Monday, 10 October 2011

Memories of Bourne St, Lepanto and Fr Hunwicke

Our recent blogpost Our Lady of Victories, Our Lady of the Rosary and the Battle of Lepanto seems to have been popular with our readers.  Inspired by that, we cast our minds back a little over a year to early October 2010, to when we three members of the Marylebone Ordinariate Group were attending St Mary's Bourne St, and were privileged to hear a very fine homily from Fr John Hunwicke on Our Lady of Victories. 

The day after his visit, Fr Hunwicke's blog Liturgical Notes included a charming report of his day out in London, in which he highlighted the very important job performed by my two daughters, who took occasional breaks from their playing in the Presbytery Library to come through to the Dining Room to help out with the serious business of chocolate eating at lunch. 

The comments below that post on Liturgical Notes are of relevance to a particular point raised by Fr Edwin Barnes in his blog Ancient Richborough, the question of the sung Angelus as a piece of Anglican Patrimony. 

The comments on Liturgical Notes include information not only on how the sung Angelus began being sung at Bourne Street, but also on how it went from there to the USA along with Monsignor Graham Leonard.  There are also two links to video footage of the Angelus being sung at Bourne Street (posted by me, it must be admitted).

By kind permission of the author, here is that truly invigorating homily, given one year ago.  Our Lady of Victories, Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.

Homily preached in S Mary’s, Bourne Street, October 3, 2010.

Don John of Austria has burst the battle line!
Don John of Austria, pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the Ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches and bursting of the holds
Don John of Austria has set his people free ...
Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath ...
Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.

For a few blissful years after 1571, this Sunday, the first in October, was kept as the feast of our Lady of Victories. And why not! The Battle of Lepanto, in which the Holy League defeated the navy of the Ottoman Turks, preserved Catholic Europe from the fate which had befallen Orthodox Byzantium. We, I suppose, are a bit more reserved than Chesterton was about the glories of war. His rhetoric about Don John’s galleys crashing through the line of the Turkish galleys “purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop” is not entirely to our taste ... a trifle bloodthirsty. And perhaps I’d best be careful what I say about a battle between Christendom and Islam; I wouldn’t like to fall victim to the barrage that met our Holy Father after his Regensburg lecture. So I won’t make any more references to “scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds”. I shall deny myself the pleasure of repeating the mannered alliteration of “breaking of the hatches up, and bursting of the bonds”. Above all, you will not hear, falling from my lips, the dread C-word, the word Crusade. No; I shall even leave unsaid the offensive words “slaughter-painted poop”: and, instead, whisk you up from the sea at Lepanto to deposit you in the City of Rome. What were they doing there on this fateful day? They were holding a rosary procession, round the Piazza di San Pietro. And this was not only happening in Rome; all over Catholic Europe, the Confraternities, the even-more-lofty Archconfraternities, even the very Sodalities, were fighting the Battle of Lepanto. Pope S Pius V believed that the great victory was secured by the rosaries that clanked through the hands of the pious multitudes of the Catholic heartlands. Indeed, the Pontiff had a vision of the victory long before its news reached Rome. (What a Pontiff! Regnans in excelsis one year, Lepanto the next! In the Brompton Oratory, a few feet from the new altar to B John Henry Newman, his statue stands in the Lady Chapel. At a time when some people in the C of E are playing with a Society of Ss Hinge and Bracket, I wonder if a more virile and combative title would have been “The Legion of S Pius V” ... the Pope who won Lepanto with the rosaries of the faithful.)

Of course, we don’t find such simple talk, all this stuff about prayer being answered by naval victories, quite so easy nowadays. Living in our more sophisticated age ....  NO!!   I am not going to be convinced that our age is in the least sophisticated. Never was there an age so unsophisticated, so dominated by what S Augustine and the medievals called nugacitas – a preoccupation with the trivial and the frivolous. I want suggest to you a Christian duty of turning our backs on the culture of the silly – and the ephemeral – and of 95% of what flickers across our Television screens. I want to put before you the notion that what people call our Christian mumbo-jumbo is Truth and Reality. I want to remind you of S Paul’s neat and pointed dualisms: what the World calls strong, God calls weak; what the World calls folly, God calls wisdom. And I even want to tell you that there is a God and that he has a Mother and that he has put it into the hands of his Mother to deliver the goods – in union with the synergy, the co-working, of the Christian multitudes.

The feast of our Lady of Victories only lasted a few years. A more pusillanimous pope, Gregory XIII, soon renamed it “Our Lady of the Rosary”. The Orthodox are more robust; in their Akathist Hymn they call our blessed Lady the hupermakhos strategos, the Protecting General with the aprosmakheton kratos, the power that cannot be fought against. They see Mary as less a simpering if pious girl and rather more as the Woman You Don’t Tangle With. By one of those curious coincidences, at the start of October Orthodoxy celebrates the Feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God; that relic which, in the glory days of Byzantium, used to go into battle at the head of her armies. So the commemoration of our Lady of Victories, at this time of the year, is truly ecumenical! The tradition of both East and West is that our Lady of Victories Rules, OK! Because Mary does still win battles today. She still delivers the goods, just as she did at Lepanto. In the old Roman Liturgy, one of the anthems at Mattins on her feasts is Gaude Maria Virgo:cunctas haereses sola interemisti in universo mundo: Mary alone, joy to her, has put down every heresy in the entire world. She put down the heresy of Islam in the waters of Lepanto; because Islam is, for those who hold the Christian Faith, a heresy. People will tell you that Islam treats Jesus with respect and even says nice things about Mary. That is perfectly true. But Islam is, in Christian theology, a heresy because it doesn’t acknowledge Jesus as being God. And because its adherents don’t believe that he is God, they can’t understand why we call Mary the Mother of God, Mother of the Incarnate Creator, Mother of the enfleshed All-Merciful One. But perhaps I should avoid the Quixotic error of tilting only at Islamic windmills – I do not believe that they are the real enemies whom we in our culture are facing. Our Lady of Victories puts down heresies much closer home than Islam; for example, the heresy (which our Islamic brethren join us in condemning) of regarding sexuality as our toy at our disposal, rather than as God’s gift to be used as he wills and how he wills and even – dare I say it – if he wills. Mary puts it down by the glory of her perpetual Virginity. As the good old English Missal translates the Preface for her feasts, “the glory of her maidenhood yet abiding”. Mary puts down the great current Western heresy that life is to be lived for the personal self-fulfilment of the individual: she puts it down by her command “Whatever he says unto you, do it”. Our Lady of Victories puts down the heresy of Dawkins the Daft, and of all his minions, side-kicks and running-dogs – the error that this world is empty of God: Mary puts it down because she sits at the central point of the Universe and in the middle point of all the ages, sits there great with child. For Mary’s child is God and the Bump in her tummy is the One who made the Universe, so that S Ambrose calls her plena deo , the one who is Full of God, her belly growing broader as the months pass; a belly which the Orthodox call platutera tou Kosmou, broader than the Universe. Between ourselves, I suspect that poor Dawkins knows in his heart of hearts that our Lady of Victories is his nemesis – witness his tirade against the Catholic Church with its “stench of incense [you can be an atheist and still share the ancient prejudices of the Kensitites!] and a rain of tourist-kitsch Sacred Hearts and preposterously crowned Virgins”.

Preposterously crowned as she is, the great Mother of God Mary most Holy, our Lady of Victories, will do for the whole lot of them, just as she did for Ali Pasha at Lepanto. And how will she do it? I conclude with a reminiscence of my second bishop, Mervyn Stockwood. As you will know, he peopled his diocese of Southwark with what you might call a wide diversity of clerics. At his last clergy meeting which I attended, he surprised the trendies, the Honest-to-God tendency, the Christian Marxists, by simply reminding his clergy of the power of the daily Rosary. There’s the Patrimony for you!

Our Lady of Victories, our Lady of the Rosary, carried aloft by the sculptors on billowing draperies, her bulgy baroque crown precariously, preposterously, perched upon her head, Mary is the Woman of Triumph whom God is giving to this world.

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