Preparing for a Feast

Tomorrow, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, is our patronal feast. God willing, we shall celebrate it in both choir and refectory, with a liturgy as splendid as we can make it, and a dinner more elegant than usual. But all this requires preparation and begs the question: how should we prepare for a feast? At Christmas and Easter, for example, most Christian households will cook and eat special foods and exchange gifts of some kind among family members. In a monastery the material celebrations tend to be more restrained and preparations are more focused on the liturgy. Choir practice looms large on the agenda, the chapel is cleaned and polished to within an inch of its life, and while there is certainly more activity in the kitchen, other preparations are perhaps not so obvious.

In normal times, there would be sacramental confession and a chapter of faults so that, as far as possible, we may be at peace with God, one another and ourselves. Chapter of faults is an opportunity to apologize to one another for the ways in which we have failed the community, by being careless or negligent, for example, or having a little tantrum about nothing in particular. It is a way of restoring relationships, acknowledging the imperfections and insensitivities that often weigh heavier on others than they do on ourselves. Then there is the reading for the feast, so that we enter upon it with a renewed sense of the Trinity’s immensity. There is always something more to learn, something more to reflect on. The mystery of the Trinity can never be exhausted by our puny human intellects, so we read and pray, read and pray.

The past week has been busier and rather more fraught than any of us anticipated. It is good to be able to look forward to the feast (which begins with Vespers tonight) and welcome it as a sabbath rest, a sharing in God’s own rest. The feast for which we are preparing now is a foretaste of the eternal feast to come. O Quanta qualia illa sabbata! May the Father, Son and Holy Spirit bless us all.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Trinity Sunday 2016

The Trinity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trinity Sunday brings with it the stately propositions and anathemas of the Athanasian Creed. Look only at the anathemas and we will be lulled into uneasy sleep; look only at the propositions and our mind will be tugged and stretched beyond bearing. However we try to explain the Trinity — in terms of energy or relationship or even the poor little shamrock — we are left with mystery. It is a beautiful, luminous mystery, to be approached silently, reverently, on our knees. The trisagion of the heart does not depend upon our understanding but upon our willingness to let God be God in our lives.

Note on the illustration
English or French Book of Hours, c. 1430–40, from the Getty Collection, MS 5, fol 13v.
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

An Idle Thought Before Trinity Sunday

This morning I was thinking about D. Catherine Gascoigne, first abbess of Cambrai*, and the courage with which she defended Fr Augustine Baker’s teaching on contemplative prayer in the face of disapproval (euphemism) from the monks of the English Benedictine Congregation. A little later I did a quick check of our Facebook pages and came across a series of photographs of Cardinal Burke in several varieties of ecclesiasatical costume (another euphemism) appended to an interview he has given about secularism. And there you have it, I said to myself, two quite different understandings of the Church, two different understandings of what really matters. For D. Catherine — quiet, resolute, determined to hold to the one thing necessary — a reluctant confrontation with Church authority; for Cardinal Burke — combative, fired with a zeal some of us see as not always wise — another instance of apportioning blame for the ills of the Church (remember his interview on the feminization of the Church?) which fails to take account of the responsibility of her priests and bishops for the same, and is not helped by the way he dresses.

This post isn’t about Cardinal Burke or D. Catherine as such. It is, as I said, about two different understandings of the Church, but they are useful illustrations of two tendencies the Church has within her. One early image of the Church is that of the vine — organic, growing, subject to dormant periods, in constant need of pruning, but essentially fruitful despite its vulnerability. Another is that of the Church built on rock — solid, unchanging, proof against all assaults. We actually need both understandings, but most of us have a tendency to prefer one or the other. The danger of thinking always in organic terms is that one can lose a sense of the objectivity of the Church, of the necessity of her institutional form. The danger of thinking always in institutional terms is that one can lose sight of the personal, the charismatic. And so to my point. As we approach Trinity Sunday with its powerful reminder of the transcendence of God, we need, more than ever, to remember the Incarnation. The great mystery of faith we call the Holy Trinity has a vulnerable, human face; and we worship both.

*Today is the anniversary of her death.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

Trinity Sunday 2013

Trinity Sunday is widely regarded as a preacher’s nightmare. Unfortunately, it is often also a nightmare for those listening in the pews, especially when an attempt to cast fresh light on the mystery ends either in heresy or bathos or both. The fact is that the theology of the Trinity is so rich and deep we can only approach it on our knees, and many of us have forgotten, if we ever knew, the kind of reverence that seizes hold of every fibre of our being. Instead, we prattle on, trying to find words when really we need silence.

This morning at Vigils we sang the Athanasian Creed. I love the way it approaches the mystery of the Trinity from this side and that, never quite taking in the whole but making a valiant effort to express why it matters so surpemely to us who are Christian. It goes on and on, and then there is silence. In that silence there is nothing but adoration and, for me at least, that is the only way I can truly approach the mystery of the Trinity. All the brilliant words of the Fathers and theologians who have struggled to explain this profound truth of faith end in the silence of adoration. If, today, you find yourself baffled, wordless, know that you are one with the Church in every age, singing the silent ‘Holy, holy, holy’ of the heart before the God who made us.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail