Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Dedication of Clifton Cathedral

Today in Holy Mass in both forms we kept the dedication of our Cathedral in Bristol. I'm not entirely sure how we managed to do that in the calendar of 1962 when the Cathedral was only built in 1973, but never mind!

Of course as we are the Catholic Church we are not allowed to take the name of place where the Cathedral actually is. The Ecclesiastical Titles Act of 1851 forbade the restored hierarchy of England and Wales from using the names of Diocese where there was a bishop of the protestant Church of England.

So in this part of the world we created the Diocese of Clifton.

Our original Cathedral was the pro-Cathedral of the Holy Apostles. There is a very good article on the old Pro here. One of the scandals of the Diocese was that this was abandoned under the excuse that it was about to fall down and a new Church had to be built. Needless to say the Pro-Cathedral is still standing. What happened to the building after that really was terrible. Where just the day before the holy sacrifice of the Mass had been offered, workmen stood smoking, smashing the statues and selling off the contents to the highest bidders. Quite literally, grown men of our Diocese weep when they remember.

What we ended up with was the new Cathedral of Ss Peter and Paul. This was completed in 1973. It is made of concrete.

I’m afraid I don’t like it, however Our Lord resides in the tabernacle, and people pray in it.

So we kept its feast. No matter what it is like, no matter what it is made of, it the seat of our Bishop and the mother Church of our Diocese. It is our sign of orthodoxy of our communion with Peter. We are Catholic, fierce and proud. And it is like being in a family - we can have strong feelings within it, but if you dare attack it, my goodness you’d better watch out!

It may be concrete, but it’s Catholic concrete!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Poor Peter and Paul

I am thoroughly ashamed at myself. I forgot the Holy Day of Obligation of St Peter and St Paul. I remember when the Bishops moved the Holy Days I said that people would forget. Well I am the one who fell foul. I forgot to announce it on Sunday. I’m not the only one, but that doesn’t make it any better. So for my four Masses there was only me and a few of God's faithful.

I hope that the Bishops restore the Holy Days so that I don’t forget again. At least in Chavagnes every one is always at daily Mass…

Ho hum. More time in purgatory.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

John the Baptist - A Modern Prophet

The way you leave this world can say something about the life you live and the message that you give. If this is the case then how very interesting St John the Baptist is!

We all know the history of St John. We know how he was imprisoned for challenging the validity of the marriage between Herodias and Herod Antipas (all to do with Herodias divorcing her first husband Herod II - the really tricky thing about this period is that almost everyone was called Herod). And we know also that the aged Herod Antipas was tricked into killing St John by the arousing dance of Herodias’ daughter Salome. Salome was the daughter of Herodias’ pervious husband Herod II (are you still with me?).

So why is St John a modern prophet?

Well, he died for two reasons. First because he dared to challenge the morality of the court which said that anything goes, that you can ignore the law of God and just do exactly what you want. St John stood up for the truth in the area of personal morality. He cried out against easy going challenges to marriage.

And second his head was chopped off because of an old man’s pride and lust. Herod was so inflamed with desire at his step daughter’s sordid dancing that he, with an old man’s enflamed passion, rashly promised her anything. And this is where the pride comes in. What was a stupidly spoken word, became something Herod couldn’t get out of. He had said it in public. And he had to keep to it.

St John is a modern prophet because he was killed for standing up to a morally terrible situation and as a result of a young girl’s gyrations and her step fathers perverted pride.

And St John cries out in the wilderness both then and today.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

St John the Baptist - The Baptiser

I was at a religious do the other day when St John the Baptist was consistently referred to as John the Baptiser.

‘Hmmm,’ thought I, ‘I don’t like that.’ But why?

I have had to think long and hard why I don’t like ‘John and Baptiser’ as opposed to ‘John the Baptist’. I’m not entirely sure if I my thought is fully developed on this, but I have to describe first the difference between ‘the Baptiser’ and ‘the Baptist’. Only then can I say why I prefer one over the other and give a reason why.

So what is the difference between the two? I think it might be something along these lines. There were many people at the time of Christ who were preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Indeed, there were whole groups of people who threaded ritual bathing into their spiritual life. So just having someone preaching a baptism of repentance is nothing new. John the baptiser, then, is different from other individuals by who he is… John the baptiser, as opposed to Frank the baptiser or Jeremy the baptiser.

But the baptism of John is a different thing. Indeed it is a completely different thing. We know that it is different from that of Our Lord, for the Holy Spirit did not come down with St John’s baptism, but also is was different from the other people who were ‘doing’ ritual bathing or baptism. This is not just a ritual purification, this is the baptism. Before it was just purification, but with St John it changed into something else, it became something which touched the soul. It became baptism as we know it because it was John’s baptism of Christ which was the foundation of the Sacrament.

Thus he is not just one among many, he is the Baptist. What makes him different from others is not who he is, John as opposed to Frank or Jeremy, but his title: the Baptist. It is not who he is, but what he has done. It is not the man, but the act.

Yet again St John the Baptist points away from himself and points not only to Christ, but also to the action which gives him his name, his identity. By contrast St John the baptiser points too much to John.

Well that might be right.

Or perhaps I just don’t like things changing for no discernibly good reason.

Friday, 24 June 2011

St John the Baptist - the Last Prophet

Today’s feast is one which is deep in significance for many reasons.

We are taught that St John is the last of the Old Testament prophets. With him, prophecy closes and the time of prophecy closes. What do we mean by this? Well we understand that prophecy is one of the means whereby the world is prepared for the coming Messiah. In the faith of our elder brothers the Jews, the Church teaches that the Law, the Prophets and the cult in Jerusalem (guarded and guided by the priests) were given so that in the fullness of time Christ could come.

As an aside, classic Protestantism will play down the ‘dry’ law while playing up the free wheeling spirit of the Prophets. And don’t believe for a moment that the cult in Jerusalem could do any good whatsoever! The reason is obvious. The Protestant reformers saw themselves as being filled with the Spirit, as against the law bound wicked Roman Church. They are wrong of course, but one of the odd unintended consequences is that in much theology and even in Old Testament theology, ‘the Law’ has a bad name. Pity really when it is there to get the Israelites to Heaven. Sound familiar?!

But I digress…

St John the Baptist is the last of the Prophets. This is the completion of the preparation of the coming of Christ. This is why he in himself has so many strange prophetic characteristics; a miraculous conception, a name given to him, a life lived in ‘liminal’ places, a call to personal conversion and most of all the physical pointing to Christ. Not just as the one who is to come, but rather, that one, there walking by the crowd - “Ecce, Agnus Dei”!

St John stands on the fulcrum of history. He closes one period of the world, and points to the next. From preparation to completion. From prophecy to fulfilment.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Bishop of Luçon – he say ‘yes’!

The purpose of going to Chavagnes over this last weekend was not just to see the place again and take some pictures of a strangely painted wall…

…but was to meet the Bishop of Luçon, Mgr Castet. As you may know the permissions needed for a priest to work in another diocese are a little convoluted but actually work perfectly. You see the Church has had generations to work these things out.

Mgr Castet
So this is the way it goes. No priest can work outside his diocese without his Bishop’s permission. So if I decide that I want to go to Chavagnes, I can’t just up sticks and take up the job of aumônier (chaplain). But similarly the Bishop can’t just decide that he’s sick of me and send me off to the wilds of the French countryside.

So on the one side if I want to go somewhere, then Bishop has to agree, however if he wants me to do something outside the diocese, then he can’t just move me. We both have to agree, or its stalemate. (This is only the case when the Bishop wants to move a priest outside his diocese).

Now, factor into that another Bishop in another diocese. He has to agree to take on the priest.

So… the priest has to want to go, his Bishop has to allow him to go, and the Bishop where he is going has also to agree. My meeting with Mgr Castet was the final ‘yes’ to the whole going to Chavagnes enterprise. I want to go, and Bishop Declan, my own Bishop of Clifton, had agreed, but Mgr Castet had also to say that he would accept me into his diocese.

And, praise God, he said ‘yes’.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Meeting the Bishop and the Dash Q400

My jet set life style continues as I have just come back from France. This time not to walk 75 miles in three days, but the rather more sedate meeting with the Bishop of Luçon, Mgr Alain Castet. 
I’ll post about that in the next few days. But now I just want to say a word about this aeroplane

This is the aeroplane I flew on to Nantes Atlantique Airport. I suppose that I am now of an age and a generation who consider aeroplanes to be large beasts with turbo boosters or some such things on the wings. I am not used to seeing propellers. It is a Bombardier Dash Q400 and seats 78 people. And I don’t know if I mentioned it, but it has propellers. There is a website dedicated to it. But I don’t think it covers the whole excitement of getting into an aeroplane which looks like an aeroplane.

Usually by the time you are sitting down in your seat you have walked through shagpile carpet along hushed corridors, and then without realising it you’re on a plane. Not with the Dash Q400. This a real plane.

I know nothing about aeroplanes, but I know what I like, and I like the Dash Q400.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Chavagnes Scouts on the Chartres Pilgrimage

As I am about to become the chaplain to Chavagnes School in September, I took the opportunity when on the Pilgrimage to get to know some of the boys and masters. They are a fantastic lot, and walked and sang well. I’ll tell you in a year’s time, if I still think that they are quite so fantastic!
It is a pleasure, then, to see that I will be not only the chaplain to the school, but also to the scout troop.

Scouts in France are quite extraordinary (not necessarily in the liturgical sense). You have scouting monks  and the Scouts d’Europe and goodness knows who else. You could take over the world with the French scouts.

Hmmm… I need to decide where to invade first. 

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Shrines of Our Lady

Notre Dame sous Terre

Chartres Cathedral has three main shrines to the Blessed Virgin. The oldest is Notre-Dame-de-sous-Terre, a statue from the eleventh century which marked the place of the druidical sect who worshipped the Virgin who was to give birth. This statue was destroyed by the French Revolutionaries in 1793. The present statue is a copy.

The second is the shrine which led medieval pilgrims to Chartres. This is the Veil of Our Lady. This relic was given to the Cathedral in 876AD by Charles the Bald, the Holy Roman Emperor. In part this was given to the Cathedral because it the Cathedral had been previously destroyed by the Vikings. The gift of the relic focussed minds and gift for the building of the new Church. The Veil had been given by the Empress Irene to Charlemagne. Scientific studies have shown that it is of Syrian design, of fine quality and can be traced to the first century. By the 12th century, Chartres was one of the most important Pilgrimage sites of Europe.

It had often been depicted as a tunic but when this was unwound it was found to be a Veil, or a long piece of cloth rather than a Chemise or undershirt. It is ironic really. The Veil was not destroyed by the French Revolutionaries to show how superstitious and nonsense our faith is. Yet the Revolution has come and gone, while the Veil remains.

The last shrine is Our Lady of the Pillar, a 14th century statue. This is venerated and honoured by all who come to the Cathedral, somewhat eclipsing the Veil of the Virgin, which is a pity. But the prayers of the faithful to the honour of Our Lady are truly gracious where ever they are.

Ely to Walsingham Pilgrimage

From August 26th to August 28th there will be a pilgrimage from Ely to Walsingham, on the pattern of the Chartres Pilgrimage. Fr Redman was the chaplain last year, and I have the honour of filling his boots this time. This is an account of this by Dr Joseph Shaw, with some photos from last year and others here.

I hope to get a few together from the parish so we might travel to Ely together. If you're interested then please get in touch (

All details and booking is on the LMS website. £60 (non LMS members), others £50, under 18s (as part of a family) and students £30.

I'll keep posting about this. You have to be able to walk the distance but the end result is well worth it.

Go to the website and have a look...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Final Masses

After the Pilgrimage, but before we returned home, the groups heard Holy Mass in the crypt of Chartres Cathedral. Three priests said private Masses while the group heard Mass celebrated by the main chaplain Fr Edwards.

The chapels in the crypt are quite fine. Though simple in many respects, they have a ‘noble simplicity’ which is so often spoken of. Of course the crypt holds the main shrine of the Virgin who was to come, the pre-Christian shrine which is the reason for the Cathedral being in this place, but there are also 7 or so other chapels or altars. I am not too sure about the exact number, because part of the crypt is not open to the public and some ‘spaces’ I suspect were once chapels. Some of the chapels you can see in the pictures below.

One of the interesting sights is the Mass being read in the chapel below. I do not know why priest is wearing gold during the Octave of Pentecost, but in second picture shows the same Mass through a window outside the Cathedral in the passageway down to the crypt.

This is a hagioscope, an architectural feature which is often seen cut through transepts in churches so that the faithful could see the altar, or in walls of churches so that the sick could hear or see Mass (my old seminary, Oscott, had one such in the Pugin chapel, on the Gospel side next to the pulpit, seen as a circle on the wall).

This is the first one I have come across with a view to the outside of a church crypt.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

More Unconventional Photos

Unconventional Group Photos

On the way to supper on the final evening in Chartres the heavens opened and it poured.

We had been to the hotel and changes and washed. Dressed in clean clothes and smelling sweetly for the first time in what seemed ages, off we set.

And then it poured down!

Sent from my iPhone
With the help of my Guardian Angels

Monday, 13 June 2011

The final day

And so the rain kept off and the sun came out and out tired feet brought us to Chartres.

It's hard to say how or why this pilgrimage is so important, but it is.

When I get back tomorrow or the day after I'll put more details and a better account up. I have to tend to my feet now. And eat. And sleep. And check that everyone us still alive.

May the Blessed Virgin give you every blessing.

With great love, from Chartres.

Sent from my iPhone
With the help of my Guardian Angels

The final day

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Sunday night

We have celebrated the great feast of Pentecost in great style with a High Mass on a hill. Just after lunch when we were leaving the drizzle started. It reminds you of an English summer!

This continued for the whole of the afternoon march. As I write at ten at night it has stopped. But everything is just a little damp.

Sent from my iPhone
With the help of my Guardian Angels

And the rain came

Some English Chaplains

The new morning

Friday, 10 June 2011

The first day

The first day of the Pilgrimage of course is no such thing. It is just setting off and getting to the place where all the action begins. We have just had a rather nice supper in an Italian restaurant on the outskirts of Paris and I feel a bit of a fraud.

We have been telling the pilgrims who have not been on the pilgrimage before how difficult it is and how it is tiring and rigorous, but all we have done so far is sit on a coach and sing songs!

Of course tomorrow will be different. Then the walk begins. But tonight we just lull them onto a false sense of security.

If they think that they will sleep well tonight, then just wait until tomorrow!

And it seems that the weather is picking up. Praise God!

Sent from my iPhone
With the help of my Guardian Angels

It's raining!

At Westminster Cathedral

And so we begin...

This is the group from Warminster and Dursley. We got to Westminster in great time and do had time time to unfurl the flag. It bears the Sacred Heart, the Immaculate Heart, the Keys of St Peter and our Bishops coat of arms.

As has happened in the past Holy Mass was offered in the crypt. Fr Byrne a priest Northampton Diocese offered Mass for the pilgrims. Fr Redman and myself offered private Masses.

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