Current arrangements for worship

Public worship has resumed with Ordinariate services at St Agnes’ Church and Christ the King, and also Masses at St Joachim’s and Our Lady of Ransom. Details of Ordinariate services are in the calendar and sidebar here; others are published on their own websites: Christ the King/St Joachim and Our Lady of Ransom.

Churches are generally open for private prayer before Mass, and for extended periods on some days during the week. These extended periods aren’t possible at St Agnes’ Church, but for other churches please see their websites.

If you can’t get to Mass, services continue to be streamed — see our Video page — and we publish Homilies here too. Our resources for Liturgy in a Time of Crisis continue to be available.

From Saturday 8 August, it will be a legal requirement to wear a face covering in church (and it is already required in some places). A cloth face covering is fine; it doesn’t need to be a mask. We anticipate that the rules will be the same as for shops, so if there is an exception for you in shops then it will also apply in church. It does mean that we can move from 2m distancing to so-called “1m+”, and more chairs and pews can be made available. Our protocols for opening St Agnes’ Church are published on this site; other communities and churches have their own which they will publicise as appropriate.

In an emergency which requires the sacrament of anointing for the dying, a priest will be available whatever the circumstances. Other pastoral visits can also be arranged. Sacramental confession is available where appropriate social distancing and safety can be observed. If you’re still shielding and this isn’t possible for you, do make use of an Act of Perfect Contrition.

At a time when most of the country is returning to something like normal, it is imperative to continue to think of the most vulnerable — who may now be less noticeable — and continue to have a eye for our neighbours. If you can help in any way, please do ring the office phone or Fr Neil’s mobile. And if you need help yourself, do not be afraid to call.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Video | Order of Mass

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Anonymous, via pxhere.comPaul asks this question in his letter to the Romans and provides one of the most beautifully reassuring passages of scripture.

This section of Romans 8 is often chosen at funerals to speak of the never failing promises of God. “If God is for us who can be against us?” The answer is that nothing in heaven or earth can separate us from the love of Christ.

These beautiful words of assurance however mustn’t slip into a naive Protestant mind set, based on a misunderstanding of the text. What this passage is not saying is that, once we’ve given our life to Christ and been baptised, salvation is guaranteed no matter what you or I do with our lives from here on in. This is to abuse the scriptures and misrepresent Paul and his spiritual reflection on the salvific work of Christ.

Paul makes it very clear in Galatians 5:19–21 that there are indeed actions that we take that can deny us heavenly glory.

Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

The only thing then that can separate us from Christ is ourselves. However, even if we fall and fall badly, our Lord always provides a way back for those willing to take it.

The sacrament of confession allows us a way back into the promise of God’s never failing love and assurance of salvation. As Paul says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

To understand what Paul is actually saying here in Romans, we need to look at the list of things which he says cannot separate us from Christ in response to his rhetorical question. The first list asks: “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Paul is writing to the Church in Rome who are beginning to experience the persecutions and martyrdoms that will mark so much of the Church’s life throughout the centuries. Paul’s emphatic answer is “No!” Things external to ourselves cannot undo what God has done. Whatever may happen to the body through persecution by ridicule, rejection, torture or even martyrdom cannot undo Christ’s work of salvation in us.

What to the world might look like an absolute disaster and failure in a battered and persecuted Church, is in fact none other than a reflection of Christ’s journey to Calvary and an act of atonement for the salvation of the world. All who follow Christ are called to pick up their cross and follow him — an element of suffering is to be expected.

Paul’s theology of the cross doesn’t end with the atonement, important though that is. He sees more going on which is revealed by his second list of things that cannot separate us from Christ:

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul’s also sees the Cross as a moment of victory, a victory against all principalities and powers. A victory over Satan and his corrupted angels, the demons. Here Paul shares a common thought with John who carries the theme throughout his gospel of the Cross being the place where Christ is lifted up to glory. We are victors with Christ over the demonic elements that once held us in slavery to sin and death having been over come by Christ on the cross.

In Colossians 2:14–15 Paul says:

having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.

We may well often have to “acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness” as we have given into temptation but what we cannot claim is the devil made me do it — he doesn’t have that power over us anymore.

Although our sanctification then is played out on the back drop of the spiritual warfare in the heavenly realms, we can be assured that nothing in heaven or earth can wrestle us out of the arms of our Lord. Therefore we have a wonderful promise that we should remind ourselves of and treasure in our hearts. The love of God, revealed in the sacred heart has not passively waited for our return but actively sought to find us, bear us home and restore us to an even greater dignity than we had before.

This is love and it is this perfect love that drives out all fear. The fear of death, hell, the principalities, powers and eternal separation from Christ. The depth to which we know of such love will reveals the faith or lack of faith we see in our Church at the present time.

However, for those who have grasped these spiritual realities we trust that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Offered the Kingdom and a choice

Fr Thomas’s homily at Mass on the Seventh Sunday after Trinity

Video | Order of Mass

The kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.

One of the great challenges which the early Church faced was to understand the move from the covenant people of Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham, to a universal message calling all people to come to the knowledge and love of God regardless of physical descent. We read much about this struggle in the Acts of the Apostles, but it wasn’t just something that came along after Christ’s Ascension — it was present in the Old Testament, and in Christ’s teaching such as this parable.

God raised up the covenant people of Israel as part of the preparation for the coming of Christ. A people selected and drawn out to receive the first parts of the revelation of God, in order that that when the fullness of the revelation came in the person of Christ, they would recognise it and would receive him for what he truly was. The plan was always for the initial limited covenant to reach out to all of the world…all of humanity shares in the Fall, all of humanity suffers from that separation from God, and so it would seem very odd if not all could share in the restoration which Christ offers. God’s love has never been exclusive, he made us all, and so he loves us all, and so he wants all of us to come into a relationship with him.

Those fish of which Christ spoke in that parable come from every possible group of humanity. From every nation and race, from both sexes, from young and from old, from rich and from poor…all of the ways which we as humans find or invent to divide us from each other collapse under the calling of Christ, nobody is excluded from that call.

The Pearl of Great Price (detail): Domenico Fetti (c.1589–1623), 1619; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas CityBut — and it is a very big ‘but’ — whilst nobody is excluded from the call, that does not mean that people won’t choose to exclude themselves from the reality. What we receive from Christ is an invitation, he doesn’t force us into the kingdom. We hear how this can work in that other parable in today’s Gospel, the merchant finds the pearl of great price and he responds, he sells all that he has to buy the pearl. He could have ignored the pearl — it would be ridiculous, but he could have done so. But in the parable he didn’t, he saw what the kingdom of heaven is like, and so the merchant realised that it is far more important that he have this, than everything else. He also realises that the cost is high, the kingdom isn’t something easily reached — few things of value are easily attained, the cost is made clear to us.

We have found that hidden treasure, that pearl of great price, we have accepted Christ’s offer…but we must also consider carefully the price which is being asked of us, the price is nothing less than everything which we have. But when we realise the value of the kingdom, then we can give everything which we have to God, and not merely do so grudgingly, but as the first parable tells us, ‘joyfully’. If we do this, then the gains we will have are utterly beyond comparison — this is why the treasure hunter sells everything he has with joy, because by giving all of that up, he gets more than he can imagine in return.

But, he still needs to give it up. There isn’t any option of being half-in, there isn’t any sort of associate membership. This doesn’t mean we literally have to give away everything which we have, but it does mean that we need to place God and our relationship with him, above everything which we own. This doesn’t just mean our material possessions, but all of our hopes and aspirations too; our talents and our affections — everything which is ours. The cost is genuine, and the cost is high; we need carefully to weigh this in our minds before taking the plunge. But as we weigh the cost we need to remember that the parables don’t end with the joyful embrace of the kingdom, they end with judgment. Christ warns us that there will come a moment where we are either in or out. No half measures.

The choice is ours, and is in front of us every day. We have been given the gift of faith, we have been brought into the Church, we hear the words of Christ…we need to ask ourselves how we respond. We can give all that we have to God, knowing that everything works for the good of those who love him; or we can hold back, we can cling to the temporary pleasure of our possessions. But if we do cling to them, then we can’t claim that we haven’t been warned about what will follow — that has been made clear to us.

The virtuous will shine like the sun

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Video | Order of Mass

The Last Judgement: Leandro Bassano (1557–1622), c.1600; Birmingham Museum of Art

The Last Judgement: Leandro Bassano (1557–1622), c.1600; Birmingham Museum of Art

Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!

Our Lord leaves us with more riddles in the parables of today’s gospel. These parables are parables of the kingdom of God; what it is like, and why it is like it is. There are two smaller parables told that teach about the inevitable and irresistible growth of the kingdom from something small and seemingly insignificant. The seed that grows into a large shrub and the little bit of yeast that leavens the whole batch of dough. These should offer us some encouragement. At this particular time in the life of the Church things can seem as if they are falling apart. Yet, however difficult things become the will and purposes of God will be achieved:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

Either side of these two parables our Lord tells and then explains the parable about the wheat and darnel.

One of the great scandals of the Church, and I am sad to say there are many, is the corruption that is revealed within the community of faith. Rome, the very centre and heart of the Church, over the centuries has had, and continues to have, those in its ranks who behave in a manner that causes scandal to the faith. Despite the best efforts of many a saint over the years, evil actions by some persist.

The Church is holy because it is established by our Lord and not a mere institution. It is through the Church that the Holy Spirit reveals the eternal truths of the Kingdom and provides the sacraments of eternal life to the faithful. How then, if it is holy, is it constantly marred by scandal? Jesus’ parable of the wheat and darnel is illuminating. He goes on to explain that although good seed were sown, the devil has sown weeds alongside the wheat. The weeding out is resisted because the good seed and the darnel look very similar while growing and are only clearly distinguished once the full ear has grown — “by their fruits you shall know them”. This is not a counsel to just shrug our shoulders and turn a blind eye to evil and corruption. We should challenge and whistle-blow whenever it is in our power to do so. Christ is giving us the reason why evil persists. However, our Lord tells us that there is a Day of reckoning when justice will be done and those who seem to get away with terrible things will reap the rewards of their deeds. They will be thrown into the fire to be burned and there will be a great wailing and gnashing of teeth. For those who have ears, it becomes absolutely clear that Christ sees the Devil as real and that, at the final judgement, everyone will end up in one of two final destinies — Heaven or Hell.

In this parable our Lord tells us that nothing that is not of God can enter into his eternal presence. This might cause us some concern. We know that we are marked by both the beauty of goodness and the shadow of sin. However much we transform our lives we will always, like the saints before us, need to find ourselves entering the confessional. How then are we to claim the crown of eternal life when sin so persistently clings so close? Should we fear hell? Absolutely! Yet there is hope for those whose hearts, despite our flaws, long for the things of God. Again as individuals, reflecting on our own spiritual journey in the light of this parable can reveal another truth. The day of reckoning in this parable also hints at the merciful gift of Purgatory — Purgatory being the place where we are finally and forever cleansed and liberated of the burden of our weakness to sin. Here we are clothed and prepared to enter and take our seat in the eternal banquet of the heavenly kingdom alongside all the saints and angels.

This should encourage us to strive by the grace of God to grow in holiness and love in preparation for the day we enter into the fullness of God’s glory. Our view of the confessional will be transformed from an act of shame to a beautiful gift and encounter with divine merciful love, humility before God being the fruit of our contemplation. Our attendance at mass will move from an obligatory duty to a desire and longing to encounter and be fed by the one who is the bread of life and calls us into eternal glory.

“Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

My word shall not return to me empty

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Order of Mass

Parable of the Sower (September) [detail], Marten van Valckenborch (1535–1612), c.1585; Kunsthistorisches Museum, ViennaSo shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I intend, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus has come down from the mount where he has taught in a direct and straightforward manner. Here by contrast we find him by the lake side, this time however he teaches using parables.

The Greek word for parable carries the meaning of comparable but the Hebrew word it translates carries more of the meaning of a mystery or riddle. This helps throw light on Jesus’ words to his disciples when they ask why he is now teaching in parables?

He answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

This tells us that, firstly, God is the revealer of eternal truth: we cannot get there by our own human cleverness. Divine truth is revealed and can only be known by grace. Secondly, there also has to be a desire and act of the will on our part to want to understand the things of God — it requires a bit of hard work, without which we will remain blind to them.

The first of a number of parables that Our Lord tells in this section of the gospel is possibly the most well known — the parable of the sower. This is perhaps well known because Christ is recorded not only telling the parable but also giving its meaning.

Those who first heard this parable might well be asking themselves, ‘what sort of farmer scatters the seed for planting, all along the path, stony ground and even among the thorns? Is he incompetent or just plain foolish? Of course nothing is going to grow properly in those conditions! The second thing that they would be astonished at is the amazing crop that is yielded from the good soil: thirty-, sixty- and a hundred-fold. Now a return of sevenfold is a good harvest and a return of tenfold would be a absolute bumper year. Thirty-, sixty- and a hundred-fold would be nothing short of miraculous! That in itself is a clue to its meaning. Miracles are the work of God a sign of his presence and indicator of his purpose and will.

So we can infer that the sower is God himself and it is the word of the kingdom that is sown. This tells us that rather than being incompetent God has a gratuitous generosity in the sharing of his word, no one is excluded from receiving the Word.

The Word that is being referred to is that which we hear in the prologue of John, ‘The Word was with God and was God.’ It is the Word that at the beginning of creation was spoken and thus through the Word, life was formed and brought into being out of nothing. Christ is the divine Word of life that was made flesh. It is Christ the Word that is offered in the good news of the gospel.

The Lord goes on to explain to his disciples why some people cannot or refuse to hear and receive the Gospel, the Lord of Life. There are a number of contributing factors. First is an external influence, the Devil himself who seeks every opportunity to snatch away that which is sown — it doesn’t even have a chance to take root before it is forgotten. The devil is real and is denied at our own peril. Our salvation and the fight for our souls is played out on the larger canvas of both heaven and earth and involves many principalities and powers that are external of the mere human spirit and soul.

The second reason given is that is that there are those who receive the Word at first with great joy, yet abandon the faith when things get difficult. Their faulty thinking sees God as some magician who will wave his magic wand and make everything alright — and when he doesn’t, they give up the faith. Their complaint is that they went to church and said prayers but God didn’t keep up his end of the deal — it is a immature childish response. It is certainty true that Christ has sought to bring us out of darkness into his glorious light and redeem us from death to life. He does this however by giving us a cross — the way of the Cross is the way to Life.

The third reason is that so many are not attentive to the faith and do not give it time because they are consumed by the cares of the world and allure of material wealth. Their security and sense of meaning and worth is rooted in the things of this world, money, power, honour, fame, popularity and the need to fit in. There is no room for Christ, no attentiveness to the Word and mammon becomes their God. Those who place their hope in the world that is passing away, will pass away with it.

Here however we need to halt for a moment. If you haven’t already you might be tempted to start to identify and name individuals who fall into any one of those categories. You might even be giving sideways glances and beginning to wonder whether you know…

A deeper and more honest reflection before God will tell us that this parable reveals a mystery that should inform us that these categories not only identify individuals but are active within each individual as well. They perhaps reflect something of our own spiritual journey, the times when we have allowed the joy of the gospel to be snatched away from us by the enemy. The lack of gratitude, praise and thanksgiving are a sure sign of this. There are undoubtedly times when we have given in to the temptation to give up, to complain that it is all too hard and we cannot carry on. Have you ever found yourself saying these or similar words, “The cross Lord is too heavy and I cannot carry it any longer. I’ve prayed and you aren’t listening — I am not talking to you anymore.”

What about the cares of the world? If we simply and honestly ask ourselves what is our first love? What excites us, gets us out of bed in the morning? Have we ever found ourselves either abandoning our prayers or getting them out of the way as soon as possible so that we can get on with the things we really want to do? How often has our self worth been linked to things we have, jobs we do, or how other people see or think of us?

Yet here is a promise: ‘my word shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I intend, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.’

Some seed fell on rich soil and it produced a hundred-, sixty- and thirty-fold. Where the word finds a receptive heart then the miraculous happens and the Lord of Life bestows his graces. The very things of God, all that is eternal, begins to take shape within us preparing us for eternity in heaven with our Lady and all the saints. The more we are able to fall in love with our Lord and open our hearts to his will, the better we are prepared for that Day of days. The greater the abandonment to Christ, the freer we will be from the allure and traps of the principalities and powers of this world.

This is indeed what God intends his Word to accomplish — the salvation of souls and a rich harvest unto eternal life. As we receive the seed of his word in mass today let it bear us up unto eternal life in Christ.

God so loves the world

Fr Thomas’s homily at Mass on the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Order of Mass

St Ignatius’ Vision of Christ and the Father at La Storta, Domenichino (1581–1641), c.1622; Los Angeles County Museum of Art

St Ignatius’ Vision of Christ and the Father at La Storta, Domenichino (1581–1641), c.1622; Los Angeles County Museum of Art

No one knows the Father, except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

The mystery of the Holy Trinity stands at the very heart of our Christian faith, it took the theologians a while to figure some of the details out, but right from the beginning we have pointers like this. The Father and the Son are in a relationship with each other — and it is this fact, that there are Persons in the Godhead, and relationships between them, that means that one of those Persons could become incarnate — could become man, could become one of us. We are also given the reason why — to bring us into a relationship with the Father.

This makes an excellent summary of the whole of our Faith. That through the Son, through his becoming one of us, he is calling us to know the Father — to be in a relationship with him.

This was God’s free choice. The Father and the Son (and, of course, the Holy Ghost) were up there in heaven, knowing each other, loving each other, being in that perfect relationship with each other — God could have spent eternity like that, there is nothing which could add to his perfection in the slightest, he had no need of anything else. But he chose to create the universe, and he did this simply so that he could be in a relationship with us. Simply so that he could show his love for us all.

Nothing which we did caused this, nothing which we could do could ever deserve this. It is simply because of God’s loving nature. He wants this relationship to be there for us. He wants to make himself known to us. Just because he loves us.

If we pause and consider this, it goes far beyond anything which we can imagine. God in all of his greatness, in all his majesty and splendour, wants us — small frail creatures that we are. And he became man in the person of Jesus Christ simply to do that — to make the Father known to us.

By ourselves, we cannot even begin to know God. We can learn a few basic facts about him: we can know that he exists, we can know that he is one and unique, we can know that he created the universe…and that’s about it. The minds that examine the universe in such detail, which can build spacecraft, which can create artworks of staggering beauty can only come up with a few of the most basic facts about God — he is so far beyond our imagining. But yet, Christ wants to reveal the Father to us, wants to let us know him. This is the gift of Faith. It is only by this gift that we can come into that relationship of love which knowing God involves.

But we need to receive this gift, and we need to cultivate it. We don’t get to know another person simply by reading about him or her. We don’t become friends with somebody just through their reputation. We need to spend time with people in order to get to know them, and in order to develop friendships with them. This is true of God as well.

God wants us to come close to him, to spend time with him, to grow in our knowledge of him. He takes the initiative here, he sends Christ to us to draw us to God, to reveal him to us. But he needs us to respond. He needs us to spend time with him, to spend time in prayer. Because that is where we truly get to know him.

We are again able to gather for Mass — thanks be to God. This is truly to best form of spending time with him. But let us all strive to keep spending time with him through the week — let us not keep him in a small box marked ‘Mass’; let us live lives walking constantly close to him.

God has opened his loving arms to us, he calls us to come to him, to spend time with him, and to get to know him. It is up to us how we respond.