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Holy Week and our Life in Christ

Pietro Di Giovanni D'Ambrogio - Entry of Christ to Jerusalem - WGA17723

The great Liturgies of Holy Week include dramatic elements such as the palms, processions, the unveiling of the Cross, and the blessing and veneration of the Paschal Candle which represents the light of Christ. These visible rites help us to ponder prayerfully the mysteries that we celebrate.

However we are not simply remembering events that happened a long time ago. The celebration of the sacred Liturgy brings us grace here and now. By participating devoutly in the ceremonies, we seek to die to ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Christ, and to live as Christians, renewing our faith in the Lord who is risen from the dead and alive today.

When the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke His disciples for crying “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” He said “if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Lk 19.40) As Lord of all creation, Christ “comes into His own” and the very creation itself would recognise Him if there were no acclamation from His disciples. His subsequent crucifixion is the ultimate blasphemy, from which Our Lord brought the definitive triumph over evil by redeeming us.

We are also called to recognise Jesus Christ as Our Lord and Master, to devote ourselves wholly to Him in faith, hope and charity, giving Him the first place in our lives, not relegating Him to the sidelines as though following Christ were a part-time religious hobby.

In the sacred Liturgy of the solemn ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter, as throughout the year, we participate genuinely to the degree that we allow ourselves to be changed by it, and transformed in the likeness of Christ.

Consoling the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Paolo Veronese - Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane - WGA24847

When Our Lord was suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was aware not only of the sins that had been committed in the past, but also of all the sins that would be committed in the future, compounding the betrayal and blasphemy that He suffered. Our Lord was in anguish because of the damage done to the sinner by his sins, and also the suffering caused to His beloved children. The horror of the sins of the whole world was so great that Our Lord sweated blood. When we consider Christ’s agony in Gethsemane and in His passion and death, it helps us to have heartfelt sorrow for our sins.

Our Lord was also aware of all the prayers, penances and works of charity that would be undertaken down the ages until the end of time, not only by the saints but also by His ordinary followers like ourselves. These good acts brought relief to Our Lord in His human nature, sustaining Him in His passion.

St Luke tells us that an angel came to strengthen Our Lord during His anguish in the Garden. The angel rejoiced with Our Lord in all the love that would be shown to Him until the end of time. We can be included in that strengthening and consolation of Our Lord.

It is true that the damage caused by sin, and the objective offence that it offers to God, is countered by the prayers and good works of the faithful, but reparation for sin is not simply a theoretical idea or a calculation. It becomes something more personal and vivid when we think of the consolation of Christ given by the angel. We also recall the loving meeting of Our Lord and Our Lady on the way of the Cross. Our Lady’s soul was pierced as by a sword, but she also gave loving and tender consolation to Jesus in His sorrowful journey. Then there was St Mary Magdalene who had so much love for Christ, and the other holy women who stood at the foot of the cross.

Among the apostles, Judas had betrayed Our Lord, and St Peter and the others had fled, but the young St John, the beloved disciple stood firm by the Cross to be with His Master, and was helped by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea who followed Him timidly but were there at the last.

It is a privilege for us to participate with these holy friends of Christ by having an an active and heartfelt love for Christ in His passion which actually helped Him along with those who stood firm.

Every time we put up cheerfully with our daily sufferings, every time we make a short prayer from the heart, every time we do an act of charity for others, we bring joy to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and truly share in His redeeming work.

By these acts, when they are made with genuine love, we also draw close to the Heart of Our Lord who invites us not only to be his servants, but even to be his friends, to be in the company of St Mary Magdalene, St John, and the other women at the foot of the cross and the men who finally showed up.

Our faith and our spiritual life is much more than a vague “being religious”, as the expression is today. We are called and chosen to have a genuine and personal share in the saving work of Christ who suffered out of love for us, to be so close to Him that we too may have the great honour of consoling His Sacred Heart.

Sermon preached by Fr Finigan at St Austin and St Gregory, Margate on 22 March 2015.

Holy Week and Easter Services at St Austin and St Gregory, Margate

Lady Altar (Livi)This post gives the times of services at St Austin and St Gregory in Victoria Road, Margate. Here is a link for times of services at St Anne, Eastern Esplanade, Cliftonville.

Palm Sunday (29 March)

5pm (Sat) Vigil Mass with blessing of palms
9.30am     Mass with blessing of palms and procession
11.30am   Traditional Latin Palm Sunday ceremonies
(Approximate timings: 11.30am Solemn blessing and distribution of palms with procession; 12.20pm Mass begins; 12.40pm Solemn chanting of Passion; 1.20pm Mass continues; 2.00pm Mass concludes)

Monday of Holy Week

6pm Stations of the Cross
6.30pm Low Mass (traditional Latin)
Confessions after Mass

Tuesday of Holy Week

8.40am Morning Prayer
9.00am Mass
Confessions after Mass
6.30pm Sung Mass (traditional Latin)

Wednesday of Holy Week

11.30am Stations of the Cross
12noon Mass
Confessions after Mass

Maundy Thursday

7.30pm Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
with washing of the feet and Blessed Sacrament Procession. Watching at the altar of repose until Midnight. (Confessions will be heard after Mass.)

Good Friday

12noon Stations of the Cross
with special participation of children

3pm Liturgy of the Passion
with Reading of St John’s Passion, veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion. Confessions will be heard after the Liturgy

Holy Saturday

Please note that there is no 9am or 5pm Mass on Holy Saturday.

8pm Solemn Easter Vigil and Mass
with Blessing of Paschal Candle, procession, proclamation of Easter, and renewal of Baptismal promises.

Easter Sunday (5 April)

9.30am Easter Sunday Mass
11.30am Easter Sunday Mass (sung Latin, older form)

Holy Week services at St Anne, Cliftonville

St Anne statueThis post gives the times of services at St Anne’s Church, Eastern Esplanade, Cliftonville. Here is a link to the page for services at St Austin and St Gregory, Margate.

Palm Sunday (29 March)

9.30am Confessions
10am Mass with blessing of palms and procession

Monday of Holy Week

9.15am Stations of the Cross
9.45am Confessions
10am Mass

Tuesday of Holy Week

9.15am Stations of the Cross
9.45am Confessions
10am Mass

Wednesday of Holy Week

9.15am Stations of the Cross
9.45am Confessions
10am Mass

Maundy Thursday

7pm Confessions
7.30pm Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
with washing of the feet and Blessed Sacrament Procession. Watching at the altar of repose until 10pm

Good Friday

2.30pm Confessions
3pm Liturgy of the Passion
with Reading of St John’s Passion, veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion

Holy Saturday

8.00pm Solemn Easter Vigil and Mass
with Blessing of Paschal Candle, procession, proclamation of Easter, and renewal of Baptismal promises.

Easter Sunday (5 April)

9.30am Confessions
10.00am Easter Sunday Mass

The Redeeming Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

sacrifice massA sacrifice is a holy act, offered to the Father, by which we are drawn into the life of God. The sacrifices of the Old Testament never fully achieved this purpose. The prophets looked forward to a perfect sacrifice, offered from the rising of the sun to its setting, which would give true glory to God in reparation for our sins.

On the cross, Our Lord offered this perfect sacrifice. His perfect goodness both as God and man made it inevitable that sinful men would hate Him and seek to destroy Him. Many saints have followed in the footsteps of Christ in this respect. Our Lord chose freely to be the suffering servant of the Father because He loved us.

In offering His life on the Cross, Our Lord was the unique mediator between God and man: the perfect priest who could offer the acceptable sacrifice which indeed achieved our reconciliation with God. His prayer for our forgiveness was heard because it was the perfect prayer of God made man.

This one perfect sacrifice is made present at every Mass. The same priest, Jesus Christ, acting through the unworthy hands of the priest at the altar, makes present on that very altar the sacrifice of Himself as a pure, holy, and spotless victim offered to the majesty of the Father, and bringing us everlasting salvation.

At Mass, we are at Calvary, present at the one supreme sacrifice which achieved our eternal redemption. This is the greatest of all gifts that God could give us. The last weeks of Lent give us an opportunity to renew our faith in the mystery of our redemption and to come to the Cross with renewed devotion and love.

The rich benefits of devotions

Stations of the Cross, 3, Saint-Jean-Baptiste au Beguinage, Brussels

“Blessed are they who dwell in you house” (Communion antiphon Ps 83)

The Church may be thought of as an extra room in everybody’s house. It is not simply a place to meet on Sundays, but a dwelling place where we find a home by the altar of God. As well as daily Mass at various times, we have devotions to aid our faith and spur us on to charity.

Friday is a privileged day because it is the day on which Our Lord died for us. Good Friday is the greatest Friday of the year, but every Friday is a day on which to remember the passion of Christ, perhaps by the Prayer before the Crucifix, the Divine Mercy devotion, or meditation on the Passion.

In our everyday lives, Friday has an impact because as Catholics, we observe abstinence from meat. This simple and undemanding act of penance is a reminder to ourselves, and often an act of witness for others.

During Lent, we give a special place to the Stations of the Cross. In this devotion, we contemplate the sufferings of Our Lord so that we may have compassion for Him, and increase our love for Him. We recall the damage that our own sins do, their effect on ourselves and others, and the wounds that they inflict upon our Holy Redeemer. In this devotion we receive the grace to change our lives, to live for Christ and to deepen our faith.

True devotion can never be opposed to the life of charity. By engaging our mind and heart in pious exercises which draw us closer to Christ, we are opened to the grace which God desires to give us, and through repentance and new fervour, we become more generous in the service of others.

Christ teaches us to resist the evil one

05 Tentaciones de Cristo (Botticelli)

Our Lord suffered the external temptation of the devil who was trying to establish whether He was the Son of God. The devil tried to tempt Jesus to turn stones into bread because He was hungry, to jump off a high place and rely on the angels to support Him, and to worship the devil so as to get all the Kingdoms of the world.

Since Christ is indeed the living God made man, these temptations are laughable, but Satan did propose the fundamental temptations of luxury, pride and power and for our sake, Our Lord answers Him to show us how we also should respond to the devil’s evil prompting.

It is not true to say that “Jesus was tempted in every way that we are but He did not sin.” This implies that He might have done so. The translation of Hebrews 4.15 would be much closer to the meaning of the Greek text if we said with Ronald Knox that Jesus “has been through every trial, fashioned as we are, only sinless.”

The word “temptation” is ambiguous in English because our daily temptations come from the fact that we are weakened by original sin and our own past habits of sin causing us to be prone to particular vices, whereas scripture often uses the word to mean “test” or “trial” without any implication of prior sin or moral weakness.

Nevertheless, what St John calls “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (1 Jn 2.16) remain the basic strategy of the evil one make us lose our soul and our eternal life, whether through his own direct assault or by means of encouraging our disordered desires and attachments. So let us see how Christ responds to the devil.

When offered the blandishment of material pleasure through his miraculous power, Our Lord quotes the fifth book of the law saying that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Deut 8.3) It is Christ who gives rest to our souls: we do not find true peace, comfort or satisfaction except in Him.

When asked to display a ludicrous pride in His own power, Our Lord retorted by quoting the law again “you must not put the Lord God to the test.” (Deut 6.16) We hope in God for grace and for future glory, confident in His promises, His mercy and His power, but we must not presume to test Him out as though we could sin wantonly and always expect Him to give us the grace of repentance.

Every sin is a form of self-worship. We place ourselves before God, either by ignoring Him, failing to use the means of salvation He gives us, or even by directly refusing His grace. When the devil excels Himself in folly by asking Christ our God to worship Him, our Lord dismisses Him with a final quotation from the law for our instruction: “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him alone.” (Deut 6.13)

We come here today to do exactly that, to worship the Lord and Him alone. Turning to the Father in adoration, let us renew our total allegiance to Him in the supreme act of worship, the perfect sacrifice, and ask Him humbly for the grace to learn from Christ who is meek and humble of heart, and to find rest for our souls in Him.

Sermon preached by Fr Finigan at St Austin and St Gregory, Margate on 22 February 2015.

Lord of the Universe, of history, and of our lives

Christ Pantokrator, Cathedral of Cefalù, Sicily

The universe, seen through our knowledge of science, is a magnificent creation and tells us of the awe-inspiring wisdom of God. As persons, body and soul, made to the image of God, we need the living God to feed us with Himself. The Old Testament is the story of God preparing His people for the One who is to come.

Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of all these things. As the Eternal Word made flesh, He “comes into His own” as the fulfilment of all creation. He offers Himself to us as the Bread of Life by giving us His own flesh and blood in Holy Communion. Through His redeeming sacrifice, He repairs the damage done by sin.

St Paul spoke of Christ as our Lord and God, echoing the act of faith of St Thomas. He praised Christ as the Lord of the universe, saying that “all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1.17-18) Our Lord is the “master-key” to the meaning of the universe, to the meaning of human history and to the meaning of our own lives.

Therefore we must give Christ His rightful place in our own lives by recognising Him as Our Lord, not giving Him a secondary place alongside other concerns, but offering to Him all our thoughts, words, and deeds of each day, and being generous in our prayer and our worship of Him.

It is true that Our Lord humbles Himself to be close to us and invites us to friendship with Him. We should never lose sight of how great a gift this is from the Most High God. In humble confidence we bow down before Him to adore and praise Him.

The Word of God Alive and Active

Rom, Vatikan, Basilika St. Peter, Die Taube des Heiligen Geistes (Cathedra Petri, Bernini)

For the human person, religion is not a compartment of life, a hobby, or a sideline from secular concerns. God made us in His image and likeness and in every age He provides food for the soul with supreme authority as our creator, redeemer and sanctifier.

The Bible is not therefore simply a holy book to be put alongside other “Great Books” of human culture. It is the record of the dealings of God with men, especially through those whom He chose to inspire with His word. The Old Testament is shot through with a messianic hope, looking forward to the fulfilment of the People of God in the Church founded by Christ who is with us to the end of time.

The Christian reads the Old Testament in the light of Christ. As an ancient saying has it, “The new is hidden in the old, and the old is made clear in the new.” The great scholar Origen spoke of Christ leaping from every page of the sacred text. When we listen devoutly to the word of God, we open ourselves to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but always in submission to the authority of God who makes His meaning known concretely in the living teaching of Christ in the Church.

It is of course good for us to read the scriptures as part of our devotions, but we must not forget that the scriptures form the major part of the Liturgy that we celebrate in the Mass, the divine office and the sacraments. We read the scriptures with reverence as part of our worship, giving glory to the Father through Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. The word of God is not a dead letter but something alive and active, bringing us face to face with the living God. (Heb 4.12)

Original sin and the redeeming work of Christ

V&A - Raphael, St Paul Preaching in Athens (1515)
Raphael (1515) St Paul Preaching in Athens. Victoria & Albert Museum
People try to explain the “self” in various ways, to explore the human condition. The Turner Contemporary has a new exhibition of self-portraits, starting with Van Dyck, and is encouraging reflection on our perception of the self.

A distressing but obvious fact is not only that we sin, but that we find it easy to do so, and hard to be saintly. We might rightly ask with some exasperation why this should be so. The Christian doctrine of original sin helps us to understand ourselves as sinful and fallen, and therefore also how to live life to the fullest.

The Sacred Scriptures tell of our first parents eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is the primordial sin, rebellion against God purely in order to grasp for an illusory power of knowledge of evil as opposed to good. This was the first time in the history of the universe that God’s will was flouted, and its consequences were disastrous.

Original sin fractured our relationship with God, the relationship between our body and soul, and our relationships with each other. This damage was overcome by Our Lord’s redeeming sacrifice on the Cross, but the merits of that sacrifice must be applied in our own lives.

Original sin has wounded human nature so that we are affected by disordered desire or “concupiscence” which remains a part of our experience. The material things that God created are good in themselves, but we tend to use them addictively, excessively or in various ways that harm ourselves and others.

When we understand the wound of original sin, we know ourselves better; more importantly we understand how to overcome this weakness. Our Lord teaches us to deny ourselves: not because we are inherently evil, but because we need to engage in the spiritual battle. Even the pagan stoic philosophers such as Seneca or Marcus Aurelius knew that the blessed life was to be found in self-denial so that we could subject ourselves to the good, true and beautiful. St Paul proposed to the Athenian philosophers a deeper answer to their searching when he said that the one they were looking for, the good, the true and the beautiful, was a personal God who is close to us: “in Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17.28)

This spiritual journey would be hopeless were it not for the grace of God won for us through the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He gives us genuine hope for the blessed life, and a peace that the world cannot give. When we pray, we should constantly ask Our Lord for the grace to fight and gain victory in the spiritual battle so that we can love the one in whom we live and move and have our being, knowing that this love is truly what we were made for. Therefore in the Gloria of the Mass, let us say or sing sincerely,

“You take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.”

Sermon preached by Fr Finigan at St Austin and St Gregory, Margate and St Anne, Cliftonville on 1 February 2015.