The whole of March was given over to Lent. The month of May is both entirely Easter-filled – and is also Mary’s month. It ends with the celebration of Mary’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, who was about to give birth to John the Baptist. Eastertide ends with the Feast of Pentecost on June 4th. May is, therefore a cause of great rejoicing. Mary, whose heart was pierced with a sword on Good Friday, rejoices in the risen life of her divine Son, rejoices in the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, and is called to share Our Lord’s glory in heaven – but that has to wait until the Feast of the Assumption in August.
May 25th is the Feast of the Ascension. We are told by S. Luke that Jesus returned to His Father forty days after his resurrection. Ascension Island was discovered on that day. (Not that it didn’t exist before then. You could argue that the Vikings “discovered” our own island!) Many churches, including the Roman Catholic Church in this country, have transferred the keeping of the feast to the following Sunday. I’m afraid that I dig my heals in and stick to the proper day. I pray that a goodly number of the congregation will do the same. Our Lord has completed his task and, by His ascension, opens for us the way to heaven. His self-offering, beginning with his taking flesh of Blessed Mary at the Annunciation, is completed by His return to His heavenly Father. How this is accomplished is a mystery. The things of God are not always to be comprehended or understood my mere mortals. The hymns for the day are pretty brilliant, too.
Why do some churches get a good response when there is a feast day – and others don’t? I think it is to do with the ethos, the culture of a church community or, indeed, the culture of a country. In Malta, people attend the daily mass as a matter of course. Some years ago, I went to the third mass of the day at a church near my hotel (one of many churches) on Holy Cross Day. There were between three and four hundred souls in the church! Village patronal festivals (the day there church’s saint is celebrated) usually attract many hundreds from neighbouring villages and towns. Needless to say, there is drinking and dancing and fireworks – but it is clearly a religious festival and the mass is celebrated in splendour.
Father George has written an article about his impressions of Holy Week. Joe Smith has also written about his week joining in daily worship. Both comment about the commitment and enthusiasm of the congregation in keeping daily acts of worship as well as major celebrations. I am convinced that we do this because there is a strong sense of duty and joy where the things of God are concerned. If I have tried to do anything, it is to restore the disciplined, joyful, catholic, worship that was an hallmark of this church in the earlier part of the twentieth century. Here is an account of worship at Sneyd Church when it was in Nile Street. Notice, the writer is not talking about the priests. It is the community gathered in prayer and fellowship which is important. Of course, from reading the parish history there were the disagreements of any close family, but that does not invalidate a visitor’s observations.
“In the Sneyd Mass…there were certain impressions one could not miss. One could not miss the outstanding impression of having taken part, not in a ‘church service’, but as fellow guests of one host at a lovely party; and all the many stories of Jesus about the feasts of the Kingdom were naturally in one’s mind. One recognised here the exalting of the Christian principles of friendliness, co-operation and sharing; and as we saw each take his share, one felt the attempt to realise the condition of true equality… The Mass is… a real part in the offering of Christ.”*
Can I end by saying a big “THANK YOU” to all the people who work so hard, both front-of-house and behind the scenes, to make our worship and fellowship what it is. (I should have said this at the A.G.M. But time did not allow.) Don’t take it for granted. Ask yourself what you do to make a positive difference in the life of the church – and what you could possibly do more.
Enjoy the rest of Eastertide. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed. Alleluia!”
* Geoffrey Keable. Quoted in “Earth and Altar”, an account of Christian Socialism by The Rev’d. Donald Gray.
RUTH WALKER REFLECTS ON HOLY WEEK 2017
It is my favourite time in the Christian Calendar. Every year is the same – but different.
Starting with Palm Sunday, when we meet in the park, hear the Gospel reading for the day, bless the palms, and then set off for church, waving our branches and singing. Thus we re-enact Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.
On Monday evening, Father Kevin was the celebrant. He brought a painting of Our Lord upon the Cross by the Italian artist Giunta of Pisa. We meditated on the painting while Father Kevin told us the story of the drama of the resurrection.
On Tuesday evening, Father Brian played part of the Nelson Mass by Haydn and ended mass with a version of the Lord’s Prayer by Rachmaninov. The latter was particularly beautiful and prayerful.
Wednesday brought Father Ron Whittingham as celebrant. He spoke very movingly about the events of Holy Week.
Maundy Thursday Mass included the ceremonies of feet washing, the stripping of the altar, the journey to the Altar of Repose, the Garden of Gethsemane. We then watched and prayed until midnight.
When we came to the Liturgy on Good Friday evening, we found the church bare apart from the fruits of the children’s activities in the afternoon. The church gate was decorated with coloured ribbons and flowers in readiness for Easter. The (two!) Easter Gardens were there in readiness, complete with decorations and plants. In contrast, the church was stark and bare, reminding us of Our Lord’s death. During the Veneration of the Cross I was so engrossed with the experience of it that I forgot to sing the responses in the Reproaches!
Holy Saturday evening begins outside the church hall with the Easter Fire and the lighting of the Paschal Candle followed by the lighting of hand candles. Then the sitting by candlelight as the Scriptures were read before entering church and the singing of the alleluias – the first since before Ash Wednesday – so moving and inspiring. After mass came the party back in the hall. Lots of food and drink – and people. Easter Day brought more rejoicing, more alleluias – and fifty days of celebration.
You have to attend at least Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday to learn, experience, understand the death and resurrection of the Lord.
“ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED. ALLELUIA!”
R.I.P. Roger Davison, priest. 10/5/20-24/4/17
Sad to report that there will be no more articles written by Father Roger Davison. Two weeks short of his 97th birthday, he died at S. Barnabas’ Home for the Clergy in Lingfield, Sussex.
I first met Father Roger when he was vicar of Higham Ferrers and I was curate of S. Mary’s Kettering in Northamptonshire. Father Roger’s church was a wonderful medieval pile with lovely statues, carving, and hangings. It looked as though the Reformation had never happened! On one occasion, he took me to see Thaxted parish church (one of his favourites) and told me about Father Conrad Noel, the Catholic Crusade and Christian Socialism. Strange to think that a curate of Thaxted, Father Harold Mason, should come to Sneyd and have a huge influence on the politics and worship of the church in Nile Street.
Father Roger was trained for the priesthood at Kelham Theological College. This was near Nottingham and was run by The Society of the Sacred Mission, a men’s religious community. The regime was austere and the students expected to do cleaning and cooking. Prior to entering Kelham, Father Roger had worked at Maples, a department store in Tottenham Court Road, London. During the war he served in the army in North Africa. His curacy was at Tonge Moor, Bolton, becoming its vicar for eleven years and being granted a canonry of the cathedral. He then moved to Higham Ferrers in 1965 and remained there until he retired in 1988. He then moved to Higham in Kent and assisted at the local church before fully near ill-health took him to S. Barnabas Home. He was a long-serving Guardian of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and a fervent supporter of the Catholic Cause.
Father Roger was a keen observer of people and life – and had a great sense of humour:
“E’er, Father. Why isn’t our Cheryl in the Queen’s Retinue this May?” (A burly miner to the young curate.)
“A young Tonge Moor mum pushing a pram, fag-a-dangle…”
“Look at that red-brick chapel. Glowering dissent into the market place.” (A comment when passing through a pretty Northants. Village.)
“I’m moving to S. Barnabas’s Home before I start thinking that I am Napoleon Buonaparte.”
In a letter. “I remember cycling thirty miles to Coventry before the war. That dreamy, beautiful, medieval, city of spires and half-timbered houses.” Can you imagine that?
“S. Barnabas’s chapel is very Church of England – but I am quickly introducing disloyalty in all its forms. The powerful three-stepped brass cross is now in the cupboard and a decent crucifix in place. The next thing is to ‘improve’ the liturgy.”
He was very supportive of Sneyd Church and almost his last article included references to myself and this church. He was wonderful person and I am glad to have been one of his acolytes for so many years.
A mass of requiem will be offered on Saturday, 6th May at 0930. (This will also include Bishop Keith Sutton, a former Bishop of Lichfield, who also died recently.)
Rest, eternal, grant to them, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them.”