Ordinariate pilgrim in France

At the beginning of September I was appointed Administrator of a small parish in northern France, as a result of an agreement between Mgr Newton, my Ordinary, and the Bishop of Amiens, Mgr Olivier Leborgne. The appointment is for a year, and comes about because of the retirement of the present Parish Priest.

Some of my friends have asked if I will write a sort of diary, events, people and parish life, and perhaps make some observations from the point of view of an Ordinariate priest working abroad, albeit just across the Channel.

So, no, Matthew the Wayfarer, I am not dead, just rather busy at the moment!

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Studies in Holiness: Lincoln Stanhope Wainwright

Father Wainwright (1847-1929) lived and died a member of the Church of England. Had it been otherwise, he would perhaps have been canonised and known as ‘The English Cure d’Ars’. He ministered as curate and then vicar of St Peter’s, Wapping, when the Docks of East London were at their height – and the living conditions of the dockers and their families at their most fearsome.
Evelyn Underhill, herself one of the most remarkable Anglican spiritual guides of the 20th century, wrote this appreciation of Fr Wainwright, in the Spectator.

 

In 1873, a dapper young clergyman, very correctly dressed, with well-brushed hat and black kid gloves, arrived at the Clergy House of St Peter’s London Docks. Fifty-six years later, on a bed as poor and comfortless as any ascetic could desire, a little old man lay dead in his bare and carpetless room; and in the words of one of his children, “Dockland was washed with tears,” because this tiny but indomitable figure, shabby, untiring, spendthrift of love, would not serve them on earth any more.
There are two ruling factors in all the varied types of Christian holiness. One is the great stream of tradition which rises in the New Testament, and in which all these lives are bathed. To that tradition, each adds something; and from it each takes inspiration, formation, power. The other factor is the social life within which the saint emerges; with its special incitements to heroic virtue, its special demands and needs. Thus the world of the sixth century asked for just what St Benedict gave it; it was to the intellectual turmoil of the thirteenth that St Thomas sacrificed his career; the world of the Counter-Reformation gave St Ignatius his peculiar call. But the demand and the response may also be found in their perfection within a narrower sphere. St Vincent de Paul is nowhere closer to his pattern that in the slums of Paris; hunting the rubbish heaps for abandoned babies, and serving poverty in its most repulsive disguises with reverent love. The Cure d’Ars fulfils his vocation in an obscure French village and among the simplest souls. Perhaps it was the inspiring force of these two lives, with their self-spending passion for the sinful and the abject which – more than any other factor – determined Father Wainwright’s particular place in the communion of saints. For in them he saw radiant charity triumphing in an environment very like his own.


Nineteenth century Dockland was not conspicuously above the standards of seventeenth century Paris; nor were its inhabitants much more promising material than the peasants of Ars. It was for this very reason that they made their overwhelming appeal. He served them for over half a century, without holidays and always in a poverty of life very near their own. The blankets from his bed had a way of disappearing; several times he gave away the shirt he was wearing … Yet his life was not so deliberately, as inevitably austere….
Every day developed naturally from its invariable beginning; a long period of rapt devotion before the altar, which nothing but an urgent summons to the dying was allowed to interrupt. The morning was usually absorbed by letters and interviews with the growing crowd who brought him their difficulties and sorrows. The afternoon was given to the visiting of the sick, always one of his chief cares. He went with an untiring zest from house to house and hospital to hospital, often those in distant parts of London which had patients from among his flock; and slept in the train between his visits to make up for the shortness of his nights … the sick, the destitute, the outcasts and the sinful had always the first claim on his time and love; direct personal contacts with individuals, unlimited self-spending in their interests, was pastoral methods he thoroughly understood. He was always ready to leave the ninety-nine good churchgoers and start single-handed to rescue one lost sheep.
There was much that was mediaeval in his outlook and the realistic temper of his religious life; and he would have been completely at home among those English mystics who wore printed above their hearts the Holy Name … But a sweet little smile and gentle manner hid an iron will where the essentials of the faith and practice were concerned, for he remained loyal to the strict Tractarian tradition within which his vocation had developed and made few concessions to modern ideas… his character and his presence did more for the true social salvation of Dockland than all the forces of law and order and social reform. He found an all-lit, insanitary, largely lawless area; where policemen went in couples and no-one’s property was safe. With the entire fearlessness of a person whose life in not his own, he went at all hours through its worst alleys, intervened in street rows, fraternized with the roughest inhabitants, and attracted children who formed his constant bodyguard. At first he was ridiculed, then tolerate, then liked; at last, universally loved and revered.
And this was achieved by a person without striking qualities of intellect or manner, and with none of the “extraordinary” gifts so commonly attributed to saints. He was an inarticulate preacher; people came to his sermons not so much to listen as to look at his face and be in his atmosphere. In practical matters his judgement, from a worldly point of view, was not always sound. But a compassion that was more than human seemed to reach out through his spirit from beyond the world, and move among derelict men as one that serveth.
For there is a kind of sanctity in which human love and pity are transfused and transmuted into a channel of the Celestial Charity itself: and it was Fr. Wainwright’s entire self-giving to that holy Energy which sent him out as its agent to the hospital and the slum. In his old age it was said of that fiery little soldier, St Ignatius, that “he seemed to have become all love.” The power which operated that transformation is still at work within the world of men.

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‘Songs of Praise’ does it again!

Surely a trailer for ‘The Moral Maze’? But no – there it was in the ‘Sunday Telegraph’ guide to Radio and Television (Sunday 2 August 2015):

Songs of Praise A woman who acted as a surrogate
mother for her sister

I almost wish I had been in time to watch the programme just to see what hymns go with such a theme!

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‘Song of Praise’ and the faith of Christians

My caller last Sunday evening was not angry but rather puzzled. “Have you watched ‘Songs of Praise’ this evening?” I explained that it was not something I often watched these days. My caller continued: “The theme was marriage, and after interviewing a young couple, they went to Scotland. There was a service being conducted by a Bishop but the couple were both men. When they interviewed the Bishop he said that he was glad to be offering marriage to gay couples … ”

The first time I took part in Songs of Praise was in 1974 when it was broadcast from St Wilfrid’s, Harrogate, in Yorkshire. The large nave was entirely filled with choirs from all the churches in Harrogate. The choir of St Wilfrid’s sang ‘Thee we adore, O hidden Saviour thee’ which is the English version of Thomas Aquinas’ ‘Adoro te devote’ – a hymn to the Blessed Sacrament. This was quite strong stuff for ‘Songs of Praise’, and I remember that the presenter recited those words of Queen Elizabeth 1 “Christ’s were the words that spake it” as an ‘explanation’ of the Eucharist which we could all agree on!

The second occasion when I participated in ‘Songs of Praise’ was in 1991, this time in an outdoor broadcast from Rathbone Street Market in Canning Town. In fact little of the market remained, because of the decision to drive the A13 directly through what had been one of the longest street markets in Europe. We began with a hymn specially written to the theme-tune of ‘Eastenders’ and sang ‘Shine Jesus shine’ and another song of which I can only remember the chorus which went
“nothing – nothing – absolutely nothing – nothing is impossible to thee-ee”

At the time I felt that a Protestant/Pentecostal takeover of the event had invented a mythical Christian East End to parallel the curious presentation of its life paraded by ‘EastEnders’. Moreover, it almost completely airbrushed from history the proud contribution of Anglo-Catholicism to East London over 100 years, represented by the great Dock churches, and its hugely influential religious community, the Society of the Divine Compassion, with its saintly founder, Fr Andrew Hardy. Nor shall I forget one of our women deacons patiently but firmly explaining that she was not wearing ‘robes’ (which had been ‘forbidden’) but the everyday working gear (the cassock!) of an Anglican cleric.

Last Sunday’s edition of ‘S of P’ raises for me a number of questions. I had assumed that the programme had remained firmly in the hands of the Evangelicals, but it would seem that the liberals are now back in the driving seat. It is less than a year ago that Parliament re-defined marriage, in the face of opposition from Catholics, Anglicans and the majority of the Free Churches. One is aware, of course, that there is a liberal minority – within the C of E and some of the Free Churches – which accepts this re-definition, and is willing to run with it. Nonetheless, one has to ask whether it is appropriate for Songs of Praise to ‘celebrate’ the new definition of marriage, in a Christian programme, even though the new ‘marriage’ is opposed by the huge majority of Christians worldwide.

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A possible way into the Ordinariate liturgy

Like many former English Anglican clergy of my generation I grew up at a time of liturgical change. I can still recite by heart some of the liturgy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer which I learnt as a child. By the time I went to Theological College we were moving through Series 2 (different ‘shape’ but traditional language) to Series 3 (modern ‘you’ form English). I was taught to celebrate the Anglican Eucharist in conformity, as far as possible, with the rubrics of the 1970 missal, and I recited the Divine Office with its 5-fold daily pattern. Even when, as an incumbent in the C of E, I felt obliged to use authorised forms, I stretched this to include the four-fold daily office published by the Society of St Francis (the Anglican Franciscans) as I found the provision of only two, albeit substantial, services a day to be inadequate.

As for language, I had never been a particular lover of the 16th century English is which the Book of Common Prayer is written. And although I thought the 1980 Alternative Service Book rather ‘thin’ in its language, I admired the attempts (often successful in my opinion) in Common Worship to develop a rich and resonant liturgical language. If only its theology of the Eucharist and the life of the world to come had been as good! But that, as they say, is history.

One of the features of the Ordinariate has been the compiling of a distinctive liturgy, as part of the family of Roman rites. The decision was made early on to use traditional English (in the thee/thou form) and to include prayers written or translated by Archbishop Cranmer, and the Psalter of Miles Coverdale. There have been some Ordinariate congregations who have found this liturgy to be exactly what they want and need, and others who have not. But we have been encouraged to use these forms, and they are part – though my no means the only part – of our patrimony, our inheritance as Anglicans who have been reconciled into the wider Church. How might a former Anglican find his or her way into the Ordinariate liturgy, without just abandoning the way of praying which has become spiritually ingrained. I came up with an idea while at Douai Abbey on retreat.

There the monastic community uses a five-fold Office, but continues to sing latin Vespers from the old Breviary every day. And that is what I am trying with Evensong i.e. The Divine Office for Readings, Lauds, Prayer during the Day, and Compline – but Evensong in place of Vespers. It is permitted to use the four week psalm-cycle of the Divine Office in the Ordinariate Office, in the Coverdale version, and the New Testament Canticle(s) in place of the Nunc Dimittis which is part of Compline. The advantages of this pattern are not insignificant. For a retired priest two Offices plus the Mass means a substantial start to the morning, and Evensong with two Scripture Readings, Creed and Collects in addition to psalms and Canticles, provides a fuller time of prayer in the evening, while still leaving Compline as night prayer on going to bed. In addition it is compatible with the rest of the Daily Office. Disadvantages? You need several books instead of one, which makes it impossible to say the Evensong while travelling. But here the internet is invaluable, and it is not difficult to down-load psalms and collects – in fact most of the variables. Yes, it means loose-leaf-folder liturgy, but in this time of change that is unavoidable.

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How the liturgy bridges the centuries

I had the privilege of presiding at Mass today in the Catholic Church where my sister and brother-in-law belong; the Parish Priest is on holiday at the moment. We celebrated the First Martyrs of the Church at Rome, honouring those who gave their lives in the bloody persecution of the Emperor Nero in 64 AD. I used the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer 1) which is less familiar perhaps  to modern Catholics than Prayers 2 & 3. It is long, but those of us who were there had come to pray and worship – and it was a lovely day. It has two lists of saints all connected with the early years of the Faith in Rome, and the Prayer as a whole demands of the Celebrant careful and attentive articulation if it is not to sound rushed and incomprehensible. But prayed quietly and thoughtfully, by people and priest, it takes one back to those early years and to the brave people who chose an awful death rather than deny the Lord Jesus Christ. Among my most special moments I include serving a Mass in the crypt of St Peter’s, Rome, where the priest used the Roman Canon. Now that was something else, as they say.

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Catholic – or Christian?

Week of Prayer logo

Last week I stopped off, mid-morning, to have a cup of coffee in Wimbledon. The cheerful waitress asked me if I was a Catholic priest. Then she went on to tell me that she was a Catholic, but her friend had said that she needed to become a Christian and get baptised. I explained that she was already a Christian, and (whatever else she might have needed in the way of sacraments) she had already been baptised, and only once was possible.

She seemed puzzled by my assertion that Catholic and Christian were not opposites. I simplified. ‘Everyone who follows Jesus Christ is a Christian. The majority are Catholic Christians, in the East there are mainly Orthodox Christians, and some are called Protestant Christians.’ I went on, ‘I expect you know that all Muslims are followers of Mohammad, but some are Sunni Muslims and some are Shia Muslims.’ Yes, indeed, she had heard of this and so she grasped the answer to her Catholic/Christian question.

But I was left with a nagging resentment, not against the waitress’ friend, but against whoever had taught her that Catholics were not Christians. For such people have claimed the name Christian as exclusively theirs. No doubt they and I would disagree over significant parts of the Faith, including some of its fundamentals. As Protestant Christians they would maintain that I had added things which were not in the Bible. As a Catholic Christian I would maintain that they had arbitrarily cut out parts of the Bible they didn’t like, and were ignoring 2,000 years of Christian history during which the Holy Spirit had been very active. What I would not and could not do is deny that they are Christians, if they believe in God the Trinity, have been baptised in the three-fold name of God, and are sincerely trying to live the Christian Way.

So, please my Christian brothers and sisters, let us have no more of this. And coming at this story from a completely different angle, does it not prove the value of the clerical collar. Without it my cheerful waitress would never have engaged me in this discussion. My French friends who recently complained to me about ‘invisible clergy’ surely have a point.

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