The Great Action

Nuptial Mass, St. George’s, Sudbury (London), mid-20th century.

“These are such difficult questions,” answered Willis; “must I speak? Such difficult questions,” he continued, rising into a more animated manner, and kindling as he went on; “I mean, people view them so differently: it is so difficult to convey to one person the idea of another. The idea of worship is different in the Catholic Church from the idea of it in your Church; for, in truth, the religions are different. Don’t deceive yourself, my dear Bateman,” he said tenderly, “it is not that ours is your religion carried a little farther,—a little too far, as you would say. No, they differ in kind, not in degree; ours is one religion, yours another. And when the time comes, and come it will, for you, alien as you are now, to submit yourself to the gracious yoke of Christ, then, my dearest Bateman, it will be faith which will enable you to bear the ways and usages of Catholics, which else might perhaps startle you. Else, the habits of years, the associations in your mind of a certain outward behaviour with real inward acts of devotion, might embarrass you, when you had to conform yourself to other habits, and to create for yourself other associations. But this faith, of which I speak, the great gift of God, will enable you in that day to overcome yourself, and to submit, as your judgment, your will, your reason, your affections, so your tastes and likings, to the rule and usage of the Church. Ah, that faith should be necessary in such a matter, and that what is so natural and becoming under the circumstances, should have need of an explanation! I declare, to me,” he said, and he clasped his hands on his knees, and looked forward as if soliloquising,—”to me nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us. I could attend Masses for ever and not be tired. It is not a mere form of words,—it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth. It is, not the invocation merely, but, if I dare use the word, the evocation of the Eternal. He becomes present on the altar in flesh and blood, before whom angels bow and devils tremble. This is that awful event which is the scope, and is the interpretation, of every part of the solemnity. Words are necessary, but as means, not as ends; they are not mere addresses to the throne of grace, they are instruments of what is far higher, of consecration, of sacrifice. They hurry on as if impatient to fulfil their mission. Quickly they go, the whole is quick; for they are all parts of one integral action. Quickly they go; for they are awful words of sacrifice, they are a work too great to delay upon; as when it was said in the beginning: ‘What thou doest, do quickly’. Quickly they pass; for the Lord Jesus goes with them, as He passed along the lake in the days of His flesh, quickly calling first one and then another. Quickly they pass; because as the lightning which shineth from one part of heaven unto the other, so is the coming of the Son of Man. Quickly they pass; for they are as the words of Moses, when the Lord came down in the cloud, calling on the Name of the Lord as He passed by, ‘the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth’. And as Moses on the mountain, so we too ‘make haste and bow our heads to the earth, and adore’. So we, all around, each in his place, look out for the great Advent, ‘waiting for the moving of the water’. Each in his place, with his own heart, with his own wants, with his own thoughts, with his own intention, with his own prayers, separate but concordant, watching what is going on, watching its progress, uniting in its consummation;—not painfully and hopelessly following a hard form of prayer from beginning to end, but, like a concert of musical instruments, each different, but concurring in a sweet harmony, we take our part with God’s priest, supporting him, yet guided by him. There are little children there, and old men, and simple labourers, and students in seminaries, priests preparing for Mass, priests making their thanksgiving; there are innocent maidens, and there are penitent sinners; but out of these many minds rises one eucharistic hymn, and the great Action is the measure and scope of it. And oh, my dear Bateman,” he added, turning to him, “you ask me whether this is not a formal, unreasonable service—it is wonderful!” he cried, rising up, “quite wonderful. When will these dear good people be enlightened? O Sapientia, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia, O Adonai, O Clavis David et Exspectatio gentium, veni ad salvandum nos, Domine Deus noster.”

— John Henry Newman, Loss and Gain, Part II, Chapter 20.

Souvenir of St. Columba’s Stone

Calvary group and St. Columba's Stone, St. Columba's Church, Long Tower, Derry, Northern Ireland.
Calvary group and St. Columba’s Stone, St. Columba’s Church, Long Tower, Derry, Northern Ireland.

[Long Tower Church was the first Catholic church constructed in Derry after the Protestant Reformation. The bullaun (Irish: bullán) stone known as St. Columba’s Stone was enshrined here on 9 June 1898, having been moved from its original location by St. Columba’s Well (Tobar Colm Cille) the previous year.]

St. Columba’s Stone. No matter what may have been the actual connection of this stone with St. Columba — whether it was the pillow stone of which the Trias Thaumaturgas speak or the flag stone on which, tradition says, he knelt in the Church — it has been, from time immemorial, associated with his name; and that very association has hallowed it and made it a relic of Derry’s great saint and patron. We venerate it because it bears his name, and was dear to our fathers. We enshrine it in this Calvary, to perpetuate the lessons of prayer and penance Columba taught in his day. He “willed his soul to Derry.” His spirit still hovers over our town. Were he to speak from this stone as a text, he would say, pointing to the Altar or the Calvary:

Remember that the real Memorial of Calvary is the Eucharist. Be often at Mass and Communion.

Remember the agonized cry from the Cross, “I thirst,” and be temperate.

Remember the sorrows of Mary, and spare her Son the pain of sin.

Remember the penitence of Magdalen and the purity of John. Imitate the love of both.

Remember the souls in Purgatory, and go round the Way of the Cross for them.

Remember, above all, that He who died on Calvary now lives on the Altar. Visit Him often.

— Fr. William Doherty, Derry Columbkille, Souvenir of the Centenary Celebrations, in Honour of St. Columba, in the Long Tower Church, Derry, 1897-99, Dublin (1899).

Deo Gratias!

Finally, some superb news about the future — and hopefully permanent — Eucharistic Liturgy of the Anglican Personal Ordinariates! Following on Msgr. Andrew Burnham’s address at the recent Sacra Liturgia Conference in Rome, there is very strong evidence that indeed the established Liturgy of the Anglican Personal Ordinariates erected under the auspices of Pope Benedict XVI in his motu proprio Anglicanorum cœtibus, and currently being developed by the interdicastrial group Anglicanæ traditiones and reportedly being auditioned in four Ordinariate parishes around the world, will incorporate much from the Vetus Ordo, the so-called Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite — and the Anglican Missal tradition. The prayers at the foot of the Altar, the Last Gospel, the traditional Offertory, &c…

Stay tuned and keep praying!

Diaconal Ordination

This morning I attended the ordination of William “Doc” Holiday, a former Anglican priest and good friend, to the Catholic diaconate. The ordination took place at Incarnation Catholic Church, in Orlando, Florida, formerly the Anglican Cathedral of the Incarnation, for which, as Rector’s Warden, I had the honour of organising the process by which the parish entered the Holy and Apostolic Church via the Personal Ordinariate erected under the auspices of the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum cœtibus.

John Noonan, the Bishop of Orlando, performed the ordination on behalf of the Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson. The ordination and Mass were conducted in accordance with the modern Roman Rite (Novus Ordo). Mass was celebrated ad orientem, as of course, the Anglo-Catholic church’s altar abuts the east wall. Everything was done decently and in good order, though obviously the “Ordinary Form” of the Latin Rite is not at all my cup of tea (to put it very mildly). In the spirit of Christian Unity, I will refrain from commenting on the liturgical vestments supplied by the Diocese.

As the event was only announced recently, and it was conducted at nine o’clock on a business morning, there were few in attendance (the bishop’s entourage was more numerous than the parishioners). Bishop Noonan spoke briefly about the ministry of the deacon in the Church.

Deacon Holiday will be ordained to the priesthood on this coming Saturday, at Incarnation Church, at nine o’clock in the morning. Every indication is that he will, at some point, assume the rectorship of the church, as the first and likely last native Anglican-turned-Catholic priest in the community. Please pray for him as he prepares for the fulfilment of his ministry as a Catholic priest.

No More Sin to Kill an Irishman Than a Dog

And though acts of this kind apppear horrible and detestable to all Christians, yet to those of that oft-mentioned nation, as by too hard a daily experience we feel, they seem honourable and praiseworthy, since those that do them reap not at all the punishment of which they are deserving, but by a too flagrant antithesis the reward of praise which they do not merit is heaped upon them.  For not only their laymen and secular clergy but some also of their regular clergy dogmatically assert the heresy that it is no more sin to kill an Irishman than a dog or any other brute.  And in maintaining this heretical position some monks of theirs affirm boldly that if it should happen to them, as it does often happen, to kill an Irishman, they would not on that account refrain from saying mass, not even for a day.

And as, beyond all doubt, the monks of the Cistercian order of Granard, in Ardagh diocese, so too the monks of Inch, of the same order, in Down diocese, shamelessly fulfil in deed what they proclaim in word.  For, bearing arms publicly, they attack the Irish and slay them, and nevertheless they celebrate their masses.

And in like manner friar Simon of the Order of Friars Minor, brother of the bishop of Connor, is the chief formulator of this heresy; and in the year just passed, unable from the fulness of his malignant heart to keep silent he shamelessly burst out in words into a declaration of this kind in the court of Lord Edward de Broyse Bruce, Earl of Carrick and in the presence of the said lord, as he himself testifies, viz. that it is no sin to kill a man of Irish birth and if he were to commit it himself he would none the less for that celebrate mass.

Remonstrance of the Irish Chiefs to Pope John XXII, A.D. 1317.