Inside the main porch of the church, in windows on either side of the main doors are scenes from the life of our Patron, St. Bartholomew. Above the notice board near the side door is a small round window, bearing the Latin inscription, “In Memoriam” (remembering). This window remembers babies and young children who have died, with those children being represented by a small purple butterfly. Twice a year, at Croydon University Hospital, a special service is held in the chapel there for all those who died so early in their lives.
A stone tablet, engraved with the names of former Parish Priests, is positioned near to the Repository, a room in which we may buy items which can help us to learn more about our Faith. A separate frame contains a record of all former curates or assistant priests. These remind us to pray for the souls of the Priests who have cared for the souls of members of our Parish since 1908 and, indeed, of our Christian duty to pray for the Souls of all who have died. One day, please God, people will pray for our souls, too. We thank God for their lives, given in serving our Parish, and ask Him that they may now be with Him in Heaven, rewarded for their faithful service. Of course we must never forget to pray for Priests living and serving here and around the world. Satan knows full well that he will be defeated through their priestly power and does not, for an instant, cease to try and undermine their Ministry. In the porch there is also a list of all those men who serve us in Southwark Archdiocese, each allotted a day of the week. The notice also reminds us of all those who have died following the completion of their work in the vineyard of vocations.
Our first action, on entering the main body of the church must, surely, be to greet Our Blessed Lord, Whose House we are invited into. Our Children will learn from the adults they see round them. While it is the Parents' privilege and duty to bring up their children in the Faith, we all need to consider just what an effect our own example can have on young (and even on not so young) minds.
Before entering our bench for Mass we (if we are able) genuflect towards the Tabernacle, situated on the Blessed Sacrament Altar where Jesus is waiting for our greeting, wishing to pour His Grace into our Souls, calling us to open our hearts and love Him. Those unable to genuflect may well bow. While these outward gestures are, of course, very important it is His Grace in our Souls, our Love for and Faith in Him which truly pleases God. As well as reminding us of our reason for coming to church, we can also teach others through example. Who knows whether someone, not a Catholic perhaps, seeing our demeanour, will themselves be drawn to know more of the Church to which we accord such love and respect.
We and our Children are fortunate to be highly literate and able to access vast sources of knowledge but, centuries ago, without the ability to read Bibles and Missals (if they actually had one) and before liturgical calendars existed how did people know what was being celebrated / commemorated at Masses during the year? The answer lay in the colour of the Priest's vestments: Green, colour of new life, worn most of the year, recalled the life of Grace making souls 'grow' just as sunlight causes new shoots to appear; White recalled the Grace and Purity of God and the Angels and Saints, Purity to which all are called; Red denoted the Blood shed by Christ and by Martyrs. It also called to mind the Power of the Holy Spirit, the Fire of Pentecost and the Kingship of Christ; Purple, especially during Lent and Advent, pointed to the need for Penance (Father wears a Purple stole when hearing Confessions). Purple can be replaced, (on the 3rd Sunday of Advent and the 4th Sunday of Lent) by Rose, symbolic of future rejoicing; Black, now largely replaced by Purple, stood for mourning and to remind us of the solemn duty to pray for the dead who, unless perfect, will have sinned in this life and are counting on our help to reach Heaven. We are helping them get to Heaven by our Masses, Prayers and Sacrifices. Black was, once, generally worn for Requiem Masses - an exception to this was a Requiem for a baby who had, of course, died before reaching the age of reason and could not have chosen to offend God - for them Father wore White. Through colour everyone, literate or not, could recall Father’s teaching and follow the Liturgical Year.
The Sacred dignity of the Sanctuary, and the Mass offered there, is further emphasised by the garments worn by the Altar Servers, which are either an alb together with a red cord, or a cassock (black most of the year, changing to red for Easter, Pentecost and Christmas) and white cotta (surplice). Most of our Altar Servers are Members of the Guild of St Stephen, and wear a Guild Medal.
Last week, on Ash Wednesday, we began Lent (from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Lencten’, i.e. ‘Spring’), a six week period of preparation for Easter, a time probably generally associated with 'giving things up'. Self-denial can certainly focus our minds more sharply on our Saviour's Sacrifice and help us become more detached from material things. Hopefully it will not be, simply, a yearly 'detox', foregoing such pleasures as alcohol or rich foods before eagerly taking them up again at Easter. Lenten self-denial obviously really needs to become a year-round discipline to be lastingly beneficial, whether spiritually and/or physically.
Probably more of a challenge is the 'positive side of the coin', i.e. doing extra. This must certainly include making great efforts with our spiritual lives and may well involve money saved through material self-denial. Hopefully, money saved from giving up certain foods and drinks will go to Charity. Also there are practical acts of Charity one can take on, such as giving time to visiting the sick and housebound.
Bearing in mind that we need God's Grace to do anything truly good will, hopefully, prompt us to try to get to Mass (in addition to obligatory Sunday Mass) at least once during the week, maybe at St. Bart’s at 7.30am on our way to work or school. At Mass, we have the privilege of accompanying Christ in His once-for-all Sacrifice of His Life to His Father on Calvary. We receive Him in Holy Communion, an act which strengthens souls in the State of Grace so that they may persevere in faithfulness to God. If Mass in our Parish Church is not possible, do check Mass times at churches nearer to school or workplace; Some Catholic schools may already offer students the possibility of daily Mass. In addition to morning Masses, some churches may well offer lunchtime or evening Mass.
As many churches in towns and cities are open all day, one has, if it is really impossible to get to Mass, at least the chance to pop in and make the Way of the Cross. Remember that, at St. Bart's, we have the opportunity to make this devotion together on Sundays (4pm) and Fridays (7.30pm) in Lent. The fourteen Stations (or Way) of the Cross, put before our mind's eye several events in Christ's Passion, from His condemnation by Pilate to His burial. This devotion, which can, of course, be practised every day of the year, is available in a variety of formats. Very young children will benefit from being taken and shown the beautifully carved and painted images in church, with very simple explanations from Parents or older Siblings or, maybe, they can be asked to tell the story in their own words. Some of us may well have a favourite version of the Stations we like to use. Even the sick and housebound can make the Stations; nobody need feel excluded! There are Apps for our Smartphones, not to mention a wealth of on-line versions, many of which have film footage with sound or subtitles.
A beautiful, simple and soul-searching version is that by Saint Alphonsus Liguori, published by CTS. Those who can use smartphones, mp3 players and computers may listen to or download this from here.
Another, more contemporary meditation, by Fr. Hugh Thwaites, S.J. is available here. Many versions are available; it all depends on what we hope to gain, spiritually, from this great devotion. EWTN Catholic TV is certainly well worth looking at. How we meditate on the Passion is, of course, up to us. If we really don't have time to come and make the Stations in church (on our own, if we prefer) or to spend a short while making them at home, why not try, at least daily, during Lent, to say the beautiful Act of Contrition which is often included as part of the Way of the Cross: "I love Thee, Jesus, my love above all things! I repent with my whole heart of having offended Thee! Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always and then do with me what thou wilt!”. This wording can easily be explained to and adapted for our younger parishioners.
Whatever we elect to do let us do it with love, as part of our life-long journey, “...knowing, loving and serving God...” here on earth, so as to bring us to be “...happy forever with Him in Heaven.” (which many of us will have learned through the ‘Penny’ Catechism (Q&A.2), still published (though, unfortunately, no longer 1 penny!) and available from the CTS, even in E-Book format these days! It is an excellent summary of our Faith and will ‘stretch’ both adults and children alike! For those still wishing to ‘grow in Faith’ this Constant Teaching of the Church is more fully explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Chs. 1-3.
We often remark at how quickly time passes. On 8th January the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord marked the end of the Christmas season and, already, on Ash Wednesday, 14th February we will begin the Penitential season of Lent. And not so long after Easter, we shall be looking towards Advent 2018! Our Blessed Lord was very precise in His use of language. Looking beyond our comparatively brief lifespan on earth, towards Eternity, He underlined the urgent need for constant preparation, speaking of the unexpectedness of our coming before God’s Judgement Seat, death coming, perhaps, “...like a thief in the night…(1 Thess. 5.2)…you know not the day nor the hour…(Mt. 25:13)…tonight thy soul is required of thee…(Lk. 12:20)”.
The Liturgy of Ash Wednesday recalls sobering facts. As we are marked on our foreheads with a Cross of ash (prepared by burning last year’s palms) the priest or other person applying the ashes may say either, “Repent and believe in the Gospel…” (Mk. 1:15) or the more sobering, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19). The second formula may cause one to feel ‘uncomfortable’ but is, obviously, so very necessary in this world which, sadly, often lauds wealth, celebrity and power as criteria for a fulfilled life, whilst ignoring their power to distance or even separate us from God. A loving earthly parent will, although positively encouraging their children to be careful crossing the road, also point out the unpleasant, even fatal consequences of carelessness in doing so. Similarly God, out of Love for us, wishes us to recall that much of what is regarded as ‘gain’ in this world has the power to deny us eternal happiness. Unlike the world, which can be very unforgiving, Christ, knowing our fallen nature, gives us through His Church this period of the year dedicated especially to deeper examination of conscience and to trying to see ourselves as God sees us. Of course, this 40 day period should, quite definitely, not be our sole spiritual ‘MOT’ for the year.
The Good Shepherd ever calls us to Himself. Whatever our sins, He will welcome us back if we repent and return. He has given us the beautiful Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) as the normal means of making this return from Mortal and what are deemed ‘lesser’ sins. Through this wonderful Sacrament, available daily, if needed, in addition to the scheduled times, a Soul, dead in sin, may be restored to the Life of Grace. We must, however not fall into the error of thinking that Confession is reserved solely for Grave sin. Even one who has faithfully persevered in God’s Grace throughout life has need of the strengthening Grace of this Sacrament to maintain their Godward orientation.
It may take great courage and humility to go to Confession, overcoming Human Respect (i.e. ‘What will people think of me when they see me go into the Reconciliation Room?’). Sadly we can ‘transfer’ our own sometimes unforgiving nature to Christ. Yet the Scriptures are full of accounts of Jesus forgiving people, for example the woman taken in adultery and the penitent thief on Calvary. His many visible healings point towards His ability, as God Incarnate, to heal our invisible spiritual ills, i.e. sins. We never hear Him turn penitents away. Of course, to be forgiven, sorrow and determination not to sin again must go together. How often do we hear Christ saying, “Go and sin no more” (Jn. 8:11)?
Why not, especially if it does not come easily, resolve to make a good Lenten Confession, as the first of many regular Confessions in the coming year, rather like having one’s car regularly serviced, rather than waiting for a major, more costly or dangerous defect to occur. The priest can answer any questions, however ‘silly’ we might regard them; nothing will shock him; as an Alter Christus, he is only too glad to continue Christ’s work of Reconciliation. Look out for details of our Lenten day of Penitence.
There is plenty of faithful Catholic literature on the subject. One publication, “Confession, A little Book for the Reluctant” by Monsignor Louis Gaston de Ségur, published by TAN, answers many of the fears that many, sadly, have of this Sacrament. Booklets about Reconciliation are available from our Repository. If you try this link you will find a wealth of helpful materials published by the CTS. Please God, the following line from Saint Alphonsus’ Stations of the Cross, will be our motive for repentance: “It is thy love, more than the fear of Hell, which causes me to weep for my sins.” (from the 8th Station: The Women of Jerusalem Mourn for Our Lord).
The entire building is a teaching aid, so let’s start outside: The building itself, bricks and mortar, is a reminder to us that we are members of the Church making up that which is also called Christ’s Mystical Body on Earth. As the mortar holds the bricks together, so we Catholics are linked, very closely, by our common Baptism, God’s Grace and our Faith in the One True God. When anybody receives Communion, they receive the very same Christ as each of their brothers and sisters Worldwide. Have we considered just how close we are to one another in Christ? The term Mystical Body of Christ, of course, refers to a living organisation with each and every member of the Universal (or Catholic) Church, described by Saint Paul as 'living stones'.
The shape of the building, pointing Heavenwards, reminds us of its purpose – to help us raise our minds and hearts in Prayer to God. If we could fly over the church, we would see that it is built in the shape of a cross. There are many striking churches and cathedrals in Britain and around the world which very clearly have been designed to move us to contemplate our Creator, to raise our minds and hearts to God. The spires of the great Gothic cathedrals are a vivid sign of this. Back at Saint Bart’s we see, at the apex of the roof, a Cross, reminding us of Christ's Sacrifice, daily re-enacted on the Altar within. How prayerfully do we mark ourselves with this sacred symbol?
Over the main door is an image, in mosaic, of our Patron, Saint Bartholomew, shown holding the knife with which he was flayed (skinned) alive. St Bartholomew is the patron saint of butchers, leather workers and tanners. Over the side doors are mosaics of his Martyr’s Crown and Palm of Victory, recalling the fact that, whatever the challenges, a wonderful Eternity waits in Heaven for those who do their best to follow God’s Laws while on Earth.
On entering the church porch we need to consider where we are and why we have come to church, sometimes referred to as a Sacred Space. Who is our first priority? We make the Sign of the Cross with Holy Water. This is a reminder of our Baptism, '...in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...' when Original Sin was washed away, we became a child of God and our Soul was flooded with Sanctifying Grace. We do this for ourselves and for any of our Children who are too small to do this for themselves; in this way we are teaching them a holy and beautiful custom. There are Holy Water stoups (bowls) at each entrance to the church. At the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday Masses we are invited to renew for ourselves the Promises made on our behalf at our own Baptism. At times during the Liturgical Year, Father will process round the church and bless us with Holy Water. On the day that a man and woman take their solemn vows to remain lovingly faithful for the rest of their lives, Wedding Rings are blessed with Holy Water. When a person dies, their coffin is sprinkled with Holy Water, recalling that, “In Baptism s/he died (to sin) in Christ…” and asking that they may now share in His Risen Life in Heaven.
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church