It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up for all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church. I became the servant of the Church when God made me responsible for delivering God’s message to you, the message which was a mystery hidden for generations and centuries and has now been revealed to his saints. It was God’s purpose to reveal it to them and to show all the rich glory of this mystery to the pagans. The mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory: this is the Christ we proclaim, this is the wisdom in which we thoroughly train everyone and instruct everyone, to make them all perfect in Christ. It is for this I struggle wearily on, helped only by his power driving me irresistibly.
God gathered together as one all those who in faith look upon Jesus as the author of salvation and the source of unity and peace, and established them as the Church that for each and all it may be the visible sacrament of this saving unity. While it transcends all limits of time and confines of race, the Church is destined to extend to all regions of the earth and so enters into the history of mankind. Moving forward through trial and tribulation, the Church is strengthened by the power of God’s grace, which was promised to her by the Lord, so that in the weakness of the flesh she may not waiver from perfect fidelitiy, but remain a bride worthy of her Lord, and moved by the Holy Spirit may never cease to renew herself, until through the Cross she arrives at the light which knows no setting.
Lumen Gentium 9, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Second Vatican Council.
We want this Year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope. It will also be a good opportunity to intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist, which is “the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; … and also the source from which all its power flows.” At the same time, we make it our prayer that believers’ witness of life may grow in credibility. To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year.
(The document Porta Fidei introduces the Year of Faith, which will run from October 2012, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, to the Solemnity of Christ the King, November 2013.)
The Archdiocese of Birmingham covers the counties of Staffordshire, the West Midlands, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Oxfordshire.
The programme in which we look to the future must be set in this broad context. In each parish the concern may be, primarily, for itself, yet there is a bigger picture which only those working for the needs of the whole diocese may be able to see.
It is important to say that, although the Catholic population has changed in this large area, it is not simply a picture of falling Mass attendance. As well as the arrival in our diocese of many Catholics from abroad, who bring with them a firm faith, there is also the case of a shifting population. Whilst the numbers of Catholics may be declining, at the moment, in places where numbers were once much larger, there are some parts of the diocese where major new housing developments are taking place, and which may require a concentration of efforts to respond to a new need.
For most Catholics who attend Mass, the parish is the focus of their life of faith. Traditionally, when we speak of the parish, we think in most places of the church and the primary school. Secondary schools serve local areas, and chaplains are provided for them.
There are, however, many other pastoral needs outside the immediate parish structure, which are also served by the Diocese, for example:
Diocesan Departments, including Education, the Marriage Tribunal, etc. The Diocese also has priests who serve the Church at national and international levels.
The Deanery as the starting point
Whilst it is useful to recognise the diocesan perspective and its needs, it is at the more local, deanery level that you are being asked to consider the need to plan for the future.
Deanery groupings are a helpful way of looking at local needs. In our diocese, the different needs, from one deanery to another, make the work of each deanery distinctive and significant.
At this point, no parish can, any longer, think of itself as being independent of others. Some parishes will need those around them, for the resources and the expertise that they might find there. Large parishes, which might not appear to require the help of others, may be in a position to ask what they have that can be shared with neighbouring parishes in need.
The Parish Community & the Church Building
In any given parish, there will be those who have only belonged to this one parish, as well as those who have, for various reasons, experienced the life of different parishes.
When one looks back a generation, and compares Mass attendance then and now, it is easy for those who are part of a parish today to think of people who still live in the area but who may have moved parishes, or who, for any reason, do not attend Mass anymore.
Everyone tends to associate themselves with the ‘place’ where they experience and participate in the celebration of Mass most regularly. A greater mobility enables people to travel more and reach a greater number of churches than previously. At times, Mass in a nearby church will be at a more convenient time for you on a given day.
It is still important, however, to have a sense of ‘your parish’; the place to which you belong; the place from which you might reasonably expect a priest or deacon to come and visit you in a time of need; or the parish to which you would turn at such a time.
One of the most important truths that we have to accept, moving forward, and it is not easy so to do, is that our current provision and projections for the future show that it will not be possible, in the next generation, to sustain the number of church buildings we have, and for each to have its own resident priest.
In terms of the ratio of priests to people, we do not have a shortage of priests compared to many parts of the world, but the number of church buildings we have is more than we need. Our focus, therefore, cannot be only the place where we worship God, but the worship itself, which, at one level, is the same wherever it takes place.
In some cases, churches were built to serve a particular need at a specific time. Then larger churches were built, which made the previous churches less necessary. People become, however, very attached to the building of faith that may have gained important associations during their life. No one likes to see a church close, but where the need is no longer as it once was, and where there are not sufficient priests to provide sacramental ministry in every church, then a community may come to see that a particular building has served the purpose for which it was built, and that the future lies within neighbouring churches.
It may be true that no priest or deacon would wish his church to close, or even for his parish to be affected by the coming changes. Naturally, most people would feel the same about their place of worship and the life of their parish. That is why, whilst listening to the views of clergy and parishioners, some difficult and unpopular decisions will still have to be made by Archbishop Bernard and those who work closely with him. Please pray that he be guided in these decisions, which are not made through choice, but by circumstances and as a result of the current situation.
The Mass as the centre of our life of Faith
There is a very important distinction to be made between the celebration of Mass and a Celebration of Word and Holy Communion, whether led by a deacon or a lay person. Whilst it is important for the Christian community to gather for prayer, with or without a priest present, there should never be any doubt about the essential link between the Priestly ministry and the celebration of the Eucharist.
Although it might be tempting to think that a Celebration of Word and Holy Communion comes as a close second to Mass, in fact, there is little comparison.
It is not envisaged that there is, as yet, a need to substitute for Sunday Mass a Celebration of Word and Holy Communion, except in an unforeseen emergency. Where there is a need to reduce the number of Masses in a parish, in order to serve the needs of a Deanery, the participation in the celebration of Mass remains the norm for Catholics.
The role of Priests, Deacons, Religious men and women, and the Lay Faithful in the Church’s Mission
In the Church’s mission, it is clear that the life of Catholic communities is centred on the celebration of Mass. From this flows the prayer life of the parish and that of its individual parishioners, the care of the sick and housebound, the Church’s activities for people of all ages and its outreach. This outreach takes various forms: to those who see themselves as Catholics but who do not come to church regularly, to the wider community in which the Church relates to fellow Christians and other religions as well as to neighbours around the parish and the important work of parishes in Justice and Peace, local, national and international charitable work.
One of the most urgent needs in our parishes is that of ensuring that we are able to focus on the Mass and the celebration of the other Sacraments and their place in our lives. It is possible that some of the changes in our current thinking will awaken in some parishioners a greater sense of belonging or a wish to come to church more regularly; you sometimes see value in important things when their meaning changes or their availability is challenged.
Then there is a need for all the baptised to look in a new way at their belonging to the life of the Church. Traditionally, people have looked to the priest to visit sick parishioners. In recent years, deacons have assisted in a special way in the pastoral care of sick and housebound parishioners, and now we are seeing greater lay involvement in which everyone can seek to play a part.
Preparation for the Sacrament of Infant Baptism and, for the Sacrament of Matrimony take place in the parish. The RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) is also parish-based. Now is the time to look at these programmes and consider the varied involvement of parishioners, in a way that supports the Parish Priest in his work. We can look again at how neighbouring parishes can co-operate more in the delivery of these programmes.
Our primary schools are the place where much of the preparation for the Sacraments of Reconciliation, the Eucharist and Confirmation takes place. Perhaps one of the biggest gaps in our approach to catechesis at parish level, however, is the follow up to the Sacraments: visiting families in their homes after their child has received one of these Sacraments; showing how the Church still wishes to encourage families to take a full, conscious and active part in the life of the parish. It takes a lot of courage to be such a parishioner, who can go, on behalf of the parish and with the blessing of the Parish Priest, to visit people in their homes, or invite them to sessions after the Sacramental celebrations, but this is a part of the Church’s mission that, left to the priest alone, will simply not happen.
Our parishes, first of all, need to be places that believe the Church can and will grow, through the grace of God, and with your enthusiasm for speaking to others of the joy and consolation of your faith.
From the earliest days of the Walk With Me programme, the simplest task was asked of each person: to take one booklet for yourself and pray each day, then to take a second booklet and to give it to somebody who might need or appreciate it, or who might benefit from encouragement in their faith. Eleven years since that initiative began in our diocese, are you someone who has a story to tell about the difference that giving the booklet to somebody made? Are you someone who returned to Church as a result of being given a booklet by a friend or parishioner? Are you someone who never had the courage to give a booklet to anybody, in case you might cause offence?
The Church’s mission, given by Christ, to go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News, is as pressing today as it ever was. The need for vocations to the Priesthood, to the Diaconate and to Religious Life, both in its traditional and more contemporary forms, depends so much on the fostering and encouragement of vocations from among our own parishioners, in our families and in our schools. It might be a long time since your parish has given a vocation to the Church in ordained or consecrated ministry. Please make that prayer ever more urgent and fervent.
Ongoing evangelisation – a cause for hope
Blessed John Henry Newman spoke of a Second Spring in the Church. For all of us, there is a need for renewal in our faith, for embracing joyfully the message of the Gospel with a new spirit.
There are many ways of bringing new life to our faith: returning to the Gospels, praying the Prayer of the Church, praying the rosary, spiritual reading, reading more about our faith and its history, its traditions, the schools of thought behind what we believe, meeting for prayer in homes, pilgrimages, prayer in church outside of Mass & before the Blessed Sacrament, experiencing the Sacrament of Reconciliation after many years and so on. These are not new ways, but they can renew the faith that is within us, which, at times, may have a place in our lives that is not necessarily central.
In times of change in our diocese, we will be much more open to this change, far less threatened by it, if our faith is alive, if we are confident in what we believe, if we are able to move beyond what is the norm for many Catholics: ‘I know what I believe, but I don’t want to talk about it, and if pushed, I’m not sure I’d be confident about what I believe’.
Are there areas of the life of the Church that you wish to know more about? Perhaps, as part of a renewal in your life of faith, you might wish to speak to other parishioners and friends about aspects of the Church’s life, in order to deepen your knowledge and understanding. Perhaps your parish priest, or deacon, or a parishioner might be able to give a talk for the parish; they might wish to invite somebody to your parish who has a particular area of knowledge.
How will the way ahead affect parishes?
The scene has been set; there is a need for change. Parish structures and the provision of priests cannot remain the same. It is important, however, to know that, working within deanery groupings, it will not simply be individual parishes that are affected. Each deanery within the diocese is being asked to look at its life, its partnerships between neighbouring parishes and the delivery of its catechetical programmes.
Where it is necessary to reduce the number of priests in a deanery, parishes will be asked to work together to ensure that the life of the Church remains strong. The priority remains the celebration of the Sacraments, the education of our young people in the faith, the teaching of our faith to adults and the care of sick and dying parishioners.
During the programme of parish visitations, some parish communities reflected on the fact that they have known there would come a day when they would not have a resident priest. In the past, we have been blessed in our diocese by the great number of priests from Ireland, and then by a number of former Anglican priests who have become part of the life of our diocese in the past 20 years.
We have welcomed priests from abroad, both diocesan priests and those from religious orders, but we must recognise the need to staff our parishes with our own homegrown clergy, and that is difficult.
We shall continue to look for suitable opportunities to welcome priests from abroad, but we cannot imagine that this will or, indeed, should be the solution to our problems as we go forward.
What can you do to prepare for change, and to shape the future?
As we continue to prepare and to plan for the changes that will come about, we must pray for the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who never fails to guide and give life to the Church, that the future plans we make will be always placed at the service of Christ and the good of the communities we serve.
The first stage is to be strong in our Catholic identity, strong in our sense of where we have come from in our life of faith, and confident in where we are going, trusting in the goodness of God, but making our own contribution to the life of the Church. Each parish must grow in its awareness of neighbouring parishes and their needs, and in the ways in which they can help you with the needs of your own parish.
This will be a time of change for priests and deacons, and so you are asked to pray for them, that they may be confident and feel supported by you in whatever they are asked to do.
Throughout our lives, the way in which we live our life of faith changes, yet the faith itself does not change. You are asked to be generous in recognising the needs of the Church, which are broader than any individual parish or even any deanery. There is no option for resisting all change, and so we pray that the months and years ahead, though they may be painful as a time of change, will be a time of growth within the Church, of faithfulness to the Lord, and of working through difficult times to see that new ways of expressing and living our faith can be life-giving.
Questions for discussion within Parishes and Deaneries
What is your experience of belonging to your present or a past parish?
How many parishes have you belonged to before your present parish? Some people live their whole life in one parish; others move from one parish to another as a result of changing work, moving house, or for other reasons. This will be a different experience from one person to another. People might be prepared to talk about their experiences of settling into a new parish; the amount of time it takes to belong to a given parish; the importance of communities welcoming visitors and giving them a role in the new parish they have joined, and so on.
What is your knowledge and experience of the parishes of your Deanery?
Someone can read out, from the Archdiocese of Birmingham Directory, the parishes that form the Deanery to which your parish belongs. As you listen to this list, you will recognise some your neighbouring parishes. It is helpful to know the distances between the churches and the distance from your church to each of the others.
Each person or family can ask the questions:
How many of these churches do I know?
How many have I been inside or in how many have I attended Mass?
Which of these churches do I attend regularly as an alternative to my own?
What picture does this paint of parishes already working together, or at least people’s mobility between churches?
How do we respond to the reality of fewer priests?
As the reality of fewer priests than church buildings in our diocese sinks in, do you think that there are any immediate ways of responding to this situation in a way that speaks of growth in faith, greater involvement by the People of God, and a spirit of mission? The priest has a sacramental and pastoral role in the life of the parish. Are there ways of working with your priest in these roles, and especially with the administration of the parish, that you might not have considered to be your role in the past?
How does our attendance at Sunday Mass fit into our weekend?
In the near future, as the age profile of priests becomes more top-heavy, our focus will need to be on the worthy celebration of each Sunday Mass rather than on keeping the number of Masses we have become used to.
Everyone would probably wish to keep their Mass time and place unchanged. This is the time for thinking about how the shape and priorities of our weekend might change. Increasingly, people find attendance at Mass difficult to fit in amongst the many other activities of a weekend. How do we ensure that attendance at Sunday Mass remains a priority? This may involve a greater awareness of those who do not have transport to get to Mass.
When our faith presents challenges, it is easy to see how Mass can be the first thing to go. But what if it were the first priority? Remember the time when the shops didn’t open, and when Sunday was a day of rest, a day for families? There is no reason why Christians cannot return to these principles, which are no longer part of the world around us, but which might give us a chance to witness to family values and to the place of faith in our life.
Another important matter to discuss with your parish priest is his availability to assist other neighbouring priests as a matter of course, and not simply in an emergency. This is an essential part of deanery and parish co-operation. It is not just a question of how many Masses our church would wish to have.
What priorities should the Diocese take into account when considering Sunday Mass provision?
The Diocese needs to consider how best to provide Sunday Mass and many other forms of chaplaincy and ministry in the future. The Church does not automatically seek to withdraw from those places that are smallest in number, nor, of course, should the Church neglect those in most need. Where there are larger parishes that can cope without a resident priest, there might be good reason for a more self-sufficient parish to be generous, but there is no easy solution for this situation.
It is not satisfactory to wait, each time, until an emergency occurs. If, therefore, there are ways in which parishes can co-operate better, and share resources more effectively than in the past, preparing the way for further change will be made easier.
To what degree does the life of our parish today reflect the mission of our parish?
The mission of every parish is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the community in which it is placed. This mission was established before any school or church was built. The parish must always address the needs of the present day. If the process of change is seen alongside our mission, then each parish community can ask itself, for example, what are the signs of mission and growth in our Parish today? How many adults have been baptised or received into the Church in our parish in the past 5 years? Are we a parish that invests in its future, in, for example, the visible opportunities for young people; in a clear sense of welcome to newcomers and visitors; in outreach to invite back those who no longer come to church?
What happens next…?
The points raised in this discussion paper, and the questions or areas for discussion, may well not lead to simple or quick answers. For parish communities to come together, however, whether in small groups or in an open parish meeting is, in itself, a good idea, which will foster a greater sense of parish identity. The greater the variety of people at the meeting, however that can be achieved, and the personal invitation to people who might not even think of coming to such a meeting, will make it a more fruitful exercise.
Each parish or chaplaincy is asked to make a written response to this discussion document. It should be sent to the Local Dean.
Although feedback from individuals has its value, the engagement in discussion with others, speaking and listening, is central to what is being asked following the Pastoral Letter, and reflecting on our life in communities of faith.
Thank you for taking part in this process.
By Peter Jennings.
History was made in the Catholic Church during a special Mass and Investiture at Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham, of Bhai Sahib Bhai Dr Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia and Mr William Ozanne, as Knights of the Pontifical Order of Pope St Gregory the Great, on Sunday 22 April 2012.
The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, invested the internationally known and respected Spiritual Leader and Chairman of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, based in the Handsworth area of Birmingham, with one of the highest Papal Awards.
The Order of St Gregory is normally bestowed on Catholics but in rare cases it is also conferred on non-Catholics in recognition of meritorious service to the Catholic Church and the exceptional example they have set in their communities and country.
More than 120 Sikhs, from Birmingham, London, Leeds, and some who had flown from Kenya and India were present in St Chad’s Cathedral for this unique and ground-breaking event in inter-faith relations involving the Catholic Church and the Sikh faith.
Mr Bill Ozanne, who has worked in the area of inter-religious dialogue locally, nationally and internationally for many years as a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales Committee for Other Faiths, has recently been appointed by Archbishop Longley as Chairman of the Archdiocese of Birmingham Commission for Interreligious Dialogue.
During the Rite of Investiture, which took place immediately after the homily, Bhai Sahib Bhai, was escorted by Sewa Singh Mandla, and Mr Bill Ozanne by his two sponsors, Michael Hodgetts, KSG and Tony Flanagan KSG.
Canon Gerry Breen, Dean of St Chad’s Cathedral, read out the two Papal Briefs of “Benedict XVI Supreme Pontiff”, given at St Peter’s in Rome, signed and sealed by the Cardinal Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone.
Archbishop Bernard Longley invested each of the knights elect In the name of the Holy Father with the insignia of a Knight of the Pontifical Order of St Gregory the Great, pinning the Cross to the left breast of each and presenting them with their framed Papal Brief. The Archbishop also presented Bhai Sahib-ji with the sword of the Pontifical Order of St Gregory the Great.
In his homily Archbishop Bernard Longley said: “This is a truly joyful day for it witnesses a moment of recognition and gratitude on the part of the Catholic Church for the dedication of two men of faith for whom our city of Birmingham is their home and the base for their work. This is also a unique and historical moment in the life of this Cathedral and in the experience of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and perhaps further afield.
“It is very fitting that Bhai Sahib Bhai Dr Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia and Mr Bill Ozanne are receiving Papal Knighthoods from His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on the same occasion and in the same ceremony of investiture. Over a friendship of many years they have discovered not only within each other, but also within the faith traditions that they represent, an openness to dialogue and a desire to deepen understanding and co-operation for the common good.
“They have both personally committed considerable time and energy to the goals of interfaith understanding and of common witness to shared values. But they have also encouraged and enabled the Sikh and Christian traditions to make progress along the pathway from mutual respect towards the deeper insights that friendship brings. They have prompted us to work more closely together in service of others.”
The Archbishop continued: “I believe that it is the first time that a Papal Honour has been bestowed in this way on a spiritual leader from within the Sikh community. It represents the Holy Father’s recognition of Bhai Sahib Bhai’s deeply held desire for fruitful and lasting relations between Sikhs and Catholics and opportunities to witness together.
“We recall Bhai Sahib Bhai’s presence in Assisi for the international meetings of faith leaders at the invitation of Blessed Pope John Paul II and of Pope Benedict – and I am sure that he will long remember being present with Mandla-ji in St Peter’s Square at the funeral of Blessed John Paul II during April 2005.”
Archbishop Bernard Longley stressed: “Nothing could have given greater pleasure to Mr Bill Ozanne than to be receiving this Papal Knighthood alongside Bhai Sahib Bhai, for this moment becomes symbolic of Bill’s own vision for interfaith dialogue and witnesses to his long commitment to this important work of the Church.”
He expressed his gratitude to Bill Ozanne for taking the Chair of the Archdiocese of Birmingham Commission for Interreligious Dialogue.
He said: “Bill Ozanne has constantly emphasised the abiding significance of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its Declaration Nostra Aetate. The insights of this declaration are as relevant to our situation today as when they were written fifty years ago. It is the foundation for our friendship and collaboration at every level with men and women of faith. We are blessed in this city to have an active and committed Faith Leaders Group and I am grateful that so many of its members are here with us today.”
Archbishop Bernard Longley concluded his homily: “The faith communities in this city are often among the first to recognise emerging social needs within our local communities. We want to develop effective partnerships among ourselves and with other agencies wherever appropriate to help meet these needs. May today’s celebration encourage us to continue along the pathway of this commitment not only for the good of our own faith communities but for the common good.”
At the sign of peace Archbishop Longley warmly greeted the two new Papal Knights and members of the families, his two co-Presidents of the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group, the Right Reverend David Urquhart, Anglican Bishop of Birmingham, and Major Samuel Edgar, Divisional Commander, Salvation Army, West Midlands.
St Chad’s Cathedral looked at its magnificent best and the Cathedral Choir, under its Director of Music, Professor David Saint, added to the splendour of an historic and memorable occasion with a wonderful rendering of the Franz Schubert Mass in G major. The great Pugin masterpiece was filled with echoes of joyful sound.
After the final hymn, “Christ is made the sure foundation”, members of the Sikh community sang a hymn of praise accompanied by two musicians playing traditional musical instruments. It was a deeply moving experience and in complete contrast to the ritual and ceremony of the Mass and Investiture.
Mr Sewa Singh Mandla then spoke on behalf of the Sikh community. At the lectern with the lighted 2012 Pascal Candle burning brightly beside him, he concluded: “Our two faiths respect each other. We pray that the relationship between us will grow and flourish.”
Archbishop Bernard Longley pictured after the Investiture Mass with left to right: Mrs Margaret Ozanne, Mr Sewa Singh Mandla, Bhai Sahib Bhai Dr Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Mr Bill Ozanne, Bishop Philip Pargeter, Emeritus Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham and Canon Gerry Breen, Dean of St Chad’s Cathedral.
By Peter Jennings.
The Most Reverenced Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, was the Principal Celebrant at the 8pm Easter Vigil where he blessed the new fire and lighted the Easter candle, at the Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham, on Holy Saturday, 7 April 2012.
The Vigil was followed by the procession from the crypt door outside towards the altar. The great Easter “Exultet” was sung in English by Mgr Mark Crisp, Rector of St Mary’s College Oscott. The staff and students from the diocesan seminary were a most welcome addition to the Easter Triduum this year. The Triduum is one service spread over Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday.
After the Liturgy of the Word and the Gloria, Archbishop Bernard Longley solemnly intoned the great Easter Alleluia. His beautiful tenor voice filled the Cathedral with the joyful sound of rejoicing; in contrast to the starkness of the previous six-weeks of Lent.
Students from St Mary’s College, Oscott, the diocesan seminary, pictured during the Easter Vigil.
After the Litany of the Saints had been sung there followed the Celebration of Reception during which the Archbishop received and warmly welcomed three people (Peter Adcock, Angela Ashurst and Gary Turley-Finch) into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Archbishop Longley then processed to the Baptismal Font where he blessed the water and the three candidates for Baptism (Sabrina Drummond, Debbie Kim and Grace Morgan) made their baptismal promises. Their sponsors and members of the congregation joined in with the renewal of their own baptismal promises, a welcome to the new trio and an affirmation of their faith.
The newly baptised and their sponsors pictured at the baptismal font during the East Vigil.
The three candidates made their Profession of Faith and the Archbishop of Birmingham baptised them – pouring a liberal amount of water over the head of each. It was a short, simple but very beautiful ceremony that fully engaged every individual present.
Archbishop Longley then returned to the sanctuary where, standing at the foot of the steps, he administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to the three people he had received, the three he had baptised, and five further catechumens.
During his homily Archbishop Bernard Longley emphasised: “In our present life we have a foretaste of our risen life in Christ and we are called to live it day by day by responding to God’s grace at work within us, through the scriptures, in the sacraments, through the prayers of faith and in our good works.
The Paschal Candle 2012 pictured during the Easter Vigil at St Chad’s Cathedral.
“We experience many passing moments of re-awakening, when glimpses of the goodness and glory of God’s Kingdom break through the ordinary events of each day – when we catch a reflection of God’s Kingdom in the words and gestures of faith-filled people.”
Archbishop Longley continued: “One of those faith-filled people whose influence we continue to feel today is Blessed John Henry Newman. His beautiful poem The Dream of Gerontius depicts the re-awakening of a sinful yet faithful soul at the point of experiencing the risen life of Christ. Gerontius reflects:
I went to sleep; and now I am refreshed,
A strange refreshment: for I feel in me
An inexpressive lightness, and a sense
Of freedom, as if I were at length myself,
And ne’er had been before.
Archbishop Bernard Longley concluded his thoughtful homily: “Cardinal Newman helps us to see that when we rise to new life in Christ, through our baptism into his death and resurrection, we only then begin to find our real identity and our true path ahead.
“Every Easter re-orients our pathway and casts its new light upon our footsteps. Then, re-awakening and adjusting our eyes to the brilliance of his light, we set our sights once again on him, the risen Lord.”
The Archbishop of Birmingham pictured with the concelebrants during the Easter Vigil Mass.
By Peter Jennings.
An onslaught of sleet and snow, combined with a bitterly cold wind caused the cancellation of the annual Chrism Mass procession of priests and deacons from parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Birmingham on the Wednesday of Holy Week, 4 April 2012.
In previous years the procession had made its way, delightfully and haphazardly, the short distance from the crypt, outside and along the side and front of the Metropolitan Cathedral of St Chad, Birmingham.
The particularly unseasonal spring weather also caused the cancellation, for the first time in many years, of the procession from Cathedral House by the Metropolitan Chapter, the auxiliary bishops and the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Reverend Bernard Longley. This procession escorted by the Papal Knights, had been scheduled to go outside and in through the West Door of this magnificent Pugin gem, situated on the edge of the famous Birmingham Jewellery Quarter.
Spy Wednesday, as it was once known, is the one occasion in the year when all the priests from across the 224 parishes and many varied chaplaincies gather together and are the central figures, filling much of the central part of their magnificent cathedral, with the deacons, religious and lay faithful there just in a supporting role.
Archbishop Bernard Longley presided in the warmth and beauty of St Chad’s. He asked the priests if they were ready to renew the vows they made at their ordination. They responded with a great “I am”. The word of each was the resolution of all. It was a poignant and powerful moment. It always is, from year to year.
In the course of the celebration Archbishop Bernard Longley blessed the oil used for catechumens, for the sick and for those being confirmed.
During his homily the Archbishop said: “Of all the wonderful ceremonies of this Holy Week, when we participate in the sacred drama of the Lord’s passion and resurrection, the Chrism Mass deserves to stand out for its unique focus on the Priesthood of Jesus Christ and on the way that he has chosen to make his priesthood available to the people of our own time and place.”
Archbishop Bernard Longley pictured with his priests during his homily at the Chrism Mass.
Archbishop Longley emphasised that priests and deacons, religious and lay-faithful are all united in the priesthood of Christ. He said: “That is why we must work ever more closely together to further the Church’s mission in our diocese and to face the demands of evangelisation as one body, clergy, religious and lay-faithful seeking a common vision for the future shape of that mission.
“Our common sharing in the priesthood of Christ offers a sure foundation for the fresh collaboration for which I have called in the recent Pastoral Letter (read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent 25 March).”
The Archbishop stressed: “At the heart of this fruitful co-operation is our fidelity as priests to our sacramental sharing in the priesthood of Christ. Being together today we renew the promises of our priestly ordination, but we also remember that this is not the only reason or the most important reason for our coming together in this concelebration. Our first purpose is to be at one, bishop and priests drawn together to bless and consecrate the holy oils.
The Oils are carried in procession to be Blessed by the Archbishop of Birmingham.
The Archbishop of Birmingham pictured during the Blessing of the Oils.
Archbishop Bernard Longley concluded: “The Church calls us together on this one day of the year to exercise the priesthood of Christ in a moment of common witness for the good of the whole diocese as well as for the individual communities we serve.”
By Peter Jennings.
“At the very least we must concede that the demonstrations outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London and in the financial centres of North America, highlight the debate that is to be had concerning the power of wealth and the competing claims of the individual’s right to a just and equitable distribution of wealth in the world,” said the Right Reverend David McGough, Auxiliary Bishop of BiBishop David McGough, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, pictured during the Civic Mass, at St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham, on Sunday 20 November 2011.rmingham, on Sunday 20 November 2011.
Bishop David McGough, Provost of the Metropolitan Chapter, was speaking during his sermon at the Annual Civic Mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral & Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham, on the Solemnity of Christ The King.
Bishop McGough emphasised: “To proclaim Christ as King must surely begin a debate about power. All kingdoms, be they ancient or modern are in some ways about power. At the level of civil life the institution of this Feast was intended to lead to a debate about the powers that hold sway in our society.
“Of equal importance, at the level of the individual, are questions about the attitudes and values that have the power to rule our hearts, to rule our consciences.
“While it is easier to ask the question than to provide the answers, those who are entrusted with the governance and justice of our society, can never ignore these qCanon Gerry Breen, Cathedral Dean, pictured during the procession before the Civic Mass, at St Chad’s Cathedral.uestions.
“In terms of today’s Feast Day, Christ the King, we must ask how these competing powers are to be balanced for the benefit of society.”
Bishop McGough stressed: “We are not our own judges. There is a judgment, be it that of the ballot box or history, that we cannot escape. In the vision of the judgement, the Gospel implies a vision for the future.
That vision for the future is encapsulated in the words of judgment reserved for those described as blessed in the Gospel of Matthew for today: ‘Then the King will say to those on his right hand. Come, you whom my Father has blessed. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you made me welcome, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me.’
Bishop McGough added: “There can be no doubt that the vision set before us in those words envisages a society which has, as one of its most fundamental values, the care of its most vulnerBishop David McGough, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, and Canon Gerry Breen, Cathedral Dean, (right) pictured during the Civic Mass.able members.”
Bishop David McGough concluded with this challenge: “The judgement of history will always be in favour of those countries who have arranged their affairs in such a way as to care for those who are most vulnerable. It is for us to have a vision for the future, and to determine that future by what we do now, the way in which we provide for the well being of all.”
Earlier in his thought-provoking sermon, Bishop David McGough said: “Today, in the Calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. For a calendar that tends to think in term of centuries and millennia, this particular celebration, the Feast of Christ the King, is a comparative late-comer.
“Its establishment came out of the political and social unrest that was sweeping through Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was making a statement that questioned movements in society which were seen as totalitarian, and, in many ways, a denial of the dignity of the individual that is the basis of our democratic society.”
Bishop Mc Gough, Titular Bishop of Chunavia, celebrated the Civic Mass in place of the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Reverend Bernard Longley, who had been summoned to Rome to attend meetings about ecumenical matters.
Before Mass, Canon Gerry Breen, the Cathedral Dean, headed the procession into St Chad’s Cathedral during the opening hymn: ‘Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.’
Distinguished civic visitors included the Deputy Lord Mayor of Birmingham & Lady Mayoress, Councillor Len Gregory and Mrs Jill Gregory; Dr Joe Jordan, Her Majesty’s Deputy Lord Lieutenant, for the County of the West Midlands, and Mrs Val Jordan; Her Majesty’s Judges; Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.
Also among the congregation in the packed Cathedral were local Members of Parliament; local councillors; magistrates; the police; the fire service; members of the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group; the very Reverend Catherine Ogle, Dean of Birmingham Anglican Cathedral; the Principal of Newman University College, Birmingham.
During the Preparation of the Gifts, the beautiful motet ‘Jubilate Deo omnis terra’ (O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands), words from the Psalms and music by Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612), was sung by the St Chad’s Cathedral Singers, conducted by Professor David Saint, Organist and Director of Music. During Communion, the choir sang ‘A Prayer of King Henry VI ‘ in Latin.
After the blessing, the National Anthem was sung and the joyful sound of final hymn, ‘Christ is made the sure foundation,’ reverberated throughout every corner of St Chad’s Cathedral, a Pugin gem set on the edCouncillor Peter Douglas Osborne, Mr Adrian de Redman, and Mrs Stella Jennings, pictured outside St Chad’s Cathedral, after the Civic Mass.ge of Birmingham city centre.
Story and pictures by Peter Jennings.
The Anniversary of the four-day State Visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom, Thursday 16 – Sunday 19 September 2010, was marked by a special Mass of Thanksgiving held in Westminster Cathedral, on Sunday afternoon, 18 September 2011.
The Cathedral was not full for the Mass attended by those who made a particular contribution to the organization of the successful Papal Visit. All of the Bishops of England & Wales, along with seminarians, attended as they remembered the historic meeting of the Holy Father with the Bishops and seminarians at St Mary’s College, Oscott, on Sunday 19 September, 2010, following the beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman by Pope Benedict XVI at Cofton Park, Birmingham that morning.
At the start of Mass Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, welcomed everyone and mentioned a number of people by name. These included: Simon Martin, the Director of Protocol and Vice Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who was officially representing Her Majesty’s Government.
Mr Martin, who exercised overall operational responsibility for the Visit of His Holiness to the United Kingdom, was accompanied by H E Nigel Baker, the new British Ambassador to the Holy See; Dame Helen Ghosh, Susan Scholefield, George Edgar, Alison MacMillan and Tony Humphries.
Councillor Anita Ward, the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, represented Birmingham City Council. Blessed John Henry Newman lived for much of his Catholic life in Birmingham and died in his room at the Oratory House in Edgbaston on 11 August 1890, aged 89.
Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, pictured before Mass.Father Gregory Winterton, aged 89, Provost of the Birmingham Oratory 1972-1992, who revived the Newman Cause during the mid-1970′s and who helped to create popular devotion to the great English Cardinal in many part of the world, was present on the sanctuary.
Detective Chief Superintendent Philip Jordan, represented the Association of Chief Police Officers Visit Team and Detective Chief Inspector Chris Lundrigan, represented the Metropolitan Police Service Command Team.
Mgr Paul Conroy, Coordinator of the Papal Visit on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, represented the Bishops of Scotland. Mgr Andrew Summersgill, Coordinator of the Papal Visit on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales was present.
Also on the sanctuary was Archbishop Elisey of Sourozh from the Russian Orthodox.
MESSAGE FORM POPE BENEDICT XVI
At start of Mass of the two-hour Mass a special message from Pope Benedict XVI was read by His Excellency, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain: “The Holy Father was pleased to learn that on 18 September 2011 a solemn Mass of Thanksgiving will be celebrated in Westminster Cathedral to mark the anniversary of his Apostolic Visit to the United Kingdom. He sends cordial greetings to the bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful gathered for the occasion, as well as to the distinguished civil authorities present.
“His Holiness recalls with deep gratitude the warmth of the welcome given by Her Majesty The Queen and her Government, and he again expresses his appreciation to all those who contributed to the happy outcome of his Visit. He trusts that this moment of thanksgiving will serve as a renewed summons to take up the challenge which he issued a year ago in this very place: to bear joyful witness to the truth of the Gospel “which liberates our minds and enlightens our efforts to live wisely and well, both as individuals and as members of society”.
“In a special way, he encourages the seminarians to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, to devote themselves wholeheartedly to their intellectual and spiritual formation, and to be steadfast heralds of the new evangelization. “Commending you to the intercession of the Blessed John Henry Newman, the Holy Father is pleased to impart his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State.
MESSAGE FROM THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
The message from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was read by the Anglican Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, who represented the Archbishop at the occasion: “Twelve months on, we look back on the visit of Pope Benedict with abiding gratitude. The visit was a great gift for all the Christian communities of the United Kingdom, affirming their role in society and strengthening their resolve to serve the communities of this country. The Pope’s memorable speech in Westminster Hall and many more of his public sermons and addresses brought a remarkable and creative theological mind to bear on the issues of the day, and proved impossible for even the most dedicated secularist to ignore or dismiss.
“But perhaps most importantly of all, those days last September visibly reminded the public at large that Christian discipleship is not the concern of some tiny ageing minority but a reality enthusiastically embraced by millions of all ages and races. Pope Benedict showed us all something of what the particular vocation of the See of Rome means in practice – a witness to the universal scope of the gospel.
“We who belong to other Christian families gladly acknowledge the importance of this witness and join with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in thanking God for the inspiration and challenge of Pope Benedict’s visit, in the hope that we can go on working together for the sake of Christ’s good news here in the United Kingdom.” – +Rowan Cantuar
FULL TEXT OF THE HOMILY GIVEN BY ARCHBISHOP VINCENT NICHOLS
Today we come to thank the Lord for the blessings of the Visit of Pope Benedict to the United Kingdom one year ago and to ask for the Lord’s grace to profit fully from the inspiration of those wonderful days.
Each of us has our special memories from those days. I hope there has been time to reflect on them, study his words and refresh the joy and encouragement we experienced.
For me a particularly evocative moment was the Vigil of Prayer in Hyde Park, well captured in these words of one young person: “The procession of banners revealed the true depth and role of Catholicism in England today. The line was long and diverse – it brought tears to my eyes to see the effort that everyone puts into living out their belief in the sacred value of each human being….
“Pope Benedict spoke to us all of Newman’s witness and living in the light of truth. We all stood listening in a disruption to our daily routine that appeared like a wonderful moral and spiritual boost, sent to prepare us for an inspired return into secular society with our own unique God-given mission.
“At Adoration, the altar was covered in stars like another night sky and the figure of our Supreme Pontiff stood like the most beautiful moonbeam, with the Eucharist held aloft as the greatest treasure.
“As one, we knelt and stood at the instigation of our Holy Father and it felt truly as though we were all one heart, in that field with no roof: one body of worship and a witness to the world around of the great power of love in our faith.” (Rebecca Binney)
Those words, I suggest, sum up the gift and challenge we have received. Yes, we are to be effective witnesses in our society; and we can only be so if we are close to the Lord, strengthened by him in holiness of life.
This inseparable connection between our constant striving for holiness of life and our work in service of others is well expressed in other words of our Holy Father:
“Those who change the world for the better are holy, they transform it permanently, instilling in it the energies that only love, inspired by the Gospel, can elicit. The Saints are humanity’s great benefactors.”
And Pope Benedict, through his words to our young people, called us to be the saints of this age.
For me, three phrases sum up the message of Pope Benedict to us all. It is, of course, a message that reaches beyond the Catholic community and is one which we can pursue with many others, especially our fellow Christians. But it is addressed to us, first of all.
The witness we are to give, he said, is to the beauty of holiness, to the splendour of the truth and to the joy and freedom born of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
How do we grow in the witness to the beauty of holiness that we are to give? Most of all, I believe, through a deepening of our life of prayer. Only prayer roots us in Christ. Only prayer sustains the poise and purpose in life that becomes a witness to the reality of God’s presence.
Only prayer produces the reverence we are to show to all things holy. Only prayer sustains the space and silence our spirits need if we are indeed to be guided and formed by God’s Holy Spirit. As Cardinal Newman said: without prayer we cannot “radiate Christ; we become just another ‘clashing symbol’ in a world filled with growing noise and confusion.”
In the words of Pope Benedict, prayer is simply being in silent inward communion with God at the heart of our thinking, our meditating, and our being. Prayer is letting the Lord have the right of free speech.
This means that every one of us is called to renew in our lives the practice of daily prayer. There is no fixed or set way of prayer that suits everyone. Each of us is to pray as we can, and be faithful to that practice. And coming together in a family for prayer is a great foundation for family life.
This means that we do well to think of our parishes as well as our families, first and foremost, as being schools of prayer, places and communities in which we are encouraged in prayer, tutored in prayer and all contribute to prayer. The rich flowering of so many different ways of prayer and devotion can rightly find their place in our parish life. This much is clear: Pope Benedict is not afraid of diversity in the prayer and liturgical life of the Church. Neither should we be.
Prayer which is truly formed in the faith of the Church, and truly expresses that faith will enrich our shared life. And surely there is to be a special place in our prayer, in every parish, for Eucharistic Adoration. Prayer, then, is the foundation of all. In this way we can become ever more conscious of our dignity as a priestly people, “called to consecrate the world to God through lives of faith and holiness.”
Secondly, Pope Benedict urged us to be witnesses to the splendour or wholeness of the truth. And he gave us an astonishingly clear lesson in how to do so.
Who can forget his address in Westminster Hall? Building on the strengths and achievements of our democracy, he placed the great gift of faith at the service of our world today. He did so with sensitivity and reasoned argument, without hectoring or condemning, inviting rather than demanding, firmly but gently.
Listening to him I was reminded of the lovely words of Cardinal Hume spoken here many years ago. Speaking of St Francis de Sales he said: “He was gentle but firm, a combination which helps us to sustain and guide the faithful. It is never easy to keep these two qualities in harmonious balance. If one is to be favoured at the expense of the other let it be gentleness – a gentleness born of strength. The key to all ministry is to love people as Christ loved them.” (24 January 1992).
Pope Benedict spoke of the need in our society for clearer moral values, needed for a peaceful and harmonious society. Scandals in the world of the media and the violence and looting on the streets of some English cities in mid-August revealed how profoundly true his observations were. He said, “If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident.”
He reminded us of the crucial question: “Where is the ethical foundation for (political) choices to be found?” and that “Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation.”
How are we to think about meeting this challenge? The prayer of Pope St Gregory the Great comes to our help when he prayed for ‘the grace to see life whole and the power to speak effectively of it’, for love of the Lord.
Our Catholic faith, illuminating reason, gives us that gift. We see life whole when we recognise the true nature of the unborn child. We see life whole when we see in every pupil not only a future contributor to our economic prosperity, not only a future parent and leader, but also a spiritual being whose deepest needs and surest happiness can be answered only in the mystery of God and in a personal relationship with Him.
We see life whole when we recognise the limited value of our personal experience as the criterion of moral truth. We see life whole when we recognise that the well-being of every human person has to be at the centre of our economic life, the ultimate purpose of our striving and the measure by which we are to judge success. We see life whole when, in sickness and terminal illness, we both treasure life as it is and do not fear death when it comes, so that we neither deny the dignity of life at its endings, nor fail to welcome our journey to God when He calls.
In our exploration of life in its fullness we are aided and inspired by our own Blessed John Henry Newman. How much we can rejoice in a new wave of interest and devotion to this great man. We rejoice in his sensitivity to our culture and his insistence on the reasonableness of faith in God in an age of agnosticism and doubt. He will continue to inspire us.
Perhaps today’s Gospel expresses most forcefully the challenge of seeing life whole. We heard, somewhat incredulously, of the owner of the vineyard paying those who came so late to work as much as he paid to those who had laboured all day. The parable focuses on not so much the lot of the workers, but the absolute generosity of God, whose merciful actions go way beyond the requirements of justice.
We are always tempted to reckon life in terms of our achievements and our possessions. But when we see life whole then we know it is all a gift of God. All we have is God’s gift. When this is clear, then we are able to serve generously, to give freely, for what we have is already a gift, and what is freely received can more readily be freely given.
As the Holy Father said in Hyde Park, “Faith is meant to bear fruit in the transformation of our world through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives and activities of believers.” Today we pray that the long line of banners and groups of Catholic action in our society will grow stronger and longer, coordinated centrally for strength and flourishing locally in responsiveness to all the needs and demands of our difficult times.
Finally, Pope Benedict reminded us of a key testimony that we are to give: that of joy and freedom. How many in our society would immediately associate those qualities with the Catholic Church? Yet they are there, to be seen in so many. Approaching two million young people – including some who were not so young at all – gave unmistakable testimony to that joy and freedom born of a relationship with Christ at the recent World Youth Day in Madrid. This was a manifestation of youthful faith and friendship, reaching to every continent.
Maybe its secret was expressed in the words of a young pilgrim from this country: “Catholic is what we are, not something we belong to!” That sense of common, inner identity, as opposed to a sense of membership of an organisation, is something for many of us to rediscover. Being a Catholic is a way of life, not a set of membership duties. Being a Catholic is expressed in everyday actions, the habits of a maturing faith, actions of devotion, kindness and, indeed, self-denial, actions which are willing expressions of our love of the Lord who alone is the source of our joy and freedom.
I hope that this is the spirit in which we will embrace the communal act of Friday abstinence, sharing together in our identification with Jesus in his self-denial for our salvation. Let the joy and freedom born of our loving relationship with him lift the burden of so much anxiety and strife from our hearts so that others may see the hope and consolation we receive from him.
My brothers and sisters, today we do indeed give thanks for the ministry and charism of the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St Peter. We willingly express again our love and devotion to him, the visible touchstone of our faith and truly our Holy Father in the Church. We promise him the support of our prayers and we commit ourselves to working each day, in our families, our friendships, our schools and our parishes to reap a hundredfold from the seeds he has sown in our hearts.
May this truly be a moment of fresh wind in our sails, a moment of hope and confidence in the gifts that our Catholic faith offers to our world. Amen.
By Peter Jennings.
Archbishop Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, was the Principal Celebrant and Preacher at Mass during the annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of the English Martyrs at Harvington Hall, Kidderminster, Worcestershire, on Sunday 4 September.
The Elizabethan manor-house was built by Humphrey Pakington (1555-1631) a courtier from the household of the Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, who managed to practice his Catholic faith in secret during a time of great persecution. Harvington Hall has the finest surviving series of priest-holes anywhere in the country and during Elizabethan times offered shelter to many recusant priests.
Several hundred pilgrims and priests from parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Birmingham were present on the lawn on a glorious early September afternoon. The blue sky, warm sunshine, the backcloth of trees and the old manor-house added to the occasion.
Red vestments in honour of the English Martyrs were worn by Archbishop Bernard Longley; Bishop Philip Pargeter, retired Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham; Mgr Canon John Moran, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Birmingham since 1998, and Parish Priest of St Mary’s Harvington since 2008; and Fr Douglas Lamb, Parish Priest of St Ambrose, Kidderminster. More than 15 other priests also concelebrated including Canon Gerry Breen, Dean of the Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham.
The four martyrs especially venerated at Harvington, who worked at various times in the area, are: St John Wall – hung, drawn and quartered at Red Hill, Worcester on 2 August 1679, and canonised in 1970; St Nicholas Owen – died under torture in the Tower on 2 March 1606, and was canonised in 1970; Bl. Edward Oldcorne – executed at Red Hill, Worcester on 7 April 1606 and beatified in 1929; and Bl. Arthur Bell – executed at Tyburn on 11 December 1643 and beatified in 1987.
During his homily Archbishop Bernard Longley said: “I am delighted to join you for the second time on pilgrimage to Harvington to honour the memory and witness of the English Martyrs of our diocese and especially those associated with this beautiful place. When I was last here on pilgrimage we were all making our last-minute preparations for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom and to Birmingham for the Beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman.”
Archbishop Longley stressed: “The witness of the martyrs here at Harvington Hall is an inspiration to all of us. When we reflect on their courage and loving steadfastness in the face of opposition and menace we are moved to make apology to our Lord for the comparative weakness of our own faith. Today’s pilgrimage isn’t only a lovely day-out, but it fires us again with enthusiasm for the mission that Christ has entrusted to us in our own time, just as the Holy Father’s visit and example have given us fresh courage to follow and serve our Lord.”
He said: “The prayers of our pilgrimage at Harvington contributed to the remarkable blessings that have been the lasting legacy of the papal visit. For Catholics our sense of identity and unity were strengthened and we saw the Holy Father’s spiritual leadership widely recognised by people of all faiths and of none. Other Christians and people of faith welcomed the emphasis placed by Pope Benedict on the vital contribution that we can and do make to the common good of all.”
At the conclusion of his homily Archbishop Bernard Longley paid a warm tribute to Mgr John Moran on his last day as Vicar General. The Archbishop said: “I want to thank him again, in the midst of his own parishioners and all of us on pilgrimage for his devoted service to the clergy and people of the Archdiocese as VG over these last thirteen years.
“Mgr John has exercised his demanding ministry as VG with dedication and above all by example. In this way we have witnessed the qualities of his generous character and the many talents that have enabled him to achieve so much for the sake of the Kingdom of God,” he said.
Archbishop Longley added: “I know how much Mgr John has been looking forward to dedicating his time to the parish community here at Harvington and how greatly supported he has felt by the people of this parish.”
The Archbishop of Birmingham announced that he had appointed Fr Timothy Menezes, Parish Priest of St Thomas More Coventry since 2004, as his new Vicar General, as from Monday 5 September 2011.
The Visit of Pope Benedict XVI evoked for many people the spiritual reality of life and rekindled hope and faith: hope in the goodness that is within people and in our society, and faith in God. Even if it is not easily articulated, a spiritual yearning is to be found within most people. This yearning is found also among Catholics who have lost touch with their faith or whose faith was never deeply rooted in a personal relationship with Christ. Wishing to respond to this yearning but perhaps lacking in confidence in talking about their own spiritual life, many Catholics are asking how they can witness to their faith; what can they do to help introduce their faith in Christ to others in simple and straightforward ways?
The Bishops of England and Wales recognise that simple acts of witness, accompanied by sincere prayer, can be a powerful call to faith. Traditional Catholic devotions such as making the sign of the cross with care and reverence, praying the Angelus, saying a prayer before and after our meals, to name only a few, are straightforward actions which both dedicate certain moments in our daily lives to Almighty God and demonstrate our love and trust in His goodness and providence. If these devotions have been lost or even forgotten, particularly in our homes and schools, we have much to gain from learning and living them again.
The Bishops have looked again at the role of devotions and the practice of penance, both of which can help to weave the Catholic faith into the fabric of everyday life. Our regular worship at Holy Mass on Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection, is the most powerful outward sign and witness of our faith in Jesus Christ to our family, friends and neighbours. Sunday must always remain at the heart of our lives as Catholics.
The Bishops also wish to remind us that every Friday is set aside as a special day of penitence, as it is the day of the suffering and death of the Lord. They believe it is important that all the faithful again be united in a common, identifiable act of Friday penance because they recognise that the virtue of penitence is best acquired as part of a common resolve and common witness.
The law of the Church requires Catholics on Fridays to abstain from meat, or some other form of food, or to observe some other form of penance laid down by the Bishops’ Conference. The Bishops have decided to re‐establish the practice that this penance should be fulfilled simply by abstaining from meat and by uniting this to prayer. Those who cannot or choose not to eat meat as part of their normal diet should abstain from some other food of which they regularly partake. This decision will come into effect from Friday 16 September 2011.
Since the Bishops of England and Wales announced this decision in May 2011, a number of questions have been asked. Among these are the following:
Q1. With all that is happening in our society and our world, are there not more important things to be concentrating on? Why have the Bishops of England and Wales reintroduced this common act of penance now?
The Bishops are of course very much aware of the great issues and challenges that we face at home and abroad. As shepherds of the Church and successors of the Apostles, in communion with the successor of Peter, they are charged by Christ to read the ‘signs of the times’ and re‐examine in each new age how the Church needs to respond to these issues and challenges. Re‐emphasising the importance of penitence is but one of the responses the Bishops wish to make to the growing desire of people to deepen and give identity to the spiritual aspects of their lives.
Indeed, even though since 1985 it has been possible in England and Wales for the faithful to substitute another act of penance in place of abstinence from meat, many Catholics have continued to practice this ancient form of penitence. Moreover, there are signs that in recent years, the practice of voluntary Friday abstinence has become more prevalent, especially among young Catholics who are seeking a greater sense of their Catholic identity and are looking for ways of bringing their faith into their daily lives. It is also clear that many of us forget our obligation to do penance on a Friday.
Abstaining from meat is easy to remember, a simple way to give witness at work, at school and even in the family and, although it is still an act of penitence, cannot be considered to put any real or substantial additional burden on the lives of the faithful.
Q2. What is penitence?
Penitence is the sorrow we feel, and know in justice is due, for wrongs that have been done. Penance is the expression of penitence as an act, or acts, of repentance and is part of a healing process which brings reconciliation and peace. Penance may be done for wrongs committed personally or for wrongs done by another.
Without ‘penitence’, acts of penance could become merely mechanical and of no spiritual benefit. The precept of penitenceiii reminds us therefore that we are in need of continuous “…conversion and renewal, a renewal which must be implemented not only interiorly and individually but also externally and socially”iv. For Catholics, the practice of penance constitutes a necessary component of Christian life.v The Sacred Scriptures and the early Church Fathers insist above all on three forms of penance, prayer, fasting and almsgiving (or works of charity). These express respectively, conversion in relation to God, to oneself and to others.vi Expressed by acts of penance, penitence is the spiritual disposition by which every Catholic identifies with Christ in his death on the cross. In prayer, we unite the sufferings and sacrifices in our lives with those of Christ’s passion.vii In fasting or abstaining from some food, we die a little to self in order to be close to Christ. In almsgiving, we demonstrate our solidarity with the sufferings of Christ in those in need.viii All three forms of penitence constitute a vital part of Christian living. When this is visible ‘externally and socially’, then it is also an important act of witness.
Q3. Why are we obliged to practice penitence on Fridays?
From the earliest centuries of the Church’s history, Friday was dedicated to the memory of the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus Christ, as a day on which we should make a special effort to practice penitence. The seasons and days of penitence in the course of the Liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday) are therefore intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice.ix For this reason, the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church specifies the obligations of Latin Ritex Catholics: “All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.” (Canon 1250)
Q4. Why is abstinence from meat or any particular food a part of penitence?
Abstinence is a form of fasting. It is a way of disciplining or training the body. Few question the need to watch our intake of food when we are training to take part in a sport. Abstinence is part of our spiritual training. It reminds us that our bodies and our lives are gifts of God. Abstinence can also remind us (and each other) of the sacredness of the lives of others who lack the food we enjoy. As a public witness then, it can be a service to those whose life and human dignity are in danger from poverty, hunger and all forms of violence.
The precise reason for the traditional practice of abstaining specifically from meatxi on Fridays and other penitential days is not known. What is without doubt is that it is a very ancient traditionxii, common to both the Latin Rite Church and the Eastern Rite Churches.
Q5. Eating meat is not that important to me and therefore not much of a penance or sacrifice on my part. What then is the value of my abstaining from meat on a Friday?
For some people abstinence from meat will not necessarily be much of a ‘personal’ penance or sacrifice. Indeed, many people do not eat meat. Giving up going out with friends on a Friday night, for example, would be for some much more of a penance or personal sacrifice. However, to say that we do not eat meat or we dislike meat, or that we ‘prefer fish’, is to miss the point! What the Bishops are asking us to do, first and foremost, is to make abstaining from meat a common act of penitence; a common witness and sacrifice. This act unites us and reminds us of our personal duty, each Friday, to sacrifice something which is precious to us out of love for Almighty God and out of love for others. Moreover, it is not just as an individual act of witness that we are asked to undertake Friday penance but as a weekly prophetic witness of the whole Catholic community. It witnesses that being a Catholic requires us, as a community, through our prayer, abstaining and almsgiving/works of charity, to stand alongside those who are in need.
If abstaining from meat is not really a sacrifice for us then we should consider doing something in addition to abstaining from meat. This will keep us united in this common sign of witness and enable us to make our act of penitence a real personal sacrifice and help us to stand in solidarity with those in real need.
Q6. Does this mean that we should eat fish on Fridays?
There is no requirement for us to eat fish instead of meat on a Friday. Our act of abstinence does not mean that we have to eat another particular type of food as the regular substitute for meat on a Friday. The precise goal of penitence is not simply the avoidance of meat or its substitution with another food but relating the external and common act of penance we do to inner conversion, prayer and works of charityxiii.
Q7. What should I do if I am invited out for a meal on a Friday?
If our friends and colleagues value us they will not be offended or upset if we tell them, ahead of time, that we do not eat meat on Fridays. Our choice to observe abstaining from meat in this social setting does permit us though to witness ‐ in an indirect way ‐ that our Catholic faith is important, that we are not ashamed of it. It may also provide us with an opportunity, particularly if we are asked, to explain to our friends and colleagues what the significance of our faith is for us and our lives.
Q8. Why is prayer important to our Friday penance?
Next to Sunday, the Lord’s Day, Friday has always been a special day in the Catholic Church for prayer. On a Sunday our prayer is in thanksgiving to God for the new and eternal life brought to us by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. On a Friday our prayer is in thanksgiving for the gift of the mortal life that we have been given; a life which Christ willingly sacrificed on the cross for our sake. A fitting prayer then, as part of our Friday penance, would be to ask Almighty God to turn away all threats to mortal life. The act of abstinence itself can be offered consciously as a prayer for life and in reparation for sins against life.
Q9. What has almsgiving or works of charity to do with abstaining from meat on a Friday?
Abstaining from meat on a Friday is not meant to be an end in itself. We engage in this common act of penitence to encourage each other and to unite all our personal sacrifices, whatever they may be for us as individuals, with the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for the good of all. Abstinence from meat (or some other food if meat is not part of our regular diet) can also be put at the service of others if we make a sacrifice and give the financial savings made from our abstention (or fasting) to charities which assist those who are poor or suffering. If we are unable to make that financial sacrifice, we can still perform a ‘work of charity’, an act of kindness and love to another person who is in need or suffering in some way.
Q10. Are all Catholics obliged to do penance by abstaining from meat on Fridays?
Canon 1251 of the Code of Canon Law states: “Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the Conference of Bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Canon 1252 states that: “The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.”
Those under fourteen years of age, the sick, the elderly and frail, pregnant women, seafarers, manual workers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense to their hosts or causing friction, and those in other situations of moral or physical impossibility are not required to observe abstention from meat; in other words, we should act prudently.
Q11. Are the Bishops placing a greater obligation on Catholics in England and Wales? Apart from the exceptions above, will it be a ‘sin’ to eat meat on a Friday after the Bishops’ decision takes effect in September?
The obligation on Catholics in England and Wales to do penance on a Friday will be the same after Friday 16 September 2011 as it was before that date. The only change is that the Bishops have determined that the requirement by all the faithful to do penance on a Friday will be fulfilled by abstaining from meat. When asked a similar question to this, the Holy See replied that the ‘gravity’ of the obligation applies to our intention to observe penance as a regular and necessary part of our spiritual lives as a wholexiv. Therefore, the ‘gravity’ of the obligation does not relate to observing the specific act of penance (abstaining from meat) prescribed by the Conference of Bishops. The ‘gravity’ of the obligation applies to the intention to do penance during the prescribed penitential days and seasons of the Church’s yearxv. Failure to abstain from meat on a particular Friday then would not constitute a sin.
Fr Marcus Stock
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
i Code of Canon Law, Canon 1251
ii The Bishops have also stated that those who cannot or choose not to eat meat as part of their normal diet should abstain from some other food of which they regularly partake.
iii Apostolic Constitution, Paenitemini, Pope Paul VI, 1966
v Code of Canon Law, Canon 1249
vi Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1434
vii Galatians 2:20
viii Matthew 25:40
ix Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1438
x Eastern Rite Catholics have their own penitential practices as specified by the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches
xi The practice of abstaining from what belongs to meat (Latin: ‘carnis’) in the Latin Rite Church used to include not only the flesh, offal and blood of warm‐blooded animals (this is generally what ‘carnis’ refers to), but also things that ‘came from flesh’. This included eggs, milk and any other dairy products. Most of the Eastern Rite Churches still preserve abstinence from other foods, including oil and wine, in addition to the meat of animals. However, the Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini of Pope Paul VI states that the “the law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat” and Canon 1251 of the Code of Canon Law requires only abstinence from meat.
xii Explicit mention is made of the practice of abstinence on Fridays from the end of the first century A.D., the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, as well as by St Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian in the third century. St Gregory the Great, writing to St Augustine of Canterbury, spoke of the practice regarding abstinence “We abstain from flesh meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs.”
xiii Apostolic Constitution, Paenitemini, Pope Paul VI, 1966
xiv The “substantial observance” of the penitential discipline of Fridays and Ash Wednesday, Pope Paul VI wrote, “binds gravely.” Interpreting this statement authoritatively, the Sacred Congregation of the Council (now the Congregation for the Clergy) decreed that this grave obligation does not refer to the individual days of penance, but to “the whole complexus of penitential days to be observed . . . that is, one sins gravely against the law, who, without an excusable cause, omits a notable part, quantitative or qualitative, of the penitential observance which is prescribed as a whole (February 24, 1967; reprinted in Canon Law Digest, vol. 6, pp. 684‐85).
xv Apostolic Constitution, Paenitemini, Pope Paul VI, 1966
By Peter Jennings.
Mgr Keith Newton, Ordinary for the Ordinariate, under the Patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman, who took part in the deeply moving and memorable ceremony, said that the number of priests in the Ordinariate now numbered 35.
Bishop Mark Jabalé OSB, Parish Priest of Chipping Norton, Mgr Canon John Moran, Vicar General and Canon Gerry Breen, Dean of the Cathedral, together with more than 30 priests, concelebrated the Mass with the Archbishop of Birmingham.
Celebrating their first Mass as Catholic priests – in order of ordination – were: Fr Richard Smith, Fr John Pitchford, Fr John Lungley, Fr Paul Burch, Fr Christopher Marshall, Fr Matthew Pittam, Fr David Mawson, and Fr Paul Berrett.
During his homily, Mgr Keith Newton addressed the eight former Anglicans and said: “You have been called by Christ – a truth you must never forget – and that calling has been ratified by the Church.
“There is for you all both a sense of continuity and of change. There is continuity because that call to Christian ministry first came to you some years ago, in some cases many years ago. You have many years of faithful service and experience to bring with you, but you will also be aware that your ministry in the future will be set in a totally new context as priest of the Catholic Church.
“Your ordination today will be a fulfilment and completion of all that has gone before. It will also be radically different, as you will exercise that ministry of word and sacrament from the heart of the Church in communion with the successor of Peter, whom Pope Benedict reminded us in his homily at Westminster Abbey ‘is charged with a particular care for the Unity of Christ’s flock’.
Mgr Newton stressed: “First and foremost then you are to be ordained a priest of the Catholic Church. What happens to you today will give you a new authentic authority to your ministry.
“You will discover in the words of Lumen Gentium that ‘There can be no genuine priestly ministry except in communion with the Supreme Pontiff’ and you will share that priestly ministry with every other priest of the Catholic Church.
“One of the most moving parts of the Ordination Rite is the giving of the Kiss of Peace by your brother priests. This profoundly expresses the unity of the priesthood in the Catholic Church.”
Mgr Newtown said: “Though you are ordained for the whole Church you will also be priests within the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. You have all been involved in a spiritual journey, certainly over the last year and probably for much longer than that. It has been a journey not without its difficulties.
“Archbishop Bernard will remind you to: ’model your life on the mystery of the cross.’ These are profound and penetrating words.
“As you look back over the years I am sure you will see the providence of God at work in your lives and that he has brought you now to this joyful moment.”
Mgr Newton emphasised: “As some of the first priest of Our Lady’s Ordinariate you have that special responsibility to help bring to fruition that vision which the Holy Father sets out in the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus.”
Mgr Newton quoted the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his address to the Bishops of England, Scotland and Wales at St Mary’s College, Oscott, on 19 September 2010: “This should be seen as a prophetic gesture that can contribute positively to the developing relations between Anglicans and Catholics. It helps us set our sights on the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activity: the restoration of full ecclesial communion in the context of which the mutual exchange of gifts from our respective spiritual patrimonies serves as enrichment to us all”.
Mgr Keith Newton concluded: “We will do that with humility knowing how much we will be receiving. May God bless you as you serve him as priests of the Catholic Church.”
Before Archbishop Bernard Longley gave the final blessing, Mgr Keith assured the priests of the diocese present that the newly ordained priests of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, wanted to “work co-operatively and fully” with them.
By Peter Jennings.
Archbishop Bernard Longley presided and preached at a special Mass to pray for peace in Pakistan, held at the Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, 3 April.
Bishop Anders Arborelius, Bishop of Stockholm, Sweden and President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scandinavia, and his Vicar General, who were attending a conference in Birmingham, together with Canon Gerry Breen, Cathedral Dean and Fr Jeremy Howard, Chairman of the Archdiocese of Birmingham Commission for Inter-Religious Dialogue, concelebrated with the Archbishop of Birmingham.
The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Councillor Len Gregory and the Lady Mayoress, Mrs Gillian Gregory, together with Dr Saeed Khan Mohmand, the Consul General of Pakistan, were among the congregation that included members of other faiths.
A framed picture of Shabhaz Bhatti bedecked with two Pakistan national flags stood on a lectern in a place of honour next to the sanctuary steps.
During his homily Archbishop Bernard Longley said that the Mass was being offered for the repose of the soul of Minister Shabhaz Bhatti; and to pray for God’s peace to prevail among all peoples and in particular in Pakistan.
The Archbishop of Birmingham said: We are very mindful today of all those places where people’s lives have ended in violence. As we pray for Shabhaz Bhatti we also remember those who died yesterday in Afghanistan, and Police Constable Ronan Kerr, aged 25, who died after a device exploded under his car outside his home in Omagh, in Northern Ireland.
“We pray for peaceful solutions to the differences that divide communities across the world even as we thank God for the peaceful co-operation and friendships that unite the varied faith communities of our city.”
Archbishop Longley continued: “Especially today we recall the life of Shabhaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities who died tragically and violently at the age of forty-two, in Islamabad on 2 March.
“As a member of the Cabinet of the Federal Government of Pakistan he witnessed to his faith by working for peaceful co-operation between all sectors of society. In particular he sought to make a difference to the lives of the minority groups in Pakistan as he spoke out for moderation and tolerance. You may recall that he was trying to ameliorate the impact of the law regarding blasphemy so that it could not be misused in the pursuit of personal grudges.”
The Archbishop emphasised: “A practising Catholic himself, Shabhaz Bhatti’s death reminds us of the suffering and fears of other Christians and we pray that the sacrifices he made may bear some fruits of unity for all the people of Pakistan.
“Some time before he died Shabhaz Bhatti recorded a message which gives a powerful insight into his life and his faith in Christ. His own eyes were open to the sufferings of many people and his faith drove him to do all that he could to serve the cause of justice and peace.
“In his recorded message he said: Jesus has given me power and wisdom and motivation to serve suffering humanity. I follow the principles of my conscience, and I am ready to die and sacrifice my life for the principles I believe.”
Earlier Archbishop Longley said that Laetare Sunday – Rejoicing Sunday – half way through Lent, was also Mothering Sunday and “a welcome opportunity to give thanks to God for our own mothers and for all mothers in their dedication to their families.”
Post Script: On the same day as the special Mass was celebrated in Birmingham, a triple suicide bombing in Pakistan killed at least 40 people gathered for an annual three-day Sufi religious festival. Sufis are a minority Muslim group who follow mystical beliefs.
The suicide bombers blew themselves up after they were stopped by police outside the crowded Sufi shrine in the Dera Ghazi Khan district in the Eastern Province of Punjab. Dozens of other people were injured in the deadly attack.