Friday, January 22, 2016

Anglo-Catholic Kids' Confirmation Course

A few days ago I was asked if I knew of "a decent children's confirmation course for Anglo-Catholic parishes," and was able to say, "As it happens, I have just what you need", and sent the link. My correspondent was very pleased, but he complained that I had not widely advertised the course.

Well, that's because it was originally put together using a wide range of insights and resources, just as part of my own ministry. The first version was pretty rough . . . in black and white . . . when I was at Skipton in rural Victoria in the early 1980s. It was re-written in Horsham in the late 1980s, and again at All Saints' Wickham Terrace in Brisbane in the late 1990s. That edition was used by quite a number of clergy in Australia and further afield. 

In my parishes I would have the children after school one afternoon per week during school term from February to December (the Australian school year). First term was a "Life of Jesus" (so far unrevised) in which we snuck in things like creation, the angels, the Trinity etc. Attendance at the Holy Week liturgies was just at the time we were teaching about the dying and rising of the Lord. Then second, third and fourth term were spent working through the "Crash Course", with each unit spread over a few sessions, depending on the age of the children and their interests. (I have also found that the course works OK when preparing adults and children together as a family group in remote and isolated places.)

During the final term we would have a "Confirmation Camp", a blend of worship, teaching and fun, usually shared with another parish or two, and it was on that weekend that the children made their first confessions. 

On the Saturday of the weekend before the confirmation we would have a day out, with the morning spent at the Cathedral followed by lunch and ball games in a park, and then afternoon tea with Bishop Hazlewood at Bishopscourt! The Bishop would take the children into his chapel and pray for them. 

The emphasis of this course is to lead the children into a close friendship with the Lord.

The graphics are quite important, especially as discussion starters among the children.

The final revision of the "Crash Course" was in 2006, although I added some more graphics in 2011.

The easiest way of producing the course as a book that will be kept by children and families is:

2. Print the pages double-sided on 100gsm paper A5 size (just a bit thicker than ordinary 80gsm).

3. Go to a well equipped stationers (e.g. Rymans in the UK, Officeworks in Australia) and get them to spiral bind the pages with a thick card on the back, and a transparent stiff plastic cover sheet on the front.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Jesus the Bridegroom and the Wedding Feast, by Mark Shea

Mark P. Shea is a Washington-based writer, blogger, and speaker. Raised as an agnostic, he became a non-denominational Protestant Evangelical in 1979 before becoming a Roman Catholic in 1987. Mark has written a number of books and many articles in Catholic periodicals. The following is taken from an article he wrote for the National Catholic Reporter.

There’s a reason Jesus gave his first sign at the Marriage Feast at Cana.  His teaching is, in fact, suffused with nuptial imagery.  He calls himself the Bridegroom.  He tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding banquet.  And where did he get this sort of thinking from?  Well, given that he was home schooled and taught to read the Scriptures by St Joseph and the Blessed Virgin, we shouldn’t be too surprised that he and his Mother are pretty much on the same wavelength at the Wedding at Cana.  She is asking himself to reveal himself as the Messiah and he knows it (otherwise, his “my hour has not yet come” reply makes absolutely no sense). She is exactly the importunate supplicant that Jesus tells us he is looking for.  She persists, and he works the sign - a sign that points forward to the Eucharist banquet and ultimately to Heaven.

If you don’t get the point, John is happy to drive it home for you. Just turn the page on his gospel and you find John the Baptist telling us who the Bridegroom is:

He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. (John 3:29)

This is not John playing at some pseudo-Dan Brown game and hinting that Jesus was the guy getting married in the previous chapter.  It is rather the commentary on the meaning, not only of the wedding at Cana, but of every wedding (and especially every wedding between baptized Christians): namely, that our earthly experience of marriage points us to the True Marriage between Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride the Church.  

That’s why Paul will write:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

And it is why John will, in his Revelation, tell us:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2)

Jesus had learned well from his home-schooling mother and father that Isaiah had declared the word of the Lord:

For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the LORD has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the LORD, your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:5-8)

And so it was only natural for Christ to offer a sign which linked the the Eucharist to a wedding banquet.  That’s why the Church speaks of it as “the Paschal Banquet.”  For the Host is the Host  And He is so profligate in His affections that He throws the door wide to everybody, especially to those who cannot repay Him (i.e., every last one of us).  

That why he tells us;

When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbours, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. (Luke 14:12)

We easily forget this and can fall prey to the game of “Squint at the People Down the Pew” in the effort to see if they are being as reverent as we are.  It is good to be reverent, of course.  But the moment we turn our reverence into a bargaining chip at the Banquet (“I thank you O Lord that I am not like other people or even like that guy over there who wears tacky clothes, or didn’t receive the Cup…”) is the moment we have taken our minds off God and begun to present our superior wonderfulness to Him rather than welcome those who do not repay us by conforming to what we think they should be doing.  Does this mean we should encourage irreverent Masses?  Of course not.  But it does mean that we should encourage charity even when people don’t measure up to our standards.  If the Host welcomes them, so should we.

One of the consequences of the fact that the Eucharist is a wedding banquet is, as the old saying goes, “You can pick your friends, but you are stuck with your relatives”.  The communion of Peter the Rock is a gigantic rock polisher.  We all tumble around in it, buffing the edges off one another until we become smooth.  We go to Mass with all sorts of people who cannot (or will not) give us payment on our demands that they conform to our notion of how a good Catholic ought to look, sound and smell.  And so we grow in charity even as others grow in charity over our equally irritating traits.  And so, as we rub shoulders at the Wedding Banquet with the odd relatives of the Bride and Groom, we learn the reality that the good news about the Catholic Church is that it’s like a big family—and the bad news about the Catholic Church is that it’s like a big family.

If our earthly perspective were all we had to go on, that could be grim tidings indeed, depending on our experience of family.  But our earthly perspective is not all we have to go on.  That why Paul tells us:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes in glory.  That means that we participate in his death and resurrection and that this participation is moving forward toward consummation on That Day when he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  We aren’t just spinning our wheels here, playing out an endless round of dumb family quarrels, habits of sin, and the same old same old.

Rather, the Eucharist is the Pledge of the Glory to Come because it is the glory to come.  The Eucharist is Jesus.  What we shall receive in Heaven will be full participation, not in something utterly different, but in the very same Jesus we receive in the Eucharist  To be sure, in one sense, everything will be different.  Like the Risen Christ, the whole universe will be transfigured and we might not recognize the old girl at first  But when our eyes adjust to the light and we look again we will recognize that this place is Home, the place we’ve been looking for all our lives.  And we will recognize that it has been among us, even on earth, because the same Jesus we know in the Eucharist is the Jesus who will welcome us to the Great and Ultimate Marriage Banquet at which He presides and offers Himself to us all.

That’s why the charity we are slowly learning to show to our exasperating brother in Christ matters.  Because as C.S. Lewis says:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Jesus truly present . . . where should the Tabernacle be?


Devotion to Jesus, truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, is common enough among Anglicans these days. Over many years, however, I have observed that this devotion tends not to exist among “rank and file” worshippers where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved out of sight in a side chapel. Indeed, in that scenario, prayer to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament becomes the habit of the devout few rather than of the many.

On his excellent blog, Father John Hunwicke reminds us of Eric Mascall’s disquiet over the same phenomenon. He quotes from Mascall’s Corpus Christi: Essays on the Church and the Eucharist (1965 ed). Thankfully, after much experimentation – and even architectural vandalism - there is a movement in Anglican and Roman Catholic circles to restore the centrality of the tabernacle. If any readers have doubts about this, I urge you to think about the passage from Dr Mascall:   

The fundamental facts about the Blessed Sacrament are its publicity and its centrality. It is not a secret treasure, hidden away in a corner to be the object of devotion of the abnormally pious; it is the gift of God to his body the Church. The method of reservation which is advocated by many - though fortunately a diminishing number - of our [Anglican] bishops . . . whereby the Consecrated Elements are placed in a safe in the church wall and removed from association with the altar, seems calculated to encourage almost every wrong view of the reserved Sacrament that is conceivable. Could anything be more likely to detach the reserved Sacrament from its organic connection with the Church’s Liturgy than the provision that the place of reservation ‘shall not be immediately behind or above a Holy Table’?. . . It is therefore, I would suggest, most desirable that the Blessed Sacrament should normally be reserved in as central a place as possible, upon the high altar of the church, and that regularly some form of public devotion to the Eucharistic Presence should be held, if possible when the main body of the congregation is assembled. 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Lord's Baptism, Theophany - insights from the East

Vasili Nesterenko. Baptism of our Lord. Christ the Saviour Cathedral (Moscow). 2000

The following is a slight adaptation of a passage from ”A Handbook for Church Servers”, by Sergei V. Bulgakov, 1871-1944. (Go HERE for Rowan Williams' talk on Bulgakov's life.)

In the Eastern Church this feast is called “Theophany” (“revelation of God”) because during the Baptism of the Lord the Divine All-Holy Trinity was revealed: God the Father spoke from heaven about the Son, the Son of God was baptised by John and was witnessed by God the Father, and the Holy Spirit descended on the Son in the form of a dove. This explanation of the feast is given by the Holy Church in its hymn: “When thou, O Lord, wast baptised in the Jordan, worship of the Trinity wast made manifest; for the voice of the Father bore witness to thee, calling thee his beloved Son. And the Spirit in the form of a dove confirmed the truth of his word. O Christ our God, who hath appeared and enlightened the world, glory to thee.”

Since ancient times this feast also was known as the “Day of Illumination” and “the Feast of Lights”, because God is the Light and reveals himself to illumine “those who sat in darkness and the shadow of death” (Matthew 4:16), and to save according to grace, who has now been revealed by the appearing of our Saviour” (2 Timothy 1:9-10), and because on the Eve of Theophany it was the custom to baptise the catechumens . . . during which many lamps are lit.

Besides this, the ancient Church on this day also remembered other events in which the divine worthiness and representation of Jesus Christ was expressed both during his birth, and during his introduction to preach in public after baptism: 

1) The worship of the Magi as a revelation of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world by means of a wonderful star from this commemoration the very feast of Epiphany in the Western Church received the name of the Feast of the Three Kings; in the Eastern Church though it was part of the feast, it was not expressed in the character of the feast; 

2) The manifestation of the divine power of Jesus Christ in his first miracle at the marriage in Cana of Galilee when the Lord “created the beginning of signs”; and 

3) (in the African Church) The appearance of the divine power in Jesus Christ in the wonderful feeding of the more than 5000 persons by with five loaves of bread in the desert . . .

According to the teaching of St John of Damascus, the Lord was baptized, not because he himself needed cleansing, but rather, having taken our cleansing upon himself, to destroy the heads of the serpents in the water,  “to bury human sin through water and all of the old Adam, to fulfill the law, to reveal the mystery of the Trinity and, finally, to consecrate ‘the essence of water’ and to grant us a paradigm and an example of baptism . . . it inspires in us feelings of boundless gratitude to the Enlightener and the Cleanser of our sinful nature; it teaches that our purification and salvation from sin is only by the power of grace of the Holy Spirit; it specifies the necessity of the worthy use the gifts of the grace of baptism and the protection in purity of those precious garments of which we are reminded on the feast of the Baptism by the words: ‘As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ’ (Galatians 3:27); and it commands us towards the purification of our souls and hearts in order to be worthy of the blessed life.”

The Holy Spirit was revealed as a dove because this image most resembled both the Holy Spirit and Christ the Lord. According to the teaching of St. John Chrysostom, “the dove is a gentle and pure being and like the Holy Spirit is a spirit of meekness, that He also was revealed with the same image”; “in the form of a dove the Spirit descended as the depiction of Christ’s humanity as pure, sinless and true”. 

According to the explanation of Cyril of Jerusalem, “as then during Noah’s time the dove announced the end of the flood bringing an olive branch, and now the Holy Spirit as a dove announces the remission of sins; there, an olive branch, here, the mercy of our God.”

Another of the hymns chanted on this Feast in the Eastern Church links the Lord’s consecration of the baptismal stream with our own baptism: “The River Jordan receded of old by the mantle of Elisha when Elijah ascended into heaven; and the water was separated to this side and that, the wet element turning into a dry path for him, being truly a symbol of Baptism, by which we cross the path of transient age. Christ appeared in the Jordan to sanctify its waters.”

Monday, January 4, 2016

Epiphany - thoughts of Brother Alois of Taizé

The following is a meditation Brother Alois of Taizé wrote in 2009
for the newspaper "La Croix."

Christmas sets before us a humble event that took place one day in Bethlehem. Epiphany shows us that this event has a universal and even a cosmic dimension. The Wise Men are guided by a star and represent all peoples, all cultures.

Today we would like to understand how the light of Christ can enlighten all people. To achieve this, like the Wise Men we must leave our habits and some of our beliefs behind. We must leave ourselves behind, bending down and entering the stable. Any other attitude would cause us to miss the God who humbled himself to the point of being born in a hidden place.

Let us spend time with them. May our prayer, before being petition, be, like theirs, adoration. When we look towards the light of Christ, it gradually becomes an inward light and the mystery of Christ becomes the mystery of our own lives as well.

The spirit of adoration is not easy in a world where immediate results matter so much, where the mere thought of a long process of maturation arouses impatience. As for the Wise Men, a journey is necessary to allow us simply to remain in the presence of God. In long silences where nothing seems to happen, God is at work in us, without our knowing how.

[Our] stained-glass window of the Epiphany shows the Wise Men adoring the Child. Let us look at that child to understand who God is. Let us consider the extreme humility of God. Let us see that, as a poor child, he comes to beg for our love! And let us see too that he restores human dignity to those who have lost it.

To adore means to discern the presence of God. God is present in his Word (at the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome, the "sacramental" character of the Bible was recalled). God is present in the Eucharist. Christians of the East know that icons also lead us into communion with God. God is present in the humble events of our lives. And the Gospel insists: God lets himself be found among the poorest of the poor.

Adoration means turning away from ourselves to look towards God. If our own concerns take up all the room, how can the obstacles that cover over the source of life set within us by God be removed?

The Wise Men express their adoration by an offering. The prayer of adoration leads us to offer the best of ourselves to God and to others. It leads us to make our life a gift for those who are entrusted to us.

It is true that some suffer too much and no longer have the strength to worship God. We must have respect and compassion without limits for such people. But if the Gospel asks us to look beyond ourselves, it is in order to keep hope alive, even for those who are unable to hope any longer.

Christians of the East may feel an attitude of adoration before the mystery of God more spontaneously than Westerners do. I had that experience recently. In early December, the death of the Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow, Alexy II, touched our hearts. I had met him, and he told me he wanted to deepen cooperation with Taizé. I went to his funeral with two of my brothers.

During the celebrations in Moscow, I said to myself: we have such a need to open ourselves to the treasures bequeathed to Eastern Christianity. One of the secrets of the soul of Eastern Christians lies in a prayer of adoration where God's goodness becomes tangible. This prayer allows access to the mysteries of the faith: the incarnation of Christ, his resurrection, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. And it is from these mysteries that Christians of the East draw a sense of the greatness of the human being. God became man so that humanity might participate in his divinity; every human being is called to be transfigured with Christ already here on earth.

Could our liturgies, without in any way neglecting the communal dimension, lead to more adoration, to inwardness, to a personal communion with God?

In the East, the Epiphany is called Theophany, "appearance of God." The liturgical tradition links the story of the Wise Men, the baptism of Jesus and the water changed into wine at Cana, since they are, at the beginning of the Gospels, three moments when the secret of Christ is revealed: letting the compassion of God shine forth in our humanity.

In coming to earth, Jesus manifested God's love for all people, for all nations. He inscribed God's "yes" in the depths of the human condition. God welcomes all of us just as we are, with what is good, but also with our shadows, and even our defects. We learn to accept that we are poor. And from that moment on, we cannot despair either of the world or of ourselves.