Sunday, 27 February 2011

Fr Elliott announces his Resignation from Holy Trinity, Reading

I have informed the bishop of Oxford of my intention to resign my post here at Holy Trinity in order to be part of the Reading Ordinariate Group which will meet at S. James’ Church from Ash Wednesday. As a consequence my last Sunday at Holy Trinity will be 6th March 2011.

When the Lord appeared to his disciples beside the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection he charged Peter three times to look after his flock. This duty as chief pastor has passed down to our own days in the office of the Pope. Mindful of this mission, on Good Friday 1994, Pope John Paul II renewed Christ’s call of unity to his disciples urging Christian believers not to remain divided. The following year in his Encyclical Letter Ut Unum Sint Pope John Paul gave notice of his intention ‘to promote every suitable initiative aimed at making the witness of the entire Catholic community understood’. The dawning of a new Millennium became a focus for this task of renewing the call to unity of all Christians ‘until they reach full communion’.

More recently in 2009 Pope Benedict XVI issued the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus as an initiative to further the goal of Christian unity, recognising those Anglican separated brethren seeking unity. Unity is demonstrated in the end not by words but by actions; ecumenical dialogue is cosmetic without the true intention of visible communion. Before he was given the charge to guard Christ’s flock, Peter instinctively swam ashore to be at one with the Lord. In that same spirit the Holy Father has made a bold initiative in erecting a Personal Ordinariate in England and Wales so that unity can be achieved, and I among others wish with gratitude to enter the full communion of the Catholic Church and be united to the See of Peter. It is for this reason I have tendered my resignation as priest-in-charge of the Church of the Most Holy Trinity in Reading.

Many of us had hoped in times past that the Church of England would as a whole be reconciled with The Catholic Church. It has however chosen another path and, surrendering its birthright by craving the Zeitgeist has forfeited the blessing of unity. However our brothers and sisters in the Church of England remain co-workers in God’s vineyard and it is with thanksgiving in my heart that I remember those who have given me support in my Christian journey thus far. I would especially like to thank everyone at Holy Trinity for their support, love, and prayers over the time I have spent here. This journey has brought me to the point where, with joy, I can hold fast to the rock of Peter, and take my place in the family of the Catholic Church which stretches round this globe. May the Pope as the Universal Pastor may continue to draw to himself the lost brethren of our world, and thus build up the Church militant here in earth.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Giving to the Ordinariate: Four Easy Steps

It is essential that members of the Ordinariate financially support the priests and the institution, especially in these nascent stages. The Catholic League have set up the 'Newman Fund' to facilitate this and members are encouraged to send their donations here. We therefore have four easy steps:

1) Cancel any previous Standing Orders you may have to your current Church.
2)   Use the Gift aid form (which you can download here) so that tax can be claimed back on any money you give. Return this to:

Mr Cyril Wood
The Catholic League Treasurer
‘The Newman Fund’
13, Merino Green
Oakridge Park
MK14  6FL

3) If you want to restrict any money so it can be used for the Reading Ordinariate Group you need to send an email to:
4)  To send money you can do one of the following:
a)      Set up a Standing Order using this form.
b)     Donate via Paypal using the link on the right hand side of the Ordinariate Portal:
c)      Send cheques to the Mr Cyril Wood at the above address.

Reading Ordinariate Plans

After our meeting last night we are able to release some details of how the Ordinariate group in Reading will work. Firstly the important dates:

9th March 2011 - The Reading group will join the Church of S. James, next to Reading Gaol for their Ash Wednesday Mass at 7.30pm.

12th March 2011 - The Rite of Election will take place at Portsmouth RC Cathedral at 11am. In this service there will be a new section included for Ordinariate groups in the diocese which the Bishop of Portsmouth will call and acknowledge.

13th March 2011 - On this and subsequent Sundays there will be an Ordinariate Mass at S. James at 9.30am followed by catechesis and preparation for reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church.

Holy Week 2011 - Individuals within the Ordinariate group will be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church. Details to be confirmed.

Our Sunday Masses at S. James will be celebrated by Fr Andrew Burnham. They will start at 9.30am and finish in time for preparation for reception sessions at 10.30am which will be held at S. James' Presbytery. While this mass is styled the 'Ordinariate Mass' it will be open to others as well and anyone will be welcome to join us. During Lent we will observe an 'Eucharistic Fast' and therefore not receive communion until we are received in Holy Week. Ordinariate group members may attend weekday masses at S. James or any other RC Church during this period. At S. James weekday masses are usually at 12.15pm. You can look at their website here.

It is important that members of the Ordinariate financially support their clergy and institution. For further guidance you can consult the Catholic League website which is arranging initial financing for the Ordinariate, or follow our guide here.

London Ordinariate Groups

There has been a rationalisation of the London Ordinariate Groups and therefore our 'Sister Ordinariate Groups' section has been amended. Thanks to the Ordinariate Portal for alerting us to this.  There are now distinct London South, London Central, and London North groups, so the link to London North has changed - the London Central is the old London North link, and the London South is the old South/Central. It is great to see that there will be three distinct groups from the outset, and we hope in due course that there will be a Principal Church in London which could eventually house one of the groups or be a seperate entity giving a fourth presence. Perhaps also we may in time see London East and London West groups emerge. Watch this space!!

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Chair of Peter

The Chair of Peter is a feast which recognises the importance of the See of Peter as a focus for unity. As we journey towards that unity we are called to pray that greater numbers will come into the full communion of the Catholic Church. A reminder therefore to Reading Ordinariate Group members that we are meeting tomorrow (22nd Feb) on the Feast of the See of Peter to discuss certain practicalities, and also have some time of meditation before the Blessed Sacrament. We are meeting at The Presbytery in Baker Street.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Sevenoaks: End of a blog, beginning of an adventure

The Sevenoaks blog has announced its final post which you can read here. The Incumbent Fr Ivan Aquilina and his curate, Deacon James Bradley have announced their intentions to resign. Fr Aquilina writes:
'For this reason I have written to the Bishop of Rochester notifying him that I intend to resign from this Parish in order to become a Roman Catholic in the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Fr James has notified the same bishop that he intends to resign for the same noble reason.'
You can read Fr Aquilina's statement here. We here in Reading thanks them both for their friendship and look forward to journeying forward with them in the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.
Blessed John Henry Newman, pray for us.

Receptions at Littlemore

The Vigil Mass of the Sixth Sunday of the Year is not normally a remarkable event. It is perhaps more remarkable when going to Littlemore: the place where Blessed John Henry Newman converted to the Catholic faith. It becomes of great note when a former Anglican curate and his wife are received into the full communion of the Catholic Church. Such was last night. A warm welcome was given to Daniel Lloyd and his wife as they became the forerunners of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Why so early? Why not with everyone else at Easter? Well in the joking words of Fr Andrew Burnham, 'to give them something to do'. Daniel was until Christmas in his curacy in the north of the Oxford diocese and left with the intention of joining the Ordinariate... and now he has. It was good that Fr Burnham (who had ordained Daniel to the diaconate in the Anglican Church only six months ago, and who also married Daniel and Alex thirteen months ago) was able to receive them into the fullness of the Church. Fr Burnham celebrated the mass at the kind invitation of Fr John Hancock, himself a former Anglican priest who trained at St Stephen's House in the late 70s, and now Parish Priest at the Church of Blessed Dominic Barberi at Littlemore.

This was a low key occasion in comparison to the rites Fr Burnham has previously celebrated for the couple, but no less profound. There is in the Church a striking sculpture of Blessed Dominic Barberi and Blessed John Henry Newman in front of the fire depicting the moment Newman finally submitted to 'come home' to the Catholic Church. Now, just a stone's throw from that historic event, this historic event took place. Newman had given up his orders to come into the fullness of the faith, so now did another. Fr Burnham referred to this. He said in his sermon how people seem to be going backwards. Bishops are becoming priests, and deacons are becoming laymen. There is in this the important message of stripping ourselves back in order that we may go forward. In Newman's case he gave up his orders and ended up a Cardinal. For others they may give up their orders to become laymen, but all will be the stronger for it, and with the help of Holy Church to sustain, none will fall.

There is also something biblical in the order that things are happening. The Anglican bishops went first - the senior order in the Church. Now a deacon has become the forerunner - the order of deacons was established second. Now we wait for the priests. I do not think we will have to wait very long.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Congratulations to Edwin Barnes

The Reading Ordinariate Group sends its hearty congratulations to Edwin Barnes who was ordained deacon today by Bishop Crispian Hollis in his private chapel at Portsmouth. It is a few years since Mr Barnes was made deacon in the Anglican Church (Crockford's proclaims it to be 51!) in the other cathedal in Portsmouth. You can read more on Deacon Edwin's own blog - anachronistically called Ancient Richborough.

New Ordinariate Liturgies for Rite of Election

As previously reported the RC dioceses are playing a prominent role in the genesis of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. It is hoped that by next year there will be a principal church and that there will be the human machinery in place to enable the Ordinariate and the Ordinary to stand on their own two feet. If all this happens, next year the Ordinariate will probvably have its own Rite of Election. For the 'first wave' the dioceses have generously invited those entering into the full communion of the Catholic Church to join in with diocesan Rites of Election. The liturgy will probably vary slightly from place to place, but thanks to Fr Keith Newton, the Ordinary, and the Diocese of Westminster we can begin to see how the Rite of Election has taken shape and accommodated the Ordinariate innovation. Reproduced below is the 'use' of the diocese of Westminster as agreed with the Ordinary.

The Rite of Election was originally designed for catechumens (i.e. the unbaptised) but developed in modern times to include a rite for those who have been baptised but are entering into the full communion of the Catholic Chruch. Previously Anglicans and people from other denominations have gone through this route. Clearly the Ordinariate is a different route and this is recognised in this year's Rite of Election. The liturgy seems to be based on the US Combined Rite of Election and Calling of Candidates. This can be found along with the rest of the RCIA material in 'Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults' published by Catholic Book Publishing Co. with the relevant section being found on pp.69-83.

In order that there is a distinction made between the parchial candidates and the Ordinariate groups use has been made of the variant forms available. The Ordinariate groups are called with a text adapted from Option A, while parochial candidates have Option B with the series of questions for sponsors. It seems to be envisaged therefore that Ordinariate groups will not necessarily have sponsors. In addition it appears that they may be called as a group rather than by name.

In the adaptation of Option A there are significant references to words spoken by Pope Benedict XVI and his recent visit to Britain. This is both found in the bishop's introductory words, and significantly in the exhortation to the assembly to 'be generous in your welcome and offer them a place in your hearts and in your communities. Be ready, in turn, to be enriched by the gifts they may have to offer'. This echoes the Pope's words: 'It helps us set our sights on the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activity: the restoration of full ecclesial communion in the context of which the mutual exchange of gifts from our respective spiritual patrimonies serves as an enrichment to us all. Let us continue to pray and work unceasingly in order to hasten the joyful day when that goal can be accomplished.'

Here is the relevant text. I have chosen to follow the edition that uses 'bishop' though of course in Westminster and other places 'Archbishop' will be used:


Bishop: The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, when he spoke at the end of his visit to this country asked that we should be generous in our welcome of those who seek to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church within the Ordinariate.
Within our own diocese groups who seek this full communion have been preparing for admission to the Sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist at the end of Lent.
I now invite those who desire to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church, to stand. (or come forward).

The Candidates stand or come forward

Bishop: My dear friends, these candidates, our brothers and sisters, have asked to be able to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Catholic Church. Those who know them have judged them to be sincere in their desire. During the period of their preparation they continue to reflect on the mystery of their baptism and have come to appreciate more deeply the presence of Christ in their lives. They have shared the company of their brothers and sisters, joined with them in prayer, and endeavoured to follow Christ's commands more perfectly.
And so I am pleased to recognise their desire to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church.

Recognition of the Candidates

Dear Candidates, the Church reognises your desire to be sealed with the Holy Spirit and to have a place at Christ's Eucharistic table. Join with us this Lent in a Spirit of repentance. Hear the Lord's call to conversion and be faithful to your baptismal covenant.
Candidates: Thanks be to God.

The Bishop addresses the whole community
Bishop: My dear friends, I ask you to support these candidates in faith, prayer and example as they prepare to participate more fully in the Church's Sacraments. Be generous in your welcome and offer them a place in your hearts and in your communities. Be ready, in turn, to be enriched by the gifts they may have to offer. May they see in you a love for the Church and a sincere desire for doing good. Lead them this Lent to the joys of the Easter mysteries.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

As Lent approaches, it seems appropriate to consider what first steps will be taken by those whom God is calling to join the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. All members of the Reading group, and of the other groups in theboundaries of the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth, are asked to attend the "Rite of Election" in St John's Cathedral, Portsmouth, at 11am on Saturday, March 12th.

The “Rite of Election” is an ancient ceremony for adults choosing to be Catholics. The ceremony sees both catechumens (those who are preparing to be baptised) and candidates (those who are already baptised) being “sent forth” by their bishops to prepare to be received in their Catholic parish churches at Easter.

At the heart of the Christian life is the understanding that each of us is called by God. We recall the words of Christ who said “You did not choose me; no, I chose you”. Not only does Christ choose, he also calls us and knows us by name. Both of these are encapsulated in the Rite of Election.

The Rite of Election is a significant step for those who are preparing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. Election in our contemporary culture often signifies a contest or our choosing something or somebody. The Rite of Election is not primarily about the candidates’ choice to become Catholics, but rather, as in the great scriptural tradition of election, it is about how God has chosen them to take aparticular path at this point in their lives. The introduction to the Rite states that “it is called election because the acceptance made by the Church is founded on the election of God in whose name the Church acts”.

The Rite of Election is celebrated by the local Bishop who chooses people - elects them - in the name of the Lord and of the Church. The call - the election - of the Church embodies in human voice the call of God to which the candidates have responded. They are then asked to express their response publicly and formally in the presence of the Church: “Do you wish to enter fully into the life of the Church?”. They respond, “We do”. The candidates then inscribe their names in the Book of the Elect. This signifies that they have heard God call their name, and wish to respond to his call to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.

A special part of the rite is being prepared for those entering the Ordinariate, and this will be made available in due course.

Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.

God of love and power, it is your will to establish everything in Christ and to draw us into his all-embracing love. Guide us whom you have chosen to enter into full communion with Christ’s Vicar on earth. Strengthen us in our vocation, build us into the kingdom of your Son, and seal us with the Spirit of your promise. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, 7 February 2011

A message from Bishop Crispian Hollis

In addition to the articles produced by Colin Parkes linked in the previous post, the latest edition also has a letter to the Catholic faithful of Portsmouth diocese from Bishop Crispian Hollis. Bishop Crispian's parents were themselves received into the Catholic Church from Anglicanism, and his grandfather and uncle were both Anglican bishops. Bishop Crispian was himself ordained bishop as an Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Birmingham with special responsibility for the Oxfordshire area in 1987. Soon after in 1989 he was made the diocesan Bishop of Portsmouth where he has served since.

Whilst a number of Catholics may have questions and reservations about those Anglicans wishing to come into full communion with the Church through the Ordinariate, what Colin Parkes writes elsewhere in this issue should set minds and hearts at rest.

There are legitimate questions as to how it will work out, but the sincerity and desire for full communion with the Church of the Anglican clergy and those who wish to come with them in this journey of faith is certainly beyond doubt.

The Ordinariate represents new ground for us all but our new found brothers and sisters deserve to be welcomed and made to feel at one with us all. They feel that they are truly 'coming home’.

There will be an ‘Ordinary’ appointed by the Holy Father who will not necessarily be a bishop but who will have responsibility for the day to day life of the Ordinariate – he will be a member of our Bishop’s Conference. This means that he will be a close colleague of the Catholic bishops and I will be working with him on the business of the Ordinariate in our diocese.

We seem to have three groups, as Colin says in his article. The laity and their priests will be received into full communion at Easter and their priests will be ordained by me later in the summer.

I hope they will very quickly become valued brothers and sisters in the faith and I am sure that our parish communities will give a warm welcome as they come among us.


Diocese of Portsmouth prepares to welcome Ordinariate

Reading is one of those towns that only just falls into the Roman Catholic diocese of Portsmouth; just the other side of the River Thames is the Archdiocese of Birmingham. This has been important in these nascent stages of the Ordinariate because the Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales have been helping the Ordinariate onto its feet. Without its own structures and staff, the Ordinariate needs the help of the geographic dioceses to get going. While the Ordinariate has its own Ordinary, and therefore jurisdiction rests with him, it is important that it is not seen as entirely seperate from the dioceses. Indeed there will in many areas be a great deal of cross-over between the Ordinariate and the rest of the RC Church in England and Wales. Bishop Crispian Hollis, the RC bishop of Portsmouth has been keen to welcome those entering the Ordinariate, and like other diocesan bishops will be welcoming the 'first wave' to his cathedral for the Rite of Election in March. 'Portsmouth People', the diocesan magazine, has a couple of articles to introduce the Roman Catholic laity to the idea of the Ordinariate and prepare them for those with whom they will soon be in communion. You can see the online edition here, with the articles being found on pages 14 and 15.

The Faithful Few

Last month we witnessed a great event: Westminster Cathedral packed to witness the ordination to the priesthood of three former Anglican bishops. Since then they and others have been working hard to establish ordinariate groups 'on the ground'. One of our correspondents was deeply moved by the ordinations at Westminster, and equally struck by the enormity of the task ahead. Our correspondent's observations follow:

At the ordination Mass of the three former bishops of Ebbsfleet, Richborough and Fulham in Westminster Cathedral the opening hymn was the rousing Thy hand O God has guided thy Church from age to age and the many present, Anglican and Catholic, sang together “one Church, one Faith, one Lord”.  Edward Hayes Plumptre, its author, referred to the faith of the Church of England, and those who will follow the three former bishops will soon mean something different when they sing one Church, one Faith, one Lord, as did Catholics present at the ordination Mass.

By the time the last hymn was sung, appropriately Newman’s Praise to the Holiest in the Height, England and Wales had the world’s first Ordinariate dedicated to Our Lady of Walsingham under the patronage of the Blessed John Henry Newman, and its first members. For everyone, as they spilled onto the piazza of Westminster Cathedral, a question had been lodged in their minds – will I stay in the Church of England? If the answer is yes then Plumptre’s words from the fourth verse of his hymn are worth remembering, because the future is not bright:

Through many a day of darkness,
through many a scene of strife,
the faithful few fought bravely,

The days of darkness for Anglo-Catholics especially will be nothing new. They have always sat lightly with what most people would regard as “CofE” and in the popular imagination, thanks to Dawn French, a female vicar has gone from being notable to normal. In a generation it will probably be the norm. But even prior to 1992 Anglo-Catholics have raised suspicion from many sides, both the protestant underworld and Rome. A liturgical flourish at the ordination Mass, apart from the three wives, were the three sisters who until a matter of weeks before were members of the Anglican Society of St Margaret in Walsingham (Formerly the Priory of Our Lady of Walsingham). They presented the gifts at the offertory. That they seemed so much at home in the Mass, having almost seamlessly moved from one life under Our Lady of Walsingham to another, would not have been lost on those who must now decide what to do. Walsingham has long been a place that can baffle the wanderer here below. A coach load of Italians dropped off in the village will soon be found lighting candles in the Anglican shrine and I once saw a Catholic priest shooing a group of Poles away from Benediction, oblivious to the fact that this was a chapel of the established church. For how long the Anglican shrine can continue as a bastion of Anglo-Catholic hopes remains to be seen, but on past form it has time on its hands because it has never much cared about what the wider Church of England thinks of it.

When Fr Hope Patten, the Anglican founder of the shrine, died it was noted by his bishop that he was a law unto himself, and his own strong will (he would get physically ill if seriously crossed) prevented him from accepting that he was more of an Anglican than he realised. By this I mean that, unlike a Catholic in communion with the Pope, an Anglo-Catholic chooses to believe certain things that correspond more or less to the teachings of Rome. Whatever the externals of religion, there is no compulsion to accept “the faith that comes to us from the Apostles” in its totality. Those joining an Ordinariate will become Catholic because what they believe will no longer be on the basis of what they do or do not choose. Anglo-Catholics, by this analysis, are no different to any other Anglican. Others may choose different things to believe – be they liberal or Evangelical or Prayer Book, but choice is what binds them together in the one Church, one Faith, that is the Church of England.

The test of this is quite simply the Ordinariate. For an Anglo-Catholic to believe what he or she does it is now very difficult to live in the Church of England. Rome could not have offered more, and the Church of England could not have done more, to demonstrate that there is a new home for those who hold to orthodox faith and practice. There will be women bishops in England. In time more and more churches will quietly allow a lay person to preside. At every point when Anglo Catholics object to the direction of the Church of England there will be an easy response – go to the Ordinariate. But for Anglo Catholics there is also the sheer drudgery ahead of not only fighting battles but seeking to engage with mission when their teaching can be more than ever undermined. What Anglo Catholic churches teach and the liturgy they celebrate are more than ever divorced from the wider Church of England as it becomes increasingly liberal on the one hand and evangelical on the other.  An Ordinariate parish at least will teach the Catholic faith, and its members will be grafted onto something stronger and more self confident – the Catholic Church.

Lastly there is something, perhaps obvious, about the Ordinariate that Anglo-Catholics would once have gained strength from – its novelty. The old battles of the Anglo-Catholic past came from a self-confidence and for all the battles, it could be fun. The London and South Coast Religion was once a force. Today the battles and rows don’t seem fun and an Anglo-Catholic parish today will accept as healthy a congregation that would have shocked the Anglo-Catholic priests of the past. The confidence is gone. Today it is the Ordinariate that is new. It has no buildings and little money, yet many are excited that it could become a new movement that has a profound effect on England. Movements, as Newman would tell you, need leaders and those entering the Ordinariate will be its leaders, its pioneers. They will not have to worry about what the Church of England takes next from its box of tricks. They can be secure in the faith they profess, liberated in not having to explain why they believe different things from the vicar down the road, and not least that bishop in America. Above all, given the nature of this new structure, something of the greatness of the Anglo-Catholic past can live on, not least its desire to bring people to faith. When the three former bishops at the end of the Mass processed down the nave of Westminster Cathedral it did not seem that a ministry had ended, but a ministry had begun. As Ordinariate groups pop up all over the country, something profound is taking place and it is the sheer forward looking impulse of the Ordinariate that is its most impressive dynamic.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Fr Christopher Colven at the Church of St Agatha

A happy time was had yesterday visiting the Church of St Agatha in Portsmouth. This Church, which is famous for the work of Fr Dolling in the late ninteenth century was closed in the 1950s, and after years of misuse and neglect was reopened and now serves the TAC (Traditional Anglican Communion) congregation there. For their patronal feast Bishop Mercer of the TAC was present as well as many friends of the Church. The High Mass was celebrrated according to the English Missal use. Fr Christopher Colven, the parish priest at S. James, Spanish Place in London preached an excellent sermon, and he has kindly given us permission to reproduce it here:

Each year, about this time, the Vatican produces an updated martyrology, a list of those clerics, religious and laypeople who are known to have died for the faith in the previous year. These martyrologies have been growing of late, and while no one is going to torture or imprison us for what we believe in this country it does us well to remember that there are many parts of the world where our brothers and sisters are suffering active persecution and that the shedding of blood for Christ’s sake is not something from a bygone age.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say. “Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness unto death. The martyrs bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom they are united in charity. The martyrs bear witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. They endure death through an act of fortitude” it continues – “the Church has painstakingly collected the records of those who persevered to the end in witnessing to the faith. These are the acts of the martyrs. They form the archives of truth written in letters of blood”.

What a telling phrase that is: “the archives of truth written in letters of blood”. And it could not be more apt a description of your own Patron Saint in this place. Agatha is believed to have died in the Sicilian city of Catania in the year 251 – and nearly eighteen hundred years later the memory of her having made the supreme sacrifice is still kept fresh – indeed her inclusion in the Roman Canon has meant that she is daily held up as an example of Christian virtue at altars all around the world. A life lived wholly for Christ has a significance which cannot be limited by time – it attains an eternal quality. St Agatha and the long line of martyrs down to our own times can echo the Letter to the Romans, when it claims: "we can boast about our sufferings. These sufferings bring patience, as we know, and patience brings perseverance and perseverance brings hope, and this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”. (5:4-6).

The word “martyr” means “one who witnesses” and in its early usage in the Book of Acts it referred to the Apostles meeting opposition and facing up to conflict as they began the preaching of the Gospel; only later, as the official persecutions grew more intense and bitter, was martyrdom reserved as a term for those who had paid the ultimate price – even then, there were still those called “white martyrs” whose heroic life style and perseverance was reckoned to them for righteousness, even though they were forced to shed no actual blood. 

This responsibility, this duty, of witness, of proclamation, of sharing, is of course not restricted to the few. By virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation, there is no one who is not called to testify to what they believe, in their own circumstances: the witness given by the child in the playground and the adult in the workplace, necessarily, may be offered in a different idiom from that of the theologian and the preacher, but none of us is freed form the obligation to speak up and speak out, when and where we can, of the wonderful mysteries of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. President Kennedy expressed this truth when in his inauguration address to the American people he declared: “a man does not have the right to live, unless he has first found something for which he is prepared to die”. In our case, of course, “Someone” has to be substituted for “something”.

In the accounts which have come down to us, St Agatha had to endure an extended period of assault, both moral and physical. In those terrible hours and days she must often have reflected on the words of Jesus: “I tell you most solemnly unless a wheat grain falls in the ground and dies it remains only a single grain, but if it dies it yields a rich harvest". Any one who loves his life loses it: anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life”(John12:24). It has always been true that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, and wherever the individual wheat grains have fallen, there has been a rich harvest, and the roots of Christ’s mystical Body have been embedded deeply in society after society.

But Jesus’ promise that the Church would be indefectible until the end of time, that not even the gates of Hell would prevail against it, gives no room for complacency. I remember a conversation with Graham Leonard while he was Bishop of London in which he made just this point. As a young man he had been much impressed by the vigour and zeal of the Church in North Africa which had produced Perpetua and Felicity, Cyprian and Augustine, but when he had been able to visit the cities associated with this great flowering of Christian culture he was hugely disappointed to find no trace of what had been. Not a church, not a convent, not even a ruin – the sands of time had swept it all away. The Catholic Church will continue to be the vehicle of salvation until the end of time – we know that – but its individual components, local churches, may well have only a limited shelf life. Some, like those in Eastern Europe smothered by atheism, have been destined to rise again, while others, apparently sink without trace: a memory - no more.

At risk of moving where angels fear to tread, I think I ought to say something about the idea of the Ordinariate which is on all our minds at present.  It seems to me – and this a purely personal reaction – that there is an invitation here, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to allow much to fall into the ground and appear to die, in order that a greater harvest may be reaped. In thanking God for so much that  has been achieved – and in this building we think of the pastoral ministry of Father Dolling and his like – we need to see where the example of the great witnesses to the Faith is pointing. 

There is a legend of St Peter visiting St Agatha after dreadful torture to heal her wounds. Perhaps Peter is reaching out to us today drawing us closer to Christ and to one another. The Ordinariate is an entirely new and radical initiative – it cuts through so much that had been perceived as the ecumenical norms and says that if you see communion with the Successor of Peter as of the "esse" of the Church and if you can accept the Catechism as the norm of faith, then you are virtually free to write your own cheque and establish your own parameters. We have here a fresh model for reconciliation whose implications have yet to be tested and understood.  May it help towards the fulfilment of Christ’s prayer that all should be one, that the world may believe.

That great English writer, Edith Sitwell, once said: "all in the end is harvest". In Christ’s own way, in Christ’s own time, may that harvest become a reality for us all – aided by the example and intercession of St Agatha.