Station Mass and Mass for the Enrolment of the Elect

May I ask, have you noticed the birdsong? The temperature rises a little and out it bubbles. City life can separate us from these things; it fills our lives with noise and movement, and we’re the poorer for it. We’re locked in to our cars and our screens. We think our stuff’s the only stuff. Thank God, it’s not. In one of Hans Christian Andersen’s tales, there’s a nightingale that sings beautifully. The Emperor of China acquires it, but then replaces it with a mechanical, “virtual” let’s say, nightingale. And the real one flies away. Then the Emperor falls ill and the mechanical bird gives up. At that moment the real bird returns and sings the dying Emperor back to life. We can take it as a parable. Lent is turning from the false musics to the real one; from the false fast, says Isaiah, to the real one. In Lent we can listen to voices that are otherwise lost. Birds sing for the spring, and the English word Lent means spring, it comes from the lengthening of daylight. It’s all parable. In Lent, we can hear a music other than our normal noise.

Tonight, we have the first of our six Station Masses, the stations we pass through en route to Easter. This evening too P. N., a catechumen here, is “elected”, “chosen” to receive the Sacraments of Initiation at Easter. He’s himself, of course, but more. He also stands for others in the diocese coming this year to the Church’s sacraments, not a great number, but always some. He stands for those all over the world making this same Lenten journey; they do make a great number. After the homily the Celebrant asks the catechumen’s godparents: “Has he faithfully listened to God’s word proclaimed by the Church?” In other words, has he, she, they, heard the song, and – quotation – “responded to that word and begun to walk in God’s presence?” – like Abraham.

Yes, in Lent we want to catch other voices. IT means pausing to listen.

Someone (William Blake) once wrote about “cleansing the doors of perception” so we can see things as they really are. Lent means “to open our eyes to reality”, says Pope Francis (Message for Lent 2024). St Benedict tells the novices “to turn the ears of their hearts” to God’s voice – the ears are another door of perception. There’s an ancient Jewish belief that when God created the world, he did so by singing. He didn’t just say, “’Let there be light’ and there was light”; he sang it. Picking up on that, it’s the lion Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, who sings Narnia into being: “In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. It was hardly a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it…” (The Magician’s Nephew).

Sometimes that voice is the voice of pain.  Today we remember in prayer the victims of abuse. The prayers this year – we have one petition at least – were composed in collaboration with some people abused themselves. Painful as it is for them and for us, thank God people have spoken out. Recently, I heard a Canadian archbishop say that nothing had so transformed his ministry as listening to survivors.

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; says the Lord,

lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins…  “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
…Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am’” (1st reading).

Easter is the Lord’s “Here I am”. It is the Bridegroom taken away and returning, as he returned to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, to the Eleven, to the two on the road to Emmaus.

“Does he truly seek God?” St Benedict asks of the novice – the monastic catechumen. The Liturgy asks ’s P’s sponsor the same question effectively, and we know the answer: he does. Our Catechumen’s first name means “message”, and his second “light”, “brightness”. P. has heard the message and turned to the light, and with all the catechumens of the world will become “message” and “light” by way of the Easter sacraments.

Today Isaiah berates false fasting, insincere religion, and points out the true. Do we truly seek God? Today’s Collect prays for “sincerity”. Away then with virtual nightingales, superficial distractions and all our falsities. Let us listen to the cry of the poor and the secret singing of God.

St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 16 February 2024


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
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