Dream of the Rood: Christ as hero.

Over the Christmas break, our eldest, home from university, was wrestling with a couple of essays. I was called on to proof read each draft and give feedback. One was an Old English task, looking at three texts, one of which was the poem “The Dream of the Rood.”

The poem tells the story of a vision or dream the narrator has of the Cross, the Rood of the title. In the dream the Cross is the main character and talks to the poet. Christ is a hero, standing in the tradition of the Anglo-Saxon heroic code. He is brave, strong and willingly takes on battles for the sake of his people. The Crucifixion here is a battle with evil, not unlike Beowulf’s battle with Grendal. In the poem the Cross observes:

“The young hero stripped himself – he, God Almighty –
strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.”

The Cross is like Christ’s faithful retainer, as Sam is to Frodo in the Lord of the Rings. It battles along side the hero:

“I lifted a mighty King,
Lord of the heavens, dared not to bend.
With dark nails they drove me through: on me those sores are seen,
open malice-wounds. I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both, we two together”

And so the story is told. Christ battles and dies. He is taken down by his Thanes (the disciples) who also honour the cross. As we expect Christ is raised, returns to heaven and will come again.

In reading and re-reading the poem, I was struck by two things. First is the portrayal of Christ. As modern readers, we have access to many different realistic, historically accurate portrayals of the Passion and in each one the power of Christ’s act on the cross comes through. However The Dream of the Rood reveals another facet. Here we are given something of the spiritual reality that goes on underneath. Christ comes to defeat evil, death and sin. He faces them and fights the battle. It is an act of strength and bravery, willingly taken and, in the end there is glory. All of this is done for his people, defeating death that they may live.

Second, I was struck by the process the Cross itself goes through. It begins as a tree in the forest, chopped down and forced to be a cross by men. It is a transformation done by violence and against its will. Yet everything changes when the Rood encounters Christ. In that moment the Cross becomes Christ’s loyal and faithful retainer and supports him in the battle. It too experiences the nails and is drenched in the blood of the warrior. The fight was Christ’s, he the hero and the Cross experiences the suffering and remains loyal. There is a great love in the words the Rood speaks when Christ is taken down:

“Sore was I with sorrows distressed, yet I bent to men’s hands,
with great zeal willing. They took there Almighty God,
lifted him from that grim torment.”

This process, from one who is made to take on a role to one who gladly endures all for the sake of the hero, who stands with the Wielder and remains loyal is one which is open to all, not just Crosses. As the Tridduum continues there is that possibility. We can choose to be the faithful retainer. It will cost us but there is love and glory at the end. This choice is there because the hero faces the battle willingly and out of love. He fights for his people, whatever the cost. In that there is something beautiful and transformative.

    Services on Easter Day

    Easter Day

    Saturday 31 March

    Vigil Liturgy and First Mass of Easter 8:00pm

    Sunday 1 April

    Mass of the Day 11:30am

    During the Sacred Triduum members of the Ordinariate in Eastbourne join Fr Neil and his parish at Christ the King Langney.

      Services during Holy Week

      Maundy Thursday

      Thursday 29 March

      Solemn Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper 7:30pm

      Good Friday

      Friday 30 March

      Children’s Holy Week Liturgy 10:00am
      Solemn Liturgy of the Day 3:00pm

      During the Sacred Triduum members of the Ordinariate celebrate with Fr Neil and his parish at Christ the King, Langney.

        How Lent is like running.

        Eighteen months ago I began running. I have managed to establish a routine and have gradually built up. I am still running embarrassingly short distances embarrassingly slowly, but I am running. Both last year and this, I have noticed a similarity between running and Lent.

        One lesson learnt early on is that every run is different. A second is that running is hard and that it is hard quite a lot of the time. There is also a mental battle going on. The brain sends messages that this is all too difficult and that I should just stop, even when I am physically capable of running further. I find this battle happens at different stages on different runs. Often the warm up is mentally very hard. Early on I find myself wanting to give up. I have hardly started, yet the run, stretching out in front seems overwhelming. Sometimes the end of a run holds the temptation of giving up and walking the last bit home. Here the temptation is “I’ve already run loads! The last bit won’t make any difference.” Sometimes, somewhere in the middle it feels comfortable and even good, on some occasions. In all this, running changes me, both physically and mentally, in ways I never imagined at the beginning.

        And so the overlap with Lent. Each year is different. God has a different gift each time. We begin each Lent having changed during the months in between and new things are waiting for us. Lent is hard. We are in the desert, with Christ. It is a dry place, full of temptations. We are heading to Jerusalem and Christ’s Passion. Sometimes the temptation is to give in, to avoid the difficulties we may find. Some years those difficulties may come at the beginning, sometimes nearer the end. There can also be comfort and joy here too. As we accompany Christ, we get to know him better. Sometimes we get a glimpse of who Christ is, see his divine nature in the heat of the sun or as he turns his face towards the Cross. Lent has the capacity to change me at the level of me deepest desire and for me to experience the sustaining nature of divine love in the midst of difficulties. Just like my running I have to allow myself to be in Lent, to keep going, however feebly and when I do I find amazing things.

          Pastoral Letter from the Ordinary

          Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

          I hope you have enjoyed the wonderful season of Christmas as individuals, as families and, of course, as worshipping communities of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. As we begin a new calendar year we also mark 7 years since the Ordinariate was erected on 15th January 2011; much has been achieved, while much remains to be done. There have been many encouraging signs over the past twelve months. We established our first personal parish in Torbay and have raised the money to build a proper presbytery within one of the existing church halls on the site of our church there. We have strengthened our presence in the north of England with new initiatives in York and in South Manchester.

          A highlight last year was the Ordination of ten deacons at St James, Spanish Place in London. Two of those deacons, Simon Beveridge and Cameron Macdonald, have already been ordained priest to help with the growing Ordinariate mission in Scotland and they joined Fr Ian Westby as our new priests in 2017. The remaining eight men will be ordained priest on 30th June at the Birmingham Oratory, and I hope as many of our people as possible will be there to support these men as they take this important step.

          The Ordinations are not the only thing to look forward to this year. Our first Lay Conference will take place at Worth Abbey in August. The Ordinaries from North America and from Australia will be visiting Britain in October and a programme of meetings and events is being planned. In September the Catholic Church in England and Wales is holding a National Eucharistic Congress in Liverpool, the first such national event since 1908 and I hope that the Ordinariate will have a strong presence. Please speak to your priest for more details of these events.
          This year also marks a significant milestone in the life of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham as the first Governing Council completes its term of office later in the year. The Governing Council advises me on all aspects of the pastoral activities of the Ordinariate and will draw up a short-list of names to present to Rome for my successor as Ordinary when that time comes. A new Council will be elected in the summer and it be will its task to help me put policies and structures in place to move the Ordinariate from being a new expression of the Catholic church in this country, to being an established partner in the Church’s mission. Of course, the Ordinariate will not grow through our structures but through each and every member of the Ordinariate – lay and clergy – being faithful and committed to Pope Benedict XVI’s prophetic ecumenical vision.

          One distinguishing mark of a mature organisation is that it properly finances its activities. I know that the faithful of the Ordinariate are generous givers and your support is at a level that most diocesan parishes would envy. I thank you for this with all my heart and ask you to continue to do so as unlike the dioceses we have no endowments that we can draw upon. Similarly most of our groups are committed to meeting their obligations in financing the national activities of the Ordinariate. Our central costs are remarkably low but they must be met through the contributions of the groups and missions in exactly the same way as the regular Catholic parishes are required to fund their own diocese’s central costs. The beginning of a new year is a good time prayerfully to review your own contribution.

          For the Ordinariate to flourish we do need to focus on additional fundraising for some particular objectives. You will be aware that Catholic parishes have regular second collections. Some of these are universal such as ‘Peters’ pence’ and the Good Friday collection for the Holy Places; some are mandated by the bishops of England and Wales and others by the local diocese. To date we have not had any specific Ordinariate second collections. The Governing Councils has now decided to ask all Ordinariate groups to hold just three second collections each year. Later in the year – around the feasts of St Augustine of Canterbury in May and Our Lady of Walsingham in October there will be collections for the Clergy Training Fund and for the Clergy Relief Trust. The Clergy Training Fund supports the costs of training new clergy to serve in the Ordinariate – something that is essential to its continued existence. The Clergy Relief Trust is a separate charity to support the clergy of the Ordinariate and their dependents in ill-health or retirement – this will become increasingly important as our many of younger priests will not have a Church of England pension to fall back on.

          Firstly, though, I am asking you to give generously to a new fund – the Ordinariate Families Fund. Those of our clergy with families suffered particularly when they gave up their Church of England posts. There was the move from their family home to accommodation that might not be particularly satisfactory for family life or in very good repair. There was the disruption to schooling or the extra time and cost of getting children to school from their new locations. Less obvious was the loss of access to sources of additional support that were available to clergy in the Church of England. There are no such funds for Ordinariate Clergy families. The Ordinariate Families Fund seeks, in a small way, to begin to fill this gap. It will be formally launched in the early part of the year and we have already set up a restricted fund and sought grants to begin to resource it. If this fund is to be of any real benefit we will need people to give generously to it. The date set for this second collection is the Sunday nearest to January 15th, the anniversary of the founding of the Ordinariate. Falling as it does, close to the feast of the Epiphany when we recall the gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child I hope that this collection will be generously supported by the faithful of the Ordinariate, so that those who have given up much to serve in the Ordinariate may be supported.

          With prayers best wishes for 2018
          Yours sincerely in Christ

          Monsignor Keith Newton

          Epiphany 2018

            A statement from Fr Neil

            This weekend Fr Barry Anderson is announcing his retirement as parish priest of Christ the King, Langney, and will leave the parish at the end of January.

            Although there are still some details to be sorted, Bishop Richard, with the permission of Mgr Keith, has asked me to be Parish Priest of Christ the King. This will obviously have an impact upon the Ordinariate mission here in Eastbourne and hopefully allows for greater development of the mission.

            It is a slightly strange situation because although I’ll be ministering my diocesan duties at the Christ the King my Ordinariate duties will still entail, amongst other things, mass on Sunday at 4pm at St Agnes and on Monday night, 7.30pm, at Our Lady of Ransom. What will be new for the Ordinariate is that the 5pm Saturday vigil mass at Christ the King will be an Ordinariate mass as well.

            I would like to convey a deep sense of thanksgiving for the support the parish has given me over the last six years in the transition into the Roman Catholic Church and the space to explore and express the gifts of the Ordinariate.

            I ask that you continue to hold me and the Eastbourne Ordinariate Mission in your prayers, as I begin this new venture.