Hello again, as we have arrived at the final week of the Church Year.

In our time, the final Sunday of the year has been designated, ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe’, which is the title specified by Pope Pius XI when he introduced the Solemnity in 1925.

Many people were rather perplexed at the word ‘king’ in the title – and probably a number continue to have reservations – but we have to consider the theology that underlies the celebration, and also the fraught times in which it was conceived.

In the encyclical ‘Quas primas’, which announced the institution of this new Feast in the Calendar, Pope Pius very distinctly affirmed that it was rooted in the circumstances of the period –   an age which he analysed with prescient lucidity.

The post-War years saw an ever-increasing secularism sweeping through Europe. The Christian structures underpinning society were everywhere under attack and seemed to be crumbling. The Church was losing the social role that history had imposed on it over a period of many centuries.      However, Pius XI did not envisage the ‘Kingship of Christ’ as a return to the ‘Christendom’ of yesteryear, with the hierarchical Church seen to be at the ‘top’ of the social pile and favouring one section of society.

In the Letter he argued that there should be no confusion between politics and religion.  He did not mean that the Church should preach the Gospel as being neutral with respect to cultural, social and political realities, rather the Church must not be perceived to be tied to any one group in society – shackled by outdated models, as was the case too often in the past.

How many times have I read the dictum: ‘The Gospel is one thing; the institutional Church is another?’     On the same lines the French priest, biblical scholar and theologian Alfred Loisy, famously declared, “Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom and what arrived was the Church.”    Mind you, we have to bear in mind that Loisy was excommunicated in 1908, having become totally disillusioned with certain aspects of Church Teaching – though the substance of his observation still bears scrutiny, as well as being memorable.

My preferred maxim on the subject runs: ‘The Church is a human institution shot-through with the Divine’.   At every turn we are offered guidance by the Lord, through the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, but as frail and limited creatures, we are sometimes all too, too ‘human’.  But despite our inevitable shortcomings, we never cease trying to become more   authentic disciples.  It might be that the words of the recently-deceased Rabbi Jonathan Sacks can help the discussion – when he reflected that God’s word is uttered once and for all time, but must be interpreted in every age and by every age.

The ‘Kingship of Christ’ envisioned by Pius XI has freed the Church to be able to preach the Gospel to all the nations of the earth, whatever their political regimes, and paradoxically, the interventions of modern Popes certainly have more weight and impact than formerly, when they advert to cultural and social issues.  This is so clearly seen in Pope John XXIII’s encyclical ‘Pacem in terris’, [‘Peace on earth’], published just a few months before his death in 1963, where every page displays the new manner in which the Church offers Her prayers, concern and service to the whole human race.

Responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Pope John called into being the Second Vatican Council, but did not live to see the documents that came out of the discussions and deliberations that took place between 1962 – 65.

Just to mention the ‘Constitution on the Church’, which has the Latin title, ‘Gaudium et spes’, meaning, ‘Joy and hope’   –   could you imagine a more positive and welcoming invitation to the Gospel, enshrined in this magisterial text of the institutional Church?    It is addressed, “not only to the sons……. [and daughters] ……. of the Church and all who call on the Name of Christ, but the whole of humanity as well, and it longs to set forth the way it understands the presence and function of the Church in the world of today.” [‘Gaudium et spes’, no. 2]

[But let’s go back four decades to Pope Pius XI, plainly seeing ‘the signs of the times’ and responding with the institution of the Solemnity of Christ the Universal King.]

In 1925 Europe was in turmoil after the unprecedented slaughter and blood-letting of the ‘Great War’ of 1914 – 18.  So many societies were in upheaval as a consequence of the on-going repercussions of the conflict.  Think of the all-consuming anxiety and fear of millions of people of all walks of life as they witnessed the destruction and disappearance of four seemingly invincible empires.

Gone was the centuries-old Austro-Hungarian empire, which had been ruled by the autocratic emperor Franz Joseph for sixty-eight years, until his death in 1916.   The ‘House of Austria’, or the ‘House of Hapsburg’, had ruled in some fashion for over 500 years, adopting the motto, ‘A. E. I. O. U.’   which conveys their utter conviction: ‘Austriae Est Imperare Orbi Universo’   and translates as: ‘It is for Austria to command the whole world.’

No more was the even more ancient Ottoman empire.

The 300-year rule of the Romanovs in Russia, (1613 – 1917), was brutally ended with the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his family in 1918.  (In the Russian Orthodox Church, this rather inept last emperor is known as ‘St. Nicholas the Passion-Bearer’.)

The ‘Second Reich’, (1871 – 1918), forged through   warfare carefully and callously prosecuted by the Prussian autocrat, Otto von Bismarck, (the so-called ‘Iron Chancellor’), was no more. It has been well said that the huge Prussian army, with its aristocratic, ‘superior’ officer class, had more need of a country, than the state of Prussia needs an army.

The two modern ‘Caesars’  –  the Russian Czar and the  German Kaiser  –  who both gloried in the ancient Roman title denoting supreme power ,  were toppled :  the one murdered along with his Family in a Russian forest and the other fleeing into exile and granted asylum in the Netherlands , where he died an old man in 1941 , in a country by that time occupied by the Nazi regime.

Add to this the problems of the nine ‘new’ countries born out of the peace negotiations after the Great War – some with old names but given new borders, with people of different identities and traditions forced into new ‘polities’.   The erstwhile empires now became Finland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and had to work out how to govern themselves.  It is any wonder that economic crisis and crashes were soon to be the order of the day?

On top of all this there was the pandemic that has been wrongly called the ‘Spanish Influenza’.  You probably know that this name stuck because Spain was the first country to openly acknowledge the presence of a virulent epidemic.  It is estimated that some 10 million combatants died in the fighting of the Great War, with possibly 20 million wounded, 7 million of whom were permanently disabled.  In comparison, the influenza pandemic of Spring 1918 to Winter 1919 claimed somewhere in the region of 50 – 100 million fatalities world-wide.

Can we comprehend the enormity of it all?   Is it any wonder that many people thought the ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ had been unleashed and that the ‘predictions’ of the Book of Revelation about the end of the world were about to be realised?  Is it a coincidence that the highest-grossing film of 1921 was, ‘The Four Horsemen of………………………………’, introducing Rudolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filiberto Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguella (aka ‘Valentino’), to an adoring public?

There were others, however, who thought that the answer to all our problems lay in our own hands. Those who coldly assassinated the  last Czar of Russia were convinced that religious  ‘superstition’   had to be eliminated  –  Marx had said it was the  ‘opiate   [‘opium’]  of the masses’  ,  used by certain sections of society to keep other members of the same polity in a form of modern slavery   –   a servitude , he said , was sustained by  ‘religion’ with its promises of a better life in the world to come.

Into this maelstrom, Pope Pius XI pitched his encyclical ‘Quas primas’, announcing this new Feast Day, in December 1925, prescribing that it was to be, “celebrated in the whole world, every year, on the last Sunday of October which immediately precedes the feast of All Saints.”

As I am sure you will have noted, this ‘prescription’ did not last very long, because the Council Fathers of Vatican II, (of which I may have written too much last week?), decided that the end of the Church Year would be a more suitable setting for the Solemnity.

Pius began the letter by asking himself, “what are the causes of this deluge of evils submerging humankind……………?”,

and provided the answer: “the apostasy of a great number of people who have banished Christ and his most holy law from their individual and familial lives and from public affairs.”   

He added that there would be no hope for a lasting peace between peoples as long as nations and their citizens refused to affirm and proclaim the authority of Our Saviour. He concluded, “We must look for the peace of Christ in the reign of Christ.”

Every Pope adopts a ‘motto’ that in some way encapsulates the theme of his pontificate; Pius XI chose: “Christ’s Peace through Christ’s Reign”.

[I would have re-arranged certain paragraphs above, to make a more orderly time-line. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to move chunks of text around the screen as yet. But that’s a priority in the near future!]

A SLIGHT TWEAK TO THE WEEKDAY MASS SCHEDULE:

From the first Week of Advent the weekday evening Mass will be celebrated on Tuesday at 7.00 pm.

Mass on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will take place at 10.00 am.

CHRISTMAS MASSES:

Unless something truly drastic or ‘draconian’ is decreed by our elected representatives, the pattern of previous years will be followed, hopefully with a limited Congregation, as on Sundays.

So, the intention is to celebrate:

THURSDAY  24th DECEMBER     CHRISTMAS   VIGIL   MASS        at ST. MARY’S    6.00 pm.

25th DECEMBER     CHRISTMAS MIDNIGHT MASS   at ST. MARY’S 12.00 am.

FRIDAY         25th DECEMBER     CHRISTMAS MORNING MASS     at ST. PAUL’S     9.00 am.

25th DECEMBER     CHRISTMAS MORNING MASS     at ST. MARY’S 11.00 am.

The three Masses at St. Mary’s will be ‘streamed’   –   as will all Masses from Chepstow from now on.

NOW THE DIFFICULT BIT:

Regarding attendance at the Christmas liturgies, we have decided to use the same telephone ‘booking’ system that has served us so well, thus far, in these straitened circumstances.

The two dedicated, mobile phone numbers will continue to be available to People, for Mass on Sundays and on Christmas Day.

However, while the usual pattern stays the same for Sundays – that is, the lines are open for requests for places at Mass between Monday and Friday 3.00 pm.    –    your requests for attendance on Christmas Day are respectfully asked to be made from Monday 30th November up to Friday 18th December.

Obviously, a message asking for attendance at a Sunday Mass and on Christmas Day can be made at the same time –   within the time frame set out above.

There is the added complication, (if that is the right word), this year, in that St. Stephen’s Day, [‘Boxing Day’] , falls on a Saturday, so that the pattern of Vigil Mass at 6.00 pm. on 26th December, (which will  ‘morph’  into the feast of the Holy Family as soon as Mass begins), will be followed by the two Sunday morning Masses at 9.00 am. at St. Paul’s  and  11.00 am. at St. Mary’s.

[It is a bit complicated, isn’t it   –   though there is logic to it……………………………………………………………………?]

 

ADVENT SUNDAY AFTERNOON SERVICES:

These will take place on the four Sundays of Advent between 4.00 – 5.00 pm. with no Congregation, but ‘streamed’ to your homes.  The format will consist of Taizé chants interspersed with Readings, Reflections and Relevant commentary.

SCHOOL SERVICE:

This is ‘streamed’ every Friday morning at 11.00 am. with the whole School ‘participating virtually’.  Parents, Grand-Parents, Parishioners, Anyone-at-All is invited to join with us.

EXPOSITION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT:

This Devotion is offered to you through the ‘streaming’ resource on Friday afternoons between 2.00 – 5.00 pm.

With every Blessing and Prayers,

Fr. Michael