Another glimpse of Nineteenth Century Britain: Three passion flower graves seen on a recent walk: the first with the passion flower vine climbing the Cross, mingling with the Crown of Thorns to frame the Monogram, IHS, meaning Jesus, is an explicit Act of Faith; we found it near the entrance to Canterbury Cemetery. The second is nearby: from the end of the Century, the carving more rigid than on other stones we have seen. The passion flower is joined by a morning glory to our left, a rose to the right, and a lily above. The final stone is one we missed earlier in Harbledown churchyard. This is from 1940, a good half century later than anything we’ve spotted so far.
We reflected on the meaning of passion flowers here. It’s an interesting read. I close with the last paragraph of that post.
When you see a passionflower let it remind you that Jesus is real, his death was real, as indeed will ours be – but so, too, will our rising. And when you see a passionflower on a gravestone, send us a picture to put in the blog!
As I wrote the date today – it was six months ago today that we were all together celebrating Christmas, singing carols together, and for me one of the highlights of the year is Midnight Mass – something so special with all the candles and that sense of celebration after the waiting and preparation of Advent – and the flowers! For some who are isolating that might have been the last time they saw family and friends; if it hadn’t been our visit to see our son in Manchester in February, the last time he was down was Christmas last year, and certainly when we saw any of our extended family, as I am sure it is for many … and for so many across our country, and around the world, Christmas this year will be without a loved one. I do wonder what it will be like this year – I do hope we are allowed to sing by then!! When we lived in Faversham, there was a board I passed every day that said “Christ is not just for Christmas, but there all year” . This is so true, we have Christ with us as a real and living presence 24/7; Rev Mark spoke about this in Sunday’s sermon (on website), from the passage from Romans 6:1-11, in our baptism we die with Christ to be born again with Christ – a new creation; that is why sometime a font is referred to as a womb (in the Roman liturgy the font is designated the “uterus ecclesiae,” ) – when a baby is born, it emerges from the waters of the womb, and wrapped in a blanket – when the person who has been baptised ‘comes up out of the water’ – or usually water poured over the head these days, though many do’ especially in the Baptist church, have full immersion. In the liturgy today, the baby is wrapped in a white blanket immediately after having water poured, with the words “you have been clothed with Christ. As many who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ”; with an adult I use a white scarf.
God Bless, and please do keep safe, keep connected and keep praying Jo🙏🙏🙏 Rev Jo Richards Rector of the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury
The Roman font at Milan, where St Ambrose baptised St Augustine and his son Adeodatus by immersion, Easter 387.
There are moments for movement in the liturgy, often missed or mishandled: processions with cross and lights, perhaps an Asperges entrance rite; processions with the book, with the gifts; an orderly procession to Communion. When African seminarians visiting our parish processed with the Book of Gospels to the sound of drums, the reverence they showed to the Word certainly inspired awe in a Kentish congregation.
Most Catholics, thank God, will never experience the sub-ten-minute Latin Mass that had me stumbling over the well-known responses, followed by, ‘If you ever come near me to serve my Mass again or I’ll kick you from here to Kingdom Come.’ Any awe from Fr G came from his fire-and-brimstone sermons at other priest’s Masses. Priests had it easy, speaking God’s own language; no need to work on phrasing and diction. The laity could pray or stray, every one in his own way; we worshipped together largely because we were in the same building at the same time, Some ‘hearing Mass’ from the porch or beyond.
Some elements of the Tridentine Liturgy now seem difficult to credit: carrying the Missal from one side of the altar to the other behind the priest’s back; the choreography by which the MC would direct priest, deacon and subdeacon to doff their birettas as the choir sang the Gloria; the subdeacon veiled on the bottom step, holding up the paten. Did these inspire awe? Nerves in this altar server: would I miss a cue?
Our celebrations are often far from perfect now: servers still fluff their cues, readers may be inaudible or over-dramatic, babies may cry, someone will sing flat, another will be three syllables behind in the congregation’s prayers, the person before you at Communion will genuflect unexpectedly and nearly send you flying. We can cope with all that if we believe that God is at work here and we are his instruments. As his instruments, we should be fine-tuning ourselves against each other, from Vox Clara to Vince and Clare in the next pew.
Well-led singing helps us to be at one, and may even persuade the babies to be quiet. There are tuneful and singable English Masses, and the Latin Missa de Angelis, or part of it could be learnt by most congregations; but we could discard or edit quite a few hymns from the last 150 years!
There is a moment of truth in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ when the latent emotions of the rude mechanicals’ play emerge to touch their audience at the wedding feast. At Mass there should be moments of truth. Despite the crooked translation, it is for ministers, to the best of their ability, to speak the words, to love the Word as though it were alive, as though they believe it, as though it were awesome; from ‘In the Name of the Father’ by way of ‘The Word of the Lord’, ‘Through your goodness’, ‘This is my Body’, ‘the Body of Christ’ (looking the communicant in the eye), to ‘Go in Peace’. A challenge, truly.
There are moments in liturgy as in life, when silence can and should be observed:
Let us not speak, for the love we bear one another —
Let us hold hands and look.”
She, such a very ordinary little woman;
He, such a thumping crook;
But both, for a moment, little lower than the angels
In the teashop’s ingle-nook.
John Betjeman, ‘In a Bath Teashop’
Silence can bring focus and awe: when I led Children’s Liturgy of the Word at the parish Mass I used to ask my ‘very ordinary’ child readers to count to ten in their heads to allow reflection between the bidding – let us ask God to …, and its prayer – Lord hear us.
Silence between the consecration and the acclamation; silence before inviting everyone to join in the Lord’s Prayer, silence after communion: these can inspire a sense of awe. All should participate in these silences, unlike the silence of the old rite with the priest mumbling prayers and not really silent at all, and the congregation praying the Rosary.
My wife and I often sit together in silence, or work quietly in the garden together, unafraid of the absence of words. It’s the same when I am working at L’Arche Kent’s garden; most of the time we are all of us content just to get on with our tasks quietly. Gardening is a visual art, and like a good film, the action often proceeds in silence – especially the action of the Unseen Gardener.
For our wedding anniversary once we burrowed under the Channel to Lille, where patronal loyalty drew us to Mass at the Church of Saint Maurice. Silence was an effective part of the liturgy, as was that essential component of the motion picture, the movement of people. Blessed with a big church in a depopulated city centre, priests and congregation opened the Word in the nave before processing towards the altar after the homily.
Before the homily – silence.
For some minutes the priests joined the rest of us in contemplation before the preacher opened his lips. All were ready to listen. Silence had allowed us a period of reflection and, dare I say awe; a deeper hearing of the Word that was enhanced by the homily.
All this is a roundabout reflection on today’s Liturgy just before Corpus Christi. I am firmly in the camp that holds that the language at Mass, spoken and unspoken, should be readily understood by those present. Although mostly the priest is addressing God, there is no need for long or rare words – the Lord knows what we want to say even before we do. What can I give him, poor as I am? I can raise my heart and mind to him, but I often find myself deliberately switching the mind off, as the translation we have now is a stumbling block, inelegant, inharmonious; puzzling rather than enlightening.
I wonder what does the Ascension of Christ mean to you? For some we have that picture, often depicted in art, with Jesus’ feet disappearing up into the clouds; of the post-resurrection Jesus no longer being physically present with the disciples, as he returns to his Father in heaven. But the disciples were not left alone, they were told to wait in the city, to then be “clothed from with power from in high”; I am sure they must have wondered what Jesus meant, but as ever they were obedient to his words. That must have been such a rollercoaster 40 days for them, since Easter Day; as it is for many of us today, but as we journey together through this we too anticipate Pentecost … in the meantime we have the novena, 9 days of prayer to look forward to.
God Bless and keep safe, keep connected and keep praying.
Rev Jo Richards, rector, Saint Mildred’s, Canterbury.
Upper Photo by CD, from the Chapel of the Franciscan Minoresses, Derbyshire; Lower Photo, MMB, priest’s vesting table, Church of Jesus in the Attic, Amsterdam. A reminder to pray for the Spirit before preaching.
The risen Lord by Saint Dunstan, monk, blacksmith, artist, and Archbishop of Canterbury. Died 988; his feastday is today.
Easter lasts for fifty days – until Pentecost, when the season of the Holy Spirit begins. George Herbert reminds us that we miss-count the days and seasons: there is just the one day that matters and that day, Easter, is not over in 24 hours, but is eternal, or as Herbert says, ‘ever’. Enjoy the physical images, ‘calcined’, resounding wood, strings and sinews; Herbert was a musician.
Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise Without delays, Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise With him mayst rise: That, as his death calcined thee to dust, His life may make thee gold, and much more, just.
Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part With all thy art. The cross taught all wood to resound his name, Who bore the same. His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key Is best to celebrate this most high day.
Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song Pleasant and long: Or, since all music is but three parts vied And multiplied, O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part, And make up our defects with his sweet art.
I got me flowers to straw thy way; I got me boughs off many a tree: But thou wast up by break of day, And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.
The Sun arising in the East, Though he give light, and th’ East perfume; If they should offer to contest With thy arising, they presume.
Can there be any day but this, Though many suns to shine endeavour? We count three hundred, but we miss: There is but one, and that one ever.
George Herbert was a different man to George Borrow. It took him some time to find his feet and his vocation as an Anglican parish priest and a poet on avowedly Christian themes. Not all that he wrote is readily accessible, however today and tomorrow we offer two of his Easter poems. The Easter season lasts for fifty days, up to Pentecost! This poem has been crafted by Herbert as a pair of wings. Oh let me rise!
Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.
My tender age in sorrow did begin
And still with sicknesses and shame.
Thou didst so punish sin,
That I became
Let me combine,
And feel thy victory:
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
Walking around during lockdown, we came to Saint Stephen's church. Many years ago we came here regularly for Roman Catholic Mass. Today the church, like all churches, is closed, but not the churchyard. We found one stone with a passionflower, bottom centre of the disc, amid roses, a morning glory (?) and others that must have meant something to the bereaved husband. There are oak leaves and acorns in the triangular panels below the disc.
This verse is my best reading of the damaged inscription. It speaks of hope.
A happy world, a glorious place
Where all who are forgiven
Shall find their loved and best beloved
And hearts like meeting streams that flow
For everyone in heaven.
Our Friend Christina has been reflecting on the virus more head on than we have, with some thoughts on death and Mary. I’ll let you Read her reflection here.
What I wanted to pick out of it was her opening: “Son, why have you done this to us?” Luke 2:48, which comes from the story of Jesus ‘lost and found’ in hs youth. Christina goes on:
[On Good Friday evening] Memories flooded over her of that evening (… was it only a couple of days or a couple of decades ago?…) when she walked through the caravan of pilgrims to gather her son to her for the night, and she could not find Him. He wasn’t there … and the words of the holy man Simeon had come back to her as she felt a sword of anxiety pierce her heart with love for her missing child.
But she did not stop him on his pilgrimage to Calvary. And on the third day, this time he came looking for her.