Glastonbury, one of the great places of our Christian past, reputedly visited by Joseph of Arimathaea and the infant Jesus, closely connected with Alfred the Great and with St Dunstan, site of the greatest of English Benedictine Houses. This was where a few hundred of us gathered today for our annual Pilgrimage.
Once the great Abbey towered over the town and surrounding countryside. Now just fragements remain from the stones pillaged after the dissolution in 1539. Two parish churches survive, among a sea of New Ageism, Magic Crystals, and shops where you can get all the gear for your Coven — I think Mrs Schori might find it a positive Aladdin's cave, but for most of us it is a cave of Adullam.
Abbot Whiting was one of the few heads of religious communities who stood firm against Henry VIII and the Royal Supremacy; and paid for it with his life, on the Tor which rises above the town. With the Treasurer of the Abbey John Thorne and its Sacrist Roger James he was dragged on a hurdle to the hill-top and there cruelly executed. Their quartered bodies were distributed among local towns pour encourager les autres, their heads set up above the Abbey Gate of Glastonbury. In 1895 Pope Leo XIII beatified the Abbot and his two companions.
Perhaps these English heroes of the faith can help steel our nerve for whatever comes in future. Surely anything we suffer will be trivial against their ordeal. Today, we were gathered mostly from Wales and South-West England. The Ordinariate was, of course, a topic of conversation during the lunchbreak between the Procession & Mass, and Benediction.
I was sad to hear the sort of excuses some were making. "The Ordinariate will be congregationalist." "We won't be able to keep our churches." "The people will not come with us." "It is different in Wales." Yet the truth of the matter is that it is 'catholics' remaining in the Church in Wales or the Church of England who will be the congregationalists. They will have no Bishop to whom they can look. And yet, as the Bishop of Richborough remarked today, these people who are ignoring the Pope's offer are still prepared to pray for "Benedict our Pope"!
The Ordinariate will NOT be sectarian or congregationalist. It will be an authentic part of the Church Catholic. Its Ordinary will relate directly to the Holy Father. One of the Welsh contingent said to me that the Catholic Church in Wales is very foreign; Irish and Italian, not at all Welsh. Then why not join the Ordinariate to ensure that part of the Catholic Church in Wales is genuinely Welsh? Certainly things are different in Wales; they do not have so much as a Provincial Bishop to care for them any longer. On Bishop David Thomas's retirement all the promises previously made were forgotten. Oh yes, it is different in Wales.
And what about buildings? Abbot Whiting might have had a decent pension and gone on living in the Abbot's lodging if only he had complacently handed the rest of the Abbey over to the King. If he had done that, even the church itself might have been spared, as Tewkesbury Abbey was; and Gloucester had its monastic church kept as a Cathedral. But Abbot Whiting knew that the Church was not buildings, and that faithfulness to the truth was more important than keeping control of stone and mortar. May he and his companions pray for us all, that more English Christians might find the courage to leave the comfort of the establishment and be identified once more with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.
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