Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Midnight Mass photos

Thanks to Frank for the following photos from Midnight Mass. Mass went very well thanks to the the Jarrow schola and the altar team. There were sixty-three in the congregation. Mass was followed by mulled wine and mince pies. The 5.30pm Vigil Mass was as usual the best attended Mass of the year with not a spare seat to be had and an overflow of the congregation into the hall.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

`Out of love for us, he took upon himself our human condition, our fragility, our vulnerability and he opened up for us the path that leads to the fullness of life to a share in the life of God himself.
As we ponder this great mystery in our hearts this Christmas, let us give thanks to God for his goodness to us and let us joyfully proclaim to those around us the good news that God offers us freedom from whatever weighs us down: he gives us hope, he brings us life.`

Pope Benedict XVI on Thought for the Day 24.12.10

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Masses

The phone never stops at this time of year with people asking what time the Christmas Masses are so here they are!

Christmas Mass Times:

St Mary`s, Forest Hall: Christmas Eve 5.30 and Midnight (Missa Cantata, Extraordinary Form) ( carols before both) and Christmas Day 10.30am.

SS Peter and Paul`s, Longbenton Christmas Eve 7.30pm and Christmas Day 9.15am

I have been fortunate in being able to celebrate a sung Midnight Mass in the Extraordinary Form since every year since 1997. I`m glad we once again have the musicians and servers available to make it possible.

UPDATE 24.12.11 ok so it didn`t make much difference. The phone is ringing every five minutes. I have left a message on the answerphone with Mass times but the last caller rang three times so i answered. Some callers refuse to believe me when I tell them the Mass times!

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

More on silence

Since my last few posts I have had an email from Nancy Parker who recommends this link on why silence is good for children. You can find it here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thanks for the comments

I`ve decided to re-instate the ringing of a bell five minutes before the start of Mass again to indicate the start of silent preparation for Mass. I suppose we can`t do anything about the end of Mass. We used to ring this bell but sometimes people thought it was the bell for the start of Mass and even the hymns would start on occasion. It is so hard to try to make a difference in a parish and this isn`t about Latin or ad orientem but simply giving space to let people pray before and after Mass.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

I read the pastoral letter on silence and .......

talking continued at full throttle in church as usual after Mass. I might as well have just done some juggling or stood on my head.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

This weekend we will have a pastoral letter

The bishop of Aberdeeen`s Advent pastoral letter has already been mentioned on the blogosphere. If you`ve not read it I reproduce it below. I liked it so much that I have decided to read it out at Mass this weekend instead of a sermon. Thank God for bishop Hugh Gilbert!

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We live in a noisy world. Our towns and cities are full of noise. There is noise in the skies and on the roads. There is noise in our homes, and even in our churches. And most of all there is noise in our minds and hearts.

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard once wrote: ‘The present state of the world and the whole of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and I were asked for my advice, I should reply: “Create silence! Bring people to silence!” The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today. And even if it were trumpeted forth with all the panoply of noise so that it could be heard in the midst of all the other noise, then it would no longer be the Word of God. Therefore, create silence!’

‘Create silence!’ There’s a challenge here. Surely speaking is a good and healthy thing? Yes indeed. Surely there are bad kinds of silence? Yes again. But still Kierkegaard is on to something.

There is a simple truth at stake. There can be no real relationship with God, there can be no real meeting with God, without silence. Silence prepares for that meeting and silence follows it. An early Christian wrote, ‘To someone who has experienced Christ himself, silence is more precious than anything else.’ For us God has the first word, and our silence opens our hearts to hear him. Only then will our own words really be words, echoes of God’s, and not just more litter on the rubbish dump of noise.

‘How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.’ So the carol goes. For all the noise, rush and rowdiness of contemporary Christmasses, we all know there is a link between Advent and silence, Christmas and silence. Our cribs are silent places. Who can imagine Mary as a noisy person? In the Gospels, St Joseph never says a word; he simply obeys the words brought him by angels. And when John the Baptist later comes out with words of fire, it is after years of silence in the desert. Add to this the silence of our long northern nights, and the silence that follows the snow. Isn’t all this asking us to still ourselves?

A passage from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom describes the night of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt as a night full of silence. It is used by the liturgy of the night of Jesus’ birth:

‘When a deep silence covered all things and night was in the middle of its course, your all-powerful Word, O Lord, leapt from heaven’s royal throne’ (Wis 18:14-15).

‘Holy night, silent night!’ So we sing. The outward silence of Christmas night invites us to make silence within us. Then the Word can leap into us as well, as a wise man wrote: ‘If deep silence has a hold on what is inside us, then into us too the all-powerful Word will slip quietly from the Father’s throne.’

This is the Word who proceeds from the silence of the Father. He became an infant, and ‘infant’ means literally ‘one who doesn’t speak.’ The child Jesus would have cried – for air and drink and food – but he didn’t speak. ‘Let him who has ears to hear, hear what this loving and mysterious silence of the eternal Word says to us.’ We need to listen to this quietness of Jesus, and allow it to make its home in our minds and hearts.

‘Create silence!’ How much we need this! The world needs places, oases, sanctuaries, of silence.

And here comes a difficult question: what has happened to silence in our churches? Many people ask this. When the late Canon Duncan Stone, as a young priest in the 1940s, visited a parish in the Highlands, he was struck to often find thirty or forty people kneeling there in silent prayer. Now often there is talking up to the very beginning of Mass, and it starts again immediately afterwards. But what is a church for, and why do we go there? We go to meet the Lord and the Lord comes to meet us. ‘The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him!’ said the prophet Habakkuk. Surely the silent sacramental presence of the Lord in the tabernacle should lead us to silence? We need to focus ourselves and put aside distractions before the Mass begins. We want to prepare to hear the word of the Lord in the readings and homily. Surely we need a quiet mind to connect to the great Eucharistic Prayer? And when we receive Holy Communion, surely we want to listen to what the Lord God has to say, ‘the voice that speaks of peace’? Being together in this way can make us one – the Body of Christ – quite as effectively as words.

A wise elderly priest of the diocese said recently, ‘Two people talking stop forty people praying.’

‘Create silence!’ I don’t want to be misunderstood. We all understand about babies. Nor are we meant to come and go from church as cold isolated individuals, uninterested in one another. We want our parishes to be warm and welcoming places. We want to meet and greet and speak with one another. There are arrangements to be made, items of news to be shared, messages to be passed. A good word is above the best gift, says the Bible. But it is a question of where and when. Better in the porch than at the back of the church. Better after the Mass in a hall or a room. There is a time and place for speaking and a time and place for silence. In the church itself, so far as possible, silence should prevail. It should be the norm before and after Mass, and at other times as well. When there is a real need to say something, let it be done as quietly as can be. At the very least, such silence is a courtesy towards those who want to pray. It signals our reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. It respects the longing of the Holy Spirit to prepare us to celebrate the sacred mysteries. And then the Mass, with its words and music and movement and its own moments of silence, will become more real. It will unite us at a deeper level, and those who visit our churches will sense the Holy One amongst us.

‘Create silence!’ It is an imperative. May the Word coming forth from silence find our silence waiting for him like a crib! ‘The devil’, said St Ambrose, ‘loves noise; Christ looks for silence.’

Yours sincerely in Him,
+ Hugh, O. S. B.
Bishop of Aberdeen

7 December 2011

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Priest, Pastor and Leader?

Last week at a funeral reception I got talking to two rather agitated laymen. They wanted to tell me about what was happening in their parishes. They both had the same complaint. A new parish priest had come in and, they said, closed down everything. Parish councils had been dismissed and many other committees. Not even social events were allowed any more. I found it hard to believe a parish priest would not want parishioners to enjoy social activities. For my part, I have always had a parish council as I find it on the whole a useful sounding board for ideas. I, of course, said that a parish council is optional unless the bishop, having listened to his Council of Priests, considers it opportune to mandate their creation in every parish which to my knowledge, has not happened in this diocese. I also pointed out that a Parish Council is essentially consultative and that while it may offer advice a parish priest is not bound to follow it although one would hope he would be able to give good reasons for not doing so.

However this did little to calm the rage. They had heard of a parish where the new parish priest on his first Sunday had told the congregation that he was in charge and he made the decisions so as to get things clear from the start. They said the Church needs to be brought up to date and that it is still in the nineteenth century. I`d never thought of the modern day Church as having anything remotely nineteenth century about it! I did mention Vatican Two and that bishops seem very keen nowadays to involve the laity at all levels of church life and how at priests` meetings the answer to problems always seems to be to hand things over to the laity. However this did nothing to restore peace. `Why do priests insist on looking after the finances when there are laity in a parish who have professional experience which the clergy lack?` So too with looking after buildings and grounds. Priests should hand all that over to the laity and thus be able to concentrate on being a spiritual leader. I have never looked after the parish book keep keeping so I don`t know if that wins me any gold stars.

While I can appreciate the point of this sometimes it is not unusual to find laity who think they should be allowed to preach as well. No doubt they would also want a liturgy commitee to oversee every aspect of worship. At this point it seems to me, as I mentioned to a senior cleric recently, the only job left for the priest to do is to be the caretaker, making sure the doors are open, unless of course, as often happens, they have keys to the building already.

Of course there are documents. There was the 1997 document, Ecclesiae de mysterio, a rare collaboration between eight Vatican dicasteries, which said that lay people should not have the title chaplain amongst other things. Also relevant is the Congregation for Clergy`s document `The Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community` which talks among other things about parish councils and erroneous thinking about them. I think it fair to say I never hear these documents referred to much in local discussions on the matter of the role of the laity. My laymen complained that decisions were made by a lot of old men in Rome and therefore were, I presume, self-evidently ridiculous.

However the issue is important as priests are unsure what they are meant to be doing. A priest may feel he is doing the right thing if he hands over the running of his parish to committees of parishioners who then give the pastoral lead. On the other hand a priest is a pastor with a role of guiding the flock and as such has the duty to mould his parish life according to the mind of the Church and have the resources to achieve this. While seeking to avoid a stifling clericalism, which treats the laity like children and which even clergy of a `progressive ` bent can fall into, it seems we have a new problem these days in a certain type of laity who can regard the very existence of the priest as an affront to their participation in the life of the Church.