Monday, August 05, 2013

St Benedict's Priory Salisbury 2013: Incarnation

It might not have become apparent from the last couple of posts, but I have been away on my usual retreat. This year it was very sorely needed, as my life seems to be changing dramatically and having the wit, wisdom, direction and Christian love of good, honest churchmen around me has enabled me to grab a purchase on who I am while the maelstrom of life tugs me this way and that.

As I said above, to God even the smallest things matter; even the really sub-microscopic entities have a relevance and a value within His grand scheme of Creation. Every particle born of the Big Bang, every little fish that bravely flopped and floundered on dry land, every ape-like being that dared to set foot upon the ground and walk upright, every little child that opens its eyes for the first time, blinking in the light of the outside world, all of these matter to God without exception.

As I approach my ordination to the priesthood, the influence of my sacerdotal friends and soon-to-be colleagues in orders has been very strong and, in reading through the prayers and scrutinising the actions at the direction of the wise, I have found myself drawn ever more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation. Every ritual and ceremony of the Mass has a reason - a purpose that draws us into God and God into us. I suspect I shall make all kinds of mistakes at my first Mass, but it won't be for lack of desire. The Mass is a great gift to us, a true and powerful way of giving thanks and touching God Himself.

There is nothing wrong with big thoughts! The night sky with it trillions of stars and galaxies, all of immense size and yet at unimaginable distance, certainly enthuses the mind. The majesty of Salisbury Cathedral from which one can see a hundred miles and eight centuries, is the product of big ideas. But big ideas can only grow from little tiny things. The parable of the mustard seed is one of Our Lord's simplest and yet most powerful images.

The Mass is so small.

It is tiny, a little group of people standing as their priest offers on their behalf the sacrifice of the Mass, a little wafer, a little water, a little wine. Each communicant takes into their body something so small it can be swallowed, and yet this something is absorbed into the body, fusing into it and becoming part of it. This little something is Christ Himself! Christ the Priest offers Christ the victim upon the altar of the Cross and distributes Himself entire into the bodies of the people.

In Christ, God Himself is made small, tangible, graspable, embraceable. God knows that little things like us cannot comprehend an Uncreated Being who from nothing creates all of everything, but they can comprehend one of their number. Mixed in the chalice of His body are His humanity and His Divinity in which we are permitted to share through His offering of Himself.

It does not worry me that my Church is small. I would like it to be big because I would dearly love folk to share what I have found for themselves on their own terms. While we are small, we just keep the Faith and do what we are commanded and offer the Mass for a greater and truer personal relationship with Our Lord than could ever come via other means.

The sad thing is that I am not in communion with my monks. The church to which they belong and to which they serve faithfully has different ideas now, but they have not rejected me nor I them. We still have our confraternity. Their smallness is still very visible to God and yet they still possess space for countless friends and well-wishers. The value of their community is priceless.

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
(William Blake 1757-1827, from Auguries of Innocence)

The smallness of the Incarnation is truly bigger than the World can hold, and yet a manger can contain it.

How small was the last Mass you attended?


sarumuse said...

These are beautiful articles you have been writing. I too have been "waxing lyrical".

I remember my own immediate preparation for the priesthood and the balmy days of June 1998. You are in my prayers as you take this tremendous step!

Warwickensis said...

Thank you so much, Father. I've just looked around the church and it looks magnificent.

The Archdeacon has made a splendid choice!