“The only worthwhile striving is after the highest ideals: If you aim for an easy target, your standard will inevitably decline, and no progress is ever made, except through real effort and real suffering.” - Servant of God Fra' Andrew Bertie

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ARCHBISHOP NICHOLS' PASTORAL LETTER FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY

On this Feast of the Holy Family, and during this Christmas season, we have in our minds the image of the crib. The scene of the birth of Christ is portrayed in so many different ways. Yet, in essence, it is always the same: a child, a mother and father, a stable, animals and some surrounding shepherds.

It is a picture of simplicity and poverty. Yet it is rich in meaning and bears much reflection, from many points of view.

Look at it this way. This scene contains all the elements of our created world. The hay and straw of the stable represent the fruit of the cultivated earth. The ox, ass and the sheep are the animal kingdom. At the centre is the person of Jesus. And, without ever romanticising poverty, there is a certain harmony between all these elements. Each one has its place. Each one has its space. And all serve the well-being of the weakest and most vulnerable person, the new-born child.

This simple reflection may have a special resonance at a time when we are intensely conscious of the fragility of our world and the threats to its stability.

Today we have to find a balanced and sustainable relationship between ourselves and the natural world, and between all people who share this planet. Unless we do so the chances of peace in our world are slim and the careless exploitation of our environment will continue. These right relationships have to begin in our homes, just as the readings we have heard suggest: respect between the generations, patience with each other, sensitivity to each others’ wishes and needs.

Indeed the crib reminds us that we are really dependent on each other, on the created world and on God. Only when this dependence is acknowledged have we a hope of realigning ourselves and our way of living into something more appropriate to the needs of each other and of our environment.

Of course over Christmas we have been spending hard-earned income in order to express our love and thanks for each other. We must also have felt the pressures of advertising and expectation to spend more than we could afford. Yet, at the end of the day, in our family celebrations what counts is sincerity rather then extravagance, sensitivity rather than excess. When this is understood, then we can probably live far more simply without any loss of enjoyment. Then we can be more attentive to how much we consume, to what we throw away, to what we have to give to the poor.

The crib, then, is a lesson in right living, in the regard we have for each other, in our support for the poor and in our care for the created world.

Yet there is another element in the crib I almost overlooked. There are the angels. I nearly forgot them. Angels are just glimpsed, often at critical moments. They remind us of our hidden spiritual selves, for there is a life within each one of us which is open to God and only fully satisfied in the knowledge and love of God. In this world such knowledge and love is only ever partial, although the promise of its fulfilment lies ahead of us all. Yet even now God dwells with us, not least in the gift of forgiveness of which St Paul speaks in the Letter to the Colossians, as we have just heard: ‘The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same.’ (Col 3.13) Whenever we need to give or receive forgiveness this is the truth to remember: for us it is almost impossible; but for God working in us, it is not.
 
And this comes about all because of the Incarnation, the birth of the Eternal Word of God into the family of the stable of Bethlehem. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Because He shares in our human life, then we can share in his divine life. This is the miracle of our salvation.

Remember the lovely words of the poem about the crib:

‘Welcome, all wonders in one sight
Eternity shut in a span,
Summer in winter, day in night
Heaven in earth and God in man.
Great little one,
Whose all embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven,
Stoops heaven to earth.’

May God bless you and your families on this day and throughout this Christmas season.

+Vincent Nichols


You may listen to the Archbishop deliver his letter here.

HODIE CHRISTUS NATUS EST



Today we celebrate the wonderful feast of the birth of our Saviour.  When we come to admire the crib in our church, let us recall that it was for our sake God made himself a tiny child, entirely dependent on others for all His human needs.  If God did that for love of us, how much more must we humble ourselves to serve him and our neighbour.  Let us make this our resolution for the coming year.

I wish you all a very happy and holy Christmas,

Fra' Freddy
Grand Prior

MASSES OVER THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY

The following Masses will be celebrated in the Conventual Church, in addition to the normal timetable:

Thursday 24th December
CHRISTMAS EVE (MIDNIGHT MASS)  9pm Sung plainchant Mass  (1962) with carols and procession to the Crib.

Friday 25th December
CHRISTMAS DAY  11am Sung Mass

Thursday 31st December
NEW YEAR'S EVE  6.30pm Mass

Friday 1st January
NEW YEAR'S DAY  No Mass

Wednesday 6th January
EPIPHANY (Obligation is transferred to Sunday)
No lunchtime Mass.
6.30pm Sung Mass (1962)

A Very Happy Christmas and blessed New Year 2010 to everyone!

CONCERT - "CANDLEMAS"


The renowned choir, MUSICA CONTEXTA, who have given such wonderful concerts in the Conventual Church in the past, will give a concert of sacred music on Wednesday 27th January at 7.30 pm.   The concert will raise funds for Saint John's Hospice, for which we are very grateful to MUSICA CONTEXTA.

The programme will include:
John Sheppard's Six-part Cantate Mass
and motet Gaude, gaude, gaude, Maria Virgo;
Thomas Tallis's Videte Miraculum and Quod Chorus Vatum; William Mundy's Videte Miraculum;
plus other festal motets from the English Renaissance by Robert White and others.

For more information on booking and tickets visit their site.

The concert is open to all, and you are warmly encouraged to attend.

REPORT ON CAROL SERVICE

Many thanks to all concerned for a most wonderful Advent Carol Service, particularly to the choir "Cantores Missae" and their director Mr Charles Finch, for exquisite motets, and to the many people who attended and sung the carols with such joy.

It was an excellent spiritual preparation for a true appreciation of the Christmas Feast, and raised a considerable sum for Saint John's Hospice, for which Matron has expressed her gratitude to all who gave so generously.  The Hospice is in permanent need of funds, all the care provided is entirely without charge, and you are encouraged to continue to give throughout the year.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

ARCHBISHOP NICHOLS' CHRISTMAS MEDITATION


Below is the text of the Mediation preached by His Grace the Archbishop in the Cathedral on 16th December.

In 1847 a French wine merchant approached his parish priest for permission to write a Christmas poem. His name was Placide Cappeau de Rocquemaure. History does not record the quality of his wines, but we all recognise the words of the poem he then wrote:
‘O Holy Night,

The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.’

And it is true. At least here in the Cathedral, the stars are shining brightly, the star on the top of our tree and, I would like to believe, those in our hearts as we are enthralled by the beauty of this moment.
Star light, as we know, takes a long time to reach us. The measurement of light years is not something I understand, but I know that light from distant stars travels for much longer than we might think. Indeed it is a fact that the light of a star can come into our sight long after the star itself has ceased to exist. Stars collapse, yet their light still reaches us.

Is this an image for the light of faith today? Here we are, celebrating that light, the story of the birth of our Redeemer over two thousand years ago. The story has come to us over the centuries, in a long, slow process. But must we now face the possibility that for many in our society the source of that light, the gift of faith given by God, has largely collapsed. We might catch a glimpse of its light in the innate goodness of so many people. But is its source something for which we no longer have a place?

Or this beautiful music. Its words and sounds thrill the hearts of us all. But are these words, is this beauty simply an echo of a lost faith, a cultural inheritance which we treasure and enjoy, but no longer a message which shapes our lives, for which we might be prepared to give all?

This evening let us strengthen the connection between this beautiful light, this enchanting music and their true source. Without such a reconnection this is simply a performance, a beauty without its true soul. Then it is like a life which lacks a coherent narrative. Such a life is no more than a series of moments, some wonderful, some nostalgic, some poignant or even painful. Yet it lacks an inner meaning which gives purpose, which summons us to self-sacrifice, which opens for us a lasting hope.

Yet tonight the narrative is clear: God, in his infinite love, enters our world in one unrepeatable, transforming moment. The Eternal Word of God takes flesh and is born of the Virgin Mary. From that moment all is changed. The horizons of our consciousness are expanded. Now the instinct, the desire, for ‘more’, which always stretched us beyond the present towards an inexpressible future, finds its full meaning. God has shared in our human condition so that we might come to share in God’s own divine life. This is the wondrous exchange, this transformation of our existence, this revelation of truth, of meaning, of enduring hope which gives rise to this beauty as our hearts sing in thanksgiving and praise.

Let us play our part in the recovery of this true Christmas story. Let us tell it in its fullness within our family circle, around a family crib, passing it on in wonder and loving awe, from generation to generation. Let us not be dismayed by the inevitable streak of cynicism which emerges out of the culture in which we live. But let us with faithful simplicity share our joyous faith in the God who comes to meet us. He comes to welcome us and to uplift us.

This is a truth for everyone, without exception. Much of the time this is hard to grasp. But at Christmas time our defences are down. We are ready to go to the crib. There, on our knees, we can again sense the source of the music; we can glimpse its true origin. There we intuit the truth: that the mystery of God, awesome as it must be, comes to us in a darkened night so that we are not blinded but intrigued, its light beckoning us to come closer and receive.

When the feast of Christmas comes, go to the crib as I will. Take a reluctant friend. Then let us piece together our broken story so that our world may receive a measure of healing and find again its true source of happiness and peace. Amen.

+Vincent Nichols

GAUDETE - THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

INTROIT: PHILLIP. 4. 4-6
GAUDETE in Dómino semper: íterum dico, gaudéte. Modéstia vestra nota sit ómnibus homínibus: Dóminus enim prope est. Nihil sollíciti sitis: sed in omni oratióne petitiónes vestræ innotéscant apud Deum.
REJOICE in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice!  Let your tolerance be evident to everyone: the Lord is near. There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it.

We were very happy that Fr Dominic Robinson SJ was again able to celebrate the Mass this Sunday. He preached on the importance of silence, and particularly the silent retreat which forms an important part of the life of members of the Society of Jesus, and invited us to use these days of Advent, notwithstanding all the noise of the material world, to allow silence into our spiritual lives as a preparation of our hearts for the coming of Our Saviour at Christmas.

In the afternoon, a group (rather a small group) of faithful, Companions and members of the Order braved the cold, the wet, and the rampant consumerism of the High Street, to sing carols around St John's Wood to raise a respectable sum for Saint John's Hospice.  Thank you to all involved!

THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION


This year the feast of the Immaculate Conception fell on a Tuesday and this gave the opportunity for a Sung Mass offered with all due solemnity in the Conventual Church. There were about twenty knights and dames present amongst them the Chancellor of the Grand Priory who was seated on the sanctuary.  It was good to see around six Companions there as well together with a good number of the Sunday faithful.  Mass was offered by our old friend Fr Ian Dickie who made the journey from rural Hertfordshire to be with us.  We are extremely grateful to him for taking time out of his busy parish to come to the Conventual Church.

Cantores Missae lifted our hearts and minds heavenwards allowing for contemplation of that great mystery of the Immaculate Conception.  In his sermon, Fr Dickie reminded us of the absolute nature of Our Lady’s “Fiat” – the ultimate blank cheque so to speak – and how her example of quiet service and fidelity whilst on this earth is the model for both religious, priests and indeed lay people to follow. Hers is the perfect example of vocation accepted and fulfilled.  As our Mother she is close to all her children and as Mediatrix of All Graces intercedes for us with her Son – often with marvellous results.


A buffet supper followed in the Chancellery which was well received as a restorative and a chance to relax before the next stage of the evening – a Marian Liturgy for the Immaculate Conception in the Church organised by Eoghain Murphy (whose birthday by happy chance it was – ad multos annos!) with a twenty-strong choir of impeccable standard performing a motet after the Alma Redemptoris Mater, Tallis's Videte Miraculum.  It was extremely moving and we are grateful to all those who took part.  A “dessert” followed - again in the Chancellery - this time consisting of festive fare and around fifty people were there.  All in all it was a most enjoyable evening and a highly appropriate way to celebrate this very important and beautiful feast.

Tota pulchra es, Maria, et macula originalis non est in te.

DECEMBER 10th - ADVENT EVENING OF RECOLLECTION

Following the successful evening last year, there will be an Advent Evening of Recollection in the Conventual Church on Thursday 10th December 2009.

The Evening will begin with Mass at 6.30pm followed by a conference and Holy Hour, concluding with Benediction. The conference and Holy Hour will be led by our confrere and Chaplain Emeritus of the Hospital, Canon John McDonald.

All are warmly encouraged to attend, and to avail themselves of this useful opportunity to add to their spiritual preparations of this Holy Season.


DECEMBER 2nd. FEAST OF OUR LADY OF LIESSE, "Causa Nostrae Laetitiae"

Memorial in the Missal of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order
of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta

In 1134 three Knights of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem,
prisoners of the Muslims in Egypt,
miraculously found or received in their prison a statue of Our Lady,
which they named "Notre Dame de Liesse" [Our Lady of Joy in French].
In response to their prayers, a young Muslim princess, named Ismerie,
took an interest in the Knights and through the intercession of Our Lady
and the mercy of God the princess was converted.
The princess arranged the escape of the pious crusaders
and joined them on their journey to France.
They carried the statue with them, and in the region of Laon, about 35 miles northwest of Reims,
they founded a church as a resting place for the statue.
Through local devotion the church took on the name of the statue,
and gave that name to the whole region,
so that "Notre Dame de Liesse" came to mean both "Our Lady of Joy"
and "Our Lady of [the place called] Liesse".
The statue came to be venerated by many,
and "Our Lady of Liesse" became the Patroness of the Diocese of Soissons.
In 1620 the titular Bailiff of Armenia, Fra' Jacques Chenu de Bellay,
built a church to Our Lady of Liesse at Valletta in Malta.
It is today the chaplaincy church of the Port of Valetta.  The pediment is illustrated above.

The shrine statue in Malta (click photo to enlarge)
The original statue was destroyed during the French Revolution,
but the medieval basilica at Liesse remained a center of devotion to the Mother of God,
and a new statue was installed and crowned there in 1857.
It is still the focus of pilgrimage, especially on Whit Monday.

The Collect
O God, who brought joy to the world
by the incarnation of Christ your Son,
grant to us, who honour his Mother as Cause of our Joy,
the grace to follow your commandments
and to set our hearts on the true joy of heaven.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

BASMOM ANNUAL REQUIEM

The annual Requiem for deceased members of the Order and benefactors took place as is customary on the last Thursday in November.  Unlike the occasion of Thanksgiving though, which fell on the same day, the purpose of the Requiem is not only to remember the dead but to pray for them.  As last year, the Formation Day for new candidates was arranged to occur on the same day, and so around fifteen candidates for the Order were also present for both the Mass and Vespers of the Dead – the latter sung by members of the Grand Priory before the beginning of Mass.

Mass was offered by Mgr Antony Conlon, Chaplain to the Grand Priory, and in his sermon Mgr Conlon contrasted the culture of “celebrity death” popularised by the tabloids, with its implicit fear of death and the almost improbable situation of anything beyond it, with the traditional Catholic understanding of death as merely the first part of our journey towards God.  We will all die one day and we will all need the prayers of those left behind as well as those of the saints in Heaven.  Both the Grand Prior and Chancellor of the Grand Priory (himself a member of the Sovereign Council) were on the Sanctuary, adding to the decorum of the occasion.

The music was provided by our friends Cantores Missae – the Dies Irae, alternating polyphony with chant, is always hauntingly prayerful and an aid to prayer.  The sanctuary party was of its usual high standard and it is good to see some new faces amongst the number – all the more so as they are mostly young and are now Companions.  Their dedication and hard work is exemplary.  To them and indeed to the Celebrant and choir we are grateful for taking time out of their busy schedules to ensure that the Requiem was celebrated in due and fitting manner.

ADVENT PREPARATION


The Holy Father presides at 1st Vespers of Advent in Saint Peter's (Picture copyright Fotografia Felici)

ADVENT PREPARATION can be compared to the activities we undertake the month before a baby is born into our family, with all the buying of baby clothes, repainting the nursery, making new curtains for the cot etc. In the same way, we must prepare the nursery of our souls, clean out all the dirt of accumulated and unrepented sins, by devout confession, for the coming of the Christ into our midst. we must deck out the cot of our hearts, to welcome Him, the baby who longs to reside within us, but who can only come and share our lives, join the family of our body and soul, if we have fully prepared for His birth.

People often say that the commercial side of Christmas is a distraction to a truly Christian approach to the real meaning of this great festival. This can be so, but only if we give in and allow it. In a strange, but really positive way, we can use all the present-buying and food-preparation to our own spiritual advantage. Let us think of it just like preparing for the arrival of a new baby in the family: when you are in the toy shop, or the department store, or working in the kitchen, remember who the baby is, and all these activities become an invitation to prayer, to meditation on the mystery of God's love for us. If you join your colleagues and friends for parties, remember that this is not the real party, but a preparation, and discretely maintain your abstinence. After all, what parents or family would open the champagne or eat the christening cake before the Baby is born?

If you have children, use this time to teach them in a practical way: do not put up the decorations until Christmas eve, and make sure the crib is set up, in the centre of your home, at least a week before, without the Holy Family, so that everyone can see that Jesus has not yet been born.

When at last Christmas comes, the day of great Joy, some people will say to you, "thank goodness it’s all over"; but you will smile to yourself, because you know that it has only just begun, and in your heart you feel the warm glow of a new born Baby.

ADVENT CAROL SINGING IN AID OF SAINT JOHN'S HOSPICE

Members of the Grand Priory and friends will be carol-singing in the environs of St John's Wood on the afternoon of Sunday 13th December.  Last year a group of six singing for just under two hours managed to raise almost £400 for Saint John’s Hospice, and with increased numbers this year we hope to build on this.

The afternoon will be great fun and the quality of singing is not the most important thing; rather the numbers who are able to swell the overall sound.  It is a relaxed and jolly affair and will start from Fortescue House, 58 Grove End Road, (beside the Hospital main entrance) at around 2.30pm finishing in time for (restorative!) tea with crumpets and mince pies at around 4.00pm.  Everyone is welcome; the only prerequisite is enthusiasm.  Companions and members of the OMV are especially encouraged to come if they are able.

If you are able to come, it would help with catering if you replied to this post, giving numbers (not your name, of course), in the combox below.

Please note:  this is in addition to the Carol Service (see here) on the 15th, to which you are also very warmly encouraged!