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Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Celebrating St Stephen's Day

Our Mass on the feast of St Stephen is always one in which we pay special attention to the altar servers. The Guild of St Stephen has a serious and solemn enrolment ceremony which I use each year, awarding servers with their Guild medals to mark the fact that they have served well and regularly.

The material for my sermon was provided by Elizabeth Wang's book "The Purpose of the Priesthood: A Message from Christ", available from Radiant Light. The book is very much from the perspective of a lay woman inviting priests to reflect on the needs of the laity - to receive the teaching of the magisterium faithfully preached, to be given sound moral and spiritual advice, and to be helped to understand the real presence of Christ and the sacrifice of the Mass. At the end of the book, she proposes three faults that priests should correct: resentment, grumbling (particularly grumbling at God to the detriment of our adoration of him) and irreverence, particularly in Church.

I spoke only about the last item, highlighting the way in which good altar servers help the people to pray by serving Mass devoutly and reverently, thus emphasising the holiness of what is taking place.

(Elizabeth Wang's books are illustrated by simple but doctrinally very effective paintings. The website has an Art Gallery with many examples.)

This afternoon, I joined the Carthusians for their post-Christmas party. This takes place after None and finishes with us all pacing along the cloister briskly to Vespers. I don't usually get to talk to those who are professed and so it is a good opportunity - one brother introduced himself by saying that he hadn't spoken to me yet though I have been next to him in choir each fortnight for nearly two years!

It was great to talk to one elderly Carthusian who joined up in Switzerland during the war and ended up in Parkminster when I was about 4 years old. He was eager to talk to me about a couple of theological questions he had - the research I will need to do to check my answer will be very useful for a lecture I have to give in a few months time. Another chap told me of his work on St Therese of Lisieux: examining her writing in comparison with the phenomenology of Edith Stein. Along with a doctor from Czechoslovakia (it was still that when he left) and a former Jesuit from Japan, you can appreciate that the time between None and Vespers was not really enough. As we all left for Vespers, one of the novices said to me that he had wanted to have a chat but it would have to wait until next year :-)

Vespers was, as ever, awesome. As it is the Christmas Octave, the altar and choir were incensed. The Carthusians do this one-handed with aplomb, each member of the choir getting one swing, and the thurifer moving all the time.
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