Thursday, 31 January 2008

Blog roll

I have spent my first week of blogging trying to think up a coherent policy for deciding which blogs I should include in a blog roll. Without success. Now that I have received a link from Fr Tim at Hermeneutic of Continuity, I am shamed into starting the blog roll. I will try to develop this further in the next week or two.
Tomorrow is a "first Friday", so I will be occupied for a large part of the day looking after Eucharistic Adoration in the parish. A photograph (if I remember my camera!) and report will follow.

February Magazines: "New City", "Lourdes Magazine"

The current issues of two magazines have arrived in the last couple of days.
"New City" is the magazine of Focolare in the UK. The cover article for February is about the Vatican's mission at the United Nations. The article is largely an interview with Archbishop Migliore, who heads the mission of the Holy See at the United Nations. He tells an interesting story of how the Holy See's representation was able to facilitate meetings between a delegation from the Great Lakes area of Africa and different offices and officials of the UN. The delegation were particularly anxious for the UN to take steps to reduce the flow of armaments into their home region, armaments which were fuelling violence. A couple of weeks after the visit of the delegation, the UN adopted a strong resolution on the issue, which paved the way for an international protocol among the local nations to control the traffic in armaments in the region. A second article in "New City" is a presentation of Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical "Spes Salvi".
The January-February issue of "Lourdes Magazine" has a focus on the new mosaics that were unveiled on the 8th December 2007. These have been placed in the facade of the Rosary Basilica, facing out onto the piazza in front of the Basilica. They will therefore form a backdrop to the conclusion of the Rosary procession each evening of the pilgrimage season. The mosaics represent the five Mysteries of Light. I suspect that the style of the mosaics will appeal to some and not to others. The photographs in the magazine have not really given me any feel for what it will be like to see the mosaics in situ. Two things have caught my attention, though. The mosaic of the Wedding Feast at Cana portrays two "couples": the bride and groom of the wedding, and, portrayed side by side as if they are also bride and groom, Jesus and his Mother. I think that this richly expresses the connections from Cana, to the sacrifice of the Lamb on Calvary, to the Church-Mary born on Calvary, and on to the nuptial relationship of Christ and the Church-Mary represented in the Eucharist and on Calvary. The second thing that caught my attention was the choice of images to represent the third Mystery of Light, the proclamation of the Gospel and the call to repentance. These two images are the lowering of the paralytic through the ceiling of the house (Jesus instructs the paralytic to rise and walk, as his sins are forgiven) and Jesus giving the Apostles the power to forgive sins after His Resurrection.
Take, and read.

School tips on anti-gay bullying

The UK news media is today profiling guidance for schools and teachers on tackling homophobic bullying. The relevant Government department, now called the Department for Children, Schools and Families, clearly in the interests of balance and fairness, commissioned a well known pro-gay organisation (sorry, I am not going to give them a name check, but you should not find it difficult to guess who) to prepare this advice.
My own trade union's news release on this ends with the following sentence: "We would like to see concerted and joined-up action between the DSCF [Department for Schools, Children and Families] and DIUS [Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills] to challenge and change our heterosexist culture. " My own opposition to my union's policy on this matter is well known among those who lead the union, and I am still at a complete loss as to how I can successfully remove a heterosexist assumption from teaching a reproduction topic in science at school.
Will the Government now commission the Catholic Bishop's Conference to prepare advice for publicly funded organisations on tackling anti-Catholic prejudice?

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Prayer for Unity among Christians

A post by Fr Ray at "I escaped it this year" reminds me of my own thoughts on ecumenical services, particularly those held to mark the annual Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity.
I suspect that most of the ordinary faithful have a gut feeling that an "ecumenical service" is somehow "not the real thing". This means that, if they have been to Mass in the morning, attending an "ecumenical service" in the evening is a bit of a non-starter. I concluded two or three years ago that I thought this gut feeling represented an authentic sense of faith.
If, in response to Vatican Council II, the Church has gained a greater sense of its ecumenical character (and I would want to argue that that sense of its ecumenical character was present in the Church before Vatican II) we should expect that greater sense of ecumenical character to be reflected in the ordinary life of the Church and not in add-on "ecumenical services". And, if we look, I think we can find places in the Church's ordinary life where it is reflected ....
The Bridgettine order, present at Maryvale Institute and now founding a new community in Wales, have a charism that embraces monastic life, hospitality and prayer for Christian unity. The Focolare Movement lives a "spirituality of unity" that is at once both profoundly Christocentric and engaged in dialogue with other Christian denominations, other religions and with non-believers. Both of these charisms pre-date Vatican II, but will have been confirmed by the teaching of the Council.
The joint "ecumenical service" in my own immediate area was, so far as I can see, abandoned this year. Last year's attendance was very poor - my own parish priest said at the time that he had been quite embarrassed to be the only attendee from the parish. The thought was to hold a service in the summer, when people would be more inclined to come out in the evening ... but I think that rather misses the point!
There is another discussion to be had about prayer for "unity among Christians" vs prayer for "Christian unity", and the subtleties of the two different phrasings.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

International Eucharistic Congress 2008

Of the three major international Catholic celebrations taking place in 2008, the Eucharistic Congress seems to be the "cinderella". It takes place in Quebec, Canada, from 15th June to the 22nd June.
I do find it encouraging that the Congress is one of the centre piece events of the 400th anniversary year of the foundation of Quebec. In terms of civil policy (eg on same sex unions), Canada is not necessarily on the side of the angels. However, there does appear to be a positive collaboration between the Catholic Church and civil authorities in the arrangements for the Congress.
The theme of the Congress is "The Eucharist: gift of God for the life of the world". In the early stages of the preparation for the Congress, the young people of Canada asked for a symbol of the Congress that could be taken on visits to parishes, schools etc, during the time leading up to the Congress. They remembered the experience of the pilgrimage of the World Youth Day Cross leading up to the WYD in Toronto, and were looking for something similar. The result is the Ark of the Covenant, which is presently on a voyage of pilgrimage across Canada.

The Ark is shaped like a boat, and is designed to encourage the three strands of activity associated with a Eucharistic Congress :

Catechesis: The base of the Ark is shaped like the hull of a boat. The deck supports a rectangular coffer decorated with icons depicting Gospel scenes. These illustrations can serve as springboards for Eucharistic catecheses.
Liturgy: The roof of this structure is designed to hold either the Bible, or a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament. The Ark can be carried in procession, and used as a focus for prayer.
Commitment: The Ark is designed to receive commitment forms from the faithful, who will be invited to adopt a “Eucharistic Charter.”

The icons on the Ark are shown at

A delegation from England and Wales to the Eucharistic Congress will be led by Fr Julian Green of Birmingham Archdiocese. Do contact him for a booking form. The Congress website homepage can be found at

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Facing East

I came across an interesting "live" insight into the question of the direction of liturgical prayer during the week. As part of my trade union role I am a member of the local authority's Standing Advisory Committee for Religious Education(or SACRE - this is the body responsible for overseeing the teaching of RE in state funded schools that do not have a designated religious character). Our recent meeting was hosted at a Synagogue, where one of the committee members is the rabbi. We took the opportunity to visit the Synagogue itself. To use the rabbi's own words, it was a Synagogue where the services where celebrated in an "Orthodox" way, largely in Hebrew.
The Ark of the Torah was placed centrally against what would theologically speaking (but not geographically speaking - see below) be the eastern wall. The veil or curtain that covered the Ark was of a material that might be described as "worthy" of its purpose. When opened, it revealed a collection of some eight or nine scrolls of the Torah, and the rabbi's description of them being carried through the congregation was rich with echoes of the Gospel procession at Mass. The respect with which the scrolls are treated - once written , the page of the scroll itself is not touched by human hands and a "pointer" is used by the reader to follow his place along the scroll - could perhaps teach us something about how to treat the Book of the Gospels during the celebration of the Christian liturgy.
The arrangement of the seats in the Synagogue was such that the rabbi would lead the service with most of the congregation behind him and only a few in front of him (except when preaching from a position directly in front of the Ark of the Torah). As an Orthodox congregation, the ladies sit in a gallery above the main floor of the Synagogue as well. This prompted one of my fellow committee members to ask the rabbi about not being able to see most of the congregation during the service. I quote the rabbi's immediate and un-hesitating response: "When we stand up to pray, we all face the same way, towards the East". By this, he meant facing in the direction towards the wall that contained the Ark of the Torah - the "theological East" - which was in reality the northern wall of the building - the "geographical north".
So the rabbi's full response had a rather dry, and, I thought, a typically Jewish touch to it: "When we stand up to pray, we all face the same way, towards the East" (at this point, extending his arm to indicate the direction of the geographical east as opposed to the theological east) "though East is really that way".

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Eucharistic Adoration at St Edward's RC Church, Romford: 1st February 2008

This is the poster for our time of Eucharistic Adoration on Friday. I hope you like the "branding"! During the current cycle of first Fridays I am drawing themes from the three major international Catholic celebrations - the 150th anniversary of the apparitions at Lourdes, the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec and the World Youth Day in Sydney - so the logos are appearing each month.
As you might imagine, I was delighted by Pope Benedict's message for the World Day for the Sick on 11th February. It connects Marian and Eucharistic devotion in a way that exactly reflects the branding of my posters.

Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne: part 1

1. Introduction

“To all of you I appeal: Open wide your hearts to God! Let yourselves be surprised by Christ! Let him have ‘the right of free speech’ during these days.”[1]

1.1 Different types of texts
The addresses given by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Cologne can be divided roughly into five types:
-addresses given during encounters with state authorities (eg as he was welcomed to Germany at the airport, and at the departure ceremony at the same airport)
- addresses given during meetings with special groups from within the Catholic Church (eg to a meeting with seminarians and to a meeting with the German Bishops)
-addresses that might more properly be described as homilies (eg at the Vigil and concluding Mass in Marienfeld, and as he met young people on the banks of the Rhine on his arrival in Cologne)
-addresses given during meetings with Christians of other denominations
-addresses given to meetings with believers of other religions (eg during his visit to the synagogue in Cologne and during his meeting with Muslims).
The total length of his addresses runs to something approaching 45 pages - of small print! These were all delivered during the course of four days, between about mid-day on Thursday 18th August and 6 pm on Sunday 21st August.

1.2 Key themes
Running through Pope Benedict’s addresses in Cologne, there are a number of key themes:
-a reflection on the absence of God from contemporary life (homily during the Vigil at Marienfeld, homily at the closing Mass at Marienfeld,
-the call to a meeting with Jesus Christ (the address as he met young people on the banks of the Rhine on his arrival in Cologne, the address to seminarians)
-the Eucharist as the place of our meeting with Jesus Christ and the source of transformation for the world (homily at the closing Mass at Marienfeld, and also as he met young people on the banks of the Rhine on his arrival in Cologne)
-an affirmation of the Christian heritage of Germany and of Cologne (the address given on arrival at the airport, the address after visiting Cologne cathedral)
-the example of the saints (homily during the Vigil at Marienfeld, and the address after visiting Cologne Cathedral)
-dialogue with Christians of other denominations (the address during the meeting with Christians of other denominations)
-dialogue with believers of other religions (the address during the visit to the Synagogue in Cologne, address during the meeting with Muslim leaders)

1.3 Extracts from Pope Benedict XVI’s message at the end of the Mass with the Cardinals immediately after his election as Pope
The themes of Pope Benedict’s addresses in Cologne can also be seen in the first message that he delivered when elected successor of St Peter.

“The Church today must revive within herself an awareness of the task to present the world again with the voice of the One Who said: 'I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.' In undertaking his ministry, the new Pope knows that his task is to bring the light of Christ to shine before the men and women of today: not his own light but that of Christ. …”

"In a very significant way, my pontificate starts as the Church is living the special year dedicated to the Eucharist. How can I not see in this providential coincidence an element that must mark the ministry to which I have been called? The Eucharist, the heart of Christian life and the source of the evangelizing mission of the Church, cannot but be the permanent centre and the source of the petrine service entrusted to me. …

"Thus, in full awareness and at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome that Peter bathed with his blood, the current Successor assumes as his primary commitment that of working tirelessly towards the reconstitution of the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition, this is his compelling duty. …

"With this awareness, I address myself to everyone, even to those who follow other religions or who are simply seeking an answer to the fundamental questions of life and have not yet found it. I address everyone with simplicity and affection, to assure them that the Church wants to continue to build an open and sincere dialogue with them, in a search for the true good of mankind and of society." [2]

[1] Pope Benedict XVI Address to young people on the banks of the River Rhine on arrival in Cologne, 18th August 2005.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI Message at the end of the Eucharistic Concelebration with the members of the College of Cardinals Wednesday, 20 April 2005

First Post: Why do I do this?

This is very much a first dip of my toe into the world of Catholic blogging. I am sure there are pitfalls that I do not yet know about. If a more experienced blogger wishes to advise me of any of them, please do so via comments!

I gather that one should give an idea of the purpose of a blog. I recall that, soon after Pope John Paul II was elected Pope, I got hold of the address that he gave to the meeting of the South American Bishop's Conference that took place at Puebla. I think it was the first of John Paul II's overseas trips. I still have the copy of his text that I then obtained, and I viewed it as a "manifesto" for John Paul's whole pontificate.

In a similar vein, I viewed the addresses that Pope Benedict XVI gave during this visit to Cologne in 2005 as a kind of manifesto for the his pontificate. To start off my blog, then, I am going to serialise a thematic analysis I made of those addresses when I returned from Cologne. This is a way of identifying my purpose in blogging with the mission of Pope Benedict XVI.

These posts can be found in the series entitled "Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne: part 1" to "Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne: part 6". The themes are:
Part 2: the forgetfulness of God in contemporary life, and a call to a meeting with Jesus Christ
Part 3: the Eucharist as the "place" of our meeting with Jesus Christ and the source of transformation for the world
Part 4: the Christian heritage of Cologne (and, by implication, of Europe) and the example of the saints
Part 5: dialogue with those of other Christian denominations
Part 6: dialoge with believers of non-Christian religions,
As I update this post, questions of the denial of the place of God and religion in public life, and of dialogue between religions themselves and between religions and secular society, seem very relevant. Pope Benedict XVI has spoken since Cologne of the need to search for truth, and the necessity of this adherence to truth as a condition for dialogue in society.
I hope that you can see these same concerns reflected in the posts on this blog.