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The Law and the Sermon on the Mount.

We have to decided if the Commandments and Jesus’ elaboration in his Sermon on the Mount are elusive ideals or that which every Christian seeks to make visible in their lives. At the moment, in our present age, it seems that we are still relatively certain that people are not living their lives always on the verge of killing someone. We can have some confidence that we have the wherewithal to stay our hand (unless it concerns a baby in the womb.) We do expect people not to kill one another, whatever the provocation might be, otherwise prison sentencing would be minimal if not non existent for murder. However, it seems we are not so certain that it is at all possible when it comes to the Commandment on adultery.

Scripture of course is unequivocal, in Ecclesiasticus 15:16, God says “If you wish, you can keep the commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power.” Therefore we can take assurance that God has not asked the impossible of us in giving us the Commandments to follow. The Church has within its teaching recognised that God has given every sane human person the ability to develop what are called the Cardinal Virtues. Temperance, Justice, Prudence and Fortitude, these natural gifts can be developed by anyone and are the reason that those who are not Christians can sometimes lead a life that is holier that some within the Church. God’s generosity has also made available the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love, as supernatural gifts for the baptised. Therefore with all these gifts we know that the commands and Jesus elaboration of them are basically doable – even in relation to adultery! Are they difficult? Hell, yes! Are they impossible? Heavens, No!

The first point then is that the commands are doable. In that same reading from Ecclesiasticus God goes on to say, “He has set fire and water before you; put out your hand to whichever you prefer.” This leads to the second point that God honours the sacred gift of free will and that God will not violate our choices made by a act of free will.

There is however a fashionable trend, out of a false sense of compassion, to say that in certain ongoing circumstances it is impossible to not sin. The implications of such thinking are utterly profound and tear the heart out of the gospel. Its logical conclusion leads to the inevitable emptying of the cross of its redemptive power by saying that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was nor sufficient to completely redeem us, that there are certain parts of our lives that are unredeemable. Does this mean that God’s grace is powerless in particular areas of sin? If so then we can only conclude that either God is not omnipotent or that God not only allows sin but is its originator as well.

If either case were true then we are prisoners to our sin and free will is just an illusion, therefore how can we we culpable? It thus requires us in the end, in dealing with this supposed inescapable sin, to call it not sin. At this point we need to remind ourselves what God says in our Ecclesiasticus passage, “he never commanded anyone to be godless, he has not given no one permission to sin.”

If God does not permit anyone to sin, then the Church itself cannot have the authority or the right to give anyone permission either. To do so is to deny the teaching of Jesus himself and reduce the Church to a social human institution only and in practice deny it is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

True Paths of discipleship

At the heart of God’s saving plan is the reconciliation of humanity’s fall from grace. Jesus in his earthly ministry begins with the proclamation that the Kingdom of God/Heaven is close at hand. The heart of this message is not predominately about a place we go when we die but a relationship that is restored – a relationship restored in and through Jesus Christ.

This renewed relationship begins in faith through baptism and is nurtured by the sacraments and has it ultimate fulfilment, after death, judgment, our reparations for our sin in purgatory, to the full embrace of the Father in the glory of heaven.

Jesus’ announcement that ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’ is near at hand is revolutionary as it proclaims the coming direct rule and reign of Almighty God. In lay man’s terms “Watch out, the Day is coming!” Jesus tells us that repentance is the best means of preparing for that hour.

It is important at this point to highlight that repentance carries a meaning that is much more than a feeling. Although we should feel a sense of remorse or sorrow for our sins, repentance is a call to action, to a decision, to change one’s direction and turn around. This is a critical point because although our feelings are not unimportant they can also be misleading.

Repentance requires of us a change of life; to conform to that which God has revealed about ‘the way, the truth and the life.’ True repentance doesn’t allow us to hide behind our feelings as if our feelings about something or a situation can somehow trump Jesus’ teaching about what is right or wrong.

The phrase, “if you feel at peace with God about it”, to justify one’s actions, just will not do, as it attempts to locate ultimate truth with the individual and their feelings. If that were the case you’d have a billion different competing truths, nothing could be objective and nothing eternal. While recognising that an individual conscience is inviolate, that same conscience needs to be informed. This process of informing the conscience we know to be true because it’s the very thing we are doing when we teach our children, from a young age, to share their toys, to take their turn and to say sorry when they’ve hurt someone else.

That process of informing the conscience doesn’t end at childhood, the teachings of Christ in the Gospels and through his Church are food for the soul in our process of continual conversion. ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed but the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ (Rom 12:2).

Neither then can we use Jesus’ words in one part of the Gospel to somehow contradict Jesus’ words in another – to do so is foolish at best, wilful at worst or both and is diabolical.

If our first response to the coming kingdom is repentance the second is related and that is to follow. We are called to follow Jesus where he leads and to follow his teachings rather than my own instinctive desires and feelings. The gospel call to conversion doesn’t promise us that if we follow Jesus then everything will go just fine as if he is there waiting to wave a magic wand and all our problems will disappear. Jesus called the first disciples to follow and it led them to see the glory of God but also persecution and martyrdom.

All true paths of discipleship inevitable lead to Calvary and the knowledge that we cannot be disciples of Christ unless we are willing to take up our cross and follow him. However, Calvary leads to the lifting up to glory, a dying to this world that we might be embraced by the glory of our Almighty Father and the knowledge of the joy of heaven – his rule and reign in our lives.

Blessing of the House at Epiphany

The Epiphany mass is when chalk is blessed so that we can mark our houses with a blessing for the coming year. Suitable prayers are available from a variety of sources. These are from The Twelve Days of Christmas by Elsa Chaney.

Peace be to this house, and to all who dwell herein.

From the east came the Magi to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasures they offered precious gifts: gold for the great King, incense for the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His burial.

Our Father …

All they from Saba shall come, Bringing gold and frankincense.
O Lord, hear my prayer. And let my cry come to You.

Let us pray. O God, who by the guidance of a star didst on this day manifest Thine only-begotten Son to the Gentiles, mercifully grant that we who know Thee by faith may also attain the vision of Thy glorious majesty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Arise, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee—Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light and kings in the splendour of thy rising, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon thee.

Let us pray. Bless, O Lord God almighty, this home, that in it there may be health, purity, the strength of victory, humility, goodness and mercy, the fulfillment of Thy law, the thanksgiving to God the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And may this blessing remain upon this home and upon all who dwell herein. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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After the prayers of the blessing are recited, the initials of the Magi, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, are inscribed upon the doors with the blessed chalk. (The initials, C, M, B, can also be interpreted as the Latin phrase Christus mansionem benedicat which means “Christ blesses this house”.)

Announcement of Easter and the Moveable Feasts 2017

Part of the Anglican tradition which has been accepted into the Catholic Church with the Ordinariate is the announcement of the year’s liturgical calendar after the Gospel reading in the Mass of the Epiphany.

Paschal candleKnow, dear brothers and sisters, that, as we have rejoiced at the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, so by leave of God’s mercy we announce to you also the joy of his Resurrection, who is our Saviour.

On the first day of March will fall Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the fast of the most sacred Lenten season.

On the sixteenth day of April you will celebrate with joy Easter Day, the Paschal feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

On the twenty-eighth day of May will be the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

On the fourth day of June, the feast of Pentecost.

On the eighteenth day of June, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

On the third day of December, the First Sunday of the Advent of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Looking back on a good weekend.

This Advent has been very hectic, with plenty going on so I apologise for the lateness of this post. The first weekend of the season was very important for us as a group as four of our 4pm mass community were confirmed by Mgr Keith Newton. They had spent months preparing and Fr Neil was impressed with how they all approached such an important event. We followed the mass with a community celebration.

Running through before hand.

All ready

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On the Sunday, Mgr Keith presided at our mass, and then led our Advent Carol Service. The traditional combination of readings and beautiful music was a good start to this very special season. All those who were able then headed our for a well deservered curry.

A precious gift; a treasure to be shared

It is only really now, seven years after Anglicanorum Coetibus, that it is finally becoming apparent what the treasures are that the Anglican tradition has to share with the Church.

We have had to wait for work on the new Missal to be completed, and then for the approval of the CDW and CDF, and then for our clergy to assimilate it; and it has, to those of us in the pews, seemed interminable. We don’t work in the context of eternity: we have to operate in the world with its pressures and expectations. And even seven years in the life of the Church is a lot less than the blink of an eye. Nevertheless, there is some catching up to do: people’s lives have moved on, and we need to be able to demonstrate that the Ordinariate is distinctive and brings something worthwhile to the Church.

Needless to say, Divine Worship: The Missal is the treasury at the centre of the worship and liturgy in the Ordinariate. It unites us with the Church of the earliest English saints and it draws on the work of past liturgists in which the Holy Spirit can be discerned. The language, the structure and the options available show the heritage of our Mass and, despite what people may think are its roots, how it is firmly set in the Western Rite of the Church, just as the English Uses of Sarum, York and the others were before it.

Perhaps we are fortunate that the Reformation liturgists faithfully translated a great deal of the Latin they inherited. While the defective form of the Communion service had to be corrected — and this was attempted even within the Church of England well before Series Two in 1965 — the resonant words they created have served Christians in this land and others well for 450 years, and continue to do so.

But it is absolutely necessary not to wallow in the past! Many of the Ordinariate may remember Series Two, Merbecke and Shaw, and many diocesan Catholics will remember the Interim Rite, but this isn’t an exercise in comfortable nostalgia. Every celebration of the Eucharist is a re-creation of the Sacrifice of the Mass: Christ’s One Sacrifice united through space, time and eternity for all believers. Although modern language is certainly easily understood and relevant to today, using language which is out of time can help to show the eternal too. It is the calling of the Church to teach the unchanging Faith anew to every generation, and the Use we have been given for the celebration of the Mass is — perhaps counter-intuitively — a Fresh Expression of worship.

We must not forget other treasures: one was experienced in St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham recently. Evensong and the other offices are something which can truly be shared. In permitting the Customary to be published and used by the Ordinariate, the Catholic Church has embraced something which is truly new. Even if it is four hundred years old.

Cranmer was an innovator: he created something novel. But in the case of Morning and Evening Prayer it was an evolution, not a revolution. The offices build on the monastic offices of the Church; they aren’t a repudiation of them. Each has an arched structure, with the readings, canticles and Creed supported by prayers and responses. The innovation, of course, was to combine two monastic offices into one: Matins and Lauds in the morning and Vespers and Compline in the evening; and yet still produce something coherent.

If it’s possible to match a cathedral choir like Birmingham’s, singing William Smith’s responses and Stanford in C, that’s great. But if it isn’t, we can still offer Evensong, or perhaps the Customary’s version of Compline, to our brothers and sisters. The plainsong settings are straightforward, but even a said service is beautifully worthwhile. There is something noble about “Brethren, be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the devil walketh abroad, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist, steadfast in the faith.” Try it! Reduce the lighting, bring out a cope from the back of the cupboard, pray that the Lord may preserve us while waking and guard us while sleeping.

Much of what the new publications contain may be new to members of the Ordinariate used to the Novus Ordo, and will certainly be new to Catholics outside the Ordinariate. None must be afraid to use it; but not hasty to judge, either. To become familiar with liturgy can easily take a number of months of prayerful experience. We do need to trust that the Church has it right. But how can we do anything else? Embrace what has been entrusted to us!

A version of this article appeared in The Portal magazine in November 2016. Reproduced with permission.