Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cathedral Sermon

I have been meaning to put my sermon from the EF Mass at the cathedral, held on November 5th on the log for a while. It`s not really very festive but I`d better not leave it any longer. I`ve tried to tidy up my notes into real English but there may still be parts I`ve missed.

Many thanks to first of all to the cathedral dean, Fr Leighton for his permission for this Mass today. Thanks to singers and servers. Mass celebrated under the legislation Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae. Please note the word universae: this is for the whole CHurch and not just a small group of disaffected Catholics who struggle with `the changes`. These have been major initiatives of our Holy Father who wants the Church to rediscover the beauty of her traditional worship. In many places in the world Catholics are becoming familiar again with these ancients forms of worship which sustained the church for so many centuries and which were the inspiration of the lives of so many saints.

Yet in quite a lot of the Catholic world Summorum Pontificum remains a bit of a dead letter with little provision being made on a diocesan level. In some places you can read the diocesan newspaper and never know that SP exists and what does happen remains the initiative of individual priests who never receive any encouragement from their diocesan superiors. Yet time is surely on the side of Summorum Pontificum. Universae Ecclesiae says:

Ordinaries are asked to offer their clergy the possibility of acquiring adequate preparation for celebrations in the forma extraordinaria. This applies also to Seminaries, where future priests should be given proper formation, including study of Latin and, where pastoral needs suggest it, the opportunity to learn the forma extraordinaria of the Roman Rite.

Ridiculous that men should spend 6 years in seminary and only learn half of the Roman Rite. Are there not more important things? Not really. It is the Mass that matters and a priest`s whole life is bound up with knowing and loving the Mass so it is important that he is well-grounded in its tradition. One day….

You may not have heard of it before of today`s feast. Nov 5th? Isn`t that Guy Fawkes night? Well in England & Wales, in the Extraordinary Form, in many dioceses it is Feast of Holy Relics of the diocese. What are they? If bishop Ambrose`s projection is correct then by 2028 all we will have is a few holy relics of the diocese! No, the idea is that all the relics of the saints kept in the diocese are honoured this day. Relics of saints? You mean bits of bones and things?

Subject can`t be raised nowadays especially among many Catholics without a shaking of the head and then stories of how there are three heads of St John the Baptist and enough fragments of the true cross to build a battleship and what about the empty bottle claming to contain the breath of the Holy Spirit or the feather that is meant to be from the wing of the angel Gabriel? Isn`t it all just fraudulent nonsense and nothing to do with our living the faith (same people often say same thing about Summorum Pontificum).

Yet if we look at Christian and especially our Catholic history we can see it was not always so. To an outside observer in the early church it often seemed that Christians were people whose only interest was bones. Julian the Apostate `You have filled the whole world with tombs and sepulchres`

The Romans like many Mediterranean societies, regarded the bodies of the dead as polluting. During Rome's classical period, the body was most often cremated, and the ashes placed in a tomb outside the city walls. Much of the month of February was devoted to purifications, propitiation, and veneration of the dead, especially at the nine-day festival of the Parentilia during which a family honoured its ancestors. The family visited the cemetery and shared cake and wine, both in the form of offerings to the dead and as a meal among themselves.

4th century pagan writer Eunapius:

For they collected the bones and skulls of criminals who had been put to death for numerous crimes…. Made them out to be gods and thought that they became better by defiling themselves at their graves. `Martyrs` the dead men were called and ministers of a sort and ambassadors with the gods to carry men`s prayers`

Christians changed the landscape with their feasting at tombs of martyrs. Shrines were constructed which became large churches and to keep on top of things bishops moved to live there. The most famous example is the Vatican: a cemetery where Peter was buried and now the centre of the Catholic world.

Julian pointed out that none of this is mentioned in Gospels. But tombs of prophets were holy places in Judaism and reflected belief in the resurrection of the dead. The martyr`s body remained on earth awaiting the last day when it would be reunited with his or her soul. A place of the presence of the saint and of his or her power. Saints work miracles at their tombs and mirackes are still a requirement for canonisation.

But isn`t this all vulgar superstition? Surely this was for the uneducated masses and the serious Christian theologians had none of it. Not so. One of the books that had a major influence on me was Peter Brown`s Cult of the Saints published in 1981. He shows how the cult of the saints permeated all levels of the church. For example Augustine`s great work The City of God explained how God had not abandoned his people after the sack of Rome in 410 and yet the last book was a long catalogue of the miracles worked at he shrines of St Stephen at Hippo and Uzalis.

Some see this as the decline of the times. AHM Jones in later Roman Empire `a sign of the times that man of the intellectual eminence of Augustine should attach importance to them`

Not just Augustine. Ambrose in 385 discovery of the relics of SS Gervasius and Protasius. Huge excitement an placed in Ambrose`s new basilica under the altar where his own tomb was to be.

And so on. Body of Cuthbert carried around. Durham cathedral built as shrine which became a magnet for pilgrims.

As Christians we say we believe in resurrection of the body. Our bodies are ours forever whatever their final destination. We achieve holiness or we reject God in the body. Our bodies have an eternal significance. The bodies of the canonised saint is a window into heaven. St Therese on tour in his country drew large crowds. Bishop of Shrewsbury has just announced that the heart of the Cure of Ars will be on loan to his diocese soon. Here is something that will live forever in God`s presence. As Catholics the relics of the saints are a pledge of eternal glory. Today we honour their presence in the diocese as pledges of eternal life and so feel closer to the things of heaven and the life of God`s saints

1 comment:

Ben Trovato said...

Interesting reflections,Father. I wish I had been able to come to the Mass.