Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed – Homily

Below is a translation of the homily that Fr. Rolf Wagenaar, cathedral administrator of the St. Joseph cathedral in Groningen, gave at the Mass before the procession to the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed in Warfhuizen, last Saturday.

The original text is in Brother Hugo’s blog here.

The clouds that Fr. Wagenaar refers to in the homily were indeed hard to miss

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Our Lady of the garden enclosed. THat is the chapel, the small shrine of Mary in Warfhuizen to which, after this Holy Mass, we will go in procession.

Our Lady of the garden enclosed. In Latin: hortus conclusus, a favourite topic in the late Middle Ages, in painting and on tapestries. We see Mary – because it always refers to her – in a walled garden with many flowers and near here usually stands a unicorn. Source is the Old Testament Song of Songs, where we read: “She is a garden enclosed, my sister, my promised bride; a garden enclosed, a sealed fountain” (4: 12).

That garden enclosed has always been connected to the Immaculate Conception of Mary which, as you know, means that Mary has been free of sin since her conception in the womb of her mother Anna; a premature redemption because she would , after all, carry God Himself in her womb. Spotless she had to be, a garden enclosed, a sealed fountain. Similar is an invocation in a litany of Mary from Loreto, the so-called Lauretan litany, which has been taken complete from Scripture.

Hortus conclusus – garden enclosed
Fons signatus – sealed fountain

The unicorn which is often depicted near Mary in the garden enclosed is also taken from Scripture and is mentioned in various place in the Old Testament. It seeks refuge in the lap of the Virgin and has the power to purify poisoned wells with its horn. It is connected to Christ, of course – the purity is central. Tota pulchra – o most beautiful, that is how we may understand it.

The image also has something poetic and we may emphasise that in this time: the beauty of our faith, because God is the most beautiful and that has always inspired so many artists. But poetry is not only sweet, like in the diaries of my sisters when we were children. Today too, in this lovely, blooming month of May, we may go to Mary in her enclosed garden, probably through rain and at least under dark and threatening clouds.

A sad, crying Mary she is here, for what her Son had to go through – didn’t old Simeon already foretell it to her? -, also for the many sins and the suffering in the world that is not only great elsewhere, but also when it hits us ourselves here. Who better to go to that to you Mother, our heavenly Mother, who is, unlike any other, so near to the Lord, to God Himself.

The Father also did not take away the suffering of the Son. So we must carry or cross, but with the Lord who said Himself: “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest”, and with His Mother Mary on our side the burden will be lighter, we can handle it and we can look up to the brightly shining crown, image of the Resurrection, of victory. That is why the crying Mary is also a happy one because the joy is ultimate!

We may gather under Mary’s protection like this, now in this Mass, in a joyful walk towards her, image of the pilgrimage that is our life.

We seek refuge under your protection, Our Holy Mother of God.

Amen.

The hope of Easter

Father Wagenaar blesses the new fire

Both Anna Arco and Father John Boyle write that Church attendance seems to have been up this Easter. I can certainly say the same when I look back at the Easter Vigil here in Groningen. The number of baptisms and confirmations was at a steady nine this year (although Pentecost will see some more, especially confirmations), but the cathedral especially was well filled. Some people stayed at home because of the rain, but they made up for it by making Mass on the Sunday morning well-attended.  

Of course, this year Easter has been overshadowed by the crisis the Church finds herself in, a fact not ignored in the various homilies I heard. I am happy to see, though, that the media does not always succeed in its attacks on the Church or the pope (at least those that try). The letter composed by Eric van den Berg and Frank Bosman has reached over 1,000 signatures now, local parishioners interviewed outside the cathedral remained supportive of the pope and the Church, a short article in a local newspaper echoed the same, and last night Fr. Antoine Bodar offered a well-spoken defence of the pope on television. 

Of course, some media got in a huff about the fact that the pope did not mention or apologise for the abuse during his Urbi et Orbi speech. Apparently, some believe that the pope must make renewed apologies at every public appearance. But at the same time they refuse to acknowledge the apologies he and others already have made. It’s a no-win situation and one best not given too much attention.  

It’s a crazy Easter, but one that is not even close to being overwhelmed. The resurrection of Christ, His defeat of death, continues to shine brightly in our lives even if, as my bishop said, the Cross of Good Friday is still firmly present in the Church and in our hearts.  

Below are a few more impressions of the Easter Vigil at St. Joseph’s cathedral in Groningen.  

Darkness in the cathedral
A fire burns brightly
The lights in the sanctuary slowly come on as Fr. Wagenaar incenses the paschal candle
The credence table
The twelve consecration crosses are also illuminated
The elevation of the Blood of Christ

My Easter Triduum, and then some

If you’re active in the Church, in whatever capacity, the coming days are the busiest of the year. I don’t expect to catch much sleep, especially around Good Friday. There have been cases where I had a full workday, an all-night vigil and another full workday, totalling over 36 hours without sleep. A minor sacrifice. 

Here is my schedule: 

Maundy Thursday
19:00: Mass. The last Mass before Easter, commemorating the Last Supper. It also includes the Washing of the Feet. The Blessed Sacrament is relocated to the Altar of Repose, as Jesus goes to Gethsemane and ultimately His death and resurrection.
20:30: Start of the vigil. With a friend I’ve organised this all-night vigil for the third time. We watch and pray with Christ in Gethsemane. The cathedral will be open until midnight, although anyone is welcome at any time. 

Good Friday
07:00: End of the vigil with Lauds.
15:00: Stations of the Cross. In fourteen stages we relive the journey of Christ to the Cross, from His conviction by Pontius Pilate to His burial. It’s always an emotional experience.
19:00: Serving at the Service of the Passion of the Lord at St. Francis. Not a Mass, since the Lord is not there anymore. We venerate the Cross, tool of our salvation, during this service. 

The Easter Vigil starts in darkness. The Paschal candle, carried here by my parish priest, Fr. Rolf Wagenaar, signifies the light of Christ, and slowly illuminates the entire cathedral.

Holy Saturday
20:30: Serving at Easter Vigil at St. Francis. The early vigil where several catechumens will be baptised and/or confirmed. Always special to be a part of that.
23:00: Easter Vigil at the cathedral. A long Mass, the high point of not just our liturgical year, but our entire existence: Christ is risen! The rituals and music are always fantastic. 

Easter Sunday
11:00: High Mass, offered by Bishop de Korte. Easter continues unabated and we still celebrate.
18:00: Mass for students. Which will be interesting because of a distinct lack of volunteers… But we’ll manage. 

Easter Monday
11:00: Serving at High Mass.

Fr. Manfred Hauke responds to his critics

Father Manfred Hauke, he of the Medjugorje criticism, has given an interview to answer criticism against his person and his statements about Medjugorje and the so-called apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary there. The original text of the interview is on Kath.net, and Catholic Light offers an English translation. Following my previous post about this, I  offer Fr. Hauke’s comments in Dutch.

In my parish, Medjugorje leaflets are luckily rare. In the past there used to be adverts for pilgrimages to Medjugorje in the parish bulletin, but that seems to be suppressed by either the cathedral administrator or the diocese. In what I can only assume was a freak coincidence, a lady handing out leaflets of Medjugorje appeared in the same week that Fr. Hauke’s interview was published. I politely declined when she wanted to give one to me.

Tomorrow: conference with Christian student clubs

Tomorrow I’ll be attending a ‘conference meeting’ of the various Christian student and study organisations here in Groningen, organised by the GSP. I’ll do so representing the student parish, together with Father Wagenaar, Guido, Inge and Maurits. Initially I tagged along out of interest: this conference sounds like a great opportunity to do some networking and establish some contacts, which would hopefully lead to us reaching more people. But yesterday I found I also have to hold a short introductory speech…

Well, I volunteered, to be honest, since there was no time for lengthy discussions about who would do it and what would be said. Reading the program, though, makes me wonder if this was smart: they’re talking about sharp questions and ‘pushing people hard’… Uh-oh.

But the conference sounds interesting. There’ll be a speech from the rector magnificus of the university, a lecture on ‘open communication’ and an opportunity to discuss things with other groups.

I’m curious to see what it’s all like and hopeful that we can further the ‘fame’ of the student parish.

Some extra information, in Dutch, here.

Altar change

Yesterday at Mass at the cathedral, I noticed something different on the high altar. Mass took place at the St. Joseph altar to the side, so I was looking at the high altar from a bit of a distance and at an angle, but at first it simply seemed as if the veil in front of the tabernacle had somehow fallen down halfway. I looked again, and then noticed it was the middle of three altar cards!

Altar cards are used in the extraordinary form of the Mass, and contain prayers which the priest prays at various points. Would this be an indication that we would be having at the very least an ordinary form Mass ad orientem in the cathedral?

I asked Ad, the sacristan, about it afterwards, and he told me the altar cards were found in the safe in the sacristy and Fr. Wagenaar decided that they belonged on the altar instead. Of course they do, these are meant to be used, not to stored away.

But sadly, placement on the altar was to be their only intended use. No ad orientem Masses, let alone extraordinary form, at the cathedral. Not yet at least, for I remain optimistic.

I later heard the cards were back in the safe, since they blocked the tabernacle. In a way, that’s better, I think. If they are not going to be used, then why bring them out?

A new bishop!


As of today, Mgr. Gerard de Korte is the new bishop of the diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Seen on the back in the photo above, he receives the staff of the diocese’s first bishop, Mgr. Nierman, from the hands of his predecessor, Mgr Wim Eijk, the Archbishop of Utrecht.

Its been a busy evening and day, run expertly by Father Jos Deuling in his role as MC. Before he became a priest he was a chef, and I can imagine him running a busy kitchen the way he ran the entire show today. They do say that telling priests what to do is more difficult then herding cats, so Fr. Jos did an excellent job. And judging by the massive grin he sported afterwards, he agreed. 😉

As for my duties, they consisted of showing up last night at six, to be told what the role of host exactly entailed. It turned out to be following an intricate chart of who would be seated where (varying from family and friends of the new bishop, to civilian authorities (including Secretary of Justice Hirsch-Ballin), delegates from the parishes and representatives of the Archdiocese. All with their own bit of cathedral to sit in. After we had dedicated that to memory, some of us, including Guido and me, would go over the order in which the offerings would be brought forward (those included gifts from the various parts of the diocese).

The rest of the evening we spent in front-row pews hugely enjoying various priests standing in for he Archbishop, Bishop de Korte or Mgr. Bacque, the nuncio, with varying levels of conviction or success. In actuality, they were rehearsing the program of the next day.

That day was today, and started for me at eight in the cathedral, for a full runthrough, with Father Victor playing Archbishop Eijk (including mannerisms). The film crew of the KRO was busy testing lights and sound in the mean time, creating interesting disco effects in the cathedral.
At ten the doors opened, and from then until a few minutes past eleven, all of us hosts were busy showing people their seats. I estimate a total of some 600 people with 12 hosts accompanying them. The entire Mass can be seen here.

There was a reception afterwards, with many speakers. I missed most of them, due to helping Fr. Wagenaar with his English homily. I was back in time for a hugely entertaining drink and conversation with friends, two priests and a hermit. I also got the opportunity to shake hands with both Bishop de Korte and Archbishop Eijk.

It was busy, but enormously enjoyable. I realise I’m very lucky to not just be able to do and experience these things, but to do so with the friends I have.


The new bishop on the cathedra of his diocese, flanked by his vicars and vicar-general, Fathers Wellen, Van Ulden and Te Velde, and Archbishop Eijk.

Both photos taken by Joost Goes, courtesy of RKK.nl