Friday, 24 June 2022

Pope Francis to Families: "..you get married because you want to build your marriage on the love of Christ"

 On Wednesday, Pope Francis joined with families attending the Tenth World Meeting of Families in Rome for the "Festival of Families". This festival takes the form of a celebration with testimonies from different couples and their families; it is the part of the World Meeting that can be most readily described as a celebration of the family.

In his address Pope Francis responded to the testimonies that he had just heard, indicating some "steps forward" that need to be taken together and using the testimonies as stepping off points for his reflections. A brief summary of the testimonies can be found in the report here: Pope to the Families: Let us live with our eyes fixed on heaven.

Speaking of a "step forward towards marriage, in response to a testimony from a couple who had cohabited for many years, the Holy Father said:

We can say that whenever a man and a woman fall in love, God offers them a gift; that gift is marriage. It is a marvellous gift, which contains the power of God’s own love: strong, enduring, faithful, ready to start over after every failure or moment of weakness. Marriage is not a formality you go through. You don’t get married in order to be “card-carrying” Catholics, to obey a rule, or because the Church tells you to, or to have a party… No, you get married because you want to build your marriage on the love of Christ, which is solid as rock. In marriage, Christ gives himself to you, so that you can find the strength to give yourselves to one another. So take heart: family life is not “mission impossible”! By the grace of the sacrament, God makes it a wonderful journey, to be undertaken together with him and never alone. The family is not a lofty ideal that is unattainable in reality. God solemnly promises his presence in your marriage and family, not only on the day of your wedding, but for the rest of your lives. And he keeps supporting you, every day of your journey.

The other "steps forward" that Pope Francis proposed were towards embracing the cross, towards forgiveness, towards welcome and towards fraternity. The full text of the Pope's address can found on the Vatican website here.

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Corpus Christi reminiscences

Last Sunday saw the celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi. After the principle Mass in our parish there was a short Eucharistic procession round a block of the local streets, ending with Benediction in the garden outside the Church. Five photographs can be seen here. The parish's first communion children led the procession; an A5 sheet with the words of hymns to be sung during the procession was provided - though, as I suspect is quite typical of these occasions, the head of the procession tended to be singing a line or two ahead of those of us further back. During Mass we were treated to a homily that resoundingly affirmed belief in the real presence of Jesus Christ, true God, in the Eucharistic species.

Last Sunday's procession reminded me of when I was still at school, and a memory of a visit we made to a parish where an aunt was the housekeeper, for the Eucharistic procession in that parish. A procession in the nearby street was followed by Benediction in the garden beside the Church, more or less as happened on Sunday.

The day prompted us to reminisce about other occasions on which we had taken part in Eucharistic processions. One of the largest such occasions was during the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec in 2008: International Eucharistic Congress: the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament. Another notable occasion was during a visit to Lake Como, when we were able to take part in the procession in  Bellano: Corpus Christi by Lake Como. We have also been in Assisi (twice if my memory serves me correctly) for the Solemnity, when we joined the parish in Rivotorto for Mass and a Eucharistic Procession. All of this takes place with Assisi itself overlooking the Church and the procession route. There are also the occasions when we have taken part in the Eucharistic procession in Lourdes: Following the Eucharistic Procession

Whilst it can be the larger celebrations that prompt the most vivid memories, it may well be the case that the celebrations which most deeply express the faith of the participants are the slightly makeshift efforts of ordinary parishes. I was reminded once again on Sunday last of Pope Francis' observation that manifestations of popular piety represent the inculturation of the Gospel in a particular place, and it appears to me that small parish processions do exactly this.

Sunday, 12 June 2022

Pope Francis speaking to the Bishops and Priests of Sicily

I have just read the address that Pope Francis gave when meeting with the Bishops and Priests of Sicily. It can be found on the Vatican website, but only in Italian: here.

The very major part of the address discusses the social and pastoral situation of the people of Sicily, and of the Church in relation to that situation. It demonstrates an extensive interest in the problems faced by Sicilian society and how the Church can and does engage with the people experiencing those problems.

It is rather misleading to concentrate comment on the last three paragraphs, and to read them outside of a Sicilian (or, at least, a south Italian) context as if they are remarks intended of a universal application. It is unfair, too, to remove them from the context of the concerns of the major part of the address that precede them.

I would draw particular attention to the two paragraphs immediately preceding the last three, in which Pope Francis speaks highly of, and encourages, the Marian devotion of the priests of Sicily.

As far as popular piety is concerned, I have a memory of a remark from early in Pope Francis' pontificate that suggests he has a very high valuing of popular piety. He observed that popular piety represents the inculturation of the Gospel. (If anyone can find a reference for this remark, please put it in the comments box - I have not been able to trace it yet.) That is the context of Pope Francis' remark about popular piety, and it should be read as encouraging such piety rather than discouraging it.

My own experience of Italy means that I can readily identify with Pope Francis' remarks about lace and about people leaving the Church for a cigarette during the homily (perhaps not literally a cigarette); and I can certainly recognise the long homily that does not really have very much of substance. Pope Francis' way of expressing things may be either rather amusing or heavily sarcastic depending on your taste. I expect that, if I had been in Pope Francis' audience, I would have had a quiet chuckle at these remarks.  But then I am not a fan of liturgical lace or of birettas. 

There is a very Italian context for these remarks, and it is quite misrepresentative to suggest that they are intended for some kind of universal application.

Perhaps we who comment should pay more attention to that last paragraph of Pope Francis where he talks about the problem of gossip....


Monday, 6 June 2022

Mary, Mother of the Church

One of Pope Francis' contributions to our liturgical life has been the establishing in the universal calendar of the Monday after the Solemnity of Pentecost as a Memoria of Our Lady, Mother of the Church.

The Collect that I used in the office that I prayed this morning:

Lord our God, through your power and goodness the Blessed Virgin, the fairest fruit of your redeeming love, shine forth as the perfect image of the Church; grant to your people on their pilgrim way on earth that, with eyes fixed on Mary, they may follow closely in the footsteps of her Son until they come to that fullness of glory, which now they contemplate in his mother with hearts filled with joy.

And the Preface that would be used at this Mass from which this Collect was taken:

You have given the Blessed Virgin Mary to your Church as the perfect  image of its role as mother and of its future glory. She is a virgin unsurpassed in purity of faith, a bride joined to Christ in an unbreakable bond of love and united with in his suffering. She is a mother by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, filled with loving concern for all her children. She is a queen adorned with the jewels of grace, robed with the sun and crowned with stars, sharing eternally in the glory of her Lord.

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Lake Como: the Abbey of Piona, St Lucia (Perledo) and the via di Pino

 During a recent holiday to Lake Como - our first overseas visit since the pandemic - Zero and I visited three places of Catholic interest.

The first was the Cistercian abbey of Piona, towards the northern end of the Lake. The road to the abbey is somewhat involved, and the last kilometre or so is a pebbled road. This site gives a better account of the Abbey in English than wikipedia; the abbey's own website is in Italian: Abbazia di Piona. A page of the abbey's site contains a range of photographs which give an idea of the environment at the Abbey. Two of these photographs show the tabernacle positioned on the altar of the church, an arrangement which on previous visits to the Abbey had struck me as being particularly suitable for the praying of the Divine Office. Both the monks sitting in the sanctuary "behind" the altar and the lay faithful in the nave would have an orientation towards the Lord in their prayer.


From the sanctuary looking towards the nave 


From the nave looking towards the sanctuary

However, at the time of this visit the tabernacle has been moved from the altar and is now situated at the side of the sanctuary - roughly in the place of the lectern shown at the right hand side of the first picture above. The effect is to reduce the sense of the centrality of the Eucharistic presence in the Church. 

On the eve of the solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord (though in Italy the solemnity was celebrated on the following Sunday), we attended Mass in the small village of Perledo above Varenna. We have stayed in Perledo on previous visits to Lake Como, and it has spectacular views across the lake. Weekday Mass was celebrated in the small chapel of St Lucia, with Zero and I making the congregation up from three to five. Mass was nicely celebrated, and the thought that weekday Mass was celebrated here three times during the week for such a small congregation was moving.

During this visit we stayed in a locality called Pino, south of Varenna and above Fiumelatte. A five minute walk along the via di Pino from where we were staying there was a roadside shrine to Our Lady. Nearby was a restaurant where we ate on two evenings, and it was from the restaurant that we first heard the Rosary being recited by the shrine. It was rather lovely on our last evening to join the twenty or so people who had gathered each evening in May for the Rosary, and to see a road side shrine being decorated with flowers as the focus of this devotion.


Both our experience in Perledo and on the via di Pino reminded me of Pope Francis' observation, made at an early point in his pontificate, that popular devotion represents the inculturation of the Gospel.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

All the Cathedrals (13): Salisbury

Zero and I recently ventured out on the railway (taking advantage of the half price rail fares at the time) for a visit to Salisbury. We could have planned our visit a bit more carefully to take in Old Sarum, which is a mile or two outside of the city centre, and can be reached by a short bus journey. 

 We lunched at The Pheasant after arriving; it is a little off the city centre in Salt Street, so you aren't going to come across it without knowing about it. You will also need to check their times for serving food - but we did enjoy our meals there. [Or, on a nice summers day, you could probably take a picnic to eat on the grassed area within the Cathedral close.]

The site at Old Sarum is an English Heritage site, and you can read about it here and here. The first Cathedral in Salisbury was built there, before being abandoned. A result of this is that the "new" Cathedral has a consistent medieval gothic architecture, rather than it being in part a previous build with later gothic additions. It is still a living cathedral in the sense that there are modern day features in addition to the older building. At one point in its history, stained glass was removed from the nave windows with the outcome that the nave appears today very light due to the influx of natural daylight. That having been said, there is a good deal of stained glass present, reflecting the late 19th century as well as earlier influences. We did not follow the stained glass tour, which would no doubt have given much more insight. The Cathedral charge for entry, with a £1 reduction if you book ahead online.

The Chapter House is a round building off the cloister at the side of the Cathedral. It is interesting for those of a scientific or design orientation to realise how very well lit the room is from the windows around it. The Chapter House is where you can see Salisbury Cathedral's copy of the Magna Carta. Whilst there is a very informative display about the document's contents, the viewing of the actual document itself is somewhat underwhelming - the way in which it has been displayed, in subdued lighting, in order to preserve it leaves you with a feeling of "is that all there is?" 

The Reformation saw the destruction of the shrine of St Osmund and the removal of statues. A visit will take you to a chantry chapel that was discontinued at this time and its statues removed. The Cathedral experienced very little damage during the Civil War, another period when Cathedrals in England typically suffered. During most of the Civil War, Salisbury was in Royalist hands, with a brief occupation by Parliamentary troops in the winter of 1644-1645, when the cloister was used as a prison.

The prisoners of conscience window was completed in the Cathedral in 1980. A brief account and a photograph can be found here. As the comment here says, we found it very difficult to make out any of the images in the window. This video clip, from 2020, gives an explanation of some of the elements in the window. Whilst prisoners of conscience, even those without religious faith, can certainly look to the trial and crucifixion of Jesus and see in it something of their own experience, I am not sure what I think of the possibility of a reverse representation in this window of Jesus as if he is himself a prisoner of conscience. It seems to me a  reductive interpretation of Jesus' death for the salvation of the world.

Perhaps the most remarkable modern feature of Salisbury Cathedral is the baptismal font. My first photograph gives an idea of the position of the font in the nave; the second gives an idea of the power of the reflections that can be seen in the surface. Given the very modern concept of the font - an account by the designer can be found here - it is striking just how much at home the font appears in the Cathedral.




There are one or two museums in the Cathedral Close, but we did not have time to visit them. Perhaps the Salisbury Museum would be the best to see, as it covers the story of Salisbury itself.

Part of the genius of Anglicanism is its ability to be a Church for a wider community, reflected in the readiness for a property such as a Cathedral to be used for non-religious purposes. The nave of Salisbury Cathedral, for example, was at one point, when it was closed to visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic, used as a vaccination centre. And Salisbury Cathedral can be hired for events. It is difficult to separate this from the fact that, inevitably, a Cathedral such as Salisbury is a "visitor attraction" as well as being an active place of Christian worship.

Saturday, 7 May 2022

Liverpool - return to the synchrocyclotron

Back in 2010 I posted about the synchrocyclotron that was built by the Physics Department of the University of Liverpool: Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral: Location of the UK's first synchrocyclotron.

Now, the May 2022 issue of the Institute of Physics magazine Physics World carries a feature on The Legacy of Liverpool's forgotten synchrocyclotron. The article does include an account of some of the research undertaken using the synchrocyclotron, and may be a bit technical for the non-physicist reader. However, there is enough of the history for it to be worth a read.