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Our Lady’s Call to Reparation

When Our Lady appeared to the children of Fatima, she asked them to offer sacrifices not only for their own sins but for those of others by which Our Lord was, she said, “too much offended.” This is the dynamic of reparation by which we console the heart of Jesus and contribute to peace, and to the good of the world.

The means of such reparation are prayer and penance. Our Lady encouraged us to say the Rosary every day, and the Angel prepared the children for their meeting with Mary by teaching them to receive Holy Communion with great devotion and reverence. One of the simple prayers he taught them was: “My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love You. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love You.” We could say this prayer especially before the tabernacle when we come into the Church.

Our prayers must be accompanied with the offering of penance. One of the most effective penances is to accept daily inconveniences without complaining, and in a spirit of charity towards others, offering our sacrifice to Our Lord.

The Message of Our Lady of Fatima

One hundred years ago, on 13 May 1917, Our Lady appeared for the first time to three Portuguese children. In a series of apparitions, she told them to ask people to amend their lives, ask pardon of their sins and stop offending Our Lord “who is already too much offended.”

She spoke of war as a punishment for sin, and devotion to her Immaculate Heart as a remedy which would bring peace to the world. Strikingly, in a message to Lucia, she predicted that another and worse war would break out (the second world war.)

Our Lady also warned the children of the damage done to souls by sins against chastity, modesty and marriage. The last hundred years have shown increasingly how true these words were. Our Lady particularly encouraged the use of the Rosary and the devotion of the five first Saturdays in reparation for sin.

As we celebrate the centenary of Our Lady’s manifest care and concern for our spiritual welfare, we can take strong motivation for conversion in our lives, and commitment to penance and fervent prayer.

The Inspiration of the English Martyrs

Martyrs of England & Wales under the Tyburn Tree
Martyrs of England & Wales under the Tyburn Tree. Triptych at St James’s, Spanish Place. Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew OP

This week we celebrate the feast of the martyrs of England and Wales. Between 1535 and 1681, several hundred Catholics were executed for the faith, under the penal laws in England. There were various alleged causes, usually a spurious allegation of treason, but the majority suffered for their love of the Holy Mass, and a large number of those martyred were young priests who had trained secretly abroad, to come on the mission to England, knowing that they did so at risk of their lives. The first martyr of 44 from the English College in Rome, St Ralph Sherwin, was asked to sign the missionary oath that he would not hang around in Rome but return to England to preach the faith secretly. He signed the Liber Ruber, the “red book” with the addition potius hodie quam cras, “rather today than tomorrow.”

The stories of the martyrs’ heroism were preserved by contemporary writers, and later, many were set in order by the great Bishop Challoner who organised and cared for the Church in England and especially in London and the South during the difficult years when Catholics were no longer put to death but suffered debilitating discrimination, not being allowed to enter the universities or the professions, or even freely to leave their property to their family when they died.

Just one example of the events he recorded for posterity in his Memoirs of Missionary Priests was the Mass celebrated by St Edmund Gennings in the upstairs room of a Catholic house in Holborn on the Octave day of All Saints in 1591. During the Mass, Topcliffe, the arch-priest-catcher burst into the room. To prevent the desecration of the Blessed Sacrament, one of the men threw Topcliffe down the stairs and fell with him. St Polydore Plasden, another priest, blocked the door, but Topcliffe came up again with his officers. He was told that once the Mass was finished, they would come quietly, but they were determined to defend the Holy Eucharist from profanation if they tried to break in before then. They gave themselves up and with the exception of one woman, all the ten present at Mass were martyred, Fr Gennings with particular brutality.

Pope Paul VI made sure that the three women martyrs were remembered by including them in his canonisations in 1970. They suffered particularly for aiding or sheltering priests and for making it possible for Mass to be celebrated. A watchword that continued in common parlance in England was “It is the Mass that matters.”

We should be inspired by the history of those who kept the faith alive in dark times, and celebrate the glory that they share in heaven. Their stories are an important part of the history and culture of our country which impartial historians are rediscovering today. It behoves us to celebrate their holiness and valour. The English Martyrs also teach us to love the Holy Mass in which Our Lord is offered and received, and to give it the greatest priority in our lives.

His Mercy is upon those who fear Him

Original Painting Divina Misericordia Jesus Trust Faustina Painter Eugeniusz Kazimirowski 1934
Original Painting of the Divina Misericordia. Eugeniusz Kazimirowski 1934
St Thomas mistrusted the promise of Jesus and refused to believe that He had risen. Our Lord showed Him great mercy and forbearance by giving Him the chance to repent. When he fell down on his knees and humbly professed His faith in Jesus “My Lord and my God”, Our Lord immediately forgave him. The apostles would have been familiar with all of the texts of the Old Testament proclaiming the steadfast mercy of God and would have rejoiced to see this shown in the living and risen Messiah.

St Alphonsus explains that the mercy of God is infinite, far beyond the mercy of even the greatest saint. He says:

Oh, if we could but understand the love that burns in the Heart of Jesus for us! He has loved us so much, that if all men, all the Angels, and all the Saints were to unite with all their energies, they could not arrive at the thousandth part of the love that Jesus bears to us. He loves us infinitely more than we love ourselves.

God seeks our good both here and for all eternity, and He longs to give us His gifts of grace far more than we desire to receive them. We might think that we are loving ourselves or doing ourselves good by our moral and spiritual weakness, but the Lord created us and loves us with an infinite love. He knows that the life of grace brings us far greater benefits than any earthly goods.

Even so, God will not force us to love Him because love can only be truly such if it is freely given. God created us with a spiritual soul precisely so that we could actually love freely and without compulsion. We are also able to reject God’s mercy by sinning.
If we insult God by sin, we must not insult Him further by abusing His mercy and continuing in the same sin. As St Alphonsus says again:

The sinner says: But God is merciful. I reply: Who denies it? The mercy of God is infinite; but with all that mercy, how many are lost every day! I come to heal the contrite of heart. (Is 61.1). God heals those who have a good will. He pardons sin; but He cannot pardon the determination to sin.

Or as he put it in another place:

Our Lord exercises mercy toward those who fear offending Him, but not toward those who use His mercy as a pretext to insult Him.

The Saint is referring here to the very words of Our Lady herself in the Magnificat “His mercy is from generation to generation upon those who fear Him.” (Lk 1.50) This fear is not a servile fear as we might have for a tyrant, it is the noble fear of offending the one who is infinitely good and benevolent towards us.

St Alphonsus gave an easy rule for putting into practice both the fear of God and trust in His mercy. He said that after we have sinned, we should not despair, we should hope for His mercy; but before sin, when we are tempted to sin, we should fear His divine justice. We might do well also to remember at those times of trial the words of Our Lady: “His mercy is upon those who fear Him.”

Resurrection and New Life Given by Christ

Rafael - ressureicaocristo01
Raphael. The Resurrection of Jesus (1499-1502) São Paulo Museum of Art

At Easter we conclude our devout following of the momentous events of Holy Week by proclaiming the gospel of the discovery of the empty tomb and of the risen Jesus Christ. The historical details make it clear that the resurrection is not simply a feeling or a conviction, but something that really happened.

The resurrection is also something more than just the coming to life again of someone who has died. The mysterious way in which Our Lord enters a room with closed doors, and the way that the disciples only gradually come to recognise Him, tell of a life that is greater than ordinary life on earth. Our Lord is risen and glorified and will never die again. He is alive for ever to bring life to all mankind. Just as His passion is effective for the forgiveness of our sins, His resurrection brings about a new life in us that is eternal.

On this day we give special thanks for our Baptism. On that day, we shared in the death and resurrection of Christ, and we were born again to the new life of grace. By living the life of Christ, we seek to preserve at all costs the life that Christ has given us and never to lose it through sin.

Regina Caeli

From Easter Sunday until the Saturday before Trinity Sunday the anthem that we sing to Our Lady is the Regina Caeli(“Queen of heaven”) This beautiful chant, dates back to the 12th century. In the above video, it is sung by the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos.

There are copies of the setting and translation available at the back of the Church and here is a link where you can download a copy of the music, text and translation if you wish.

Times of Services

Holy Saturday (15 April)

Please note that there is no 9am or 5pm Mass today.

12noon Święconka (blessing of food)

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

Easter Sunday (16 April)

9.30am Easter Sunday Mass

11.30am Easter Sunday Mass (Traditional Latin)

Offering Ourselves in Union with Christ

The Crucifixion by Martin Bernat, c. 1480-1490, oil on panel - San Diego Museum of Art - DSC06599
Martin Bernat. The Crucifixion (c.1480-1490) – San Diego Museum of Art

This week, we celebrate the great events of Our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, beginning with His entry to Jerusalem and ending with the joyful proclamation that “He is risen.”

The elaborate rites that we celebrate in Holy Week do indeed recall the historical events as they happened, but it is important to understand that we are not simply remembering something that happened a long time ago. In the sacred Liturgy, the sacrifice of Christ our High Priest is offered to the Father as an act of worship which is effective in making present for us, here and now, the graces which He won for us.

The liturgical celebration can never be reduced to a form of entertainment, or a social gathering. We come together in union with the whole Church, to offer our sacrifices to the Father in union with Christ, begging for the graces that we need.

To participate fully in the sacred Liturgy, we need to enter with mind and heart into the great offering that is made by Our Lord and devoutly to adore and thank the Father, to repent of our sins and plead for His grace.

How Our Lord Redeems us in His Passion

Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary - Raphael

In the Holy Mass, we offer the sacrifice of Christ, our priest and victim who, by His death on the cross, takes away our sins. As we say “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.”

We need to understand that this is not a mere legal fiction, as though God decides to “let us off” a punishment that He has imposed without necessity. It is not as though Jesus comes into a courtroom and arbitrarily takes the place of a guilty man without doing anything else for him.

It is not simply like that because sin causes real damage which needs to be put right and repaired. Sin damages our relationship with God, weakening or destroying our friendship with Him. Sin harms our relationships with each other, being responsible for all the evils which we see or hear of every day, from the discord and difficulties we sometimes find among our families and friends, to the terrible sufferings of war and terrorism which we see recounted on the television screen.

Sin also causes damage to our own spiritual life, breaking down the sanctity which God has given us at baptism and countless times since by His many graces which are rejected in sin.

Since sin causes all these kinds of damage to us, it requires a real atonement and cannot simply we waved away. Our relationship with God must be restored: and this can only be done by Him. Our relationships with others must be healed, and we must be healed interiorly by a new infusion of grace.

This healing is brought about by Our Lord. In fact, every work that He carried out was redemptive for us because He loves us continually and infinitely. His preaching, teaching and miracles all served to bind up the wounded and make the weak whole. This love continued through all His hidden life and all of His public ministry.

By offering His life for us, Christ loved us to the uttermost. (cf. Jn 13.1) This offering was made at the last supper and completed on the wood of the cross. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, assumed our human nature and redeemed it by taking on Himself all of the damage caused by sin. We meditate on this especially when we think of the first sorrowful mystery of the Rosary, the agony in the garden.

On the cross, Our Lord’s prayer was “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” This prayer was supremely efficacious and was heard and answered. Through the pleading of Christ on the cross, our sins were forgiven and “By his wounds we are healed.” The sacrifice of Christ redeems us and reconciles us with the Father.

That is why on Good Friday we sing of the glory of the Cross as a triumph in the words of that magnificent hymn of Venantius Fortunatus “Sing my tongue the glorious battle.” In response to the magnificent and triumphant offering which Christ made to redeem us, we must live as the redeemed, washed in the blood of the lamb, singing His praise both in our words of prayer and in the deeds of our lives by which we try to preserve intact the life of grace that Christ has won for us at such cost.

Consoling the Heart of Christ

Gethsemane Carl Bloch
Carl Heinrich Bloch. Kristus i Getsemane (1873) Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle

On Laetare Sunday a note of joy enters our penitential season. This is fitting because the purpose of our penance is to grow in the love of Christ which brings joy to the depth of our soul even if we suffer through worldly troubles. Our purpose in this life is to know, love and serve God in joy and peace of spirit.

Our Lord humbled Himself to come among us as a man, and still more, to be present until the end of time in the most Blessed Sacrament. He even gives us the privilege of helping Him in His work for the salvation of souls, and of reparation for our sins and the sins of others, by consoling His heart with our prayers, penances, and good deeds.

In the garden of Gethsemane, an angel from heaven strengthened and comforted Our Lord during the agony He suffered through His awareness of the damage of sin. Our own prayers and good actions were also foreseen by Our Lord and consoled Him along with the angel.

This consideration can help us to be generous by making the effort to meditate on the Stations of the Cross, or by spending a little time in Church before or after Mass to savour the presence of the Lord. Our own generosity in loving Christ is cherished by Him for eternity.