30 December 2013

Videos: Midnight Mass of Christmas; Nine Lessons and Carols



For anyone who would like to view a video of the Midnight Mass of Christmas at Our Lady of the Atonement parish, you may do so at this link.

You can enjoy the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at this link.

St. Sylvester, Pope and Confessor


St. Sylvester was born in Rome and was ordained to the priesthood by Pope St. Marcellinus. This took place during a brief time of peace for the Church, immediately preceding the persecutions of Diocletian. Sylvester was one of the clergy who survived the cruelties during the reign of terror which ensued, and eventually saw the triumph of Constantine in the year 312. Two years later he succeeded St. Melchiades as Bishop of Rome.

The Council of Nicaea was assembled during Pope St. Sylvester's pontificate, in the year 325. By that time he was advanced in years, and so was not able to attend personally. He sent legates to the Council, and because they were the Pope's personal representatives, their names appear first among the signatories of the Decrees, preceding the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch. St. Sylvester was Pope for twenty-four years and eleven months, and he died in the year 335.
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we on this day devoutly observing the feast of thy holy Confessor Saint Sylvester, may thereby increase in godliness to the attainment of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

A Visit to the Christmas Crib


In the Name + of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

OUR FATHER.    HAIL, MARY.    GLORY BE.

V. The Word was made Flesh. R. And dwelt among us.

O Divine Redeemer Jesus Christ, kneeling before thy crib, I believe that thou art the God of infinite majesty, even though I see thee here as a helpless babe. Humbly I adore and thank thee for having so humbled thyself for my salvation as to will to be born in a stable. I thank thee for all thou didst wish to suffer for me in Bethlehem, for thy poverty and humility, for thy nakedness, tears, cold and sufferings.

Would that I could show thee that tenderness which thy Virgin Mother had toward thee, and love thee as she loved thee. Would that I could praise thee with the joy of the angels; that I could kneel before thee with the faith of Saint Joseph; the simplicity of the shepherds. Uniting myself with these first worshippers at the crib, I offer thee the homage of my heart, and I beg that thou wouldest be born spiritually in my soul. Give me, I pray thee, the virtues of thy blessed Nativity.

Fill me with that spirit of renuniciation, of poverty, of humility, which prompted thee to assume the weakness of our nature, and to be born amid destitution and suffering. Grant that from this day forward I may in all things seek thy greater glory, and may enjoy that peace promised to men of good will.

Sweet Babe of Bethlehem, I praise thee, I bless thee, I thank thee. I love thee with all my heart. I desire to worship thee, and to be like thee in all thy holy and blessed ways.

O Holy Mary, as I here adore thy Divine Son, pray for all little children, that they may be protected from all harm and danger, and that they may grow in grace and in favour with God and man.

We pray thee, O Father, that the holy joy of Christmas may fill our minds with thoughts of peace, and our hearts with a sense of thy great love: hasten the time when war being done away, we may love as brethren, and bring in the reign of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In the Name + of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

28 December 2013

Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket


The murderers of St. Thomas Becket entered Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170.  They called out for the archbishop, and finding him, they came at him with their swords.  When one of the swords was brandished at the head of Thomas, a young cleric named Edward Grim reached out to protect the archbishop.  As the sword came down, Edward's arm was severed.  He survived, however, and left this account of that terrible day.
After the monks took [Thomas] through the doors of the church, the four aforementioned knights followed behind with a rapid pace. A certain subdeacon, Hugh the Evil-clerk, named for his wicked offense and armed with their malice, went with them - showing no reverence for either God or the saints because by following them he condoned their deed. When the holy archbishop entered the cathedral the monks who were glorifying God abandoned vespers - which they had begun to celebrate for God - and ran to their father whom they had heard was dead but they saw alive and unharmed. They hastened to close the doors of the church in order to bar the enemies from slaughtering the bishop, but the wondrous athlete turned toward them and ordered that the doors be opened. "It is not proper," he said, "that a house of prayer, a church of Christ, be made a fortress since although it is not shut up, it serves as a fortification for his people; we will triumph over the enemy through suffering rather than by fighting - and we come to suffer, not to resist." Without delay the sacrilegious men entered the house of peace and reconciliation with swords drawn; indeed the sight alone as well as the rattle of arms inflicted not a small amount of horror on those who watched. And those knights who approached the confused and disordered people who had been observing vespers but, by now, had run toward the lethal spectacle exclaimed in a rage: "Where is Thomas Becket, traitor of the king and kingdom?" No one responded and instantly they cried out more loudly, "Where is the archbishop?" Unshaken he replied to this voice as it is written, "The righteous will be like a bold lion and free from fear," he descended from the steps to which he had been taken by the monks who were fearful of the knights and said in an adequately audible voice, "Here I am, not a traitor of the king but a priest; why do you seek me?" And [Thomas], who had previously told them that he had no fear of them added, "Here I am ready to suffer in the name of He who redeemed me with His blood; God forbid that I should flee on account of your swords or that I should depart from righteousness." With these words - at the foot of a pillar - he turned to the right. On one side was the altar of the blessed mother of God, on the other the altar of the holy confessor Benedict - through whose example and prayers he had been crucified to the world and his lusts; he endured whatever the murderers did to him with such constancy of the soul that he seemed as if he were not of flesh. The murderers pursued him and asked, "Absolve and restore to communion those you have excommunicated and return to office those who have been suspended." To these words [Thomas] replied, "No penance has been made, so I will not absolve them." "Then you," they said, "will now die and will suffer what you have earned." "And I," he said, "am prepared to die for my Lord, so that in my blood the church will attain liberty and peace; but in the name of Almighty God I forbid that you hurt my men, either cleric or layman, in any way." The glorious martyr acted conscientiously with foresight for his men and prudently on his own behalf, so that no one near him would be hurt as he hastened toward Christ. It was fitting that the soldier of the Lord and the martyr of the Savior adhered to His words when he was sought by the impious, "If it is me you seek, let them leave."

With rapid motion they laid sacrilegious hands on him, handling and dragging him roughly outside of the walls of the church so that there they would slay him or carry him from there as a prisoner, as they later confessed. But when it was not possible to easily move him from the column, he bravely pushed one [of the knights] who was pursuing and drawing near to him; he called him a panderer saying, "Don't touch me, Rainaldus, you who owes me faith and obedience, you who foolishly follow your accomplices." On account of the rebuff the knight was suddenly set on fire with a terrible rage and, wielding a sword against the sacred crown said, "I don't owe faith or obedience to you that is in opposition to the fealty I owe my lord king." The invincible martyr - seeing that the hour which would bring the end to his miserable mortal life was at hand and already promised by God to be the next to receive the crown of immortality - with his neck bent as if he were in prayer and with his joined hands elevated above - commended himself and the cause of the Church to God, St. Mary, and the blessed martyr St. Denis.

He had barely finished speaking when the impious knight, fearing that [Thomas] would be saved by the people and escape alive, suddenly set upon him and, shaving off the summit of his crown which the sacred chrism consecrated to God, he wounded the sacrificial lamb of God in the head; the lower arm of the writer was cut by the same blow. Indeed [the writer] stood firmly with the holy archbishop, holding him in his arms - while all the clerics and monks fled - until the one he had raised in opposition to the blow was severed. Behold the simplicity of the dove, behold the wisdom of the serpent in this martyr who presented his body to the killers so that he might keep his head, in other words his soul and the church, safe; nor would he devise a trick or a snare against the slayers of the flesh so that he might preserve himself because it was better that he be free from this nature! O worthy shepherd who so boldly set himself against the attacks of wolves so that the sheep might not be torn to pieces! and because he abandoned the world, the world - wanting to overpower him - unknowingly elevated him. Then, with another blow received on the head, he remained firm. But with the third the stricken martyr bent his knees and elbows, offering himself as a living sacrifice, saying in a low voice, "For the name of Jesus and the protection of the church I am ready to embrace death." But the third knight inflicted a grave wound on the fallen one; with this blow he shattered the sword on the stone and his crown, which was large, separated from his head so that the blood turned white from the brain yet no less did the brain turn red from the blood; it purpled the appearance of the church with the colors of the lily and the rose, the colors of the Virgin and Mother and the life and death of the confessor and martyr. The fourth knight drove away those who were gathering so that the others could finish the murder more freely and boldly. The fifth - not a knight but a cleric who entered with the knights - so that a fifth blow might not be spared him who had imitated Christ in other things, placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr and (it is horrible to say) scattered the brains with the blood across the floor, exclaiming to the rest, "We can leave this place, knights, he will not get up again."

But during all these incredible things the martyr displayed the virtue of perseverance. Neither his hand nor clothes indicated that he had opposed a murderer - as is often the case in human weakness; nor when stricken did he utter a word, nor did he let out a cry or a sigh, or a sign signaling any kind of pain; instead he held still the head that he had bent toward the unsheathed swords. As his body - which had been mingled with blood and brain - laid on the ground as if in prayer, he placed his soul in Abraham's bosom. Having risen above himself, without doubt, out of love for the Creator and wholly striving for celestial sweetness, he easily received whatever pain, whatever malice, the bloody murderer was able to inflict. And how intrepidly - how devotedly and courageously - he offered himself for the murder when it was made clear that for his salvation and faith this martyr should fight for the protection of others so that the affairs of the church might be managed according to its paternal traditions and decrees.
Below: the site of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket.

Becket: The Film

Here's the complete "Becket," surely one of the greatest films made -- or, perhaps it's great because of the saint it portrays.





























Away in a manger...


One of my very earliest Christmas memories was learning to sing "Away in a manger" for a pageant. I must have been very young indeed, because I can remember it hadn't been too long before then that I had stopped sleeping in a crib, and I had the thought that we could probably give the one I had been using to the baby Jesus. It was a charitable thought which never worked out, but I've always loved the lullaby that inspired it.

Here's the traditional first verse, with three others I wrote for the Feast of the Holy Family.

Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

Dear Mary, his Mother, sang sweet lullabies,
as Jesus, awaking, gazed into her eyes.
The most holy Virgin, with loving caress
embraced the world’s Savior with Love’s tenderness.

Good Joseph stood guarding the Mother and Child,
his soul filled with awe and his heart undefiled.
The birth of young Jesus made angels to sing,
but Joseph in silence kept watch o’er his King.

What once was a stable may our hearts become;
may God’s holy fam’ly in us find a home.
With Mary and Joseph and angels above
we worship the Infant, the gift of God’s Love.

Text: V.1, Traditional,
vv. 2-4, Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1995
Music; CRADLE SONG, William James Kirkpatrick, 1838-1921)

26 December 2013

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

The cave of St. John on Patmos.

Our spiritual journey continues during this Octave of Christmas, as we travel from the Feast of young St. Stephen to the Feast of the aged St. John. And what a journey he made, being taken from tending his fishing nets by the Galilean sea to a cave of exile on the island of Patmos. In both places he was called by the Lord Jesus; first, to listen to the Divine Word so he could follow, and second, to record the Divine Word so those of us who have come later can also follow.

On one of our parish pilgrimages we went to Greece and Turkey, where we visited the cave in which St. John received the apocalyptic vision. As many holy places as I have visited, rarely have I been as affected as I was while standing in that place. There it was that the Risen Lord spoke to John with a power so overwhelming that a fissure was left overhead, dividing the rock into three pieces as a reminder that the Trinity had revealed the truth on that spot. Every place one looked, there was a reminder of John: the hollow in the rock where he rested his head when he grew so tired he could no longer stand upright; the sloping shelf on which the Revelation was recorded. It was all I could do to keep my shoes on my feet, so clearly was this "holy ground." It seemed as though the breath of history was held in that place, and that the apostle would at any moment appear once again to take up his pen to continue recording the living and awe-full word of the Lord. But of course, that could not be. It was there, in that cave, that the final word was spoken. What St. John heard there was the last word of truth. There is no more to be revealed; all we can pray for now is for our increased understanding of what Christ has spoken once for all. Here are the last words the Lord spoke to the last living apostle, written down with trembling hand:
"I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star." The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen.


The icon pictured here was obtained during a parish pilgrimage, which included a visit to the island of 
Patmos, where St. John had been exiled and where the Revelation was given to him by the Risen Christ. This image hangs in the Chapel of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, near the altar.

Shed upon thy Church, we beseech thee, O Lord, the brightness of thy light; that we, being illumined by the teaching of thine apostle and evangelist St. John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that we may at length attain to the fullness of life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

25 December 2013

St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr


I find it spiritually invigorating to move so rapidly from celebrating the birth of Our Lord, into the next day's commemoration of the first one to die for his faith in that same Lord. St. Stephen - the great deacon, the compelling preacher, the martyr whose blood was a seed of faith in St. Paul - his was a life which showed very early that the Catholic faith was not designed for cowards!

St. Stephen has been something of a patron saint for me for many years, but in an unconventional way. In 1975, I was ordained as an Anglican deacon in Bristol, England, and was assigned to St. Stephen's Church, Southmead, which was one of the post-war council housing estates outside the city. The martyr Stephen had never been particularly important to me up to that point, but a spiritual bond began, which caused me to want to know more about him. The idea of his intercessory role in my life was not part of my thinking at that time in my spiritual life, but as I look back, I can see that was exactly what was happening.

In 1976, my ordination as an Anglican priest took place in St. Stephen's Church, Providence. Oddly, the thing I remember most about that day was kneeling before Bishop Belden, wishing that he was a Catholic bishop so that I could be a Catholic priest. Why should such an idea have come into my mind at that very moment? Because of St. Stephen's prayers, no doubt. Of course, at that time it was a ridiculous thought, and I pushed it aside as being one of those silly things that pops into one's head at odd times. Now I can see that it was God's plan for me being unfolded gradually. Only a few years later, Pope John Paul II approved the Pastoral Provision, which allowed that very thing to happen.

When I celebrate Mass each year on St. Stephen's Day, it is a special day for me. It always has a sense of quiet holiness, after the crowded Masses of the day before. It is a day when I especially give thanks to God for the priestly vocation He has given me, and the day serves as a reminder to me that the diaconate remains part of priestly ministry. Even the year when my father died on St. Stephen's Day, it was bittersweet - it seemed to me to be right for such a good man to have died on the feast of such a good saint.

Pray, good St. Stephen... pray for us all.

Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings here upon earth for the testimony of thy truth, we may stedfastly look up to heaven, and by faith behold the glory that shall be revealed; and, being filled with the Holy Ghost, may learn to love and bless our persecutors by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen, who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those who suffer for thee, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

24 December 2013

St. Francis at Greccio

It was in a grotto at Greccio on Christmas Eve in 1223 that St. Francis created the first creche depicting the birth of our Savior. It was a simple affair, but as word spread throughout the area the people began to arrive with torches and candles. There they heard the Poor Man of Assisi read the Gospel telling of Christ's birth in Bethlehem, and he preached about Jesus taking poverty upon Himself, so that we might become rich in our love for God.

Since that time, the scene has been recreated in our homes and in our churches, in places public and private, allowing us to "go to Bethlehem, to see this great thing which has come to pass..."


Away in a manger, no crib for his bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head.
The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

Dear Mary, his Mother, sang sweet lullabies,
as Jesus, awaking, gazed into her eyes.
The most holy Virgin, with loving caress
embraced the world’s Saviour with Love’s tenderness.

Good Joseph stood guarding the Mother and Child,
his soul filled with awe and his heart undefiled.
The birth of young Jesus made angels to sing,
but Joseph in silence kept watch o’er his King.

What once was a stable may our hearts become;
may God’s holy fam’ly in us find a home.
With Mary and Joseph and angels above
we worship the Infant, the gift of God’s Love.


Text: V.1, Traditional
Vv. 2-4, Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1995
Music: Cradle Song, William James Kirkpatrick, (1838-1921)

23 December 2013

St. John of Kanty


Born in the town of Kanty, near Krakow, St. John Cantius was a professor of theology, a parish priest, and a man whose life exemplified the Gospel.  Known for his Christian charity, he would often give away his food and clothing to those in need.  On the wall of his room he had written, "Conturbare cave, non est placare suave, diffamare cave, nam revocare grave." (Guard against causing trouble and slandering others, for it is difficult to right the evil done.)

O Almighty God, who hast compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses: Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of thy servant St. John Cantius, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at length, through thy mercy, we may with him attain to thine eternal joy; through Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

20 December 2013

Nine Lessons and Carols

Sunday, 22 December, at 4:00 p.m.
featuring our four parish choirs,
comprised of more than a hundred voices,
all giving Glory to God!

This will be live-streamed on
http://www.ustream.tv/channel/atonementonline


17 December 2013

Late Advent


As we begin this time of Late Advent, so we begin the great “O" Antiphons, which lead up to the Vigil of the Nativity. Each antiphon highlights a title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel (O God With Us), and they are taken from the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Messiah.

The order of the antiphons isn't accidental. If we work backwards, beginning with the last title and take the first letter of each antiphon — Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia — the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” The Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and to whom we refer in these seven Messianic titles, tells us: “Tomorrow, I will come.”

There is, however, another antiphon which is firmly part of our Patrimony.

Of course, most of the Catholic Church already shares our Patrimony’s gift regarding the O Antiphons in the metrical translation of these antiphons, the universally beloved: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” That translation is, in large part, the work of the famed Anglican priest, translator and hymnographer, John Mason Neale (1818-1866), to whose scholarly and literary gifts the Anglican Church owes its recovery of the great treasury of pre-Reformation Latin hymnody.

But regarding the antiphons themselves, check any of the Latin originals or Anglo-Catholic liturgical revival English translations of the venerable Sarum Use Missals and Breviaries and you may be surprised to see, in the Kalendar of these volumes, the notation O Sapientia (the first of the O Antiphons) opposite December 16 rather than December 17, which is a clear indication that in the Sarum Use, the O Antiphons began a day earlier than they did in the Roman Rite. This is because there was an extra O Antiphon proper to the Sarum Use.

Sarum began the O Antiphons with O Sapientia on December 16th because on December 23, as the Roman Rite was completing its cycle of the O Antiphons by singing its seventh one, “O Emmanuel,” the ancestors of the Anglican Patrimony, having sung “O Emmanuel” the day before, December 22nd, were completing their O Antiphons by singing their unique eighth O Antiphon — a most fitting antiphon indeed to echo throughout the monasteries and churches of the land known then – and now again – as “Our Lady’s Dowry,” the antiphon O Virgo virginum:
O Virgo virginum, quomodo fiet istud? quia nec primam similem visa es, nec habere sequentem. Filiae Jerusalem, quid me admiramini? Divinum est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? for neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? the thing which ye behold, is a divine mystery.

16 December 2013

A Child's Prayer


Jesus, Lord and Saviour, hear me as I pray;
Jesus, Son of Mary, stay with me today.
Jesus, keep me faithful, loving, good and true;
Jesus, help me always trust and follow you.

To all those around me, help me show my love;
In my words and actions, like the saints above;
Guide me, dear Lord Jesus, in my work and play;
Grant that I may please you, now and ev’ry day.

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1994.
Music: Adoro devote, Plainchant, French church melody, 1697.

This is sung each day by the students of The Atonement Academy, as a Post-Communion Hymn at Mass.

14 December 2013

Gaudete Sunday


Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son, Jesus Christ, came to visit us in great humility: that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead; we may rise to the life immortal. Through the same Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Gaudete.  Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice: let your moderation be known unto all men: the Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing: but in every thing, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. Ps. Lord, thou art become gracious unto thy land: thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.  Gloria Patri.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee: grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

13 December 2013

St. John of the Cross


St. John of the Cross was born in Spain in 1542, and he learned some important lessons from his parents -- especially the importance of sacrificial love. His father gave up tremendous wealth and social status when he fell in love and married a weaver's daughter, and was disowned by his noble family. After his father died, John’s mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the examples of sacrifice that John followed as he came to know that one great love in his own life -- God.

When the family finally found work, the family still lived in poverty. When he was only fourteen, John took a job caring for people in a hospital for those with incurable diseases or who were insane. It was in the midst of this poverty and suffering that John learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.

St. John eventually became a priest and joined the Carmelite order. This was at the time of great Saint Teresa of Avila, and she asked him to help her in her efforts to reform the Carmelites, who had become very worldly. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer, but many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John's own order kidnapped him. He was locked in a cell which was only six feet by ten feet, where he was frequently beaten. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolate cell, his love and faith continued to grow. He had nothing left but God -- and God brought John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.

After nine months, John escaped. Taking only the mystical poetry he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. He managed to hide from his pursuers, and from then on his life was devoted to sharing and explaining his experience of God's love.

"What more do you want, o soul! And what else do you search for outside, when within yourself you possess your riches, delights, satisfaction and kingdom -- your beloved whom you desire and seek? Desire him there, adore him there. Do not go in pursuit of him outside yourself. You will only become distracted and you won't find him, or enjoy him more than by seeking him within you."
Saint John of the Cross
Priest, Mystic, Poet, Doctor of the Church

O God, who didst give to blessed St. John of the Cross, thy Confessor and Doctor, grace to show forth a singular love of perfect self-denial and of bearing thy Cross: grant, we beseech thee; that we cleaving steadfastly to his pattern, may attain to everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

12 December 2013

St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

Lucy’s name has as its root the Latin word for light, lux. This makes her commemoration all the more meaningful during this time of Advent, as we increase each week the number of candles we light on the Advent wreath, reminding us that our lives are to be more and more illumined by the light of Christ.

We can be certain that there was a young Christian girl named Lucy who lived at the end of the 3rd century and into the beginning of the 4th century, because devotion to her is widespread from the 4th century on. Lots of the details of her life, however, come from legends and stories which were told from one generation to the next – and although the stories no doubt have some factual basis, many of the details were added over the years.

So what do we know about her? We know that Lucy’s father died when she was very young, because there is no mention of him whatsoever in the stories about her. Lucy’s mother, Eutychia, suffered from a serious sickness for many years, and she was unable to find any doctor who could help her. Young Lucy had heard of the healing power of the prayers of a young girl, St. Agatha, who had been martyred for the faith. The story is that St. Lucy convinced her mother that they should travel to the tomb of St. Agatha, so they could ask for her prayers for Lucy’s mother. They prayed all night, even falling asleep at the tomb. In her sleep, Lucy had a vision of St. Agatha, and at that moment, her mother Eutychia was cured.

Now, it happened that some time before this, Eutychia had arranged a marriage for Lucy with a young man who was a pagan, but Lucy insisted that she wouldn’t marry, and that the money which would have been used for her dowry should be spent on the poor. In fact, Lucy gave away everything she owned, including her property and her jewelry. News of this came to the attention of the young man whom she was supposed to marry, and he became very angry. He went to the local authorities to report that Lucy was a Christian – and this was a time when it was illegal to belong to the Church.

She was condemned to prison, but when the guards came to take her away, they found that it was impossible to lift her. No matter how much they tried to lift her, she seemed to become immoveable. It is said that she was killed when they plunged a dagger into her throat, and the story is that they had gouged out her eyes before her death. She is often pictured in art with two eyes on a plate, and for that reason she is the patroness of those who are blind or who have any disease of the eyes.

She is Lucy – lux – who lived and died in the light of Christ.

Almighty and everlasting God, who dost choose those whom the world deemeth powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of thy youthful martyr St. Lucy, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Britten's "Saint Nicolas"


11 December 2013

Our Lady of Guadalupe


O God who by thy power and mercy didst bless the Americas at Tepeyac with the presence of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe: Grant that by her intercession all men and women may accept each other as brothers and sisters; and through thy justice in our hearts, may thy peace reign in the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

10 December 2013

Pope St. Damasus I


Pope St. Damasus is one the many popes whose name isn’t immediately recognizable to most people, but whose faithful service in the Chair of St. Peter is still reflected in the Church today. Damasus had served as a deacon under Pope Liberius, whose pontificate was filled with upheaval from both outside and inside the Church. In fact, when Pope Liberius died in the year 366, there were riots that broke out over the election of his successor. Most people favoured the deacon Damasus, a Roman who was of Spanish descent. Damasus was a very faithful man who upheld the fullness of the Catholic faith, and although there were some who supported another man whom they tried to install as pope, but Damasus finally was installed, with the Emperor Valentinian interceding to expel the anti-pope.

A time of peace in the Church came with Pope Damasus, and he was able to concentrate on the growth and strengthening of the Church. He knew the importance of the Holy Scriptures in the life of the Church, and one of his first projects was to gather together a list of the books of the Old and New Testaments, which until this time had been scattered piecemeal throughout the Church. He then asked his longtime friend and secretary, St. Jerome, to translate the Bible into Latin. St. Jerome’s Vulgate translation still serves as a foundation to the study and translation of the Scriptures to this very day.

Damasus had a great devotion to the martyrs who had gone before, and he searched out the tombs of the martyrs which had been blocked up and hidden in the catacombs during previous times of persecution, and he marked their tombs with beautiful slabs of marble. He lighted the passages of the catacombs, and encouraged the Faithful to make pilgrimages to the burial places of the martyrs. Damasus also beautified existing churches, on the principle that the worship of God demands our best, and that places of beauty can point us to heaven.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Damasus was a strong defender of the orthodox Catholic faith, making it a point to publicly condemn various heresies which had crept into the Church, especially the heresy of Arianism. If fact, the place of Peter and his successors was never more respected as it was during the time of Pope Damasus, and he spent much of his energy in promoting the primacy of the Holy See, even leading the civil Roman government to recognize the special rights of the Church in society.

Pope St. Damasus was able to bring peace and strength to the Church, which had been so fractured under his predecessor, and this holy man died on this day in the year 384, after serving the Church as the Supreme Pontiff for eighteen years.
O Lord God, who art the light of the minds that know thee, the life of the souls that love thee, and the strength of the hearts that serve thee: Help us, following the example of thy servant St. Damasus, so to know thee that we may truly love thee, and so to love thee that we may fully serve thee, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

08 December 2013

Advent II

Merciful God, who didst send thy messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

06 December 2013

St. Ambrose


St. Ambrose was born around 339 in what is now France, the son of the Roman prefect of Gaul. Following his father's footsteps, Ambrose embarked upon a career in law and politics and by 370 AD, he had become the Imperial governor of Northern Italy, where the main city was Milan. In about 374 the bishop of Milan died. At this same time, the Arian heresy that argued against the divinity of Christ threatened to destroy the Church. The bishop, who wasn’t a very good one, had supported the Arians. So now, the question was, who would take his place - an Arian or a Catholic? Both sides met in the cathedral and a riot broke out.

Public order was Ambrose's responsibility as governor so he hurried to the church and made a passionate speech not in favor of either side, but in favor of peace. He begged the people to make their choice without fighting, using restraint and moderation.

Suddenly, while he was speaking, what sounded like a child’s voice called out, "Ambrose for bishop!" Soon everyone was shouting, "Ambrose for bishop!" The neighboring bishops and the Emperor convinced him to accept this call as the will of God, and so the catechumen Ambrose was baptized and ordained first deacon, then priest, then bishop, all in a single week!

This politician, now suddenly a bishop, was very much aware of his lack of preparation for this great responsibility and so set himself immediately to prayer and the study of Scripture. His deep spirituality and love of God's Word, put together with the speaking skill he had acquired in law and politics, made St. Ambrose one of the greatest preachers of the early church.

St. Ambrose proved to be a fierce opponent of heresy. He battled to preserve the independence of the Church from the state and courageously excommunicated the powerful Catholic Emperor Theodosius I, who had massacred a group of innocent people in Thessalonica. St. Ambrose also had a significant impact on sacred music through the composition of hymns and psalm tones that are known to this day as Ambrosian chant. Besides many sermons and treatises on the spiritual life, Saint Ambrose is responsible for two of the first great theological works written in Latin, De Sacramentis on the Sacraments and De Spiritu Sancto on the Holy Spirit.

Around 385, a young man who was a teacher of rhetoric named Augustine came to hear Saint Ambrose preach in order to study his speaking technique, and in the process, was attracted to the Catholic faith. In 386 Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose and went on to become bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Ambrose and his pupil, Augustine, together with St. Jerome and St. Gregory the Great, make up the four original Doctors of the Latin Church. Saint Ambrose, the great bishop of Milan, died on Holy Saturday (April 4) in the year 397 AD. His feast day is December 7, the day he was ordained bishop.

O God, who didst give to thy servant St. Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim thy righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honour of thy Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellency in preaching, and fidelity in ministering thy Word, that thy people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

05 December 2013

St. Nicholas, Bishop

St. Nicholas was born of Christian parents in the last part of the third century, and was raised in the Faith. His parents died when he was young, and they left him a large sum of money. Rather than using this for himself, Nicholas secretly disbursed his fortune to those who were in particular need.

His uncle was the archbishop of Myra, and he ordained Nicholas and appointed him to be the abbot of a nearby monastery. At the death of the archbishop, Nicholas was chosen to fill the vacancy, and he served in this position until his death. About the time of the persecutions of Diocletian, he was imprisoned for preaching Christianity but was released during the reign of Emperor Constantine.

There are lots of stories surrounding the life of Saint Nicholas, one of which relates Nicholas' charity toward the poor. A certain man, who was the father of three daughters, had lost his fortune, and finding himself unable to support his daughters, he was planning to sell them into slavery. Nicholas heard of the man's intentions and secretly threw three bags of gold through a window into the home, thus providing dowries for the daughters, enabling them to be married. There are other stories of his generosity in giving to others, but he always tried to do it secretly.


Relic of St. Nicholas, in the Lady Chapel.


Almighty God, who in thy love didst give to thy servant St. Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea: Grant, we pray thee, that thy Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

03 December 2013

St. John Damascene


The following account is from the Catholic Culture website:

St. John of Damascus or Damascene, the last of the Greek Fathers, was one of the principal defenders of the veneration of images against the Iconoclasts, who condemned this practice.

When John was born, Damascus was under the jurisdiction of caliphs, but Christians were allowed to hold high offices. John's father was chief revenue officer of the caliph and a sterling Christian. He entrusted his son's education to a monk, Cosmas, who had been brought from Sicily as a slave, and who schooled the young man in theology, the sciences, and poetry.

John succeeded his father in office, and while living at the court gave an example of a model Christian. But he had set his sights higher, and after resigning his office he became a monk at St. Sabbas monastery near Jerusalem. Here he spent his time writing books and composing hymns. When Leo the Isaurian issued decrees against the veneration of images, John took up the challenge and wrote treatises defending this ancient practice.

At this time the Patriarch of Jerusalem, desirous of having John among his clergy, ordained him priest and brought him to Jerusalem. After some time, however, John returned to the monastery and devoted the rest of his life to writing. His most important work is his Fountain of Wisdom, in which he compiled and collated the teachings of all the great theologians before him; this is the first attempt at a Summa Theologica, a summary of philosophy and theology, that has come down to us. John's writings are a rich treasure of ancient traditions, and are held in high esteem. Pope Leo XIII declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1890.

St. John was such a great orator that he was known as Chrysorrhoas ("golden-stream"). He was the last of the Greek Fathers of the Church, and the first of the Christian Aristotleans. He also adapted choral music for use in the liturgy. His eloquent defense of Christian images has given him the title of "Doctor of Christian Art."

Confirm our minds, O Lord, in the mysteries of the true faith, set forth with power by thy servant St. John of Damascus; that we, with him, confessing Jesus to be true God and true Man, and singing the praises of the risen Lord, may, by the power of the resurrection, attain to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

02 December 2013

St. Francis Xavier


This account of St. Francis Xavier is excerpted from A Saint A Day by Berchmans Bittle, O.F.M.Cap.

St. Francis Xavier, one of the Church's most illustrious missionaries, came from a noble Basque family in Spain. He studied at the University of Paris, where he taught philosophy after obtaining his degree of master of arts. Here he met Ignatius of Loyola and was enrolled as one of the first seven Jesuits. They decided to go to the Holy Land, but the war between the Turks and Venice prevented this, so for a time Francis labored at Padua, Bologna, and Rome.

In 1540 Ignatius chose him as the first missionary to the Portuguese East Indies. Francis sailed from Lisbon armed with four papal briefs making him nuncio with full powers and recommending him to the Eastern princes. He landed at Goa in India and began a vast apostolate lasting over ten years. Here he instructed the adults, gathered the children by ringing a bell in the streets, catechized them, and also visited the hospitals and prisons. He then turned to the native Indians, teaching the simple folk by versifying Catholic doctrine and fitting the verses to popular tunes. He then went on to Cape Comorin and began the conversion of the Paravas, some days baptizing so many that at night he could not raise his arm from fatigue. Then to Travencore where he founded forty-five churches in various villages. Then to Malacca in Malaya, and for eighteen months from island to island, preaching, instructing, baptizing.

On his return to Goa he heard of the vast harvest of souls awaiting the laborers in Japan and he set out for this field with several companions, arriving at Kagoshima in 1549. He set himself to learn the language and started to preach and teach with such success that twelve years later his converts were found still retaining their first fervor. In 1551 he returned to Malacca to revisit his converts in India. Now a new goal loomed up before his eyes—pagan China, but he was not to reach it.

Arriving on the island of Sancian at the mouth of the Canton river, he became ill of a fever and would have died abandoned on the burning sands of the shore if a poor man named Alvarez had not taken him to his hut. Here he lingered for two weeks, praying between spells of delirium, and finally died, his eyes fixed with great tenderness on his crucifix. He was buried in a shallow grave and his body covered with quicklime, but when exhumed three months later it was found fresh and incorrupt. It was taken to Goa where it is still enshrined. St. Francis Xavier was proclaimed patron of foreign missions and of all missionary works by Pope St. Pius X.

Almighty God, who willest to be glorified in thy saints, and didst raise up thy servant St. Francis Xavier to be a light in the world: Shine, we pray thee, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth thy praise, who hast called us out of darkness into thy marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

01 December 2013

The Great Litany

At the beginning of Advent, it is our custom (after blessing the Advent wreath and lighting the first candle) to chant the Litany in procession through the nave of the Church, ending at the Rood.


The Great Litany


O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.

Saint Mary, Mother of God our Lord Jesus Christ,
Pray for us.

All holy Angels and Archangels, and all holy Orders of blessed Spirits,
Pray for us.

All holy Patriarchs and Prophets; Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors and Virgins; and the blessed Company of Heaven,
Pray for us.

Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses, nor the offenses of our forefathers; neither take thou vengeance of our sins. Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

From all evil and mischief; from sin; from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from thy wrath; and from everlasting damnation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all uncharitableness,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all inordinate and sinful affections; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and commandment,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion; from violence, battle, and murder; and from dying suddenly and unprepared,
Good Lord, deliver us.

By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and Circumcision; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

By thine Agony and Bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion; by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension; and by the Coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.

In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment,
Good Lord, deliver us.

We sinners do beseech thee to hear us, O Lord God; and that it may please thee to rule and govern thy holy Church Universal in the right way,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to bless Benedict our Pope, and Jose our Bishop,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to illuminate all Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, and all Ministers of thy Church, with true knowledge and understanding of thy Word; and that both by their preaching and living, they may set it forth, and show it accordingly,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to bless and keep all thy people,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to send forth laborers into thy harvest,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give to all people increase of grace to hear meekly thy Word, and to receive it with pure affection, and to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to bring into the way of truth all such as have erred, and are deceived,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give us an heart to love and fear thee, and diligently to live after thy commandments,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to strengthen such as do stand; and to comfort and help the weak-hearted; and to raise up those who fall; and finally to beat down Satan under our feet,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee so to rule the hearts of thy servants, the President of the United States and all others in authority, that they may above all things seek thy honor and glory,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to guide all Judges and Magistrates, giving them grace to execute justice, and to maintain truth,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give to all nations unity, peace, and concord,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to show thy pity upon all prisoners and captives, all who are in want, and all who are desolate and oppressed,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth, so that in due time we may enjoy them,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to preserve, and provide for, all women in childbirth, all infirm persons, and young children; and all who are bereft of spouse or parent,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to preserve all who are in peril by reason of their labor or their travel,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to succor, help, and comfort, all who are in danger, necessity, and tribulation,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to have mercy upon all men,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to give us true repentance; to forgive us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and to endue us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit to amend our lives according to thy Holy Word,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to grant that, by the intercession of all thy Saints, we may finally attain to thy heavenly kingdom,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to grant to all the faithful departed eternal rest and perpetual light,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.
Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Grant us thy peace.

O Christ, hear us.
O Christ, hear us.

Let us pray. Almighty God, who hast promised to hear the petitions of those who ask in thy Son’s Name; We beseech thee mercifully to incline thine ear to us who have now made our prayers and supplications unto thee; and grant that those things which we have asked faithfully according to thy will, may be obtained effectually, to the relief of our necessity, and to the setting forth of thy glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

30 November 2013

An Advent Meditation

 "From the Cradle to the Cross" by Michael Hayes

The season of Advent has a sense of mystery all its own. We know it best as that time of waiting before the Solemnity of the Nativity, but it contains a much more comprehensive expectation than mere preparation for Christmas. Truly, it collects the many strands of our faith, and weaves them into one fabric which is both lovely and awesome, for during Advent the cradle rests in expectation of the cross; the Child Redeemer speaks of the coming Judge resplendent in the clouds; the awaited birth of Jesus is the beginning of His passion; the swaddling-clothes prepared by the expectant Mother foretell the shroud of Christ's burial. Perhaps at no other time of the year is the totality of Christ's work put before us so clearly as it is at this time of Advent.

28 November 2013

A National Day of Thanksgiving


On this day when our nation has paused to give thanks to our gracious God, we should hear the words of President Abraham Lincoln which he spoke in 1863, in his now-famous Thanksgiving Proclamation, the proclamation which made this a national day of thanksgiving. His words about the suffering caused by war, and the terrible cost of war, are as immediate to us as they were then; his call for national unity are as necessary for us today as they were then; his call for us to remember God and the blessings we receive from him are more appropriate than ever:

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
Those are the words of one of our greatest presidents. May we, on this day, be thankful – but not just “generally thankful.” Let’s be thankful to Almighty God, who has given us the benefit of His love, and His grace, and may his blessing be with you and with your families.

24 November 2013

St. Catherine of Alexandria


Born in about 282 AD, St. Catherine of Alexandria -- who could just as well be called St. Catherine the Brilliant -- converted to the Christian faith at an early age. When she was only eighteen, she engaged in a debate with fifty pagan philosophers. Her wisdom and her skill as a debater were so great that all of them became Christians, along with about two hundred soldiers as well as many members of the emperor's family.

In about 305 AD, Catherine was sentenced to death, which would take place in a particularly barbaric way, on a spiked wheel. The moment Catherine touched the wheel, it broke into pieces, so she was beheaded.
Almighty and everlasting God, who didst enkindle the flame of thy love in the heart of thy holy martyr St. Catherine of Alexandria: Grant to us, thy humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in her triumph may profit by her example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Christ the King


The Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, was dragged before a minor earthly ruler, Pilate, and was asked the question, “Are you a king, then?” It was a simple question, and yet so fertile. As a seed bursting with the beginning of life when it falls into good soil is able to produce a harvest beyond imagining, so Christ’s answer to Pilate's question (if it had been met with some glimmer of grace, some hint of human charity) might have lifted the life of that petty potentate into the upper reaches of God’s glory, for our Lord told him “My kingdom is not of this world...” But that, Pilate could not grasp, and so instead has been immortalized with the phrase, “...suffered under Pontius Pilate...” which describes the death of the King he could never understand. We, however, have been given to know that kingdom “not of this world,” and so have been spared the blindness which afflicted Pilate. In the cross we see a throne; in the thorns we see a crown; in the wounded side we see a gateway to Christ’s kingdom, which is eternal.

22 November 2013

Mass at St. Clement's

During our recent pilgrimage to Rome, we celebrated Mass at the ancient Church of St. Clement. Here are some pictures.

Some of our students, entering St. Clement's.

The High Altar, showing the magnificent mosaic of the apse.

A brief homily.

Deacon Orr and Father Phillips, preparing the Offertory.

The elevation of the Chalice.

Ite, missa est.  Returning to the sacristy.

21 November 2013

St. Cecilia


St. Cecilia is one of several martyrs in the early Church who were young girls, and very serious about their faith. Cecilia was of noble birth. At an early age, she dedicated her life to God with a vow that she wouldn’t marry, but would give herself completely to Christ. However, her family wanted her to marry, and she was engaged to a young nobleman named Valerian. On her wedding day, she prayed to the Lord and asked Him to help Valerian to understand that she couldn’t live with him as his wife. History records, "The day on which the wedding was to be held arrived and while musical instruments were playing she was singing in her heart to God alone saying: Make my heart and my body pure that I may not be confounded." St. Cecilia's prayers were answered, and Valerian understood the importance of her vow to God. In fact, not only did he accept it, but he and his brother Tiburtius were both converted to the Christian faith, and were baptized.

At this time, Christianity was still illegal in Rome. Both Valerian and his brother Tiburtius were soon discovered to be Christians, and they were martyred. Cecilia was discovered soon after, and she was condemned to death. It required two attempts, however, before the death of Cecilia was successful. She was first locked in a bath in her own home to be suffocated by the steam. When she emerged from the bath unharmed, she was then beheaded. The stroke of the axe failed to sever her head from her body, however, and she lived for three days. During this time, she saw to the disbursment of her assets to help the poor, and she donated her home to be used as a church, and there is a great church on that site to this day, which bears her name. When Cecilia finally died, she was buried in the Catacombs of Callixtus. In the 9th century Pope Paschal I had St. Cecilia's remains unearthed from the catacombs and reported that her body was incorrupt and that her hands signaled the Trinity, with one extending three fingers and the other a single finger.
Almighty and everlasting God, who dost choose those whom the world deemeth powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of thy youthful martyr St. Cecilia, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.




20 November 2013

Presentation of Mary


St. Joachim and St. Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, had prayed for a child, and part of their prayer was the promise that they would dedicate their child to the service of God. Little did they know at that time what great service would be given by their infant daughter.

When Mary reached the age of three, her parents fulfilled their vow. Together with their family and friends, they took her to the Temple. The High Priest and other Temple priests greeted the procession, and tradition says that the child was brought before the fifteen high steps which led to the sanctuary. It is said that the child Mary made her way to the stairs and, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, ascended all fifteen steps, coming to the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest could enter. Tradition then says that the High Priest, acting outside every rule he knew, led the Holy Virgin into the Holy of Holies, astonishing everyone present in the Temple. So it was that she, whose own womb would become the Holy of Holies, came into the presence of the God Whom she would bear.

St. Joachim and St. Anne returned to their home, but the Handmaid of the Lord remained in the Temple until her espousal, where she was prepared by God and protected by angels.

O God, who on this day didst vouchsafe that blessed Mary Ever-Virgin, the dwelling-place of the Holy Ghost, should be presented in the Temple: Grant, we beseech thee; that by her intercession we may be found worthy to be presented unto thee in the temple of thy glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Remembering Bury St Edmunds


During our parish pilgrimage to England a few months ago, we were able to celebrate Mass according to the Anglican Use, in the Lady Chapel of the Anglican Cathedral of Saint James in Bury St Edmunds.

The great Benedictine Abbey of Bury St Edmunds had been the destination of large numbers of pilgrims seeking to venerate the relics of St Edmund, the Anglo-Saxon king martyred in 869, whose body had been transferred there in the 10th century.

A church has stood on this site since at least 1065, when St Denis's Church was built within the precincts of Bury St Edmunds Abbey. In the early 12th century the Abbot Anselm had wanted to make a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. He was unable to complete the pilgrimage, and instead rebuilt St Denis's and dedicated the new church to Saint James, which served as the parish church for the north side of Bury St Edmunds. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, the Abbey fell into ruins, but the Church of St James remained and became the Anglican cathedral in 1914.

So far as is known, ours was the first celebration of a Catholic Mass on this site since the suppression of the Abbey in the 16th century.

19 November 2013

St. Edmund, King & Martyr

On November 20th we commemorate St. Edmund, King and Martyr, who lived in the 9th century. He was the king of East Anglia, an independent kingdom within the confederation of kingdoms which comprised England at that time. His name, Edmund, meant “noble protection,” and as an earthly king he certainly lived up to his name. He had a reputation for compassion and the protection of the weak, of widows and of orphans. His greatest challenge, however, was the invasion of his kingdom by the Danish Vikings. They weren’t complete foreigners to the people of East Anglia. They were of the same race, and in fact, their languages were so similar that they were able to understand one another. No, there was only one essential difference between the Danish Vikings and the English - the Vikings were heathens, and the English were Christians.

The Vikings attacked and destroyed churches and monasteries, homes and villages, all throughout the kingdom. King Edmund fought side by side with the great Christian King Alfred. Edmund did his best, but he was finally overwhelmed by the huge numbers of Danes. At Hoxne in the north of Suffolk, King Edmund was captured. The Danes made him an offer: he could renounce his faith and become a puppet-king under them, or he could die. For King Edmund that was no choice at all. He would never renounce his Catholic faith, and so he chose death. There is an eyewitness report from that time, and it tells how he was scourged and bound, then tied to an oak-tree where the Danes fired arrows at him as for target practice. Finally, after suffering immensely from his many wounds, King Edmund was beheaded. His body was thrown to the wild beasts, but his loyal subjects secretly found his body, entombed him in a small chapel, and there he rested among his people. As they sought his heavenly intercession, God sent blessings upon them, and Edmund continued to be king in their hearts, as their faith in Christ the King grew stronger and stronger.

O God of ineffable mercy, thou didst give grace and fortitude to St. Edmund the king to triumph over the enemy of his people by nobly dying for thy Name: Bestow on us thy servants, we beseech thee, the shield of faith, wherewith we may withstand the assaults of our ancient enemy; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

18 November 2013

Some Thoughts On Stewardship


"Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." (Matthew 22:21).

Those of us who remember the old "Offices of Instruction" found in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer may recall what we were taught about our duty under the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” We were instructed that it meant “To keep my hands from picking and stealing: To be true and just in all my dealings.”

It is a simple instruction, and there is real wisdom in it. It recognizes that there are two kinds of stealing, two ways of depriving someone else of what rightfully belongs to him. The first is "picking and stealing," which is the plain meaning of theft as an act of undisciplined impulse. The impulse to grab what belongs to someone else truly is destructive. Is it not a sign of loving parents to teach their children how to fight this temptation, and to respect the property of others? It is evident that the urge to “pick and to steal” is very much a childish thing, and certainly not "childlike" or innocent in its results. One of the hidden costs of every purchase we make is the storekeeper’s loss through theft, passed on to his customers in higher prices. The weakest and most defenseless members of society who are most hurt most by theft-inflated prices – the sick, widows, orphans, the elderly – are the very people who are most often on severely limited incomes. In fact, there are entire neighbourhoods in our country without a single store because they have been driven out of business by “picking and stealing.”

However, the second sort of stealing mentioned in the old Instruction might be even more destructive; namely, the planned and unconscionable theft of failing to be true and just in all our dealings. The doing of truth and justice takes real effort, but so does the denying of truth and justice. If “picking and stealing” can destroy a business or a neighborhood, the refusal to be true and just can destroy an entire church, society, or nation.

People make mistakes, of course, but honest people try to learn from their errors. Honest people spend their lives trying to learn and to do what is true and just; whereas dishonest people actively cultivate an ignorance of what God demands of every human being. Even though we might pass a thousand laws to protect the innocent and to punish the guilty (and we have), no human law can possibly succeed if the law of God is despised. We have no hope of teaching or even of forcing someone else to be honest, until we have worked to keep our own hands from picking and stealing, and until we have given our own hearts over to God's justice and truth in all our dealings.

Each one of us has been born into this world with the stain of original sin, and because of that, the pursuit of justice and truth takes a life-long effort if we want to be sanctified in Christ. It is Christ who provides for our failures by offering us His Father's pardon any time we repent of our sins and confess them.

It was this same repentance that Christ was looking for from the Scribes and Pharisees when He said “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” even though it was their intention to trick him, and not to learn about justice and truth. Their question about paying taxes to Caesar was a trap. If Christ had said, “Yes, pay the tax,” the Pharisees could denounce Him to the people as a Roman collaborator. If He spoke against the tax, they could hand Him over to the Roman governour as a revolutionary (which eventually they did anyway).

Yet the Scribes and Pharisees failed to trap Him immediately, because Christ asked to see their money, which turned out to be Roman coins. Under the Jewish law which the Pharisees were claiming to be following, even touching a coin engraved with the image of a man (in this case Caesar) made a Jewish man unclean and unable to enter the Temple. But they had just come from the Temple with their pouches full of ritually unclean Roman money. The crowd which had gathered, hearing this, probably burst out laughing at the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, and at Christ’s deflation of their supposedly-clever plan to get the best of Him. So the only thing the Pharisees could do was to shake their heads in wonder, as Jesus declared, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

That word "render" is our key to understanding this teaching of Christ. It means, “to give someone else what is rightfully his.” In this case, the Pharisees had taken not only Caesar's money for their own use, but they also took advantage of the other benefits of the Roman political system. In return, they owed Caesar his taxes on that money. The tax wasn't voluntary. It wasn't a gift to Caesar. The tax was a debt, and failure to pay it would have been theft.

But if Christ’s words have bound us to meet our obligations to our civil governors, we ought not to forget the rest of His teaching that day, by which He bound us to render to God the things that are God’s. It was the Pharisees’ doctrine, and not Christ’s, that “we have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). Our Lord Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Whatever lawful authority any king or government may possess can be given only by God. No state can command our worship, because worship belongs to God alone.

One of the founding principles of the United States, now obscured by secularist propaganda, is that we Americans have no King but Jesus Christ. Our American heritage of national Thanksgiving Days and voluntary annual stewardship drives constitutes our tribute, our custom, our fear, and our honour that are owed to the Sovereign Majesty ruling us and providing for us (compare Romans 13:7, and our duties to earthly rulers). We render to God what belongs to Him by right; namely, our praise and our thanksgiving. We obey His demand for truth and justice in all our doings, and that extends to our dealings with Him. And, so, what do we owe Him?

We owe Him our first-fruits. “First-fruits” in the Bible are the first, indivisible portion of what we make or do that belongs by right to God, just as “tithes” are God's first tenth of whatever can be divided. Our lives in their totality, therefore, are “first-fruits,” because a life cannot be divided. Either life belongs to God, or it does not. In the same way, we pay to God the first, not the last, portion of our income or increase, not as a gift, but as a debt. If we neglect that, we are not giving Him what already belongs to Him, rather like a bank that refuses to return our deposits.

We must make no mistake about it: God, our King, requires tribute from us, a return on what He has given us. God is the Lord of the visible, as well as of the invisible, because He made all things – visible and invisible. We owe God our visible tribute for his visible blessings, just as much as we owe Him our spiritual worship for his invisible grace.

The Church in modern times has been weakened by the childish myth that we have more difficulties and responsibilities than did those who lived in previous generations. We have acted for a century as if we were the first people ever to have the burden of taxes, even though the Lord who taught us to pay first-fruits and tithes was Himself born in Bethlehem because his parents had gone there to pay a tax. We have acted as if money is the issue, and that money is always too scarce. Even billionaires worry that they could use “just a little more.”

But what matters is truth and justice in all our dealings, even (and perhaps especially) in our dealings with God. We cannot seriously ask for blessings from a God Whom we disobey. We cannot convert the world to a Faith that we do not practice. We cannot help the poor and the weak if we fail to use the time and the money that God has already given to us for these purposes.

As we sow, so also shall we reap (Galatians 6:7), and sowing means letting go of something, so that God can multiply it and make it great. And if this sounds too direct, consider the bluntness of God in the Holy Scriptures, where He says, “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me...in tithes and offerings.” (Malachi 3:8).

Truth and justice take courage, and we can be courageous together because two thousand years ago the Son of God offered everything to save us and to build His Church. We continue to build that Church with Him when we do our bounden duty together and render to our Father in heaven the physical worship, which is our support for His Church, which is due to Him.

But we ought also to remember that whether we render to Caesar or to God on the basis of our Lord's teaching, we are not doing something new, but we are only obeying that ancient commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.”