Rorate Mass

18 Dec

Fr Paul celebrated a Rorate Mass at St Mary’s on 17th December at 6.45am.

A Rorate Mass is the Advent Mass of Our Lady which takes its name from the Entrance Antiphon: “Rorate caeli”. “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just. Let the earth be opened and send forth a Saviour.”It is celebrated early in the morning and only by candlelight. The dawn represents the birth of Christ, and with His coming, the journey from darkness to light.

The Mass was celebrated ‘ad orientem’, facing East, as we look together towards the Coming of the Lord.

 

Letter from Fr Paul – 29 November 2020, First Sunday of Advent

29 Nov

Dear All,

Today, the First Sunday of Advent is the beginning of a new season and also the beginning of the new Liturgical Year during which we prepare for the advent or Coming of Our Lord. The climax of this will be when we celebrate His birth at Christmas.  

Advent is very much a ‘Marian’ time during which, like Our Lady, we wait. We think of the Annunciation (which is the dedication of our parish), the expectation she had of His birth, and of course she carried Him in her womb for nine months. In this sense she was the first tabernacle of the Blessed Sacrament.

The Immaculate Conception  by Martino Altomonte, 1657-1745

Next Tuesday, 8th December we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady and there will be an extra public Mass at 6.30pm that day. Of all the Marian dogmas taught by the Church, the Immaculate Conception is among the most important because it was the beginning of God bringing about our salvation after the Fall (Genesis 3). Our Lady is often called the New Eve because just like the First Eve, she was brought into existence in the state of perfect innocence. But as we know, the difference between the two is that whereas Our Lady was faithful to God, Eve was not.

The Immaculate Conception, does not, as many Catholics mistakenly think, refer to Christ’s conception. It refers to the fact that Our Lady was conceived without Original Sin. This means that she did not suffer any of the moral effects of Original Sin. In other words she was so perfect, she never for one moment entertained any thoughts contrary to purity, justice or charity and she had no inclination to sin whatsoever. But she could suffer things like pain and sorrow (Luke 2:35). Her Immaculate Conception was the beginning of our salvation because God was preparing the human race for the coming of His Son. Christ, being God and the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity was holiness and purity itself, and so His mother who carried Him and who gave Him His human flesh had to be without the slightest stain of sin. God could not be subject to Satan for one instant.

“O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

There is a popular medal of the Immaculate Conception, more commonly known as the Miraculous Medal and I know many of you wear it. Last Friday, 27th November was the Feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Our Lady appeared to a novice of the Daughters of Charity, Sister Catherine Labouré on that same day in 1830 at the Rue du Bac in Paris. She had appeared to her earlier that year on 18th July and told her she had a special mission for her, but didn’t say what it was. Our Lady, during this second apparition was standing on a globe with her foot crushing the head of a serpent (Satan). This image comes from the protoevangelium (the first mention of the Good News) in Genesis 3:15 when God says to the serpent after the Fall of Adam and Eve, “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” This is the promise of the Redemption: the woman is Mary and her seed is Christ. Then there were rays of light coming from gems on her fingers. Our Lady said, “Behold the symbol of graces that I will shower down on all who ask me for them.” An oval frame surrounded Our Lady and Catherine could read this prayer in gold lettering on the oval frame, “O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to thee.” (See the picture above).

St Catherine Labouré, 1806-1876

The frame turned and Catherine could see a cross with a large “M” representing Mary beneath it. Beneath the cross were two hearts, one surrounded with thorns which Catherine understood to represent JESUS, and the other heart was pierced by a sword which Catherine took to represent Mary, recalling the words of Simeon in the Temple that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s soul (Luke 2:35). Our Lady told Sister Catherine to have a medal struck exactly according to this model, and that those who wear the medal properly blessed and repeat the prayer, “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee” will have great graces, particularly when it is worn round the neck. Sister Catherine asked Our Lady why rays of light did not shine forth from all the gems on her hands, and she replied that this darkness represented “the graces for which people forget to ask.”

The first batch of medals was produced in 1832 and very quickly became worn by millions. Numerous stories of healings, conversions and other miracles came pouring in from the faithful all over the world who wore it, and this is how it came to be known as the Miraculous Medal.

The most famous conversion story was that of Alphonse Ratisbonne, a young Jew, to whom Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal appeared on 20th January 1842, in the Church of Sant’ Andrea delle Fratte in Rome. Alphonse’s older brother Theodore had converted to Catholicism and become a priest. Alphonse himself was not a practising Jew and he hated the Catholic Church partly because of his brother, and he said if one day he ever did change, he would become a Protestant but absolutely never a Catholic.

But while on a visit to Rome in 1842, Alphonse met with an Italian Baron also named Theodore, who insisted he came with him to a ceremony in St Peter’s Basilica, and he also persuaded him to accept a Miraculous Medal and to promise to copy down a very beautiful prayer: the Memorare. What great Apostolic zeal he had! Ratisbonne was actually really cross at the Baron’s boldness but then accepted very lightly and actually found it amusing.

A few days later a friend of the Baron died and so he went to arrange the funeral, and Ratisbonne went with him to the church of Sant’ Andrea delle Fratte, making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices as they walked along. The Baron went into the sacristy while Ratisbonne decided to look around the church.

When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, he did not find Alphonse where he had left him. He found him on the other side of the Church kneeling close to an altar, weeping. He no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism.

The  side altar of the Church of Saint Andrea delle Fratte
where Alphonse Ratisbonne saw Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal

Ratisbonne himself tells us what happened in those few minutes:

“I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendour, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel and as if saying ‘very good!’ Although she did not say anything, I understood everything.”

News of his conversion spread and caused a real commotion all over Europe. Alphonse too became a priest and at the suggestion of Blessed Pope Pius IX, he and his brother founded the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion for the Conversion of the Jews.

In 1894, Pope Leo XIII, on the fiftieth anniversary of the apparitions at the Rue du Bac declared the miraculous conversion of Ratisbonne authentic and instituted the Feast of the Miraculous Medal for 27th November every year. On 27th July 1947, Venerable Pope Pius XII canonised St Catherine Labouré, and her incorrupt body is venerated to this day at a side altar in the Rue de Bac chapel in Paris.

Fr Alphonse Ratisbonne, 1814-1884.

Anyone who would like to have a Miraculous Medal, please ask me. I have a good supply of them. It should be worn blessed, and as Our Lady said, preferably around the neck.  May it protect us against the darkness and confusion which has so taken hold of the world and the Church in our times. The Postcommunion prayer for the Feast of the Miraculous Medal sums it up:

Lord God Almighty, You have willed that all things should be given to us through the Immaculate Mother of Your Son: grant that under the protection of this mighty Mother, we may escape all the dangers of these our times, and in the end may come to life everlasting. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

I wish you all a happy and fruitful Advent.

God bless you.

Fr Paul

Letter from Fr Paul – 22 November 2020, Christ the King

22 Nov

Dear All,

In the centre of St Peter’s Square in Rome stands the world famous obelisk, over 80 feet tall and weighing over 325 tons. It originally stood in a pagan temple in Egypt and was brought to Rome by the evil Emperor Caligula (12-41 AD) and a decade later the equally terrible Nero (37-68 AD) erected a circus around it, and it was there that St Peter was martyred by being crucified upside down, with the obelisk probably being the last thing he saw. In the sixteenth century it was moved to its present location by Pope Sixtus V (1521-90) who had engraved upon it: “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat. Ab omni malo plebem suam defendat”. (Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands; may He defend His people from all evil.”

The obelisk in St Peter’s Square

These words are traditionally sung on today’s Solemnity of Christ the King. Notice these words are not in the past tense, because He still conquers, He still reigns and He still commands. He conquered death, Satan and all evil by His Passion, Death and Resurrection, and for this reason there is a relic of the True Cross of Christ at the top of the obelisk. He commanded the Apostles to preach and teach His Gospel, and He commands all of us to take up our cross and follow Him. He reigns because He is the eternal God who created everything out of nothing, holds all things in being and who will come in glory at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. And this is what Our Lord is referring to in today’s Gospel when He tells the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats – His Second Coming or the Final Judgement at the end of time, also called the parousia, and we are expected to preach on it at this time of year.

There are two judgements. The Particular Judgement happens at death to each individual, whereas the General or Final Judgement is at Christ’s Second Coming. At the Final Judgement, all the dead, that is everyone who has ever lived, will be raised up in their bodies, and the Particular Judgement will be confirmed and made known to all, but it cannot be changed. Our Lord uses the analogy of a shepherd separating the sheep and the goats as a metaphor for the final separation of the righteous, who will inherit everlasting life, and the wicked, who will inherit everlasting punishment. The imagery of sheep and goats is no accident because sheep, generally speaking, are docile to their master whereas goats tend to be more stubborn. So the righteous are those who are obedient to God and follow His voice, whereas the goats, the wicked, are those who are prideful, who are stubborn and who have refused to do God’s will.

The Sheep and the Goats

To the sheep He will say, “Come you whom My Father has blessed, take for your heritage the Kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.” This Kingdom is Heaven. And to the wicked He will say, “Go away from Me with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire with the devil and his angels.” This obviously refers to Hell. Often today, people either don’t like Hell to be mentioned or they don’t believe in it, but we should note Our Lord, who is God, left no doubt about its existence and spoke of it many times in the Gospels, precisely because it is a reality, and therefore we need to be warned of it. To fail to mention it would be a distortion of the Gospel.

So the question we all want to know the answer to is what must I do to get into the Kingdom of Heaven? We certainly need to have faith and Our Lord teaches us that elsewhere in the Gospels. But this parable places an emphasis on the Corporal Works of Mercy which are:

  1. to feed the hungry
  2. to give drink to the thirsty
  3. to clothe the naked
  4. to shelter the homeless
  5. to visit the sick
  6. to visit those in prison
  7. to bury the dead.

And Our Lord says that “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did it to Me.” In other words, one act of charity done for the poor is in essence an act of charity done to Christ.

I think the story of St Martin of Tours (ca. 316-397) is well known. On a bitterly cold day, Martin met a poor man, unclothed and shivering by the city gate. Martin felt sorry for him and so he drew his sword, cut his own cloak in two and gave one half to the beggar. That night, Martin saw Christ dressed in the cloak he had given the man saying, “Martin, still a catechumen, has covered Me with his garment.” So the reward for these acts of mercy is to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

St Martin of Tours

The goats, on the other hand, were punished for their sins of omission and thrown into the eternal fire with the devil and his angels. The fallen angels then are also separated from God for all eternity, and the fire must be a spiritual one because angels don’t have bodies. Perhaps the really shocking thing here is that the goats don’t find themselves there for sins like murder, adultery or the normal things we associate with grave sin, although those are described as grave sins in both the Old and New Testaments. Just as in last week’s Gospel of the Parable of the Talents, they find themselves there for sins of omission. They didn’t perform any works of mercy. In other words, they didn’t love their neighbour and therefore didn’t love God (1 John 4:20).

To conclude, let us have a look and see what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says about all this. First of all the Catechism says, “Jesus identifies Himself with the poor of every kind and makes active love toward them the condition for entering His kingdom (#544). So our love and care for the poor are a condition for entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

Michelangelo’s “Last Judgement” in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican

Secondly, the Church is very clear about the reality of Hell, and the teaching in the CCC is based on this Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. “We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love Him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against Him, against our neighbour or against ourselves: “He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:14-15). Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from Him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are His brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from Him for ever by our own free choice. [Emphasis mine]This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “Hell.” (#1033). So we should notice God respects our freedom and we have to choose freely to love Him. And if we choose to separate ourselves from His love, that is by definition, Hell.

The parable ends on a very positive note: “the virtuous” will enter into “eternal life.” When Our Lord speaks about Hell He always concludes with the reality of Heaven. That’s what we were taught to do in the seminary in Rome. So here is what the CCC says:

“Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they “see Him as He is,” face to face…This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity – this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed – is called “Heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfilment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (#1023-1024).

I’m sure we all want to be happy for ever, with Our Lord, Our Lady and all the angels and saints, and that’s what Heaven is. So our liturgical year comes to an end with our eternal destiny of Heaven being set before our eyes where Christ reigns as King of all Creation. We have to decide if that’s what we want. This Parable of the Sheep and the Goats exhorts us to live lives of love now on earth so as we can spend an eternity of love and happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven.

God bless you all.

Fr Paul

“My Kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36)

Letter from Fr Paul – 15 November 2020, Thirty-Third Sunday of the Year

15 Nov

Dear All,

We are now half way through the month of November during which we pray in earnest for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. We should pray for the Holy Souls always, but during November we intensify our efforts. Sadly, the idea of Purgatory has been thrown on the scrap heap these past few decades. Many never speak of this truth, and nowadays some even step back in horror at the mere mention of it. This is probably because the doctrine is not properly understood, and as a result the Holy Souls suffer because fewer people pray for them. However, the reality of Purgatory is a divinely revealed truth which is also contained in Sacred Scripture. I offer this week’s letter in the hope that it will inspire more people to pray for the Holy Souls.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches, “All who die in God’s grace, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of Heaven… The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” (#1030-1031).

The final book of the Bible, the Apocalypse or Revelation states clearly that nothing defiled will come into the presence of God and see Him face to face (21:27). There can be nothing impure or imperfect in Heaven. Now suppose there were no Purgatory. God’s justice would be too terrible for words. What about those who are not as pure as they should be? Maybe they haven’t reached the perfection God had desired for them. Could any of us say that at the end of our earthly life we would be so pure and holy that we could stand before the most holy and immaculate God? I know I couldn’t! The point is that if we deny Purgatory, we send the vast majority of the human race to Hell. Without Purgatory, those with the slightest imperfections would have to be rejected by God. Haven’t we all done silly things, an uncharitable deed, engaged in idle talk? We may have had our sins forgiven, but have we paid the debt of sin in this life? Are the remnants of those sins still on our souls? Nothing impure can enter Heaven. Purgatory then is merciful. It is where God’s love tempers His justice. As I have often pointed out, even St Padre Pio thought that he would pass through Purgatory.

We call the souls in Purgatory the “Holy Souls” because they died with grace in their souls. This means they died as friends of God, but they still require some purification because every single sin and fault has to be expiated (Matthew 5:26). They are also referred to as “Poor Souls” because they can no longer help themselves get to Heaven. This is because we have to work out our salvation on earth in our bodies, because human beings are both body and spirit. So when the soul leaves the body at death, we can no longer merit. Therefore, the Holy Souls, the Poor Souls need outside help, and that’s where we come in (2 Maccabees 12:46). They depend on our prayers, the Indulgences we gain for them and the Masses we have said for them. And we should be helping them out because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and together we all make up the Communion of Saints. They are our family members.

The Communion of Saints: the Church Triumphant (in Heaven), the Church Militant (us on earth)
and the Church Suffering (the Holy Souls in Purgatory)

We pray to the saints in Heaven and they pray for us. And we pray for the Holy Souls in Purgatory and they too pray for us. And we pray for each other here on earth – the Communion of Saints.

The CCC continues, “The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead: Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them” (#1032).

It is certain that the Souls in Purgatory are happy because their stay there is temporary and they know they are saved. Everyone in Purgatory will get to Heaven, but at the same time there is suffering because we have to pay back to God what we owe. St Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510) says that although Purgatory is painful because we see all the horror of our own sins, it is incomparably joyful because God is with us there and we are learning to endure His truth and His light.

St Catherine of Genoa wrote a “Treatise on Purgatory”

Many private revelations reveal how the suffering of the souls in Purgatory can be relieved by us. I would like to relate a story from the book “Hungry Souls” by Gerard van den Aardweg first published in 2009. This is the story of a Bohemian widow who saw the dead. The souls asked her to tell her Parish Priest, Fr Hermann Wagner about these visits so as he would promote devotion to the souls in Purgatory. He was the only one who knew about the visits. Ruth (not her real name) was a quiet, rather pious lady in her fifties who did a lot of good. Her husband had died eight years before and her son had been killed during the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

One evening Ruth heard a voice which sounded like her husband’s but she wasn’t sure. She knelt down and prayed the Rosary for the Holy Souls and for her husband in particular because he had been rather impatient during his illness and had reproached God for it. She also took Holy Water and sprinkled it for him saying, “O Lord, give him eternal rest.” Then she saw her husband and he said quietly, “Don’t be afraid Ruth. It’s me. I’ve come to ask your help. Pray three Rosaries each day, and don’t tell anybody because they wouldn’t speak well of it.” Then he disappeared. But every day she prayed the three Rosaries asking God to forgive him for impatience during his suffering. After some weeks he appeared to her again, this time looking well and beautiful. “How are you Jacob?” she asked. “I’m fine. I may come home soon. I thank you Ruth. Thank you very much.” She wanted to embrace him but he declined saying, “Later Ruth. One day it will be wonderful. But I am allowed to tell you only one thing: others also want to come to you. God has given them permission. You can help them. Don’t reject them and never be afraid.” He vanished and she never saw him again. She assumed he must now be in Heaven.

Souls in Purgatory being delivered by the angels

No souls appeared to her for quite some time and her only son Jacob was killed on the battlefield in Poland. She continued to pray very hard for the Holy Souls and she would ask them how it was with her son Jacob. Then one afternoon, rather unexpectedly an old woman appeared. She was quite wrinkled and Ruth thought her quite frightening. At first she didn’t think she was a Poor Soul. On taking a closer look she thought if she weren’t so ugly it might be her grandmother who had died long ago. A little uncertain she asked, “Who are you? Do I know you?” The old woman replied, “You do know who I am. I am your Grandma Joanna.” Ruth asked what she could do for her to which she responded, “You can do a lot for me. Pray every day a Rosary especially for me and be really good to the poor, particularly when someone needs help.” Then she vanished. Ruth then remembered how her grandmother was very hard on others and had often scolded people. She hadn’t been very good at praying either. So Ruth prayed a Rosary for her everyday and although it wasn’t always easy she went every day to the church to pray for her too. She didn’t want to say no to such a request for help.

A few months later her grandmother appeared to her again, this time looking not nearly so wrinkled and she even smiled. “I thank you Ruth, you have helped me very much. At first my way up was so long and full of stones that I almost despaired. Now it is not so far anymore. I thank you Ruth.” She kept smiling and then said, “Don’t worry about your son Jacob. He is already in Heaven. He was lying all night in a crater severely wounded, but he called upon JESUS and put his wounds in His wounds. That way he died. His death was a death of sacrifice united with that of JESUS. And so his guardian angel took him straight up. Dying is beautiful if you love JESUS.”

Ruth thanked her grandmother for telling her all this and then Grandmother Joanna told her she would not be coming any more but others would. Many more did come and Ruth prayed and sacrificed for them and she released them from Purgatory. Some poor souls told Ruth they are often around their living family members and friends for years but receive no help. Ruth wrote down their complaints:

“You in the world have no inkling of what we have to suffer. Being abandoned and forgotten by those who have been nearest to us in the world: that is most bitter. Sometimes they stand at the tombs of our decayed bodies and don’t pray for us at all. They act as if we don’t exist anymore. God’s justice commands us to be silent. But we stand at the door of their houses, of our former dwellings, and wait. We stand there and wait, days, years. We wait for them to give us a small sign of their love by prayer and sacrifices. But we stay there in vain. Tell them through the priest: Love should not die at death. We are still alive and we are hungry for love. For your love!”

I find this a really moving story. The Holy Souls need our help. Don’t be deaf to their pleas. See the newsletter for the Indulgences you can gain for the Holy Souls by visiting a cemetery during the whole month of November. Pray the Rosary for them. Have Masses offered for them. Perform acts of charity on their behalf. In the words of St Padre Pio, “Let us empty Purgatory.” And remember, we are members of the Communion of Saints!

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace. Amen.

God bless you all.

Fr Paul

Letter from Fr Paul – 8 November 2020, Thirty-Second Sunday of the Year

8 Nov

Dear All,

A number of people asked if in the event of another lockdown I would resume writing a weekly letter. So here it is. We are told it will be only for a month.

The Cardinal and some of our Bishops and also the Archbishop of Canterbury have appealed to the Prime Minister that churches should remain open for public worship. They have argued that public worship is vital to the life of the country and also that our churches with the rigorous measures we have put in place are certainly among the cleanest and safest places to be. Of course, it is also our duty to worship God in public because Christ is King and Lord of all and the whole universe is subject to Him.

On Wednesday I celebrated the last public Mass at St Mary’s before lockdown and it happened to be the feast of St Charles Borromeo (1538-84) which seemed very apt because he was Archbishop of Milan during the plague of 1576-78. This epidemic became known as the “St Charles Plague” because of the heroic way he responded to it.

St Charles Borromeo

Charles was born into a noble family in Milan in 1538 and his uncle, Cardinal Medici, became Pope Pius IV who made him a Cardinal before he was even ordained a priest so as he could administer the diocese of Milan. To be made a Cardinal before ordination was quite common in those times. Charles was then ordained at the age of 25 and he quickly became Archbishop of Milan and played a major role in the Council of Trent, which was basically the Catholic Church’s answer to the Reformation. The Council upheld Catholic teaching and decreed various reforms which St Charles vigorously implemented in Milan, including the proper education of priests, the importance of caring for the poor and he insisted on far greater reverence during the Mass.

When the plague broke out in Milan in 1576 Charles was attending a funeral of a bishop elsewhere, but when he heard the news, instead of keeping away he immediately returned to his Cathedral in Milan and begged God for mercy. Then without further ado, he went to the centre of the outbreak. When he finally got home he found officials waiting for him asking him to take charge of the situation since all the city’s leaders had fled!

The authorities out of fear of contagion had already forbidden public processions and religious ceremonies, and so many souls were being deprived of the Sacraments. St Charles said that it was because of this that the wrath of God had been called down upon Milan. Therefore, he told the officials that the only cure was to pray and do penance with greater fervour than before. 

Charles went out every day to visit the sick and dying and offered himself as a victim for the sins of his people. Although there were many priests in Milan, there were problems with their ministering to the dying, since many parishioners wouldn’t let their priests near them until the passage of time had shown they had remained healthy. Many priests in Milan went into hiding, fearing they might catch the disease. And so St Charles told them, “Do not be so forgetful of your priesthood as to prefer a late death to a holy one.” 

He went to the monasteries and asked the priests there for help. Many responded positively and heroically served the sick. After the plague subsided, not one of Charles’ companions had died, whereas many of those who refused to help had. But he also advised his priests not to “neglect human means, such as preventatives, remedies, doctors, everything that you can use to keep off infection, for such means are in no way opposed to our doing our duty.” He also said, “From the beginning I resolved to place myself entirely in God’s hands, without however despising ordinary remedies.” He issued many guidelines telling the faithful not to gather in crowds and to avoid contact with each other. Masses were held outdoors if the church was too small and he ordered more Masses be celebrated. Catechism classes were held on street corners. 

He told everyone to “take the plague of the soul into consideration more than the contagion of the body which, for many reasons, is less pernicious.” St Charles insisted on public prayer and penance. Ashes were constantly distributed. There were three processions a week during which he walked barefoot wearing a thick penitential cord around his neck. 

St Charles set up nineteen columns throughout the city where public Masses were celebrated every morning. This allowed the sick to attend Mass every day and the priests would distribute Holy Communion to all the victims of the plague through their windows. He was concerned chiefly for the spiritual welfare of his flock.

An engraving depicting St  Charles Borromeo ministering to the sick, circa 1880

By Christmas of 1577, the plague had become less widespread. Seventeen thousand people had died in Milan out of a population of one hundred and twenty thousand. However, in Venice which is a much smaller city, forty thousand people died in the same two years.  Why had Milan been spared from a greater loss? 

According to St Charles, “Not by our prudence, which was caught asleep. Not by science of the doctors who could not discover the sources of the contagion, much less a cure. Not by the care of those in authority who abandoned the city. No, my dear children, but only by the mercy of God.” 

St Charles died in 1584 at the young age of 46 having exhausted himself working in the vineyard of the Lord. His heart is preserved in the Basilica of San Carlo al Corso in Rome, which is cared for by the Rosminian Fathers.

The Altar with the relic of the incorrupt heart of St Charles Borromeo in Rome

Cardinal Vincent Nichols said on Radio 4 last Thursday that he expected the Government will soon abandon its ban on public worship. I think he is working hard behind the scenes. Let us pray through the intercession of St Charles Borromeo that this will come about quickly.

God bless you all.

Fr Paul