Sunday, 31 October 2010

A week older but an hour younger

Winter approaches in Portrane ... looking from the Burrow Beach towards The Quay and Lambay Island this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

It was a privilege to be deacon at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning. Outside, it was blustery, grey morning; I may be a seven days older and an hour younger than I was this time last week, but the clocks going back tell us autumn is over and winter has blown in.

From now on, the evenings are closing in, and the countdown to Advent has begun.

The celebrant was Dean Dermot Dunne; the preacher and canon-in-residence was Archdeacon Ricky Rountree; and Canon Kenneth Kearon from the Anglican Communion Office in Lambeth Palace was in his stall too.

There were two added treats this morning: the baptism of Amy Rose Carswell, a granddaughter of the late Douglas Gageby, former editor of The Irish Times, and Franz Schubert’s Mass in G, sung by the Cathedral Choir.

This is the best known of the three "shorter" Masses composed by Schubert between the more elaborate first and fifth masses. It was written in less than a week in 1815, when Schubert was barely 18. He died 13 years later.

After a stroll through Temple Bar and lunch with friends in La Taverna on Ormond Quay in Dublin’s Italian Quarter, two of us headed out to visit my cousins in Portrane and Donabate, and for walks on the beaches.

On the Burrow Beach in Portrane, there was a swell on the water, but four or five yachts were braving the weather and making their way north of Lambay Island into Rush or, perhaps, Skerries.

Lingering autumn lights ... the beach at Balcarrick in Donabate at dusk this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In Donabate, the waves were crashing in against the rocks below the Martello Tower. The long beach at Balcarrick was inviting, despite the fact that dark was falling.

The sun had set in the west when we turned back to Donabate, where children were out on the streets, dressed up for their ‘Trick-or-Treat outings. Along the M50 back to Knocklyon, the night skies were filled with fireworks and Chinese lanterns.

Winter may be closing in, but I have happy memories of summer and autumn this year, and I hope to continue my beach walks, which have been so good for feeling of well being despite sarcoidosis – I may have sarcoidosis, but sarcoidosis will never have me.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Searching for Pugin in the ‘navel of Ireland’

The Birr Stone ... described by Giraldus Cambrensis as umbilicus Hiberniae, the navel of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

After a very creative and innovative Morning Prayer in the institute chapel this morning, two of us headed off on a two-hour drive to Birr, Co Offaly.

Birr regards itself as the centre of Ireland – in the late 12th century Giraldus Cambrensis referred to the Birr Stone as umbilicus Hiberniae, the navel of Ireland. The stone is a block of limestone around 250 million years old, and was probably part of a megalithic monument. It is said to have marked a meeting place of the Fianna, and was taken from Birr in 1828 and was used as a Mass rock, but returned to Birr in 1974.

I can only remember being here two or three times in the past, and – apart from passing through five or six years ago – it must be 25 years or more since I was last in Birr. I returned today to take some architectural photographs.

Birr is one of the finest examples of a Georgian town in Ireland. It is a virtually intact 18th and 19th century town, with spacious Georgian houses lining its tree-lined streets, malls and avenues. This Georgian architecture is complemented by monuments to some of the Earls of Rosse, including William Parsons (1800-1867), the third Earl of Rosse, a renowned astronomer who built what was once the world’s largest telescope in the grounds of Birr Castle.

Birr Castle has been the seat of the Parsons family and the Earls of Rosse for 14 generations, since it was granted to Sir Laurence Parsons in 1619. While Offaly was known as King’s County, Birr was known as Parsonstown.

Saint Brendan’s ... probably the site of the early monastic settlement in Birr (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Birr stands on the banks of the River Camcor, and the first recorded evidence of a settlement there dates from the 6th century AD, when a monastery was founded by Saint Brendan of Birr. An important work from this monastery is the illuminated text known as the Macregol Gospels or the Book of Birr, now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

John’s Hall, built in the style of a Greek temple to commemorate the Hon John Parsons (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

We parked the car on John’s Mall, close to the statue of the astronomer earl, and John’s Hall, built in the style of a Greek temple to commemorate his brother, John Parsons, who died young.

In Dooly’s Hotel on Emmet Square, one of the Ireland’s oldest coaching inns, an exceptionally helpful receptionist pointed us to the building I had come to photograph: the Convent of Mercy on Wilmer Road, which had been built by AWN Pugin in the mid 19th century.

The interior of the beautifully restored Convent Chapel in Birr, designed by Pugin and now a library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In recent decades, most of the convent has been converted by Offaly County Council to civic offices and a public library. Martina Needham, executive librarian, Offaly County Library, welcomed us and guided us around the former convent, which was built in stages from 1845 to 1856.

Mother Catherine McAuley, the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, came to Birr in 1840 to help her sisters set up was to be called Saint John’s Convent of Mercy.

Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin in 1831 to “care for the poor, sick and ignorant.” She established the first Mercy convent in England in Bermondsey in London, and this was Pugin’s first convent too. However, it was one of Pugin’s early failures, and Catherine McAuley complained that the convent, built in 1839-1840, was “not well suited” to her community: she complained to Bishop Walsh that “the sleeping rooms are too large, the corridors confined and not well-lighted, and all the Gothic work made it expensive.”

Pugin was given a second chance in 1840 when the Hardman family offered to pay for another Convent of Mercy near their home in Handsworth on the edges of Birmingham. At the time, Pugin was working on Saint Giles’ in Cheadle. Hardman donated the site, and paid £5,535 for the building and furnishings; the Earl of Shrewsbury donated a further £2,000. This was the first Mercy convent in the English Midlands and Hardman’s daughter, the future Mother Mary Juliana Hardman (1813-1884), who was one of the first Mercy Sisters in Handsworth, eventually became the Mother Superior.

Michael Fisher and Roderick O’Donnell have discovered a letter from Pugin to Herbert Minton, dated 19 September 1840, suggesting that the tiled floor in Handsworth was the first occasion the great architect and the great tilemaker collaborated.

Pugin’s convent in Handsworth was such a success that Catherine McAuley finally saw it she was charmed and described it as “this beautiful convent erected by Mr Pugin in the ancient monastic style.” She said “all is so admirable … no want can be felt.” It is surprising then, that Pugin only designed one convent for the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland.

Birr Convent was built by Pugin along the lines of his convent in Handsworth ... with the addition of an Irish round tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The foundation stone for his convent in Birr was laid in 1846, although the first portions were not built until 1847. The design is a heavy, stone version of the convents he had built in Handsworth and Liverpool. But Pugin also paid tribute to Irish architectural heritage by attaching a Round Tower to the corner of the building.

The convent was still not complete when Pugin died in 1852. The main front resembles his design, but the larger part of the building was finally completed with slightly different massings by his son, E.W. Pugin, and his son-in-law, George Ashlin.

The Pugin-designed convent chapel was greatly revised at a later stage. When the convent closed, the altars and the furnishings were donated to neighbouring churches or auctioned off. But the convent and chapel have been converted to accommodate a modern library, council offices and a health centre, and many of the original Pugin features have been carefully preserved or restored.

I wonder how many Irish towns can boast such a splendid state-of-the-art library in a Gothic Revival chapel with beamed roof, restored and storm-glazed stained glass windows, a restored ceiling and stencilled mural motifs and lettering. The cloister area has been restored and the library exhibits included a facsimile of the Mcregol Gospels, a modern illuminated vellum manuscript copy of Cáin Adomnáin, a replica of an early Christian bell and other treasures.

A sand sculpture with a Halloween theme in the grounds of Birr Castle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

From the convent, we headed up to Birr Castle for lunch in the courtyard, where a sculptor was working on a sand sculpture with a Halloween theme. By now the rain was bucketing down. Autumn had come to a wet close, and winter is now threatening.

Instead of wandering around the castle grounds in the rain, we promised to return and headed off to Maynooth to continue photographing the work there by Pugin and McCarthy.

Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Liturgy 5: The nature and theology of sacraments

Patrick Comerford

EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 09:00 to 11:00, Thursdays, Hartin Room:

Liturgy 5: 28 October 2010

This week:

5.1:
The nature and theology of sacraments;

5.2: Traditions of prayer (3): seminar, patterns of prayer today (including all-age worship, participation of children in worship, worship and youth).

5.1: The nature and theology of sacraments

Introduction:


We began this module by looking at sign, icon, ritual and symbol in domestic, civic and secular life.

We give tokens that have special significance to mark certain landmark days, events and anniversaries.

A red rose is an appropriate token to give to someone you love on Saint Valentine’s Day, but not appropriate to give to others. Who should throw a single red rose on a coffin?

Hopefully we all know who to send birthday cards, anniversary cards and sympathy cards, and when. They may only be mere tokens, but they mean more than that and so it would be more than a major social faux pas to do this for the wrong person, at the wrong time, not to know the difference.

And it would be a sad family where we failed to:

Welcome a new child into the membership of the family?

Had no celebratory meals to mark the events that make us and hold us together as families, such as weddings and wedding anniversaries, birthdays and funerals?

The church is a Mystical Body, the Body of Christ, into which we are incorporated by Baptism, which has been described as the foundational sacrament.

It is also made up as a collective of humans, who have the same social needs within the church as we have in other social structures that bind us together.

What is a Sacrament?

Some introductory quotes:

Thomas Cranmer ... ‘these elements ... do after a sacramental manner put Christ into our eyes, mouths, hands, and all our senses’

For it is not true, as some say, that sacraments confer grace by themselves, without a good movement of heart on the part of their user; for when persons in their reason use the sacraments, the user’s faith must be present also, to believe the promises, and receive the things promised, which are conveyed through the sacraments.
– Thomas Cranmer, Of the Use of Sacraments (1538).

Our Saviour Christ hath not only set forth these things most plainly in his holy word, that we may hear them with our ears, but he has also ordained one visible sacrament of spiritual regeneration in water, and another visible sacrament of spiritual nourishment in bread and wine, to the intent that, as much as is possible for man, we may see Christ with our eyes, smell him at our nose, taste him with our mouths, grope him with our hands, and perceive him with all our senses. For the word of God preached putteth Christ into our ears, so likewise these elements of water, bread, and wine, joined to God’s word, do after a sacramental manner put Christ into our eyes, mouths, hands, and all our senses.
– Thomas Cranmer, Answer to Stephen Gardiner (1551).

Richard Hooker’s statue at Exeter Cathedral ... ‘these mysteries do as nails fasten us to his very Cross’

Richard Hooker describes a sacrament as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

It pleaseth Almighty God to communicate by sensible means those blessings which are incomprehensible.
– Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, V.57.3.

The very letter of the word of Christ giveth plain security that these mysteries do as nails fasten us to his very Cross, that by them we draw out, as touching efficacy, force, and virtue, even the blood of his gored side, in the wounds of our Redeemer we there dip our tongues, we are dyed red both within and without, our hunger is satisfied and our thirst for ever quenched; they are things wonderful which he feeleth, great which he seeth and unheard of which he uttereth, whose soul is possessed of this Paschal Lamb and made joyful in the strength of this new wine, this bread hath in it more than the substance which our eyes behold, this cup hallowed with solemn benediction availeth to the endless life.
– Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, V.67.12.

Vocabulary:

The term ‘sacrament’ was first used to denote things that had previously been described in Greek as ‘the mysteries’, although the two terms have completely different meanings.

To this day, the Eastern Church still uses the term ‘Mystery’ or ‘Sacred Mystery’ where we might use the term ‘Sacrament.’

Mystery:

We still use the word mystery too. It occurs at least three times in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer in reference to the Eucharist:

“we … have duly received these holy mysteries” – Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 190.

“so shall ye be meet partakers of these holy mysteries” – Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 200.

“he hath instituted and ordained holy mysteries, pledges of his love.” – Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 200.

We think of the word “mystery” in terms of a genre of novel or a problem to be solved.

But the word mystery in Greek is μυστήριον (musterion, but usually as the plural μυστήρια, musteria).

It comes from the Greek word muo, to shut the mouth. It relates therefore to a secret teaching, the kind of revelation that is passed on in whispers, revealed only to the initiated.

In the Old Testament, God is the “revealer of mysteries” (Daniel 2: 47).

The Wisdom literature talks about “the secret purposes of God” (see Wisdom 2: 22).

In the Gospels the word μυστήριον (mysterion) is used to refer to the secret meaning of parables (see Matthew 13: 11; Mark 4: 11; Luke 9: 1-10).

This noun had originally been used in reference to the secrets of ancient mystery cults, but is generally used in the plural in the New Testament to refer to a number of doctrines not known in the Old Testament. Paul uses it in a technical, theological sense, setting forth the notion that Christ is the mystery, the secret plan of God that has always been implicit in creation but is now made explicit in Christ. Christ is the predestined mystery of God revealed within the fullness of time. In receiving him, people receive salvation.

Sacrament:

In Roman society, a sacramentum was a pledge of money or property, deposited in the temple by parties to a lawsuit or contract.

This sacramentum was forfeited by the party who broke the contract or lost the lawsuit.

It then came to mean an oath or pledge made by new recruits to their commander and to the Roman gods.

Modern usage:

Around the year 210, Tertullian began a tradition of Latin Christians of using the word sacramentum to refer to the acts or rites described in the Greek-speaking Church as μυστήρια.

Tertullian preferred the term sacrament, which was free of any association with the mystery cults.

The sacraments were, as the Latin term implied, sacred pledges of allegiance to God.

Some Biblical foundations:

All religions have been marked by special rites and rituals associated wit particular days, events and commemorations.

Old Testament:

From your Old Testament studies, consider the appopriate and contiuing rites associated with:

• Passover
• Pentecost
• Sukkoth
• Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)
• The Sabbath Evening

Gospel rituals:

Christ celebrated the major festivals of the Jewish calendar, he was a regular participant in the weekly worship of the synagogue, and he was a frequent visitor to the Temple, and not only on High Holy Days.

There are significant “sacramental” moments in the life of Christ:

1, His baptism in the Jordan

2, His meals with others:

• the Feeding of the Multitude
• meals with Pharisees and Tax Collectors
• the Last Supper
• the meal with the Disciples in Emmaus
• the post-Resurrection breakfast on the shore.

3, His anointing of others (the sick, Mark 6: 13), and his anointing by others, especially women, both at meals and in the grave, which I referred to in last night’s sermon.

4, What about:

• The Wedding at Cana?
• The Signs in Saint John’s Gospel?
• The Transfiguration?

[Discussion:]

New Testament developments:

The Apostles and the early members of the Church continued to worship, as all Jews of the time did, in the three places that were the focus of worship:

• the Temple (see Acts 3: 1, 5: 12, &c)
• the Synagogue
• the home

But while the Apostolic Church continued to engage in the Temple, Synagogue and domestic liturgy they had inherited, we also find the beginnings of the sacramental life of the Church, built on their experiences of the worship life they shared with Christ:

• Baptism (Acts 8: 38, &c).
• The shared meal of the Church (see Acts 6: 1, &c).
• The Laying on of Hands (see Acts 6: 6, Acts 8: 14-17, &c)
• Anointing of healing and forgiveness of sins (see James 5: 14-15)

The Apostle Paul talks about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in sacramental language.

Paul uses the term μυστήριον no fewer that 21 times … although he never refers to either Baptism or the Eucharist as a “mystery”.

Anglican Sacramental theology

Next week, I hope to look at the early development of the sacramental life of the Church.

But what do we mean by Sacraments in Anglican life and liturgy today?

At Disestablishment, the Church of Ireland stated, as part of our core self-understanding, that we “will continue to minister the doctrine, and sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded; and will maintain inviolate the three orders of bishops, priests or presbyters, and deacons in the sacred ministry.” – The Preamble and Declaration (1870), I.2.

So were not just a liturgical church, but express that as a sacramental church. And our Liturgy is complete as Liturgy of Word and Liturgy of Sacrament.

Anglican sacramental theology contains elements shared by churches of both the Catholic tradition and of the tradition of the Reformations.

Anglican sacramental theology emphasises the sacraments as a means of grace, sanctification, and forgiveness.

You may have already found that Anglican sacramental theology encompasses a full range from those whose beliefs are in accord with Christians of the early centuries to those who accept Tridentine teachings of the sacraments, and those who reject the need (as concerns one’s salvation) for sacraments when it comes to one’s salvation.

When the Thirty-Nine Articles were accepted as a norm for Anglican teaching, it was commonly taught that Anglicans recognised two sacraments – Baptism and the Eucharist – as “Sacraments ordained of Christ,” or “sacraments of the Gospel” as they are described in Article 25. – Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 784.

There are five other liturgical acts that the Thirty-Nine Articles say are “commonly called Sacraments” although they are “not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel.” These five are variously as full sacraments by Anglo-Catholics, as “sacramental rites” by Evangelicals, and with a variety of opinions in between among other Anglicans.

Article 25 states that these five “are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.”

According to the Thirty-Nine Articles (Article 25, Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 784), the seven are:

Two “Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel”:

• Baptism;
• The Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper.

Five “commonly called Sacraments … not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel”:

• Confirmation
• Penance (Confession and Absolution)
• Orders
• Matrimony
• Extreme Unction (Anointing of the Holy Spirit)

What are the characteristics of sacraments?

As defined by the 16th century Anglican divine, Richard Hooker, a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

A sacrament, therefore, has the effect of conveying sanctification to the individual taking part in the sacramental action.

Sacraments have both form and matter.

A form is the verbal and physical liturgical action.

The matter includes any material objects used.

These include water and chrism in Baptism, bread and wine in the Eucharist.

Not all the ritual and objects used in sacramental worship can be defined as the form and matter – the necessities are articulated in the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer.

A rite that has the intended sacramental effect is a valid sacrament.

Who is the minister of a sacrament?

Initially, it may appear that many Anglicans hold that only a priest properly ordained by a bishop or a bishop consecrated by other bishops can perform valid sacramental actions.

But Baptism may be performed by a layperson in cases of emergency.

Who ministers Holy Communion?

If there are no recipients, can there be Holy Communion?

Who receives?

Who distributes?

Matrimony may be performed by a deacon. But who are the true ministers at matrimony?

Who may administer Confirmation?

What about the sacraments administered by clergy who are not ordained in the tradition of tactile apostolic succession?

What about the conditional administration of sacraments?

What was the status of Bishop Graham Leonard’s “re-ordination”?

What about Baptism?

Where there is case of uncertainty about whether someone has been baptised at an earlier time, he or she may receive the sacrament conditionally. In principle, no one can be baptised more than once. In a conditional baptism, the minister of the sacrament, rather than saying “I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” says “If you have not already been baptised, I baptise you …” (see Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 368).

Introduction to the sacramental theology of Baptism:

Baptism is the sacrament by which we are initiated into the Christian faith. The sacrament thus has the effect of receiving the individual into the household of God, allowing him or her to receive the grace of the other sacraments.

The matter consists of the water (and chrism, if used) and the form are the words of Baptism, the Trinitarian formula.

The intention of baptism is threefold:

• a renunciation of sin and of all that is opposed to the will of God, articulated in vows;
• a statement of belief in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, articulated in the words of the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed);
• and a commitment to follow Christ as Lord and Saviour, expressed in vows.

The effect of baptism is:

• Adoption as a child of God;
• Incorporation into the Body of Christ;
• the reception of the Holy Spirit.

While infant baptism is the norm throughout the Anglican Communion, services of thanksgiving and dedication of children are sometimes celebrated, especially when Baptism is being deferred.

People baptised in other traditions may be confirmed, but they are not baptised again unless there is doubt about the validity of their original Baptism. Already confirmed Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians are simply received into the Anglican Church.

Introduction to the sacramental theology of The Eucharist:

The Eucharist ... the matter consists of bread and wine, and the form is the Eucharistic Prayer

The Eucharist (Holy Communion, the Mass, or the Lord’s Supper), is the means by which Christ becomes present to the Christian community gathered in his name.

It is the central act of gathered worship, renewing the Body of Christ as the Church through the reception of the Body of Christ in the sacrament, his spiritual body and blood.

The matter consists of bread and wine, and the form is the Eucharistic Prayer.

In this sacrament, Christ is both encountered and incorporated. As such, the Eucharistic action looks backward as a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice, forward as a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, and to the present and the presence of Christ in the lives of the community and of individual believers.

New Testament narratives of the Last Supper:

There are four New Testament accounts or narratives of the Last Supper, and scholars differ over which is the earlier account:

• Matthew 26: 20-29.
• Mark 14: 17-25;
• Luke 22: 14-20;
• I Corinthians 11: 23-26.

[Discussion:]

Note, of course, that we have no institution narrative in Saint John’s Gospel. By now, you have got used to the idea of the two different traditions, the Synoptic and Johannine traditions.

Within these four narratives of the Last Supper, we find not one Synoptic tradition, but two traditions.

1, The first tradition is represented by the more Semitic style presented in the texts from Mark and Matthew, and is thought to stem from Jerusalem.

2, Luke and Paul represent the second tradition, which is a more Hellenistic form that might be traced to Antioch.

When it comes to comparisons, we can see:

1, Matthew and Mark share the opening clause “as they were eating,” the parallel sayings over the bread and the cup, and the use of the verbs “bless” over the bread and “give thanks” over the cup.

2, Matthew, however, inserts the command “eat” over the bread and the command “drink of it all of you” over the cup, which replaced Mark’s observation that “they all drank of it.” Matthew also adds the phrase “for the forgiveness of sins.”

3, In contrast, Paul and Luke do not have the opening phrase “as they were eating.”

4, Instead, Paul and Luke separate the actions over the bread and the cup with the phrase “after the supper.”

5, Paul and Luke both use “give thanks” instead of “bless” over the bread as well as (at least by implication) over the cup.

6, Paul’s and Luke’s sayings over the bread and the cup are asymmetrical (“body/new covenant in my blood”).

7, Paul and Luke are alone in quoting the command to “do this in my remembrance.”

In addition we might note the following characteristics:

8, Luke emphasises the eschatological.

9, The Pauline account, despite many arguments for it being the earliest, is more liturgical.

We should not forget that apart from the Last Supper we can approach many other Gospel stories with a Eucharistic interpretation or insight. These include, for example:

• the many meals Jesus had with his disciples
• the meals he had with Pharisees and tax collectors
• his feeding of the multitude
• his meals with the two disciples he met on the road to Emmaus.

The Adoration of the Lamb on the Throne ... the main panel in the Ghent Altarpiece

There are other New Testament insights that are important when it comes to understanding how the Early Church received and interpreted the Eucharist. Scott Hahn (The Lamb’s Supper) is prominent among a group of scholars who read the Book of Revelation as a key to understanding the mysteries of the Eucharist.

Our liturgy on earth not only anticipates but joins in the heavenly worship before the throne of the Lamb. You may remember the Lectionary reading at Morning Prayer, red by Ian on Tuesday morning (Revelation 11: 14-19): Then the twenty-four elders who sit on the thrones before God fell on their faces and worshipped God, singing: “We give thanks, Lord God Almighty ...” (verses 16-17).

The translations force a particular sacramental and sacredotal interpretation that remain ambiguous in the original Greek (καὶ οἱ εἴκοσι τέσσαρες πρεσβύτεροι [οἱ] ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ καθήμενοι ἐπὶ τοὺς θρόνους αὐτῶν ἔπεσαν ἐπὶ τὰ πρόσωπα αὐτῶν καὶ προσεκύνησαν τῷ θεῷ λέγοντες, Εὐχαριστοῦμέν σοι, κύριε ὁ θεὸς ὁ παντοκράτωρ), where πρεσβύτερος might be translated priest and the thanks-giving as Eucharist.

In addition, we have other accounts of the last Supper in the early writings of the Church. For example, Justin Martyr, in his First Apology, writes:

Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of me, this is my body,” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, he said, “This is my blood,” and gave it to them [the apostles] alone. – Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66.3

Compared to the New Testament accounts, this account by Justin Martyr is very brief indeed.

Apart from its length, we could note also the place of the command to do in remembrance, which comes before the words “this is my body” or “this is my blood.”

The ‘five commonly called Sacraments’:

What about those “five commonly called Sacraments” that are “not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel”?

Confirmation: the word Confirmation is derived from the Latin word confirmare – to strengthen. In this sense, Confirmation involves the reaffirmation of faith through the strengthening and renewal of one’s baptismal vows accomplished through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop.

Historically, Baptism and Confirmation once were a unified rite, with the bishop performing both activities. With the spread of Christianity in Europe during the early Middle Ages, the rites became separated.

In recent centuries, it has been seen as an opportunity for those baptised as infants to make an adult profession of faith, and to reaffirm the vows made on their behalf by witnesses.

Until very recently, it was also a precondition to participation in the Eucharist throughout the Anglican Communion. Some Anglican provinces now view Baptism as sufficient for accessing the grace of all the sacraments, since it is the means of initiation into Christianity and the Church.

Many who have been baptised as adults still present themsevles for Confirmation as a way of completing the ancient rite of initiation, or because they have been received into the Anglican Communion from other denominations.

Penance (Confession and absolution sometimes called the Sacrament of Reconciliation) is the rite or sacrament by which one is restored to God when one’s relationship with God has been broken by sin. The form is the words of absolution, which may be accompanied by the sign of the cross. Confession and absolution is normally done corporately (the congregation invited to confess their sins, a moment of silent prayer while the congregation does so, a spoken general confession, and the words of absolution).

Individuals, however, can and do take part in aural confession, privately meeting a priest to confess sins, during which time the priest can provide both counselling, urge reconciliation with parties that have been sinned against, and suggest certain spiritual disciplines or penance.

There is no approved ceremony for a private confession of sins, the event being provided for in the Anglican tradition only in uncommon instances where an individual cannot quiet his conscience or find consolation in the General Confession that is part of the liturgy.

Anglican clergy do not typically require acts of penance after receiving absolution; but such acts, if done, are intended to be healing and preventative.

The phrase “all may, some should, none must” is often taken as the Anglican attitude towards the sacrament, though there are provinces and parishes where participation in the sacrament is expected for the forgiveness of post-baptismal sin.

The priest is bound by the seal of confession. This binds the priest to never speak of what he or she has heard in the confessional to anyone.

Orders: Ordination is the setting aside of individuals to the specific ministries in the Church of deacon, priest and bishop. The matter and form are the laying on of hands by a bishop and prayers.

From the beginning of the Church, two orders were recognised – those of bishop and of deacon. The bishop is the chief pastor of a diocese. Priests are essentially delegates of the bishop to minister to congregations in which the bishop cannot be physically present.

Deacons have always had the role of being “the church in the world,” ministering to the pastoral needs of the community and assisting the priest in worship – for example, in proclaiming the Gospel and preparing the altar.

Who may the recipient of the sacramental rite of ordination?

[Discussion:]

Matrimony: Matrimony is the blessing of a union between a man and woman, acknowledging the presence and grace of God in the life of the couple. The form is manifested as the vows, and not, as popular belief sometimes has it, in the blessing and exchanging of rings, which is customary but not necessary for the rite of matrimony to be valid.

In marriage, the husband and wife seek God’s blessing, and through the mediation of the priest, the prayer is answered. Although the couple are thus generally regarded as the ministers of the sacrament through their voluntary exchange of vows, the sacrament must be celebrated under the presidency of a bishop, priest or deacon who witnesses and mediates the prayers.

Matrimony was the last sacrament added to the sacramental tradition of the church. This arose because of civil necessity in the Middle Ages in order to regularise intimate relationships and legitimise children.

In the Church of Ireland and many other parts of the Anglican Communion, provision is made for the blessing of civil marriages, on the understanding that a couple cannot be married twice.

Although some Anglican provinces allow divorced people to marry, some do not or require the permission of the bishop of the diocese.

Who can be married?

If matrimony is not a sacrament, what are we disagreeing about?

[Discussion:]

Extreme Unction (the Anointing of the Sick) is an act of healing through prayer and sacrament, conveyed on both the sick and the dying. The matter consists of the laying on of hands and/or anointing with oil; while the form consists of prayers. In this sacrament, the priest acts as a mediator of Christ’s grace, and will frequently administer the consecrated bread (and sometimes wine) as a part of the sacramental action.

Next:

5.2:
Traditions of prayer (3): seminar, patterns of prayer today (including all-age worship, participation of children in worship, worship and youth).

Next week:

6.1:
Baptism and Eucharist (1) from the early Church to the Reformers.

6.2: The Ministry of the Word: workshop on integrating homiletics and liturgy, reflections and experience.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 28 October 2010 was part of the Module EM8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality on the MTh course.

Simon the misfit and Jude the obscure

Saint Simon and Saint Jude in a two-light window in The Parish Church of Saint Teilo’s, Bishopston, Gower, near Swansea in South Wales

Patrick Comerford

Saint Simon and Saint Jude: 28 October 2010:

Isaiah 28: 14-16; Psalm 119: 89-96; Ephesians 2: 19-22; John 15: 17-27.

Collect:


Almighty God, who built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone: So join us together in unity of spirit by their doctrine that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

May I speak to you in the name of God + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.


This morning we celebrate Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles.

In Dublin today, if you asked who Simon is, you might be told he cares for the homeless and the misfits.

If you asked who Jude is, you might be told he is “Obscure” – or the Patron of Lost Causes.

They are little known as apostles, without fame.

In an age obsessed with reality television, X-Factor and celebrities who are celebrities – just because they are – Simon and Jude appear like a pair of misfits: we know little about their lives or how they lived them, they are hardly famous among the disciples, and certainly are not celebrity apostles.

I think most men here remember schoolyard or street games of football, where we lined up in rows, waiting to be picked, as others were called forward by name, one-by-one, before us. Do you remember that feeling of hoping you wouldn’t be the last one picked, hoping that you would be called, that someone would remember your name?

Simon and Jude are way down the list of the Twelve Apostles, and their names are often confused or forgotten. In the New Testament lists of the Twelve (Matthew 10: 2-4; Mark 3: 16-19; Luke 6: 14-16; Acts 1: 13), they come in near the end, in tenth and eleventh places. Well, with Judas in twelfth place, they just about make it onto the first eleven.

The ninth name on the lists is James, the James who was remembered last Saturday. Judas or Jude is often referred to as “the brother of James” and this in turn leads to him being identified with the “brothers of the Lord.” So, on this day, we celebrate Simon the Zealot, one of the original Twelve; and Jude or Judas of James, also one of the Twelve and author of the Epistle of Jude.

But we’re not too clear about their names. Simon is not mentioned by name in the New Testament except on these lists – after all, there is a better-known Simon than this Simon: there is Simon Peter. And there is a Judas who is worse than this Jude: Jude is so close to Judas – their names are the same (Ιούδας) – is it any wonder that he became known as the patron saint of lost causes? Trying to remember him might have been a lost cause.

And the confusion about their names continues: is Simon the Zealot (Luke 6: 15, Acts 1: 13) really a Cananean (Matthew 10: 4, Mark 3: 18), a zealot, a rebel? Or is there a ring of teasing, of irony, in this name? Was he someone who was so laid-back or relaxed that he was easily left at the bottom of the list? And Jude truly is Jude the Obscure: why is Jude not remembered as Judas or Judah? And is he the same person as Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus (see Matthew 10: 3, Mark 3: 18)?

After the Last Supper, Jude asked Christ why he chose to reveal himself only to the disciples, and received the reply: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14: 22-23).

In his brief Epistle, Jude says he planned to write a different letter, but then heard of the misleading views of some false teachers. He makes a passionate plea to his readers to preserve the purity of the Christian faith and their good reputation.

The Epistle includes a memorable exhortation to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3), and ends with that wonderful closing: “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

But after that, surprisingly, we know very little about the later apostolic mission of Simon and Jude, where they were missionaries or whether they were martyred.

In truth, we know very little about these two saints, bundled together at the end of a list, like two hopeless causes. There was no danger of them being servants who might want to be greater than their master (John 15: 20). All we can presume is that they laboured on, perhaps anonymously, in building up the Apostolic Church.

But then the Church does not celebrate celebrities who are famous and public; we honour the saints who labour and whose labours are often hidden.

In our Gospel reading, the Apostles are warned about suffering the hatred of “the world.” Later as the Gospel was spread around the Mediterranean, isolated Christians may not have realised how quickly the Church was growing; in their persecutions and martyrdom, they may have felt forlorn and that Christianity was in danger of being a lost cause.

But in our Gospel reading, Christ encourages a beleaguered Church to see its afflictions and wounds as his own.

No matter how much we suffer in our ministry and mission, no matter how others may forget us, no matter how obscure we become, no matter how many people forget our names, no matter how often our labouring in the Gospel appear to others to be a lost cause, we can be assured that we are no longer strangers and aliens, that we are citizens with the saints, that we are building up the household of God upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the cornerstone, and that we are being built together spiritually into the dwelling place of God (Ephesians 2: 19-22).

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord God, the source of truth and love: Keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, united in prayer and the breaking of the bread, and one in joy and simplicity of heart, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the Eucharist on the Feast Day of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, 28 October 2010.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The multiplication of God’s abundant love

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector ... a window in Saint Mary’s Church, Banbury

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

Wednesday 27 October 2010:

5 p.m., Community Eucharist

Readings for the Fifth Sunday before Advent (Joel 2: 23-32; Psalm 65; II Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18; Luke 18: 9-14).


May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

There are so many parables and stories in Saint Luke’s Gospel that it often becomes difficult to find original thoughts and ideas, new perspectives on them when it comes to preaching on them on a regular weekly basis.

This is particularly true when it comes to the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-37), the Good Shepherd (Luke 15: 3-7), the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31), and, of course, the story of the Pharisee and the Publican, or the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18: 9-14).

It is even more difficult when you are standing before members of your own tutorial group, who have already torn this story apart in a Bible study only a week or two ago.

And so there were a number of easy options this evening.

1, I could have gone instead to our Old Testament reading, and talked about how in your ministry and mission you will need constantly to “dream dreams” and “see visions” and to encourage others to do so too (Joel 2: 28).

2, I could have gone to the Epistle reading, and urged us all on in our ministry and mission, to continue fighting the good fight, never to give up until we had finished the race, to keep the faith and to look forward to the crown of righteousness (II Timothy 7-8).

3, I could have been very forthright about tax collectors and the sneering attitude of those who are supposed to provide leadership in our society.

4, We have all been taught to make connections with society around us and what’s happening in people’s lives. So it might have been inappropriate here to stoop to jokes about how people in Ireland can tell the difference between publicans and tax collectors … how publicans, who were once liberal about cashing cheques, are being squeezed out of business; while tax collectors are squeezing everyone out of business because of those who were too liberal writing themselves cheques with our money.

5,There was a fifth option – to go to the readings for Bible Sunday, which were an alternative for Sunday last. But I know no-one here needs to be reminded of the centrality and importance of the Bible in the life of the Church.

And so I returned to this Gospel story, which may have been rehashed for you in many ways last Sunday, but still has so many strong images and so many built-in stories to explore.

We are constantly talking here about the need to make connections, to integrate each strand of our learning, and also to make connections with what goes before and what comes after. And there is an important connection to be made – most appropriately half-way through the week – between last Sunday’s Gospel reading and next Sunday’s Gospel reading.

Our reading this evening is sent within the context of Christ about to make his journey up to Jerusalem for the climax of Saint Luke’s Gospel, which is the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. He has already eaten with a Pharisee (Luke 14), the tax collectors and the sinners have been attracted to hear what he has to say (Luke 15), and now Christ is about to take the Twelve with him and is going up to Jerusalem (Luke 18: 31).

But before he calls the disciples aside and tells them where they are going, Christ tells this story of the Pharisee and the Publican, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector go up to the Temple to pray. That movement alone indicates they are probably not normal residents of Jerusalem. In a way, they are going up there before Christ. But they are provincial figures: the Pharisee may be a local religious leader, a rabbi in a provincial synagogue; the tax collector may be the richest man in his town, given the predilection of tax collectors at the time to make a nifty commission by squeezing as much as they can out of reluctant tax payers.

So they are the two leading figures among the sort of people who hear Jesus telling this story … one the local religious leader, the other the local get-rich-quick man.

Neither would have been expected to pray in the Temple on a regular basis. They might have gone there occasionally, but only occasionally, on High Holy Days, like Passover and Pentecost. But we know this is not a High Holy Day because they are there on their own, praying as two lonely figures, within earshot of each other.

Neither would have felt welcome in the Temple in those days. The Temple priests were, by-and-large, Sadducees with little time for Pharisees. And, anyway, the regular place of prayer for a Pharisee, week-by-week, was at home on Sabbath eve, or in the Synagogue. As for the tax collector, no-one would have expected him to go to the Temple, on High Holy Days or any other days.

Jesus has already dined with Pharisees. So, stretch your imagination, and imagine that the Pharisee is that same Simon who begrudges Christ’s anointing by a woman, an anointing that prefigures the women coming to anoint him in the tomb. And the Tax Collector is the same tax collector Jesus wants to dine with in next Sunday’s reading, Zacchaeus of Jericho. What a turning of the tables that would be!

The Pharisee, praying in the Temple, presents himself before God as upright and righteous. The Tax Collector, on the other hand, lays himself bare before God.

The Tax Collector reminds me of the small boy is always afraid that his father is only going to see his faults and is worried that every time he sees his father he is going to upbraided or reprimanded.

The Pharisee reminds me of the small boy who is always striving for stars on his copy books, prizes for his essays, medals for sports, not for himself but for approval from his father, but knows in his heart that when he comes him he will be ignored, that he will not get the attention he craves and desires.

How many people do we know who find it difficult to talk to about God’s love being like a father’s love for his children, either because their experiences of their fathers was difficult or as children they felt unacknowledged or unloved?

Both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector might have learned that God’s love is not earned by what we do or denied to us because of what we fail to do. God’s love is not dependent on our actions; it’s not a tap we can turn on or turn off.

There is a popular myth that the love of God is in scarce supply. The truth is there is no scarcity. God’s love flows in over-abundance. And we celebrate and rejoice in the over-flowing abundance of God’s love particularly when we celebrate the Eucharist.

Although this parable is normally heard as a story about prayer, it is also a story about how we love and how we love others.

On the surface of it, the Pharisee is a deeply religious man. But he prays for no-one – not for God, not himself, not for others. Where is his love?

Those who first heard this story would not expect the Tax Collector to be a religious figure. Yet, he at least prays for himself. His cry is the cry of the blind man at the gate of Jericho, the cry of the Penitent Thief on the Cross, the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the Sinner.”

And if I crave God’s mercy and love for myself, rather than presenting myself to God as smug and satisfied, then I may, I just may, begin to understand the needs of others too.

If I am aware of my own need for God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s light, then I might just understand, be sympathetic to, minister to the needs of others for God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s light.

The tax collector in next Sunday’s Gospel reading feels the strength and the warmth and the embrace of that love. It is so empowering that he is willing to take up the cross, figuratively represented by the tree that Zacchaeus climbs.

He experiences the mercy of God so generously that he pours out mercy in such multiplied abundance that it is four times as generous as it ought to be.

He is bathed in Christ’s light so much so that he is more than eager to dine with him.

Both Pharisees and Tax Collectors are welcome at this Eucharist ... for, if the truth were known, we are all like the tax collector and we are all like the Pharisee, in our own different ways.

• God loves us as a true Father loves, not because of anything we do to please him, or any demands for his attention.

• God loves us as a true Son loves, eager to have that love returned.

• God loves us as Holy Spirit, delighting in the ways we find to share that Divine love with others, with humanity.

When we dine with Christ this evening in the Eucharist, let us not come before him thinking we have earned his mercy or love or approval ... they’re there for the taking.

Let’s not think that we have to prove ourselves as worthy ... God’s worthiness is good enough for me.

Let’s be so eager to dine with him at his table, that we want to share this in multiplied abundance, that we want to invite others – that we want to invite the whole of humanity – to the Heavenly Banquet.

And so, may all we think say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Community Eucharist in the Institute Chapel on Wednesday 27 October 2010.

Seven brothers, a bride, and questions about eternal life

Seven brothers … tables outside the Seven Brothers Taverna in the old Venetian harbour in Rethymnon

Patrick Comerford

Luke 20: 27-38


27 Προσελθόντες δέ τινες τῶν Σαδδουκαίων, οἱ [ἀντι] λέγοντες ἀνάστασιν μὴ εἶναι, ἐπηρώτησαν αὐτὸν 28 λέγοντες, Διδάσκαλε, Μωϋσῆς ἔγραψεν ἡμῖν, ἐάν τινος ἀδελφὸς ἀποθάνῃ ἔχων γυναῖκα, καὶ οὗτος ἄτεκνος ᾖ, ἵνα λάβῃ ὁ ἀδελφὸς αὐτοῦ τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ ἐξαναστήσῃ σπέρμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ. 29 ἑπτὰ οὖν ἀδελφοὶ ἦσαν: καὶ ὁ πρῶτος λαβὼν γυναῖκα ἀπέθανεν ἄτεκνος: 30 καὶ ὁ δεύτερος 31 καὶ ὁ τρίτος ἔλαβεν αὐτήν, ὡσαύτως δὲ καὶ οἱ ἑπτὰ οὐ κατέλιπον τέκνα καὶ ἀπέθανον. 32 ὕστερον καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἀπέθανεν. 33 ἡ γυνὴ οὖν ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει τίνος αὐτῶν γίνεται γυνή; οἱ γὰρ ἑπτὰ ἔσχον αὐτὴν γυναῖκα.

34 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου γαμοῦσιν καὶ γαμίσκονται, 35 οἱ δὲ καταξιωθέντες τοῦ αἰῶνος ἐκείνου τυχεῖν καὶ τῆς ἀναστάσεως τῆς ἐκ νεκρῶν οὔτε γαμοῦσιν οὔτε γαμίζονται: 36 οὐδὲ γὰρ ἀποθανεῖν ἔτι δύνανται, ἰσάγγελοι γάρ εἰσιν, καὶ υἱοί εἰσιν θεοῦ, τῆς ἀναστάσεως υἱοὶ ὄντες. 37 ὅτι δὲ ἐγείρονται οἱ νεκροὶ καὶ Μωϋσῆς ἐμήνυσεν ἐπὶ τῆς βάτου, ὡς λέγει κύριον τὸν θεὸν Ἀβραὰμ καὶ θεὸν Ἰσαὰκ καὶ θεὸν Ἰακώβ: 38 θεὸς δὲ οὐκ ἔστιν νεκρῶν ἀλλὰ ζώντων, πάντες γὰρ αὐτῷ ζῶσιν.

27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 and asked him a question, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.’

34 Jesus said to them, ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37 And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’

Introduction:

This is the Gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary for the Sunday after next, the Third Sunday before Advent (Sunday 7 November). There is an old Hollywood musical, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, starring Jane Powell and Howard Keel; there are any superstitions about the seventh son of a seventh son; I even know a restaurant in the old harbour in Rethymnon in Crete called “The Seven Brothers.”

But this reading about seven brothers and one bride is primarily a story about questions about the resurrection (for parallel readings see also Matthew 22: 23-33; Mark 12: 18-27). How does this relate to the approaching Advent theme?

Contexts:

1,
Where do the events in this Gospel reading take place?

Last week, we were in Jericho, where Jesus dined with Zacchaeus. I spoke of the pace of Luke’s narrative was now being geared up, for Jesus is on his way from Jericho to Jerusalem. We are being built up to anticipate the climax of the Gospel.

By this week, we are in Jerusalem. The closing verses of the chapter before this reading, which have been skipped over in the allocation of lectionary readings, tell us that by now Jesus is teaching in the Temple every day (Luke 19: 47), and that the religious and secular authorities – the chief priests, the scribes and the leaders of the people – “kept looking for a way to kill him, but they did not find anything they could do ...” (Luke 19: 47-48).

2, Could you make connections with the widow who plays a prominent part at the beginning of the next chapter (Luke 21: 1-7)? Does it matter to this widow or to Christ who she was married to? Are those who are widowed easy prey? Surely this is not how they are to be seen in the Kingdom of God?

Looking at the reading:

Verse 27:
The chief priests and the Temple leadership were mainly Sadducees, who regarded only the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, as authoritative Scripture. Not finding any mention of life after death in these books, they rejected its existence. The apostles had a similar encounter with the Sadducees when they were preaching the Resurrection (see also Acts 4: 1-4), as did the Apostle Paul when he faced the council (see 23: 6-10).

Verses 28-33: The Sadducees, in an effort to trap Jesus into speaking against the Law, ask him a question about levirate marriage. This is not about the marriage of Levites, but comes from the Latin word levir, meaning a brother-in-law. There was a sense in which a man was seen to live on in his son. So, if a man died without sons and heirs, his brother was required to marry his widow and give her a son, thus continuing the family line (See Deuteronomy 25: 5-10; see also Genesis 38: 8).

Verses 34-36: Luke makes the same point as Matthew and Mark, but in somewhat different language: human relations in the home do not exist in the same way beyond death. Jesus distinguishes two ages and kinds of existence. Mortals are part of this age by the fact of physical birth, and of the age to come by resurrection verse 36; Romans 1: 4).

Verse 34: “This age” (verse 34) is the current era; “that age” (verses 35-36) is the era to come, when Christ returns. In God’s kingdom, marriage will no longer exist. Those who are admitted into eternal life for their faith (“considered worthy of a place...,” verse 35) will all be “children of God” (verse 36). This will be their family relationship. They will be immortal (“cannot die anymore”) and will be like “angels,” who, in the time of Jesus, were considered to be sexless.

Verses 37-38: Jesus argues for life after death, and for the resurrection, from the Pentateuch, the very five books to which the Sadducees limited their understanding of what is Scripture. In the story of the Burning Bush, God tells Moses: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham ...” (see Exodus 3: 6). Because God says is (not was), Abraham is alive now. He died, so he must have been brought back to life, resurrected. God is truly “God ... of the living” (verse 38). God is not frustrated by physical death (verse 38).

Making connections:

1,
How would you make connections with the other readings for this Sunday:

Haggai 1: 15b to 2: 9 – this too is a pre-Advent reading, with the promise of God’s future plans for heaven and earth being fulfilled. However, those who are using the paired readings will find the Old Testament reading (Job 19: 23-27a) makes more obvious connections with the Gospel reading: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth” (verse25).

Psalm 145: 1-5, 18-22 – which can help to make good connections with the Old Testament reading;

II Thessalonians 2: 1-5, 13-17 – talks about eternal comfort and good hope (verse 17).

2, What happens afterwards?

Verse 39: Some scribes, who are believers in resurrection, are pleased with Jesus’ argument. Verse 40 says that the Sadducees “no longer dared to ask him [Jesus] another question.” Jesus has evaded the trap that was set for him. What does this say about how we should deal with those who question and challenge the Christian faith?

3, The Gospel reading for the following Sunday (the Second Sunday before Advent, 14 November) is Luke 21: 5-19. Pointing out that the reading we have been looking at is located in the Temple may prepare people for the next Sunday’s reading.

4, Can you think of other Gospel parallels? How about the story of the Samaritan woman at the well? How does this reading compare with those stories in which Jesus uses the wedding banquet as an illustration of the Kingdom of God?

Some pastoral questions:

1,
Death and November: How would you approach this reading in the context of November, which is often associated with remembering the dead, including All Saints’ Day (1 November), All Souls’ Day (2 November) and Remembrance Day (11 November)?

2, What response to this reading might you expect from people in your parish who are widowed, or in difficult or broken marriages, or people who have never married? How would that shape and influence any sermon you write?

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on 27 October 2010.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Back to school, and a beach-side lunch in Bettystown

The Cooley and the Mournes, like blue mountains in a Paul Henry painting, seen from the beach at Bettystown, below the Relish Café, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

After some rain, today [Monday] turned out to be a bright, sunny autumn day, even though we are now into the last week of October. This is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland – known as Michael O’Leary’s holiday, even though it is about far away from May Day, and turns out this year to be a full week away from Halloween. As it was a public holiday, I ought not to have been working at home this morning. And so, after a few hours, I put away those books, closed down my laptop, and headed out for a walk on the beach.

Initially, two of us thought we would head to Skerries for a walk on the beaches there. But on the way I thought it would be a good time to take a look at my old school – after all, a holiday weekend would mean the place would be quiet, with few people around.

I lost my way off the M1 and almost ended up in the army camp ... well, the road layout has been radically altered, and both ‘The Cock,’ which claimed to be the oldest pub in Ireland, and the Gormanston Arms, which was completely off bounds in my days, have changed their names, and even though I was back there last year I was still a little confused.

Back to school ... outside Gormanston Castle on a bright autumn afternoon

Eventually I found my way back, and was soon in the grounds of Gormanston College, where I was part of the year of 1969 ... and my eldest brother did the Leaving Certificate in 1964. Little has changed visibly, and I have happy memories of my school days there ... but I can’t imagine any of my teachers are still on the staff or that anyone there would remember me.

Gormanston Castle was built in 1786 by the Preston family, who held the title of Viscount Gormanston. The school buildings date mainly from the late 1950s and early 1960s, although the large outdoor bell in one of the quads is a reminder that the school has a tradition going back to the late 19th century when it was first established at Multyfarnham in Co Westmeath.

The design of the chapel in Gormanston was influenced by the newly-built Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The design of the school chapel was influenced by Coventry Cathedral which had been built just a few years earlier. After visiting the chapel, we strolled around the castle, and around the grounds, which straddle the borders of Co Meath and Co Dublin. The grounds include a river, a mature wood, a nine-hole golf course, trees, woods, and several playing fields, in two different locations but contiguous with the college.

The Yew Walks in Gormanston were planted by the Preston family hundreds of years ago (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

After walking around the castle, we walked down the yew walk, a foliage enclosed triangular area that was planted hundreds of years ago by the Preston family. The yew walk leads down to the graveyard, where several of the priests and some students are buried, including one boy who died at the age of 15 during my final year at school.

We walked back up past the golf course, around the front of the castle, down by a softly babbling brook and back to the chapel, where the car was parked in front of the swimming pool.

I wonder do they still show films in the theatre on Sunday nights? Do boarders still skip into Drogheda or Skerries? Do they still have debates with the same intensity and passion as when I was on the school debating team? Do they still play cricket on the beach on summer days?

The autumn sunshine was still holding, and the skies were still blue. There was still time for a walk on the beach. But instead of heading back to Skerries, we drove on to Julianstown, turned off to Laytown, and stopped in Bettystown.

The last time I was in Bettystown I complained that there were plenty of Chinese takeaways and chip shops, but that it was difficult to find a decent place to eat. But a little searching paid off wonderfully this afternoon.

Paintings on the wall in the Relish Café in Bettystown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Relish Café in Bettystown Village is set in a terrace of single story houses south of the Neptune Hotel looking out onto the beach. The courtyard is painted white and blue, giving the place a warm Mediterranean feeling. Inside the walls are filled with paintings, many of them of the summer races on the beach at Laytown and Bettystown.

The menu was exciting and attractive. I had goat’s cheese with a light pesto dressing on grilled Mediterranean vegetables in a filo basket and accompanied by couscous and garlic ciabtta; my friend had mixed bruschetta, with tomatoes, sweet onions and sun-dried tomatoes. We sat at a window looking onto the courtyard, but how I would like to return for dinner here in the evening, at one of the windows looking out over the beach and out to the sea.

From Relish, we strolled down onto the beach. The tide was out, and the sand stretched to breath-taking lengths. To the north, the Cooleys and the Mournes stood out in a blue silhouette, like mountains in a Paul Henry painting.

A brisk walk along the beach brought back happy memories of summer holidays here in the 1960s. We then headed north to Mornington at the mouth of the Boyne to see the the Maiden Tower and the Lady’s Finger, two unusual structures that were probably built as navigational aids for ships entering the River Boyne. The tower was already standing in 1582, when it was proposed to build a similar tower at Ringsend, a tower “of such height and strength as shalbe of a perpetual contynuance licke the towre at Drogheda.”

We headed on along the banks of the Boyne, past Drogheda Grammar School into Drogheda. As we drove along the Marsh Road, a train was heading south along the railway viaduct over the Boyne.

From the centre of Drogheda, we headed back through Julianstown and Gormanston, on through Balbriggan and Balrothery onto the M50. It was almost dark, and this unusual bank holiday had come to a beautiful end.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Challenging the myth of the scarcity of God’s love

A modern icon of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Patrick Comerford

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Sunday 24 October 2010, the Fifth Sunday before Advent

11 a.m., The Cathedral Eucharist

Joel 2: 23-32;
Psalm 65;
II Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18;
Luke 18: 9-14.


May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

There are so many parables and stories in Saint Luke’s Gospel that it often becomes difficult for a preacher who is called on a Saturday night to stand in on a Sunday morning to find original thoughts and ideas, to share new perspectives.

This is particularly true when it comes to parables such as the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 30-37), the Good Shepherd (Luke 15: 3-7), the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31), and, of course, this morning’s Gospel reading: the story of the Pharisee and the Publican, or the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18: 9-14).

And so there was at least one easy option this morning.

I could have looked for cheap attention by drawing on the fears we all share in this country for the deep spending cuts and higher taxes we expect in the Budget in December.

I could have joked about how we are all going to see tax collectors in a few weeks’ time, and talked about the sneering attitude many now have about those who are supposed to provide leadership in our society but who are dismissed collectively and colloquially as “Pharisees.”

I could have decided to stoop to jokes about how people in Ireland can tell the difference between publicans and tax collectors … how publicans, who were once liberal about cashing cheques, are being squeezed out of business; while tax collectors are squeezing everyone out of business today because of those who were once too liberal with writing cheques for themselves with our money.

In the past, this Gospel story has been rehashed time and again in ways that have become hackneyed, always using it as a lesson about either hypocrisy or the need for sincerity in prayer.

But Sunday preachers too often fail to make connections on Sundays with what goes before and what comes after a Gospel reading.

Our reading this morning is sent within the context of Christ about to make his journey up to Jerusalem for the climax of Saint Luke’s Gospel, which is the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. In the chapters immediately before this reading, we have come by Jesus having a meal with a Pharisee (Luke 14), in places where the tax collectors and the sinners gather to hear what he has to say (Luke 15), and now he is about to take the Twelve with him on his final journey up to Jerusalem (Luke 18: 31).

But before he calls the disciples aside and tells them where they are going, Jesus tells this story of the Pharisee and the Publican, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

There are a number of normally unnoticed details about this story. The Pharisee and the Tax Collector go up to the Temple to pray. That movement up to Jerusalem indicates that these two men are not normal residents of Jerusalem. In a way, they are going there before Jesus. But they are provincial figures. The Pharisee may be a local religious leader, a rabbi in a provincial synagogue. The tax collector may be the richest man in his town, given the predilection of tax collectors at the time to make a nifty commission by squeezing as much as they can out of reluctant tax payers.

So they are the two leading figures among the sort of people who hear Jesus telling this story … one the local religious leader, the other the local get-rich-quick man.

Neither would have been expected to pray in the Temple on a regular basis. They might have gone to the Temple occasionally, but only occasionally, on High Holy Days, like Passover and Pentecost. But this is not a High Holy Day because they are there on their own.

Neither would have felt welcome in the Temple.

The Temple priests at the time were, by-and-large, Sadducees who had little time for Pharisees. And, anyway, the regular place of prayer for a Pharisee was at home on a Sabbath eve, or in the Synagogue.

As for the tax collector, no-one would have expected him to go to the Temple, on High Holy Days or on any other days.

So why does Jesus take these two unlikely lads as people who might be found, however unexpectedly, praying in the Temple?

Jesus has already dined with Pharisees. So, stretch your imagination, and imagine that the Tax Collector Jesus dines with in next Sunday’s reading, Zacchaeus of Jericho, is the Tax Collector who has prayed in the Temple on the same day as the Pharisee. What a turning of the tables that would be!

The Tax Collector praying in the Temple lays himself bare before God; the Pharisee presents himself to God as upright and righteous.

The Tax Collector reminds me of the small boy who is always afraid that his father is only going to see his faults and is worried that every time he sees his father he is going to upbraided or reprimanded.

On the other hand, the Pharisee reminds me of the small boy who is always striving for stars on his copy books, prizes for his essays, medals for sports, not for his own satisfaction but for approval from his father. Yet that same boy is the boy who knows in his heart that when he comes home from school he will be ignored by his father, that he will not get the attention he craves and desires.

How many people do we know who find it difficult to talk about God’s love being like a father’s love for his children, either because their experiences of their fathers was a difficult part of their childhood, or because as children they felt unacknowledged or unloved?

Both the Pharisee and the Tax Collector might have learned that God’s love is not earned by us because of what we do or denied to us because of what we don’t do. God’s love is not dependent on our actions; it’s not a tap we can learn to turn on or turn off.

There is a popular myth that the love of God is in scarce supply. And we perpetuate that myth by demanding that people behave like us, whether that is behaviour according to our individual interpretation of Christian beliefs or our individual interpretation of Christian standards of behaviour.

The truth is there is no scarcity. God’s love flows in over-abundance. And we celebrate and rejoice in the over-flowing abundance of God’s love particularly when we celebrate the Eucharist.

Yet so often our prayer is about trying to turn on the tap of God’s love, or trying to turn off a tap that we worry may wash away God’s love, rather than simply bathing in the presence of God, the light of God, the love of God.

Despite how it’s normally heard, this story is not about prayer, but about how we love and how we love others.

On the surface of it, the Pharisee is a deeply religious man. But he prays for no-one, not for God, not himself, not for others.

On the other hand, the Tax Collector prays for himself. His cry is the cry of the blind man at the gate of Jericho, the cry of the Penitent Thief on the Cross, the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the Sinner.”

And if I crave God’s mercy and love for myself, rather than presenting myself to God as smug and satisfied, then I may, I just may, begin to understand the needs of others too, the availability and abundance of God’s love and mercy for them too.

If I am aware of my own need for God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s light, then I might just understand, be sympathetic to, try to empathise with the needs of others for God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s light.

The tax collector in next Sunday’s Gospel reading feels the strength and the warmth and the abundance of that love. It is so empowering that he is willing to take up the cross, figuratively represented by the tree Zacchaeus climbs. He experiences the mercy of God so abundantly that he pours out mercy in multiplied abundance, mercy that is four times as generous as it ought to be. He is bathed in Christ’s light so much so that he is more than eager to dine with him.

Both Pharisees and Tax Collectors are welcome in this cathedral and at this Eucharist ... for, if the truth were known, we are all like the tax collector and we are all like the Pharisee, in our own different ways.

• God loves us as a true Father, not because of anything we do to please him, or any demands for his attention.

• God loves as a true Son, eager to have that love returned.

• God loves us as Holy Spirit, delighting in the ways we find to share that Divine love with others, with humanity.

When we dine with Christ this morning in the Eucharist, let us not come before him thinking we have earned his mercy or love or approval ... they’re there for the taking.

Let’s not think that we have to prove ourselves as worthy ... God’s worthiness is good enough for me.

Let’s be so eager to dine with him at his table, that we want to share this in multiplied abundance, that we want to invite others, that we want to invite the whole of humanity to the Heavenly Banquet.

And so, may all we think say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday 24 October 2010.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Three more Pugin gems in Co Wexford

The Church of the Assumption, Bree (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

I spent most of the day searching out three Pugin churches in Co Wexford yesterday [Friday 22 October 2010] ... three churches I had never visited before, but three churches that are pivotal to understanding the development of the Gothic Revival in Church architecture in Victorian Ireland: the Church of the Assumption in Bree, Saint Alphonsus in Barntown, and Saint Mary’s in Tagoat.

The Church of the Assumption, Bree (1837-1840)

I arrived in Bree, south of Enniscorthy, at lunchtime, just as a funeral was ending. Had I arrived any earlier, I could not have intruded and taken photographs of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Church of the Assumption, which is probably the earliest Pugin church in Ireland.

The church was built Canon Philip Devereux, thanks to the generosity of the Talbot and Power families, on land given by Colonel Henry Alcock of nearby Wilton Castle 1837. John Hyacinth Talbot “procured” the plans from Pugin, and – if we date the church to the laying of the foundation stone in 1837 – then this is the first of Pugin’s Irish churches, although he never actually acknowledged the church as his own.

The plan for the church in Bree basically follows the same plan as Pugin’s design for the chapel of Saint Peter’s College, Wexford, and the design used for the Church of Saint James in Ramsgrange. As an early Pugin church, Bree is a simple Gothic-style building with a long, five-bay nave, with a distinct five-sided apse, both under separate roofs. The apse is decorated in mosaic by an unknown artist who is thought to have been Italian. The three stained glass windows in the apse depict the Assumption in the centre window, with Saint Aidan of Ferns on the left and Saint John the Baptist on the right.

The simple wall post and exposed truss roof was characteristic of Pugin, and this very early example of open roof timbering was once one of the main features of the building. However, it is now covered and no longer visible, and the church was changed drastically during renovations carried out in the latter part of the last century.

Still, the church in Bree remains an interesting part of Wexford’s Pugin heritage, and an important church in the light of the other churches in Ireland he designed in the following years.

Saint Alphonsus’s Church, Barntown (1844-1851)

Saint Alphonsus’s Church, Barntown, Co Wexford, is Pugin’s only complete expression in Ireland of the small village parish church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

From Bree, I headed down the west bank of the Slaney, through Killurin, to the Wexford bypass at Ferrycarrig and on to Barntown, where Saint Alphonsus’s Church was planned by Pugin as a complete Catholic parish church.

This church is Pugin’s only complete expression in Ireland of the small village parish church. Although O’Leary suggests the church is a finer version of the simplest of all Pugin’s designs, Saint Augustine’s in Solihull, it was obvious from the outside that Pugin’s design for Barntown is based on Saint Michael’s, one of two mediaeval parish churches in the village of Longstanton, 10 km north-west of Cambridge ... a church I managed to visit and photograph earlier this summer.

Saint Michael’s ... a rare example of an English church with a thatched roof ... is said to have inspired Pugin’s design of a parish church in Barntown, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The mediaeval church at Longstanton, which was built ca 1230, was one of the “model” churches published by the Ecclesiologist, and it was also used by Pugin as a model for Saint Andrew’s, the small Catholic church he built in 1842-1843 in Cambridge, shortly before his church in Barntown was built.

The foundation stone of the parish church in Barntown was laid in July 1844 and it was blessed by Bishop James Keating the following September. The church was built between 1844 and 1848, and the first Mass here was celebrated in 1848. The church is dedicated to Saint Alphonsus Ligouri and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

From the outside, this Gothic-style church is a simple aisled church with a western double bellcote, south porch and sacristy at the east end of the north side. However, there was a wedding in the church as I arrived. Unlike Bree, I was unable to take photographs of the interior ... but only for the moment.

Saint Mary’s Church, Tagoat (1843 to 1846)

Saint Mary’s Church, Tagoat, is the last of Pugin’s churches in Co Wexford and many regard it as his most important parish church in Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

From Barntown, I bypassed Wexford Town, and headed out on the Rosslare road to tiny Tagoat, where Saint Mary’s Church is the last of Pugin’s churches in Co Wexford. Many regard Saint Mary’s as the most important of Pugin’s parish churches in Ireland, and it has been has been described as “an example of Pugin’s best work on a small church.”

Pugin’s great Irish patron, John Hyacinth Talbot, inherited Ballytrent House, the ancestral home of the Redmond banking family, when he married Ann Eliza Redmond, a 19-year-old heiress, on the day of her father’s death, 10 May 1822. Eliza died four years later in 1826, and in 1843 Talbot commissioned Pugin to design Saint Mary’s Church in Tagoat as both his parish church and as a memorial to his late wife.

Local tradition says work began on the church around 1839, but a more likely starting date may be between 1843 and 1845, although trying to date this church remains a problem. Pugin visited the site on 24 May 1845, the church opened in 1846, and the first Mass celebrated in the new church was the Funeral Mass for Canon Rowe, who died on 18 June 1846.

Saint Mary’s is a large, cruciform-plan, lancet-style Gothic church, and its large scale is more typical of those built by Pugin’s Irish followers, such as Pierce, McCarthy, Ashlin and Coleman. The church has excellent proportions, fine clear lines and careful details. Additions were later made at the north-east corner, and until recently, the exterior stonework was plastered over ... although this has been removed thankfully.

Inside the church, the nave is separated from the aisles by colonnades of Gothic arches supported on massive granite pillars. The nave and aisles join a transept with three arches opening into the sanctuary and two side chapels. This layout follows the traditional T-plan associated with earlier, traditional churches in rural and provincial Ireland.

The transepts are lit by three tall lancet windows, and long lancet windows light the side walls, with smaller windows in the clerestory. This dramatic and confident handling of light is typical of Pugin’s hand. On one side, the windows depict Saint Aidan of Ferns, Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and Saint Lawrence; on the other side they depict the Crucifixion, the Nativity, and the Baptism of Christ and the Resurrection.

In the sanctuary gable, the East Window is a four-light Gothic window. At the west end, a triple lancet window depicts the Annunciation.

The windows in the side walls include seven modern windows by George Walsh, whose subjects include the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Parable of the Prodigal Son. A window depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac commemorates the Wexford Martyrs, who were beatified in 1992. Another window honours the church’s architect, Pugin, the only window to his memory that I know of, and there is a window that commemorates William Archer Redmond (1825-1880), father of John E. Redmond (1856-1918), leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party.

Saint Mary’s contains more original Pugin features than any of his other Irish churches, including floor tiles in the large sanctuary area produced by Henry Minton (1795-1858), wooden screens to the side chapels, stained glass by Hardman, a set of four brass altar candlesticks designed by Hardman and presented by Pugin when the church was dedicated in 1846, and a marble, brass-inlaid memorial floor slab in the sanctuary commemorating Canon Rowe, presented by Sir Thomas Esmonde, Pugin’s patron in Gorey. Another floor plaque commemorates Canon Rowe’s successor, Canon John Kavanagh, who died in 1869, and an elaborate brass plate commemorates Canon Thomas Cloney, Parish Priest of Tagoat, who died in 1895.

Pugin also designed a wooden High Altar for Tagoat Church. This Pugin altar was later moved to the Church of the Assumption and Saint Mannon in Clearistown, but its whereabouts is now unknown. Thankfully, the original altar rails and pulpit designed for Tagoat remain intact.

Back to Barntown

The church in Barntown remains a Pugin treasure ... inside and outside (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

After a late lunch in Kilmore Quay, I just wondered whether I might still get inside the church in Barntown, and whether the fading light would frustrate any efforts to photograph the interior. Happily, the church was still open, and I opened entered by the south porch to find a true Pugin treasure.

Saint Alphonsus’s church is 100 ft long, 43 ft wide and from the floor to the apex of the roof it measures 45 ft. A feature of the church is the absence of a clerestory. In this, Barntown is unlike other Pugin churches of these dimensions, but here he faithfully replicates Saint Michael’s in Longstanton. The church consists of a nave and aisles with a belfry, south porch, wide alleys for processions, a distinct and deep chancel, a sacristy and Lady Chapel, etc. Although no distinction is made between the nave and the chancel on the plans, Pugin would have envisaged dividing these with a screen.

The finest remaining feature of the interior is the surviving East Window depicting the Annunciation. This window was made in Birmingham to Pugin’s design by Hardman and Co in 1848 and was presented to the church by John Hyacinth Talbot. The external stonework and solid nature of the church is striking, with Pugin once again using at least four types of local stone in a delicate, constructive polychromy.

Almost half a century passed before the church was consecrated on 12 September 1899. Since then, this Pugin church has undergone many alterations, and many parts of the interior were completely stripped of any original decoration by Pugin. From 1946 until the early 1950s, extensive renovations were carried out through the generosity of Philip Pierce, a parishioner and a member of the family associated with a famous foundry in Wexford. During this work, the screen was removed, the sanctuary, chancel and Lady Chapel were re-floored in marble, some of the original glass was replaced, a two-light window depicting the apparitions in Fatima was placed in the Lady Chapel, and the plain glass of the West Window was replaced with glass on the theme of the Assumption, which was proclaimed as a dogma in 1950, and varying accounts of Marian apparitions.

However, further renovations and decorative works were carried out in Barntown in 1998-1999. Unlike the restoration work in Saint Aidan’s Cathedral in Enniscorthy, where the interior of Saint Giles’s, Cheadle, provided inspiration for redecoration, new stencilling and decoration was commissioned, and once again this is a bright church, proud of its Pugin heritage and place for worshipping the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Essentially, the church remains structurally unaltered, retaining the spirit Pugin’s original vision for a complete Catholic parish church.

It is interesting to compare Pugin’s design in Barntown, with Saint Michael’s Church in Longstanton, near Cambridge, which is now disused, or its twin church in Philadelphia, the Church of Saint James-the-Less. Tradition says the remarkable fidelity of the church in Pennsylvania to the Gothic style was accidental: when the parish asked the Ecclesiological Society, later the Cambridge Camden Society, for a set of plans for a new church, it was inadvertently sent G.G. Place’s measured drawings of Saint Michael’s, and these were then followed in every detail as the church was built under the supervision of the architect John E. Carver in 1846-1848, at the same time as Barntown and Pugin’s other churches in Co Wexford were being built.

Darkness had fallen on Barntown when the sacristan arrived, eager to close the church for the night. By then I had managed to photograph the interior of another Pugin gem.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute