Dear Friends in Christ,
Welcome back to the Bishop’s Blog for this week!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is my homily for the Ordination:
‘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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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! ‘
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.
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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, we give thanks for a new deacon of the Church preparing for the Priesthood!
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!
Until next week,
As ever in Christ,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster