Friday, 26 May 2017

Novena for Ascensiontide: Day 1

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Rubula Gospels, c6th


Today is traditionally the start of the Ascension novella, modelled of course on the very first novena of the nine days of prayer laid out in Acts that stretched between the Ascension and the first Pentecost.

The novena to the Holy Ghost provided below asks especially for the gifts of the Spirit for ourselves, gifts we most certainly need in these difficult times.

But can I ask you also to consider perhaps offering today's novena also for the intention of the perseverance of the four young men who were formally accepted as postulants for the emerging new Australian monastery in Tasmania on the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians?

Here is one of the traditional sets of prayers for day 1:

Almighty and eternal God, Who hast vouchsafed to regenerate us by water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given us forgiveness of all our sins, vouchsafe to send forth from heaven upon us Thy sevenfold Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and Fortitude, the Spirit of Knowledge and Piety, and fill us with the Spirit of Holy Fear. Amen.

Recite one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and seven Glory Be's.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

The feast of the Ascension and a Church 'for the baptised'


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Bamberg Apocalypse, c11th

Today is, traditionally, the feast of the Ascension, an event that occurred forty days after the Resurrection, as Acts 1 reminds us:
The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, of all things which Jesus began to do and to teach,  Until the day on which, giving commandments by the Holy Ghost to the apostles whom he had chosen, he was taken up. To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion, by many proofs, for forty days appearing to them, and speaking of the kingdom of God.
And eating together with them, he commanded them, that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but should wait for the promise of the Father, which you have heard (saith he) by my mouth.  For John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, not many days hence.They therefore who were come together, asked him, saying: Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? But he said to them: It is not for you to know the times or moments, which the Father hath put in his own power:  But you shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth.
And when he had said these things, while they looked on, he was raised up: and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they were beholding him going up to heaven, behold two men stood by them in white garments. Who also said: Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen him going into heaven.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount that is called Olivet, which is nigh Jerusalem, within a sabbath day' s journey.  And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James of Alpheus, and Simon Zelotes, and Jude the brother of James. All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.
Ascension Thursday on Sunday!

Yet for some strange reason, which I can't help but think is really about clerical convenience (because why should priests have to celebrate more than one Mass a day, or rearrange their schedules to put on Mass at a time convenient to the people rather than them?), it is actually celebrated in most parishes on Sunday instead these days.

This seems to me to be a classic example of what is currently being described by some as the operation of the 'church of the ordained' rather than 'the baptised'.

Because what the baptised - clerical, religious and lay alike - surely really need most is help to fight off the forces of secularism in our world, help to consecrate our time and space to Christ.

We need feasts like the Ascension breaking in and disrupting our day to day lives and calling us back to fidelity and mission.

The importance of sacred time

Much of the formation of the liturgical calendar, the process of the Christianisation of time, seems to have occurred, or at least been codified, in the fifth century, and the Divine Office readings for today (in the traditional form) reflect that, with Pope Leo the Great (c400-461) reminding us that:
After the blessed and glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, wherein the Divine Power raised up in three days the true Temple of God Which the iniquity of the Jews had destroyed  God was pleased to ordain, by His Most Sacred Will, and in His Providence for our instruction and the profit of our souls, a season of forty days which season, dearly beloved brethren, doth end on this day. During that season the bodily Presence of the Lord still lingered on earth, that the reality of the fact of His having risen again from the dead might be armed with all needful proofs.
The number of days, in other words, is important.

It mirrors for us the forty days of preparation before the commencement of Christ's ministry, of fasting in the desert, which we remember in Lent each year.

It connects us to several Old Testament events that foreshadowed the coming of Christ, such as Moses' forty days on Mount Sion with God, receiving the law.

And it foreshadowed the final destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, some forty years after the crucifixion.

A feast of mission

How ironic then, that this great feast above all, which especially remembers the commissioning of the apostles to go out and evangelise the world, should be subsumed into a Sunday and thus downgraded!  Here, as a reminder, is the Gospel for the Mass of the feast today, from St Mark 16:
 At length he appeared to the eleven as they were at table: and he upbraided them with their incredulity and hardness of heart, because they did not believe them who had seen him after he was risen again.  And he said to them: Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned.  And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name they shall cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues.  They shall take up serpents; and if they shall drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay their hands upon the sick, and they shall recover.  And the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God.  But they going forth preached everywhere: the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed.
But perhaps our hierarchy are too busy planning their annual Ramadan parties Iftar meals to be bothered actually proclaiming the Gospel?

Nor are so-called Concerned Catholics, concerned primarily about power rather anything else as far as I can see, any closer, in my view, to a prescription for the recovery of the Church.  I'm not disputing that there is a need for much greater accountability and transparency on the part of the hierarchy.

But it is simply naive to think that having more women in positions of power will change anything, and creating new structures will surely just entrench a new group of people in positions of power rather than necessarily changing behaviours fundamentally.

Recovering our Church

Rather, if we truly want to return to being a 'church for the baptised' we need to focus on recovering a genuinely Catholic morality and spirituality, and the most important dimension of that is through the liturgy.

The sanctification of time and space, including through the cycle of feasts, is an important part of that.

So perhaps, rather than providing free publicity to other religions by hosting Iftar dinners, the bishops could this year instead devote the time to considering the restoration of symbols that were once equally important to Catholics, such as Friday abstinence, a genuine Eucharistic fast, and an actual Lenten fast.

Perhaps so-called 'Concerned Catholics', instead of trying to carve out positions of power for themselves could give consideration to how to make their parishes genuinely engaging places for seekers to come into, not least by persuading their priest to resacralise the liturgy rather than imposing themselves on it.

And perhaps all of us, even if we can't find or get to a Mass that is actually celebrating the Ascension today (ie an EF Mass), could try and find some way of commemorating the day, perhaps by saying Vespers of the feast as a devotion, for example using this helpful ap.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Vocational discernment weekend for women: 14-16 July



Please keep in your prayers if you would, an emerging religious community in Australia, the Daughters of the Maternal Heart of Mary.

This is a new, semi-contemplative community based in Sydney, and living a life of prayer and work according to the spirit of St. Benedict, with Mass in the Extraordinary Form and the Monastic Office chanted in Latin.  The charism of the group involves interceding for all Priests and praying daily for the Holy Father, bishops, priests and seminarians.  They also assist priests in various works, including teaching catechism, visiting the sick and sewing liturgical attire.

A vocational discernment weekend for young women is being held on July 14 -16, and will:
  • enable participants to explore the life and charism of the Daughters of the Maternal Heart of Mary;
  • include conferences on the religious life, vocation discernment and the spirituality of the community; and 
  • provide opportunity for silent recollection, praying the Monastic Office and participating in some of the active apostolates of the community.
Those interested in participating can find further details here.

Monday, 8 May 2017

St Augustine on the pilgrim Church

I previously posted some extracts from a letter of St Augustine on the meaning of the Easter season, and here is the next part.

He starts by reminding us that faith has to be reflected in our works:
This passing from death to life is meanwhile wrought in us by faith, which we have for the pardon of our sins and the hope of eternal life, when we love God and our neighbour; for faith works by love,  and the just shall live by his faith...
St Augustine goes on to talk about the virtue of hope, which requires that we rise with Christ in this life by living our lives with an orientation towards heaven: we must 'set our affection on things above, not on things on the earth'.  

There is of course, more to come though, since though
...we have by faith the first-fruits of the Spirit; ...we groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body: for we are saved by hope. While we are in this hope, the body indeed is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness...But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwells in you.
We must therefore, with the help of grace, work for our salvation:
This renewal, therefore, of our life is a kind of transition from death to life which is made first by faith, so that we rejoice in hope and are patient in tribulation, while still our outward man perishes, but the inward man is renewed day by day.  It is because of this beginning of a new life, because of the new man which we are commanded to put on, putting off the old man, purging out the old leaven, that we may be a new lump, because Christ our passover is sacrificed for us;
 This not just a message for us individually though, but applies to the Church as a whole:
The whole Church, therefore, while here in the conditions of pilgrimage and mortality, expects that to be accomplished in her at the end of the world which has been shown first in the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the first-begotten from the dead, seeing that the body of which He is the Head is none other than the Church.

Friday, 5 May 2017

St Augustine on the call to conversion

These are dark times, and the key question that confronts each of us is how to deal with them.  The answer, of course, starts not with others, but with ourselves.

St Augustine on Easter

And on this topic, I came across, today, a rather good meditation on the Easter season and the call to conversion, in the form of a letter of St Augustine (No 55) so I thought I would post it (or at least selected extracts from it) in parts over the next few days, with a few comments.

The letter starts as a response to a question about why Easter is celebrated on a different date each year, rather than being a fixed date like Christmas:
You ask, Wherefore does the anniversary on which we celebrate the Passion of the Lord not fall, like the day which tradition has handed down as the day of His birth, on the same day every year? and you add, If the reason of this is connected with the week and the month, what have we to do with the day of the week or the state of the moon in this solemnity? 
The Life of Christ and the institution of the sacraments

The difference, St Augustine replies, is that Christmas is not connected with the sacraments:
The first thing which you must know and remember here is, that the observance of the Lord's natal day is not sacramental, but only commemorative of His birth, and that therefore no more was in this case necessary, than that the return of the day on which the event took place should be marked by an annual religious festival. 
The celebration of an event becomes sacramental in its nature, only when the commemoration of the event is so ordered that it is understood to be significant of something which is to be received with reverence as sacred. 
Therefore we observe Easter in such a manner as not only to recall the facts of the death and resurrection of Christ to remembrance, but also to find a place for all the other things which, in connection with these events, give evidence as to the import of the sacrament
 Transition from death to life

The theme we should dwell on, he argues, is not the Passion, but rather the transition from death to life signified by these events:
For since, as the apostle wrote, He was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification, a certain transition from death to life has been consecrated in that Passion and Resurrection of the Lord. 
For the word Pascha itself is not, as is commonly thought, a Greek word: those who are acquainted with both languages affirm it to be a Hebrew word. It is not derived, therefore, from the Passion, because of the Greek word πάσχειν, signifying to suffer, but it takes its name from the transition, of which I have spoken, from death to life; the meaning of the Hebrew word Pascha being, as those who are acquainted with it assure us, a passing over or transition. To this the Lord Himself designed to allude, when He said, He that believes in Me is passed from death to life. (John 5:24) And the same evangelist who records that saying is to be understood as desiring to give emphatic testimony to this, when, speaking of the Lord as about to celebrate with His disciples the passover, at which He instituted the sacramental supper, he says, When Jesus knew that His hour had come, that He should depart from this world unto the Father (John 13:1) This passing over from this mortal life to the other, the immortal life, that is, from death to life, is set forth in the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Anna Silvas, Amoris Laetitia and the call to prayer

Those who are following the internal ructions over Pope Francis' seeming promotion of the abolition of the concept of the need for repentance from sin in the context of marriage and related sexual sins will know that a Conference of laypeople was held in Rome last week on Amoris Laetitia a year on.

The various talks from the Conference are being published over at Vox Cantoris Blog.

Anna Silvas

One of the key speakers at the conference was University of New England academic Dr Anna Silvas, and her talk is now available online.  Here is a taster to encourage you to go read the whole thing:
...Two years ago or so, a young friend of mine who is a teacher and passionately committed in her Catholic faith, took a new job in a new Catholic School. One day some of her Year 8 students did a class exercise in ‘politics’. Her students were in the second year of high-school, so they had been through eight years of Catholic schooling, and through the whole sacramental ‘program’—horrible word that; what does its use signify? She asked that if they were a candidate for an upcoming election, what would would be their policies. To her surprise, every one of them, except for one boy, nominated same-sex marriage and the LGBT agenda. So she began to engage them in remedial conversation. That brought home to me how far the values of a purely secular modernity have more ascendency among ‘Catholics’ today, than the values of the life in Christ and the teachings of the Church...
Now, in the few short years of Pope Francis’ pontificate, the stale and musty spirit of the seventies has resurged, bringing with it seven other demons. And if we were in any doubt about this before, "Amoris Laetitia" and its aftermath in the past year make it perfectly clear that this is our crisis. That this alien spirit appears to have finally swallowed up the See of Peter, dragging ever widening cohorts of compliant higher church leadership into its net, is its most dismaying, and indeed shocking aspect to many of us, the Catholic lay faithful...
Pope Francis has absolutely no intention of playing by anyone’s ‘rules’—least of all yours or mine or anyone else’s ‘rules’ for the papacy. You know well what he thinks of ‘rules’. He tell us so constantly. It is one of the milder disparagements in his familiar stock of insults. When I hear those who lecture us that Pope Francis is the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Church today, I do not know whether to laugh at the naivety of it, or weep at the damage being done to immortal souls.... 
My dear fellow-believers in Christ Jesus our Lord, this false spirit shall not, cannot ultimately prevail... 
The call to prayer

Dr Silvas' talk includes a call to prayer, following the examples of St Benedict, St Bruno and many others down the ages, and reaching back to the examples of Our Lord in the Gospels.

I think she is absolutely right on this: the best thing we can all do is learn especially the prayer of the Divine Office, perhaps adding Prime and Compline to our daily regimes.  I will say more on the value of this form of prayer as an aid to rebuilding the broken down walls of the Church in future posts.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

ANZAC Day



Please pray for the repose of the souls of all those killed in our wars, and all those who have served.