Sunday, April 24, 2016

Father Mackonochie of St Alban's Holborn

(Above) the Church of St Alban the Martyr, Holborn, and its first Vicar, Father Alexander Heriot Mackonochie. The church was built by William Butterfield in 1863. Sadly, on the night of 16th April 1941, it was largely destroyed by firebombs. When the war ended, Adrian Gilbert Scott was asked to produce a new, more economical design and he incorporated several features of the old building that had survived the fire, including the massive saddleback tower, the east wall and the chapel built in 1891 to honour Father Mackonochie.

* * * * * * * * * *

In September 2009 I was at a conference of Forward in Faith Scotland at St Mary’s Monastery, Kinnoull, Perth, followed by a period of ministry, meetings, preachments and Masses, based in the highlands at St Michael and All Angels, Inverness, whose Vicar, Father Len Black, now a priest of the Ordinariate, was Chairman of FiF Scotland. 

In those days, a notable aspect of Father Len’s varied ministry was his regular hour-long programme “Crossfire” on Moray Firth and Nevis Radio. He and I drove to Loch Leven in the west of Scotland for a couple of days, to make an episode in situ on the life and death of Alexander Heriot Mackonochie, an Anglo-Catholic hero of ours who died at the age of 62 on 15th December, 1887. We recorded segments of conversation and poetry in the places that were familiar to Father Mackonochie, including what had been the house of his friend, the Rt Rev'd Alexander Chinnery-Haldane, Bishop of Argyle, at Ballachulish, near Glencoe, the walking route through the Moor of Rannoch, the Forest of Mamore at the head of Loch Leven, the desolate region where Father Mackonochie died, and then to the large cenotaph cross of local slate that stands just outside the west end of St Bride's Church in Mackonochie's memory.

Father Len and I had both been priests of the Society of the Holy Cross (“SSC”) for many years. As Father Mackonoche was among its earliest members (serving three terms as Master, from 1863 to 1875, from 1879 to 1881 and in 1885), this pilgrimage to the place of his death was - for me - deeply moving. 

Father Mackonochie holds a special place among the second generation of priests of the Catholic revival on account of his austerity and holiness of life. His heart was on fire with love for God. He proclaimed and lived the Gospel. He taught the Catholic faith. He especially devoted himself to the poor, and provided for them a church in which Catholic worship was offered in its fulness, and the Gospel message preached with passion. Replying to those who deprecate the influence of such priests, Kenneth McNab has written that “the romantic picture of the SSC slum-priest living, working and dying amongst the poorest of society may owe something to Anglo-Catholic hagiography, but neither is it a work of fiction.” [McNab, Kenneth, 2006 “Mackonochie and the Controversies over Confession and Ritual.” In ed. William Davage, In this Sign Conquer: A History of the Society of the Holy Cross, 1855-2005. London: Continuum: 78-119.] In Mackonochie’s case, for his trouble he was hounded and persecuted by the Church authorities of his day, and even in his own time came to be considered something of a martyr. But through his ministry and that of his co-labourers, the Catholic revival took root in the Church of England, and all who in that Church have since learned the fulness of Catholic faith and worship owe them a huge debt of gratitude. 

The following account is my conflation of contemporary sources and other studies, including: Alexander Heriot Mackonochie: A Memoir, by E.A. Towle; Alexander Heriot Mackonochie - An Appreciation;  Father Mackonochie, by I.G. Brooks (Forward Plus Summer 2013Reverend Rebels by Bernard Palmer; Martyr of Ritualism by Michael Reynolds.


Alexander Heriot Mackonochie was born at Fareham, Hampshire, in 1825. His father, Colonel Mackonochie, who had served with the East India Company, died two years later. His two boys, James and Alexander, were brought up by their mother, who, like her husband, was of Scottish descent. 

Very early in childhood Alexander felt he heard God calling him to the priesthood. In fact, his friends sometimes called him “the boy bishop.” As his health was never good, his mother moved first to Bath and later to Exeter where he attended private schools. At Exeter, he was confirmed and made his first Communion. Later, again, they moved to Edinburgh, and for a short period he studied at Edinburgh University.


In 1845 Mackonochie went to Wadham College, Oxford, where he came under the influence of Dr Pusey, and still more of Charles Marriott, both leaders of the “Oxford movement.” 

He graduated in 1848 and was made deacon in the following year by Bishop Denison at Salisbury. Then he went to his first curacy at Westbury. Here he “fasted too much and worked too hard.” He became known as a faithful visitor, even as he struggled to overcome a certain shyness and awkwardness with those he visited. But he always won their affections. In those early days he found preaching a real trial, costing him hours of labour. But motivated by his devotion to souls, he determined to overcome every difficulty standing in his way. He showed an unwearied zeal in ministering to the poorest In addition he would rise daily around four or five in the morning for prayer and meditation.

Mackonochie was ordained priest in 1850, and remained at Westbury for just over two more years. But he longed for more frequent Masses, together with worship along more Catholic lines. He was drawn to The Rev’d William Butler, Vicar of Wantage, in whose parish there was a daily Mass, a church open all day long, well-ordered services, and a well managed pastoral ministry. Years later, in 1889, Butler, then Dean of Lincoln, wrote of him: “Even at this long interval of time his name is remembered, and there are some still who love to tell of his assiduous visiting, the earnestness of his preaching, the wonderful influence which he gained over some of the most hardened and hopeless.”

In 1856 Mackonochie wanted to give himself to mission work in Newfoundland. But it became evident to him that this was not God’s will. 


Two years later he felt the call to mission work in East London. This brought him to Father Charles Lowder and Wellclose Square. Here he entered on his life’s work, for which his gifts and training had prepared him. “By his indefatigable labours, eloquent preaching, and unceasing care for souls,” wrote Father Lowder, “he set us an example of what mission work really was.”

Here Father Mackonochie began to experience the conflict in which he was to spend the rest of his ministry until he retired, a broken man. When riots occurred in St George’s Church, incited by a Mr Allen bringing with him a mob of over a thousand strong from Whitechapel, he entered on a spirited defence of his rector, the Rev’d Bryan King, but to no avail, for there was no natural justice in those days for loyal Catholics in the Church of England as Mackonochie was to experience again and again in the course of his ministry. 

In 1859, when things at St George’s were at their worst, Mackonochie was offered the Vicarage of St Saviour’s, Leeds. But he would not leave the Mission, where he felt he was just getting established. Nor would he desert Lowder, who relied on his support. So he laboured on indefatigably until, in 1861, his health gave way. He was laid up with rheumatic fever, and was for some time subject to relapses.


In 1862 a Mr Hubbard, who had built the church and clergy house of St Alban’s, on the site in Holborn, given by the generosity of Lord Leigh, where a thieves’ kitchen had stood, surrounded by slums and poverty, nominated Mackonochie as its first vicar. Here was a call to pioneer work in slum-land. He was excited and took up the challenge. So, in a cellar in Greville Street, services were held while the church was being completed. It was consecrated in 1863. And here Father Mackonochie began the twenty years’ ministry which was to make St Alban’s, Holborn, a praise and a glory throughout England. 

As a priest of the Society of the Holy Cross Mackonochie was ready to put his experience and his convictions into practice in the newly-created parish. His spiritual focus centred on Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; his pastoral work centred on serving Jesus in the poor. Like his fellow-priests in SSC he regarded the physical welfare of his parishioners as one of his normal responsibilities.

In the appalling overcrowded slums which surrounded St Alban’s his care for the people soon became known. Never apparently in a hurry, Father Mackonochie laboured from morning to night, at the service of all who needed his help. He gathered round him a faithful band of workers, clergy and lay, and inspired them with his own devotion. He divided the parish into districts each under the care of a curate and a team of visitors. He established guilds for men, women, boys, girls, a parish school and nursery, night schools, a choir school, a soup kitchen, a blanket loan club, clothing fund, coal charity, a private burial ground, and numerous other agencies of welfare and relief. 

Father Mackonochie managed to find time also for his great work as Master of the Society of the Holy Cross, which for many years had an office at Greville Street, close to the church and clergy house.


Tait, Bishop of London and a fellow-Scot, heartily approved Mackonochie’s ministry to the poor, and the impact St Alban’s had on its neighbourhood. But Tait just as strongly disliked Mackonochie’s passion for what was often derided as “ritualism” - his desire to give due honour to the Lord Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament, to clothe the worship of the Church of England in beauty and glory, to bring light and peace into the darkness of hard and troubled lives. It was persecution from the authorities of the Church he loved that in the end drained the strength of this great priest and hastened his death.

There were initial disagreements with the patron and benefactor who had paid for the building of St Alban’s. But these were relatively minor. The new church began to grow. In 1864, the year in which coloured vestments were introduced, there were 291 Easter communicants. In the next year there were 453. Incense was first used in 1866. By 1867 the annual communicant figure had risen from 3,000 to 18,000.

In February of that year the persecution began. The Church Association, formed in 1865 to fight "Ritualism" through the Courts, persuaded a solicitor who lived in Bloomsbury, but was secretary of a Holborn school, to initiate the complaint. Father Mackonochie was accused, under the Church Discipline Act of 1840, of disobedience to the Prayer Book rubrics by elevating the paten and chalice, kneeling “excessively” during the Prayer of Consecration, using lighted candles on the altar, using incense, mixing water with wine in the chalice.

The proceedings dragged on until January 1868 and judgment was given in March, ruling against everything except altar lights and kneeling. Not satisfied, the Church Association continued to hound Mackonochie year after year. Dozens of priests were prosecuted, but Mackonochie became their main target and was elevated into a figure of national interest A period of peace from 1871-4 ended with the passing of the Public Worship Regulation Act. Without going into minute details regarding the litigation, suffice to say that over the fifteen years from 1867 Father Mackonochie suffered suspension for a period of three months, had his stipend withheld by the Bishop of London for three years, and was eventually, in 1882, faced with being deprived of his position as vicar of St Alban’s. Throughout this time he had continued diligently, tirelessly and faithfully to care for his parish and his people and had won their affection. Now he would be forced to leave. 

It has been said that at St Alban’s, Mackonochie’s gifts ripened to their maturity, that he made St Alban’s, and, in a very real sense, St Alban’s made him. It made him and it broke him. A vessel fitted for his Master’s service, he asked nothing better than to be broken in it.

Lord Halifax spoke, soon after Father Mackonochie’s death, of his long “battle to vindicate for the Church of England in regard to her ritual, her doctrine, and her jurisdiction, not only the historical and constitutional rights recognized and secured to her by prescription and statutes, but also her inherent and indefensible rights as a portion of the one Holy Catholic Church.”

In the battle he fought doggedly. And it would be hard to over-estimate his contribution to the victories of the Catholic cause. In 1882, at the dying request of Archbishop Tait, who urged the public interests of the Church, in view of the unremitting prosecution and persecution of St Alban’s, Holborn, Mackonochie resigned his benefice. He was nominated to that of St Peter’s, London Docks, Father Suckling, Lowder’s successor at St Peter’s, being transferred to St Alban’s. Of this arrangement he wrote, with characteristic brevity: ‘Of course, it is a wrench to sign oneself out of St Alban’s, but it will be a counterbalancing satisfaction to take up Lowder’s work.’


He took up his duties at St Peter’s early in 1883. But in July of that year another prosecution had culminated in a sentence of deprivation. For himself, Mackonochie was prepared to undergo sacrifices, and to go doggedly on, as he had done in the past But to do so meant the loss of the endowment of £300 a year, which this poor parish could hardly spare: and there was a danger of the patronage lapsing into unfriendly hands. Acting on the advice of friends, he resigned St Peter’s at the beginning of 1884, and went to take up his residence - as a volunteer member of the staff - at his old parish, St Alban’s, Holborn.

The long strain had told upon him, but he went on working. He was constant in his visits to St Saviour’s Priory, he preached the Three Hours at Ballachulish, he gave a retreat at Cumbrae. Bodily he was well. But he was, to a noticeable extent, confused in mind, easily losing the thread of his thoughts. He had gone on trying to work during 1884 and 1885, when he needed rest. In 1886 he wrote:

“I am still not able to do much writing or anything else. This is very much due to my folly in trying (from about November, 1884, to about this time last year) to do some work. Since then, I have been unable to do any intellectual work.”

In 1887 Father Mackonochie reported himself “out of tone and unfit yet for work.” During these last years, he spent much time at Ballachulish, a welcome and honoured guest of his friend, Alexander Chinnery-Haldane, the Bishop of Argyll. He also paid occasional short visits to the Continent, and long ones to his brother’s house at Wantage.

But his ministry was ending. He seldom preached, and could rarely trust himself to celebrate, a sacrifice which must have cost him much. Since he found his inactivity a sore burden, he prayed “that he might not cumber the earth.” Returning to Wantage after a day trip to London, in 1887, he had got out of the train by mistake at Didcot, and wandered about the roads between Didcot and Wantage for a great part of the night.

Not that he was distressed. “He was only forgetful of names, and words, and incapable sometimes of expressing himself clearly. He was holy and happy in his tone of mind to the laSt” Such is the testimony of the Bishop of Argyll.


Yet he had a prevision of the end. Parting with his relatives at Wantage, they spoke of a future “when you are better.” “I shall never be better,” he replied, turning away for a few moments; then turning round again, tranquil and composed, he said a kindly farewell to each in turn. This was on October 19. On December 10 he arrived at Ballachulish to stay at the episcopal residence. Father Mackonochie was a keen walker who, in earlier years, thought nothing of a thirty mile trek over rough ground. He set out on the Thursday morning, December 15, with a packed lunch and a walking stick, to reach the head of the Loch, accompanied by the bishop’s two dogs, a little terrier and a deerhound. “You will be back before dark?” they said to him before he went. “I hope so, I hope so,” he replied; the last words which any of his friends heard from his lips. 

By nightfall he had not returned and the anxious bishop sent two men with lanterns to search the road to Loch Leven.

As a terrible storm rose, the bishop himself set out with a carriage and pair and searched unsuccessfully until 4am. All Friday an enlarged search party scoured the glens and forests in snow and hail, but not until Saturday did they find him, guarded by the two dogs who would allow no-one near their friend until the bishop approached. “His body seemed almost frozen, and his head was half-buried in the snow-wreath which had formed his last pillow”, wrote the bishop. “In his face was a pleasant and holy look of peace and joy.” Although his expression showed no sign of suffering it was evident that he had had a distressing struggle among the rocks in pitch darkness and raging storm.

The position of his body showed that he had died kneeling in prayer. His dear friend and fellow-priest Father Stanton pictured the scene: “The mystery of his stern, hard, self-devoted life completed itself in the weird circumstances of his death. He seems to have walked round and round the hollow in which he had taken refuge from the mountain storm, trying to keep life in him as long as he could; then, as if he knew his hour had come, deliberately to have uncovered his head to say his last prayers, and then to have laid his head upon his hand and died, sheltered ‘in the hollow of the hand’ of God, Whom he had served so faithfully; and at His bidding the wild wind from off the moor wreathed his head with snow.”

He had evidently lost his way and mistaken his direction within two or three hours of nightfall. Thinking he was returning towards Ballachulish he was, in reality, heading away into the trackless wastes of the deer forest of Mamore. 

Bishop Chinnery-Haldane helped to carry Father Mackonochie back to the episcopal chapel, then washed his hands, feet and face and clothed him in his mass vestments.

Mackonochie’s close friend, Father Russell, travelled from London to escort the body home by boat and train, and on Thursday morning he lay in the chapel at St Alban’s as Father Stanton offered the Mass. St Alban’s was full that evening for Solemn Vespers of the Dead, and the following morning for the Funeral Mass, with hundreds more outside.

Thousands witnessed the procession to Waterloo Station, with the servers, choir, fifty robed clergy, and hundreds of mourners walking four abreast, followed by thirty carriages. At Brookwood, in the cemetery which he had secured for St Alban’s, he was laid to rest among his beloved people. 

The struggle in which he had engaged had finally broken him, but the battle was won. His holy and dedicated life still inspires today. The Scots granite of the cross that marks his grave is a fitting symbol of the determination and the endurance of this remarkable priest.

The “old” St Alban’s Holborn during Eastertide (does anyone know what year this was drawn, or where it was first published?) Click on the image to enlarge it.

Father Mackonochie with the clergy he had gathered around him at St Alban’s, Holborn, pictured in 1874, the same year in which Parliament passed the notorious Public Worship Regulation Act. Front row (from left): H. A. Walker, Alexander Mackonocie, Arthur Stanton, H. E. Willington. Back row: H. G. Maxwell, E. F. Russell, G. R. Hogg. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Our Good Shepherd is Risen, Alleluia!

Jesus, the Good Shepherd - 5th century - 
in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna, Italy. 
Jesus is presented as a strong shepherd with a cross, 
leading from among his sheep.

I’m from Australia, and in many parts of that country there are sheep. There were lots of sheep farmers in two of the rural parishes I served. So, down through the years I have thought a lot about the sheep\shepherd picture language of Scripture, and of Jesus himself. Back in 2003 at All Saints’ Wickham Terrace in Brisbane I gave some basic teaching on this theme. Click on the links for an edited transcript.

Click on these links:

Also (for good measure):

Friday, April 15, 2016

The glorious triumph of the Cross (St Ephrem)

In the Office of Readings today, as we continue to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord jesus Christ, we read with delight from the SERMON ON THE DEATH OF CHRIST by St Ephrem the Deacon. Ephrem (or “Ephraem”, or "Ephraim"). was born around 306 AD at Nisbis in the Roman province of Syria, near present-day Edessa, Turkey, not far from the border of Iraq. He became a disciple of St. James, Bishop of Nisibis, and seems to have accompanied him to the Council of Nicea in 325. When Nisibis was conquered by the Persians in 363, Ephrem fled to a remote cave in Edessa where he did most of his writing. We know that he visited St Basil at Caesarea in 370.

St Ephrem wrote many works to teach the Gospel and to defend the Faith of the Incarnation against Arian and Gnostic ideas. He did so with great imagination, making full use of his poetic and musical gifts, often composing poems and songs which the people would sing at home and in the fields while they worked. A number of his poems became part of the liturgy of the Syrian Church. St Ephrem, in fact, became known as the Lyre of the Holy Spirit. His profound love of the Scriptures permeated all his works. He died in 373 A.D., and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1920.

Those with a bit of extra time will enjoy reading Mary C. Sheridan’s article,  "St Ephrem - Faith Adoring the Mystery.”

Here is St Ephrem’s beautiful passage on the Death of Christ:

Death trampled our Lord underfoot, but he in his turn treated death as a highroad for his own feet. He submitted to it, enduring it willingly, because by this means he would be able to destroy death in spite of itself. Death had its own way when our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying his cross; but when, by a loud cry from that cross, he summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it. 

Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat; but in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man. 

Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong room and scattered all its treasures. 

At length he came upon Eve, the mother of all the living. She was the vineyard whose enclosure her own hands had enabled death to violate, so that she could taste its fruit; thus the mother of all the living became the source of death for every living creature. But in her stead Mary grew up, a new vine in place of the old. Christ, the new life, dwelt within her. When death, with its customary impudence, came foraging for her mortal fruit, it encountered its own destruction in the hidden life which that fruit contained. All unsuspecting, it swallowed him up, and in so doing, released life itself and set free a multitude of men. 

He who was also the carpenter’s glorious son set up his cross above death’s all consuming jaws, and led the human race into the dwelling place of life. Since a tree had brought about the downfall of mankind, it was upon a tree that mankind crossed over to the realm of life. Bitter was the branch that had once been grafted upon that ancient tree, but sweet the young shoot that has now been grafted in, the shoot in which we are meant to recognize the Lord whom no creature can resist.

We give glory to you, Lord, who raised up your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge, by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. We give glory to you who put on the body of a single mortal man, and made it the source of immortality for every other mortal man. You are incontestably alive. Your murderers sowed your body in the earth as farmers sow grain, but it sprang up and yielded an abundant harvest of men raised from the dead. 

Come then, my brothers and sisters, let us offer our Lord the great and all-embracing sacrifice of our love, pouring out our treasury of hymns and prayers before him who offered his cross in sacrifice to God for the enrichment of us all.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Did not our hearts burn within us - The Road to Emmaus

This is an edited transcript of a sermon I preached 
at All Saints' Wickham Terrace, Brisbane (Australia), 
on Easter Day, 2003, at Evensong and Benediction.

It was near the end of Easter Day, the first Easter Day. According to Luke Chapter 24, two disciples of Jesus were on their way to Emmaus - about 11 km northwest of Jerusalem.

But their walk had become a trudge.

The bottom had fallen out of their world. Jesus of Nazareth, in whom they had placed their hope for a new and better world, had been killed by the authorities. He had such promise. "He could have called ten thousand angels . . ." as the old gospel song says. How come he didn't use his supernatural power to bring in God's Kingdom then and there?

That was a question in the minds of many people.

It seems that these two had not been part of the inner circle of disciples. Most likely they were among the hundreds who heard Jesus preach and believed in him, who knew him from a distance, from among the crowd.

There they were. Downhearted, despondent and without hope. But they became aware of someone else walking with them. Why didn't they know it was Jesus?

Commentators give all sorts of reasons. I think it was simply that they didn't expect it to be him, and they might never have seen him up close, anyway.

But . . . isn't that a picture of what happens to us? Hopes and dreams crumble, communities disintegrate, businesses go under, people let us down, super funds lose their value, we get a serious illness, or we're simply engulfed by an unexplained torpor. Things like these - and many others besides - trigger off the kind of depression and fear that can destroy us from the inside out.

How many times, when we feel like that, and our walk has become a trudge, do we fail to recognise the presence of Jesus with us?

Because . . . he DOES walk with you and me. Even when we don't recognise him he walks with us because he loves us. We call that "grace". He walks with you; he walks with me. Just as on that Road to Emmaus, he draws near in a special way when our journey becomes a trudge. He is there . . . in our darkest moments.

Though they didn't recognise him, Jesus managed to take their minds off themselves and how they felt. In fact, their hearts began to change even before they realised who he was. We know that, because later on when they looked back on the experience they said: "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:32)

There was something about his presence as he taught them from the Old Testament. ". . . beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself " (v. 27).

When they reached Emmaus, Jesus "made as if he was going further." Do you understand what he did . . . instead of imposing himself on them he gave them the prerogative of saying "yes" or "no" to what had begun happening in their lives. He does that to us!

And, do you know, we can close ourselves off to what might become a great adventure of faith, or we can - as people say - "go with the flow."

That's what they did. Even before they understood exactly what was happening to them, "they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent" (v.29). They invited him in.

You heard how the story ends. "Jesus went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight" (v. 30-32). They rushed back into Jerusalem to find the Eleven, and "they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread" (v.35).

Do you see what this passage tells us about the Risen Jesus - how he makes himself known to his people?

First, he comes alongside us long before we recognise his presence, especially when we are empty and defeated. I've already spoken about that.

Second, he opens up the Scriptures to us. When we read the Scriptures or hear them expounded, we are not just gaining intellectual knowledge. The Risen Jesus speaks through his Word. He speaks to our hearts, our spirits. It is a supernatural communion. His Word expands our vision, heals our souls, and gives us strength. Did you know that in our day there is an unprecedented turning to the Scriptures among Christians of all backgrounds because, to use the language of Vatican II, we actually "encounter" the risen Jesus in his Word.

Referring to a teaching of the fourth century St Ambrose, Vatican II said that "prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for 'we speak to him when we pray; we hear him when we read the divine sayings'" (Dei verbum 25).

When was the last time you blew the dust off your Bible, turned off the television, and just began reading, maybe in the Psalms, or one of the Gospels, or a letter of St Paul, all the while asking the Lord to speak to you? Have you thought about following a system (like Bible Alive) or using the weekday Mass readings for your regular time in God's Word?

If you start doing that you will grow; you will be changed; your faith will become stronger; your heart will burn within you as you hear his voice.

Third, he is still known to us in the Breaking of the Bread. High up over the main altar of St John's Horsham in the Diocese of Ballarat - the second parish I served as rector - is a beautiful stained glass window of Jesus celebrating the Eucharist at Emmaus. Every time I looked up at the altar of St John's I would be reminded of this Mass at which Jesus was - literally in his risen body - the actual celebrant. I would say to my people there that whenever we come to Mass we are not only joined to the apostles in the upper room on the first Maundy Thursday when Jesus gave us the Eucharist; we are also joined to the Emmaus disciples at the end of Easter Sunday who had the amazing honour of being the congregation at the first Mass of the Resurrection!

Then the Lord "vanished out of their sight." What's going on here? Along with many scholars of this text I believe that because Jesus had chosen the "Breaking of the Bread" to be the place where his risen tangible presence would be encountered by his people, once the disciples recognised him there, he was able to withdraw the extraordinary and special grace of his "actual" resurrection body.

There you have it. That's why I love Holy Communion. It's not "just" a symbol. Jesus comes in all of his love and risen power in the Breaking of the Bread - the Mass - to bless us, to heal us, and to fill us with his resurrection life.

I've got one more thing to say.

Many Scripture scholars believe that the encounter of Jesus with these disciples is included by St Luke specifically to teach us about the Eucharist. That is, while this passage has its deeply personal application (upon which I dwelt earlier) it is, in fact, a pattern of the liturgy itself.

The references to the Word and the Breaking of the Bread have to do with the life of the whole believing community, which is why Luke doesn't omit to tell us that the disciples rush back to the apostles in Jerusalem. And to this day it is supremely as part of the apostolic community gathered for the proclamation of the Word and the Breaking of the Bread that we actually meet Jesus.

Because of this passage of St Luke I have a special job to do tonight. If you are from a catholic background I have to encourage you to become as much a "Bible Christian" as any evangelical you might know, recognising that the risen Jesus comes to us in his Word. No more sneering at people who love the Scriptures, underline verses, or learn texts off by heart!

And if you are from an evangelical background I have to encourage you to become as catholic as the Roman Catholics and Orthodox, recognizing the real presence of Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread. No more accusations of idolatry against those who would fall down in reverence before the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament!

In what is rapidly becoming a post-Christian age, the Lord is calling us to be "evangelical catholics", and "catholic evangelicals."

Again, it all comes together in Vatican II's Dei verbum, where we find this very important statement: "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God's word and of Christ's body"
(Dei verbum 22).

Brothers and sisters, may you know and love the risen Jesus more and more; may your hearts burn within you as you hear him speaking to you in his holy Word; and may you never fail to recognize the love, the healing power, and the holiness of his presence in the Breaking of the Bread.

Happy Easter!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Father Stanton: 50 years a Curate at St Alban's Holborn

When I was a teenager, it was still the habit of clergy in our tradition to make sure that young men who seemed to be called to the priesthood read the stories of the heroic slum priests of the 19th century Catholic Revival in the Church of England. As was intended by this strategy, the lives of the "slum ritualists" helped me greatly. They still inspire me. In fact, they should continue to inspire us all in these dark days to persevere in the midst of all our difficulties, to live and proclaim the Gospel and to teach the Faith once delivered to the Saints. The principles by which these servants of the Lord ministered are still important, even if the methods they used to reach the people around them require considerable adaptation. The "ritualists" were passionate evangelists, bringing many to know and love the Lord Jesus as their Saviour. This they did by genuinely befriending the people among whom they lived as much as by their preaching from the pulpit and the street corner! They built magnificent churches in the foulest of slums; they taught the Catholic Faith in its fulness; they led their people before the Lord, worshipping in the beauty of holiness and in the holiness of beauty. They inspired extravagant sacrificial giving among their friends and supporters.

They were hated by "political protestants" and those interested only in "civic" religion, but admired by many good evangelicals both within the Church of England and outside it, who saw how effective they were at bringing "ordinary" men, women and children to the Lord Jesus. Many of the "ritualists" had strained relationships (to say the least!) with those bishops who had become mere ecclesiastical functionaries, but they gave themselves away to the Lord and his people, believing that he had called them to the hour in which they lived.   

That's why I am sharing some of their stories on this blog. Today (again, in a rather long post - but stay with it . . . you'll be blessed! -) we look at Father Arthur Stanton, who remained a non-stipendiary Curate at St Alban’s Holborn for fifty years. I have conflated Mackay’s chapter on Fr Stanton in Saints and Leaders, with those of Morse-Boycott in Lead, Kindly Light: Studies of Saints and Heroes of the Oxford Movement, Russell's Arthur Stanton, a Memoir, the Catholic Literature Association's 1933 Heroes of the Catholic Revival, and Joseph Clayton' Father Stanton of St Alban's Holborn.

Follow these links to some other sermons and other reflections of Father Stanton:

When asked what he hoped might be carved on his tombstone, Father Stanton's answer was simple yet profound: “He preached Jesus and only Jesus.” That sums up this man of God.

Arthur Stanton was born in Stroud, Gloucestershire, in 1839. He went to a preparatory school at Leonard Stanley, and on to Rugby, where he remained from 1854 to 1858. Then he went up to Trinity College, Oxford and was deeply influenced by the great leaders of the Catholic revival in the Church of England. Upon receiving his degree, Stanton spent six months at Cuddesdon Theological College under the saintly Edward King, and put in his vacations working at St. Alban’s, Holborn. There eventually he accepted a title, being ordained deacon at Advent, 1862, and priest at Trinity, 1864: and there he remained for more than fifty years.

There his talents and powers developed, ripened, bore great fruit, and mellowed with advancing age. He left his post only a few months at the end, with the intention of returning. Outwardly, it was an ordinary, unexciting and (in the worldly sense) undistinguished record. 

But Stanton was one of the most influential priests of his day. A man of private means, he supported himself financially, while living in modest rooms at the Clergy House, giving lavishly to the work of the Lord and to the poor.  


Holborn was a bad slum area famous for its poverty, drunkenness, vice, and a flourishing trade in child prostitutes. Mackonochie had begun his services in a room over a fish shop. By the time Stanton arrived the parish had moved to a cellar in Greville Street. The only light came through a grating in the pavement, the coal-hole was the vestry, and in this cellar Stanton preached his first sermon while passers by mocked him, shouting at him down the coal-shoot.

The passionate preaching of the Gospel, the building of the St Alban’s church and the establishment of Catholic worship involved a struggle lasting many years - a struggle with disapproving authority, popular prejudice and violence. 

The Parish Priest, Father Mackonochie was plunged into litigation in defence of Catholic Faith and practice. This lasted fifteen years, and ended only with his resignation. Father Stanton in joining him and supporting him was one of the chief reasons for the victory which was ultimately secured, but in so doing he deliberately turned his back on all preferment and advancement in the Church of England. 


He did it, as he did all his work, without a regret. But reflecting on this period as an older man he would speak of the disillusionment which his young enthusiasm suffered, and while there was the inevitable ‘breaking of dreams’ which the visionary suffers when he comes in contact with human nature as it is, he was most hurt by the misunderstanding and lack of sympathy, to say nothing of official criticism and even censure, on the part of those who might have been expected to promote his work of evangelism and pastoral care. 


Father Stanton’s preaching power appeared at once; from the first he was magnetic, at once he preached Jesus, and the people began to crowd. One of his publicity stunts when taking a mission was to stand at a street corner in a cassock and biretta, and toss his surplice into the air. If you saw a young man playing ball with a surplice you would feel obliged to investigate the matter; so did the crowd, and then Stanton would stand on a stool and preach Jesus to them.

Indeed, Father Stanton, now widely regarded as one of the real heroes of Anglican history, always looked upon himself as an alien in the Church of England, and though his loyalty to his work and to his people never faltered, he saw himself as an Anglican by the ‘accident’ of baptism and ordination, in the English Church. 

He was, simply, a Gospel preaching Catholic; his religion was the faith of the undivided Church, centred on the Incarnation and the Atonement, and their ministry to the world today through the Sacraments, and especially the Mass and Penance. To this, and second only to it, was added a profound belief in the Communion of Saints, and a deep devotion to Our Lady. 

Father Stanton preaching out of doors


During the years of persecution, Father Stanton’s mother was deeply distressed that her son should be doing the kinds of things that attracted severe criticism in the media. She wrote, pleading with him to be less “extreme.” Stanton’s reply shows the depth of his convictions:

“My dear Mother, I am a Catholic in heart, longings and hopes. Catholics believe, as they believe in their God, that Jesus Christ is present on His Altar in the Holy Sacrament. A Catholic priest believes that he holds between his hands the Blood of Life; as St. John says he handled the Word of Life with his hands. I hold the doctrine of the Real Presence dearer than life. As I hope for salvation I would rather be hacked to pieces than omit adoring my God in the Sacrament.”

Lest, however, the reader misunderstands the man, it is also important to point out that at the same time, Stanton wrote to his sister, “I go to Shepparton this week to preach for a dear old Evangelical Calvinist. I am sure we shall get on, as he loves Jesus.”

Father Stanton was one of a number of clergy in the second half of the nineteenth century whose resoluteness in preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic Faith got him into trouble with the bishops. So it happened that on most occasions when he was advertised to take Missions bishops refused him permission to preach in their dioceses. 

In 1875 Stanton realized that his ministry “out and about” was at an end. So, for the remaining thirty-eight years of his life, although he preached here and there for friends in the handful of dioceses where he had not been inhibited, he regarded his Anglican ministry as closed except at St. Alban’s itself, and he was happy in his work God gave him to do.


For Father Stanton, the ministry was ALL ONE PIECE. Holding together in himself movements and emphases that Christian history has often seen as contradictory, he was at the same time the passionate evangelist, the catholic priest, the teacher, the organizer of leagues and societies, the minister of the poor and needy in the slums around St Alban’s, and the supporter of Christian Socialism, believing that the Gospel drives us to work for justice and peace. 

This remarkable ministry continued until his death. People flocked from all over the world to hear him preach - not just at the beautiful liturgical services of St Alban’s, but also at the famous Monday night Mission services, made up of hymns, extemporary prayer and an animated, powerful preaching of the Gospel that gripped the minds and hearts of all who came.  

Father Stanton died on Friday, March 28, 1913, in his seventy-fourth year. ‘If he wills it, I am willing,’ were his last recorded words, just before the end.

"Incense in Kingsway" was the headline in the Daily Sketch
describing Father Stanton's funeral procession.

- Joseph Clayton's eyewitness account

On Monday evening they brought the coffin into the church. It was Father Stanton’s last ‘Monday-night sermon’ this, for the dead resting there within the chancel spoke in its silence as eloquently as the living within the pulpit had spoken of the life lived for GOD and man. 

And all that evening, until the time came for the Office of the Dead to be sung, a long line of mourners passed up the aisles and knelt for a moment by the coffin; and some would place their lips against the coffin in token of their love. They were mostly the people of St. Alban’s who made that long line of mourners - men and women, fathers and mothers with their children, many of them, and young men from workshops and offices; business men, too, on their way home, and hospital nurses. 

All through the night the watch was kept in the church; and all next morning from six o’clock was the Holy Eucharist offered for the repose of the soul of Arthur Henry Stanton. 

At eight o’clock was the Children’s Requiem, with Father Russell at the organ, and Father Hogg celebrating, and all the children of the parish there, it seemed. Numbers of these little ones brought tiny bunches of flowers to lay on the coffin. 

When the Children’s Service was over people began to gather for the Solemn Requiem. Tickets had to be issued for this, because it was impossible to find room for all who sought to be there. Miss Emily Stanton - Father Stanton’s sister - and other relatives were present. More than a hundred clergymen came to do honour to the dead; and these included Canon Newbolt, of St. Paul’s; the Rev. L. S. Wainwright, of St. Peter’s, London Docks, a former warden of one of the St. Martin’s League’s Houses; and the Rev. Arthur Tooth, the first of the clergy to be imprisoned for ritual, in the old days of legal prosecutions. 

But there was no representative of the Episcopate at the funeral of Father Stanton, nor were there many whom the world would call persons of importance in that vast congregation that filled the church. Lady Henry Somerset was there; among the devout laymen, the Duke of Newcastle, the Right Hon. G. W. E. Russell, and Mr. Ian Malcolm, M.P., churchwarden of All Saints’, Margaret Street. The Rev. R. J. Campbell came across from the City Temple. 

But the great bulk of the congregation were the ‘old guard’ of St. Alban’s, and the regular worshippers at the church, who are not to be classified by any system of social caste. 

The Solemn Requiem was rendered in the customary way of the Catholic Church - only the service was in English - and at its close the final absolutions of the dead were given. Mr. Suckling was the celebrant, and Mr. Hogg and Mr. Russell were the assisting ministers. 

Out in Brooke Street a crowd was steadily collecting while the Requiem was sung within the church. At noon the pavements were lined, and hawkers went about with ‘Father Stanton’s Memorial Card.’ On this card were the words: ‘The blessings of the poor follow him, for he was their best friend for fifty years.’ 

It was not till one o’clock that the funeral procession came out of the church gate into Brooke Street. The churchwardens, Mr. H. Longden (churchwarden of St. Alban’s since 1889), and Mr. F. E. Sidney marched first, followed by a thurifer, with smoking censer, and then by one who carried high aloft a crucifix, and had torch-bearers for his companions. 

The choir came next, and after them a great company of clergy in surplices. 

Wheeled on a low bier came the coffin. The flowers piled up within the church were left behind. Only a purple pall, whereon was the dead man’s biretta, was over the coffin, and in front of that pall, in big white letters, were the familiar initials, A. H. S. Six men wheeled the bier, and at the corners of the pall were the four clergy of St. Alban’s; three of them, bent with age, had borne Mackonochie to his grave more than twenty-five years ago. 

Father Stanton’s relatives were immediately behind the bier, and they were followed by the Brotherhood of Jesus of Nazareth with their scarlet badges. 

And then, four abreast, came the men of the congregation, and behind them fell in many who had been waiting in the streets. For Stanton’s friends were there in force to see ‘the old Father’ home. Postmen in uniform - a remnant of St. Martin’s League - Sisters of Mercy, mothers with babes in their arms, a detachment of the Salvation Army, a company of Boy Scouts, men and women who had left their work for the time, all fell in and found a place in the ranks till the procession was more than a mile long. 

It was the dinner hour; and as we slowly moved along Holborn the streets were lined with spectators who stood and watched respectfully the crucifix that was carried on high, and the lines of clergy, and the bier, and the long procession of the common people behind. And men uncovered in presence of the dead, and here and there they crossed themselves in these London streets, and no word of discord was uttered. 

At times during the march some of the Father’s favourite hymns were sung, and ‘Rock of Ages,’ ‘JESUS, Lover of my Soul,’ and ‘Peace, perfect Peace,’ might be heard. The alleluias of the Easter hymn, ‘The Strife is O’er,’ rang out clear just before the station was reached. 

But for the most part we walked in silence. In Kingsway the bell of Holy Trinity Church was tolling while the procession passed, and lower down on the opposite side of the road, the purple, white, and green flag of the Women’s Social and Political Union was half-mast high above their offices. 

The traffic was stayed when the Strand was reached, and then we crossed Waterloo Bridge and turned round into York Road. There the crowd was very dense on the pavement - the same respectful and reverent crowd - for it is a neighbourhood of mean streets, and the poor are always respectful to the dead. At the All Saints’ Mission in York Road, on the steps of the church, the clergy and a cross-bearer had taken up their places to pay silent tribute, and all along the route were those who stood at windows and on roofs and balconies to bid the Father a good-bye. 

When the Necropolis Station was entered in Westminster Bridge Road, 800 mourners went on with the train to Brookwood, but they were only a small part of the procession. 

The rest turned away to go back to their posts in this workaday world, this world of London, whose streets Father Stanton’s feet would no more tread. 

At the graveside in St. Alban’s private burial ground, hard by where Mackonochie and Robert Dolling rest, the final prayers were said, and the body of Arthur Henry Stanton was committed to the earth whence it had come. And the hundreds of men and women gathered there, to whom Stanton had taught something of the meaning of life, whom he had saved from despair, or lifted by his friendship from the mire, knew that henceforth for them there would be a gap in life that none could fill, a blank that would remain till the end. 

The skies were grey and lowering on that April day of Father Stanton’s funeral, but the rain did not come down till the late afternoon. It beat heavily on the carriage windows on the journey back to London. The dead are blessed, they say, upon whom the rain falls at their burial; and so Father Stanton’s resting should be greatly blessed. 

The love he had given so lavishly brought many harvests, and ‘love shall be love till death--and perhaps beyond.’ Blessed by man, and blessed by God, well may Arthur Stanton rest in peace.” 

A semon preached by Father Stanton on Sunday 13th October, 1912. 
(This is, in fact, a transcript written down by a stenographer, 
as Father Stanton "preached" rather than "read" his sermons.)

And when Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the Word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'My son, your sins are forgiven..... That you might know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.' Mark 2:1-12

You know the story: they let him down from the roof. And what I gather from the story is this: anybody who wants to come to Christ, can. If you don't, you can easily slip away unobserved. If any of you wish to come to Mass on Sunday morning, you can - you can - although, I know, there are hundreds of excuses if you don't want to come. And then you say: "Well that is the very thing we want to do. Here we are, all of us, on purpose to get to the Master. Has not He promised to be present with us! And here we are - in order to get near the Master. That is just what we want."

And the lesson of the Gospel is, we must take trouble about it. When people say: "We want to get near the Master- Christ," the answer is, "Well, have you taken any trouble about it? Have you taken the roof off?" The men in the Gospel were determined to get to Him, and when they could not get through the door, they went on the roof, and took it off, and placed the palsied man before Him. They saw he could not get to Jesus himself, so they brought him. They meant business; and the business was done. They were in earnest, and they got to the Saviour, and they got the man there.

And so I can say: Now, if you really want to get near the Master, and feel Him your close friend, your All in all, have you done anything out of the way? We hear that the ladies who want the vote are determined to starve themselves to death. Well, that is being in earnest. If you want to get to Christ, you must not mind doing something for the Saviour. Well, then, they could not get in at the door; the whole passage was full. They could not possibly get through the crowd round the door.

And how true that always is! And how true it is of the simple Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ! There are some people always blocking up the gangway. We cannot get to Him. There are the philosophers, the schoolmen, the logicians. There are the Catholic theologians, the Greek theologians, the Roman theologians, the Protestant theologians. They are all arguing, splitting hairs, talking against one another, proposing different theories, and then breaking them up. They choke the door full.

And if you read the reports of the Church congress, you think: "Oh, dear! What are we to believe and think? And they use such long words: there is Predestination! Transubstantiation! Immanence! Incomprehensible. And the poor simple old Gospel we used to love seems to be so difficult now. And we open our Bibles, and turn over the pages, and read this: "One thing is needful" (S. Luke x.42).

Oh, I am very glad there is only one thing - you would think from all the controversies that go on, there were about two thousand things needful! But the dear Lord says, "One thing is needful," and that is to sit at Jesus' feet, and hear His word.

Think! How is it that religion has become so difficult, with all the controversies, and the philosophies, and the old theologies, and the new theologies? You cannot-the passage to the door is full. Impossible! Oh, why have they blocked up the passage and made it so difficult, when we want Jesus Christ Himself?

Well, then, what must we do? We must do something. We must get to Him somehow, for He is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (S. John xiv.6). You must get near Him. Brethren, you must do something by which you can get at Him.

Do you recollect Nicodemus? He was a man in high position in the Church and state - of unimpeachable, correct orthodoxy. And he went to the Master, and found Him. He did it secretly. He did not want anybody to know -Timid! Only Christ could help to lift up the dear soul. He was very timid at first. He went out secretly at night. And he saw the Master. And as he walked home at night, the whole heaven was full of stars, and every star trembled with glory. For had he not heard that he must be born again? And had not the Master spoken to him of heavenly things? He got near Him.

And we take another case: Here is the man who is despised - morally - we do not think much of him - Zacchaeus, a collector of taxes. And no doubt he made his riches by excessive increment. And if he was at a social disadvantage, so he was physically, for he was short of stature. But he climbed up the sycamore tree. That man would never have been the rich man he was if he had not been used to climbing! He climbed up the tree just to get a view. And the eyes of the Lord Jesus and the little man met! The Lord Jesus saw him, and said: "Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house" (S. Luke xix.5)

And yet there is one more: the poor woman who said: "If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole" (S. Matt. ix.21). The poor woman! She pressed right through the crowd. In the midst of the throng she knelt down and touched the hem of His garment - just brushing it - that's all - but she became whole. And the Master noticed. And they said, "Master, you see how they throng Thee. Why dost Thou say, Who touched Me?" But the Master said, "Some finger has taken life out of Me" - "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole."

And she was made whole. You must get to the Master. You must. And if you say with the poor woman, May I? May I? I say, You must - you must. For this reason, He came down from Heaven and was Incarnate amongst us that He might get to you. You must get to Him.

Well, then, I should like to say again, of course, the process of getting to the Master may cause a good deal of disturbance. Of course, the removing of the roof from the house must have caused a lot of debris and dust, and no doubt it fell down on the people beneath. They broke up the roof. There was a great deal of disturbance. Even the getting to Him may cause a good deal of disturbance. Oh, yes - at home! The people in your village! Oh, we know it is not done quite easily, is it?

A clergyman who was talking to me of the S. Alban's clergy, said the other day: "Oh you know this, you fellows of S. Alban's, you have made such a disturbance in the Church of England." Don't you think it was necessary? Now come! In order to get the Establishment to have a Catholic and Evangelical nature, it was necessary to make a disturbance - but it was necessary. Anything to get any number of people to the Master.

You recollect that when the poor woman was sweeping up her room to find a piece of money that was lost, she must have kicked up a lot of dust in sweeping, but she found it. Now we must never make a disturbance for the sake of disturbing; but if we want to get any society - the Church - to the Master's feet, it may be necessary sometimes to do extravagant things.

And, last of all, just for ourselves, personally: it is not easy often for ourselves to get to the Master but we, too, must take some trouble. We must be in earnest about it. We must take the gates of Heaven by storm. The road up Calvary at times is a bit stiff. But it does not matter, if we get to the Master at the end, and kneel down, and kiss His feet, does it?

Along the road to Calvary is writ large, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (S. Luke ix.23). Along the road, that all may read. "In the last day that great of the feast, Jesus stood up and cried saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." (S. John vii.37).

Why, Lord! we all thirst, and we come to Thee to drink of the water of everlasting life. I am sure you can say in your heart what I tell you this morning is true.

 Inside S. Alban's Holborn (before World War II damage)

S. Alban's Holborn today