Mind the Gap

A  few years ago the new translation of the Mass was introduced to (some argue imposed upon) the English speaking Church. Apart from the obvious change in prayers and responses, there were also small almost indiscernible changes in the Rubrics, The Rubrics are the actions that accompany the words and are written in red in the Sacramentary. I am not an advocate of the new translation and there are still a few changes that jar but on the whole I have found that I can live with it. I was however all for a change that allowed the invitation to pray to be taken seriously, for there to be time where all can pray and the celebrant can ‘collect’ these prayers as he is meant to do.

Much of the time, the invitation ‘Let us pray’ is followed by a nano second of silence before the rest of the words are said which is hardly conducive to prayer.

During Mass the Holy Spirit does not only transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ but all those who, by their attendance, fully and actively participate in the Liturgy, (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 41).  Although week after week, Mass after Mass we are transformed into the Body of Christ I must admit that I don’t always notice the change in myself. It is easy in the familiarity of the words and the structure to forget why we gather and on whom our focus needs to be.

The need for this space for silence became apparent one Sunday. After the Lamb of God as the priest held up the Body of Our Lord using the words prayed by priests all over the world…’Behold, this is the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb’.

How many times have I heard that prayer?

Yet this time the priest paused ever so slightly at the comma after ‘Behold,’. It was more like an explanation mark than a comma. And the difference it made was startling.

I did indeed Behold! I was attentive to the Presence held aloft for all to contemplate.


And that made all the difference to me that day. That day I noticed the change. I knew once more whose I was and whom I was receiving in the Eucharist. It took me back to another Mass many years ago, pre marriage and children when I was shuffling up to the Sanctuary along with everyone else to receive Communion. Out of no where came the realisation that this was no symbol, no mere remembrance, it really was Jesus Christ. That memory had stayed with me but occasionally needs to be dusted off and this ‘Behold’ was one such moment.

That gap was the space between the logs, a breath that enabled the Holy Spirit to fan the flames of my faith.



what makes a fire burn                                                                                          flame RoE

is space between the logs,

a breathing space.

Too much of a good thing,

too many logs

packed in too tight

can douse the flames

almost as surely

as a pail of water would.


So building fires

require attention

to the spaces in between,

as much as to the wood.


When we are able to build

open spaces

in the same way

we have learned

to piles on logs,

then we can come to see how

it is fuel, and the absence of the fuel

together, that makes fire possible.


We only need to lay a log

lightly from time to time.

A fire


simply because the space it there,

with openings

in which the flame

that knows just how it wants to burn

can find its way.


Judy Brown, on the Inward/Outward blog of Church

of the Savior, Washington DC


One year in

Last Saturday I opened the first diocesan meeting held by A Call to Action (ACTA) in the Archdiocese of Southwark.

I began by talking of Vatican II and its wonderful documents. These documents are our most authoritative teachings. They are beautifully written, every line carefully crafted often to say something new, or to shine a light in a new way. Yes, sometimes you will find contradictions in the texts, but that is ok.

What I hadn’t registered was that this week it had been a year since Benedict XVI’s resignation. And whether we like it or not things have changed. There is a new focus which invites us to live out our baptismal mission in a renewed way.

It might be easy to assume that the documents of Vatican 2 came out of nowhere. Whilst that is true of the invocation of the Council, the shift in thinking that produced the main documents had been taking shape for many years before that. Take for example, Dei Verbum. DV invited us to place Scripture at the heart of our Mass and our lives. It was of equal importance to the Eucharist. Furthermore Scripture was to be read and studied by the laity. This last reform echoed the encyclical of Pope Pius XII in 1943. Many other reforms can trace can be found to begin many many years before John XXIII asked for the windows to be opened.

The tectonic plates had begun to shift and eventually surface cracked. The renewal and reforms of Vatican II were just waiting to happen.

The same is true of ACTA. This meeting is the result of years of courageous conversations, years of people yearning to live-out the ecclesiology of Vatican II, years of believing there has to be a better way, years of loving the church and brave enough to make a mark in the sand.

There is a story told of the early Christian communities. Christians; a hunted and persecuted people could trust only those known to them. On encountering a stranger they would idly draw an arc in the sand whilst passing the time of day. If the stranger recognised this they too would draw an arc in the ground with their stick beginning at the end of the first line and intersecting it near the end:

Fish 2 (349x145)

That is what the priests in Ireland did when they began to talk about their disillusionment. It is what the Priests did in Austria too. And it is what the group of priests here in England and Wales did before they wrote to the Tablet in June 2012. The tectonic plates were shifting. They left their mark in the sand.

Before the letter in the Tablet, I had followed the other groups with interest and just after Easter I said to my boss at the time, when will it be our turn? When will we be able to stand up and say there are things that are not right and more importantly be HEARD? Two months later ACTA was born.

There followed a meeting at Heythrop where so many people turned up the meeting had to be moved across the road. And from that meeting ACTA had its second annual meeting last September with the third already booked. Every diocese in England and Wales has an active group meeting and having those courageous conversations.

The groups of priests in Ireland and Austria and ACTA have many things in common but for me the most important one is that we all love the Church. We love it deeply. If we didn’t we would just walk away – as if that is even possible, (that’s the content for a whole other blog). And when we act we do so out of this great love.

There is another group who also act out of a place of love. There are those who believe, that to seek to change any part of the Church, to draw a line in the sand, is to be disobedient to the hierarchy, that those of us here are dissenters, that we are seeking to harm the church, a church that they love too.

No wonder they find it difficult to countenance what we are about.

In the 1970’a Cardinal Bernardin spoke out about the polarisation he was witnessing and invited all parties to dialogue with him and one another. He noted that there was a certain ‘mean spiritedness’ which to him was incongruent with Gospel values.

We must remember that we are all the People of God.

One of ACTA’s main aims is to provide a safe space where courageous conversations, dialogue, can take place. In fact under we carried the strap-line ACTA: a time for dialogue. On the website it says ACTA: promoting dialogue in the Church.

In Paul Valelly’s book ‘Untying the knots’ Pope Francis says:

“Dialogue is born from a respectful attitude toward the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say.

 It supposes that we can make room in our heart for their point of view, their opinion and their proposals.

 Dialogue entails a warm reception and not a pre-emptive condemnation.

 To dialogue, one must know how to lower the defences, to open the doors of one’s home and to offer warmth.”

Since April 2013, a new wind had swept through the church. True, Pope Francis has not made any sweeping doctrinal changes. I am not sure it was realistic for us to even think he might. But for me this new wind has changed things, it allows the questions to be asked, it allows for the courageous conversations to be spoken. It invites dialogue.

And this can now happen in the open, bubbling up from deep within, at the surface (and service) of the Church.