Monday, 2 July 2012

I Once Was Blind

Friday's Solemnity was mentioned in advance on this blog.  It was such a wonderful day that we are going to have to mention it again.  It was a day of piercing clarity, yet also of mystery as to why we had not seen the clear truth before.

Some of us attended the 11am Extraordinary Form mass at St James's, others the 6pm Solemn Mass (Ordinary Form).  I could make neither, and ended up at the 12.30pm mass at St Mary Moorfields.  This small, beautiful and historic church is in the City of London, and has a packed schedule of masses. 

The 12.30 was part of a lunchtime set of masses.  There had been a 12 noon, and there was to be a 1.05pm.  The mass I attended was pretty well attended, with the church being around half full, perhaps a touch more, and as far as I could tell by the traffic flow of people leaving as I arrived, and arriving as I left, the other masses were quite busy too.  There were other masses during the day, not least of which was an evening Solemn Pontifical High Mass in the Extraordinary Form, being celebrated by Bishop Alan Hopes.

The history of the church is worth knowing, a reminder of the tough times that Catholics in this country have endured, and how their fidelity to the Catholic Faith and to the Church has survived some very severe tests.  This from the parish website :
The roots of the parish of St Mary Moorfields go back to several chapels that sprang up in the area in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Catholic worship in those days was illegal.

The chapels were known locally as ‘Penny Hotels’, as people had to pay a penny to a man behind a grill in the door before they were allowed in.

These were hard times for Catholics. In 1736, for example, the Gordon Rioters attacked the chapel in Ropemakers Alley, ripping out its altar, fittings and crucifixes. Following the Catholic Relief Act of 1791, Catholics were permitted to worship in public. And in 1820 the first church of St Mary Moorfields opened in Finsbury Circus. As the permanent seat of the Vicar Apostolic, it served as Cardinal Wiseman's pro-cathedral from 1850 to 1869.

The church was pulled down in 1899 and replaced by the present church in Eldon Street, which was opened on 25th March 1903. The architect was George Sherrin, who also designed the dome of the London Oratory as well as several Underground stations.

We were reminded of how much it has cost some Catholics to remain true to their faith on the recent feasts of St John Fisher and St Thomas More on 22 June.  In his introduction and homily that day, Fr Colven reminded us of the horrors of the protestant reformation, and of some of the important details of the lives of these two great saints.  While each of these men were known for different things, both were undoubtedly men of integrity and virtue, whose faith came before all else, before comfortable employment, social respectability and the trappings of office.

One of the moments that was particularly striking during that mass was the reading from II Maccabees, where Eleazar's friends try to persuade him to pretend to eat the sacrificial meat while actually eating 'clean' meat that they will provide. When he refuses "Those who a little before had acted toward him with goodwill now changed to ill will, because the words he had uttered were in their opinion sheer madness."

One of the side altars at St James's is the Martyrs' Altar.  The parish website has the following to say about it :
Originally the altar of St Michael, whose statue still remains on the wall above, this altar now honours fourteen of the English Martyrs canonised in 1970. The painting that forms the reredos is the work of Geoffrey Webb. To the left is a statue of St John Fisher whose memory will always be cherished in the University of Cambridge; on the right is a statue of his friend St Thomas More honoured and loved as perhaps the finest flower of Christian humanism produced by the Renaissance. Both were martyred near the Tower of London in the summer of 1535 .

Those of you with an interest in the fascinating history of St James's Spanish Place, surely among the most colourful and intriguing of parish histories, might wish to make yourselves free on Thursday 12th July, in order to attend a talk to be given by Fr Nicholas Schofield, a trained historian archivist, who will be describing the building of the current St James's, including the historical and social context.  Tickets are selling well, and cost £20 each.

Back to the Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul at St Mary Moorfields.  The parish priest, Fr Peter Newby, a former Catholic chaplain to the University of Oxford, preached a short homily that contained an essential, and very obvious truth.   On hearing the Gospel reading for the day, which of course relates Peter's Confession and contains the famous Tu es Petrus, as we discussed in this recent blogpost, one is reminded that serving Christ can only be done in its fullness within the Church, and by that we mean within the Catholic Church, the Church that Christ himself founded on the rock of Peter.  The Christ who founded this Church, the Christ whom we seek to serve, is the true Christ, the Christ who is the Son of God, the Christ of the Gospels, not the Christ of our imaginations, of our selfish preferences, of our wishlists.  Christ truly was on earth: Peter then, and his Successor now, defend and teach His Truth.

How right this is.   For many years, as Anglo-Catholics, each of us in the Marylebone Group felt that we practised and followed the Catholic Faith, and although we prayed for the Pope, although we prayed for Unity, and although we celebrated the 29th June, we failed sufficiently to recognise the importance of being part of that One Church.  In some ways, I suppose, we felt that we knew better.  We could keep ourselves outside until other people sorted out the arrangements for some kind of corporate reunion.  For all the excitement that arises whenever people criticise the Church for regarding X or Y as sinful, surely wilfully keeping yourself outside the Church (when you believe it to be the Church) is far worse, even more so if by doing so you encourage others in the same.

Well, we now know that such arrogance was wrong.  The Holy Father offered us the chance to join the fold, and we have done so with joy.  We have taken that step, we have played our part in bringing back together the gathered flock into one fold, under one shepherd.  We were blind, but now we see.

As ever, Fr Colven's parish notes for this week provide some inspiring reading.  We will leave the conclusion to him, after having allowed a little of last Friday night's 6pm Solemn Mass to find its way into this blogpost.  It is the custom at St James's that a hymn is sung after mass (there is no need for extra-liturgical hymns to intrude in mass itself, because we are lucky enough to have a choir that sings the appointed plainchant).  After the blessing on Friday, Fr Colven announced the last hymn, which was, of course, Full in the Panting Heart of Rome (what other reaction could there possibly be to the Solemnity?), as "The moment you've all been waiting for." 

How right he was, not just about the enthusiasm of the congregation to sing this great hymn, but also about how long we had waited to be in the Church, to be Catholics, to be in communion with the Successor of St Peter.

The Rector writes :
As many of you will know, I was not born a Roman Catholic and my reception took place only in middle age. When I am asked to explain this decision, my answer consists of  the two words SAINT PETER.  The Gospel passage which we heard at Fridays’ joint celebration of the apostles Peter and Paul  (Matthew 16:13-19) underlines the Petrine nature of the Church. Jesus judges that the moment has been reached when he can ask those he has chosen about their understanding of his true identity. He begins obliquely, asking who others are saying that he is. They come up with a variety of answers. “John the Baptist” – “Elijah” – “Jeremiah”: but then the question is made specific: “But you, who do you say that I am?” Peter assumes the role of  spokesman – he articulates the faith of the others: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. A turning point has been reached. For the first time, there it is out in the open – Jesus is recognised as the One he truly is.

Jesus’ response  to Peter’s act of faith is the play on words with which we are so familiar. Peter means “rock” and he is to be the rock on which Christ’s Church will be built. The rock-man, rock hard. The keys of the kingdom are placed  firmly in this one apostle's  hands. Rightly the Catholic Church has always made much of these texts – for we believe they are not incidental – they are spoken by the Word of Truth, the one Peter recognises as God’s own Son: “It is not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”.

Peter’s central role is part of God’s will for the salvation of his people. This is why Catholics have a special respect and loyalty for the successors of Saint Peter, the popes. Just as Peter acted as the centre of unity among the first group of disciples, so the pope down through the centuries has been the linchpin, holding together the communion of the Church as it spread into differing continents and cultures. The power of the keys, the authority to teach, to decide what is authentic, and what is not, in the transmission of belief and ethics, goes to the very heart of Christian witness in succeeding ages. It is a role which becomes increasingly crucial in a world of growing complexity.

Just as it fell to St Peter to make the first definitive statement about salvation through the person of  Christ, so it is the responsibility of his successors,  currently Pope Benedict XVI, to articulate a message of salvation for our own times. His, of course, cannot be a lone voice – each of the Baptised shares the responsibility to speak up and speak out, but the Pope, as it were, focuses the message and ensures that it is given expression: "It is not flesh and blood which has revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”.
As a convert, perhaps I am allowed to say that many Catholic are not aware of the treasure that they have in St Peter and his successors – the gift is too often taken for granted! Those of us who have come late to the harvest do realise that “amidst the changes and chances of this fleeting world one firm anchor” does “hold fast”. In communion with Peter we have the guarantee that all things necessary for salvation are there within our grasp – that the truth will be proclaimed until the end of time: that evil will always be named for what it is and rebuked:  and that the tenderness of Christ will continue to be ministered sacramentally and pastorally. What more can we ask than that?

1 comment:

  1. Francis Ripley [1912 - 1998], canon of the Metropolitan Chapter of Liverpool, composed an Anglicised version of the Roman pilgrimage hymn, "Full in the panting heart of Rome"

    To England’s shore Augustine came
    To teach the Faith in Jesus’ name
    And faithful soon were proud to sing
    This prayer for the Vicar of Christ the King:
    “God bless our Pope, with faith and love”

    An isle of saints England became
    And Mary’s Dowry her fair name,
    As faith and virtue grew in twain
    While minds and hearts ne’er ceased proclaim:
    “God bless our Pope, with faith and love”

    So now when God is set aside
    And evil flows in stronger tide
    We need the faith of days of yore
    To sing with fervour ever more:
    “God bless our Pope, with faith and love”