Last week, we celebrated the Three Divine persons in the One God, i.e. the Most Holy Trinity. Today we celebrate the Sacrament to which all the other Sacraments point the way, Holy Communion itself. Each time we receive Communion, we take to ourselves that same Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity which Christ first gave to His Apostles at the Last Supper and which, as our Risen Lord, He longs, every day, to give to us. This is not to be regarded as a reward for being good, but to strengthen us in our resolve to be good Catholics.
One of the descriptions of the Mass is ‘...a public act of worship…’ Another public proof of our adherence to the Fullness of the Faith is how we ‘…love one another…’. Many of us will recall, from our own childhood, that a prominent part of the celebration of Corpus Christi was a public procession around the neighbourhood of our church. Father, accompanied by the Parish First Communicants, their Families and other Parishioners, carried the Blessed Sacrament in the Monstrance, taking Our Lord out to those of all Faiths and none. This very ‘high-profile’ demonstration of our love for and devotion to the Bread of Life is taking place, after a gap of many years, in our Parish today.
The Corpus Christi Procession at St. Michael's Convent in 1982*
Thanks to the present English translation of the text of the Mass, we can acknowledge, just before receiving Communion, our total unworthiness to have God come into our body and soul. We repeat the words of the Roman Centurion, declaring, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the Word and my soul shall be healed.” We not only admit to our fallen human nature, but we proclaim our firm belief that Christ can, in His Goodness, providing that we are truly sorry, drive out the sins which distance (and, sometimes) completely separate us from Him.
It is because Jesus, God the Son, actually comes to each of us personally that the Church insists upon our being in the State of Grace, i.e. free from Mortal Sin, requiring us to confess any such sins of which we are aware before approaching the Altar. She requires us, also, under normal circumstances, to fast for one hour (water and medicines are the only exceptions) before receiving Communion. Hopefully, realising the importance of the Food of our Souls, this is no big deal. Decades ago, the fast lasted from Midnight on Saturday; it was then reduced to three hours by Pope Pius XII in 1957, then to the present one hour by Pope Paul VI in 1964.
You might like to read the stories of Saint Tarcisius and Little Li, two children who gave their lives as Martyrs for love of the Holy Eucharist. They will inspire you and your children! Why not see how many more Saints of the Eucharist you can discover! If ever one goes unwillingly to Mass and Communion, one will do well to recall that in various parts of the world, our Brothers and Sisters are still risking their lives for this Privilege. Our Procession today will be a clear sign of our gratitude for the freedom we enjoy to practise our Faith in this country, and a sign of Solidarity with our persecuted Brothers and Sisters. Have a Holy and Happy Solemnity!
*The picture within the article above depicts the Corpus Christi Procession at St. Michael's Convent in 1982.
This annual event brought together clergy and parishioners from St. Bartholomew's Norbury, English Martyrs Streatham, St. Michael's Pollards Hill and St. Matthew's West Norwood - the convent, at the top of Streatham Common, was originally a mansion called Park Hill. Built in 1829 it was the home of Henry Tate from c.1880. It became a nursing home run by nuns of the the Congregation of the Poor Servants of the Mother of God in 1923. The nuns left the building in 1996 when the property was put onto the market. It was sold in 2002 and the site was developed as Henry Tate Mews. The Grade II* listed building (including the chapel) was sympathetically converted into apartments.
Blessed John Henry Newman wrote some beautiful Hymns and Prayers, one of which begins, “Firmly I believe, and truly, God is Three and God is One….”, very appropriate to herald today’s Celebration of the Three Persons in One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (Turn to number 962 in our hymn book.) Read more of Newman’s writings here.
If you are looking to better understand this Truth, for your own knowledge or to explain it to others, then one of the clearest explanations of the Three-in-Oneness of God is to be found in Frank Sheed’s book, Theology for Beginners, chapter 5, The Three Persons. This can be further simplified in order to explain it to our children; they also have a right to the Truth, and we have a duty to do our best to teach them. It is vital to remember, though, that to simplify does not mean to water down or to omit truth.
For those who would postpone such teaching until children are ‘old enough’ (and who of us will ever be ‘old enough’ to fully understand this particular Doctrine?!), they would do well to heed the words of a renowned educational psychologist, Jerome Bruner, who said that “…anything can be taught to any one, at any age, as long as it is properly thought out first…”. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (whose Mother died when Thérèse was four years old) once asked her mother (Saint Zélie Martin) about our capacity for God and was shown two very different sized containers, each filled to the brim with water; as Zélie explained to her daughter, just as each vessel was completely filled, God fills us with His Grace according to our created capacity and our openness to it. Any preparation required to teach our precious young people will be very beneficial to teachers as well as their pupils.
Take heart in that if you find yourself pondering and puzzling over this Doctrine, so did the great Theologians! Only God can fully understand Himself! For a more detailed exposition of the subject we have, of course, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Section 2, the Profession of the Christian Faith) intended by the Teaching Authority (or Magisterium) of the Church as the ‘yardstick’ against which all publications claiming to be Catholic, including your children’s R.E. materials, must be assessed.
In this day and age, this Doctrine may be a stumbling block to be overcome in a journey of Faith. It takes Prayer and perseverance to break down barriers; we cannot allow our human limitations to be transferred to God. We have to make a ‘leap of faith’ over the barrier! Our loving Belief in and Witness to this fundamental and deep Truth will effectively help to overcome any doubts and objections which can be raised. Our lives must be permeated by this belief which we express, among other ways, in making the Sign of the Cross and in reciting the Creed every Sunday and Solemnity.
As we know, Our Father has created each us to know, love and serve Him, and so fulfil His Plan that we live eternally with Him in Heaven. As we also know, Adam and Eve, through disobedience, lost for themselves and us, original Innocence and the joy of going straight to Heaven. As we proclaim in the Creed, in His Infinite Love, God sent His Son, who took on Human flesh and was born of Mary. Perfect man, through total and loving obedience to the Will of His Father, while living on Earth, He founded the Catholic Church and died on the Cross to atone for sins committed since the beginning of the world and for all that will be committed until the end of time. Having perfectly paid the ‘debt’, Our Lord Rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven, having promised that He would be with us, ‘until the end of time..’.
How was this promise carried out? The immediate answer is through the Church He established, passing His Godly Power and Authority to the Apostles, the first Pope, Bishops and Priests, commanding them to teach and make people holy, bringing Grace to us through the Mass and the Sacraments and ever proclaiming Truth and correcting error. The Bishops had the power to ordain men who would carry on this mission on His behalf until the end of time. Pope Francis, Archbishop Peter and Bishop Pat are part of an unbroken line reaching back to the Apostles at the Last Supper, back, therefore to God Himself. Every Priest has that link with the Saviour; he is ordained to be an alter Christus (another Christ) especially when, at Mass, with Christ’s Power, he re-enacts the once-for-all Sacrifice of Calvary and, in Confession when he absolves (forgives) us from our sins.
Since Holy Mother Church was founded, She has celebrated countless men and women who, through their example and, sometimes through sacrificing their lives, have given great lessons in living the Faith. We also celebrate the Angels, spirits created to serve God (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church 325ff). The following is a summary, given in the hope that it will provide a stimulus for research.
Friday, 29th September. Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels: Michael (Revelation 12:7), credited with leading the Angels obedient to God against the rebellion of Satan. Those who came to be known as fallen angels, in refusing to serve God, literally sent themselves to that eternal separation from the Creator we call Hell. Pope Leo XIII composed the prayer seeking his intercession (‘Holy Michael Archangel….’). Very sorely needed today, you can find the full text in the prayer section of our Parish Website. Gabriel (Luke 26ff) brought Mary the news of her Vocation to be Mother of our Redeemer. Raphael appears in the Old Testament book of Tobit.
Saturday, 30th September: Saint Jerome a Doctor (particularly, a teacher of Theology or Doctrine) of the Church who, most notably, translated the Bible, a lot of it originally written in Greek and, perhaps Hebrew, into Latin, still the language of the Universal Church.
Infallibility, per se, covers the formal definition of a Doctrine, which we must believe, by the Pope, in his Office of Supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the Faithful. This gift is extended to the College (or Body) of Bishops who, perhaps in an Ecumenical Council, in union with the Pope, propose, as coming from God, a Doctrine for our belief. For a more detailed explanation of Infallibility, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 890-892. See also the Vatican Council document, Lumen Gentium, 25.
How does this freedom from error in the Teaching of Catholic Dogma work? We know, for example, how certain changes have been made to the outward way (i.e. the language and actions) that Mass has been offered. The essence of the Mass, however, is unchanged. Acting in the person of Our Lord, who commanded, “Do this in memory of Me”, Father, our priest, still re-enacts the once-and-for-all Saving Sacrifice of Calvary for our participation; he changes bread and Wine into Jesus Himself, offers Him for us all to the Heavenly Father, Who Himself offers Jesus to us in Holy Communion.
During the coming week we will recall two other great defenders of the Truth: Monday, Convert and Theologian, Saint Augustine of Hippo; Tuesday, Saint John the Baptist, beheaded for publicly defending God’s Laws regarding Marriage. Then, on Wednesday, comes the memorial of Saints Margaret Mary Clitherow, Anne Line and Margaret Ward, three of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, all of whom were put to death for hiding, sheltering and protecting Catholic Priests. May their Prayers strengthen all who are called to be our Shepherds!
This coming Tuesday, we shall celebrate, as a Holy Day of Obligation, (i.e. we are obliged to go to Mass as we are on a Sunday) the Assumption of our Blessed Mother, Mary, body and soul into Heaven, at the end of her life on Earth. This Truth, to be believed by the Faithful Worldwide, was officially proclaimed by Pope Pius XII on 1st November 1950, in the Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, although, as research will show, this Privilege of Our Lady had been celebrated by the Faithful in various parts of the world for a long time prior to this.
How does today’s Solemnity relate to this? As we know, God did not abandon our First Parents as they clearly deserved. He promised that, in the fullness of time, He would send his Son, in human form, through a Virgin Mother, to live among us, undo the consequences of man’s sin and so lead us back onto the ‘road’ to Heaven, that destiny which Original Sin had denied us. In order that His Son would ‘take flesh’ the Father chose and prepared a very special Mother. As a member of the Human Race Jesus would, as are all babies, be conceived (in His case through the Power of the Holy Spirit rather than through a human father) and grow in His Mother’s Womb for nine months. As Perfect God-made-man, Our Lord would come to us through a Perfect human Mother. Those of us who are familiar with the history of Mary’s appearances to Saint Bernadette in Lourdes, in 1858, will recall that Our Lady, when asked by Bernadette for her name, replied, “I am the Immaculate Conception”. This Teaching had, at the time, only recently been formally proclaimed by Pope Pius IX, on 8th December 1854, in the papal bull, Ineffabilis Deus, as an article of Faith, to be believed by us all. Put simply, it means that from the very moment she was conceived through the love of her human Parents, Saints Joachim and Anne, the stain of Original Sin was prevented from touching her soul. God, being Infinite, seeing past, present and future, applied the Saving Merits of Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection to Mary’s soul at its creation; she was, from the very start of her existence, ‘Full of Grace’ as Adam and Eve had been in their state of innocence, before they sinned. What Mary never lost, we regain through Baptism. The Church also holds that, in addition to her perfection of soul and freedom from any inclination to sin from conception, Mary, endowed as we all are, with Free Will, never committed any personal sin throughout her life.
We all live, grow old (please God) and die. Our body, through burial or cremation, returns ‘to the dust of the Earth’. Our soul, if we die in the State of Grace, enters Heaven, usually by way of purification in Purgatory (unless we die as Saints!). The Church teaches that, at the end of time, our bodies, then perfect, will be restored to us. As Perfect Mother of God, Mary was not to have to wait for her bodily glorification until the end of time; Through today’s Solemnity, the Church continues to teach that Mary, at the end of her earthly life, however that end actually came, was Assumed (or taken, body and Soul) into Heavenly Glory. This Solemnity of the Church is sometimes referred to as the ‘Dormition’ (or ‘falling asleep’) of Mary.
Mary watches over us, her children, ever calling us to, “Do whatever He tells you”.
“O Mary, Conceived without sin, Pray for us who have recourse to thee!”
God, as we know, loves us as only He, our Creator, can. The reason for our continued existence, from the moment of our conception, is that He holds us, constantly, in His Mind; in fact, everything that exists, whether animal, vegetable or mineral, down to the smallest undiscovered particle, exists because it is ever in the Mind of God. Even the most loving and conscientious of earthly parents cannot have this infinite view of the Life of their offspring or see clearly how and when we will come to face Eternity. Small wonder then, that the Church, founded by Our Lord to protect and guide us in His stead, is very definite in Her Teachings. As any loving parent will direct their children’s lives towards Good and train them to perceive and avoid what is (even if outwardly attractive) evil and, therefore, harmful, so the Church makes very clear to us what must be done and indeed what must be avoided if we are to reach Heaven as planned.
God’s creatures are, as Matthew underlines in his Gospel, a ‘mixed bunch’. Due to the Original Sin of our First Parents, Adam and Eve, we do not, naturally, incline to Good. We can become very worldly, in danger of coming to believe that our destiny is entirely our own affair and that, whatever we do or do not do in this life, ‘everything will come right in the end’, seemingly believing that we know better than God!
God, unlike His creatures, cannot change. Our love for Him cannot be forced; it must freely come ‘from the heart’. However, all is not ‘doom and gloom’. As the psalmist says, God knows us ‘…through and through…’. Unlike the often subjective media, He truly sees our good points and our bad; more importantly, He sees our intentions in making decisions and whether it is through ignorance or wilful rejection of the truth that any of us depart from the, ‘...straight and narrow way…’. God will keep calling us to Him until our earthly life is over. Let us continually beg Him, challenging though life may well be, for the Grace to enable us to stay on (or get back on) the road to Eternal Happiness!
Today’s Entrance Antiphon anticipates the Joy which will be ours when, following a life of faithfulness to God, we come before Him at our Judgement and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant….”. Today we consider how God provides us, through the Pope, Bishops and Priests, the Teachings of the Church and the Sacraments, with the means to reach Eternal Life and our fundamental responsibility to make use of these means.
Isaiah compares weather conditions, which nurture growing crops, with God’s Word, which stimulates our spiritual growth. Of course, just as crops cannot grow and flourish without the farmer’s efforts in conjunction with the weather so, to attain Eternal Happiness, we must ‘take on board’ and act upon God’s Truth, aided by His Grace.
The Responsorial Psalm might be read as a ‘companion piece’ to the Gospel, talking lyrically of God the Creator’s limitless Love which provides for us in this life, seeks our willing response, and, so, brings us to live forever in Eternal Joy once our time on Earth is over.
A major stumbling block for some could be the growing materialism and declining moral standards of the world, so clearly in opposition to our Creator. Satan, knowing as he does that God will, in the end, triumph over evil, nevertheless does not give up tempting souls to join him. Temptations will only cease when we enter Eternity.
Of course, Good Shepherd that He is, God does not cease to love, watch over and call each and every one of us to Himself until the day we die. Those who drift away may, please God, in time, return to the practice of their Faith. It is an act of Charity (certainly not judgmental) to pray for the return of our lapsed Brothers and Sisters, sometimes nicknamed ‘resting Catholics’. It is exceedingly unwise, however, to gamble one’s Eternity by putting off a return to the Church on the basis that ‘God won’t let me be lost’. Saint Augustine reminds us that God created us without our co-operation but makes our Salvation totally dependent upon that co-operation throughout our life. God knows (but we can rarely be certain) when we shall die and come before Him, but to love Him and go to Heaven is a choice He will not force upon us. Love must come freely from our heart in return for His Love, as we meditated more deeply in June.
Christ’s parable, of course, ends on a ‘high-note’; countless souls will hear, be inspired and live by the Church’s Teachings, thereby coming, as planned, to be happy with God forever in Heaven, the “…glory…which is waiting for us”, as Saint Paul writes.
If you are looking to better understand this Truth, perhaps to explain it to others, then one of the clearest explanations of the Three-in-Oneness of God is to be found in Frank Sheed’s book, Theology for Beginners, chapter 5, The Three Persons. This can be further simplified in order to explain it to our children; they also have a right to the Truth and we have a duty to do our best to teach them. For those who would postpone such teaching until children are ‘old enough’ (and who of us will ever be ‘old enough’ to understand it?!), you would do well to heed the words of a renowned educational psychologist, Jerome Bruner, who said that anything can be taught to anyone at any age as long as it is properly thought out first. Such forethought will be very beneficial to teachers as well as those being taught.
In this day and age this Doctrine may be a stumbling-block to be overcome in a journey of Faith. It takes Prayer and perseverance to break down barriers; we cannot allow our human limitations to be transferred to God. We have to make a ‘leap of faith’ over the barrier!
The image is 'The Holy Trinity' a miniature from the Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany, Queen consort of France (1477-1514).
God the Father is depicted on the left, God the Son (Jesus) on the right, holding a book with seven seals open to the Alpha and Omega passage, and the Dove of God The Holy Spirit in the centre. The animal symbols of the Four Evangelists are depicted in the corners.
These children showed very clearly what it is to truly love God and offered sacrifices in atonement for those who, sadly, had deserted Him. They were, in spite of their tender years, persecuted for their faith, even being put in prison and threatened with death if they did not reveal certain secrets told to them by Mary; to read of these secrets, see www.catholicexchange.com/three-secrets-fatima-revealed, among many other websites. Through their steadfast love for, and trust in God and His Mother, who told them that they would, indeed, go to Heaven, they refused to be coerced into revealing anything. God would do this in His own Good Time. As a result of this courage they are, among other things, Patrons of people made fun of for showing their piety, i.e. loving reverence, towards the Faith. Today, as we know, around the world, there are many literally still giving their lives for their faith. However, even if one is not called upon to die (and most of us will probably not), one must be prepared, these days, to encounter anything from misunderstanding to concerted opposition for publicly upholding the teachings of the Church, particularly in the area of Morality; some of our Brothers and Sisters round the world have been known to risk their livelihoods because they have ‘dared’ to stand firmly with God. Saints Francisco and Jacinta are to be heartily recommended as Patrons for adults and children alike! God grant us Courage to live Holy lives! Mother Mary, protect us! Saints Francisco and Jacinta, pray for us!
If you cannot, physically, visit Fátima, you can, via the internet, join in with the Pilgrims; there is a live feed from the Capelinha (Chapel of the Apparitions) www.fatima.pt/en/pages/online-transmissions. Mass, is often offered there, in languages from around the world; The Rosary is said at 6:30pm every day except Sunday, when it is at 4pm. Very often, particularly on the 13th of the Month, the ‘major’ liturgies are televised; see them online or via satellite on EWTN. It is heartening, too, in an increasingly Godless age, to see often extensive coverage of these liturgies on the Portuguese National Channel, RTP1, also available via internet and satellite. Mind you, Our Lady did tell the children that the Faith would always be kept in Portugal
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church