‘I remember, I remember the house where I was born, the little window where the sun came peeping in at dawn’. (Thomas Hood – 1826)
I Remember the 1940’s
I remember the bomb that smashed that window into pieces and spread them over my bed and all over the bedroom floor. I remember cutting my feet, as I ran for the open door. I remember seeing Our Lady’s statue, as I ran down the stairs, and the Sacred Heart looking down on me from his picture on the wall. I remember two buckets of sand for ‘incendiaries’, standing each side of the grandfather clock. I remember running into the shelter that had squatted in our dining room. I remember the sirens sounding as my mother bandaged my feet. I remember kneeling to say the rosary with my parents, and my brothers. I remember praying for the bombs to stop, for our family to be kept safe and for other families too, and for all our relatives at the ‘front’. We prayed the same every night of the week before we went to bed, as we prayed at the Sunday Masses that were always crammed to the full. I remember how they gradually emptied, as the forties gave way to the fifties, and work filled people’s pockets again. I remember how God gradually began to come second, as the ‘swinging sixties’ put pleasure first.
I Remember the Council
I remember the Council called to make us turn back to him once more. I remember the re-birth of the ancient Liturgy in a language that we could all understand. But, as the seventies moved into the eighties, I remember how it failed to do all that we had hoped it would to renew the Church that we loved. Priests and Religious left in droves and the churches began to empty with each passing year. I remember the scandals that arose from those who remained behind. I remember the abuse, the cover ups, and the injured innocents. If it’s by their fruits that you are to know them, then there must be something wrong with the soil in the vineyard that was right in the beginning. It is certainly not that the changes had gone too far, but rather that they had not gone far enough, I mean deep enough to reproduce the soil that once brought forth such good fruit in the beginning. They had not gone deep enough to re-create the spirituality that Jesus had lived and bequeathed to his followers, to light them with the flame that set the ancient world on fire.
It was this that inspired and energized the weekly liturgies that depended for their leaven on the profound spirituality that Jesus had lived himself, and given to his followers. Every day of his life he had prayed more than five times a day, as he had been taught to do at home, like the disciples he chose to follow him. As he had prayed so also did they, as he loved and cared so also did they, as he served the poor and the needy, so also did they. As he learned to carry a daily cross and live and die for God, so also did they. When he was with them they did all these things with him, but after he was glorified they did them anew. Then they did them in, with, and through him, to offer themselves to their common Father. They did it together at each Sunday Mass, where they received the power to do it again and again in work, prayer, and service throughout the following week. For the whole point and purpose of the Mass is, in the words of Karl Rahner, ‘That our whole life becomes the Mass, the place where we continually offer ourselves in, with and through Christ to the Father.’
The First Millennium
There was only one Mass a week for more than a Millennium that lasted for an hour or more like ours. But it received its power and vitality from every minute of the preceding week in which believers tried to observe the new commandments. Their daily offering, thanksgiving, praising, glorifying, and adoring, paved the way for their love to enter into God and his love to enter into them. Their daily sympathy, empathy, caring, and sharing paved the way for their love to enter into God, in the neighbour in need, and his love into them. What would the final sacrifice of Jesus have meant, if it didn’t embody all that he said and did each day for the Father who sent him, and for us for whom he was sent? What does our Sunday Mass mean or do for us, if we have done nothing to prepare for it in the previous week? After appearing to three girls in Northern Spain the eldest asked Our Lady, if she would take them back to heaven with her? She replied, “Whatever for, for your hands are empty.” What would she say if we arrived for Sunday Mass with our hands empty? Any great enterprise of any moment whether it is a wedding, an anniversary, or even an important game or match, or any crucial event for that matter, will only be as successful as the time given to preparing for it. The Mass is no different, except that it is the most important event in our lives, and on which our lives depend. Regular failure to prepare for it will lead to spiritual suicide.
Profound Mystical Spirituality
If there was to be another Council called to complement the last, then I would set our best scholars, theologians, and liturgists to follow in the footsteps of Blessed John Henry Newman, and go back to the first Christian centuries once more, as they did before. No need to seek out the shape and form of the Liturgy that has already been done, but this time to seek out and detail the profound mystical spirituality that Jesus practised each day with his disciples. Then see how it was continued, and brought to perfection after his glorification, to transform the lives of all Christians by teaching them the daily prayer that leads to ‘the prayer without ceasing’. Let them not only show how Christ became tangibly present in those who gave their lives for him in ‘red martyrdom,’ but how the same happened in those who gave their lives for him in what came to be called ‘white martyrdom.’ In those, in other words, who tried to convert every moment into the daily liturgy of selfless living and giving that enabled them to carry their daily cross for Christ. Let them explain for us the new means of Christian prayer called ‘meditation’, that taught how, from meditating on Christ as he once was, we can come to contemplate him as he is now, and through him to contemplate the Father. Let their scholarship and spiritual guidance help us to focus more attention on the weekly domestic and workplace liturgy that was so important to our early forbears. Once this is done, the same Sunday liturgy that we celebrate now will be transformed into what they called –The Heavenly Liturgy, because that’s what it will become, as our giving enables God to give to us in ever greater abundance, making something that we can so easily take for granted, into a foretaste of heaven on earth.
That all this be brought about we need to hear, from priests, to be led by priests, to learn from priests. I don’t just mean from those in the pulpit, but from those in their homes, who are fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, and from those in the work-place, who are employers and employees, students and teachers, specialists and non-specialists, young and old, poor and sick. Their personal experience of selfless giving and receiving, suffering and dying in every nook and cranny of human existence is the example we need to hear about, to help us cheerfully exercise the priesthood that we are called to practise every day of our lives. They are already with us now, for I have been deeply moved, encouraged, and inspired by their contributions, but we need to hear from more of them, not just as voices on the fringes, but from the mainstream of the ‘New Spring’ that John Henry Newman promised would come, but never lived to see.
A New Spring
For this ‘New Spring’ to dawn we need a deep spiritual and theological renewal, where scholarship is placed at the service of practical daily living, in and for Christ: When more and more theologians can be defined as the Desert Fathers once defined them: ‘Theologians are people of prayer and people of prayer are theologians’: When liturgists give as much, and more time to detailing how we can transform the daily liturgy of work, prayer and play, on which the Sunday liturgy depends: When more and more missives from above are directed to guiding us in our daily lives, into an ever deeper and ever more profound spiritual endeavour ‘til we can say as St Paul said before us,:- ‘We live, no it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us.’ When this begins to happen, the touch paper will be lit to set every sacrament, every sacramental, every structure, and every institution in the Church alight with what, or rather with whom, originally set it on fire. Then more and more ‘spirit filled’, apostles will surge out, as before, to do for the modern world what was done for the ancient world, for nothing here on earth can resist the power of love, the love of God that can only be embodied in those who choose to receive him.