Archive for January, 2011

The Symbolism of Candles

We are familiar with the spirit of adaptation by which the Church from the beginning made use of pagan objects, in order to re-create in them a Christian sense, and what is true of the Great Basilicas is true also of these lesser objects, such as lustral water, lights, fire and incense. They are parts of that natural language of mystical expression and such things belong quite as much to secular ceremonial as they do to strictly religious acts. Thus the salute of a Sovereign by a specified number of guns is just as much, or as little, worthy to be described as “superstitious” as the display of an assigned number of candles on the High Altar at Mass, varying with the solemnity of the function and the rank of the celebrating Priest or Bishop. Further, it is very prob­able that the candles which were borne, from the very earliest period, before the Bishop when he went in procession to the Sanctuary, or which attended the transfer of the Book of the Gospels to the Ambo, at which the Deacon sang, were nothing more than an adaptation of the secular practice of carrying lighted candles before the higher dignitaries in the Roman Empire. The use of a multitude of candles and lamps was undoubtedly a prominent feature in the celebration of the Easter Vigil, dating almost back to Apostolic times. Eusebius in his Life of Constantine speaks of the “pillars of wax” with which the Emperor transformed day into night, and other authors have left eloquent descriptions of the brilliant illum­inations within the Churches. Neither was the use of candles in the Basilica confined to the hours in which there was need of artificial light. Of course there were abuses, and the Church had to show great vigilance in pre­serving her children from a veritable superstition, particularly in reference to the burial of the dead. Thus the pagan custom of burning candles in the cem­eteries in broad daylight was condemned by the Spanish Coun­cil of Elvira in the fourth century, for it was done in a spirit of pagan sepulture. Then very soon after, it was made a reproach that while the sun was still shining, “great piles of can­dles” should be lighted, but, as St. Jerome rightly replied, these candles were lit so profusely at the Gospel, not so much to dispel darkness, as in token of joy for the proclamation of the Glad Tidings. (more…)


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Church Unity Octave, January 18-25

Antiphon. That they all may be One, as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me.

V. I say unto thee, thou art Peter.
R. And upon this Rock I will build My Church. (more…)

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The Church Unity Octave

Church UnityExtract from a Sermon by the Rev. Fr. O’Brien, Superior of the Society of S. John the Evangelist in England, and preached in the Society’s Church at Oxford on Sunday, Trinity XVII, 1937.

Reprinted from “The Cowley Magazine” for December, 1937.

Within the last few years there has arisen a movement for co­operation in prayer among separ­ated Christian groups which has rapidly grown and spread. It does not all spring from any one human source; it has sprung up as it were spontaneously at different points. It involves us in none of the problems or perils which beset schemes of human devising. Each group of Chris­tians is left to pray among themselves according to their own rites and modes, no one is asked to surrender any principles or beliefs which they hold to be true. This unity in prayer is not formed by intercommunion, or by gathering different groups into one place of worship, or by seeking the basis of the lowest common denominator of belief; it is as opposed to proselytizing as to intercommunion; it has no great faith in conferences, none whatever in compromises. It finds its bond of union in the agreement to pray for that unity which is in the mind and purpose of Christ for His Church. This unity comes into being as the prayers of all meet in the Sacred Heart of Jesus…. Our desire is towards Him and His purpose; we do not ask that our views shall prevail, or that we shall triumphantly absorb all others into our own communion, but that His will will may prevail in us all.

As the Russian priest, Bulgakoff, has most truly said, “Prayer is a sacrament in which our intercommunion is already, though partially, realized;” realized not at the cost of further division, not by trampling upon what our Brethren hold to be the truth, but realized in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, there to be safely kept and nourished until He shall show us how to realize it here on earth as He shall will.

One notable instance of this united prayer, though of course not the only instance, is to be found in the remarkable spread of the Church Unity Octave in the last four or five years. This movement was started a good many years ago by two Priests of the Anglican Communion, one of whom, Father Spencer Jones, is still with us. It is now spreading over the continent and through the United States. It has received authorization and encouragement from Roman and Orthodox Bishops far beyond anything it has received from the Bishops of the Church in which it orginated. The possibilities of this movement towards united prayer were for some time obscured by the requirement that those who took, part in it should agree on certain controversial propositions as to the basis of unity. It was our Roman brethren, and notably the Abbe Coutourier, who released the movement from this complication and urged the observance of the Octave without reference to points of controversy and in entire freedom as to the manner of its observance. It was a letter from the Abbe which brought our Society into this union of prayer. It was a truly enlight­ening development and has resulted in the simultaneous observance of the Octave (Jan. 18 to 25) by Romans, Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, French Protestants and many others, in numbers which each year show a large increase. We should not indeed limit our efforts of prayer to this one occasion. Many of us, maybe, can set apart some time each week for this work of prayer, the most potent work we can do for union. The keeping of the Holy Hour, the recitation of one or more decades of the Rosary, the giving of a set time of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament or before a Crucifix may be the best means of uniting ourselves in prayer and desire with the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

For us in the Anglican Communion there is, as we have seen, a special strain in the call to work for union. Any marked advance in one direction or the other must cause apprehension to those of the other side. At the present moment it seems as though our recognition of the manifest signs of the working of the Holy Spirit among bodies of Christians whom we cannot but regard as having separated themselves from the historic Church had swamped our sense of proportion. While we are thinking less arrogantly and more justly of our Nonconformist brethren we have become alarmingly insensible to the spiritual value of the Faith, the Order and the Tradition of the Church in all its imposing coherence and Apostolic authority. There is therefore all the more need to pray to that Holy Spirit who has guided the Church ever since the time of the Apostles, and who guided our Anglican fore-fathers into the great Catholic revival of the last century. He does not need to destroy His work in order to fulfill it. Perhaps our greatest danger today is not lack of zeal or vision, but of discipline, patience and proportion.

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Suppose that now we were to go out into the town, in the chilliness and darkness of this evening, and were to find a poor man and a poor woman asking from house to house whether they could have lodgings for to-night; both of them worn out and exhausted by the long journey, and the one clearly just about to become a mother. By and by we may hear that they had been obliged to take up their lodgings in a barn; and next morning we might be told that at midnight, in all the coldness and uncomfortableness of such a place, a baby had been born. (more…)

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