Letter from Fr Paul – 26 July 2020, 17th Sunday of the Year

26 Jul

Dear All

Over the past few weeks Our Lord has been speaking about the Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel. We have been listening to a number of what are called the “Parables of the Kingdom” – the Parable of the Wheat and the Darnel, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, the Parable of the Yeast and then today we have the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, the Parable of the Pearl and the finally the Parable of the Dragnet.

Heaven is one of the Four Last Things and the Church and the saints tell us we should consider all of them frequently. The Four Last Things are Death Judgement, Heaven and Hell. Heaven is obviously the most joyous and it’s the one I would like to briefly consider today.

Heaven is our true homeland

It is a divinely revealed truth that God desires that all people be saved and get to Heaven, but at the same time Heaven is not automatic because we have free will. We have to choose God and go on choosing Him until the day we die. The Church teaches that only those who die in a state of grace will go to Heaven. It is simply not true that everyone goes there. If we die separated from God (ie. in mortal sin), that separation is fixed for eternity. If we are not in a state of grace, the way to fix it is by making a good sacramental Confession of our sins having made a good examination of conscience before. We can only do that in this life. Also Anointing of the Sick and the Last Rites will help ensure we are in a state of grace when we die, so it is important always to call the priest to anoint someone who is near death. So Heaven is something we have to strive for and pray about. We have to strive for holiness and virtue in this life so as we attain the end for which God created us.

To be anointed when one is dying is a great grace which helps ensure our safe passage to the next life

Heaven is our true goal, our ultimate destination – the other things we tend to chase after are not. They are passing and of this world. We all have a feeling of constant longing. Whether we know it or not, this longing is for Heaven because ultimately only God can satisfy us.  As St Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”

Things in this life often become boring because they fulfil only a part of us. Once we get what we want we want something else, and then something else and so on. But the Beatific Vision (seeing God face to face) which is how it will be in Heaven, will fulfil every aspect of our being. “But surely it will be so boring?” many say. “After all there will be no food or drink, no TV or internet, no computer games, no sport, no marriage etc so what are we going to be doing all the time?” Well it’s true that there won’t be the pleasures of this life in Heaven, but we should know that every good thing in this life is only but the tiniest reflection of the wonder and glory of Heaven. It just cannot be that God who created everything that is good is going to make Heaven less good than the good things we have here on earth now.

St Paul quoting Isaiah says, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9). So it’s impossible for us to comprehend the happiness of Heaven, because the only thing we have experienced is earthly joy. St Bernard (1090-1153) says, “there is nothing in Heaven which gives displeasure, but everything delights.” Imagine that. Many of the people we meet in life don’t give us pleasure – but in Heaven they will! St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) writes, “The pleasant companionship of all the blessed in Heaven will be a companionship replete with delight. For each one will possess all good things together with the blessed, because they will love one another as themselves, and therefore will rejoice in the happiness of the other’s goods as well as their own.”

I have already mentioned the Beatific Vision or seeing God face to face. St John says in his first Epistle, “we shall be like to Him: because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). But we won’t see Him with our bodily eyes because God is a spirit, although God the Son (JESUS), since the Incarnation has a body. So we will see God through the intellect. When we enter Heaven God joins Himself to our intellect. This is why those in Heaven are said to know all things. And we will see God in His infinite love, His infinite justice and His infinite mercy and in all His perfection, and we will also see ourselves as God sees us and we shall know everyone else as they truly are. Our thirst for knowledge will be perfectly satisfied and so this will be perfect happiness for us. There will be no faith in Heaven because we will simply know, and neither will there be any hope because we will have fulfilled our destiny which is Heaven.

The degree of glory each soul will have in Heaven will correspond exactly to how much sanctifying grace they have in their souls. This is why we aim for holiness. The more virtuous you are (virtue has to be practised), the more sanctifying grace you have, and therefore the higher degree of glory you will have in Heaven. And you obtain virtue by prayer, sacrifice and good works.

People will often ask if Heaven is either a place or a state? The answer is it depends on whether you mean now or in the future. For now Heaven is a state, but at the General Resurrection and Final Judgement at the end of time when we all get our bodies back it will be a place. When JESUS rose from the dead He wasn’t a ghost or a spirit, but His body was different to what it was before. He had a new kind of body which was glorified, and that is the kind of body that is promised to us, and these glorified bodies will never die. Our bodies will be of the same nature they were in this life and they will still be identifiably our body, and they will be whole and complete. Any deformities or imperfections will not be there in Heaven. If anyone lost a limb in life or their body was destroyed by fire, in Heaven it will be restored. Neither will there be any suffering, illness or anxiety. Our bodies will shine with the glory reflecting our virtues. Even if we were no oil painting in this life, we will be so beautiful that we would appear to be like an angel.

Our Lady appearing to St Bernadette in Lourdes in 1858

Now remember Our Lady is already glorified in Heaven. And when St Bernadette (1844-1879) was called to look at a statue an artist had made of Our Lady of Lourdes, she said, “No, that’s horrible. She was far more beautiful than that.” So we just cannot imagine how beautiful Our Lady is. The children of Fatima said the same. It’s Our Lady’s glory, and she has the highest glory of all creatures. Now if that’s Our Lady, just imagine what it must be like to see JESUS. The saints who have seen Our Lord can never describe it.

Remember Heaven is also the communion of saints. Imagine being able to speak with Our Lady, St Joseph or your favourite saint – St Mary Magdalene, St Francis of Assisi, St Anthony of Padua, St Ignatius,  St Thérèse of Lisieux, St Padre Pio or St Teresa of Calcutta. You would even be able to ask the Archangel Gabriel about the details of the Annunciation!

There are many other considerations about Heaven but this is sufficient for now. But as I mentioned at the beginning we have to strive for Heaven and this will involve many hardships. Remember Our Lord said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). All the saints had their eyes fixed on Heaven. Heaven was their entire motivation. It is why they went to far and distant lands to preach the Gospel, willingly endured so many hardships and why they went to extremes to help the poor and the needy. It is what caused them to praise God even as they were put to death. Pray to have this desire for God and for Heaven above everything else.

In conclusion, listen to these beautiful verses from the last book in the Bible, the Apocalypse:

“They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever” (22:4-5).

May God bless you all.

Fr Paul

Resumption of Public Masses

22 Jul

(Page updated 31 August 2020)

Public Mass times are currently as follows: 

Monday: 9.15am 
Wednesday: 6.30pm (Latin old rite) – changed time
Friday: 6.30pm – changed time
Saturday: 6.00pm
Sunday: 9.00am and 11.15am – changed time

Private Prayer with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament will continue on Saturdays only
10.30am – 12.30pm with Confessions during the first hour or by appointment

St Mary’s has signed up for the Online Mass Booking service with the Diocese. You must sign up in order to reserve seats for yourself and others. Seats can be reserved 7 days in advance and up to 4 hours before the start of Mass. The website address is https://massbooking.uk.

There is now also a phone booking system in place. Please call  0115 648 1474, Monday-Friday 9am-4pm.

Please note:

  • A limit of 56 people in the congregation at any one time is allowed for Mass in accordance with 2 metre social distancing rules. This may be slightly increased with couples and families sitting together.
  • The church will open 15 minutes before Mass. You will be guided by the stewards. If you wish to light a candle please tell the steward as you should do so before being seated. They will fill up the church from the front; therefore, you may not be able to sit in your favourite seat. Those in wheelchairs should enter by the side door in the usual way.
  • You will also be asked to sign in and leave a phone number for Track and Trace purposes. St Mary’s will protect the data.
  • Please note that the obligation to hear Mass on Sunday remains suspended until further notice. So this is not yet a return to normal. If you feel uneasy about coming to Mass, please stay at home. Please do not come to Mass if you have any cold-like symptoms.
  • There is still no Holy Water in the stoups. There will be no singing (unless by a cantor), no Offertory Procession, no Bidding Prayers or Children’s Liturgy.
  • Holy Communion will be distributed after Mass under one kind only by the priest. You are then asked to exit the church straight away and make your thanksgiving on the way home.
  • Parents may not bring food, drink, or toys to the church. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult to the toilet.
  • The church will be closing straight after Mass for cleaning, so we ask you not to linger. There will also be a collection box by the exit. There will be no tea and coffee in the Hall after Sunday Mass.

Letter from Fr Paul – 19 July 2020, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

19 Jul

Dear All,

This month of July is dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of JESUS and this devotion goes right back to the beginning of Christianity. St Peter writes in his First Letter, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the Precious Blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). JESUS is the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Many of you will know the hymn “Glory be to JESUS” in honour of the Precious Blood. We still sing it today. Here is an extract:

  1. Glory be to Jesus,
    who, in bitter pains
    poured for me the lifeblood
    from His sacred veins!
  2. Abel’s blood for vengeance
    pleaded to the skies
    ;
    but the Blood of Jesus
    for our pardon cries.

 The story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16) referred to in verse 4 is well known. Both brothers made an offering to God. Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to God because he gave to God from the best he had while Cain did not. This gave rise to the sin of hatred and fratricide with Cain brutally killing Abel with a rock. The earth soaked up Abel’s blood as it cried out to Heaven for vengeance. This crying out prefigured the scene on Calvary, where Christ’s Blood cried to Heaven for the sins of mankind.

Cain kills his brother Abel

In the Old Testament God is often regarded as the “Avenger of Blood”. “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.  Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in His own image” (Genesis 9:5-6). So the shedding of blood always had to be avenged and so Cain would have to be punished for killing his brother. The Jews, even in the case of an accidental death, would cover up the blood with dirt for fear God should see the blood, smell it and strike the person down. But with the coming of Our Lord, the God man, His Blood was exposed to the Father so that the Father might see It and be appeased by It. At Mass, the priest elevates the Precious Blood in the chalice, certainly so that the people may see It and adore It, but also begging God to see It, be appeased by It and show mercy to us all. When God, the “Avenger of Blood” sees the Most Precious Blood of His Divine Son, He dare not strike us!

St Padre Pio offers the Precious Blood at Mass

This is because Our Lord shed His Blood and laid down His life as a sacrifice to atone for all our sins, the sins of the whole world, in all times and in all places. With sin being an infinite offence against God it demands satisfaction and atonement by the life of an infinite victim offered up in a bloody sacrifice.

But why, you may ask, is the Blood of Christ able to save us? Answer: Because Christ is God. In the Incarnation, God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity united Himself to our human nature, and so JESUS is fully God and fully man. This is what theologians call the “hypostatic union”, the union of the human and divine in the one Person of Christ. Therefore every act of JESUS, the God man is of an infinite value because of whose Body, whose Blood and whose human Soul it is. We read in the Letter to the Hebrews, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (9:22). Neither is our ransom paid by the blood of bulls and goats but by the Precious Blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:4).Yes, the Blood of Christ is human blood, but it is also the Blood of God, and so the tiniest drop of His Blood, being of an infinite value, would have been enough to atone for every sin ever committed and to redeem an infinite number of people and an infinite number of universes, so precious is the Blood of Christ.

There is a moving scene in Mel Gibson’s 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ” where the Roman centurion, traditionally known as St Longinus, pierces Our Lord’s side as He hangs dead on the Cross with such force, that it pierces His Sacred Heart causing the Blood and water to flow from It over the centurion, bringing about his instant conversion. The centurion kneels down in adoration.

St Longinus pierces Our Lord’s side on the Cross in the film “The Passion of the Christ”

Again in the Old Testament, at the time of Moses, God was going to rescue the Israelites from slavery to the Egyptians. And you might remember God was going to punish the cruelty of the Egyptians and rescue Israel by the Ten Plagues – ten supernatural disasters inflicted on the Egyptians (Exodus 7-11). But even after nine plagues, Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened and he refused to free Israel. So God sent the tenth plague – the worst of all. He sent the ‘Angel of Death’ to strike down the first born of the Egyptians. But before that happened, God commanded Moses to make every Israelite family take a spotless male lamb and sacrifice it and consume it. And they were to put the blood of the lamb on the wooden doorposts, so that when the Angel of Death passed over, he would not dare to enter any house where the blood of the lamb had been smeared.

The Israelites smear the blood of the sacrificed lamb on their doorposts

Those who had smeared the blood of the lamb on their doorposts were saved, but for the Egyptians who had not, it was a night of grief and wailing. The blood of the lamb had the power to save the Israelites only because it was a sign, a figure, a foreshadowing of the Blood of Christ, the true Lamb of God spoken of by the prophets being poured out on the Cross.

Twelve centuries later, the greatest of all the prophets, St John the Baptist was preaching the baptism of repentance by the River Jordan, when he saw the One whom he had been called to point out coming towards him. Pointing at JESUS he called out, “Ecce Agnus Dei.” “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  Now a new and far superior Covenant would be put in place. The animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant only had any effect because they pointed to the perfect sacrifice that would be made by Christ. The blood of animals has no power to save anybody or to atone for any sin, but in the sense that they pointed to Christ and His sacrifice they had a healing and powerful effect. And this infinite and perfect sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is made present to us at every Mass. As the priest consecrates the bread and wine, by the miracle of transubstantiation they become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord. The sacrifice He made on Calvary two thousand years ago is made present on the altar as if we were there ourselves.

Both during Mass and outside of Mass we can offer the Precious Blood of JESUS to the Father. The Blood of JESUS is so powerful that we can obtain many graces by offering It to the Father. In a vision, St Mary Magdalene de Pazzi (1566-1607) saw many saints before the Throne of God, interceding for sinners, but their petitions remained unanswered. Then the Guardian Angels of these poor sinners approached and their petitions were not heard either. Next came the multitudes of the blessed and they made intercession for these souls, but at the same time they offered to God the Father the Precious Blood, and their petitions were granted. So it is a good practice to offer to God the Father the Precious Blood of JESUS many times throughout the day.

Offering the Precious Blood can also help the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Our Lord taught St Gertrude (1256-1302) to say the following prayer:

“Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most Precious Blood of Thy Divine Son, JESUS, in union with the Masses said throughout the world today, for all the Holy Souls in Purgatory, for sinners everywhere, for sinners in the universal Church, those in my own home and within my family.”

As we know, the saints have often been able to see the Holy Souls in Purgatory. A poor soul once appeared to Blessed Henry Suso (1295- 1366) and cried out, “Blood, Blood brother is needed, that we may obtain relief! Masses, Masses should be said, as we have promised one another!”

Masses for offered  the Holy Souls in Purgatory help them

It is through the Sacrifice of the Mass that Christ’s Blood is shed anew, but in a mystical and unbloody manner. This is why we have Masses said for the living and for the dead, because Christ’s Blood cries out on our behalf.

Precious Blood of JESUS, price of our salvation, save us!

May God bless you all.

Fr Paul

Letter from Fr Paul – 12 July 2020, 15th Sunday of the Year

12 Jul

Dear All,

It is sometimes said that apparitions are sermons from Heaven! For the past two hundred years in her various apparitions, Our Lady has been telling us of the importance of sacramentals. In 1830 in Paris, Our Lady gave St Catherine Labouré the Miraculous Medal. In 1858 at Lourdes, she stressed the importance of the Rosary to St Bernadette. In 1917 at Fatima she appeared at the final apparition as Our Lady of Mount Carmel in a Carmelite habit and stressed the importance of the Brown Scapular and again the Rosary. When she appeared to St Dominic in the twelfth century she said, “One day through the Rosary and the Scapular I will save the world.”

So what is a sacramental? A sacramental is not a sacrament. Sacraments are instituted by Christ to give us grace, and the outward visible sign in the Sacraments, whether it be bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist or water in Baptism, gives us the invisible grace. Now a sacramental is also an outward visible sign, but they are instituted by the Church. They have a spiritual effect caused by the prayers of the Church. Examples would be Holy Water, statues, Rosaries, medals, blessed candles and the Brown Scapular.

Rosary beads are a sacramental

Sacraments, so long as they are properly administered, grace is conferred on the person receiving it regardless of how holy or not the priest administering it might be. The most wicked priest in the world can validly transubstantiate the bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ provided he uses the correct form. The holiness of the priest has no effect on the validity of the Sacrament. Similarly, if the person receiving Holy Communion doesn’t believe in the Real Presence, he or she is still receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, although they would be committing a sacrilege. On the other hand, the graces received from a sacramental depend very much on the faith, the love of God and the disposition of the person using it. So if I have a weak faith, I won’t get as much out of the use of a sacramental as if I had a strong faith. A good example of this from the Bible would be when the woman who had had a haemorrhage for twelve years came up and touched the fringe of JESUS’ cloak and she was immediately healed. And Our Lord said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8: 43-48). She was cured because she had faith.

One of the great sacramentals of the Church is the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. It is her feast this Thursday 16th July which is why I want to say something about it. Many of you already wear the Brown Scapular because either I or another priest have enrolled you in it. The more people that wear it the better. The Brown Scapular is two pieces of brown wool tied together with a cord and you wear it over your shoulders.

The Brown Scapular

The Scapular that most of us wear today is a scaled down version of the scapular Our Lady gave to St Simon Stock, who was a Carmelite Friar, in 1251 at Aylesford in Kent. So the Brown Scapular, although it is world-famous has its origin here in England. St Simon Stock was the Superior of the Carmelites in England at the time. Simon complained to Our Lady that his order was being persecuted and falling apart and so he begged for her protection. She appeared to him on 16th July 1251 and presented him with the Brown Scapular. The Scapular she gave him was the full version which the Carmelites wear to this day.

Our Lady giving St Simon Stock the Scapular in 1251

She gave it to him saying, “Son, receive this Scapular as a sign of the privilege which I have obtained for you and the children of Mount Carmel. Whosoever shall die clothed with this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” So the Scapular is a sign of salvation and a pledge of protection. In giving us her garment, Our Lady gives us herself.

Then on 13th October 1917, the final apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, when there also took place the famous Miracle of the Sun,  she appeared to the three seers Jacinta, Francesco and Lucia as Our Lady of Mount Carmel and held out the Brown Scapular to them making them understand that she wanted everyone to wear it.

One should wear the Scapular all the time and kiss it every morning or when you take it off or put it on because it reminds us to ask our Heavenly Mother’s help to keep us out of sin throughout the day. And by wearing it we also tell her we love her and trust her, and we tell her this repeatedly simply by wearing it.

The Brown Scapular has to be the most powerful sacramental because Our Lady also promised St Simon Stock that those who fulfil certain conditions and wear the Scapular, she will free from Purgatory shortly after their death and particularly on Saturdays which is Our Lady’s day. This is known as the “Sabbatine Privilege”. So what are the conditions?

  • Wear the Brown Scapular faithfully.
  • Observe chastity according to one’s state in life.
  • Recite five decades of the Rosary every day.

This is not asking much when one considers the privileges. There are many wonderful stories or miracles of salvation brought about by the Scapular. On the same day Our Lady gave St Simon the Scapular, he was called to the bedside of a dying and unrepentant man. He placed his own large Scapular over the dying man and immediately the man repented and died as a friend of God. “Whosoever shall die clothed with this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” Later that day the man appeared to his family and told them he had been saved by “the most powerful Queen and by the Brown Scapular of that man as a shield of protection.”

Pope St John Paul II (1920-2005), often spoke of how he had worn the Scapular all his life. When he was shot in St Peter’s Square by a Turkish assassin on 13th May 1981, as he was being taken into the operating theatre, he asked them not to remove his Scapular.

The two great founders of religious orders, St Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), founder of the Redemptorists and St John Bosco (1815-1588), founder of the Salesians both had a special devotion to Our Lady and wore the Brown Scapular. When they died, as is customary, they were buried wearing their priestly vestments, but they were also buried wearing their Scapulars. Many years later, when their graves were opened, their bodies and the vestments had turned to dust, but the Brown Scapular that each wore was preserved perfectly intact. 

Pope St John Paul II as a young worker wearing his Brown Scapular

There are countless miracles attributed to the wearing of the Brown Scapular, but it is not a lucky charm. We have to wear it with devotion and strive to lead a good Christian life. We should not presume to be saved just because we wear it. Rather it is a sign of consecration to Our Lady. In these dangerous times in which we live, wear your Scapular. As the priest enrols you he says, “Receive this blessed Scapular and ask the Most Holy Virgin that, by her merits, it may be worn with no stain of sin and may protect you from all harm and bring you into everlasting life.”

If you are not already enrolled and would like to be please let me know.

May God bless you all.

Fr Paul

Letter from Fr Paul – 5 July 2020, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

6 Jul

Dear All,

You have probably heard in the news how in some cities in America mobs are pulling down a number of statues. Should controversial statues be removed? Well, that’s not for me to say. That is something to be decided by local communities after discussion and debate, but it should not be the action of a mob. Statues of the saints have also been pulled down and desecrated. Last week a mob of two hundred gathered in the city of St Louis to pull down a statue of St Louis (1214-1270), the great monarch of France. King Louis was a really holy king. He led two Crusades and cared for his people so much that he personally ministered to lepers. He heard Mass twice, sometimes three times a day and established numerous hospitals. Each day he would have thirteen special guests from among the poor to eat with him, and a large number of poor were served meals near his palace. During Advent and Lent, all who presented themselves were given a meal, and Louis often served them in person. The people pulling down his statue were totally ignorant of all this and who he was. But a young diocesan priest, Fr Stephen Schumacher, ordained only a year ago, wearing his cassock, stood there peacefully in front of this mob and defended the statue of St Louis and explained to the mob the reality of who St Louis was. What a wonderful example for us, particularly us priests.

Fr Stephen Schumacher defending the statue of St Louis

And the statue was saved as a result of his action and the mob went away. But someone in the crowd did say to him they would also come after the statue of St Louis in the Cathedral too. Could the same desecration of statues happen here? I don’t know, but it’s always a possibility as it has happened before at the time of the Reformation, and so we have to be ready to defend them.

To tear down and destroy sacred images is an act of sacrilege and blasphemy and is the work of the devil. We are well known as Catholics for having statues or pictures of Our Lord, Our Lady and of the saints in our churches and in our homes, and we often come under criticism for it from non-Catholics and non-Christians. Historically it could be argued that dark moments for the Church are always preceded by ‘iconoclasm’. Iconoclasm literally means ‘image breaking’ and this has happened many times throughout history when statues and sacred images have been destroyed.

In the early Church and during the persecution when Mass had to be celebrated in hiding in the catacombs or in private houses, they couldn’t publicly worship God or have signs or symbols like crosses or statues until the Emperor Constantine (232-337), as he was marching with his army saw an image of the Cross in the sky and with it the words, “In hoc signo vinces.” That is, “In this sign you shall conquer.”

Constantine sees the sign of the Cross in the sky

At first Constantine did not understand the meaning until the following night when he had a dream in which Christ explained to him that he should use the sign or the image of the Cross against his enemies. So Constantine put the Cross on His standard and shields.  He was victorious at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 and went on from there to conquer all of the Roman Empire, east and west. This was the beginning of Christendom, and Constantine eventually became a Christian himself when he was baptised shortly before his death.

So why do non-Catholics object to our use of statues, images and crucifixes? Over the past few years I have been asked about this by a number of our University students as it is often a point of argument with their non-Catholic friends. They object on the grounds that it violates the apparent Biblical prohibition against images in Exodus 20:3-6.

“You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;  you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

So how do we deal with this? The first thing to notice is that it is the worship of images that is forbidden by God. To worship anything other than the one true God is idolatry and the Israelites were prone to this. Remember the story of the golden calf (Exodus 32)? But this commandment does not prohibit the making of statues and images. For example, don’t we all have pictures of loved ones on our mantelpieces or in our wallets? Certainly in the case of deceased relatives and friends they represent people who are no longer physically present to us. But no one complains about that.

Continuing then, does Exodus 20 prohibit the making of religious images? Well it doesn’t elsewhere in Scripture. In fact, God even commands it! There are the angels on the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25: 18-19) as well as the bronze serpent in the desert. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’  So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Numbers 21:8-9). This prefigures the crucifix as you can see in the picture below.

Moses and the brass serpent

King Solomon had statues and images made to adorn the Temple, and perhaps the most striking thing about this is that he did it after God had given him the gift of wisdom (1 Kings 6: 23, 27-29). The point is these carved statues and images were not intended for any idolatrous purpose. And in fact, God approved of them.

“When Solomon had finished building the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all that Solomon desired to build, the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon.  And the Lord said to him, ‘I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built, and put My name there for ever; My eyes and My heart will be there for all time’ (1 Kings 9:1-3).

But regarding images of God Himself, Christ in the Incarnation is the icon of the Father. In the Old Testament there was no visible representation of God. God is a spirit and invisible, so there was no way to make a statue or an icon of God. But with Our Lord, in the Incarnation, “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). God the Son became a human being, so you could see Him and touch Him. If cameras has existed then you would have taken able to take a photograph of Him. What was invisible became visible. And so images took on a new significance and so now we can have images of God. After all, JESUS said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Similarly in the traditional Latin Mass, the priest as he says the Our Father is instructed to look at the consecrated Host, because “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30).

Furthermore we use images to teach the Faith. We have Bible scenes in our churches as paintings or in stain-glass windows. In St Mary’s we have so many saints depicted – Our Lady, St Joseph, St Peter, St Mary Magdalene, St George, St Anthony of Padua, St Thérèse of Lisieux, St Padre Pio and many others. We can tell our children about them to inspire them to lives of virtue and love of God. These images can be an aid to devotion but we do not worship them because that would be against the First Commandment. Divine worship or ‘latria’ is given to God alone; that is to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Eucharist is truly JESUS Christ and so we give Him divine worship (latria) there too. To the saints we give a lesser form of veneration (dulia) and to Our Lady, being the most perfect of all God’s creatures we give ‘’hyperdulia’ which is substantially less than the latria we give to God but greater than that which we give to the other saints.

So this is a bit of Catholic theology on images and why we have them. I urge you all to have at least one blessed crucifix in your homes as well as one or two blessed statues or pictures of the saints. It is important to have them blessed. Demons hate sacred images in your homes. Today we underestimate the spiritual power of these sacred things. They give us spiritual protection when we use them with faith.

May God bless you all.

Fr Paul

ST MARY’S WILL BE OPEN FOR PRIVATE PRAYER AT THE FOLLOWING TIMES:

Mondays 10.30am-12.30pm
Wednesdays 4.00pm-6.00pm
Saturdays 10.30am-12.30pm
Sundays 3.00pm-5.00pm