What fun getting around; to Reading on Sunday, Leicester on Monday, to preach during this Marymonth of May. I enjoy meeting brother priests; hearing about their immense joy in their priesthood and about their sense of incomprehension at what the Church of England is doing to us and to God's people. In this matter of Women and Holy Order Catholics in the C of E have had the privilege of fighting for orthodoxy, meeting error in very tangible forms in diocesan and deanery structures, in the persons of bishops and archdeacons and neighbouring clergy, and of witnessing to truth in a way that R C clergy do not have. There is a tremendous sense that we have won all the arguments ... and lost the war. But Deo gratias for what God has done through us. And it's fun meeting their layfolk, some very devout, others fringe members, and so very diverse and often so earthed.
At both churches, I confess, I employed the same homily. At both we sang that lovely hymn from the ECHB The happy birds Te Deum sing, 'tis Mary's month of May (Does anybody know who wrote it?). But S Giles Reading and S Andrew's Jarrom Street represent two tendencies in the rich diversity which is Anglican Catholicism. At S Giles' there is lace and there are birettas and Benediction in Latin and Ave sanctissima ave purissima. As one preaches, one is disciplined to be sparing in one's deployment of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary by the need to joggle one's biretta every time one utters them (I happen to think that this is very good discipline ... I suggest you work out why). At Leicester, it was modern vestments and concelebration and ICEL 1970 and a delightful band to lead us round the streets past Victorian terraces with a large number of student digs. I don't know who composed the melody of the Lourdes hymn, but I bet they never guessed some of the contexts in which it would be heard.
I was a bit of a cad at S Andrew's; I used the First Eucharistic Prayer even though my concelebrants were not expecting it [' ... Benedict our Pope and Keith our Bishop ...', in case you're wondering]. I made up for it by not asking for the Benedictine Altar arrangement. Call me chicken if you will. For many years Jarrom Street was one of our great papalist centres under the legendary Canon Badger; and I heard stories about him from older worshippers who had known him in their younger days. I made a private memento of John Higginbotham, a long-time colleague and friend at Lancing; a fellow Classicist and a doughty (that's a word we Anglican Catholics have always loved using) protagonist for the Faith, at Lancing and then in Leicester (where he founded a new Grammar School) and on General Synod. It was lovely to meet his widow Clarissa again. John's aloof academic manner used to nonpluss unbelievers; asked why he was a Catholic he would loftily observe that, having considered everything on the grounds of strict logic, he had been drawn, as anybody must be, to the ineluctable conclusion that Catholicism is Truth.
If S Andrew's Altar was, in a sense, Fr Badger's, S Giles's (as I wrote in a recent post about the church and Fr Melrose) was Blessed John Eynon's. In each case, I had a sense of praying where great men had fought and standing with them among a great cloud of witnesses. And in both places I found myself reflecting that we have our secret weapon, the Mother of God, supplex Omnipotentia [suppliant almightiness]. She cannot let us down.