Yesterday, I checked my e-mail and saw a message from an ex-Vestry member, that a building had collapsed at the intersection of Market St & 22nd St, just a few blocks from St Clement’s. I took the Holy Oils from the church and went to the site. It was closed off from all directions, but when the police at the perimeter saw that I was a priest they waved me through.
I stayed for three hours, talking to some of the scores of police and firefighters, some of them filthy and exhausted from pulling rubble and heavy beams from the collapsed area. A building that was being demolished had fallen on a little Thrift Shop, and no one knew how many staff or customers had been inside. The multitude of people milling around looked chaotic, but I soon saw the precision and order that the forces were using. They had been through all this before – and a fire chief told me they were always doing simulations of all sorts of disasters. My admiration for the emergency teams rose and rose.
Then one of the chief policemen quietly told me they had found a body, and would be bringing her out soon. Would I go into the paramedic’s ambulance, which would then be backed up to the corner, as near the rubble as they could get. I did, and shortly afterwards a dozen firemen held up tarpaulins as screens and the body was carried quickly from the shop and into the ambulance. I anointed her and said the prayers of commendation for the departed. Then I got out of the ambulance and it drove away quietly.
This was a most reverent and respectful way of shielding the woman from any over-zealous cameras, and I was so moved by the way all the tough men and women stood silently as I said “Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul”.
Then it was all action again as they returned to moving rubble, in case there were any more people trapped. (In fact, many hours later they did find five more who were dead.) I sat down on the back bumper of a fire engine and the fire marshal gave me a bottle of ice-cold soda, and then hamburgers appeared out of nowhere for us all. This part was also highly organized, and the sweating firemen needed sustenance. Water was left streaming from a fire truck, and every now and then a fireman would take off his helmet and hold his head under the cooling stream.
And then my phone vibrated, and I read the message, that a member of my Vestry had given birth to an 8 pound baby boy. I had just come from a tragic moment, and this message lifted my heart. I inverted the sentence in the Prayer Book rite for the burial of the dead, which says: “In the midst of life we are in death” and said “In the midst of death we are in life” and prayed for the new baby and its parents as well as the poor woman who had just lost her life.
A priest is privileged to be present at some of the most crucial moments of people’s existence: birth (I have baptized babies with a long spoon inserted into incubators); funerals (including that of a three year old in a little white coffin his father insisted on carrying all the way from the church to the funeral on foot, with a piper playing, and hundreds of people filling the cemetery); a death bed where an old person tells me she is very glad to be “going at last, Father” (she was 102); joyful marriages, from little Highland churches to the banks of Lake Como; intimate and sacrosanct confessions; hilarious family parties. And the priest shares them all, and sometimes goes immediately from great joy to great sorrow or vice versa, as in yesterday’s happenings.
I will celebrate my 45th anniversary of my ordination to the Priesthood on Tuesday of next week, St Barnabas’ Day. And as I offer the Mass at 7 a.m. that morning I will have so much to thank God for, things sad as well as joyful. But most of all I will be saying Thank you to him for letting me share in so many others’ lives and to be a sacramental channel of his healing grace.
I’ve just read Aidan Nichols’ biography of Adrian Fortescue which is fascinating. His love of Eastern Orthodoxy, his wide travels, his life as a parish priest, are all well covered. He did not suffer fools gladly, and had a biting wit. Here are some examples:
“My Rector was a raving Irishman of the most offensive type”
Of his housekeeper, whom he called “the last surviving Gadarene Swine”
Of the Katholikos Babai II (in office 487-502) “This man marks almost the lowest degradation of the Persian Church. He could not even read, and he had a wife”.
“an exceedingly pious person of the modern Gallo-Roman type, the sort who count special devotion to St Joseph and the adulation of the illustrious incumbent of the Roman bishopric as better than ethical righteousness”.
However, it is his attitude to the Sacred Congregation of Rites (whom he sometimes calls the Stinking Congregation of Rites) that I found most astonishing. He comments:
“To rubricians it is not the history nor the development of rites that matter a bit, it is the latest decision of the Congregation of Rites. These decisions are made by a crowd of dirty little Monsignori at Rome in utter ignorance of the meaning or reason of anything. To the historian their decisions are simply disgusting nonsense, that people of my kind want simply to ignore. It is a queer type of mind that actually is interested in knowing whether the deacon should stand at the right or the left of someone else at some moment.”
Or this: “I never cared a tinker’s curse for what the Congregation of Rites may have decided about the order in which the acolyte should put out the candles after Vespers”.
And Fortescue’s attitude towards the Pope was another eye-opener. Of Pius X he says: “Centralization grows and goes madder every century. Even at Trent they hardly foresaw this kind of thing. Does it really mean that one cannot be a member of the Church of Christ without being, as we are, absolutely at the mercy of an Italian lunatic? Saving a total collapse, things are as bad as they can be. Give us back the Xth century Johns and Stephen, or a Borgia! They were less disastrous that this deplorable person.”
And he writes to a friend about to visit Rome in 1920; “By the way, will you give a message from me to the Roman Ordinary? Tell him to look after his own diocese and not to write any more Encyclicals. Also, that there were twelve apostles and that all bishops are their successors. Also, to read the works of St Paul, also to open his front door and walk out, also that the faith handed to our fathers is more important than the Sacred Heart or certain alleged happenings at Lourdes.”
As Adrian Nichols concludes: “It is one of the bizarre flukes in authorial reception-history in twentieth century Catholicism that it was preceisely for shouldering the ‘hateful burden of verifying in Merati, Martinucci, La Vavasseur, Van der Stappen, what each person does in the course of these interminable ceremonies’ that Adrian Fortescue’s name lingered in the presbyteries of the English-speaking world.”
I cannot resist this last quotation about his avertion to the Italianate title of Monsignor.
(To a friend who had been made a Canon) “So you have not had to add a filthy Italian prefix to a decent English name … for a man who fears the God of Israel, it must be an awful thing to be classed among the sweepings of the Italian gutters who lurk among the backyards and latrines of the Vatican, their greasy palms out-stretched for tips, their oily lips bubbling with servile lies in bad French”.
I have always taken the intricate details of ultra-montane Catholicism and of Fortescue’s “The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite” with a large pinch of salt, and am delighted to find that Fortescue did too.
Our enthusiastic gardeners have just planted a few dozen flowers in the church garden and dedicated them in memory of Michael Arrington. Michael died a few months ago, and several people have given gifts in his memory.
From my knowledge of him, I think he would be delighted by this form of memorial. Michael was a humble guy, but utterly faithful in his Anglo-Catholic religion, which he learned from various priests in Philadelphia, one of them being Fr Hofmeister, whose last years were spent very happily in being an Honorary Assistant Priest at St Clement’s.
Michael was a gentle soul, though he served honourably in the army, and I think he will be delighted to know that the garden this year will be ablaze with flowers (some of which will lat for many years) in his memory.We miss him serving at the altar during the Mass, but know he is now seeing the reality, of which every Mass is just a shadow.
From now till the end of the month, we will have a Procession at every High Mass in St Clement’s. And there will be six of them.
Processions can serve three different functions. The first is just to get somewhere in an orderly fashion. The second is to make a statement to the world outside the Church. And the third is for the enjoyment and edification of the people in the church. In this month of May, we will have processions of all three kinds.
Our first procession is on Sunday, May 5, Rogation Sunday. This is the day when traditionally a procession was made from the parish church to the countryside around it so that the priest might bless the fields while they were being sown with seed or planted with crops. In a city parish like St Clement’s our Rogation procession is a much scaled down version of this. We will go round the outside of the church, singing the Litany of the Saints, and pausing in the garden, where I will sing three Collects, the first asking God’s blessing on the farmers, the second on the fishermen, and the third on all workers and labourers in the industries of our land. This year, the garden is full of lovely flowers which have all come out at once, lilacs, azaleas, red, pink and white, and the pinkest of pink dogwoods, so our station will be in the midst of a generous helping of God’s bounty.
The following Thursday is Ascension Day when we have an evening Mass followed by a torchlight reception in the above-mentioned lovely garden. The procession that evening will be the internal kind, carrying Cross, candles, incense and banners just to express our own joy in the Ascension of Our Lord.
The next Sunday is our special May devotion, when the procession will stop at the statue of Our Lady of Clemency, in this her fiftieth year of devotion in St Clement’s, and one of the servers will climb the tall ladder to crown the statue with a circlet of rosebuds. My favorite hymn that day is “The happy birds Te Deum sing, ‘Tis Mary’s month of May” to the tune of the Lincolnshire Poacher!
Then comes Whitsunday, or Pentecost, the Feast of the Coming of the Holy Spirit, when the procession will be a blaze of red vestments.
Then on Trinity Sunday, the Choir will sing the Athanasian Creed in procession round the church, an ancient custom on this feast because of its resounding insistence on the threeness and the oneness of God. I’m sure believers and non-believers alike in the choir smile when they sing out “Not three incomprehensibles, but one incomprehensible”.
And then our final procession for a while (till August 15, in fact) is on Thursday, May 30, the Feast of Corpus Christi. That evening will see a procession of the Blessed Sacrament when we will carry the Host in a monstrance round the outside of the church, stopping in the garden to give Benediction, and then back into the church for a final devotion to the Lord in his sacramental Presence among us. And then another generous reception in the garden, which may have produced the scarlet crepe-myrtles by then as well as roses.
It will be a bit of a relief to carry on after this with normal processionless Sundays. But I wouldn’t miss the “Processing Season” for anything. Come and walk with us on one of these days if you can.
The Archimandrite John Maitland Moir has died at a ripe old age and, though I have not seen him for decades, he never failed to send me the smallest Christmas cards I have ever received. They were always tiny 2″x 1″ Eastern icons, with a short greeting on the back in Fr John’s writing.
He was a Scottish Episcopal priest in the 1960s when we first met, but even then he looked like an Orthodox priest, with a wispy beard and a Sarum cassock. No Roman buttons down the front for him. He gave lectures on Patristics at Edinburgh Theological College and showed his deep love of the Eastern Church and the Greek Fathers. Eventually, inevitably, he swam not the Tiber but the Hellespont and was ordained a priest of the Greek Orthodox Church in Great Britain.
In the 1970s, when I was Rector of St Michael & All Saints Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, I gave the use of one of our side chapels to Fr John Sotnikov, a Russian Orthodox priest who had a little congregation in Edinburgh. They had their Liturgy between our 8 and 11 o’clock Masses, and believe me, it took them all their time to cram it in, even though Fr Sotnikov began muttering the preparatory prayers long before my 8 o’clock was over!
When Fr Sotnikov died, Fr Maitland Moir took over the chapel and the congregation. He was fluent in Greek, of course, but in everything else he was a home-grown son of a staid Presbyterian Edinburgh doctor. He became a “weel-kent” figure riding a heavy iron bicycle around Tollcross and the Meadows. He used to have one meal a day only, and that was for years provided by Mrs Pinhorne, a member of St M & All Ss, whom I eventually buried at the age of 102. He was very strict about his Orthodox diet, and I remember Mrs Pinhorne’s maid, Jean, lamenting to me one day in Lent “Father, there’s a limit to the number of ways you can cook lentils”!
Because I gave over the chapel in St M & All Ss to the Russians, I was invited to dinner by a Russian lady, the widow of Sir Edward Reid, and who was therefore Lady Reid (no relation). Just before she died she enrolled me as a life-member of the Clan Donnachiadh Society, the clan of (mainly) Reids and Robertsons. So I suppose I am still a member, though I have never done a thing about it.
Anyway, to dinner I went, and the two other guests were Fr Sotnikov and Fr Maitland Moir. The course that sticks in my memory was the one where a vast silver bowl of Beluga caviare was placed in the centre of the table, sitting on a bed of ice, accompanied by lots of hot toast and a large bottle of Russian vodka. Lady Reid, Fr Sotnikov and I tucked in merrily, and got even merrier as the vodka glasses were replenished several times. But Fr Maitland Moir took only the tiniest bit of caviare and one piece of toast, and made a sort of suppressed groan as he tasted the vodka. He was not tea-total, but I’m sure he would rather have had a glass of sherry and a water biscuit.
He was a faithful parish priest, a good friend and mentor to many, and I am sure he will be waking up to hear his Lord’s welcome: “Well done, good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord”.
The Episcopal Church still (I presume) teaches its ordinands Greek, and maybe some Hebrew, and even less likely, some Latin.
All a waste of time. Only a few scholars need these languages, and certainly not parish priests in America.
What the seminaries should be teaching is Spanish. Very soon, some states of America will be predominantly Spanish-speaking. And lots of these Spanish speakers are alienated from the Roman Church in which they were baptized south of the border. Lots of them are being evangelized by Pentecostal and other Protestant Churches.
But I am sure that many of them would like to find a Catholic Church that accepts the fact that they are divorced and remarried, or that they are gay, or that they are not 100% against abortion or contraception; or that they do not believe every word of the Bible. And here is the Episcopal Church, which fits every one of these criteria. But, sadly, the Mass and everything else is usually in English.
I wish I spoke Spanish fluently. If I did, I would advertise a Spanish Mass every Sunday or Saturday evening in St Clement’s. I could, of course, read a Mass in Spanish, but it needs to be more authentic than that. I could do it in Italian, French, or German, but that is not much needed in Center City, Philadelphia.
What is needed, all over America, is Episcopal priests who speak Spanish comfortably and can celebrate the Sacraments in that language. All our pious language about making the poor and needy our first priority could be translated into action with this simple remedy – MAKE EPISCOPAL PRIESTS SPEAK SPANISH!
Now, that is not going to bring in the Kingdom overnight, but it will get rid of the idiotic Greek, Hebrew and Latin that our priests remember for about three months after leaving seminary.
It is being said that Pope Francis’s meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew is the first since the Great Schism, but this is not quite accurate. It is the first time the Ecumenical Patriarch has attended the enthronement of a Pope, but Pope Paul VI met the Patriarch when he was invited to the Vatican Council in 1965.
I know this, because I was just a few feet away from them when they exchanged the kiss of peace. Sounds improbable, since I was only 22 and an undergraduate at Oxford. But I was also studying for the Anglican priesthood, and the Bishop of Ripon, who was the leader of the Anglican delegation present during the whole Vatican Council, had asked for two seminarians to be added to the group for the final session of the Council.
So I had the enormous privilege of being in the aula nearest the High Altar of St Peter’s, Rome, where the ecumenical delegates were seated. Pope Paul and Patriarch Athenagoras expressed sorrow for the schism and withdrew the mutual excommunications and anathemas the two Churches had then pronounced against each other. They then exchanged the kiss of peace – and we were all in tears!
The other seminarian who was with me (we stayed at the Venerable English College) was Fr Stanley Klores, who was then at St Stephen’s House in Oxford, and from the Diocese of Chicago. He later became a Roman Catholic and is now the Rector of St Patrick’s in New Orleans.
We also attended the crowning of the statue of Our Lady by the Pope (well, by a fireman on a long ladder, on behalf of the Pope!) in the Piazza near the Spanish Steps, on December 8, 1965, and heard the Pope name her “Mother of the Church”, my favourite title for Our Lady, and one we use every evening during prayers at the Shrine of Our Lady of Clemency. Every time I say it, I think back to that cool, windy day in Rome.
Once Pope Francis settles into the job, I hope he will come to the conclusion I came to many years ago when I was in and out of the Vatican – namely that the pious fiction that the Vatican is a country is one of the heaviest weights dragging the Roman Catholic Church down.
If Francis has the courage to say that the Vatican is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and nothing more, many great benefits would flow to the Church. For one thing, they could get rid of all the Papal Nuciatures scattered throughout the world. This would not only result in hundreds of valuable properties being able to be sold, and the money used for the spreading of the Gospel. It would also remove a whole class of papal diplomats. The Nuncios are Archbishops in nothing but name and are usually regarded as curial spies by the bishops of the countries they are in. They and their staffs could be far better employed in pastoral work throughout the Church.
The new Pope will almost certainly move quickly to give real powers to the Conference of Bishops in each country, thus genuinely implementing the decrees of Vatican II. And what better way to do that than to cast off the modern idea that the Pope is a secular monarch (or any kind of monarch at all) and tear up the Concordat that a previous Pope made with Mussolini’s fascist regime.
You heard it here first!
One day I was waiting at the bus stop beside the English Church in Stockholm, laden with plastic bags, since I had just been shopping in the British Embassy Commissary. There were quite a lot of people in the queue. A large black limousine passed us with Princess Lilian in it, dressed in a beautiful ball gown and a glittering tiara, clearly on her way to some grand do (I later discovered that it was to a Nobel prize-winners’ ceremony).
As the car passed, she must have spotted me, since the car stopped a hundred yards past the bus stop and then reversed back. Princess Lilian leaned out of the window and said in her mock serious/ mock playful voice “Come on, Father Gordon, get in. This is the best offer you’ll get all day”. The chauffeur got out and helped me into the back of the car with all my plastic bags; Princess Lilian kissed me; and off we drove. The looks on the faces of the bus queue were wonderful to behold – a mixture of the affection Lilian always inspired, and sheer astonishment that she had bundled a heavily-laden priest into her limo to get him and his shopping home!
At the Rectory, she kissed me again, said “See you on Sunday” and drove off in blue silk and diamond tiara, waving to some of my neighbours who saw this end of the drive. My stock with them rose considerably that day!
Princess Lilian of Sweden has just died at the age of 97.
When I was Chaplain of St Peter & St Sigfrid’s, the English Church of Stockholm, Princess Lilian and I became fast friends. Our friendship grew, because she was a devoted Anglican and often came to Mass. But it began only a few weeks after I had arrived in Stockholm, when I was invited to a very grand dinner.
There were two large circular tables, one presided over by King Carl Gustaf, the other presided over by the Queen, Sylvia. I was seated at the latter, surrounded by Swedish aristocrats and a scattering of the British community, including the British Ambassador. (I think the dinner was for the Swedish/British Society, but I have forgotten).
I was too new to the country to know anything of Swedish customs, so when Princess Lilian, from the other side of the table, raised her glass to me and toasted me, saying “Welcome, Father, and Skal”. I thought “How nice of her” and raised my glass, said something like “Cheers” and put it down again.
Well, a hush fell on the dozen or so guests at our table and everybody looked at me. I must have looked like a rabbit caught in headlights, and Princess Lilian erupted into laughter, as did the Queen, the Ambassador and an assortment of Countesses. I hadn’t a clue what I had done, till Princess Lilian said “Oh Father, I’m sorry. I think you need a little Swedish lesson”
So in front of this grand audience, she led me through the elaborate ritual of how to “Skol” someone (The vowel is an a with an o over it, but my computer skills stop well short of that! It is, at any rate, pronounced skol). She told me to pick up my glass, to hold it precisely over the third button of my waistcoat (I think!), look deeply into her eyes, and then reply Skal. I did all this and was just about to put the glass down again, when she exclaimed “Stop” and I thought “O Lord, what have I done now?” But it was what I hadn’t done _ Princess Lilian said “You forgot to look deeply into my eyes after you said Skal. Only then can you put the glass down”. So we did it all again, and I got it right. So right that Her Majesty the Queen then picked up her glass and said “Skal” and I passed with flying colours (but sweat on my brow!)
In the next few years, I came to appreciate Princess Lilian’s wonderful sense of humour and her enormous kindness. No wonder she was so loved by the Swedish people who are grieving her death this week. But not just grieving, because they will know she will be deeply content with her reunion with her husband, Prince Bertil, whom she loved and cherished.