10th October 2020
It takes a while to get used to a new way of doing things and, like many of you , I’ve found it strange celebrating Mass according to the pattern which the Council of Bishops suggested a couple of months ago. No offertory, no singing, no Universal Prayer and shorter homilies (!). We also received quite definite directions as to how we should prepare bread and wine and handle vessels and books. Apart from this, the requirement to record and file attendance details, to sanitise church, vessels and anything which had been touched was also very time consuming and of necessity involved our cleaner almost every day. These requirements made it very difficult to continue the daily liturgical pattern to which we had all been accustomed, but I know that many of you were able to compensate for this loss to some extent by attending Mass virtually at a variety of places.
However, perhaps the strangest change was due to the requirement to observe social distancing when Holy Communion was being distributed. A change which meant that the last thing you did before leaving church was to receive the sacrament and go out through a different door, sanitising your hands en-route. This meant that communion was distributed after the post communion prayer, and because you were all to be encouraged to go straight home, it was very difficult to talk with each other after Mass. You were mainly gone by the time I’d finished in church!
I began to work my way through a list of some 200 phone numbers with a varying degree of success, and then just a few weeks ago it seemed as though a degree of normality had arrived back. Home visits had been drastically reduced for obvious reasons, and as we had been advised to concentrate on the very sick and those who were near to death, it was a great joy to begin sacramental visits to the housebound and the elderly once more.
Unfortunately this didn’t last for long, and as infections began to rise again it was necessary to put on hold the plans which I’d made to begin a move back to liturgical normality. The dark nights were also making it increasingly difficult for people to attend the Tuesday evening Mass at Axminster, and so I decided replace this with a 10am celebration each Friday morning from the beginning of November. I also realised that we were now becoming used to celebrating in a different way, and so I could do all of the extra bits and pieces much more quickly. I calculated that this would generate sufficient time to make the journey from Axminster to Lyme on a Sunday morning without breaking too many traffic regulations!
And so from the beginning of November, Mass will be said at Axminster (now the parish church, of course) every Sunday morning at 0900 hours. In addition to this there will be a 1100 hours celebration every other Sunday morning at Lyme Regis and every other Saturday evening at Seaton at 1730 hours. The weekday celebrations will now all take place at 10 am from the same date. That is, each Wednesday at Seaton, each Thursday at Lyme and each Friday at Axminster.
I do hope this will all go as planned, and that the wretched pandemic won’t force any alterations. It will be good to return to what we’ve lost and of course we do need to celebrate the formation of our new parish. I am convinced that all of these joys will be given back to us before very much longer.
Until then please remember that I’m on the end of a phone and can be available to you very quickly.
May God bless you all. Anthony
29 February 2020
Humour is a wonderful thing. It defuses tense situations, and a good laugh always makes us feel better. I think Jesus probably had a fine sense of humour and we can see evidence of this in many writings recorded in the Gospels. He used nicknames for several of his disciples and I can think of at least two occasions when he used gentle fun to make a religious point within an otherwise serious encounter. We usually relax when we smile; difficult conversations become less tense, and when we can laugh at ourselves it’s a lot easier to see the other person’s point of view.
I make this point because I want to write about the quite difficult topic of Christian Unity, and whenever I think about this matter I smile at the recollection of a little joke which I was told many years ago. Because I’m a Catholic I’ve made the Catholic tradition the butt of the joke, but I hasten to add that it’s quite possible to swap denominations between any of the traditions which the little story makes use of! Here’s the story:
“Some new arrivals in Heaven were being shown around by St Peter. The group was quite large and included Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, and Members of the URC, Salvationists, Quakers and Christians from several other traditions. Eventually St Peter led them to a walled enclosure, and leaning a ladder against it, he let them see inside, one by one. They saw groups of people moving about, talking, playing on harps, singing hymns or polishing their halos, and all of them were oblivious of the viewers looking down from the ladder.
When everyone had seen the sight, one of the new arrivals asked St Peter who they were. ”Ah”, he said, with a smile, “They’re the Catholics. They think they’re the only ones here, and so we try to humour them a bit!”
The point of the story is this:
The foundation of our unity as Christians is the universal givenness of Jesus, the self-giving victim. Any tradition which has a unity derived over against some other group, by excluding them, betrays the very deepest truth of the universal or Catholic faith, which by its very nature has no “over against.” This is why it’s so sad when Christians of any tradition, turn belonging to their tradition into a well-defined cultural group with both a clearly marked inside and outside, and very firm ideas as to who belongs outside.
Any sense of identity which depends on excluding others is not that which is freely given by Christ.
The gratuity of God’s goodness should result in a growing awareness of our similarity to the whole human race which is loved by God. Any real experience of the crucified and risen Lord which does not make whoever receives it more, rather than less, inclined to love the human race and acknowledge his or her dependence on it, is suspicious to say the least. A real experience of Jesus makes a person less inclined to judge and to consider themselves separate from others. Whoever teaches that a certain sort of experience is the test of being a real Christian is building a wall, a serious stumbling block. It’s a mistake to claim any experience as a substitute for a relationship working over a long period of time, which produces deep changes in a person’s life. The test of a healthy relationship with Jesus is to look not at feelings, but at our patterns of relating with other people; especially those with whom Jesus identified. A private experience called “knowing Jesus” can never be a substitute for a public change in ways of relating within the framework by which Jesus makes himself known. When we define ourselves by excluding others, we run the danger of stepping outside of the Gospel.
On 1st April the three Catholic parishes of Seaton, Axminster and Lyme Regis will formally become the single parish of the Most Holy Trinity. The journey towards unity, even within our own tradition, has been long and complicated. Not so long ago each individual parish had its own congregation and its own parish priest. It was responsible for its own finances and within the Canons of the Church it was responsible for its own liturgical variations. Each congregation was different, and no doubt each one accounted for at least a part of its identity by its difference from the others. This may have been done in a laughing kind of way, but that doesn’t make it any less real. At first it became necessary to share a priest, and his movement through three communities brought with it an increasing amount of practical sharing. Indeed, it was the practical necessities which probably acted as the catalyst for growing unity. Major Feast days gradually became shared occasions probably through necessity , but nevertheless a necessity which was eased by the practical sharing which preceded it.
The different congregations began to grow together socially, but once more the social growth owed its origins, at least in part, to the shared worship which preceded it. Strengths and weaknesses were discovered and no doubt admired and laughed at in equal measure. But learning took place and this learning and the acceptance of difference which it eased, wasn’t imposed from the top, but grew as Christians from the three parishes began to see each other as different faces of the same diamond.
The final and perhaps most difficult part of the journey was to let go of individual financial obligations and to share what we possessed with each other, whilst continuing to respect the wishes of benefactors now deceased.
All of us who call ourselves Christian have an obligation to follow the wish of Jesus that we “should all be one”. But after hundreds of years we still seem to be a very long way from unity. The problems are immense, and the differences between some traditions are huge, but I am convinced that the path towards unity will be eased if we reflect on the way in which our three separate Catholic parishes have united, and learned from each other’s differences. We need to remember that The Church calls us to work together with others for the common good, and to reject nothing of what is true and holy, wherever it is found.
Practical Ecumenism suggests that working together can profitably precede praying together, and this is one with the pattern already described above. Areas of social justice, environmental issues and the street pastor initiative have seen good results.
Most of us are very much more exercised with what we can teach each other rather than with what we can learn from each other. It requires humility to share with others whilst still maintaining our individual identities, but this path can lead to change and growth. Likewise, when we reflect less on doctrinal differences and more on ecclesial similarities, empathy and dialogue will grow and flourish.
Enough, I think; but even though I’ve exceeded my one thousand words I’d like to leave you with an ecumenical smile! Again, please remember that “Methodist” and “Catholic” are interchangeable:
A Methodist minister and a Catholic priest were great rivals in the village. They died on the same day and arrived in heaven at the same time. The Methodist was delighted to see great circles of Methodists gathered around God’s throne. Stretching out beyond this inner circle were outer circles of Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians and many other traditions. The Catholic circle was a long way off, right on the horizon. The Methodist minister was triumphant. “What about that then?” he said. “That should shock you!”
“No” said the priest, “St Peter has just told me that mine are the only lot God can trust out of his sight”
(My apologies to everyone!) Anthony