The Rector writes…
Birthdays and anniversaries are important celebrations in the annual calendar as they allow us the opportunity to express sentiments which are not usually aired: if a certain reticence is part of the British character, then it is good to have these opportunities to tell others what they mean to us and to show our appreciation of them. What is true within the circle of our family and friends applies also to the Christian community of which we are part. Saint James’s Day is observed each year of 25th July and gives us the chance to reflect on the graces we have received through this particular building in Spanish Place and those people with whom we interact under its auspices. We accept that God cannot be contained within the structures we create to his honour, but, from our side, holy places are important as, in T S Eliot’s telling phrase, they represent focuses where “prayer has been valid “.
The Catechism suggests: “a church, a house of prayer, in which the Eucharist is celebrated and reserved, where the faithful assemble and where is worshipped the presence of the Son of God, our Saviour ought to be in good taste and a worthy place for prayer and sacred ceremonial”. We are truly blessed in that Spanish Place fulfils this injunction – as well as being a fine building, embellished with treasures from its long history, it continues to offer a liturgy representing the best in the Catholic tradition. The opening lines of the hymn with which we will begin Tuesday’s Solemn Mass are: “In our day of thanksgiving one psalm let us offer for the saints who before us have found their reward”, and while the words are clearly about Saint James and his fellow confessors and martyrs through the ages, they also refer to our immediate predecessors – to those who have handed down to us the tradition we value and love. “Sing praise, then, for all who here sought and here found him, whose journey is ended, whose perils are past. They believe in the Light; and its glory is round them, where the clouds of earth’s sorrows are lifted at last”.
Our Feast of Title provides an opportunity for grateful reflection of all that has been, but it should also offer a spur to look ahead. We need to consider how, with all that we have received from our forebears, we carry on their work of transmitting the Faith. Karl Rahner, the Jesuit theologian, used to say that the authentic measure of any Christian community has to be number of converts it has made in the past twelve months – not those from other churches, but men and women brought to faith in Christ, those who have responded to the Gospel for the first time. Marylebone is a wonderful and exciting melting pot of nationality and culture: hundreds join us for Mass – thousands do not. How do we reach out to them? How do we encourage the unbelieving and the searching to take a first step? “To enter into the house of God we must cross a threshold which symbolizes passing from the world wounded by sin to the world of new life to which all are called. The visible church is a symbol of the Father’s house where the Father will ‘wipe away every tear from their eyes’. For this reason the church is the house of all God’s children, open and welcoming” (Catechism: 1186).
It is no coincidence that our parish which began its life in the 1730’s in what was then the Spanish Embassy (which now houses the Wallace Collection) should have been placed under the patronage of Saint James. Tradition points to the Apostle’s body, after initial burial in Jerusalem, being moved to the borders of Galicia in Northern Spain. In the 9th century the relics were discovered and transferred to the place we now call Compostella. Alongside Jerusalem and Rome, Santiago de Compostella has been a major centre of pilgrimage and well-marked routes are travelled each year by growing numbers. It is a strange phenomenon that while Europe appears increasingly secularised, the ancient Camino should grip the imagination of more and more people. Saint James is clearly still very much at work drawing hearts and souls to walk the way of Christ.