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Forgetting how to remember

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sermon for the fourth Sunday after Trinity

If you access some online videos, you might find some wonderful footage of the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1933 and see processions of priests and bishops all correctly attired and all observing the correct protocol. You might find footage of some of the coronations and funerals of old Popes. You might see crackly old footage of an aged and frail Pope Leo XIII giving benediction in his garden in the Nineteenth Century.

And perhaps you say to yourself, “how wonderful! Things were so much better then.”


It’s a common feeling. Even St Benedict harks back to the old days when the Church Fathers used to say the whole psalter in a day when his monks could only manage the whole psalter in a week. What does he make of those using the Book of Common Prayer and only manage the whole psalter in a month.

We do tend to look back for the glory days.

But we do know that “glory days” don’t really exist, don’t we?


We know the dangers of wearing rose-tinted spectacles and seeing all things old as automatically being better than today. If this were true, then we should regard the process of bleeding a sick person with leeches as being more beneficial than the appropriate medical treatment today. And not only that, we have to ask ourselves whose “glory days” do we want? The British Empire? Fine, but we do have to remember that it was the desire to preserve the rule of the British Empire that eventually gave rise to the first concentration camps in South Africa. Our “glory days” can also be the days of our greatest depravity.

What do we really gain by looking back to those things that give us a whiff of nostalgia?


We have a notion of things being done properly, and we see that in the solemn faces of priests holding open the copes of equally solemn bishops with mighty mitres. We know they are taking things seriously. We know that they seek to make every liturgical action count. However, we must also remember that birettas and copes, altar frontals, solemn bows and double genuflections have not always existed. Much of our Mass has evolved beyond the sacramental essence. Liturgical actions do change. The Book of Common Prayer has changed too from its origins in 1549 through to 1928 and before its, frankly, unacceptable revisions of 1979 in the US and the Alternative Service Book of 1980 in the United Kingdom.

Why did these revisions suddenly become “unacceptable”? If everything that we do in church has evolved, then why should we object to further evolution?


Let us listen once more to Job. He sits in his poverty and remembers what has gone before. He remembers his riches, his finery and what he enjoyed before it all collapsed. Yet, he also remembers what he once did.

“When I went out to the gate through the city, when I prepared my seat in the street! The young men saw me, and hid themselves: and the aged arose, and stood up. The princes refrained talking, and laid their hand on their mouth. The nobles held their peace, and their tongue cleaved to the roof of their mouth. When the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it gave witness to me: Because I delivered the poor that cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. The blessing of him that was ready to perish came upon me: and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem. I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out. And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth.”

For Job, all his glory days are rooted in the practice of his religion. He remembers God, and we see that things haven’t changed. God requires us still to look after the needy. Herein lies the key to whether we accept a revision or not.


We Christians do not wear rose tinted spectacles. We carry our old days with us, they become part of who we are and we keep remembering that. We remember God’s Eternity and that He is the say yesterday, today and forever. The Mass is also a memorial: we do this in remembrance of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

But our remembering is more than just a warm glow of nostalgia. Our remembering brings what once was into our today and, if we keep it up, into tomorrow as well. Our remembrance of Christ is part of our covenant with God for in the act of doing the Mass in remembrance of Christ our memory becomes real: we taste and see the real Christ and receive Him into our bodies.

This is how we are to live with our history as an active part of us.


The modern revisions of the prayer books throw out important parts of the past and destroy the uniformity of our doctrine. This attitude revision occurs under the belief that modern thinking is always better than the thinking of the past. It does not account for the fact that the Early Christians knew Jesus better than we do. The Apostles had Jesus in living memory as did many of the Early Fathers such as St Polycarp, St Clement and St Ignatius. The moment we look on their thinking as old hat and of less worth than our thinking under two-thousand years, then we lose the past: it ceases to be part of us.

While times change, the doctrine of God does not and our liturgies evolve to reflect this in times that do change. When we see the footage of the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1933, we need to ask ourselves what we admire in the faith of these long-passed clergy. And then we need to live it out, not only in their spirit but also their Faith because their Faith is our Faith! If it isn’t then something has gone wrong.


Traditional Christianity is in a state not unlike that of Job. We have lost so much at the ravaging of Time, Fashion and the Devil himself. In our smallness, and in our trying to understand what to do in the face of much opposition. Job looks back and see what he was doing before the calamity struck him and he see what he will do again when his life is restored.

We, too, in our smallness, must accept that smallness and seek the purity of Faith in our own selves, living out that which we receive of God in our past.

Ours is not just a faith of our father, but of our sons and daughters too. We need them to admire in our faith what we admire in those who peer out from archive footage, yet have long passed to the glory of God. Let us pray that we do the same!

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