There was sometimes a real sense of almost "naughty" fun about being an Anglo-Catholic. Somehow, in attempting to enhance the catholic side of things in what we did in our own parishes, the disagreement and disapproval of the Anglican establishment was almost an incentive to us. Some worried that there would be something rather important lost in this regard when we crossed the Tiber, even if none of would miss the flip side of the fun, ie the ability of the Anglican establishment to do the opposite back to us!
Well, that worry was unnecessary. The confidence with which the Catholic Faith is proclaimed within the Catholic Church is inspiring. The shared common position is very powerful : there may be disagreements about details in some quarters, but these are details around an agreed set of fundamental premises. In a blogpost a few days ago we made reference to the example of the hymn O Bread of Heaven, which symbolises the difference we now feel : the theme of that hymn was a much debated and hard fought over point before, whereas now, in the Catholic Church, it is quite simply the shared point of view.
Fr Colven's parish notes at St James's Spanish Place this week made the same point. A fearless expression of the life to come, and of the Communion of Saints. They are reproduced below, and make inspiring reading.
Before that though, our joy this month at the Marian hymns sung as a recessional after the 1030 Solemn Mass at St James's has been unbounded. In another post earlier this month, we mentioned one such example. This morning we had the joy of another H F Hemy tune, as the tune for the hymn "I'll sing a hymn to Mary, the Mother of my God".
I couldn't find an outstandlingly good rendition of that hymn on youtube, but we shall be pleased to make do with Fr Francis.
The Rector writes ...
At the beginning of the 18th century, Alexander Pope penned some lines which serve as a sort of secular creed: “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan, the proper study of mankind is man”. According to this view of human nature we can only really understand what can be tested empirically, and any kind of metaphysical speculation is therefore rendered meaningless. It is an argument which, in varying forms, we hear from the secular humanists of our own day, and has entered into the consciousness of the age. The Christian rejoinder is, of course, to point to belief in the Incarnation – that God assumes the human condition himself and that, in the historical person of his Christ, he becomes accessible, even tangible: “he is the image of the unseen God – in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1: 15). Human beings no longer have to reach out beyond themselves in the attempt to comprehend the unfathomable mystery of God – it is he who chooses to illuminate the mystery, and place himself within the human context.
Nowhere is the secular mind-set more clearly demonstrated than in current attitudes to death. Most funerals today concentrate almost exclusively on what has been, rather than what will be … and what else could they do when the majority do not believe that anything meaningful can be said about life beyond the grave (hence the growing fashion for “memorial” services sometime after the human remains have been quietly disposed of). How different the matrix of thought and understanding behind the words of the dying Saint Dominic: “Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death, and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life”. At every Sunday Mass we state our belief in the communion of saints, and this constituent of Christian faith means that, far from there being nothing which can be said about the state of those who die, we have an enormous contribution to offer with 2,000 years of accumulated experience to draw upon - living and praying, as we do, “with the Angels and Archangels, and with the great multitude of the Saints”.
Saint Paul could say of the dead: “do not grieve about them like the other people who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13): not that we should not mourn those who have gone before us (the cost of love is the pain of separation) but that faith in Christ’s resurrection, and our own, provides a context where grief is lightened by trust, and where, in words from the requiem Mass “the sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality: for your faithful people, Lord, life is changed, not ended". All this serves to demonstrate why we venerate and love the saints – for us, they are a living connection to the fullness of life which awaits, nothing less than stepping stones to heaven. The saints are our family and friends to whose care and concern we turn as naturally as we would to our own blood relatives. It is this inter-action between heaven and earth, between what we can see and touch, and what we can only as yet perceive by faith, which makes for our understanding of a “single communion and fellowship”. The Catholic vision of a profound unity binding heaven and earth, of a continuum between time and eternity, is focussed, personified, in those we adopt as our patron saints. By studying their lives, following their example, and commending our needs to their intercession, we place our daily living in the context of eternity.