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Our new publication, The Ceremonies of Holy Week & the Vigil of Pentecost Described (according to the 1953 missal) is now in production and will be ready for shipping at the beginning of February. Because of the later release date, we are extending the pre-publication offer price until February 15th.
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+ Quodcumque dixerit vobis facite. (Do whatever He tells you.) As this new year of Our Lord 2022 gathers pace and begins its course, we can do no better than to ponder these words of the Blessed Virgin Mary proclaimed anew to each of us by our mother the Church in the Gospel of this Holy Mass. Of these five words, the two smallest hold the key to their meaning and import.
The first of these words is “He”—Do whatever HE tells you. “He” is the Incarnate Son of God, the definitive revelation of God in history, the unique saviour of all mankind. His commands are God’s commands. They manifest He Who is the summation of Truth, Goodness and Beauty. They lead us to salvation.
Our Lord Jesus Christ established His Church faithfully to transmit His saving teaching to each generation until the end of time so that we too may be saved. This morning’s Epistle is a beautiful example of the Apostle Saint Paul doing exactly that—instructing the people of Rome in how to live a life that leads to salvation (in singularly beautiful detail, which itself bears much prayerful contemplation).
What is essential here is that what is handed on and taught is that which comes from Christ and His apostles, addressed to our particular circumstances and developed as necessary, certainly, but in complete fidelity and continuity to that which was revealed by Our Lord and taught by the apostles. The Church has no business in doing anything else, then as now, for as St Paul taught the Galatians: “even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8; see 1 Tim. 6) No successor of the apostles, no matter how important or authoritarian, no cleric or catechist no matter how convincing, is exempt from this requirement of fidelity to the tradition as it develops in continuity throughout the ages.
Our Lord warned us to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Mt 7:15) St Paul found it necessary to denounce “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:13) If we are to know what “He” tells us to do, we must be sure of the orthodoxy and indeed the orthopraxy of those who teach us. For now, as then, unfortunately not all those entrusted with the ministry of authority bind themselves “to obedience to God’s Word in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down and every form of opportunism.” (Benedict XVI, Homily, 7 May 2005)
Nevertheless, if we purify and nourish our hearts, minds and souls through frequent recourse to the sacraments and by full, conscious and actual participation in the riches of the Church’s liturgical tradition, and delve deeply into her articulation of the faith she celebrates, we shall encounter the splendour of the Truth and, living in that light, we can come to understand what He tells us to do in our particular circumstances today, individually and collectively.
The second of the two key words used by the Blessed Virgin Mary is: “Do”—DO whatever He tells you. For it is not enough to know what He tells me to do. My salvation is to be found in the doing of His will, not in procrastinating about it. St Augustine’s famous words “give me chastity and continence, but not yet” (Confessions 8.7.17) may give rise to a wry smile, but they reflect much of the human condition: we may well know what Almighty God requires of us, but we have little will to get on with the doing of it. Too often our wills hesitate to enact what our intellects know to be right and true because of our attachment to sin or our fear of what doing God’s will might involve and cost our comfortable lives. “Not yet, Lord,” we might be tempted to say along with the unconverted Augustine.
Yet these fears, these attachments serve only to blind us to what the doing of God’s Holy Will can bring about in us and through us. Our unhesitating and generous willingness to get on and do what He asks of us will result in us looking with astonishment—together with the servants and the steward at the wedding of Cana—upon the wonders, indeed the miracles, that our cooperation with God’s will permit.
“DO whatever HE tells you.” This, then, is our task in this year of Our Lord 2022. Faithfully so doing may not be without cost, suffering or difficulty: we live in times when the Church and the world are in great turmoil. But our salvation lies in so doing, and nowhere else. Daily perseverance in fidelity to this injunction is what is required.
Our fidelity and perseverance to His Will shall see us invited to partake of the “new wine” of the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt 26:29) of which the wine of the wedding at Cana is but a prefiguration, poured out from the side of Christ upon the Cross, and poured out anew for us in this Holy Mass—a wine that shall bring joy to our hearts (cf. Ps. 103:15) now and for all eternity. +
+ “Son, why have You treated us so? Behold, Your father and I have been looking for You anxiously.” And He said to them, “How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?”
A twelve-year-old child missing for three days is no small matter. In our own days such an occurrence would prompt the immediate involvement of police and other authorities in seeking to locate the child and ensure his or her safety: to our utter shame, terrible things have happened to missing children. Good parents are rightly anxious whilst the search perdures.
One cannot but empathise with the Blessed Virgin Mary, then, in her rebuke of her Son in the Gospel of this Holy Mass. He was wrong—humanly speaking—to have caused St Joseph and her such anxiety. His response to her rebuke—“How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?”—is at best precocious. Many parents would rightly slap a twelve-year-old who spoke to his mother in such a way!
This incident within the life of the Holy Family is not recorded in Sacred Scripture so as to reassure us that misunderstandings and anxieties are present even in the best of families, or that twelve-year-olds are often difficult. No; God the Holy Spirit inspired St Luke to record this happening so as to instruct us, which he does eloquently in the response of the child-Jesus: “Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?”
This imperative within the twelve-year-old surpassed all other demands or expectations—even the reasonable one of travelling with His parents and ensuring that they knew of His whereabouts. This imperative, an early manifestation of His divine nature, could suffer neither delay, nor rebuke. His presence in the Temple was right and just, even if in terms of human understanding it was perceived as odd, and possibly even disrespectful.
“I must be in my Father’s house.” These words ought be upon our own lips also. Whatever our vocation in life, there are times when we too must be in God’s house, for as the first commandment teaches us “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.” The worship of Almighty God is not an option, but a life-giving duty to nourish our hearts, minds and souls. If we do not fulfil this duty by participation in at least Holy Mass on Sundays and feasts of obligation, we shall become spiritually malnourished, if not sick. Regardless of other constraints or even reasonable human expectations, we must each be found in our Father’s house at certain times.
Sometimes these words resonate more deeply. Throughout Christian history men and women have been unable to escape from their penetrating call to leave the world behind and to dwell within the Temple of the Lord for all the days of their life (cf. Ps. 26:4) giving themselves over completely to His worship and service. From the desert fathers of the first centuries to the more organised monastics of both East and West in the centuries that followed down to today, this call has pierced hearts and prompted the seemingly irresponsible leaving behind of families, friends and various worldly prospects so as to be present to God first and above all, and to remain at His entire disposition.
Like our Blessed Lady, families and friends often do not understand this (at least initially) and can become quite upset at the prospect of someone they love ‘throwing away’ their life, education and career so as to give themselves entirely to the worship of Almighty God. But when the words “I must be in my Father’s house” do in fact pierce a soul, the imperative, the “must,” cannot be dismissed, for it is of God, and the salvation of each of us lies in putting the things of God first, no matter what our vocation.
For such a call is not (and can never be) a pure construct of my own will, but an imperative that comes from God to which I must conform my entire being and life if I am to be saved. A young person often arrives at the sometimes-surprising moment when they meet another whom they come to believe should, indeed, according to God’s plan from all eternity, must, be their future spouse—not always without the consternation of family and friends. Blessed by the Church in the sacrament of Christian marriage, their salvation lies in being faithful to this God-given reality to which they are vowed before Him. So too the man or woman called to Lord’s Temple cannot hope for salvation should they allow other considerations to hold them back from God’s plan for them. When this plan becomes clear, the time and opportunity to act decisively for the sake of my salvation is, then, now.
As she knelt at the foot of the Cross, Our Blessed Lady might well have been tempted to ask once again: “Son, why have You treated us so?” But by then she had pondered the nature of her Son for twenty years more (cf. Lk 2:19). As we kneel at the foot of the Cross at this Mass, let us ask her maternal intercession for the wisdom, courage and strength we need, so that we too shall be found in our Father’s house as and when He requires us so to be. +
+ The Introit of this Mass sings, using St Paul’s words in the letter to the Philippians (2:11), thus:
“At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Coming in the wake of the feast of Christmas, these sentiments are affirming, reassuring even: God made man in Christ is to be confessed as Lord by every tongue. Every knee is to bend in worship before Him, as shall those of the Magi at the Epiphany.
In the Epistle of this Mass St Peter teaches that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men [other than that of Jesus Christ] by which we must be saved.” That is to say, salvation from sin and eternal death, and entrance into eternal life, comes through Jesus Christ. Faith in Him is necessary for salvation (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 846).
This truth revealed by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, taught by St Peter and faithfully upheld by all his successors worthy of the high office that has been entrusted to them, is the whole and entire point of Christmas. God did not become man in Jesus Christ to add another religious dimension to the world, or to provide a supposedly other alternative way of access to Him. God became man (and He suffered and died) so that we might live. God became man so that we might have the opportunity not to die eternally because of our sins, through the merits of the suffering of Christ upon the cross. Nothing less.
Hence, in confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and in bending our knees before Him we are affirming that salvation for all human persons created since the beginning of the world, and for all those who shall live until the world’s end, comes through Jesus Christ, and not in any other way.
Yes, we may hope that, in God’s sublime mercy those who through no fault of their own are truly ignorant of the Gospel may come to the necessary faith without which salvation is impossible, but we may by no means presume this. Indeed, the very sentence in which the Second Vatican Council (Ad Gentes, 7) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (848) teach this continues: “the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.”
Certainly, we must respect the freedom of conscience of those who do not follow Jesus Christ, as He himself did (cf. Jn 6:66). And we should recognise that which is good outside the Church, even if it is partial and itself comes from the One True God through Jesus Christ.
But it is our God-given baptismal vocation and duty to inform consciences of the fulness of the Truth that is Jesus Christ by the witness of integral Christian lives and through active evangelisation. The Gospel is good news, even – especially! – for those who have already dismissed it, let alone for those who have never heard it. For if we are silent or allow ourselves to be lured into the worship of the god of syncretism, or sacrifice the Truth on the altar of relativism, men and women whom we know and love and encounter in the course of our lives and work may not be saved. They may end up in hell for all eternity, as may we should we knowingly and willingly ignore our duty to witness to the truth that there is no other path to salvation than Jesus Christ.
The exclusive claims of the truth are awkward, if not embarrassing, in our relativistic world. Even the Church in our times hesitates far too often, to the utter and possibly eternal shame of her shepherds, in announcing them with clarity and without fear in our world so darkened by confusion and sin. St Peter had been arrested when he proclaimed that there is salvation in no one other than Jesus Christ. St Paul, who had persecuted those who believed just this, became its greatest apostle. Both shed their blood rather than renounce He Who is Truth incarnate.
In this new year of Our Lord 2022 we must renew our resolve to be faithful witnesses to the truth that Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ. God in His Providence shall give us the strength and the means so to do in the different circumstances in which He places us. But we must be willing, indeed ready so to do.
That we, and the pastors of the One True Church of Jesus Christ, shall have the necessary courage, let us pray earnestly as we invoke the name of our Saviour in this Holy Mass. Sts Peter and Paul: pray for us! +
+ If the familiar Christmas ‘story’ and its associated customs have induced feelings of comfort and of relaxation in these days, the Holy Gospel of this Mass is a sharp wake-up call. For the sweet child lying in a manger surrounded by Joseph and Mary and angels and lowing beasts, we are told by the just and devout Simeon, is destined for the ruin or the resurrection of many in Israel. He is to become a sign of contradiction amongst men, and the Virgin Mary, herself, is to suffer a sword piercing her soul.
With but a few words of Simeon, the Church has taken us from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, from the stable in which wonders surrounded a new-born child to the hill of calvary on which unspeakable suffering was brutally put on show for all the world to see. Our happy Christmas has been interrupted by the grim realities which await us.
And yes, the Christ-child, the God-given saviour, is about the ruin or resurrection of many. He is a sign of contradiction. His provocation of men will lead to His intense suffering and humiliating death, a suffering that will indeed penetrate the souls of those closest to Him, none more than the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Simeon’s prophecy was not wrong. Whilst its sobering details can be somewhat startling in this Octave of Christmas, we should not forget that Simeon’s words are in fact words of great hope and consolation: the Christ is to be the cause of the ruin or resurrection of many. The new-born is the Messiah, He is He Who saves, Emmanuel, God with us.
That the Saviour is a sign of contradiction in a world (then and now) which has long-since forgotten God and has abandoned His ways is, after all, to be expected. Jesus of Nazareth is not a prophet or a philosopher with a set of possibly helpful sayings and ideas to help us make sense of our existence, as perhaps are some other religious figures in history. No: He is the definitive revelation of God in human history. He is “the way, and the truth, and the life.” “No one comes to the Father, but by Me,” He insists. (Jn 14:6)
These assertions contradict much, including (then) the Jewish authorities’ stranglehold on God’s Law and Covenant, and (now) the moral relativism and religious syncretism and indifference that pervades societies and governments throughout the world, even (especially?) in formerly Christian countries. At times, even the Church suffers from these viruses. It is no wonder that the greetings of this season have been reduced to “happy holidays” or “joyous feasts of the end of the year”—to wish someone “Happy Christmas” is to recognise Christ, it is to remind them that He has come to save us from ruin and to offer us a share in His resurrected life. It is to call others to make a choice and take a stand. It is to invite them to faith in Christ and by persevering in that faith come to share in His ultimate contradiction of the world and all the suffering it can inflict: His glorious resurrection bodily from the ignominious death inflicted upon Him by the potentates of this world.
Thus, as Simeon saw, the coming of the Christ brings both discomforting contradiction and true hope to mankind. This was the mission of the Saviour born of Mary. This is the mission of His Body, the Church He founded, in the world to the end of time. It is our mission as baptised members of that Body, all the more so if we have a ministerial vocation within it.
We must contradict the world, firmly and clearly, above all by the integral witness of our lives and, if the opportunity or responsibility is given to us, by our teaching. If we are wounded, when we suffer, or should we fall in battle – even by our own wrongdoing – we must not lose hope. The Christ-child was destined to be scourged, to collapse beneath the weight of the cross and to cry out in anguish and in apparent despair. But God did not abandon Him, as the light of Easter morning shows forth for all to see – a light that shines today through the Church’s Sacred Liturgy and sacraments rendering perseverance possible.
My brothers and sisters, Simeon’s words are in many ways quite alarming, as are the realities that face each of us in the world in our times. But the realities made present in our world in and through the Christ-child are greater than any suffering this world can inflict. We may freely choose to conform ourselves to the world, or to contradict it. We may opt for ruin or for resurrection. May our choice, made in the will and lived in the daily fabric of the circumstances of our lives, render this a truly happy Christmas! +
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As we celebrate this second Christmas in our new (but very old) home we wish to express our profound thanks to all our oblates, associates, friends and benefactors throughout the world for their constant kindness and generosity that has enabled us to be here, and which permits us to continue our work of building up this monastic foundation and restoring the buildings now entrusted to our care.
You and your intentions are included in a particular way in our Christmas Masses and Offices. May this beautiful season bring you and yours many blessings!
+ Amidst the inevitable busyness associated with the feast of Christmas, by God’s grace we find ourselves here, in this ancient church, to worship the new-born Christ-child and to ask His blessing, His grace, for ourselves and for all those whom we love and for whom we pray.
Pondering the mystery of the Incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas, a sermon attributed to St John Chrysostom (†407) and containing some thoughts of St Cyril of Alexandria (†444), speaks thus:
“What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infant’s bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honour, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.
For this he assumed my body, that I may become capable of his Word; taking my flesh, he gives me his spirit; and so he bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; he gives me his Spirit that he may save me.”
Truly the mystery we celebrate at Christmas is one of wonder and astonishment: God made man that we might be saved from sin and death!
My brothers and sisters, it may be that we have celebrated too many Christmases, as it were; that we have sung too many Christmas carols and indulged too often in the festivities associated with this feast—in that we may have become so familiar with the mysteries it celebrates as to take them for granted, forgetting their content and import. If we do this, Christmas can rapidly become a secular cultural myth that takes its place alongside, and even after, others.
Christmas, however, is no cultural myth. It is the celebration of the unique and direct intervention of the One True God in human history to make possible the salvation of all men and women whom He created in his own image and likeness. No other faith or form of religion makes this claim. Christmas is at once the extraordinary manifestation of God’s love for us (consummated on Calvary) and God’s invitation to us to live from and in His love now and for eternity, an invitation offered to us continually by the Sacred Liturgy and Sacraments of the Church.
Our response to this invitation is crucial. It is a matter of eternal life, or death, for each of us.
That we have heard and understood this invitation is itself a reason to rejoice, without pride and in great humility – for whom amongst us does not have much more to do so as more worthily to live according to all that the Christ-child demands of us, each in our particular vocation?
That others have not heard and understood this invitation, that they celebrate Christmas without worshipping Christ in the Church He founded, or do not celebrate Christ or Christmas at all, is a matter of the most grave concern – one which must renew our evangelical witness in the world, in our families and amongst our friends and acquaintances so that, as the Communion antiphon of the Mass of Christmas day sings, “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.”
With profound gratitude and joy, in humility and with renewed zeal, in the words of St John Chrysostom:
“Come, then, let us celebrate the Feast. [For] truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. [On] this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.” +
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