News Archive

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Marriage and Monasticism

On Monday, we welcomed Fr Cassian and Fr Benedict from the Benedictine monastery in Norcia for the talk Marriage and Monasticism. Br Gregory has written the following summary for the Norbertine Vocations blog.

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I was greatly privileged last night to be able to listen to a talk given by Fr Cassian and Fr Benedict from the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, in Italy, which is the birthplace of St Benedict.

The address was on the subject of stability, comparing and contrasting the monastic life with married life, which is a wonderful title, since these two ways are the principal ways by which we might live the Christian life more perfectly, so it seems fitting to compare and contrast them.

Stability, of course, is something that we Norbertines share with the Benedictines, although, unlike monks, we do not make a vow of stability in the same way as do monks (they make specific vows of stability, conversion of manners, and obedience, although the principle is the same). Our vows of poverty, consecrated celibacy and obedience are always made, however, in the context of stability: we make our vows not only to God, but to our superior, and our brethren, before the people of God, in our particular houses. Monastic stability does not necessarily mean, however, stability in a particular building, although that is an important part of it, of course. We must be able to love our buildings, and be comfortable in them, and, when the time comes, expand them. Given that monasteries are supposed to be little beacons of heaven (more visible from the outside, perhaps!), it seems fitting to apply the analogy of the psalmist to a monastic building, who, referring to Jerusalem (a type of heaven in the old testament), says: “thy servants think upon her stones” (Ps 102:14).

The monks of Norcia re-founded this ancient monastery 16 years ago – they are now 20 in number, 11 in solemn vows – and are steadily growing, and now need to expand their buildings. In Chelmsford, we are a younger community – our independence was gained 10 years ago, and we have been in Chelmsford for only 6 years – and, given that God has seen fit to bestow vocations upon us, it will be our responsibility also to expand our capacity. Stability refers to a commitment to a particular group of people in a particular place at a particular time. The love and affection we have for each other has brethren is similar to familial love: if we are parents, we do not choose our children; as children, we do not choose our parents, or our brothers and sisters. In religious life, this is also the case: we do not choose our brethren. They are already there when we join, and, after we join, more will follow. God gives them to us – and God gives us to others – as a means of sanctification.

So, clearly, stability is common ground for both monastics and married persons. Fr Cassian referred in particular to the three marital goods annunciated by St Augustine:

proles: an openness to new life. This can refer not only to marital procreation – although this is the specific meaning implied by Augustine – given that not all married couples will be able to have children for one reason or another. There is a difference between accepting God’s gift for what it is, and rejecting God’s gift. In marriage, he may or may not bestow the gift of children upon a couple. In religious life, he may or may not bestow the gift of more vocations upon a monastery. In both cases, if the respective parties live their life contrary to God’s will for them, if they are closed off to vitality, growth and new life, then the marriage will shrivel; the monastery will fail. I think also that this requires a certain degree of holy naïveté: we must be willing to accept what we are given as the gift that it is. Christ, after all, commanded us to be childlike.

fides: fidelity. Married couples make a commitment of exclusivity to one another, symbolised, of course, by the wedding-ring (many religious women wear “profession rings” as a wife would wear a wedding ring; male wedding rings are an innovation). In marriage, a couple dedicates themselves to each other, to the exclusion of others. In religious life, we do not commit ourselves in the same way to a particular person (the vow of celibacy is all about this), but to a particular group of people, and, therefore, Almighty God Himself becomes the most important Person. In religious life, love for one another is sustained by the common love for and relationship with Almighty God. In fact, both the religious and marital life have Almighty God as the foundation. Marriage is the symbol of the relationship between Almighty God and His people: He is always faithful to the covenant; we, His people, are not. The prophet Hosea was ordered by Almighty God to marry a prostitute, to show God’s fidelity, and, moreover, our capriciousness. This relationship was consummated by the shedding of Christ’s Blood on the Cross, as the priest says at every Mass: “This is the chalice of My Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant…”

sacramentum: by which Augustine does not mean that marriage is one of the seven sacraments, but he is referring to the bond “till death do us part”. Marriage is the only original dispensation that was not washed away by the flood, but it is something these days that has, in general, in the west, lost its sense of permanence. Due to our fallen human nature, of course, sometimes our relationships with others do break down. Indeed, Almighty God knows all about that: He falls victim every day to our continual acts of infidelity against Him. So many, particularly younger, couples do not discuss important things with one another, like having children, until they are actually married, and they are so afraid of conflict – or, more likely, the have little understanding of human nature, and virtually no self-awareness – that at the first argument, some newly-weds even decide to separate. We know, however, that we do not come down off the cross; we do not run away at the first sign of difficultly (sometimes we do, because we are afraid; but that does not mean that we cannot try to return to Calvary and pick up where we left off). In marriage, and the religious life, we learn about the Christian virtues, and how to apply them in real situations, particularly the ability to forgive one another – not least, ourselves. In short, we learn how to become Christ-like.

In whichever way we live the Christian life, each one of us is called to strive to live it ever more perfectly. We have seen, hopefully, how these two ways of life, marriage and religious life, are great gifts of Almighty God, in that they are the most well-founded means for our sanctification, and for those around us. Things of God are attractive, whether they be long-lasting marriages or flourishing religious communities. In these dark ages in which we live, may those who choose these paths truly be a shining beacon of Christ, a lamp-stand on a hill-top, and so sanctify the world.

The Year of Consecrated Life will begin on the first Sunday of Advent this year.

Monday 20 October 2014

Solemn Vespers, Procession and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament

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The Forty Hours' prayer before the Blessed Sacrament concluded yesterday evening with Solemn Vespers, a procession around our church and Benediction.

Vespers of the Blessed Sacrament:

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The Procession:

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Benediction:

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Photographs by Hannah Chegwyn

Saturday 18 October 2014

Forty Hours Underway

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Our Forty Hours' Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament began last night with the Solemn Mass of Exposition. This year, we are praying especially for Peace, in union with persecuted Christians throughout the world.

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Our own Holy Father St Philip used to attend Compline with the Dominicans of the Minerva so often that the Dominican friars gave him his own key to their church. We are very glad to continue this long-standing friendship by welcoming once the more the Dominicans of Blackfriars to sing Compline before the Blessed Sacrament.

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Benediction followed Compline, and so the all-night vigil began. The Blessed Sacrament will continue to be exposed until midnight. There will be a Mass for Peace with hymns at 6:30pm.

Masses on Sunday are at the usual times. The Solemn Mass will be a votive Mass of the Sacred Heart, at the end of which exposition will resume until Solemn Vespers, Procession and Benediction at 5pm.

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Saturday 11 October 2014

Sermon for the Feast of Blessed John Henry Newman

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Fr Paul Keane, Vice-Rector of St Mary's College, Oscott, preached at the High Mass for the feast of our Cardinal, Blessed John Henry Newman, on Thursday. Here is what he said:

"I stand before you embarrassed because any qualifications of mine to preach on Newman’s Feast Day do not exist. First, I am not an Oxford man and Newman was so peculiarly Oxford. I was at the other place. But then did not Newman write in one of his many letters these words after one of his rare visits to Cambridge:

‘When I saw at the distance of four miles, on an extended plain, wider than the Oxford, amid thicker and greener groves, the Alma Mater Cantabrigiensis lying before me, I thought I should not be able to contain myself, and, in spite of my regret at her present defects and past history, and all that is wrong about her, I seemed about to cry out, ‘Floreat aeternum!’ I do really think the place finer than Oxford, though I suppose it isn’t, for everyone says so. I like the narrow streets; they have a character, and they make the University Buildings look larger by the contrast. I cannot believe that King’s College is not far grander than anything with us; the stone, too, is richer, and foliage more thick and encompassing. I found my way from the town to Trinity College, like Old Oedipus, without guide, by instinct: how, I know not. I never studied the plan of Cambridge.’

So wrote Newman and would any of us here be so rash as to disagree with him?

My other disqualification as a preacher on this feast is my lack of knowledge about our beatus. I have never made a formal study of him. All I have is a long nurtured affection. I was a pupil at the London Oratory School, where Newman’s prominent nose, through statuary and portraits, became a recognisable feature. And in the Sixth Form, I read his Apologia and the novel Loss and Gain. They taught me that faith is a real thing, involving both the heart and the intellect, and that the truth about the Church matters. And now, as Vice Rector at Oscott Seminary, the reminders of Newman are frequent. For Morning and Evening Prayer, I sit in the same place in the Chapel; it goes with my office. Opposite me is the pulpit in which Newman preached his famous Second Spring sermon. Once a month, I go with a group of seminarians to work in a parish in central Birmingham: St Anne’s, Digbeth. If you haven’t heard of it, well, it was founded by Newman after his ordination. The first thing he did. The parish continues strong today. Since I was a schoolboy, therefore, I have been unable to get away from the palpable fact that Bl. John Henry made a difference, and still does.

Then – not so long ago - I was allowed to enter Newman’s study. When he was made a cardinal, a space for an altar was created within the study because cardinals then had to have their own chapels. No more than a tall bookcase separates the altar from the rest of the room. As you would expect, a crucifix hangs on the wall above the altar and, as you would equally expect for Newman, an image of St Francis de Sales. But there are also many other pictures or photographs to the immediate right of the altar: not images of saints but of Newman’s friends; the ones he wished to remember in his prayers. For he maintained resolutely throughout his life this practice: interceding for others.

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As an Anglican, at St Mary the Virgin, Bl. John Henry preached on intercessory prayer. Having discussed its scriptural foundations, he declared,
‘Such is the lesson taught us by the words and deeds of the Apostles and their brethren. Nor could it be otherwise, if Christianity be a social religion, as it is pre-eminently. If Christians are to live together, they will pray together; and united prayer is necessarily of an intercessory character, as being offered for each other and for the whole, and for self as one of the whole. In proportion, then, as unity is an especial Gospel-duty, so does Gospel-prayer partake of a social character; and Intercession becomes a token of the existence of the Catholic Church.’

Intercession – it’s what we Catholics do; others and we ourselves necessarily have a claim upon our prayers for they and we need them. Newman had not just the photographs to remind him of this. He kept lists of different people and causes to pray for, allotting them each to a day of the week. This is an inspiration to me. For what is a priest, but principally one who intercedes for others? I know a parish priest in Ireland who, when he is really tired and feels unable to do his daily meditation , opens the register containing all his parishioners’ names and addresses and prays for them, one after the other. And if we all share in Christ’s priesthood through baptism do we not all have a certain intercessory role? For years, since before I was ordained, I have prayed for the occupant when a flashing blue ambulance passes. For all I know, besides their guardian angel, I am the only one praying for them.

Of course, we may not often pray for others because we do not see the point: God already knows what we need and is best able to provide it. But the extraordinary mystery of our faith is that God allows us to be active participants in ‘building up his body,’ as St Paul has just said to us in his Letter to the Ephesians. As my neighbour may only come to know Christ if I witness to him so my neighbour may only be helped because I prayed for him. It’s not for me to question God but it is for me to question myself, whether I have equally helped others today with my prayers as I have helped them, for example, with my hands or advice. In our different way, we all share, cleric and lay, in this ministry.

In the Sistine Chapel, above its altar, Christ is depicted on the day of the general resurrection. Our Lady is shown just below Him, to His right. She is looking downwards. Why? She is watching an angel hoist up a soul to heaven with rosary beads. Through Mary’s intercession the soul has is being saved. This Feast reminds us what his life taught: we can rely upon the intercession of Newman. But though his prayers have the power of holiness and proximity to the throne of grace, we must also be reliable intercessors. We shall pray daily for others and win them for Heaven. It’s what love demands and may be our own salvation.

Bl. John Henry Newman…pray for us."

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Calligraphy afternoon

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15th NOVEMBER 2-4pm
An afternoon packed with art projects showing you how to write, draw and decorate letters, make Christmas cards and lots more. Suitable for age 10 and above.
Materials provided. Donations £10 a head for the Oratory Campaign. Meet in the Parish Centre. Book now by emailing for the attention of Freddie Quartley.