Tag Archives: Cross

23 December: Cracking the Cathedral Code!

Stop there for a moment! Look at what’s in front of you. This is the quire or choir altar in Canterbury Cathedral.

  • It’s decked in purple, code for repentance and waiting. We’ve been waiting for Christmas, we’ve been repenting, trying to change our ways to be ready to meet Jesus.
  • There are four Greek letters, embroidered in gold. Gold for a King. It was one of the gifts brought by the wise men.
  • Ά and ω are the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet. Code for Jesus is before all and comes after all.
  • The two other letters, ϗ and ρ, or Chi and Ro tend to get mixed together in different geometrical ways. This is because they represent the first two letters of Kristos, Greek for Christ. Artistic licence turns the chi into different shaped crosses, to represent the Cross of Christ.
  • (Sometimes we see ICXC, where the ‘I’ is a Greek ‘J’; ‘C’, is ‘S’; ‘X’ is ‘K’ or ‘Ch’; the early Christians liked this sort of code)
  • So the altar frontal tells us to wait for Jesus the king, the first and last.
  • On the altar are a crucifix and candles. Christ, risen from death, is the light of the world.
  • and there is a Christmas tree. Remember how God called to Moses from the burning bush? You stand on Holy Ground, Moses was told. And so do we.
  • At the back, behind the altar, is the chair of Saint Augustine on which Archbishops are seated on their appointment. We stand on Holy Ground. The chair is code for the Communion of Saints, the faith handed down by the shepherds since 597 when Augustine came to Canterbury.

So, call it praying or thinking or day-dreaming, I had a few good minutes in the Cathedral that morning!

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3 December: Advent Light IV. Contracted light.

XVII Century German window at Patrixbourne, Kent.
O Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,        
Wrapt in night’s mantle, stole into a manger;        
Since my dark soul and brutish is thy right,
To Man of all beasts be not thou a stranger:        
Furnish and deck my soul, that thou mayst have        
A better lodging then a rack or grave.
From Christmas by George Herbert.

George Herbert was an Anglican priest who died in 1633, during the reign of Charles I of England, those were troubled times. This is an extract from his poem, Christmas. That little star we looked for on Sunday is now a glorious, but contracted light, powerful enough to transform a dark soul into a better lodging for Christ – a better lodging than the rack which in Herbert’s time had replaced the Cross as an instrument of torture; a better lodging than the grave that only held Christ until the third day. Christmas and Easter are parts of the same story.

Lord, do not be a stranger to me. Shine your light into my soul. Help me to follow the star this Advent, however many distractions get in the way.

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23 November: Columban Missionary Prayer V: in his own words.

Since we pass through this world
merely as pilgrims
let us keep our sights fixed on the end of the road,
where our real home lies.

Let us strive to please God
who is everywhere present,
so that we can happily pass along the road 
to the home of our heavenly Father.

AMEN.

A prayer of Saint Columban

At the end of a pilgrimage to Saint Edmundsbury is this processional cross. Around the base of the cross are the arrows with which King Edmund was martyred, The cross itself shines as the sun, drawing our eyes up to the crown of thorns – or is it a star? – that calls us to the end of the road that leads us past this little, earthly, devotional pilgrimage to that which Columban evokes: the road to the home of our heavenly Father.

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8 October: Little Flowers XCV

Santa Maria degli Angeli was, of course, not the great basilica that greets the pilgrim today, but a little chapel.

Francis and his companions continued their journey and came to Santa Maria degli Angeli; and, when they were nigh thereunto, Friar Leo lifted up his eyes and looked toward the said Place of Santa Maria degli Angeli, and saw an exceeding beautiful Cross, whereon was the figure of the Crucified, going before Saint Francis, even as Saint Francis was going before Him; and on such wise did the said Cross go before the face of Saint Francis that when he stopped it stopped too, and when he went on it went on; and that Cross was of such brightness that, not only did it shine in the face of Saint Francis, but all the road about him also was lighted up; and it lasted until Saint Francis entered into the Place of Santa Maria degli Angeli. 

Saint Francis, then, having arrived with Friar Leo, they were welcomed by the friars with very great joy and charity. And from thenceforward, until his death, Saint Francis dwelt for the greater part of his time in that Place of Santa Maria degli Angeli. And the fame of his sanctity and of his miracles spread continually more and more through the Order and through the world, although, by reason of his profound humility, he concealed as much as he might the gifts and graces of God, and ever called himself the greatest of sinners. 

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5 October, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XCIII: At Citta di Castello

All the ‘Little Flowers’ that follow concern events in the last two years of Francis’s life. As this one opens, he is travelling from Mount Alvernia, where he had received the stigmata, back to Assisi, a weakened man. We first read of his encounters on the road, he had to travel in easy stages and might have been forgiven for keeping himself to himself; it did not happen.

Saint Francis went to Città di Castello; and behold, many of the citizens brought to him a woman, who had been possessed of a devil for a long time, and humbly besought him for her deliverance; because, with her dolorous howlings and cruel shrieks and dog-like barkings, she disturbed all the neighbourhood. Then Saint Francis, having first prayed and made over her the sign of the most holy Cross, commanded the demon to depart from her; and he straightway departed, leaving her sane in body and in mind. 

And, when this miracle was noised abroad among the people, another woman with great faith brought to him her sick child, who was afflicted with a cruel sore, and besought him devoutly that he would be pleased to make the sign of the Cross upon him with his hands. 

Then Saint Francis gave ear unto her prayer, and took the child and loosed the bandage from off his sore and blessed him, making the sign of the most holy Cross over the sore three times, and thereafter with his own hands he replaced the bandage, and gave him back to his mother; and, because it was evening, she forthwith laid him on the bed to sleep. 

Thereafter, in the morning, she went to take her child from the bed, and found the bandage unloosed, and looked and saw that he was as perfectly whole as if he had never had any sickness at all; save only that, in the place where the sore had been, the flesh had grown over after the manner of a red rose; and that rather in testimony of the miracle than as a scar left by the sore; because the said rose, remaining during the whole of his lifetime, often moved him to devotion toward Saint Francis who had healed him. 

In that city, then, Saint Francis sojourned for a month, at the prayer of the devout citizens, in the which time he wrought many other miracles.

Health was precarious in those days. We should be as grateful as these good people for safe drugs, sterile equipment and the unprecedented blessings of modern surgery and nursing care, never taking these gifts for granted.

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14 September: then you shall know.

My father’s rosary.

Today we remember the Exaltation, or lifting up, of the Holy Cross. Our reflection is from Canon Anthony Charlton of Canterbury, England.

After the fiery serpents, sent by God, whose bite killed many in Israel, (Numbers 21: 4-9) Moses pleaded with God and he commanded Moses “Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it he shall live.” Anyone bitten who gazed on the bronze serpent, lived.

In the gospel Jesus says that “when you have lifted up the Son of Man then you shall know I am he.” (John 8:28) Just as the bronze serpent gives life so the cross, an instrument of torture and death gives life. In John 12:32 we read “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself.”

May we grow in wonder at the cross that shows us the extent of Jesus love for us. On the cross he endured every kind of suffering to show his solidarity with us.

May all who are suffering in anyway recognise that Jesus is a companion who has shared their journey. May the cross that was once a cursed thing and transformed by Jesus into a tree of blessing, be a source of comfort and peace to all.

Canon Father Anthony

Canon Father Anthony, Parish Priest, St Thomas’, Canterbury.

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2 September 2022, Praying with Pope Francis: the death penalty.

Pope Francis’s intention for this month is:

We pray that the death penalty, 
which attacks the dignity of the human person, 
may be legally abolished in every country.

Jesus was crucified between two thieves. These willow crosses were used to make Easter Gardens for Saint Mildred’s church in Canterbury and for our community houses, but they do not convey the torturous death of crucifixion. The ivory figures on the crosses in Winchester Cathedral express the attack on the dignity of the three condemned men, each one unable to lift a finger to ease his suffering. The only way to alleviate the pain is for the overseeing centurion to intervene with a leg-breaking, death-dealing blow.

When today someone is killed by firing squad, hanging, electric shock or lethal drugs, there is not the three hours’ agony endured by Jesus, but there is a lifetime of sorrow for the criminal’s relatives, while ‘closure’ for the victim’s family may still be elusive. It is well-known that the greater number of violent offenders have experienced violence themselves; are their lives to be terminated in violence?

We could add to Pope Francis’s intention a prayer for the children who are subjected to violence, that through the love, care and respect of adults who work with them, they may come to live in peace with themselves, with other people and with God.

And let us remember Jesus’ promise to the repentant thief: this day you will be with me in Paradise.

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22 August, Saint Edmund III: A Story from a Cross.

Sometimes a pause in our pilgrims’ or tourists’ way can be enlightening; sometimes a photograph yields a more than passing thought when looked at anew in the armchair. Here is a processional Cross in Saint Edmundsbury Cathedral which we did not follow in procession; however, a closer, leisurely look tells a story.

The arrows that killed Edmund, King of the English, surround the Cross on which Jesus, the King of the Jews, the King of Glory, was killed. The Cross itself seems alive, aflame, reminding us that Jesus made the one sacrifice on Calvary, burning away sin, leading us to heaven.

Edmund’s arrows are subordinate to the Cross. This does not belittle his martyr’s sacrifice, but  puts it into the context of Saint Paul’s bold assertion in Colossians 1:24: in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

The Church itself is represented by the diocesan coat of arms, including the triple crown of Edmund’s kingdom of East Anglia. This Cross is not just a decorative object but also a statement of faith at both a local and universal level.

What emblem would you choose to symbolise yourself and your life after your death? What would you choose for a loved one? Here is one example I really like.

We adore you, O Christ and we praise you, for by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

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16 August: Is This What Existentialism Means?

Knowing nothing of physics,
Atoms and such things
As planets - like this one
Are assembled, 
Constructed, 
Designed:
I know therefore, nothing of God,
Designer (a modern term),
Pre-creator
Knowing before creation,
Before, and even before
Existence 
Brought forth thought -
Designer - thought.
But reaching through the mists,
The immateriality of no-thing
Brought forth before thought the loneliness of love,
The culmination of the cross
The existentialism of the cross.

That word slipped in!

Existentialism could be called the philosophy of human existence, of the essence of humanity, which is freedom. While many of the big names were atheists, their ideas were not all hostile to belief in God or the Christian faith; indeed they were critically examined in my seminary course back in the 1960’s. Contrary to popular belief, our teachers who were Catholic Priests, wanted us to think things through, something the existentialists prided themselves on.

Now here is Sheila Billingsley philosophising on creation and suffering and love, the culmination of the cross.

Read it again!

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3 July: Leaf from leaf.

All Saints, Godshill, Isle of Wight.

This Lily Crucifix is striking. The figure of Christ is bleeding yet not broken; indeed he looks vigorous. The cross, too, is not dead wood but a lily of the field, full of sap and flowering. It’s not a canna – the one we usually call an Easter Lily – but an Easter Lily for all that. Christ, the wounded Christ, is risen! Immediately below the lily cross the church has placed the tabernacle or aumbry, housing the wafer that Christians recognise as the body of Christ.

Scattered across the wall are five-petalled pink flowers, surely wild roses like the one below. Or are they stars, their numbers counted by Him alone? Earth’s astronomers keep on counting more and more of them as their instruments look ever further, but they seem to have given up on names, instead allotting numbers to the innumerable golden grains they perceive and whose vastness they measure from light years away. They know they will never reach the end of the numbers but they trust that their work is valuable. It is valuable, for it is awe inspiring.

Here is Christina Rossetti, saying all this and more, with greater eloquence than your correspondent!

Leaf from leaf Christ knows; Himself the Lily and the Rose

Leaf from leaf Christ knows;
Himself the Lily and the Rose:

Sheep from sheep Christ tells;
Himself the Shepherd, no one else:

Star and star He names,
Himself outblazing all their flames:

Dove by dove, He calls
To set each on the golden walls:

Drop by drop, He counts
The flood of ocean as it mounts:

Grain by grain, His hand
Numbers the innumerable sand.

Lord, I lift to Thee
In peace what is and what shall be:

Lord, in peace I trust
To Thee all spirits and all dust.

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