This is the beginning of an interesting article by Ellen Teague in Saint Anthony’s Messenger Magazine, setting the Franciscans’ return to Walsingham and their ministry there in their historical and ecumenical context. Today is the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham.
IF YOU have ever visited Walsingham, England’s National Marian Shrine, you may have noticed a ruined friary standing on a small hill outside the village. This Franciscan Friary was built in the mid-14th century and flourished for nearly two centuries, until the dissolution of religious houses under King Henry VIII. Over the last five centuries, the friars of the order which served there until the 1530s – the Order of Franciscan Friars Conventual, more commonly known as Greyfriars – never forgot Walsingham. They have prayed for friars buried there, for those who had caused the destruction of this holy place, and for the day when Greyfriars would return to Walsingham.
There were great celebrations then on 19 March 2018 when a small group of Greyfriars formally returned to Walsingham, to be based in the centre of the town; it was the solemnity of the Feast of St Joseph. Friar Marco Tasca, Minister General of the Greyfriars, attended from Rome. He said the friars aim to a prophetic sign of dialogue and reconciliation to the world today, ministering to Walsingham’s many pilgrims just as they did five centuries ago.
Pilgrims have flocked to the small Norfolk village of Little Walsingham since the 11th century to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. It was in the Anglo-Saxon village pre-dating the Norman invasion that a devout English Lady, Richeldis de Faverches, experienced three visions in 1061 in which the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her. In these visions Richeldis was shown the house of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and was requested to build a replica of it. Mary is said to have promised that, “whoever seeks my help there will not go away empty-handed.” In Medieval times, when travelling abroad became difficult because of the Crusades, Walsingham evolved into a place of great Christian importance and pilgrimage, ranking alongside Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. The popularity of Walsingham was boosted since it was impossible for Christians to visit Nazareth itself, which was in Saracen hands.
As I said a few days ago, I though we could use some of our holiday time to go on virtual pilgrimage, and thanks to Sheila Billingsley who alerted us to this Norwegian saint, we can start with Olav, the Holy King of Norway who died in 1030, in a world very different to our own.
I was especially glad of her recommendation as I was unwell and needed to find an on-line Mass to attend. She pointed me to a Roman Catholic High Mass for the Feast of Saint Olav, presided by Bishop Erik Varden of Trondheim in the Lutheran Cathedral in that city – the church where Dr Varden was ordained Bishop.
Sigrid Undset wrote of St Olav, patron saint of our diocese and country: ‘Saint Olav was the seed our Lord chose to sow in Norway’s earth because it was well suited to the weather here and to the quality of the soil.’ What makes his story so compelling is the fact that we can follow, step by step, the work of grace in his life. Olav was not a ready-made saint; he began adult life as a viking mercenary. Though through his encounter with Christ in the Church, through decisive sojourns in Rouen and Kyiv, then his final, dramatic return to Norway, where he died a martyr, supernatural light gradually took hold of him and suffused him, radiant in his body even after death.
Should you wish to follow our celebrations, you can find access here. A good account of St Olav’s life is available here.
Do read the life of Saint Olav at the link above and dip into the celebrations on youtube. The homily is on the website in English and German.
As I followed the Mass, I was impressed to see the Church Universal alive in two ways in Trondheim: the warm friendship between the two churches, Lutheran and Catholic, and the very international community which is the Catholic church in Trondheim.
Saint Olav was killed in battle with King Canute of England and Denmark in 1030 and soon counted as a martyr. He is patron saint of Norway, though he had been rejected by the leading warriors who had accepted Canute’s bribes. No doubt some of this money had come from the Danegeld, paid to the Danes to stop them from looting through England.
Tomorrow we visit an earlier English king, whose cult Canute promoted in Suffolk: King Edmund the Martyr.
On Christmas Day, 1933, Bishop Angelo Roncalli was preparing to leave Bulgaria after 10 years, to become Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece. This passage is from his farewell sermon that day.
In accordance with an old tradition of Catholic Ireland, all the houses put a lighted candle in the window on Christmas Eve, as an indication to Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary, in search of a refuge on that holy night, that inside the house round the fire and the well-stocked table, a family is waiting for them.
Wherever I may be, though it be at the ends of the earth, if a Bulgarian away from his country comes past my house, he will find in my window the lighted candle. He has only to knock on my door; it will be opened to him, whether he be Catholic or Orthodox: friend of Bulgaria, that will be enough. He can come in and I shall extend to him a very warm welcome.
How good it will be to welcome family and friends this Christmas! Let your little light shine!
With our best wishes to all our readers for a Happy Christmas and a hopeful and healthy New Year, 2022. Will Turnstone and the Agnellus Team.
In 1927 then-Bishop Angelo Roncalli was Pope Pius XI’s representative in the predominantly Orthodox kingdom of Bulgaria. As there were very few Catholics in the country, it was largely his responsibility to organise and unite the Church, scattered as it was in small groups in far-flung districts, travelling often on poor roads, beset with bandits. Roncalli was often lonely and in danger; he was regarded with suspicion when he first arrived. He wrote to a priest friend:
It is not that the reasons for my troubled mind last year have ceased to exist; no, they are all still there, almost as powerful as before. But I found a reason for life and a reason for suffering; and so I live and suffer willingly…
From the outset of my episcopacy I have recited one of the prayers of the Exercises of Saint Ignatius, and I still say it. Well, one morning when I was suffering more than usual, I became aware that my state indicated precisely that my prayer had been granted.
Receive, O Lord, my whole liberty,
receive my memory, my intelligence,
and all my will.
All that I have and possess
was given to me by you,
I give it back to you entirely.
Do with it as you will.
Give me only thy love with thy grace
and I am rich enough
and ask for nothing more.
From John XXIII by Leone Algisi, Catholic Book Club 1966, p77.
Chad, as patron, unites Lichfield Anglican Diocese and the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham. He was the first Bishop of Lichfield in Mercia, the Kingdom of the English Midlands. He died on this day in 672. It is fitting to remember him more widely this year, as he died of a plague, having received a heavenly warning that his death was near.
Bishop Chad’s nature was to go everywhere on foot – again a parallel with our own times – but Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury ordered him to ride on horseback for long journeys. His diocese covered much of England so to visit all of it made a horse a tool of the Good News rather than a symbol of his status as bishop.
We pray that the work of vaccination may go ahead safely and surely in Lichfield Cathedral, and we pray too for the discernment to know when we should walk, not ride a short journey, and so help to protect God’s earth and our home.
Here’s another story by Eddie Gilmore from the Irish chaplaincy blog. I recall all too well the tension felt when acting as MC, master of ceremonies, at the old Latin High Mass. The priest, deacon and subdeacon – in daily life all three priests, but concelebration had not been heard of back then – would sit during the singing of the Gloria and Creed, wearing their birettas, rather odd black hats, which had to be removed at certain points as a sign of respect. And at a signal from the MC, who stood beside them, his – yes, his – hands together in prayer. Get it wrong – well, it depended on who was celebrant what might be said afterwards in the sacristy. So I appreciated Eddie’s reflection that follows!
I was spending the weekend in York with Ann and Andy, old friends from Uni. Thanks to Andy being a verger at the Minster I got to sit with Ann in a prominent position for the service, and afterwards got invited to join the vergers and their partners for a drink in one of York’s many olde worlde pubs. They were a great bunch and it was a fascinating insight into what happens ‘behind the scenes’ in a major cathedral. A verger, by the way, is the person in the Anglican tradition who leads the celebrants to their position before and during a service. They hold aloft a virge which is a kind of long rod, and they walk very slowly and solemnly, which means that the procession behind them also walks very slowly and solemnly. The tradition, I believe, is from the middle ages when cathedrals would be filled with people milling around and the verger would almost literally have to barge their way through the throngs to get the celebrants to the altar. Nowadays it’s purely ceremonial and it’s all done with almost military style precision. The vergers even have ear pieces so they can communicate with each other regarding exactly when to set off with the procession and when they need to ‘land’ in a particular place.
There were lots of good stories from the vergers about occasions when things hadn’t quite gone according to plan. Andy told of how a verger once led the procession the wrong way at the beginning of a big important service. The other vergers were looking on helplessly as their colleague (perhaps overawed by the occasion) led the motley crew of choristers, priests and bishops first one way then another until everyone finally arriving at the altar. I told in a recent blog of the day a few months back when Evensong began again in Canterbury Cathedral following the lockdown restrictions. It was in the huge nave instead of the choir and the verger hesitated on the way in, and the Dean and canons behind her came to a temporary halt. I knew straight away what had happened and sent a message to Ann later on: “Tell Andy that the verger didn’t know where to go!”
I’m sometimes not that keen on big solemn church services, where everything is perfectly choreographed but it’s almost too perfect to the extent that I feel like I can’t really be myself. One of the riches of my years at L’Arche was being alongside people who really knew how to be themselves (i.e. people with a learning disability), even in church settings and even if it may have invoked some feelings of discomfort in those around them. Back in the early 90s I used sometimes to go with one of the learning-disabled women in my house to her local church and sometimes during the service my friend, who was very tactile, would get up and walk towards the vicar and give him a big hug. And that memory is especially poignant now in this time when we cannot share physical touch with one another. Another woman who I accompanied occasionally to that same church would let out a big scream just as the gospel reading was coming to an end (i.e. just before the homily). I would have to take her into the hall for a cup of tea and she was happy to return for the remainder of the service. It meant I also got an early cup of tea and didn’t have to sit through a long sermon, so everyone was a winner!
When things don’t go exactly according to plan it makes it all a bit more human somehow. And who could have planned how and where, according the Christian tradition, God chose to be revealed in the world: as a tiny baby born to unmarried parents in a smelly stable in a backwater town on the fringes of the Roman empire. The kingdom of God is indeed an upside-down kingdom.
And so if occasionally the verger leads the celebrants the wrong way, then in my view we’re all the richer and all the more human for it.
Diwali is celebrated in these cold Islands, far from India where it originated. People from the Subcontinent also ended up in Trinidad and Tobago across the Atlantic where this reflection comes from. Follow the link to an interesting Independent Catholic News article by Leela Ramdeen, who grew up a Hindu father and Catholic mother.
Prince Charles represented his mother, the Queen, and the whole United Kingdom at the Canonisation of John Henry Newman. Here is an extract from Prince Charles’s reflection on the occasion; the full text can be found at the Independent Catholic News.
Whatever our own beliefs, and no matter what our own tradition may be, we can only be grateful to Newman for the gifts, rooted in his Catholic faith, which he shared with wider society: his intense and moving spiritual autobiography and his deeply-felt poetry in ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ which, set to music by Sir Edward Elgar – another Catholic of whom all Britons can be proud – gave the musical world one of its most enduring choral masterpieces.
At the climax of ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ the soul, approaching heaven, perceives something of the divine vision:
a grand mysterious harmony:
It floods me, like the deep and solemn sound
Of many waters.
Harmony requires difference. The concept rests at the very heart of Christian theology in the concept of the Trinity. In the same poem, Gerontius says:
Firmly I believe and truly
God is three, and God is One;
As such, difference is not to be feared. Newman not only proved this in his theology and illustrated it in his poetry, but he also demonstrated it in his life. Under his leadership, Catholics became fully part of the wider society, which itself thereby became all the richer as a community of communities.
As a young man I felt ambivalent about Catholic devotion to Mary. I remembered how the Redemptorists who staffed the parish and the teachers in the primary school served up what now seems a sentimental soup of hymns which emphasised the differences between us and the ‘wicked men [who] blaspheme thee.’
My father’s well-thumbed rosary has appeared in these reflections before. His convert’s devotion was not stultifying but I had and have difficulty in seeing the Assumption, today’s feast, as central to my faith. but belief in the Assumption of Mary – he being taken up, bodily to heaven at her death – was required of anyone who sought to become a Catholic Christian. Just as well I was a cradle Catholic!
Walsingham helped reconcile me to some Marian devotion. I think it was to do with the ecumenical nature of the town, with Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches in close proximity and, by the time of my second visit with L’Arche Kent in 1976, living in harmony.
Another pilgrimage, a few years later, threw new light on the place of Mary for me. We were visiting Lichfield Cathedral from the Dominicans’ conference centre at nearby Spode House. ‘We’ were a group of children with learning difficulties, their parents and friends. We had a service in the Cathedral and afterwards looked around. I was grabbed by one boy who wanted to show me a snake, carved on a memorial tablet: ‘It’s an obsession of his’, said his father.
We then realised that little Jenny was missing. Jenny had no speech, we did not know what she might do.
We found her, curled up in the Lady Chapel. ‘I should have known!’ said her foster-mother. Jenny preached without words but with an eloquence that reached one who is liable to let his head rule his heart even when it should be the other way around.
We visited a few churches on the L’Arche pilgrimage: here is Saint Pancras, Coldred, possibly 950 years old, a simple two-room stone-built structure, almost hidden away behind its high hedge. Christians have worshipped here since Saxon times at least; the church is set within an ancient earthen rampart which may mark the boundary of a much earlier settlement.
God is present here in the worshipping community whose representative made us feel at home; he stood for thirty or more generations of people, gathered about the altar in the church; God is also present on the altar when the Eucharist is celebrated, and in many Anglican as well as Catholic churches, in the sacrament reserved for the sick and for visitors to focus their prayer as they kneel or sit and pray.
The icon was sent by one of our contributors – Brother Chris I think, and represents another real presence of the Lord: as a baby in the womb of Mary, but also in this world with us who witness this icon. It invites us to carry Jesus in our hearts and reveal him to the world: we are to be the image and real presence of Christ.