Once again, we are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We celebrate the momentous event which is the basis of our faith; this, more than anything, conclusively proves that Jesus is, as He claimed to be, God and, therefore, Conqueror of Death. Jesus took on our Human Nature, living (though without sin) and dying as will we all. Because He then, through His Godly, Power, took up again the life He had laid down on Calvary, He opened the way for every one of us (should we so choose) to follow Him into Eternal Happiness; the broken route to our created destiny was restored. We are offered the chance to, one day, pass beyond this limited earthly life to join Him eternally in our True Home, Heaven!
In our age of widespread education for all, ignorance is, generally, no excuse for departing from the ‘straight and narrow way’. Through the teachings of the Church, challenging as we may well find them, we can be sure of knowing what we must do (or not do) in order, one day, to share in Christ’s Risen Life in Heaven.
Satan, of course, is only too aware of the immense Power opposing him, a Power which will, eventually, totally vanquish him. He does not cease to try and spread confusion and dissent, sadly, sometimes among Catholics too; one may find oneself unpopular for upholding the Truth. The mass media can, as we are aware, be a tool for good or evil.
Alarmingly, there can sometimes be presented to us a somewhat one-sided view of Divine Love. God loves us. Of that there is no doubt; He created us to, ultimately, enjoy Eternal Happiness - again true! We do well to remember, though, that if we are to get there, we too, have a part to play. We, as Human Beings, are endowed with Intelligence and Free Will. As St. Augustine noted, "God, who created you without your consent, will not (it could read cannot) save you without your co-operation.". In other words, if we are to attain Heaven we must work at it, to the best of our ability, obeying God's Laws - challenging as they may be - or, to put things another way, to reach our journey's hoped-for end we must follow the route map!
If we misuse a domestic appliance and it goes wrong, it is no use claiming under the guarantee! Likewise with our God-given life; It must be lived in accordance with the Maker's Instructions in order to lead us to Heaven.
On Palm Sunday, we approach the climax of Our Lord’s Mission to save us. He established the One True Church which offers us the fullness of the Truth He brought and the means to persevere in Grace until death. Although God Incarnate, He atoned to the Father for our sins. The Eternal Son of the Father would be, in a ‘rigged’ trial, falsely accused of blasphemy and subsequently Crucified on Calvary. As far as those who opposed Him were concerned, ‘problem solved!’.
Today, at the 11:30 Mass, we begin our Liturgy outside the church and, starting from the hall, we process to the church, commemorating our Lord’s triumphant Entry into Jerusalem: Through the words of the Entrance Antiphon, we join the rapturous crowds who, on that day, gave Christ the King a ‘royal welcome’, lauding Him, truly, as ‘…he who comes in the name of the Lord…’, carpeting His route with palms. The Palm Crosses which we receive today should prompt us to contemplate His Offering of His Life in order to restore our Eternity. They should also inspire us to pray that we may offer our ‘Crosses’ (i.e. setbacks and sufferings) which God permits us to bear in this life, in loving union with His Passion and Death, so bringing us to live eternally with Him.
Entry into Jerusalem - from Pietro Lorenzetti’s Assisi Frescoes, 1320
Through the Gospel account, read in the hall (Mark 11:1-10), we follow the final preparations for the Entry into Jerusalem and Christ’s welcome by the crowds, many of whom would later be calling for His Death! How many times have we reacted uncharitably to someone who, perhaps out of loving concern, pointed out our faults to us?
The First Reading read in church, (Isaiah 50:4-7), puts before us Isaiah’s prophecy of the brutal treatment meted out to God Incarnate. While, especially in more anti-Semitic times, the Jewish People were conveniently portrayed as the ‘villains of the piece’, we would do well to consider that each and every one of us, each and every sin committed until the end of time, caused our Saviour to Die.
Through the words of the Responsorial psalm (Psalm 21: 8-9, 17-20, 23-24, response v2) we are privileged to join in spirit with Our Lord, hanging in agony on the Cross, uttering that seeming cry of despair, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’. Just as we must never presume that we can get to Heaven without the help of God’s Grace, neither must we commit the sin of Judas, despairing that God cannot or will not forgive us, if we repent of the gravest of sins.
Saint Paul, writing to the Philippians (Philippians 2:6-11), lays before us true Humility. Christ Himself, Second Person of the Trinity though He is, brought Himself down to our Human level (‘…in all things but sin…’), innocently died a criminal’s death, and demonstrated to us the immense Power of God, Who alone, can triumph ultimately over evil, however crushed we may be by it. We proclaim this truth in the Gospel Acclamation (Philippians 2:8-9).
Finally, in the Gospel (Mark 14:1-15:47), the Passion narrative, we hear of the betrayal of Our Lord by Judas, the Last Supper and first Ordination Mass and Christ’s Agony as He contemplated, in Gethsemane, the horrors of His coming Passion and the sins of all time for which He was to Atone. We stand witness to the desertion of the Disciples, to the sham trial and the brutality of His captors, to Peter’s denial of his Master, and then to the agonising Crucifixion and Death of our Blessed Lord, followed by His Burial in the Tomb.
How obviously do our lives as Catholics demonstrate our Faith and stand as a ‘sign of contradiction’? Do our words and actions show others that we really believe that, ‘Christ has Died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again!’?
To the right of the side-door is Saint Francis of Assisi, (‘il Poverello’ or ‘the Little Poor Man’), another Saint marked with the Stigmata, who renounced wealth and privilege for a simple life totally centred on and reliant upon God, thereby founding the Franciscan Order, in Italy. At the back of the church, to the left, is Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a French Carmelite Nun, often called ‘The Little Flower’ (Although not a timid Soul!!). Through her ‘Little Way’ she shows us how every life, however ‘insignificant’ anyone may consider it, can be lived for and offered to God; not one of us, unless we choose, can fail to get to Heaven; each of us, as Saint Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, also taught, is called by God to be holy, doing what we can whenever and wherever God calls us to be. This Universal Call to Holiness was later, again, proclaimed by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
Across the church, near to the Confessional, is Saint Anthony of Padua, a monk born in Portugal who died in Italy, often referred to as ‘the Wonder-worker’ and often prayed to when things go missing.
When you go to Confession you will see, in the Reconciliation Room, statues of Saint Anne with her little Daughter, Our Lady and The Infant Jesus of Prague (from the Czech Republic). Prior to the re-ordering of our church, this area was, as some may remember, the site of the Baptistery, hence the stained glass window, seen to one’s right as one enters the room, depicting the Baptism of the Lord by Saint John the Baptist, a very appropriate image when we consider that, through Confession, Grace first received in Baptism is increased or even restored. Why not research a Saint or a particular devotion to Our Lord or Our Lady originating in the Country in which you may have Roots! Our Parish is truly blessed through the many Races and Cultures which contribute to our thriving Community! “Catholic”, after all, means “Universal”, i.e. for all People / Races / Nations!
Before arriving at the Blessed-Sacrament Altar we may light a ‘candle’ at the Sacred Heart Shrine (a candle was first lit for us at our Baptism), a sign of the Light of Christ in our Souls); this statue, revealed by Our Lord to Saint Margaret-Mary Alacoque, shows His Heart pierced by the spear and Crowned with Thorns, recalling the intense Love for us which drove Him to Suffer and Die on the Cross. He asked Saint Margaret-Mary to spread devotion to His Heart, so saving the souls of many who had once doubted or even rejected his Love. At Christmas we see displayed here, for our veneration, the Nativity scene while, over the side-door opposite, the Three Kings journey towards Bethlehem for the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, when Christ was revealed as Saviour of the World’s Peoples.
The pair of doors with a Cross and light above them next to the Sacred Heart Shrine are entrances to another small private room where, if there are several priests available, confessions may also be heard.
Near to the Blessed Sacrament Altar is Saint Patrick, Missionary to and Patron Saint of Ireland, ever listening for prayers for that Land where so many of us have our Roots. Also, spaced round the wall of the church you will see 12 candles and 12 crosses. These signify the Twelve Apostles who Jesus called to be the first Priests and Bishops of the Catholic Church. These crosses mark the places anointed by the Archbishop with Chrism (Holy oil) when he consecrated (specially dedicated or gave) our church to God’s Service. We, too, were anointed with this Holy Oil at our Baptism and, later, at our Confirmation. These candles will be lighted on certain occasions such as the Anniversary of the dedication (naming) of the Church by our Archbishop, at the Easter Vigil, representing the Risen Christ, and at Midnight and Christmas Day Masses, representing Christ, the Light of the World who helps us ‘see’ the way to Heaven. Looking away from the High-Altar, up towards the choir-gallery, we see the circular (rose) window, depicting Christ the King (part of this image is also on our Parish Website), Whose Feast brings to a close each Liturgical Year.
Close to the Font is the Paschal (Easter) Candle which represents the Risen Christ, the Beginning and End of all things, denoted by the Greek letters alpha (A) and omega (Ω), with five grains of incense standing for His Five Glorious Wounds in His Hands, Feet and Side, and from which our Baptismal Candle is lit as our Parents, with the support of our Godparents, promise to “…keep the Light of Christ burning…”, i.e. to bring us up, through word and example, as Practising Catholics. Just as it is lighted as we begin our Faith Journey, it will shine out on the day of our Requiem Mass, as our Brothers and Sisters in Christ pray that we are now sharing in His Resurrection in Heaven.
Over the rear door is Saint Joseph, the ‘Spouse most Chaste’ of Our Blessed Mother and Foster-Father of our Redeemer and in the opposite corner, Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr, Patron Saint of our Parish. In this Chapel are three stained glass windows: they depict the Gospel, spread by Saint Bartholomew, Our Lord, the Sacrificial Lamb and St. Joseph, Jesus' Foster-Father, represented by woodworking tools.
In the larger part of the church, to the right of the High-Altar, is Our Lady’s Altar, reminding us that, by her ‘Yes’ to the Archangel Gabriel, Mary made possible God’s Plan for our Salvation by conceiving and carrying in her Womb the Child who was to grow to adulthood, found the Church, offer His Life for us 33 years later and come to us personally every time we receive Holy Communion.
In the wall of the Lady Chapel, above the benches, are more Stained glass windows: The three main windows depict the Nativity of Our Lord. Above them are images of Mary, our Mother’s Queenship, a Crown and a letter M. Saint Pope John Paul II incorporated the M into his coat of arms, together with the motto, “Totus Tuus”, (“All Yours!”)
Votive lights and flowers, nearby, are signs for others of our love for and devotion to our Mother, into whose Protection Jesus placed us as He suffered and died on the Cross. To the left and right of Our Lady’s Shrine are pictures, marking special devotions to Mary; Our Lady of perpetual Succour (Help), an icon (or holy picture) from the Eastern Church and, from Poland, Our Lady of Częstochowa, sometimes known as the Black Madonna.
Moving clockwise round the church we next see Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, generally known as Padre (Father) Pio, an Italian Capuchin Priest who bore on his body the Wounds (Stigmata) of Christ’s Passion and, during many hours spent hearing Confessions, reconciled countless souls to God; we do well to pray for his intercession for Priests hearing Confessions and for ourselves, in need of God's Mercy and seeking it through this wonderful Sacrament.
In the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, the Sanctuary lamp and Tabernacle veil (cover) remind us that Jesus is really here in church among us, waiting for our loving greeting. The two small windows immediately to the left of this Altar show the Lamb of Sacrifice and a pelican, a bird which will feed its young on its own blood if their survival is in question; both of these are reminders that Christ, the Lamb of God, Shed His Blood for us.
The Mosaic framing the Tabernacle represents the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, which prefigured how, at every Mass, Christ who, that day, fed thousands in a hungry crowd with earthly food would, one day, feed our souls with Himself in Holy Communion, the Food of Life which will help us be made stronger and avoid doing bad things on our way to Heaven. In this mosaic are also the Paschal Lamb, some grapes and a Chalice, recalling the Sacrificial Death of Christ once-for-all on Calvary.
In the Chapel’s main side window, above the benches, we see portrayed the Last Supper, at which Jesus gave His Apostles, our first Priests, their First Holy Communion and to whom he gave His Power to change bread and Wine into his Living Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity to give to us at Mass. In the round window above this scene is an image of the letters X and P, from the beginning of the Name of Christ in Greek (‘Chi’ and ‘Rho’), a language in which the Faith was first preached. The same image is to be found on the Altar Rail in front of the votive candle stand, and on the Blessed Sacrament Altar itself, reminding us that, as well as being Priest and Victim, Christ is the Altar of Sacrifice. On Maundy (Holy) Thursday, after the Commemoration of the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, the High (main) Altar is stripped bare, looking towards the bleakness of Calvary following Christ’s Death on Good Friday and, until midnight, the Blessed Sacrament reposes in the Tabernacle for our Adoration, as Christ’s Body rested in the Tomb.
Above the High Altar is the Crucifix (i.e. the Cross with the figure of Christ on it), because, on the Altar, at every Mass, the once-for-all Sacrifice of the Cross is, through the hands and words of the Priest, made present for our participation. If we are privileged to have one of our Priests come and offer Mass for us in our home, he will place a Crucifix on whatever serves as an Altar of Sacrifice. It also reminds us that we pray in the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. On the reverse of this particular Crucifix is depicted Christ Rising from the Dead and reaching for His Crown.
Lower down on the wall, progressing round our church, beginning near the entrance to the Sacristy (where Father and the Altar Servers get ready before Mass) and ending near the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, we have 14 Stations of the Cross (also called the Way of the Cross), pictures which trace the Journey of Love made by Jesus from His trial in the Roman Governor’s court to His Burial in the Tomb. These Stations are a link with the actual way of the Cross, still walked by Pilgrims in Jerusalem, making it possible for us to be ‘in spirit’ on that holy ground which we may not necessarily ever be able to visit in person.
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church