31 December 2014

Blessed Mary: A Treasury of Truth


The earthly life of the Blessed Virgin Mary marks one of the great pivotal points of history, because of the task given to her by God. And yet, this earth-shattering event took place in a surprisingly quiet way, as St. Luke tells us:

“The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God...”

And so to this, Mary said “yes,” and in her “yes” to God is a treasury of truth. Just as God heard Mary’s “yes” and so the Son was conceived in her womb, so the Church has listened to Mary’s “yes”, and it has communicated the great truths about Mary in a voice loud and clear – truths which we accept, and around which we form our devotion – because these truths about Mary speak impressively about her divine Son.

First, the Church teaches us that Mary was immaculately conceived. At the instant of Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, she was, by the special grace of God, protected from the stain of original sin. This was done because of the great destiny which was hers – that of being the Mother of God. It was her flesh which would give flesh to Jesus; it was her body which would be His tabernacle for nine months; therefore, it would be beyond possibility that the Mother of God should bear the sin of Adam, since God can endure no sin. This was taught implicitly and explicitly from the earliest days of the Church, and was confirmed and solemnly proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854, when he stated infallibly, “The most holy Virgin Mary was, in the first moment of her conception, by a unique gift of grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Redeemer of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin.”

Second, the Church teaches us that Mary was impeccable. In other words, she was never stained with any personal sin, and she was free from every moral imperfection. Certainly, she lived a human life. She had to labor, and was subject to pain and tiredness; but she, like her son Jesus Christ, had nothing in her which led her to act against the perfect moral law of God. This formal teaching of the Church is deduced from the words of the archangel Gabriel, when he addressed her as being “full of grace,” since moral guilt could not be reconciled with being filled completely with God’s grace. Once again, this teaching is defined because of Mary’s relationship with her Son, and not through simple merit of her own. She did not sin, and she could not sin, because of a special grace and privilege given to her by God, because He had chosen her to bear the Incarnate Word.

Third, the Church teaches us that Mary was perpetually a virgin. Three states of virginity are professed in this teaching: Mary conceived her Son without a human Father; she gave birth to Jesus without violating her virginity; and she remained a virgin after our Lord was born, for the rest of her life. The virginal conception is contained in all of the ancient creeds: “Jesus Christ… who was conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary...” The biblical basis of this, of course, is the prophecy of Isaiah (“A virgin shall conceive and bear a son...’), and it is confirmed by St. Matthew’s Gospel, which quotes this directly from the prophecy of Isaiah. All of the early Church Fathers confirm this teaching. The virginal birth was not questioned until a monk named Jovinian, teaching in the 4th century, said that “a virgin conceived, but a virgin did not bring forth,” and he was condemned by a synod of the Church meeting at Milan in the year 390, which was presided over by St. Ambrose. This was confirmed by the fifth general council of the Church, which was held at Constantinople in the year 553, where Mary was confirmed as being “perpetually virgin.” Certainly, the ancient theologians did not go into the physical details, but they speak in modest analogies, such as the “emergence of Christ from the sealed tomb,” his “going through closed doors,” the “penetration of light through glass,” the “going out of human thought from the mind.” The Church also teaches us of the perpetual virginity of Mary, that she remained a virgin after Christ was born. Her marriage to Joseph was a spiritual one, which was not consummated physically, and so she bore no other children. From the fourth century on, such formulas as that of St. Augustine became common: “A virgin conceived, a virgin gave birth, and a virgin remained.”

All of these truths about Mary have to do not only with her, but they are intimately related to Our Lord Jesus Christ. All of them are true, because of the one great truth of history: that Almighty God took human flesh upon Himself, and was born of this special woman, a virgin, chosen by God Himself, a Virgin prepared for this task through her immaculate conception, a virgin preserved for this task through her impeccability, a virgin honored for this task through her perpetual virginity, as a constant witness to the fact that it was her pure flesh which was given to the Incarnate Word. These truths are not simply esoteric theological statements. They are truths which impact history. They are truths which prepared for that ultimate moment of history when God entered personally into time and space.

It was at that time that Caesar Augustus, the master of the world, determined to issue an order for a census of the world which was ruled by Rome. To every outpost – to every corner – the order went out: every Roman subject must be enrolled in his own city. How far it was from the mind of Caesar Augustus, that his imperial order was a part of God’s great plan that the Saviour of the world should be born of the chosen Virgin Mary in a little-known place called Bethlehem. An order of Caesar Augustus – perhaps thought of by him only incidentally, and then ordered casually – meant that countless lives were interrupted as people gathered the necessary supplies for their various journeys.

And so it was that Joseph and Mary, this couple visited by angels and touched by God, were traveling in eternity at the order of an earthly ruler. And because of that, how things were to change! In a dirty stable, Pure Love was born. The “Living Bread come down from heaven” was laid where animals had eaten. The ancestors of Joseph and Mary, the Jews, had worshipped the golden calf, and now the ox and the ass were bowing down before their God.

As Mary fulfilled the plan of God, by conceiving and giving birth to the Christ, his passion began: He was born in a borrowed stable; He was buried in a borrowed tomb. The swaddling clothes which Mary wrapped around him when he was born looked forward to the grave-clothes which she would help to wrap around His lifeless body some thirty-three years later. The wooden manger in which His mother had laid him foreshadowed the wooden Cross from which she would receive His body into her arms.

And so in Christ, heaven came to earth, and it came through the Blessed Virgin Mother. God’s glory was announced to shepherds and to kings. And they came, as men and women have been coming ever since, to worship the Word Made Flesh. The Blessed Virgin, holding the Child Jesus, becomes truly our Mother and our example, as God calls each one of us to hold out Christ to the world – to hold Him out in our actions and in our words – so that all may come to worship Him, the Incarnate God.

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.

26 December 2014

Praying for our priests...


It is particularly at the Masses of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ that I have the greatest understanding of the bond between the priest and the Blessed Mother. As she wrapped the Holy Infant in swaddling clothes and laid Him in the manger, I have an overwhelming sense of doing the same in a mystical way, as our Lord is made present on the altar.

Please pray for all priests, especially during this Christmastide, and commend them to the intercession of St. John Vianney, who is the patron of priests.
O Almighty and Eternal God, look upon the Face of Thy Christ, and for love of Him Who is the eternal High-priest, have pity on Thy priests. Remember, O most compassionate God, that they are but weak and frail human beings. Stir up in them the grace of their vocation which is in them by the imposition of the Bishop's hands. Keep them close to Thee, lest the enemy prevail against them, so that they may never do anything in the slightest degree unworthy of their sublime vocation.

O Jesus, I pray Thee for Thy faithful and fervent priests; for Thy unfaithful and tepid priests; for Thy priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields; for Thy tempted priests; for Thy lonely and desolate priests; for Thy young priests; for Thy aged priests; for Thy sick priests; for Thy dying priests; for the souls of Thy priests in Purgatory.

But above all I commend to Thee the priests dearest to me: the priest who baptized me; the priests at whose Masses I assisted and who gave me Thy Body and Blood in Holy Communion; the priests who taught and instructed or helped me and encouraged me; all the priests to whom I am indebted in any other way. O Jesus, keep them all close to Thy heart, and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen.

Mary, Queen of the clergy, pray for us; obtain for us many and holy priests. Amen.

(Pictured here is the statue of St. John Vianney, located in the Chapel of the Most Sacred Heart at Our Lady of the Atonement Church, with a first class relic of the Patron of Priests.)

25 December 2014

Pray for our deacons...


On this Feast of St. Stephen,
pray for our Deacons,
Michael D'Agostino and James Orr.

ALMIGHTY God, who by thy Divine Providence hast appointed divers Orders of Ministers in thy Church, and didst inspire thine Apostles to choose into the Order of Deacons the first Martyr Saint Stephen, with others; Mercifully behold thy servants; replenish them so with the truth of thy Doctrine, and adorn them with innocency of life, that, both by word and good example, they may faithfully serve thee, to the glory of thy name, and the edification of thy Church; through the merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and for ever. Amen.

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.

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 Saviour. 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)

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.

24 December 2014

The time of quiet silence...


"When all things were in quiet silence and night was in the midst of all her swift course, thine Almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne..."

Frequently in the mysterious unfolding of the dramatic events of the redemption of mankind God has used the gentleness of the night as the setting of His great and mighty acts. It is as though God, in His kindness and love for us, does not wish to startle us with the intensity of His glory, and so He covers His activity with the night. When the children of Israel were released from bondage in Egypt, the angel of death passed over them during the night.  While they were on their journey to the Promised Land, the Lord sent life-giving manna during the night.  Jesus instituted the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and imparted the priesthood after the sun had set and the shadows of evening had come upon Him and His apostles.  The Crucifixion itself, even though it took place in the midst of the day, brought a cover of darkness at its moment of climax.  The resurrection of the Lord, breaking the bonds of Satan, took place while it was yet dark. And the momentous event of this holy season, when Almighty God was born as Man of the Virgin Mary, it took place not in the glare of sunshine, but in the midst of the silence of night.

How different these events would have been if we could have planned them. They seem to call for parades, for loud announcements, for a blazing sun and for great activity! In a world which has been shrunk by the media, where the desire is to be noticed, with our uncomfortable feeling about self-effacement, God comes among us in a way which seems strange—a way which is difficult for many to accept. We have grown accustomed to thinking that humility must have ulterior motives, and that silence is simply an absence of sound. But how like God it is, to enter the world when so few were looking, to send His Word down from heaven when so few had ears to hear. He works this way today, too, for He touches us when we least expect it, giving hope and comfort and love when those things seem not to be within reach.

Perhaps it is not so strange, after all, that God should come in darkness, for it tells us most eloquently that God is Light—the Light that drives darkness from our path. In the midst of the darkness of this world, our Holy Mother the Church takes us by the hand and leads us towards the Light which was born in Bethlehem, towards the Light which could not be forever extinguished on Calvary, towards the Light which burst forth from the tomb on the third day. It is darkness which makes us see the glow of a candle, just as it is our own realization of the darkness of our sinfulness that makes us reach out towards the Light which is Christ.

Could it be that the confusion which we see around us, whether it is confusion in the world or confusion within our own household of faith, is to serve the same purpose? Perhaps, in the midst of it all, God is urging us on by His own example, to quietly but faithfully bring the Light of His word to illuminate the darkness. Rather than turning on the glare of indignation and self-righteousness, which only makes the shadows more harsh, perhaps God would have us hold up the simple light of His truth, as it is manifested in our blessed Lord Jesus.

When God was born in Bethlehem, He made a poor stable to be His glorious tabernacle. As He carried out His earthly ministry, the world was hallowed anew as His dwelling-place, and as He lives within each of us, so we are His temples. Just as a candle burns before the tabernacle in every Catholic Church, indicating that Jesus the Light is truly there, so our faith, which we express by words and deeds, serves as a spiritual candle burning before the eyes of the world, proclaiming to all that Jesus our Lord is here! He is the God who came at night to drive the darkness away forever. May we, by faithfully reflecting the Light of Christ, banish darkness from our own lives, and from the night which surrounds us.

23 December 2014

It's that time of year...


This is the time of year when we come across tiresome statements about the Holy Family, all in an effort to make them into some kind of political symbol, I suppose.  If I could make it clear:
  • They were not homeless.  Joseph and Mary each came from perfectly good homes in Nazareth, and they were no more homeless than I was during the time we lived in England, when I had to travel from my home in Bristol up to the American Embassy in London to register the births of my children when they were born.  I'm sick of the stories that make them sound like vagrants, having to find shelter under the nearest interstate overpass.  The inn was full, yes.  All the inns were full.  Bethlehem was packed full of people.  It wasn't out of cruelty that the innkeeper offered them the stable.  It was probably done as a favor to them.  Inns were notoriously seedy places, and the stable was probably a whole lot cleaner and more private.  Homelessness in our society is a sad and tragic thing, caused by various circumstances.  But let's not use the Holy Family as a prop in the lobby for the homeless.
  • They were not illegal aliens.  Joseph and Mary were obeying civil authority when they went to the city of David, because Joseph was descended from King David. They weren't fleeing from an oppressive regime in Nazareth, and they weren't scrounging for work in Bethlehem so they could send some denarii back to the folks in the old country. Nor was that the case when they went to Egypt.  Yes, they were fleeing from a cruel ruler, but they weren't crawling through barbed wire or hiding from border agents.  They simply crossed over into Egypt because borders were immaterial. Whatever one's opinion is about illegal immigration, Joseph and Mary don't lend themselves as examples for any argument one way or the other.  The circumstances just don't fit.
  • They were not living in poverty.  Ok, they weren't rich.  But they weren't eating out of garbage cans or subsisting on food stamps, either.  Joseph, as a carpenter, had a perfectly respectable trade.  In fact, his occupation is described as tekton, which is more like a general contractor.  Mary's parents were respectable people.  Tradition hints that Anne was descended from one of the high priests of the Temple, and Joachim was well-off enough to have a flock of sheep, indicating that Mary's background was not one of grinding poverty, any more than was Joseph's.
The Holy Family is just that: the Holy Family.  Their place in history is unique.  But every year we're treated to shallow words by politicians and newspaper hacks who think they're expressing deep thoughts, using the Holy Family to make some point or other about social ills.  These usually are the very people who are horrified by the mention of religion at any other time of the year.

I used to read that stuff and then fire off a letter to the editor.  Now I give it a place of honor at the bottom of the bird cage.

St. John Cantius


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.

21 December 2014

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.

16 December 2014

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.
This changes the acrostic from "Ero cras" [Tomorrow, I will come] to "Vero cras" [Truly, tomorrow].


15 December 2014

Honors Choir: O Magnum Mysterium

The Honors Choir at The Atonement Academy sings "O Magnum Mysterium" by Morten Lauridsen.


O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.
Alleluia.

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
Alleluia!

(If there is no image, you may go to this link.)

14 December 2014

St. Augustine Boychoir


Our St. Augustine Boychoir took part in the annual Nine Lessons and Carols at Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church.  As expected, they were wonderful, as were all our other parish choirs.

13 December 2014

Gaudete.


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.

11 December 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe


The miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, shows a woman with native features and dress. She is supported by an angel whose wings are reminiscent of one of the major gods of the traditional religion of that area. The moon is beneath her feet and her blue mantle is covered with gold stars. The black girdle about her waist signifies that she is expecting a child. Thus, the image graphically depicts the fact that Christ is to be "born" again among the peoples of the New World.

O God, who in the blessed Virgin Mary didst consecrate a dwelling place meet for thy Son: We humbly pray that we, observing the appearing of the same blessed Virgin, may obtain thy healing both in body and soul; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

10 December 2014

Forty-four years ago...



Bakerville United Methodist Church, New Hartford, Connecticut.


Forty-four years ago, on December 11, my wife JoAnn and I were married in the little church pictured here.  We'd known one another all our lives.  Our grandparents had been friends.  When we were married, JoAnn was eighteen and I was twenty, and we had no idea of the adventure God had in store for us.  We've been blessed with five wonderful children, all happily married, and our grandchildren are our joy.  We began as Methodists, became Episcopalians, and then found our true spiritual home in the Catholic Church.  We've lived in some remarkable places and have been called by God to do some unexpected things. 

As the wife of a priest, there are not many who could have walked in trusting faith as she has, giving her quiet support to what God has asked us to do, sacrificing without complaint, providing stability in every new and uncharted situation to which God has called us.

Forty-four year ago we began a wonderful and unexpected adventure... and still it continues.

Most gracious God, we give you thanks for your tender love in sending Jesus Christ to come among us, to be born of a human mother, and to make the way of the cross to be the way of life. We thank you, also, for consecrating the union of man and woman in his Name. By the power of your Holy Spirit, pour out the abundance of your blessing upon this man and this woman. Defend them from every enemy. Lead them into all peace. Let their love for each other be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads. Bless them in their work and in their companionship; in their sleeping and in their waking; in their joys and in their sorrows; in their life and in their death. Finally, in your mercy, bring them to that table where your saints feast for ever in your heavenly home; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

08 December 2014

Sermon from Advent II

In the Advent sermon series on the Four Last Things, here is the link for the sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Advent, "Judgement."

07 December 2014

05 December 2014

St. Nicholas of Myra


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.

02 December 2014

Seeking Asst. Organist/Choirmaster


Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church and The Atonement Academy seeks a qualified individual to fill the position of Assistant Organist and Choirmaster. This multi-faceted, full-time position provides a unique experience working in a choir school setting. The applicant should possess excellent keyboard and interpersonal skills, as well as a desire to provide the highest quality accompanying, hymn-playing and solo organ repertoire at liturgies. The qualified candidate will assist with teaching and accompanying the choirs in the academy, assist with accompanying for rehearsals and Masses in the church, and other duties as assigned by the Director of Music.

More information on the Atonement Academy Music Department may be found at this site. Further information on the parish choirs at this founding parish of the Anglican Use in the Roman Catholic Church may be found here.

Salary is commensurate with experience. Health insurance is included.

Instruments include a 3-manual, 50 rank Casavant pipe organ and a 1 manual, 7 rank Laukuff organ (chapel).

Requirements for the position include:
• Minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree in Music (emphasis in organ performance or choral conducting)
• Excellent sight-reading, hymn-playing and improvisation skills
• High level of proficiency in vocal pedagogy as it pertains to children’s and young adult voices, choral conducting and organ service playing.
• Practicing Roman Catholic in good standing

Additional knowledge and experience in the following will also be taken into consideration:
• Music education methods such as Kodaly, Ward or Royal School of Church Music.
• Experience working with singers of all ages, especially children, and a desire to instill in them an appreciation for great choral music of the Church.
• Familiarity with Catholic liturgy; knowledge of Gregorian chant, Anglican chant, hymnody and sacred choral repertoire appropriate for treble and mixed voices.


Interested applicants should submit cover letter, résumé and three references to:

Brett Patterson
Director of Music and Organist
Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church and The Atonement Academy
15415 Red Robin Rd.
San Antonio, TX 78255
(210) 695-2944

Contact Email: bpatterson@atonementonline.com.

29 November 2014

The Advent Sermons


The sermon topics for Advent 2014 will be the Four Last Things: 

Advent I - Death
Advent II - Judgement
Advent III - Heaven
Advent IV - Hell

Sunday Masses are celebrated at 7:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 6:00 p.m.

Beginning Advent...

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.

25 November 2014

The Academy Honors Choir sings...

The Atonement Academy Honors Choir sings "Let the People Praise Thee, O God" by William Mathias (composed for the marriage of HRH The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer). The link is here.

21 November 2014

The Presentation of Mary in the Protoevangelium of James

"The Presentation of the Virgin" 1504-08, by Vittore Carpaccio.

The Protoevangelium of James is one of several non-canonical documents originating in the early centuries of the Church. This "gospel," which is incorrectly attributed to James, the foster-brother of our Lord, actually dates from the mid-3rd century. It has value for us because it gathers together many traditions, especially concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary, which were known and accepted by members of the early Church, but which are not found in the canonical Scriptures.

From the Protoevangelium of James, n.7:
"And the child was two years old, and Joachim said: Let us take her up to the temple of the Lord, that we may pay the vow that we have vowed, lest perchance the Lord send to us, and our offering be not received. And Anna said: Let us wait for the third year, in order that the child may not seek for father or mother. And Joachim said: So let us wait. And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. In thee, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of lsrael. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her."

19 November 2014

Word from Cardinal Müller...


A letter was sent to us from Bishop Kevin Vann, Ecclesiastical Delegate for the Pastoral Provision, informing us that His Eminence, Gerhard Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has communicated that “the Congregation grants permission for the parishes of the Pastoral Provision to use Divine Worship: Occasional Services.  It is envisioned that the Divine Worship Missal for the celebration of Mass will be complete and promulgated… and you may expect that a similar permission will be granted to the Pastoral Provision parishes for the Missal as well.”

The Occasional Services include the Rites of Baptism and Holy Matrimony, as well as Burial of the Dead.  The Vatican has entrusted the preparation and printing of the ritual books to the Catholic Truth Society in London (www.ctsbooks.org).  The latest word is that the Missal will be ready sometime in 2015, perhaps in the first quarter. 

The material contained Divine Worship is a revision of the Book of Divine Worship (which we now use), and is the product of many months of work by the interdicasterial commission whose task it was to identify Anglican liturgical patrimony, incorporating it into Catholic worship.  We are grateful to His Eminence and the Congregation for providing for us with the liturgical textual continuity which has been the hallmark of our parish worship for some thirty years.

We will begin incorporating the Occasional Services during the Advent Season.  As the date for the new Missal’s official promulgation approaches, we will highlight some of the changes in the bulletin to prepare the congregation.  The alterations, many of which had been requested originally in 1983, are worthy additions and we look forward to incorporating them in our parish worship. 

Lamb Divine, Saviour King


Jesus Christ, our Saviour King,
unto thee thy people sing;
hear the prayers we humbly make,
hear them for thy mercy's sake.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls, and make us thine.


Give us eyes that we may see;
give us hearts to worship thee;
give us ears that we may hear;
in thy love, Lord, draw us near.
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls, and make us thine.


In our darkness, shed thy light;
lift us to thy heav'nly height;
may we be thy dwelling-place:
tabernacles of thy grace
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
fill our souls, and make us thine.


In thy Kingdom grant us rest,
in Jerusalem the blest;
with the saints our lips shall sing,
with the angels echoing:
Lord Jesus Christ, O Lamb Divine,
thou dost reign, and we are thine!


Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1990
Music: "Lucerna Laudoniæ" by David Evans (1874-1948)

18 November 2014

Parable of the Talents

This is the sermon from the XXII Sunday after Trinity, the 33rd Sunday of the Year. It looks at the scripture readings for the day: Proverbs, St. Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians, and culminating in St. Matthew's record of Christ's Parable of the Talents. You may listen to the sermon at this link.

14 November 2014

Building for the future...



THE ATONEMENT ACADEMY COLLEGE PREPARATORY

AUTUMN 2014 REPORT

BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE

The Atonement Academy is the single most important apostolate of our parish. As the people of God, we support pro-life efforts because we teach the sanctity of human life in our classrooms. Together, we support the dignity of the human person and the truth about Christ by teaching children the Catholic faith in its entirety. Together, we are changing the future of the Church and the world through our children. From its small beginning in 1994, The Atonement Academy has grown to be a regional attraction for students, drawing them from over 25 zip codes and four counties surrounding Bexar County. We have developed a positive reputation even beyond our borders, too. Almost six percent of our population are carefully-selected international students from Mexico, the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines, who bring a charm all their own and uniquely contribute to our strong Catholic and classical culture. We are a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence and twice the recipient of the Cardinal Newman Society’s Honor Roll of Top Catholic High Schools in the nation. Here’s one of the reasons: our average SAT score in Math and English is 1129 for our junior class. Our seniors’ average is 1138. By comparison, Northside ISD averages 972 in Math and Reading; Texas SAT average is 976.

Our recognition has put a strain on our existing classrooms. At 570 students this academic year, (almost identical to our enrollment in the last three years), The Atonement Academy is at capacity in the current building, so the need to expand our classrooms is a necessary one, which we are doing! After years of planning, we are excited that construction has begun on our 117,000 sq. ft. expansion. This time last year, we were making earnest preparations for “Phase 1 and 2” of the expansion plan, which involved the construction of 19 new classrooms and four science labs, plus a dining hall, two practice gymnasiums, more offices and site preparations which include additional parking. We’ve revised our site plan and goal since the short 2010 Capital Campaign, making the design more cost-effective without sacrificing the needed classroom space. Because of your generosity, we have continued to revise our plans and have elected to build the entire complex, including the auditorium shell, though it will not be finished-out when construction is completed. Although we are doing well in our financial goals, your ongoing participation as a tithing member of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church is vital to the success of our expansion and the overall well-being of our parish. Unlike other parishes who lack schools, and have no interest in supporting one or establishing one, we’ve chosen another path – one in which we think the Church urgently needs in this age: a well-educated, well-informed and faithful generation of young people.

Here’s where we are and here’s how we’re going it with God’s blessings…

Our current financial position is healthy for both the church and school. The church, originally built in 1983-85, and expanded in 2003-05, is totally debt free. The St. Joseph Parish House is debt free. The St. Anthony Hall, built in 1997, is debt free. The only debt we service is the school expansion (completed in 2005). Those payments are approximately $24,000 per month, and we owe about $1.6 million on the remaining note, at a 4.12% interest rate, to be completed in 2020.

Due in part to a rise in student enrollment over last three years and good fiscal stewardship, The Atonement Academy is self-sustaining without a parish subsidy to its Operating Budget and will contribute over a half million dollars this academic year to the construction costs, its third year in a row to do so. How can you help?

PRAYER AND FINANCIAL SACRIFICE

As the history of this parish shows, God provides. He provides, but we pray! Every parishioner, young or mature, should consider making it his or her prayerful intention over the next year to support this expansion project. Prayer moves mountains. It moves people to stop and reassess their lives, and it moves people to be generous. In addition to prayer, we need each member of the parish, and even beyond our community, to contribute financially. The gifts of each and every person are vital to the success of our on-going efforts. Reflect on how greatly God has blessed us as individuals and as a parish family, and give thanks to God for these blessings by prayerfully considering what you can do to help.

• PLEDGES OF CASH GIFTS • GIFTS OF STOCK. You may call our financial representative at USAA and he will assist you making a transfer from your portfolio to ours. Contact Mr. Vincent Knodell directly at 210-456-7012. • TITHING. All excess money (that which is beyond what is needed for the budget) given to the church through your tithes goes automatically to the Academy Building Fund.

12 November 2014

Father Paul, Mother Lurana, and Unity

St. Francis Chapel, Graymoor, New York

Here's an excellent article about our spiritual patrons, Father Paul and Mother Lurana, founders of the Society of the Atonement and source of our own title, Our Lady of the Atonement.  This is a rather good history, although near the end it veers a bit towards the usual weak understanding of ecumenism, but I urge you to read the whole thing.  You'll learn a lot about our own spiritual roots. This article appears in The Living Church, an Anglican publication.

Father Paul Wattson and the Quest for Church Unity

by Patrick J. Hayes

Early one morning last summer, I walked out to the precipice of a “holy mountain.” I looked out and saw the fog lifting from an immense and undulating forest below, like incense from a thurible. I knew I was walking on holy ground and I soaked up the silence, interrupted only by the stray bird on the wing. In this sweet-smelling, bounteous setting I was a pilgrim. There at the ledge was the grave of Father Paul James Francis Wattson, founder of the Society of the Atonement, a group of friars that established themselves for the strict purpose of uniting the branches of the Christian family.

Fr. Wattson’s life is less well known than his legacy and it is deliberate that his grave should rest in a somewhat remote corner of the property at Graymoor, the Atonement friars’ headquarters in Garrison, N.Y. The career of Fr. Wattson is subordinate to his singular ambition to fulfill the Lord’s command that “all may be one” (John 17:21) — words that today emblazon the friars’ coat of arms (ut omnes unum sint) and motivate their ministry. From their outpost on this holy mountain and in centers around the globe, the Atonement friars are responsible for inserting the “Church Unity Octave” into the liturgical calendar.

It began first in the United States at Graymoor in 1908 and was later called the “Chair of Unity Octave” to emphasize its Petrine dimension. It has now given way to theWeek of Prayer for Christian Unity, which since 1966 has been a joint project of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The Week of Prayer is marked in churches around the world each January 18–25.

The role of the Church Unity Octave was not merely to repair relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, but was an active and prayerful attempt at returning the Anglican world to pre-Reformation bonds with Rome. The idea for this festival of unity emerged in the simple exchange of words between friends. It is easy to pinpoint the exact date, too. On Nov. 30, 1907, Fr. Wattson was writing out replies to letters he had received the previous day. Among his correspondents was his friend and fellow priest, the Rev. Spencer John Jones, the Anglican rector of St. David’s Church, Moreton-in-Marsh, England. Fr. Jones suggested that a special sermon be given on Christian unity in every church in the Anglican Communion on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, to restore unity in the one Church of Christ. Fr. Wattson agreed and asked his correspondent what he thought of “inaugurating a Church Unity Week beginning with S. Peter’s Chair at Rome, January 18, and ending with S. Paul’s Day.” Fr. Jones picked up this idea and helped promote it throughout Europe; Fr. Wattson reached the multitudes everywhere else.

Behind this expression of Fr. Wattson’s thinking lay a longstanding commitment which was in gestation since his boyhood. Born Lewis ThomasWattson in Millington, Md., in 1863, he was the son of the Episcopal rector of the little parish of St. Clement’s, whose only notable feature was the white Communion table, a gift from Queen Anne. Fr. Wattson’s father, Joseph, had been expelled from General Theological Seminary, and sometimes labeled a “Jesuit in disguise,” but was brought into the ministry through the graciousness of Bishop William R. Whittingham of Baltimore.

The elder Fr. Wattson was never able to escape the whispers of his leanings toward Rome. Many at the time considered any rapprochement toward Roman Catholicism a blasphemy, and such openness was roundly condemned by people like the Rev. A. Cleveland Coxe, rector of Grace Church, Baltimore. Writing in an introduction to Frederick Meyrick’s Moral Theology of the Church of Rome (Baltimore, 1856), Fr. Coxe made no bones about his stance: “Papal Rome, like Rome Imperial, has but one instinct, and that is—Empire. Its undying part is the iron will, by which all humanity must be crushed into subjection.”

We know that young Fr. Wattson read this kind of literature, just as he observed the whispers surrounding his father, whom he revered. Lewis would go on for schooling out of state at St. Mary’s Hall in New Jersey and then to St. Stephen’s College (now Bard College) before entering General Seminary. He was ordained in 1885 and, after a brief parish assignment in Maryland, he became the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, N.Y. He remained there for the next ten years.

Biographers later would describe the young priest as a “High Churchman” and one endowed with an “extraordinary preaching ability.” But they also noted how he seemed somewhat reclusive, almost given to a monastic lifestyle. His early spirituality, deeply imbued with biblical literalism, is seen as giving way to his growing interest in religious life, especially Franciscanism, which prized personal poverty as given in a common rule even while working to eradicate poverty in the society. In his sermons, he spoke from the heart, almost never reading from notes, and balanced his words with his deep knowledge of Scripture. Invitations soon began to pour in for Fr. Wattson to come and preach beyond his own congregation. As a way of spreading his thought, in May 1894 he began to publish The Pulpit and the Cross.

These two-fold venues—the pulpit and the press—allowed Fr. Wattson to communicate his ideas of engagement with the Roman Catholic Church. In 1895, he understood the doctrine of papal supremacy — delineated in the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Aeternus at Vatican I (1870) — as both a test of American democracy and itself a religious problem. All Roman Catholic bishops in the United States were agents of a foreign bishop, he contended, and so had “no lawful jurisdiction” on these shores. He often wrote on sacramental questions and papal authority, always respectfully critiquing the position held by Rome. Why couldn’t Roman Catholics see their errors? Or was it Fr. Wattson and his tribe that were somehow misunderstanding?

A combination of questioning and a search for a deeper interior life came to a head in 1895. That summer he was approached by a group of unmarried Episcopal men living a semi-monastic life in Omaha. They wondered whether Fr.Wattson would agree to be their superior. He gave it three years before returning to New York, even more confused than before.

Fr. Wattson’s reputation caught the attention of Lurana Mary White, who first contacted him in 1896. She was then living in a diocesan community of Episcopal women in Albany — the Sisters of the Holy Child—and had also been hoping to form a sisterhood that would embrace corporately and individually the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Searching for a community of this sort proved difficult in the United States and so she joined the Sisters of Bethany in London.

After a year’s novitiate, and having accepted the brown habit and cord of the Franciscans, she entered a new phase of her spiritual life. Before returning to America in 1898, she made a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi where, she later wrote, she became “guilty of a pious act of duplicity.” While touring St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, she left her party long enough to kiss the foot of the statue of St. Peter.

She brought Fr. Wattson to her family home in upstate New York, where a kind of mutual epiphany occurred. Forming a spiritual alliance that would last all of their lives, in December 1898 Mother Lurana took possession of a piece of property to begin a new religious community. In the spring of 1899, the two would launch their new venture—the Society of the Atonement — from an abandoned farmhouse and chapel on a hilltop in Garrison.

Over the course of the next ten years, a steady creep toward Rome was in evidence. His study of religious life was augmented by a year’s trial in the Fathers of the Holy Cross at Westminster, Md., and in 1900 he also accepted the habit of a Franciscan friar, taking the name Paul James. Fr. Wattson soon found himself back in New York, building up Graymoor and touring nearby churches. In 1901, he was invited to preach before an Episcopal congregation in Long Island and chose as his topic “The Reunion of Christendom and the Chair of Peter.” It was difficult to hear him over the noise of those vacating the church. Undeterred, in 1903 he began to publish The Lamp, a magazine advocating greater ties with Rome through the acceptance of papal infallibility. Another publication, The Antidote, specifically set an apologetic tone to counteract the anti-Roman vitriol of The Menace, a Midwestern publication that had nearly 1.5 million subscribers.

In his work to allay suspicions over foreign encroachments in the United States, Fr. Wattson also defended those Anglicans who were scorned for trying to close the breach with Rome. Fr. Wattson looked upon the squabbles within Anglicanism less as an opportunity to grouse and more as a chance to show pastoral solicitude. Fr. Paul had a strict policy never to utter a word against Anglicanism, but chose instead to highlight the Anglican Communion’s values, the eloquence of its members, and the beauty of its sacramental life. He carried this policy throughout his life, teaching not mere tolerance but love.

This is all the more remarkable given that both Fr. Paul and Mother Lurana, along with 17 other members—sisters, friars, and laymen—were received corporately into the Roman Catholic Church on Oct. 30, 1909. In 1910, after a year’s work at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, Fr. Wattson was ordained by Archbishop John Farley of New York. “Coming over” had not been easy, but it was not a decision made in haste. Archbishop Farley communicated his own misgivings to Rome—he did not like the manner of the foundation, let alone its message. Though the corporate conversion of Fr. Paul and his companions was done through the formal rite, including an abjuration of their Anglicanism, the founder of the Society of the Atonement had made it clear that the renunciation would not be negative. There would be no curse, but a solemn recognition of the truth of personally held convictions. Fr. Wattson had written in The Lamp in 1907 that “I could not bear those people who say that the Anglican Church is a mockery.”

Even after becoming a Roman Catholic priest, he never publicly repudiated his Anglican orders. Only after dialogue with officials in the Roman hierarchy, including the prefect of the Congregation for Religious, Genarro Cardinal Falconio, and the Secretary of State to the Holy See, Cardinal Merry del Val, was the way paved for his reception.

This high-level contact proved fortuitous, because through their assistance Fr. Wattson was able in turn to present his hope for the Church Unity Octave directly to Pope Pius X, who blessed the initiative, and later Pope Benedict XV, who extended the observance to the universal Church in February 1916. In 1921, Dennis Cardinal Dougherty of Philadelphia proposed to the hierarchy that the octave be observed throughout the United States—a resolution that, for the first time in the history of American Roman Catholicism, received unanimous consent.

Roman Catholics in the United States were catching up with their Anglican brethren. The Lambeth Conference had by the late 1870s proposed a season of prayer for Christian unification and in the 1890s the Archbishop of Canterbury ordered that fitting prayers be spoken on Whit Sunday. In the United States in 1913, the Faith and Order Commission of the Protestant Episcopal Church published a pamphlet of prayers commending church unity on Whit Sunday. By 1915, a full-scale manual of prayers was drawn up. Fr. Wattson’s own ecclesiastical superior, now Cardinal Farley, was reluctant to entertain his proposal for fear of confusion among the faithful or, worse still, communio in sacris.

By contrast, Farley’s successor, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Patrick Hayes, was among the first prelates in the United States to advocate for the Unity Octave. Archbishop Hayes, it might be noted, was notoriously scrupulous in avoiding any engagements with Protestants, but he saw in this movement an opening that was ecclesiastically legal, satisfying of Jesus’ own command, and productive of good will. His instinct in approving the work of Fr. Wattson proved important for the future of the Week of Prayer, for without the archbishop’s approbation, the friar could not have continued in as successful a fashion as he did. Throughout his tenure, the archbishop’s relation to the Church Unity Octave was as a “participant observer” — frequently allowing Fr. Wattson the use of the pulpit at the Cathedral of St. Patrick to promote the cause of unity.

Not everything was so sunny, however, for Fr. Wattson. He experienced several difficulties with members of his new fraternity, and this would prove a mild distraction compared to his legal woes. As the superior of the convent of sisters, he had charge of their welfare. The convent’s property was owned by three women — all good Episcopal ladies of Garrison — who had permitted the sisters’ growth but never signed over a deed. Trustees of St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had stood as a ramshackle chapel on the property before the arrival of Mother Lurana, evicted the sisters in 1910, one year after they had become Roman Catholics.

Mother Lurana chose to follow the longstanding Franciscan principle of offering no resistance, thinking it better to be homeless than to be the source of conflict. Fr. Wattson saw the matter differently and vowed to pursue it in court—a decision that carried on for the next seven years. An agreement was struck, however, when Fr. Wattson met Hamilton Fish II on Election Day in 1917. Fish was not only a well known politician in the state of New York; he was also the senior warden of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Garrison. When Fr. Wattson explained his legal troubles, Fish offered to broker a settlement, which was finally won in March 1918, by an act of the New York legislature. As a side note, all of the original owners of the property became Roman Catholic and two are buried in the sisters’ cemetery at Graymoor. But the lesson of the story is simple: cooperation in the Christian household always brings a greater yield and is one more visible token in praise of God’s glory.

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The 1920s and ’30s were building years for the order, which constructed a seminary, a printery, shrine chapels and St. Christopher’s Inn, a treatment center. The numbers of sisters and friars burgeoned. Always the message was the same: unity is the hallmark and sustenance of the work. But as Fr. Wattson began to slow (he died in 1940), his allies in the nascent ecumenical movement picked up the charge. In Belgium, Dom Lambert Beaudoin founded in 1925 a Benedictine community that took shape at Chevetogne for the express purpose of praying for unity—originally with the Orthodox, but now with all Christians.

From the Archdiocese of Lyons, France, Father Paul Couturier (1881–1953) spread the message of prayer for unity “as God wills it and by the means that he wills.” Fr. Couturier changed the tenor of the prayer, however, away from reunion of all others with Rome by reflection on a once-shared past to a more concerted effort on the part of all Christians to work toward future unity par cum pari—literally, on equal footing. This, he said, could only be done together; it could not be expected that non-Romans would simply see the light. This plea was heard by Trappistines in Grottaferrata, Italy, and some began, in the late 1930s, to devote their prayer lives to building religious bridges. When temporal unity finally occurs, it will rest on the storehouse of supernatural graces stocked by so much fervent prayer.

Fr. Wattson’s Spirit and Ordinariates

The theme for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “You Are Witnesses of These Things” (Luke 24:48). Coinciding with the Scottish centennial celebration of the World Mission Conference at Edinburgh, widely acknowledged as an ecumenical milestone, the theme strikes at the soul of collaboration between churches: what we memorialize together, what we work on, what we anticipate through God’s grace. Whether we speak in a prophetic voice, like the Paul Wattsons of a prior generation, there is always a call to set aside a passive stance and move.

Action of some sort never negates a stillness of mind and heart, but flows from it. Achieving that quietude comes from asking ourselves sometimes difficult questions: What do I believe? To whom shall I turn? Who am I? What is impressive about the path Fr. Wattson took is not so much his rather spectacular conversion or the issues attendant upon it, as much as the authenticity of its genesis, together with its manifold fruits. Roman Catholics cannot ignore the abiding fealty Fr. Wattson had toward the purest elements of the Anglican spirit, since part of that is its desire toward the vocation of unity. In an era of ordinariates, Roman Catholics will do well to observe how a new injection of Anglican culture into their midst will serve to heal and make whole again a body broken for too long.

In speaking of ordinariates today, canon lawyers refer to “extra-territorial” sees or “non-territorial particular churches,” which serve as instruments for service to the people of God that have, for purposes of identification, no visible boundaries but a clear governance structure that is necessarily flexible to meet extraordinary circumstances. One reason for the recent Anglicanorum Coetibus, the apostolic constitution of Pope Benedict XVI establishing personal ordinariates for those Anglicans entering a new relation with the Roman Catholic Church, is to supply a flexible response to legalistic questions. Both communions will do well to study whether the ecclesiological principles articulated in the constitution will be in service to the great challenge of ecumenism in our time, particularly as it conforms or departs from the legacy of visionaries like Fr.Wattson.

Among these principles is a recognition of the action of the Holy Spirit working as “a principle of unity” to establish the singular “Church as a communion.” What appears to some to be a wayward cluster of Anglican congregations may actually hold promise as a vehicle for tutelage and mutual understanding, on all sides, in rendering a new vista for ecclesial unity.

Patrick J. Hayes has a doctorate in theology from the Catholic University of America and has taught at Fordham University and St. John’s University in New York. He is at work on a study of Roman Catholics in the New York Archdiocese between 1865 and 1938.