Sunday, 31 March 2013

Holy Week music - ancient and modern.

Today is Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate Our Lord's Resurrection from the dead  - the greatest Feast-day of the Christian Church; the victory of life over death, good over evil. St Paul tells us that if Christ is not risen from the dead, our faith is all in vain.   

                 Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat

St Mark  XVI  v. 1-7
             'At that time, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, brought sweet spices, that coming, they might anoint Jesus. And very early in the morning, the first day of the week, they come to the sepulchre, the sun now being risen. And they said one to another: Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And looking, they saw the stone rolled back; for it was very great.  And entering into the sepulchre,they saw a young man sitting on the right side clothed with a white robe: and they were astonished. Who saith to them: Be not affrighted; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: He is risen, He is not here, behold the place where they laid Him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that He goeth before you into Galilee; there you shall see Him, as He told you.'                          

A day for great rejoicing, alleluia!     - Alleluia Chorus, from Handel's Messiah, sung by the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, with the Academy of Ancient Music, conducted by Stephen Cleobury. Truly magnificent!


Here on the small island of  Stronsay in Orkney, we have a small group of singing enthusiasts who meet weekly to enjoy a musical evening under the guidance of our  musical director Michael Lee, who selflessly gives of his time and expertise - a two hour boat trip each way from Kirkwall in all weathers, plus an enforced overnight stay on Stronsay, to guide us through the intricacies of a varied and sometimes challenging musical menu.

As it happens, this includes a very beautiful short work by Peter Tchaikovsky, entitled the 'Crown of Roses', which is particularly relevant to Holy Week. I cannot pretend that our performance bears comparison to the one below, but on a really good night we persuade ourselves that we might be making progress!

'The Crown of Roses'- by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

When Jesus Christ was yet a child
He had a garden small and wild
Wherein he cherished roses fair
And wove them into garlands there.

Now once as summer-time drew nigh
There came a troop of children by.
And seeing roses on the tree
With shouts they plucked them merrily.

"Do you bind roses in your hair?"
They cried in scorn to Jesus there.
The boy said humbly: "Take I pray,
All but the naked thorns away."

Then of the thorns they made a crown,
And with rough fingers pressed it down.
Till on his forehead fair and young,
Red drops of blood, like roses sprung.       -  Sung by Coro ARS XXI in the Assumption of the Virgin Cathedral, Jaen, Spain.

N.B. Interestingly, earlier this week our Holy Father, Pope Francis, formally approved the cause for beatification  of the Bishop of Jaen, martyred in the Spanish Civil War


                    'Assumption of the Virgin' Cathedral, Jaen, Spain.

Finally, a simple but rather beautiful contemporary work, 'Nostra gloria e la croce' composed by Marco Frisina,  and particularly appropriate for Holy Week. 


Non c'è amore più grande
di chi dona la sua vita.
O Croce tu doni la vita
e splendi di gloria immortale.

O Albero della vita
che ti innalzi come un vessillo,
tu guidaci verso la meta,
o segno potente di grazia.

Tu insegni ogni sapienza
e confondi ogni stoltezza;
in te contempliamo l'amore,
da te riceviamo la vita.

                                    Mgr. Marco Frisina

'YouTube' has a wide selection of sacred works composed by Mgr. Marco Frisina, the Director of the Pastoral Worship Centre at the Vatican.


'Under the old law men might have doubted whether God loved them with a tender love; but after having seen Him shed His blood on an infamous gibbet and die for us, how can we doubt His loving us with infinite tenderness and affection?'
(Thoughts from St. Alphonsus - March 31)

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, guide and protect our Holy Father, Pope Francis. 


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

"The Road to Heaven Lies as near by Water as by Land''


                                   The Lamb of God  (
I cannot be the only Catholic north of the border who is heartily sick of the doom and gloom statements from eminent Catholic church leaders and intellectuals, regarding the Cardinal O'Brien affair. According to one  this is the most damaging occurrence to the Catholic Church in Scotland since the Reformation!  A prominent Church leader preaches on the scandal of the affair, and the 'devastating' effect it will have on the Church!
Now no faithful Catholic condones sin, nor scandal, nor bad example - particularly from a priest and especially from a Cardinal, but one man's sinfulness based on human weakness, does not mean the virtual demise of the Catholic church in Scotland!  The Church is based on Christ and His teachings, not on one man who falls by the wayside. Catholics do not need this type of negative publicity, which is immediately manipulated by the secular press to attack the Church and weaken the faith of so many Catholics.
Whilst not hiding the harm that has been done, why not  also emphasise the good qualities of the Cardinal, his  outspoken and courageous Catholic  leadership on matters of life and death, his defence of the unborn child and his opposition to euthanasia, his courageous denunciation of so-called 'same-sex marriage' - aptly described by him as 'grotesque', his respect for our Pope Emeritus, and I'm sure many other admirable qualities and deeds. The Cardinal has made a public profession of his sins, I wonder how many figures in public life would do the same! The Cardinal has not been accused of a criminal offence, and those defamers in the homosexual lobby are skating on thin ice as the behaviour he is accused of, appears, from all accounts, to be the sort of behaviour they would espouse.
The Cardinal was wrong and presumably knew he was wrong, and has admitted it was wrong, and as a priest no doubt taught that homosexual practice was wrong.  The fact that at some times in his life he may have succumbed to temptation, does not make him a hypocrite.  Most of his detractors  have not his honesty, and cannot see the hypocritical mote in their own eye. I am not, by the way, alluding  to those who suffered in any way from the Cardinal's inappropriate behaviour, but I am suggesting that enough-is-enough, and that  the sooner our Catholic leaders in Scotland put the whole sorry saga behind them, and concentrate on the exciting challenges of an imminent new Papacy in this Year of Faith, the better for everyone. 
Nothing really changes:-
Approximately 480 years ago, the Catholic Church in Britain was at loggerheads, not with the Government like today, but with the King.
Today we have the issue of so-called 'same-sex marriage', then it was the issue of the validity of King HenryVIII's marriage to Queen Catharine.
Greenwich Palate and Friary adjoining (now destroyed and site of Royal Naval College)
  'In 1532 the King wrote to the General of the Franciscan Order requesting that the English Provincial of that Order be replaced by a certain John de Haye of the Province of Flanders, whom the King knew and liked. The question of the King's divorce had been raised some four years previously, and was then still under discussion. The Friars had roused Henry's anger by openly preaching and writing against his unlawful proceedings, and the Provincial Blessed John Forrest, was held responsible for the many arguments the members of the Order fearlessly brought forward, to prove the lawfulness of Henry's marriage with Queen Catharine. In 1533, the definite sentence against the divorce came from Rome, and Blessed Forest was cast into prison, partly as a warning to the Friars, to show them what they might expect if they dared to resist the royal pleasure, but chiefly because he was Catharine's Confessor, and the King attributed her refusal to resign her title of Queen and retire to a convent, to Blessed Forest's advice and encouragement.
The first to publicly reprove the King for his repudiation of his lawful Queen was Brother Peto, Guardian of Greenwich.  He had also at one time filled the post of Confessor to the Queen, and was remarkable for his devotion and simplicity. Preaching before the King in the Friary Church of Greenwich, on the 22nd Chapter of the Third Book of Kings, he applied to Henry the prophet's threat:-

            "Where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall the dogs lick thy blood, even thine? I" , he continued, "am that Micheas whom thou wilt hate, because I must tell thee truly that this marriage is unlawful. I know that I shall eat the bread of affliction and drink the water of sorrow, yet because our Lord hath put it into my mouth, I must speak it. There are many other preachers, yea too many, who preach and persuade thee otherwise, feeding thy folly and frail affection upon hope of their own worldly promotion, and by that means betraying thy soul, thy honour and thy posterity, to obtain fat benefices, to become rich abbots, and get episcopal jurisdiction and other ecclesiastical dignities.  These I say, are the four hundred prophets, who, in the spirit of lying, seek to deceive thee. But take good heed lest, being seduced, thou find Achab's punishment, and have thy blood licked up by the dogs."

          The king took the reprimand quietly, but to prevent any further ill impression on those who had heard the sermon, he on the following Sunday, ordered a certain Doctor Curwin (afterwards Dean of Hereford) to preach in the same place.
 Doctor Curwin styled Brother Peto a dog, a slanderer, a base beggarly friar, a rebel and traitor, saying that no subject ought to speak so audaciously to princes, and further spoke in praise of the king's marriage with Anne Boleyn. He concluded "I speak to thee, Peto, who makest thyself Micheas, that thou mayest speak evil of kings, but art not now to be found, being fled for fear and shame at being unable to answer my arguments."  
 Whereupon Brother Elstow, a grave and religious father of the same Friary, cried out from the rood loft where he was listening:-       
"Good sir, you know that Brother Peto is now gone, as he was commanded, to a Provincial Council at Canterbury, and not fled from fear of thee; for tomorrow he will return.  Meanwhile I am here as another Micheas, and I will lay down my life to prove the truth of all that he has taught out of the Holy Scriptures. To this combat I challenge thee before God and all impartial judges, even thee Curwin, I say, who art one of the four hundred prophets into whom the spirit of lying is entered, and who seekest by adultery to establish the succession, betraying the king into endless perdition, more for thine own vain glory and hope of promotion than for the discharge of thy clogged conscience and the kings salvation."        
Having said this Brother Elstow grew warm and spoke with such earnestness that no one could stop him, till the king himself commanded him to hold his peace.
The following day both Friars were summoned before the King and his Council.  On being reprimanded Brother Peto fearlessly defended his sermon, and even predicted that unless the king changed his conduct he would not have a male descendant to carry on his royal line.  The Earl of Essex said that both Peto and Elstow ought to be put into a sack and thrown into the Thames. 
 "My Lord,"  replied Brother Elstow, smiling, " be pleased to frighten with such threats your Court epicures, men who have lost their courage in their palate, and softened their minds with pomp and pleasure.  Such people who are tied by their senses close to the world, are most likely to yield to your menaces; but they make no impression upon us. We count it an honour to suffer for our duty, and bless God for keeping us firm under trial;  as for your Thames, the road to heaven lies as near by water as by land, and therefore, it is indifferent to us which way we go thither."  
The two Friars were reproved and dismissed by the Council, and almost immediately afterwards went abroad where they remained till Queen Mary's reign.
The following year 1534, Brother Hugh Rich, Guardian of Canterbury, and Brother Richard Risbey, Guardian of Richmond, were hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn, on the charge of treason for 'aiding and abetting Elisabeth Barton' commonly called the Holy Maid of Kent, and on 20th April they were dragged on hurdles to the place of execution. The same year some 200 Franciscan Friars were imprisoned, of which number some were hanged, others starved to death, and others tortured till they expired. A great number were linked together with iron chains, and drafted off by twos to rot away in the county prisons.
By September 1539, the King had taken possession of all the Franciscan Friaries in the kingdom, the small communities remaining in them were turned adrift, and shortly afterwards their houses and churches were demolished.
 Ack. 'Lives of the Franciscan Saints', published by Franciscan Convent, Taunton, (1887) 

With thanks to 'Transalpine Redemptorists at Home'