On this day in 1773, James Boswell was conducting Dr Johnson around Scotland en route to the Western Isles. They have come as far as Nairn, some 20 miles East of Inverness, ‘a miserable place’, according to Boswell, but today ‘Scotland’s Highland playground’ according to the Tourist Board.
Here they came upon a Presbyterian response to a modern phenomenon: how to deal with scandalous behaviour among the Christian flock. Boswell and Johnson waited for hours while the minister, Mr Kenneth McAuley, was distributing tokens to parishioners.
Over to Boswell:
In Scotland, there is a great deal of preparation before administering the sacrament. The minister of the parish examines the people as to their fitness, and to those of whom he approves gives little pieces of tin, stamped with the name of the parish as tokens, which they must produce before receiving it. This is a species of priestly power, and sometimes may be abused. I remember a lawsuit brought by a person against his parish minister, for refusing him admission to that sacred ordinance.
(from Life of Johnson, Volume 5 Tour to the Hebrides (1773) by James Boswell)
This does not sound like the ministry of Alistair Maclean!
One might ask, is the Sacrament, the Eucharist, a reward for good behaviour or food for the journey? Can we ever eat and drink worthily? Not by our own efforts! Does the grace of the Sacrament reach in to where we hardly know ourselves, but God knows? Did the use of tokens enhance or debase the Sacrament? Does denying it to anyone serve to bring the sinner to repentance, or lead to split or unity in the church?
Stamped tokens from post Great War Germany, when the currency was greatly debased due to inflation.
It’s the feast of Saint Bernard, one of the founding fathers of the Cistercian reform of monastic life. Our reflection is from Thomas Merton, writing in 1952. The celebration of the Eucharist has changed in religious communities as much, if not more than in parishes; there is one Community Mass each day, but there is still room for silence with God.
Our picture is from the trailer for Outside the City, a film by Nick Hamer about the Monks of Mount Saint Bernard’s Abbey in Leicestershire. Read on for Thomas Merton’s reflection on this day.
This week it is my turn to say the brothers’ Communion Mass, Our Lady’s Mass. It is always a Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin, always the same. I like it that way.
In the summer time, this Mass is said at three o’clock in the morning. So I leave the choir after morning meditation to go and say it while the rest of the monks recite Matins and Lauds. I generally finish the brothers’ Communions by the end of the second nocturne, and then go off into the back sacristy and kneel in the dark behind the relic case next to Saint Malachy’s altar, while the sky grows pale outside over the forest and a little cool air seeps in through the slats of the broken shutters.
The birds sing, and the crickets sing, and one priest is silent with God.
Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas, Hollis & Carter, London, 1953, p336.
At the annual gathering of the priests of the Diocese in October 2018 the speaker was Tom O’Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology at Nottingham University. Tom gave the priests of the Diocese Six Simple Steps which could go some way to achieving Vatican II’s vision in our celebration of the Eucharist. Today we take a look at steps 5 and 6.
Step 5: Stand at the Table
“One of the obvious changes in the reformed liturgy was that ‘the priest no longer had his back to the people.’ Altars were ‘pulled out’ or a new one built behind which the president stood – and the change was understood in terms of visibility. But the change was really to draw out that the Eucharist takes place at a table, which can be interpreted as our altar. This is the Lord’s table around which we are bidden by the Lord and which anticipates the heavenly table.
Step 6: The Prayer of the Faithful
“The oldest debate in Christian liturgy relates to the tension between fixed formulae and spontaneous prayer. …” By the time of Vatican II (1962-65) many “had recognised the need for both familiar forms and for spontaneous expression, and so there is a place for this in the reformed rite: the Prayer [note the singular] of the Faithful. However, often in practice it has become a scripted set of intentions. … The Prayer of the Faithful is an expression of the priesthood of the baptised and their ability, in Christ, to stand in the presence of the Father and ask for their own needs and those of all the communities to which they belong.
At the annual gathering of the priests of the Hallam Diocese in October 2018 the speaker was Tom O’Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology at Nottingham University. Tom gave the priests of the Diocese Six Simple Steps which could go some way to achieving Vatican II’s vision in our celebration of the Eucharist. Today we take a look at steps 3 and 4. To read the whole article click on the link above.
Step 3: Stop ringing bells
There is an infamous description of Catholic worship as being impossible to understand but “supported by bells and smells!” We need to be aware that some things seem to survive in some churches even when they have lost their meaning – and bells are among them.
Step 4: Provide the cup to all
We must not allow ourselves to forget the command of Christ that we should eat and drink. The command is addressed to us all and not just to priests. (I look forward to the time when this is once again possible, post pandemic.)
This post and the next two link to articles in Hallam News, the newspaper of the Roman Catholic diocese based in Sheffield, Yorkshire.They could help us as we find our feet again as worshipping communities. Click on the link for the first two steps.
At the annual gathering of the priests of the Hallam Diocese in October 2018 the speaker was Tom O’Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology at Nottingham University. Tom gave the priests of the diocese Six Simple Steps which could go some way to achieving Vatican II’s vision in our celebration of the Eucharist. Today we take a look at the first two.
Step1: Abandonusing the tabernacleattheEucharist
Step 2: Have a real Fraction (the Breaking of the bread)
A statement from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales regarding attending Sunday Mass.
“It is hoped that it will be possible for all Catholics in England and Wales to fulfil the Sunday Obligation, by the First Sunday in Advent 2021.”
(Pere Jacques Hamel, martyred at the altar, 2017).
We are mindful of the certain fact that the Covid-19 virus is still circulating in society. Vaccines provide genuine protection against the worst effects of the virus, yet we recognise the legitimate fear on the part of some who otherwise desire to gather for Holy Mass. It is our continuing judgement, therefore, that it is not possible at the present time for all of the faithful to attend Mass on a Sunday thus fulfilling their duty to God.
It is hoped that it will be possible for all Catholics in England and Wales to fulfil this most important Church precept, that of the Sunday Obligation, by the First Sunday in Advent 2021. In the meantime, all Catholics are asked to do their best to participate in the celebration of the weekly Sunday Mass and to reflect deeply on the centrality of Sunday worship in the life of the Church.
In April, following our Plenary Assembly, we offered a reflection on the experience of the extraordinary long months of the pandemic. It was titled The Day of the Lord. We also began to look at the way forward. We spoke about the important invitation to restore the Sunday Mass to its rightful centrality in our lives. We asked for a rekindling in our hearts of a yearning for the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist, as our response to the total, sacrificial love that Jesus has for us. We said: “The Eucharist should be the cause of our deepest joy, our highest manner of offering thanks to God and for seeking his mercy and love. We need to make it the foundation stone of our lives.”
May this continue to be our striving during these coming months as we journey back to the full celebration of our Sunday Mass and our renewed observance of The Day of the Lord.
A few words from Rev Jo Richards of Saint Mildred’s, Canterbury, on her church’s patronal feast day, 13 July.
St Mildred: Today is the Feast day of St Mildred, a fascinating woman and a very local saint. So for those who might be less familiar with her, one of our patron saints here is some info: St. Mildred was the daughter of King Merewald of Magonset and his wife, St. Ermenburga (alias Aebbe of Minster-in-Thanet); and therefore sister of SS. Milburga and Milgith. At an early age, her mother sent her to be educated at Chelles in France, where many English ladies were trained to a saintly life. There is lots more info here: http://earlybritishkingdoms.com/adversaries/bios/mildred.html
Lifting of covid restrictions: we are still awaiting guidance from CofE with respect to what this means for our places of worship, and how we conduct public worship. I assure you that we will not be rushing into anything, though I would be very interested to hear your thoughts about what you would feel comfortable with in terms of mask wearing, social distancing, singing and receiving of communion; of course this may all be dictated by CofE, but good to get a feel of what folk are thinking, and would feel comfortable with – we are in this together!
Robert Hugh Benson was the son of an Archbishop of Canterbury who became a Roman Catholic priest. He wrote many books based on his faith, including The History of Richard Raynal, Solitary, which takes the form of a translation of a mediaeval manuscript life of an English hermit, written by his parish priest. The writer went to visit his parishioner on the feast of Corpus Christi*; in those days there was much more forest cover in Southern England than we enjoy today.
I set out through the wood. I was greatly encouraged by the beauty of the light as I went down; the sun shone through the hazels on my right, and the roof of leaves was a fair green over my head; and to right and left lay a carpet of flowers as blue as the Flanders’ glass above the altar. I had learnt from Master Richard, though he was thirty years my younger, many beautiful lessons, and one of them that God’s Majesty speaks to us by the works of His almighty hands. So when I saw the green light and the gold and the blue, and the little flies that made merry in the way, I took courage.
The History of Richard Raynal, Solitary by Robert Hugh Benson
The forest could be a dangerous place in those times, and the good man would not have had an electric torch to guide him home. Let us pray for all those who live in forested areas and are suffering persecution from armed gangs and invaders robbing, kidnapping and killing them, in order to wrest control of the natural resources that should be providing a measure of stability to their lives through legitimate trade. Pray especially for the Church in Eastern Congo.
* The feast is celebrated today in England, according to my calendar.
Our church is smallish, homely, as it should be,
A rectangular box
Light-filled by generous windows.
Spirit-filled by generations of plain-speaking villagers.
A second-hand, twice-loved,
No-nonsense northern chapel in the hills
Complete with gallery and organ of course!
No room for side chapels
No nooks and crannies in which to construct an Altar of Repose.
Needing to take over from Saint Joseph
His small shrine to the left of the Sanctuary.
We can move over,
Those who stay on
To keep company with the Lord
On the night road from the room to the garden,
From the garden to the High Priest
In the midst of rabble,
Torches, weapons, noise,
While our church, now stripped,
Leaves us a few hours more
In his presence.
But tomorrow, when all we have remembered
In ritual, prayer and song,
When we have reverenced his image,
Received his Gift …
Then is it empty.
And helpless, what can we do?
In this emptiness
That echoes with the sound of his leaving?
The door left open,
The table bare
The light extinguished,
The fire gone out.
Come and see,
Just come and see!
Remember how it was
Before it became Good Friday.
The comfortable familiarity,
His everpresence …
Withdrawn now into pain,
For in the darkness we have abandoned him.
Oh how is our church empty!
Now … We gather in the darkness,
Knowing our loss
And drawn to the emptiness,
Relight the fire,
Set the table,
Restore the light.
Christ, our light!
Thanks be to God!
Hearts renewed in hope
Reach for the light.
Christ our light!
Our church in the hills!
Sheila writes that this piece is ‘Pre-Covid, by several years – Is this how we will date things in future?’ The previous two poems were new ones. Her little church in the hills is as she describes it, is it not? A light-filled, Spirit-filled box, where the Lord can camp for a while – who are we, even Yorkshire folk, to build Him a house? But he will fill the space when we set the table.
The church had imposing monuments, emphasising the worldly wealth that was Venice’s, but what struck me was this carving of Christ on Easter Morning, watched over by a Guardian Angel, a serenely happy angel indeed. But Jesus maybe does need an eye kept on him, He looks as though he is not at all used to his risen body, see how he’s feeling the wound in his side; it’s bleeding as though he were alive.
The English Easter gardens, from a village in Northumberland, Canterbury Cathedral, and Saint Mildred’s Church nearby, are unpopulated so far as we can see, but just as with Doctor Johnson the other day, we can feel God’s presence.
When I helped at Children’s Masses, some of them enacted Mary, John and Peter going to the tomb, and finding no-one. We then unrolled a poster saying ‘Jesus is nowhere’, because they did not find him. The priest had to take a pair of scissors to it, so that it read, ‘Jesus is now here’. Our daily challenge for mission is to live as though that’s true. Which it is!