30 November 2016

Making Merbecke Catholic Again

Most Anglicans, when they hear the name John Merbecke, probably think immediately of the very simple and plain setting used for “The Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion.” Each year in our parish we use this setting for some of the Sung Masses in Advent and Lent. Musically it’s not terribly exciting, but that’s the point of using it during these seasons. It’s tuneful but not overwhelming, and when it’s sung by the pure voices of children, it affords an interesting seasonal change.

The roots of this little setting couldn’t be more Anglican. In 1550, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had asked Merbecke to provide service music “containing so much of the Order of Common Prayer as is to be sung in Churches.” It was to be simple and able to be sung by everyone, and the requirement was “for every syllable a note.”

We don’t know anything about Merbecke’s musical education, but apparently he was an accomplished singer and organist. Born in c.1505, by 1531 his name heads the list of choristers at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. He was appointed Organist of St. George’s in 1541. The virulent protestantism creeping through Europe was making its way into England at that time, and Merbecke was drawn into it, even though he was serving at the King’s Royal Chapel. That was a strange time – King Henry had broken with Rome, but in many ways he remained conservative in his religion, and in those circumstances, Merbecke’s protestant sympathies forced him into a double life. Of course, it couldn’t last forever, and by 1543 his protestantism was revealed. He was accused of owning and writing heretical documents – something that was, in fact, true. Along with two other colleagues at St. George’s, Merbecke was arrested. Charged with being a heretic, he was condemned to death. Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester, pleaded Merbecke’s case before the King, and he was given a reprieve. Released from his imprisonment, Merbecke returned to his post of Organist at St. George’s, where he stayed until his death in c.1585.

Although John Merbecke is probably best remembered for his 1550 work on the "Booke of Common Praier Noted," before the English Reformation he was a somewhat talented composer of liturgical music for the Catholic Church, although not many of his compositions survive. His "Missa Per arma iustitie" is still available, as well as the Marian anthem "Ave Dei patris filia." The antiphon "Domine Ihesu Christe" is probably one of his better works, although it’s more sturdy than beautiful.

John Merbecke became a convinced Calvinist, and he expressed great regret for his Catholic compositions. In fact, in 1550 he wrote, “…in the study of music and playing on organs, I consumed vainly the greatest part of My life.” It’s really his "Booke of Common Praier Noted," with its simple Communion setting, which has made Merbecke best known, and that wasn’t actually a work of composition; rather, it was a fitting of the words of the English liturgy to modified plainsong melodies.

I’ve wondered, as I hear his Communion setting being sung at a Catholic Mass, what he would think. I’m quite sure that if he had witnessed such a thing during his earthly life, he would have been appalled – but now that he has the knowledge which comes with eternity (and I do hope he’s spending it in heaven), I would imagine he appreciates the unexpected turn of events which has brought his music back to the Church in which he was baptized.

22 November 2016

St. Clement, Pope and Martyr


St. Clement I of Rome (92-101) was one of the first popes. According to St. Ireneus, he was the third after Peter, following Pope Linus and Pope Cletus. Clement died as a martyr, but otherwise we know little about his life. He may be the one Paul mentions as his companion in Phil. 4:3. St. Clement wrote a letter to the Corinthians, and we have the text of that, in which he intervenes as the Pope to that community, which had a number of troubles going on – showing us very early the place of the successor of St. Peter in the Church.

Because of his zeal for souls, Pope Clement was banished from Rome to a distant place, where he found two-thousand Christians who had also been banished. When he came to these exiles he comforted them. "They all cried with one voice: Pray for us, blessed Clement, that we may become worthy of the promises of Christ. He replied: Without any merit of my own, the Lord sent me to you to share in your crowns." When they complained because they had to carry the water six miles, he encouraged them, "Let us all pray to the Lord Jesus Christ that He may open to His witnesses a fountain of water." "While blessed Clement was praying, the Lamb of God appeared to him; and at His feet a bubbling fountain of fresh water was flowing." Seeing the miracle, "All the pagans of the neighborhood began to believe."

When the Emperor Trajan heard of these marvels, he ordered Clement to be drowned with an iron anchor around his neck. "While he was making his way to the sea, the people cried with a loud voice: Lord Jesus Christ, save him! But Clement prayed in tears: Father, receive my spirit." At the shore the Christians asked God to give them the body. The sea receded for three miles and there they found the body of the saint in a stone coffin within a small marble chapel; alongside lay the anchor. The body was taken to Rome by Sts. Cyril and Methodius and placed in a church dedicated to his honor (S. Clemente). This is one of the most venerable of the churches in Rome because it retains all the liturgical arrangements of ancient times.

O Everlasting Shepherd, favourably look upon thy flock: and keep it with perpetual protection, through the intercession of blessed Clement thy Pope and Martyr, whom thou didst appoint to be shepherd of the whole Church; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

20 November 2016

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.

Almighty and everlasting God, who by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit didst prepare the body and soul of the glorious Virgin Mother Mary to be a dwelling place for thy Son: grant that we who rejoice in her Presentation may at her tender intercession be kept unspotted, and made a pure temple for his dwelling; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


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Christ the King


The Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal King of the Universe, was dragged before a minor earthly ruler and was asked the question, “Are you a king, then?” Such a simple question it was, 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.

18 November 2016

Basilicas of Ss. Peter and Paul


We commemorate the Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul because the Church wants us to remember the importance of consecrated places in which the worship of God takes place. It reminds us of the importance of the consecration of every Catholic Church throughout the world. It is a reminder to us of the incarnational principle on which our faith is based – that God extends His spiritual blessings to us through the use of physical things. He took human flesh upon Himself. He has instituted seven sacraments which use outward forms to communicate inward grace. He has established a hierarchical Church, with a physical presence in the world, to be a sign of His own presence with us.

Defend thy Church, O Lord, by the protection of the holy Apostles: that, as she received from them the beginnings of her knowledge of things divine; so through them she may receive, even to the end of the world, an increase in heavenly grace; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

16 November 2016

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

St. Elizabeth lived in the 13th century, and she was a princess, the daughter of the King of Hungary. She married the young man she had loved for as long as she could remember, Ludwig of Thuringia, and their life together was blessed with three children. St. Elizabeth took seriously her duties as wife and mother, and because of her deep love for Christ, she took seriously also her duty toward the poor.  She embraced the words of our Lord, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done it to me.”  She put herself at the service of widows and orphans, she cared for the sick and the needy. Her life was really an expression of her deep love – love for God, love for her husband and children, and love for those who had no one else to love them. Hers was a very beautiful life, and no doubt she would have liked it to go on like that forever.

But sometimes, things can change dramatically – we might not understand why, but it’s always for God’s purpose. St. Elizabeth experienced an especially painful change in her life when her husband, whom she so deeply loved, went off to the Crusades, and there he was killed. Elizabeth was devastated – and not only was she sorrowing for the death of her husband, but her husband’s family, who never approved of her charitable works, cast her and her children out of the family home, and left her with no means of support.

Here was Elizabeth, a princess and the widow of a nobleman, reduced to poverty, wandering with her children for a place to live, until a poor man whom she had helped previously was able to offer her shelter in an abandoned pig sty. Her faith sustained her – not only was she not bitter, but she put in even more effort to caring for the poor, with a renewed feeling for them, since she and her children were now counted among them. She supported herself and her children, as well as her works of charity, by spinning wool and making cloth to sell. She exhausted herself, and was only 24 years old when she died. Her feast day is November 16th.

O Lord God, who didst teach Saint Elizabeth of Hungary to recognize and to reverence Christ in the poor of this world: grant that we, being strengthened by her example and assisted by her prayers, may so love and serve the afflicted and those in need that we may honour thy Son, the servant King; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

15 November 2016

St. Margaret of Scotland


St. Margaret lived in the 11th century, and she was the great-niece of St. Edward the Confessor. She was a Saxon princess, but she was raised in Hungary in exile. Eventually, she and her parents returned to England, but she was forced flee once again after the Battle of Hastings. She went to the court of Malcolm, who was the King of Scotland.

Malcolm was an unrefined man, and Scotland was a wild place – but Margaret and Malcolm fell in love, and they were married. Margaret, in her gentle way and through her exemplary life, lived her Catholic faith in such a way that Malcolm and the people of Scotland gradually changed their ways to be more conformed to Christ’s teaching.

Margaret was a model mother and queen who brought up her eight children in an atmosphere of great devotion and she continued to work hard to improve the lives of the people of Scotland. She had a particular love for the poor, and provided for them out of her own resources, very often serving them herself.

O God, who didst call thy servant Margaret to an earthly throne that she might advance thy heavenly kingdom, and didst endue her with zeal for thy Church and charity towards thy people: mercifully grant that we who ask her prayers and commemorate her example may be fruitful in good works, and attain to the glorious fellowship of thy Saints; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


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St. Albert the Great


The life of St. Albert covered almost all of the 13th century. His father was a very wealthy German nobleman, and Albert was able to receive an excellent education at the best universities of his day. He was a philosopher, a bishop, a prolific writer, and one of the most influential scientists of the Middle Ages. We all know the phrase, “a know-it-all” – but St. Albert really was, and in the best sense. He was able to compile a complete system of all the knowledge of his day. The subjects he encompassed included astronomy, mathematics, economics, logic, rhetoric, ethics, politics, metaphysics and all branches of natural science. It would take him more than 20 years to complete this phenomenal presentation.

St. Albert taught that there was no discrepancy between theology and science; rather, they were simply different aspects of a harmonious whole. Among his most important contributions to the development of scientific thought in the Middle Ages was helping the scholarly community to recognize the value of Aristotle’s philosophy, and he had as one of his chief students, St. Thomas Aquinas. It was Thomas who carried St. Albert’s teaching out to its logical conclusions.

St. Albert is the only scholar of his time to have earned the title "Great" -- a title that was applied to him even during his lifetime.

O God, who gavest grace unto blessed Albert, thy Bishop and Doctor, to become truly great in the subjection of human wisdom to divine faith: grant us, we beseech thee, so to follow in the footsteps of his teaching; that we may enjoy the perfect light in heaven; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

11 November 2016

St. Josaphat, Martyr for Unity


St. Josaphat was born about the year 1580 in what was the Polish province of Lithuania and was raised as an Eastern Rite Catholic. He had a deep devotion to the suffering of Christ, and looked at the schism between East and West as a wound in the Church as the Sacred Body of our Lord. As a young man in his mid-twenties he entered religious life, joining the Ukrainian Order of Saint Basil (known as the Basilians), and as a monk he gave himself over to penance and mortification, going barefoot even in winter, and eating only the poorest food.

In 1618, after living as a monk for nearly fifteen years, he was appointed to be archbishop of the Eastern Rite Diocese of Polotzk, and he devoted his energies to work for the reunion of the Church, all the while deepening the faith of his people through his preaching and his example. There were those in the Orthodox Church, not in union with Rome, who were very much against his work towards unity, and a group of them decided he must be stopped, making plans to assassinate him. In fact, St. Josaphat knew there were many who did not want unity, and he knew his life was in danger; however, he pressed forward in his work to heal the rift between East and West.

One day when he was visiting part of his diocese in territory which is now in Russia, his enemies made an attack on the place where he was staying, and many of those who were traveling with St. Josaphat were killed. Quietly and with humility, St. Josaphat went toward the attackers and asked them why they had done such a thing, saying to them, “If you have something against me, see, here I am.” The crowd screamed at him saying, “Kill the papist!” They ran towards him with their weapons, killing him with an axe-blow to his head.

St. Josaphat's body was thrown into the river, but it remained on the surface of the water, surrounded by rays of light, and was recovered. Those who had murdered him, when they were sentenced to death, repented of what they had done. Through the gentle example of St. Josaphat and helped by his heavenly intercession, through the grace of God they became Catholics.

Stir up in thy Church, we pray, O Lord, the Spirit that filled Saint Josaphat: that, as he laid down his life for the sheep; so through his intercession we, too, may be strengthened by the same Spirit and not fear to lay down our life for our brethren; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


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07 November 2016

November 9th


At this time we're especially concerned about the leaders we have and about the upcoming election. We're rightly concerned about the direction of our country, and what might happen no matter who is elected.

Regardless of what happens on November 8th, on November 9th God will still be on His throne. He will still be in control. You and I will still have our same responsibilities. And the best way to prepare for November 9th – and for all the days and months and years ahead – is to make our relationship with God as strong and close as possible.

We need to care for our souls and the souls of our children and grandchildren – because no matter what happens, this life, this world isn't our final destination. Heaven is. And what we do here, how we love God here in this life, and how we manage the tough times as well as the good times is what determines eternity for us.

The things of this world will pass away. Eternity is forever.