Author Archives: Father Richard Peers

Farewell from Company of Voices

Thank you to everyone who has visited this blog over the last five years or so, it has been good to interact with you wherever you are.

I leave Trinity, Lewisham on 31st August 2016. I will leave this blog standing until such time as WordPress remove it.

I am continuing to tweet as @educationpriest and have started a new blog at Quodcumque.

I will continue to blog on the same range of subjects and post liturgical materials.

On 1st September 2016 I take up a new role as Director of Education for the Diocese of Liverpool. There are 119 schools and 33 000 children in them, I shall do my utmost to use everything I have learnt in my professional life for the benefit of Liverpool’s children and young people and to put the schools truly at the heart of the church’s mission, that there is more Jesus and more justice.

Fr Richard Peers SMMS

Laugh with a laughter that’s never undone: my final sermon as Assistant Priest at St Mary, Lewisham



Genesis 18 is one of the core Scriptural texts of my life.

The heart of what we have tried to do at Trinity over the last seven years.

In one of those little gifts from the Lord it is assigned as the first reading at Mass on this my final Sunday in Lewisham as Assistant Priest at St Mary’s.

It was also the subject of a lecture by Bishop Graham Kings at Lambeth Palace this week with a wonderful new picture by Silvia Dimitrova (shown here). See the text and picture here.

So here is my final sermon, all the same old themes for those who know me:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Let me tell you about my friend Vera. She is dead now but she was born in 1928. Her home town was a small place on the border of what is now Slovakia and Hungary. Vera’s family were Jewish and there were just under a thousand Jews living in Sahy before the war and two synagogues.
Vera was a gifted child. Like everyone in Sahy she spoke several; languages, but she was also a gifted musician, a pianist and most important of all an artist.
In 1940, when she was 12 Vera was deported, along with most of the Jews to concentration camps.
As a young child, and as a girl vera could have expected to have been sent straight to her death. She could contribute little to the hard labour required of young men.
But as she had left her home Vera had grabbed a sketch pad and set of pencils.
On the train and at the arrival points Vera made sketches, mainly of the German guards and troops.
One of these noticed her ability and pulled her aside from the other girls and asked her to sketch him.
Vera’s artistic gift along with her three languages saved her life and she spent the next five years, among the horrors of the holocaust translating and sketching.
She spent time in the following camps:
Breslau I (Germany : Concentration Camp)
Gross Rosen (Germany : Concentration Camp)
Auschwitz II-Birkenau (Poland : Death Camp)
Bergen-Belsen (Germany : Concentration Camp)
Krakau-Plaszow (Poland : Concentration Camp)
She was finally liberated by British troops in 1945 from Bergen-Belsen and moved to England.
It is hard to imagine what it was like for this 17 year old arriving in the UK with no known living relatives and having experienced her adolescence in a real hell on earth.
She eventually settled outside Southampton and made a living by teaching piano in schools and privately. She also loved gardening and creating bright colours all around her in her garden and conservatory.
I met Vera in 1984 when I was beginning a degree in World religions and was required to get to know a faith community other than my own. The Reform Jewish community in South Hampshire was just getting started and Vera was a key part of it. Vera was a generous friend to me as a young man and always good company. I learnt much from her about music, Hebrew and the Jewish prayer book. At the end of my first year we moved on to other faith communities and I sent Vera a crd to thank her, the card was a print of the Christian icon known as the Trinity by the Russian icon painter Andrei Rublev, there should have been badges for you as you came into church this morning.
As soon as she received the card Vera rang me to ask me about it. I told her that it illustrated a section from the Torah, Genesis chapter 18 where Abraham and Sarah are visited by three angels. Christians have long interpreted that story as a symbol of the Trinity, God, who we believe is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Vera loved that picture and especially the heavenly blue colour that forms the background. She asked me to send her other icon which I did and she especially loved icons of the Transfiguration with the bursting of light.
karolyA few months later Vera invited me to her home for our usual tea, conversation and music. When I arrived I could see that the little conservatory had been transformed into an artists studio. On a stand was a picture covered in newspaper. It was a gift she said for me and I unwrapped it to find Vera’s painting of the Hospitality of Abraham.
Vera went on to paint much more and even had exhibitions in Southampton and at the rabbinical seminary in north London. One of her paintings, After the Holocaust, hangs at the top of the main staircase even now. She even painted a stunning version of the Transfiguration but I haven’t been able to find out where that is now.
It is remarkable that this passage from Genesis 18 should be assigned as our first reading on this my final Sunday in lewisham and as an Assistant priest here at St Mary’s. It is this passage of Scripture and the painting by Rublev that have formed the heart and foundation of everything I have tried to do as Head at what was Northbrook now Trinity School. What is God like? I asked staff, pupils and Governors back in 2008. I then showed them this picture of the Trinity and said if God is like this what should our school be like?
Not surprisingly this doctrine of the Trinity proved a rich mine for our work and we ended up with our Trinity values:
A place at the table:
to be seated
to listen
where all have equal value.
But this morning I want to concentrate on what the doctrine of the Trinity tells us about ourselves.
I believe that the Trinity teaches us to value difference and sameness equally.
In our fallen sinful nature we have a tendency to seek out those who are the same as us.
I will never forget the first staff Christmas meal at Trinity, as I walked into Cafe Rouge in Black heath I could see that all the black staff were sat together and all the white staff were sat together.
Now of course, we like to be with people who have had similar experiences as us, who have shared memories or culture; that is fine and good as long as it is balance with an equal love of difference.
There is a wonderful phrase in the Latin vulgate version of Psalm 44. Describing the wedding banquet of heaven it says that God is circumdata variegate – surrounded by variety.
And that is why I have been so immensely happy to be part of this congregation here at St Mary’s; it is, you are a foretaste of the heavenly banquet; of the royal wedding feast that is the kingdom of God and is God’s will for the world.
We are here, Sunday by Sunday, surrounded by variety.
We are here, Sunday by Sunday, male and female, black and white, gay and straight those with mental illness, physical illness, old and young.
Circumdata varietate: Surrounded by variety.
That is what Vera loved in her garden, to be surrounded by colour and life and vibrancy. She had spent her teenage years in the darkness of death and she as determined never to let the darkness win.
What the Nazis wanted to destroy was variety: they wanted the master race who would all be the same. They destroyed the handicapped,the Jews, the gays, the gypsies anyone who dared to be different.
There is something rather special about Vera’s version of the Trinity and all her other paintings.
Although she had survived the death camps because of her gift for drawing faces she never drew any again, I remember her telling me that her gift for drawing had been put at the service of evil and she never wanted to use it again.
For us as Christians the icons of Jesus, for example in our icon of Our Lady of Lewisham, show us that we can see God in the face of Jesus, we can see God in every human face.
God created us in the image and likeness of God and so if we want to know what God is like we can look into our own face and into other human faces.
But Vera knew that the human face can be used for evil as well as good.
This week I attended a lecture at Lambeth Palace by Bishop Graham Kings, he pointed out that Sarah, in our story from Genesis is the mother of mission: the first to be told that she would be the mother of my nations; and the first to be told despite how barren and old she was that ‘nothing is impossible to God’ just as the virgin, Mary of Nazareth was later told the same thing.
Our world can feel very barren at times, our mission to the nations, to Lewisham, to our families and friends can seem very barren but we must never forget that nothing is impossible to God.
Nor must we forget that small things can begin the defeat of evil. My friend Vera loved the colour blue because blue sky was the only colour she saw in the death camps. But she also loved to laugh, and if you look in your pew sheets you will see that I have included the verses that follow the passage from the first reading:
11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard[c] for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
There is much laughter here at St Mary’s, after Mass, at parish parties, in the pub. When we laugh we re deeply attractive and that is what will draw people to Jesus.
Bishop Richard Holloway writes:
“It is a harsh world, indescribably cruel. It is a gentle world, unbelievably beautiful. It is a world that can make us bitter, hateful, rabid, destroyers of joy. It is a world that can draw forth tenderness from us, as we lean towards one another over broken gates. It is a world of monsters and saints, a mutilated world, but it is the only one we have been given. We should let it shock us not into hatred or anxiety, but into unconditional love.”
It is our task to seek out variety, to cultivate and celebrate difference. To acknowledge our need for sameness but to be more than that. And then we have what St paul describes in our second reading:
The mystery of Christ among you,
your hope of glory:
this is the Christ we proclaim!
Then let us laugh with the laughter of heaven;
share your delight at the friendship you’ve won;
hoping, believing and trusting whatever,
laugh with a laughter that’s never undone!
John Carpenter, Hymns to Shake Us Up

Fr Richard: Final Pew Thoughts for St Mary, Lewisham

My dear friends,

This is the last Pew Thought I will write for St Mary, Lewisham. Although I have been part of the staff here for only three years they have been very important years for me. As you will know Headship is a stressful and demanding job and being part of this community here has been an enormous help to me. The friendship and love you have shown us has been remarkable. I have learned and gained so much from you all, so much more than I have been able to offer you.

Working as part of a team has been one of the great joys here. The team of priests, Fr Steve, Fr David and I balance each other wonderfully and it has always been a delight to be with them, I know that they will both, with Rona and Claire be friends for life.

The wider team with our Readers, SPAs, Churchwardens and all who hold roles here at St Mary’s is also always a delight. What a great place to be.

I have loved living and working in lewisham and will always have a place in my soul that is Lewisham shaped. May Our lady of Lewisham pray for all of us who live or have lived here.

In one of those little miracles the first reading today at my final Mass as a staff member here is the passage from Genesis 18 which inspired Andrei Rublev to paint the icon of the Trinity that has been at the heart of work at school. The passage goes on longer than the section we will heard read, the following verses are:

11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard[c] for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

I love this account of laughter in the Bible and we are going to sing two hymns today written by United Reformed Church minister John Campbell about this passage.

Laughter is such an enormous part of life and laughter is never very far from our conversations here at St Mary’s after Mass or at one of our social events. Laughter, when it is genuine is deeply attractive.

The point of the passage from Genesis is that Abraham and Sarah are to become the parents of Israel, the chosen people, their descendants will be many and include in the world today the three great Abrahamic faiths, Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

We are called as Christians to show the attractiveness of life in Jesus Christ and to ‘multiply’ by bringing many to faith. There are huge questions in our society about why Christianity is not attractive to many people. Because we are a relatively big congregation, and because we have many families and children it is easy for us to forget that the Church is in rapid decline, easy to forget that many of our young people, probably most, stop coming to church as soon as they are old enough to make that decision for themselves.

This is a question I will carry with me to Liverpool and my new job as Director of Education. With 33,000 children in 119 schools in Liverpool how can we make Christianity so attractive, as attractive as the sound of laughter, that the young people want to know Jesus and come to love him?

I will pray for St Mary’s, pray for your growth in numbers and in holiness and I hope very much that we will stay in touch and remain friends in the year’s ahead. I know that under Fr Steve’s leadership you have a great future. Please pray for us as we move north and for the new opportunities and challenges it will bring.

With my love and prayers,

Fr Richard

Trinity Head Master: final letter to families



Dear Trinity families,

This is my last letter to you as Head Master at Trinity after 7 years in post. The school has been re-built and re-named. A Primary school has been opened. We are oversubscribed many times over. We are fully staffed with subject specialists in every classroom. Of course, there is much still to be done and, like every institution, we do some things well and in other areas there is much room for improvement.
Above all I am grateful to you as families for being so loyal and supportive to the school. Your children are very precious to you and to us; when parents and schools work together children flourish.
I am also grateful for the incredible work that my colleagues put into the school, far above and beyond any contractual obligations. Teaching is a very complex and difficult task, we are blessed to have so many strong teachers on the staff.
I especially want to record my gratitude to Mrs Tomlinson-Cole, she has been a joy to work with. Her commitment and dedication to the pupils is phenomenal. She is moving to New Woodlands in September and this is an excellent appointment for some of the most vulnerable children in Lewisham. I know that she will work miracles there, as she has here.
Other staff leaving at the end of this academic year:
Trinity Secondary
Mr Goodenough, Head of PE
Mr Higgins Head of Spanish and Year 11
Miss Paquet, Head of French
Ms Robinson, Maths
Ms Kilgariff, Maths
Ms Somers, Art teacher
Ms Pembroke, PE teacher and Head of Year 7
Ms Ahmed, Computer Science
Mr Lawrence, Second in Charge of English
Ms Rose, English
Trinity Primary
Ms Spalding
Every one of these colleagues has given sacrificially of themselves for the children; I am grateful, as you are, for their work. Although it may seem unfair to single out one colleague I am going to mention Ms Pembroke who has been at the school for longer than any of the others. She has especially given of herself on residential trips. I have happy memories of tramping across Devon, France and Norfolk with her, and even drying my socks (and those of ten pupils) in her parents’ sitting room. She is everything a teacher should be and has been a wonderful person to work with.
I also want to thank the new leadership team at Trinity Primary for a remarkable year, Mr Janes, Mr Wills and Ms Kyriakides have done so much to create a brilliant school. We are very fortunate to have them here.
Mr Thomas will write to you at the beginning of the new school year with the names of new staff. It is a statement of the high regard in which the school is held that we have appointed to every post.
I am thrilled that Mr Thomas will be taking over as Interim Head, he is a very experienced Head Teacher and has strong experience as an interim Head. I have no doubt that he will lead the school effectively and provide the excellence that I know you as parents expect and every child deserves.
It has been an enormous privilege and a great joy to serve as Head Master. I am grateful to the Board of Governors and particularly to Ms Prentice for the enormous number of hours they put into the school. I have loved living and working in Lewisham and a part of my soul will always be Lewisham shaped, I will keep Trinity and your families in my prayers. Please pray for me as I begin the next stage of my life.
With love and prayers,
Fr Richard

Two books on same-sex relationships for General Synod: a review

Journeys In Grace And Truth: Revisiting Scripture and Sexuality

Editor: Jayne Ozanne, Via Media, available as a Kindle book, and at

Amazing Love: Theology For Understanding Discipleship, Sexuality and Mission,

Editor: Andrew Davison, DLT


As I write, news comes that holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel has died. “We must always take sides,” he says, “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”

As I write, I have two books in front of me, both produced for the General Synod of the Church of England as its members prepare for ‘shared conversations’ about same sex relationships.

They are both excellent books. One, edited and published by Jayne Ozanne is a collection of essays by evangelical Anglicans. The other, edited by Cambridge theologian Andrew Davison, is published by DLT. Both have, I believe, been sent to all members of Synod. I don’t think there was any consultation in advance between the editors but they complement each other remarkably well.

Both books begin from an orthodox position; this is no liberal agenda, or Honest to God anything goes. Orthodox faith is the foundation that we all begin with.

Davison’s book is a calm summary and presentation of current biblical, theological, and scientific thinking about same sex relationships. It is well written, easy to read and balanced. While some would disagree with its conclusions it never steps beyond main stream thinking.

There is not much new in it but it would save the reader searching out many other publications. In its summary of writing on the biblical passages usually used to condemn same-sex relationships the only new insight for me was in thinking about the Romans 1:26-27 passage. As the authors point out the whole thrust of this section of Romans is to show that all are included in God’s love, so to use this passage to condemn those in same-sex relationships is to use the text against the meaning of the whole passage.

The most interesting section, for me, of Davison’s book is on mission. I know from my own family and friends as well as from my work with teenagers that the church’s attitude to same sex relationships is considered exclusive, prejudiced and simply wrong. It confirms to them that the church has nothing useful to say to them or to society. In all my years of teaching I have never heard a pupil say anything else.

Ozanne’s book is a very different kind of beast. Far from academic, main-stream Anglicanism it is a series of testimonies from within the evangelical strand of our tradition. I was deeply moved by it. There is raw honesty and most of all deep faithfulness to Jesus and to Scripture. There are a variety of voices, far from everyone is ready to accept same sex relationships as marriages, but everyone is ready to listen. There is also a real engagement with the whole of Scripture and not with isolated passages

One of the problems with the Church of England’s ‘shared conversations’ is that they lack equality. A straight person discussing same-sex relationships has nothing, or very little, to lose; a gay or lesbian person is being challenged at an existential level and can even lose their livelihood. Listening is a very different position to ‘shared conversations’.

In my seven years as a Head Teacher in south east London of a majority black school I have learnt that the only thing I can offer in race relations is my attention, my ability to listen. Whether I like it or not I have great privilege as a white man and I cannot transfer my privilege to my pupils and black friends.

I suppose this is what I find missing in these two books – and I realise they have a particular purpose that explains this. In my own life liberation theology has been hugely important. In my work with black teenagers I have had to hear the deep anger that is the fruit of racism. I have shared with them my own hanging on to the line in the psalms “O Lord avenging God, avenging God appear.” The liberation of gay and lesbian people is an Exodus, the work of God, a source of miraculous joy, like the ordination of women not something grudgingly allowed but the very fulfilment of the good news in Jesus. I want more of this, more passion in these books, less the victim and more the liberated.

I suppose what is also missing is a fully Catholic voice, what does the sacrament of marriage consist of, what is the ‘matter’ of marriage and what is its fruit? Here thinking on Genesis 1-2 is crucial, while often used to defend a complementary view of gender a simple reading of the text reveals that what it shows is sameness; common humanity – and perhaps this is what made it truly radical. Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone. This is what convinced me of the ordination of women. If our common humanity did not exist we would need a male and female saviour. Christ saves us because he is the new ha-adamah, the new dustling, who is the origin of us all.

These are excellent books, but they are only the beginning, Sh’ma Yisrael is the commandment given to the chosen people in Deuternomy 6 and repeated three times a day by pious Jews even now. Listen is the beginning of St Benedict’s Rule, listening is the most powerful tool I know in school for resolving conflict. But it is not an equal engagement. It is the task of the oppressor to listen to the oppressed. As the truth and reconciliation process has shown in South Africa, only when the truth of oppression is told can there be reconciliation.

What do I hope for? I was asked by a member of Synod this week. Quite simply that the church be a safe place for LGBT people. It is not now. Shockingly, the church is the only place I have ever experienced homophobia.

To end with another quotation from Elie Wiesel:

“I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I have been closer to him for that reason.”

O Lord, avenging God, avenging God appear.

Sermon: Rochester Cathedral, 27th June, 2016


Rochester Cathedral
27th June, 2016
King’s School, Rochester
I wonder if you ever get fed up of being asked questions?
Questions are a huge part of education.
When teachers are trained they are taught good questioning skills.
When I observe teachers in my school teach I notice what sort of questions they ask. Are they asking open questions that allow multiple answers or closed, “guess what I’m thinking” questions.
In the last few weeks Years 11s have been answering questions set by the exam boards. Every year I look at the exam papers to see how those questions have been set. For a time multiple choice answers were popular in some subjects. They are easy to mark – there were even computer readable script so that no human being needed to be involved in marking them. In recent years essays have returned. Even for relatively straightforward factual answers in a subject I know well like RE two years ago questions were combined to make complex sentences. This year questions were more straightforward again.
Jesus asks Simon Peter a deceptively simple question in the reading we have just heard “Do you love me?” Just four words.
Jesus us remarkably fond of asking questions and seems particularly fond of asking Peter questions.
I want to think about two questions Jesus asks Peter and do so in relation to our own lives and last week’s referendum.
The other question that Jesus asks Peter is Who do people say that I am? and then Who you say that I am?
So a question for all of you this morning? Who do you say that you are?
What are the labels you use to describe yourself?
Boy, girl, white, black, christian, atheist muslim, sister, son, brother, daughter, cousin …
When I was fifteen I read a book that I have re-read numerous times ever since. It was written just before the second world war by the French writer Jean Paul Sartre, the book is called Nausea and I really recommend you read it.
The most famous scene of the book has its hero stood by a chestnut tree, where he comes to a realisation of his condition, his existence.
The nausea, the sickness he has been suffering from is a sense that life is meaningless – Sartre calls it absurd – and that his identity has no solidity, no reality.
Sartre was, of course an existentialist, Nausea is, in my opinion his best book. His fellow existentialist Albert Camus wrote a book which is equally worth reading, The Rebel, Camus begins from the same position as Sartre but suggests that we should live positively; rebelling against meaninglessness and creating meaning through justice.
As Head Master of a school in inner city London, where over three-quarters of children are black; and from multiple nations. I have had to think a lot about identity. What is it that makes me me. I have struggled with staff meetings and staff social events where all the black staff sit together. Where we encourage our pupils to aspire but all the senior staff and most of the teaching staff are white.
It has not been quite an identity crisis but it has made me think long and hard about my privilege as a white man; even about my identity as an Anglican in a situation where most pupils are in church each Sunday but where those churches are almost all black majority – very often only black, Pentecostal churches. Most of all I have been challenged in my belief that education can break the cycles of poverty and deprivation. We live in a country where parental income is the best predictor of educational outcomes and I am no longer sure what the answer to that is.
Well, it feels a bit like our country, the United Kingdom, is not sure about much at the moment and is having an existential crisis of its own.
The American poet Walt Whitman answers the question ‘who do say that you are?’ in a line of his poetry:
“I am large, I contain multitudes” – If that is true of us as individuals, how much more so of nations?
You may have seen a few weeks ago that the Archbishop of Canterbury had a bit of a shock when he discovered by a DNA test that the man he had thought of as his father was not in fact so. Through the man he had thought of as a father Archbishop Justine had thought that he was partly Jewish. Something he had commented on publicly. Suddenly that identity changed, or rather simply proved not to exist.
I think we were all struck by the calmness with which the Archbishop dealt with all this and one line stuck out for me in the statement he issued:
“I find my identity in Jesus.”
This is brings us right back to that question Jesus asks Peter: Do you love me?
When we fall in love we are changed by it. When we love someone the boundaries of our own existence enlarge to take them in. We are no longer concerned only with ourselves, where I am, what I am doing. Constantly a part of our existence is aware of where they are, what they are doing; if they are safe, happy, sad. What Sartre gets wrong in Nausea – brilliant  sit is. Is the absence of love.Sartre’s hero is trapped in his own existence because he doesn’t love.
Jesus says: Do you love me?
When we commit ourselves to Jesus, when we say “yes Jesus, you know that I love you.” Our existence changes. As, in baptism, we immerse ourselves in him, we become part of the body of Christ.
And -a bit more philosophy here – Jesus can save us because all of us share with him in our human nature.
Christians can never be complete existentialists because we believe that we share one substance, we are made of one stuff, our humanness.
Whatever identities, whatever labels we place on ourselves; whether we are male or female, gay or straight, British, or European, English or Irish.
We are human and that humanity is saved in and by Jesus.
In Sartre’s Nausea the hero stand alone in the town square under the chestnut tree, in our first reading from Ezekiel God makes it clear that we are never without him; he will search us out and find us.
Whatever your religion, whatever you believe; please know that we who are Christians believe in the  freedom that comes from knowing our identity is in Christ. Prime Ministers may come and go, Governments rise and fall, but our true life is in Jesus who asks us to answer a simple question: Do you love me?

Hymn Book Review: Songs to Shake Us Up, John Campbell

Can you remember the hymns you sang at school?

Well, like many people I can. At Highfield Hall Primary in Chesterfield we had the New Life hymn book (ed. John Bailey). As well as quite a few traditional hymns – which I don’t remember ever singing, it had some more contemporary texts that I remember very well. Not all usable now, do you remember “the family of man keeps growing ..”? The book contained plenty of Sydney Carter (I especially liked ‘Catch the bird of heaven…’) and Fred Kaan (including ‘God of concrete, God of steel…’), the lovely “Love is something if you give it away ..” and several Pete Seeger songs. It is depressing to find that it contains the still topical “the people of the Gaza strip once more will suffer pain”. I remember clearly singing “Glad that I live am I” (Lizette Rees) and, I’m pretty certain, “Twenty fags, a jar of ale.” (Jim Stringfellow) – it all seems quite radical when I think of the Head, Mr Carr, who seems in all my other memories of him pretty conservative.
STSUUI thought of those hymns when reading through a new collection on hymns from URC minister John Campbell. Songs to Shake Us Up which pairs new texts by Campbell with traditional hymn tunes. There are two CDs accompanying the book one of music recorded for the 15 less well known hymn tunes and one of texts for reproduction in service sheets. Campbell doesn’t make great claims for these 200 texts. Many of them are very specific to a time or for use alongside a particular Scripture text. There are very good indices of Scripture texts, uses, first lines, themes etc. It would be a very good collection to refer to when preparing worship for study days, retreats etc  referring to particular texts or according to the lectionary.
I am not a musical expert but the introduction refers to the hymns being pitched lower than usual to make them more easily singable. They do seem to me to be pitched very low – I certainly had trouble playing some of them on my tenor recorder.
As well as traditional multi verse hymns there are a series of one verse hymns to be sung before reading Scripture “Familiar Word, our long time friend and guide / disarm that sense we’ve heard it all before: / speak with fresh strangeness …” is one set here to Woodlands (Tell out my soul …) and is one I can imagine using with a retreat group or at a Bible/Lent study group.
The texts prepared around very specific biblical passages are especially powerful. I had never imagined I would hear the “Rechabites” mentioned in a hymn and confess that I had to look up Jeremiah 35; the Essenes are another unlikely group for singing about. I shall be using one of the hymns about Genesis 18 at my final Mass in St Mary, Lewisham (Ordinary Sunday 17C) – probably the text set to On Ilkley Moor Baht’At with the wonderful chorus:
“Then ev’ryone will laugh,
with God we’ll surely laugh,
and laugh and laugh and laugh!”
But I might not be able to resist a second hymn on the same passage “Let us not laugh if our laughing is weary” set to Epiphany (‘Brightest and best …’) ending with this wonderful verse:
“Then let us laugh with the laughter of heaven,
share your delight at the friendship we’ve won;
hoping, believing and trusting whatever,
laugh with a laughter that’s never undone!”
Campbell also deals with many of the darker subjects of our time. There is a powerful text about 9/11 and the first text I have ever seen addressing the sexual abuse of children “Time to end this savage silence”.
There is also a hymn for a small, ageing congregation which I can imagine using with a PCC in such a situation or even at an annual meeting. There are fun texts, texts for children and young people.
Some texts stand firmly in the tradition of metrical psalm or biblical texts and many are very fine indeed, a study group on the Beatitudes could well begin or end each session with “How blessed are those who know they’re poor ..” although I am not sure Dominus Regit Me (The King of Love ..) is the best 87 87 tune for it. There is a brave attempt to create a metrical version of the prologue to John’s Gospel which at first I didn’t like as a text but sung – as suggested – to Greensleeves becomes a lovely meditation on the original with a stunning final four lines:
“Yet, you our dark embraced,
eclipsed by sin, our failure faced,
dying, death’s darkness chased,
the Word made flesh amongst us!”
Although I have only read and sung through this book haphazardly, just the once ,I can see that it is a book I will use for prayer as well as for preparing worship on many occasions. I recommend it highly and am grateful to John Campbell for this tremendous task he has undertaken.

24 June Music for the Office: The Birthday of John the Baptist

PDF 24 June

MS Word 24 June

Music for the Office: The Most Sacred Heart

The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

31 May, the Visitation: Music for the Office

31 May

31 May

Walsingham: an alternative solution

My comment on the Guardian’s statement is here.

I have thought long and hard, and had many conversations, about a solution for the shrine at Walsingham that would allow those of us who receive (and rejoice in) the ordination of women to all orders of ministry, and ordained women themselves, to share this place with those who cannot.

There are no ecumenical models for this. The closest, I suppose, is Taizé, where an early ‘reformed’ eucharist precedes the Roman Mass each weekday, but where really the Office is key not the daily Mass. I happily concelebrate the early ‘reformed’ Mass and sit in the congregation for the Roman Mass.

So what would an equivalent solution be at Walsingham?

What I appreciate at Taizé is that the community accept and welcome my desire to celebrate Mass every day and find a way of accommodating that. Even if it has meant a 4am Mass in the parish church before I make my way home.

I suspect that at Walsingham there are other ways of accommodating all those who wish to celebrate Mass without compromising the legitimate (in the Church of England) reservations that some hold about the ordination of women.

The simplest solution I can think of is that every Mass be accompanied by a stand/flag containing the simple message, either:

“This Mass is celebrated by a priest of The Society of St Wilfrid and Saint Hilda”


“This Mass is celebrated by a priest who is not a member of the Society of St Hilda and St Wilfrid”

Male and female priests could celebrate Mass. Concelebration would not be possible but attendance in choir would not be a problem.

The simpler the solution the more likely it is to succeed. Why not?

Leaving Lewisham: an invitation

Do please join me as I mark the end of my ministry in Lewisham.

At St Mary, Lewisham for the parish Mass on Sunday 17th July, at which I will preside and preach.

At Trinity
for a farewell Mass of Our Lady of Lewisham

at 3:30pm on Tuesday 19th July
in Trinity Hall at Trinity Secondary on Taunton Rd.

The Rt Rev’d. Christopher Chessun,
Bishop of Southwark, presiding

The Rev’d. Canon Brendan Clover,
Senior Provost of Woodard Schools, preaching

All priests are invited to concelebrate (alb and white/Marian stole).

There will be a reception afterwards.
If you would like to attend please let my PA Erika Drzinska know:

Former pupils are especially welcome.

Walsingham: An Open Door?

W CoverPreparing for Monday’s National pilgrimage to Walsingham I read the latest (Candlemas) edition of the Walsingham review. There is a fine introduction by Fr Philip Barnes, the interim administrator, which can also be found on the shrine website here. Like the front cover “an Open Door” is the phrase that dominates, focussing on the door of mercy which is  such a theme of this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

A double page spread further into The Walsingham Review explains the position of the Guardians and the practice of the shrine now that the Church of England has ordained women to the episcopate.

In the new situation only priests who are Associates of the Holy House or who are granted ‘guest’ status temporarily will be able to preside or concelebrate Mass at the shrine; these are, and will be, male priests ordained by male bishops or within a ‘line’ (not a phrase of the article) of male bishops. This is a perfectly logical position stemming from the stated need for ‘sacramental assurance’ of those who cannot accept the ordination of women. It is also, it seems to me, in line with the Five Guiding Principles of the House of Bishops’ Declaration.

I suppose the only new element for me in the article is the passage:

“As the Bishop of Norwich has said, we believe that Walsingham is a place where it should feel ‘normal’ to be a traditional catholic. As such, it should be normal to share the pilgrimage experience with those who do not necessarily share our sacramental discipline.”

I think this is a strong statement. I, with many others, have hoped that Walsingham would be a place where all Catholic Anglicans – those who welcome the ordination of women and those who don’t, might find a home – and I still think there are alternative ways of doing this within the logic, the ‘sacramental discipline’ of those who don’t receive the ministry of women as priests. This statement goes further than that and make it clear that those of us who receive the ministry of women as priests are ‘welcomed’ to the shrine, and the pilgrim experience is ‘shared’ with us, but it is not ours. For many of us who have regarded and do regard Walsingham as a spiritual ‘home’ this is a hard thing to hear and we must make our own decisions  about our engagement with the shrine.

The question for me is how much engagement with the shrine and with those who don’t receive the ministry of women as priests and bishops is a betrayal of my sister priests, and that remains an open question. At the moment many of my much loved sisters in the Sodality will attend the National on Monday and, unlike me, be unable to concelebrate the pilgrimage Mass (as incidentally is my diocesan bishop). I offered to organise a concelebrated Mass somewhere nearby early in the day but it was decided not to do that. So, I shall concelebrate the Mass while (for example) the Assistant Superior of the Sodality is not able to. That is a reality we live with and one in which the Church of England lives and hopefully in which we can find and receive grace.

For me I would like to consider the possibilities for developing a Marian shrine elsewhere where all priests, men and women, are not just welcomed as guests but can genuinely find a home, not as an alternative, but in addition to Walsingham. That remains to be seen.

However, I do think the door is open at Walsingham. If the catholic movement within our church is to be revived I have no doubt that it will be because all Catholic Anglicans work together. Just this week, as I write, the Sodality has received such great gifts of wisdom and insight from Canon Robin Ward. Many of us will be at the national on Monday. If the door is open – and I have no doubt that it is – we should graciously accept the welcome given and work together “beyond the limits of the present” as the Guardians put it, for the evangelisation of England.

I am delighted to hear that a number of diocesan bishops will be at the pilgrimage on Monday. The Guiding Principles offer us an opportunity to serve the Lord together and together receive his blessing.

Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.

Thank you to Simon Sarmiento for finding the whole magazine online here, scroll down to the article.

I offer an alternative solution here.

25 May: Office Hymns for Saint Bede the Venerable

Office Hymns for Lauds/Matins and Vespers/Evensong

PDF: Bede

By Brother Aelred Seton-Shanley Obl.OSB Cam.



Christ was his King, no other lord

Did Bede aspire to serve.

No other love could claim the heart

He gave without reserve.


From boyhood onward his delight

Was in the scriptures found,

Or singing praise to him who hung

Upon the Rood, thorn-crowned.


Like Easter night, Bede’s quiet cell

Saw Christ arising there;

And when Ascension dawned at last

The Son shone bright and fair.


To Christ the King of glory sing,

And God the Father praise,

Whose Spirit dwells in peaceful hearts

And guides them in his ways.




Bede, priest and servant of the Lord,

Rejoiced in singing in God’s sight;

In writing, teaching, learning, all,

He found his pleasure and delight.


To aid his brothers in their prayer

He noted what the Scriptures say.

Delighting, he drank deeply there,

In hopes he’d gain the Source one day.


Though faithful to his cloistered life

He found whole worlds within his cell:

His hist’ry of the English Church

Endures and still is not excelled.


The Gospel of Saint John he loved,

And rendered in his mother tongue;

At last, its final word complete,

He died as Christ had: “It is done.”


May 24th: Benedictus & Magnificat antiphons for BVM Help of Christians

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 21.37.33

May 24th: Proper Office for The Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians

This beautiful title for Our Lady is the patronal title of the Salesians (where this proper Office comes from) and of the Benedictine Abbey at Worth in West Sussex.

The Source of the Salesian propers is here.

A PDF is available BVM Help of Christians.

And here are the texts:

24 May




Principal Patroness of the Society of Saint Francis de Sales,

of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians,

and of the Secular Institute of the Don Bosco Volunteers.




On many occasions throughout the course of history, Christian people have experienced the protection of the Virgin Mary.  The title of Help of Christians, which Don Bosco associated with that of Mary Mother of the Church, is an indication of the special intervention of Mary in the most difficult trials of personal human life, of the Church and of the whole human family.

The liturgical celebration was instituted by Pope Pius VII in gratitude for Mary’s intervention in a critical period in the history of the Church.  Driven out by violence from the See of Rome and held as a prisoner for five years, the Pontiff had implored the help of Mary and had invited all Christians to do the same.  Contrary to all expectations he was freed and returned to his See on 24 May 1814.

Devotion to Mary Help of Christians was spread far and wide through the work of St John Bosco, and continues to be propagated in the world by the Salesian Family, which recognizes and invokes Mary, Help of Christians as its principal patroness.


Evening Prayer I

*  Hymn

Whene’er Christ’s people sore beset has been,

and ringed with menace of a raging foe,

they’ve glimps’d her gliding from the sky serene,

Mary their Queen with succour for their woe.


‘Tis this the annals of our fathers tell,

and this the trophies of her shrines proclaim;

the wondrous feasts that yearly hymn as well

the glories won invoking her sweet name.


Let all to praises new in song give tongue,

to win fresh favours from her royal hands;

no strain, no melody be left unsung

in Peter’s See, in all Creation’s lands.


O truly blessed day of history,

relating for all time what then befell,

when exiled Pope returned in jubilee

from banishment and prison’s lowly cell.


O souls unstained of youth, of maid and boy,

your tender hearts in gratitude o’erflow;

share now your people’s and your pastor’s joy,

meet honour on those queenly gifts bestow.


O Maid of maids, O Jesu’s Mother blest.

let not these tokens of your love decrease;

so may our shepherd lead his flock to rest

in heaven’s fields, in bliss that knows no cease.


O grant us You to ever venerate,

our praise of You, O Triune God prolong,

that we may see what now we celebrate,

our minds in faith, our tongues in vibrant song.



Or another suitable hymn approved by ecclesiastical authority.


Ant. 1: Joyful Mother of the Son of God,

raised to the glory of the kingdom,

with you we praise the name of the Lord (T.P. Alleluia).


Psalm 112 (113)


Praise, O servants of the Lord,*
praise the name of the Lord!
May the name of the Lord be blessed*
both now and for evermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting*
praised be the name of the Lord!

High above all nations is the Lord,*
above the heavens his glory.
Who is like the Lord, our God,*
who has risen on high to his throne
yet stoops from the heights to look down,*
to look down upon heaven and earth?

From the dust he lifts up the lowly,*
from his misery he raises the poor
to set them in the company of princes,*
yes, with the princes of his people.
To the childless wife he gives a home*
and gladdens her heart with children.


Ant. Joyful Mother of the Son of God,

raised to the glory of the kingdom,

with you we praise the name of the Lord (T.P. Alleluia).


Ant. 2:  Mary, through you has come Peace,

in you the Word was made flesh;

with you we glorify the Lord (T.P. Alleluia).


Psalm 147


O praise the Lord, Jerusalem!*
Sion praise your God!

He has strengthened the bars of your gates,*
he has blessed the children within you.
He established peace on your borders,*
he feeds you with finest wheat.

He sends out his word to the earth*
and swiftly runs his command.
He showers down snow white as wool,*
he scatters hoar-frost like ashes.

He hurls down hailstones like crumbs.*
The waters are frozen at his touch;
he sends forth his word and it melts them:*
at the breath of his mouth the waters flow.

He makes his word known to Jacob,*
to Israel his laws and decrees.
He has not dealt thus with other nations;*
he has not taught them his decrees.


Ant. Mary, through you has come Peace,

in you the Word was made flesh;

with you we glorify the Lord (T.P. Alleluia).


Ant. 3: Mary, through you has come

the salvation, strength and kingdom of our God:

with you we sing the power of the Lord (T.P. Alleluia).


Canticle Eph 1 : 3-10


Blessed be the God and Father*

of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who has blessed us in Christ*

with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.


He chose us in him*

before the foundation of the world,

that we should be holy*

and blameless before him.


He destined us in love*

to be his sons through Jesus Christ,

according to the purpose of his will,†

to the praise of his glorious grace*

which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.


In him we have redemption through his blood,*

the forgiveness of our trespasses,

according to the riches of his grace*

which he lavished upon us.


He has made known to us†

in all wisdom and insight *

the mystery of his will,

according to his purpose*

which he set forth in Christ.


His purpose he set forth in Christ,*

as a plan for the fulness of time,

to unite all things in him,*

things in heaven and things on earth.


Ant.  Mary, through you has come

the salvation, strength and kingdom of our God:

with you we sing the power of the Lord (T.P. Alleluia).



Scripture Reading                                                                                                                  1 Pt 5, 6-11


Dearly beloved, humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you.  Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you.  Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.  To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.





In the Easter season:


R/. Hail, O Virgin, Mother of the Church. * Alleluia, alleluia.

Hail, O Virgin, Mother of the Church. Alleluia, alleluia.

V/. Come to the aid of your children, who praise the Lord.

* Alleluia, alleluia.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Hail, O Virgin, Mother of the Church


Outside the Easter season:


R/. Mother of hope, * the whole world implores your help.

Mother of hope, the whole world implores your help.  .

V/. Come to the aid of your children, O blessed Mother.

* the whole world implores your help.  .

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Mother of hope, the whole world implores your help.


Ant. At the Magn. The hand of the Lord has strengthened you;

and therefore you shall be blessed forever, alleluia.



Or:          In dangers, difficulties and doubt,

we invoke you as Help of Christians:

with your support we cannot fall;

with you as guide, we shall not tire on the way;

with your assistance we shall attain the goal of heaven, alleluia.





Mary, Mother of Christ the Lord, is a shining light on the path of the people of God as a sign of sure hope and consolation.  Let us bless God whose will it was that she should collaborate in the work of salvation, and let us pray:

Mary, help of Christians, intercede for us.


God our Father, you made of Mary the new Eve, the woman clothed with the sun, conqueror of the serpent:

–          give us courage and hope in our struggle against evil.

You made of Mary the new Judith, the liberator of her people, blessed among all women:

–   help Christian people to preserve the faith in the midst of life’s trials.

You made of Mary the new Esther, the pious and beautiful queen, ready to intercede for the salvation of her people:

–          guide the Church in overcoming every peril met with on her pilgrimage.

You made of Mary the defence of Christian people in perilous moments of her history:

–   enlighten Peter’s successor and the Bishops in communion with him in surmounting every danger to Christian values.

You made of Mary the mystical spouse of the Holy Spirit, mother of your pilgrim people:

–          sustain and render fruitful the educative work of the members of the Salesian Family.

You made of Mary, assumed into heaven, the Queen of angels and saints:

–          may she intercede that our deceased confreres may enjoy the fullness of everlasting happiness.



Our Father.


Concluding prayer as at Morning Prayer.




Night Prayer of Sunday.  Outside the Easter Season it is appropriate to use as the final antiphon “Sub tuum praesidium”, or “O Maria, Virgo potens”:

“O Maria, Virgo potens

Tu magnum et praeclarum in Ecclesia praesidium;

Tu singulare Auxilium Christianorum:

Tu terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata.

Tu cunctas haereses sola interemisti in universo mundo.

Tu in angustiis,

Tu in bello,

Tu in necessitatibus nos ab hoste protege,

atque in aeterna gaudia in mortis hora suscipe.”







Ant. On the feast of Mary Help of Christians,

let us sing to the Lord, alleluia.


Invitatory psalm as in the Ordinary.



Office of Readings


*  Hymn

Most glorious your light does shine,

O Princess of your race,

And highest is your only shrine

Midst heaven’s populace.

Of David’s line to you we sing,

O Mary, with your Son, the King.


Maternity, virginity –

Most wondrously are met;

An arbour for your progeny

Within your womb is set.

And he whom in that womb you bore

‘Tis He whom creatures shall adore.


Give ear to all who search and plead

Like beggars in the dark;

For you alone are light indeed

By which their eyes might mark

The scatt’ring of the shade of night

Which shrouds your Son, your sole delight.


‘Tis He to whom it is but just

That ev’ry knee should bend;

To him alone this prayer we thrust

But beg your sway commend:

That be dispelled the gloom of night

And be infused the joys of light.


This do you grant, O God of light,

Both through your only Son

And with your Holy Spirit bright –

The Third of Three in One,

Who live with you in realms resplendent

And reign with you all time transcendent.


Or another suitable hymn approved by ecclesiastical authority.


Ant. 1:  Mary, you have received a blessing from the Lord,

and mercy from the God of salvation (T.P. Alleluia).


Psalm 23 (24)


The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness,*
the world and all its peoples.
It is he who set it on the seas;*
on the waters he made it firm.

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?*
Who shall stand in his holy place?
The man with clean hands and pure heart,†
who desires not worthless things,*
who have not sworn so as to deceive their neighbour.

He shall receive blessings from the Lord*
and reward from the God who saves him.
Such are the men who seek him,*
seek the face of the God of Jacob.

O gates, lift high your heads;†
grow higher, ancient doors.*
Let him enter, the king of glory!

Who is the king of glory?†
The Lord, the mighty, the valiant,*
the Lord, the valiant in war.

O gates, lift high your heads;†
grow higher, ancient doors.*
Let him enter, the king of glory!

Who is he, the king of glory?†
He, the Lord of armies,*
he is the king of glory.


Ant. Mary, you have received a blessing from the Lord,

and mercy from the God of salvation (T.P. Alleluia).


Ant. 2:  God, our refuge and our strength,

you have given us in Mary a helper in our trials  (T.P. Alleluia).


Psalm 45 (46)


God is for us a refuge and strength,*
a helper close at hand, in time of distress,
so we shall not fear though the earth should rock,*
though the mountains fall into the depths of the sea;
even though its waters rage and foam,*
even though the mountains be shaken by its waves.

The Lord of hosts is with us:*
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

The waters of a river give joy to God’s city,*
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within, it cannot be shaken;*
God will help it at the dawning of the day.
Nations are in tumult, kingdoms are shaken:*
he lifts his voice, the earth shrinks away.

The Lord of hosts is with us:*
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Come, consider the works of the Lord,*
the redoubtable deeds he has done on the earth.
He puts an end to wars over all the earth;†
the bow he breaks, the spear he snaps.*
(He burns the shields with fire.)
“Be still and know that I am God,*
supreme among the nations, supreme on the earth!”

The Lord of hosts is with us:*
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.


Ant. God, our refuge and our strength,

you have given us in Mary a helper in our trials  (T.P. Alleluia).



Ant. 3:  Wonderful things are said of you,

O Mother of all peoples (T.P. Alleluia).


Psalm 86 (87)


On the holy mountain is his city*
cherished by the Lord.
The Lord prefers the gates of Sion*
to all Jacob’s dwellings.
Of you are told glorious things,*
O city of God!

Babylon and Egypt I will count *
among those who know me;
Philistia, Tyre, Ethiopia, *
these will be her children
and Sion shall be called “Mother”*
for all shall be her children.”

It is he, the Lord Most High,*
who gives each his place.
In his register of peoples he writes:*
“These are her children,”
and while they dance they will sing:*
“In you all find their home.”


Ant. Wonderful things are said of you,

O Mother of all peoples (T.P. Alleluia).



In the Easter season:


V/. The Almighty has done great things for me, alleluia.

R/. He has mercy on those who fear him, alleluia.



First Reading


From the Book of Revelation of St John, the apostle.                                     11,19a-12,17


The majestic sign of the woman in the heavens


Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple.  And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.  And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads.  His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth.  And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth.  She brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.  And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world — he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.  And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying:

“Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.  And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.  Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein!  But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had borne the male child.  But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.  The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with the flood.  But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river which the dragon had poured from his mouth.  Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.



Responsory                                                                                                                 Cf Rev. 12,5.1


R/. The woman brought forth a male child, who is to rule all the nations; and the child was caught up to God and to his throne. * Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, alleluia.

V/. A great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

R/. Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, alleluia.



Outside the Easter season:


V/. Mary pondered in her heart

R/. the wonderful events of her Son.


* Or:


First Reading


From the Book of Judith                                                      13,11-14.16a-20; 15,8-10,12-14 (Vg.)


The Lord is with you.

Blessed are you among women!



Judith called out from afar to the watchmen at the gates, “Open, open the gate!  God, our God, is still with us, to show his power in Israel, and his strength against our enemies, even as he has done this day!”  When the men of her city heard her voice, they hurried down to the city gate and called together the elders of the city.  They all ran together, both small and great, for it was unbelievable that she had returned; they opened the gate and admitted them, and they kindled a fire for light, and gathered around them.  Then she said to them with a loud voice, “Praise God, O praise him!  Praise God, who has not withdrawn his mercy from the house of Israel, but has destroyed our enemies by my hand this very night!”

All the people were greatly astonished, and bowed down and worshipped God, and said with one accord, “Blessed art thou, our God, who hast brought into contempt this day the enemies of thy people.”  And Uzziah said to her, “O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth, who has guided you to strike the head of the leader of our enemies.  Your hope will never depart from the hearts of men, as they remember the power of God.  May God grant this to be a perpetual honour to you, and may he visit you with blessings, because you did not spare your own life when our nation was brought low, but have avenged our ruin, walking in the straight path before our God.”  And all the people said, “So be it, so be it!”

Then Joakim the high priest, and the senate of the people of Israel who lived at Jerusalem, came to witness the good things which the Lord had done for Israel, and to see Judith and to greet her.  And when they met her they all blessed her with one accord and said to her, “You are the exaltation of Jerusalem, you are the great glory of Israel, you are the great pride of our nation!  You have done all this singlehanded; you have done great good to Israel, and God is well pleased with it.  May the Almighty Lord bless you for ever!”  And all the people said, “So be it!”

Then all the women of Israel gathered to see her, and blessed her, and some of them performed a dance for her; and she took branches in her hands and gave them to the women who were with her;  And they crowned themselves with olive wreaths, she and those who were with her; and she went before all the people in the dance, leading all the women, while all the men of Israel followed, bearing their arms and wearing garlands and with songs on their lips.

Then Judith began this thanksgiving before all Israel, and all the people loudly sang this song of praise:


Responsory                                                                                                               Jud 16,1.13-14


R/. Sing to my God with tambourines,
sing to my Lord with cymbals;
raise to him a new psalm;
* exalt him, and call upon his name.

V/. I will sing to my God a new song::
O Lord, thou art great and glorious
wonderful in strength, invincible.

* exalt him, and call upon his name.

V/. Let all thy creatures serve thee,
for thou didst speak, and they were made;
thou didst send forth thy Spirit, and it formed them;
there is none that can resist thy voice.

* exalt him, and call upon his name.



Second Reading


From the Regulations of the Association of the Clients of Mary Help of Christians, written by St John Bosco

(Opere edite, XXI, Rome 1976, 343-347)


Mary Help of Christians


The title of Help of Christians, attributed to the august Mother of the Saviour, is not something new.  In the holy books themselves Mary is spoken of as the Queen who stands at the right hand of her Divine Son, clothed in gold and surrounded with variety.  This golden vesture and radiant surroundings, according to the spirit of the Church, are so many gems and diamonds, or titles, we are accustomed to use in addressing Mary.  And so when we call the holy Virgin “Help of Christians”, we are only using a special title which befits her, as one of the diamonds on her golden garment.  In this sense Mary has been greeted as the Help of the human race from the earliest ages of the world when Adam, after falling into sin, was promised a liberator, to be born of a woman, who would crush the head of the insidious serpent by her sinless foot.

This great Woman, indeed, is symbolized in the tree of life which existed in the earthly paradise; in the ark of Noah which saved the adorers of the true God from the universal deluge; in Jacob’s ladder which reached up to heaven; in Moses’ bush which burned but was not consumed, and which is an allusion to Mary who remained a virgin after childbirth; in the ark of the covenant; in the tower of David which resisted all assaults; in the rose of Jericho; in the sealed fountain; in the garden, well cultivated and guarded by Solomon, she is symbolized in an outpouring of blessings; in Gideon’s fleece.  Elsewhere she is called the star of Jacob, splendid as the moon, noble as the sun, rainbow of peace, pupil of God’s eye, rising dawn of consolations, Virgin and Mother of her Lord.  These symbols and expressions which the Church applies to Mary manifest the providential designs of God, which he willed to make known even before her birth, as the firstborn of all creatures, the most excellent protectress, help and support and even redresser of the evils to which the human race is subject.

In the New Testament it is not only with symbols and prophecies that she is referred to as the helper of mankind in general, but she is also called the help, the support and defence of Christians; and this no longer in figures, no longer in symbolic expressions; in the Gospel everything is reality and fulfilment of the past.  Mary is greeted by the archangel Gabriel who calls her ‘full of grace’.  God gazes upon the surpassing humility of Mary and raises her to the dignity of Mother of the Eternal Word.  Jesus, the immense unfathomed God, becomes the Son of Mary.  Of her he is born; by her he is educated and fostered, the Eternal Word made flesh obedient in all things to his noble Mother.  At her request he works his first miracle at Cana in Galilee; on Calvary she was constituted the Mother of all Christians.  The Apostles took her as their guide and teacher of virtue.  With her they gathered in the Cenacle to pray; with her they awaited in recollection the coming of the Holy Spirit.  To the Apostles she addressed her last words before her glorious flight to heaven.

And from the height of her throne of glory she turns her motherly gaze on mankind, saying: Form this highest and glorious throne I enrich with blessings those who love me and enhance with heavenly favours their treasuries of grace.  And hence there began from the time of her Assumption into heaven the constant and uninterrupted convergence of Christians on Mary, nor has it ever been said – as St Bernard tells us – that anyone ever had trusting recourse to this loving Mother and was left forsaken.  This is why every century, every year, every day, and we may say every moment in history has been marked by some great favour granted to those who have invoked her with faith.  This too is the reason why every kingdom, every city and town, every family has a church, a chapel, an altar, a statue, a picture or some other sign which calls to mind the universal veneration for Mary, and at the same time recalls some of the many graces granted to those who have had recourse to her in life’s necessities.


Responsory                                                                                           Psal 34,4; Lk 1,48; Psal 63,16


R/. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!: * For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. Behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed

V/. Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me.

R/. For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. Behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.



*  Or:


Second Reading


From the writings of Saint John Bosco, priest

(“Marvels of the Mother of God […]”,

Opere edite, XX, Roma 1976, 217-220; 197-200)


Mary has been constituted by God

as the Help of Christians


When the Blessed Virgin Mary came to visit her, Saint Elizabeth was so filled with the Holy Spirit, that she was inspired to prophesy: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. “

With these words the Holy Spirit through the lips of Elizabeth extolled Mary as blessed and favoured by God and chosen by him to bring to men the blessing which was lost in Eve and for which mankind has been yearning for so many centuries.

To the congratulations of her kinswoman Mary, also inspired by God, replied: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. . .For he has looked with favour on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed. “

Now, in order that Mary’s glory might be extended to all generations, so that all might call her blessed, it was necessary that Mary should bestow upon every generation an extraordinary and lasting benefit, so that the reason for gratitude and praise might be ever present. This continuous and marvellous benefit is none other than the help that Mary gives to men – a help that is extended to all ages, places, and people.

The title of “Help of Christians”, attributed to the august Mother of the Redeemer is not new in the Church of Christ, but in these latter times it has been proclaimed of the Blessed Virgin Mary for a special reason. Not only for private favours is Mary being invoked, but especially because of the serious and imminent dangers that threaten the faithful.  Today the Catholic Church itself is attacked in its mission, in its institutions, in its head, in its doctrine, in its discipline.  It is attacked as the Catholic Church, the pillar of truth and the teacher of all the faithful.

And it is precisely to obtain the special protection of heaven that we have recourse to Mary as the Mother of us all, the special helper of Catholics throughout the world and of their leaders.

Hence we can truly say that Mary has been constituted by God as the Help of Christians and that in times of crisis she has shown herself to be the helper especially of those who suffer and fight for the faith.

May the Blessed Virgin help us to be faithful to the teachings and the faith, of which the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Jesus Christ, is the head, and obtain for us the grace of persevering in serving God on this earth, so as to join her one day in the kingdom of heavenly glory.



Responsory                                                                                    Lk 1,48-49; cf Psal 17,33


R/. All generations shall call me blessed because he who is mighty has done great things for me. * And holy is his name  (T.P. Alleluia).

V/. God girded me with strength and set me on the heights.

R/. And holy is his name  (T.P. Alleluia).



Te Deum.


Concluding prayer as at Morning Prayer.



Vigil Celebration


            Those who desire a prolonged vigil liturgy, after the recital of the Office of Readings and before the Te Deum may add the canticles and Gospel readings indicated below.


Ant. Bless the Lord in all his works:

he has clothed Mary with the garments of salvation

and wrapped her in the mantle of justice
(T.P. Alleluia).


Canticle I Is 61,10-62,3                     The prophet rejoices over the new Jerusalem.


Canticle II Is 62,4-7                           The glory of the new Jerusalem.


Canticle III Sir 39,13-16a                  How great are your works, O Lord!





One of the following Gospel extracts is read from the

Lectionary of the Mass for the Blessed Virgin Mary help of Christians:


  1. Mt 12,46-50: Here are my mother and my brothers!


  1. Lk 1,26-38: You will conceive in your womb and bear a son.


  1. Lk 1,39-47: Blessed is she who believed.


  1. Lk 11,27-28: Blessed is the womb that bore you.


  1. Jn 2,1-11: His mother said: Do whatever he tells you.


  1. Jn 19,25-27: Behold your son! Behold your mother!


If it be thought opportune a homily may be given.


Te Deum.


Concluding prayer as at Morning Prayer.



Morning Prayer


*  Hymn

Mary immaculate, star of the morning,

Chosen before the creation began,

Chosen to bring for thy bridal adorning,

Woe to the serpent and rescue to man.


Here, in an orbit of shadow and sadness,

Veiling thy splendour, thy course thou hast run;

Now thou are throned in all glory and gladness,

Crowned by the hand of thy saviour and Son.


Sinners, we worship thy sinless perfection;

Fallen and weak, for thy pity we plead;

Grant us the shield of thy sovereign protection,

Measure thine aid by the depth of our need.


Bend from the throne at the voice of our crying,

Bend to this earth which thy footsteps have trod;

Stretch out thins arms to us, living and dying,

Mary immaculate, Mother of God.




O quam glorifica luce coruscas,

stirpis davidicae regia proles,

sublimis residens, Virgo Maria,

supra caeligenas aetheris omnes.


Tu cum virgineo Mater honore,

angelorum Domino pectoris aulam

sacris visceribus casta parasti;

natus hinc Deus est corpore Christus.


Cunctis auxilium praebe, tuorum

audi vota, graves solve catenas;

nostras, tu nova lux, discute noctes,

da, quo tu frueris, cernere Natum.


Quem cunctus venerans orbis adorat,

cui nunc rite genu flectitur omne;

a quo, te, petimus, subveniente,

abiectis tenebris, gaudia lucis.


Hoc largire, Pater luminis omnis,

Natum per proprium, Flamine sacro;

qui tecum nitida vivit in aethra,

regnans ac moderans saecula cuncta.


Or another suitable hymn approved by ecclesiastical authority.



1 antMy song and my strength is the Lord:

for me he is both health and salvation, alleluia.


Psalms and canticle from Sunday, Week 1.


2 ant. Blessed are you, O Virgin Mary,

Among all the women of the earth, alleluia.


3 ant. We praise you, Lord, for your wonderful works;

we praise you for Mary’s help, alleluia.


In the Easter season:


Scripture Reading                                                                                     Rev 12,10-12a.17


I John heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.  And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.  Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein!

Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.



Short Responsory


R/. Virgin Mary, you have given birth to the light of the world, * Alleluia, alleluia!

Virgin Mary, you have given birth to the light of the world, Alleluia, alleluia!

V/. Helped by your prayer, we praise the Lord.

* Alleluia, alleluia!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Virgin Mary, you have given birth to the light of the world, Al­leluia, alleluia!


Outside the Easter season:


Scripture Reading                                                                                                      Jud 13,18b-20a


Blessed be the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth, who has guided you to strike the head of the leader of our enemies.  Your hope will never depart from the hearts of men, as they remember the power of God.  May God grant this to be a perpetual honour to you, and may he visit you with blessings, because you did not spare your own life when our nation was brought low, but have avenged our ruin, walking in the straight path before our God.


Short Responsory


R/. O loving Mother of Christ, * O worker of wonders.

O loving Mother of Christ, O worker of wonders.

V/. You are our hope; to you we fly for help.

* O worker of wonders.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

O loving Mother of Christ, O worker of wonders.


Ant. At the Ben. O Mary, you rise like the dawn, alleluia;

and bear the new sun, alleluia




At the beginning of this new day let us give thanks with Mary Help of Christians to our God and Saviour, and let us say:


We hope in you, O Son of Mary.


Jesus, sun of justice, you were born of Mary, star of the morning:

–   grant that we may walk today in your light, so that evening may find us worthy of your benevolent gaze.

Christ our Saviour, in your Immaculate Mother you have symbolized the beginning of the Church:

–  grant that we may tend with all our strength to justice and holiness.

Christ Jesus, consolation of those who entrust themselves to you:

–  help us through the example of your Mother to carry the crosses we encounter on life’s pilgrimage.

Christ our Lord, through the mystery of your death and resurrection you free mankind from evil:

–  grant that young people may overcome the many forms of slavery that exist in our times.

Lord Jesus you gave Don Bosco a powerful help and a sure guide in Mary Help of Christians:

–   that that the whole Salesian Family may always feel her motherly presence in the work of the education and evangelisation of youth.


Our Father.




Lord our God, you chose the Virgin Mary to be the mother and help of Christians; by her prayers give to the Church the strength of your Spirit so that with patience and love its members may overcome every trial and share even now in the victory of Christ, your Son.  He lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.





Prayer during the Day


Hymn from the Ordinary; complementary psalms. If the Solemnity falls on a Sunday in Ordinary Time, the psalms are as on Sunday of Week 1.



Before Noon


Ant. He who is Almighty has done great things in me:

Holy is his name (T.P. Alleluia).



Scripture Reading                                                                                                  Rev 12,1


A great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.



V/. You are the Mother of our Lord and Saviour (T.P. Alleluia).

R/. The honour of the Church and help in difficulties (T.P. Alleluia).





Ant. With the power of your arm you have put the proud to flight,

you have exalted the humble (T.P. Alleluia).



Scripture Reading                                                                                                Rev 21,3b


Behold, the dwelling of God is with men.  He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them


V/ . Hail, holy Mother; hail, glory of the world (T.P. Alleluia).

R/. Intercede for us with your Son (T.P. Alleluia).





AntThe Lord comes to the aid of his faithful ones,

remembering his mercy (T.P. Alleluia).



Scripture Reading                                                                                                 Rev 12,17


The dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.



V/. Mary, fountain of grace and mother of forgiveness (T.P. Alleluia).

R/. Protect us from the evil one and receive us at the hour of our death (T.P. Alleluia).


Concluding prayer as at Morning Prayer.



Evening Prayer II


* Hymn

Attentive Virgin Mother, it never has been known

that anyone who loved you was ever left alone.

Inspired by your goodness we ask for help and pray

to know your Son incarnate, the only perfect way.


Attentive Virgin Mother, protect the Church of God,

provide her with apostles to spread the faith abroad.

Obtain for youth the wisdom to build on Christ the Lord,

with freedom of the spirit to seek the will of God.


Attentive Virgin Mother, our Model and our Sign,

your faith and love at Cana proved Jesus’ power divine.

True Mother of the living, receive this humble pray’r:

Make Life the choice and glory of fam’lies everywhere.


(R.McShane FMA)



O sanctissima, O piissima,

Dulcis virgo Maria!

Mater amata, intemerata,

Ora, ora pro nobis.


Tu solacium et refugium,

Virgo, mater Maria!

Quidquid optamus, per te speramus;

Ora, ora pro nobis.


Ecce debiles, perquam flebiles,

Salva nos, O Maria!

Tolle languores, sana dolores,

Ora, ora pro nobis.


Virgo respice, Mater, adspice,

Audi nos, O Maria.

Tu medicinam portas divinam,

Ora, ora pro nobis.


Tua gaudia et suspiria

Iuvent nos, O Maria!

In te speramus, ad te clamamus,

Ora, ora pro nobis.


Or the hymn Ave maris stella or another suitable hymn approved by ecclesiastical authority.


Ant. 1:  The joy of the Lord is with you, Mary:

obtain for us benevolence and peace (T.P. Alleluia).


Psalm 121 (122)


I rejoiced when I heard them say:*
“Let us go to God’s house.”
And now our feet are standing*
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is built as a city*
strongly compact.
It is there that the tribes go up,*
the tribes of the Lord.

For Israel’s law it is,*
there to praise the Lord’s name.
There were set the thrones of judgment*
of the house of David.

For the peace of Jerusalem pray:*
“Peace be to your homes!
May peace reign in your walls,*
in your palaces, peace!”

For love of my brethren and friends*
I say: “Peace upon you.”
For love of the house of the Lord*
I will ask for your good.
Ant.  The joy of the Lord is with you, Mary:

obtain for us benevolence and peace (T.P. Alleluia).

Ant. 2: Mary, Mother of the Church,

Keep us with the love you have for your people  (T.P. Alleluia).


Psalm 126 (127)


If the Lord does not build the house,*
in vain do its builders labour;
if the Lord does not watch over the city,*
in vain does the watchman keep vigil.

In vain is your earlier rising,*
your going later to rest,
you who toil for the bread you eat,*
when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.

Truly sons are a gift from the Lord,*
a blessing, the fruit of the womb.
Indeed the sons of youth*
are like arrows in the hand of a warrior.

O the happiness of the man*
who has filled his quiver with these arrows!
He will have no cause for shame*
when he disputes with his foes in the gateways.


Ant.  Mary, Mother of the Church,

Keep us with the love you have for your people  (T.P. Alleluia).


Ant. 3:  Blessed are you among women,

and blessed is the fruit of your womb (T.P. Alleluia).


Canticle Eph 1 . 3-10


Blessed be the God and Father*

of our Lord Jesus Christ,

who has blessed us in Christ*

with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.


He chose us in him*

before the foundation of the world,

that we should be holy*

and blameless before him.


He destined us in love*

to be his sons through Jesus Christ,

according to the purpose of his will,†

to the praise of his glorious grace*

which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.


In him we have redemption through his blood,*

the forgiveness of our trespasses,

according to the riches of his grace*

which he lavished upon us.


He has made known to us†

in all wisdom and insight *

the mystery of his will,

according to his purpose*

which he set forth in Christ.


His purpose he set forth in Christ,*

as a plan for the fulness of time,

to unite all things in him,*

things in heaven and things on earth.


Ant  Blessed are you among women,

and blessed is the fruit of your womb (T.P. Alleluia).



Scripture Reading                                                                                       Rm 8,28-32.37


Brothers, we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.  And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.  What then shall we say to this?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?  In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.



Short Responsory


In the Easter season:


R/. You are blessed, O Mary. * Alleluia, alleluia.

You are blessed, O Mary. Alleluia, alleluia.

V/. Through you the world has received salvation.

*  Alleluia, alleluia.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

You are blessed, O Mary. Alleluia, alleluia!


Outside the Easter season:


R/. Queen of the world, * Sovereign of the heavens.

Queen of the world, Sovereign of the heavens.

V/. Pray for the salvation of Christian people:

* Sovereign of the heavens.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Queen of the world, Sovereign of the heavens.


Ant. al Magn. To you we have recourse in our trials, O Mother of God:

through you we receive help from the Lord (T.P. Alleluia).




Let us give thanks to God our Father who in the Virgin Mary has given us the image and beginning of the Church, and let us pray:

Lord, renew us in your Spirit.


Father, you willed that Mary should be present in the Cenacle in the midst of the apostles:

–   assist with your Holy Spirit, the Pope, bishops and priests, that they may be sure guides for the Church in the ways of the world.

You willed that Mary be present in the first steps of the Church’s work of evangelization:

–   bless the missionaries and all those who work for the extension of your Kingdom.

You willed that Mary should be at the side of Elizabeth, and with the young married couple at Cana:

–   make us solicitous and attentive to those who are in need, or lonely or suffering.

You willed that Mary should be, with Joseph, the educator of your Son:

–   sustain the entire Salesian Family in its work of the human and Christian advancement of the young, and especially of those who are poor and abandoned.

You made Mary resplendent as a sign of consolation and sure hope for your Church:

–          receive into the glory of your Kingdom the dead who have believed and hoped in you.


Our Father.




Lord our God, you chose the Virgin Mary to be the mother and help of Christians; by her prayers give to the Church the strength of your Spirit so that with patience and love its members may overcome every trial and share even now in the victory of Christ, your Son.  He lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever.






Night Prayer of Sunday.  Outside the Easter Season it is appropriate to use as the final antiphon “Sub tuum praesidium”, or “O Maria, Virgo potens”:


“O Maria, Virgo potens

Tu magnum et praeclarum in Ecclesia praesidium;

Tu singulare Auxilium Christianorum:

Tu terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata.

Tu cunctas haereses sola interemisti in universo mundo.

Tu in angustiis,

Tu in bello,

Tu in necessitatibus nos ab hoste protege,

atque in aeterna gaudia in mortis hora suscipe.”


“Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues” Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2016


St Michael’s, Croydon

Trinity Sunday, 2016

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


I have two texts today,

the first, is biblical, 2 Cor 13:14


We know it well as the Grace which we Anglicans use at the end of meetings and appears in the Prayer Book at the end of Mattins and Evensong:


The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the love of God

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,

be with us all ever more.

Grace, love and fellowship are what St Paul hopes for the church at Corinth, which we hope for ourselves and for this congregation and parish of St Michael’s.

“Grace” is the most important concept in the Bible, Christianity, and the world. It is most clearly expressed in the promises of God revealed in Scripture and embodied in Jesus Christ.” writes one theologian

Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favour of God.

“Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.” writes theologian John Stott

Grace is most needed and best understood in the midst of sin, suffering, and brokenness. We live in a world of earning, deserving, and merit, and these result in judgment. That is why everyone wants and needs grace. Judgment kills. Only grace makes alive.

A shorthand for what grace is – “mercy, not merit.” Grace is the opposite of karma, which is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve, and not getting what you do deserve. Christianity teaches that what we deserve is death with no hope of resurrection.

While everyone desperately needs it, grace is not about us. Grace is fundamentally a word about God: his un-coerced initiative and pervasive, extravagant demonstrations of care and favour. Michael Horton writes, “In grace, God gives nothing less than Himself. Grace, then, is not a third thing or substance mediating between God and sinners, but is Jesus Christ in redeeming action.”

We know that grace is a key concept because right at the beginning of our redemption the angel Gabriel declared to Mary that she was “full of grace”, a phrase we repeat every time we pray the Hail Mary.

Because of that word ‘full’ it would be all too easy to imagine that grace is one kind of substance, some sort of ‘thing’ which God measures out to people according to how much they deserve.

But there is no magic in Christianity. Grace is not something that God gives us, rather it is the effect of God in our lives, it is the freedom that comes from knowing that none of us deserves the freedom and love of God but that all of us can share in it. And we share in that grace when we act with faith, when we commit ourselves and our lives to God in Jesus Christ. When we say yes to God just as Mary did.

Grace, love and fellowship.

Love is one of the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, it flows from the grace we receive by making the commitment of faith. If there was no God, if we were just a randomly evolved species on a minor plant in a solar system in a corner of the universe that was one of many love, would barely be possible. We would, quite rightly be seeking what we need for our own personal happiness without counting the cost to others. We would be the consumers of everything and the producers of nothing.

But when we commit our lives to Jesus, when we receive the freedom, the grace, of knowing we are loved we can love others. We no longer have to protect our own territory, fight for what we consider ours by right and hold on to it tightly in our fists. The grace of God enables us to look at our fellow human beings and love them, even when they irritate us, do terrible things or take from us what we consider to be ours.

Grace, love and fellowship.

When we commit our live to Jesus and experience the freedom, the grace that faith brings and when we love one another we find that we want to be together. Fellowship is the natural fruit of faith. It is the place where grace is renewed and where love becomes real.

When I trained as a teacher in the 1980’s ‘discovery learning’ was at its height; our task was not to tell children things but to allow them to experience things and discover them for themselves.

It didn’t work.

We now know, as perhaps we should always have done, that children need to be taught; there are facts to be learnt; texts to be memorised. We now know that rote learning, chanting by heart as practised by every human community that has ever existed is not a bad thing.

We wonder why Christianity has failed in recent decades: week, here is a suggestion, is it because we have absorbed those ideas popular in our society that experience is enough to discover the truth and  we have failed to teach the truth.

You may remember that I promised to speak on two texts today. The second is not from Scripture and is rather longer.

The Creed.

We recite or sing it at Mass Sunday by Sunday, but we need to learn it, meditate on it, pray it daily.

I don’t know if you have a Rosary group here at St Michael’s or if many of you are devoted to the Rosary. I would encourage you if you are and urge you to become so if you are not.

The Rosary is a wonderful summary of the Gospel and includes, of course, praying those words of Gabriel to Mary over and over again; and it also includes praying the creed.

We know that as a church we have to renew our sense of mission; our desire to bring the good news of Jesus to the people around us and draw them in to this fellowship that is the church.

I am thrilled that Fr Tim Pike is coming to be your vicar here. Fr Tim and I were teenagers together at Holy Trinity, Winchester and he is a remarkable priest, God has blessed you St Michael’s with this gift.

I know that after so long without a vicar and after going through so much as a congregation you will welcome him and love him. But the most important thing you can do as you prepare to receive him as your pastor and leader is to deepen your own faith. Whether it is a commitment to pray the rosary regularly; to come to Mass more often, to pray the creed each day.

Whatever it is, commit yourselves again to Jesus, receive the freedom of grace, open yourselves to loving others and celebrate the communion of saints which is this congregation and the whole church in heaven and on earth.



Thoughts on Common Worship inspired by Psephizo

Ian Paul, aka Psephizo, is always a good read. He has an analytical turn of mind and even when I disagree with him -which is probably less often than he might prefer- he is worth reading.

Spurred by theological disagreement with the morning thanksgiving for Passiontide in Common Worship Daily Prayer he has published an interesting piece expressing more general views on Common Worship and its suitability, or otherwise, for the work of mission. It is a very good piece and he makes some important points. I hope that he will expand further on what makes good liturgy for mission. My own experience of worship at Taizé and in Pentecostal churches in south-east London certainly suggests that we need something that does not require people to bury their heads in service sheets, or indeed to ‘read’ anything at all. Repetitive singing is the common factor in both those contexts, within a surprisingly structured liturgy, often with lots of movement and action.
Ian is surely right about the odd swapping of Lord’s Prayer and Collect in CWDP which always feels completely unnatural to me. Though there are some good Collects in the book I would wish for more referring to time (this is the liturgy of the hours) and a greater simplicity of style. I, too, liked the blue rubrics of the ASB, but, perhaps as a teacher red pen just makes me think of marking. The only place I know where blue-brics have survived is in the liturgy of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God, at Crawley Down, where they also use the ASB (Frost) psalter and daily office lectionary.
The multiplication of volumes and options within volumes is also problematic. I love liturgical books but finding my way around the CW series is far from straightforward. I am not a parish priest so rarely perform baptisms, weddings or funerals, but even for a daily Mass the festivals book and the President’s book are needed, in addition to the daily lectionary and Sunday lectionary.
It is the ‘berakah’ prayers at Morning and Evening Prayer, however, that raise Ian’s ire and I thought I would reflect on those a little.
One of the innovative elements in CWDP is the use of ‘thanksgiving prayers’ at the beginning of the Office; they are based – very loosely –  on Jewish blessing prayers. The earliest use I can find of this type of prayer is in Morning Praise and Evensong – A Liturgy of the Hours In Musical Setting, Fides Publishers 1973 edited by William G Storey among others. It is a fine collection of music for the Office and each Evensong begins with a Service of Light which includes a “thanksgiving’. Most of these are clearly based on the Jewish berakah / blessing formula and begin “Blessed are You, O Lord, King of the Universe” a straightforward translation of the Hebrew Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melekh ha-olam. They are however new creations and are fully Christian, praising God for the light of Christ.The exception in that volume is the text used on Saturday evening which comes from the fourth century Apostolic Constitutions.
The idea of A Service of Light / Lucenarium had emerged among liturgical scholars in the mid twentieth century as a recovery of a ‘people’s’ rather than ‘monastic’ Office and first appeared for actual liturgical use in the liturgy of the Taizé community in the 1967 English edition of their Office. Interestingly the 1963 and 64 French editions don’t contain a lucernarium and at no point has Taizé used the blessing style formulas.
The Missal of Paul VI produced in response to the second Vatican Council, also included Jewish style blessing prayers for use at the preparation of the gifts, they proved popular with Anglicans and are much used. They also appear in publications of the United Reformed Church where there is no shyness about using the word ‘offer’. In Common Worship ‘offer’ is replaced by ‘set before you’ to meet Protestant objections to the idea of offering in the Mass.
Annibale Bugnini, a Roman Catholic priest and later bishop ( for the Vatican civil service), was Secretary of the Liturgical Consilium of Vatican II. He has recounted the mammoth task faced in his The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975 (The Liturgical Press 1990) pages 343 – 379 describe reform of the Order of Mass leading up to the Missal of Paul VI. The berakah prayers were not introduced until autumn 1968 after a number of earlier attempts to reform the ‘offertory rite’ were rejected. The concern among those working on the Missal at that time was to avoid creating a ‘little canon’ a this point, duplicating the offering made in the Eucharistic Prayer proper afterwards. In fact it was Paul VI himself who insisted in including the word ‘offer’ in these prayers although both French and Italian translations rejected it, not out of concern for using the word ‘offer’,  but because of the danger of the oblation being made prematurely. Sadly, Bugnini doesn’t tell us who wrote the prayers or anything about their origins. It was certainly the case that, particularly among the new French communities of that time there were often attempts to reclaim Jewish heritage. French influence on liturgical reform was strong and brothers of the Taizé Community were present in Rome throughout the period and are often credited with substantial influence (mainly by critics of the reform).
William Storey, who had introduced the Thanksgivings into Morning Praise and Evensong later co-edited Praise God In Song a more complete Liturgy Of the Hours with a number of composers producing new work. Actually I prefer the earlier edition which is more modal/chant based and easier to sing. This too included the thanksgivings for light at Evening Prayer. The thanksgivings from this edition appeared in the 1984 Canadian Book of Alternative Services.
When the Anglican Franciscans produced the new version of their Office which appeared for general use as Celebrating Common Prayer it included not just evening thanksgivings but new texts for use at the beginning of the morning Office. It was this publication that added the “Blessed be God for ever” people’s response, borrowed from the prayers in the Missal at the ‘offertory’.
The Liturgy Office of the Roman Catholics Bishops’ Conference for England and Wales produced a series of booklets in the 1990s of material to enrich the Roman Office and this included a Service of Light and Incense and the thanksgiving texts texts from Celebrating Common Prayer. More recently Celebrating Evening Prayer published for the Liturgy Office, has included a selection of texts from Celebrating Common Prayer and Praise God in Song.
In Music for Morning and Evening Prayer from Kevin Mayhew there is a setting of one of these prayers and André Gouzes also produced a musical version for his setting of a CCP Vespers. At the Jerusalem Community in Paris they use this style of prayer every evening and even use a text from Lancelot Andrewes to do so one day a week in Ordinary time. I don’t know of any other language that has adopted these berakah style prayers.
I share Ian Paul’s concern about these prayers – and also about the invariable opening prayers, with biddings, in CWDP. All that seems to be added is more words and a series of very complex images. The offertory prayers as translated in the English missal of 1973 had a sort of poetic structure that worked well and led naturally to the people’s response which is why they became popular. These new thanksgivings are too long for that and too complicated. The original Jewish berakah for the evening is beautiful but theologically much more simple, really with just one theme, the coming of evening:

Praised are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe,

who speaks the evening into being,

skilfully opens the gates,

thoughtfully alters the time and changes the seasons,

and arranges the stars in their heavenly courses according to plan.

You are Creator of day and night,

rolling light away from darkness and darkness from light,

transforming day and night and distinguishing one from the other.

Adonai Tz’vaot is Your Name.

Ever-living God, may You reign continually over us into eternity.

Praise to You, Adonai, who brings on evening.

This translation is from the current Reform prayer book Mishkan T’filah. As can be seen the problems around translating the Hebrew baruch, raised by Ian in his article, are familiar to Jewish liturgists. It has been the subject of much writing over the last two or three generations of Jewish liturgies. Inclusive language, non masculine, non theistic versions have all been written, Many of these are very beautiful. But at the very least it is clear that even for Jews the traditional formula is problematic.

It seems to me that to create a ‘people’s office’, Common Worship has taken exactly the wrong route, creating a complex, wordy prayer to ‘explain’ an action, the lighting of the lamps. As one of my liturgy tutors was fond of saying; “If it needs explaining it isn’t worth doing.”

At Taizé the weekly lucernarium on Saturday evening is accompanied with no recited prayer, but simply with a chant on the theme of light or resurrection. The fact is that ‘people’s’ worship is never text based but always action and song.

The most ‘successful’ people’s office there has ever been in the history of the Christian church is that devised by Thomas Cranmer. A few simple texts repeated every day. Repetition of quality texts is key to embedding liturgy deep within us and making us unselfconscious. I suspect CWDP will prove to have taken a number of liturgical cul-de-sacs.

Sonnets for Sanctity: Holy Week Address 3

Wednesday in Holy Week

23rd March, 2016

St Mary the Virgin, Lewisham


So, on Monday night we thought about inter-being, consubtantiality to use the Christian term, and how we unite what can appear to be opposites. Last night we thought about incarnation, fleshliness and the fact that we human beings are already united body and soul.

Tonight I want to think about passion and desire.

As you probably know these last two weeks of Lent are often known as Passiontide.

Some of you may have seen the film a few years ago by Mel Gibson, The Passion of Christ.

The etymology, the origin of the word passion is the Latin verb, pati, to suffer.

Compassion means literally to suffer with, to be alongside someone.

It’s interesting that in English the word passion with its origin in suffering has come to be used for sexual love and for love of anything we feel strongly about. Passion is one of the vogue words in education interviews: tell us what makes you passionate for your subject? An interviewer will ask. Or an applicant will include in their application the phrase “I am passionate about learning/making a difference / excellent schools” or whatever.

Well, tonight’s sonnet is about passion. It is written by the poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, and is the title poem of her collection Rapture published in 2005. It’s a collection of 51 poems a few of which are sonnets with their 14 lines. The collection tells the story of a love affair.

Sonnets really became popular in England with sequnces of love poems, the most famous the 154 by Shakespeare. Duffy has used here the traditional rhyme structure of the Elizabethan sonnet, three groups of four lines in the abab pattern, and then a rhyming couplet at the end. Each set of four lines is called a quatrain so it is three quatraine’s and a couplet; this structure is often called Shakespearian although he wasn’t the first to use it.

Remember how on Monday I talked about the ‘form’ of poetry, this is very strong and tight form indeed, very disciplined and skillfull poetry. It is impressive for its form.

And there is almost a poet’s joke in line nine, remember that’s the line where in some forms of the poem, like the one we looked at yesterday there is a volta, an about-face.

Here Duffy refers to assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds within a line of poetry that is normally used to create structure in blank verse, poetry without rhymes.

In fact Shakespeare usually has his volta, answer or resolution in the final two verses and in a way Duffy does here as well, because although the poem has been about separation from the one loved, even separation in death the final couplet is about connection and joining.

So lets listen to the poem and then spend a few moments reading it and reflecting on it.



Carol Ann Duffy

Thought of by you all day, I think of you.

The birds sing in the shelter of a tree.

Above the prayer of rain, unacred blue,

Not paradise, goes nowhere endlessly.

How does it happen that our lives can drift

Far from our selves, while we stay trapped in time,

Queueing for death? It seems nothing will shift

The pattern of our days, alter the rhyme

We make with loss to assonance with bliss.

Then love comes, like a sudden flight of birds

From earth to heaven after rain. Your kiss,

recalled, unstrings, like pearls, this chain of words.

Huge skies connect us, joining here to there.

Desire and passion on the thinking air.


There is so much here that is wonderful. Duffy’s use of language is intense and powerful. Describing the blue sky as ‘unacred blue’, unmeasured, uncontained. ‘Queueing for death’ ‘love comes, like a flight of birds’ ‘unstrings like pears, this chain of words’.

Then, right at the end the strongest single words in the poem: desire and passion.

And it is desire and passion that I want to reflect on tonight.

Starting with the first line of the poem, it is perfectly balanced:

“Thought of by you all day, I think of you.”

We are so used to the lies peddled by popular music:

‘love hurts’ ‘cuts you to the heart’

No it doesn’t. If it hurts, if it cuts you, it isn’t love.

Love is mutual, a meeting of equals, a matching of need and fulfilment.

Just think about that in the context of our Christian lives.

Our love of God, God’s love for us is  a matching of equals.

Some of you know that one of my favourite icons is this one, the original is in the Louvre Gallery in Paris. They have been using reproductions of it at the Taizé Community for many years and so you may have seen it before.

It is an icon probably from north Africa, painted probably in the fourth century, it shows Jesus, here with the book of the Gospels and the halo, with a friend, it is sometimes called the friendship icon. You can see that Jesus has his arm around his friend and his hand on his friends shoulder.

Jesus, God incarnate, master and creator of the universe, stands with us, alongside us. Yes he wants us to love him, but only because he loves us.

I no longer call you servants he says, but …. Friends.

“Thought of by you all day, I think of you.”

Imagine that line describing our relationship with God.

God calls us to constant prayer, constant awareness of his presence because he is constantly thinking about us.

And I love the way round that Duffy has constructed this.

It is not some platitude: I think of you, you think of me.

Thought of by you all day.

Imagine it: God was thinking of each one of us when we we were still asleep like the lover in last night’s poem; God is with us in very in-breath and out-breath as in Monday night’s poem:

“Thought of by you all day, I think of you.”

How about this Triduum, the three Holy Days that begin tomorrow evening just repeating that line in your heads, in time with your breathing as your mantra.

Thought of by you all day, I think of you.

And Duffy points out how close our human loves and passions is to our relationship to the divine: the prayer of rain.

Our little studio flat here in Lewisham has a flat roof. When it rains I love to listen to the rhythm of rain beating down. The rhythm rising and falling with the intensity of the rain, and yes so like a prayer, a chant repeated over and over again in time with the breath.

Then Duffy goes on to point out that apparent gap between our high aspirations and what our days are like, there seems to be a gap a drift between our present moment and our high passions “our lives can drift”.

But, ultimately the answer is in the couplet, the last two lines:

Huge skies connect us, joining here to there.

Desire and passion on the thinking air.

Now refer that to our lives with God, amidst all the words and carnality of the liturgy over the next few days I hope you will also find some silence, some space, some blue sky, because it is in the silence, given shape by our words they forms and structures of our scriptures that our here is joined to God’s there in a single now.

I don’t know if you are passionately in love with someone now, haven’t been for a long time or have never been.

God feels passionate desire for you; for me; for each of us.

This desire finds it’s response, it’s balance in our passionate desire for God.

And it is when we feel this passion that our work of mission, of drawing new people to know Christ will happen.

So that we can bring to others in our families, our work places, our borough that passionate love which is the fulfilment of all our desiring and we can all know that “love comes, like a sudden flight of birds”.


Sonnets for Sanctity: Holy Week Address 2

 Tuesday in Holy Week

22nd March 2016

St Mary the Virgin, Lewisham

Yesterday I spoke about pairs of what can appear to be opposites: positive and negative; what we can say about God and what we can’t say. And I spoke about how we can try and hold those pairs together not as opposing each other but as essential complements of one another.

Perhaps one of the most obviously opposite pairs in the Christian life is the false separation of body and spirit, the physical and the spiritual.

I don’t know about you but I like to imagine myself as as spiritual person, someone growing in wisdom and holiness, calm and gracious.

But I am, of course also someone, who defecates and urinates, has sexual needs, sweats, produces saliva, whose toenails need trimming, hair cutting, gets irritable when I haven’t eaten for a long time or haven’t had a good night’s sleep.

Tonight’s sonnet will help us, I hope to reconcile the apparent contradiction between our high aspirations and the reality of our incarnate, carnal lives.

I love that word carnal: of the flesh, meaty, like chilli-con-carne, Jesus became meaty for us.

The carnality of our human lives is especially real in this Holy Week. For those of you here tonight it is going to be a shattering week, we will be exhausted by the time we get to Sunday lunchtime. And the liturgy itself is all about carnality, fleshliness:

On Thursday morning the bishop will consecrate oils for anointing; remembering the athletes massaged in oil before sport; oil for anointing smelly crying babies, and the dying and all the messiness of the death bed.

On Thursday evening we will ask some of our number to take their shoes off and we will wash their smelly feet.

On Friday we will fall flat on the floor and then kiss the wood of the cross. On Saturday night we’ll light a bonfire, go home and have “slightly” too much to drink.

Wow, what a carnal week we’re going to have!

Yet this fleshliness is the best thing about being human.

There is a wonderful film called Wings of Desire, directed by Wim Wembers and starring the actor Peter Falk, better known as Colombo.

It is based on the idea that there are angels everywhere, we just can’t see them.

Set in Berlin, one of the angels becomes obsessed with a female trapeze artiste, he watches her endlessly and eventually realises that he is in love with her.

He has a choice, he too can become mortal, fleshly and face the possibility of love or rejection, or he can continue as a disincarnate angel not able to do more than whisper in the ear of his beloved.

He takes the best choice, the human choice. There is a wonderful scene where he takes his shoes and socks off and wriggles his toes in the sand on a beach. The loss of immortality, of flight, of the near presence of God is worth the wriggling of toes in the sand.

So lets listen to tonight’s sonnet. By an American born but mainly British based poet, Michael Donaghy, who died tragically young it is the account of a man waking up in the morning while his lover still sleeps.

There is a ‘volta’, an about turn, a common feature in traditional sonnets, but on the eighth not the ninth line. It is clearly marked with the word ‘suddenly’.

This sonnet also echoes one of the most famous sonnets, Wordsworth’s Upon Westminster Bridge. Particularly in the line

“School yards, hospitals and factories lie”

Here’s Wordsworth’s poem:

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
And here’s Donaghy’s:


Michael Donaghy

Morning on the bridge between the worlds,

I’m half awake and watching you asleep.


Your lips are open and your fist uncurls

As if in offering. I’d give my life to keep

That gift, who cannot shield you from my death,

And keep this vigil lightly though I know

I’m losing you with every mortal breath.


And suddenly I’m drunk with vertigo

Having glimpsed the landscape from this height:

School yards, hospitals and factories lie

Unprotected in that naive light

Stretching toward a distant darker sky

And fading in the haze of every mile.

The day is cool and bright. You wake and smile.

It is easy to imagine that we live in two worlds, that religion, the liturgy, our prayers and meditations are our bridge between the worlds. But remember that a key doctrine of Christianity is the resurrection of the body.

Souls cannot rise from the dead; in eternity our bodies will rise gain in a new form.

The risen Jesus is one into whose side a disciple could put his fingers.

The risen Jesus was one who could eat fish for breakfast on the beach.


Yesterday I talked about noticing, paying attention.

This is a hugely liberating process.

Most of us here tonight, if you don’t mind me saying so, have passed our physical prime.

We could moan and whinge about that. And some of the time we do.

But the important thing is to notice; to pay attention to the decay of our bodies and eventually our minds.

To go through life without noticing things is to be asleep.

Tonight I recommend a very simple spiritual practice: it is contained in the last four words of tonight’s poem.

“To wake and smile.”

So, don’t be the passive recipient of life; of aging; of the sensations we experience every day.

Notice them and when you notice them notice that you are awake,

and smile.