Thursday, April 30, 2020

Optional Memorial of Saint Pius V: The Spirit's guidance

Readings and homily from Mass celebrated by Fr Richard this evening for the optional memorial of Saint Pius V, pope from 1566-1572

Homily: The Spirit's guidance

The action of the Holy Spirit in the life of a disciple is very evident in today’s reading. A eunach from Ethiopia is in his chariot on his way home from making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Philip, already instructed by the angel of the Lord to be on the same road, is then asked very clearly by the Spirit: “God up and meet that chariot.” That day, it was very definitely God’s will that Philip should explain the Book of the Prophet Isaiah to the man and then to baptise him. Then, as soon as the man comes up out of the water, the Spirit takes Philip away to continue his preaching of the Gospel in another place. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Philip is made aware exactly when it’s time to move on to the next task, the next mission. There’s evidently no time to lose when bringing the saving message of Christ to peoples and lands.

So too Saint Pius V relied on the guidance of the Holy Spirit during his busy six-year papacy. In being attentive to the promptings of the Spirit, he knew what actions he needed to take to reform and protect the Church – and also when to move on to the next duty. Whether it be the decision to excommunicate Queen Elizabeth I for heresy and persecution of English Catholics, or the work of implementing the Council of Trent, Pius V would always have been open to the Holy Spirit guiding his work. He published a new Catechism, a new missal, a new breviary (Divine Office of the Church), he opened hospitals to care for the sick and gave money to the poor - all of which he did with the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

In our living and proclaiming of the Gospel, we too need to follow the example of Philip and Pius V and be open to the Spirit’s guidance. Praying specifically and consciously to the Third Person of the Holy Trinity is a truly powerful prayer. Attentively listening to the Spirit, we’ll be shown the way of truth, helped in the making of difficult decisions, given courage to evangelise and be kept safe in all of our journeys.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Feast of Saint Catherine of Siena: The Light of Learning

Readings and Homily from Mass celebrated this evening by Fr Richard on the Feastday of Saint Catherine of Siena, a patroness of Europe

Homily: The Light of Learning

It’s amazing how much young children pick things up. Whenever I’ve been asked to speak about the faith to the little ones in our primary school I often find that, say a fortnight later, a child will come up to me and repeat something quite profound about what they’ve learned. Children can be like a sponge: in their simplicity, humility and receptiveness they can absorb more details than we often give them credit for.

It’s these qualities of simplicity, humility and openness to receive teaching that Jesus recognises in his followers whom he likens to “mere children” in today’s Gospel. He thanks His Father for revealing the things He’s been teaching to His humble followers, and not the “learned and the clever” who’re casting doubt over His works.

The Lord is reminding us here that it’s obedience to His word that will bring us comfort and rest as opposed to worldly ideologies that can lead us astray and into sin. And so at the end of the Gospel, Jesus further encourages us to come to Him and learn from Him. Furthermore, St John in today’s reading urges us to live in the light of Christ.

St Catherine of Siena, the great Doctor of the Church who we celebrate today, brings together these two concepts: “light” and “learn”. In her crowning spiritual work The Dialogue, she writes a wonderful phrase: “the light of learning”. In His dialogue with her, the Lord is detailing the way of St Dominic, her spiritual father, the founder of the Dominican order. The Dialogue explains that the Cross is where the ‘children’ (i.e. followers) of St Dominic receive “the light of learning”, describing the Cross as a table at which we are fed. The Lord says to Catherine: “He wanted his children to do nothing else but stand at this table by the light of learning to seek only the glory and praise of my name and the salvation of souls.” (The Dialogue: 158)

In other words, it’s by the Cross that Jesus pours out His love for us, that we learn how to live and come to salvation. Like little children, we’re called, with humility, to again and again come into the “light of learning” which is the Cross. This is how St Catherine lived her holy life: by clinging to the Cross, something beautifully depicted in the window of her in our church.

St Catherine writes that we need to be humble if we are to be obedient to the Lord’s word. May we like St Catherine cling to the Cross, the very symbol of humility. By sitting at this table of “the light of learning” we will be embraced in love by Jesus who will provide rests for our souls.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Optional Memorial of St Peter Chanel: Missionary zeal

Readings and homily from Mass celebrated this evening by Fr Richard (Mass for the repose of the soul of Tony Power)

Today the Church honours two great “Marian” saints – St Peter Chanel and St Louis Marie de Montfort. The first was a missionary of the Society of Mary (Marists) who was martyred on Futuna Island in the 19th century. St Louis was one of the early writers in the theological field of “Mariology”, writing significant works on devotion to Mary.

Faced with a difficult decision about which optional memorial to celebrate at Mass, I’ve chosen St Peter Chanel as we have a parish in the Diocese dedicated to him that also takes care of the University of Hull Catholic Chaplaincy. We pray for Fr William and Fr Peter and for all the parishioners there in Hull. Up until recently, the parish was under the care of St Peter Chanel’s order, the Marist Fathers, some of whom taught me and guided me when I was younger. We pray for all of the Marist community today also.

Homily: Missionary zeal

There are lots of parallels between St Peter Chanel and St Stephen, whose martyrdom we hear about in today’s reading. They were both zealous preachers of faith in Christ. Both encountered mixed reactions to their evangelisation efforts. In each of their times, many didn’t accept the saving message of Jesus they were spreading. In St Peter Chanel’s case, very few natives were being baptised. Both St Stephen, the protomartyr for Christianity, and St Peter Chanel, the protomartyr of Oceania, were brutally killed by authorities who saw them as a threat. Stephen was stoned, while Peter was clubbed to death.

However, the famous quote attributed to Tertullian rings true: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Within two years of St Peter Chanel’s martyrdom, the whole Island of Futuna became Catholic. Similarly, St Stephen was seen as an icon of Christian sacrifice and faith in Christ.

The fearless zeal and witness of these two martyrs inevitably draw our attention to the Sacrament and grace of Holy Orders. St Stephen was a deacon and St Peter Chanel a priest. Both their lives show us that deacons and priests are indispensable to the work of salvation. Deacons preach the Word of God and to practice works of charity. Priests, who’re always ordained deacons first, are conformed to Christ the Head and Shepherd at their priestly ordination. They bring the living Christ to the people of God through the Sacraments.

We pray especially on this day for vocations to the priesthood which we so desperately need in our Diocese.  As one priest I know says: “Priests to not fall from trees!” They are fostered and nurtured by parishes and by families. So we pray today that the lives of young men will be inspired by St Stephen, St Peter Chanel, and St Louis Marie De Mortfort. We pray they will be filled with zeal for the mission to bring Christ to the people of our Diocese.

Resources from the Holy See

As the month of May approaches, the Holy Father has published a lovely letter, encouraging us to rediscover the beauty of praying the Rosary at home. In the letter, Pope Francis recommends to us two prayers that can be recited at the end of the Rosary, particularly for this time of global pandemic. The letter can be found by clicking here.

Also, the Holy See's Dicastery for Communication last week released an online book containing a collection of prayers, intercessions and homilies to help people at home experience ecclesial communion at this time of social distancing. The English edition of the book is called, 'Strong in the Face of Tribulation' - The Church in Communion: A sure support in time of trial. The book is available for download here on the website of the Holy See's publishing house, Libreria Editrice Vaticana. It's quite long, so I don't recommend pressing print! It will also be updated in light of new developments and the 'rediscovery' of other treasures of the Church’s tradition. Vatican News has a useful article about the new digital book here.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Monday, 3rd Week of Easter: Truth and falsehood

Fr Richard's homily for Monday of the 3rd Week of Eastertide. Mass celebrated for 'the protection of unborn children'

Homily: Truth and falsehood

The story of St Stephen shows us the splendour of truth against the damage of falsehood. In today’s reading Stephen, filled with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, is working great signs and miracles. He’s preaching the Gospel of the Risen Christ who is Truth itself. For some reason, the authorities are threatened by this Truth. So, they concoct a series of false accusations to condemn Stephen. In the story, we see how there’s no “middle ground”– either something is true or it is false.

The story of Stephen’s arrest brings to mind many truths that are undermined by falsity in our day. One truth that it’s difficult to ignore on this date, 27th April, is this: the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception. 

Today is the 52nd anniversary of the implementation of the Abortion Act. Since then, tragically more than nine million lives have been lost. Even at this time of crisis, when you’d think all efforts would be concentrated on saving life, temporary measures have been introduced so that women can have ‘medical’ abortions at home by taking two pills delivered through the post having had a brief telephone consultation. Pro-life groups warn us about efforts in parliament to make these measures permanent and ask us to write to our MPs to oppose them.

This is of course always a difficult subject to speak about. We know in many cases there are all sorts of pressures from different quarters that can influence an abortion decision. It’s why it’s important to support those pro-life organisations that offer help to women in crisis pregnancy situations and also post-abortion counselling – both with our prayers and any practical assistance we’re able to give.

What has emerged in the last five decades is a rejection of the truth – that human life begins from the moment of conception and that these tiny human beings have the right to life. This truth, backed by science, the Church firmly upholds: that from the moment of fertilisation, “a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his [or her] own growth.”(1) Many “falsehoods” have been invented over the years to counter this truth, chief among which: “it’s just a bunch of cells.”

Ultimately, though, we know the truth always wins, and the truth sets us free (Jn 8:32). In the face of all the false statements against him, Stephen’s face appeared like the “face of an angel” because he knew he was staying loyal to the Truth, Jesus Christ, who reveals the preciousness of human life made in God’s image and likeness. We pray that all people, particularly in positions of authority, will “[choose] the way of truth” as today’s Psalm says; that they will protect human life from the moment of conception until natural death.

1. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion, 1974, 12.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Third Sunday of Easter: The Journey to Emmaüs from the Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos, Spain

The latest in our work of art features

The Journey to Emmaüs, c. 1150, carved bas-relief, main cloister of the Benedictine abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos, near Burgos, Spain 

In the Middle Ages, the story of Christ sharing the journey of his disciples to Emmaus was often represented in churches and religious buildings along the pilgrimages routes. Santo Domingo de Silos is indeed not far from the way to Compostela via Burgos. The anonymous sculptor has remarkably well translated the dynamism of the disciples’ walk and how intensely they are listening to the Lord, who is taller than them. The key point of this sculpture is, however, the representation of Christ himself, recognizable by his halo decorated with a cross but also recognizable as a pilgrim, thanks to the essential attributes of any pilgrim to Santiago: a stick leaning on his shoulder that he holds firmly in his two hands and a bag adorned with a shell. As the pilgrims are trying to do during their long way to Santiago, Christ the pilgrim is inviting the monks of the monastery, and all of us, to undertake a spiritual journey and follow him.

Third Sunday of Eastertide

Canon Michael's words for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

Today we have the beautiful story of the journey to Emmaus. Two disconsolate disciples - one called Clopas the other anonymous - are walking away form Jerusalem returning home. They had been in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover and had witnessed the horror of Jesus' trial and crucifixion. Then a mysterious man joins them on their walk and asks them why are they so sad and what were they talking about. Well we all know that  one of the best parts about a good walk is the way you can meet people and sometimes really enjoy a good conversation. The disciples tell their fellow traveller all about their hopes of Jesus and what a wonderful man he had been. Now we know it was the risen Lord who was walking by their side and he explains that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer. He opens up the whole meaning of the Scriptures and they want to hear more and more form their new friend. They press him to stay with them for a meal at the inn and they "recognise him in the breaking of bread".

There are so many depths to this story, so much we can learn and ponder about. There is an obvious Eucharistic theme but so much more.

For me I am encouraged by Our Lord walking by their side, listening to the disciples questions. I am encouraged by the answer that "The Christ had to suffer". Yes I believe in a God who is not distant and removed from human life but fully immersed in it. I recognise Christ in the Eucharist. I look forward to the day when we can all gather again in our church and receive Him into our hearts and souls.

Easter Joy to you all

Saturday, April 25, 2020

St Mark's day

Most scholars believe that Mark's Gospel was the first one to be written. It was more than likely written In Rome just prior to Nero's persecution say AD65. The tradition holds that much of Mark's Gospel is sourced directly from St Peter. So much of the Gospel is an eye written account. You can almost hear St Peter telling Mark about the day when some guys took his roof off to let a paralytic down or the healing of Jairus' daughter. These are vivid moments in the Gospel. Tradition too tells us that Mark was in the garden of Gethsemane and it was him who streaked home after his robe was snatched! There is an ancient church in the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem which claims to be built on the site of Mark's house. It is well worth a visit. An old Armenian lady was full of stories when I met her there. She was the Official guide. She was brilliant. I am not at all sure that her stories would be accepted as historically accurate but they certainly added colour to the legends of St Mark.
Nowadays St Mark is most closely associated with Venice. He has the symbol of the lion. He is featured in our church above the tabernacle and in the windows by the organ.
Mark's Gospel is the shortest of the four and so much of it tells us of the Passion. we can all imagine how those first Christians must have been consoled and affirmed in the Faith by their reading of it.
St Mark pray for us today/.

Parish News
I have celebrated Mass for my Aunt, Tess O'Friel and for Sarah Harker's intentions. My sister Carmel whom many of you know from Lourdes has been taken into hospital. Any spare prayers will be welcome. Also [please pray for the repose of the soul of John Fox (Patsy Barningham's younger brother) who has just died. H e has been poorly for quite a while. I knew him form my last parish in Teesville. A lovely man.
I will celebrate Mass for you all tomorrow.
God Bless,
canon Michael

Parish News: Fr Richard's Mass intentions

These have been Fr Richard's Mass intentions for this week:

2nd Sunday of Easter - Kath Clapham
Monday (20th April): 2nd Week of Easter - Yorkshire Brethren
Tuesday (21st April): St Anselm - Holy Souls
Wednesday (22nd April) - Tess O'Friel
Thursday (23rd April): Solemnity of St George - Conversion of England
Friday (24th April): 2nd Week of Easter - Fran Neate
Saturday (25th April): Feast of St Mark - Priest's Intention

Friday, April 24, 2020

Friday 24th April

Canon Michael's words for the Friday of the 2nd Week of Easter

How do you and I share in the new life of the Resurrected Christ? How do we share in His victory over sin, death and the devil?

We've been listening to the answer to those questions in the weekday Gospel. First of all we heard how we are born again through Baptism. This really is what the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus is all about. You and I are born again through Baptism. Now we hear Jesus' most important teaching on Holy Communion, the bread of Life. This is Chapter 6 of St John's Gospel.

We Catholics have always taken the words of Christ seriously. In chapter 6 we are taught by Christ just how intimately we share His risen life through the Eucharist.

This lockdown has, I hope, made us really hunger for the food of eternal life. Spiritual Holy Communion is very important but it surely makes us want to truly receive Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

May God bless you all in this trying time.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

St George's Day

Canon Michael's words for the Solemnity of St George

A happy St George's day to you all.

We  know very little about St George except that he was a soldier and martyr. Our crusader king Richard the Lionheart made him our nation's patron saint. There is no doubt St George is and was a popular saint. Many countries have him as their patron. I think of St George as a brave and courageous soldier who was prepared to die for his love of Christ.

Many years ago I was in the Holy Land and I was able to visit St George's shrine. He is buried in the small town of Lydda (Lod) which is very near to the Tel Aviv airport. It is a poor town. You can't help but see it is a Palestinian town. The church where St George is buried is Russian Orthodox. From the outside the area is distinctly run down but inside the Church is beautiful. The Tsar donated a magnificent chandelier which dominates the interior. You go down some steps to the crypt and there you see a fine icon and the simple tomb of the saint.

It seems so strange that such a famous saint should have such a humble shrine. I am sure St George thinks it fine.

Let us ask St George to bless our land at this time of pandemic and to bless all who serve in the armed forces.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Wednesday April 22nd

Canon Michael's words for Wednesday, 2nd Week of Eastertide

"God so loved the world". Once again we listen into a conversation between Our Blessed Lord and Nicodemus. We are in John chapter 3 verse 16. Perhaps the most oft quoted verse in the Scriptures, and why not!? Here is the very kernel of the Gospel we believe in. The very motivation of God's work is His Love for the World.

If you doubting or worrying or anxious and feeling unloved and unworthy of love turn to John 3:16 and there you discover God's Love for his creation and that means God's love for yourself.

No doubt we will freely acknowledge there is much to condemn in the world and perhaps in ourselves - yet God's motivation is Love.

There we are. Let us too love the world and rejoice in our creator and give God Praise.

                                                                 Parish News

My Auntie Tess died this morning. She had been in James Cook hospital and had been diagnosed with the virus. However, she had had a great life for which I give thanks to God. I am sure she is now with the Lord whom she worshipped and adored in this life and enjoying the happiness of heaven.
May she rest in peace. Amen

Canon Michael

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Tuesday 21st April

Canon Michael's words for the Memoria of St Anselm

I am sure all of us would like to wish her majesty the Queen a very happy birthday and many happy returns of the day. There is no doubt she has lived a long life of dedication and service to our country. God save the Queen.

Today is the feast day of St Anselm . He was Archbishop of Canterbury back in the days of king William Rufus and then Henry 1st. Kings in those days were forever trying to be in control of the Church. St Anselm would have none of it and defended the rights and independence of the Church.
Anselm wasn't one who wanted to be centre stage in national affairs. He was a Benedictine monk. He was Italian by birth and spent a long time in the famous Norman monastery at Bec. He loved the life of study and was an ideal novice master, being a man of deep prayer. The quiet life of a monk came to an end however, when he was asked by the Pope to be the Archbishop of Canterbury.

St Anselm's writings are still studied today. He produced an interesting argument for the existence of God. It's called the ontological argument. He loved seeking knowledge about the wonders of the world. He loved questioning. He coined a phrase which all Christian scholars delight in when he said "I believe in order to understand". Faith in the wonder and majesty of God is the best response to all philosophical questions about existence and the meaning of life.

                                                                          Parish news

I  offered Mass yesterday for the people of the parish.Today I will offer Mass for Fr Patrick Breen who used to be P.P of Ulshaw Bridge.

Please pray for my Auntie Tess who is in James Cook  Hospital with that dreaded virus. She is 91 years old and is at the moment stable.

I know we are all grateful for the dedication of all who are doing so much in caring for the sick at this time. They have our prayers, gratitude and admiration.

Canon Michael

April 20th

Canon Michael's words for the Monday of the 2nd Week of Easter

Today's Gospel is from St John. It's the Gospel I like to have for a baptism. It features Nicodemus, the man who came to see Jesus by night. He didn't want anyone to know that he was talking with Jesus. Nicodemus was a leading Jew and a member of the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was for the  senate for Jewish priests.

Nicodemus was told by Jesus that we must be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. This is Baptism.

Nicodemus was privileged to help bring Jesus down from the cross. He was truly born again when he was very old.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Divine Mercy Sunday: Benjamin West's 'The Incredulity of Saint Thomas'

A work of art for the Second Sunday of Easter

Benjamin West (1730-1820), The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, c. 1790-1800, oil/canvas, 96,5 x 127 cm, Temple Newsam House, Leeds Museums and Galleries

Following John’s narrative, the darkness and the long wall of the background set the episode at night, behind closed doors. The apostles are divided in two groups on each side of Jesus and Thomas, who are facing each other on the foreground. The light falls on Christ, draped in red. Facing us, He is quietly presenting himself to Thomas. The painter used a vermillion red and not the usual white of the risen Christ to evoke his Passion and the stigmata that Thomas wanted to see and touch. Placed in the shadow, Thomas turns his back on us. We only see his hand touching the wound on the side of Christ. The striking note of this picture is the slight grimace of pain on the face of Jesus, which underlines the reality of his resurrection. 

This painting is attributed to Benjamin West, a British North American artist who had a successful career in England. He was one of the first artists to bring back religious subjects in British art. 

Second Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy and apostolic succession

Pilgrims prepare for the Canonisation Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, 2014 (Photo: Fr Richard Marsden)
Fr Richard's words for Divine Mercy Sunday

Divine Mercy and Apostolic Succession

The Second Sunday of Easter always brings back memories of the canonisation of Saints John Paul II and John XXIII in 2014. I was lucky enough to be in Rome at the time and to be one of the half-a-million people gathered in and around St Peter’s Square.

I have a fair bit of experience attending papal liturgies in my lifetime – but this was like no other. It was a real ‘pilgrimage’; and as I always say, the word pilgrimage contains the word ‘grim’!

A small group of us got out of bed at 3am to go down to the Via della Conciliazione, the road leading up to St Peter’s. It was as if half of Poland had converged on Rome, and probably a very substantial number from Lombardy, the region of Italy where Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (Pope John XXIII) was from. We spent all night trying to get as far up the road towards the piazza as we could. It was pretty ‘grim’ – packed together, lots of pushing and shoving, really no way out to find a toilet and suchlike. Contrast that scene with the eerie ones we’ve seen in recent weeks: Pope Francis leading us in prayer from an empty St Peter's Square, with only a handful of people assisting. The canonisation scene is unthinkable in our present situation.

By dawn, everyone was a bit groggy, wondering whether it was all worth it. And then, the big screens cut to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI being helped down the steps from the basilica to concelebrate the Mass. The enormous crowd suddenly erupted with cheers and applause. Not only was it the first time since the middle ages that two popes were being canonised at the same time – but it was also the first time ever that a Pope and a Pope Emeritus had celebrated a canonisation Mass together. We were saying “it’s the day of four popes!” It was truly historic.

It was fitting that Saint John Paul II was canonised on Divine Mercy Sunday. In 2000, he himself canonised Saint Faustina, the Polish nun who was asked by the Lord in a private revelation to spread this devotion to His Divine Mercy. On that day, St John Paul also established Divine Mercy Sunday a Feast for the universal church.

It was also fitting day to canonise two popes because of the intimacy between the Divine Mercy and the succession of the apostles. When the Risen Lord appears in the upper room in today’s Gospel, He gives the apostles authority to “dispense” His mercy to every generation: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” This authority Christ gave to the apostles is bestowed throughout the generations to bishops and to the priests who assist them, right through to the present day. The loving mercy of God flows from the Sacraments of His Holy Church. Most noticeably, in relation to the forgiveness of sins, it flows into the heart of the humble penitent through the words and action of a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The Gospel reminds us also of the source and the abundance of God’s mercy. Doubting Thomas is invited to put his hand into the side of the Risen Christ; to doubt no longer, but believe. From that small incision made by the spear of a solider on Good Friday flowed blood and water, the very sign of God’s mercy; enough to bring salvation to the whole world; administered by the ministry of the priesthood.

Devastatingly, as we know, it has become more and more difficult to receive the Sacraments of God’s mercy at this time. I imagine being without them can make you relate to St Peter's words in today's second reading, " may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials." Peter then speaks of faith being tested, but that through this testing, faith becomes "more precious than gold". These words remind us that it's crucial to be steadfast in faith at this testing time. We must remain close to the Risen Lord, safe in the knowledge that we can constantly ask in prayer for His mercy to come upon us "and on the whole world".

On this Sunday, while we pray for a swift end to this pandemic and a return of public worship to our churches, we give thanks to Almighty God for the gift of our Faith. We thank Him for His bountiful mercy and for the gift of His Holy Church, with its unbreakable apostolic foundations.

We ask Saint John Paul II, Saint John XXIII, Saint Faustina and all the saints to intercede for us: that we be able to show mercy to others, and in turn receive the mercy of God ourselves.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Teaching from Pope Saint Paul VI: Masses celebrated privately

During this pandemic when 'public' Masses are suspended, you know that Canon Michael, myself, and all priests are asked to celebrate Mass each day. Priests in parishes saying Mass privately so frequently is indeed something very unusual. I'm sure some Catholics have even thought: "what's the point/worth of Mass when there's no people?" 

Yesterday, I happened to stumble across the following section from Pope Saint Paul VI's 1965 encyclical Mysterium Fidei which provides a wonderful Catechises on this topic. Notice I've not used the phrase "private Masses" because, as the saintly pope makes quite clear in the title for these two paragraphs of his encyclical:

No Mass is "Private"

32. It is also only fitting for us to recall the conclusion that can be drawn from this about "the public and social nature of each and every Mass." For each and every Mass is not something private, even if a priest celebrates it privately; instead, it is an act of Christ and of the Church. In offering this sacrifice, the Church learns to offer herself as a sacrifice for all and she applies the unique and infinite redemptive power of the sacrifice of the Cross to the salvation of the whole world. For every Mass that is celebrated is being offered not just for the salvation of certain people, but also for the salvation of the whole world. The conclusion from this is that even though active participation by many faithful is of its very nature particularly fitting when Mass is celebrated, still there is no reason to criticize but rather only to approve a Mass that a priest celebrates privately for a good reason in accordance with the regulations and legitimate traditions of the Church, even when only a server to make the responses is present. For such a Mass brings a rich and abundant treasure of special graces to help the priest himself, the faithful, the whole Church and the whole world toward salvation—and this same abundance of graces is not gained through mere reception of Holy Communion [my emphasis].

33. And so, We recommend from a paternal and solicitous heart that priests, who constitute Our greatest joy and Our crown in the Lord, be mindful of the power they have received from the bishop who ordained them—the power of offering sacrifice to God and of celebrating Mass for the living and for the dead in the name of the Lord. We recommend that they celebrate Mass daily in a worthy and devout fashion, so that they themselves and the rest of the faithful may enjoy the benefits that flow in such abundance from the Sacrifice of the Cross. In doing so, they will also be making a great contribution toward the salvation of mankind.

*Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei: Encyclical on the Holy Eucharist, (Libreria Editrice Vaticana: Vatican City, September 3, 1965):

[Posted by Fr Richard]

Easter Saturday: Joyful in Faith

Fr Richard's homily for Easter Saturday. Today, he celebrated Mass at Ss Peter and Paul, Leyburn. Intention: Holy Souls


Homily: Joyful in Faith

Listen here

It’s been a very strange Holy Week and Easter Octave. Not being able to join in the great liturgical celebrations of the Church’s year I expect has been quite difficult. For us priests, the Easter Triduum liturgies have obviously been celebrated very simply.  

We might well describe our celebration of Easter 2020 as a bit “flat”. One or two people, outside of our parishes, even joked to me in the last few days of Lent: is Easter still happening this year?

Perhaps we can associate in some ways with the eleven apostles in today’s Gospel. Not that we don’t believe that Jesus is Risen - but that we might, like them, be currently confined to one building. We might feel despondent, uncertain about the future.

And then the Glorified Lord Himself appears in their midst. Yes, it is true. He is not dead, He has risen!

Jesus not only appears to the apostles but gives them, and us, an instruction: “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation.” In the First Reading, we see Peter and the apostles carrying out this command. By the Resurrection of Christ and by His breathing of the Holy Spirit upon them, they’re now totally transformed. Far from cowering from the authorities, they now boldly defend Divine Law above unjust instructions from human authorities. “We cannot promise to stop proclaiming what we have seen and heard.” Nor can we!

We too have received the powerful Gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism and Confirmation. During this Eastertide, empowered with the Spirit, let’s encourage each other in faith. Let’s not forget to wish people a happy Easter. Let’s speak to each other about our meditation on the Scriptures and the insights from our spiritual reading. Importantly, may we also “proclaim the Good News” by our acts of charity to others, especially those most in need at this time.

By encouraging each other in faith, we’ll not be gloomy and despondent, but rather constantly rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ. As a popular Easter hymn says: “Seek not life within the tomb; Christ stands in the upper room!”

Friday, April 17, 2020

Easter Friday: Christ in familiar surroundings

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-1260 – c. 1318-1319) - Appearence on Lake Tiberias. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena, Italy
Fr Richard's homily for Easter Friday

Homily: Christ in familiar surroundings

Today, the disciples are back in familiar surroundings. They’re back at their trade, doing exactly the same thing as when the Lord called them three years previously. Fishing is something that puts them at ease; the Sea of Tiberias is their home.

They go all night without catching a thing. It’s an illustration of the dryness they’re experiencing, perhaps a lack of hope. After their Friend’s death and Resurrection: “What happens now?” they may well be saying to themselves.

Then the Risen Jesus reveals Himself to them in a way they are familiar – with a demonstration of His boundless generosity. In an almost parallel episode to the beginning of His ministry (in Luke 5), He tells the disciples to put out their nets to starboard. The catch of fish overwhelms them. Then, once again, they recognise and rejoice in their Risen Lord and God, who is still calling them to be fishers of men.

The Risen Lord, along with His boundless generosity, is also present to us. He is, of course, fully, physically, substantially present in the Holy Eucharist – His glorified Body and Blood.

But also, in our familiar surroundings this Eastertide, in surroundings probably getting more familiar to us at this time, we can be reminded of Christ’s presence. Enjoying the sights and sounds of spring can remind us of Him who “through all things were made”. The Office of Readings of the Church today happens to be the “instructions to the newly baptised in Jerusalem”, a text from the very early Church. The reading reminds us that the baptised, by the sign of the Holy Spirit, have been “like to the glorious body of Christ.” The writer boldly states: “it is right to call [the baptised] ‘Christs’ or anointed ones.” We read that we’re “images of Christ”. And so when you see another baptised person – we’re reminded of Christ being among us.

Powerfully, Christ is present to us at home when we turn to Him in prayer. “Where two or three and gathered in my name,” Jesus said, “there am I in their midst.” (Mt 18:20) Something as simple as a sincere grace before meals ensures that we invite Christ to be with us at our meals, as He was at breakfast with His disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius.

And so, let this time of staying a home be, in particular, a time of strengthening or perhaps even rediscovering family prayer. A family at prayer is so powerful – through it, Christ comes among us to strengthen us, show what our mission is, and to give us hope.

So, in this Easter season, may the Risen Christ be with you all.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Easter Thursday: True God and true man

Fr Richard's homily for Easter Thursday. Fr Richard has been offering his Masses for the Holy Souls this week.

Homily: True God and true man

One of the hardest things I’ve found teaching young children about the Faith is the dogma that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man. The looks you get back can be quite amusing – ones of perplexity and puzzlement. Of course, it’s understandable that a seven-year-old will take time, along with further repetition and explanation, to grasp this wonderful truth.

Even when the Risen Lord Himself appeared – body and soul - in front of them in the upper room, the disciples also still struggled to comprehend the true and full identity of Christ. St Luke tells us – “they thought they were seeing a ghost”. They couldn’t quite comprehend the humanity of Christ, that He’d risen bodily from the dead. When they were invited to touch our Lord: “Their joy was so great that they still could not believe it, and they stood their dumbfounded.”

It seems there was something “disorienting” to the human mind about the Resurrection, even among the followers of Jesus. When Peter, bestowed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit, tells the Jews in our first reading that he and John have healed the cripple precisely in the name of Christ and by His power, Peter says: “Why are you so surprised at this?” Are these not very similar words that Jesus said to Peter and the other apostles when He appeared in the upper room?

We too find ourselves in a very ‘disorientating’ time, when there’s a risk of illness and, for some, death. “Where has this global pandemic suddenly come from? I wasn’t prepared for it,” we might say. “How long will this go on for? How can I cope with not seeing friends and family?”

In being totally focussed on our world, wanting to know all the time exactly how things work, and the reason for them, we can forget that God is not confined by the very laws of nature He designed. In this Easter Octave of 2020, we need to be reminded: Yes, Jesus Christ is true God and true man. He is alive; He is risen! He is in our midst and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, He acts in our lives in ways we cannot comprehend. He calls us to repentance; He calls us to follow Him. He looks after us in our distress. He consoles the weak and comforts the dying.

By His death and Resurrection, He has set us free; He has opened up our path to eternal life. “This day was made by the Lord: we rejoice and are glad.”

Parish news

On Monday I offered Holy Mass for Joan Barnard, on Tuesday for Mary Tierney who has died recently,yesterday I offered Holy Mass for Connell Boyle and today for Jane Metcalfe whose birthday it is. She shares the same birthday as Pope Benedict. Many happy returns to them both, though I don't think Pope benedict reads our blog.
Tomorrow I intend to celebrate Holy Mass for the intentions of Peter & Gillian Harker and then on Saturday for Fr Dan's intentions
Denis Whiteside has asked us to pray for Denis Courtney who has died recently.
Fr.Richard and I pray the rosary each day at 11.40am. If, you would like to join us at that time at home that would empower our prayer for the end of the pandemic.
God bless,
Canon Michael

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Easter Wednesday: Walk with the Risen Word

Fr Richard's homily for Easter Wednesday

Homily: Walk with the Risen Word

“Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us?”

This was the reaction of the two disciples when they realised, at the breaking of bread, that it was the Risen Christ Himself, the fulfilment of the Scriptures, who had explained to them the very word of God that referred to Him.

In the road to Emmaus account, just days after the Resurrection, we can already see references to the Mass as the centre of our lives. There are clear indications of both parts of the Mass in the Lord’s explanation of the Scriptures and in the breaking of bread. Here we have references to both the Liturgy of the Word, in which the Scriptures are proclaimed and explained to us, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which Jesus, the Bread of Life, is broken for us.

Of course, we’re in a difficult period where it’s not possible to participate in either of these parts of the Mass. Perhaps, then, we can capitalise on that “time to kill” we have at home by joining the disciples on that road to Emmaus.

Whenever we open our bible with the intention to meditate on the word of God, Jesus comes by our side as he did the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Firstly, He rejoices that we want to draw closer to Him. Secondly, He wants to accompany us on our journey by listening to us and speaking to us through the Scriptures.

This meditation on the Scriptures is not an academic exercise, but prayer. Like the disciples who spoke of their confusion and sadness of the events in Jerusalem, so can we converse with the Lord during our reading of the Scriptures about our anxieties and worries. In turn, the Lord will want pour out His Divine Wisdom upon us and draw us closer to Him.

The Church considers the dignity of the word of God is so great that she attaches a plenary indulgence (that is, remission from all temporal punishment due to sin) to the devout praying of the Scriptures for half an hour.

During this Easter season, my we take advantage of this plenary indulgence, of walking with the Risen Word of God Himself in meditating on the Scriptures. Our prayer will lead to a deepening of our love for the Mass so that, when we’re able to gather together again at the Lord’s table, we’ll be ever hungrier to hear the word of God and to receive the Word made Flesh in Holy Communion.

Easter Wednesday: Caravaggio's 'Supper at Emmaus'

A work of art depicting today's Gospel (Easter Wednesday)

Caravaggio (c.1571-1610), The Supper at Emmaus, 1606, 145 x 171 cm, Milano, Pinacoteca di Brera 

“Now while he was with them at the table, he took the bread and said the blessing [...] And their eyes were opened and they recognised him” (Luke 24, 30-31). This painting captures extraordinary well both the intimacy and the sacred nature of this moment. The dim light of the room and the plain colours of the evening are broken by the strong light coming from an outside source. It illuminates the hand of Jesus blessing the bread, as well as his face and those of the disciples on his left along with the innkeepers. We can only guess the gesture of surprise mixed with veneration of the other disciple who is placed against the light. 

This painting is far less dramatic and colourful than Caravaggio’s first version of the subject (National Gallery London). Some sadness on the faces of the innkeepers recall the recent suffering of Christ while that of the disciple shows that “his heart is burning out within him”.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Easter Tuesday: The Resurrection sanctifies

Homily of Fr Richard for Easter Tuesday

Homily: The Resurrection sanctifies

Today we are presented with two great saints of the Church: again, St Peter, and St Mary Magdalene. Both were sinners – St Peter lacked trust in the Lord and denied Him three times. Jesus cast seven demons out of Mary Magdalene, who was known as a grave sinner. But both Peter and Mary were reconciled with God and became holy because of the event we’re rejoicing in this week – the Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord.

Jesus’ Resurrection sanctifies those who believe in, and love Him. Once Mary realises that she is face to face with the Risen Lord, she worships Him and wants to cling to Him. And Peter, by His own witnessing of the Resurrection, and imbued with the Gift of the Holy Spirit, demonstrates such wisdom and conviction that he’s able to convert many Jews to Christianity.

Christ’s victory over sin and death is that colossal event in human history which means we’re able to become holy like Peter and Mary. By rising from the dead, Jesus raises us to new life. He points the way to our final destiny which is sharing in the Father’s glory. The example of Peter and Mary inspires us to always want to cling to the feet of Christ and to boldly speak of Him to all whom we meet.

It’s this devotion to Our Lord and our openness to the Holy Spirit in proclaiming Him as the Risen Lord that will lead us on the path to that crown of victory which is the goal of every Christian – to become saints of God.  

Easter image: Romanelli's St John and St Peter at Christ’s Tomb

Here is the Easter edition of our works of art depicting the Gospel

Giovanni Francesco Romanelli (1610-1662), St John and St Peter at Christ’s Tomb, c. 1640, oil on copper, 46,8 x 38,42 cm, Los Angeles County Museum

This small devotional painting offers a meditation on the meaning of the verse ‘He saw and he believed’ in John’s Gospel (20, v. 8). Does it mean that John now believes what Mary Magdalen had just told them, Jesus’ body having been taken away? She is waiting anxiously in the background, behind a gate, holding her jar of ointment. Peter and John are easily recognisable thanks to the conventional colours of their garments. The victorious run of John is evoked by the floating of his red drapery and the position of his legs. He is conspicuously behind the older Peter, whom he let enter the tomb first. While Peter, checking among the linen cloths, confirms Magdalen’s story, John’s gesture, with his hands outstretched without grandiloquence and his intense look fixed on the empty sarcophagus, translates a far deeper revelation: he really believes now that the man he has followed until His death on the Cross is the Son of God, risen from the dead. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Easter Monday: Witnesses to the Resurrection

The Resurrection, From a Rosary window at St Joseph's

Fr Richard's homily for Easter Monday

Homily: Witnesses to the Resurrection

“The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 638) We know and believe this truth firstly because of the empty tomb and crucially because of the testimony of many witnesses. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. They fall down before him and clasp his feet, a detail that proves the Resurrection is of the glorified body of Christ. In the First Reading, Peter, addressing the apostles after Pentecost, declares: “God raised this man Jesus to life, and all of us are witnesses to that.” In another part of the New Testament, St Paul says the Risen Lord appeared to him, and James, and more than 500 other people (1 Cor 15:4-8).

We would not be celebrating this Easter day as believers but for the testimony of these witnesses. The apostles, known as the “primary” witnesses of the Resurrection, along with the others, set out to announce this Good News to all peoples, inspired by the Gift of the Holy Spirit. St Peter, for instance, who three days ago we heard cowardly denying the Lord three times, is today boldly speaking in public, without fear, about God raising Jesus to life. The Resurrection, proclaimed by its Spirit-filled witnesses, is truly the “catalyst” for the spread of faith in Christ to all corners of the earth.

In these days of the Easter Octave, we hear about the first acts of these “primary witnesses” to the Resurrection. It’s important that we venerate these saints, many of who witnessed to the Risen Christ by the shedding of their blood. If we grow in our devotion to them, they will help us come ever closer to Jesus and to rejoice at His saving victory in both the good times and the challenging times of our life.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter Message

A truly Blessed and holy Easter to you all. Christ is Risen Alleluia!

It has been wonderful to know your support and care in this strange times. Fr Richard and I would like to thank you for your kindness and prayerful support. It means a lot to us. I offered Mass this Easter Morning for you all.

It is only during these last few days that I have begun to hear of the spread of the virus among people I know. There have been a few cases in my old parish. Thankfully all are recovering. However in our own parish in Leyburn, parishioners have lost a sister in Middlesbrough and won't be able to go to the burial. Another parishioner has a son in Harrogate who has the virus. So our prayers are needed.

I have felt the great leadership of Pope Francis during these days. His words of comfort to all the afflicted and affected. The Risen Christ is the Crucified Christ, They are the same person. He knows the pain of the World he has not abandoned us.

It is our faith in the Risen Christ who still bears the wounds of his passion which gives me hope. Though we are not together in the church we are together in our Faith, our hope and in our prayerful support to each other.

Happy Easter
Canon Michael & Fr Richard

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Holy Saturday: "The King is asleep"

Here is the beautiful Second Reading from the Office of Readings of the Church for Holy Saturday

Second Reading
From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

The Lord's descent into the underworld

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
  He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
  I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
  See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
  I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
  Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
℟. Our shepherd, the source of living water, has departed. At his passing the sun was darkened, for he who held the first man captive is now taken captive himself.* Today the Saviour has shattered the bars and burst the gates of death.
℣. He has torn down the barricades of hell and overthrown the power of Satan.* Today the Saviour has shattered the bars and burst the gates of death.