My Homily for Lancaster’s Chrism Mass for 2018

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog – in which I share my brief homily for this years Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday in Lancaster Cathedral:

‘Dear brother priests,

Two sentences from that gospel stand out for me, the first “all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him”, and the second, “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.”

Such was the attraction of Christ’s personality and the power of his words that the synagogue worshippers were transfixed. He read the passage from Isaiah with such authority that they could not take their eyes of him. They realised that he had something worthwhile to say.

As priests we act and minister in his name. As St. Paul puts it, “We are ambassadors for Christ” (2Cor.5:20), we represent him and make his gospel and ministry a reality in our own time. In a short time the oils will be blessed and consecrated – the oil of the sick, the oil of catechumens, and the oil of chrism – powerful symbols of the salvation Christ has gained for us, and we priests in a unique way are the channels of that salvation.

Through priestly ordination we have been orientated to Christ, and like that audience in the synagogue at Nazareth, our eyes have, as it were, been fixed on him.

The renewal of our priestly promises, to be made shortly, recommits us to walk that path marked out for us by Christ, for we too have been anointed to bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

The oils, transfused with the power of him who is the First-born from the dead and the Ruler of the kings of the earth serve to remind us what we are about as priests. Christ through our ministry still walks the highways and byways of this earth touching the often broken lives of all who await his word of comfort and healing.

Let us then keep our gaze fixed firmly on Christ the Lord.

“This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.”  As priests we can at times feel daunted by the overwhelming nature of the challenges we face in parish life, but the text from the Apocalypse assures us that there is One who has conquered, and lives forever triumphant with the Father –  Christ, the faithful witness.

In a very real sense the battle is over, for sin and death have been vanquished by him who died and rose again.  Our priestly vocation is to bring the fruits of Christ’s victory to the faithful people we shepherd. In spite of appearances, there is no need to be despondent or disheartened.

At the Easter Vigil the wonderfully inspiring Exultet will proclaim Christ’s triumph over sin and death. We priests have no need to fear, and like our Master let us too be faithful witnesses.  Amen.’

Until next week – As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Apostolic Administrator – Diocese of Lancaster

N.B. Most of the photos are courtesy of Andrew Dennison.

The Great Week

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog as we are about to begin Holy Week!

The Church’s liturgical year, with Christ at its centre, reaches its climax with what we call the Sacred Triduum – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Saturday/ the Easter Vigil. The events of Holy Week solemnly recall the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and our redemption through his sacrifice of love on the cross.

Beginning with Palm Sunday, the Church once more relives her Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, carrying palm branches and walking in worship and in spirit behind him. The blessed palms are often brought home and displayed prominently as a pious reminder of that first Palm Sunday and the start of what would be Our Lord’s last week on earth.

In the Cathedral of every Catholic diocese, usually on Holy Thursday, the bishop surrounded by his priests blesses the oils of catechumens, the sick and chrism which will be used in the administration of the various sacraments throughout the Diocese in the course of the next twelve months.

The Mass of Chrism, the only Mass in the Diocese that morning, has for long been an almost well-kept secret, but is open to all, and those who attend for the first time are often very taken by the rich spiritual and liturgical experience it offers.  I warmly invite everyone to join my brother priests and I for this invariably moving occasion at 11.30am in St. Peter’s Cathedral, Lancaster this coming Thursday. This will be my final time celebrating this Mass.

On Holy Thursday evening the Triduum proper begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, recalling the Lord’s institution of the Holy Eucharist in the company of the Twelve. The Church and all believers, even after two thousand years, still ponder and wonder at this astonishing ‘Mystery of Faith’, when Christ anticipated the sacrifice of himself on the following day, by declaring that the bread and wine were his body and blood, to be broken and poured out for the redemption of the world.

Our own presence at this evening Mass represents a very precious sacramental moment, when in a mysterious yet somehow real manner we join the company of the Lord and the Twelve for the first Mass in the Upper Room.   The subsequent procession to the altar of repose after Mass allows us to watch and join Christ for a time, remembering his agony in Gethsemane.

In the Good Friday liturgy we relive Christ’s final hours, his fulfilment of the Scriptures, and St. John’s account of the Passion. The unveiling of the cross and its veneration touch the believer deeply.

The liturgy concludes with a simple reception of Holy Communion and a silent departure from what is a bare and empty church, for the Lord now lies in death, enclosed in the tomb. We join Our Blessed Lady, St. John and the other women in “pondering these things in our heart.”  There are solid grounds for naming this day ‘Good Friday.’

An ancient tradition calls the Easter Vigil the Mother of all Vigils, and with very good reason, for at this most solemn Vigil the Church triumphantly celebrates Christ’s victory over death and all the hostile powers associated with it. Christ is risen! She will proclaim From now on everything is different, all is irrevocably changed.  Death no longer has the final word, God the Father did not leave his Holy One in the power of the grave. Easter means a new dawn, for the glorified Christ and for those who believe in him.

At this Vigil we are invited to enter mysteriously into Christ’s death and resurrection by renewing our baptismal promises and walking the path of new life which his paschal sacrifice has made possible.  Because of what we celebrate at Easter, the believer now sees life from an entirely new perspective. A new light has burst forth into our world, and one that will never be extinguished.

May our participation this Holy Week be rich in grace and consolation for all of us who follow in the footsteps of our Saviour!

Sincerest good wishes and prayers,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Apostolic Administrator
Diocese of Lancaster

Entering into Passiontide!

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

The Fifth Sunday of Lent marks the beginning of Passiontide and the final two weeks of Lent, which reaches their climax on Easter Day. Passiontide is an old and evocative English word which suggests a time or season of suffering and is particularly expressive as a description of the last days of our Saviour on earth. The ancient tradition of veiling crucifixes and statues in our churches during Passiontide is intended to convey a sense of mourning and of solidarity with our Lord in his sufferings on our behalf, and that of the whole world. The Church through her signs and symbols invites us to accompany our Lord in spirit as he freely and obediently approached the last days of his life on earth.

Which of us cannot be touched by the drama which unfolds before us in the course of the next two weeks? All four Evangelists tell the same story, with only minor differences, of Christ’s passion and death. At the outset is the last meal the earthly Christ would share with his own, and what we know as the Last Supper, when he gave the bread and wine an entirely new meaning, depicting the sacrifice of himself which would take place the following day on the cross. It was a sacred act which he charged to be done in his memory, a command which the Church will obey at each Mass until her Lord comes again in glory. The already heavy atmosphere in the Upper Room was surely intensified by the impending betrayal of Judas, one of the Twelve.

During Holy Week itself we shall relive, as it were, the different moments of the Lord’s passion as they happen: his arrest and trial before the High Priest and ultimately Pontius Pilate, his near absolute silence before his accusers, the awful denial of Peter and his abandonment by his chosen disciples when he most needed them, his painful journey to Calvary, and his cruel death by crucifixion, witnessed by his mother, St. John and several women. The reading of St. John’s Passion narrative on Good Friday leaves the believing listener humbled and chastened, in the realisation that the central figure is none other than the Son of God.

In the course of our everyday life we hear many voices, the clamour of the social media, our mobile phones and ipads, the sounds coming from our television screens and so on, but we must not let these drown and silence the voice of Christ striving to speak to our hearts in a particular way during these sacred and solemn days of Passiontide.

Will we allow ourselves to ‘pause for thought’ and recall with prayerful gratitude what the Lord has undergone for us, and for the world? His own forty days in the Judean wilderness, refusing to give in to temptation, and preferring the will of his Father to everything else, set before us an example of how we must make space for God, otherwise we stumble and stray.

In our baptism we have been crucified and buried with Christ, and we spend the rest of our lives dying and rising with him in his death and resurrection. In this appealing liturgical season of Passiontide may we share in thought something of the sorrows of Our Lord that we also come to share in the joy of his resurrection on Easter Morning!

Until next week – may God bless you all – and a happy St Patrick’s Day!

St Patrick

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Apostolic Administrator

Two new Saints for the Church!

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

OscarPaolo

At an audience this week with the Cardinals responsible for promoting “the causes of the saints”, Pope Francis gave his approval that Blessed Oscar Romero and Blessed Pope Paul VI be recognised soon as saints throughout the Catholic world. The prerequisite miracles for the canonisation of these outstanding churchmen of the last century have been verified, and their rite of canonisation will presumably take place in the course of the year or early next year.

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The path to sainthood for both these men, not surprisingly, hasn’t been an easy one. The story of Blessed Oscar Romero has become well-known. As Archbishop of San Salvador in Central America he was shot dead by an unknown assassin in 1967 while he was celebrating Mass. As bishop of his people, who were often poor and oppressed, he realised that he had to speak out on their behalf, and became ever more vocal and articulate on their behalf.  His preaching of the Gospel alienated some of those in positions of power, and he paid for his courage and fearlessness by suffering a martyr’s death.

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In the difficult social conditions which were the background to his ministry as a bishop, Oscar Romero realised that he was duty-bound to speak up on behalf of those who had no voice, and apply Christ’s saving message to the particularities of their lives, often marked by grinding poverty and deprivation.

The martyr and soon to be saint, began his life as a priest and bishop in a quiet and unobtrusive manner, but through God’s grace he gradually became aware that he could no longer take a back seat where the sufferings of his people were concerned.  Oscar Romero’s canonisation will be a source of unbounded joy for the people of El Salvador and far beyond.  May he intercede for us that we have the courage to speak up in Christ’s name when we see injustice done or things that is clearly contrary to the gospel.

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Blessed Paul VI, the Pope who brought the Second Vatican Council to the careful work of its completion, will also be remembered fondly by those of us who lived through those often turbulent years in the life of the Church.

Paul VI’s time as Pope also coincided with widespread changes in Western society, and it was his task to steer the Church and hold her in unity amid the many pressures to which she was subject.  My image of Paul VI is that of a reflective and sensitive person who agonised over major decisions, yet he was a deeply spiritual and pastoral Pope, writing and speaking with great wisdom.

BLESSED PAUL VI CANONIZATION

Giovanni Baptista Montini became Pope on the death of the much loved John XXIII in 1963, and so had not an easy task.  Pope John was popular in the Church and far beyond, even among those who did not share the Christian faith, and his immense humanity and genuine compassion for others touched so many.

Under divine Providence, it was Pope Paul’s daunting task to take John’s work further, and with the benefit of hindsight he did it well. His contemporaries agree that the papal office caused Paul VI no small amount of suffering, yet it was somehow appropriate that he was called home to the Lord in Castelgandolfo on the Feast of the Transfiguration (6 August 1978), where the shadows and doubts that mark this life would for him give way before the glory and splendour of the risen Lord in majesty.

I feel privileged to have lived at the same time as Paul VI, and to have attended one of his audiences when I was a student in Rome. The Church worldwide will surely rejoice when Blessed Paul VI becomes St. Paul VI.  We are assured of a saintly friend in heaven who will guide our often uncertain steps on our way to the Kingdom!

Until next week,

As ever in Christ,

bishopinchoir

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Apostolic Administrator
Diocese of Lancaster

We are made for Worship

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

The unusual, even extraordinary, account of the Lord’s cleansing of the Temple gives us much to ponder with regard to respect for sacred spaces, and the manner in which we pray and worship the all-holy God.  Following in the tradition of the prophets of Israel, Jesus was appalled at the disrespect shown his Father’s house, which had become something resembling a market place. His sense of outrage was expressed in driving out the traders and overturning the tables of the money-changers.  “Stop turning my Father’s house into a market,” were his words.  The Jerusalem Temple was believed to be God’s dwelling place, and in a particular way that area known as “the Holy of Holies.” There the pious believer encountered God through regular worship, prayer and sacrifice.

Fundamental to worship is the awareness that we are God’s creation, the “work of his hands”, as the psalm says, and we come into the presence of the Lord to do him homage and acknowledge our total dependence on him. Worship, therefore, is a sacred act offered to the One who is wholly Other from ourselves, far beyond our imagination or power of understanding.

This explains why the High Priest alone could enter the Holy of Holies, and that once a year, on the Day of Atonement.  As we gather as a community to pray and offer Mass, or for other occasions, it is salutary to recall in whose presence we are, and the word ‘recollection’ comes to mind here. During an act of worship in the Temple the young Isaiah was totally overwhelmed by his vision of the thrice all-holy God, a phrase which occurs in the Sanctus of every Mass.

We are understandably very attached to churches which hold significance for us, be it the place where we have been baptised, made our first Sacraments, got married, or for other reasons personal to us. The explanation for this attachment is our awareness at some level of having encountered Jesus Christ, an encounter which has made a difference to our life.

While we should feel at home, as it were, in our churches we do well to recall that we are standing on holy ground. Moses was commanded to take the shoes of his feet at the burning bush on Sinai because he was told the ground on which he stood was holy. We humans must never take God for granted.

In another psalm the worshipper declares, “Lord, I have loved the beauty of your house, and the place where you dwell.”  Any effort we make to enhance the décor and beauty of our churches is ultimately an act of worship paid to almighty God, our creator. The beauty and cleanliness of our places of worship ought to be a reflection of that interior dignity and beauty we have been given at the moment of our baptism, qualities which we acknowledge and celebrate at each Mass.

The final eight great chapters of the prophet Ezekiel contain a detailed description of the ideal future Temple. How impressive is the love of the prophet for God’s house!  The precision and the detail of measurement of this Temple, with at its centre the altar and the life-giving waters flowing from beneath the altar, present a magnificent vision to us.  Our altars and sanctuaries continue to pour out those divine life-giving waters from the sacramental side of the crucified Christ, and will do until he finally returns in glory.

With that splendid religious heritage of both the Old and New Testaments behind us, whenever we are in church we need always to remember that we are treading on holy ground.

Until next week – May God bless you all,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael Campbell OSA
Apostolic Administrator
Diocese of Lancaster