Letter from Fr. Allen: The Second Sunday in Lent & St Patrick’s Day, March 14, 2019

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Dear Friends,

This Sunday is the Second Sunday in Lent, but it is also my "onomastico" - my Name Day, St. Patrick's Day. We associate St. Patrick with all things Irish, or at least with Irish-y marketing gimmicks - green beer, Shamrock Shakes (bless ye, McDonald's), and more or less anything that can be dyed green. But of course behind all of that, and behind the legends about snakes (or the absence thereof), there is an actual saint; that is to say, an actual man so transformed by the love of Christ that he himself was "conformed to the image of Christ" and made a remarkably faithful herald of the Gospel of Christ.

We know the outlines of Patrick's biography from his own hand, his Confession, a sort of defense of his methods, teaching, and intentions, written near the end of his life. He was born on the western coast of Roman Britain in the latter half of the 4th century. Patrick's father was a deacon, but Patrick himself was, he tells us, entirely uninterested in the things of God when, as a sixteen year old, he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he was set to work tending sheep in the wilderness. For six years he labored as a shepherd - cold, alone, hungry, and often brutalized. But in that time he began to pray - and pray and pray and pray. And even in the midst of his suffering he began to rejoice in the Lord's goodness and mercy. After six years, and goaded by an angel who spoke to him in a dream, he escaped, walking some 200 miles to the coast where he found passage on a boat to Gaul. There he entered a monastery where he lived for probably 20 years and was ordained a priest and discovered within himself a desire to return to Ireland, to the people who had enslaved and abused him, to share with the the good news of Jesus Christ. Patrick was then ordained a bishop and returned to Ireland, where his preaching - augmented by the holiness of his life and the goodness and beauty of Christian culture he came bearing - was remarkably effective. Without bloodshed, without martyrs, Ireland was converted to the Catholic faith by Patrick's ministry.

It is a remarkable thing: he returned to what was for him "the land of Egypt, the house of bondage." As he said himself, "I have sold my patrimony, without shame or regret, for the benefit of others. In short, I serve Christ on behalf of a foreign people for the ineffable glory of life everlasting which is in Jesus Christ our Lord."

Sadly, the situation in Ireland is very different today, and the slide back into paganism with its inevitable sacrifice of children is well advanced. But we cannot climb the high horse of self-righteousness: the failure of the Church to be the bearer of the truth, beauty, and goodness, and especially the horrible sins and crimes of priests and religious, have turned the Irish from Christ. Ireland awaits "another - doubtless very different" St Patrick to speak again the tender mercies of our God; indeed, the blood of her children cries out.

So, this St. Patrick's Day let us of course celebrate all those good and charming (intoxicatingly so!) aspects of Irish culture. You might even join me at St Patrick's Church at 8AM on Saturday morning where I will concelebrate with Bishop Guglielmone (I think it's O'Guglielmone this weekend) the St Patrick's Day Mass (transferred) and then enjoy the parade afterward. But let us also pray that, at the intercession of St. Patrick, the Lord will call Ireland back to himself, and also that we will grow in that same zealous love that compelled Patrick to "go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28.19)

God bless you,
Fr Allen

Letter from Fr. Allen: The First Sunday in Lent, March 7, 2019

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Dear Friends,

We are off again on our annual Lenten pilgrimage to the upper room, to Calvary, and to the empty Tomb - those "mighty works whereby our Lord God hast given us life and immortality." In the Gospel for today (the Thursday after Ash Wednesday) that agenda is set for us. Jesus announces to his disciples that “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” But then Jesus tells us that his disciples, if they - if we! - will truly be his disciples - cannot be mere spectators in the Lord's journey to Jerusalem, but must actually be participants: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it." Lent is a time in which we sharpen and intensify our participation in the Lord's Passion by taking up the little training crosses of our self-denial and disciplines, so that we may deepen our joyful participation in his mighty Resurrection, dying to ourselves so that Christ might live in us.

In addition to the Lenten disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, our Lenten pilgrimage is marked in our liturgy in ways that have become familiar to us: purple vestments, the absence of the Gloria and any "Alleluia" from Mass, the subdued use of the organ. We will also keep the old traditions of chanting the Litany in procession at the beginning of Mass on this the first Sunday of Lent, and of using unbleached candles, which denote sorrow and penitence, on the altar.

Another and more obtrusive alteration to the liturgy during Lent will be the use of the Merbecke setting of the Ordinary (Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei). John Merbecke (1510 - 1585) composed this simple setting for the first edition (1549) of the Book of Common Prayer on a one-note-per-syllable principle. The result is serviceable rather than beautiful, but appropriately stark for Lent and a way to mark the season with our singing. For some of you these settings will be immediately familiar as they used very commonly to be sung in Episcopal/Anglican churches (and often in Lutheran and Methodist churches as well). In any case, you may (re-)familiarize yourself with those tunes below.

We will also be singing the Merbecke setting of the Our Father. Because of the high percentage of tourists with us each Sunday (bless them), singing the Lord's Prayer has been something of a challenge - they know and default to the Roman Missal setting and concluding doxology, which is just close enough to our chant setting and text to cause deep confusion. The music director and I are hoping that a using the completely different Merbecke setting will put us all, literally, singing from the same page of music. We'll see.

Have a sober Lent!

God bless you,
Fr Allen

Click the above image to launch a recording of Merbecke's Mass setting, including the Kyrie, the Sanctus & Benedictus, and the Agnus Dei. 

A pdf of the sheet music is available here for those who are interested. The sheet music will be printed in the Sunday bulletin as well. 

Letter from Fr. Allen: Quinquagesima & Ash Wednesday - February 28, 2019

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Dear Friends,

This Sunday is Quinquagesima, which means that the holy season of Lent is upon, and that it is also time for the Bishop's Annual Appeal.

Lent
In his message for Lent, Pope Francis encourages us to be urgent in our Lenten observance: "Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation."

You will see [here] a schedule for special Lenten devotions, including the Imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday, added times for Confessions, Stations of the Cross, and more. Don't let this season, a privileged time for growth in grace, slip away! Make a plan now for your own Lenten disciplines of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, and especially for how those disciplines will be lived out in the domestic church which is your home and family. Here's a helpful guide to keeping a holy Lent in preparation for the commemoration of the Lord's blessed Passion and precious Death, and the joy of his mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension. And here's my own favorite source of inspiration for Lenten meal planning!

Bishop's Appeal
The annual Bishop's Appeal for the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter also begins on Quinquagesima. At Mass this Sunday I will read a letter from Bishop Lopes inviting you to participate, but here I will make my own appeal: give generously! As a member of the Ordinariate's Governing Council, I can assure you that your gifts to the appeal will be a real and fruitful investment, carefully husbanded, in our common mission and ministry of evangelism and unity. Even beyond the fiscal realities of our Ordinariate's youth and relatively small size, our chancery is an intentionally lean operation. Your gift will make a substantial difference in the chancery's services and the Bishop's ministry, which - and this bears emphasis - is our ministry, too. Your gift is a tangible expression of our unity.

Many of you will have received a pledge card and information about the appeal in your mailboxes this week, and if not, we will have more available at Mass. Ashley and I have already made our pledge and first payment, and I urge you prayerfully to consider your gift and to make your pledge as well (might as well do it now!). 

God bless you,
Fr Allen

Letter from Fr. Allen: Chair of St Peter - February 21, 2019

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Dear Friends,

The image [below] shows the great reliquary of the Chair of St. Peter in the apse of St Peter's Basilica. The reliquary, in gilt bronze, is the work of the great renaissance artist Bernini. I'm not usually a fan of the baroque myself, but the reliquary is an astonishing work of art, with its contrast of putti and monumental Doctors of the Church eastern and western (Chrysostom and Athanasius, Augustine and Ambrose).

But all that of course is only the reliquary. The relic it contains is an oak chair, not at all comfortable looking, trimmed with ivory. It is missing pieces and pretty worm-eaten as well. The chair was a gift to Pope John VIII from Charles the Bald, Holy Roman Emperor, in the AD 875. For many centuries it was believed to have been the actual chair St Peter, that in which he sat to teach while in Rome, though more modern investigations by the Vatican have revealed that it dates from the 6th century. Nevertheless, the chair represents teaching authority of Peter and his successors, and their vocation and duty to preside over the whole Church in charity. 

As you know, our Ordinariate takes its name from this Chair and the gift of authority and love it represents (particular for those of us for whom, in former days, "the lack of papal primacy and the Magisterium [was] experienced as an ecclesial deficit," as Cardinal Müller once put it). This year our "Solemnity of the Title" is transferred from its usual date of February 22nd to this Sunday. We will keep the feast at our 11AM Mass, and continue our prayer and praise with Evensong and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at 4.30PM. I hope you will join us!

I ask you to pray for the Meeting for the Protection of Minors in the Church, called by Pope Francis, which began earlier today at the Vatican, that the meeting will be an effective exercise of the power of Peter's Chair, and so a turning point in battle against the filth of sexual abuse in the Church. Today is the memorial of St. Peter Damien, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, a reformer who crusaded against clerical sexual abuse and licentiousness in his own time. May he intercede for the Church our time as well!

God bless you,
Fr Allen

Abigail

From Fr. Allen:

Last night it was my great joy to baptize and confirm little Bridget and Abigail Johnson, who were born on Friday, February 8th. Today it was my very sad duty to commend to our merciful Father the soul of Abigail, who died this afternoon in the course of surgery to correct her heart defect. 

There are no words for this sorrow, only trust that the Lord Jesus, who loves us and gave himself for us, who passed through the grave and gate of death so that we might live eternally in him, has gathered Abigail to himself and holds her in his loving embrace. Please pray for the Johnsons in their sorrow, and also give thanks for the safe and healthy arrival of Bridget.

I will let you know memorial and funeral Mass details as they are determined. In the meantime, to assist with meals for the Johnson family please sign up here.

O God, whose beloved Son did take little children unto his arms and bless them, give us grace, we beseech thee, to entrust Abigail to thy never‐failing care and love, and bring us all to thy heavenly kingdom: through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Letter from Fr. Allen: Septuagesima - February 14, 2019

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Dear Friends,

This Sunday begins the little season of Pre-Lent or "Shrovetide." These three Sundays with the funny names - Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima - provide a kind of warm-up leading to Ash Wednesday and Lent. The names themselves just refer to number of days (approximately and in round numbers) until Easter - 70, 60, and 50, respectively - but they urge us by their countdown and liturgical symbolism to begin thinking about and preparing for a holy Lent, and that so we may celebrate a joyful Easter. (This year, Sexagesima will be superseded by the Solemnity of the Chair of St. Peter, our Ordinariate's Feast of Title). 

So, beginning this Sunday, Septuagesima, the liturgical color changes to penitential purple, the Gloria in excelsis is not sung, and the Alleluias drop out of the Mass - in hymns, at the Gospel (the Alleluia is replaced by a "Tract"), and in the fraction anthem ("Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.").

The point of these changes and of Pre-Lent itself for us to thing about how we will keep Lent. What disciplines will we undertake? How will our prayer, fasting, and alms giving - which after all are normal, year-round elements of the Christian life - be intensified? There is more to say about all of that, but that is what this season is for. In the meantime, I will leave you with a hymn that well expresses the meaning and hope of this little Shrovetide season, "Alleluia, song of gladness," which is traditionally sung in the week before Septuagesima as "Alleluias" are buried (which we did at Wednesday School last night!) to be "resurrected" at Easter:

Alleluia, song of gladness, voice of joy that cannot die;
Alleluia is the anthem ever dear to choirs on high;
In the house of God abiding thus they sing eternally.

Alleluia thou resoundest, true Jerusalem and free;
Alleluia, joyful mother, all thy children sing with thee;
But by Babylon’s sad waters mourning exiles now are we.

Alleluia we deserve not here to chant forevermore;
Alleluia our transgressions make us for a while give o’er;
For the holy time is coming bidding us our sins deplore.

Therefore in our hymns we pray Thee, grant us, blessèd Trinity,
At the last to keep Thine Easter in our home beyond the sky;
There to Thee forever singing Alleluia joyfully.

(Latin, 11th century, tr by John Mason Neale, 1861)

God bless you,
Fr Allen

Letter from Fr. Allen: Kids at Mass - February 7, 2019

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Dear Friends,

There was a bit of a kerfuffle on Twitter last week (it's what Twitter is for) regarding an article by a priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore who argued that young children shouldn't be in Mass, because they can't understand what's going on - especially the homily - and they make noise, which makes it harder both the preach and to hear the homily.

This is not a point of view I'm at all sympathetic with. The Mass is about Jesus. Jesus present with us in the blessed Sacrament of his Body and Blood is what Mass is for. And Jesus said to his disciples, "suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not." The Mass is for children (and all the rest of us, too).

I know that on some Sundays some of the little ones in our midst are particularly vocal, but for me - well, to be honest, first of all, I hardly ever notice it. Really. But sometimes I do, and sometimes parents will apologize after Mass because their children, they felt, were excessively loud. But for me, the sound of children crying, shouting, and singing in our pews is the sound of life, of growth, of God's abundant blessing on our little newborn community of Catholics. It fills me with gratitude.

Of course we want our children to grow and mature in their understanding of and participation in the Mass, but parents, who know their children best, are the ones best to determine how that happens. Ashley has generally sat up in the galleries with our children (who are of course impeccably well behaved), and I know a lot of art gets created up there during the homily. Other parents find their children engage better when they sit right up front and can watch the action around the altar. Some may do better where they can see the choir and organ. Some little ones need to be walked around, some taken outside to let a little steam out. Whatever! 

So this is simply meant to be a word a of encouragement and gratitude - to all of you, and not least to the little ones who perfect our praise with their coos and shouts. Keep it up!

[Here] you will see an article by Notre Dame theologian Timothy O'Malley, "Mass is for Kids," written in response to the Twitter kerfuffle, and which lays out a "kid friendly" theology of the liturgy and of our liturgical life together. I urge you to click through to read the whole thing. You will find your own experience of the liturgy enriched, and you will also notice it tracks well with the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd model of children's formation we embrace at Corpus Christi.

God bless you,
Fr Allen

Letter from Fr. Allen - January 31, 2019

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Dear Friends,

I sometimes get called upon to tell my conversion story, but technically, it's a "reversion" story. I was born into a Catholic family, but my parents began attending a (very fine) Presbyterian church when I was about eleven years old. I have quite a few memories of Mass in those days, but one that particularly stands out is having my throat blessed on St Blase's Day. I don't know why that should be, except that perhaps we had been told the story of the holy martyr Blase having healed a boy who had a fish bone stuck in his throat, and that I loved to fish and eat my catch, and so having St Blase on my side seemed like a particularly good idea. 

In truth, we know very little about St Blase. He was certainly bishop of Sebaste (in Armenia) and martyred in 316. The story of the boy with the fish bone stuck in his throat comes some 400 years later. However, as early as the end of the fifth century, the intercession of St Blase was already being invoked for ailments of the throat. In time it became a custom throughout the Church to bless the throats of the faithful on St. Blase's Day, which is February 3rd. Candles are always used in this blessing, evidently due to the close proximity to Candlemas (also known as the Feast of the Presentation) the day before, with its blessing of candles for liturgical and devotional use.

This year, St Blase's Day falls on Sunday, which of course takes precedence, but we will indeed keep the tradition of blessing throats immediately following Mass. Following the final hymn, Deacon Rosenblum and I will make our way to the Sacred Heart Altar and bless the throats of those who present themselves.

This blessing of throats on St Blase's Day, brown scapulars, miraculous medals, holy water, and even homilies are "sacramentals;" that is, "sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments...they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church... by them, men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy" (CCCC 1667). Sacramentals do not communicate grace as sacraments do, but, properly and prayerfully used, they dispose us to receive that grace.

Well, at the intercession of St Blase, bishop and martyr, may we be disposed to receive all those graces of love and mercy and healing which flow from the wounded side of Christ. See you Sunday!

God bless you,
Fr Allen

image credit: Zvonimir Atletic, Shutterstock

image credit: Zvonimir Atletic, Shutterstock

Letter from Fr. Allen - January 24, 2019

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Dear Friends,

My family and I have taken a quick vacation to Florida to visit my family and the Mouse. Please join me in continuing to pray for the Johnson family (see below) as they anticipate the birth of their girls at any time. Also, we have several federal employees in our community - please do pray for them as this government shutdown stretches on, paychecks stop arriving, and stress and anxiety build. Pray also for our government leaders, "that they may be led to wise decisions and right actions," and "right soon" at that. See you Sunday!
 

God bless you,
Fr Allen

[Editor’s note: Read more about the Johnson family, including recent updates, on Caring Bridge. You may help provide meals for them while they are in Charleston, signing up via Meal Train for the Johnson Family, and they are accepting monetary donations to help cover their expenses via their Go Fund Me page. Thank you for your generosity.]

Letter from Fr. Allen - January 18, 2019

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Dear Friends,

In the Gospel for this Sunday we hear again the account of our Lord's "first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee," when he turned water into finest wine. It's instructive that the Lord revealed himself, "manifested his glory," in context of a celebration, and that he did so precisely by augmenting the joy of that celebration, with the result that "his disciples believed in him." 

There is, of course, a proper and necessary place for mourning and penitence in the Christian life, and, sure enough, Ash Wednesday and Lent will soon be upon us. But Lent leads to Easter. The dominant note, even in our penitence, is joy. 

The faith of the Apostles, the apostolic faith, was born in joy and is transmitted in joy and for the sake of joy. And joy, and with it celebration, should be the measure of our own faith and of our community’s health and life. 

Hillaire Belloc, an Anglo-French writer and historian and devout Catholic of the early part of the 20th century, summed it up well in a famous little poem:

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,

There’s always laughter and good red wine.

At least I’ve always found it so.

Benedicamus Domino!

God bless you,
Fr Allen