Christ’s Precious Blood redeemed all mankind, once and for all; past, present and future. It bought us back from our previous ownership by the Devil. Does that mean that we are all saved? Secundum quid.
We are most certainly all redeemed, but that does not mean that we are automatically all saved. We have to lay hold of the redemption won for us by Christ, and so press on towards eventual salvation. We have to believe in salvation, and above all we have to want it. Our wanting is necessary for our salvation. Nobody is ever forced into heaven.
The human propensity for running away from salvation is well illustrated in “The Hound of Heaven” by the Catholic poet Francis Thompson (1859–1907). Thompson’s desperate and chaotic personal life made him well qualified to write about the habit of avoiding grace.
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him…
[but in spite of everything the Hound of Heaven still presses on]
……Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
‘Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.’
Sooner or later we shall all come face to face with the Lord Who faithfully pursues us down the years. At that meeting, depending on how we have lived, we shall either rush forward to embrace Him with joy, or our guilt and shame will leave us begging for the mountains to fall on us and the hills to cover us.
The Good News is that our guilt and shame can all be dealt with here and now, in this life. They can be dealt with so thoroughly that when we come before our Judge we shall know only the relief of hearing “case dismissed” and the unmerited reward of “peace everlasting”.
The Hound of Heaven pursues us ineluctably. If we have the faintest notion of what makes for our peace, we shall stop running and gratefully accept everything that the Passion of Christ unceasingly offers us.
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THE RAISING OF PRINCE PAOLO MASSIMO
Et resedit, qui erat mortuus, et coepit loqui.
And he who was dead sat up and began to speak.
In Rome on 16th March 1583, in the presence of a number of witnesses, Father Philip Neri performed an astonishing miracle. He raised to life a dead boy, the fourteen year old nobleman, Prince Paolo Massimo, who had died thirty minutes previously. When the family sent for Fr Philip to attend their dying son he was saying Mass and so was not present at the moment when Paolo expired. There is no doubt that the boy did truly die. Medical men were present. The mourning had begun. Philip arrived at the dead boy’s bedside while they were preparing the body for burial. He breathed on Paolo, called his name, and brought him back to life, heard his confession, absolved him, and then spoke with him for some thirty minutes, after which he sent him back into eternity better prepared for heaven.
Each year on 16th March the miracle is commemorated with due solemnity at the Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne, in the centre of Rome. Many Masses are offered there that day.
Here at the Oratory we commemorate the miracle with Missa Cantata, a special votive Mass of Saint Philip. The texts for the Mass are poignant and apt. The introit is from Psalm 129, De profundis clamavi ad Te Domine. Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee O Lord. The Gospel is Christ our Lord raising to life the dead son of the widow of Naim.
✠ Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Lucam. In illo tempore: Ibat Iesus in civitatem, quæ vocatur Naim: et ibant cum eo discipuli eius et turba copiosa. Cum autem appropinquaret portæ civitatis, ecce, defunctus efferebatur filius unicus matris suæ: et hæc vidua erat, et turba civitatis multa cum illa. Quam cum vidisset Dominus, misericordia motus super eam, dixit illi: Noli flere. Et accessit et tetigit loculum. Hi autem, qui portabant, steterunt. Et ait: Adolescens, tibi dico, surge. Et resedit, qui erat mortuus, et coepit loqui. Et dedit illum matri suæ. Accepit autem omnes timor: et magnifcabant Deum, dicentes: Quia Propheta magnus surrexit in nobis: et quia Deus visitavit plebem suam. [Luke 7:11-16]
At that time: Jesus went into a town called Naim, and His disciples went with Him and a large crowd. As He drew near to the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, He was moved with pity for her and said to her, “Do not weep”. Then He went up and touched the bier. Those who were carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And he who was dead sat up, and began to speak. And He gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and they glorified God saying: a great prophet has risen among us, and God has visited His people.
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In the gospel for Laetare Sunday the feeding of the five thousand gives us good reason to rejoice, even as Passiontide approaches. Next Sunday is Passion Sunday, the start of the most intense period of the Church’s year. We should now take stock of our Lenten efforts so far, and if necessary renew our resolutions, in preparation for Passiontide and Holy Week.
In the feeding of the five thousand our Lord anticipated the still more miraculous feeding of His people which He was later to accomplish, first at the Last Supper, and then down the ages every time that the sacrifice of the altar is offered. What Christ did for the five thousand He does still more wonderfully every time the Eucharistic banquet is laid before us, day by day, century by century.
In the feeding of the five thousand He gave His people earthly food to sustain the body. In the Blessed Sacrament He feeds us with Himself, spiritual nourishment for the soul, supernatural food from heaven, containing within itself all sweetness. The is how God affirms us and accepts us. He asks us to eat Him.
If we are in a state of grace and have a clear conscience, then we are permitted to receive Christ’s Real Presence in Holy Communion. In those precious nuptial moments His life and ours intermingle. We are embraced in our soul by the one Person Whose affirmation of us matters more than all others, Whose acceptance of us counts for more than anything else.
This is mercy; that He really does take us seriously, in spite of our feebleness; that He really does take pleasure in our company, in spite of our inconsistencies.
The Master’s sacramental love both affirms us and at the same time helps us to forget ourselves. By forgetting ourselves we find the freedom we need to live as disciples of the Nazarene.
Discipleship includes accompanying the Servant-King up to Jerusalem, and His Passion. There in the holy city He will submit Himself to betrayal, torture, and an agonizing sacrificial death.
Before that, He will first put in place the greatest of all His miracles; the abiding Eucharistic miracle by which He repeatedly feeds His disciples, day by day, year by year, unto eternal life.
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We should not be surprized that the Church’s Lenten call to penance and self-denial seems so out of step with the aspirations of the secular world. How could it be otherwise? The kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of Christ are not co-extensive. They have vastly different territories, different values, different laws.
In Lent we follow Christ into the desert, into a retreat of deeper prayer and more generous penance. But that solitude is also the place where evil lurks and temptation whispers. In that wilderness we shall experience emptiness and loneliness. We shall feel the cold dry winds of apathy which desiccate our piety and chill our fervour.
We shall hear the enticing blandishments of sweet reason, urging us to embrace polite moderation, not to take life so seriously, not to be so intense. We shall hear the Devil whispering to us: Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t be so extreme. Take it easy. Give yourself a break. After all, it’s meant to be all about joy…
We are free to choose our Lenten penances as we think best. If you are not sure what to do, one might suggest the following.
The situation in the Vineyard is now so serious that it might perhaps be sufficient penance simply to accept, in the spirit of Gethsemane, the persecutions which the Master is currently permitting us to endure.
It certainly is a penance to try and accept without anger the fact that the Lord could permit the present mess to have come about. However, to admit with sober honesty the plain fact of the chaos must surely strengthen our resolve to pray all the more fervently for its healing. Libera nos, Domine.
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Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima are the three Sundays and weeks which the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite wisely gives us in preparation for Lent.
The afterglow of Epiphany is replaced by the austerity of Septuagesima and the three weeks which follow. The liturgical colour is violet. The Gloria is not sung or said. Alleluia is omitted. This is to help us get in training for Quadragesima itself, the forty days of intensive prayer and penance in preparation for Eastertide.
These three pre-Lenten preparatory weeks are not included in the Ordinary Form of the Roman rite.
However, in the magnificent Divine Worship missal authorized for use by the Ordinariates, the gesimas are included, together with other valuable elements from the traditional Roman rite. Among many admirable inclusions is the octave of Pentecost (‘Whitsun Week’).
The coherence and register of the liturgical language in the Ordinariate missal are of an enviably high quality. The liturgical texts in that missal read and sound like English, and they also read and sound like prayer.
One recent example; the collect for the Epiphany from the Ordinariate missal:
“O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy Only Begotten Son to the Gentiles: mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may be led onward through this earthly life, until we see the vision of thy heavenly glory; through the same….”
‘Thee and Thou’ usage provides some of the dignity and elevation which, mutatis mutandis, are characteristics of the Latin liturgical tradition, characteristics less apparent in current vernacular versions – the Ordinariate missal being an inspiring exception. (The next edition would be improved still further by omitting the Cranmerian interpolations)
In addition to the existing provisions of Summorum Pontificum, what a great blessing it would be to make the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite also available in the vernacular, retaining of course the same 1962 rubrics as when celebrating it in Latin.
Such a provision would help towards a much needed sanatio in radice of the current disjunction between the present versions of the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman rite.
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The Magi exemplify the merciful work of the Holy Spirit. Among countless other mercies, He can and does lead pagans, atheists, agnostics, and others, to find Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
It is intrinsic to our faith in Jesus of Nazareth that we want Him to be known, loved, and followed, by the whole of mankind.
Conversion is God’s work, but He graciously allows us to play some part in preparing the ground for the action of the Holy Spirit.
Here is how we can help to prepare the ground:
- Get down on our knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament and implore the Saviour to shower His graces on all those who are not yet within the one fold of the Redeemer.
- Keep close company with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. Pray her rosary, try to imitate her virtues, and beg her intercession for all God’s children who have not yet found Christ.
- Show God’s love to those in need. Give alms. Feed the hungry. Care for the sick. Spend time with the lonely. Succour the homeless. Comfort the dying. Console the bereaved.
- Make sacrifices. The more generous we are, the greater will be the harvest.
The Magi returned to their own country ‘by another way’, wiser than they were before. Something new had happened to them and it changed them. In the most unusual of circumstances, they had received the gift of faith.
The King they found must have turned their expectations upside down. Doubtless they did not understand everything, but they were given the grace and the wisdom to worship Him.
In the Gospel for the Epiphany it is an ancient and laudable custom for all to genuflect at the words adoraverunt eum – they worshipped Him.
The repetitive liturgical gestures of the traditional Roman rite are latreutic and catechetical. They can speak more clearly than many words.
Our forms of worship and the way we pray have a direct impact on the content and consistency of our faith. As we pray, so we believe.
One day God’s harvest will be fully gathered in. On that day every knee shall bow at the most Holy Name of Jesus, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. He, and no other.
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In the forty second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus, in a dull provincial backwater of the Roman Empire, the world’s true King tabernacled silently for nine months in the virginal womb of a then unknown Jewish maiden, Mary of Nazareth.
The Blessed Virgin Mary’s divine Infant is Jesus Christ, the long awaited Saviour of mankind, Messiah.
Christ the Messiah generously invites every man, woman, and child on earth to follow Him. Where? Along the Christian path of new life, life in the Holy Spirit.
The Catholic Church is the home of the Holy Spirit. The Christian religion, as taught and practised by the Catholic Church, gives us everything we need to attain holiness in this life, and eternal beatitude in the life hereafter.
All Christ’s disciples share in His mission, in many diverse and complementary ways.
Our mission is to bring all mankind to believe and live the Christian Gospel, in the Church Christ founded.
The Christian Gospel. The Church He founded. All mankind.
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