Mass of Thanksgiving

A Mass of Thanksgiving to mark the 150th Anniversary of the Consecration of the Church of Our Lady Immaculate, Chelmsford, will be celebrated by Mgr Canon Kevin Hale, Vicar General of the Diocese of Brentwood, at 7.30pm on Thursday 20th October. The sermon will be preached by Fr Dominic Robinson, SJ. Mass will be followed by refreshments in the parish hall. All welcome!

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Quarant’ Ore 2016

Below are some photos taken during this year’s Quarant’ Ore Devotion, including images of the Solemn Mass of Exposition which opened the Forty Hours as well as photos of Benediction, which brought our devotion to an end. We give thanks to Almighty God for all the many blessings He has showered upon us during this wonderful and holy time in the presence of the Lord. We also thank all the parishioners who helped make this year’s Quarant’ Ore possible, as well as all who came to adore the Lord throughout this special time of prayer.

Adoremus in aeternum Sanctissimum Sacramentum!

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Forty Hours: 5th – 8th October

Come and spend time with the Lord during our annual Forty Hours’ Devotion (Quarant’Ore), which we observe this week. All are most welcome to come to the opening Mass, spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament during Exposition and come together again for Solemn Benediction at the end of this beautiful time of prayer. The Lord is waiting for you – come to Him.40-hours-2016-1

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Norbertine Spirituality

Today, we began our new Norbertine Spirituality venture at the Priory. On the first Saturday of the month, there will be prayers and a talk, followed by some refreshments and an opportunity to socialise for half-an-hour in the Priory library.

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Today, Brother Gregory spoke about the early life of St Norbert, and his thirst for the apostolic way of life. Like the life of the apostles and disciples after the Ascension of the Lord, religious life is a representation, here and now, of the society of the new Jerusalem (albeit and imperfect representation). St Norbert’s thing was that that eschatological way of life was to be open to all people, not just those inside the monastery, but by association, those who we encounter on the periphery. At Prémontré, there were not only clerics, but lay men and women that were involved, like as the Apostolic Church, with the life of the community: all of us are on the same journey towards heaven!

Please pray for our new venture. All are welcome to attend. Meetings will be held every first Saturday of the month; please contact Brother Gregory for more information (gregory@praemonstratensis.co.uk).

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Friends for Lunch

On Friday 30 September, we welcomed three friends for lunch. The first were the Revd John Cox and his wife, Joyce. John has been the minister of the local URC church, Christ Church, for several years. He and Joyce have been good friends of the canonry since we moved here, and both will soon be leaving Chelmsford, as John begins his new ministry in Ohio, USA. We wish them well as they settle into their new life back in the United States.

Our other guest was Sister Jane Louise of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Sister Jane is also a good friend of our community. She is currently based in Walsingham and was recently named one of the 2016 Catholic Women of the Year. We keep her and her work at England’s National Shrine in our prayers.

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Foyles and the Premonstratensians: New Book Shop in Chelmsford

Earlier today, three members of the our canonry attended the official opening of a new Foyles book shop here in Chelmsford. The invitation to attend was sent to the Prior by Christopher Foyle, owner of Foyles, who also owns Beeleigh Abbey – a former Premonstratensian house. Beeleigh Abbey, which was founded in 1180 and which was suppressed under Henry VIII, is the closest former Norbertine house to St Philip’s Priory. In the past, Mr and Mrs Foyle have kindly invited us to visit their home and have allowed us to celebrate Mass there – for more on these visits, please see here and here.

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The Chelmsford Foyles was officially opened by the novelist and member of the House of Lords, Jeffrey Archer. The shop is the third outside London and holds 15,000 titles set across two floors. It also boasts an in-store café, with double height bookshelf and balcony on one side. Foyles forms part of Chelmsford’s exciting new Bond Street retail scheme – a John Lewis store was opened there yesterday and a new cinema for the city will open there in the coming months.

The photos show: (main) Christopher Foyle (centre) with Fr Stephen Morrison (right); (bottom left) the opening ceremony itself, with Lord Archer (centre); and (bottom right) Br Gildas Parry standing outside the new book shop.

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A Norbertine in Devon

Brother Gregory has been to the Benedictine Abbey of Buckfast in Devon a few times this summer. The first time, he was leading a retreat for a parish that had kindly booked him for that purpose, and the second time was to visit the School of the Annunciation: centre for the new evangelisation (schooloftheannunciation.com). The School offers a variety of diplomas and courses focusing on the new evangelisation and catechesis, and he can warmly recommend it to you, both priest and lay.

For his talks earlier in the summer, he spoke to the retreatants about his second-favourite subject: Late Second Temple Judaism and Temple Typology in the Old Testament. Thrilling stuff. Interestingly, the subject matter suited the setting perfectly.

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The Church itself was completed in the 1930s, during the tenure of Abbot Ansgar Vonier, who was an important theological and spiritual writer in that period. Consequently, the church building itself radiates biblical symbolism. It has a very masculine and Saxon feel to it, helped by the substantial columns, small windows, and polished black marble. Still, the side chapels (of which there are six) are beautifully decorated, intricate, and elegant. In the north transept (on the left-hand side of cruciform church) is the Lady chapel; on the opposite side is the Holy Cross chapel, now also containing the hair shirt of St Thomas More on permanent display for veneration.

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At the high Altar is a golden reredos depicting Pentecost; Christ presides over the sacred banquet in heavenly splendour, and underneath him are the Apostles and Our Lady, nourished by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This scene on the reredos is ‘actualised’ at the altar itself directly underneath this image: the priest, monks and (in the distance) the laity participate in this sacred banquet as Our Lady and the Apostles do now in heaven; we cannot see the gifts of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire, but the candles of the altar symbolically represent them (thus, when the bishop celebrates solemnly, he has seven flames burning at the altar). On the marble and gold altar itself is an image of the Lamb, Living though Slain, which, during the Mass, is actually present on the altar itself. The altar itself is placed in front of a column between two arches, symbolising the old and new testaments, and the two natures of Christ. These arches are ‘filled in’ with a red curtain that is reminiscent of the red veil inside of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem. Both the altar, the Lamb and ourselves are on ‘this’ side of the veil, unlike the old Temple, wherein God dwelt on the ‘other’ side, because Christ has rent that veil in two; heaven is now ‘open’ thanks to the Paschal Mystery.

And on the ceiling of the Tower, above the altar, is a beautiful image of Christ, surrounded by Our Lady, St John the Baptist, the old testament prophets and the doctors of the Church. Around Christ are written the words of the prophet Haggai: “Great shall be the glory of this last house more than of the first, saith the Lord of hosts: and in this place, I will give peace.”

The religious life on earth is a figure of the life of heaven; the same is true for the earthly liturgy, whereby we participate in the heavenly liturgy, seeing God face-to-face. The purpose of our lives here on earth is to allow God to fit us, to prepare us for his heavenly banquet. At the very top of the east wall of the Church, high above the altar, is an image of the coronation of Our Lady: the fulfilment of our promise of future glory.

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Abbot Anscar

Beside the High Altar is the burial place of Abbot Anscar, and above his tomb is a beautiful bronze memorial, depicting his life, his work and the building of the monastery (the monks largely built the monastery themselves). The last scene in the life-story of this monk shows the Abbot in his cowl, standing outside the completed church, being touched on the shoulder by death, and giving up the ghost. He died shortly after the completion of the church in 1938.

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The memorial of Abbot Anscar

But these little scenes on this memorial are dwarfed by the main figures. In the bottom-right corner is Abbot Anscar, wearing a chasuble, on his knees, his hands open towards heaven; he is looking to the top-left, where there is a beautiful image of Christ crowned, with his own hands open as a sign of welcome to this saintly priest. The abbot spent his life completely for Christ, saved from a shipwreck, becoming father of his community, building the church, and, of course, in his study and writing. All of it was but a preparation for the life of glory that I hope he now enjoys in the perfect monastery of heaven, as, indeed, I hope we all enjoy one day:

“And in this place, I will give peace.”

* * *

There is, of course, little actual connexion between Buckfast and the Premonstrant Order, although there was one historically. Originally, the Abbey was Cistercian, with whom our Order has a historical and charitable bond. Nearby (unusually, since Cistercian and Norbertine Abbeys tended to keep a fair distance to avoid competition) was the old Norbertine Abbey of Torre. The local town took the name of that Abbey, becoming Torquay(the whole area today is called Torbay); the Abbot, however, had a bolt hole down the road, and around him developed a new town. Today, that settlement is called Newton Abbot. No doubt, in days of yore, the roads around Buckfast saw white habits blowing about in the wind, as today it sees black ones.

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