Orientation to the Cross: Fr Neil’s Homily for 12th Sunday in Ordinary time.

We cannot begin to properly speak of the ‘Christ of God’, from today’s gospel, without reference to the Cross. Indeed if we are to follow Jesus we can only do so if we are willing to take up the cross ourselves. It is only by losing ourselves, our life, in the cross that we will be able to save it says Jesus.

The sign and symbol of the Cross from the 3rd century became the Church’s most dominant and potent symbol.

It began to permeate everything from the classic style of church buildings, in cruciform shape, to making the sign of the cross a number of times in the mass. We use the cross as a sign of blessing, to ward off evil and every time we enter the church with holy water to remind ourselves of our baptism in which we died with Christ and rose with him into new life in the kingdom of God.

The Cross, an instrument of torture, in so many ways, is a bizarre symbol to represent a loving God. Yet the Cross is at its most powerful when we understand that the God made flesh choses to embrace this cruel form of torture and transform it into the means of our salvation.

All the temple cultic sacrifices anticipate and are fulfilled when the Lord of glory hangs on the cross and reveals the triumph of his sacrificial love that overcomes the power of sin and death.
Golgotha becomes the means of reconciliation for lost, alienated humanity with God the source and originator of our life, “the one in whom we live and move and have our being”. It is only because of this that Friday in Holy Week can be called Good Friday and not Tragic Friday.

Our crucified Lord reminds us of the price that has been paid to free us from sin and death. Christians have thus been drawn to contemplate the Cross at times of penitential sorrow and times of great suffering. Because of Christ, the Cross has the power to bring meaning out of chaos and life out of death.

This sign of the Cross, as the sign of the Christian, the follower of Christ, is understood by much of the non-Christian world to. The sign of the Cross outside of a building identifies it as a Christian church to believers and non-believers alike. It is why ISIS crucified some young Christian men and why work colleagues, in the north of England, tied a young Roman Catholic to a cross and ridiculed him. Their very attempt to show dominant power over Christianity and it followers by ridiculing and crucifying sows the seed for their own defeat and self-destruction. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church and the triumphant witness of Christ crucified and enthroned in glory.

It is no real surprise then that our church buildings are orientated in the manner that they are. The majority of churches have traditionally had the image of Christ seated in triumph on the back wall of the sanctuary or apse. It reminds us that Christ came from glory and returned to sit in glory after his earthly ministry was complete. In our worship we are drawn heavenward so that where he has gone we might go also. However this “seated in glory” is precisely placed in the sanctuary so that we do not lose or separate his glory from the altar of sacrifice, the crucifix and his sacramental presence in the tabernacle. This counter balances our understanding of Christ’s glory in its fullness with the throne of the Cross and altar of sacrifice.

We deliberately orientate our focus towards the sanctuary so that we might not lose sight of whom it is we are called to, of whom it is we receive and to whom we are to witness and the mode of witness we are to follow as we are sent out into the world.

The role of the priest is to aid, enable and lead, in the power of the Spirit, the great sacrificial mystery of our salvation in the sacrament of the mass. Incarnational theology contained in persona Christi, the priest in the person of Christ, is indeed revealed in the proclaiming and preaching of the word but predominately as Christ as priest and victim offering the holy sacrifice of the mass to God the Father. An over emphasis of Christ in the midst of his people in the priest can lead to a subtle transfer of focus away from the sacrifice of the mass to the individual priest himself who then feels he has to entertain and seek mans approval – the priest moving up and down the body of the church on a Segway is a extreme example of what can happen.

Priests are also not an alien race, or angels sent from heaven, although an easy mistake to make. Priests are of the people, from the people and equally suffer with the struggle of sin and new birth into heavenly glory. The Priest therefore also needs to look towards the beautiful and complex interrelationship between Christ enthroned in glory, the altar of sacrifice, the crucified Christ and his sacramental presence, as he celebrates, for his own salvation as well as that of the people.

This is why Cardinal Sarah, appointed by Pope Francis to led the reform of the reform of the liturgy, as head of the Congregation of Divine Worship and Sacramental Discipline, has spoken so strongly about the need for Priests to celebrate mass ad orientem, facing East, from the offertory onwards, at least, to be the norm and not the exception.

There is a sea change taking place, leading to a rebalancing of how we celebrate mass and how we are able to bear witness to the joy of the gospel in our every day lives to God’s greater glory and humanities salvation. This process may take 50 years to create a new norm in the celebration of mass and a more dynamic mission to the world but I intend, as a act of obedience, to make ad orientem the norm at 4pm mass from today onwards. I only hope that you feel that you are able to make this journey with me.

Cardinal Sarah’s important advice on the Eucharist.

On Sunday as we were celebrating Corpus Christi, Fr Neil gave out two articles to read. One referred to how we receive the sacrament and the other was a copy on “Eastward facing” which Fr Neil had produced a few months ago. The decision to hand these out was prompted by an interview with Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments on how to celebrate Mass. As Fr Neil pointed out on Sunday after mass, over cake, was that the Cardinal, as head of the congregation responsible for worship and the sacraments we should listen and act on his words in the matter of our liturgy.

The National Catholic Register has an English translation of the original article, which was in French. It is worth reading the whole interview as there is plenty of food for thought.

The Cardinal pinpoints the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church and therefore, in the lives of individuals. He says: “The liturgy is the door to our union with God. If the Eucharistic celebrations are transformed into human self-celebrations, the peril is immense, because God disappears. One must begin by replacing God at the center of the liturgy. If man is at the center, the Church becomes a purely human society, a simple non-profit, like Pope Francis has said. If, on the contrary, God is at the heart of the liturgy, then the Church recovers its vigor and sap! Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger prophetically wrote, “In our relationship with the liturgy, the destiny of the faith and of the Church plays out.””

This ‘Putting God at the centre’ requires some important elements:“To put God at the center of the liturgy, one must have silence: this capacity to silence ourselves [literally: “shut up”] to listen to God and his Word. I believe that we don’t meet God except in the silence, and the deepening of his Word in the depths of our heart.”

One concrete way of enabling this change is for the Eucharistic prayer to be said eastward facing: “To convert, is to turn towards God. I am profoundly convinced that our bodies must participate in this conversion. The best way is certainly to celebrate — priests and faithful — turned together in the same direction: Toward the Lord who comes. It isn’t, as one hears sometimes, to celebrate with the back turned toward the faithful or facing them. That isn’t the problem. It’s to turn together toward the apse, which symbolizes the East, where the Cross of the risen Lord is enthroned.By this manner of celebrating, we experience, even in our bodies, the primacy of God and of adoration. We understand that the liturgy is first our participation at the perfect sacrifice of the Cross. I have personally had this experience: In celebrating thus, with the priest at its head, the assembly is almost physically drawn up by the mystery of the Cross at the moment of the elevation.”

One of the objections to the celebration of the Eucharist prayer with the Priest orientated toward the east is that the congregation feel ‘excluded’, only seeing the back of the priest. (It has been pointed out by some members of our community that seeing the back of a priest has plenty of advantages!) This objection, however seems to be based in a misunderstanding that Cardinal Sarah tackles. “It consists first of all of allowing ourselves to be led to follow Christ in the mystery of His death and of His resurrection. “One doesn’t go to Mass to attend a representation. One goes to participate in the mystery of God,” Pope Francis reminded us very recently. The orientation of the assembly toward the Lord is a simple and concrete means to encourage a true participation for all at the liturgy. The participation of the faithful therefore would not be understood as a necessity to “do something.” On this point, we have deformed the teaching of the Council. On the contrary, it is to allow Christ to take us and associate us with his sacrifice. Only a view tempered in a contemplative faith keeps us from reducing the liturgy to a theater show where each has a role to play. The Eucharist makes us enter in the prayer of Jesus and in his sacrifice, because he alone knows how to adore in spirit and in truth.”

Coming, as many of us do, from a Protestant background, this advice from the Cardinal is very helpful in deepening our understanding of the Mass. It gives a clear explanation to that which many of us have encountered in our Monday Ordinariate Use mass.

Catechesis on receiving communion: A Corpus Christi reminder.

As we celebrated the feast of Corpus Christi on Sunday, Fr Neil took the opportunity to remind us how to receive communion. Here is the text that was given out:
Everything ready for Corpus Christi Benediction.
The Church teaches us that the Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life. From this follows the essential importance of our participation at the Mass every week; this is not simply a precept of the Church but a commandment of God Who wills His People join together in worship every Sunday, the Lord’s Day. The best and ultimate expression of our participation is Eucharistic Communion. Our Holy Communion with Christ at Mass is an expression of our faith in His real presence in the Sacrament; it signifies our communion with one another; and it is an assent to the full body of teaching of the Catholic Church; this is the meaning of the Amen we pronounce at the moment of reception. There are often people at Mass who cannot receive for various reasons, either because they are not Catholic, have not received first Holy Communion or because there are spiritual obstacles which have not been overcome. Each of us participates in the Mass according to our capacity, but it is our presence at Mass that is important wether or not we receive Holy Communion. There has evolved the custom, for those not receiving, to come forward and with a clear indication (e.g. arm placed on our shoulder) to receive the sign of the Cross; this is not precisely a blessing – the blessing is given to everyone at the end of Mass – but a symbol of the touch of Christ at that moment.

In preparation for Holy Communion, if we are receiving, we should have fasted from food and drink (except water) for one hour. This is not necessary if we are elderly or have to take medicine. Above all, it is necessary that we be in a state of grace; this means that if we are conscious of serious sin we should have gone to sacramental Confession first.

In receiving Holy Communion the universal norm of the Church is reception upon the tongue; in England there is the Indult (a special permission) for receiving Communion in the hand as well. Whichever form we choose, it is important that we indicate clearly and receive with proper care and reverence. Before we receive, we should make an act of adoration in recognition of the One we are receiving; this takes the form of a genuflection or deep bow as the person in front of us is receiving. St Augustine reminds us: Adore first, what you are to receive. If receiving upon the tongue, the proper manner is to extend our tongue so that the Sacred Host can be placed upon it easily; the Host should not be pecked-at or snatched with the lips; moving targets are also difficult to communicate! If receiving in the hand, this is done by placing one hand upon the other, receiving the Host in the palm and then placing it into the mouth carefully before moving away. Children especially, are asked to ensure that they raise their hands to a suitable height and stand close to the priest or extraordinary minister. The Host should not be snatched or walked-away with; we ask everyone to be vigilant in this. In whichever manner we receive we pronounce a distinct and audible Amen.

The period after Holy Communion is for private prayer, and if there is a Communion chant or hymn, this is followed by a period of silent thanksgiving. It is a help and kindness to everyone else at Mass if a prayerful silence is observed, remembering that this time is an intimate moment of Communion with Jesus, our Lord and God. Those who have not received Communion might like to make what is called a Spiritual Communion at this point, using a formula such as:
“I wish Lord to receive You now, with the purity, humility and devotion with which Your
most holy Mother received You, and with the spirit and fervour of the Saints……”
There is nothing greater in the whole of our Catholic Faith that the Presence of Jesus with us at Mass and in Holy Communion. We can never grow too-used to this Gift and Mystery and by continually reminding ourselves of Who it is we receive, then we will approach the Altar with ever greater awareness, faith and devotion.
Prior to Benediction.

Benediction after mass

Corpus Christi Procession.

A Baptism and a Confirmation.

Congratulations to Guido on his baptism and confirmation. It was a lovely afternoon and Guido’s confirmation cake was amazing! Here a a few pictures. Some more can be found on our Facebook page.
Guido and his sponsor.
The baptism
The confirmation
The celebration afterwards.

A day filled with joy.

As we continue our Easter celebration,today is particularly special for us as a community. Our catechumen, Guido, will be baptised and confirmed this afternoon. Please continue to pray for him, and for Adrian, who was received at our Easter Vigil.

Of course, following Mass we will celebrate with cake.

Humility and Servanthood: Maundy Thursday Homily.

Why, on the night that Jesus institutes the Eucharist at the Last Supper, does he begin the evening by washing the disciples’ feet? What is the connection?

Jesus has a way of taking the familiar and turning the meaning on its head. Echoed throughout his teaching is the lesson of humility: If you want to be first in the Kingdom be last and the servant of all. When the disciples jostle for position, he takes a child and says ‘if you don’t accept the Kingdom in a childlike manner you cannot enter it.’ If you want to live, then die.

The disciples would have been familiar, as a part of hospitality, that on entering a house a servant would wash guests’ feet after a journey. As if in a sense of urgency, to re-enforce the message of humility and servanthood, Jesus-God in flesh- washes his disciples’ feet. He washes the feet of Judas Iscariot, whom he knows will betray him; of Peter, who will deny him three times and of the others who will abandon him.

Despite Peter’s protestations, Jesus states unless he, Peter, allows God to kneel in the dust and wash his feet, he cannot enter and participate in the Eucharistic meal. There can be no asserting of self and of rights here. The disciples, and we of course, are called likewise to the way of humility by allowing the Servant King to wash us in preparation for a meal such as this- a participation in Christ.

Jesus in this very act elevates the dignity of the lowly and despised and unseen; the disciples will never see a servant in the same light again as the servant now becomes an icon of Christ. Yet more importantly he reveals the very nature and shape of the Church’s ministry and mission.

Whenever the Church has forgotten this lesson and the People of God have courted power, it has always ended badly and obscured the Life of Christ within it.

The priest is not the Master of the Faith, its beliefs and liturgy, but rather called to be a faithful servant to it. The People of God also are not Masters of the Church’s mission or its liturgy but are asked in humility to be subject to it.

In this humble service of priest and people the life of Christ in this Eucharist is seen more clearly, is more tangible to our perception and deepens Christ’s life within us.

In the crisis that will engulf the disciples soon after this meal, it is these actions of Jesus that will provide the shape and meaning that emerges from the chaos to come. It is the anchor that will hold firm in the storm that threatens to overwhelm and obliterate us. Remember God kneeling in the dust, washing our feet and at table crying out “This is my body; this is my blood.” Divine love will arise from the chaos triumphant in the end.