Monday, September 10, 2012

Tintern Abbey Vespers...a magical afternoon and a debut

                                                                                       September 8th is the day theat has been chosen by the Church to celebrate the birth of the Virgin Mary. It was Mary who co-operated with God, who had chosen her, a little Jewish girl of about 15 years perhaps to take the almighty task of providing the Saviour of the World. A  huge task for such a young woman. She acknowledges her stainless state by calling God her 'Saviour' and rejoices in  the faith and honour God has shown her faith and honour which have been shown to her, now, as she, living enjoys the Presence of God and her Son Jesus. Since all Christians, after their baptism, are united, as adoptive sons and daughters of God (cf The Kings and Queens of  Narnia are CS Lewis allegory in The Lion, the Witch and the Warderobe) Christ's mother is our Mother too, a mother we should call Blessed.....because the angel Gabriel said 'Blessed art Thou among Women' and Mary herself says 'Behold all generations shall call me blessed'.

So we have an enormous debt to little Mary for bringing us the Redeemer, the Saviour, He who conquered death for us and brought us Salvation. She gave Christ the flesh, which hung , to her enormous pain, on the Cross at Calvary, when the sword pierced her heart.

The Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary was celebrated with Mediaeval festivities as a holiday right through to 1535 when for some reason the Virgin was banned to being a 'receptacle'-a womb that God used to bring Our Lord into the world. Her honours and festivals ceased in Britain, even though both Luther and Calvin to their dying day,loved and honoured her. With the revival of honour being shown, underlined by John Henry Newman and Catholic Emancipation (the repeal of the harsh penal laws against Catholics) the honours were renewed and in recent years, the finding of the statue of Our Lady of Tintern, found in bits in the stone store and brilliant Sculptor Philip Chatfield's recreation from its pattern, found in Amiens Cathedral, there the original Sculptor
had fashioned it, it has been 'returned'.

 The stone was blessed, then the Sculptor and his tools in the traditional way by the Cistercian Abbot of Caldey, Daniel van Sandvoort  and Philip worked out of doors in the Abbey for the next year.It was consecrated by clergy (this is an ecumenical event) and Revd Archbishop Peter Smith on the 500 anniversary of the dissolution of the Abbey.

On Sunday 9th September 2007 the statue was blessed and dedicated in a moving ceremony conducted jointly by the Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff, Peter Smith, and by Bishop Dominic Walker of Monmouth, Church of Wales. A very large crowd gathered for the occasion – in the region of 800 people.
The dedication followed the now annual ecumenical service of Sung Vespers, which first took place again at Tintern in 2000, to mark the Millennium. The procession at that dedication included the Mediaeval re-enacters, who brought a banner, and flowers, which had been brought by many of the ecumenical assembly of Christians.Merchandise was produced to help pay for the enterprise. I also arranged for and brought two candle stands for use with the statue at Tintern for the ceremony, which appear to have been mislaid yesterday, which was regrettable.

Nevertheless the event was well attended. The Music , provided by the Choir of the ancient Priory in Monmouth were in stirling voice.Archbishop Stack, our new Archbishop seemed to not have been informed about the procession, but once the Vespers were underway, the whole was wonderful. The programme made the point about RR Terry's compilation of the 'Westminster Hymnal' first brought out 100 years ago..Terry's tune for AVE MARIS STELLA was sung  in  Edward Caswall's  English translation. The first hymn, 'Ye who own the faith of Jesus' was unknown to me, but sung to a well known tune 'Daily Daily sing to Mary'.The psalms had antiphons by Emma Joy and Susan Williams.Psalm 84 was preceded by 'On this day we honour the Virgin Mary; chosen by God, beyond all others blest' .Psalm  85 with Let us celebrate the birth of Mary, who brought forth for us the Saviour of the World!' Psalm 113 had  God has brought help to His people , O praise the Name of the Lord'  and  a canticle from Isaiah 61,10-11:62:1-2 was prefaced by 'You shall be a crown of Glory in the hand of the Lord'     The Scripture was from St Luke 1 v 39-56.

The new archbishop George Stack spoke strongly and firmly of the Tragedy of the building and what the stones would have said.He spoke well, and with a degree of emotion about the building, Tintern Abbey, mentioning how such buildings are magnets for tourists seeking something, and yet missing the inner unity possessed by the culture prior to the destruction of the  abbey.In quiet measured tones using the excellent sound system provided, he alluded to how modern technology,and music can bring some of it back, for example, during the Jubilee Celebrations, seeing Buckingham Palace swathed in light and sound as 'Madness' sang 'Our House' and the Crown or Light around Durham Cathedral celebrating the Lindesfarne Gospels. In the Tintern pilgrimages, he explained we have Footprints in the Sands of time, showing a continuation of worship throughout Christian time, and such buildings being an offering with which we worship God.

He went on to say 'If these stones could speak, what would they say?' Archbishop George remarked, the (original decapitated-) statue would speak of the turmoil of the time when political questions and allegiances were wrapped up in religious language. He said you only needed to watch the news to see no lessons had been learned in that direction.

He said Our Lady would speak of a stable, ordered Cistercian Community established around Wales,from Citeaux in 1098, a life centred in Prayer, orf WHOLE-ness, or HOL-iness, by extention going out to the good and well being of the surrounding parishes, contributing to the harmony of the life of the people, the building itself glorifying God in a beautiful God-given Creation in its surroundings. He quoted Eamon Duffy the historian, who in his excellent book 'The Voices of Morebath'  wrote of the social and political life of a small village in Devon called Morebath. He says the parish, the unity of the parish and by extension the Abbey was sophisticated and harmonious.

'There is a church sheep flock cared for in common but it is not a single flock but several,the proceeds of  which are dedicated to the different purposes of charities.'

The parish generally harmonious and sociable was gradually deconstructed throughout the Reformation and this social and religious life dismantled and its loss mourned. If the beautiful statue could speak, she would speak of the Rule of Benedict and the quiet rhythms of the days and years, the abbey its surroundings and parishes, a complete integrity of WHOLE-ness and HOL-iness. She would say you cannot separate the Grace of God from Nature , you can't see things in isolation, which is the tragedy of our present world, the lack of the inner UNITY at the Heart of Creation. Tintern Abbey was built, he said, as a reminder of that Unity of beautiful Creation and its heavenly Creator,the longing deep in the heart of every man and woman.

The Archbishop then turned to Beranrd of Clairvaux, the Cistercians'  greatest saint, who meditated on Mary's role , undoing the evil of Eve. He called her 'Rosa Mystica'; and this title has been given her in the Litany of Loreto. He said : 'Eve was a thorn, wounding , bringing death to all, in Mary we see a rose soothing people's hurts'.

Mary is indeed a rose
White for Maidenhood
Red for Love
White in Body
Red in Soul
White in seeking Virtue
Red in turning down Vice
White in cleansing our affection
Red in mortifying her flesh
White in her Love of God
Red in her comjpassion for her neighbour.  St Bernard

Finally he quoted Gerard Manley Hopkins the Jesuit poet, who saw the beauty of the Lord in' Dappled things.'
Is Mary that Rose then? Mary, the tree?
But the Blossom, the Blossom there, who can it be?
Who can her Rose be? It could be but One:
Christ Jesus, our Lord - her God and her Son.
In the Gardens of God, in the daylight divine
Shew me thy son, Mother, Mother of mine
A hushed moving silence followed the beautifully crafted and delivered homily.
There followed the 'Ave Maris Stella' in English of Edward Caswall, and the Magnificat,and prayers, the 'Our Father' in a modern English form did not seem  known by many, and the Glory be, had a different ending is now and ever shall be, World without end' does not , to me mean the same as is now and shall be forever....'as it leaves out the New World without End of the Bride and the Lamb, but no doubt, it has been modernised here.  The CENSING of the statue and beautiful floral display was evocative, the incense of the Orthodox monastery going up in clouds and swirling round the statue, giving honour to the Mater Dei , The Theotokos and the Panagia (All Holy).
The  Monmouth Priory Choir (whose Music Director is not named in the programme)samg a beautiful rendition of Orlando di Lasso's motet 'Sancta Maria, Ora pro nobis'. It is always difficult to mike so many singers, but the beauty of their singing greatly enhanced the procession to the statue.I especially liked this and the ensuing SALVE REGINA (Hail Holy Queen) sung with great gusto by the whole assembly of Christians  with numbers in the hundreds. There followed a prayer and blessing and final hymn 'Alleluia sing to Jesus' the old abbey ringing to the sounds of hundreds of voices upturned in praise.
Many people went up to venerate the statue and light some candles, sadly the candlestands were no-where to be found. I was just sad there was no rosary announced afterwards for those who wished it, and no informal Marian hymns. I saw few priests I knew at this year’s Vespers, but probably as they are all moving around this weekend to different parishes.Nevertheless on a sunny beautiful Autumn day, in a place of great beauty we once again gave thanks with equal beauty for Mary's gift to human kind in co-operation with God.

                                           Pilgrims at the end stay to honour Mary .

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