Pope Benedict XVI set this Feast on the Thursday after Pentecost ten years ago. It has only just crossed my radar, and I wondered whether this was a feast for clericalism, that non-synodal view of the Church that Pope Francis wants to leave behind. My suspicions were not placated when I saw the reading in the Divine Office was from Pope Pius XII, but I read on, and was reminded that he had made important changes to the celebration of the Eucharist, such as allowing people – including priests – to take a drink of water without breaking their fast. For anyone travelling a distance, or whose circumstances meant they attended a late Mass, he made it more possible to participate and receive Communion.
This extract from Mediator Dei insists that every Christian is called to be a priest ‘as far as is humanly possible’; today we might remember that we are each anointed at Baptism to serve as priest, prophet, and king. But Pope Pius was exploring these ideas before Vatican II. The language is perhaps unfamiliar, but the message is clear enough.
Christ is a Priest indeed; however, he is a Priest not for himself but for us, since, in the name of the whole human race, he brings our prayers and religious dispositions to the eternal Father; he is also a victim, but a victim for us, since he substitutes himself for sinners. Now the exhortation of the Apostle, ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,’ demands that all Christians should possess, as far as is humanly possible, the same dispositions as those which the divine Redeemer had when he offered himself in sacrifice: that is to say, they should with a humble attitude of mind, offer adoration, honour, praise and thanksgiving to the supreme majesty of God. Moreover, it demands that they must assume in some way the condition of a victim, that they deny themselves as the Gospel commands, that freely and of their own accord they do penance and that each detests and makes satisfaction for his sins. It demands, in a word, that we must all undergo with Christ a mystical death on the Cross so that we can apply to ourselves the words of St. Paul, ‘I have been crucified with Christ’ (Galatians 2:19).
Mrs Turnstone and I grabbed a cup of tea and a quick bite after getting up late one Sunday morning, then off to Mass. I could not help but remember a passage from Father Gerard Rathe’s Mud and Mosaics, an account of his ‘missionary journey’ through Africa in 1960. Here he has just arrived in what is now Mali.
We drove through the city gate [of Mopti] and round to the river. On the steps of what looked like a large warehouse we saw Monsignor Landru, the Prefect Apostolic,+ a lively, clean shaven little man, who took us into the house where we enjoyed a glass of cold water before saying Mass.
I wonder if the Holy Father ever thought of the tremendous refreshment he would be giving priests like ourselves, when he said: “Water does not break the Eucharistic Fast”.*
You have to go to the tropics, anyway, to appreciate cold water. Leo, our photographer, preferred beer, and we left him perspiring and content in a deck chair as we went to the church. We were on a tiny Christian island in a sea of Islam and I offered my Mass for this handful of missionaries and for the conversion of the Dogon people on whom they pin their hopes.
We are blessed to live in less rule-bound times, when we can more easily respond to the Lord’s invitation to take and eat.
+ A priest who leads the church in a territory that is not yet big enough to be a diocese. * Pius XII had relaxed the rules on fasting to allow Catholics to take liquids up to an hour before receiving Communion, though solid food was still prohibited from midnight.
In 1943, Archbishop Spellman, a former colleague of Pius XII at the Vatican Secretariat of State, visited Ethiopia, which with allied help had defeated the Italian invaders who had overrun the country some years before and planted the beginnings of a colony there. People were sent to create a new Roman Empire in this ‘open country’.
Spellman discovered that many colonists were unhappy with their part in Mussolini’s venture. He met a family who had been exiled from their own home when they were taken as colonisers to Africa.
‘The father of this family told me that the grief he suffered in being taken from his home was renewed and redoubled, when he watched the officers drive another family from their home, to make room for him in a strange land’. And now he and his family were returning to an uncertain future.1
Who knows what became of that family, returning to a famished Italy? Their story is not so far from those of so many displaced people today, exiled even if living in a land flowing with milk and honey and all good things. ‘If I forget you Jerusalem … let my right hand wither.’ Yet who can survive, consumed with bitterness?
1Francis J. Spellman: Action This Day. Letters from the Fighting Fronts. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943. p169.
Image from West window, Canterbury, thanks to SJC.
‘Radiation’ may not be the first concept that comes to mind when thinking of chastity, but Pope John shows that chastity is not sterile egotism but a social virtue – in a similar way to how faithfulness in marriage provides stability in the family and society.
The Gospel tells us of all that Jesus suffered, of the insults that fell upon Him. But, from Bethlehem to Calvary, the brilliance that radiates from His divine purity spread more and more and won over the crowds. So great was the austerity and the enchantment of His conduct.
So may it be with you, beloved daughters. Blessed be the discretion, the mortifications and the renouncements with which you seek to render this virtue more brilliant.
Pius XII wrote about them in a memorable encyclical letter (Sacra Virginitas). Live its teachings. May your conduct prove to all that chastity is not only a possible virtue but a social virtue, which must be strongly defended through prayer, vigilance and the mortification of the senses.
May your example show that the heart has not shut itself up in sterile egoism, but that it has chosen the condition which is necessary for it to open itself solicitously to its neighbour.
For this purpose We urge you to cultivate the rules of good conduct—We repeat it—cultivate and apply them, without giving ear to anyone who would wish to introduce into your life a conduct less befitting the thoughtfulness and reserve to which you are bound.
May each of us, whatever our state in life, open our hearts to our neighbour, and not close in on ourselves.
When I went to the Cathedral yesterday I found myself in the nave rather than the crypt. It was still early in the day; the guides and welcomers were just arriving, tidying up their desks and welcoming each other. There were the usual builders’ noises, and someone testing organ pipes: in short, there was the usual silence!
I had time to sit by the font and contemplate the installation ‘Suspended’. The garments hanging above the congregation came from refugees on the Isle of Lesbos or the camps around Calais; clothes they were glad to discard when they were offered a clean change. I hope they found something they liked to wear! Their lives have been suspended between their old homes, destroyed or stolen, and who knows what future.
There the clothes hang, reminding us that these refugees are sisters and brothers of ours, thrown on very hard times, as were others – including perhaps their grandparents – seventy years ago when Pope Pius XII wrote the words we read here yesterday.
Let us follow his call, and pray for peace, and support those who support the refugees.
Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury
Seventy years ago today, Pope Pius XII issued his encyclical letter Auspicia Quedam. He was writing to ask people to ask Mary’s prayers for peace in the Holy Land. We begin with his reference to the similar call to prayer he made during the Second World War.
6. It was comforting for Us in past years to appeal earnestly to all – especially to the young so dear to us – to crowd around the altar of the great Mother of God during the month of May imploring the end of a cruel war; so now, similarly today, by means of this encyclical letter, We invite you not to cease from this pious practice and further to prayers add resolutions for Christian renewal and salutary works of penance.
7. Above all, speak to the Virgin Mother of God and our most tender Mother words of most heartfelt thanks for having obtained, through her powerful intercession, the long desired termination of that great world conflagration, and also for so many other graces obtained from the Most High.
8. At the same time, implore her, with renewed prayers, that at long last there may shine forth, as a gift from Heaven, mutual, fraternal and complete peace among all nations and the longed for harmony among all social classes.
Let there be an end to dissensions that redound to no one’s advantage. Let there be a reconciliation of disputes that often sow the seeds of further misfortunes. Let international relations, public and private, be fittingly strengthened. Let religion, the foster mother of all virtues, enjoy the liberty to which she is entitled. And let men set about their peaceful work of abundant production for the common welfare – with justice their guide and charity their motive.
Not all of us feel comfortable with praying to or with the saints, and Pius’s language does not fall naturally on every ear. But we can all pray for Peace, especially in the Holy Land.