The House community attended the Annual Mass for Deceased Clergy in the Cathedral on Tuesday, 24 November. The afternoon started with tea in the Cathedral Hall, followed by an address from Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth about the Year of Mercy. We moved to the Cathedral to lead the procession of clergy into the Mass. Our seats at the front of the Nave put us, the prospective priests of the diocese, close to the book of the names of deceased clergy in a powerful visual affirmation of the continuity of the priesthood in the Church. This evening affirmed our hopes to be ordained to and serve in that priestly ministry whose former members we remembered at the altar of God.
The Seminary moved into its present buildings in 1975, following the departure of the Sisters of Adoration Réparatrice, a congregation devoted to perpetual adoration, and it was soon felt that the layout of the Chapel was unsuited to the very different needs of a seminary community. Substantial structural work was carried out on the sanctuary in particular, but it was never finished, leaving us with a gap on the wall behind the altar. A new wooden altar was made by the seminarians themselves, but the entire scheme had not been rethought.
Nearly 40 years on, and with failing heating and the place in urgent need of cleaning and redecoration, thanks to the Growing in Faith campaign we were finally able to celebrate the completion of a beautiful new scheme for the chapel. The previous Rector, Bishop Mark O’Toole, returned on Wednesday 9 December to join us for the consecration of the new altar by Cardinal Vincent. The Nuncio and Bishop John Sherrington led the other concelebrants.
Stephen Foster the artist and Colin Kerr the architect responsible for the work were in the congregation, and brought up the altar cloths and cross after the consecration.
The entrance procession included the relics of Saints Clement I, Liberatus, Justa and John Southworth, which were placed in the altar. The altar was consecrated by prayer, by anointing with chrism and by burning a bowl of incense, and the Schola sang the plainchant texts for a dedication, each of which picks up and reflects on the moment.
The former altar has now been installed in the Oratory, where it continues to be used for early weekday Masses and during House retreats.
This is the Cardinal’s homily from the Mass:-
This evening we come to make an irrevocable act, the consecration of this stone, making it holy, setting it apart for ever. This is done, by the work of the Holy Spirit, at the request of the Church made through the mouth of Jesus, himself.
This moment brings to the surface a central aspect of our faith: that God acts with astonishing particularity: this stone, this place, this land, as Jacob said in the first reading, with connotations that echo strongly in our world to this day.
There is something potentially very shocking about this particularity and the claims that it can set up. This is so if the choice of God, the particular choice, this stone, this place, this land, is taken in an excluding or exclusive sense. We are always tempted to say: Yes, this place, and therefore not that place; Yes, this land given to me and therefore not for you; me not you as the chosen one.
We only get beyond this interpretation of God’s choice as an excluding choice only if we truly understand the purpose of this particularity of God’s actions.
Surely the pattern of God choosing ‘this place, this people, this moment’ is to point to, prepare us for, the ultimate particularity of God’s actions: the coming in the flesh of one man of the eternal Word of God. This is the most shocking thing of all: that the infinite reality of the Godhead should be expressed and made present in one time, in one place, in one particular person. Yet, and this is the key, this particularity is precisely for the benefit of all. This one man, unique in his two natures, is literally and always ‘for all’, in the shedding of his blood and in his rising from the dead.
In the reading from the Book of Genesis (Gen. 28:11-18) we are already presented with this deepest purpose of the particular choice of God in giving a land to a people. It is not for them to keep, exclusively, for themselves, but it is given so that ‘all the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants.’
In the gospel reading which we have heard, it is clear that all previous particularity now finds its fulfilment in Jesus. Worship, that key relationship between God and his people which holds a people together and directs their thoughts, words and actions, is now ‘neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.’ Old particularities are surpassed. Worship is now ‘in spirit and in truth’, in Jesus who is the fulfilment of all that Jacob glimpsed: the ‘awe-inspiring place, the house of God, the gate of heaven.’
In this particular place, here, this evening, everything points to Jesus, or it risks losing its purpose and becomes a place of exclusion. Everything points to him, and in him finds its meaning.
This is the way to understand this stone which we consecrate tonight: the five crosses carved into its surface speak of the five wounds in his body; the anointing of this stone is the anointing of his body, carried out with such love by his faithful friends; the altar is clothed and made beautiful just as he appeared in glory; from this stone, this person, the incense of our prayer arises into the presence of our Father; here the one represented offers himself and is the one by whom and with whom we are nourished for we are his bride, his body, his gathered people, his church through whom, we pray, all will people will be blest.
It is no wonder, then, that we kiss this stone with great reverence.
Just a few days ago, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa gave his first advent homily. It is well worth reading. It is a Christological reflection on ‘Lumen Gentium’ in which he explores how everything about our life in the Church flows from this bonding of ourselves to Christ. We are first of all, he insists, the spouse of Christ, joined to him in his flesh. In this way we become one body with him, and through this union, and by no other means, we become fruitful as his Church.
These are thoughts on which we can ponder as we enter into this wonderful ceremony, seeing ourselves again, and only, within this saving relationship with the Lord, seeing how all that this altar signifies, all that takes place here, is the sole source of all we aspire to be, in our human experience, in our sense of vocation and mission. From this stone flows our very life; in this stone we see our Saviour, around this stone we remember again, and again, who we are and what we are to become. ‘How awe inspiring this place is!’
Fr Cantalamessa leaves us with a particular appeal, one which should always resonate loudly, and silently, in this chapel, especially every time we gather around this altar. We proclaim and hear the words of our Lord, ‘This is my body given for you.’ Our response must always be to say with all our being: ‘Yes, Lord, and this is my body given to you, that we, you and I, Lord, may be one and that through us, Lord, from this place, may your world be blest.’
On Saturday 21 November, we not only celebrated the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but also welcomed the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Right Reverend Philip Egan, to ordain two men to the diaconate, Ross Bullock from Portsmouth diocese, and John Scott from Westminster. The Chapel was well-filled with friends and supporters as the Church received two new deacons with prayer and with joy. The ceremony was followed by a buffet lunch which allowed old friendships to be renewed and new ones begun.
On Friday 13 November, most of the house travelled to Ware to spend the day with the sisters at the Carmel. Arriving fresh from the hazards of London traffic, we received a warm welcome and coffee, tea and home-baked biscuits to console the inner man.
We moved to the Chapel where Sister Zoe delivered an inspiring talk about Saint Teresa of Avila, whose Quincentenary of birth has been celebrated this year. Sister reminded us of Teresa’s teaching about prayer, particularly her common-sense approach to many of the problems we encounter in our spiritual lives. This was followed by Mass, when we had the joy of anticipating the feast of the Saints of Carmel. An abundant lunch of soup, cheeses, pâtés and fruit with bread and hot drinks fortified some of us for brisk walks round the local countryside, and others to visit our roots at St Edmund’s Ware and to venerate the relics kept there. We came back together to celebrate Vespers.
A most enjoyable day, which affirmed the long-standing links between our communities, ended with tea and cake, and heart-felt thanks to the sisters not only for the warmth of their welcome, but more importantly for their ministry of prayer for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Ware Carmel was founded almost ninety years ago to pray for vocations and seminarians. We, the present generation, rejoice that we are sustained by this ministry as were our predecessors.