Father Ed's Blog

A Catholic priest reflects…

Month: March 2018

The return of Passion Sunday

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…

Golden calves and worldly admiration

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?

Super Pat the painter!

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…

Over coming ignorance

A huge problem for authentic Catholic witness is overcoming the prejudice born of ignorance. Take, for example, a tweet of the Humanist Society this morning which claims “Faith schools have a negative impact on social cohesion and foster the segregation of children along ethnic and religious lines..” A sentence so profoundly ignorant as to be laughable. Do they not realise that most Catholic schools are hugely diverse communities in which children of many races come together?

Take Tunbridge Wells- a town in which most schools are uniformly middle class and white. Yet St. Augustine’s Catholic Primary, in contrast, contains children from over 26 difference races at last count. It is a hugely diverse place where we happen to welcome children of all faiths and none. The humanist society seem in denial about the fact that Muslim parents, for example, prefer children to receive any religious education over a secular one even if it necessitates a faith other than their own. The Humanist tweet just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

This problem of overcoming ignorant prejudice also rears its head in media representations of the faith. Are you watching a murder mystery? Be certain the Christian portrayed will be stupid, weak and compromised if protestant or else creepy, cruel and perverted if Catholic. This despite the fact that the vast majority of clergy and Christians are neither ignorant nor creepy.

And what sort of block headed stupidity encourages that frequent portrayal of Christians as anti-science when it comes to creation? Does the media deliberately misrepresent Christian thinking? In which case it is dishonest. Or does it genuinely not appreciate that only fringe lunatics consider Genesis a scientific document not a theological work imbued with truth. In which case they are ignorant and stupid. An informed view would consider the input of the best Christian scientists asking  what to make of the fact that Fr. Georges Lemaitre, Catholic priest, arrived at the Big Bang theory precisely because he believed in a definite moment of creation?

And this problem of countering prejudice born of ignorance is not limited to life outside the church. Part of the problem, since Vatican II, having been a woeful formation and catechesis that led many to buy into a notion of ‘rupture with the past’. This group gradually detached themselves from authentic Catholic praxis and culture, delighting instead in folky liturgies and non-challenging teaching. The result- decades later- is a body who now hate to be at odds with the world. They reject historic Catholic teaching in favour of, say, the sexual revolution. They are formed by the secular culture they inhabit not the biblical faith they profess. And friction arises because they are now so detached from those who held to the historic faith as to seemingly belong to an entirely different religion.

The mission of the Church in the next generation becomes clear. We must find a way to overcome widespread ignorance and prejudice to authentic Catholic teaching from within the church and without. A task I felt was enabled by Pope Benedict’s desire for ‘reform of the reform’ but which seems frustrated under the present hierarchy. Indeed we seem to be going backwards not forwards at present where sentiment and PR opportunity rule at a cost to clear teaching and understanding.

Saints in the Sanctuary

The reredos salvaged for our parish last year contains niches which have been screaming out to be filled. So it is great news that two new statues have been procured for the parish. Welcome Ss. Thomas More and John Fisher, English martyrs of great acclaim. The latter having once been bishop with oversight of our village.

As you can see the images fit the niches perfectly, taking up residency either side of the candlesticks on the main altar. You can also see that the plasterer has been and the new stained glass is fully installed. The manner in which the window has been set back into the wall adds much needed depth. Indeed it looks as if it was ever meant to be that way. The final phase of work this Lent will see the sanctuary re-painted in a paint called ‘Lapis Lazuli’, so a truer blue than is presently the case.

Ss. Thomas More and John Fisher pray for us, pray for the beautification of churches, pray for the Ordinariate and for the unity of the faith in this land.

Mothering Sunday

Mothering Sunday is shaping up to be special. As ever Mass will be celebrated in  rose vestments, as is the norm for what is also Laetare Sunday, and we hand posies to the ladies of the congregation, in celebration of femininity and motherhood, presenting them also to Our lady during the singing of the Angelus.

This Sunday marks a midpoint in Lent; we draw breath collectively, with a softening of the fast, before the storm clouds gather and we journey in earnest to the cross. Mass is at 8am, 9:15am and 11am and Stations of the Cross at 6:30pm.

All that will be wonderful but not “special” given that these things occur every Mothering Sunday at St. Anselm’s. What then will be truly special? The fact that the builders have worked hard all week and this, therefore, will be the first Sunday in front of the stained glass window in the sanctuary. Exciting stuff!

Prepare for some ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’! Furthermore two wonderful gentlemen are joining our parish that day. They both have feet of clay but wonderful colour in their cheeks. Who could they be? Come and find out….

HMS Good hope: Portslade to Pembury

Edward John French was born at Portslade, Sussex on 8 November 1883. His family were regular worshippers at St. Andrew’s church a short walk from their home. By the age of 17 Edward had become an apprentice seaman working his way through the ranks of the Merchant Navy. In 1911 he joined the White Star Line serving on SS Ionic. Later that year, whilst still employed by White Star, Edward was commissioned into the Royal Navy reserves as sub-lieutenant, the following year, the outbreak of WW1, he left the Marchant Navy and joined the Royal Navy.

Later that same year Edward joined the crew of HMS Good Hope, pictured above, an armoured cruiser which had launched in 1901. She was considered one of the worst ships ever made proving costly to run and maintain! Within only a few years she had been de-commissioned and handed to the naval reserves but was returned to full service at the outbreak of war. The ship, with Edward aboard, was stationed off the coast of South America, at the Falkland Islands, where it protected merchant vessels from attack.

In November 1914 the ship was involved in the Battle of Coronel being pitted against faster and better equipped German vessels. At dusk the able German squadron, commanded by Von Spree, manoeuvred so that the British ships were silhouetted against the setting sun, whilst the German fleet remained hidden in shadow. HMS Good Hope was bombarded, caught fire and later sank amidst a terrible explosion. There were 919 men onboard including Lieutenant Edward John French. A memorial to these brave men was installed in Stanley Cathedral on the Falkland Islands in 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of their death.

Edward John French was also remembered at home and his name can be found on the War Memorial at the library in Hove and on the memorial located in his home church of St. Andrew’s Porstlade. It is in the cemetery there that his grave stone can be found. And it was in St Andrew’s Church, that a stunning stained glass window was erected in his memory, depicting Jesus walking across the waves to St Peter. A fitting biblical scene for any naval officer.

Sadly the window was removed in 2003 when part of the church was converted into a community centre. But that window was not lost or forgotten having passed into the hands of the Worshipful Company of Window Glaziers.

In 2017 they kindly donated it to St. Anselm’s parish in Pembury and by the end of this week it will be the main window in our Sanctuary. What a blessing! It will bring new focus to our remembrance day celebrations as we add to our prayers for those who died at sea the crew of HMS Good Hope.

And the Falkland link is of interest within my own family. For dear Fr. Inlaw (as we call him on this blog), my wife’s father, was also a member of the Royal Navy who saw action in the Falkland Isles having served during conflict in the 1980’s. A superb engineer he maintained the aircraft on HMS Invincible a far superior craft to HMS Good Hope! He is somewhere on this photograph returning to England at the end of that war.

Early stripping of the altars

It was an austere Lent Mass in Pembury yesterday as we celebrated in a muted sanctuary and before a scaffold! Then, for the second week running, we stripped the altar after Mass and cleared the sanctuary that work can continue this coming week on the installation of our stained glass window. How wonderful that it should all be in place for Mothering Sunday.

As you see the side panels are now blocked and ready to be plastered internally. This week the stained glass frame itself will be carefully put in place, once a new and longer central panel to the existing window is fitted. Keeping the old window in place has a triple benefit- it cut the cost of installation, it ensures we do not compromise on weathering and it also protects the new glass from vandalism.

Once the window is in place we are installing a new external light beneath it, that we might illuminate the glass at night. Then the final touch will be to paint the sanctuary afresh and we are, yet again, indebted to Pat who has volunteered to utilise his professional decorator skills and ensure the job is done properly. His only condition being that I go nowhere near it myself!

Tomorrow I shall share with you the backstory of the window itself.

The Vigil is moving…

The Easter Vigil has often been held at 8pm on Holy Saturday night here at St. Anselm’s, a widespread practice throughout the West. However this year, after prayerful consideration, it is moving to 5am on Easter Sunday- just before the dawn. Better get the alarm clock ready- after all few can have good reason not to make it at this hour!

The vigil was originally celebrated throughout the entire night of Holy Saturday lasting until dawn. The modern rubrics do not stipulate a set time but simply state that it must be held “after sunset on Holy Saturday and before sunrise on Easter day”. (cf. Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year). Thus we are able to make this move in obedience to canon law.

I believe the move will work really well liturgically having experienced a pre-dawn Mass during my days as an Anglican curate in Brentwood, Essex. There is something deeply symbolic about entering the church in total darkness and leaving it just as the sun is rising on a new Easter morn. It contrasts nicely with Midnight Mass happening in the middle of the darkest night- now the hope that promised is being realised.

Furthermore the liturgy then chimes with the biblical narratives. We celebrate Christ’s resurrection on the third day- according to our own experience of a Western Calendar not by the Jewish rhythm that runs from dusk till dusk. And so as we gather by the fire pre-dawn we resonate with news that the first disciples too discovered the wonderful news ‘on the first day of the week, at early dawn…”

And finally I rather warm to the change because we can then offer bacon rolls and fizz for breakfast in the hall once the celebration is over! And that sounds like enormous fun to me. The 10am Easter day Mass will continue to be celebrated as normal and all other services remain untouched. I urge you to make the effort to rise early and behave like an ancient disciple…

“At early dawn they went to the tomb”

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