Monday, 27 October 2008

Font Spotting...

Following massinformation's post on the new font at Salisbury Cathedral, I felt a word should be said about the font in Norwich Cathedral which I saw for the first time this summer. It is a large copper bowl which was once used to make toffee in the Rowntree-Nestle chocolate factory in Norwich. The 15th century seven sacrament font is now housed in St. Luke's Chapel and apparently originally came from the lost church of St Mary-in-the-Marsh, which once stood inside the Cathedral Close.

When I used 'Google' to find a picture of the new font, I came across this (I found the gurgling baby noises a little chilling, but it seems to be a good resource nonetheless..!). It seems that, if you're going to replace something in a cathedral, or indeed any church, then to use something which already exists (like, I suppose, apparatus from an old factory) is environmentally friendlier than constructing something new. That's how I've squared it with myself anyway: I rather think it's a shame that the old font isn't in use anymore. Still, it would be less amusing an anecdote than 'I was baptised out of a chocolate vat...'!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Who could ask for anything more?

As much as it pains me to admit it, at Mass yesterday morning I wasn't really listening. I had a day ahead with two seminar papers to prepare, shopping to do, a staff lunch to attend and music to learn... That familiar line of 'I'm just so busy...' reared its ugly head. Still, despite all that, one line in the first reading made it through the spaghetti junction grid-lock in my brain and stayed with me throughout the day, to the extent that I went to look up the entire reading last night and to read it again - this time properly.

St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, 3:2-12

Brothers and sisters:
You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace
that was given to me for your benefit,
namely, that the mystery was made known to me by revelation,
as I have written briefly earlier.
When you read this
you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ,
which was not made known to human beings in other generations
as it has now been revealed
to his holy Apostles and prophets by the Spirit,
that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same Body,
and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.

Of this I became a minister by the gift of God’s grace
that was granted me in accord with the exercise of his power.
To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given,
to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ,
and to bring to light for all what is the plan of the mystery
hidden from ages past in God who created all things,
so that the manifold wisdom of God
might now be made known through the Church
to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.
This was according to the eternal purpose
that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,
in whom we have boldness of speech
and confidence of access through faith in him.

It was the phrase 'confidence of access' which impressed me. My first thought was that it sounds as if Our Lord puts our name on the list which gives us access to the VIP Lounge. We know we've got access - we know we're on the list. If we want to come in, then we can. Of course, if we want to stand outside in the queue then that's our choice. But we don't have to. We have confidence of access. Bring it on!

As a very short person (vertically challenged, as some like to put it...) I often find I just can't reach things. Kitchen cupboards, in particular. The 'confidence of access' makes me think of the little box or stool I'm sometimes presented with so that I can reach up to get whatever it is I need. With the box I'm given I am assured of reaching my goal, if I choose to step onto it. I can't possibly reach without it. I have confidence of access - it seems a little crude to draw a direct analogy with Christ as the box, upon whom I can step to lift me up to the cupboard (if I choose to) of a relationship with the Father... Still, you can see where I'm going with that...

At a time when there doesn't seem to be much hope or indeed confidence that we may all have continued access to the Sacraments, to the hope of reunion with the universal church and to our own local church even, this phrase, this 'confidence of access' seems to me to provide a gentle reminder that, ultimately, we look to something more than the concerns of the present, as weighty as they are in their own right.

It's the sort of thing you want to go out and sing in the jazz style:
'I've got confi - dence of access,
I've got my Lord, who could ask for anything more?
Who could ask for anything more?'

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Stop worrying and enjoy your life

"There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life"

The famous atheist bendy bus advert hasn't quite had the intended effect. In fact, it's brought to mind the words of St Theresa of Avila:

“Let nothing disturb thee; Let nothing dismay thee; All things pass; God never changes. Patience attains all that it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing: God alone suffices.”

So, in other words, "There is a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life".

Monday, 20 October 2008

The Sound of Music

It's a wet and windy afternoon and so what better way to spend it than in the company of Puccini and some nuns...? I'm talking, of course, about Puccini's one-act opera Suor Angelica. First premiered at the Met in December 1918, it is the second of the three operas which make up Il Trittico. I first came across the most famous aria from this opera, 'Senza mamma', while watching an episode of Inspector Morse. When I realised the piece was from an opera in which the cast consists almost entirely of nuns, you can imagine my delight. However, there was better yet to come... a walk-on part for Our Lady in the final scene. I rest my case.

As the opera opens we see life in the convent running as usual. After chapel the sisters gather in the courtyard, rejoicing at the beauty of the sun on the fountain, turning the water, as it were, to gold. This reminds them of a sister who has died and Sister Genevieve suggests they pour some of the golden water onto her tomb.

The nuns then discuss their desires — while the Monitor believes that any desire at all is wrong, Sister Genevieve confesses that she wishes to see lambs again, uttering the wonderful line: 'Thou knowest, my sweet Lord, that in the world I used to be a shepherdess… I haven't seen a lamb for five years. Lord, does it vex thee if I say that I want to see a tiny one [...] and hear it bleat? If it is a sin, I offer the Miserere mei. Forgive me, Lord, Thou who art the lamb of God'. Sister Dolcina wishes for something good to eat! Sister Angelica claims to have no desires, but as soon as she says so, the nuns begin gossiping — Sister Angelica has lied, because her true desire is to hear from her wealthy, noble family, whom she has not heard from in seven years. The rumours have it that she was sent to the convent in punishment.

The conversation is interrupted by the Infirmary Sister, who begs Sister Angelica to make a herbal remedy — Sister Angelica's specialty as part of her Cadfael-esque role. This is followed by an announcement that the Princess, Sister Angelica's aunt is paying a visit.

Jolly good, you might think. But, this is a tragic opera... The Princess, a fierce mezzo-soprano, explains that Angelica's sister is to be married and that Angelica must sign a document renouncing her claim to her inheritance. Angelica replies that she has repented for her sin, but there is one thing she cannot give the Virgin — she cannot forget the memory of her (illegitimate) son who was taken from her seven years ago. The Princess refuses to speak, but finally informs Sister Angelica that her son died of fever. Sister Angelica, devastated, signs the document and collapses in tears. The Princess leaves.

Sister Angelica is seized by a heavenly vision — she believes she hears her son calling for her to meet him in paradise. She makes herself a poison and drinks it, but realizes that in committing suicide she has damned herself (I like the slightly Homer Simpson 'doh' aspect of this plot element...). She begs the Virgin for mercy and, as she dies, she sees a miracle: Our Lady appears, along with Sister Angelica's son, who runs to embrace her.

It is an incredibly moving and beautiful piece of music. A trawl through brings up some rather good extracts from productions of it. This video has Renata Scotto as the lead.

Here's another version with Barbara Frittoli as Suor Angelica:

Finally, if you've another few minutes to spend in the company of Puccini, this is √Čva Marton singing the main aria, 'Senza mamma':

For full enjoyment, here's a rough translation of the words: Without a mother, my baby, you died! Your lips, without my kisses grew pale and cold! And you closed, my baby, your beautiful eyes! Not being able to caress me, you folded your little hands in a cross! And you died without knowing how much your mother loved you! Now that you are an angel in heaven you can see your mother, you can come down from the sky and I feel you fluttering about me … You're here, you're here, you kiss me, caress me … Oh, tell me, when shall I see you in heaven? When shall I kiss you? Oh, sweet end to all my sorrows, when can I join you in Heaven? When shall I die, oh, when shall I die? Tell your mother, pretty baby, with a tiny twinkle of a star. Speak to me, my beloved, my loved one.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

What can I give Him?

As Agnes has said, we had a very jolly time at the Bloggers' Dinner and I'd like to add my thanks too!

There have been some interesting discussions of the Forward in Faith National Assembly online which are well-worth reading. As I listened to the proceedings this time last week, I felt particularly drawn to the closing words of Christina Rossetti’s Christmas poem ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’:

'What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,'

Throughout the National Assembly I listened attentively to a range of people who are working to find a solution, or possible way forward in these difficult times. The Assembly heard from young Seminarians, priests, members of the Catholic Group on General Synod and others, all of whom are playing their part in a practical and useful sense. As the day wore on, I began to ask myself ‘what can I do?’. As a laywoman with no particularly remarkable contacts, no friends in high places, I felt an overwhelming desire to contribute something personally, but wondered what exactly I could practically and usefully do were I to respond to that impulse. I wonder how many people have asked themselves that question. I wonder how many have found a tenable answer.

Well, fortunately enough during the course of the proceedings I got some answers. There were a variety of speeches, questions and responses from which I have gleaned four key areas in which the laity could usefully contribute to the current situation.

1. The first is something which the Chairman of the Catholic Group on General Synod implored us to do: if you feel able to, stand for election to the General Synod in 2010. It is possible to change the balance in the Synod, but only if there are members of the laity who are willing to put themselves forward.

2. Be an evangelist: talk to people who don’t necessarily share our view or even understand our position. If you’re not fully informed, get informed. Know and explain why, as the response to the psalm goes ‘a code of practice will not do’ and why, as in the revised version, ‘only jurisdiction will do’.

3. As Emma Forward reminded us, a huge problem is the perception of Forward in Faith amongst those who aren’t members. I think people's view of Anglo-Catholicism is similarly skewed. There is no sense of the earthy sincerity of faith and desire to serve which is, I would argue, at the heart of Angl0-Catholicism. It is all too easy for others to see us as preoccupied with such weighty questions as who bows when, who wears what, and (more often!) who doesn't. By word and example this view can be altered.

4. Pray, fervently, trusting in Our Lord to carry us through this difficult time. As St. John of the Cross reminds us, “In tribulation immediately draw near to God with confidence, and you will receive strength, enlightenment, and instruction.” I find I can't argue with that.

To end where I started, Rossetti's poem closes with the offer of a glorious and inspiring opportunity:
'Yet what I can I give Him —
Give my heart.'
From the depths of our hearts, filled with the love of Christ, through prayer, fellowship, dialogue, teaching - all of which are at the very core of our faith - you and I, as members of the laity, can play our part. And so we must, for Truth's sake.

Monday, 13 October 2008

National Assembly and Bloggers' Dinner

As can be seen on Fr Jones's blog, Veronica and I spent Friday evening at the Anglo-Catholic bloggers' dinner. It was wonderful to meet our fellow bloggers, some of them for the first time. As far as I know, we are the only blogging Anglo-Catholic laywomen around, so it felt particularly important to be there*. Many thanks go to Fr Jones and Fr Steel for organising the occasion.

We spent Saturday at the Forward in Faith National Assembly and our comments will appear soon, but in the meantime do look at massinformation and de cura animarum (where I am astonished and delighted at the eighth great thing about being a catholic).

*If I have got this wrong, complain at length below -it would be good to find some more of us!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Our Lady of the Rosary

On the 7th of October 1571, Pius V was in conference with his Cardinals in Rome when he suddenly rose and went over to the window and said "Enough of business. Let us thank God for the great victory He has just given our fleet". Two weeks later, news arrived in Rome of the victory of the Holy League over the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto. Two years earlier, he had officially approved the use of the rosary and called for public recitation throughout Europe to combat the Turkish threat. For three hours before the battle, the rosary had been said before an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe belonging to Admiral Giovanni Andrea Doria.

Pius V wrote "we desire in particular that the remembrance of the great victory obtained from God through the merits and intercession of the glorious virgin...may never be forgotten" and established the feast of Our Lady of Victory, later called Our Lady of the Rosary.

This reminds me that though I often carry my rosary around with me, and keep one on my bedside table at home, I don't say it as much as I think I do, as much as I think I ought to, or with proper attention when I actually do it. Perhaps public revelation of my faults will inspire me to greater diligence but any advice would be appreciated.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Who is like unto God?

Like Agnes, I too have been doing some seasonal research for Michaelmas, but having missed the feast itself, will have to be content with publishing within Michaelmas term.

The photograph accompanying this article is of an icon of the Archangel which I was recently given. I have had rather a devotion to St. Michael for some time, particularly since being disturbed by what are vaguely referred to as "night terrors." I found that reminding myself that I had such an ally against real terrors also armed me against those that were a product of my own over-active subconscious.

After deciding to write something about St. Michael, I realised how very little I actually knew about him. I did not know, for example, that the Hebrew name Michael translates as "Who is like unto God?" which was also the battle cry of the angels as they expelled Satan from Paradise. I was interested to read, in the Catholic Encyclopedia, that as well as fighting against Satan, he is also believed to fulfill the offices of rescuing the souls of the faithful from the enemy at the hour of death, being the champion of church and bringing the souls of men to judgement. And this is all as well as being the patron of everything from paratroopers to Cornwall by way of (apparently, and I hope this is true) haberdashers, fencing and hatters!

Among the many interesting things I found on the internet, I came across a more suspicious webpage. On first scanning it, the presence of Leo XIII's prayer to St. Michael and the repeated occurence of the word papal led me to think that it must be Catholic. On closer inspection, however, it turned out that I had been misled. The repeated word was not papal, but Paypal, and the site was selling candles, anointing oil and "grains of paradise" in order to obtain favours from the Archangel- whose name was here translated as above, but without the question mark. The substitution of the relative pronoun for the interrogative seemed to turn St. Michael from God's champion into some sort of demi-god, who could be got on side by the judicious burning of bay leaves.

Angels seem to have a particular appeal for (I don't know how to refer to them: alternative religions?) either as "spirit guides" or as powerful beings with the ability to grant requests seemingly independently of God. Reading this sort of thing, apart from making me cross about being accused of appropriating Jewish "angelology" by people who are quite happy to appropriate prayers composed by the Pope, made me think about how we do, or should, think about angels ourselves.

Angelic saints are clearly different to human saints in a number of ways. From our point of view, their example cannot teach us how to live our lives in the same way as those of the earthly saints can. The angels "who see Him face to face" might not seem to be very relevant to our struggles with temptation and doubt. However, as that same hymn says, we can ask them to "help us to adore Him." We do not have the clear vision of the angels, but, by prayer, we can share some of the confidence of this saint who confronts the devil with the unanswerable question: "quis ut deus?"

St. Michael the Archangel defend us in this day of battle! Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls! Amen

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Seasonal Recipes

First I'll reassure my fellow members of the guild that I'm not turning this into the Waitrose food magazine.

Monday was, as you of course all know, the feast of St Michael (and Raphael and Gabriel..). Michaelmas has particular foods associated with it and I did once promise to collect recipies appropriate for the liturgical year, try them out, and post the results, so here we are:

Michaelmas Goose

St Michael's Bannock

And now, I must confess that I've failed to try them out. I don't think I could fit a goose in the oven and I certainly don't know where to buy rye meal*. So, we feasted on chicken, and blackberry crumble instead. At least the blackberries were appropriate to the feast. There is a tradition that, after this date, they are cursed by the Devil, as, when St Michael threw him out of heaven, he landed in a blackberry bush. This is probably why you can now get them everywhere as a 2-for-1 offer.

*Anyone who thinks they can do either is welcome to show off in the comments!