A Blessed Easter to you all!

My dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Easter Bishop’s Blog!

The sheer drama of that first Easter morning is difficult, if not impossible, to capture in words.  The Evangelist Matthew speaks of the huge stone sealing the tomb being rolled away; an earthquake has taken place, the women are petrified, there is an appearance of an angel, and finally there is the empty tomb.

The scene by the tomb was completely overpowering.  That, however, is only half of the story, there was much more to come and it was utterly unexpected.  The tomb was empty and the angel spoke the startling news that Christ had risen, as he had predicted.  He was alive, no longer was he dead.

Understandably, the women were filled with fear and joy: they were at one and the same time both frightened yet filled with joy. They must have been thinking, ‘can it possibly be true?’  Had their Lord broken the stranglehold of sin and death, and changed everything forever?   When they did encounter the risen Christ he commanded them to go and break this unheard-of news to his disciples. They were to be first Evangelists of the resurrection!

That Gospel story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ still speaks to us, and is intended to do so; its message is ever old and ever new. The Lord, the hope of his people has risen.  Death and sin have lost their power. Christ was put to death in weakness, but God the Father has raised him up. The Son of God’s trust in his Father was not misplaced.

The risen Christ’s words to his disciples were, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; they will see me there’ (Mt.28:10).  In his resurrection the Lord Jesus has now entered the eternal life of God, but he has not forgotten his friends, his brothers. They must be told he is still thinking of them. They must know that he is alive and will see them again. He has now passed beyond death, but they will always remain his disciples and his friends.

As we prepare to renew our baptismal promises, we are also renewing our friendship with the crucified and risen Son of God. In these promises we are making our own the fruits of the redemption which he has gained for us by his cross.

The candles we hold are a powerful symbol that he is the light of the world, and we pledge ourselves to walk in that light, and be ourselves a light to others.  We can make our own tonight the Easter greeting of the Orthodox Christians to one another, ‘The Lord has risen. He has indeed risen.’  Amen.

With every good wish and prayer this Easter!

As ever in the Risen Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

 

P.S. The Bishop’s Blog will be on a break for a few weeks now!

Celebrating Holy Week – The Church’s Great Week!

Dear Friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

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The Church’s liturgical year keeps fresh the memory of Jesus Christ, and this applies in a particular way to the last days of Christ’s earthly life, and most of all to his glorious resurrection ‘on the third day’, Easter Day.

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With good reason we call the sequence of these sacred and dramatic days Holy Week. At the heart of Holy Week come the three days we know as the Triduum, and it is the wish of the Church that her sons and daughters share fully in these richest of liturgical moments.

The Triduum officially begins on Thursday evening with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the institution of the Holy Eucharist.

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When we think of all the Masses which have been offered and celebrated over two thousand years, the countless numbers of believers who have received Holy Communion in that time, and the centuries-long widespread practice of Eucharistic devotion and adoration, it was on this night in the Upper Room or Cenacle in Jerusalem where it all began.

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To be present on Holy Thursday at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper is to be transported in spirit to that evening in the Cenacle where the Lord, anticipating his passion on the following day, gave his undoubtedly startled disciples the sacred food of his body and blood. We too take our place at that Last Supper table with him.

At the conclusion of this Mass the Blessed Sacrament is carried solemnly in procession to the altar of repose; there we can ‘watch’ for a time with the Lord and join him in prayer as he himself prayed in agony in Gethsemane.

On Good Friday we gather at 3.00pm for the solemn liturgy of the Lord’s Passion, the heart of which is the Evangelist John’s account of the Passion, followed by the Veneration of the Cross. Along with the reception of Holy Communion, this veneration of the Lord’s cross for which faithful people queue patiently and quietly, is an act of intense spiritual devotion and reverence for the crucified Lord.

The liturgy of Good Friday ends with a simple prayer and we depart quietly and reflectively, having commemorated the most sacred and momentous of all human events – the death of Jesus Christ.

The Church has no liturgy as such on Holy Saturday. Our church buildings lie empty, devoid of the Blessed Sacrament, and therefore somehow hollow. Holy Saturday evokes the mysterious descent of Christ “into Hell”, as our faith professes.

As he lay dead in the tomb, the human Christ showed his solidarity with the rest of humanity who too must pass through the gates of death.  The utter desolation and sadness of death are well captured by what may be described as the empty nature of Holy Saturday which we ought not diminish. We should pause for thought on this day.

With good reason the Easter Vigil has been described as the ‘Mother of all Vigils”, for it is the solemn celebration in liturgy of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. God the Father has vindicated his Son in the face of opposition, rejection and crucifixion. Life has triumphed over death!  With great fanfare the paschal candle is lit, a powerful symbol of the victory of light over darkness.

The Scriptures are proclaimed, detailing the wonderful creative deeds of God and his promises to his people of old, promises now made good in the newly-risen Christ.  With lit candles the congregation renew their baptismal promises, indicating that we too, mysteriously in baptism, have died and risen with Christ. The Eucharistic celebration concludes the joy of this Easter liturgy, and we depart with alleluias ringing in our ears!

The Sacred Triduum represents the culmination of the Church’s liturgical year, her celebration of all that God has achieved for us in Christ. May this Holy Week find us ready and willing to walk prayerfully with Our Lord through the final days of his life, and to renew our faith and hope in his unquenchable victory over sin, suffering and the power of death.

Until next week – May God bless you all,

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As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

Entering into Passiontide and an Invitation to the Chrism Mass

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

The Church this weekend enters the liturgical (mini) season of Passiontide, leading eventually to the Sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil of Holy Saturday night, which culminates in the proclamation of the Lord’s resurrection.

Consequently, the liturgy of the two weeks of Passiontide increasingly focuses our attention on the Lord’s suffering and death on the cross, a death, as we say at Mass he freely accepted. Passiontide is intended to be a solemn time, one of reflection on the person of Jesus Christ, both God and man, and on the wonder of our redemption through his death and resurrection.

We are treading on mystery here; and the practice of covering the statues and crucifixes in many of our churches lends an atmosphere of awe and reverence to these special and holy days. With the conviction and assurance of faith that the final events of the Lord’s life are deeply significant for all of us, the Church invites her sons and daughters to cultivate a spirit of prayer and recollection and so enter more fully, as the apostle Paul would say, into the mystery of Christ, and to what God has accomplished in him.

An important and often moving moment in the life of a diocese, especially for its bishop and priests, is the Mass of the Chrism, which takes place in our cathedral in Holy Week, usually on Holy Thursday morning.  Since this is the only Mass which takes place on that morning it is always well attended and greatly appreciated by lay people from all across the Diocese of Lancaster.

As Bishop, I personally find the Chrism Mass particularly meaningful, and am aware that the oils which are blessed will touch literally and spiritually many of the faithful, young and old, throughout the diocese in the course of the year.

I warmly invite those of you from the Diocese of Lancaster who have never attended the Chrism Mass to join us in St. Peter’s Cathedral, Lancaster on Holy Thursday morning. You will be pleasantly surprised at the rich experience!

The bishop is acting in a special way in persona Christi when he blesses the oils surrounded by his priests and people. The saving work of Christ is being perpetuated in the local church through the sacred priestly ministry of the bishop and his priests.  The first of the three oils to be blessed is the Oil of Catechumens, which is used in the sacrament of baptism on those about to be reborn in Christ.

During his own public ministry Christ touched and healed the sick and afflicted who came to him, and that ministry continues in our day when the sick of the diocese are anointed with the Oil of the Sick blessed at this Mass. The compassionate and comforting Christ still moves through his suffering people, laying his healing hands upon them through his priestly ministers.

The final blessing, just before this unique Mass concludes, is that of the Oil of Chrism, and its name suggests a very close link with Christ himself – the Anointed One. During the course of the year every child or person to be baptised will be anointed with Chrism.

Those who receive the sacrament of Confirmation will be anointed on the forehead with Chrism, and finally the hands of the young man I hope to ordain on 1 July (again, in the Cathedral) will be consecrated and anointed with Chrism for sacred priestly service among the people of Christ.

The power of the Holy Spirit charges these different oils with the presence of the risen Christ, hence the importance and significance of the Mass of Chrism for the unity of the local diocesan Church.

Earlier in the Mass, after the homily, I will invite my brother priests to renew their priestly promises in the presence of their people, while in turn I will invite the congregation to pray for their priests and bishop.  The Mass of the Chrism may be seen as the start of a particularly holy time for the diocesan Church. The oils have been blessed and consecrated, as priests we have reaffirmed our commitment to Christ, and now we move forward into the Sacred Triduum to celebrate the paschal mystery of the One who is at the heart of it all, Jesus Christ, God made man.

Until next week – may God bless you all,

As ever in Christ,

+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster

A Busy and Varied Third Week of Lent

Dear friends in Christ of the Diocese of Lancaster and beyond!

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

A busy and varied week has come to a close.  Continuing my parish Visitation of St. Kentigern’s Deanery, Blackpool, I spent the weekend at Sacred Heart parish (under the shadow of the celebrated Blackpool Tower!), meeting the parishioners and visitors and celebrating the principal Mass.

The Sacred Heart church in view of its central location attracts many holiday visitors from different places, and it was a particular pleasure to exchange a few words with a number of them at the end of the Masses, and to admire their fidelity to the Lord when away from at Sunday Mass.

The friendliness and warmth of the people really lifted one’s spirits – it was a jot to be among them.

I also visited some housebound parishioners, and hopefully by my presence as Bishop reassuring them of their important place in the life of the Church.

On the Sunday night, I was invited for dinner with the Syro-Malabar Bishop – Mar Joseph Srampickal at St Alphonsa Cathedral House in Preston to celebrate his ‘name day – St Joseph.

It was good to hear first-hand of the progress and plans for the recently-established Syro-Malabar Eparchy for Great Britain and for me to able to express the prayers and support for Mar Joseph from the Diocese of Lancaster.

The church of St. Joseph, now part of St. John XXIII Parish in Preston, celebrated its patronal feast last Monday with a concelebrated Mass, at which I was joined by the resident priests and others from the city.

The Mass marked the culmination of a commendable nine-day novena in honour of St. Joseph and, apart from parishioners, there was an excellent attendance of children and staff from the five primary schools in the parish who had been extremely well prepared and catechised for the Mass.

The hard work of the priests, with the close cooperation of the schools, made for a wonderfully dignified celebration, and exemplified Catholic education at its best.

Particularly memorable was the confident rendering of the Panis Angelicus by two year six children during the Communion. How the author of the sacred piece, St. Thomas Aquinas, must have been smiling down from heaven!

I was particularly happy to bless, in the name of our local Church, the three new priests of the parish in their mission.

I pray, that through the powerful intercession of St Joseph, patron and guardian of the Universal Church, the mission, people and priests of St John XXIII Parish will be richly blessed.

Meanwhile, The Catholic Education Service organised a day on Wednesday in London for Bishops and others involved at diocesan level in Catholic Education. I was glad to be able to attend. It was a reflective time against the backdrop of recent trends and government initiatives in the field of education.

The challenges facing the Church in recruiting sufficient numbers of Catholic teachers, particularly at leadership levels, were acknowledged. Yet it was also felt to be a time of opportunity, despite the rapidity and far-reaching nature of change enveloping us.

The goal of teaching and handing on the Catholic faith must remain central to our Catholic schools whatever the patterns and format which will characterise education in coming years. This latter point, perhaps, was the overriding concern of the conference and well expressed in the concluding remarks of Cardinal Vincent Nichols – President of our Bishops’ Conference.

The Diocese of Brentwood marked the centenary of its foundation on Wednesday, one hundred years to the day that part of the East End of London and the county of Essex were taken from the archdiocese of Westminster to constitute the new diocese.

The Cathedral of Our Lady and St. Helen was full to capacity as, clergy, religious and faithful – with their bishops – joined in a Mass of Thanksgiving in the evening for a century of Catholic life as a diocesan family – even if shocked by the day’s terror attack in Westminster. We continue to pray for the victims!

I was happy with many other Catholic bishops of England and Wales to join Lancashire-born Marist Bishop Alan Williams in what was a fitting and satisfying liturgical celebration. The diocese was erected during the days of the First World War and suffered greatly during the air-raids of the Second World War.

The faith endured, however, in spite of it all, and there was an underlying sense of satisfaction and gratitude to almighty God in the cathedral for a faith-journey already travelled in the past century, with much hope for the as yet unknown future.

Finally, I thought what a privilege and treasure we Catholics have in the mystery and sacrifice of the Mass, and how it perfectly fits all the great (and small!) moments of Church life. This was indeed the case in Brentwood cathedral on Wednesday evening, as we were again touched by the holiness of Christ’s self-offering to his Father, enshrined for all time in the Mass.

On Thursday, after popping in for a coffee at Castlerigg Manor,  I enjoyed the relaxing and gracious hospitality over lunch of the Anglican Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcome and his wife, Alison, at their home in Keswick.

Bishop James spoke of his work for the Diocese of Carlisle and in the House of Lords. It was good to hear of a Christian presence within the deliberations of such an important body on subjects of abiding interest.

Bishop James also spoke of the forthcoming initiative Moving Mountains, inspired by the Anglican and other Christian communities, of stirring up and renewing the Christian faith in Cumbria.  This is a worthy initiative and I assured Bishop James of our prayerful support.

Until next week – God bless you all,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

A Roman Reflection

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

I have spent the last week in Rome with two of my brother bishops on our yearly Visitation of the Venerable English College and the Pontifical Beda College, both of which train students for the priesthood in the English speaking world.

We do this work on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, the body of bishops ultimately responsible for these two colleges.

The deeply historic English College is quite central to the city of Rome, while the Beda lies more in the suburbs, opposite in fact to the wonderful basilica of St. Pauls-outside-the Walls.

Each one of us has his or her own favourite church which speaks to us in a unique way. For me, the annual Visitation of the Roman Colleges would be incomplete if I did not succeed in a visit to the basilica of St. Pauls-outside-the Walls.

What a most inspiring basilica and house of God!  What strikes the visitor to St. Pauls is the grandeur and spaciousness of the building. It has the effect of stopping the human spirit as you gaze around and, certainly for me, evoking a sense of wonder, even awe.  An excellent Virtual Reality Tour of the Basilica can be found here.

The atmosphere of stillness and silence, undisturbed by few visitors, leads a person to ponder, albeit briefly, on the grandeur and majesty of almighty God. The human achievement in the construction of such a measured and well-ordered building to the glory of God stands as a wonderful expression of what humanity is capable of.

In addition to the Papal Basilica, the complex includes a very ancient Benedictine Abbey, restored by Odon of Cluny in 936.  This Abbey remains active today.  The Benedictine Monks of the ancient Abbey, founded near the tomb of the Apostle by Pope Gregory II (715-731), attend to the ministry of Reconciliation (or Penance) and the promotion of special ecumenical events.

The basilica stands on the site of the martyrdom of the apostle Paul and therefore marks a precious link with the apostolic age and the beginnings of our faith. Unlike the other major Roman basilicas, or so it seems to me, St. Pauls-outside-the-Walls does not have the same volume of visitors and tourists, and consequently retains a particularly prayerful atmosphere.

A notable feature is the depiction in art form of all the Popes, going back to St. Peter himself. Yet the basilica is restrained in terms of art and statuary, and this allows the mind to wander, wonder, and glimpse in some small way a sense of the mystery of God enshrined in this most noble of earthly constructions.

Here I seem to find a rare peace and serenity for the short time I spend there. The dimensions of the basilica do make a person seem small, but at the same time ushers us into the presence of the One infinitely greater than we can imagine and causes the passing pilgrim to stand and silently wonder.

Before I departed, I lit a candle for everyone in the Diocese of Lancaster, and I left the basilica satisfied and at peace. A worthwhile visit indeed!

Until next week!

May God bless you all,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

The Rite of Election & the First Week of Lent

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Dear Friends,

Welcome to this week’s post on the Bishop’s Blog!

Last week, I travelled to our diocesan youth centre, Castlerigg Manor, near Keswick, in the heart of the Lake District. I spent twenty-four hours there on a Visitation there with the Youth Service staff and a group of young people who were on a week’s retreat.

It was good to be with and hear modern youth at first hand, and this particular group of young people from Blackpool were impressively well-behaved. The tops of the nearby peaks were covered in snow which added to the attraction of Castlerigg, especially to those from urban areas.

I was particularly glad to have the occasion to read to the young people my Pastoral Letter for the Beginning of Lent. I know, too, that the Director and staff gave a good push to our diocesan recruitment for the youth section of our diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes.  This is a major effort of ours in these weeks. Young people who want to join this should go the Castlerigg website here.

On Saturday afternoon, I presided at the Rite of Election in our Cathedral church in Lancaster – which was well attended by those adults – across the Diocese – wishing to baptised this Easter in their parish communities – and also those who are to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church.

The Rite of Election is a significant step for those who want to be received into the Catholic Church – preparing to receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist at Easter.

It is also an occasion of joy to these individuals’ families, friends and local fellow-parishioners and clergy who work to accompany their journey of faith.

After the candidates have completed their formation in the Catholic faith, the Rite of Election is celebrated by the local Bishop who chooses them and elects them in the name of the Lord and of the local Church (for us the Diocese of Lancaster) to which they belong.

The call, the election, of the Church embodies in human voice the call of God to which the candidates have already responded.

They are then asked to express their response here and now in the presence of the Church “Do you wish to enter fully into the life of the Church through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist?” They respond “We do.”

The rest of my weekend was taken up with Parish Visitation to St. Bernadette’s parish, Bispham (Blackpool), which now forms part of St. Kentigern’s Blackpool Deanery.

I celebrated the Saturday Vigil Mass and met the people afterwards, then at a well-attended Sunday morning Mass I Confirmed seven young people from the parish, which always is a source of joy for both families and parishioners, and of course for the newly-Confirmed themselves.

The Mass was followed by a pleasant reception in the church hall which allowed everyone to meet and mingle and to enjoy what was a lovely and highly satisfying occasion.

I joined the parish priest and representatives of the parish for a buffet afterwards before setting-out with two SVP members on a visitation of some housebound parishioners. As I have often noted, these visits are special moments and the welcome extended to me as Bishop is warm and genuine.

The loyalty of family members in caring for those of advanced years was very touching, and a further reminder of an unsung but deep Christian faith expressed in daily care for one another, and often without complaint.  The Spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, continues to pour out God’s love in the world, especially through love of one’s neighbour. One comes away from such visits both edified and humbled.

My week continued by chairing a meeting of our diocesan trustees who are ultimately responsible for the well-being of the Diocese. The individual members, both clerical and lay, give generously of their time and talents to ensure the sound management of the Diocese of Lancaster. Their contribution to the life of the local Church is greatly appreciated.

Finally, the Council of Priests had the first of their bi-annual meetings on Wednesday. This body is representative of the priests of the Diocese and whose existence is prescribed by canon law. Among other things, they bring the concerns of the different deaneries to the table, approve the diocesan budget for the year, and discuss with the Bishop issues principally of a pastoral nature which bear on the life of the parishes.

This priestly gathering also enhances and encourages priestly fraternity over shared food afterwards. It is always good when priests get together and share one another’s company, and experience that unique bond of the priesthood.

Until next week – May God bless you each and all of you reading this,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster

My Pastoral Letter to mark the Beginning of Lent

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A PASTORAL LETTER

FROM THE BISHOP OF LANCASTER

TO MARK THE BEGINNING OF LENT

Appointed to be read aloud at all weekend Public Masses in the Diocese of Lancaster on the weekend of 4/5 March 2017 – The First Sunday of Lent –
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1 March 2017

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

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With the coming of the season of Lent, the Church now begins her time of spiritual preparation for the solemn days of Holy Week and the greatest of all feasts, that of Easter. In setting apart these forty days the Church is following the example of our divine Lord who, as we just heard in the gospel, spent the same period of time in the wilderness, in prayer, fasting and self-restraint, through struggling with temptation, just before He began His public ministry. Lent, therefore, is a hallowed and grace-filled time for all of us who wish to follow Christ in His Church as His disciples.

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The season of Lent sharpens our awareness of the needs of our poorer brothers and sisters and of our Christian obligation to assist them in any way we can. Yet we must not forget that Lent is also intended to be a time of personal growth and for developing our own spiritual life. Through acts of self-denial and by forgoing unnecessary pleasures, we are uniting ourselves closely with our Lord in His temptation and struggle. By resisting the three temptations of Satan, Christ was rejecting purely material satisfaction, the attraction of celebrity status, and the human temptation to force the hand of the Lord our God. The Son of God is here teaching us that walking the ways of God in this life will often involve struggle and hard choices. This special season of Lent, therefore, is a grace-filled invitation from God to look carefully at ourselves, and to rediscover what really matters in our lives. Lent is meant to be a time of spiritual fruitfulness.

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The Scriptural readings at today’s Mass sketch the drama which is at the heart of our faith. The original disobedience of Adam and Eve and their rejection of God’s will has left us all wounded in some way. In the fullness of time God has taken pity on us by sending His beloved Son to heal that deep-seated wound. Where the sin of Adam abounded, the grace of Christ abounded even more. Almighty God has refused to let sin and evil have the last word. The Son of God through His death and resurrection has restored to humanity what has been lost. The sacred time of Lent is a precious opportunity for each one of us personally to make Christ’s redemption our very own. Those practices traditionally associated with Lent – prayer, fasting, almsgiving – will help us in this regard.

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We are only too aware of our weakness and our failure in dealing with temptation, but Lent should reassure us. The Fathers of the Church taught that the Good Samaritan of the parable was in fact Christ Himself, come to heal and bind up the wounds of a bruised and broken humanity, pouring in the oil of His love and mercy. We meet that Good Samaritan each time we attend Mass and receive any of the sacraments He has left to His Church, especially the Holy Eucharist.  I also urge you, dear brothers and sisters during Lent, to make a good Confession; there as always, you will find the gentle Christ awaiting you with mercy and forgiveness.

 

 

As we live through uncertain times at present, let us be of good heart and full of confidence, keeping our gaze firmly fixed on Christ, the pioneer and architect of our faith. As your Bishop, I pray that this unique season of Lent may be one of divine grace and blessing for all of us, and that we will celebrate Easter with joy and in the enduring hope which comes from the Lord’s resurrection.

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Assuring you of my prayers, and with my blessing,

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+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster