Saturday, June 21, 2014

Fr Bates: ". . . in his Sacrament of love he is present in a very special sense."

Archbishop Peter Hollingworth inducted me as Rector of All Saints' Wickham Terrace
on 31st May 1995 at Evensong and Benediction, 
during which I had the privilege of taking the holy Sacrament outside 
for the blessing of the great City of Brisbane.  

One of my predecessors at All Saints’ Wickham Terrace, Brisbane (Australia) was Father Robert Bates. Some older parishioners, who grew up in that part of the inner city during his incumbency when today’s trendy Spring Hill was the very poorest end of town, would tell me stories of Father Bates' devotion and care, his zeal to preach the Gospel, his heartfelt attachment to the Catholic Faith in its fulness (for which he was often ridiculed), and his sense of humour.

Robert Bates began training for the priesthood at the small Anglo-Catholic St John's College, Melbourne, but while he was there, World War I started and he enlisted in the Army. After serving at Gallipoli and in France, being awarded the Military Medal and being severely wounded, he entered Merton College, Oxford. He obtained honours in theology there, completed his training at Cuddesdon, and, in 1922, became curate at St Andrew's Bethnal Green in the poor East End of London. 

In 1924 he returned to Australia to become Vicar of Copmanhurst in Grafton Diocese, but two years later, when Father Maynard became Vicar of St Peter’s Eastern Hill (Melbourne), Father Bates replaced him at All Saints’ Wickham Terrace, serving as Rector from 1926 to 1947. 

Being Corpus Christi, I thought I’d share with you something devotional - and beautiful - that Father Bates wrote for the February 1939 parish magazine about Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament:

Once the truth that the Blessed Sacrament actually is the Body of Christ enters not only our minds but entwines itself into the fabric of our spiritual lives, nothing is more natural than that we should seek his presence in this Sacrament, in order to pray before him more intimately and directly than we otherwise could. 

Of course, it is true that God is everywhere, but God is less hidden in you and me, his children, than he is in a stone or tree; and above all in his Sacrament of love he is present in a very special sense - in his Divinity, but in his humanity too, the gracious Body of Jesus Christ His Son, which worked out our salvation of old in the countryside of Galilee, God as we have learnt to love him, though now in this Sacrament concealed beneath the veil of bread and wine. 

Here in the tabernacle upon the altar he fulfils his promise to be with us till the end of time. We can imagine the tabernacle as a white-hot furnace of love; and as our life and work is fruitless unless it flows from Jesus, those of us who try to love much will be before him often to replenish our own weakness and to increase our faith. So gracious an atmosphere does a church in which the Sacrament is reserved develop that many people believe that they can recognise these churches without looking for lights or other signs. “I always sit on the south side of All Saints,” said a religious to the present writer, “it is so much warmer there.” 

As the devotion of men grew to this Blessed Sacrament of love, the Church began to organize services of devotion. Because these services are only supplementary and are not intended to take away from our attendance at Mass which is our duty, they are called “extra-liturgical.” They are not commanded, but do you have to command love? 

Father Faber’s desire for “Love’s reward, What rapture will it be prostrate before thy throne to lie And gaze and gaze on Thee,” has been realised in the Middle Ages, as to-day, for a moment in the Elevation of the Host at Mass. And it was the desire to extend the glory of this moment, that it became the custom in the 13th and 14th centuries to take the Sacrament from the tabernacle and expose It in a transparent vessel which became known as the “monstrance,” during Vespers of Our Lady. The service was given a traditional form by the lovely hymns written by St. Thomas Aquinas, that we use today - ”O Saving Victim” and “Therefore we, before him bending.” The service closed with the people receiving the Blessing of Our Lord as the sign of the Cross was made over them with the Sacrament, just as the priest does today as he gives you your communion. What more beautiful close to a day of worship could you imagine than to receive Our Lord’s own blessing in the twilight as you go home to rest, after a short service that experience shows is unrivalled in opening our eyes to the glory of the Heavenly Kingdom. For where God is, there is Heaven.

Most of us certainly understand that, as John Keble said, “Where Christ is, he is to be worshipped.” And none of us would willingly withhold from him our devotion in this Sacrament that we have tried to make the centre of our life in this parish . . . Some of us are accustomed to assemble on Saturday nights, by way of preparation for our communions, and to take part in a service of Adoration before the tabernacle. But how many of us stay away? Have you thought of those long hours of the night when from the tabernacle go out waves upon waves of prayer and love over a careless and forgetful city; and with that ceaseless intercession is united not one of the prayers of us his brethren, and when we are invited there by the church, we do not care to come?


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