Thursday, 26 March 2015

On not taming the mystery: Richard III and Passiontide

There is something profoundly appropriate about the reinterment of Richard III occuring during Passiontide.

Here is a story of a vanquished king, shamed and disgraced, buried with haste and in fear, now received with honour.

Here is a story of a time of wrath and bitter division, of bloodshed and clashing allegiances, now giving rise to reconciliation.

Here is a story of a failure, despised and rejected, now embraced by grace.

Commenting on the events surrounding the reinterment, +Nick Baines has said:

Redemption is always on offer – even when self-righteous people resent the fact. Remember the prodigal son, the father who waits in hope for him to return, and the elder brother who resents generosity, forgiveness and new life. According to this way of seeing people and their purpose, to fail is not necessarily to be a failure. The story can never be said to have ended.

The Catheral's liturgical provision for the ceremonies surrounding the reinterment has given wonderful expression to this. These ceremonies have declared that the remains of a failed, defeated, despised king are, through the grace of baptism, prayer, absolution and eucharist, caught up in the Paschal Mystery.

In a recent letter to a theological faculty in Argentina, Pope Francis declared:

Without mercy our theology ... wants to tame the mystery.

The reinterment of Richard III during this week echoes the proclamation of Passiontide and Holy Week - the mystery cannot be tamed, for in it are caught up our experiences of failure, defeat, and shame. 

We who have passed through water, who have been anointed with oil, who offer prayer, who receive absolution, who partake in the mystery of bread and wine over which solemn thanksgiving is offered, we share in the Paschal Mystery.

We receive the abundant mercy of the Cross which brings us - as compromised, failed and shamed as Richard Plantagenet - to Resurrection.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Mary's liturgy

Mary was chosen by God for the liturgy of this mystery.

Jacob the Monk (6th century)

The Blessed Virgin, alone among us, alone among all, because she was worthy of it, was chosen in advance and consecrated above every part and priestly grace for this function: to conceive the body of the Lord through the operation of the Holy Spirit and form in herself by her own proper action, not just bread and wine, but her own virginal body and blood,.... and to engender it and touch it and envelop it with her limbs and to nourish it until finally, standing upright next to the cross ... she offered for us to God the body itself of her Son.

Engelbert of Admont (13th century)

The Priest as much represents the Church to God as God to the Church, and an over-Christological reading of the Priesthood is actually a modern deviation. In mediaeval times, it was often considered to be a Marian function with the Priest offering the Eucharistic elements as Mary bore Christ in her womb.

Catherine Pickstock

(The illustration is of an illuminated page from Gengenbach/Baden Evangelistery, Germany, dated ca. 1150.  The Blessed Virgin is vested in the chasuble of a priest.)

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

On the Eve of the Annunciation, in Passiontide

Had he received nothing from Mary, He would never have taken the foods which come from the earth, the foods by which the body taken from the earth is nourished.  Nor would He have felt hunger after fasting ... Nor would He have wept over Lazarus, nor would He have sweated drops of blood, nor would blood and water have flowed from His pierced side.  For these are all signs of flesh taken from the earth, the flesh which the Lord recapitulated in Himself, in order to save His own handiwork.

Irenaeus Adversus Haereses III 22, 2

(The illustration is a detail of Our Lady from Fra Angelico's The Virgin of the Annunciation, c.1450.)

A hope-filled catholic Anglican future?

The recent address by Fr Richard Peers SCP - 'Liberals in Vestments? What is the Society of Catholic Priets for?' - has been the cause of reflection and discussion both within SCP and in wider catholic Anglican circles.  In subsequent conversation on the possibility of a new devotional sodality for priests in the catholic Anglican tradition, Fr Richard noted:

I am deeply encouraged by the encouragement of a number of the catholic bishops but especially by the interest shown by ordinands at a number of theological colleges, this is our catholic future. A common phrase seems to be ‘traditionalists in favour of the ordination of women’ which just about sums me up.

This perhaps reflect something of a Ressourcement-like renewal within contemporary catholic Anglicanism.  In his comments last year on the relationship between Affirming Catholicism and Anglican Catholic Future, +Stephen Conway hinted at this:

There might be more of a preference for Francis among members of Affirming Catholicism and for St Thomas Aquinas among those associated with Anglican Catholic Future.

A more thoroughly Christocentric reading of Thomas, of course, was key to the Ressourcement project in mid-20th continental Roman Catholicism.  And Thomas looms large in the contemporary catholic Anglican Ressourcement.  In an overview of Radical Orthodoxy's first decade, John Milbank described the movement as a "return to Aquinas".  Andrew Davison's Why Sacraments? (2013) states on its opening page, "This book grows out of ... reading one of Thomas Aquinas's surveys of Christian theology".

Here, it might be suggested, is the theological context that gives rise to "traditionalists in favour of the ordination of women".  Milbank's description of his priest-theologian wife, Alison, also comes to mind: "an Anglican priest who is at least as conservative as the current Pope [then BXVI] in most ways".  Likewise, the Church Times report on +Philip North's consecration noted the response of one of the women priests present, trained in St Stephen's House: "she describes herself an Anglo-Catholic who is 'very close to traditionalists in many ways, apart from fact that I believe that women can be ordained'".

On matters of gender and sexuality, we might also note a renewed reading of the Tradition - not in support of what are usually termed 'conservative' understandings of gender and sexuality, but to ground the experience of women in the ministerial priesthood and same-sex partnerships, not in a secular account of rights, but in the sacramental, catholic vision.

That all of this finds liturgical expression in a more traditional understanding of and celebration of the liturgy is, of course, necessary.  As Catherine Pickstock has commented on the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms:

I think that the trimming away of repetition was based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the very character of ritual in general, and of the theological reasons for repetition in the Mass in particular. However, I would support the aim of encouraging participation by the people, and I am quite prepared to say that even mediaeval practice was deficient in this respect. There is room for debate, however, as to whether Vatican II did not in certain respects augment the separation of laity and clergy by celebration facing the people and the practice of concelebration. The situation within Anglicanism is comparable, although some Anglo-Catholic parishes preserve celebration facing east in the context of a modernized liturgy. Even the latter sometimes seems highly compatible with a recovery of the apophatic dimension of liturgy and its mediaeval calendrical and other festical articulations.

It seems worthy of note on this point that amongst the speakers in this year's Prayer Book Society conference is Andrew Davison.

There is, in other words, significant substance to the "traditionalists in favour of the ordination of women" strain within catholic AnglicanismIt holds out the potential of a catholic Anglicanism deeply rooted in the Church's tradition of theological reflection and prayer, expressing itself in a vibrant sacramental life, and engaging a secular age with a confidence in the abundance of grace that has characterised catholic theology and teaching at its most compelling.  It is, then, the possibility of a hope-filled catholic Anglican future.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Spittle, participation and Passiontide

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread mud on the man's eyes (John 9:6).

Today, the second day of Passiontide, the CofI lectionary powerfully offers the opening of John 9 - the healing of the man born blind - as the NT reading at Matins.  The sheer physicality of this account - the mud made of saliva, spread over the eyes - profoundly orients us towards the heart of Passiontide.  We are preparing for Holy Week, the week in which the Church's liturgy brings us to see, taste and touch how the material is redeemed through the material. The office hymns of Passiontide provide beautiful reflections on this:

The royal banners forward go,
the cross shines forth in mystic glow ...
O tree of glory, tree most fair.

The story of redemption proclaimed in the liturgies of Holy Week is intrinsically physical and material - donkey, palm branches, bread, wine, water, feet, kiss, sweat, blood, wood, nakedness. What this means for the nature of our redemption and for the material order has caught the imagination over the centuries. Clerk of Oxford's extract from Aelfric's Passion Sunday homily (10th century) echoes the patristic delight in the means of our fall becoming the means of our redemption:

Through a tree came to us death, when Adam ate the forbidden fruit, and through a tree came to us again life and redemption, when Christ hung on the rood for our redemption.

Redemption, in other words, is not an alien force imposed upon the material order.  The material order is caught up in grace and love, becoming itself the means of grace, the means of redemption.  In the words of Irenaeus, God "did not use violence", wresting the material order from the Evil One through brute force, divine 'shock and awe':

No, he used persuasion.  It was fitting for God to use persuasion, not violence ... so that ...  God's ancient handiwork not be utterly destroyed (Adversus Haereses V 1,1).

We are not overpowered by 'shock and awe' in Holy Week.  Rather, it is a narrative of gracious persuasion - poured out in bread and wine, blood and wood, humility and sacrifice.  It approaches us not as alien demand, but as invitation from within the material order, the material order participating in the fulness of grace, beauty and love.  Perhaps we encounter this most vividly during the Veneration of the Cross on God Friday, our kiss responding to the call "This is the wood of the cross on which hung the Saviour of the world". 

In Holy Week we encounter the material order as it - we - were created to be: participating in the goodness, grace, beauty, communion of the Triune God.  Passiontide prepares us to encounter and experience afresh this revelation, the material order - no longer condemned to a meaningless, empty autonomy - restored and renewed in participation in the very life of the Holy Trinity.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Eve of Passiontide

Can you now see that how the very circumstances in which the devil conquered us have become the pattern of his own defeat?  At the foot of the tree the devil overcame Adam; at the foot of the tree Christ vanquished the devil.  As a result of the first tree humankind were consigned to Hades; now a second Adam calls back to life even those who had already descended there.  The first tree hid a man who knew himself to be have been undermined and stripped bare; the second tree displays the naked victor for all the world to see.  The first death condemned those who were born after it; but this second death gives life even to those who were born before it.  Who can describe sufficiently the mighty deeds of the Lord? For by his death we have become immortal.  Such are the glorious deeds of the Cross.

From John Chrysostom's homily 'On the burial place and the Cross'.

(The Crucifixion fresco is in the nave of the church of Sant'Angelo in Formis c. 1085 near Capua, Campania.)

Friday, 20 March 2015

Lenten meditation: Eucharistic adoration

During the Fridays of Lent, a series of Lenten meditations will be posted. Each meditation, based on the Gospel of the coming Sunday, will reflect upon devotional practices which lead us to enter more fully into the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection.

The Gospel of Lent V is John 12:20-33.

Lenten meditation 5: Eucharistic adoration

This coming Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Passion Sunday, our Lenten pilgrimage draws closer to its conclusion.

The journey has led us through the wilderness, then along the highways and byways of Palestine, as Jesus teaches his disciples.

In Passiontide, we follow Jesus to Jerusalem.

We prepare for that final, fateful week of the Cross - a week of wounds and glory.

Glory.  It's perhaps not the first word that comes to mind when we think of the Cross.

Sunday's reading from John's Gospel, however, calls us to see the Cross as just that - glory ...

The fulness of grace and love poured out on a broken world.

In the reading, a group of Jewish pilgrims of Gentile background approach Jesus' disciple, Andrew.

"Sir, we wish to see Jesus."

Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. 

And from Jesus we hear another cryptic response:

"The hour has come from the Son of Man to be glorified."


Jesus says: "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself".

John adds:

"He said this to indicate the kind of death he would die".

The Cross, in John's Gospel, is not a place of agony and torture.

It is the throne of glory.

Here the glory of God is made manifest, and all people are drawn to the grace, truth, beauty, love of the Crucified.

But can an event that occurred 2,000 years ago really draw people of the 21st century?

Is it a matter of closing our eyes and trying to imagine what it was like ...

Or seeking to reconstruct from historical accounts of crucifixion what it might have been like?

No, the answer is much closer and infinitely more real than our thoughts and speculations.

The answer is the Eucharist.

In the Eucharistic prayer, we do not hear:

'This recollects my body, which was given for you'.

Something much more powerful, much more real is encountered:

"This is my body, which is given for you".

The Eucharist brings into the present the Cross of the Crucified.

No absentee Redeemer, here we encounter the Crucified and Risen One, who by his self-offering draws all people to himself.

In words of the Church of Ireland's Catechism:

"The Body and Blood of Christ ... are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord's Supper" [1].

It is here, then, in the Holy Eucharist, that we now encounter the reality of Jesus' words:

"I will draw all people to myself."

Here in bread and wine over which the solemn Thanksgiving is offered, bread and wine which become Christ's Body and Blood ...

The Crucified One draws us to himself.

Here we are found, forgiven, healed, loved, fulfilled.

Here we have 'holy communion' - we are drawn into the fulness of Love as we feed on the Crucified in the Eucharist.

Our hearts and souls are prepared for this intimate gift as we adore Christ present in the Sacrament.

And how can we not adore?

Here the Crucified One is "verily and indeed" present, to be "taken and received by us".

By faith perceiving this gift, what is to be done but adore?

When, after the words of Institution, and at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, the Sacrament is lifted up before us ...

Adoration is the response of the heart and soul of the disciple recognising the Lord, who is made known in the breaking of the bread.

Similarly, when the Sacrament is reserved in the Aumbry for the Communion of the sick and dying [2] ...

Here too, we adore the Crucified and Risen One present with his Church.

We do so in order that our hearts and souls may be oriented towards, and prepared for, receiving the gift of the Lord's Body and Blood when we next partake of Holy Communion [3].

As Lent becomes Passiontide, as the celebration of the Paschal Mystery of the Lord's Cross and Resurrection draws closer ...

It is a time for us as disciples to enter more fully into the gift of the Eucharist.

It is a time for us to deepen our adoration of the Crucified and Risen One present in this Sacrament ...

During the celebration of the Eucharist and before the Aumbry.

It is a time for our hearts and souls to encounter afresh the One who, in response to the request, "we would see Jesus", said:

"I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself".

At a recent gathering of Anglican clergy in Birmingham, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spoke of the importance to him of prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

Simply, but profoundly, he said:

"There, I found Jesus" [4].


[1] BCP 2004, p.770.

[2] See note (e) of "At the Holy Communion", BCP 2004, p.77 - "Any of the consecrated bread and wine remaining after the administration of the communion is to be reverently consumed".  This careful wording provides for the reservation of the Eucharist for the purposes of Holy Communion.

[3] See ARCIC I's Elucidation on the Eucharist: "adoration of Christ in the reserved sacrament should be regarded as an extension of eucharistic worship, even though it does not include immediate sacramental reception, which remains the primary purpose of reservation".  This addresses the concern of Article 28, written in the context of the dissociation in the late medieval Latin West between very occasional reception of the gift of the Eucharist and the much more routine adoration of the Sacrament (see Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars, p. 95).

[4] See tweet from Fr. Oliver Coss 22nd February 2015.