May 25 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


On Pentecost and other Red Letter Days

THE BOW IN THE HEAVENS reflects on a week which has been full of family festivities, large and small

I’m writing this on a new feast: Mary, Mother of the Church. Pope Francis has extended this memorial, already celebrated in one or two places around the world, to the Universal Church for the Monday after Pentecost.

The prayers of the Mass were taken from a pre-existing votive Mass of Our Lady under the same title and I must confess I found it quite a moving experience to read these prayers for the first time.

This is especially true of the Preface, which is blessedly free, in its most recent translation, of some of the more strangulated phrasing of the Prefaces (this Sunday’s Preface for Trinity Sunday is a case in point). As I said to my morning Mass congregation, the Preface itself would reward prayerful re-reading as a beautiful compendium of the Church’s teaching on Our Lady.

It’s hard to believe we are almost at the end of the month of May and, I’m a bit ashamed to say, without much by way of additional Marian devotion beyond the daily Rosary before Mass.

Thankfully, the nearby parish of St Laurence’s have been having a Marian Holy Hour on Sundays, so that gives folk the opportunity to get some proper Catholic nourishment as well as enjoying the breathtaking views of the East End of Greenock.

On Saturday, I was allowed into the Mother Church of the town to celebrate a red-letter day in my family: my great-nephew Niven’s First Holy Communion. As it turned out, it was a bit of a family show as the three altar servers were his brother and cousins, with his brother doing double duty as a reader! Canon Boyle, the parish priest, graciously allowed me to give Niven his First Communion—the first time I’ve had the opportunity to do so for a young relative.

On Thursday of this week it will be another spot of family duty as it’s my great-niece Katie’s Confirmation at the cathedral. It’s just as well our stall doesn’t have CCTV, because it would have captured me plundering the repository for Communion and Confirmation cards this past while: now I’ve ‘fessed up, I’ll have to pay my debts or else Ellen, who has made our stall the Harrods of its peers, will be sending Maud and Jeanie round to ‘have a word.’

To be honest, there are times when I’ve been a little lax in this regard. People sometimes confess to ‘lifting things from work,’ but I’ve yet to come clean about the odd Mass card or medal I’ve lifted for ‘pastoral purposes.’ The demarcation lines around parochial goods and personal use can sometimes be a little fuzzy in a chapel house.

Niven’s First Communion meant that I missed the royal wedding, which seems to have had garnered 18 million viewers glued to the live coverage. Many people seem to have been taken with the more informal and animated preaching style of the Episcopalian Bishop Michael Curry.

Regular attenders at St Joseph’s are accustomed to this sort of homiletic fare from yours truly. But, in truth, the bishop had a hard task, albeit one which is not unfamiliar to clergy throughout the world when it comes to weddings.

Bishop Curry had to preach to a congregation as diverse as the Queen, Elton John, George Clooney and Victoria Beckham. It’s fair to say there would have been quite a broad range of spiritual tastes and attention spans gathered in the chapel that afternoon.

But it’s hardly different with most weddings. Like Her Majesty, it’s usually the grannies who are most up for the religious component of the Big Day—indeed ‘my Nan’ is often cited as a crucial factor in deciding if there is to be a church wedding at all, as opposed to a civil or hotel ceremony.

From what footage I was able to see of Harry and Meghan’s wedding, there was a predictable amount of chewing from some of the less engaged guests. This will also be a recognisable feature of most church weddings.

No matter how earnestly I task the ushers with the silencing of mobile phones and the confiscation of gum, it seems that we still have a way to go before we have overthrown the tyranny of mastication at weddings.

All things considered, however, Bishop Curry did a good job: he remembered that the real audience of any wedding homily is the couple themselves. If you can land a thought or two in their minds and hearts in the midst of all the other distractions, that’s as much as anyone can ask or expect.

Usually, the last thing I find myself doing at a wedding is handing the completed marriage schedule to a best man or parent, enjoining them to get it to the registrar within three working days ‘or it’s honeymoon in Barlinnie.’

I doubt the Archbishop of Canterbury had to fight his way through the crowds emerging from St George’s Chapel on a similar errand. Besides, I daresay that, even if the Sussexes were to miss the administrative deadline for the paperwork, the chances of Prince Harry being prosecuted by his ‘Nan’ are fairly slim.

Our Pentecost weekend was further enlivened by a visit from Mary’s Meals with their annual ‘Rags to Riches’ appeal.

There is a palpable sense of pride at grassroots level in parishes at the success of Mary’s Meals. It is, as they say, a simple idea which works.

The appeal provided an incentive for me to have a good clear out of drawers, cupboards and wardrobes. As the clothes are recycled according to weight and don’t go into a shop, I could happily recycle washed out clerical shirts and other garments which are somewhat past their best.

Bernadette, the volunteer speaker, amplified the scope of Mary’s Meals by providing the parish priest with delicious home-baking. This was duly shared with the Sunday morning ‘tea and coffee’ regulars in the hall. She can come back any time.

My only regret about the timing of this year’s appeal was that our 5pm Vigil was the quietest I’ve seen it.

Usually, as the earliest Vigil Mass in the town, it’s not far off standing room only; but, last week, the combined impact of the wedding (there was a street party in Fancy Farm), the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden, and First Communion festivities left us with only about a third of our regular congregation.

Our depleted numbers will have had an impact on raffle ticket sales and passing donations to Mary’s Meals, which is a pity.

Last week, I mentioned a planned visit to the hospital in Paisley for an ‘investigation.’ This passed off without too much incident—although not without a little discomfort (I’ll spare you the details for now).

My right kidney is very healthy and photogenic, according to the scans.

The left, however, has been cooking up a stone and a benign tumour. Obviously, one doesn’t like to hear any ‘T’ or ‘C’ words on the lips of a consultant, but they’re fairly confident there’s nothing to worry about. They’ll keep an eye on it to make sure it stays that way.

This was against the backdrop of less positive news: we learned this week of two dedicated servants of the diocese who have been diagnosed with cancer. I’m sure they will receive the best of care and I know they will have the prayers of many well-wishers to accompany their treatment. Still, as folk tend to say, ‘it’s all you hear about these days.’

Right, I’m off for a saunter with the leaf blower. While the Pantheon celebrates Pentecost with a cascade of rose petals through the oculus (the ‘eyelight’) in the dome, St Joseph’s marks Whitsuntide with cherry blossom billowing through the doors. Nature’s confetti is always a delight to behold, but it’s murder on the carpets.


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