own home, to ensure our parish is lifted up to God in prayer. Please be part of it, that our parish may receive the intended grace from God, by praying the following aloud this day:

THE ANGELUS PROMISE

The Angelus is a spiritual exercise created to assist us to embrace the massage of Our Lady. We are invited now to ‘share in the joy of the Annunciation’ by following Mary’s obedience to God’s call, through her faith-filled “yes”. Through our own faith filled ‘yes’ this day many the Lord work wonders in our life.

V: The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R: And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.

As God once chose Mary to become the Mother of His Son, through the message of an angel, so he chooses me this day, and invites me through the ministry of the Church to seek and do his will at this moment in my life.

V: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
R: Holy Mary mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.


V: Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R: Be it unto me according to thy word.

Mary’s response to her invitation ‘let it be done to me according to your word’ opened her heart to God’s grace and all things became possible. Let my ‘yes’ this day take away my fear as, like Mary, I embrace God’s will, and ‘ponder these things in my heart.’

V: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
R: Holy Mary mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.


V: And the Word was made flesh.
R: And dwelt among us.

At a moment in history, Mary’s faith filled ‘yes’ to God conceived him, first in her heart, which then led to the birth of Our Saviour. Through accepting him this day in my heart, enable me to recognise my role in bringing Christ to my sisters and brothers this day.

V: Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
R: Holy Mary mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V: Pray for us most holy Mother of God
R: That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: O Holy Mother of God, pray for us, and assist us as we dedicate ourselves this day. Your ‘yes’ at the Annunciation brought our Saviour Christ into the world, and you invite us to contemplate the great mystery of the Incarnation, sharing your joy in announcing that ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us’. May our yes, this day, open our hearts to serve our brothers and sisters in this your dowry, that they too may share our joy in the Good News that God walks among us. We make our prayers through Christ our Lord. Amen.

THE ACT OF ENTRUSTMENT OF ENGLAND TO MARY

Based on ‘the prayer of Erasmus 1532, Dedication of England to the Mother of God 1893, Prayer for England, Cardinal Griffiths Act of Consecration 1948, Act of Consecration St. John Paul II 1982.

Prayer: O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon England thy ‘dowry’ and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in thee.

Response: We your faithful people offer you this country in which we live. Once it was yours, all its children were your children and you were honoured throughout England as its Protectress and its Queen. Again do we consecrate it as your dowry and entrust it to your maternal care.

Prayer: By thee it was that Jesus our Saviour and our hope was given unto the world; and He has given thee to us that we might hope still more.

Response: To you we entrust the Church, which invokes you as Mother. On earth you preceded her in the pilgrimage of faith. Comfort her in her difficulties and trials. Make her always the sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race. To you, Mother of the human family, and of the nations, we confidently entrust the whole of humanity with its hopes and fears. Let it not lack the light of true wisdom. guide it to seek freedom and justice for all. direct its steps in the ways of peace and enable all to meet Christ, the way, the truth and the life.

Prayer: Plead for us thy children, whom thou didst receive and accept at the foot of the cross, O sorrowful Mother.

Response: Pray, O Holy Mother, for the conversion of heart of the people of England, restoration of the sick, consolation for the troubled, repentance of sinners, peace to the departed. Queen of peace, pray for us and give to the world the peace for which all peoples are longing, peace in the truth, justice and charity of Christ. Give peace to the nations and to the souls of all, that in peace, the Kingdom of God may prevail.

Prayer: Intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold they may be united to the supreme Shepherd, the Vicar of thy Son.

Response: May our prayers bring back this country to the fullness of its ancient faith. May your intercession lead us to a close union with your divine Son. We offer you all the people of this land, especially those who know you so little or not at all. May all in our country know Christ, the light of the world and its only Saviour.

Prayer: Pray for us all, dear Mother, that by faith fruitful in good works we may all deserve to see and praise God, together with thee, in our heavenly home.

Response: May we who follow your Son be fruitful in the good works of building a culture of life in our world where all human life is treasured and the gift of God’s creation is respected and cared for, so that all may share the fruits of God’s generous love.

V: Pray for us O Holy Mother of God
R: That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

O blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon England thy “Dowry” and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in thee. By thee it was that Jesus our Saviour and our hope was given unto the world; and He has given thee to us that we might hope still more. Plead for us thy children, whom thou didst receive and accept at the foot of the Cross, O sorrowful Mother. Intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold they may be united to the supreme Shepherd, the Vicar of thy Son. Pray for us all, dear Mother, that by faith fruitful in good works we may all deserve to see and praise God, together with thee, in our heavenly home. Amen.

Media coverage of the pandemic, with a few notable exceptions, has been deplorable. Every day we are inundated 24/7 with ‘worst case scenarios’ and every death is presented to us in sombre tones. It serves to paint a dystopian nightmare striking fear into the hearts of many vulnerable people. It has to stop. The situation is very serious but there are plenty of reasons for optimism too.

Covid 19 is not ‘just another flu’. Even if the death rate turns out to be similar, which is looking likely at around 1%, it is more serious because it has the potential to overwhelm the health service given the speed with which it is killing off the frail and vulnerable. There is no disputing then that we are facing a serious crisis which needs to be handled with expertise; we do well to listen to government advice and comply. But to suggest the grim reaper is running amok causing an existential crisis is simply not true. After all more people are surviving than dying.

How might we feel, I wonder, if the media told us about each case of survival instead of death? Or if they balanced stories so we could see both the tragic losses and the positive recoveries. I am sure people would feel more optimistic than at present.

And what if we knew more about cases presented? I am not suggesting this virus cannot prove fatal for the fit and healthy, normal flu also claims surprising victims. But bias is most often found in what is not being said. Was the young person who died compromised by addiction? Did they have another illness or a heart defect? Were they heavy smokers/vapers? We don’t have the medical notes so none can know. But it might be that full facts change pictures entirely.

And what of stories that are simply untrue? It turns out a 21yr old woman who died this week, and was paraded as a warning to young people, may not have died of the virus after all! She suffered a heart attack and was never tested. How much fear did that story spread despite being spurious at best and factually inaccurate at worst?

And understand that projected deaths include a significant overlap with the number who would die this coming year in any case. Many victims are old and suffering with other serious conditions. The average age of death in Italy, for example, is in the 80’s… this is not to undermine the tragedy of these deaths. Every loss is painful and every life is precious. But once you get to a certain age then death is always close. We all die eventually. Being honest about this can help bring much needed perspective.

Every day, in any given year, 1400 people die in the UK. If we honed in on each one, fearing we might be in that number, normal life would falter. This virus is undeniably horrible. It is hastening the deaths of the dying and claiming some unfortunate healthy people too. We are absolutely right as a nation to take the threat seriously and do everything in our power to slow the curve. But let us not lose our heads and be driven to panic by a frenzied media. My advice is limit yourself to a quick catch up each day, question the date without being cynical, then turn it off and do other things.

I am no medical expert. So treat health projections I make with a pinch of salt. But I am a priest who helps people prepare for death as a matter of routine. And, truthfully, the death of the elderly is neither abnormal nor reason for fear. We all die eventually. What is important is live the life we have, short or long, in virtue, hope and faith.

Despite authentic concerns at present we are not staring down the barrel at the end of the world. This crisis will pass and normality will resume for the majority. Perhaps the lesson the world must learn from Covid 19 is how to better deal with our frailty and mortality?

We must leave behind the vacuous message of hedonistic secular modernity, that has nothing to say about the meaning of life, and return to our Christian heritage; hearing afresh the Easter message that death is not to be feared if life is lived aright in relationship with God. Fix eyes on heaven and the troubles of this world are halved. Which is why, if faced with imminent death, despite some natural earthly fears for my nearest and dearest, I would not despair. If God calls me home so be it. I go with hope trusting in the promise of baptism. For Christians death is not the end nor the worst thing that can happen to us.

The world seems to have forgotten this at present. This is also true of a significant number of bishops. Our prelates must understand that the Gospel is not advanced if the church only speaks as a branch of the humanitarian health service and not as the body of Christ. We already have government officials to tell us to be kind and wash hands and attend to the needs of the body. What the bishops should be doing is calling the church to prayer and repentance that might return to God and souls might be saved.

Monsignor Keith Newton has produced a video message for the faithful. I am happy to share it this morning. His wise words are worthy of contemplation. Not least the suggestion that this sudden reminder of our mortality should encourage us to take seriously our need for living faith.

I had been hoping to live-stream mass from Pembury, and was due to meet a technical bod to arrange this on Tuesday, but sadly those plans were scuppered as my family went into isolation because of sickness on Sunday evening. The boys fell ill first followed by Hayley, my wife. Yesterday Jemima and I joined the merry throng exhibiting symptoms; although- praise God- I seem entirely better this morning. The shortest ever dose of Wuhan flu? A miracle stemming from the prayers of others? Time will tell…

With such an unhealthy clerical household at present perhaps it is time to design a new outfit for servers at Mass? This chap just lit the big six.

The good news is that the illness, if it is Coronavirus, has been mild so far. The boys were pale and droopy, complaining of malaise, headache and sore throat, but have felt well enough to play board games and do a little work. The appetite has not been lost and both are getting better each day.

Hayley was worst hit. She had fatigue, malaise and a temperature and spent the last two days in bed. But today, feeling a little improved, she has dressed and hopes to potter about this morning and go back to bed in the afternoon. Jemima and I thought we had ducked it but had headaches and felt rotten yesterday afternoon and evening. Yet both of us seem over it this morning. Will it hold? Who can tell? I hope so!

Obviously we need to be cautious before heralding recovery because this virus is a notorious slow burner and, in the worst cases, seems to be receding before hitting people hard in the second week. But the majority of people do overcome it and fully recover in 7- 10 days. With no underlying health issues there is every reason for the family to be optimistic then. Age is also on our side and none of us smoke. I hope that, by sharing our experience, will can help alleviate fears you might have. Honestly, thus far, it hasn’t been too bad. Please God it remains that way.

Our family has prayed the rosary every evening. We hold the parish in our prayers; especially the isolated, vulnerable and sick. And we continue to keep in touch with people who kindly telephone and email. Please pray for Rupert, a friend of a member of our congregation. His son is seriously ill in intensive care and, because Rupert has also contracted the virus, he can no longer visit. A salutary reminder that whilst this virus is manageable for the many it is devastating for the few. So we must be optimistic but sensible. The balance is all important.

Let me end then with wonderful advice from C. S Lewis who was writing about fears in his day regarding the atomic bomb: “The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things — praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts — not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about the bomb. They may break our bodies but they need not dominate our minds.”

Do not let fear dictate. It is a tool of the devil. Fight fear with faith and love and hope. This situation will pass and I predict it will not be as devastating as doom sayers suggested. Life will go on and lessons learnt. And very soon we shall gather together again in church and what a merry day that shall be. I might even crack open the bubbly…

Why do people sing ‘the angel Gabriel from heaven came’ at Christmas time? It makes no sense. Why do they treat Christmas as the celebration of the word made flesh? It is entirely wrongheaded. For Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ but his ‘becoming flesh’ occurred today at the moment of conception; on this the feast of the annunciation. Exactly 9 months before Christmas. This was the occasion when the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and she consented for her womb to become a living tabernacle in which God could become man.

Today all Christians should therefore honour Mary. As our churches are closed why not recite the rosary and pray for those adversely affected in this time of crisis? But however you choose to do it, honour her well. For the Blessed Virgin Mary is worthy of of praise. And the bible makes this clear for it is there that the title ‘blessed’ is given to her. Indeed Mary is called “blessed.” not once, not twice but three times in just one passage: – “Blessed are you among women … blessed is she who believed. … Henceforth all generations shall call me blessed…” 

And in the life of the Catholic church we find no less than seven separate feasts dedicated to “Blessed Virgin Mary”. So if you doubt her blessedness go back to school. And here are five lessons to help you realise why your doubt is misplaced.

Firstly Mary is blessed because she’s God’s chosen instrument. From all women, in all ages, she was chosen as mother of Christ; grounding his birth in reality. It is because of Mary we do not recall a myth but an historic event. Mary gave birth. God inherited his humanity through her.  Via the tabernacle of her womb God arrived on earth- not with a puff of smoke as in a Hans Christian Anderson fairy-tale, but in real earthy frankness. With all the mess a human birth entails. This challenges our religious sensibilities. We romanticise the stable, sterilising it with serene donkeys and silent babe, but the real Jesus was not born in saccharine gloss. Mary gave us a God who is physical and real. Rooted in authentic experience.

The second reason Mary is blessed, is for providing Jesus with human identity, a tangible history. Through Mary Jesus inherits his Jewish credentials.  Alongside S. Joseph she taught him the Torah, took him for circumcision and organised his Bar Mitzvah. It is Mary who ensures the promise made to Abraham was fulfilled.  She provides Jesus with DNA- a unique and necessary lineage ensuring he became the new Adam. 

Thirdly Mary is blessed for bringing equality to the incarnation. God chooses woman to bring hope to the world. In Mary we discover proof that women are part of God’s divine plan. Mary reveals how motherhood and family life are sacred vocation. A role of discipleship. Women are to be at the centre of the Church nurturing, caring, feeding, upholding, protecting. Now Society thinks equality means women should be like men, as if gender does not matter. But Christianity teaches, and Mary reminds us- God created us different; complementary but equal; male and female. So Mary lives out a vocation as woman, informing Catholic women everywhere to embrace their femininity. To be women for the Lord and never ashamed of it. When people tell you the church is sexist remind them; the greatest of all Saints is a wonderful woman. 

And this leads to the next reason Mary is blessed. Mary is blessed because she protected the child in her womb. When she visited Elizabeth the unborn Christ caused another foetus, John the Baptist, to leap for joy! So even in the womb Christ was at work- blessing John’s ministry. That passage, in which the unborn Jesus and John interact is only possible because of Mary, and it is proof positive- from scripture- of the value and validity and sanctity of unborn children. Mary, protectress of the unborn Jesus, becomes protectress and mother of all unborn children. Life must be protected from conception to the grave.

And finally Mary is blessed for being a perfect model of faithfulness. Its her willingness to trust God – to say “yes” – without knowing the consequence, accepting a life of sacrifice in the process, that makes her holy and blessed. Mary’s concrete trust in God, from her entry into history to her exit, marks her out as the “handmaid of the Lord.” Her obedient response must this day become our own.  We too must put aside an agenda of self, so prevalent in modern culture, to do HIS will.

So “Hail Mary full of grace, you really are ‘blessed among women.” All together now…