Saturday, July 14, 2018

Genocide against Christians in Nigeria

What has to happen for the secular humanist western media to take seriously the murder of Christians in Nigeria?


INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY 
SHOULD NOT IGNORE
THE GENOCIDE 
AGAINST CHRISTIANS IN NIGERIA

6,000 Christians, including women and children, have been murdered by Islamists ‘Fulani’ radicals since January. “It’s a pure genocide and must be stopped immediately!” says Rev. Dr. Soja Bewarang of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Plateau State.

He said: “There is no doubt that the sole purpose of these attacks is aimed at ethnic cleansing, land grabbing and forceful ejection of the Christian natives from their ancestral land and heritage”.

“We are particularly worried at the widespread insecurity in the country where wanton attacks and killings by armed Fulani herdsmen, bandits and terrorists have been taking place on a daily basis in our communities unchallenged despite huge investments in the security agencies.  The perpetrators are being deliberately allowed to go scot free,” the Rev. Bewarang continues to denounce.

“We strongly also disagree with the federal government’s attempt to politicize the attacks and divert people’s attention from government glaring failures and national shame by blaming it as the handiworks of desperate opposition politicians. We reject the narrative that the attacks on Christian communities across the country as “farmers/herdsmen clash”, he added.

Over 200 people, most of them  Christians, were massacred over three days in Nigeria at the end of June, as the relentless bloodshed carried out by radicals continues. Most Rev. William Avenya, Catholic Bishop of Gboko, Benue state has warned of the threat of genocide against Christians in the country’s Middle Belt region. He described an upsurge of violence by militant Fulani herdsmen as “ethnic cleansing”.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Is High Mass humanity’s “greatest artistic achievement”?



High Mass at Pusey House, Oxford
(From the Pusey House website)

I love this part of Douglass Shand Tucci's article THE HIGH MASS AS SACRED DANCE in which he quotes at length Anglican spiritual guide, Evelyn Underhill. Her words pretty well sum up the impact on me of the first High Mass I wandered into as an impressionable teenager. I was overwhelmed by the power of the worship to merge the earthly and the heavenly, to reveal the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. I am fortunate in my ministry as a priest to have served parishes in which this form of worship was kept going. In one of them, the motto we used on the pew bulletin was: "Gospel Preaching & Traditional Catholic Worship."  

High Mass was mostly swept away in our time by well-meaning people who thought they were making the Church more "relevant" to our culture. But, while it would be foolish to imagine that everyone has the cultural predisposition to be drawn to the Lord by the kind of worship described here, I can assure readers that many, including "unchurched" young people ARE drawn when this supernatural worship is offered as part of the new evangelisation!

Indeed, the yearning for the dimensions of worship spoken of in the following article lies behind the current movement to restore the transcendent and numinous which much of the Western Church has lost over the last sixty years.

Tucci's entire article, of which this is an extract, can be found HERE(To assist the reader of this extract, I have renumbered the endnotes.)


The distinguished Anglican scholar, Evelyn Underhill traced what could be called the graph of the Mass: from the liturgy of lessons and Gospel, “God’s uttered word in History,” and the Great Intercession, “the unstinting, self-spending with and for the purposes of God, by intercessory prayer,” of the Offertory, where Christ, she wrote, “enters the Holy Place as the representative of man, offering the humble material of man’s sacrifice, that he may come forth from it as the representative of God, bringing to man the Heavenly Food.” And, finally, to the Great Thanksgiving - when the gifts of bread and wine, set apart from the natural world for the Mystery, yield - “the invisible Holy Presence; Who comes under these lowly signs into the Sanctuary with an escort of incense and lights, and is welcomed by the enraptured Alleluias of the Cherubic Hymn, announcing the Presence of God.”

What better has been written of this tremendous moment of the Sanctus when “all that truly happens,” she wrote, “happens beyond the rampart of the world”? Sursum corda - Lift up your hearts, sings the celebrant. “The early liturgies leave us in no doubt,” she continued, “as to what this movement implied: ‘To the heavenly height, the awful place of glory. . . .’ This cry, and the people’s response, come down to us from the earliest days of the Church.” It marks, she declared, “the crossing of the boundary between natural and supernatural worship”; the knowing search for what she called “that ineffable majesty on which Isaiah looked, which is the theme of the earliest Eucharistic prayers, and which inspires the great Sanctus of the B Minor Mass, with its impersonal cry of pure adoration.” This is the world communicants enter as they approach the altar rail, wrote Underhill, where “the ‘Table of Holy Desires’ with its cross and ritual lights stands on the very frontier of the invisible.” (1)

Has anyone in our time set before architect or musician, so uncompromisingly, the task the liturgy forces upon them? As Underhill put it in another place, “movement and words combine to produce an art form which is the vehicle of [the Church’s] self-offering to God and communion with God.” The liturgy, she knew, is “an action and an experience that transcend the logical levels of the mind and demand an artistic rather than an intellectual form of expression.” (2) The honours of the church on earth significantly describe in her text what they describe, audibly and visually, in the mass. Bach is there as well as the cherubim, on the frontier of the invisible.

She knew well the risks of the medium; she knew the dangers of depending on an imperfect art to make a perfect art-form. But she knew too that to eschew art, worship must be “thin, abstract, notional: a tendency, an attitude, a general aspiration, moving alongside human life, rather than in it.” Worship thus embodied by the arts, she declared, “loses-or seems to lose-something of its purity; but only then can it take up and use man’s various powers and capacities ... thus entering the texture of his natural as well as supernatural life. Certainly, it is here that we encounter the greatest danger, that form will smother spirit.... But the risk is one which man is bound to take. He is not ‘pure’ spirit, and is not capable of ‘pure’ spiritual acts .... (3)

. . . most Anglicans continue to trivialize ceremonial and even to overlook its significance. They typically bury themselves throughout the liturgy in hymnal, prayer book, or service leaflet - on the dubious premise that to read what is being said is to understand it better. This, in turn, has had disastrous effects on church lighting, which frequently overthrows every attempt of the architect to create an evocative liturgical environment . . . Modern art has also sometimes strained the principles of liturgical art severely. That these principles can survive in modern work of great originality is clear. For example, consider Jean Langlais’ Messe Solennelle. Relentlessly liturgical, suggestive often of plainchant, its solemn, quiet and sometimes even lyrical texture is nonetheless so taut that when the tension erupts into Langlais’ massive, fiercely impassioned dissonances, the effect is a stunning and almost numbing grandeur of sound that evokes the mysterium tremendum with an uncanny distinction.

Is the High Mass, as Cram and others have thought, humanity’s “greatest artistic achievement”? Infrequently. Most church people have the erroneous impression that the very simple Low Mass is the most primitive form of Christian worship and that the solemn liturgy is a medieval elaboration. Actually, Low Mass is the medieval innovation . . .

Anglicans as well as Roman Catholics cannot be blamed for forgetting that the ancient High Mass, resplendent with lights, music, incense and full ceremonial, has always remained the theoretical norm of the western church as it is still the actual norm of Eastern Christendom. (4) Forgetful of this fact, we forget another: that “art in worship is not a mere imitation of the creative work of God; nor is it only a homage rendered to Christ; by giving embodiment to invisible realities it continues the Incarnation of the Word.” (5) Indeed, the Church has held that it “brings about objectively and in our very midst, the highest form of reality, the Summum Pulchrum, God Himself.’ “(6) Confronted with this astonishing purpose, and the distinguished art it has yielded, the art historian can only declare that in thus reaching “beyond the rampart of the world” for what Underhill called “that ineffable majesty upon which Isaiah looked,” the art of the High Mass is not only august but unparallelled.

* * * * * * * * * *

(1) The material quoted in this and the preceding paragraph is drawn from Evelyn Underhill's The Mystery of Sacrifice: A Meditation on the Liturgy (New York, 1954), unpaged introduction and pp. 18-40. The Mystery of Sacrifice was first published in 1938.

(2) Evelyn Underhill, Worship (New York, 1936), p. 33. See also p. 29.

(3) Ibid., p. 14.

(4) Ibid., p. 245.

(5) Ibid., P. 71.


(6) Hammenstede, "The Liturgy as Art," pp. 41-42.


Friday, July 6, 2018

Persecution in Egypt


For a very long time we have been praying for our brothers and sisters in Egypt who experience real persecution from the enemies of the Faith. This very moving video was posted on Facebook this morning by Father Christopher Cook. He points out that especially noticeable is the strong faith of all those who lost family members in the attack on the El-Botroseya Chuch shortly before Christmas, and the absence of any expressions of hate towards the man who carried out this terrorist attack. Twenty eight martyrs died, all women or girls, apart from the man who was trying to stop the terrorist entering the church.

It is a salutory judgment on the comfortable sacrifice-free experience of so much church life in what was the “Christian West.” An extraordinary amount of money, intellectual gymnastics and questionable Biblical “scholarship” is dedicated to producing a reductionist form of “Christianity” that harmonises the Gospel, the faith of Jesus and its logical (bio)-ethical and moral principles with whatever values predominate at any given moment of this post-Christian culture. May our loving but firm witness to the Faith be worthy of our brothers and sisters who put their lives on the line every day rather than betray the Lord. Instead of trying always to be thought well of by our crumbling culture let us work and pray in Western churches (across all the traditions) for a recovery of commitment to God's revealed truth.

It is well worth spending half an hour watching this video.


Monday, July 2, 2018

Did he really rise from the dead?



I love that video clip from “Yes Prime Minister”, because it is so English and so Anglican. Watch it if you have time, and then consider the awful reality of atheism and agnosticism in the heart of what is supposed to be the dynamic believing Community.

In fact, all my adult life I have had to contend with well-meaning liberal Christians who reduce the events at the heart of the Christian faith to a collection of culturally conditioned metaphors that nudge us along our “spiritual journey.” Bishop John Hazlewood often described many so-called Anglo-catholics of this stripe as “liberal protestants in chasubles.” These were clergy who though they had pretty well become agnostics, remained in office because they continued to love the “culture” and aesthetics of Christian worship, not to mention their stipends!

Now, of course, as far as the declining first world Anglican scene is concerned, they are pretty well in charge. Liberal catholics and liberal evangelicals.

And while there has been a recovery and renewal of the Gospel and the true Faith within the Roman Catholic Church, especially among young adults, it is still all too easy to find the same kind of priests, religious and lay theologians there who believe very little.

Nine years ago Fr Dwight Longenecker wrote this piece for his blog. I’m sure that that you will be able to think of clergy who are just like those described! 

The Resurrection and Theological Sleight of Hand
The main plague of modern Christianity is, well, modern Christianity. That is to say, modernism. Modernism may be defined as the conviction that the truths of Christianity were determined by the cultural circumstances of the first century, and that they are therefore no longer relevant of credible by modern people. The truths of Christianity must be ‘re-interpreted’ for modern, scientific, technologically adept people.

Now, if the modernist were honest about his scheme we wouldn’t mind so much. If he said (as some admirably honest modernists do) “The miracles stories are nothing more than symbolic” we would know where we stood. If he said, “The resurrection is a beautiful fairy tale” we would be clear. If he said, “The Virgin Birth is a make believe fantasy story” we’d understand. Then when he (or she) resigned from being a Christian minister we would accept their resignation with understanding (and not a little delight) and wish them well in their new career as a social worker.

But he doesn’t do this. Instead the modernist priest continues to use the traditional language and liturgy of Christianity. He sings with gusto, “Up from the grave he arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes....” He stands up on Easter day and says with a theatrical tone, “Christ is risen from the dead, Alleluia!” to which his faithful people reply, “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” And everyone feels warm and comfortable.

Furthermore, the modernist minister feels no qualms about drawing his salary, putting in his expense claims and having the rectory redecorated. Indeed, he perceives himself as something of a pioneer. He boldly goes where others fear to tread. He has faced the difficult questions of Christianity and found a new way through. He sees himself as a true man of faith for “isn’t faith daring to ask the difficult questions and stepping out into the unknown--letting go all the quaint certainties to launch out into the deep?” Indeed, he even sees himself as a martyr for he has gone through persecution at the hands of the Pharisaical and self righteous orthodox Christians.

So Reverend Wooly continues to use all the conventional language of belief. He does so because he recognizes a certain ‘psychological depth’ in the ‘ancient mythical symbolism’. He believes it helps people. It inspires them. But take him on one side and quiz him a bit you discover that he doesn’t really believe in the resurrection at all. For him it is “a beautiful story about life and love eventually overcoming death” or “In some mysterious way the truth and goodness of Jesus continued to live long after his physical body passed away, and isn’t that what we all hope for ourselves and our loved ones?”

Of course this is total and utter nonsense. The resurrection means that the physical person who died rose up from the dead and wasn’t dead anymore. The tomb was empty. They saw him and they were scared. They ate with him and touched his new body. If this didn’t happen then it wasn’t resurrection at all. It was just a beautiful idea, but the beautiful idea couldn’t even be a beautiful idea if the resurrection didn’t happen. The beautiful idea would only be an imaginative story, in which case it wasn’t even a beautiful idea, it was just a fairy tale, and it wasn’t even a very nice fairy tale, because it promised something it could never deliver.

To say the resurrection is nothing more than “a beautiful idea” is as absurd as saying marriage is a beautiful idea. What if a man said he was married, but you never saw the woman, you never saw the engagement ring and you never saw the children which proved that he had made love to the woman? You’d say it wasn’t marriage at all, and it wasn’t even a beautiful idea. It was a lie. And what if humanity built a great civilization on this beautiful idea of marriage but none of the men were ever married to women, but still they talked in glowing terms of “the beautiful sacrament of marriage” You would consider the lot of them to be insane.

So modernism, with its theological sleight of hand is not only dishonest, it’s insane. Those who follow it live in a world cut off from reality. They live in an alternative reality of their own imagination.

The poisonous thing about this modernism, is that it is so difficult to pin down. It has to come from the Father of Lies since it is so insidiously deceptive. Whenever it appears it never speaks plainly and openly. Instead it resorts to half truths, poetical deceptions and charming myths. It is all smoke and mirrors.

Even worse, it has got into every Christian denomination. It’s easy to think this is the disease of the mainline liberal Protestant denominations. Sadly, it has gone deep in the Catholic Church and it affects everything we do. It affects the way we worship, the way we preach, the way we relate to the world, the way we do everything. It lies deeply hidden, and is the root cause of all our problems in the church. Furthermore, like Satan himself, the more a church attempts to root it out, the more subtle the deception goes and the more the lies become hidden under clever academic speak.

So the Catholic modernist hides his disbelief completely and never really says what he means at all, and if he is pushed to explain what he believes about the resurrection he’ll say with a sweet smile, “Of course Christ is risen, and what we mean by that remains a glorious mystery”, or even worse, he says nothing at all, keeps to the liturgical formulas and goes on through his ministry to undermine everything he says he stands for.

Well you can keep it. Give me the old time religion. I believe Jesus rose from the dead. I believe it was physical. If it wasn’t I’d pack it all in tomorrow.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

S. Irenaeus on the Blessed Sacrament and the Resurrection



Today the Church celebrates St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons. So, I share with you something he wrote around 185 AD. It is one of the classic passages on the Eucharist, giving "unintentional" evidence of the early Church's high view of the Sacrament. Irenaeus argues backwards from what he obviously regards as already traditional Christian teaching on the Eucharist to the salvation of the flesh and the resurrection of Jesus. This passage is particularly important because of how early it is in our “family history.” Irenaeus was a disciple of St Polycarp of Smyrna, who was a disciple of St John the Apostle:

If our flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us with his blood, the eucharistic chalice does not make us sharers in his blood, and the bread we break does not make us sharers in his body. There can be no blood without veins, flesh and the rest of the human substance, and this the Word of God actually became: it was with his own blood that he redeemed us. As the Apostle says: In him, through his blood, we have been redeemed, our sins have been forgiven.

We are his members and we are nourished by creatures, which is his gift to us, for it is he who causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall. He declared that the chalice, which comes from his creation, was his blood, and he makes it the nourishment of our blood. He affirmed that the bread, which comes from his creation, was his body, and he makes it the nourishment of our body. When the chalice we mix and the bread we bake receive the word of God, the eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ, by which our bodies live and grow. How then can it be said that flesh belonging to the Lord's own body and nourished by his body and blood is incapable of receiving God's gift of eternal life? Saint Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones. He is not speaking of some spiritual and incorporeal kind of man, for spirits do not have flesh and bones. He is speaking of a real human body composed of flesh, sinews and bones, nourished by the chalice of Christ's blood and receiving growth from the bread which is his body.

The slip of a vine planted in the ground bears fruit at the proper time. The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays only to be raised up again and multiplied by the Spirit of God who sustains all things. The Wisdom of God places these things at the service of man and when they receive God's word they become the eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ. In the same way our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father. Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature in immortality and freely endow our corruptible nature with incorruptibility, for God's power is shown most perfectly in weakness.

(Against Heresies Lib. 5,2, 2-3: SC 153, 30-38)

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Father Graeme Rowlands' call to faithfulness



It is nearly a month since "The Great Day Out" for Catholics in the Church of England - the National Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk. There we were on Monday 28th May, the bank holiday, a perfect summer's day, gathered at the altar of God for Mass (the principal celebrant of which was the Rt Revd Norman Banks, Bishop of Richborough), and then, after lunch, for the homily that preceded the Procession of Our Lady and Benediction. The preacher this year was the Revd Preb. Graeme Rowlands, Parish Priest of S. Silas', Kentish Town, in north London. He is also Chaplain-General and Director of Pilgrimage of the Society of Mary. With characteristic brevity, Father Rowlands spoke what some of us believe was just the right word for Anglican Catholics right now. The photograph (above), and the homily (below) are from the Walsingham website HERE.


'MARY, DO NOT BE AFRAID'
(S. Luke 1.30)

If you look carefully amongst the chaos of my study you will find a little booklet written by my predecessor but one, Fr Hillier, and published by the London Committee for Walsingham in 1943 it cost 6d. It’s called ‘Constructing a Decoration?’ Inside there is a fine line drawing of Our Lady of Walsingham wearing her original mantle and crown and held in a large pair of hands which are presumably not the hands of Fr Hope Patten but of God. And basically the book tells us that devotion to Our Lady, as offered at this Shrine, is not an optional extra for those who like that sort of thing but an essential part of the practice of our faith. He writes ‘True devotion to Our Lady is not like artificial flowers stuck on to make religion look pretty: it is a natural, authentic and luxuriant blossoming that draws its life from the very roots of Christianity, from the Incarnation’. This is a Shrine of the fact that God became man; Mary invites us into her house to reflect on what that means for us, to carry that truth away with us, to live by it. If we get that right, we shall have discovered a firm ground for our hope which no one can take from us.

That is a faith which we receive from the Universal Church. This Shrine was re­established on the basis that we are part of the Catholic Church throughout the world, sharing the same faith and administering the same sacraments. The foundation stone in the Holy House tells us that it was restored in the Pontificate of Pius XI, Hope Patten being Parish Priest of Walsingham. (It did include the name of the Bishop of Norwich, but he asked for it to be removed. How good it is to see that the concrete has been chipped away and it is now restored). We have moved on since then and, through ARCIC, come to agree that there should be a Universal Primate for a united Church and that Primate is the successor of S. Peter. The level of cooperation between the two shrines here is wonderful to see, the mutual support in ministry and witness which will be secured by an Ecumenical Covenant, to be published later this year. But this is a vision which much of the Church in England has lost through further division, fears about validity, lack of confidence as we minister to a world which struggles to understand why we exist at all. We can help the Church to recover that hope, to work towards that unity which is essential for our witness. Our Lord prays: ‘May they be so completely one, that the world will realise that it was you who sent me’.

But this will only happen if we can also restore that pattern of priestly service and care, that understanding of the sacraments which are the basis by which we live; this is now so often forgotten within the Church of England p.l.c. I have never been a great one for going to meetings and conferences of clergy but on those occasions I am forced to go all the talk is about leadership, strategic planning, fresh expressions of being church. There is absolutely nothing about priesthood, about service, about love and care for our people, about the life we need and receive from the sacraments. Those who come on pilgrimage here, priests and people, those who faithfully minister here day by day, have an inestimable treasure by which to teach the Church again what we should actually be doing. That is the level of sacrifice which God asks of us. It is no accident that the substitute for sacrificing Isaac is a ram caught by its horns in a thorn bush: we have offered that Lamb on this altar this morning.

A faith immersed in the Incarnation, a vision of what the Church should be, an understanding of priesthood and sacraments, these are the treasures given to us here by Mary, Our Star of Hope, our Mother, our Queen. I shall let Fr Hillier speak the last words to you: ‘It is for us, in our home of the Incarnation, to resist the rising tide of heresy which threatens to engulf the Faith, or what is left of it, in this country, to raise once again the triumph song of the Council of Ephesus: Mary is the Mother of God. We must make our voices heard in defence not of a pretty piece of decoration, but of the solid rock of the Godhead of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Andrewes' prayer of preparation for the Eucharist



Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) was an English priest (then bishop) and scholar, prominent in the Church of England during the reigns of Elizabeth I and King James I. A learned and impassioned preacher, and one of the most highly esteemed churchmen of his day, Andrewes oversaw the translation of the King James Bible.  He also served successively as Bishop of Chichester, then Ely and Winchester - he was famous for his eloquence and intelligence but in his private life was reputed to be humble and charitable. Andrewes is credited with writing passages of extraordinary beauty - T S Elliot claimed him as a major influence and borrowed from one of his sermons for his work The Journey of the Magi.

O Lord, I am not worthy,
I am not fit,
that thou shouldest come under the roof of my soul;
for it is all desolate and ruined;
nor hast thou in me fitting place to lay thy head.

But, as thou didst vouchsafe to lie
in the cavern and manger of brute cattle,
as thou didst not disdain to be entertained
in the house of Simon the leper;
as thou didst not disdain that harlot,
like me, who was a sinner,
coming to thee: and touching thee;
nor the thief upon the cross confessing thee:
So me too the ruined, wretched, and excessive sinner,
deign to receive the touch and partaking
of the immaculate, supernatural,
life giving, and saving mysteries
of thy all-holy Body and thy precious Blood.

Listen, O Lord, our God, from thy holy habitation,
and from the glorious throne of thy kingdom,
and come to sanctify us.
Thou who sittest on high with the Father,
and art present with us here invisibly;
come thou to sanctify the gifts which lie before thee,
and those in whose behalf, and by whom,
and the things for which, they are brought near thee.
And grant to us communion, unto faith, without shame,
love without dissimulation,
fulfilment of thy commandments,
alacrity for every spiritual fruit;
hindrance of all adversity,
healing of soul and body;
that we too, with all saints,
who have been well-pleasing to thee from the beginning,
may become partakers of thy incorrupt and everlasting goods,
which thou hast prepared, O Lord, for them that love thee;
in whom thou art glorified for ever and ever.
Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world,
take away the sin of me, the utter sinner. Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Two more Induction photos

Back in April, I posted a piece about a special presentation made to me at supper following my Induction in the evening of St Joseph's Day, 19th March. Go HERE for the article.

A few days ago the dad of one of the young people emailed me some photos, and with the permission of those involved, I share them with you.


Here I am holding up the framed presentation for all to see. To my left are Rebecca and Ngozi.



And here we are studying the presentation together.

As I previously wrote, the painting now hangs in the Vicarage dining room. I pray to the Lord daily for the grace to live up to the expectations expressed in this gift. 

Again, thank you so much, Rebecca, Ngozi and Alexandra (who is not pictured here).


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Dr Ken McKay's 1980 lecture on St Boniface



The battle to maintain authentic Catholic Faith and practice within the Anglican Church of Australia from the 1970s (a battle we mostly lost!) resulted in the formation of a close network of fellow warriors who became friends across the vast distances between Australian capital cities. Among the most highly respected of our circle were Dr Ken Mckay and his wife Gloria. In fact, they had been prominent leaders of Unity Peace and Concord (UPC), The Association of the Apostolic Ministry (AAM) and then Forward in Faith Australia (FiFA). When FiFA dissolved, it's last real act was to publish three lectures given by Ken, with a moving foreword by Bishop David Robarts.

As today is when the Church commemorates St Boniface, Bishop and Martyr, I share with you Ken's lecture delivered at Christ Church Brunswick, Melbourne, on 15th June 1980 in honour of St Boniface. I do not for a moment apologise for the length of the post! Following the lecture is Bishop Robarts' tribute to Ken. 

St BONIFACE, MISSIONARY BISHOP AND MARTYR
It is June the 5th, 755 – or possibly 754. At dawn, in the northernmost province of windswept Holland, the ancient Frisia, at Dokkum, an aged bishop is waiting with his entourage to conduct a confirmation. A company appears, not the expected confirmees but pagan Frisians. The bishop, together with his party of 52 (including Eoban, the newly-appointed bishop of Utrecht), is massacred. Story and history mingle as attempts to lay his body to rest at Utrecht and Mainz, his archiepiscopal see, are miraculously thwarted. It is finally returned to Fulda, the German Benedictine monastery which he founded and long planned as his final resting place. Many of his books survived his martyrdom, and three of them are still to be seen in the Landesbibliothek at Fulda. The monk Radford of Utrecht had reported that it was with a book that the bishop defended his head against a sword blow, to no avail. One of the three surviving tomes, a codex of the Gospels in an Irish hand, is almost cut in two. Piety is satisfied, and a book pierced by a sword remains this martyr’s normal symbol.

We have heard much of late of the United Kingdom’s debt to the Common Market, a sordid matter of inflating pounds and pence. It is timely tonight to contemplate the incalculable debt incurred by Europe from across the Channel. In 1946, when there seemed great cause to give thanks for Britain’s isolation from the Continent, it was a European, Wilhelm Levison, who remarked: “Twice in her history England has exercised a broad, deep and lasting influence upon continental ways of thought and life.” One influence has been recent: the role of the British Constitution in the past 200 years. The other took us back a further 1000 years, to one Englishman whose long active public life, particularly between 718 and the mid 750’s, contributed enormously to the shape of Church organization and influence in France, Germany, the Low Countries and even Italy virtually until the Reformation period.

We honour Wynfrith of Crediton, a West Saxon of Wessex, better known as Boniface : monk, bishop, statesman, administrator of genius, evangelist par excellence, and martyr. He crowned a life of service with a glorious death. Nor was it lost upon his first biographer Willibald that there was exemplary perseverance and singleness of purpose in his closing his missionary life where he had first begun it – although then in unrewarding times – among the pagans of Frisia. From Milret, bishop of Worcester, Boniface’s death elicited the remark that he was “the glory and crown of all whom the Motherland has sent forth to the European continent”, and, from a higher vantage-point, the 20th century, Sir Arthur Bryant accorded him the ultimate accolade: “No Englishman’s work has had a greater influence on the world.”

Boniface’s martyrdom on June the 5thprompted an ensuing English Synod to decree that that day would be held in annual remembrance, and that he would rank with Gregory the Great and Augustine of Canterbury as one of the three patrons of the English Church. This decree is a reminder that Boniface, too, was discharging a debt. Within a century of the arrival of the Roman Mission in England in 597 (we all remember the story which prompted it: “Not Angles, but Angels”, and its modern improvements), within a century not only had the Synod of Whitby given victory to the Roman cause over Celtic Christianity, but Anglo-Saxon missionaries were descending on Europe in what was to become a golden shower. It was in 690 that Willibrord of Northumbria went to Frisia as an evangelist, to become eventually bishop of Utrecht, where he still preaches from horseback to the population outside St. John’s Church. [My slender claim to talk to you tonight derives from a common residence with Willibrord and Boniface in Utrecht, a fruit of which is the curious doctoral garment you see draped around my shoulders, a hood which, by the usual Dutch paradox, I’m forbidden to wear in Holland.] There are tides, we are told, in the affairs of men. The tide which flowed into 7thcentury England ebbed into 8thcentury Europe and transported the Gospel far and wide.

In that troubled, transitional period it is no surprise that Boniface’s years of birth, consecration and death remain matters of dispute. Exeter celebrated the 1200thanniversary of his death in 1955, so let 755 suffice for that. But it was somewhere between 672 and 680 that Wynfrith was born near Exeter, possibly at Crediton, if the 14thcentury tradition of an Exeter bishop is to be believed. (If it is not, tell it not in Exeter.) Wynfrith he was, not to become Boniface until he sought, and obtained from Gregory II in 719 a roving commission to evangelize the heathen, and a new name to go with the task. Willibrord had received from Pope Sergius I in 695 the name of Clement to go with is elevation as Archbishop of the Frisians, but Wynfrith’s Papal name predated his episcopal elevation by some three years.

We are told that he was a precocious child, bent on the monastic life against his father’s wishes. Certain it is that at the age of 7 he became a child oblate at the monastery of Adescancastre (possibly Exeter) under Abbot Wulfhard. The child oblate received and education, but at the cost of permanent monastic obedience. It may pain us to hear Pope Gregory II advising Boniface that children assigned to a monastery cannot later leave and marry, but the system gave us the Venerable Bede, and it gave us Boniface. He later moved to the monastery of Nursling near Southampton under Abbot Winbert, where he was later to command attention as a diplomatic envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury and be offered the succession at Nursling, which he declined.

Boniface was a man of drive, and vision, and destiny, called to missionary service in the fullness of time. He had one lesson to learn the hard way : love of God was not enough. In that violent, unpolished era to serve God and feel a kinship with the tribes of Northern Europe could not produce a harvest without the tolerance of the secular arm. (If this disenchants us, we would have been ill at ease during the whole Reformation period.) In 716 he sailed to Frisia with some of his monks, a fourth in the wake of the three W’s (whom you may choose to think of as converted big M’s): Wilfred of York, Wictbert of Ireland and Wilfred’s pupil, Willibrord of Northumbria. He met only frustration and returned to Nursling, for the political situation was insurmountable.

Between the collapse of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Carolingian Empire (which Boniface partly made possible) arose only one power with an element of stability, the Merovingian empire, the Kingdom of the Franks. It embraced Western and Eastern sections, Neustria and Austrasia, to oversimplify. In the same vein we may think of Neustria as Gaul or France and Austrasia as Germany, although the Lowlands were a sphere of influence of the latter. Power was passing from the monarchy to the Mayors of the respective palaces. In Austrasia Charles the Hammer, Charles Martel, was dominant, the iron man needed in an iron age. It was he who drove back the Moslems in 732 near Tours and Poitiers, when they invaded from Spain, and who defeated the Saxons in 738 and made them pay tribute. The Frankish kingdom was then divided between his sons Carloman and Pepin the Short. When Carloman retired to a monastery, Pepin III became effective ruler of the whole kingdom. In 751 he destroyed the fiction that the Merovingian House was in control by deposing Childeric III, became king himself, and so the dynasty which produced Charlemagne was born. But when Boniface came on the scene Charles Martel was still engaged in hostilities with Radbod, the Pagan king of the Frisians. It was of Radbod that the story is told that he came within an ace of being baptized, but that when he asked whether he would meet his ancestors, and was told No, they would be in Hell, he decided that he would not split up the family. (Fortunately for Boniface at a later date his son Aldgils II had no such scruples). After a period of Frankish supremacy which had permitted Willibrord’s early successes, Radbod regained Utrecht in 714, persecuted the Christians and drove them underground. Willibrord, who had been there for 24 years, for 19 of them as Archbishop of the Frisians, was forced to flee to a monastery he had founded in Echternach, now an idyllic spot in Luxemburg, where, incidentally, on Whit-Tuesday the Bishop of Luxemburg joins the populace in dancing in honour of Willibrord. Boniface made no progress and withdrew to Nursling.

By 718, however, he was in Rome, never to see England again. During his monastic years from oblate to priest, Boniface had absorbed those standards of order, discipline and obedience which marked not only the Benedictine order, but also the whole Roman mission from Augustine of Canterbury onwards. There is undoubtedly a Celtic influence in the sanctity, asceticism and consuming evangelism which took Wynfrith to Europe, from which his ancestors had come, but, along with the 7thcentury Anglo-Saxon Church, he accepted as natural the moral and honorary primacy of Rome, which was to convert him to a Boniface and spend him in the service of the Papacy. Boniface made three arduous trips to Rome, served four Popes and by them was commissioned to evangelize the heathen successively as priest, bishop, Metropolitan of Germany beyond the Rhine and papal legate. His mandate from Gregory II as bishop contains interesting details, including:

“We have commanded him not to ordain a man who has been married twice or one who has married a woman not a virgin, or one who is not fully instructed, or a man suffering from a physical defect, or who is notorious for a crime whether civil or ecclesiastical, or who is known to be subject to some liability. If he finds such persons in office he shall not advance them. Under no circumstances whatsoever should he accept Africans who dare to apply for admission to ecclesiastical orders, because some of them are Manichaeans and others are known to have received Baptism several times. He shall endeavour not to diminish but rather to increase the services and adornments of the churches and whatsoever endowments they possess.”

In the German provinces of Hesse, Thuringia and Bavaria, where he organized diocesan Church government, he established a papacy-oriented structure which disregarded its debt to itinerant or settled Celtic evangelists. This was even truer of his commission in 741 to reform the ecclesiastical organization in France, where Celtic, that is, Irish influence, had hitherto prevailed over Roman. Boniface was an incurable letter writer. “Ever since I dedicated myself”, he says in 745, “nearly 30 years ago to the service of the Apostolic See . . . it has been my custom to relate to the Supreme Pontiff all my joys and sorrows”. To him he turned for guidance in the countless problems which arose in a missionary situation : the degrees of affinity permitted by the marriage laws, giving Communion to lepers, and to parricides, the conjugal rights of husbands, the sale of slaves to the heathen, not to mention his troubles with worldly clergy (who “are shiftless drunkards, addicted to the chase, who marched into battle and shed with their own hands the blood of Christians and heathens alike”).

Some of his remarks now make quaint reading. Can one eat horses, wild or tame? (Filthy and abominable, replied Gregory III) – jackdaws, storks, or beavers (No food for Christians, said Zacharias.) How long should bacon fat be kept before eating? (The Church Fathers provide no information, said Zacharias. Was there nosmile on his face when he dictated that reply? But he wasable to provide Boniface’s messenger with a manuscript indicating where the sign of the cross should be used in the Canon of the Mass.) There is general disfavour now at Boniface’s acquiring from Rome in 751 a charter for his favourite monastery of Fulda to be subject only to the Apostolic See, but such a practice is known in England from at least 680.

However, Boniface’s feelings for ecclesiastical order are tempered by a concern for tradition and for morals. There was, for example, on one occasion widespread comment (including from Rome) that he did wrong in allowing the marriage of a godfather to the widowed mother of the godchild. He shows no awareness that a papal opinion is final, but sends letters in disbelief to many, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, asking for ancient authorities who assert it to be a mortal sin. He is no respecter of persons, especially where his converted weaker brethren are concerned. In his jealousy of a Christian’s credibility, the same letter which submits to Zacharias on the Pope’s succession to office bluntly asks him to prevent abuses at Rome which the sensual and ignorant pagans throw in his teeth, all the hallmarks of the dolce vita, I’m afraid, like New Year celebrations and overindulgence in food. We may wonder what the Pope thought of the suggestion that he ban the sale of amulets and bracelets. With the same scrupulosity he charged Archbishop Cuthbert of Canterbury with the sins of the nation:

“I will not conceal from Your Grace that all the servants of God here who are especially versed in Scripture and strong in the fear of God are agreed that it would be well and favourable for the honour and purity of your Church and a sure protection against vice if your synod and your princes would forbid matrons and nuns to make their frequent journeys back and forth to Rome. A great part of them perish and few keep their virtue. There are very few towns in Lombardy and Gaul where there is no a courtesan or harlot of English stock. It is a scandal and a disgrace to your whole Church.”

King Aethelbad of Mercia probably took long to recover from a lengthy letter, sent in the name of Boniface and his seven coadjutor bishops (in 746-747), attacking inter alia his sexual activity with nuns.

Boniface’s standards are uniformly severe. Ostentatious dress he pronounced “sent by Antichrist to herald his coming”. In rather familiar language he called intoxication “an evil peculiar to the heathen and our race, for neither the Franks nor the Gauls nor the Lombards nor the Romans nor the Greeks practise it”. He abstained from alcohol himself and required the same of his monks at Fulda. And yet we notice with pleasure that, as an inducement to Egbert, Archbishop of York, to send him copies of the works of the Venerable Bede, Boniface sends himtwo small casks of wine “asking you in token of our mutual affection to use it for a merry day with the brethren”.

It is easy to construct a picture of a censorious fanatic, lacking the saving grace of humour. But could he have fulfilled his mission with less than an iron will? Austrasia and Neustria alike showed him in abundance the fate of those who compromised – false bishops who did not even preach, priests of strange milk and honey diets, stranger doctrines and scandalous lives, all men of great influence whom it embarrassed him to meet at court (the subject of more letters to Rome). 

The rigours of his mission called for super-Pauline discipline and an unerring sense of direction. The Papacy recognized this power in him, and would not let him rest. “You are not at liberty, brother”, wrote Gregory III in 739, “to tarry in one place when your work there is finished. Wherever God shall open to you a road to the salvation of souls, carry on with your preaching.” So, when news reached him, shortly after his first commissioning, that the notorious overlord Radbod of Frisia was dead, Boniface hastened up the Rhine and spent three years from 719 to 722 serving under Willibrord at Utrecht. Willibrord sought to detain him, but that same combination of restlessness of spirit and a sense of being a man under authority drove him back into Germany, wild parts of Austrasia like Hesse and Thuringia, subject to Saxon incursion, later also to Bavaria. From a roving commission as evangelist he became a Bishop without a see and an archbishop without a province. It was not till 745, in possibly his late 60’s, that a synod gave him a diocese to fill the gap, Cologne by intention but ultimately, after local protests, Mainz. He pleaded in vain several times to be allowed to lay aside his onerous administrative burdens ; we know from his final days in Frisia that it was no quiet retreat that he was seeking.

The obstacles he faced beggar description – basic human problems, such as priest Wigbert mentioned in the same letter in which he reported to the Glastonbury community missionary successes in Germany: “though there are many difficulties and dangers and we are constantly beset by hunger, thirst, cold and the hostility of the heathens”. He took enormous risks in destroying pagan temples and centres of worship. His personal destruction of the Oak of Thor at Geismar in Hesse was tactically a great success, but the accounts make plain the ugliness of the pagans’ mood. His constant travelling speaks volumes for his stamina. Not that volumes were in ready supply. There were intellectual privations. He writes letters far and wide looking for books. In 733 he wrote to abbot Duddo that he has commentaries on only two of Paul’s letters, Romansand 1 Corinthians. It is chastening to reflect that at the time he was Metropolitan of Germany beyond the Rhine. We also remember the inadequacies of a courier service which produced answers to correspondence many months too late to be useful, and sometimes showing so little appreciation of the missionary’s task as to constitute no reply at all.

But there were also the stresses within the forces of the Church – self-seeking clergy, backsliding converts. Above all the ambivalence of the secular power, always authoritarian and promoting self interest. Where it supported the Church it undoubtedly profited, for the English missionaries contributed to the consolidation of the state, a process which was to continue into the 9thcentury under Charlemagne. But the Church competed with the secular arm. Benefactions and privileges alienated so much property from the state, that many rulers responded to this running sore by reclaiming church estates. When Charles Martel, a Catholic prince, to whom Europe owed enormous gratitude, died in 741 it was popularly believed that his sequestrations of church property had consigned him straight to Hell.

No less impressive than the obstacles were Boniface’s heroic achievements. He attracted to his mission a large number of Anglo-Saxon and other priests and monks and nuns. He founded many monasteries with their aid and established a pattern which became endemic after his death. Let two statistics suffice for many: It is calculated that nearly 100 monasteries were established in Bavaria between 740 and 748. Fulda, which he founded in 744, had, by the time of the death of Abbot Sturm in 779, upwards of four hundred monks.

Diocesan government as we know it was a product of Boniface’s work in large tracts of France and Germany. He established four bishoprics in Bavaria, four in France and of course reorganized many more. He established the influence of the papacy in Northern Europe, and strengthened the development of centralized secular power, and of the unity of Western civilization. When Pepin III, father of Charlemagne, seized the Kingship of the Franks with the blessing of Pope Zacharias, it was Boniface as Papal Legate who anointed him, the first of the Carolingian kings.

Of some importance was the restoration of synods in Austrasia when Carloman succeeded Charles Martel in the eastern country. Boniface proclaimed there had been none for 80 years, although scholars would now cut this figure by half. But there was still real achievement in the fact that four were held between 742 and 747 with Boniface presiding and Pepin held some also in Neustria. Synods of the whole kingdom took place in 745 and 747. Two developments quickly emerge. In 746 Pepin, his bishops, abbots and chiefmen (principesin the formula of synod) send Pope Zacharias a questionnaire on 27 points of canon law, confirming for us the acceptance of Papal headship. Secondly, it becomes very clear that the bonds between England and Europe grow tighter, and that the tides of reform begin to return from whence they came. At least the Frankish Synod of 747 influences the English reform synod of Clovesho in 747 in the choice of its legislation. Another debt is starting to be discharged.

How, then, shall we remember Boniface? George Greenway, commemorating him in 1955, suggests one way: “St. Boniface was a great Christian and a great Englishman, but he was also a great European. Perhaps this is the most important lesson he can teach us in our day”.

It is a thought as pertinent to us as to England in a shrinking world and enlarging multicultural societies. But for his epitaph, the way in which hewould have liked to be remembered, I think we turn to what he wrote to Abbot Huelbert of Wearmouth in 746-747:

“We earnestly beseech you, kind brother, to assist us with your holy prayers in our labours among the rude and savage people of Germany, where we are sowing the seed of the Gospel. Pray that we may not be scorched by the fiery furnace of the Babylonians, but rather that the seed strewn in the furrows may germinate and grow an abundant harvest. For, in the words of the Apostle, ‘neither he that plants nor he that waters is of any accounts, but only God who gives the increase.’”

Let us thank God for St. Boniface who sowed good seed and left us all his debtors.

* * * * * * * * * *

Kenneth John McKay looked back to his Australian origins through great grandparents who were Irish Catholics and migrated here in 1852, settling near Castlemaine in Victoria. His grandfather, though, decided that the Catholic Church “was only after your money,” and became an Anglican. Ken’s parents lived initially in Shepparton, and Ken attended its State Primary School where in Goulburn Valley style, correct answers were rewarded with quarters of fruit. His response to this was, “I tried to be very smart indeed.” However, he was not there for long.

The arrival of the Great Depression meant moving out, with his father seeking employment wherever it could be found, while his mother and the two children moved around various rooming houses, mainly within Melbourne’s inner South Eastern suburbs. This meant attending several schools before going on to Melbourne High. Perhaps such an unsettled childhood may have contributed towards a certain lack of self-confidence – he never dared learn to drive – yet his interest in people also gave him a remarkable range and number of friendships.

Ken’s school reports survive and it is clear he had a natural aptitude for languages and a good deal else. At Elwood Central he achieved an average of 99.75% for Latin with everything else being “excellent”. He finished Dux of the school with an overall average of 97.5%. At Melbourne High he continued to excel, particularly in Latin, but also in Mathematics. Comments included “exceptional”, “ outstanding  ability”, and  “a splendid student”. 
  
At Matriculation level Ken took out five Firsts, and as a result of prizes and scholarships entered Melbourne University in 1945.He began studying French, Latin, and Ancient History, with a view to becoming a schoolteacher; towards the middle of the year, however, he had an impulse to study Classical Greek. By this time the first year Greek students, who were assumed to have done Greek at school – which he had not – were well advanced in the subject. Nonetheless Ken managed to pass Greek that year, as well as attaining an Exhibition in Latin.

The next year a Beginner’s Greek Summer School was started for students wishing to study  Greek in first year and who were starting from scratch. Ken sought to enrol for it but the Professor of Classics told him to act as tutor instead. Having tutored in the first week of the first Beginner’s Greek Summer School, he was to go on to tutor in the last week of the very last Summer School forty years later. Numbers of significant Church figures along with a great many Parish clergy of various traditions undertook this “crash course” at his hands; I should not forget the Religious, especially many Jesuits. One such, Gerald O’Çollins, with whom I studied Greek 1, went on to become an internationally renowned New Testament scholar and Professor in Rome.

Ken continued to excel in his studies and in third year was awarded the Wyselaski Scholarship which enabled him to proceed to a Master of Arts in 1948.His chosen topic reflected his historical interest: “Judaea as an example of first century Roman Provincial Administration,” but no suitable supervisor was available. So instead it was: “The Aeolic origin of the Homeric Poems,” which turned him more towards philology, and in which he was to inspire many others.

There were other interests in Ken’s life too: not least a deep involvement in the Anglican Church, initially through the Church of England Boys Society. The leader of his group was an Anglo-Catholic: Ken wrote, “in the process of equipping myself to counter his beliefs, I discovered that I agreed with him”. He became widely, as well as locally, active in Anglican affairs for the rest of his life; perhaps most notably, the Anglican Men’s Society, of which he was Diocesan Chairman, then for six years the National vice-chairman, the highest position a layman could hold. From 1977 to 2010 he ran a highly successful and far famed Annual AMS book fair as a fundraiser. His knowledge of and love for books was unbounded.

After completing his M.A. Ken accepted a Junior Lectureship in Brisbane (along with being Vice-Warden of St. John’s College) at the University of Queensland. The former he described as “a form of slave labour,” under an odious professor with a heavy Classics teaching load, much of it new to him. In the first week he wrote 5 resignation letters, tore them up, and survived an alienating environment and the humidity for 3 years – a formative experience.

He returned to Melbourne in 1954 with both a PhD thesis and the Ordained ministry in view. Neither were realized. He gained a temporary lectureship which became permanent in 1956 and continued until his retirement in 1992. As well as teaching he wrote articles for scholarly journals and a book on Callimachus in 1960.

With the introduction of sabbatical leave, Ken resolved to convert his work on Callimachus into a doctoral thesis with this year off. During Matriculation year he had started learning Dutch “for the hell of it” and kept this up. Ken and Gloria were married in 1955 and by this time had three sons. A Dutch scholarship and renting out their home enabled the family to take the sea voyage to Holland and then to the University of Utrecht where Ken prepared and defended his Doctoral dissertation in Dutch. He was awarded a Doctor of Letters cum laude in 1962 and his thesis became a second book.

While he was away Ken was promoted to Senior Lecturer, in 1968 to Reader and Associate Professor. It would be reasonable to assume that the machinations of University politics lay at the heart of his failure to receive a full Professorship. He more than delivered the goods, as a highly regarded academic, and as a teacher.

Ken’s lectures have been described as “a wonderful combination of erudition and wit”. He said once, “some say that Bowra’s book on Pindar is not his best book. Again, there are some who say Bowra has not got a best book”. His lectures on Comparative Philology were particularly remembered: he could make a subject that most thought dead, come alive. He had such detailed knowledge of texts and scholarship that some found it overwhelming. One former student said,” Just to sit in the room with him was to gain a sense of what there was to be known, up against which one’s own ignorance could brush”. As one who was privileged to sit at his feet, with this I am in total agreement. Ken had a quietly passionate, witty, yet eruditely informative, presence.  There was also reticence and humility, he was simple yet complex.

Above all Ken was a deeply Christian man. I treasure memories of him introducing me to saints and martyrs like Ignatius of Antioch as he opened up another world for me, passing on, and embodying in his own unique way, the Great Tradition of the Catholic Faith. Indeed, he was radiant to us in its transmission. Great teacher as he was, one was aware of the old adage that the faith is caught rather than taught.

It was because of this deep conviction that Ken took exception to the proposed innovation of women as priests, and in the early 1970’s became Founding Chairman of a group seeking to uphold the Apostolic Ministry entitled Unity Peace and Concord – a significant identification, and as to which very things their opponents seemed heedless in a determination to introduce change regardless of the cost. Unity Peace and Concord was caught up into the international Association for the Apostolic Ministry which then became Forward in Faith. Ken – and Gloria – were actively committed to these in turn. The three following addresses variously reflect the context of Ken’s commitment to upholding the Apostolic Ministry, as do the three martyr bishops themselves, who gave their lives in union with their crucified Lord, in its exercise .

Shortly before he died – and with what courage and fortitude did he endure his final illness -Ken, with deep gratitude, was received by Bishop Peter Elliott into full Communion with the Catholic Church as the first member of the, as yet to be, Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. In his last few months Ken was visited daily by a procession of visitors from  many places, and varied walks of life, who made up the rich network of his relationships. We will continue to walk with him as we too rejoice in the wonder and unfathomable mystery of Christ Our Lord and God, with Mary our Mother, Ignatius, Cyprian, Boniface, and the whole company of heaven.  

The Right Reverend David Robarts OAM
National Chairman, Forward in Faith Australia.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The joy of Corpus Christi



In some countries the great festival of Corpus Christi will have been kept last Thursday, while in others today is the big day. What a wonderful celebration of the presence of Jesus among us in the Blessed Sacrament! I am still getting to know the customs of my new parish. I was so pleased a few weeks ago to discover that not only does All Saints' Benhilton keep Corpus Christi on the Sunday with great rejoicing, but also that at the end of Mass we have a procession of the Blessed Sacrament into our neighbourhood, before going back into the church for Benediction.

There have been many revivals and times of renewal prompted by the Holy Spirit over two thousand years of Church history. One such movement in the Western Church during the Middle Ages was the upsurge in love and devotion to Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar. This resulted in the practice of elevating the Host and the Chalice for the people’s adoration during the consecration at Mass. To satisfy the widespread prayerful longing for these sacred moments of love and worship to be extended, processions of the Blessed Sacrament became common, as did devotions that evolved into the little service of “Benediction” as we know it today.

“Corpus Christi” (Latin for “Body of Christ”) as an exuberant festival of thanksgiving for the Blessed Sacrament was officially proclaimed in Belgium in 1246. It was extended to the entire Western Church in 1264.  

Our Eucharistic procession at the end of today’s Mass reminds us that Jesus, present among his people in the Sacrament of his love, accompanies us, not just as individuals, but also as a community of faith walking together, supporting one another in our journey through this life.

One of the more eccentric and colourful characters of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England was Father Sandys Wason (1867-1950), poet and for some years Vicar of Cury and Gunwalloe in Cornwall. He was greatly persecuted and suffered much for the Faith. A number of his poems have been included in the biography, Mr Wason . . . I Think, written by Roy Tickner. Particularly moving is Father Wason's poem written for the solemnity of Corpus Christi:

CORPUS DOMINI
At every doorway of the rose-hung street,
On the stone stair-heads, in the angled shade,
Peasants in old-time festival brocade
Took refuge from the unrelenting heat;
These, all by some Mystery made one
With those who dozed or whispered, kissed or played
As silver trumpets rang through the arcade,
Leaned to the far-off sound like wind-blown wheat.

A dark-haired boy, sandalled and naked save
A shift of camel's hair, came first as John
The Baptist: in his wake a yearling lamb,
A crucifix, blest incense; next, a score
Of sunburnt singing-boys in lawn and black
Swept gaily on before a company
Of girls in long lace bridal veils and wreaths
Of oleander, telling rosaries,
But none so fervid that she failed to screen
The lighted taper in her small brown hand
Lest any love-lorn breeze mistake and woo
Its flame for some gold flower.

A group of children who from ribboned frails
Unendingly were flinging to the Host
Flowers of genista, poppy, myrtle, bay;
At last, as from a mist of frankincense
And candle-light and waving cypress boughs,
A priest in silver vestments flowered with gold
To which, as by a spell, his eyes were held;
He gazed, as if these transitory things
Were with the earth, all they had been before
They were created; as if our life were but
A greying garland doomed to pass away.

To him, within the pale orb of the Host,
All he had ever dreaded or desired,
Truth, wisdom, power, peace and righteousness,
As in a crystal mirror, stood revealed,
And so, adoring his uplifted God,
Wonder, profoundest wonder filled his soul.

This Host he held before him was, he knew,
But one of thousands he, with Christ's last words,
Had blessed and raised to God at break of dawn;
As known to him, as dearly natural
As his young olive trees, his violin,
The cedar press where lay the folded alb
He would at death be clothed in, the pale crown
Of 'everlastings' on his mother's grave.

This Host was close to these persisting things.
In this, then, dwelt the marvel; here abode
The Lord who made the beauty of the world,
The sun, the moon, and all the stars that be,
The solace and the menace of the sea.

Came holding, shaded by a baldaquin
Of white and silver tissue, thin with age,
A golden monstrance like an outspread fan.