16 October 2014
I was in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this evening for Choral Evensong as this is one of my weeks as canon-in-residence.
At the end of a busy week that ran on from a working weekend and another busy working week before that, it was therapeutic spirituality to sit into the chapter stalls behind the choir for Choral Evensong this evening.
I first came to appreciate Choral Evensong when I was in my late teens and slipped quietly into the choir stalls in Lichfield Cathedral.
This evening in Christ Church Cathedral, I read the second reading (III John: 9-12):
9 I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church.
11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God. 12 Everyone has testified favourably about Demetrius, and so has the truth itself. We also testify for him, and you know that our testimony is true.
The canticles Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were sing to the setting un the short or Dorian Service by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585).
Tallis, who was one of the greatest English composers of the 16th century, was a contemporary of the Oxford Martyrs, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, who are remembered on this day in the calendars of many member churches of the Anglican Communion … though not the Church of Ireland.
Latimer and Ridley, along with Thomas Cranmer, were tried for heresy at the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Oxford in 1555 and burnt at the stake, outside the city walls to the north, where Broad Street is now located.
Bishop Latimer of Worcester and Bishop Ridley of London were burnt on 16 October 1555. As the flames rose, Latimer is said to have said to Ridley: “Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace shall never be put out.” Archbishop Cranmer of Canterbury was burnt five months later on 21 March 1556, and is commemorated separately.
Later, some stories tried to connect the Oxford Martyrs with the nursery rhyme Three Blind Mice.
A small area cobbled with stones and forming a cross in the centre of Broad Street outside the front of Balliol College marks the site of their martyrdom. They are also commemorated by a plaque in the wall of Balliol College and around the corner at the Victorian Martyrs’ Memorial erected in 1843 at the south end of Saint Giles.
The original plan was to build the Martyrs’ Memorial on the spot now marked out in the middle of Broad Street. The cross is the “gloomy and inauspicious” place where Jude Fawley chose to meet Sue Brideshead in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895).
It is not certain that this cross marks the precise spot where the fires took place, but it is known that Cranmer watched the burning of Ridley and Latimer from the Bocardo prison in Cornmarket, beside Saint Michael’s Church.
The Martyrs’ Memorial at the south end of St Giles’ near Balliol College in Oxford ... Latimer and Ridley were burned at the stake near this spot on 16 October 1555 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
We concluded Choral Evensong this evening with an anthem based on a Collect in The Book of Common Prayer:
Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open unto the prayers of thy humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like your servants Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, we may live in your fear, die in your favour, and rest in your peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
A shift in the
Pope Francis and his papacy are clearly marked by his heartfelt pastoral priorities and his desire to make the Catholic Church more compassionate and merciful. For a Church that was in danger in the past of falling short when it comes to visible compassion, he is a refreshing reminder that time and again the Bible says that God is slow to anger and rich in mercy.
Any change in the Catholic Church comes slowly and in measured steps, and the Pope cannot be expected to change traditional doctrine, dogma or core teachings. But he expects his Church and the bishops to lead with their hearts and to be visible expressions of the love of Christ. The Synod on the Family, which continues in Rome until Sunday, has been called as a visible sign and a symbol of this Pope’s commitment to listening to the voices and the hearts of both ordinary Mass-going Catholics and those who have been pushed to the margins by Church leaders who seem in the past to show little of the love that is supposed to be at the heart of the Gospel.
It may be too soon to say whether an earthquake is hitting the Catholic Church, but the tremors are being felt this week with the draft document presented to the bishops at the synod. It is of equal importance that the document challenges old prejudices and was applauded by the majority of bishops. For the first time ever, a Vatican document understands the gifts and qualities gay people bring to the Church, and talks in inclusive language of making them feel included in the Church. Nor is it possible any longer to say that for all time divorced and remarried couples are excluded from Communion. The debates have begun and open discussion has been legitimised.
The document is still subject to change, and the final version may row back to some degree. But there has been a real change in tone and in attitude. The bishops have placed questions about sexuality, cohabitation, divorce and remarriage on the agenda. Politicians under pressure from conservative lobbies can now rely securely on a defence that at least some bishops are sympathetic to changes in our laws on, for example, divorce or same-sex marriage. Catholic teaching may not change, but doctrine can develop, Catholic practice is changing, and there are now two Catholic views that can claim authenticity.
The bishops return home on Sunday. The Gospel reading for the following Sunday (Matthew 22: 34-46) is a sharp reminder to the Pharisees that the commandment to love one’s neighbours has equal standing with the commandment to love God. It was a shocking message in its day, but its implications today are obvious: without showing love and compassion for those it has pushed to the margins in the past, the Church is not living up to Christ’s expectations.