Dear friends in Christ,
Welcome to this week’s post for the Bishop’s Blog!
On Thursday last, 7th December, in the splendid St. Walburge’s church, Preston, I preached the closing sermon (the text is here) for the Novena in honour of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I reflected afterwards on the admirable idea of having such a devotion in the form of a Novena, one which both honours Our Lady and instructs the faithful over the course of nine talks on what exactly the Church understands by this particular dogma.
It was Pope Pius IX in 1854 who declared Mary’s Immaculate Conception to be an integral part of our Catholic belief, although its roots go back many centuries in the history of the Church.
There is surely much to recommend Novenas of this nature as a form of nourishment for a Catholic’s devotional life.
To meditate during Advent, for example, over nine days on Our Blessed Lady, on her Immaculate Conception, as she is presented to us in the Scriptures, and what the Church has come to understand of the signal part she played, and still plays, in our salvation, can only be an enriching spiritual experience. St. Louis Grignion Marie was fond of saying, “To Jesus, through Mary.” The aim of the Christian life is to draw ever closer to Christ, and that is the ongoing role of Our Lady as the Mother of the Church.
The often frantic pace of modern life, especially at this time of the year, might makes us think twice before committing ourselves to a nine-day Novena, yet the rewards amply justify the effort. We stop, and answering the invitation of the Lord in the gospel “Come apart and rest for a while”, and so find another kind of rhythm more in keeping with our dignity as sons and daughters of God the Father. Yes, to stop and draw breath also shows that that we do not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the cascade of events that can consume all our wakening time nowadays.
The recent decision by the Bishops of England and Wales to restore Ascension Day to Thursday, instead of the nearest Sunday, will be welcomed by many Catholics and Christians who observe the days between the Lord’s Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as a particularly special time of prayer.
Traditionally, this liturgical period of waiting and expectation has been marked by a Novena to the Holy Spirit. It will be a joy and a comfort to have the possibility to doing this Novena once more.
There are many other opportunities for personal Novenas which we can do privately but which can bring much spiritual fruit. One suggestion would be, after the rush of Christmas, to mark quietly and prayerfully the nine days which lead to the Epiphany, which is such a significant feast for us “Gentiles”.
We could journey in spirit and in prayer with those wise men from the East, and like them discover once more the wonder of the new-born child in the stable with his mother, Mary. That would be a marvellous way to begin the New Year!
For now, continued blessings to all in this lovely season of Advent,
As ever in Christ,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster