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!
Fr Hilary Costello of Mount Saint Bernard’s Abbey was a long-standing family friend. These lines are from a poem he shared with my mother that turned up among her papers when she died. The poem seems to veer from one speaker to another, one hearer to another. Here is God talking to the reader, or the writer to God? either makes sense. They also reinforce the idea of enjoying being a Christian. The shepherds and the Magi surely had fun in the searching; so, too, let us go unto Bethlehem!
So much did the fervour of devotion increase in Saint Francis that he altogether transformed himself into Jesus through love and pity.
He saw, coming from heaven, a Seraph, with six wings resplendent and ablaze; He bore the likeness to a crucified Man; two wings extended above His head, two were spread out to fly, and the other two covered all His body. Saint Francis was sore afraid, and, at the same time, was filled with joy and grief and wonder. He had passing great joy of the gracious aspect of Christ, who appeared to him so familiarly and regarded him so kindly; but, on the other hand, seeing Him crucified upon the cross, he felt immeasurable grief for pity’s sake. Next, he marvelled much at so strange and stupendous a vision, knowing well that the infirmity of suffering agreeth not with the immortality of the seraphic spirit. And, while he thus marvelled, it was revealed unto him by Him who appeared to him: that that vision had been shown unto him in that form, by the Divine providence, to the end that he might understand that, not by corporal suffering but by enkindling of the mind, he must be altogether transformed into the express image of Christ crucified, in that marvellous vision.
Then all the mountain of Alvernia seemed to burn with brightest flame, which shone forth and lighted up all the mountains and the valleys round about, even as if the sun had risen upon the earth; wherefore the shepherds, who kept watch in those regions, beholding the mountain all on fire and so great a light round about it, were very much afraid, according as they afterward related to the friars, declaring that that flame continued upon the mountain of Alvernia for the space of an hour or more. In like manner, by reason of the brightness of this light, which shone through the windows into the hostelries of the countryside, certain muleteers, who were journeying into Romagna, rose up, believing that the sun had risen, and saddled and loaded their beasts; and, as they went upon their way, they beheld the said light die out, and the material sun arise.
In the said seraphic vision, Christ, who appeared to Saint Francis, spake unto him certain high and secret things, the which Saint Francis was never willing to reveal to any one during his life; but, after his death, he revealed it, even as is set forth below; and the words were these: “Knowest thou,” said Christ, “that which I have done unto thee? I have given thee the stigmata, which are the tokens of My Passion, so that thou mayest be My standard-bearer. And even as I, on the day of My death, descended into Limbo, and, in virtue of these My stigmata, drew out thence all the souls which I found there; so to thee do I grant that, every year on the day of thy death, thou shalt go to purgatory, and in virtue of thy stigmata, shalt draw out thence all the souls of thy three Orders, to wit minors, sisters and continents, and also those others who have borne great devotion unto thee, and shalt lead them unto the glory of paradise, to the end that thou mayest be conformed to Me in death as thou art in life.”
Now when, after long and secret converse, this marvellous vision vanished away, it left an exceeding ardour and flame of Divine love in the heart of St. Francis, and in his flesh a marvellous image and imprint of the Passion of Christ.
With all the light pollution caused by modern fear of the dark, nobody would notice the coming of Christ on the mountain! But we should all bear in mind the words ‘not by corporal suffering but by enkindling of the mind, [we] must be altogether transformed into the express image of Christ crucified.’
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Here is another posting by Eddie Gilmore of London’s Irish Chaplaincy. I’ve just shared a paragraph from the middle, but the whole article, and the links he provides, are worth your perusal. Eddie writes as a musician, so his thoughts on angels and other intelligent beings’ singing are most interesting.
We are told that angels sang at the birth of Christ. Who were those celestial beings that sang at an event that was never going to be on the front page of the Bethlehem Gazette? Whoever they were, I’ll bet they laid down a good tune, with some sublime harmonies and with no one angel hogging the limelight. And what about their unusual audience that starry night? Shepherds, who were outcasts in their community because staying out in the fields at all hours meant that they were unable to observe the normal rituals of the Jewish faith, and who might as well have been a bit tipsy, since they were known to have a little toddy to keep themselves warm. And then those three mysterious characters who had followed a star and who arrived with gifts that the mother of a newly-born wouldn’t exactly find that practical!
I have to say, though, I thought the wise men’s gifts had their uses. Gold would have got the Family to Egypt and bought new tools for Joseph. Frankincense might have sweetened the air of the stable, myrrh helped look after Baby Jesus’ skin, especially in the nappy area. At least, so I used to tell the children!
Another poem from Father Andrew. We won’t be able to press through the church doors this year, but still, every soul should be a shrine for God’s Eternal Son. We can all light a candle upon the altar that is our family dining table.
‘Come along, shepherds,’ the Angels cried, ‘Come along, every one! For great things happen on earth to-night, And you shall see a wondrous sight – In bed of straw, on napkin white, Come down to earth from heaven’s height God’s own Eternal Son.’
‘Come along, comrades,’ the Shepherds cried, And quick those men did run, And in they pressed through the humble door, And low they knelt on the stable floor, Where Mary and Joseph, as poor as poor, In rich contentment did adore God’s own Eternal Son.
‘Come along, Christians,’ the bells ring out, ‘Ding-a-dong, come along, come along!’ For round the Altar tapers shine, Where waits our Saviour, yours and mine, Veiled ‘neath the mystic Bread and Wine, And every soul should be a shrine For God’s Eternal Son.
The Pope’s intention for October is: We pray that by virtue of baptism, the laity, especially women, may participate more in areas of responsibility in the Church.
Having been dismissed summarily from a post of responsibility in my parish by a newly ordained curate, I realise that it is not always ‘by virtue of baptism’ that ‘the laity’ participate in the Church, but by the favour of the clergy. Something’s wrong when a priest abuses the power that rightly goes with the responsibility of leading a parish community. As Pope Francis says, the pastor should smell of his sheep.
Do you remember the Doors of Mercy that were set up during Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy? This one was in Zakopane, Poland. Through God’s mercy we can enter what we rather inadequately call ‘The House of God’ — if there is a way to avoid crippling steps, put there by history but not needed for today’s church, which seems to be called to be much more lay-led in the near future.
Pam was quite a character in our parish community and we miss her presence at 9:30am Sunday Mass and early morning Masses on Wednesdays. Whenever we were together in a group she would inevitably say quite spontaneously “I love the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd.” Indeed she was quite right to remind us of this powerful image of God’s love and care.
This is the beginning of Canon Anthony’s reflection in this week’s Newsletter for Saint Thomas’s Parish, Canterbury. Click for the full text: Canon Anthony Charlton. Click here for live-streamed Mass, tomorrow, 3rd May at 9.30 BST
It’s a short walk across the park to our sub post office at Saint Stephen’s, far preferable to the one in town, now that it has left its historic building for an upstairs counter in a stationery shop.
I came out with two books of Christmas stamps. The first week in November seems rather early for this, but they are rather lovely, and we do still post letters occasionally, so why not share something beautiful as well as the Christmas story?
We may even use these stamps well into next year; I know a nativity stamp on a letter always makes me pause before opening, whatever the time of year. I was feeling a little sheepish though, as I set out for home; it’s nowhere near Christmas yet in my mind’s eye, let alone my feelings. Not even Advent.
But then, crossing the road I nearly tripped over a lap dog, dressed in a Santa costume despite its ample fur coat. 1,000 times NO! Let the dog be a dog! Let Christmas be Christmas! Of course the animals, including the shepherds’ dog, belong in the story, the next chapter of the Creation story, and of course we should treasure and care for animals in our care, but a dog is a dog, a furry animal, not a living soft toy!
May the star and your angel lead you through Advent to Bethlehem and the manger!
Of course the dog came with the shepherds to see baby Jesus! Patrixbourne Church, Kent.
My friend’s husband was of course invited to his sister-in-law’s ordination as an Anglican priest and so was I.
Years had flown, stomachs sagged, hair gone beyond blond, but our handshake was as firm as ever. I looked down at his hand, unnaturally clean, for him. Much of his leisure time before retirement was spent restoring 1950s cars to drive for a while, then sell on. He probably earned about £1 an hour in profit, but he took great pride in his work, which demanded a great deal of practical knowledge not to be learned from books, even the Haynes manuals.
I once spent an afternoon with him, touring the scrapyards of South Staffordshire, looking for a couple of small parts. A manufacturer had tried to save money by substituting plastic for brass in a moving part of the wiper motors. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. My friend was reluctant to buy new motors when he could salvage what he needed for next to nothing.
You see why the clean hand was unnatural. But there are preparations to work into the hands and nails and fingerprints, leaving them looking respectably clean. Half an hour rubbing in green gunge the evening before the ordination and husband and wife were ready to go.
Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart. Ps 24, 3-4.
Not that he was any less welcome on the mountain of the Lord before applying the heavy duty hand cleaner, but since he was dressed in his best, he had to go the whole hog.
Somehow the original idea for this post slipped away. It was the importance of that small part; important enough for the car to be dangerously incomplete without it. While we should not inflate our sense of self importance, we should remember that the Good Shepherd leaves 99 behind while he looks for the lost one.
Two lessons in one reflection. That’s Agnellus’ Mirror for you!
The words that follow were attributed to Good Pope John XXIII as he lay dying, by his secretary, Monsignor (later Cardinal) Loris Capovilla in his memoir ‘The heart and mind of John XXIII’, London, Corgi, 1966. We found a few copies for sale on-line. The shadowy Crucifix above is in the dark chapel of Saint Nicholas at Canterbury Cathedral. During the Second World War the future pope was Apostolic Delegate to Turkey, where Saint Nicholas was Bishop of Myra (Dembre). I imagined Pope John seeing such a shadowy cross during the long nights when he lay dying but later read that it was a white Crucifix. The one below hangs in Christina Chase’s room; here she is holding it for us to see clearly.
This bed is an altar, and an altar wants a victim. I am ready. I offer my life for the Church, the continuation of the Ecumenical Council, for peace in the world, for the union of Christians.
The secret of my priesthood lies in the crucifix I wanted in front of my bed.
Christ looks at me, and I speak to him. In our long and frequent conversations during the night, the thought of the world’s redemption has seemed to me more urgent than ever. ‘And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold.’ (John !0:16).
Those outstretched arms tell us he died for everyone, for everyone. No one is refused his love, his forgiveness. But especially that ‘they may be one’ he entrusted to his church. The sanctification of the clergy and of the people, the union of Christians, the world’s conversion are therefore urgent responsibilities of the Pope and of the bishops.
I had the great fortune to be born in a modest, poor Christian family that feared God, and the fortune to be called to serve. Since childhood I have thought of nothing else, or desired nothing else.
… for my own part, I do not think I have offended anyone, but if I have, I ask pardon. And you, if you know someone who has not been edified by my behaviour, ask him to tolerate me and to forgive.
In this last hour, I feel calm and certain that my Lord, through his mercy, will not reject me. Unworthy though I be, I wanted only to serve him … and bear witness to the Gospel. …
My days on earth are ending, but Christ lives, and the Church continues her task. The souls, the souls, ‘may they be one, may they be one.’