Sunday, November 29, 2015

Collecting Collects: Reviewing the year's collection

I have tried to give a reflection on each of the collects for the Sundays over the past year. Time rather forbade me from reflecting on more of the Saints' days and other places where the Prayer book gives a collect. My intention has been to demonstrate the richness of the prayers that we say at Mass and in our daily offices that carries over the time of the Reformation.

Whether or not one subscribes to the doctrine that emerged in the Church after the Reformation, one is always faced with the pain that those who prayed these collects faced. Their prayers sought God with tears, sweat and blood even as Our Lord's did in the Garden of Gethsemane on that fateful evening. While our blood, sweat and tears do not save us in themselves, it is our love for God that produces them which brings us face to face with Christ in whose sufferings we participate.

Prayer has to be hard work. We have to face the pain of our separation from God without the numbing effects of daily life and its distractions. We are fallen, but none of us is irredeemable. Our purgatory is real and necessary for us to be transformed into beings of light. Our Collects teach us about this struggle: the need to find the light, the need to follow God, the need to look to Him in the hours of darkness; the need to seek to be part of His family the Church. We pray with Gervasius, Pope St Gregory and with Archbishop Cranmer who sought to render their words into English.

These Collects do go across denominational divides and have the power to unite us if we appreciate that they can be given nuances. Even if we cannot agree on the accuracy of the variety of translations from the Latin, we need to remember that, in most Offices, the collect is preceded by the Lord's prayer which does unite Christians. If we take our time praying the Lord's Prayer rather than gabbling it through, we can actually savour the words of Our Lord Himself. These words will sanctify our prayer if we allow them and allow us to pray our collects with greater sincerity, unity and with a greater sense of their catholicity.

It is the purpose of these collects to gather us together in a singleness of intention to which the Church can testify to a darkening world. Let us then allow ourselves to be collected and raised up in our prayers to the throne of God to stand with the saints and worship Him with them.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Get a hat, get a head!

I'm very fond of my biretta. There are many Anglicans including in the ACC who would rather that I gave up the biretta on the grounds that it is too Roman and take up the good old Canterbury cap instead. Actually, I do own a Canterbury cap, the trouble is that it doesn't look as respectable on me as it does the noble Archbishop Cranmer. It seems that we've lost the art of making the Canterbury cap. Part of my trouble with it is that it is soft and not as easy to put on or take off as a biretta, and that's important. The biretta is designed to be taken off. Why should this be?

At Mass, the priest (possibly as one of three sacred ministers) enters with head covered, genuflect and in so doing uncover their heads. The reason for this is that the Mass is that one perfect sacrifice made once for all upon the Cross. There may appear to be many Masses in time, yet the fact of the matter is, theologically speaking, there is only one true Mass (namely the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the Cross) and all Masses subsequent to that sacrifice in Time are not re-enactments, nor new sacrifices, but are the same Mass as seen in the forever Now of Eternity drawn together by the presence of the Indivisible Godhead. This is a Mystery.

What's this got to do with birettas? The beginning of the Mass is the beginning of the Mystery and the beginning of the revelation of that Mystery. In removing his biretta, the priest signals the beginning of that revelation in which Man enters into the presence of God. From that moment on, the mystery of the Incarnation unfolds before our very eyes as the angels sing their Gloria in excelsis, as mankind is taught the words of life in the exposition of Holy Scripture, and when the great Salvation of mankind is wrought through the broken body of Christ upon the cross of the paten and through our taking in of His substance so that we can become like Him because we see Him as He really is. Once the revelation is over, the veil falls once more and the biretta is placed upon the priest's head as he returns into the sacristy and Mankind waits for its saviour once more.

Of course, the biretta itself is an academic cap. Its four corners represent the Quadrivium that a priest needs to know: the four disciplines of Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy achieved at Masters' level. The three blades represent the three disciplines of the trivium - grammar, logic and rhetoric. A fourth blade is sometimes permitted, but who is allowed to wear one is somewhat debated. Some believe that it is only for Doctors of Divinity, others for Doctors of Canon Law and still others for any holder of a Doctoral degree. I've seen a few four blade birettas among my brethren in the ACC and they seem to hold judicial posts, so I would assume that the ACC position is that the fourth blade is for Doctors of Law, though I suspect that they should seek permission from their bishop first.

However, all this sounds a bit pernickety and pointless. It's just a hat after all. If they must observe the ceremonies used above, can't priests use any old hat, a fedora, baseball cap, or beanie?

We have to remember that the Rituals and Ceremonies in Church are sacred and not secular. It would be wrong for these to be muddled, especially in this day and age. The Traditional Church rejoices in using that which is archaic to promote the idea of eternal truth. The vestments of clergy are based on Roman dress, the dress used at the time of Our Lord's ministry to us. Our language is that, not of the present vernacular, but the vernacular of the past. Just as the Jews use Hebrew rather than Aramaic on account of its pertaining to the sacred, so do we Anglican Catholics use the language of the prayer book to lift our words through time while still being intelligible to those willing to spend a little time thinking about their meaning. For all its bizarre shape and anachronism, the square cap roots us in that time when human beings sought wisdom and knowledge about God.

The biretta is worn at absolution during the sacrament of Confession to show that the priest is in possession of authority from God and not of his own. This is the same reason why a priest wears his biretta during the sermon. The square cap, as a sign of learning, is not grown on our heads but is given to us by another authority and ultimately from God Himself. Just as the four and twenty elders cast their crowns of authority before the throne of God, the removing of the biretta signifies a casting of academic authority before the presence of Divine Knowledge. Whatever we know will vanish away in the presence of God.

There are those who would make the wearing of the mitre optional for bishops and there are many bishops who reject the wearing of the mitre altogether. For Anglican Catholics, this would be seen as a rejection of the reality of the Bishop as successor to the apostles and possessor of the full sacramental ministry ordained by God. These hats are active symbols of reality, not mere tokens of ideas.

Anachronism is important in Traditional Christianity. We are now in the days where only the present is given authority and the ideas of the past rejected for being old hat. Yet, it is the old hat that points us to the richness of the tradition that God has given us. Those who wear old-fashioned dress stand against the tyranny of Modernity. While a priest should perhaps refrain from wearing his biretta to a foot ball match (though it might be a marvellous statement of faith), to see a priest in soutane and biretta will challenge the perceptions of folk. Yes, for the most part it will inspire ridicule, but for others it might just be the catalyst that opens their eyes to the now-ness of the past and the Eternal, timeless presence of Almighty God.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Recent events in Paris

I've chosen to be rather quiet over the recent crises facing the West recently concerning the atrocities of ISIS. This is mainly because I know that I know too little about the politics of the situation and can only do what I know how to do which is to pray, albeit imperfectly, for the situation especially when it comes to discerning the will of God in the matter.

Much of the attention has spilled onto the question of what to do with those people fleeing from ISIS. Should they be allowed asylum in various countries or not? Christians are divided. Some will cite the good Samaritan and say that we need to shelter the homeless in accordance with the seven corporal works of mercy. Others will say that we should not in fear that in allowing some activists posing as refugees will then attack and kill innocent people as in Paris. We have several principles in apparent conflict here, each proceeding from the mouth of Our Lord Himself.
  1. Love thy neighbour as thyself. (St Matthew xxii.39)
  2. Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (St Matthew v.44)
  3. Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves (St Matthew x.16)
  4. Freely you have received, freely give. (St Matthew x.8)
  5. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (St Mark viii.36)
It is as much one's duty to protect the innocent as it is to love one's enemy and as much again to be charitable and share one's resources with those in need. All of these need to be balanced with wisdom of the world and the Divine desire to harm no-one. We have to remember that our true identity lies not with our nation but is defined by God Himself. It is noble indeed to be patriotic and to stand up for our nation and people in service for the commonwealth, but if that patriotism seeks to overwrite God's statement of our true identity, then it loses that nobility.

Should we fight ISIS? We should fight evil at all times. If the battles of the Old Testament teach us anything worth knowing about warfare it is that we need to ensure that we seek to purify ourselves of Evil in the eyes of God before we begin to tackle Evil elsewhere. Only the soldier who is first at war with the evil within himself and humbly drawing upon the strength of God to fight that internal evil can have any part to play in the conflict around him. We cannot, in our blindness to evil, just hit out and hope we destroy the enemy: that is how the innocent fall victim.

If ISIS teach us anything, it is that evil lurks within us just as much as it lurks around us even when we believe ourselves to be absolutely certain in the right. We must pray that we see the true evil and not an imagined evil arising from our flawed impressions of events.

I'll leave the decisions arising from the global issues to the politicians and those aware of the deeper ramifications of possible actions. I will also pray that they have the wisdom to act according to the Will of God first.

I pray for ISIS too, that their eyes may be opened to God and His judgments of their actions lest their souls be finally and irretrievably lost. However, first and foremost, I pray for all those victims of ISIS, whoever they may be, that they may receive the healing and know the presence of God to lift them through their suffering to the joys of eternal salvation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Marriage and Monasticism

Apparently, the more lavish the wedding, the more likely the couple are to divorce. Of course, one does need to take statistics with a pinch of salt, particularly over potential confusion of correlation with causation. I think, though, there is merit in this idea.

In this day and age, the understanding of what marriage really is is getting blurred into meaninglessness. It seems that most people don't get married at all these days, they have a wedding instead. What I mean is that these folk simply invest all their resources into a single day rather than into a lifetime commitment. I find it interesting that the very people who rail against the marriage of homosexuals often remain completely silent on the question of divorce. Yet, the reasons why two people of the same sex cannot receive the sacrament of marriage are almost parallel to why a valid sacrament cannot be dissolved. The fact is that marriage as a sacrament constitutes an indissoluble heterosexual bond between two people. People who complain about the violation of one aspect of this definition often forget the other aspect. Of course, if one rejects the idea of marriage as a sacrament and asserts that it exists as a merely legal entity, then the point is moot.

It is easy then for us to regard marriage as just a legal mechanism protecting assets of the couple and ensuring the sharing of state benefits and therefore just a matter of legal paperwork to dissolve when necessary. It seems that if one can splash out on a wonderful wedding day, one can also splash out on the divorce settlement later.
No wonder then that St Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthian Church
But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. (I Cor vii.32-33)
For St Paul it seems better not to marry in order to devote oneself properly to the service of God on the grounds that the focus of one's attention becomes the spouse rather than God. This has, of course, led many people to regard celibacy as a better state than marriage, and further to limit the clergy to a life of celibacy on the grounds that their lives will be preoccupied by their families.
It is interesting, then, that the profession of a Religious is not a true sacrament. To join a monastery one takes vows before God. You can still hear the idea that a nun is married to Christ and a priest to the Church. If that is true, then the vows would surely have some sacramental quality. Yet, reading the Rule of St Benedict, it is possible (though thoroughly discouraged as inimical to the spirit of the Rule) for one to leave the community and then, presumably, to marry. Likewise, the ordination of a priest does not contain in itself a commitment to celibacy. This is a point of Canon Law and enforced practice, not part of the sacrament itself. In recognising a calling as a priest, one is binding oneself by the laws of one's jurisdiction.

 This lack of sacrament does seem to suggest that Marriage possesses a spiritual status that is not possessed by vows of celibacy.

Does this contradict St Paul?

Well, no. It looks like St Paul is issuing a sweeping generalization about married people, that it isn't possible for someone to be married and serve God fully. If he meant that, then he would contradict the blessing and sanctification of marriage made by Our Lord and thus giving marriage its sacramental character. Yet, St Paul is not making a generalization to tell folk not to marry, he is issuing a challenge to those who want to marry. When we marry, we are to do so for God's sake. God must be at the very heart of the marriage. That way He can make possible that which for human beings is impossible. He can give grace to a couple so that they can live together in love and harmony even when that love and harmony is tested by the events of living.

Marriage is just as binding if not more so than monastic vows. Just as with monastic vows, we seek actively to burn bridges, to commit wholeheartedly and without qualification. Just as the Religious takes monastic vows with the utmost gravity, we should also be taking our marriage vows with a greater gravity knowing that we hold in our hands, not just the hands of the beloved, but also the Hand of God making that indissoluble union.

Our wedding day should not happen at the expense of our marriage. Of course it should be an occasion of great joy together with great gravity. However, our marriage must also involve a sincere striving to approach God together for it to be of any true benefit, not just to us the couple, but also to the Church herself.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Collect for the Sunday next before Advent

Latin Collect
EXCITA, quæsumus Domine, tuorum fidelium voluntates ut divini operis fructum propensius exequentes, pietatis tuæ præmia majora percipiant. Per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum.

[My translation: Stir up, we beseech Thee O Lord, the wills of Thy faithful people that pursuing the fruit of the work of God more eagerly, they may know the greater reward of Thy kindness. Through Jesus Christ...]

Prayer book of 1549
STIERE [Stir] up we beseche thee, O Lord, the wylles of thy faythfull people, that they, plenteously bringing furth the fruite of good workes; may of thee, be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christe our Lorde. Amen.

Things will get better. Christians always have that hope and often that hope is offensive to those who perceive it to be a glib lack of recognition of the trauma and pain of living. Looking out into a world which is becoming politically darker now since it has wandered into the realms of spiritual night, it is easy to think that such a hope cannot be anything other than futile - offensively futile.

As we pray this last collect of the liturgical year, we find the Sun's rays darkened by clouds and curtailed by the inclination of the Earth's axis. Light begins to fail again - at least it seems that way. We become sleepy and forlorn. Yet, we recognise it and seek to be released from spiritual torpor and oppression. The only way to walk during the darkness is to walk in the light of God, seeking Him in the things around us and by doing those things that He wants us to do. We are to do that one Divine work that we can; we are to spread the light through struggle and hardship, pain, loss and humiliation and in them find ourselves ever more enlightened by God Himself.

What we have of God now is a tiny, finite fraction of what He promises us. There is a greater good beyond this world which will make our pain worth every drop of blood. For every tiny child that dies through the cruelty of man or the indifference of Nature, there is an existence in which that little one does and will shine more brightly than a supernova.

The world will always turn away from the Light and in doing so,it will forget God. We will not.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Collect for the twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity

Latin collect from the Sarum Missal
Absolve quesumus domine tuorum delicta populorum. et a peccatorum nostrorum nexibus quae pro nostra fragilitate contraximus tua benignitate liberemur.

[My translation: Absolve, we beseech Thee O Lord, the failings of Thy people and, from the bonds of our sins which we have wrought according to our frailty, free us by Thy goodness...]

Prayer book of 1549
LORD we beseche thee, assoyle [absolve] thy people from their offences, that through thy bountiful goodnes we maye bee delyvered from the handes of all those synnes, whiche by our frayltye we have committed : Graunt this, et c.

Prayer book of 1662
O LORD, we beseech thee, absolve thy people from their offences; that through thy bountiful goodness we may all be delivered from the bands of those sins, which by our frailty we have committed: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake, our blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.

One of the most famous ghost stories has to be Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and in this clever little book we have the dreadful image of Jacob Marley doomed to spend undefined ages wandering the earth in chains that he has made for himself, link by link, through his meanness and unscrupulous money-lending. Dickens' point is very clear: we human beings are the authors of our own misery because we fail to see the simple delights of goodness.

Ebenezer Scrooge, himself, is the victim of neglect and abuse from his childhood and, despite the simple joys of being in employment with the jolly Mr Fezziwig, allows the hurts of his history to nurture demons of self-interest, grasping and avarice.

Like Scrooge, we walk with the scars of the failings of those around us, their injustices branded upon our memories and, even our bodies. We are justified in being angered by injustice, especially when it is against us. Yet, if we want to recover the true joy of live and of living, we have somehow to let go of that injury; we somehow have to allow it to have happened; we have to forgive even as we are forgiven. Only then can we be forgiven for the hurts we have wrought others.

For man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. By grasping the hand of God, we are pulled together and out of darkness. It is He that looses us from these chains so that we do not carry them around with us. We still have to let those chains drop, though.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Collect for the twenty-third Sunday after Trinity

Latin Collect
DEUS, nostrum refugium et virtus, adesto piis ecclesiæ tuæ precibus, auctor ipse pietatis, et præsta, ut quod fideliter petimus, efficaciter consequamur. Per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum.

[My translation: God, our refuge and strength, be present to the pious prayers of Thy Church, O Author of piety itself, and grant that what we seek faithfully we may obtain effectively. Through...]

Prayer book of 1549
GOD, our refuge and strength, which art the author of all godlines, be ready to heare the devoute prayers of thy churche; and graunt that those thynges which we aske faithfully we maye obteine effectually; through Jesu Christe our lorde. Amen.

God is Love, as St John tells us. This means that what is truly meant by Love is God. To seek the presence of God for the sake of God is what it means to love God. Likewise, to be pious is to seek truly the cause of piety, i.e. to strive to hear the word that God speaks in the heart of men. The way we are to live is defined in the very being of God. Just as God is separate from His Creation, we are to seek that which is beyond what is created.

This is impossible for us as our fleeting little lives flare up so briefly in the span of the ages, like a match lit in the darkness. With God, however, all things are possible. He is our refuge and strength in our struggle to embrace being created and to embrace that which is not created. Creation separated from God is doomed to pass away and those who would try to drag us away from the Divine are many in number. We Christians do have enemies: we must not forget that! Those enemies prowl around us, infiltrating us at the most intimate levels because of our frailty and weakness. We are deceived into hating people who possess exactly the same frail nature as we do.

In God's love do we find refuge from this hatred, because there can be no hatred in God. All hatred necessarily separates from God because it seeks that which is not God. This is why we are in danger of being torn to pieces. Yet we have the spirit of God dwelling in us by our baptism and so we can never be torn apart unless we let go of Him. When we shall stand before God face-to-face, battered and torn from our battle against His enemies, we shall then receive true completeness just by being with Him.

Sunday, November 01, 2015


Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on All Saints' Day 2015

You've heard it said that all Christians are saints in preparation. We're all supposed to be on the pathway to sainthood. Do you feel like a saint? Honestly? Why not?


We often see the world divide human beings into two categories - saint or sinner. You know that that's a rather over-simplistic way of looking at things. Yet, we are always tempted to contrast saints with sinners. Indeed, we should look to the saints for examples of how humanity should interact with God and thus officially be recognised as saints. To the world, saints never do anything wrong: they are real life superheros! We see statues and ikons of them in church and, for some people, this can be the equivalent of seeing a big red S painted on their chests.

The trouble is, if we see the saints as super-human, then we have missed the whole point of what a saint really is. To see them as somehow above what we are capable of being is to forget their struggles in life or to trivialise our own.

The fact is that the saints do not brush off temptation as easily as Superman brushes bullets off his chest of steel. They do not avoid sin faster than a speeding bullet. Every day of their lives, the saints battle sin, temptation, and spiritual turmoil just like we do. So what is the real difference between them and us?


If we truly, honestly and fully seek God and His righteousness, then there is no difference whatsoever. Remember that the title "saint" refers not to the person, but to God. To be a saint is to be set apart from the world by God. God sanctifies us continually if we let Him. Yet the fact of the matter is that, for any human being, there is conflict, struggle and failure. Listen to the Beatitudes again as Our Lord speaks to us:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peace-makers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Who is more blessed than the saints. All saints live this life of poverty in spirit, mourning, meekness, hungering for righteousness, mercy, purity, peacemaking, and persecution. All of these come to every Christian at one time or another, and if we embrace these, then we find ourselves in the company of the saints.


The whole point of the saints is that they once were like us, but now they are perfected in God. That's not an exclusion for us, but it is the destiny of the Church and all her members. We have to decide whether we are to live our lives in the company of saints, or not. They intercede for us because they once were like us, and still share our humanity. They are still part of our Church and they are channels for God's blessing.

We really are saints in preparation, but we have to accept that we must need perfection. That can only come about through cooperation with the grace of God. Let us therefore always reach out for God and allow His perfection to continue in our lives.

Collect for the twenty-second Sunday after Trinity

Latin Collect from the missal of Leofric
Familiam tuam, quaesumus, domine, continua pietate custodi, ut a cunctis adversitatibus, te protegente, sit libera, et in bonis actibus tuo nomini sit devota. Per

[My Translation: O Lord, we beseech Thee to guard Thy family with continual piety, that with Thy protection, it may be free from every adversity and be devoted to Thy name in good works. Through...]

Prayer pook of 1549
LORDE we beseche thee to kepe thy housholde the churche in continuall godlines; that throughe thy proteccion it maye be free from al adversities, and devoutly geven to serve thee in good workes, to the glory of thy name; Through Jesus Christ our Lorde. Amen.

The word "household" has slightly changed its meaning. It seems to be a colder, more clinical way to speak of one's home environment and the people with whom we share that environment. "Household" speaks of the people and their functions. In former days, this meant servants and even slaves in addition to the "family ", the people who were served.

Yet, a household should mean a community living in one house, each playing a valued part in the maintenance of that community. No-one in that house should be seen as a means to an end but have a value in themselves.

We, the Church, have not been great at this. We are "with schisms rent asunder and heresies oppress'd". Yet God is part of our household however we may try to exclude Him, and the Church is His household for that is the root of the word "Church". When we pray this prayer, we pray for the Church's integrity as a household even as God is a household in Himself as a single being in a Trinity of persons. We Christians cannot be part of a household and not part of a family.