At the start of each May there, originally on a Sunday evening but then switched to be part of the main Sunday morning service in the late 1990s, a procession takes place around the parish (we have previously included some photos of this event c1992, including images of Fr Nicholas Kavanagh, now one of the parish clergy at St James's, in his Anglican days). There was therefore something not only comforting and familiar, but also reinvigorating about seeing afresh a well known and loved devotion in what was undoubtedly its right and fullest setting.
Although the Bank Holiday Weekend around Easter had not seemed to have any adverse impact on the attendance figures at the Triduum at St James's, this Bank Holiday had clearly taken its toll on the usually impressive numbers at the 0930 Extraordinary Form Mass, the 1030 Solemn Latin Mass and the 1200 Mass. Yet, squeezed in between the 1030 and the 1200, crowds appeared, seemingly from nowhere, to boost the throng and to join in this act of loving devotion to Our Most Blessed Mother.
The St James's parish notes had prepared us for the event. They had reflected on what is meant by natural law, a concept that seems so much to enrage critics of the Church. There are some things that are quite simply right, that are known to be way that things are and must be. For example, you do not need to be a Catholic or even a Christian to be aware that "Thou shalt not kill" is something that we all know to be right. Those who talk of "just war", and yes even those who talk of euthanasia or capital punishment, all share the same premise that their case argues for a derogation from what we know to be right, what we know to be the normal and natural state of things.
If we then turn to take another Commandment "Honour thy father and mother" and look at it in the same light of natural law, then we can say that devotion to Our Lady is utterly and completely natural and right. Fr Colven, in those parish notes, advanced this argument as follows :
Somehow, in our Western secularised societies, Christians, and particularly Catholics, have to rebuild a credible presentation of natural law so that people begin once again to discover that right and wrong are not wholly relative terms – that there is such a thing as the objectivity (and, to quote Pope John Paul, the “splendour”) of truth.
Where do we begin this process? Perhaps we have within the Catholic tradition an emphasis which most people can recognise within their own life experience. The fourth of the Commandments (and the first to have a promise attached to it) is “honour your father and mother”. It is instinctive to respect and to love those who have given us life and nurtured its formative stages: this is not merely a matter of duty, but something which engages the heart and the emotions at so many levels - the general discomfort which is felt at the prospect of family breakdown, divorce, one parent homes, children in care, etc. only serves to underline the “naturalness” of maternal, paternal and familial relationships: this is what is expected and wanted, even when it is not found.
We know that Marian devotion has gone hand in hand with Christian orthodoxy – that as the Church began to understand (and define) the mystery of Jesus Christ in the first centuries of its life, it found that if had to speak about the woman in whom the incarnation had taken place. The authenticity of Christ’s humanity was (and is) guaranteed by a focus on the creature called to be his Mother. This focus is so much more than the theological emphasis from which it proceeds for, just as it is a basic instinct to love our own mothers, so it is the Christian instinct to love the Mother of Jesus. In so doing, we are caught up into something of the warmth of relationship shared by Jesus and Mary – “behold your Mother”. During Mary’s month of May it does us well to ponder the “naturalness” of Marian devotion and to see it as a potentially powerful tool in evangelisation – something that rings true to human experience, and can be the way to open up other avenues of shared understanding. Think about it!
The music at Mass yesterday led us towards the feast of Marian hymns that was to be a part of the procession. The Offertory Motet was Croce's joyful and boisterous setting of the Regina Coeli, seen here being conducted by a university contemporary of mine (and fellow Pusey House musician) in preparation for a service at the Anglican cathedral in Southwark.
Once the procession was underway, two great favourites were sung. First of all, the Lourdes Hymn, the second verse of which we had not had the opportunity to sing in our previous existence as Anglicans. How appropriate then, on a Sunday where the Gospel reading talked of the True Vine, the relationship between us and Christ, and thereby the relationship we have with Christ and His Church (the two not being mutually exclusive), that we should find ourselves singing this verse in the full Communion of His Holy Catholic Church.
We pray for God's glory,
May His Kingdom come,
We pray for His Vicar,
Our Father, and Rome,
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!
Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!
The other hymn in the procession was a hymn that has featured very recently on this blog, including in our most recent post. However, that is no reason not to include it one more time.
The last hymn, sung after the blessing and dismissal, was a hymn that again featured on the St Mary's Bourne St Facebook site last year, and how lovely it was to hear it again, now in a setting where it feels so very natural, so very much the way of things in the entire Church. It is no longer the territory of a particular wing, but the song of the whole.
A few photos of this happy day follow below. A few more can be found on our Facebook page. Most Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Walsingham, Help of Christians, pray for us and for all thy children.