We all know what has dominated our news programmes and papers in the past months. I won’t say the B word. Yet on Thursday a piece of news was announced simultaneously in Brussels, Washington, Santiago, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo and Lyngby in Denmark that overshadowed this bleak news. “Decades in the making”, as one newspaper said. Scientists revealed the first direct visual image of a black hole – located five hundred million trillion kilometres from Earth and 6.5 billion times as heavy as the Sun. Carlos Moedas, the European research commissioner said something about this piece of news that struck me. “This a a huge breakthrough for humanity. The history of science will be spilt into the time before the image and the time after the image.”
This Sunday, we begin the week when we celebrate and recall the greatest breakthrough for humanity, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, who is the Christ. This was the one event that changed our world forever and changed us for ever. Until recently we spilt time before and after this event, i.e. BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) to emphasise the overwhelming importance of this event for the human race.
Today, known as Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, with the crowd, we welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, waving our palms; but the mood soon changes to a proclamation of the passion and death of Jesus. “For, though innocent, Jesus suffered willingly for sinners and accepted unjust condemnation to save the guilty. His death has washed away our sins, and his Resurrection has purchased our justification.” There are five days left of Lent including today. If we have not managed to keep Lent well or perhaps not at all then the good news is we have time enough to do some fasting, time enough to give to the poor and needy and time enough to reflect prayerfully on the passion of Jesus. So it is not too late. On Thursday evening we begin our Triduum. As one writer put it “On Thursday night we walk out of Lent into these three holiest days. We walk into them singing, “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered.”” It is a gifted time for us when we prepare to celebrate the joy of the Resurrection. Please pray for those who are to be received into full communion in the Church, Alex and Chris and for those who are to complete their initiation by being confirmed. This will take place next Saturday at the “Easter Vigil in the Holy Night” which begins at 8:30pm with the blessing of the fire. On Easter Sunday we will all renew our baptismal promises. Please pray for Amir and Lily will be baptised at 12:15.
As you enter church this weekend you will see the statues and crucifixes are covered in purple. This time is traditionally known as Passiontide. I want this weekend to encourage you to think about what you are going to do for the three most important days of the year. They are: the day Jesus died, the day he laid in the tomb and the day he rose from the dead. We call these days the Triduum. The word comes from the Latin words for Three Days. These three days are Friday, Saturday and Sunday but we start counting them from Thursday night. Each day begins the night before as the most important liturgical feasts do. The liturgist, Fr Paul Turner writes, “Although we call this time three days, in spirit it is really only one event. What we start on Holy Thursday we finish on Easter Sunday: one long glorious day.” Ideally it would be good if you were able to celebrate this unique time by setting aside ordinary activities and giving these days your fullest attention.
How do we celebrate Holy Thursday? At the Mass of the Lord’s Supper we commemorate the meal Jesus had with his disciples when he took bread and wine, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my Body, This is my Blood.” He washed the feet of his disciples. Jesus then went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, where he was arrested and his disciples fled. What can you do to prepare for this day? Here are some suggestions. Have a special supper saying farewell to Lent and a welcome to the Triduum. Be willing to have your feet washed at the Mass. (I am always looking for 12 volunteers). Bring money for the special collection for the poor taken during this Mass. This year it will go for the work of Fr Freddy Loro in Sudan. Plan to give some time to watch before the Blessed Sacrament before midnight in the Hall. Remember that Jesus asked his disciples to watch with him one hour.
On Good Friday we take time to reflect on the death of Jesus. We fast and abstain from meat on this day in response to the loving sacrifice of Jesus. This Good Friday you could also abstain from other things as well such as your electronic devises and forms of entertainment. “You may want to do something positive. Make this a day when you show your love to others, just as Jesus spared nothing to show his love for us.” (Turner). You could join in the morning prayer at the Church, take part in the ecumenical walk of witness through the streets of Canterbury in the morning and come to the Solemn afternoon liturgy. In the evening, in the church there will be a meditation on the last seven words of Christ.
Holy Saturday is a day of rest. Jesus lay in the tomb this day. The Church invites us to fast and abstain this day, just as we did on Friday, but the purpose of today’s fast is to join in prayer with those who are preparing for baptism or being received into full communion with the Church. You could again come to morning prayer or plan you one peaceful quiet day.
The Easter Vigil is the most important liturgy of the year. It immerses us in the mystery of death and resurrection, It proclaims the resurrection anew, it brings new life to the baptised, it reinvigorates us as we recommit ourselves to Christ. This is a Vigil not to be missed. The Easter Sunday Mass is, in a way, an extra celebration for those who cannot attend the Vigil. On Easter Day we conclude the Triduum. How will you celebrate this day? Many people wear their best clothes on Easter Day. How and with whom will you feast this day?
I am the eldest of three children in my family. Looking back at our childhood in Clapham I was the bossy one and the one that was expected to show a good example. I was dutiful. Just ask my brother and sister. I was always trying to please my Mum and Dad. My brother and sister got into a lot of scrapes and I went off to a junior seminary to train to be a priest.
Whenever I hear the Gospel parable of the prodigal son that is read this weekend, I identify with the elder son who all his life did the right thing. I seem to understand his indignation with his father, who welcomed with open arms the brother who had squandered half the family inheritance. You can imagine him saying “How could you kill the calf that we had been fattening. How could you restore this son of yours to the centre of the family. Look how he insulted you by demanding the half of the property that would normally only come to him after you had died. He is only coming back because he was at rock bottom. There was nowhere else he can go. You will regret it because he will take advantage of you again. I don’t believe he is genuinely sorry.”
Those listening to this parable of Jesus were scribes, pharisees, publicans and sinners. The attitude of the elder son was the attitude of the scribes and Pharisees. They thought they were doing well and pleasing God and thus they were on his good side because they kept the law and were faithful. They looked down on the publicans and sinners because they were not faithful to the law. These were the younger son in the parable. What was challenging to both groups was the unconditional love and overwhelming mercy shown by the father. The younger son was certainly not expecting the reaction that he got from the father. He had a careful rehearsed script that he didn’t get to say. The elder son thought it was totally unfair and misjudged. He wanted no part of the celebration.
How do I react to this revelation of who God is? Do I really believe in a totally merciful God who is willing to forgive me anything or do I spend my days trying to please God who will only love me if I am good and toe the line? Those of us who are “elder sons” should be secure in the truth that all we do is seen by God; for God to love “younger sons” does not mean God loves “older sons” less. God’s love is ever bountiful and infinite – there is no limit on how much love is available to all of us.
I don’t react too well when people talk about “Catholic Guilt” This phrase is often used by those who are not long active in their faith or who feel antagonistic towards Catholicism. I think that this phrase means the Catholics can feel excessively guilty which can sometimes lead to scrupulosity.
During this time of Lent and in the Gospel today Jesus is asking us to recognise our need to repentance and healing. In other words we need to ask ourselves: “Am I guilty of living a life that is not in conformity with the call of Jesus to love God and love others? In the opening prayer this weekend we say: “ O God, author of every mercy and all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving have shown us a remedy for sin, look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy.” It is good and healthy to be honest with ourselves and with God who sees our heart, and admit that we need healing and his mercy. Our children celebrated Reconciliation for the first time last Saturday. In preparing them for this celebration of the sacrament we were not trying to make them feel guilty. We were helping them to realise that articulating their lack of love, their sin, they could experience healing and forgiveness. Happily they were able in their own words to articulate why they were coming with a sense of sorrow. “Bless me father for I have sinned…”. Someone was telling me recently that when they were being prepared for first confession many years ago, they had to have 10 sins ready to tell the priest. I thank God that those days have gone. For those who are preparing for Baptism this Easter will take part in the Scrutinies. These are rites for self searching and repentance. According the ritual, they are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective or sinful in the elect (those preparing for baptism). “They are meant to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong and good.
They are celebrated in order to deliver the elect from the power of sin and Satan, to protect them against temptation, and to give them strength in Christ.” When the first Scrutiny is celebrated, the gospel from Year A (John 4:5-42) is read, the wonderful and powerful encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Here was a woman not only coming to the well for water but also thirsting for living water. Jesus didn’t tell her off but this loving encounter challenged her and in opening her heart she was transformed and she led others to meet Jesus. This could be our prayer today: Lord Jesus, you are the fountain for which we thirst, you are the Master whom we seek. In your presence we dare not claim to be without sin, for you alone are the Holy One of God. We open our hearts to you in faith, we confess our faults and lay bare our hidden wounds. In your love free us from our infirmities, heal our sickness, quench our thirst and give us peace.
As children we would often stay with our aunt and uncle in Malvern and love to climb the Malvern hills. The highest point is the Worcestershire Beacon which is 425 meters above sea level. From there you have wonderful views over Herefordshire and Worcestershire. But this was just a hill. Being up there I always had a great feeling of being away from it all and seeing things from a different perspective. In today’s gospel we read that Jesus, with his disciples, went up a mountain to pray. When we go to the Holy Land in November the guide will take us to Mount Tabor. The guide book says “This is a perfect breast-shaped mountain that inspires awe and wonder as it rises majestic and beautiful from the plain of Yizreel to a height of 600 meters.” Traditionally this is the place where Jesus was transfigured. In scripture, mountains are places were God is encountered. Elijah encountered God on Mount Horeb and Moses encountered God on Mount Sinai. God revealed himself to them. Peter James and John saw Jesus transfigured. They had an encounter with Jesus in his glory. “The aspect of his face changed and his clothing became brilliant like lightning ….They saw his glory”. When the cloud covered them with shadow a voice came from the cloud saying ”This is my Son, the Chosen one, listen to him.” This Lent there are no mountains or high places in Canterbury to climb to encounter God. Let us try to come away and leave behind the noise and busyness of our everyday existence so that we have some time to pray. Those words that Peter James and John heard “Listen to him”, can be for us an invitation to pray. Let us try to create pockets of silence during these weeks of Lent to listen to Jesus. Every devout Jew is required to listen in order to be penetrated by God’s will: “ Hear O Israel (Deut 6:4)” This is the first words of the Sherma, the prayer each Jew recited morning, afternoon and evening. Listening is the most fundamental attitude required of Israel. It is a command also given to each of us. To listen is not just an invitation to lend an attentive ear but it also means we are asked to open our heart to God. We are invited to open our heart to Jesus.
Here are some words of St Augustine to encourage us. “Return to your heart! Come back! To where? To the Lord! It is quick! Return immediately to your heart! Exiled from your own self you wander outside. You fail to know yourself, you who want to know the source of your existence. Come back! Return to the heart!…See there what you can learn about God, for the image of God is there. In your interior person dwells Christ. In your interior person you are renewed after God’s image.”
Give me a listening heart this Lent
Two years ago the Franciscan International Study Center closed its doors and was sold. We still have a Franciscan presence in Canterbury. They are the Franciscan Missionary sisters of Littlehampton at Monte Bre, Blean and the Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph in Somner Close.
Sadly, by the end of this month, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of St Joseph will have left the parish after their presence here of twenty-seven years when Sister Margaret arrived to study at the Franciscan International Study Centre (FISC). From there she moved to St Bonaventure’s University in Upstate New York to study for her Masters in Franciscan Studies returning to teach at FISC where she remained until its closure. During that time, she served as Director of Franciscan Studies and Sabbaticals and the Spiritual Direction Course in which a number of our parishioners took part. Margaret also served as Vice Principal.
She was later joined by Sister Frances Slater who was one of the founding members of the Solitude Group and who was known to many of our parishioners. Other Sisters joined the community including Sisters Nuala, Killian and Christine and a Noviciate was established in King Street in the former friary of the Capuchin Friars.
In 2007 Sister Anne Bross from the USA came to have a Sabbatical at the Centre and stayed on to join the Community. Anne worked for a time at L’Arche and in the Library at FISC and as a Chaplain at Kent and Canterbury Hospital. Here in the Parish she was a Welcomer at the 9.30 Mass. Latterly, she has also been a volunteer at Age UK.
Many of their Sisters from various countries and cultures came to study at the Centre – from Kenya, Ecuador, Peru, Uganda, Holland and Ireland.
In this parish, over the years, we have been blessed with the presence of religious women and men. Pope Francis said, “Every consecrated person is a gift for the People of God on a journey. There is much need of their presence, that strengthens and renews the commitment to spread the gospel, to Christian education, to charity for the most needy, to contemplative prayer; the commitment to a human and spiritual formation of young people, of families; the commitment to justice and peace in the human family.” It is important we pray for all those in religious life and for anyone who is considering whether God is calling them to this was of life. “Those in religious life are leaven for the growth of a more just and fraternal society, a prophecy of sharing with the little and the poor. With such understanding and experience, the consecrated life appears to us just as it really is: a gift of God!”
I would like to thank Sister Margaret and Sister Anne for their devoted service in our parish. We are going to miss them and their presence amongst us. We wish them God’s blessing as they both move to the North to take up their new appointments.
“Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch.(life death and resurrection). Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.” (Pope Francis)
This week I want to consider the Communion Rite of the Mass which begins with the Our Father. We then give each other the sign of peace. This reminds us that our Communion is not a private act between Jesus and myself but it is between Jesus in his union with the Father and the Spirit, and us in our union with each other. We are invited to share in the communion between God and the Church.
The priest breaks off a piece of the large host that he shows to the people and mixes it with the Precious Blood. Ideally at each Sunday Mass the people are able to receive the Host and drink from the chalice. In this way we are being faithful to the Lord’s command to his disciples to “Take and Eat” and Take and Drink”. “We complete the Eucharistic action by together eating and drinking the elements consecrated during the celebration. It is most desirable that the faithful share the chalice. Drinking at the Eucharist is a sharing in the sign of the new covenant (see Luke 22:20), a foretaste of the heavenly banquet (see Matthew 26:29), a sign of participation in the suffering Christ (see Mark 10:38- 39)” .
The Bishops of England and Wales say “The faithful are not ordinarily to be given Communion from the tabernacle.” Yet in this parish we seem to do this as a matter of course. How can we change this? We should receive communion from the bread and wine that is consecrated at that Mass. “The Communion procession expresses the humble patience of the poor moving forward to be fed, the alert expectancy of God’s people sharing the Paschal meal in readiness for their journey, the joyful confidence of God’s people on the march toward the promised land. In England and Wales it is through this action of walking solemnly in procession that the faithful make their sign of reverence in preparation for receiving Communion.” The normal sign of reverence is a bow before receiving Communion or a genuflection. There is no requirement to kneel. After the minister says, “The body of Christ,” we answer “Amen” and receive the consecrated host in the hand or on the tongue. This is repeated when receiving the blood of Christ from the cup. “Amen” means “so be it.” It testifies to our belief that the consecrated bread and wine are truly the body and blood of Christ. As we return to our place there will be time for some silence .
There are some who for one reason our another are unable to take Holy Communion. They are encouraged to make a spiritual communion. In their Document One Bread, One Body, in 1996 the Bishops of England and Wales wrote “Even though some may not receive sacramental communion, all are united in some way by the Holy Spirit. The traditional idea of spiritual communion is an important one to remember and reaffirm. The invitation often given at Mass to those who may not receive sacramental communion – for example, children before their First Communion and adults who are not Catholics – is to receive a ‘blessing’ at the moment of Communion which emphasises that a deep spiritual communion is possible even when we do not share together the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ.”
Last Saturday at our Cathedral, Bishop Pat Lynch commissioned 64 people as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. These commissions take place three times a year. Some people don’t like the idea of receiving the Precious Body and Blood from a lay person. Others are uncomfortable about receiving Our Lord in the hand. In the early church lay people not only received communion on Sunday but took communion home with them to receive it every day. Fr Joseph Champlin writes “it is very evident from historical research that lay persons ordinarily received the Lord directly into their hands for the first nine centuries. Writings, pictures and documentation speak of or illustrate this practice”. After the early centuries this changed. The reason for the change was most probably the changing attitude to the Eucharist. More emphasis was put on the divine aspect of the Eucharist. Stress was put on the real, holy, tremendous, awesome presence of Christ in the sacrament. The host was to be adored more than to be eaten. The feeling of unworthiness in the face of this wonderful gift led to less frequent reception of Communion and a greater distance between the altar and the pew. Also at this time laity were more and more excluded from the liturgy. Singing was done by a choir, the general intercessions disappeared, the faithful could not see what was happening at the altar, the Canon of the Mass was said quietly, everything took place in silence and in a language less understood by the people. “Those medieval concepts obviously were handed down very carefully to us from our forefathers in the faith. They had value, respected one aspect of the mystery which is the Eucharist, and should not be casually disregarded.” The emphasis on great participation in the liturgy began at the beginning of the twentieth century.
In 1947 Pius XII wrote: “By the waters of Baptism, as common right, Christians are made members of the mystical body of Christ the Priest and by the character which is imprinted on their souls their are appointed to give worship to God, thus they participate according to their condition, in the priesthood of Christ.” In the Document on the Liturgy, at the Second Vatican Council, the Council Fathers reminded us of the key role of the laity, “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4–5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.”
It was in 1973 that Pope Paul VI issued the instruction “Immensae Caritatis” in which he wrote:“First of all, provision must be made, less reception of Communion becomes impossible or difficult because of insufficient ministers” Thus there are a number of occasions when the priest will need assistance of the laity in helping with Holy Communion. During Mass when there is Holy Communion under both kinds and when the size of the congregation is such that without their assistance the Communion Rite would be unduly long. Outside Mass help is needed to bring communion to the sick and housebound and a lay minister can expose and repose the Blessed Sacrament.
I would like to thank all those who are Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in our parish. This is a tremendous service you are undertaking. Please note that our reflection Day for Eucharistic ministers is on Saturday 2nd March from 10am till 1pm in St Thomas Hall.