Father Rupert celebrated his first Mass on the morning of the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Mass, celebrated according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, was accompanied by the parish choir, directed by Mr. Edward Allen, which sang Palestrina’s Missa Brevis in F.
The homily (text below) was preached by Br. Tanguy from the abbey of Leffe, a friend of Fr. Rupert’s. It was a wonderful occasion for our new priest and for us to be joined by so many friends.
Further photographs, by Joseph Kelly, can be found on our Facebook page.
“Let everyone come: come with joy, celebrating the birth of the gladness of the whole world. Today, from earthly nature, heaven was formed on earth. Today, it is the beginning of the world’s salvation”. In such words did St. John Damascene, of the eighth century, celebrate today’s mystery in the church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, a church which is known today as Saint Anne’s, close to the pool of Bethsaida, in the shade of the Temple of Jerusalem. This church which, by the way, would have belonged to the Norbertines, had not the canons of Frigolet in ancient times not preferred to walk upon England’s mountains green.
But what can we know of the concrete historical circumstances of this mystery of our faith? In the same way as her Son, Christ humble and meek, the birth of the Virgin, His mother, was humble, discreet, hidden – just as all the great works of God. There were no firing canons shaking Hyde Park nor bells pealing in competition between the towers of Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral, to greet the birth of the Mother of the Great King. And yet all the angels were stirring, creation itself was astonished at this miracle of nature which was already transfigured by the grace of Christ.
A well which had been sealed began to flow slowly. Its water flowing joyfully through rocks which had been waiting for millennia finally gushed forth. It reached the core of our arid and parched humanity and made clear the way for the torrent of life, the raging river that would irrigate by its waves the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. Mors stupescit et natura cum nata est Maria ! A new Eve , she would truly be the Mother of life, the mother of eternal life.
As is always the way with Mary, nothing happens which does not also concern Christ. The birth of the Most Pure was the dawn of salvation because the Sun was born of this singular, shining star, Sol de stella. Sol occasum nesciens, stella semper rutilans, semper clara.
There is another birth which brings us here today. From the maternal womb of the Church, a baby was born yesterday, early in the evening. Mother is happy and doing well. The baby is growing quickly. After a restful night’s sleep, he is walking and talking already. Talking well in Hebrew and Latin, the ancient languages, and, in a concession to the present age in which we live, he can manage English without too much difficulty. We have even heard a few words of French. He can also attempt a few words in Dutch.
Amongst the treasures in our sacristy at Leffe, the paten of Father Gabriel, who was ordained priest and died on the 15th of August, we see engraved upon the reverse an image of Notre-Dame du Signe, with the words below: O templum in quo Deus Sacerdos factus est. Mary is indeed this most holy temple in which Jesus took flesh and this flesh he would offer upon the Cross as Sovereign Priest of the New Covenant. And it is this very flesh that is the matter of the genealogy that we have just heard in the Gospel. This flesh is full of grace indeed in Mary, but yet so burdened by sin before her; the lies of Thamar, the prostitution of Rahab, the adultery of David, to name only the most notorious. Jesus did not want to take some fantasy human flesh, but real human flesh. This flesh of ours which was intact in the hands of the Creator, when he kneaded it like clay, but which does not seem to have to wait long before it knows the disgrace of falling. This flesh, and this blood, which all children of God share in common, this flesh which Jesus, the Sovereign Priest, came to, so that he might share it with us equally and finally so that he, the Great, Merciful and Faithful Priest, might, by means of this flesh, be able to atone for the sins of his people and be filled with compassion towards them. In Him the Victim, the Priest and the Altar are one.
This is the wonderful mystery which Christ wishes to extend to us by means of those who choose to follow Him in the grace and responsibility of the priesthood. He calls them to become what He Himself is, in the fullness of the Spirit. He knows very well what we are made of; He chooses men who are afraid and weak, He chooses such to proclaim the Good News of salvation. We must not be proud of the prestige of human speech, nor of wisdom, nor of knowledge. We have nothing else, but to know Christ Crucified, a knowledge which we cannot come to except through the experiences of our own weaknesses. So, truly, it is the Spirit and the power which it will manifest; this Spirit which we have received freely, without any merit of our own except of having responded with a ‘yes’ after having been called, this Spirit which rests upon us because the Lord has consecrated us by anointing at the moment the bishop, the Successor of the Apostles appointed by Him, configures us to Christ the Priest and Servant by the laying-on of hands and by prayer.
From the least of the tribes of Judah, Our Good Shepherd has arisen. He has stood up in the power of the Lord to be the pastor of the flock and the pastor of pastors. His power extends to all; we live in safety. And He Himself is our peace. What do we have to fear? We need only let ourselves be led and guided by His hand. We should not fear to take Mary to our home. Did not Jesus especially entrust us to her care when she stood at the foot of the Cross? Not for nothing is she called the Mother of the Priest. She has been moulded from the first moment of her Immaculate Conception by the Spirit; by her spiritual mother, she teaches us to enter into the obedience of a perfect faith so that we can collaborate, in a manner both singular and privileged, in the work of Redemption accomplished by her Divine Son. The Most Holy Virgin; she remains mysteriously the Temple in which every man, following Christ, becomes a priest.
Daily, daily sing to Mary, Sing, my soul, her praises due: All her feasts, her actions honour With the heart’s devotion true. O All Beautiful, without trace of any stain, grant that I too may praise you assiduously, pure and joyful. Grant that I may be chaste, modest, meek, good, sober, pious, correct, prudent – without knowledge of any duplicity, aware and armed with the Word of God, filled with holy fear and rich in devotion. Holy Virgin, you see how we are constantly assailed with temptation; grant us to resist it with all our strength. O Defender and Help of Christians; obtain for us peace so that in difficult times we are not disturbed.