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Tuesday, 5 February 2008

St John's Day

Normally I go to the seminary on Sunday night and stay over to teach on Monday morning, returning in the afternoon. This week I stayed an extra night to join the community for the celebration of the transferred feast of St John the Evangelist, the patron of the Seminary.

This is a major occasion in the calendar: today Bishop Paul Hendricks was the principal celebrant. We were in the same year at Rome, and Paul was ordained priest the day after me, on the 29th of July 1984. Also concelebrating were Bishop Hollis (of Portsmouth), Bishop Walmsley, (Bishop of the Armed Forces), Bishop Tripp (emeritus auxiliary of Southwark), the Abbots of Worth and Douai, several silver and golden jubilarians, together with assorted staff and alumni. The ceremonies were competently directed by Philip Smith MC and the schola enhanced the dignity of the occasion with well-chosen motets.

Fr Leo Mooney, a golden jubilarian, preached an engaging sermon in which he took us through his own vocational discernment and his experience of priestly ministry. He told us of his wonder as a boy visiting St George's Cathedral and seeing Bishop Amigo enter in Cappa Magna. He said that it seemed that the Bishop genuflected at the high Altar while the Cappa was still coming through the door of the Cathedral. We also heard of many other elements of the life of the Church of the 40s and 50s. It was fascinating to hear of his experience as a student in Rome of Cardinal Cicognani announcing the election of Pope John XXIII. Fr Mooney taught moral theology at Wonersh for many years, including the year I was a student there from 1976-1977 before going off to university and then to Rome. Since his time at the seminary, he has spent many years as a kindly and effective parish priest.

After Mass, there was a festal lunch. Before this, we prayed the traditional prayer for the Holy Father and sang the O Roma Felix which I always find very moving. Following the grace after meals, we sang a verse of the hymn to St John:
O beate mi Ioannes
Sic pro me ad Filium Dei
Cum Maria preces funde
Ut per vos sim placens ei.

(O my blessed John, pour out your prayers with Mary for me to the Son of God in such a way that through you both I may be pleasing to Him.)
As after-dinner speaker, Fr Tony Lovegrove, another Golden Jubilarian, spoke warmly of his experiences, as a priest, with several amusing stories of life as a curate. The Seminary Rector, Mgr Jeremy Garrett, concluded with an entertaining speech in the course of which he referred to some of Fr Mooney's recollections, noting that the traditional liturgy which had been done away with had now been allowed again by Pope Benedict.

It was a most enjoyable and spiritually fruitful day - but next year I must try to arrange to stay overnight after the meal if possible!
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