With parish priests out of the way in the confessional, and most grown ups busy cleaning and preparing the sanctuary, the children enjoyed themselves in the Hine Room as they took part in the Easter Workshop. There were craft activities to glue, decorate and put together, gardens to construct and biscuits to be eaten. The chocolate guzzling must wait another day….

The church is decorated beautifully in readiness for the Easter Vigil. A good number of the congregation have been shriven this day. Now we await the dawn in joyful anticipation. It will be an early night tonight and the alarm clock is set. See you at 5am – I hope! If not at 10am when we will continue to celebrate the great feast.

Its been a blessed Triduum, thus far, with in excess of 120 at both the Mass of the Last Supper last night and the Good Friday liturgy this afternoon. Which for a small village church like ours is encouraging, a slight increase from last year. The choir, buoyed by extra voices, have been in magnificent form. The servers guided us through the liturgy with a skilled honed over  years of service at the altar.

It almost moved me to tears watching the deep devotion with which the congregation venerated the holy cross this year, as the choir sang the reproaches. Some of the more frail and disabled strained every sinew to bend the knee though they were not, of course, compelled to. We have been praying at Mass for weeks that our Holy Week services might be grace filled occasions enabling an encounter with the Lord. Those prayers have, I believe, been answered.

Tomorrow, it being Holy Saturday, there will be a priest in the confessional from 9am until he is no longer needed. Meanwhile the church will be cleaned from top to bottom, the brass polished, fresh linen laid and the vestments got ready. Anyone willing to do some spring cleaning should turn up from 10am until noon. Bring some brasso if you have it! Meanwhile the children have the ‘Easter workshop’ at 10am and will be constructing the Easter Garden and making craft items. It is going to be a busy morning.

Before dawn on the third day, at 5am on Sunday morning, we shall complete the Triduum by celebrating the Easter Vigil; entering church in the darkness of night and leaving as the sun rises on a fresh day of resurrection! The service will be followed by bacon rolls, mugs of tea and, for the adventurous, bucks fizz! We shall hold a Sung Mass of Easter Morning at 1oam, also followed by bubbles and, it is rumoured, a chocolate egg or three.

You can keep the chocolate. I am gearing up that afternoon, with genuine excitement, for my first pint of real ale since Shrove Tuesday.

Last night the Gospel presented us with that wretched figure of Judas Iscariot. We do well to ponder his miserable death during Holy Week, not only because his betrayal preceded Gethsemane and the pieces of the jigsaw are now falling into place, but because we can learn much from how the devil ruined him.

It began with dishonesty. Here was a thief who robbed from Christ, his fellow apostles, the Church and poor. Why? Because these were no longer his priority in life. Faith had become but a tool in the service of his real love- the self.

In that flaw he is, sadly, not lonely. We might think of many wicked and ambitious clergy who use the institution of the church for twisted purpose. Sex abusers, the power hungry, those who seek social and financial gain. And it isn’t only clergy! We might consider politically motivated Christians for whom this or that agenda ever trumps the authentic Word. Who use the Church to advance crusades. Playing ingenious games with the plain teaching of scripture to obscure its truth in favour of desired outcomes.

What such people always have in common is wayward devotion. Though called by the Lord they come to deny him for their true love is other than Christ. Though living alongside him, day by day, they come to lose sight of him entirely for their true love is other than Christ.  Though benefiting from his holy church – they think nothing of damaging it for their true love is other than Christ. They are, in a word, Charlatans!  And the problem with spiritual charlatans is that, when the supernatural aspect of faith dies within them, when devotion and prayer grow cold, as it must….betrayal is always the final outcome.

Thus they morph from believers into false followers who neither know the Lord nor love him. Who give the appearance of being a disciple but with hearts pledged to another- be it greed, sex, cultural Marxism, nutty fascism- anything! Soon they do not value Jesus much at all. In Judas case he came to be worth less than 30 measly coins. It speaks volumes. As does the cheap looking sanctuary with unwashed altar linen to the sloppy liturgy in which God seems absent or the miserly giving or impoverished prayer life. By their fruit shall ye know them.

And recognise the betrayal was not the calamity- every disciple abandoned Christ that day. Peter thrice before the cock crew! No it really was that filthy wayward heart. That is what stopped Judas, unlike Peter and the others, returning to the Lord. That is what made him unable to find God again even when entirely penitent- he returned the coins and admitted ‘I have betrayed innocent blood’. It seems a poisoned soul abandons God when overly full of despair and shame- the sinners lot. The tawdry double life is what ultimately killed Judas rotting him from inside out.

Tragic when you consider that just two more days of trust would have helped him experienced the grace and power of resurrection.

Confessions will be heard throughout the morning of Holy Saturday. Do not let shame build up in your life to the point you lose sight of God. Repentance, amendment of life and the reception of God’s mercy. Where would we be without them? It was for these things he hung on that tree.

Fabulous attendances at services this morning meant we eventually run out of palm crosses. I apologise if you went home bereft but delight in the reason! It really is encouraging to witness signs of growth in the parish.

During the homily we pondered the contradiction in the liturgy. How was it Christ was cheered into Jerusalem one moment only to be abandoned within the week? Yet this contradiction exists in the life of every believer. We too can show great love for the Lord at one moment only to betray him the next in a moment of weakness and sin. It is a struggle to remain faithful despite our intentions. Truly ours are the sins that nailed him to the tree, ours the lives in need of salvation. Thank goodness Holy week is here.

We also recalled how Christ’s entry into Jerusalem was a parody. For Pilate too, in a show of power, rode into Jerusalem that day for Passover, his mighty army drilled and marching before him. Pilate led the kingdom of this world, to quell any threat of insurrection. A fallen kingdom that lives in every generation and dominates by abuse of power and use of violence.

Christ rode out on a humble donkey for that is how monarchs in the ancient world went in peace to greet an enemy. Christ desired to confront the kingdom of this world but not with force or cruelty. His rule was love, his method was personal invitation. An invitation this world always rejects for it seeks self gratification and not authentic service to the Lord. So when the two kingdoms collide the greatest drama in history unfolds. The kingdom of this world counters love with hate and attempts to destroy Christ forever by nailing him to a tree. He in turn bore it in love and thereby overthrew hate and defeated death itself by means of his resurrection.

The greatest lie the devil ever told is to convince Christians they can serve both kingdoms in peace. Anyone doubting this need only meditate the Stations of the Cross to see what the powers of this world do when they encounter God incarnate. So eventually we must choose. A choice for every generation. Are we for the world or Christ? To whom do we owe our ultimate allegiance?

At the reformation, for example, most Catholic bishops failed Christ by meekly bowing the knee to the state. St. John Fisher stood up for Christ and his eternal word and paid with his head. Or consider, in our day, how Isis attempts again to crush the Christian presence but is countered by the witness of a new generation of martyrs who meet the violence with love and stand firm in their faith for the Lord.

What of us? Who do we choose? What do our beliefs, opinions, choices and behaviour suggest? Are we for Christ or this world? An attempt to keep a foot in each camp will only hold so long. Eventually we come down on one side or the other- by action or inaction I might add! So when the culture and faith collide- as they must and presently do- do we stand with the teaching of the church in all ages or seek a path of comfort via capitulation and compromise?

Holy week is here. Which Kingdom will you serve? To what extent do you follow in the footsteps of martyrs and saints?

Here is a photograph from the archives taken towards the end of the Palm Sunday procession back in my Anglican days at St. Barnabas Church in Tunbridge Wells.  There I spent several happy years cutting my teeth as an incumbent. The cavernous church with a beautiful interior lent itself well to fulsome processions and lofty ceremonial, though it was colder and more expensive to run than St. Anselm’s!

The tradition back then was to gather in the hall before exiting via the rear doors and walking the block to later arrive at the front door.  These days we are fortunate to have a pleasant village green on which to congregate for the blessing of palms before we troop over the road and into church.

 

This Sunday the 8am Mass will be a said Mass, during which we shall bless palms in a simple but dignified manner. At 9:15am we shall hold our main service, according to Divine Worship, during which we will solemnly bless palms, partake in the procession, bang the doors of the church as we ‘reach Jerusalem’ and listen to the passion narrative. At 11am we shall have sung mass again with a simple but dignified blessing of palms. At 6:30pm there will be Stations of the Cross.

Holy week is almost upon us. If we cannot give ourselves fully to the celebration of the Lords passion then something is surely amiss in our spiritual lives. Of prime importance are the three services which comprise the Triduum; the Mass of the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday evening, the Good Friday liturgy and the Easter Vigil which is taking place before sunrise at 5am on Easter morning.

Please note that the CLOCKS SPRING FORWARD this coming weekend.

Our Ordinary, Monsignor Keith Newton, wrote to his clergy this week explaining the importance of the Chrism Mass in our priestly life. His words are worthy of sharing and I hope some of you might be able to attend the Chrism Mass this year. He writes:

This is just to remind you that the annual Ordinariate Chrism Mass takes place on Monday the 26th of March at 11.30 am in the church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Warwick Street. This year the principal celebrant will be the Apostolic Nuncio H.E. Archbishop Edward Adams. This will be his first liturgical experience of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and I hope we will have a good congregation. Archbishop Adams will be preaching to us on this occasion. Please encourage members of the laity to attend if at all possible, though I do understand that in some cases distances make this quite difficult.

Could I gently remind all priests and deacons incardinated into the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham that they should attend the Chrism Mass of the Ordinariate as a matter of priority and not the Chrism Mass in the local diocese instead. Of course, some of you might wish to attend both but I want to emphasise that participation with your fellow priests and deacons of Ordinariate is an important aspect of the Chrism Mass.

With prayers and best wishes,

Keith Newton

Here is a strange fact. The Catholic church was upholding the dignity of women long before the secular realm. Since its foundation women could achieve a great deal as Christians and be celebrated for it. They founded schools, hospitals and religious houses, some even became doctors of the church long before they could study in a university! Yet it is frequently suggested that the Catholic church is misogynistic? Why is this?

I suspect it is because the Church departs from secular consensus not in its belief regarding equality, as people imagine, but rather in how it chooses to celebrate that equality. Allow me to explain…

The church celebrates equality whilst also delighting in divinely intended differences between men and women. It views such differences as healthy, normative and positive. Man and woman are as two parts of an intended whole; called to work together, in mutual love and charity, for the good of each other. At home and in the world. They may have different callings, as monk or nun or mother and father, but stand together in worth and dignity before God. A belief that leads to a philosophy of the family.

Meanwhile strident secular feminism views these differences between men and women as negative, often denying them altogether. It leads to a philosophy of the androgynous individual. Not mutual flourishing but the infamous battle of the sexes. Men and women pitted against each other. Worst still women often pitted against their own maternal and feminine nature and calling. Many are the guilt ridden women of today who feel they must simultaneously succeed at work and in the home, despite the near impossibility of that task.

I prefer the church vision. Within it wonderful women are celebrated whether at home or in the work place. Both vocations are viewed as precious, as are those who combine a little of each. For those still doubting that the Catholic church has ever celebrated women – look at the picture above. The women are listed below. What a wonderful group of amazing women whom the church delights in!

Helena (248-329) – Roman Empress; instrumental in the conversion of her son Constantine and the Romans to Christianity; revered as one of the most important women in the history of Western Civilization.

Pulcheria (399-453) – Roman Empress; a major force in Roman politics and ecclesiastical history.

Clotilde (475-545) – Queen of the Franks; instrumental in the conversion of her husband Clovis and the Franks to Christianity.

Theodora (500-548) – Byzantine Empress; one of the most influential and powerful empresses of Byzantium.

Olga of Kiev (890-969) – Princess and Regent of Kievan Rus’; instrumental in the conversion of her grandson Vladimir the Great and Old Rus’ to Christianity.

Margaret of Scotland (1045-1093) – Queen of Scotland; founded churches, monasteries, hostels and towns; called “The Pearl of Scotland”.

Matilda of Canossa (1046-1115) – Imperial Vicar and Queen of Italy; countess, duchess, and marquise; noted for her military accomplishments; called the “Honor and Glory of Italy”.

Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) – German nun, writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, visionary, and polymath; mother of German botany; founder of scientific natural history in Germany.

Maud of England (1102-1167) – Holy Roman Empress, Queen of Germany and Italy; called the “She-Wolf of England”.

Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) – Queen of France and England, Duchess of Aquitaine; the most powerful woman in western Europe during the High Middle Ages.

Clare of Assisi (1194-1253) – Italian nun and founder of the Poor Clares; first woman to write a monastic rule.

Trota of Salerno (12th century) – Italian physician and medical writer; wrote the Trotula texts on women’s medicine.

Gertrude the Great (1256-1302) – German nun and mystic; the only female saint to be called “the Great”.

Isabella of France (1295-1358) – Queen of England; called the “She-Wolf of France”.

Joanna of Flanders (1295-1374) – Duchess of Brittany; noted for her military accomplishments.

Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373) – Swedish nun and mystic; one of the most popular saints in history.

Alessandra Giliani (1307-1326) – Italian anatomist and prosector; first woman to practice pathology.

Elizabeth of Bosnia ( 1339-1387) – Queen of Hungary and Poland; one of the most powerful monarchs of her time.

Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) – English anchoress and mystic; first woman to write a book in the English language.

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) – Italian nun, mystic, writer, and patron saint of Europe; one of the most influential women of the 14th century.

Christine de Pisan (1364-1430) – Italian poet, essayist and biographer; court writer for the Royal court in France; wrote 41 works.

Margery Kempe (1373-1438) – English mystic and writer; wrote the first autobiography in the English language.

Jadwiga of Poland (1373-1399) – Queen of Poland and Grand Duchess of Lithuania; first female monarch of Poland; instrumental in the conversion of Lithuania to Christianity and the union of Poland and Lithuania.

Joan of Arc (1412-1431) – French heroine and national symbol of France; defended France during the Hundred Years’ War.

Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) – Queen of England; personally led the Lancastrians during the Wars of the Roses.

Isabella I of Castile (1451-1504) – Queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Sicily; completed the Reconquista of Spain and financed Christopher Columbus.

Caterina Sforza (1463-1509) – Countess of Forlì and Lady of Imola; noted for her military accomplishments; called the “Tigress of Forlì”.

Isabella d’Este (1474-1539) – Marchesa of Mantua; one of the leading women of the Renaissance; called “The First Lady of the world”.

Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536) – Queen of England and Princess of Wales; instrumental in the English victory at the Battle of Flodden.

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) – Spanish nun, mystic and writer; one of the most popular saints in history.

Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589) – Queen of France and Duchess of Brittany; patron of the arts; the most powerful woman in 16th century Europe.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) – Queen of Scotland and France; one of the most famous figures in Scottish and English history.

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653) – Italian Baroque painter and first woman accepted into the Florentine Academy of Fine Arts.

Elena Cornaro Piscopia (1646-1684) – Italian mathematician and first woman to receive a doctoral degree from a university.

Laura Bassi (1711-1778) – Italian scientist and first woman professor to be appointed at a European university; called the “Walking Polyglot”.

Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799) – Italian mathematician and philosopher; first woman to write a mathematics textbook; first woman appointed as a Mathematics Professor at a Catholic University.

Divine Worship, the liturgy of the Ordinariate, produces many gifts for the faithful, such as the restoration of pre-Lent. Today it brings forth another fruit via the re-introduction of this fifth Sunday in Lent being kept as “Passion Sunday”. A day on which the images in church are veiled, the church muted. The readings at Mass are now leading, beyond doubt, to the horrors of Good Friday. The trap is set and our Lord goes willing towards his death. Our thoughts are also turned, via collects, tracts and readings, towards our need for redemption from sin.

Within the Novus Ordo Passion Sunday has switched, rather confusingly, to Palm Sunday. It is confusing not only because Palm Sunday has a charism all of its own, and a conflation of the two makes things rather vague, but because many of the customs of Passion Sunday nevertheless remain. It is still permitted to veil  statues and crucifixes. You can still hear Psalm 42 as the Introit. “Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause from the nation that is not holy: deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man: for thou art my God and my strength…” It seems strange then that Passion Sunday was toned down as I see little justification or benefit for it. Perhaps one of our able readers can explain?

At St. Anselm’s it obviously makes sense to robustly restore Passion Sunday and its customs at all of our services. One would look daft veiling and unveiling images between services! Mass is at 8am, 9:15am and 11am. Stations of the Cross 6:30pm. Only one more week until Holy Week is here…

The readings at Mass yesterday struck me as particularly apposite. The more things change, as regards human nature and faith, the more they stay the same…

The first reading was Exodus 32: 7-14. Moses is pleading with God who is angered by man’s ingratitude. Having led his people by miracle and grace out of slavery in Egypt they have been “quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf and have worshipped it” The people had apostatised and happily disobeyed his command.

The Gospel was John 5: 31-47. Jesus lambasting the religious leadership for claiming to speak for God but without ever having heard his voice because his word found no home in them. They refused to accept him, who was divine, yet were quick to accept the things of this world. “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek glory that comes from God?”

A surface reading might encourage us to distance ourselves from such texts. Being neither Jewish leaders nor worshippers of calves we might assume the words are not addressed to us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

For many still worship the golden calf. Seeking material gain over spiritual truth at every turn in life. Success measured in pound sterling, hedonism and self gratification. Meanwhile historic faith, that which gifted this nation its culture and identity, is rejected and despised. A rebellion so pronounced that today we even deny our God given identity. Biological truth is ignored as people claim the right to be whatever the heart desires! A triumph of sentiment over reason.

And our leadership, at its worst, is reminiscent to that of Jesus’ day. We too are often failed by worldly prelates who seek favour in this world not the next. Who claim the name of Christ but whose actions suggest his word finds no home in them. In Jesus day faith had grown rotten to its core. Those who governed did so like a brood of vipers, self assured but unable to recognise God when he stood before them! How like some of our own. Hence the terrible scandals involving money and sex at the Vatican, hence the widespread apostasy in the West. Religious leaders refusing to speak for the faith, surrendering scriptural teaching to the prevailing culture and especially, it seems, the conclusions of the sexual revolution.

Lent is for recognising that God is not a benign fluffy deity who delights in whatever you desire. The self is not centre of the universe. Lent is for repentance, penance and amendment of life, when those who proved “quick to leave the way” are encouraged to use mortification and self denial to correct steps. It is a time to burn the golden calf in life and consider where our fidelity belongs in truth.

Are we  serving the God we claim to love? Or do we delude ourselves and the truth is not in us? Who do we serve? God, the world or self?

Pat, a member of our congregation and a local decorator, gave up his time this week to paint our sanctuary following the installation of the new stained glass window. He has done a magnificent job and I know the whole congregation will want to thank him. He is certainly top of my Christmas card list…shame I don’t send them!

This morning, as I was placing ecclesial furniture back in its rightful place, the electrician arrived to install an external light to illuminate the window when dark outside. This brings an end to the current phase of work before we set about the final piece of the jigsaw- a renovation of church lighting which is desperately needed as none of it is currently fit for purpose.

A massive THANK YOU to everyone who has offered gifts and help thus far. What a great difference it has made from when it all began…