Wednesday 29 September 2010

The Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel in Ireland

On 29 September, Canon O'Hanlon gives a brief account of the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel in Ireland based on the surviving calendar entries for this day:

In the Church from a very remote date, the Festival of this Head of the Angelic Host had been observed with special solemnity. In Ireland, St. Oengus the Culdee has pronounced a distinguished eulogy on him, at the 29th of September, in the "Feilire", thus translated by Dr. Whitley Stokes in the Leabhar Breacc copy:

"At the fight against the multitudinous
Dragon of our Michael stout, victorious, the
soldier whitesided, hostful, will slay
Wrathful Antichrist."

Allusion is made to his fight with the Dragon and Anti-Christ. The Scholiast has comments which state, that Michael was Prince of the Angels, and that as a soldier he was the champion whose name is explained by 'sicut Deus' in Mount Garganus. In recording his feast at this day, Marianus O'Gorman addresses the Archangel Michael as a powerful intercessor:

"May the great Archangel Michael be a buckler to me against devils to protect my soul!"

I was intrigued by these references to Saint Michael and the battle with the Antichrist and went on to do some further reading on the subject. One of the papers I read posed the question:
The tenth and eleventh centuries witnessed an extraordinary increase of interest in the archangel in western Europe. What explains the rapid growth of this cult during the period, especially in the years between 950 and 1050?

The author gives this answer:
1. The militancy of St Michael as a symbol for this turbulent epoch. This development of sacred militancy is unquestionably one of the principal reasons for the popularity of the saint.

2. Another is the increasing prominence given to St Michael as a personal protector of every Christian soul, the angelic cura animarum. Some of this interest stems from the western discovery of the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius in the 9th century, with his attention to the hierarchy of spirits and the function of the archangels as messengers. Yet some of it also arises from the Celtic tradition in which during the Middle Ages St Michael was seen as a soulmate, one responsible for conducting each person after death to Judgment. Out of this tradition would come the image of Michael with his scales weighing the souls at Judgment, an image that would later become so prominent on the western facade of Gothic cathedrals.

3. A third aspect of the increasing importance of the archangel in this period is his apocalyptic role. How do we account for the growing interest in the apocalyptic Michael?...

He then looked specifically at the cult of the Archangel in Ireland:
As in so many other aspects of the Christian life of the early Middle Ages, Ireland seems also to have been a harbinger in its early interest in the cult of the apocalyptic Michael. A good example is found in the occurence of the feast of St Michael in 767. A terrifying thunder storm created a wave of panic in which the Irish, convinced the Last Judgment was about to occur, begged the archangel to intercede for them:

'The fair of the clapping of hands [so called] because terrific and horrible signs appeared at the time, which were like unto the signs of the day of judgment, namely great thunder and lightning, so that it was insufferable to all to hear the one and see the other. Fear and horror seized the men of Ireland, so that their religious seniors ordered them to make two fasts, together with fervent prayer and one meal between them, to protect and save them from a pestilence, precisely at Michaelmas. Hence came the Lamhchomart, which was called the fire from heaven' (Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters from the Earliest Period to the year 1616, ed. J O'Donovan, Vol I (Dublin 1851), pp 370-73.) The Annals of Ulster list the event under 771.

The presence of Michael in Ireland seems more manifest in a number of ways in the 10th and early 11th centuries. The archangel was depicted with his scales on a high cross at Monasterboice. He also appears in the concluding portion of the great Irish epic of salvation history, the Saltaird, c.988. In this work of over 8,000 lines, which seems to have served as one of the foundations for the later medieval interest in the Fifteen Signs Before Doomsday, Michael will summon all to the Last Judgment:

'The archangel will call a clear call over the clay of every man, upon Adam's strong seed: all the many will arise". (Lines 8229-32 of the Saltair na Rann).

The growing importance of this archangel for the Irish is additionally confirmed by the fact that sometime in the period between 950 and 1044, the most famous site dedicated to him in Ireland had his name attached to it. The jagged peak jutting 700 feet almost straight up out of the Atlantic twenty miles off the south-west Irish coast became, not simply Skellig, but Skellig Michael.

Daniel Callahan, The Cult of St Michael the Archangel and the "Terrors of the Year 1000" in The Apocalyptic Year 1000: Religious Expectation and Social Change, 950-1050 by Richard Allen Landes, Andrew Gow, David C. Van Meter (Oxford Univ Press US, 2003)181-204

15th Annual Novena

“Each year, the Association shall keep a novena for the perpetuation of the Traditional Latin Liturgy from 29th September to 7th October.” From the Statutes of St. Conleth’s Catholic Heritage Association.

In 1996, in preparation for their first request to the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin for the regular provision of the Traditional Latin Mass for the people of the Diocese on Sundays and Holydays - a request still unfulfilled, a novena of prayer and penitence was made. The letter was delivered to the Bishop’s House on the last day of the novena.

You are invited to join by your prayers and penances in a novena for the perpetuation of the Traditional Latin Liturgy from 29th September, feast of St. Michael, Archangel, to 7th October, feast of the Most Holy Rosary.

This year, the theme of the novena is taken from the sermon of H.E., Archbishop Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signature (Supreme Court), at Mass for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Ss. Peter and Paul's Church, Cork, on Sunday, 11th July, 2010:

"Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, by his Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum, which was promulgated three years ago, on July 7th of 2007, has desired that the two expressions of the one Roman Rite in the Church, that is, the Roman Missal of Blessed John XIII and the Roman Missal of the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, should mutually enrich one another for the sake of a greater holiness of life among all the faithful and for the sake of drawing to Christ those who do not yet believe in Him Whose glorious presence with us in the Church appears most fully in the Sacred Liturgy, above all, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass."

Sunday 26 September 2010

Twenty-fourth Monthly Mass in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin

This afternoon, eight persons attended the twenty-fourth Monthly Mass in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Beatification Report - Beatification of Cardinal Newman

Today saw the beatification of John Henry Newman by Pope Benedict XVI, he is the first person to beatified by the present Holy Father in person. This honour is perhaps due to the fact that the he is said to admire Newman deeply and indeed to have been a follower of his work since the seminary. But it marks another first, as Newman is the first Englishman, except for the martyrs, to have been beatified since the Reformation. The Holy Father spoke today about Britain’s history of martyrs:

"England has a long tradition of martyr saints, whose courageous witness has sustained and inspired the Catholic community here for centuries. Yet it is right and fitting that we should recognize today the holiness of a confessor, a son of this nation who, while not called to shed his blood for the Lord, nevertheless bore eloquent witness to him in the course of a long life devoted to the priestly ministry, and especially to preaching, teaching, and writing."

The ceremony took place at Cofton Park in Birmingham, very near to the Oratory Retreat House where Newman was buried. It is estimated that over 50,000 people attended the event, with coach loads of pilgrims coming from all over the country. Some visitors including a number of OratoriansI have been lucky enough to meet over the last week had travelled from all over the world.

So much will and indeed already has been written about today in addition to the extensive TV coverage that means that so many of you reading this will have seen much of the Mass for yourselves. Therefore it seems that there is little I can add without making this a more personal account of the event.

Certainly most if not all of the pilgrims had an early start. When we boarded our coach (our rucksacks and stools attracting curious stares from the revellers still leaving nearby nightclubs) for most the excitement was overcoming any feelings of tiredness. This was heightened when one of the Priests onboard lead prayers for the day during the journey. I was amazed when we arrived at the venue and I saw the incredible number of coaches already parked up and huge throngs of people crowding the road on the walk up to the park. I don’t think I have ever been at an event with even close to the number of people and I hadn’t comprehended the reality of the sheer numbers.

There was an overwhelming feeling of friendship and companionship throughout the event. From arriving at the pick-up point right through the day people chatted easily with their neighbours whether they were strangers or friends. It was great to get to speak to so many people who had travelled from overseas for the event. In particular I was struck by my neighbours for the Mass itself. Oratorians from New Jersey, one described the significance of the beatification to him with what felt like as much of sense of excitement and kinship to Newman as I have heard from those from Newman’s own Oratory.

In the true tradition of English weather it rained and the morning started bleakly. Even after the sun began to rise the cold and wet remained and after a couple of hours this was beginning to dampen some of the outward signs of enthusiasm. At 8am the event began and spirits began to lift despite the weather. The BBC were recording for Radio 4’s Sunday Worship from the park. This appeared to inject energy into the gathering and with the pilgrims joined in enthusiastically singing along.

The large screens positioned at the front of the park worked well and allowed us all to have a good view of proceedings. A recording of the Holy Father boarding the helicopter earlier in the morning was shown and the crowd erupted into flag waving and cheers. This was repeated when a helicopter hovered over Cofton Park but it was sadly false hope, more of which occupied the next few minutes as helicopters abounded; the security services were clearly keeping a very close eye on the venue. However, at this point the rain with an immaculate sense of timing started to clear, as many people remarked, almost in anticipation of the Holy Father’s arrival at Cofton Park.

When footage came up of the Holy Father touching down near the venue the park erupted. For a few minutes the crowd followed his progress being driven from his landing site to the Park itself with a palpable and growing excitement. Once in the park after some greetings with officials and dignitaries he boarded the Pope Mobile and drove amongst the excited crowds who were thronging around the paths.

With all the priests and guests in place we waited some minutes for the Pope to take his place in the Sanctuary for Mass. The ceremony took place in a mixture of Latin and English, you can read the full text here from page 127 and the homily here. Quite a number of Newman’s works featured within it and one of the Deacons was Jack Sullivan, an American whose cure from a spinal condition was the miracle that led to today’s ceremony.

Father Richard Duffield, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory, spoke briefly about Newman's Life. I was surprised at how short the actual Rite of Beatification was but the response from the crowd to the Pope’s confirming the beatification was tremendous. At this point the backdrop for the Sanctuary changed and in addition to the colourful background we were graced with a huge image of Newman, almost surveying the assembled pilgrims that had gathered on the grounds where he once walked. I heard much positive comment throughout the day about that fact that his feast day was to be ninth of October, the anniversary of his conversion rather than the anniversary of his birth or death.

The Pope talked not only about Newman the scholar but also Newman the Priest. He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison.

He went on to touch on the esteem in which he was held by many in his adopted city. In the run up the beatification I have read much of Newman and heard many peoples’ perspectives; those of Newman scholars and biographers and those of others like me attending the various events. It felt appropriate to me that the Holy Father chose to remind people of this, the aspect of his life that seems least talked about, indeed sometimes forgotten for the scholar, the writer and the theologian.

One image that particularly stood out for me was the rows of Priests making their way out into the crowds of pilgrims to distribute communion. This was carried out remarkably quickly and efficiently given the huge numbers involved but still respectfully. Another enduring recollection will be the reverential silence that punctuated the Mass. Silence is perhaps a strange thing to focus on in relation to an event that had more people at it than any I have ever attended but thus the quiet of so many people was I think was even more startling. Linked to this for me was the new experience of being part of so many people praying together both in person and with a shared goal.

Despite seeing some comments about the organisation in the run up to it that made me concerned, with the exception of the regrettably early start I thought the whole day was very well organised and ran smoothly. This was a huge occasion and even with some experience of managing events I can only begin to imagine the logistical nightmares involved so credit goes to all those responsible. I don’t profess to sufficient knowledge or understanding of Newman to be able to conjecture with any credibility on what he might have thought of today. However, I certainly think that it was a day on which he was truly honoured and revered and one he could be proud of.

Beatification Report - Performance of The Dream of Gerontius

Last night, following the beatification conference was a performance of The Dream of Gerontius at Birmingham Town Hall. Newman's poem set to Edward Elgar's music first premièred in this venue one hundred and ten years ago.

Elgar was clearly very proud of work and felt it an "honour to attempt to set it to music." At the end of the score which he presented to the Birmingham Oratory he wrote "This is the best of me."

Written in 1865 The Dream of Gerontius tells the story of man near to death and the journey of his soul after his death, you can find the text here. Newman wrote of it "On the 17th of January last it came into my head to write it, I really cannot tell how. And I wrote on till it was finished on small bits of paper, and I could no more write anything else by willing it than I could fly. These were probably for the waste-paper basket.

Richard Hutton in his biography of Newman said "The Dream of Gerontius though an imaginative account of a Catholic's death, touches all the beliefs and hopes which had been the mainstay of Newman's life, and the chief subjects of his waking thoughts and most vivid impressions. It is impossible to read it without recognizing especially that Newman had always and steadily conceived life as a Divine gift held absolutely at God's will, not only in regard to its duration, but also in regard to the mode and conditions of its tenure."

The programme for the event told us "Newman, like his patron St Philip, was well aware of the power of music to express the most profound ideas and draw people to God. Indeed he was himself a talented musician."

The event was well attended with special guests including the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent. In opening the event Father Richard Duffield Provost of Birmingham Oratory commented that the opportunity to hear one of Newman's great works was excellent preparation for the following day's beatification.

The performance was given by Birmingham's Ex Cathedra choir and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment who use period instruments.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Beatification Report - J H Newman by his Biographers, Official Beatification Conference

Come and hear the most renowned scholars on Cardinal Newman assess the man, his career, his message and his enduring significance" was the billing for this event at Birmingham's International Convention Centre. Over a hundred people attended, those from further afield including a group from the Cardinal Newman Society of America and Oratorians from around the world.

The biographers in question speaking on the day were Father Ian Ker, Oxford University, Father Michael Lang of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and Professor Sheridan Gilley of Durham University, who also gave the lecture on Newman and Birmingham earlier this week. They were joined by Father Keith Beaumont of the Oratory of France and the author of the official beatification biography which was launched at the conference.

The conference was opened by Father Richard Duffield, the Provost of the Birmingham Oratory who reminded us of the Holy Father’s comments on the plane about Newman’s awareness of the problems and culture of his own age. He went on to observe that the Holy Father may have chosen to beatify Newman personally as in him he may see a kindred spirit; a man who had messages in the nineteenth century that echo those that he himself wants to be heard today.

Professor Gilley was the first speaker, reflecting much of the content of his lecture earlier in the week. The Professor reminded us that Newman’s contemporary Cardinal Manning was often depicted as practical ‘Martha’ to Newman’s contemplative Mary. He concluded his session by saying "Newman’s strength as a master of the intellectual and spiritual life remains to inspire us."

Father Ian Ker reflected on the fact that Newman had anticipated much of the Second Vatican Council. He talked about Newman’s belief that Church Councils were times of great trial and that a living idea cannot be isolated from intercourse with the world around it. He reminded us of Newman’s words with a quote that later speakers also echoed "It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full."

Father Ker also talked about Newman being drawn to St Philip Neri’s Oratory with its more individualistic approach than other orders. Newman described St Philip Neri as having "the breadth of view of St. Dominic, the poetry of St. Benedict, the wisdom of St. Ignatius, and all recommended by an unassuming grace and a winning tenderness which were his own."

Father Michael Lang talked about Newman’s relationship with the early Fathers of the Church and the intimate connection between his study of them and his spiritual journey. He described Newman’s reflections on doctrinal development as one of his principle contributions to Catholic theology.

Our final speaker was Father Keith Beaumont who was launching his book on Newman, the official beatification biography. We discovered at this point that we had been joined by another distinguished visitor for the launch, Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent.

Father Beaumont who lives in France treated us to a whistle stop tour through the French perspective on Newman over the years. This included some amusing examples from the first (and unauthorised!) French translation of Newman’s work which was done by a lady with a limited grasp of both English and theology. My apologies but I was laughing too much to capture them! (Father Beaumont if by some chance you read this perhaps you will post them?) Some of his challenges in writing an official biography were shared with us as well as that of trying to write a short account without oversimplifying much about Newman.

Father Beaumont shared with us his belief that whilst Newman is the object of a great deal of devotion, fervour and piety but also his concern that few read and study his work thoroughly rather than focusing on extracts. Newman was said to be a thinker, theologian and spiritual guide but foremost a pastor of souls who would urge people not only to think about God but to seek him. He went on to tell us that Newman placed theology in the service of spirituality and renewed the concept of what it meant to be a Christian by returning to the Bible and early Church Fathers.

He told us that Newman’s approach was to speak to people and advise them with a view to deepening their relationship with God and that whatever honour Newman felt personally in being made a Cardinal he was more interested in the status it would give to his work.

Father Duffield thanked all the speakers and HRH Princess Michael. He complimented Father Beaumont on his deep understanding of Newman which came across in the book and his appreciation for that fact so many of Newman’s words were allowed to speak for themselves in the carefully chosen extracts. He closed the conference with an instruction to the delegates to both enjoy and pray hard at the beatification.

The conference was followed by a civic reception attended by Birmingham's Lord Mayor and a private viewing of the Newman Exhibition at the Birmingham Museum. You can see photos of the exhibits in my earlier post.

The conference was filmed by EWTN so do check their schedules if you would like listen to the speeches. All I have been able to do is capture a few scant snippets from the extensive sessions and these have been limited somewhat by poor understanding of some of aspects of the sessions on my part and also an inability to take accurate legible notes at speed!

Thursday 16 September 2010

Beatification Report - Cardinal Newman Exhibition

To coincide with the beatification Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is playing host to an exhibition of ”rarely seen items from the life of Cardinal John Henry Newman”. Amongst the exhibits are many not generally on public view. Most items are loaned from Birmingham Oratory’s own collection and were in Newman's rooms at the Oratory. Below are photographs of the exhibits.

Cardinal's robes, hat and shoes @ 1879. Newman reputedly complained that it was very expensive to be fitted out as a cardinal!

Pectoral cross and chain, silver gilt with garnets, 19th Century.

Crozier, 1860. Silver inset with semi precious stones and micro mosaic.

Jewelled mitre, 1879, presented to Newman when he became a cardinal. Silk and gold thread inset with semi precious stones. I can't even begin to tell you how incredible the workmanship is, but the photographs really don't do this justice!

Oil portrait on canvas of Newman by William Thomas Roden, 1879. This portrait was commissioned to celebrate his appointment as a Cardinal although Roden chose to depict him as an ordinary priest.

Shell engraved with the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 19th Century.

Metal pot with used and sharpened quill pens from Newman's study at the Birmingham Oratory. Also a letter from Newman to a printer dated 1840 concerning the production costs.

Statuette bust of St Phillip Neri, founder of the Congregation of the Oratory. Ivory turned on wooden base.

Portrait of 'The Virgin in Glory' @ 1860. Oil paint on ivory in silver mount.

Portrait bust of Newman by Richard Westmacott, 1841. The sculptor was at school with Newman in Ealing.

The number of items included in the exhibition was less than I was expecting but it does offer a unique opportunity to view some beautiful relics one is not normally able to see.

For those that would like to visit, the exhibition runs until 6th January 2011, entry is free of charge and you can find more information about the venue here.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Beatification Report - Newman and Birmingham Lecture

Newman and Birmingham was the title of the first of a series of events taking place in Birmingham leading up the beatification of John Henry Newman. Around 300 people attended the lecture, on Monday 14th September, hosted by Birmingham University's Barber Institute and organised in conjunction with Birmingham Oratory. The speaker was Professor Sheridan Gilley, former lecture in theology at the University of Durham and author of ‘Newman and His Age’ This biography was written whilst the Professor was an Anglican though he has since followed Newman to the Catholic Church.

The lecture touched on many aspects of Newman’s life and that of his contemporaries as well as his links with Birmingham. The Professor’s words painted a vision of the city of Newman’s age, one in which he spent a significant portion of his later life as a Catholic.

He told us that, being close to the centre of the industrial revolution, Birmingham was the heart of the ‘Workshop of the World’. The population of the city grew rapidly during this period with the need for labour being fed both from surrounding areas and further afield. In 1851 just one quarter of its population were regular churchgoers.

Birmingham was at the centre of the Catholic revival thanks at least in part to the charismatic Cardinal Wiseman (founder of the Dublin Review) and to Oscott College which was within easy reach of the city. Indeed St Chads, built between 1839 and 1841, was the first cathedral to be built in England after the Reformation.

The Catholic population of the city was largely made up of Irish immigrants, many of who fled the hardships of Ireland during the potato famine to seek work in England’s increasingly industrialised cities

Newman’s original city location for his Oratory was in Alcester Street. It opened on February 2 1849 in a former gin distillery and here he taught Sunday school and classes in the evening. Funds were scarce with the community living on a frugal diet of salt beef and salt cod; poor Irish immigrants would have made up much of Newman’s early congregations. All of this was a far cry from his life as an Anglican Minister eating at High Table in the colleges of Oxford.

Despite this Newman seems to have developed a love for the city and its people. Indeed he famously declined an invitation to preach in Rome:

'The Oratory, Birmingham: July 25, 1864.
'Dear Monsignore Talbot,—I have received your letter, inviting me to preach next Lent in your Church at Rome to "an audience of Protestants more educated than could ever be the case in England."

However, Birmingham people have souls; and I have neither taste nor talent for the sort of work which you cut out for me. And I beg to decline your offer.
'I am, yours truly,

What stood out for me from this lecture and my other reading is that Newman was clearly a man who thrived in a diverse range of environments gaining respect and affection from people of all backgrounds and beliefs; from the slums of an industrial city to Oxford’s Colleges, from the more affluent environs of the London Oratory to Dublin society. Surely to be able to do so in his time was a greater achievement than even it would be in our own?

Father Richard Duffield, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory, thanked Professor Gilley for such an interesting opening to the week of events leading up to the beatification. He left the audience with the thought that in these times we should follow Newman’s words and have “clear heads and holy hearts” and St Paul's guidance ”to hold fast to that which is good”.