Photos from the Blessing of the Picture of OHF Norbert

As we said in an earlier post a new painting has been commissioned from the bequest of a dear parishioner and friend of the Canonry, Allison Tibbatts, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the foundation of our Canonry and the 900th anniversary of the conversion of OHF Norbert.

Here are some photographs from the blessing of the painting, which was attended by the confreres, and friends and family of the late Allison Tibbatts. Please pray for the happy repose of the soul of the benefactress, Allison, as well as asking God and OHF Norbert that our community may continue to be blessed by His grace.

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A new painting of our Holy Father

We are pleased to reveal today a new painting that was commissioned last year, thanks to the generous bequest of a young parishioner and our friend, Alison, who sadly died after a long struggle with cancer.  The painting was blessed and unveiled today in our new calefactory by the Prior, along with Allison’s family.

DSCN9510 The painting is titled St Norbert gives England to Our Lady of Sorrows. It was painted in Oxford by the young and talented artist Alvin Ong, and it was a great pleasure to work with Alvin to produce this new image of St Norbert for our house, especially since he went to great effort to thoroughly research the subject, and was very generous in accommodating our needs. The style is late baroque, evocative of Anthony van Dyke, who painted several works for Norbertine houses in the seventeenth-century, not least the famous Mystical Marriage of Hermann Joseph.

The scene shows St Norbert, as he is often depicted, in his pallium, and the Sacred Host in the monstrance is held by a putto. In Chelmsford, we have a particular devotion to the Conversion of England, and, given that our canonry is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, we thought it fitting that our holy father dedicating our mission here in Chelmsford to her.

Of course, St Norbert never visited England, and the English flag with which we are today so familiar and which here is being given to Our Lady is a later historical development. But still, we thought it an appropriate symbol for our work. Also, he is holding in his right hand the familiar olive branch, since St Norbert is also known as the Apostle of Peace, who in life sought reconciliation between feuding families and individuals: and how much do we need still an example of peace and reconciliation in our own troubled world today? St Norbert can be a good help and an heavenly advocate in our own struggles in life, both with our own interior conflicts, and with our relationships with others.

St Nobert himself is dressed in the white habit, wearing a cope which is modeled on a cope from Strahov Abbey, where his relics are venerated. He is standing in an archway in his cathedral in Magdeburg, where St Norbert was archbishop; the column and the archway themselves shown here in the middle-ground are in the sanctuary of that cathedral.

Our Lady herself is shown, surrounded by Reni-style putti, with her Immaculate Heart exposed, pierced the seven swords of her sorrows, graciously receiving (we trust) the mission with which St Norbert has tasked us.

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A local saint to be

We were very pleased to read about one of our neighbouring diocesan priests who made it to the national news headlines today, with a story about the priest chaplain on the fateful maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, which sunk 103 years ago this weekend. Even though he doesn’t have a connexion with our Order, we thought we would share the story of this priest, to spread devotion to our local hero. thomas byles Father Thomas Byles followed the example of his older brother and converted to Catholicism as a young man while he was studying theology in Oxford, in 1894. Incidentally, he was received into the Catholic fold in the beautiful church of St Aloysius that is now home to our friends, the Oratorians. After spending some time as a tutor, and then as a seminarian in Oscott, he travelled to Rome to finish his studies, and was there ordained to the priesthood in 1902.

At that time, Essex was still part of the Archdiocese of Westminster, and after a curacy in west London, and another near Tiptree, in 1905 he became parish priest of Ongar, just to the west of Chelmsford. In the mean time, his Catholic brother had moved to New York, and was engaged to be married. Naturally, Father Byles was asked to celebrate this family wedding, and so booked a second-class ticket for £13 on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, which was due to leave in Easter week, 1912. After celebrating the sacred mysteries for the last time before heaven in Ongar that Easter, he travelled to Southampton, and there boarded the ship. In his bag, he brought with him an altar stone, and the appropriate appurtenances to celebrate the Mass. The captain gave permission for daily Mass to be celebrated. After all, most of the passengers and crew, being poor, were Catholic.

On Low Sunday, he celebrated Mass twice, first for the second class passengers, and then for the third class passengers, preaching in both English and French. In his last sermon – excepting that eternal sermon that was the sublime and holy manner of his death – he preached about the necessity to use prayer and the sacraments as a life-vest in the spiritual shipwreck of human life. Late that night, he went on deck to recite his breviary. As midnight approached, he saw the ship strike the iceberg, and immediately went downstairs to steerage to bring comfort to the people, and he heard many confessions.

As it quickly became clear that the boat was sinking, he led many people from the bowels of the iron ship to the deck to try to find room on the lifeboats, room on which, of course, was woefully inadequate. Although he was twice offered an opportunity to escape on a lifeboat, he refused to run away from his little flock, and remained with them, and continued to hear confessions, recite the rosary with them, and encourage them as they all prepared to receive their eternal reward.

As the clock passed two in the morning, the stern began to rise, and a hundred terrified third-class passengers were kneeling before the priest as they together recited the Act of Contrition. As the icy waves lapped higher and higher, he bestowed the General Absolution to all those who had not managed to escape, and, along with 1,500 other poor souls, Father Byles perished. His body, never recovered, was given up to the ocean, while His Blessed Mother, the Star of the Sea, guides his priestly soul and the souls of his little lambs through the spiritual waters of purgatory to Harbour in heaven; there, they will celebrate, not his brother’s wedding, but the marriage feast of the Risen Lamb.

His brother William married his fiance, Katherine, at the appointed time, but, there were no celebrations. Instead, the wedding having been celebrated early in the morning, as was then customary, the bridal party exchanged their festal garments for funerary ones, and returned to the church to attend the Requiem Mass for their brother. William and Katherine Byles travelled to Rome later than year, and were granted an audience with the holy Pope Pius X, who comforted the couple in their grief, and called Father Byles a Martyr for the Church.

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Although here in Essex we have a particular devotion to Father Byles, it would be unjust not to mention the two other priests who were traveling on that voyage.

Father Josef Peruschitz OSB was a monk of Scheyern Abbey (half-way between Munich and Ingolstadt). Having spent Holy Week at St Augustine’s Ramsgate, he was traveling to Minnesota to begin a new teaching job in a Benedictine school. Like Father Byles, Father Josef said daily Mass on the ship, and preached in German. He was well-remembered, since he had a beard and wore a soup-plate hat. He was also offered a place, and refused it, preferring rather to stay with the passengers and absolve them; other passengers, who in those last moments declined the salvation offered to them, instead spent their last breath ridiculing the priest. He perished along with the 1,500 other souls.

Father Juozas Montvilla was a diocesan Unitate priest in Russian-occupied Lithuania. The Catholics were persecuted by the Russian state, and so had to earn his living working as a writer and artist, undertaking pastoral work in secret. Realising, however, that he would be unable to public practice his priesthood, he decided to emigrate to America, incidentally to Brooklyn, which was also Father Byles’ destination. Like Father Byles and Father Josef, Father Montvilla refused an opportunity to escape, and died shriving the faithful poor of Christ.

The stories of Father Byles, Father Montvilla and Father Josef were remembered by the few who were rescued by the lifeboats from the icy water after the ship had gone down. May they all rest in peace, and, if God wills it, be raised to the altar to His greater glory, and for the edification of the faithful, for all of them died for love of Christ in His poor.

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Easter MMXV

Hac die, quam fecit Dóminus, Solémnitas solemnitátum, et Pascha nostrum: Resurréctio Salvatóris nostri Jesu Christi secúndum carnem.

Lumen Christi!

Lumen Christi!

The Prelate and community of the canonry of Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Philip Benizi, Chelmsford extend to all our friends, relatives and benefactors our most ardent prayers and best wishes this Easter.


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St Chrodegang and the canonical life

Today is the feast day of St Chrodegang, the 8th century Bishop of Metz.

Although St Augustine had established a rule of life for clerics at the end of the 4th century, by the middle ages, clergy who lived together (such as in Cathedral Churches) did not, on the whole, choose to abide by it. They were not bound by a rule of life, but they were bound by the usual canons that govern priestly life.

After the death of St Boniface, the leadership of the German church fell upon the shoulders of Chrodegang (literally, in the form of a pallium). He was aware that, in order for this nascent church to succeed, he needed priests who were holy – or at least on the way to holiness! – and lived as lamp-stands for Christ, shining brightly in this dark world of ours.

He composed a rule for his cathedral clergy, that bound them to the celebration of the sacred liturgy and to prayers in common, to common meals and dormitory, to public penance and to rigorous formation. He permitted, however, his clergy to retain the right to own property, and to maintain other independent incomes. This was of life was, 50 years after his death, extended to all clergy in the empire (the updated rule was known as the Rule of Aachen, after the synod that mandated its implementation) that lived in common, thus creating secular canonries.

Xantener Dom

The Collegiate Church of St Victor, Xanten.

It was this Rule of Aachen that governed the secular clergy of the Xantener Dom, where St Norbert received his formation as a Canon of St Victor; after his conversion, 900 years ago this year, he returned to Xanten and unsuccessfully tried to convince them to live a religious life, and eschew the private property that Chrodegang had historically permitted canons to have.

It was St Norbert, however, and not the Canons of Xanten that was thinking with the Church. The Gregorian Reforms of the eleventh-century had encouraged the adoption of this way of life. There was a great revival of the original Augustinian way of life, crowned, of course, by the presentation of the rule by Augustine himself to Norbert at Prémontré.

This is the apostolic way of life that St Luke records for us in the Acts of the Apostles (2:42-47):

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Here we see our religious way of life, just a couple of weeks after Jesus had ascended into heaven! As Christians, we must be of one mind and one heart on our way to God. Take courage, reader, and ask yourself if this apostolic life is what God wants for you, too.

You can contact the vocations director at:

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An interesting note for pedants: Metz was the capital of the Duchy of Loraine (Lothringen), which was annexed by France on the eve of the Revolution. A large portion of the modern-day province of Lorraine was incorporated by the Prussians into a new German empire in 1871, restoring, it seemed, the territory (along with Alsace, which had been part of France for much longer) to its original German roots which had been severed only 95 years previously. After the Great War, these territories were restored to France, but, because they had not been part of the Republic during the Church-State separation in 1905, the relationship between the Church and State in these new territories were governed by the original Napoleonic concordat of 1801. This persists even to this day, and so the Bishop of Metz, Chrodegang’s successor, is not part of the French hierarchy, and is subject directly to the Holy See. Moreover, the Bishop himself is elected by the President (with the approval of the Holy See), and his clergy are given a state income, and Catholic religious instruction is given in public schools. 

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Lent Talks 2015

The Holy Family

Not only would I say that the family is important for the evangelization of the new world. The family is important, and it is necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family, the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation. – Pope Francis’s Address on Radio Catedral, 27th July 2013

This year the Lent Talks at Our Lady Immaculate Chelmsford will centre around the Synod on Family Life. There is Mass at 7.30 pm at Our Lady Immaculate Church, Chelmsford, and the talks will begin at 8pm in the parish hall at OLI.

  • 25th February – Fr Graham Smith, Chaplain for Marriage and Family Life, Brentwood Diocese – “Patience with the Synod Process”
  • 4th Mar – Dr Jane Deegan “The Human Person in the Catholic World View”
  • 11th Mar – Edmund Adamus, Director for Marriage and Family Life for Westminster Diocese  – “Speaking on Humanae Vitae”
  • 18th Mar – Dr Charles O’Donnell – “Proclaiming the the ideal of Christian Marriage to the young – and not so young.”

If you’re able and near please come along, if not please keep the Synod Fathers and families in your prayers.

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Preparing for Lent

We are very fortunate this year that the readings at Mass have coincided perfectly with this season of preparation for Lent. We have heard of the creation of the world, the fall of man, and today, we heard the beginning of the story of the deluge.

In our own Premonstratensian rite, we hear these stories every year in the Office of Matins in the season of Septuagesima, the two-and-a-half week season of pre-Lent. We sometimes complain that Lent suddenly appears like a thief in the night, it can take a while to get into the right gear of this holy penitential season, which is why, of course, the Church in her wisdom established the practice of preparing for Lent, so that we did not waste the season.

The first few chapters of the Book of Genesis explain who we are and why we are here: importantly, they also tell us why we are the way we are. Why do we fall in love? Why do we suffer? We come to realise how fallible we are, and how foolish we must be to rely on solely ourselves or indeed anything other than God. People can spend their whole life thinking up answers to the question: “what is the meaning of life” without realising that it’s already written down there from chapter one, verse one: we were made to be loved, and to love.

I have a great devotion to Adam the Patriarch, our first parent. He knows rather a lot about human nature, and so he’s a goodly patron to talk to sometimes. Genesis says that he lived to a ripe old age of 930. These historical details are shrouded in mystery. We see his descendants dying at ever younger ages, until, by the time of Noah, no man lived more than 120 years. The years are irrelevant, what is important is that the further away we travel from Almighty God (in this case, symbolised by time from the Fall), the more the decay sets in. Just before the start of Septuagesima, we celebrated the feast of the Purification of Our Lady, or Candlemas, the last day of Christmas. History has left us a wonderful Candlemas sermon by St Sophronius, one of the eastern fathers, who said that Simeon and Anna in the Temple are shadowy representations of Adam and Eve grown very old. They devote themselves to God in the Temple (symbolic of Eden), living a life of penance for the sin which condemned their whole race. When Simeon takes hold of the Baby Jesus in his weak and wrinkled arms, it is as if Adam himself is taking the Babe in his arms, and he weeps, and says: “At last all powerful Master, you give leave for your servant to go in peace, according to your promise. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all nations. The light to enlighten the Gentiles, and give glory to your people Israel.” In this little Baby, Adam has realised, at last, that he has been forgiven: he can now rest from his wearisome toil, his exile from paradise. Of course, this old Adam recognises his God. He used to talk to him and walk with him in the garden. In the flesh, that same God now falls asleep in his arms; in the spirit, it is Adam that rests in God once more.


Noah’s Ark, which is Holy Mother Church.

In Lent, we begin to experience that realisation for ourselves, too. Noah has just built his ark. Noah’s Ark is the Church. It is our shelter in our exile; while creation is washed clean, we are saved from drowning in the tempest of the world by her sacraments.

One important part of the story of Noah is often missed out. Why did Noah collect only two of the unclean animals, but seven of the clean animals? The clean animals are the animals which are set aside for sacrifice to God. And when Noah comes into land, he sacrifices those animals to the God who has saved. And in response, God promises not to destroy his creation again. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple, what did they bring to sacrifice? Two turtledoves, as the law permitted instead of a lamb for the poor; Noah sacrificed birds on the first altar of the washed creation. But what else did Mary and Joseph bring to sacrifice? They not only brought birds, but they also brought the Lamb Himself: the light that will enlighten the Gentiles and give glory to Israel when His Sacred Heart burns on the Altar of Calvary. Another deluge covered the earth that day, but it was not a deluge like that of Noah’s time: it is a deluge of Blood that gives life to those who quench their thirst when they drink It.


Our Lady of Sorrows, surrounded by her seven dolours: the Prophesy of Simeon, the Flight into Egypt, the Three Day’s Loss of Jesus, the Meeting with Jesus on the Way of the Cross, the Crucifixion of Jesus, the Body of Jesus is placed in the arms of His Mother, the Body of Jesus is placed in the Sepulchre.

Today, this last day before Lent, the Church celebrates the feast of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order (although in our own calendar today is the feast of St Evermode; Shrove Tuesday is also the feast of the Holy Face of Jesus, but lest we over-egg the pancake, we’ll revisit devotion to the Holy Face over the next few weeks). Our house in Chelmsford was once a Servite house, and so we are especially bound to these saints in our community. Indeed, our canonry is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, a devotion propagated by the Servites, and which we have gladly adopted as our own, for our Sorrowful Mother at the foot of the Cross was the first to be drenched in the Precious Blood. Over a hundred years after the death of Our Holy Father Norbert, these seven doves sacrificed themselves by allowing God break their hearts. Over this holy season of Lent, may we too allow God to break our hearts, and wash away the detritus of sin and decay that has accumulated within us. Walk with Jesus in the desert, and remain close to his Sorrowful Mother, and may you be brought safe into harbour by the burning flame of the Paschal Candle on Easter Eve.

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