Tuesday, 31 July 2012

O Lux et Decus Hispaniae

A joyful week of celebration at St James’s, Spanish Place.  Wednesday was the Feast of Title, and the Right Reverend Dom Cuthbert Brogan, Abbot of Farnborough, celebrated and preached at Solemn Mass. 

The Spanish Ambassador was also present, marking the historic connexion between the people of Spain and St James.  Like so many of the older parishes in the Westminster diocese (parish records date back to 1732), St James's Spanish Place can trace its origins to penal times and to the benefactions of a nearby Catholic embassy, and a fascinating explanation of the parish's history can be found on the parish website.

Having previously been based in Ely Place, the Spanish Embassy was once in Hertford House (now the Wallace Collection) and in 1791 a chapel was built in Spanish Place (close to the site of the present church, and of sufficient renown to have been mentioned by Thackeray in Vanity Fair as the church attended by the Marchioness of Steyne) to serve the needs of Catholics serving there.

Although the Embassy moved elsewhere long ago and the London Vicariate assumed control of the chapel in 1827, and although the chapel was replaced by the present building in the 19th century, there are many reminders of Spanish heritage in the church, including Alfonso XIII's personal standard, which hangs above the door from the sacristy into church, and the twin crowns situated above two prime positions in choir set aside for visits from the King and Queen of Spain.  It is, however, mere coincidence that the colours of the Spanish flag are reflected in the colours of the Marylebone Cricket Club.

At that mass last week, the Marylebone Ordinariate Group was also joined for the first time by its newest member, Rupert Brennan Brown.  Known to most of the group from his time at St Mary’s Bourne Street (and the third member of the group to be married there), Rupert was received into the Church some years ago but has now joined the Ordinariate, taking advantage of the provision that enables former Anglicans who were received into the Church prior to Anglicanorum Coetibus to become members of the Ordinariate.

A great occasion, happy for the parish of course and for those of us privileged to be hosted by it, but also happy very specifically for us in the Marylebone Ordinariate Group, because now we found ourselves reunited with one from whom we had been separated.  A certain extract from Blessed John Henry Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua came to mind.
And I earnestly pray for this whole company, with a hope against hope, that all of us, who once were so united, and so happy in our union, may even now be brought at length, by the Power of the Divine Will, into One Fold and under One Shepherd.
We were also delighted to note that among the clergy in the sanctuary, Fr Christopher Pearson was one of the concelebrants. 

For us, the highlight among a venerable feast of music was Victoria's O Lux et Decus Hispaniae.
O lux et decus Hispaniae Sanctissime Jacobe, qui inter Apostolos primatum tenens, primus eorum martyrio laureatus.  Alleluia.

O light and grace of Spain, most holy James, he who held primacy among the Apostles, was the first of them to take the laurels of martyrdom. Alleluia.
This powerful piece, previously unknown to us, sat beautifully alongside other much more familiar music.  The setting of the ordinary of the mass was Mozart's Coronation Mass, and as well as a Jubilate Deo from Giovanni Gabrieli, we were delighted to hear the Finale from Vierne's Organ Symphony No. 1, which had also been played after the Ordinariate's Anniversary Solemn Evensong and Benediction at St James's earlier this year.  Those of you interested in hearing what music in St James's sounds like, as well as merely seeing plenty of photos of this stunning building, can find a video on our post entitled A Perfect Setting.

A few photos of the great day follow below.  Those of you interested in the Spanish connection will note that the picture of the Abbot preaching (so reminiscent of the excellent photos of Monsignor Newton preaching in that same place some months ago) shows the aforementioned personal standard of King Alfonso XIII of Spain in the background. 

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Another Joins from Bourne Street

We are pleased to welcome another former member of the Bourne St congregation into the full communion of the Catholic Church.  Having been baptised by the previous Vicar of St Mary's, the lady in question found her own way to St James's, and it was Fr Colven's excellent initiative to ask one of our members to be her Sponsor at her Reception.

Welcome, Agnes.  Please be assured of our prayers for you.

From this week's parish notes at St James's:
We give thanks to God for the reception into the full communion of the Church of Agnes Duffield during this past week. Agnes was formerly a member of the Anglican congregation at St Mary’s Bourne Street, Pimlico - a parish which has offered us a whole raft of new Catholics in the past year. We are grateful for these signs of enrichment to the mix which is Spanish Place.
A raft indeed.  To turn the use of that word, how pleased we are to have been on the raft that took us to join the Barque of Peter.

We are also delighted to report that Rupert Brennan Brown, who left St Mary's a few years ago to become a Catholic, has recently signed up as a member of the Ordinariate, attached to the Marylebone Group.  Rupert's first event with us was last week's spectacular St James's day Mass, celebrated by the Abbot of Farnborough, and in the presence of the Spanish ambassador....more of which in an imminent post.

Yes, how true: a raft indeed.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Perfectly Re-Established

A thought provoking article appears in this week's parish notes from St James's.  Not only does Fr Colven remind us of St Paul's famous recognition in his letter to the Romans that he, like all of us, fails to live up to the standards he knows exist, but he also restates forcefully and clearly that the divine sacrifice, the outpouring of that Most Precious Blood, changed things for everyone.  Not for a select few, but for all (even if some do not understand it).

Some of the less well informed fall into a trap of arguing that the Catholic Church amuses itself by spending all day every day condemning people for whatever their peccadillos, or indeed peccados, might be.  As we all know, their misconception could hardly be further from the truth.

Yes, unlike some places, the Catholic Church maintains both the "Go and sin no more" approach of Our Lord in John 8 and the "Neither do I condemn you," but in that dual approach it recognises, as St Paul did of himself, that we all fall short, and provides a sure path to all of us sinners to share in the redemptive love shown so clearly in the shedding of that Precious Blood.  Those who focus only on the "Go and sin no more", often of a very protestant hue, forget the boundless saving love of Our Lord, and cast aside from their theology the Catholic teaching that we can all be saved, whoever we are and whatever our own personal blend of proclivities to sin.  Those who think only of "Neither do I condemn you" are often of an ultra-liberal bent, seeming to believe that sin doesn't really need to be forgiven, indeed they show little sign of believing it exists at all: they talk much of the Incarnation, but little of the Sacrifice of Calvary and what it achieved (other than when doing so gives them a chance to put on fancy clothes and listen to nice music).

Having the fullness of that Gospel text built into its approach, the Catholic Church remains faithful to the Jesus of the Gospel rather than to the Jesus of our preferences and selfish wishlists.  While Our Lord was certainly clear in saying we should sin no more, he was no less clear about a refusal to condemn and about unbounded compassion, understanding and forgiveness.

One of the earliest posts on this blog was entitled Shattering Stereotypes.  Those who labour under the falsehood that the Catholic Church is about condemnation would do well to read that post, to ponder the Holy Father's words in the video footage contained therein and to reflect on Fr Colven's notes below.

Before leaving you all to those notes, here are two classic hymns associated with the Precious Blood. Among the other possibilities we could have chosen (sadly there is no particularly good youtube version) is Alleluia, Sing to Jesus.  Written by the Anglican hymnwriter William Chatterton Dix in 1866 (published in his 1867 collection Altar Songs, Verses on the Eucharist), it bears the title Redemption by the Precious Blood.  Now extremely popular, probably more on account of its association with the much loved tune Hyfrydol than on account of modern Anglicanism still having the fervour for more Eucharistic hymns that drove Dix and his contemporaries to transform Anglican hymnody in the nineteenth century, this hymn was originally written for Ascensiontide but is suitable for any eucharistic celebration.  Indeed, it was sung at two Marylebone Ordinariate Group weddings (in our Anglican days) and more recently at the Ordinariate anniversary celebrations at St James's in January.

The Rector writes:
The traditional devotion for the month of July is to the Precious Blood of Jesus. As we contemplate the cost of human redemption, literally secured through the tortured body of the incarnate Lord, we are forced to take sin seriously - quite simply because God himself was prepared to take its reality so seriously. For the Christian, any reflection on the existence and power of evil cannot do other than centre on the Cross. It is our belief that the self-offering of Jesus, even to the opening of his own heart by the soldier’s spear, is the death blow to all that is not of God - we are not dualists believing in a tug of war between equally opposed forces (evil on one side and good on the other): for us the final outcome is not in doubt - the battle has already been fought and secured on Good Friday - but the consequences of alienation have still to be worked out: though these may be the "end times", the ferocity of evil will continue until the last day even if Jesus’ promise is being fulfilled: “when the Advocate comes, he will show the world how wrong it was about sin, and about who was in the right, and about judgement” (John 16:8).
A preface to a recent publication from the Catholic Truth Society says: “the struggle with the powers of evil is part of the experience of every human being. While human beings have a natural orientation towards the good we find ourselves confronting evil in various ways” - or as St Paul famously  observed in writing to the Romans, “I cannot understand my own behaviour. I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate” (7:15). It is easy to caricature evil in ways that diminish its malevolence - the Devil is often portrayed as a cartoon figure, and the razzmatazz surrounding Halloween “domesticates” and tames the whole notion of sin’s destructive power. If C S Lewis was correct in the Screwtape Letters then it is the greatest achievement of the forces of evil to have themselves treated with benign mockery.
Jesus’ life blood points us to a very different understanding, where evil has to be recognised, named and confronted for what it truly is. No one who has lived through the horrors of the 20th century - the concentration camps , the genocides, with inhumanity and cruelty exhibited on an  industrial scale - can afford to be sanguine about something which is so much more than the sum total of individual human wrong choices, “for it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the Sovereignties and the Powers which originate in the darkness in the world, the spiritual army of evil in the heavens" (Ephesians 6:12). The recognition of the forces which spoil and mar so many aspects of the creation, and the individual damage done by our personal sin, goes to the heart of the Christian dispensation: the world needs, we need, a salvation which is held out in the person of Jesus. God offers his Son as the antidote to sin. 
Our understanding is that what God has done, and continues do, in his Christ is not narrow or sectarian in any way - it is the catholic act, embracing everyone, excluding no one (whether what is on offer is understood or not). The shedding of the Precious Blood on  Calvary alters the whole cosmic balance: we can now look forward in hope to a time when “together with the human race, the universe itself, will be perfectly re-established in Christ” (Lumen Gentium). The Church’s mission remains what is has always been, the salvation of souls through the proclamation of what God is doing in Christ: this salvation is nothing less than the resolution of the dilemma expressed by St Paul (Romans 7:15) as our nature is returned to its rightful bias to choose what is good rather than evil.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Erastian Decrees

William Oddie is on particularly robust form today.  Having read Dr Oddie's latest article, the words of the late Gerald Ellison, formerly Anglican Bishop of Chester and London, come back to haunt not just Anglo-Catholics still in the Church of England, but also any Anglican who believes that the Church of England should have ability to decide its own positions. 

Now, whatever one's views on the ordination of women or indeed on any other of the topics on which General Synod likes to spend its time, and whether a Catholic, an Anglican or anything else, does anyone really think it is desirable that a religious body should have these things decided for it by politicians?  Would the most ardent Anglican proponent of the legislation to introduce women bishops want the Church of England's 30+ years of deliberations on the matter to be decided upon by a committee of politicians with, let us be fair, perhaps not the greatest understanding of theology?  Surely there is a difference between accepting a Church by Law Established and having one's theology dictated by the latest crop of politicians?

Isn't this a modern day Gorham judgment in the making?  In the post Lines in the Sand, we explained how state interference prompted Cardinal Manning to leave the Church of England for the Catholic Church, and we hinted at modern day political manoeuvrings to make sure that the Church of England decided the way that politicians wished it to decide.

It is an extraordinary co-incidence that we are talking about this issue on the eve of the 179th anniversary of John Keble's Assize Sermon, in which he protested about the then government's interference in the question of Anglican bishoprics in Ireland.  That sermon is usually cited as the beginning of the Oxford Movement, the movement in the Church of England that eventually gave rise to what we have historically referred to Anglo-Catholicism, and to a revived sense of the importance of the church (the Church of England) having control over what it said it believed, rather than the state decreeing what it believed.

In the interesting set of comments provided on our post Missing the Point (for which, dear readers, many thanks), we answered a point by motuproprio agreeing that the Trojan Horse that has led to the current situation was the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974, which in fact sought to keep the Church of England's decisions for the Church of England.  In 1972, when still Anglican Bishop of Chester, Gerald Ellison summed up the General Synod debate on that legislation with the following words :
I think it will be generally agreed that the least qualified body to decide the doctrine of the Church of England is Parliament.
In 1974, by which time he had been translated to become the Anglican Bishop of London, he said to the February session of General Synod :
Before granting this freedom, Parliament is entitled to guarantees that the Church of England will not depart from its traditional doctrine and position.
No comment, other than to say that it shows how far things have come in 40 years.  The Church of England had to promise not to change itself, but now risks being forced to change further than even it seems to be able to agree clearly and formally that it wants.

Gerald Ellison ended his 1974 speech with these words :
It is for many of us a matter of principle that the Church is the guardian of the purity of the faith and its voice through its synods should be decisive.
How unfortunate that legislation intended to replace parliamentary "interference" ended up, mixing metaphors here, opening a Pandora's Box that would lead back to the exact same starting point.  If Dr Oddie's report is correct, then Gerald Ellison's good intentions have been squashed.  The Church of England's voice, through its synods, will not be allowed to be decisive if it doesn't decide what politicians want it to decide.  The parliamentarians are not, as seemed to be the concern in 1972, upbraiding the Church of England for departing from its traditional doctrine and position, but for quite the opposite: for trying, in however limited a way and with however limited support, to take into account theological arguments, and for trying to maintain the broad church approach in which the Church of England could try, however unsuccessfully, to be all things to all men, simultaneously holding all manner of mutually incompatible theologies in order to attempt to keep together a national church.

There is no attempt in our blogpost to argue for or against what the General Synod is debating.  That is another story, although one could certainly argue that the mind of the Church of England does seem to be relatively clear, and probably not entirely out of line with what parliament might perhaps force upon it.  No, our point is, like Dr Oddie's, that when your church has its decisions made for it on rather important matters by the state, then you really are in an Erastian environment.

As Dr Oddie said :
......an Erastian Church is ultimately a secular organisation, though one in which religion is permitted, so long as it doesn’t clash with the ethical principles which govern secular society.
How can one reconcile that with the Anglo-Catholic vision of old?  How can one reconcile that with the well-known and oft-repeated line of Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury shortly after the Second World war, that
The Church of England has no doctrine of its own, save that of the one Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church.
Celebrity cleric Giles Fraser has also been writing recently on this heated debate, but although his article contains one or two rather naughty throwaway lines that betray either ignorance or deliberate oversight,  what he says does seem to sum up relatively accurately what is perceived to be the mind of the Church of England, that women will be anglican bishops, end of story.  Like Dr Oddie, his conclusion is that those who do not like this must either adapt and accept, or leave.
But there is no way of unifying those who think women bishops are a theological impossibility and those who think they are a theological necessity. There is no bridge here to be built. In such cases the vast majority will has to prevail.
Dr Oddie says it like this:
Anglo-Catholics need to understand clearly that there is no longer a place for them in the Church of England; they are not wanted. They have, however, an alternative, in communion with the one true Church: the ordinariate has been erected precisely for them. If they will not become part of it, they will have simply to accept that they are members of a Church with women priests and women bishops and get used to it.
We referred above to the Church of England's old habit of attempting to hold everyone together, no matter the diversity and sometimes directly contradictory beliefs.  In this context, in a succinct and powerfully direct article in the London Evening Standard this week, Melanie McDonagh talked of the endless current CofE debate as follows:
The whole thing is preposterous, and not just for unbelievers who can’t quite get their heads around the notion that this is being debated at all. The point of the C of E is that it’s recklessly inclusive, a national church that seems incapable of turning anyone away. You can have ordained Anglican clergy who believe that God was made man and born of a virgin and those who can’t quite buy the Virgin Birth. You can have bishops who believe in the Resurrection and those who believe it is true in a very real sense, ie, not at all.

I would have said once that the only thing that actually unites the Anglican communion is a belief in God but that was before the Right Rev Richard Holloway came along, the former primus of the tiny Scottish Episcopal Church, who couldn’t make his mind up about it.

And with this extraordinary latitude on the things that actually count, the one thing they’re going to make a stand on is women bishops?
Well, preposterous it might be, but it is indeed the case that whereas the Church of England could for many years manage to hold utterly incompatible views on baptismal regeneration, and, as Melanie McDonagh says, on all manner of other pretty fundamental things, it seems that there will be a three-line whip imposed to ensure very clear acceptance of women bishops.  If the CofE itself fails to come to that conclusion, then it  appears that politicians (long known for their familiarity with scripture, tradition and, ahem, reason) will reach it for them.

As Dr Oddie rightly said:
The fact is that the Anglo-Catholics who are still determined to stay in the Church of England are in an impossible situation.
There are those among them who are attempting to call out to the old broad church nature of the Church of England.  The recent Better Together campaigns points to exactly that (although having the same name as the government's campaign against Scottish independence is unfortunate).  Well, if they really mean that, all well and good, but they should note that even those usually as poles apart as William Oddie and Giles Fraser agree that those staying will be better together in a Church of England that has willingly thrown off the understanding of Anglo-Catholicism that we at least have always held, and that sees the Gospel call to Unity as subservient not to theological understanding but to the rulings of politicians.

Dr Oddie says that they should no longer call themselves Anglo-Catholics.  Well, we take a very soft approach here on this blog, as you must all surely know, and we certainly accept that "Anglo-Catholic" has many different meanings.  We will not engage in that debate, much less will we cite Damian Thompson's very forthright and typically punchy summary of these matters towards the end of a recent blogpost covering a range of issues.

However, we would just mention to our former fellow Anglicans who wish to stay in the Church of England yet who are not in favour of the likely changes, that the Better Together campaign is producing some interesting reactions.  An admittedly non-scientific survey conducted by perusing Facebook comments indicates that at least some of those who might describe themselves as liberal Anglo-Catholics, perhaps members of Affirming Catholicism, view the Better Together campaign with confusion, or with suspicion, or with a perception (which may or may not be correct, we have no idea) that it is a form of olive branch, or said more cynically, a white flag.  For them, a movement which for so long proclaimed clearly its objectives and theology is now arguing a very different line.  What they perceive is that instead of seeking to tell the rest of the Church of England what it thinks is true, as it has long done, this movement now seeks a quiet corner in which to be one strand among the many.  You can understand why they are confused.

If Erastian practice is confirmed, then just how many such strands are allowed to exist will become a rather delicate point.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

A Wider Fellowship and Communion

The weekend before last, some of our Ordinariate group had the great pleasure to attend a wedding at St Mary's, Bourne St, the Anglican parish that for so long had been our home.  Here is a picture of two of our group waiting in that familiar place.

It was a joy to see so many old friends again, and to be surrounded by faces previously seen frequently but now only rarely.  Most of all, it was a delight and a privilege to share in the happy couple's big day, and we take this opportunity to assure them of our prayers for a long and happy life together.

It would not be appropriate to include any photos giving away too much of what was not our event, but we think we can just about get away with the picture above, which is of Marylebone Ordinariate Group members, and also this rather striking picture below, surely worthy of a caption competition.  In it, you see a former Head Server of St Mary's, now an Orthodox religious; key members of the current St Mary's serving team (the Vicar acted as the only server at this BCP Solemnization of Holy Matrimony), and a member of the regular St Mary's congregation, dressed in a very stylish morning coat.  Pictures do indeed speak a thousand words.

Most of us had been back to St Mary's at least once for one function or another since our departure, but this particular return took place almost exactly a year to the day since the weekend when we attended our final services as Anglicans.  As we explained in this earlier post, the anniversary of the dedication of St Mary's is held on the first Sunday of July, commemorating the day in 1874 when this small brick mission chapel behind Sloane Square was formally opened.  Forgive the digression, but I have long loved this extract from the Church Times reporting that on 2 July 1874 :
...being the festival of the Visitation of the BVM, a mission chapel in Graham Street, Pimlico, a portion of the parish of St Paul's Knightsbridge, far distant from the church in Wilton Place, was opened for service under the licence of the Bishop of London. The service at eleven o'clock was well attended by people from the neighbourhood, and we were glad to notice a good sprinkling of poor women. Mr Eyton, the Curate-in-Charge, was the celebrant, and an unconscionably long sermon was preached by Mr Knox-Little [curate of St Thomas, Regent Street], which, considering the broiling weather, was little better than cruelty.
Still today, that weekend built around the first Sunday of July involves a series of events at Bourne St.  Saturday's worship takes the shape of a Requiem Mass, and the set piece Sunday service includes not only the usual spectacular fare but also a Marian procession around the parish and a rite of Benediction.

The Saturday event was originally to have been our last service, it being agreed that a Founders' and Benefactors' Requiem was the perfect opportunity to give thanks for and to pray for the souls of those who played their part in creating the St Mary's that had been an important part of lives.  The ashes of a previous Vicar, the much loved John Gilling, who directly and indirectly had been the cause of the arrival of two of our group at Bourne St in the first place, were to be placed in the church's Colombarium at the end of proceedings, and so it really did seem the right day to say our goodbyes.

The Vicar had very kindly asked if we would like a visiting preacher on the Saturday, perhaps someone well known to us who had been important in our lives as Anglo-Catholics.  Our instinctive response was to ask for Fr William Davage, then Custodian of the Library at Pusey House.  The invitation was issued and accepted, and how right we were to have asked for him.  He preached an excellent sermon on how protestantism had played a very large role in making death something awkward and not talked about, turning it into the ultimate English social faux pas.  However, towards the end, he included an extra paragraph, which while it did not deviate from his theme, worked into the discourse some references to our imminent departure.
All Masses of Requiem, all masses, said or sung, offered pro defunctis, are bittersweet occasions. Because we are human, they taste of the bitter herbs of loss, they speak of longing and yearning, of tears and sorrow at the parting of friends, the loss of their regular society, the dislocation of familiar ties of friendship, the inevitable rupture of relationships. Yet in the Requiem Mass is the sweet savour and consolation of Our Lord’s Resurrection from the dead that promises us gain not loss, consummation and fulfillment, joy and eternal felicity, the reunion and reconciliation of friends in a new and greater social harmony, in a wider fellowship and communion, the restoration of relationships. It is the new Jerusalem to which this church is only a gateway: and if this is but a gateway, think how wonderful must be the House of God, the new Jerusalem to which we are bound: "Jerusalem the golden … What social joys are there, what radiancy of glory, what light beyond compare."
We have now been through that parting of friends, and yet although we miss the loss of the regular society of so many friends, it is indeed Loss but also Gain, for now we most certainly do find ourselves in a wider fellowship and communion.  We must always give thanks for what St Mary's was to us, for it was indeed a gateway into a wider communion, and for us most definitely fulfilled the promise of the reputation in which it had so long rejoiced, of being a "bridge between Canterbury and Rome".

After the Saturday service, the PCC very kindly threw us a party, short but friendly speeches were given, fond words of farewell spoken, and then we all moved on.  We returned the next day, as there had been some talk of a formal farewell during the service, but to everyone's relief, this plan was abandoned.  As the congregation left to process around the parish, we donned our serving cassocks one last time, cleared the altar, set it up for Benediction, and slipped out quietly and unobtrusively into our new lives.  You can see below the results of our final setting up of the Martin Travers baroque masterpiece.

This blog contains frequent fond references to our past at St Mary's and to our friends there.  This is only right, it is precisely the history and tradition of that church that brought us to where we are now.  We most certainly neither regret nor deny our past, quite the opposite, and no-one has ever asked us to do so.  Yet the references carry a small risk of misinterpretation, one that cropped up recently.

I know that the person who asked this question will not mind if I report it (on a no-names basis, of course: discretion is my middle name).  Amid the joys of that happy wedding day, we were asked if we did not miss St Mary's, if we did not regret our decision.  The answer is that although we miss our old friends, we do not regret our decision : we are sure that, given our understanding of what Anglo-Catholicism was and is, we have done the right thing.

In his sermon at the Ordinariate Anniversary Evensong and Benediction in January, Monsignor Newton cited Blessed John Henry Newman's response to Cardinal Bourne's father, who had written to him following rumours that Newman was unhappy with having becoming a Catholic.
I can only say, if it is necessary to say it, that from the moment I became a Catholic, I have never had, through God’s grace, a single doubt or misgiving on my mind that I did wrong in becoming one. I have not had any feeling whatever but one of joy and gratitude that God called me out of an insecure state into one which is sure and safe, out of the war of tongues and into the realm of peace and assurance. This is my state of mind, and I would it could be brought home to all and every one, who, in default of real arguments for remaining Anglicans, amuse themselves with dreams and fancies.
There is a lot more that Newman had to say on precisely this, some of which you will find below.  One could spin this negatively and say that he had to say so much because Anglican detractors were keen to sow seeds of doubt amongst those who might have followed Newman (I leave aside the rather ludicrous argument that he said so much about being happy as a Catholic in order to hide some deep regret at leaving Anglicanism).  Being more constructive, and I would argue being far more of relevance to the situation in which some find themselves today, one can say that he had to express his happiness so often because those who have not yet made the move fear,  mistakenly if understandably, that it is a huge and difficult step.  In this approach, we take heart from Monsignor Jamieson's encouragement that Catholics define themselves as a positive people, being "for" things, whereas antitheists (defining themselves as being against God, or the idea of God) and protestants (defining themselves as being against Catholicism and/or Catholic teaching) do not share that joy of hope and optimism.

Of course, seen from this side of the Tiber, all we can say is that looking back, the step seems miniscule.  It seems utterly logical, totally inevitable, unquestionably right.  The things we thought we might find difficult quite simply have not been.   If this blog ever gives the impression of regret, then it is of regret at not seeing so many friends as often as we used to, but not in any way the slightest of regrets at our decision to become Catholics.

In the Church Times extract above, a certain Mr Knox-Little is mentioned.  Shortly after Newman's death in 1890, the Tablet carried an article called "The Outline" by Dr W Barry, which also mentions this rather distinctive name.  Dr Barry made a rather important point rather well, correcting a misunderstanding that continues from Mr Knox-Little's time to the present.
Beautiful were the tributes which Newman's death elicited from the conspicuous pulpits of Anglicanism, and most affecting to Catholics; but some of the preachers strangely misunderstood their man when they hinted, as Canon Knox-Little did, that Newman would never have left Anglicanism in 1845, had he foreseen how many Roman collars would be worn, how many beards be shaved off, how many "celebrations" be talked about, and confessions heard in the Establishment in 1890. Why, the Arians in their day had Bishops, and Masses, and organisation as perfect us that of the orthodox; but it was with Athanasius, that Newman ranged himself while still an Anglican, and it was precisely the parallel he found between Anglicans and Arians, or Donatists, that brought him at last from Oxford to Birmingham.

It was, in truth, to the Canon Knox-Littles that he addressed himself when he said: "Look into the matter more steadily; it is very pleasant to decorate your chapels, oratories, and studies now, but you cannot be doing this for ever. It is pleasant to adopt a habit or a vestment; to use your office-book or your beads; but it is like feeding on flowers, unless you have that objective vision in your faith, and that satisfaction in your reason, of which devotional exercises and ecclesiastical appointment are the suitable expression. They will not last in the long run, unless commanded and rewarded on Divine authority; they cannot be made to rest on the influence of individuals. It is well to have rich architecture, curious works of art, and splendid vestments, when you have a present God; but, oh! what a mockery if you have not. If your externals surpass what is within, you are so far as hollow as your Evangelical opponents, who baptise, yet expect no grace. Thus your Church becomes not a home, but a sepulchre; like those high cathedrals once Catholic, which you not know what to do with, which you shut up, and make monuments of, sacred to the memory of what has passed away."
Just as today, many did not see the need for Newman to have done what he did.  At the risk of being ever so slightly flippant, the Knox-Little line was that if only Newman had known that he could have decorated his church in a more attractive manner, he might not have gone to Rome, and must surely regret that he did.  Turning that argument around on itself demonstrates that its basis is insulting even to the highest of high anglo-catholicism, suggesting that if the Church of England deprived the modern day Knox-Littles of their lace, they might then have to become Catholics.  Insulting as it is, as illogical as it is, it has a certain endurance in the complaints of some even now : "Why did you need to do that?  It's awfully nice here."

Newman went further, and stated clearly in the Apologia what was so evidently true (and doesn't the last sentence just ring a few bells even today?):
I have not had one moment's wavering of trust in the Catholic Church ever since I was received into her fold. I hold, and ever have held, a supreme satisfaction in her worship, discipline, and teaching; and an eager longing, and a hope against hope, that the many dear friends whom I have left in Protestantism may be partakers in my happiness. And I do hereby profess that Protestantism is the dreariest of possible religions; that the thought of the Anglican service makes me shiver, and the thought of the Thirty-nine Articles makes me shudder. Return to the Church of England! No! "The net is broken, and we are delivered." I should be a consummate fool (to use a mild term) if, in my old age I left "the land flowing with milk and honey" for the city of confusion and the house of bondage.
A process that Newman began, and which with each twist and turn of synodical voting comes to our minds again, is the reminding the people of these islands that the claim of Rome is that it brings the teachings of Christianity with it, that it is the Church that safeguards and presents the Truth.  Dr Barry's Outlook again :
One thing he did, with such triumphant success that it need not be done again. He showed that the question of Rome is the question of Christianity. Taking Bishop Butler's great work for his foundation, he applied to the Catholic Church that "Analogy" which had proved in the Bishop's hands an irrefragable argument. As, if we hold the course of Nature to be in accordance with reason, we cannot but allow that natural and revealed religion, proceeding as they do on similar laws and by like methods, are founded on reasons too—so, if once we admit that in the Bible there is a revelation from on high, we must come down by sure steps to Rome and the Papacy as inheriting what the Bible contains. To demonstrate this was to make an end of the Reformation, so far as it claimed authority from Scripture or kindred with Christ and His Apostles. When John Henry Newman arrived at that conclusion and followed it up by submitting to Rome, he undid, intellectually speaking, the mischief of the last three centuries. And he planted in the mind of his countrymen a suspicion which every day seems ripening towards certitude, that if they wish to remain Christians they must go back to the rock from which they were hewn, and become once again the sheep of the Apostolic Shepherd. Cardinal Newman has done this great thing; and its achievement will be his lasting memorial.
If today's lengthy blogpost has included rather starker words than usual (hardly: look at here, here and here, but let us account for all readers), we would not want to leave anyone with the impression that we have no fondness or love for the Church of England, and for the part it played in our lives.  This sentiment is not to be confused with any kind of regret, but in no way do we look back in anger or bitterness.  Newman felt the same way, notwithstanding all that is in the quotations above.  His friend and fellow convert Fr William Lockhart, who left Newman's Littlemore community to join the Catholic Church before Newman did, after having perceived that Newman himself had doubts about his membership of the Church of England (even his ability to absolve after confession), said this :
We left the Church of England with grief. All the good we knew, we had learned there; we had been led step by step by God's grace, but we left, because we could not close our eyes to the fact that the Church of England was no part of a Visible Church; rather than separate from which Sir Thomas More, Bishop Fisher, and hundreds of others have laid down their lives in martyrdom.
A word of warning in conclusion.  One of our most read posts is This is the Appropriate Moment, in which those thinking of entering the Catholic Church are encouraged to do so without delay.  The Dublin Review of October 1890 includes the following text, referring to an 1871 correspondence in which Newman made perfectly clear his acceptance of what he believed to be his vocation to become a Catholic, and of the importance he attached to having done so promptly.
"As to your question," he wrote to a lady correspondent, "whether if I had stayed in the Anglican Church till now, I should have joined the Catholic Church at all, at any time now or hereafter, I think that most probably I should not; but observe, for this reason, because God gives grace, and if it is not accepted He withdraws His grace; and since of His free mercy, and from no merits of mine, He then offered me the grace of conversion, if I had not acted upon it, it was to be expected that I should be left, a worthless stump, to cumber the ground, and to remain where I was till I died."
The appropriate moment is indeed now.  Let the act of Blessed John Henry Newman, in following the Divine Will and coming into the full communion of the Catholic Church, inspire others to do so in his footsteps, and may he intercede for all those currently contemplating the same.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

(Some of) The Newer Rite is Here

Yesterday, it was announced on the Ordinariate's website that on the 22 June, the Feast of St John Fisher and St Thomas More (to which we referred here), the Vatican had approved an Order for the Celebration of Holy Matrimony and an Order for Funerals for use in the various Ordinariates established under the terms of Anglicanorum Coetibus.

For more information on the new texts, you can watch these interviews given by Monsignor Andrew Burnham to Fr James Bradley at the Church of the Holy Rood in Oxford. 

Order for Marriage from UKOrdinariate on Vimeo.

Order for Funerals from UKOrdinariate on Vimeo.

The texts most definitely constitute a vernacular rite of great beauty.  Those who labour in the error that Anglican Patrimony is a fiction will see their misunderstanding corrected (some of you might have read this post, in which we took these liturgy-obsessed critics to task).  Now we are all able to see more and more of the liturgical contribution that Anglican Patrimony can bring, as part of a wider set of gifts that our Anglican heritage carries into the rich context of the Catholic Church.

This is concrete proof that the Ordinariate, fully part of the Catholic Church, fully in communion with the Successor of St Peter, helps to bring about in most clear way possible the advancement of the Catholic Faith in the very best of the Anglican tradition.

The language of both rites is very familiar, drawn largely from the Book of Common Prayer, and from the Church of England's "Series 1", which can perhaps be described as traditional language with some helpful amendments and with some catholicisation of the original texts, filling in the gaps (eg prayers for the dead) left by the Reformation and mainstream protestant theology.

The texts are definitely not protestant texts simply cut and pasted into a Catholic setting.  They have been thoroughly reviewed, and where necessary corrected and upgraded, in order to ensure total consistency with Catholic teaching.  This is not the wholesale, unthinking introduction of the Book of Common Prayer or of Anglican liturgy in general, but rather, these new texts are perfectly in line with the words of the Anglicanorum Coetibus itself :
III      Without excluding liturgical celebrations according to the Roman Rite, the Ordinariate has the faculty to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical celebrations according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.
We have these texts for marriage and burial now, we already have some other texts (notably the rite used for Evensong and Benediction as at St James's back in January for the Ordinariate's anniversary), and very soon we shall have the Customary.  The "Ordinariate Mass" might take a little longer, but once it is ready, we can be assured that it will be totally and unquestionably consistent with Catholic teaching on the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and that it will be presented in a vernacular text and in a manner worthy of the finest Anglican traditions.

You can find these new texts, along with some explanation of the context, on the website of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, the Ordinariate formed for Anglicans joining the Catholic Church in the USA and Canada.  The texts will be used there, in the UK (the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham), and in Australia (the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross).  As and when other Ordinariates spring up (eg in South Africa), we can expect that they will be able to use the same texts.

As recent former Anglicans, we can probably be forgiven for wondering whether any of those in the Church of England will find themselves tempted to use these texts, the Customary or even the form of the Ordinariate Mass when it is available.  No doubt their diocesan bishops would not be keen on the idea, as Dr Chartres of London has already made clear.  However, in that same blogpost, More than Words, we noted, in a quotation from the St Peter's London Docks blog, a phenomenon that means that we cannot exclude the possibility that Anglican clergy will seek to use these rather good new Catholic texts.:
There seems much jumping of the gun in the use of the new Missal, in the pre-fab form which is authorised from this Sunday. One cleric told me that the Ordinariate were already allowed to use it and he thought of himself as the Church of England wing of the Ordinariate and thus permitted. It's hard to think what to say to that.
Who can say what will happen.  Although some Anglican parishes have abandoned the Roman Rite altogether since the new translation was introduced late last year, replacing it with more clearly Anglican liturgy, others have ignored Dr Chartres's views, and have pressed ahead with the new translation of the Roman Rite regardless (for the simple reason that they like it better than the 1970 version).  Moreover, as noted in our post Denial Ain't Just a River in Egypt, one can only imagine what Dr Chartres thinks of the use of pre-1955 Holy Week rites in his diocese, forms of liturgy authorised nowhere in a translation never officially recognised anywhere.

We give thanks for the promulgation of the texts of these new rites, and rejoice that they add to the Anglican Patrimony that we have been able to bring with us into the Catholic Church.  These new texts are indeed, in the words of Anglicanorum Coetibus, a treasure to be shared. 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Kirk and Rome Unite

It is always a joy to welcome fellow former Anglicans into the full communion of the Catholic Church.  This weekend, we heard of the reception of Geoffrey Kirk by Monsignor John Broadhurst, and even though this was expected (not only through the self-evident logic for an Anglo-Catholic of joining the Ordinariate, but also in the more practical fact that we spotted Dr Kirk in the congregation at the Ordinariate Anniversary Evensong and Benediction), we are delighted to learn of the arrival amongst us of so eminent a former Anglo-Catholic.

The news was announced on the Ordinariate's own website as follows:
On Sunday 1 July 2012 Monsignor John Broadhurst received The Reverend Geoffrey Kirk into the full communion of the Catholic Church through the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham at the Church of the Most Precious Blood, London.

Fr Kirk was an Anglican Priest for 40 years and Vicar of St Stephen’s, Lewisham for 30 years. As Secretary of Forward in Faith, Fr Kirk worked closely with its Chairman, Fr Broadhurst, over the past 20 years in developing Forward in Faith’s vision for unity and truth together with its statement on communion.

He also wrote extensively for “New Directions”, the monthly journal of Forward in Faith. Fr Kirk’s sponsors were Deacon Robbie Low and his wife Sara who were also both closely involved in work of FiF, Robbie was editor of "New Directions", before becoming Catholics several years ago.

The reception took place during the regular 11am Mass at the Church where the London (South) Ordinariate Group worships. Fr Christopher Pearson, the Pastor of the group, prepared Fr Kirk for his reception and said:

Many people have been inspired by Fr Geoffrey’s teaching, preaching and pastoral care over the years.  His intellect, writing and wit encouraged a generation in the Catholic movement within the Church of England. I hope that they will now be similarly inspired to follow Fr Kirk's actions in seeking visible unity.
Dr Kirk has been mentioned on this blog before, in connection with a stunning article he wrote for Forward-in-Faith's magazine New Directions.  We reproduce it in full below.  It is shocking in just how clear it is about the reality of the situation for any who still consider themself catholic in the Church of England.  It reminds the reader that inaction is not possible, an ostrich-like head in the sand approach is not possible, the Egyptian approach Denial Ain't Just a River in Egypt is not possible.  If you like what the Church of England is doing, good for you, then we can all behave like adults and wish each other well in our disagreement.  However, if you don't, then there is only one logical path for you, and it does not involve sticking your fingers in your ears, pretending nothing is happening and claiming, despite ever-increasing evidence to the contrary, to be part of the Universal Church.
‘Final Approval of the current draft Women Bishops legislation is not a foregone conclusion; the best way to secure its safe passage would be to amend it to provide properly for traditionalists; modest amendment of the legislation, together with a suitably drafted Code of Practice could yet enable the Church of England to move forward together on women bishops in 2012. Failure to amend the legislation could result in the failure of the legislation at Final Approval, which would delay the introduction of women bishops for many years to come’ Thus the leader of the Catholic Group in Synod of the forth-coming debate ¨ [note - Dr Kirk's article was written shorly before the Church of England's General Synod debates in February 2011].

So it has come to this: a movement which once embraced a vocation to reassert and affirm the Catholic nature of the Church of England, to defend its orders as those of the Universal Church, and so to progress the unity of Christendom, is reduced to horse-trading for its very existence, arguing in favour of what it most bitterly opposes in order to eke out a ghetto existence in the home it once supposed to be its own. A group of bishops, most of whom (and some immediately before they were so recently consecrated) sought arrangements of reconciliation with the Holy See, are now the sponsors of a ‘Society’ within the Church of England which promises a future which without compromise it cannot deliver.

What am I to say?

This ignominious ending to a long and hard-fought campaign is properly a cause of grief and shame. Shame, because it is a betrayal of the entire Catholic movement – of Keble as well as Newman, of Pusey as well as Froude. Grief, because it has exposed a fault-line which, in our generous optimism, many of us supposed not to be there. When Benedict XVI called their bluff, men whose rallying cry had been ‘Look to the Rock from which we are hewn!’ looked the other way. When the life-boat was launched, they complained about its colour. They claimed to act out of affection for the Church of their baptism and ordination. Tragically that is a demonstration of loyalty which, in the course of time, the Church of England will discover that it can well do without.

It may simply be that there is, even among Anglo-Catholics, a residual, irrational, atavistic anti-Romanism which the passage of time has not been able to erode. But I think there is a deeper and more disturbing explanation for this sorry state of affairs.

A characteristic of modern Anglicanism, of all parties and opinions, has been creeping indifferentism. In increasing numbers people have concluded that doctrine does not matter – that it is merely ‘theological’, in the Harold Wilson sense of abstruse and irrelevant. How vividly I remember Dennis Nineham celebrating in the college chapel in a chasuble bought by Austin Farrer, behaving for all the world as though he believed in the Real Presence, when he did not even believe in the Incarnation. And I wondered what John Keble would have made of that. The virus has proved not only lethal but catching. It was doctrinal indifferentism which allowed the development of the so-called ‘Doctrine of Reception’ which was embraced by opponents of women priests more or less tongue-in-cheek. And that has left its doleful mark.

‘Reception’ was an idea borrowed from the world of ecumenism, where for two generations and more, theologians had been practising the dark arts of fabricating agreement where truly none was to be found. By ‘Reception’ the Church of England was enabled to authorise orders about whose validity it freely admitted that it was itself uncertain – thus undermining its own trustworthiness and reliability. By ‘Reception’ bishops were enabled to license to the cure of souls ‘which is both mine and thine’ clergy about whose orders they were in doubt, and whose administration of the dominical sacraments was therefore equally dubious – thus jettisoning their own claim to be guardians of faith and sacraments.

‘Reception’ was, of course, a scam in which the proponents of women priests did not for a moment believe. By embracing it, to whatever degree, opponents nurtured the seed of their own downfall: they compromised the doctrine of sacramental assurance which lay at the heart of their ecclesiology. Now the Catholic Group is eager to ‘move forward together on women bishops’. Will they, I wonder, vote for the legislation they have so long opposed in order to secure the minimal concessions to which they are sure to be condemned? Nothing could be more demeaning; but anything is possible when principle and self-respect alike have been abandoned.

Those who live by the Synod die by the Synod. And where traditional Anglo-Catholics are concerned the writing on the Synodical wall has for some time been visible to all but the most determinedly myopic. From the failure to receive the Blackburn Report in July 2000 to the defeat of the Archbishops’ amendment in July 2010 the message has been clear. There is, therefore, something verging on the pathological about the expectation that there will be a last minute change of heart. Like a neurotic victim of domestic violence, the optimists are compulsively returning to the scene of their own suffering.

Let enough be enough. The time has come for opponents of women priests and bishops to admit that the game is up, that the battle is lost, and that the logic of the proponents’ arguments will not admit the possibility of a mixed economy. The future has already happened; let them look to The Episcopal Church of the United States and to the Church of Sweden to see the shape of things to come.
When still an Anglican, Dr Kirk gave a truly excellent talk at an Ordinariate Study Day held at St Agnes Kennington, a church which saw a significant number of its members accepting the call to unity that is at the heart of Anglicanorum Coetibus, and following Fr Christopher Pearson to form the core of the London (South) Ordinariate Group, now meeting at the Church of the Most Precious Blood near London Bridge, the church where Dr Kirk was received into the Catholic Church at the weekend.

If you have Anglican friends who are wavering about whether to become Catholics or not, I suggest that you share this video with them.  The sound quality settles down very quickly, so do bear with it.

They may find Dr Kirk's speech particularly useful if they have read the Anglican Association's "Is the Ordinariate for you? Some considerations for thoughtful Anglicans" a pamphlet reviewed very effectively by Dr Kirk here.

December 11, 2010 - Fr Kirk from St Agnes' Church, Kennington on Vimeo.

(Apologies to all Scottish readers who read the title of this blog and became over-excited.)

Monday, 2 July 2012

I Once Was Blind

Friday's Solemnity was mentioned in advance on this blog.  It was such a wonderful day that we are going to have to mention it again.  It was a day of piercing clarity, yet also of mystery as to why we had not seen the clear truth before.

Some of us attended the 11am Extraordinary Form mass at St James's, others the 6pm Solemn Mass (Ordinary Form).  I could make neither, and ended up at the 12.30pm mass at St Mary Moorfields.  This small, beautiful and historic church is in the City of London, and has a packed schedule of masses. 

The 12.30 was part of a lunchtime set of masses.  There had been a 12 noon, and there was to be a 1.05pm.  The mass I attended was pretty well attended, with the church being around half full, perhaps a touch more, and as far as I could tell by the traffic flow of people leaving as I arrived, and arriving as I left, the other masses were quite busy too.  There were other masses during the day, not least of which was an evening Solemn Pontifical High Mass in the Extraordinary Form, being celebrated by Bishop Alan Hopes.

The history of the church is worth knowing, a reminder of the tough times that Catholics in this country have endured, and how their fidelity to the Catholic Faith and to the Church has survived some very severe tests.  This from the parish website :
The roots of the parish of St Mary Moorfields go back to several chapels that sprang up in the area in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Catholic worship in those days was illegal.

The chapels were known locally as ‘Penny Hotels’, as people had to pay a penny to a man behind a grill in the door before they were allowed in.

These were hard times for Catholics. In 1736, for example, the Gordon Rioters attacked the chapel in Ropemakers Alley, ripping out its altar, fittings and crucifixes. Following the Catholic Relief Act of 1791, Catholics were permitted to worship in public. And in 1820 the first church of St Mary Moorfields opened in Finsbury Circus. As the permanent seat of the Vicar Apostolic, it served as Cardinal Wiseman's pro-cathedral from 1850 to 1869.

The church was pulled down in 1899 and replaced by the present church in Eldon Street, which was opened on 25th March 1903. The architect was George Sherrin, who also designed the dome of the London Oratory as well as several Underground stations.

We were reminded of how much it has cost some Catholics to remain true to their faith on the recent feasts of St John Fisher and St Thomas More on 22 June.  In his introduction and homily that day, Fr Colven reminded us of the horrors of the protestant reformation, and of some of the important details of the lives of these two great saints.  While each of these men were known for different things, both were undoubtedly men of integrity and virtue, whose faith came before all else, before comfortable employment, social respectability and the trappings of office.

One of the moments that was particularly striking during that mass was the reading from II Maccabees, where Eleazar's friends try to persuade him to pretend to eat the sacrificial meat while actually eating 'clean' meat that they will provide. When he refuses "Those who a little before had acted toward him with goodwill now changed to ill will, because the words he had uttered were in their opinion sheer madness."

One of the side altars at St James's is the Martyrs' Altar.  The parish website has the following to say about it :
Originally the altar of St Michael, whose statue still remains on the wall above, this altar now honours fourteen of the English Martyrs canonised in 1970. The painting that forms the reredos is the work of Geoffrey Webb. To the left is a statue of St John Fisher whose memory will always be cherished in the University of Cambridge; on the right is a statue of his friend St Thomas More honoured and loved as perhaps the finest flower of Christian humanism produced by the Renaissance. Both were martyred near the Tower of London in the summer of 1535 .

Those of you with an interest in the fascinating history of St James's Spanish Place, surely among the most colourful and intriguing of parish histories, might wish to make yourselves free on Thursday 12th July, in order to attend a talk to be given by Fr Nicholas Schofield, a trained historian archivist, who will be describing the building of the current St James's, including the historical and social context.  Tickets are selling well, and cost £20 each.

Back to the Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul at St Mary Moorfields.  The parish priest, Fr Peter Newby, a former Catholic chaplain to the University of Oxford, preached a short homily that contained an essential, and very obvious truth.   On hearing the Gospel reading for the day, which of course relates Peter's Confession and contains the famous Tu es Petrus, as we discussed in this recent blogpost, one is reminded that serving Christ can only be done in its fullness within the Church, and by that we mean within the Catholic Church, the Church that Christ himself founded on the rock of Peter.  The Christ who founded this Church, the Christ whom we seek to serve, is the true Christ, the Christ who is the Son of God, the Christ of the Gospels, not the Christ of our imaginations, of our selfish preferences, of our wishlists.  Christ truly was on earth: Peter then, and his Successor now, defend and teach His Truth.

How right this is.   For many years, as Anglo-Catholics, each of us in the Marylebone Group felt that we practised and followed the Catholic Faith, and although we prayed for the Pope, although we prayed for Unity, and although we celebrated the 29th June, we failed sufficiently to recognise the importance of being part of that One Church.  In some ways, I suppose, we felt that we knew better.  We could keep ourselves outside until other people sorted out the arrangements for some kind of corporate reunion.  For all the excitement that arises whenever people criticise the Church for regarding X or Y as sinful, surely wilfully keeping yourself outside the Church (when you believe it to be the Church) is far worse, even more so if by doing so you encourage others in the same.

Well, we now know that such arrogance was wrong.  The Holy Father offered us the chance to join the fold, and we have done so with joy.  We have taken that step, we have played our part in bringing back together the gathered flock into one fold, under one shepherd.  We were blind, but now we see.

As ever, Fr Colven's parish notes for this week provide some inspiring reading.  We will leave the conclusion to him, after having allowed a little of last Friday night's 6pm Solemn Mass to find its way into this blogpost.  It is the custom at St James's that a hymn is sung after mass (there is no need for extra-liturgical hymns to intrude in mass itself, because we are lucky enough to have a choir that sings the appointed plainchant).  After the blessing on Friday, Fr Colven announced the last hymn, which was, of course, Full in the Panting Heart of Rome (what other reaction could there possibly be to the Solemnity?), as "The moment you've all been waiting for." 

How right he was, not just about the enthusiasm of the congregation to sing this great hymn, but also about how long we had waited to be in the Church, to be Catholics, to be in communion with the Successor of St Peter.

The Rector writes :
As many of you will know, I was not born a Roman Catholic and my reception took place only in middle age. When I am asked to explain this decision, my answer consists of  the two words SAINT PETER.  The Gospel passage which we heard at Fridays’ joint celebration of the apostles Peter and Paul  (Matthew 16:13-19) underlines the Petrine nature of the Church. Jesus judges that the moment has been reached when he can ask those he has chosen about their understanding of his true identity. He begins obliquely, asking who others are saying that he is. They come up with a variety of answers. “John the Baptist” – “Elijah” – “Jeremiah”: but then the question is made specific: “But you, who do you say that I am?” Peter assumes the role of  spokesman – he articulates the faith of the others: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. A turning point has been reached. For the first time, there it is out in the open – Jesus is recognised as the One he truly is.

Jesus’ response  to Peter’s act of faith is the play on words with which we are so familiar. Peter means “rock” and he is to be the rock on which Christ’s Church will be built. The rock-man, rock hard. The keys of the kingdom are placed  firmly in this one apostle's  hands. Rightly the Catholic Church has always made much of these texts – for we believe they are not incidental – they are spoken by the Word of Truth, the one Peter recognises as God’s own Son: “It is not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”.

Peter’s central role is part of God’s will for the salvation of his people. This is why Catholics have a special respect and loyalty for the successors of Saint Peter, the popes. Just as Peter acted as the centre of unity among the first group of disciples, so the pope down through the centuries has been the linchpin, holding together the communion of the Church as it spread into differing continents and cultures. The power of the keys, the authority to teach, to decide what is authentic, and what is not, in the transmission of belief and ethics, goes to the very heart of Christian witness in succeeding ages. It is a role which becomes increasingly crucial in a world of growing complexity.

Just as it fell to St Peter to make the first definitive statement about salvation through the person of  Christ, so it is the responsibility of his successors,  currently Pope Benedict XVI, to articulate a message of salvation for our own times. His, of course, cannot be a lone voice – each of the Baptised shares the responsibility to speak up and speak out, but the Pope, as it were, focuses the message and ensures that it is given expression: "It is not flesh and blood which has revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”.
As a convert, perhaps I am allowed to say that many Catholic are not aware of the treasure that they have in St Peter and his successors – the gift is too often taken for granted! Those of us who have come late to the harvest do realise that “amidst the changes and chances of this fleeting world one firm anchor” does “hold fast”. In communion with Peter we have the guarantee that all things necessary for salvation are there within our grasp – that the truth will be proclaimed until the end of time: that evil will always be named for what it is and rebuked:  and that the tenderness of Christ will continue to be ministered sacramentally and pastorally. What more can we ask than that?