Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A Wider Fellowship and Communion

The weekend before last, some of our Ordinariate group had the great pleasure to attend a wedding at St Mary's, Bourne St, the Anglican parish that for so long had been our home.  Here is a picture of two of our group waiting in that familiar place.


It was a joy to see so many old friends again, and to be surrounded by faces previously seen frequently but now only rarely.  Most of all, it was a delight and a privilege to share in the happy couple's big day, and we take this opportunity to assure them of our prayers for a long and happy life together.

It would not be appropriate to include any photos giving away too much of what was not our event, but we think we can just about get away with the picture above, which is of Marylebone Ordinariate Group members, and also this rather striking picture below, surely worthy of a caption competition.  In it, you see a former Head Server of St Mary's, now an Orthodox religious; key members of the current St Mary's serving team (the Vicar acted as the only server at this BCP Solemnization of Holy Matrimony), and a member of the regular St Mary's congregation, dressed in a very stylish morning coat.  Pictures do indeed speak a thousand words.


Most of us had been back to St Mary's at least once for one function or another since our departure, but this particular return took place almost exactly a year to the day since the weekend when we attended our final services as Anglicans.  As we explained in this earlier post, the anniversary of the dedication of St Mary's is held on the first Sunday of July, commemorating the day in 1874 when this small brick mission chapel behind Sloane Square was formally opened.  Forgive the digression, but I have long loved this extract from the Church Times reporting that on 2 July 1874 :
...being the festival of the Visitation of the BVM, a mission chapel in Graham Street, Pimlico, a portion of the parish of St Paul's Knightsbridge, far distant from the church in Wilton Place, was opened for service under the licence of the Bishop of London. The service at eleven o'clock was well attended by people from the neighbourhood, and we were glad to notice a good sprinkling of poor women. Mr Eyton, the Curate-in-Charge, was the celebrant, and an unconscionably long sermon was preached by Mr Knox-Little [curate of St Thomas, Regent Street], which, considering the broiling weather, was little better than cruelty.
Still today, that weekend built around the first Sunday of July involves a series of events at Bourne St.  Saturday's worship takes the shape of a Requiem Mass, and the set piece Sunday service includes not only the usual spectacular fare but also a Marian procession around the parish and a rite of Benediction.

The Saturday event was originally to have been our last service, it being agreed that a Founders' and Benefactors' Requiem was the perfect opportunity to give thanks for and to pray for the souls of those who played their part in creating the St Mary's that had been an important part of lives.  The ashes of a previous Vicar, the much loved John Gilling, who directly and indirectly had been the cause of the arrival of two of our group at Bourne St in the first place, were to be placed in the church's Colombarium at the end of proceedings, and so it really did seem the right day to say our goodbyes.

The Vicar had very kindly asked if we would like a visiting preacher on the Saturday, perhaps someone well known to us who had been important in our lives as Anglo-Catholics.  Our instinctive response was to ask for Fr William Davage, then Custodian of the Library at Pusey House.  The invitation was issued and accepted, and how right we were to have asked for him.  He preached an excellent sermon on how protestantism had played a very large role in making death something awkward and not talked about, turning it into the ultimate English social faux pas.  However, towards the end, he included an extra paragraph, which while it did not deviate from his theme, worked into the discourse some references to our imminent departure.
All Masses of Requiem, all masses, said or sung, offered pro defunctis, are bittersweet occasions. Because we are human, they taste of the bitter herbs of loss, they speak of longing and yearning, of tears and sorrow at the parting of friends, the loss of their regular society, the dislocation of familiar ties of friendship, the inevitable rupture of relationships. Yet in the Requiem Mass is the sweet savour and consolation of Our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead that promises us gain not loss, consummation and fulfillment, joy and eternal felicity, the reunion and reconciliation of friends in a new and greater social harmony, in a wider fellowship and communion, the restoration of relationships. It is the new Jerusalem to which this church is only a gateway: and if this is but a gateway, think how wonderful must be the House of God, the new Jerusalem to which we are bound: "Jerusalem the golden … What social joys are there, what radiancy of glory, what light beyond compare."
We have now been through that parting of friends, and yet although we miss the loss of the regular society of so many friends, it is indeed Loss but also Gain, for now we most certainly do find ourselves in a wider fellowship and communion.  We must always give thanks for what St Mary's was to us, for it was indeed a gateway into a wider communion, and for us most definitely fulfilled the promise of the reputation in which it had so long rejoiced, of being a "bridge between Canterbury and Rome".

After the Saturday service, the PCC very kindly threw us a party, short but friendly speeches were given, fond words of farewell spoken, and then we all moved on.  We returned the next day, as there had been some talk of a formal farewell during the service, but to everyone's relief, this plan was abandoned.  As the congregation left to process around the parish, we donned our serving cassocks one last time, cleared the altar, set it up for Benediction, and slipped out quietly and unobtrusively into our new lives.  You can see below the results of our final setting up of the Martin Travers baroque masterpiece.


This blog contains frequent fond references to our past at St Mary's and to our friends there.  This is only right, it is precisely the history and tradition of that church that brought us to where we are now.  We most certainly neither regret nor deny our past, quite the opposite, and no-one has ever asked us to do so.  Yet the references carry a small risk of misinterpretation, one that cropped up recently.

I know that the person who asked this question will not mind if I report it (on a no-names basis, of course: discretion is my middle name).  Amid the joys of that happy wedding day, we were asked if we did not miss St Mary's, if we did not regret our decision.  The answer is that although we miss our old friends, we do not regret our decision : we are sure that, given our understanding of what Anglo-Catholicism was and is, we have done the right thing.

In his sermon at the Ordinariate Anniversary Evensong and Benediction in January, Monsignor Newton cited Blessed John Henry Newman's response to Cardinal Bourne's father, who had written to him following rumours that Newman was unhappy with having becoming a Catholic.
I can only say, if it is necessary to say it, that from the moment I became a Catholic, I have never had, through God’s grace, a single doubt or misgiving on my mind that I did wrong in becoming one. I have not had any feeling whatever but one of joy and gratitude that God called me out of an insecure state into one which is sure and safe, out of the war of tongues and into the realm of peace and assurance. This is my state of mind, and I would it could be brought home to all and every one, who, in default of real arguments for remaining Anglicans, amuse themselves with dreams and fancies.
There is a lot more that Newman had to say on precisely this, some of which you will find below.  One could spin this negatively and say that he had to say so much because Anglican detractors were keen to sow seeds of doubt amongst those who might have followed Newman (I leave aside the rather ludicrous argument that he said so much about being happy as a Catholic in order to hide some deep regret at leaving Anglicanism).  Being more constructive, and I would argue being far more of relevance to the situation in which some find themselves today, one can say that he had to express his happiness so often because those who have not yet made the move fear,  mistakenly if understandably, that it is a huge and difficult step.  In this approach, we take heart from Monsignor Jamieson's encouragement that Catholics define themselves as a positive people, being "for" things, whereas antitheists (defining themselves as being against God, or the idea of God) and protestants (defining themselves as being against Catholicism and/or Catholic teaching) do not share that joy of hope and optimism.

Of course, seen from this side of the Tiber, all we can say is that looking back, the step seems miniscule.  It seems utterly logical, totally inevitable, unquestionably right.  The things we thought we might find difficult quite simply have not been.   If this blog ever gives the impression of regret, then it is of regret at not seeing so many friends as often as we used to, but not in any way the slightest of regrets at our decision to become Catholics.

In the Church Times extract above, a certain Mr Knox-Little is mentioned.  Shortly after Newman's death in 1890, the Tablet carried an article called "The Outline" by Dr W Barry, which also mentions this rather distinctive name.  Dr Barry made a rather important point rather well, correcting a misunderstanding that continues from Mr Knox-Little's time to the present.
Beautiful were the tributes which Newman's death elicited from the conspicuous pulpits of Anglicanism, and most affecting to Catholics; but some of the preachers strangely misunderstood their man when they hinted, as Canon Knox-Little did, that Newman would never have left Anglicanism in 1845, had he foreseen how many Roman collars would be worn, how many beards be shaved off, how many "celebrations" be talked about, and confessions heard in the Establishment in 1890. Why, the Arians in their day had Bishops, and Masses, and organisation as perfect us that of the orthodox; but it was with Athanasius, that Newman ranged himself while still an Anglican, and it was precisely the parallel he found between Anglicans and Arians, or Donatists, that brought him at last from Oxford to Birmingham.

It was, in truth, to the Canon Knox-Littles that he addressed himself when he said: "Look into the matter more steadily; it is very pleasant to decorate your chapels, oratories, and studies now, but you cannot be doing this for ever. It is pleasant to adopt a habit or a vestment; to use your office-book or your beads; but it is like feeding on flowers, unless you have that objective vision in your faith, and that satisfaction in your reason, of which devotional exercises and ecclesiastical appointment are the suitable expression. They will not last in the long run, unless commanded and rewarded on Divine authority; they cannot be made to rest on the influence of individuals. It is well to have rich architecture, curious works of art, and splendid vestments, when you have a present God; but, oh! what a mockery if you have not. If your externals surpass what is within, you are so far as hollow as your Evangelical opponents, who baptise, yet expect no grace. Thus your Church becomes not a home, but a sepulchre; like those high cathedrals once Catholic, which you not know what to do with, which you shut up, and make monuments of, sacred to the memory of what has passed away."
Just as today, many did not see the need for Newman to have done what he did.  At the risk of being ever so slightly flippant, the Knox-Little line was that if only Newman had known that he could have decorated his church in a more attractive manner, he might not have gone to Rome, and must surely regret that he did.  Turning that argument around on itself demonstrates that its basis is insulting even to the highest of high anglo-catholicism, suggesting that if the Church of England deprived the modern day Knox-Littles of their lace, they might then have to become Catholics.  Insulting as it is, as illogical as it is, it has a certain endurance in the complaints of some even now : "Why did you need to do that?  It's awfully nice here."

Newman went further, and stated clearly in the Apologia what was so evidently true (and doesn't the last sentence just ring a few bells even today?):
I have not had one moment's wavering of trust in the Catholic Church ever since I was received into her fold. I hold, and ever have held, a supreme satisfaction in her worship, discipline, and teaching; and an eager longing, and a hope against hope, that the many dear friends whom I have left in Protestantism may be partakers in my happiness. And I do hereby profess that Protestantism is the dreariest of possible religions; that the thought of the Anglican service makes me shiver, and the thought of the Thirty-nine Articles makes me shudder. Return to the Church of England! No! "The net is broken, and we are delivered." I should be a consummate fool (to use a mild term) if, in my old age I left "the land flowing with milk and honey" for the city of confusion and the house of bondage.
A process that Newman began, and which with each twist and turn of synodical voting comes to our minds again, is the reminding the people of these islands that the claim of Rome is that it brings the teachings of Christianity with it, that it is the Church that safeguards and presents the Truth.  Dr Barry's Outlook again :
One thing he did, with such triumphant success that it need not be done again. He showed that the question of Rome is the question of Christianity. Taking Bishop Butler's great work for his foundation, he applied to the Catholic Church that "Analogy" which had proved in the Bishop's hands an irrefragable argument. As, if we hold the course of Nature to be in accordance with reason, we cannot but allow that natural and revealed religion, proceeding as they do on similar laws and by like methods, are founded on reasons too—so, if once we admit that in the Bible there is a revelation from on high, we must come down by sure steps to Rome and the Papacy as inheriting what the Bible contains. To demonstrate this was to make an end of the Reformation, so far as it claimed authority from Scripture or kindred with Christ and His Apostles. When John Henry Newman arrived at that conclusion and followed it up by submitting to Rome, he undid, intellectually speaking, the mischief of the last three centuries. And he planted in the mind of his countrymen a suspicion which every day seems ripening towards certitude, that if they wish to remain Christians they must go back to the rock from which they were hewn, and become once again the sheep of the Apostolic Shepherd. Cardinal Newman has done this great thing; and its achievement will be his lasting memorial.
If today's lengthy blogpost has included rather starker words than usual (hardly: look at here, here and here, but let us account for all readers), we would not want to leave anyone with the impression that we have no fondness or love for the Church of England, and for the part it played in our lives.  This sentiment is not to be confused with any kind of regret, but in no way do we look back in anger or bitterness.  Newman felt the same way, notwithstanding all that is in the quotations above.  His friend and fellow convert Fr William Lockhart, who left Newman's Littlemore community to join the Catholic Church before Newman did, after having perceived that Newman himself had doubts about his membership of the Church of England (even his ability to absolve after confession), said this :
We left the Church of England with grief. All the good we knew, we had learned there; we had been led step by step by God's grace, but we left, because we could not close our eyes to the fact that the Church of England was no part of a Visible Church; rather than separate from which Sir Thomas More, Bishop Fisher, and hundreds of others have laid down their lives in martyrdom.
A word of warning in conclusion.  One of our most read posts is This is the Appropriate Moment, in which those thinking of entering the Catholic Church are encouraged to do so without delay.  The Dublin Review of October 1890 includes the following text, referring to an 1871 correspondence in which Newman made perfectly clear his acceptance of what he believed to be his vocation to become a Catholic, and of the importance he attached to having done so promptly.
"As to your question," he wrote to a lady correspondent, "whether if I had stayed in the Anglican Church till now, I should have joined the Catholic Church at all, at any time now or hereafter, I think that most probably I should not; but observe, for this reason, because God gives grace, and if it is not accepted He withdraws His grace; and since of His free mercy, and from no merits of mine, He then offered me the grace of conversion, if I had not acted upon it, it was to be expected that I should be left, a worthless stump, to cumber the ground, and to remain where I was till I died."
The appropriate moment is indeed now.  Let the act of Blessed John Henry Newman, in following the Divine Will and coming into the full communion of the Catholic Church, inspire others to do so in his footsteps, and may he intercede for all those currently contemplating the same.

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2 comments:

  1. Wasn't the Orthodox monk formerly that chap with the beard? Polish wasn't he? I remember seeing him serving on many occasions, but never met him.

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  2. I'm not aware of any Polish connection, and for much of the time he was at Bourne Street he did not have a beard, as far as I recall. Notwithstanding any of that, he was certainly a key part of the serving team for a long time, including being Head Server for a number of years before his departure.

    He left for Orthodoxy and started the process of entering the religious life a year or so before the Marylebone Ordinariate Group's first members left for the Catholic Church.

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