Father Ed's Blog

A Catholic priest reflects…

Month: March 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Change to schedule

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A change to the advertised services this week. The bulletin had announced no midweek worship, due to my being away from parish duties, however Father Nicholas has since informed me that his is willing and able to preside at the 9am Mass on Saturday morning. It will therefore go ahead as usual and everyone is very welcome to attend.

The more usual pattern of daily mass resumes next week but please note that Monday, being the feast of the Annunciation translated from Good Friday, will be a Sung Mass at 7pm – it being a feast day-  not a low Mass at 10am.

Christ is Risen- Alleluia!

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What a blessed holy week just took place at Saint Anselm’s. Having a proper church this year made such a difference. Without the palaver of previous years, when the church had to be repeatedly constructed and deconstructed to allow for children’s workshops and last days of nurseries etc, everything was more relaxed which allowed devotion to take centre stage. The new hall housing the children’s activity.

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And attendances were fantastic. The church full for each service of the Triduum and with standing room only on Easter morning! The children’s Stations of the Cross numbered less than ten on the first year we held it. This year we numbered close to forty. What a great encouragement to all those who have worked creating permanent space for God in this community. He brings the increase. Pictured below are some of the few who get gold stars for making it all the way to compline at midnight during the watch…

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A happy and blessed Eastertide to all blog readers. There will be no midweek services this coming week, as I take some time off to be with the family.

Christ is dead…

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The horrors of Good Friday are over and God is dead. His tortured lifeless body has been laid in the tomb. That tomb has been sealed. Darkness enfolds the divine. And an eery silence falls over creation. It is Holy Saturday. A time of tremendous loss when the sharp and bitter anguish known to all who have lost loved ones especially children, is experienced by the disciples. They weep by the tomb.

Did any retain even a sliver of hope on this most desolate day? Did they even begin to imagine that this might not be the end? I doubt it. Rather, in solidarity with Christians in the Middle East today, they were frightened and traumatised. Only, unlike Christians today, they had not the benefit of hindsight. None were preparing sanctuaries to celebrate the coming festival. What  pain they endured on this day. Especially Mary the mother of Christ.

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We do well to remember Holy Saturday when we feel beaten in life. When we lose hope. We might think here of those living under the yolk of tyrannous regimes. We might think of those who are exploited or abused or reviled. We might think of the poor and all who feel a sense of being worthless. We might consider the unemployed and the unemployable. Those in the grip of mental illness and those bearing the scars of a traumatised childhood. We might consider those whose children have been lost to drugs or the sex trade or to gangs. We might consider those whose marriages seem to be failing.

As Christians we might feel defeated by the indifference to the Gospel of our once Christian culture or by the lukewarm institutional Church of 21st Century West; where mediocrity and relativism thrive and zeal for souls is lost.

Holy Saturday reminds us that, no matter the cause of our feelings of hopelessness, we must never give up on ourselves or each other. We must not believe in death!

That is message of Holy Week. Never give up! Never stop hoping in the redemptive power of Christ! For he is ever bringing light out of darkness, life out of death. So do not give up on yourself; despite your sins and feeble progress in faith- he will bring about your salvation- if only you place your trust in him. Do not give up on each other; on your hopes for an end to violence and injustice in the world. For an end to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Do not give up on the neighbour or family member who refuses to see sense.

For our faith is rooted in resurrection from the dead. And in a tiny example of love and self sacrifice that transformed the world by humility. Tiny acts do matter. Small things can bring about change. So keep on keeping on…with saying the prayers, showing kindness, loving one another and hoping in Christ.

Maundy Thursday

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Before the agony of Good Friday, as the clouds gathered overhead, there was a moment of profound joy and holiness for the church.For this was the night when, at the Last Supper, Christ gifted us the Holy Mass. When he first took bread and wine and transformed them into the mystery of his body and blood.

For this reason Mass tonight is not celebrated in penitential purple but gold. Not because Easter comes early, understand, but because we gather with Jesus to give thanks for the Eucharist. And within the liturgy we also recall the example of loving service which Christ laid down for his disciples; we re-enact the foot washing. What a night of celebration for Christians throughout the world!

Yet the rejoicing cannot last for the ominous shadow of that cross falls over the celebration. Joy, on this most holy night, is mingled with sorrow, and present in the liturgy. The joy obvious at the start of Mass -when bells accompany the Gloria to ring out our joy – but after this the organ and bells (and all musical instruments) fall silent. They will not be heard again until the first Mass of Easter. Only plainsong and unaccompanied singing will be used from this point.

And at the end of Mass, the Sacrament is processed to an altar of repose located in our side chapel, which is dedicated to the Sacred Heart. This altar will be decorated with candles and flowers for it represents Gethsemane where Jesus prayed with his disciples prior to his arrest.

The priests and servers then return to the main body of church but do not leave in the dignified custom usual to the Mass. Instead they scatter, in all directions and in chaos, to symbolise the disciples fleeing and abandoning Jesus. The time of darkness is now upon us. The joy with which the Mass began has dramatically changed into a time of disturbance and tension.

Lights are extinguished and the church is thrown into darkness and shadow.  A psalm is intoned by a Cantor as the church is then stripped bare. Statues, candles, frontals, rugs; all but the essential furnishings are removed. We are losing the beauty of our faith visibly before our eyes. The main body of the church is left horribly bare in fitting preparation for the stark liturgies that follow on Good Friday.

All that remains of beauty is that altar of repose. The candles twinkling in the darkness.  The pews are turned to face it for, following Mass, we are invited to stay, in silence and keep vigil. Will we pray with Christ or drift off as did the disciples in the garden? Throughout the night the faithful come and go- private devotions are made. Then, at 11:30pm, Compline ends the vigil and the host is locked away in the temporary tabernacle.  The hosts set aside for the Good Friday liturgy, after which the Sacrament is removed altogether- for Christ will have breathed his last.

Do come and join us for this dramatic evening of worship. Mass of the Last Supper begins at 8pm. It is the first part of the Holy Triduum- a service in three parts spanning the entire Easter weekend- allowing us to liturgically walk the way of the cross. I imagine that only extreme sickness or death could keep the true Christian away. How could we, who say we love him, not give this weekend to God?

A letter from Oz

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One of our parishioners, Liz, just returned from visiting family in New Zealand. On her way home she stopped off in Australia and took the opportunity to catch up with our recently departed director of music- Antony Pitts and his family. They sent this lovely letter back with her, which I now share with you:

Dear friends at St. Anselm’s,

First of all we owe you an apology for responding so very late to say thank you for your very generous gift that you so kindly gave to us before we set off to far and distant Australia. Life has been quite hectic in the last six months; the time leading up to our departure and then getting a whole new life sorted out starting from scratch, but praise the Lord- he has been so good to us and we are now, after three months, settling into our new routine. 

Fortunately the language and the way people get on with each other are the same as in England, so adapting to a new lifestyle has more to do with the fact that the weather is very different (dare I say much more sunny!) and the Australian beaurocracy is next to none, I think we have by  now got used to both in a good way.

About 10 days after arriving (homeless) we found a house to move into, bought a car, got new driving licences, bank accounts, tax file numbers, applied for schools for the children and felt things were moving in the right direction. Our eldest two children, sadly, after spending a whole month here in Sydney, and on a week’s road trip up the Pacific Highway towards Brisbane, had to return to the UK to resume their studies, so that was quite an emotional day for us, but thanks to modern ways of communicating with each other, we have seen a lot of Thomas and Anna on Skype. Raphael and Sophia are now both attending a high school called Killara which is situated in a suburb next to Gondon, the one we are living in.

Luke was given a full music scholarship at  St. Mary’s Cathedral School, which means he travels across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, like his dad, every day- twice a day! So far, life as a probationer is quite manageable but we have no idea how he’ll cope once he is a chorister, his being such a young age still. We have been told that St. Mary’s is the only Cathedral choir and college in the whole of the Southern Hemisphere! 

Antony seems to have stepped into his new job really well, although a new job is never without challenges. As for myself, I was asked to take over the administration in the local church here in Gondon to replace a lady on sick leave and it’s been a blessing to get out and work and meet people, especially as one has to start liaising with people and making friends right from the start. 

We are thinking of you often, wondering how you are getting on and will be praying that you may all have a very blessed Eastertide. 

With all our love…

Wow- what a few months for the Von-Pitts (as we call them in reference to the Sound of Music) I am delighted things are settling down for them and we send our own love back to them.

A wonderful Chrism Mass

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Yesterday I travelled to London for the Ordinariate Chrism Mass. It is such a simple journey for me that I easily forget what a long journey it is for others. Well done to those clergy who rose at dawn to be present and renew their priestly vows. Well done also to the lay faithful who accompanied them. Quite fittingly, in the notices at the end of Mass, Mgr. Newton thanked them personally.

It turned out to be a wonderful celebration. Our Ordinary, Mgr. Newton, preached an excellent homily centred on the theme of smell and odours- it will doubtless be published soon. And the celebrant was, again, our Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Mennini. He has a really lovely Italian accent that always underlines for me that we are now truly part of the Universal church.

The only puzzling/disappointing aspect was why the Novus Ordo option was taken as opposed to Divine Worship? Especially as the latter had been used, very fittingly, last time we all worshipped together in Westminster Cathedral. This felt like a backwards step then. Though I understand economics dictated -the booklets used in previous years being recycled.

This quibble aside the liturgy was well organised. A fantastic choir and musicians ensuring reverent and solemn worship. After Mass Archbishop Mennini blessed a new portrait of our co-patron, Blessed John Henry Newman, a gift to the parish. The papal nuncio then offered warm words of encouragement before announcing some really welcome news….

…the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has provided a financial gift to the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham to help us continue to grow, especially as regards the cost of training seminarians. Waving the letter from the Holy See- Archbishop Mennini told us that Pope Francis understands the great sacrifices we made to enter into communion with the Holy See. Apparently he is very grateful to us for this witness and asks that we continue to be faithful to the vision we have been given.

What a wonderful start to Holy week!

UPDATE: I am informed that the Novus Ordo was chosen over Divine Worship in sympathy to the Papal Nuncio- a foreign rite in old English might have been rather challenging for him! That makes sound pastoral sense.

Blessing of classrooms

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On Wednesday afternoon I was honoured to visit the local Catholic primary school to bless each of the 11 classrooms. Rather than simply take along some pre-blessed water I paused in every classroom with aspergillum water and salt and asked the children how we could possibly transform these very ordinary things into holy water fit to bless a classroom? This allowed us to discuss how blessing comes from God alone and priests do not, in one sense, have a blessing of their own to give. They are however authorised to call down God’s blessing, in a very special way, to authenticate the sacraments and sacramentals on behalf of the church.

The children then watched as I blessed the water with the ancient prayers and blessed the salt. We then mixed them together just as salt was scattered over the water by the prophet Elisha! Devotions were then offered before we sprinkled the room with holy water. At the end the following prayer was used.

Lord bless this classroom dedicated to the education of  young people. Bless all our students, teachers, parents, governors, staff and friends. May this school enable all children to flourish and be happy and may it teach the Catholic faith in all its richness and fullness for the salvation of souls. May this classroom be blessed in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It was a lot of fun as well as an excellent opportunity to witness to the faith. I am very grateful indeed to the Head teacher for inviting me.

Holy Week at St. Anselm’s

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Holy week is almost here. And a full programme of worship is being prepared for St. Anselm’s, as well as a special children’s Easter workshop.

In addition to these services I shall be offering Holy week Mass at the prison to which I am chaplain and visiting the local schools and care homes. It promises to be a busy but rewarding week.

Palm Sunday

9:15am – The Blessing of palms, procession & Solemn Mass (Divine worship)

11am – Sung Mass with a simple blessing of palms

6:30pm – Stations of the Cross

Monday of Holy Week

11:30am – Chrism Mass  (*at Our Lady of the Assumption, Warwick St, London)

Tuesday of Holy Week

8pm – Low Mass & reflection

Wednesday of Holy Week

8pm – The service of Tenebrae

Maundy Thursday 

8pm – MASS OF THE LAST SUPPER with foot washing & vigil.

11:30pm – Compline

Good Friday

10am – Stations of the Cross for children

11:15am – Ecumenical act of witness on the village green

12:30pm – Confessions

1:30pm – Stations of the Cross

3pm – CELEBRATION OF THE LORD’S PASSION

6:30pm – Maria Desolata

Holy Saturday 

10am – Children’s Easter workshop (*we need donations of pot plants please!)

10am- 11:3oam – Confessions

8pm – PASCHAL VIGIL & FIRST MASS OF EASTER

Easter Day

9:15am – Low Mass of the dawn

11am – Sung Mass, blessing of the Easter garden & Maria Consolata

6:30pm – Stations of the Resurrection

What can we do for them?

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This blog has long lamented the rise of atheistic secularism in the UK which is fast eroding our Christian heritage and culture. Not because it threatens God- he has no need of our praise- but because it threatens our nation. The great Christian vision- love of God and neighbour first- is giving way to shallow selfishness and greed. There seems no goal to modern life beyond comfort and excess and the acquisition of wealth and power. A situation which can never be healthy.

We have therefore seen the rise of a political and elite class cut off from grass roots and seemingly uncaring; witness the expenses crisis or MP’s voting for their own pay rises whilst freezing the salaries of all other public servants. Witness laws changed via lobbying to allow corporations to pay nothing in tax. Witness the  rise of perks and pensions for those running councils. Witness so much, in truth, that stinks of money pouring into private pockets at the expense of the public realm and needs of the tax paying community. Have we ever paid so much in taxes to receive so little in return?

This shift from a nation built on Christian principles was always going to have a cost. And who could not have predicted that the elites would profit whilst the poor, marginalised, disempowered and vulnerable would pick up the tab? And so it is that families now cue at food banks, in one of the wealthiest nations on earth, whilst giant firms pay zero tax. The cost of living rises and zero hour contracts, pitiful pay and pension have become the norm. And all the while the poor are mocked- lectured on how to save something each month when they don’t have enough to pay rent and food to begin with. You couldn’t make it up. Clearly those at the top have no idea how hard it is at the bottom.

At enormous cost to our civilisation capitalism is giving way to global corporationalism. We have become a nation that always seems to have plenty to wage wars and reward elites- yet insufficient for local libraries and those who struggle on benefits. And cries for help just fall on deaf ears. A demonisation of the lower classes becomes convenient- that vile suggestion that there is something morally wrong with poverty. Suffice to say not all people on benefits are scroungers. Some are decent people who simply had few opportunities in life.

And then there is the disabled. Whose plight I underline today. How can our nation cut welfare given to those who, through no fault of their own, have special needs? Take Robert, pictured above, a regular at Mass. I can think of nothing as disgusting in my entire memory of human politics than the cutting of aid to the disabled. What are the government up to attacking the vulnerable in society? What sort of sick  system could propose, let alone put it in practice, such a hideous and cruel notion? It is morally despicable. Shame on all who voted for it.

I have another friend, David, who lives alone but requires full time care. He is too able to be institutionalised but not able enough to survive unaided. He too is being hammered by this cruel withdrawal of his benefits. Why? He doesn’t lead a life of excess. So many like David and Robert face increased poverty because of the government. Another burden added to the disadvantage they face in life. It is wicked. Not least when cost to supporting such vulnerable people is a tiny proportion of overall tax spend.

It is proof of what I always feared. That as Christian morality wanes so too will virtues like charity and compassion. Not because faith is needed to embrace virtue- it isn’t- but because virtues do seem to flourish best where faith is found.

For half a century we have witnessed the erosion of faith in these isles. Now the results are showing forth. We witness an ever increasing gap between have and the have nots. And a total lack of compassion for those less vulnerable than ourselves.

 

What can we do to stand up to the government? How can we fight for the rights of the disabled? How can we say no to impoverishing people who should, truth be told, be first in the cue for receiving tax money? Something has to be done. Shame on Britain for cutting the benefits of the most vulnerable citizens. This is a scandal. I end with a list of all who voted for this. I beg you to challenge them.

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God loves even the rotten

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In today’s Gospel Jesus raises a corpse after four days. To the Jews inconceivable. For they believed the soul remained with the body just three days after death. Then corruption sets in and the soul departs. So when Martha objects, “he has been dead four days“, she is underlining how futile is this quest. Lazarus is dead beyond all and any reasonable doubt. Perhaps that is why Jesus delayed- to remove any doubt about the miracle that would follow?

Jesus rose on the third day; his body would never know corruption. So, this miracle is not a mere foretaste of Christ’s resurrection. No Jesus is telling us; it is never too late for God to restore the dying person, the dying faith or, dare I say it, even the dying congregations of this world!

Because the Church in the affluent West is dying in many places, especially where modernism is rife. What, but decay in the body of Christ, are the abuse crisis, the growing lack of faith even amongst clergy, the loss of vocations, the loss of two generations of youth, the closure of parishes and the emergence of human politics encouraging conservative and liberal division where only language of truth and error should exist?

There is no getting away from it. The Western Church is in poor health. We minister at a time when many congregations are decaying like the stinking cadaver of Lazarus. I emphasise Western because, in Africa and Asia and in the Middle East where people are bravely dying for Christ- the situation is quite different.

And as the church suffers decline so many issues get thrust on us by the media. Homosexuality, contraception, celibacy. It is quite boring. Because where confusion exists on these issues we only find a side show. It is symptom not cause. And what is actually killing the church in the West has nothing to do with sex or politics. It is the modernist heresy. That desire to water down God’s truth to embrace worldly belief. Yes too many have forgotten, or are wilfully ignoring, what it means to be Christian.

This incorporation of secular ideology into the body of Christ is, unsurprisingly, proving cancerous. It causes confusion first and then, usually in the next generation, complete loss of faith. In the Protestant world we see a total embrace of unscriptural innovation -where Catholics flirt with it. The language of scripture is kept but the practice of Christians is skewed. So that we now have a situation in which more churches today will celebrate ‘fair trade week’ than Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. More Christians are passionate about ‘gender issues’ than in leading souls to Christ. It is this ‘worldly thinking dressed up in Christian clothing’ that is destroying Churches. Because – put bluntly- you cannot serve two masters.

I have a name for it; Christianity-lite. Out go parts of scripture deemed tricky or uncomfortable and the intellectual pursuit for truth. In comes a reliance instead on feelings and sentiment. Out goes authentic worship of God and in comes celebration of the community; all puppets and balloons. Out goes healthy respect and fidelity to tradition, in comes a glorification of novelty. Out goes personal devotion and in comes entertainment. Out goes self control and obedience in comes permissiveness and indulgence.

It doesn’t bring pleasure to be critical. And whenever we do highlight such issues we need to remember what Father Nicholas emphasised last week; that despite the many flaws in the church, of which we are part, we have a duty to love her and serve her. But we serve her too by being honest and confronting hard truth. And the hard truth is that too many churches no longer offer the fullness of faith; only watered down mush. The faith is not being taught in it’s fulness, it is not being believed in it’s fulness and it manifestly is not being practiced in it’s fulness.

And so we find nominalism and institutionalism ruling where zealous faith in Christ should exist. It is folly because part time faith produces no fruit. You cannot serve two masters. The more a church dumbs down – the more pointless it becomes. Like salt without saltiness, to use the biblical metaphor. What’s the solution? How do we reverse the decline? The answer is not what you might think. We might imagine more faith in God is required- but our Gospel today suggests the opposite. What we need is obedience despite our lack of faith. Let us explore the text..

The raising of Lazarus taught that healing comes when we are obedient to God not when we believe. Because nobody, not even Martha, believed Jesus could raise Lazarus. So faith was not really the answer. It was obedience, the doing of God’s will despite profound personal doubt.

Jesus issued three commands; each obeyed to the letter. ‘Roll away the stone. Did they understand why? No! It was four days after remember. But they obeyed. The modern church must learn from this. We should stop expending so much energy claiming to know God’s will and start leading lives of simple obedient witness to the faith of the ages- yes even to the parts that challenge us. Less chiefs -more Indians. After all how is it obedience if we only pick and choose what we prefer.

It means trusting God. Believing scriptures are inspired. Remembering whose church it is. It does not belong to conservatives or liberals. Not even to the Pope. It is not a human institution. It is divine. The Church belongs to Jesus Christ and to him do we own our ultimate fidelity. To the faith he has revealed. To the faith the Apostles handed to us. Not a bastardised form suiting the proclivities of the world.

“‘Lazarus, come forth!’. Even the dead find life with God. Even the rotten are dearly loved by God. That is very important. And it is something Pope Francis has made clear in his pontificate. We must not rigidly turn away from those who do not share our belief. We must pray for those who hate us, reaching out in love that our obedient witness and examples of holiness might inspire them. Mercy has such an important role to play as we call people together in Christ.

Unbind, let him go“. Lazarus had no hope of unbinding himself. He was wrapped like a mummy. But in unbinding Lazarus- who was unclean-the people became part of the miracle. Here is a sign to us. We must be prepared to get dirty as we roll up our sleeves in the work of mission. Taking on us the smell of the sheep, to quote Francis again. Daring to be messy as we come alongside other in compassion and warmth. But holding onto the faith we proclaim- not putting it aside and giving in to nominalism.

To conclude; the Christian community, in many places, has fallen victim to death. Many are trapped in a tomb of modern hopelessness and decay, in bondage to sinful habit, slothful attitude and weak faith. Only God’s miracle can save them. But Jesus is ever ready for that miracle. And we must ever be ready to deliver it.

So; are we ready to co-operate with God? To roll away the stone between us and others? To take the first step in reaching out? To unbind that we may be free? If so two things are essential- our Gospel tells us today-  obedience and charity.

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