Monday, August 18, 2014

Mosul Today and England Yesterday

Father Christopher Colven, rector of St. James, Spanish Place, offers these reflections on the current state of affairs in Mosul, Iraq and in the England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries:

The Christian communities of Iraq are among the oldest that have existed and it is particularly painful to see the witness of 2,000 years persecuted and dispersed. As our bishops reminded us last weekend, the Eucharist will have been celebrated in Mosul for the best part of two millennia – but now no more – no altar, no priest, no Christian people. We must continue to pray and do whatever we can for our brothers and sisters as they seek a new security, but it does us well to remember that what we take so easily for granted is a great privilege denied to many in our own times, and that there were many sad years here in England when the state forbade the celebration of the Mass. The reredos above the Martyrs altar in Saint Michael’s Chapel (this is the original which has been reproduced in many other Catholic churches) depicts a few of those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives for the sake of the Mass. Several of those depicted were ordinary working people - John Roche, the Thames lighterman, together with three housewives Margaret Clitheroe, Anne Line and Margaret Ward – all of them martyred for trying to ensure that, despite every attempt to frustrate them, the Holy Sacrifice would continue to be offered on English soil.

Father Colven goes on to highlight our proper dispositions for receiving Holy Communion at Mass, citing Pope St. Pius X, whose memorial we will celebrate on Thursday this week:

The new Bishop of East Anglia has recently made the point that we are in danger of losing our grasp on the Eucharistic Mystery: because the Mass is now so easily available (a minimum of three Masses each weekday here at Spanish Place alone) and Holy Communion is received as a matter of course (often without any real time of preparation) we can become blasé in approaching the Bread of Life. It was Saint Pius X at the beginning of the last century who encouraged all Catholics to make their Holy Communion as regularly as possible – and that is clearly a very good thing to do – but Saint Paul issues a stern warning in his dealings with the Corinthian Christians about any failure to “discern the Lord’s Body” when doing so: we must never treat holy things in a casual way. “Everyone is to recollect themselves before eating this bread and drinking this cup because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the Body is eating and drinking his own condemnation” (1 Corinthians 11:28).

Then he brings us back to the memory of the English Catholic martyrs who were willing to suffer so much for the sake of the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our Catholic faith:

The current suffering of so many of those who are with us “in Christ", as well as the particular history of the Catholic Church in these islands, should give  pause for thought and the opportunity to think out afresh what the celebration of the Eucharist means to us.  Tyburn Tree, where so many of countrymen and women accepted terrible deaths is only a few hundred yards from Saint James’s doors – “lest we forget”. Mother Teresa of Calcutta caused a notice to be  put up in the sacristy of each of her convents worldwide: it was an admonition to the celebrant – but it applies as well to the faithful gathered around any altar: “O priest of God, offer this Mass as if it were your first … and as if it were your last”.

Image credit.

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