On Hearing The Dies Irae Sung In The Sistine Chapel
Nay, Lord, not thus! white lilies in the spring, Sad olive-groves, or silver-breasted dove, Teach me more clearly of Thy life and love Than terrors of red flame and thundering. The hillside vines dear memories of Thee bring: A bird at evening flying to its nest Tells me of One who had no place of rest: I think it is of Thee the sparrows sing.
Come rather on some autumn afternoon, When red and brown are burnished on the leaves, And the fields echo to the gleaner’s song, Come when the splendid fulness of the moon Looks down upon the rows of golden sheaves, And reap Thy harvest: we have waited long.
from “Selected Poems of Oscar Wilde
On this day in 1900, Oscar Wilde died in Paris, an autumn death and apparently a peaceful one, accompanied by a priest and a friend. He had had his share of terrors and thundering, and was ready to be gathered in.
Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest. Matthew 9:37-38.
Let us pray that we might be ready to do for others whatever is asked of us today: perhaps sowing a seed rather than reaping a harvest, or even clearing brambles or nettles to make room for plants being choked of light. And let us trust God to have sent his angels to bring all sinners home.
Another reflection on the stars by a writer who loves the wild places where dark skies are more likely, the stars more visible. Robert Macfarlane is moved, almost physically, by gazing up - or is it down? into the night sky.
The unconverted and limitless nature of the night sky ... is given a depth by the stars that far exceeds the depth given to the diurnal sky by clouds. On a cloudless night, looking upwards, you experience a sudden flipped vertigo, the feeling that your feet might latch off from the earth and you might plummet upwards into space... Our estrangement from the dark [due to street lighting] was a great and serious loss.
Robert Macfarlane, THE WILD PLACES, London, Granta, 2007.
A similar emotion struck David, who must have spent many a night under the stars:
For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded.
What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?
Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour:
And hast set him over the works of thy hands.
Before we get carried away in gratification, let Macfarlane remind us that the loss of the night sky to urban dwellers is serious and stunting.
About the photograph: Image of the night sky above Paranal, Chile on 21 July 2007, taken by ESO astronomer Yuri Beletsky. A wide band of stars and dust clouds, spanning more than 100 degrees on the sky, is seen. This is the Milky Way, the galaxy to which we belong. At the centre of the image, two bright objects are visible. The brightest is the planet Jupiter, while the other is the star Antares. Three of the four 8.2-m telescopes forming ESO’s VLT are seen, with a laser beaming out from Yepun, Unit Telescope number 4. The laser points directly at the Galactic Centre. Also visible are three of the 1.8-m Auxiliary Telescopes used for interferometry. They show small light beams which are diodes located on the domes. The exposure time is 5 minutes and because the tracking was made on the stars, the telescopes are slightly blurred.
He in the evening, when on high
The stars shine in the silent sky,
Beholds th' eternal flames with mirth,
And globes of light more large than Earth;
Then weeps for joy, and through his tears
Looks on the fire-enamell'd spheres,
Where with his Saviour he would be
Lifted above mortality.
Meanwhile the golden stars do set,
And the slow pilgrim leave all wet
With his own tears, which flow so fast
They make his sleeps light, and soon past.
from Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Volume II via Kindle
Eddie was writing about the stars yesterday, so an opportunity presents to complement his reflection with a poem. I was talking to a friend who had been moved to tears by a television drama, and remarked that certain saints had written of 'the gift of tears'. My friend was grateful that the fountain had welled up within her.
Here we have a 17th Century poet, writing in English though living in Wales. He was twenty years old when Galileo died. Science did not erode his faith but enhanced it, intellectually and emotionally, the sight of the 'fire-enamell'd spheres' moving him to tears of awe at creation.
Our third and – for the present – final borrowing from Eddie’s blog at the London Irish Chaplaincy. Thank you Eddie! Readers may like to visit the chaplaincy’s Prayer Room, see the invitation at the end of the post.
We’re blessed in the UK and Ireland to have four distinct seasons, even occasionally being able to see all of them in a single day, and the transition from Summer to Autumn can be especially evocative.
Each year at the end of August I go through a little period of mourning for the Summer. The holidays have been and gone, the flowers are fading, the long trousers and long sleeves need to be got out, and our Wednesday evening cycling group has to cease due to the rapidly encroaching dark. And yet there are precious treats in store. I always await with eager anticipation the re-appearance of Orion, the constellation visible in the Northern hemisphere only over the winter months. I was at the monastery when the big day came. I happened to have a room on the East side of the Guest Wing and I’d initially been disappointed to be so placed. The West Wing, where I’d been before, overlooks the woods and the lovely old monastery buildings and is especially peaceful. The East side contains a school and a road and consequently a bit of noise. However, waking up in the dark on the first morning of my retreat at 5.40 a.m. to attend the 6 a.m. Vigils service I drew back the curtains to reveal the incredible sight in the sky of Orion and the Winter Triangle. It was like the return of an old and faithful friend. There was also a bright, full Harvest moon in all its glory, and a little later the deepest of red skies as the sun began to rise. Had I been in a room on the West side I would have missed it all!
Autumn is often a time of new beginnings. Another academic year commences, and many people might be embarking on a new course or hobby. The next level of my Korean class has got going and I’ve been enjoying both the study, the interaction with a very nice and very international group of people, and practising some of my new expressions on Yim Soon! The lessons have been quite fun so far and that’s how I like my language learning to be. And then at the start of September there was a much-anticipated event: the meeting of my choir for the first time in over a year and a half. There were fewer people than there used to be. Mansel, who I often sit next to, remarked to me at the start, “You do realise, don’t you, that the reason some people haven’t returned is because they’ve died!” It was a sobering reflection. Nonetheless it has been a great joy to drive off to Whitstable again on a Tuesday evening for rehearsals, a fixed point in my life for many years and much missed during COVID, and it will no doubt be a great joy to perform again.
I relish the first hints of coolness in the air in the early morning or late evening, and being able to give proper observance to those key transition periods in the day, dawn and dusk. I gather and prepare the wood for the winter fires. The garden as well needs to be got ready for its winter slumber and regeneration. There will be a final mowing of the grass; the remains of the summer flowers will be added to the compost heap; the soil will be dug over, taking care not to disturb the Spring bulbs. Perhaps new daffodils or tulips will be planted. Then the garden will be left; the worms will be allowed to do their hidden work of restoration; and the spiders will weave their beautiful webs that glisten so radiantly in the fresh dew of the morning.
October will bring the first frost, and how I marvel on my early morning walk to see the intricate patterns it makes on the car windscreens. That might coincide with another seasonal treat, the first fire. It will be the first of many and how I love to listen to the crackling of the logs and to watch the flames leap and dance. It will be time for the cooking apples to be harvested from the old tree by the shed. There will be the ceremonial first baking of apple crumble; and with a bumper crop, which seems to be every other year, the bulk will be made into chutney. Meanwhile the leaves on that and on the other trees will give their annual display of golden beauty, before they fall and wither.
The cycles of the seasons, the cycles of our lives. And, to paraphrase Keats as the days shorten on another year, may all our fruit be filled with ripeness to the core.
Visit our Prayer Room
We hope this becomes a place to remember loved ones, to mark special events, to be grateful for something happening or to bring a concern and receive blessings and solidarity from each other. Enjoy your time of prayer with us.
More inspired curiosity from Eddie Gilmore at The Irish Chaplaincy.
There are always interesting characters to be found on Glastonbury Tor and my latest visit was no exception.
I was having a few days of retreat at Downside Abbey, the Benedictine monastery in Somerset not far from Glastonbury. On my previous stay at Downside I’d also climbed the Tor, on which occasion there was a large group of women performing some kind of ritual which included a circle dance and various incantations, as well as them laughing a lot and breaking out into the singing of old pop songs in the tower. There had been a nice energy about the group and I’d wished I could be part of it.
On this occasion I’d seized the opportunity of a sunny day on which to drive over and make the steep ascent. The Tor stands at about 180m and commands spectacular views in every direction, even, on such a clear day, all the way across the Bristol Channel to a point on the Welsh coast forty-five miles away. St Michael’s Tower is perched right on the top and I especially love to look through the archways on each side. They provide a pleasant framing of the view beyond. It has been a site of pilgrimage for centuries and the following day, it was explained to me later, it would be especially busy because of the Autumn equinox. The site is said to be on a certain ‘ley line’, believed to be routes of particular sacred energy going in a straight line across the country and linking particular holy places.
On my previous visit to the Tor I’d been reminded of a place on the Camino to Santiago with similarly vast and commanding views from a high point over the surrounding flat countryside and a sense that it was somewhere the ancient Celts might have described as being a ‘thin place’ i.e. there being a thin veil between earth and heaven. This time I was mainly relishing the uncommonly warm day and, like many of those who had made the climb, lying down in the sun. I was also, as I like to do, observing those around me! Of particular interest was a woman who appeared through the archway of the tower with an ivy chain around her head. She was closely followed by a second and then a third woman who were each of them similarly adorned, also carrying armfuls of ivy and other bits and pieces. ‘What’s going on here, then?’ I wondered. They proceeded to set up shop on the grass, creating a circle of ivy and other things and with a vase of flowers at the centre. And one of them was lighting some kind of incense. One or two similarly curious onlookers asked what they were doing and one of the three explained that they were performing a little ceremony for Mother Earth and getting rid of bad things from their lives and welcoming the new. A woman who until then had been sunbathing asked to join them and she was welcomed and crowned with an ivy chain. And then the ritual began, which included the ringing of a bell, the beating of a drum and one of the women moving round the circle spreading the sweet-melling incense. It was a little bit wacky but I suppose to many people these days the liturgies I’d been attending in the Abbey church might seem equally wacky. At any rate, seeing a ritual performed by women was a nice counterpoint to the exclusive maleness of that morning’s monastic Mass. I reflected as well that some of what the women were doing wasn’t too far from what the monks had been doing on the Sunday in their High Mass, at least in terms of the incense, with a deacon having gone round the altar with the thurible; except that the men didn’t have a bunch of pretty flowers in the middle!
It was then that I heard a guitar and singing coming from inside the tower and went to explore. A man was there and he had a lovely, gentle voice which was pleasantly amplified by the acoustics of the tower, and when he finished I clapped in appreciation, along with a couple who were listening as well. He was explaining to the couple in answer to them asking where he came from that he lived in Spain, although I could hear the unmistakable sound of a Dublin accent. After the couple made their leave I got chatting with him and he was interested to hear about my background and about the work of the Irish Chaplaincy. I asked him his name. He replied that he’d been born Denis (and a Roman Catholic) but had changed his name twenty years ago to Ananda. When I later checked the spelling with him he said, “It’s like Amanda but you just change the ‘m’ to an ‘n’!” He told me that the word in Hinduism, as in Buddhism and Jainism, denotes extreme happiness and is one of the highest states of being. He believed in the unity in all religions and as if to demonstrate that he sang to me a self-composed mantra which began, conventionally enough, with the words that had been sung that morning in the monastic Mass, ‘Kyrie eleison’, Lord have mercy. Ananda’s version continued, ‘Maria eleison, Mama eleison, Allah eleison, Buddha eleison’ before ending with another verse of ‘Kyrie eleison’.
He went on to tell me that he’d lived in Glastonbury for four year and had walked up the Tor every single day, rain or shine, with his guitar and it was his personal ministry to sing in the tower and chat to people. He also pointed out to me the Celtic connections with the area. An old legend has it that Patrick came back to Britain as an old man and gathered together some hermits in Glastonbury and became the first Abbot. What’s more, the carved figure of Brigid, patron saint of the Irish Chaplaincy as I explained to Ananda, is carved right there in St Michael’s Tower where we were speaking. Legend has it that she spent two years in Glastonbury in prayer before founding in Kildare her dual monastery, one for women and one for and men and over both of which she ruled as abbess.
Ananda was summoned to go and meet his wife, his ring tone being a nice bit of violin music! As he invited me to “go well” I decided it was time to be brave and engage with the ivy-clad women. I went over and asked if I could take a photo of their circle and one of them said with a smile, “Do you want the models in the picture?” I asked what the incense had been and was told it had been sage and myrrh. “Oh” I said, “sage was used by the native Americans to purify the atmosphere of bad vibes.” I happened to know that because when I’d been in a role at L’Arche that seemed to involve having a lot of tricky 1 to 1 meetings, my counterpart in L’Arche London, an American called Keith, used to tell me about the sprig of sage he kept hanging in his office for such meetings. We’d call one another sometimes and say, “So how much sage did you need to burn today?”
Later I went for a stroll in the town which is a truly fascinating place. On the residential street leading to the centre almost every other house has a statue of the Buddha in the window. Then there is the main street, which is a veritable hot-potch of what used to be called ‘New age mysticism’: tarot card reading, crystals, hypnotherapy, ‘Saturday morning yoga with Andrew’, the ‘Zen Music Shop’. Outside the C of E parish church a wizard had set up a stall, next to a man playing reggae music, and was waving cheerfully to passers-by. Ananda had told me that Glastonbury is home to seventy-three different religions and beliefs, the highest such concentration anywhere on the planet. There was even an RC church. How, I wondered, did they get on in the midst of the seventy-three?
I was kind of relieved to get back to the peace, and monotheism, of the monastery. Interestingly, the book being read that evening in the monastic refectory was by a Benedictine who made the observation that the professed religious life as we know it in the West is in terminal decline. The Downside community is typical in that most of the eight members are in their seventies or older and they are currently planning to leave their home of the last 150 years and move in with another, similarly diminishing, community. I agree with the prognosis of terminal decline and think we, the ever dwindling faithful in the Church need to be honest about that rather than hold our heads in the sand. I think there might not be more than a couple of decades left, in the West at any rate, of a tradition that goes back over 1600 years and which has had such a profoundly positive impact on civilisation, in such areas as healthcare and education, even in the development of champagne, thanks to Dom Pérignon, a French Benedictine monk.
What will take its place? The innate human yearning for meaning will still be there, and a need for ritual. Many of us will continue to seek places of stillness; and a sense of the sacred will be as strong as ever, however that finds its expression. My guess is that things could get even more eclectic and a whole lot more wacky! But I take comfort in the words of one of the spiritual greats (I’m afraid I can’t remember which one): “The good will out.”
For a synodal Church:the contribution of Consecrated Life From 24 to 26 November, the Union of Superiors General (USG) – the international organisation of Superiors General of men’s Religious Institutes or Societies of Apostolic Life – will hold its 96th General Assembly focusing mainly on Consecrated Life and Synodality (see programme).
As we await the results of their discussions, let us invoke the Spirit of the Lord to enlighten their work. Have a good synodal meeting!
“Pray, reflect, discuss and share your experiences, insights and desires. Do it with the freedom of those who piace their trust in God and are thus able to overcome timidity, a sense of inferiority or worse stili, reproaches and complaints, Let it be done in all simplicity, moved by the Holy Spirit, avoiding arrogance, without presumption but always having a sense of co-responsibility”. (Letter of Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, 23 July 2021)
We continue our journey to discover the spirituality of the different religious families, associations and ecclesial movements. Today we invite you to discover theSalesian spirituality.
“Listening, sincere and open dialogue, discernment in the Holy Spirit, prayer, planning and shared formation can foster a journey “together” and the construction of an inclusive “we” in view of the mission.”
The Synod in the world We continue to receive pictures, videos, … from all over the world showing the great creativity of our communities. Be inspired: come and see!“To ensure that the synodal church is not a mirage, but rather a dream to be realized, it is necessary to dream together, to pray together, and to work together ”.
(From the letter of Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, 23 July 2021)Directly from our brothers and sisters in India a nice video (only in English) which explain what is the Synod on Synodality.
Listening to people with disabilities. We need you! We invite you to send materials and good practices for the involvement of people with disabilities in the synodal process to firstname.lastname@example.org ListeningToAll #NobodyExcluded Feel like singing? By popular demand, we offer you the Hymn of the Synodal Way of India with the lyrics so that you too can sing … At the top of your lungs!
The Goose Game: a teamwork Finally, the English version of the Goose Game proposed by the diocese of Palencia (Spain) is now available in French, Italian, Portuguese, and Dutch too thanks to all who have collaborated. Click here to download the game .
Pray for the Synod In order to support the synodal journey and ask for the Spirit’s assistance, together with the World Network of Prayers of the Pope and UISG, we have set up a website in 5 languages: Church on the Way. Pray for the Synod. From 2 November, you too can send your prayer. See how to do it…
Copyright 2021 General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops, All rights reserved.
Our mailing address is: General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops Via della Conciliazione 34, Vatican City 00120, Vatican City State (Holy See)
There's nothing like the sun as the year dies, Kind as it can be, this world being made so, To stones and men and beasts and birds and flies, To all things that it touches except snow, Whether on mountain side or street of town. The south wall warms me: November has begun, Yet never shone the sun as fair as now While the sweet last-left damsons from the bough With spangles of the morning's storm drop down Because the starling shakes it, whistling what Once swallows sang. But I have not forgot That there is nothing, too, like March's sun, Like April's, or July's, or June's, or May's, Or January's, or February's, great days: And August, September, October, and December Have equal days, all different from November. No day of any month but I have said— Or, if I could live long enough, should say— "There's nothing like the sun that shines to-day." There's nothing like the sun till we are dead.
Edward Thomas challenged his melancholy by getting out of doors, with friends such as Robert Frost but often enough alone. November sun in England, especially against a south wall, or south cliff, is warming. Mid-November last year we went walking and foraged damsons, sweeter than they would have been a month earlier, but recorded that in prose, not poetry.
‘There’s nothing like the sun till we are dead’, and then? Why then we shall learn who the sun is like.
And there shall be no night there;
and they need no candle, neither light of the sun;
for the Lord God giveth them light:
and they shall reign for ever and ever.
It was caring for a mutual friend that brought Dermot and me together, so far as she allowed anyone to care for her, that is. Dermot and Margaret did more than most, living opposite. But our friend had to go into a care home, and finally to hospital where she died. Soon after that Margaret’s cancer returned and she went to her Maker, and now Dermot’s brother Joe has died.
‘Everyone that made me laugh has gone’, he told me, and all younger than me.’
He carries on, taking on the responibilities his wife had had around their home, adrift at times, but ever ready for a few words of conversation, for he has hope, despite the encircling gloom.
LEAD, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
We pray that people who suffer from depression or burn-out will find support and a light that opens them up to life. Lord, graciously hear us.
This is the right season to remember people who suffer from depression, especially in the lands that know Autumn and Winter with our shortening, darkling days, with the cold in the bones, and even without covid, enough infections to stockpile tissues against. Light amid th’encircling gloom, indeed.
And burn-out is all too real for many who have kept going with caring for children, the sick, the frail, the elderly, and who have not had enough time to take care of themselves. Let us pray that we might show more consideration for carers, nurses and teachers, and all who have given without counting the cost. We pray that people who suffer from depression or burn-out will find support and a light that opens them up to life. Lord, graciously hear us.
O, GOD, giver and preserver of all life,
by whose power I was created, and by whose providence I am sustained,
look down upon me with tenderness and mercy;
grant that I may not have been created to be finally destroyed;
that I may not be preserved to add wickedness to wickedness.
O, LORD, let me not sink into total depravity;
look down upon me, and rescue me at last from the captivity of sin.
Almighty and most merciful Father,
who hast continued my life from year to year,
grant that by longer life I may become less desirous of sinful pleasures,
and more careful of eternal happiness.
Let not my years be multiplied to increase my guilt;
but as my age advances, let me become more pure in my thoughts,
more regular in my desires, and more obedient to thy laws.
Forgive, O merciful LORD, whatever I have done contrary to thy laws.
Give me such a sense of my wickedness as may produce true contrition and effectual repentance;
so that when I shall be called into another state,
I may be received among the sinners to whom sorrow and reformation have obtained pardon,
for JESUS CHRIST'S sake.
From "Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784" by James Boswell
Boswell acknowledged Johnson as a most pious friend, who was by no means as wicked as the reader might imagine. Johnson was inclined to melancholy and to a deep sense of his own sinfulness, but any of us could make our own the last paragraph of this prayer.
Blake’s Jacob’s Ladder dates from some 20 years after Johnson’s prayer. May they both be received among the sinners who have obtained pardon.