Monday, 19 November 2018

Catholic history of Lancahire presentation

Presentation by Mr Christopher Robson on 
“The Catholic History of Lancashire”. 

Assisted with photographs, it should be an interesting evening to learn a little more about our Catholic heritage. All welcome.

It is part of an evening to celebrate our 
Patronal Feast
of St Catherine Labouré
Wednesday 28th November

7pm Novena to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal

7.30pm Light refreshments 
& a glass of wine
followed by the Presentation.

St Catherine's
Stanifield Lane
PR25 4QG

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Masses in Rome

 I took fifty pilgrims to Rome recently, a group made up mainly from parishioners and members of the Order of St Lazarus, as well as a representation from Chavagnes International College

We set out to St Peter's early one morning, as you can see from the photo above, very early! I last offered Mass in St Peter's more than ten years ago, so hadn't realised the procedures had changed in that time. In the past, so long as you arrived before 7.30am, you could just wander into the sacristy, present yourself to the sacristan and be led to an altar for an individual Mass or a small group. The Basilica was not open to the general public until 8am, so was very quite and prayerful, giving a much different experience from when all the tourists flood in. The line to go through security had never been more than 20 or so people.

All change now! Gone was the sacristan, a security man dealt with me there. Apparently, particularly if you are bringing any sort of group, you need to book on-line in advance. Anyway, there were no free altars, but he allowed me to wait until one became available and we were taken to the altar of St Margaret Mary, devotee of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The Basilica is also now open - at least half way down its length - to the general public from 7am. That meant that when we arrived at 7.10am there was already a queue stretching half way down St Peters Square. It also meant that the interior lacked the calm and quiet of my past experiences, which is a shame for those wanting to come as pilgrims to celebrate Mass, rather than just s tourists lollygagging their way around the famous art works.

Anyway, we did at least get to offer Mass there. A unique experience for many. 

Thanks to all the pilgrims who helped us all to have a great few days in the eternal city.

I'll make some further posts here and try to put up some pictures for parishioners on our 

Thank you to Anthony Dickinson for providing the accompanying chant at Mass each day.


Our other venue for Mass was right next to our hotel in the gem of a church, San Salvatore. It is part of the Pallotine Fathers House and the body of St Vincent Pallotti is enshrined under the high altar in a "basilica" arrangement. We were made very welcome there and celebrated Mass each morning with ease.

Thank you to Matthew Jackson for the photographs

The compulsory group picture, although not everyone is on it. Some of them escaped before I could get back out of the sacristy.

High Mass in Preston

I celebrated High Mass in Preston recently for the Order of St Lazarus.

A few photos here but you can see many more at
the Order of St Lazarus site.


Sunday, 11 November 2018

Remembrance Sunday

Church for this Remembrance Sunday.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Synod 2020. Number 2

Small talk or big talk?

I'm hoping to keep a sort of Synod dairy to share progress and thoughts with parishioners and can include others in the process here.

I attended one of the series of diocesan Open Meetings for the Synod this week - at St Mary's in Leyland. Those leading it were trying to set out the process and how it works to about 250 -300 people gathered in St Mary's Church. (It has a completely separate Blessed Sacrament chapel.) 

One of the perimeters is that it is  diocesan synod, so can obviously only address matters that the bishop actually has control over. Even in some of the initial comments from the audience, this didn't seem to have sunk in for everyone. I suspect this will be a recurring theme.

There was much talk of reaching out to and addressing the lapsed and the young (sadly, two rather overlapping categories) and also getting them involved in the synod process. Here we come up against what we might call the great matter - if such people are not coming to church, how are we to get them to come to a synod? In a sense, we need a synod precisely that they have left us.

From the Leaders of the meeting - both clerical and lay - there was an emphasis on listening. I was reminded of the many aphorisms carrying the lesson that one first needs to be taught and be thoughtful in order to have something sensible to say. Not to say that there weren't  also some comments well worth hearing.

It was noted publicly that the vast majority of those attending might be classed as "those no longer young". One older gentleman reflected that in his day when he was growing up, the Mass was in Latin, attending church was compulsory and there was a certain regimented attitude towards practising the Faith. In going on to seem to reject all that as a way of passing on the Faith to the young, he seemed not to have noticed that this particular sort of training seems to have stood him in good stead, in that at his now much older age, he had persevered in coming to Mass and might have a decent chance of getting to Heaven.

I reflected that it is possibly a lack of teaching, education, proper catechesis in the full glories of the Faith that might have had some part to play in so many people leaving the practise of their faith, precisely because it has been undersold to them. Could it be that in reaching out to the world, we have compromised the supernatural to make Jesus more palatable but in doing so have robbed Him of His Power? We can agree and indeed co-operate with atheists and with members of any other religion on  a programme of social justice but Jesus does not stop there. The reason for our concern for social justice is salvation to eternal life for us and for others. We cannot stop in the world, we need to lead them on to be aware of sin, God's justice, repentance, penance, miracles, Saints and Angels, the battle for souls, the glory of the Resurrection, Hell and Heaven. You know, all those things we have a slight embarrassment about in front of our oh so modern and sophisticated friends.

Have we become a Church that no longer forms souls but rather, caters to selves?

For a little example. The challenge of fasting twice a week (traditionally on Wednesdays and Fridays - the days of Our Lord's betrayal and death) is not just a modern faddy diet plan but perhaps just the sort of challenge that idealistic young people looking for an alternative lifestyle to the consumerism laying waste to our natural resources might be seeking.

"As we pray so we believe" says the old adage. Our prayer at the start of the meeting was very lay-orientated. At no time did one of the priests step up to do anything "priestly". (It is possible that there might have been a blessing at the very end - I had to run out to get my car clear of blocking people in.) The prayers, even those with the format of a "collect" (a prayer that collects into one the prayers of the individual members of the congregation) were said by all together. Our one song / hymn had the aura of trying to whip us a slightly fatigued Pentecostal revival meeting. (Though I admit that might be the biased view of one who is not overly keen on campfire songs being transported into the formal worship space - though I do like a sing-song around the campfire and the food, and hopefully beer, that usually go with it!)

The limiting of the liturgy to the colloquial and earthbound is perhaps another area where we might look to challenge our concepts on what will catch the eye of the world and lead people to raise their eyes to Heaven, so that their faces can be lit up by God's glory instead of the pale and self-absorbed reflection from their i-phone or tablet screen. 

Contrary to the prevailing concept of relativism, we are not the ones who give things meaning. God gives things meaning.

What I hope for the Synod is that we can hear some different voices, rather than the same ones we've heard for some time now. Otherwise we will just be endorsing one another in the same ideas that perhaps have not served us as well as we might have hoped over recent decades. The same voices repeating the same things to one another (but not as funny as the Two Ronnies). Instead of the big talk of the Faith - only small talk of things earth bound.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Synod 2020. Archdiocese of Liverpool.

The Archdiocese in which I live and serve - Liverpool - is in the process of preparing for a Synod in 2020. Having spoken with many of my brother priests and parishioners, I thought it would be good to use my blog here as a forum to keep people abreast of developments and encourage people to take part in the process. 

The have been two initial meetings for all the diocesan priests so far and an open meeting for laity. The next is this Wednesday at 7.30pm at Holy Rosary, Old Roan and on Thursday at 7.30pm at St Mary's in Leyland. 

To be honest, when you are disappointed in something it is often the inclination to disengage from it. I'm sorry to say, this has often happened to me in relation to things  the diocese. However, after talking with many of my brother priests I am resisting that temptation and hoping to use this as a forum for them and anyone to help engage in the process in a POSITIVE way. Contributing ideas and thoughts to represent new and challenging thinking that might be of benefit to all. I will monitor comments carefully and will delete anything that I believe to be unhelpful. I am happy to act as a conduit for the ideas and suggestions that might come out of discussions I've been involved in or that others share with me.

To set us off, I share a document in relation to another recent synod - that on Young People, Youth and Vocational Discernment in Rome just recently. A letter was addressed to the Synod Fathers from the Australian Catholic Students Association

Some of their ideas for what they felt was needed in our times for young people seem to me very apposite for our own Synod to meditate upon. I think they speak powerfully to reclaiming a confidence in proclaiming the teaching of Our Lord through His Church as something those both within and without the Church are in desperate need of. 

Their thoughts in the worthy celebration of Mass and the liturgy also seem a challenge to take us in a new direction, away form the now rather worn out attempts at re-inventing things that we have so often experienced in these contexts.

And yes - it is all in favour of that out of vogue but nevertheless essential concept - Tradition.

Here is the text of their letter.

"The young do not want to shape the Church before the Church can form us. The world is confused. And in this confusion, the young have nothing to grasp. We want the Synod Fathers to remind the world that God will only deliver us when we cling to Him in love. 

His Grace Archbishop Anthony Fisher recently explained to the Australian Catholic Students Association that Blessed John Henry Newman was a major influence on the fathers of the Second Vatican Council, in their teaching on the dignity of conscience and its need for formation. It is because of Newman that the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes conscience as ‘the aboriginal Vicar of Christ’.  But even Newman saw the risk that ‘conscience’ could be interpreted as any man’s “prerogative to be his own master in all things”. 

Without the Church and everything she offers – divine revelation, tradition, community, and reason itself - conscience has no substance. We need a reliable moral compass. For this, the young need to be well-formed in the truth. We cannot shape the Church when we are not formed. Formless minds will manifest a shapeless Church, constantly evading the truth.

This formation takes a lifetime, a lifetime the young cannot claim. Newman’s epitaph reads:
“Throughout his entire life, Newman was a person converting, a person being transformed, and thus he always remained and became ever more himself.”

Every one of us, like Newman, is a man or woman converting. How could we ever presume to shape the Church, which as the Mystical Body of Christ contains within it billions of lifetimes of conversion, the hopes and prayers of all the faithful departed, the wisdom and holiness of the entire Communion of Saints, and the conviction and bravery of an ever-growing army of martyrs?

Like past generations, today’s young will only shape the church when we are ourselves formed. Then we will, God willing, take shape as Christ’s hands, eyes, feet and heart.


But we can’t hope to take shape amidst confusion over issues such as contraception, sexuality, communion for divorcees and non-Catholics, married priests and female ordination. Such confusion is borne from senior prelates purposefully employing ambiguous language when addressing such issues, even in the face of Christ’s teachings, the Church Fathers and the clear dogma of the Church. Such ambiguity is neither charitable nor desired by the youth and needs to be addressed by this Synod.

Some of the Synod Fathers wish to avoid a Church of ‘rules’ which fail to encourage a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. However these rules lead us to Christ, they always have. We need the Church to explain why and how this is.

When the Church eschews the truth for policy-speak, young people are left with only superficial banalities to express their beliefs. Deliberately unclear words are, ironically, relied on and repeated with rigidity. The Church should not discourage young people following its rules in love, nor its priests from teaching them.

As well as clarity in language, we pray for an increase in practices which help satisfy the sacramental needs of our bodies and souls - pilgrimages, confession, devotions, adoration, sacred art, music and architecture. The world can be an ugly place, and the outward beauty of our churches should be rays of light in our communities, particularly in the lives of the poor. The times show that the young are searching for meaning beyond flattery. Many young people are enamoured by public intellectuals such as Dr Jordan Peterson. He doesn’t tell the young that they are fine the way they are. Though he is explicitly agnostic, he repeatedly tells the young: “pick up your cross”.4 In their hearts, even people who have little faith somehow know that this image, this instrument, the cross, gives their suffering meaning. Veiled in the language of psychology, Peterson explores the significance of scripture unapologetically and at length. But Peterson and those like him have a ceiling. They know some of the truth intuitively, but they do not offer the fullness of truth because they do not have faith. Only the Church can provide real meaning to our world. The Synod Fathers need to accept this mission. The young want the truth, unambiguously.

A worthy Mass and welcoming Church
In his Synodal intervention, Archbishop Fisher apologised for “unbeautiful or unwelcoming liturgies”. In preparing Australian youth for a Plenary Council, his Grace asked us: how can we ensure that we are praying and worshipping God in ways that are worthy and welcoming?

The balancing of these two concepts of ‘worth’ and ‘welcoming’ is the point of tension for most. Of course we want our churches to be welcoming to everyone, we want as many souls as possible to be received into the Church. But we also want the Mass to be worthy of the profound claim it is making – that the same Jesus Christ of the Gospel descends to the altar body, blood, soul and divinity, in every instance.

The problem is the debate over ‘worth’ and ‘welcoming’ is limited to what form and what tone the Mass should take. This makes the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass look like a battlefield between the faithful, when it should only proclaim the victory of Christ over death, time and sin. The inescapable truth is that the Mass and what it re-presents is profound. It is no accident that the Last Supper is part of the ultimate series of events of Christ’s earthly ministry. When Jesus says “this is My Body”, it comes after all the parables, sermons, and miracles which, although marvellous, only hint at the overwhelming claim He makes at the Last Supper. If it took the Apostles such immense preparation at the feet of Christ himself (and even then they didn’t quite get it), how could we possibly hope to make the Mass ‘accessible’ to people today?

No matter how much we try and make it contemporary or easy to understand, the Mass escapes us. In bringing the Mass down to our level of comfort, we turn a profound claim physically manifested in a glimpse of heaven, into a weird claim which people struggle to take seriously.

Solution: wider use of the Divine Office by the laity
We can ensure a welcoming Church before it comes to Mass. The Synod Fathers should consider encouraging the use of the Divine Office more widely. This would complement the increasingly popular and fruitful practice of Eucharistic adoration in parishes and university chaplaincies.

Imagine the widespread practice of vespers in the same vein as the Community of Sant’Egidio’s evening prayer, encountered by so many young people and pilgrims in Rome at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. A warm, candle-lit refuge from the world, passers-by wander in, clueless, are handed a psalm book by a kind hand, and then gently guided by the community in prayer. This could be easily replicated around the world. The Psalms are appropriate for welcoming people into the Church, as they continuously hint at Jesus’ coming, preparing us for His awesome claim. And so we can achieve a beautiful and welcoming service, in an ancient Catholic setting. Perhaps solutions such as this are part of the answer to retaining a Mass that is worthy, and promoting a Church that is welcoming?


Newman once meditated on Mary as the Mystical Rose.
How did Mary become the Rosa Mystica, the choice, delicate, perfect flower of God’s spiritual creation? It was by being born, nurtured and sheltered in the mystical garden or Paradise of God. 

Mary, as the greatest of God’s creation, is a model to all of God’s people, no less for the young.But as Newman explains, Scripture makes use of the figure of a garden when it would speak of heaven and its blessed inhabitants. So how can we become flowers in the Paradise of God, like Mary? We do not find flowers in the mountain-crag, or rich fruit in the sandy desert. We will not find heaven wandering the wasteland around us. We will find it by being born again in Baptism, nurtured by the Sacraments and sheltered by the Truth in the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.

The young do not want to look elsewhere any more. We do not only want accompaniment in the wasteland. Synod Fathers, plant us in the mystical garden.

Yours in the Lord,
Members and young alumni of the Australian Catholic Students Association"

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Fauré's Requiem in Preston

An invitation to the annual Requiem Mass open to all.

Saturday 10th November

12 noon

Church of St Thomas of Canterbury 

and the English Martyrs

18 Garstang Rd, Preston PR1 1NA

Music: Fauré's Requiem

Tea & coffee served afterwards.

High Mass offered for deceased Members and Friends of the Order of St Lazarus
and this year,
the day before the 100th Anniversary of the ending of the First World War,
also for those who have fallen in war.

With thanks to the Canons of the
Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest for their kind hospitality.