13 February 2016

Introducing ‘Persepolis’

The following paragraph is included in the ‘Church of Ireland Notes’ in The Irish Times today [13 February 2016]:

In Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, on Monday evening at 7.30 pm the third in a series of films on social justice will be screened. “Persepolis”, a 2007 film based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel about her life in Iran, will be introduced by Canon Patrick Comerford, a former foreign desk editor in The Irish Times.

For this introduction on 13 February 2015, follow this link: Persepolis in Christ Church Cathedral.

Liturgy (Readers): Where are we going with liturgy
today? Understanding new demands and cultures

The ‘U2Charist’ in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s Church, Dublin ... what do we mean by the inculturation of the liturgy?

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

Readers Course: Liturgy:

12.05 p.m., 13 February 2016

Where are we going with Liturgy today?

Understanding new demands and possibilities in liturgy and the use of liturgy.

Asking these questions involves questions about a theology of the whole people of God; asking questions about the role of liturgy in the contemporary life and mission of the Church; and asking questions we must ask about worship and inculturation.

What is liturgical inculturation?

And what does inculturation mean for the contemporary life and mission of the Church?

The term “inculturation” is used to speak about “the incarnation of the Gospel in autonomous cultures and at the same time the introduction of these cultures into the life of the Church.” [see Varietates Legitimae – Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy, the Fourth Instruction for the Correct Application of the Conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy (Nos. 37-40), the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 March 1994, §4.]

Inculturation signifies “an intimate transformation of the authentic cultural values by their integration into Christianity and the implementation of Christianity into different human cultures.”

We have inherited a rich and deep liturgical heritage from the Church of Ireland, the wider Church experience in Ireland, the wider Anglican Communion, and through twenty centuries of Church history.

But we also have a cultural heritage that needs to integrate that liturgical heritage, to express that liturgical heritage, and that is expressed in and interpreted in our liturgy. And yet the Church is different from all other gatherings and communities in every culture and every age.

1, The Church is not gathered together by a human decision, but is called through Christ by God in the Holy Spirit and responds in faith to this gracious call.

2, The Church Catholic is called to gather all peoples, to speak all languages, to penetrate all cultures.

3, The Church, as a pilgrim people on this earth, and in this Advent time bears the marks of this present time in its sacraments, its liturgies and its institutions and structures as we await the coming of Christ in hope.

The Church universal, the Church Catholic, finds its particular expression, is made present and signified, in particular Churches. As the 39 Articles remind us as Anglicans, the Church is visible in “a congregation of faithful men” (i.e., faithful people gathered together in the diocese), “in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly administered ...” (Article 19).

Every particular expression of the Church is united with the universal Church, across the barriers of time and of space, not only in belief and sacramental life, but also in those practices the Church has inherited down through the generations, dating back to the Apostolic tradition.

What are some examples of these universal Church practices?

They include, for example, daily prayer, the sanctification of Sunday and the rhythm of the week, the celebration of Easter and the unfolding of the mystery of Christ throughout the liturgical year, and the sacraments.

What about the Liturgy?

We have talked over this course about Liturgy as the place where Christians meet God in Christ.

Christian worship finds its most fundamental expression when every Sunday, throughout the whole world, Christians gather around the altar or the table in word and sacrament, listening to the Word of God, celebrating the Eucharist, and recalling the death and resurrection of Christ, while awaiting his coming in glory.

As The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland (2004) says:

“All Sundays celebrate the paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ.” On Sundays and eight of the nine Principal Holy Days (Christmas Day, Easter Day, the Day of Pentecost, The Presentation of Christ, Maundy Thursday, the Ascension Day, Trinity Sunday and All Saints’ Day, but not Good Friday), “it is fitting that the Holy Communion be celebrated in every cathedral and in each parish church or in a church within a parochial union, or group of parishes … The liturgical provision for the above days may not be displaced by any other observance” (The Book of Common Prayer (2004), p. 18).

The Liturgy is both the action of Christ the Priest and the action of the Church which is his body. In the Liturgy, the Church, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, gives the Father the worship which is pleasing to him.

There is an unchangeable aspect of the Liturgy. But the Church adapts that the Liturgy, according to the constraints of time and space, for the good of the people, for the good of the people who are the Body of Christ, according to circumstances, times and places.

But how do we strike the balance between inculturating the sacraments that Christ has instituted, and emptying them of their substance? What is essential when it comes to liturgical change?

Our agreements on the Liturgy ensure orthodoxy of worship, not only because we must avoid errors, but because we must pass on the faith in its integrity. There is theological maxim that “rule of prayer” must correspond to the “rule of belief” – lex orandi, lex credendi.

But what about the different needs of the Church in particular places, at particular times? How are these to be addressed?

For example, what about a place that does not have a Christian tradition?

Should missionaries who bring the Gospel with them also bring their liturgical traditions with them?

And how do they modify, adapt or inculturate those liturgical traditions?

Other places have a long-standing Western Christian tradition, where the culture is already embedded with the language of the faith and the expresses of the liturgy. If the liturgy is changes, does it lose its cultural relevance and its ability to speak to the people?

In some places, several cultures coexist. How then is it possible to inculturate liturgical practices?

Any adaptations, modification and changes must bear in mind the need for people to understand the Liturgy with ease, to take part fully, and to relate it actively to their lives and the society in which they live.

For example, there is no point in making adaptations that then need numerous explanations in order to be understood.

How far can we go with inculturation?

The missionary tradition of the Church has always sought to bring the Christian faith to people in their own language. The translation of the Bible and the Liturgy are the first steps in the process of inculturation.

The first significant measure of inculturation at the Reformation was the translation of the Bible, liturgies and liturgical books into the languages of the people.

But each translation both shaped and respected literary genres without altering the content of the texts. The translated works had to be understandable by those for whom they were being translated. So, The Book of Common Prayer and the King James Version of the Bible were translated into the English of the 16th and 17th centuries, but they also shaped the English language of the time.

In English, to talk about being saved by the “skin of my teeth” is inexplicable without a glimpse of the Book of Job in the Authorised Version. Phrases like “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” from The Book of Common Prayer have passed into common parlance. Other Collects have even given names to particular days, such as “Stir-Up Sunday” in the weeks before Advent.

‘God so loved man (humanity)’ ... a sign above the entrance Guizhou Theological Training Centre in Guiyang Province in central China. Chinese Christians have been divided by the words they use for God (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On my visits to China with the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission, I became conscious of how the differences between the “Protestant” and “Catholic” traditions, in their various forms, is exaggerated for non-Christian Chinese when they see that Catholics and Protestants cannot agree on a common translation of the Bible, or even on the same word for God, so that they are seen by many as two completely different religions.

The Catholic Church historically favoured Tīanzhǔ (literally “Heavenly Lord,” or “Lord of Heaven”), and so “Catholicism” is most commonly rendered Tīanzhǔ jìao, although Chinese Catholics also a literal translation of “catholic,” Gōng jiào.

The earliest Protestant missionary in China, Robert Morrison, arrived in 1807. Before this time, Bibles were not printed for distribution. Protestantism is colloquially referred to as Jīdū jìao (“religion of Christ”) but this term can sometimes refer to all Christians, so Xīnjìao (“new religion”) is also used to distinguish Protestants as a group separate from Roman Catholics. Their translators, coming to China later and separately, chose to use the older terminology “Shangdi,” apparently believing “Shangdi” was a valid or preferable representation of the “Most High God.”

In addition, the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter pronunciation of the name of God from the original Hebrew often rendered as YHWH, is rendered in different ways. Catholics have translated this into Yǎwēi (“Elegant Powerful”). Protestants originally rendered it as Yéhuǒhuá (“[old] Gentleman of Fiery Magnificence”). A modern Protestant usage is Yēhéhuá. Some versions translate this term as Shàngzhǔ (literally “Above Lord”), similar to the translation decision to use a capitalised “LORD” by both Catholics and traditional Protestants.

To complicate matters, Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans particularly use Shàngzhǔ in their Eucharistic Prayers.

If people are going to listen to the Gospel being proclaimed, to join in the Canticles, Psalms, responses and hymns, they must be in a language that they can understand and that is culturally pertinent.

And that language is not merely words. The late Archbishop Trevor Huddleston once spoke of Anglican liturgies in Africa that were translated into the words of African languages by CMS, SPG and UMCA missionaries, but were not successful because they retained the Anglo-Saxon and English rhythms and cadences that are part and parcel of The Book of Common Prayer.

And all peoples and cultures have a religious language that is suitable for expressing prayer, and a liturgical language that has its own special characteristics.

Words like liturgy, mystery, ecclesia, evangel, sacrament, Baptism and Eucharist pre-exist Christianity. But they took on a new meaning when they were adapted to the needs of the Church and the liturgy.

Even at the level of liturgical words, translations are always inculturated or they fail to have sign, significance.

Each society and each culture, in the languages of their day, have literary qualities that relate to the living language of the people.

What about newly-created texts for liturgy?

The qualities needed for liturgical translations apply too to new liturgical compositions.

The principle of The Book of Common Prayer is that we share a common liturgical life. But how do new liturgical translations or new liturgical compositions move beyond what is shared, and in their efforts to be inculturated become so localised, so particular, that they are no longer part of the shared, common liturgy of the Church?

And to what degree is The Book of Common Prayer in its various and previous editions over the centuries, the benchmark or standard by which all other liturgies are to be judged?

In its report, Renewing the Anglican Eucharist, the Fifth International Anglican Liturgical Consultation, which met in Dublin over 20 years ago (1995), said that as Anglicans “we have until recently identified our liturgical unity in a more or less uniform set of texts derived from the historic Books of Common Prayer. Today that unity is to be found in a common structure of eucharistic celebration.”

The Church of South India created a new Eucharistic rite, drawing on elements of Anglican, Orthodox, Indian and Mozarabic Liturgies, and in turn that Liturgy of the Church of South India has influenced the liturgies of Anglican Churches throughout the world.

The Anglican Church in New Zealand and, nearer to home, the (Anglican) Church in Wales, have lived liturgically for some decades acknowledging and giving liturgical expression to the cultural realities, differences and diversities in their dioceses, and these are differences and diversities that go beyond the language barriers.

How can we transcend barriers through liturgy?

On the other hand, at what point does diversity sacrifice or even lose unity?

Are there any general principles to help or guide the inculturation of liturgies and rites?

How do we maintain the orthodoxy of the faith while respecting celebrating diversity in culture?

How do we even assess or discern whether a particular culture or tradition should be celebrated and calls for diversity?

Liturgical inculturation includes satisfying and respecting the needs of traditional culture, and at the same time taking account for the needs of those in new cultural settings.

These include the needs of urban and industrial cultures, of post-Christian as well as pre-Christian cultures, the needs of modern and post-modernist cultures, the needs of local people and immigrants too.

Was the introduction of inclusive language in the liturgy enough to eradicate exclusivism? Are there other ways in our language (both verbalised language and body language, as well as our choices of music, symbols, &c.) that serve to make the Church appear exclusive rather than inclusive?

The Discovery services in inner city Dublin ... “Anglican liturgies with African flavours”

I have taken part in many of the “Discovery” liturgies in Saint George’s and Saint Thomas’s Church in Inner City Dublin – described as Anglican liturgies with African – and sometimes Indian – flavours. Some years ago, I was also invited to preside at what was called a “U2Charist” in the same church.

In preparing for it, I was helped by the writings of two Episcopal churches in the US: Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard, Get Up Off Your Knees, preaching the U2 catalog (Cambridge MA: Cowley, 2003).

It was obvious to me, as people came forward to receive the Eucharist, that many of those who took part had not been to Communion, had not been to church at all, for a long, long time. But this Eucharist spoke to them in their modern and post-modern language.

Liturgy cannot just borrow but adapt and find meaning in the social and religious rites of a people, and their culture can positively enrich their understanding of liturgical actions.

But are there negative elements of a culture should not be incorporated into the liturgy?

Of course there are dangers of reductionism or being trite and there are the dangers of syncretism. There are times when we need to make a break with the past. There are times when we can have layers and layers of meaning and nuance, and there are times we need to avoid ambiguity to avoid a process of inclulturation that stoops to politicisation of the liturgy, to superstition, to vengeance or to sexual connotations.

How is the unity of Anglicanism expressed in the liturgy?

True inculturation does not create new traditions beyond Anglicanism. Instead, it responds to the needs of a particular culture and leads to adaptations that still remain part of our tradition and communion.

But they need to take account of the historical, anthropological, exegetical and theological character of the expressions of faith of the people and culture with whom the liturgy is being adapted.

They need to be attuned to the pastoral experience of the church and of the people where the changes are taking place.

It is not just about the hymns and the music.

Many cultures have a great collection of wisdom in the form of proverbs and stories. This literature is a store of wisdom set in a cultural context that people understand very well. The proverbs of the people may be more familiar to them than the Book of Proverbs in the Bible. But while this literature is full of wisdom, it can never be a substitute for the inspired word of God in the liturgy, and certainly not in the name of inculturation.

On the other hand, we one can use it to explain the word of God, for instance in the sermon, or outside the liturgy in teaching. But the liturgy of the word within the context of liturgical celebration is irreplaceable.

For example, the story is told that it had been observed that in some African traditions before people dined at an important meal they poured out a libation to the ancestors. Drawing on this observation, it was suggested that it would be appropriate to pour a libation of the consecrated wine before the Eucharistic meal. But this is a total misunderstanding of the centrality of the Paschal Mystery, reducing Christ’s presence in the Eucharist to mere drink. It also raises questions about why people think the dead need material nourishment.

Colours and postures all have different significance in different cultures. White is associated with death in China. What about blue, purple, pink, green, orange? In some cultures it is only acceptable to kneel for prayer, in others to stand, but in many it is rude to sit for prayer. Other culturally-charged language and body language includes standing for the Gospel. But what about having your hands in your pockets?

Who welcomes and who dismisses are culturally-charged tasks. An illustration from the Gospel is found at the meal Christ has in the house of Simon the Pharisee. The woman anoints Jesus, but Simon failed to greet him properly, to offer him the opportunity wash his feet and hands before sitting at the table.

What about:

● The texts of the opening dialogues?
● The ways in which the altar and the Book of the Gospels are venerated?
● The exchange of peace?
● Who brings up and who receives the offering?
● Who prepares the altar/table?
● The words and actions at the preparation of the gifts and at the communion?
● The type of bread and wine we use?
● The materials for the construction of the altar/table and liturgical furnishings?
● The material and form of sacred vessels – pottery or silver?
● The shape, texture and colour of liturgical vestments?
● The way in which we distribute the Holy Communion – who distributes and what words do we use?
● Who dismisses?
● Who sends out?

And the questions we ask about the Eucharist should be asked too of the rites of Christian initiation (Baptism and Confirmation), marriages, funerals, the blessings of persons, places or things, and the liturgical calendar?

And when we do change and inculturate the public worship of the Church, to what degree do we need to exercise prudence and discretion so we avoid breaking up of the local Church into little “churches” that become closed in on themselves?

When the Church introduces changes, those changes need to be gradual, and adequate explanations must be provided with good and sensitive teaching so that we avoid the danger of rejection or simply an artificial grafting on to previous forms.

Of course, there must be innovations when the good of the Church and the needs of the people genuinely demand them.

But care must be taken too to ensure that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.

What do you think are some of liturgical actions that might be adapted?

Many elements may be open to adaptation, including language, music and singing, gesture and posture, art and images, and popular devotions.

Liturgical language must express the truths of the faith, and the grandeur and holiness of the mysteries which are being celebrated. But it must be language that is both sacred and culturally relevant for people, not merely in its vocabulary but also in its cadences, rhythms, poetry and drama.

Music and singing should have pride of place in the liturgy. A text that is sung is more deeply embedded in our memories when it is read. We must be demanding about the biblical and liturgical inspiration and the literary quality of the texts we want sung.

The liturgy is not merely words: it is work, which means it is actions and movements too. Gesture and posture are especially important. Gestures are culturally embedded, yet they express the attitude of humanity before God and our attitude to one another.

For example, the gestures and postures of the celebrating or presiding priest at the Eucharist have to express his or her special function: He/she presides over the assembly both in the person of Christ and on behalf of the people. The gestures and postures of the congregation are signs of our unity, express our active participation, and foster our spiritual attitudes.

What about liturgical dance, for instance?

Among some peoples, singing is instinctively accompanied by hand-clapping, rhythmic swaying and dance movements. These are valid liturgical expressions, not simply performances, and they can express true communal prayer, adoration, praise, offering and supplication.

To summarise:

Basically there are three principles of liturgical inculturation:

● compatibility with the Gospel;
● union with the Church;
● localising the faith and worship of the Universal Church in the incarnational situation of the local church.

The Church is called to overcome the barriers that divide humanity. By baptism, we all become children of God and form in Christ Jesus one people where “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3: 28).

For inculturation this means that whatever measure is taken, while it helps Christianity to penetrate in a particular culture, it should not on the other hand alienate others, and so divide the unity that is essential to the Church.

Supplemental reading:

Tissa Balasuruya, The Eucharist and Human Liberation (London: SCM Press, 1979).
Paul Bradshaw and John Melloh (eds), Foundations in Ritual Studies: A reader for students of Christian worship (London: SPCK, 2007).
Stephen Burns, Living the Thanksgiving: exploring the Eucharist (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2006).
Nell Challingsworth, Liturgical Dance Movement, a practical guide (London and Oxford: Mowbray, 1982)
Patrick Comerford, ‘The Reconstruction of Theological Thinking – implications for the Church in China,’ Search 29/1 (Spring 2006), pp 13-22.
Vivienne Faull and Jane Siclair, Count us in – inclusive language in the liturgy (Bramcote: Grove, 1986, Grove Liturgical Study No 46).
Richard Giles, Creating Uncommon Worship, transforming the liturgy of the Eucharist (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004).
David R. Holeton (ed), Renewing the Anglican Eucharist (Cambridge: Grove, 1996, Grove Worship Series 135).
Graham Hughes, Worship as Meaning, A Liturgical Theology for Late Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine series).
Kevin W. Irwin, Models of the Eucharist (New York/Mahwah NJ: Paullist Press, 2005).
Harold Miller, Making an Occasion of it (Dublin: Church of Ireland Literature Committee, 1994).
Michael Perham (ed), The Renewal of Common Prayer (London: SPCK, 1993).
Varietates Legitimae – Inculturation and the Roman Liturgy, the Fourth Instruction for the Correct Application of the Conciliar Constitution on the Liturgy (Nos. 37-40), the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 1994.
Raewynne J. Whiteley, Beth Maynard (eds), Get Up Off Your Knees, preaching the U2 catalog (Cambridge MA: Cowley, 2003).



(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy, and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute,. This essay is based on notes prepared for a lecture on 13 February 2016 as part of the Readers’ Course Day Conference Programme.

Church History (Readers 2014, 2016)
Preparing for the third millennium

Some faces of the Church in the 20th century

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Reader Course, Day Conference

Church History

Saturday 13 February 2016:

11.00 a.m., The Jenkins Room

Preparing for the third millennium:

The Modern Church, including the missionary and ecumenical movements, the growth of Third World (liberation/black) theologies and the new voice of women in the Church.


It is said more Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined. It is impossible to disentangle Church history from secular, social, political and artistic history. For Christians, the major themes running through the 20th century include:

● Two World Wars that pitted nominally Christian nations against each other.
● The Holocaust, and Christian responses to anti-Semitism.
● The emergence of the charismatic movement within the churches and in separate denominations.
● The unfolding of the ecumenical movement.
● The revision of the liturgy, particularly in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches
. ● The expansion of mission work throughout the world and the spread of Christianity in non-Western regions.
● New Bible translations: in English this included the NRSV, the NEB and the NIV, in French the Jerusalem Bible; in other languages, the Bible was translated into the languages of 95% of humanity.
● The accelerating secularisation of Western society, which began in the 19th century.
● The rise of Communism, Fascism and Nazism in Europe.
● The role of the Church in challenging racism in North America and South Africa.
● The development of Liberation Theology, especially in Latin America.
● Hearing the voice of women in the Church, through the ordination of women and the development of feminist theology and women’s reading of the Bible.

World War I and its consequences:

Karl Barth … post-World War I response to defeated optimism

World War I (1914-1918) began 100 years ago as a war between what were seen as Christian monarchies.

The war shattered the belief that humanity was evolving towards a socially better society. As the war came to a close, the challenges it posed to faith and our theological thinking were taken up by many theologians, most noticeably the Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth (1886-1968), who published his Commentary on Romans in 1918.

Neo-orthodoxy is often used as a label to describe the theology of crisis or dialectical theology that developed in Europe in the aftermath of World War I in reaction to 19th century liberal theology and as a re-evaluation of the teachings of the Reformation. Although Barth was uneasy with the term, it is primarily associated with Barth, Emil Brunner (1899–1966), Paul Tillich (1886-1965), Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) and others who drew on the approaches of earlier theologians such as Søren Kierkegaard.

Pentecostalism, ‘Fundamentalism’ and Evangelicalism:

Billy Graham, rose to prominence is the 1940s … what do we mean by ‘fundamentalism’?

The Pentecostal revival movement at the beginning of the 20th century began out of a passion for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In 1902, two American evangelists, Reuben Archer Torrey and Charles M. Alexander, conducted meetings in Australia, resulting in more than 8,000 conversions. Torrey and Alexander were involved in the beginnings of the great Welsh revival (1904).

News of this revival travelled fast, and in 1906, the modern Pentecostal Movement was born at Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906. From there, Pentecostalism spread around the world.

The publication in 1909 of Scofield’s Bible, annotated by Cyprus Scofield (1843-1921), was a stimulus to millenarianism, dispensationalism and what has become known, perhaps dismissively, as “fundamentalism.”

The movement takes its name from The Fundamentals, a collection of five books first published in 1910. These depend on believing in:

● The divine inspiration of the Bible and the inerrancy of scripture;
● The Virgin birth of Christ;
● Belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin;
● The bodily resurrection of Christ; and
● The historical reality of Christ’s miracles.

How we use the term ‘fundamentalism’ in later generations often reflected where we stood ourselves. What is the difference between conservative evangelicalism and fundamentalism? Where do you place Billy Graham or Jerry Falwell? What about evangelicals on the social left, such as Jim Wallis and Sojourners?

The rise of Communism:

The demolition of the Church of the Annunciation in Leningrad in 1929

Initially, the Russian Revolution appeared to bring hope to the Russian Orthodox Church. From the 18th century, the Russian Church had been run by the Most Holy Synod, which was made up of bishops and lay bureaucrats appointed by the tsar.

With the Russian Civil War, an independent Patriarchate of Moscow was re-established briefly in 1917. But after the October Revolution, there was no place for the Church in Lenin’s classless society. In the first five years after the Bolshevik revolution, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were executed. Among the martyrs revered in the Russian Church is the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna who was a nun.

In the decades that followed, many of the bishops and priests were jailed or killed, churches were confiscated or demolished, leading Church thinkers went into exile, and atheism was promoted by the state, although most forms of organised religions were never outlawed. As a consequence, the Church was transformed into a persecuted and martyred Church.

During the Mexican Revolution between 1926 and 1934, over 3,000 priests were exiled or assassinated. In the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the Roman Catholic Church came close to being identified with Franco’s anti-democratic putsch, and in 1937, in Divini Redemptoris, Pius XI identified Communism as the main adversary of the Roman Catholic Church, blaming Western powers and media for a conspiracy of silence on the persecutions carried out by Communist, Socialist and Fascist forces.

The rise of the Nazis:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer … a leading light in the resistance to the Nazis

The relationship between Nazism and Protestantism, especially the German Lutheran Church, was complex. Though the majority of Protestant Church leaders in Germany supported the Nazis and their anti-Jewish activities, some such were strongly opposed to the Nazis.

As early as 1934, the Barmen Declaration issued by the Confessing Church opposed the Nazi-supported “German Christians” and their anti-Semitism and extreme nationalism. More specifically, the Barmen Declaration rejects the subordination of the Church to the state and the subordination of the Word and Spirit to the Church.

Karl Barth, who was the principal author the Barmen Declaration, later returned to Switzerland as an exile. Perhaps the best-known opponent of Nazism to continue living in German was the Lutheran pastor and theologian as Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), author of The Cost of Discipleship and Letters and Papers from Prison.

In the encyclical, Mit brennender Sorge, Pope Pius XI warned Roman Catholics that anti-semitism is incompatible with Christianity. The encyclical, which was read from the pulpits of all German Catholic churches on Passion Sunday, 14 March 1937, included a veiled attack on Hitler, criticised the elevation of one race above others, condemned pantheistic confusion, neo-paganism, “the so-called myth of race and blood,” and statolatry.

During World War II (1939-1945), the Nazi persecution of Jews and of the Church extended through the Netherlands and Poland across many parts of Europe. In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2,500 monks and priests, and many more were sent to concentration camps. In Dachau alone, the Priester-Block or priests’ barracks held 2,600 Roman Catholic priests.

Bonhoeffer was later found guilty in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and was executed in 1945.

The Post-War Church:

Archbishop William Temple … advocated the Welfare State

Many Roman Catholic lay people and clergy helped to shelter Jews during the Holocaust. But after World War II, many historians accused the Church of encouraging centuries of anti-Semitism, and accused Pope Pius XII of not doing enough to stop Nazi atrocities, although others contested these criticisms and spoke highly of Pope Pius’s efforts to protect Jews.

The Nobel prize-winning writer Elie Wiesel raised major questions for both Jews and Christians that challenged post-Holocaust thinking. In many ways, this challenge was taken up by theologians such as Jürgen Moltmann.

The conscience of Christians responded to post-war sufferings in Europe in ways such as the formation of aid agencies like Oxfam, founded by Oxford academics and Quakers, and Christian Aid. Later in the 1960s, similar responses to famine and poverty in Africa would give birth to agencies such as Concern in Ireland and Cafod in England.

Decolonisation in Africa and Asia saw the emergence of Autonomous churches in the former colonies.

The post-war Church also saw new approaches to Biblical studies, stimulated in part by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, and the unfolding of the modern ecumenical movement.

In many European countries, the welfare state is a response to the war-time and post-war demands of the Churches, articulated in Britain particularly by Archbishop William Temple and in Continental Europe to the demands of the Churches and of both Christian Democrat and Social Democrat politicians.

The Ecumenical Movement:

Bishop George Bell … a foundational figure for the World Council of Churches

The modern ecumenical movement traces its foundations to the International Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, which set the goal of “the evangelisation of the world in this generation.”

The Edinburgh conference gave rise to a number of movements that came together when the second conference of the Life and Work Movement in Oxford, and the second World Conference on Faith and Order in Edinburgh, both in 1937, approved the proposal for a World Council of Churches.

This ecumenical ideal faded with World War II, but the hopes for a World Council of Churches were kept alive by theologians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany and Bishop George Bell in England.

The World Council of Churches was formed in 1948. At the same time, united and uniting churches were being formed in Canada (1925), South India (1947), and later in North India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (1970), and Australia (1977).

Ecumenism also found expression in the monastic movements, with the formation of the Taizé Community by a Swiss Reformed pastor, Brother Roger Schütz, in 1944, and later with increased co-operation between monastic traditions such as the Benedictines and Franciscans.

The post-war Roman Catholic Church and Vatican II:

Pope John XXIII … called Vatican II in 1962

The Dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was proclaimed in 1950, and half way through the 20th century it may have appeared that the Roman Catholic Church was going to continue in a conservative mode, remaining isolated from the other Christian traditions and the developments in the ecumenical movement.

However, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) accelerated the pace of the ecumenical movement. Vatican II was called by Pope John XXIII with the task of making the historical teachings of the Church clear to a modern world. Its debates and documents discussed the nature of the Church, the mission of the laity, religious freedom and liturgical revisions most noticeable in the introduction of local languages.

Vatican II reaffirmed papal primacy and infallibility, but it also developed a conciliar view of the Church. This collegiality holds that bishops are not to be seen as “vicars of the Roman Pontiff,” but in their local churches they are “vicars and legates of Christ,” and together they form a body, a “college,” whose head is the Pope.

Vatican II also made Christian unity a priority for Roman Catholics. In addition to finding common ground with Protestants, the Roman Catholic Church became open to reunion with the Eastern Orthodox Church. In 1965, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras issued a joint expression of regret for the events that had led to the Great Schism and lifted the mutual excommunications dating from the 11th century.

Pope Paul VI also met Archbishop Michael Ramsey in the Vatican, and since then there have been meetings between every Pope and every Archbishop of Canterbury.

Vatican II also gave a new stimulus to the Liturgical Movement, which had been developing among Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants. But for some Roman Catholics, Vatican II went either too far or not far enough. Hans Küng and Charles Curran had their authorisation to teach theology on behalf of the Church withdrawn, while others clung tenaciously to the old Tridentine Mass and rites, taking hope in 2007, when Pope Benedict XVI reinstated the old Mass as an option.

Latin America and Liberation Theology:

Archbishop Óscar Romero … murdered in San Salvador while he was saying Mass in 1980

The election of Pope Francis I, who was born in Argentina, was a reminder that Latin America historically was predominantly Roman Catholic.

In the 1960s, growing social awareness and politicization in the Latin American Church gave birth to liberation theology. Peruvian priest Gustavo Gutiérrez became its primary proponent,[ and in 1979 the bishops’ conference in Mexico officially declared the Latin American Church’s “preferential option for the poor.” Archbishop Óscar Romero became Latin America’s most famous contemporary martyr when he was murdered in San Salvador by government troops on 24 March 1980 while saying Mass.

Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger) denounced Liberation Theology. The Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff was twice ordered to cease publishing and teaching. While Pope John Paul II was criticised for his severity in dealing with proponents of the movement, he maintained that the Church, in its efforts to champion the poor, should not do so by resorting to violence or partisan politics.

The movement is still alive in Latin America, although the Roman Catholic Church there now faces the challenge of Pentecostal revival in much of the region. In recent decades, Latin America has also experienced a large Pentecostal revival and growth. For example, Brazil, which is Latin America’s largest country, is the largest Roman Catholic country in the world but is also the largest Evangelical country in the world.

Social and sexuality issues:

The Revd Dr Martin Luther King … murdered in 1968

Pope Pius XI issued Quadragesimo Anno in 1931, 40 years after Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum. Leo XIII addressed the conditions of the working class in industrial society, while Pius XI concentrated on the ethical implications of the social and economic order. He called for the reconstruction of the social order, but warned against both unrestrained capitalism and totalitarian communism.

The social teachings of Pope Pius XII repeated these teachings and applied them in greater detail not only to workers and owners of capital. Going beyond Pius XI, he also defined social teachings in the areas of medicine, psychology, sport, television, science, law and education.

The Church faced new challenging issues with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968) reaffirmed traditional Roman Catholic teachings on marriage, marital relations and contraception, affirming the sanctity of life from conception to natural death and condemning abortion and euthanasia.

That same year, the Revd Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated (1968), just as the civil rights movement was coming to a climax in the US, where the churches, and especially the black churches, helped to empower the movement for black voting rights and black civil rights.

It took more than another two decades to end apartheid in South Africa, where the leading figures in the struggle against racism included church leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Allan Boesak, John de Gruchy and Beyers Naudé. Drawing on the principles first expressed in the Barmen Declaration, many South African theologians proclaimed apartheid a “confessing” issue for the Church and declared apartheid is a heresy.

The collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe:

Pope John Paul II meets Lech Walesa

By 1957, about 22,000 Russian Orthodox churches were active. But in 1959 Nikita Khrushchev initiated a campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church, forcing about 12,000 churches to close. By 1985, there were fewer than 7,000 active churches.

However, in Poland the election of Pope John Paul II helped to stimulate a movement that grew with the Gdansk shipyard strike and the rise of Solidarity. The Churches in East Germany were active in weekly protests, especially in Leipzig and through the ‘Swords into Ploughshares’ movement before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The Russian Church was assured of a new freedom when the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. Later, many parts of China became more tolerant of religious expressions, so that today it is said there are more Church members in China than there are members of the Chinese Communist Party.

Feminist theology and the ordination of women:

The ordination of women priests in Philadelphia in 1974

The ordination of women predates the emergence of feminist theology in the 20th century.

The first three women priests ordained in the Anglican Communion were in the Diocese of Hong Kong and Macao: Li Tim-Oi in 1944 and Jane Hwang and Joyce Bennett in 1971. In 1974, three Episcopal Church bishops in the US ordained 11 women as priests in an “irregular” ceremony and their ordinations were approved eventually in 1976. The first Anglican woman to be ordained a bishop was Barbara Harris (1989).

Pope John Paul II issue two documents reaffirming Roman Catholic teaching on women’s ordination: Mulieris Dignitatem (1988) and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994).

Post-Vatican II ecumenism:

Patriarch Bartholomew I with Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in 1995

Although there has been progress in seeking to reconcile the schism between the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches., concerns over papal primacy and the independence of the smaller Orthodox churches has blocked any hopes of a resolution. Some of the most difficult questions that remain in areas including: doctrine, (for example the Filioque clause), understandings of Scholasticism, asceticism and Hesychasm, the legacy of the Crusades and the Latin Empire, and the Uniate churches.

Patriarch Bartholomew I, who was elected as the 273rd Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in October 1991, visited the Vatican for the first time in June 1995, and took part in the inter-religious day of prayer for peace at Assisi. Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I explicitly stated their mutual “desire to relegate the excommunications of the past to oblivion and to set out on the way to re-establishing full communion.”

The future

Pope Francis I welcomes Patriarch Bartholomew I at his installation

We have seen the installation of a new Pope and a new Archbishop of Canterbury in recent years, almost at the same time.

In May 1999, Pope John Paul II visited Romania, becoming the first pope since the Great Schism to visit an Eastern Orthodox country. Greeting Pope John Paul II, the Romanian Patriarch Teoctist said: “The second millennium of Christian history began with a painful wounding of the unity of the Church; the end of this millennium has seen a real commitment to restoring Christian unity.”

But what does the new millennium promise the Church and the churches?

In Europe, there has been a general move away from religious observance and belief in Christianity and towards secularism. The secularisation of society, attributed to the Enlightenment and the thinking that followed, is largely responsible for the spread of secularism. For example, the Gallup International Millennium Survey showed that only about one sixth of Europeans attend regular religious services, less than half gave God “high importance,” and only about 40% believe in a “personal God.”

Nevertheless the large majority considered that they “belong” to a religious denomination.

It may be too early to tell, but statistics appear, at the moment, to show that the “de-Christianisation” of Europe has slowly begun to swing in the opposite direction. There is renewal in some quarters of the Anglican churches, and among the Protestant churches in Continental Europe. But is this enough to signal an initial step towards the reversal of the secularisation of Europe?

In North America, South America and Australia, the other three continents where Christianity is the dominant professed religion, religious observance is much higher than in Europe.

Throughout this module, we have been asking ourselves whether history shapes us or we shape history. History helps us to understand how we became who we are today as we face the future.

And so, at the end of this module it is appropriate to ask: What is the future for the Church?


(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 13 February 2016 was part of the Church History Module on the Reader Course.

Visiting the shrine of Saint Valentine in
Dublin and meeting the Irish Carmelites

The shrine of Saint Valentine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day [14 February 2016], and the theme of love is running through some of the services organised by this tutorial group in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute during this residential weekend for part-time MTh students.

As part of this exercise this morning, we are visiting the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin, which will be full tomorrow with young couples seeking a blessing or hoping for a proposal.

On Saint Valentine’s Day, thousands of locks will be secured to bridges and fences across Europe, and Juliet’s supposed balcony in Verona will be visited by countless tourists. But in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street there will be special masses marking Saint Valentine’s Day, and the martyr’s reliquary will is taken from a special shrine in a side chapel and placed before the High Altar.

Saint Valentine is a widely believed to have been a third century Roman martyr. He is commemorated on 14 February and since the High Middle Ages he has been associated with young love.

But why this church?

Who was Saint Valentine?

And how did he ever end up in Dublin?

Inside the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street … the Carmelite presence in this part of Dublin dates from 1279 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Whitefriar Street Church is an inner city church and a landmark church in Dublin. Apart from Saint Valentine, it is also known to Dubliners for the shrine of Our Lady of Dublin.

This is one of two Carmelite churches in inner-city Dublin run by the Carmelites: the other is Saint Teresa’s Church in Clarendon Street, near Grafton Street, and they represent two separate Carmelite traditions, the Order of Carmelites and the Order of Discalced Carmelites. The Carmelites also run Terenure College, and there are many Carmelite houses and Carmelite-run parishes throughout Ireland.

Great figures in the Carmelite tradition include Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), Saint John of the Cross (1542-1591), Cardinal Charles Borromeo, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), who died in Auschwitz in 1942, and Bishop Donal Lamont (1911-2003) of Umtali, an outspoken critic of apartheid in ‘Rhodesia’.

The Carmelite Rule has found more limited use in the Anglican Communion than some others. The Community of the Sisters of the Love of God in Oxford is heavily influenced by Carmelite spirituality and follows elements of the Carmelite Rule, although their rule also has many other influences. The Episcopal Carmel of Saint Teresa in Maryland is a full expression of the Carmelite order and rule within Anglicanism, founded for that purpose with the support of the House of Bishops in the Episcopal Church. The sisters follow the Discalced Carmelite rule and therefore use the post-nominal initials OCD.

In keeping with the Carmelite contemplative tradition, Whitefriars Street Church provides an oasis of prayerful silence in the midst of the bustling city.

Unlike other religious orders, such as the Dominicans and the Franciscans who had individual founders in Saint Dominic and Saint Francis, the Carmelites have its origin in a group of hermits on Mount Carmel. They followed a common rule in Palestine in the 13th century, and many of them may have been pilgrims who came to the Holy Land and stayed on to live a life of prayer and silence.

The hermits may have chosen Mount Carmel because it had caves, fresh water and a variety of fruit trees – the name Carmel means orchard or vineyard. The mountain is closely associated with the life of the Prophet Elijah and the hermits took him as their model and inspiration. They tried to live “as Elijah in the presence of God.”

Jaqcues de Vitry, Bishop of Acre until 1228, suggested in 1216 that there had been monks on Mount Carmel from the beginning of the Frankish Conquest of Palestine in the 11th century, but evidence only goes back to the 13th century. But the claim was important to secure the survival of the Carmelites, because the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 placed a ban on forming new Religious Orders.

The hermits claimed they had approached Saint Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem, around 1210 to ask him for a “formula of life” to guide them, and that Saint Albert gave them a Rule of Life. Their claims were accepted, and this rule of life, based on the Rule of Saint Augustine, received the approval of Pope Honorius in 1226. The motto of the Order is words of Elijah: “I am filled with zeal for the Lord, the God of Hosts” (I Kings 19: 10).

Because of the changing fortunes of the Crusades, however, the Carmelites were soon forced to flee their homes and some founded monasteries in Cyprus and Sicily ca 1237, and in Pisa, Florence and Siena. Others went to France, including Marseilles and Paris, and by 1240 the Carmelites reached England. Within 60 years, the order grew to 150 houses in many countries, and they adopted the mendicant way of life like the Dominicans and Franciscans.

In 1274, the Second Council of Lyons re-enforced Lateran IV and ruled that four mendicant orders were to be allowed: Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians and Carmelites.

The first Carmelites arrived in Ireland five years later in 1279, when they founded a friary at Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow. In Dublin, Sir Robert Bagot, chief justice of the King’s Bench, built them a house in Saint Peter’s parish on the south side of the walled city. He had bought a portion of land in what is now Whitefriar Street from the Cistercian Abbey in Baltinglass, Co Wicklow.

By 1500, there were 25 Carmelite monasteries in Ireland. A number of the friars in Ireland and England, including provincials, supported the reforms introduced during the reign of Henry VIII. At the Reformation, the Whitefriars’ priory in Dublin was surrendered on 3 August 1539. Perhaps the most notable and the most detested of the Carmelite friars in Ireland was John Bale (1495-1563), who was Bishop of Ossory for seven months in 1553.

In the early 17th century, the Carmelites returned to Dublin, and had a house in Cook Street. By 1728, they had settled in Ashe Street, and they then moved to French Street (later Upper Mercer Street) and built a chapel nearby in Cuffe Lane in 1806.

They opened their first school in Longford Street in 1822 and moved to Whitefriar Street in 1824. The Longford Street property was part of the original mediaeval Carmelite Priory of Whitefriars. The Prior, Father John Spratt, managed to acquire more of the old site and the community moved to Whitefriar Street in 1825.

The foundation stone of the new church was laid in 1826, and the church was consecrated in 1827. In work that began in 1951, the entrance was moved from Whitefriar Street to Aungier Street, the High Altar was moved to the west end, and the interior was reversed, with a new entrance and its landmark Calvary facing out onto Aungier Street.

The reliquary with the remains of Saint Valentine in the Carmelite Church in Whitefriar Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Despite his popularity, despite all the cards, despite the roses and the chocolates, despite the rings and the proposals, we know little about Saint Valentine apart from his name and the tradition that he died a martyr’s death on 14 February on the Via Flaminia, north of Rome.

We do not know even whether there was one Saint Valentine or two – or perhaps even three – saints with the same name, and many of the stories that have grown up around his life are mythical and unreliable.

Because of these myths and legends, Saint Valentine was dropped from the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints in the post-Vatican II revision in 1969. Nevertheless, the “Martyr Valentinus who died on 14 February on the Via Flaminia close to the Milvian Bridge in Rome” is still on the list of officially recognised saints. He may not feature in the calendar of the Church of Ireland, but this day is celebrated as Saint Valentine’s Day with a commemoration in Common Worship in the Church of England and in other churches in the Anglican Communion.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Valentine the Priest is celebrated on 6 July and the martyr Saint Valentine, Bishop of Interamna (present-day Terni) in Italy, is celebrated on 30 July.

Italian romance … locks secured to fencing along the Via d’Amore in the Cinque Terre in Italy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The name of Valentinus is not found in the earliest list of Roman martyrs in the year 354, but he is named in later lists in the second half of the fifth century and the first half of the sixth century.

The feast of Saint Valentine on 14 February was first named in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Saint Valentine among all those “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” Perhaps this wording implies that even Pope Gelasius knew nothing about the life of this saint and martyr.

Some sources speak of three saints named Valentine who are associated with today – a Roman priest and a Bishop of Interamna, who are both buried along the Via Flaminia outside Rome, at different distances from the city, and a third saint who was martyred on the same day with a number of companions in the Roman province of Africa.

According to tradition in the Diocese of Terni, Bishop Valentine was born and lived in Interamna and was jailed and tortured in Rome on 14 February. However, different dates are given for the year of his martyrdom, including 269, 270 and 273. He was buried hastily in nearby cemetery and a few nights later his disciples came and brought him home.

The Roman Martyrology lists only one Saint Valentine; who died a martyr’s death on the Via Flaminia.

Popular legend says Valentine was a Roman priest who was martyred during the reign of Claudius II, “Claudius Gothicus.” He was arrested and imprisoned when he was caught marrying Christian couples and helping persecuted Christians.

It is said Claudius took a liking to this prisoner. But when Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor, he was condemned him to death. He was beaten with clubs and stones; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate.

Another legend says Saint Valentine was the Bishop of Terni in southern Umbria in central Italy. While Valentinus he was under house arrest, he was discussing his faith with Judge Asterius.

The judge tested Valentinus by bringing his adopted blind daughter to him. If Valentinus succeeded in restoring the girl’s sight, Asterius would do anything he asked. Valentinus laid his hands on her eyes and the child’s vision was restored. Immediately humbled, the judge asked Valentinus what he should do. Valentinus replied that all the idols in the judge’s house should be broken, that the judge should fast for three days, and that he should then be baptised.

Asterius obeyed, freed all his Christian prisoners and was baptised with all his family and 40 other people.

However, Valentinus was soon arrested again nd was sent to the Prefect of Rome and then to the Emperor Claudius. Claudius too took a liking to Valentinus until he tried to convert the emperor. Claudius sternly refused to be converted and ordered that Valentinus should either renounce his faith or be beaten with clubs and beheaded. Valentinus refused and he was executed outside the Flaminian Gate on 14 February 269.

Many churches throughout Europe are dedicated to Saint Valentine, but it seems none was dedicated to him in either England or Ireland.

Until the 13th century, it was said the martyr’s relics were kept in Saint Valentine’s Basilica on the Via Flaminia, and they were then moved from there to Santa Prassede.

The 18th century English antiquarian, Alban Butler, author of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, suggested Saint Valentine’s Day was created as an attempt to supersede the pagan mid-February holiday of Lupercalia in Rome, honouring Juno, queen of the Roman gods and goddesses. However, many of the legends about Saint Valentine can be traced only to 14th century England and the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when 14 February was already linked with romantic love.

The flower-crowned skull of Saint Valentine is kept in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. When some relics were exhumed from the catacombs of Saint Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina near Rome in 1836, they were identified with Saint Valentine. They were then placed in a casket, and brought in a procession to the high altar for a special Mass dedicated to young people and to people in love.

That same year, the Carmelite preacher Father John Spratt, the Prior of Whitefriar Street, was in Rome where he preached a popular and acclaimed sermon in the famous Jesuit church in the city, the Gesu. Following his sermon, Pope Gregory XVI gave him a gift of the remains of Saint Valentine and “a small vessel tinged with his blood.”

When the Reliquary with Saint Valentine’s remains arrived in Dublin on 10 November 1836, they were brought in a solemn procession to the Carmelite Church in Whitefriars Street where they were met by Archbishop Murray.

But other churches also claim to hold the relics of Saint Valentine, including a church in Roquemaure, in France, the Stephansdom or Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, a church in Balzan, Malta, the Blessed John Duns Scotus Church in the Gorbals, Glasgow, and the Birmingham Oratory.

After Father Spratt died, interest in the relics in Dublin faded and they were placed in storage. But during a major renovation of the church in the 1950s and the 1960s, they were given a new place in the church, and a special altar and shrine were built for them. A statue carved by Irene Broe shows Saint Valentine in the red vestments of a martyr and holding a crocus in his hand.

The shrine is visited by thousands of couples throughout the year, especially on 14 February, when the reliquary is taken out from under the side-altar and is placed before the high altar in the church. There are special celebrations of the Eucharist, with a blessing of rings for couples who are about to be married.

Although the story of Saint Valentine is inextricably linked with romantic young love, it is good to be reminded of love as we journey through Lent, which began last Wednesday [10 February 2016], and that our Lenten pilgrimage is a journey towards fully accepting the love of God offered to us through Christ on Good Friday and on Easter Day.

‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou?’ … Juliet’s balcony in Verona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These briefing notes were prepared for students in a tutorial group in advance of a visit to Saint Valentine’s Shrine in Whitefriar Street Church on 13 February 2016.

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (4)

The dining room in Samuel Johnson’s house in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

Johnson’s diaries and letters reveal that fasting was one of his regular spiritual disciplines, especially during Lent, and he regretted that abstinence from lacticinia (milk foods), which included butter, cheese and eggs, was never strictly enforced in England because of the lack of oil and other products that could serve as substitutes.

In a commentary on what he saw as a common disregard for proper Lenten discipline, he compared Lenten practices in England with those in the Habesha or Abyssinian (Ethiopian) Church:

The severity of their fasts is equal to that of the Primitive Church. In Lent they never eat till after sunset; their fasts are the more severe because milk and butter are forbidden them, and no reason or necessity whatsoever can procure them a permission to eat meat, and their country affording no fish, they live only on roots or pulse.

He also observed:

They fast all the Holy Week on bread and water; … thus Lent is observed throughout Abyssinia, men, women and children fasting with great exactness.

Continued tomorrow.

Yesterday’s reflection.