A Pastoral Letter for Entering into the New Year with Mary, Mother of God

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A PASTORAL LETTER FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER

FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

Appointed to be read aloud at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster on the weekend of 31 December 2016/1 January 2017.

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My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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One week ago today, Christmas Day, we celebrated the birth in Bethlehem of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We pondered and reflected then on the humble circumstances of this child’s birth in a manger, and how Almighty God surely does work in wonderful and unusual ways. Today, in our liturgy the spotlight falls on Mary, whom the Church honours with that most remarkable of titles, Mother of God. And with that title we are touching here on the very mystery of our redemption.

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In the Hail Mary, we declare Mary to be blessed among women, for in her motherhood the child she bore was both God and man, her Son and God’s Son. As a mother, it would be Mary’s vocation to nurture and rear this child, and so play her part in presenting Him to the world as its Saviour. In common with all of us, Mary had her particular role to play in family life, and facing all the uncertainties of exile in Egypt, living under Roman domination, and finally watching as the circumstances of her Son’s public ministry unfolded, and which would end on His cross on Calvary.

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The liturgy speaks of Mary as being ‘the highest honour of our race’, because of her incomparable dignity as the mother of God’s Son. The late Pope, now Saint John Paul II, was fond of calling Mary the ‘woman of faith’, because through her assent in faith to the angel Gabriel she made possible the Incarnation of God’s only Son, and ultimately our eternal salvation. Her own words were, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.’ These words are indicative of the profound faith of the young Virgin of Nazareth.

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We begin a new calendar year today, moving into a future with all its hopes and uncertainties. Our Blessed Lady too had to face many new years in her own lifetime, but her faith would sustain her in good times and in bad. As we honour the Mother of God today, let her example of solid faith in the purposes of God inspire us. We remember too that, in Christ, we are her sons and daughters, and she is our mother. May the Mother of God pray for us now, and always, and especially at the hour of our death.

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I wish you, dear brothers and sisters, a very happy New Year, and be assured of my prayers and a blessing.

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Yours sincerely in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

 

N.B.  The Bishop’s Blog will resume posting on 21 January 2017.

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My Christmas Message

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The Bishop's Blog

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blogas we enter into the Feast of Christmas!

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Christmas time and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, is a welcome festival of light during these dark winter days of late December. For Christians the birth of this child is no ordinary birth, but marks the coming of the long-awaited Messiah, whom we believe to be both the Son of God as well as the Son of the Virgin Mary.

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The nativity plays, so popular with school children and parents, always succeed in capturing the attractiveness and appealing simplicity of that scene in Bethlehem. The child enters our world in the surroundings of a manger, because no better accommodation was available to Mary and Joseph. The new-born child’s first visitors were humble shepherds on night duty with their flocks, having been alerted to the arrival of a child who would…

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My Christmas Message

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog as we enter into the Feast of Christmas!

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Christmas time and the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, is a welcome festival of light during these dark winter days of late December. For Christians the birth of this child is no ordinary birth, but marks the coming of the long-awaited Messiah, whom we believe to be both the Son of God as well as the Son of the Virgin Mary.

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The nativity plays, so popular with school children and parents, always succeed in capturing the attractiveness and appealing simplicity of that scene in Bethlehem. The child enters our world in the surroundings of a manger, because no better accommodation was available to Mary and Joseph. The new-born child’s first visitors were humble shepherds on night duty with their flocks, having been alerted to the arrival of a child who would bring God’s peace from heaven to earth.

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Christmas is a time when families normally feel the need to be together, to celebrate the feast with those closest to them. Ideally, Christmas should unite and strengthen family ties. We know that this is not always the case, but the example of that special family of Nazareth can inspire us to meet together the challenges which our families often face.

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The expectant Mary and Joseph her spouse found themselves in circumstances not of their own making, and had to cope as best they could as Mary’s time drew near. What sustained them would be their faith in one another, and in God’s unfailing providence. They looked to heaven for support and the courage to carry on.

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Shortly after the birth of Christ, we are told, the family was forced to flee from the jealous and murderous King Herod who had evil designs on the child.  They left quickly in the night and became refugees in the land of Egypt, where they were destined to remain for some time until the death of the tyrant.

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Our television screens and media in general have beamed graphic images of fleeing refugees in the twenty-first century.

Kosovar refugees fleeing their homeland. [Blace area, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia]

Christmas and the story of the family of Jesus should sensitize us to the plight of these poor brothers and sisters of ours. We do what we can to help them materially, but let us also commend them to our God and Father that he protect them as he did the family of his own Son.

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Christmas blessings and peace to everyone!

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+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

An Advent Post!

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Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog – as we face into this last week of Advent!

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The principal liturgical seasons of the Church’s year, such as Advent, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, are intended to lead us ever more deeply, in the words of St. Paul, into the mystery that is Christ. By fully participating in the liturgical celebrations of these particular seasons we are drawn year after year ever closer to Him who is the centre of the Church’s worship.

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In the Scripture readings of Advent, for example, we are invited to make our own the steadfast hope and earnest yearnings of faithful believers for the promised saviour in the long centuries before Christ. By allowing ourselves to join in spirit these devout souls of long ago, prophets, priests and kings, we too enkindle our own desire for Christ to enter our lives and our world afresh. The celebration of his birthday at Christmas poses again the question: who is this child, where has he come from, what does he mean for me, and for the world?

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The apostle Paul on the Fourth Sunday of Advent refers to the promises made by God long before in the Scriptures and which he has now fulfilled, both in the birth of Christ in the line of King David, and in his resurrection from the dead through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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What an amount of faith and theology is contained in these two statements! The Christ-child lying in the manger is the long promised Son of David, while the universal Church today worships him as her risen Lord. The Advent liturgy intends us to be astonished at such truths. Like the little ones, we adults need to be truly child-like before the scene in the manger.

Duccio di Buoninsegna (Italian, c. 1255 - 1318 ), The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, 1308/1311, tempera on single panel, Andrew W. Mellon Collection

The Evangelist Matthew was in no doubt that the prophecy of Isaiah, uttered some eight-hundred years before Christ, was in fact referring to him as being the true Emmanuel, God-with-us, born of the Virgin Mary.

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The Advent liturgy for the Fourth Sunday of Advent invites us to stop and wonder at the profound mystery of God’s deed in the conception of his Son. We are to muse prayerfully on this mystery, without ever fully understanding it. Let us draw immense consolation that all this has taken place, in the words of the Creed, for our salvation.

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The liturgy on Sunday also sets before us the example of the faithful and reliable Joseph. His actions speak far more eloquently than words. He took the pregnant Virgin Mary as his spouse. He was convinced in his heart that such was the divine will, and he would prove to be a sure guardian of the child Jesus and protector of his mother. Perhaps the Advent liturgy on Sunday has that lesson for us. Like Joseph, our lives of faith can be unspectacular, at times seemingly plodding.

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The Lord God depended on Joseph and was not disappointed. May Joseph inspire us to stand, wonder, and above all believe at the coming presence of the new-born child, who is none other than Emmanuel, God-with-us.

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As ever in Christ,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

In the Service of God and His People

Dear Friends in Christ,

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Welcome back to the Bishop’s Blog for this week!

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The deep richness of the Church’s liturgy was impressed upon me on two occasions this week. The first was on Wednesday evening, the vigil of the solemnity of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, when I presided at Benediction and gave the homily to conclude the novena for the feast in St. Walburge’s church, Preston.

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The splendid sanctuary of this church, (a church which cannot be described as other than magnificent, and is now under the diligent and watchful care of the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest,) with its backdrop of candles and flowers spoke eloquently to me of the majesty and beauty of almighty God.

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The essentially simple rite of Benediction, and the accompanying prayers, allowed us worshippers the time to be still, just to be in the presence of the Lord in Eucharistic adoration.  To read my Homily please click here.

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Liturgy, which might be described as ‘the service of God’, is meant to transform us, and to provide a glimpse of a quite different reality, that of the mystery and majesty of God.

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Those who built St. Walburge’s church and its like, intended through their skill to convey in stone something of God’s grandeur and glory, and so raise the minds and hearts of those who passed through its doors.

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To take part in Benediction in the noble and exalted surroundings of St. Walburge’s last Wednesday evening, exemplified for me the timeless beauty of our liturgy, and its unfailing capacity to put us in touch with that other world, so much greater than ourselves.

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The second instance of my being aware of the power of the liturgy was the Ordination to the Diaconate in Oscott College chapel on Thursday evening of our Lancaster seminarian, Daniel Etienne.

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This historical and beautiful chapel, where Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman preached his celebrated ‘Second Spring’ sermon over one hundred and fifty years ago, lends itself perfectly to an ordination liturgy.

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Of its very nature, an Ordination evokes many emotions, and the superb singing of the seminary schola helped create the atmosphere for what was an important ecclesial moment.

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Here is my homily for the Ordination:

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‘The angel Gabriel addressed Mary as ‘highly favoured’, or as we pray in the Hail Mary, ‘full of grace.’  We might say that the hand of God rested on Mary’s shoulder in a very unique way, so unique that she was full of grace and, as today’s feast celebrates, she was in fact conceived without that original sin which affects the rest of us.  In liturgical language, she was the perfect vessel to bear the Son of the Most High.  God had indeed prepared Mary in a mysterious way for her role in the story of our salvation.

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Yet there was surely a human preparation which allowed her to say in response to the angel, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me, (Lk 1:38). Her upbringing and background as a daughter of Israel, with the rich religious history which that entails, the influence of her family and local community centred on the synagogue, together with God’s grace, helped prepare her for that moment of decision and the embrace of her life’s vocation as the Lord’s handmaid or servant.

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As you present yourself for the Order of Deacon this evening, Daniel, as Bishop I would like to acknowledge and thank all who have a hand in enabling you to arrive at this point in your life: your parents and family, the two seminaries where you have been formed, the English College, Rome, and the rector and staff here at St. Mary’s Oscott, the many friends who have supported you along the road, in good times and in bad. A vocation coming to fruition may be compared to a mosaic, whose many parts contribute to the whole. May God bless abundantly all those who have made today possible!

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Mary declared herself to be the handmaid of the Lord, and the strong Greek word is noteworthy here, for it means slave or servant-girl. Our Lady was going to be devoted totally to the service of Lord, and of course to his people. Daniel, you will be marked for life as a deacon, like Mary a servant at the disposal of others. In a real sense from now on your life won’t be your own. One of the most moving scenes in the gospel is the Last Supper setting, recorded by the Evangelist Luke (Lk 22:24-27).

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At this most critical moment we find the disciples arguing among themselves as to who was the greatest (how wide off the mark can you be!). The Lord proceeded to instruct them that in his kingdom true greatness meant being a servant, and added that he stood among them as a diakonos, as one who serves, and we know where his diaconal ministry would lead him.

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Daniel, keep always the example of Christ the deacon before your eyes. Central to your ministry will be the proclamation of the gospel in the assembly of the Church. Be yourself both a hearer and a doer of that word, and so deserve to hear one day the words of the Lord: Well done, good and faithful servant!  Enter into the joy of your Lord.   Amen! ‘

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The questioning of the candidate, the invocation of the saints in litany, the laying on of hands, the clothing with the diaconal stole and the dalmatic, and the presentation of the gifts at the offertory by the new deacon’s parents –  all fitted seamlessly into the moving liturgy of the ordination Mass.

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Many who were present remarked afterwards on the appealing tempo and ambience created by this liturgy of ordination, and what a joy it was to be part of it.

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As we speak and reflect on the Church’s liturgy, we shouldn’t wonder at its power to touch us deeply, for the teaching of the Church holds that Christ the Lord himself is present whenever his people gather to worship the Father in prayer and in praise.

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The precious time of these two very different liturgies, one in Preston and the other in Oscott College, has brought home to me the privilege of worship and the surpassing consolation that the Lord continues to walk in our midst.

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Meanwhile, we give thanks for a new deacon of the Church preparing for the Priesthood!

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Please continue to pray for Daniel and our other seminarians: Steve, Stuart and Philip on their journey to the Priesthood.  Pray for and encourage priestly vocations for service of God and His people in the Diocese of Lancaster!

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Until next week,

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As ever in Christ,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

daniel39Thanks to: Matt Roche-Sauders & Canon Poucin for the photos.

Out and about this Advent Season!

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this Advent Bishop’s Blog for this week!

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The final Visitation of the parishes in St. Herbert’s Carlisle Deanery, took place last weekend in St. Augustine’s parish, situated in the city and to the north of the river Eden. The Visitation began in the afternoon with a well-attended and, in my view, very moving service of the Anointing of the Sick.

Bishop anointing a sick person (Photo by: Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The level of faith among the frail and elderly members of the parish was almost tangible during the laying-on of hands and in the rite of anointing itself.  The Lord does indeed remain sacramentally close to his weak and sick brothers and sisters, meeting us with his spiritual power and healing at whatever stage of life’s journey we find ourselves. This service was also a fine example of how a parish looks out and cares for those of its members in need of a helping hand.

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I presided at both the Vigil and Sunday morning Masses, and it was a pleasure to be among the people and parish priest of this sound and thriving parish, and share with them the well-prepared refreshments after the Sunday Mass.

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A visit to St. Augustine’s parish invariably represents something of a trip down memory lane for me, given that I was resident in nearby Austin Friars as a priest for ten years, and where I was much earlier ordained priest.

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Carlisle Cathedral was the setting on Advent Sunday afternoon for a significant ecumenical service at which a number of Cumbrian churches marked an important step further in their covenant of cooperation first signed five years ago.

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Leaders of the Anglican, Methodist, and United Reformed Churches, together with the Salvation Army recommitted themselves to full cooperation wherever possible in every aspect of their pastoral ministry in the county of Cumbria.

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As I did five years ago, I again signed a letter of companionship on behalf of the Catholic Church with representatives of the Baptist, Quaker, and other church bodies, assuring those in covenantal partnership of our support and prayerful good wishes.

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The Cathedral was full for the occasion, and the friendly, welcoming atmosphere was yet another indication how far the Churches have moved along the path of cooperation and mutual acceptance.

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Small steps such as this are important as believers make their way to the final goal of union and communion, so desired and prayed for by the Lord himself on the night before his passion.

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On Tuesday evening, twenty-two young people received the sacrament of Confirmation in St. Kentigern’s church, – part of Christ the King & St Kentigern’s Parish, Blackpool. This parish Confirmation has become an annual occasion at this time of the year, and yet again was an excellent example of the school and parish cooperating in Confirmation catechesis, since most of those Confirmed were Year 6 in St. Kentigern’s school.

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Both the school and parish are to be congratulated on what again was an impressive liturgy of Confirmation with well-prepared candidates, with a good attendance of parents, family and parishioners.

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Afterwards in the parish social centre each of the newly-Confirmed, apart from a certificate, received a gift of a CTS bible as an excellent and invaluable memento of their Confirmation. We make our own the words of the Psalmist, that for these newly-Confirmed, ‘the word of God’ may be a light to their steps and a lamp for their path.’

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My official week concluded on Thursday with a welcome pause and an Advent day of Recollection for the clergy in Hyning Hall, the monastery of the Bernardine Sisters, near Carnforth.

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A few hours of prayer, reflection, two interesting talks on the richness of the liturgical texts at this time, with a lunch in common, all helped focus our thoughts on the Advent season just beginning.  May Advent be a season of grace and peace for all of us!

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Until next week,

May God bless you all,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster