Friday, 28 December 2012

An afternoon in Howth before the storm

Waiting for a storm on the West Pier in Howth this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

There are strong warnings of a storm tonight, and walkers and motorists alike are being told to stay away from coastal paths and roads as we prepare for the high waves. The weather warnings are giving a continuing alert for gale force winds from 90 to 130 kph across Ireland tonight, with the winds peaking between midnight and 3 a.m.

The full moon means the waves should be higher and the waters choppier tonight. As we drove out along the road through Clontarf to Howth this afternoon, some houses had sandbags outside preparing for the worst with the high tide tonight.

By the time we got to Howth, the waters were choppy, the weather was blustery, and there fast-moving grey clouds overhead without any sky to be seen. But there were no high waves at either the West Pier or the East Pier.

Thanks to a gift voucher given a few months ago, we went for lunch at the award-winning restaurant Aqua at the north end of the West Pier.

A view south to Sutton... but I could do no justice to the panoramic views offered on three sides from Aqua Restaurant in Howth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

On three sides, Aqua offers stunning sea views from Sutton around past Ireland’s Eye and across Howth Harbour to the coastline at Portmarnock and Malahide. However, the grey skies and choppy seas meant my camera was doing no justice to the panoramic views as we sat to eat.

Aqua specialises in seafood, but this vegetarian was also well catered for. One of us had Smoked Fish Risotto with Truffle Oil and Balsamic Dressing; Cod; Christmas Pudding; and an Americano. I had Grilled Asparagus, with Rocket Salad and Parmesan Cheese; Penne Pasta, with Basil and Tomato Sauce and Rocket Salad; and a double espresso. We shared a bottle of Sensi Pinot Grigio, a light semi-fragrant wine with a sweet lemon-citrus finish.

Looking back at Aqua from the West Pier in Howth late this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

From Aqua, we strolled along the West Per, which was busy with families taking holdiay walks.

Looking down at the Baily Lighthouse from the summit at Howth Head this evening (Photographb: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

It was 4 p.m. when we decided to go up to Howth Summit to see whether the storm was rising. On each side, the dramatic cliff walk spread beyond us. Below us were the flickering lights of the Baily Lighthouse, built in 1814 on the south-east corner of Howth Head. It stands on the site of an old stone fort and there has been a hilltop beacon here since at least 1667.

To the south, there were views out to Dublin Bay, and across to the Wicklow Mountains. But the wind was too strong to attempt stepping out on the cliff walks, and daylight was fading fast.

We drove back through Sutton, Kilbarrack and Raheny into Dublin. At the Bull Wall, the wooden bridge was reflected in the waters that separate the North Bull Island and Dollymount.

The wooden bridge reflected this evening in the waters between the North Bull Island and Dollymount (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Anglo-Catholicism: a perspective from the US

The following paper appeared earlier this year in Koinonia, (Kansas City MO), vol 5, no 19, Trinity 2, 2012 p. 3:


1. A High View of God: Anglo-Catholic worship at its best cultivates a sense of reverence, awe, and mystery in the presence of the Holy One.

2. A High View of Creation or a delight in the beauty of God’s creation: The Anglo-Catholic view of the world is highly sacramental, seeing signs of God’s presence and goodness everywhere in God’s creation. In worship, the best of creation – as reflected in art, craftsmanship, music, song, flowers, incense, etc – is gathered up and it is all offered back to God.

3. A High View of the Incarnation: Our salvation began when Christ took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. God became human in order to transform human existence through participation in his divine life.

4. A High View of the Atonement: Evangelical detractors often overlook the fact that authentic Anglo-Catholicism looks not only to Christ’s Incarnation but also to his Sacrifice. Anglo-Catholic spirituality entails a lifelong process of turning from sin and towards God. And so, many Anglo-Catholics find the Sacrament of Penance an indispensable aid in this process.

5. A High View of the Church: We come to share in the divine life of the risen and ascended Christ by being incorporated through Baptism into his Body, the Church. And so the universal Church is neither an institution of merely human origin, nor a voluntary association of individual believers, but is a wonderful mystery, a divine society, a supernatural organism, whose life flows to its members from its head, Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

6. A High View of the Communion of Saints: The Church includes not only all Christians now alive on earth (the Church Militant), but also the Faithful Departed, who continue to grow in the knowledge and love of God (the Church Expectant), and the Saints in Heaven, who have reached their journey’s end (the Church Triumphant). And so, we have fellowship with all who live in Christ.

7. A High View of the Sacraments: Christ really and truly communicates his life, presence, and grace to us in the Sacraments, enabling us to give our lives to God and our neighbor in faith, hope, and love. Baptism establishes our identity once and for all as the children of God and the heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven, even though we can freely repudiate this inheritance. In the Eucharist, Christ becomes objectively present in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

8. A High View of Holy Orders: Since the days of the Oxford Movement, Anglo-Catholicism has borne witness to the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons in Apostolic Succession. The validity of our sacraments, and the fullness of our participation in the life of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, is intimately linked to the faithful stewardship of this gift.

9. A High View of Anglicanism: The Anglican Churches are truly part of Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Anglo-Catholicism has borne a prophetic witness to the catholicity of Anglicanism. Since the days of the Oxford Movement, the standard has been the faith and practice of the ancient, undivided Church, holding ourselves, and our Anglican institutions, accountable to the higher authority of the universal Church.

10. A High View of Mission: others may argue which came first, mission or the Church. But Anglo-Catholicism brought both together, for the church could not be confined to the boundaries of the state, any more than it was a department of state, and so, as a consequence gave us the world-wide Anglican.

11. A High standard of hymnody: whatever you think of Songs-of-Praise type services, where would we have been last Christmas without Fanny Alexander’s Once in David’s royal city or John Mason Neale’s Veni Emmanuel?

12. A Highly-tuned social conscience: if the Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom of God, then those who are nourished by its sacramental life must seek incarnationally to provide sacramental signs of the kingdom today.

(Compiled by Rev. John D. Alexander & Canon Patrick Comerford)

With the Saints through Christmas (3): 28 December, the Holy Innocents

The Killing of the Holy Innocents, by Giotto (ca 1304-1306), Padua

Patrick Comerford

The Church Calendar today (28 December) recalls the massacre of the Holy Innocents, who are sometimes revered as the first Christian martyrs. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the feast tomorrow (29 December).

These dates have nothing to do with the chronological order of the event. Instead, the feast is kept within the octave of Christmas because the Holy Innocents gave their life for the new-born Saviour. Saint Stephen the first martyr (martyr by will, love and blood, 26 December), Saint John the Evangelist (27 December, martyr by will and love), and these first flowers of the Church (martyrs by blood alone) accompany the Christ Child entering this world on Christmas Day.

This commemoration first appears as a feast of the western church at the end of the fifth century, and the earliest commemorations were connected with the Feast of the Epiphany (6 January), bringing together the murder of the Innocents and the visit of the Magi.

The story of the massacre of the Innocents is the biblical narrative of infanticide by King Herod the Great (Matthew 2: 16-18). According to Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Herod ordered the execution of all young male children in the village of Bethlehem to save him from losing his throne to a new-born king whose birth had been announced to him by the Magi:

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, the visiting magi from the east arrive in Judea in search of the new-born king of the Jews, having “observed his star at its rising” (Matthew 2: 2). Herod directs them to Bethlehem, and asks them to let him know who this king is when they find him. They find the Christ Child and honour him, but an angel tells them not to alert Herod, and they return home by another way. Meanwhile, Joseph has taken Mary and the child and they have escaped to Egypt.

Saint Matthew’s Gospel provides the only account of the Massacre. This incident is not mentioned in the other three gospels, nor is it mentioned by the Jewish historian Josephus, who records Herod’s murder of his own sons. When the Emperor Augustus heard that Herod had ordered the murder of his own sons, he remarked: “It is better to be Herod’s pig, than his son.”

Saint Matthew’s story recalls passages in Hosea referring to the exodus, and in Jeremiah referring to the Babylonian exile, and the accounts in Exodus of the birth of Moses and the slaying of the first-born children by Pharaoh.

Estimates of the number of infants at the time in Bethlehem, a town with a total population of about 1,000, would be about 20. But Byzantine liturgy estimated 14,000 Holy Innocents were murdered, while an early Syrian list of saints put the number at 64,000. Coptic sources raise the number to 144,000 and place the event on 29 December.

Later, the Church of Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome was said to possess the bodies of several of the Holy Innocents. Some of these relics were transferred by Pope Sixtus V to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

In many cathedrals in England, Germany and France, the boy bishops who were elected on the feast of Saint Nicholas (6 December) officiated on the feasts of Saint Nicholas and the Holy Innocents. The boy bishop wore a mitre and other episcopal insignia, sang the collect, preached, and gave the blessing. He sat in the bishop’s throne or cathedra in the cathedral while the choir-boys sang in the stalls of the canons, when they directed the choir on these two days and had their solemn procession.

The Reconciliation monument in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral ... the ‘Coventry Carol’ recalls a mother’s lament for her doomed child (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Coventry Carol, an English Christmas carol from the 16th century and performed as part of a mystery play, depicts the Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem. The carol is traditionally sung a cappella, and there is a modern setting of the carol by Professor Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988).

The lyrics represent a mother’s lament for her doomed child:

Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

Also dating from the 16th century, or perhaps even earlier from the late 14th century, is the hymn ‘Unto us is born a son.’ It has been translated by both George R Woodward and Percy Dearmer. We sang the Woodward version of this hymn at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, last week, including the third stanza:

This did Herod sore affray,
And grievously bewilder;
So he gave the word to slay,
And slew the little childer.

Massacre of the Holy Innocents, Alexey Pismenny


Heavenly Father,
whose children suffered at the hands of Herod:
By your great might frustrate all evil designs,
and establish your reign of justice, love and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Jeremiah 31: 15-17; Psalm 124; I Corinthians 1: 26-29; Matthew 2: 13-18.

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken,
you have fed us this day at the table of life and hope.
Teach us the ways of gentleness and peace,
that all the world may acknowledge
the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow (29 December): Saint Thomas à Becket.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.