Words, Words, Words

by Digitalnun on April 23, 2014

Depending on your interests, today is remarkable for being Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary, the feast of St George (only it isn’t, because the Easter Octave takes precedence), or the day we read Luke 24.13–35 and our hearts burn within us as Jesus opens the scriptures to us. The connection between all three is words.

Words tumble from our lips, ooze out on the page, trip through our tweets and generally identify us as human — we are not so much homo sapiens as homo loquens. The trouble is, as Swinburne remarked, ‘words divide and rend’ as much as they unite. Misunderstandings, deliberate falsehoods, churlish or rude remarks, they all contribute to the world’s pain. Just as a word can illuminate, enchant, build up or otherwise contribute to another’s well-being, so a word can break down, destroy. The monastic practice of silence, the cultivation of ‘few and sensible words’, stems from a realisation that in Christ God has uttered the only word that is utterly loving, forgiving and redemptive. That is the Word we must embrace and allow to speak through us today.


Seeing Clearly | Easter Tuesday 2014

by Digitalnun on April 22, 2014

Noli me tangere by Fra Angelico

Noli me tangere by Fra Angelico

Today’s gospel about the meeting between Mary Magdelene and the Risen Christ has always been a favourite of mine. I love the fact that the meeting takes place in a garden, and that Mary is weeping unashamedly. She mistakes the person she sees for a gardener, but once she hears the Lord’s voice her tears enable her to see more clearly than any other. She sees with the eye of a heart washed clean by love. That is what purity means and what the gift of tears bestows. There is a beautiful prayer in the Sarum Missal for the gift of tears, as well as a longer, more ornate one by St Augustine; but no words are really necessary. The ‘sharp dart of longing love’ is all that is required.


A Musical Easter Egg | Easter Monday 2014

by Digitalnun on April 21, 2014

The Risen Christ with the Three Marys

The Risen Christ with the Three Marys

Throughout the Easter Octave we celebrate the one day of Easter. That means that today is Easter Day, just as Sunday was. We have eight days in which to let this sink in, but for now most of us are probably a little tired, a little overwhelmed by all we have been celebrating. Joy can be as exhausting as grief. So, here is an exquisite image of Christ and the Three Marys to meditate on, and for techie types who would like the Regina Caeli anthem for their mobile (cellphone) ringtone, here is a downloadable version in mp3 to fit most types of phone. (For newer versions of the iPhone you will need an m4r file, easily made from an mp3 file.) Adjust volume to suit. I made the ringtone from a file that proclaimed it was available freely to download and use, but if I have inadvertently infringed anyone’s copyright, please let me know.

Regina Caeli ringtone in mp3 for most types of phone except iPhone

Download link below player.

To download the file, right click Regina Caeli and save.

Note on the illustration

Cutting from an Antiphonal; Attributed to Bartolomeo Rigossi da Gallarate, Italian, active about 1460 – 1480;  Lombardy, about 1465; Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment; Leaf [cutting]: 15.1 x 14.6 cm (5 15/16 x 5 3/4 in.); 93.MS.8


Resurrection | Easter 2014

by Digitalnun on April 20, 2014

Symbolic representation of the resurrection of Christ: sarcophagus, c. A.D. 350

Symbolic representation of the resurrection of Christ: sarcophagus, c. A.D. 350

This morning finds Quietnun and me a little ragged after having spent ten hours in the Accident and Emergency Department of our local hospital. It may have been the first time anyone had read through the whole of the Easter Vigil there. It was certainly the first time two Benedictine nuns had done so, and although it wasn’t exactly how we had hoped to greet the Resurrection, crowded on benches, watching one emergency after another stream through the doors, it did remind us of something we tend to forget. Jesus comes to us where we are, not where we would like to be. To him, the A & E suite is as sacred as a basilica, because it is there that he finds his children; and we all know his special tenderness towards the sick and dying. He redeems us from our sins, not from our (largely illusory) misconceptions about ourselves and our own wonderfulness. He comes to us as Saviour and stoops to our need, our real need, not any imaginary need. Above all, he comes to us, not as an abstraction — the Resurrection — but as a person, the Risen Christ. In the face of such great love and mercy, what can we say but ‘alleluia’?


The Harrowing of Hell | Holy Saturday 2014

by Digitalnun on April 19, 2014

The Harrowing of Hell: York illumination c. 1190

The Harrowing of Hell: York illumination c. 1190

There is a quietness and stillness about Holy Saturday — a day out of time — that belies the intense activity of Christ. We do not know what happened in the tomb, but the ancient belief in the harrowing of hell, when Christ descended into the underworld to set free all the righteous who had died before his coming, reminds us that God is at work even when he seems most distant, most unapproachable.

Today we have no sacraments to affirm the bonds between this world and the next, no colour or warmth to assuage our grief, no activity to distract us or give a false sense of security. We are simply waiting, all emotion spent. Most of us live our lives in perpetual Holy Saturday mode, our faith a bit wobbly, our hope a bit frail, but clinging to the cross and Resurrection with an obstinacy wiser than we know. Holy Saturday proclaims to anyone who will listen that when we cannot, God can and does. That is our faith, already tinged with Easter joy and gladness.

Note on the illustration
Harrowing of Hell, illumination about 1190, York; written about 1490, Tempera colours and gold leaf on parchment
Leaf: 11.9 x 17 cm (4 11/16 x 6 11/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 101, fol. 82v


Good Friday 2014

by Digitalnun on April 18, 2014

The imagery of the Crucifixion has become so familiar it no longer shocks. We look at our crucifixes and see the twisted body, hanging bloodied and bowed, pierced through with nails, crowned with thorns, and barely register the suffering. The historically-minded will tell you that the crown of thorns was added only in the thirteenth century, that the poignant twist of the body is not found before the ninth-century cross of Lothair, but these are mere details. It takes a Julian of Norwich, with her account of the drying of Christ’s flesh on Calvary, or his drops of blood the size of herring-scales, to make us connect our theology and our feelings.

It was not always so. Anyone who reads ‘The Dream of the Rood’ or some of the lovely Harley lyrics on the Crucifixion will know the depth of personal tenderness the Passion and Death of Christ evoked among our Anglo-Saxon forebears. I myself have always loved the prayers in the Book of the Nunnaminster — some of the earliest, if not the earliest, written for and possibly by women in the Benedictine community at Winchester in the late ninth/early tenth century. Here is the one on the Crown of Thorns, always a painful subject for a Benedictine, for our peace is found only within its saving circle — a reminder that Jesus is, as the Song of Songs proclaims, ‘a lily among thorns,’ our saviour from despair, our own true love who forgives our most grievous sins:

Merciful God, my only help, you did not refuse to wear on your wise and lovely head a crown of cruel thorns. I thank you and ask that whatever sins I myself have committed through misuse of my own wicked and senseless head you will forgive, for I am pierced by the sharpness of all my wrongdoing, as if by thorns, unless protected by your help, Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


Priesthood and Eucharist | Maundy Thursday 2014

by Digitalnun on April 17, 2014

The Last Supper; Unknown; Regensburg, Bavaria; about 1030 - 1040; Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment; Leaf: 23.2 x 16 cm (9 1/8 x 6 5/16 in.); 83.MI.90.38

The Last Supper; Unknown; Regensburg, Bavaria; about 1030 – 1040;


















Today’s liturgy is so full, it weighs heavy on heart and mind. There is the Chrism Mass, with its powerful reminder of the great gift of priesthood and then, this evening, the beginning of the sacred Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper when we ponder the amazing gift of the Eucharist and Jesus’ commandment to love one another as he has loved us. We have barely registered these before we are plunged into watching with Christ in the Garden at Gethsemane, conscious of sin and betrayal. There will be no let up, no lessening of tension, until the Easter Vigil. We are one with Christ on his long, last journey from this world to the next.

In previous years I have attempted to single out some aspect of the day’s events for reflection and prayer. Today, however, I suggest we think about the Preface used at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. It contains in a nutshell the theology of this day:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.
For he is the true and eternal Priest,
who instituted the pattern of an everlasting sacrifice
and was the first to offer himself as the saving Victim,
commanding us to make this offering as his memorial.
As we eat his flesh that was sacrificed for us,
we are made strong,
and, as we drink his Blood that was poured out for us,
we are washed clean.
And so, with Angels and Archangels,
with Thrones and Dominions,
and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,
we sing the hymn of your glory,
as without end we acclaim:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts . . .

Note on the illustration
Unknown, illuminator
The Last Supper, about 1030 – 1040, Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment
Leaf: 23.2 x 16 cm (9 1/8 x 6 5/16 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig VII 1, fol. 38,/small>


Betrayal | Spy Wednesday 2014

by Digitalnun on April 16, 2014

Judas Receiving the Thirty Pieces of Silver; by Simon Bening, Flemish, about 1483 – 1561; Bruges; painted c. 1525–1530;

Judas Receiving the Thirty Pieces of Silver; by Simon Bening, Flemish, about 1483 – 1561; Bruges; painted c. 1525–1530

Spy Wednesday is sometimes treated with an almost frivolous disregard of the betrayal it signifies. We don’t like remembering that Judas played an essential part in our redemption, that sin and betrayal are at the heart of the Christian story every bit as much as grace and forgiveness. We should think again, for we all have something of Judas in us. We all share in his shabbiness — or rather, we all share in his capacity for getting things wrong.

One of the striking things about Judas’s betrayal of Jesus is that I think he thought he was doing the right thing. He was hoping for a Messiah who would free Israel from Rome and usher in a Jewish kingdom of righteousness and peace. He wanted to force the issue and make Jesus take a stand. We know he was wrong, but good people are often seduced by apparently good things. Judas failed to take account of the fact that Jesus wasn’t interested in political power, and therein lies his tragedy. Catherine of Siena worried about Judas’s fate but was reassured by the Lord that there was the prospect of mercy even for him. Perhaps today we might pray for all who have betrayed or been betrayed, for ourselves and for others. We might pray also for Judas, and for mercy on his soul.


Carrying the Cross

by Digitalnun on April 15, 2014

Christ Carrying the Cross

Christ carrying the Cross: attributed to Marco d’Oggiono, c. 1467–1524


During Holy Week there are are so many words, so many actions freighted with meaning. Paradoxically, we can feel drained by the sheer richness of the liturgy. Spending a few minutes just looking at an image or listening to some music can help us enter depths of meaning and significance from which we tend to shy away as unbearable. This painting by Marco d’Oggiono shows us a youthful Christ, with strong, workman-like hands, bearing the sin of the world — your sin and mine. That’s worth pondering, isn’t it?



Palm Sunday 2014

by Digitalnun on April 13, 2014

On a previous Palm Sunday I wrote:

Today, wherever our Palm Sunday celebration takes place, we are in Roman Palestine two thousand years ago. One question we might ask ourselves is, where do we stand? Are we with the crowd following Jesus and singing hosannas; with the bystanders, looking on from a safe distance; or with those indoors, dismissing what is taking place as just another riotous assembly it is better to keep clear of? Our answer can tell us a great deal about ourselves and the way in which we see the unfolding of Holy Week.

Holy Week is quite brutal in the way in which it demands choice from us. If, during the rest of the year, we are rather unremarkable Christians, regular in our church-going and dutiful in giving to good causes, but keen to avoid drawing attention to ourselves and definitely not the stuff of which martyrs are made, this week reminds us that in following Christ we have made the most radical choice imaginable, one we must live to the end. We cannot simply bumble along the way; we must deliberately choose to follow wherever Christ leads.

I think today I would want to nuance that a little. This is the first time I’ve been unable to take part in the Palm Sunday Mass and Procession; so this year I am not among the followers singing hosannas but among the bystanders who look on from afar. Does that mean I am any less involved? Surely not.

There are many ways of following; many ways of being close to the Lord. One of the hardest is to feel we have no choice, are unable to follow in the way we would wish. It is important to remember, however, that the essence of discipleship is to follow as the Lord chooses. We must all accompany Jesus on the journey to Jerusalem, to Calvary and beyond. How we get there, when we get there, doesn’t matter. We can trust him to show us the way. ‘I would be at Jerusalem,’ says the Pilgrim in Hilton’s Scale of Perfection. That is all that matters.


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