Pilgrimage to Walsingham

Yesterday, a number of the brethren went on pilgrimage to Walsingham with our parishes of the Holy Name of Jesus and Our Lady Immaculate, and the wonderful Mary Mother of God Chelmsford praesidium of the Legion of Mary. It was a joy to see many of the praesidium’s auxiliary members join us as well.

Unfortunately the novice forgot to take photographs while we were there, in spite of taking the camera with him, but I’m sure many of you already know what it looks like in Walsingham! It was probably the excitement of going to the shrine, for he has a great affection for Walsingham and the East Anglian countryside.

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We were greatly blessed that the Bishop-elect – who until now has been the director of the shrine, Rt Rev Dr Alan Williams SM, pictured above – saw our names on the weekly programme and decided to come and celebrate the Mass, despite already having said his last public Mass in Walsingham as director last Sunday. He will be consecrated Bishop of Brentwood on Tuesday, the feast of the Precious Blood.

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Some of us walked the “holy mile”, the short route from the Catholic shrine to the village. The original shrine in the village of Little Walsingham – which was a small wooden kiosk, built to the proportions of the Holy House in Nazareth, within a larger stone church which was the home of Austin canons – was destroyed at the reformation; the statue of Our Lady was burned in London, and the ashes thrown into the Thames. The pilgrimage route in the middle ages was one of the busiest in Europe, and there were many chapels and smaller shrines along it. The last of these station churches, the Slipper Chapel, is in the hamlet of Houghton St Giles, one mile south of Walsingham, which is now the Catholic shrine. In the 1980s, a rather unusual structure was built nearby to provide more room for liturgical celebrations. The “holy mile” is the last leg of the journey, which pilgrims sometimes remove their shoes to walk – hence the name, “Slipper Chapel”. In here is the new statue of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, in emulation of the original (in fact, this is the 3rd modern version of the statue, all of which look very different). I imagine that the slipper chapel is about the same size as the original Holy House. The photograph above shows the celebration of High Mass in the Slipper Chapel (note the different statue) during a pilgrimage of local seminarians in the 1930s (incidentally, it was this pilgrimage group which donated the beautiful large silver processional crucifix that you may have seen while on pilgrimage here at solemn Masses; the celebrant of this Mass was the marvelous Monsignor Leonard Emery.).

Behind the chapel is the tomb of Bishop Clark, the first of the restored Bishops of East Anglia, who died in 2002, and we said some prayers there. We also enjoyed a brief visit to the Russian Orthodox church in the west of the village, to venerate the icons, and pray for Christian unity. And, of course, prayers were said for our readers, parishioners, the friends and family of our community, our visitors, for the sick, our deceased friends, relatives and parishioners, and for vocations, and for those men and women trying to discern God’s will for those considering religious vocations, and prayers for many other causes, no doubt.

I was talking to a lady from Manchester, and we were talking about how places of pilgrimage have an “air of holiness” about them. This is, no doubt, caused by all the sacraments that happen here, and all the prayers and penances that pilgrims say and undertake during their visit. While walking through the corn fields, the wind dancing upon their ears, one certainly feels that one has joined a long line of fellow sinners, trying to get to God: Our Lady and the saints are looking down on us, and the angels are walking beside us. All those penitential footsteps really hammer the holiness into the very ground!

Please keep Dr Williams, our Bishop-elect, in your prayers as he prepares for his consecration next week.

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Corpus Christi

Praised be the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary!

Praised be the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary!

On Sunday 15th June the Priory and our parishes in Chelmsford together held the second annual Corpus Christi Procession. Last year’s procession was a great success, and thus we were delighted that several hundred of our parishioners could come to join us in this great act of witness, as well as clergy and people from the local ordinariate groups. Pope Francis has been reminding us recently, as did the Pope Emeritus, that we must be prepared not only for people to meet us in our churches, but to go out onto the streets, and thus Corpus Christi is a wonderful opportunity to bring people to our Eucharistic Lord. This act of witness and veneration continues to pique the interest and curiosity of our formerly Christian country, and Fr Prior was asked to speak on the local radio about it, and the procession appeared in the local newspaper.

As Premonstratensians devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is essential to our charism, and it was particularly wonderful to re-introduce the tradition of the Corpus Christi procession to our parishes, and, indeed, to the people of the Chelmsford. Just before the procession began Rev Br Stephen Morrison o.praem. led us in a few reflections where he emphasised that we were taking Our Lord to the streets, to the people, and to the city that He loves so much. His love for us is not a diffuse idea but very personal, He loves each and every one of us in the concrete situations of our lives.

The Defenders of the Eucharist, by Sir Peter Paul Rubens

The Defenders of the Eucharist, by Sir Peter Paul Rubens

The celebrations of the Corpus Christi continued with Mass in the Premonstratensian Rite on Thursday 19th June, and on Sunday 22nd June (as it has been transferred in England and Wales). We particularly remember around this great feast St Juliana of Liege, a 13th century Premonstratensian nun at whose insistence the feast was extended to the universal Church.

For more photographs please go to our Flickrstream.

 

 

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Posted in O.Praem Pictures, Parish/Apostolate

Norbertines on the Med

Today’s saint, St Barnabas, Our Blessed Lord and the novice all have something in common: that is, they were all born in the same diocese (by current geographic reckoning, of course). St Barnaby and I were both Cypriot-born (Cyprus being within the Latin diocese of Jerusalem), and so it seems fitting to mention briefly the Norbertine presence on that island, which lasted until the thirteenth to the sixteenth-centuries.

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The Abbey of Our Lady of the Mountain (commonly known in contemporary times as Piscopia Abbey) was founded by the Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulchre, under the auspices of the French King of Cyprus and Jerusalem, Almaric II (known to modern historians as Aimery), at about the turn of the thirteenth century (Aimery was King of Cyprus between 1194 and 1205). The canons had been expelled from the Holy Land, along with all Christian monastic and chivalric orders (including some Norbertines), after the fall of Jerusalem in 1187. 

These religious, looking for a new home, were charitably received by the king, and given an old episcopal palace on the north coast of the island; we do not know the exact date of the foundation, but the building work began in 1198. These canons, however, quickly decided to affiliate themselves with the Norbertine Order, already well-established by now on the continent, and the monastery became a Premonstratensian canonry in 1206. 

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The Norbertines began enlarging the monastery, using the most popular French architectural styles of the time. The ruins today are considered by architectural historians as the most important example of gothic architecture in the Levant. 

With the support of the French-Cypriot kings, the abbey became an important pilgrimage site, and the abbot was given many chivalric privileges – including a right to wear golden spurs. There were about 50 canons at its height. The kings frequently stayed in the abbey themselves, and so were keen to support its expansion; some of the kings were buried there. 

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As was often the case in the later Crusader period, Christian sites became a target for (mainly Italian) mercenaries, and Our Lady of the Mountains was not spared. The Genoese plundered the abbey in 1373, stealing the large relic of the True Cross, and many of the sacristy’s appurtenances and works of art. The house never recovered from this, and, unfortunately, the canons began to turn away from a life of holiness, and the abbey became a place of ill-repute, a scandal to the whole of Christendom. During this time, the abbey (and its environs) became known as Bellapais Abbey, a corruption of Abbaye de la Paix, though the reason for this has been lost in the mists of time.

The Order was expelled from Cyprus in 1571, and the abbey became an Orthodox church. Many of the locals claimed descent from the canons (for many of them remained and started families after the expulsion), but the ethnic cleansing of Cyprus after the Turkish invasion in 1974 saw the Greek population leave the area, and the church itself was closed by the occupying forces in 1976. Today, the site is a museum and civic venue. 

Pray for the souls of the canons of Bellapais, and may St Barnaby also pray for the restoration of peace and concord to Cyprus, and for unity between the Catholic Church and the the Orthodox christians. 

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Solemn High Mass for Feast of OHF Norbert

Solemn High Mass for the Feast of OHF Norbert

Solemn High Mass for the Feast of OHF Norbert

 There you shall taste those never-ending delights which God has prepared for your consolation and for that of all His elect.  There shall the wholesome fountain of God’s garden refresh you; there the overflowing wells of living waters shall revivify you; there shall the abundant delights of the house of God gratify you.  There God shall envelop you in virtue and power; resplendent in the brightness of eternal light.
- From the Sermon of St Norbert

After preparing for the feast day of our Holy Founder St Norbert with a novena of prayers and the litany in his honour we gave thanks to God for the Apostle and Choice Vindicator of the Blessed Sacrament with a Solemn High Mass in his honour on the evening of the Sixth of June.

The High Mass was sung by our Prior and superior, Rt Rev Hugh Allan o.praem., assisted by Rev Br Stephen Morrison o.praem as deacon and preacher, and Br Gregory Davies as subdeacon. Joining us in choir along with the confreres were several priests of the diocese and friends of the community including Rt Rev Mons Gordon Reid, Chancellor of the Diocese of Brentwood, and chaplain to the Latin Mass Society. We were also delighted that along with visiting clergy many of our parishioners, and others from near and far, were able to join us at the Solemn High Mass.

The Epistle is sung by Br Gregory Davies.

The Epistle is sung by Br Gregory Davies.

In the sermon Br Stephen reminded us of Our Holy Fathers many works and wonders that he performed in his great zeal for souls, and love of our Heavenly Father. Our Holy Father demanded of us care for souls, worthy celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, and prompt and filial obedience to our religious superiors. It was in that spirit that Br Stephen thanked God for our superior, Fr Hugh, that in him we have a father in Christ after Our Holy Father. Moreover it is particularly apt that Fr Hugh whose heavenly patron, Blessed Hugh of Fosse, was the first abbot of Prémontré and faithful disciple of St Norbert.

For more photographs from the Mass please visit our flickrstream.

Posted in O.Praem Pictures, Parish/Apostolate, St. Norbert

Feast of Our Holy Father Norbert

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To all and singular to whom these presents come: 

especial greetings from the right reverend the Prior of Chelmsford

and the Canonry of Our Lady of Sorrows and St Philip Benizi 

on the occasion of this solemn festal day of Saint Norbert 

Confessor and Bishop

and Founder of the Order of Prémontré

our Most Holy Father and Patriarch, Mirror of Penance,

Pillar of the Church, Gem of Pontiffs, Glory of the the Saints, 

Choicest Vindicator of the Blessed Sacrament, &c., &c. 

 

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Norbertines on Flickr

In May 2009 His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI called for the “evangelisation of the digital continent” as an integral part of the Christian missionary spirit called the “new evangelisation”. The Norbertines of St Philip’s Priory, Chelmsford now have this blog, Facebook page, and our canonry website; in an effort to give the world a further glimpse into our life as Canons Regular of Prémontré we have created an account with the photo-sharing website Flickr.

Please find us here at our Norbertine Vocations Photostream, have a look at some of the photos we have uploaded, and if you are a member please follow us.

Don’t forget as we begin to celebrate the Solemnity of Our Holy Father Norbert tomorrow at 1930 we will be having a Solemn High Mass in his honour. If you can make it please come to celebrate with us, and if you can’t please join us in prayer.

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Posted in O.Praem Pictures

Patron of the Germans

Today Mother Church remembers in the sacred liturgy the holy martyr and bishop St Boniface, which is also the vigil of Our Holy Father Norbert.

ImageThe two saints first met in heaven, since St Boniface died three and a quarter centuries before St Norbert, and one can be sure there was a joyful embrace between the two, for both had done much to work for the evangelisation of the German peoples.

Today’s saint was a Saxon monk from Devon, who travelled to the Netherlands to join the mission of that other English missionary, St Willibrord, but war cut short his activity, and he returned to England after only a year. The pope, however, aware of his talents, appointed him bishop and asked him to spend his life evanglising the Franks (or the German people in what is now central Germany).

Boniface established his see in the heart of Germany – what is now Mainz - and brought many people to Christ. But after a while, he realised that their conversion was only superficial, for they still desired to pay respect to their old gods; there was a sandy foundation to this new Christian society that was being established.

The Franks, like many modern people, worshipped in their hearts not the creator, but His created world, that is, the things that people can see and that give them pleasure. It seemed impossible to be able to convince these people to make Christ their foundation-stone, and not their idols. In the case of the Hessians, they worshipped the mightiest trees of the forest, as totems of the ‘god’ Thor. Their hearts were enslaved by this paganism. A particular tree, die Donareiche, seemed to be the principal object of their worship. And so, Boniface, confident that he was on the right side, spared no time in picking up an axe himself, and chopping down this mighty oak in the middle of the night. When the people found out what had happened the next morning, and that Thor had not cast his thunderbolts into their villages in anger, they realised the error of their ways, and knew that this Thor and his oak was only a distraction: only Christ could save them, for there is only one God. St Boniface was right all along, they said to one another. The bishop build a church from the wood of this oak, and his deed quickly became legendary throughout the neighbouring tribes.

St Boniface shows us the necessity to take an axe to the idols that we worship in our hearts. Like the tree, their branched and leaves obscure Christ; perhaps we don’t even notice we worship these idols, and so we need good bishops like Boniface to tell us off and guide us to the sheepfold.

Boniface converted a large section of Germany: the south and the centre. In his attempt to evanglise the north, he was martyred. His body was brought back to his adoptive hope, and there remains in the abbey that was founded by his disciple in Fulda, in Hessen. He is the patron saint of Germany, and a very powerful intercessor.

St Norbert, a German, was a native of those northern lands that St Boniface watered with his blood. Just like his predecessor, he called men and women to cut down the idols in their lives and turn to Christ, and, like the Englishman, was called by the pope to Germany to establish his minster among a pagan people. Norbert, along with his Premonstratensian brothers in Magdeburg, brought the light of Christ to north-east Germany, where, alas, it does not burn as brightly as it once did.

We remember in prayer especially today our German brethren in Bayern, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Baden-Württemburg and Sachsen-Anhalt, and also our Austrian brethren, and all German religious, that both our Holy Father and St Boniface will continue to intercede for them in heaven, and inspire many other young men to cut down their oaks and receive the holy habit.

Meanwhile, these flowers aren’t going to arrange themselves in the chapel…

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