A small treasure among palaces – A visit to Copenhagen’s Cathedral of St. Ansgar

For the past two weeks, my fiancée and I have been vacationing in Sweden and Denmark, and on Sunday the 19th we attended Mass at Copenhagen’s cathedral of St. Ansgar. Bishop Czeslaw Kozon offered the Mass, and proved to be a kind and gracious host at the charity lunch in the cathedral garden after Mass. He asked us not only about our holiday and daily life, but, when I told him I try and sometimes blog about Church affairs in the Netherlands and sometimes also Scandinavia, also about recent developments in the Church here: parish mergers, Church closings and what that meant for faithful and priests alike. A validation of sorts that there is definitely interest in the Dutch Catholic Church from abroad.

Of course, we also took in the cathedral church itself, of which I share a number of photos below. St. Ansgar’s cathedral is a small church as cathedral go, and shares the Bredgade street with the Orthodox Church of St. Aleksandr Nevskij and the impressively domed Frederiks Kirke, also known as the Marble Church. Acorss from the latter lies Amalienborg castle, the residence of Queen Margrethe II.

St. Ansgar’s is the cathedral of the Diocese of Copenhagen, which covers the entire country of Denmark, as well as the Faroe Islands and Greenland. The cathedral was consecrated in 1842, and was put on the same footing as a cathedral in 1942. In 1953, upon the establishment of the diocese, St. Ansgar’s really became a cathedral.

The cathedral has enjoyed one papal visit, in 1989, when Pope St. John Paul II toured the Nordic countries.

st. ansgar's

A view towards the sanctuary gives an overview of the cathedral. Apparently there had recently been a wedding, judging from the roses decorating the pews. The pews are the originals installed in the 19th century and some still bear the coat of arms of the Habsburgs, as the church was under the protection of the Austrian legate in Copenhagen.

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A closer look at the sanctuary, with the cathedra at the centre. This was a change made by Bishop Kozon, whose coat of arms can be seen above the chair.

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The dome over the sanctuary is decorated first with images of the Blessed Virgin and various saints of import for Denmark and northern Europe as a whole. Above them are Jesus Christ with the Apostles, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and at the top is God the Father.

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The windows are all decorated with one saints each. These were installed on the initiative of Bishop Johannes von Euch between 1885 and 1894, replacing the original clear panes.

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The organ in the choir loft, installed here in 1995.

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In the right aisle, adjacent to the sanctuary, stands the baptismal font with a quote from Mark 16:16: “Salvus erit, He is saved”, in front of a painting of Saint Ansgar, who shared the Gospel in modern northern Germany, Denmark and Sweden, eventually becoming archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen.

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To the left of the sanctuary, an image of the Blessed Virgin with the Child Jesus, a gift from Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I, and plenty of burning candles in front of it.

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An overview of the entire front of the cathedral.

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One last glimpse.

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In the church garden there was a charity lunch, with the proceeds going to the local Caritas. We enjoyed strawberry tarts, juice and wine, as well as the blooming garden and the conversation with some of the faithful and Bishop Kozon.

st. ansgar's

Christ and the Church

francis, solemnity of maryIn his homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on 1 January, Pope Francis emphasised why we not only need personal faith in Christ, but also the Church. Starting from the point that we can’t understand Jesus’ incarnation without understanding Mary, he continues that Mary’s motherhood is the motherhood of the Church, since Mary and the Church are as inseparable as Mary and Jesus.

To separate Jesus from the Church would introduce an “absurd dichotomy”, as Blessed Paul VI wrote (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 16). It is not possible “to love Christ but without the Church, to listen to Christ but not the Church, to belong to Christ but outside the Church” (ibid.). For the Church is herself God’s great family, which brings Christ to us. Our faith is not an abstract doctrine or philosophy, but a vital and full relationship with a person: Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God who became man, was put to death, rose from the dead to save us, and is now living in our midst. Where can we encounter him? We encounter him in the Church, in our hierarchical, Holy Mother Church. It is the Church which says today: “Behold the Lamb of God”; it is the Church, which proclaims him; it is in the Church that Jesus continues to accomplish his acts of grace which are the sacraments.”

So many people today are willing to profess a belief in Christ, but want nothing to do with the Church. But there is a great risk in such an attitude, the Pope explains:

“Without the Church, our relationship with Christ would be at the mercy of our imagination, our interpretations, our moods.”

The Church’s entire being is inconceivable without Christ. She is not a human construct, but a divine one built up out of human followers of the Lord. Christ reaches out to us and wants to be known. He has tasked the Church with making this possible, to be known from one human being to the next. Answering to this invitation to enter into a relationship with Him, we look to the Church, the greater body of faithful, greater than just ourselves, and to the sacraments He has given her to allow people to come to Him. This is what Christ has done, an achievement far greater than any human work or person.

The peace of Christ – Bishop Van Looy’s letter for Christmas

Ghent’s Bishop Luc Van Looy devotes his Christmas letter to the peace of this period. Peace in ourselves, but also the peace we are obliged to share with those who need it most, especially the homeless, the displaced and the refugees.

van looyTo all people of good will
Christmas letter from Msgr. Luc Van Looy, Bishop of Ghent

Christmas truce

The commemorations of the start of the First World War remind us of what our ancestors did to achieve peace. In the past year we could learn much from the media about this dark page in our history. At the same time we are continuously confronted with the horrible situations in which many people live today, because of the violence of war. The UN speaks of 28 million people without a home and 10 million refugees in the world at this moment. Among these people there are a great many children, especially since those countries in which war now rages have a culture of families with many children. In 2013, 15,840 people asked for asylum in Belgium, people mostly from eastern European and African countries.

We can’t take comfort in the thought that these things happen in distant countries. We can’t remain blind to the situation of so many displaced persons in our towns and cities: homeless, squatters, people without a house, who are completely dependent on social services for their food and clothes. Perhaps we et to easily rid of our duty by giving some small alms or donating to some project for children in Africa or Latin America. A child in London asked, “Why would I go to my mother’s when there is no electricity of water there?” These people need our love, just like our material support.

Pope Francis sees in these “new forms of poverty and vulnerability … the suffering Christ”. “The homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others” all call to mind the suffering Christ. The image of breaking the bread and pouring the wine as His body and blood are irrevocable signs of the total givenness of Christ. Pope Francis calls for generous empathy out of that union with Christ. Referring to himself, he says, “Migrants present a particular challenge for me, since I am the pastor of a Church without frontiers” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium 210).

Christmas is an ideal period for special focus on these social problems. Mary and Joseph also failed to find shelter for the birth of Jesus. In addition, they were forced to flee with Him to Egypt. Herod did not recognise the Messiah in this child; he was not interested in the person, but to his own position as steward. It is our duty to focus on the person and not to judge or generalise based on race or culture, religion or ancestry, poverty or wealth, orientation or age. The incarnation of Christ shows us that every human being deserves attention. Jesus comes among the people. He joins in their conversations and speaks with authority, but at the same time He listens to their concerns. He has special attention for the deprived, the sick, the poor, the children. His attention is for the sinners; He lets the adulterous woman go, to ultimately praise her to the expense of the host. He is a man among men. He did not take pride in His descent. On the contrary, He became the servant of all.

In the social unrest that we have witnessed recently, we need to distinguish what is important. Here too, man needs to be in the centre instead of mere power play. Here the Pope also speaks: “Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective, our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart. In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality” (Evangelii Gaudium 226).

Christmas teaches us to bring peace. “He is the peace between us” (Eph. 2:14), and He paid the price for it with His blood on the cross. People and cultures are diverse and you can try to achieve peace through negotiations, but nothing is as strong as the unity of Spirit. Unity is fundamental and transcends all conflict. Looking for a synthesis, one must depart from the desire for unity among all people. It is a matter of appreciating the other, esteeming him – more than yourself – and recognising and accepting the dignity of all. This attitude can defeat all partisanship and conflict. No one is more man because he or she was born in some privileged culture or in a certain context. Equality flows from the gift of life itself, which everyone has received from the same Father.

Dear friends, states of war, conflict, migration and poverty can not leave us unmoved. There are many initiatives in this time of Christmas to ease the fate of others, to share the warmth of the community. In this time everyone may experience that Christ has come to bring peace and unity. But it is important that this attention is not limited to the period of Christmas, but spreads throughout the year. The service to people and the world – we call this te diaconate – is an essential aspect of our Christianity.

I wish for the year 2015 to be a year of solidarity and service for all of you, of friendship which resolves conflicts, of peace in families. May the peace of Christ for every man be even stronger than just a “Christmas truce”, so that it may be a new start wherever necessary. For it was God’s intention to give everyone peace, when He sent His Son into the world.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year.”

The eyes of the Virgin

our_lady_of_guadalupe_4x6Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas and celebrated there extensively today. The story of her image (pictured) on the tilma of St. Juan Diego, to whom she appeared in Mexico in 1531, is amazing enough (I recommend reading up on it), but personally I find the story of her eyes simply astounding.

It is said (although we should be careful with things that are “being said”) that the eyes of the image are in many aspects alive, even contracting under the influence of light (!). But the eyes also feature reflections.

eyesMost visible, even with the naked eye, is what looks to be the image of a bearded man. Other images are exceedingly tiny and, in the photos (one such at right) I’ve seen of them on the Internet, I can’t make much of them. But it is said that a total of thirteen people are reflected in the Virgin’s eyes, representing the people present when St. Juan Diego showed the miraculous image on his mantle to the bishop of Mexico at the time, Juan de Zumárraga.

Devotion and enthusiasm are good things, but they can influence objectivity, leading to wishful thinking. I don’t know if the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe indeed feature an astounding account of what happened on that day in 1531. The image itself seems amazing enough, both in materials used and in its history since the 16th century. So I am also not saying her eyes do not reflect anything. God has been known to achieve even more miraculous things, after all.

The story is a wonderful one, that much is certain. The scientific truths found are less clear (there is an awful lot of “it is being said that…” in the story), but they certainly point towards appealing possibilities.

“A holy temple in the Lord” – a papal letter to the Church of the Frisians

plaque bishop muskens friezenkerkThe national Church of the Netherlands in Rome, the church of Saints Michael and Magnus in Borgo, better known as the Church of the Frisians, celebrated the 25th anniversary of the renewed use of the building as such. In 1989, it was the later Bishop Tiny Muskens, then rector of the Pontifical Dutch College, who started the first of an unbroken series of Masses in the Dutch language in this 12th century church on the edge of St. Peter’s Square. To commemorate this, a plaque was revealed in honour of the late Bishop Muskens (pictured at right).

On Sunday, a festive Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Eijk, and he was also the recipient of a letter sent on behalf of Pope Francis by Archbishop Giovanni Becciu from the Secretariat of State. My translation follows below, although I am uncertain if this is the complete text. But for now, the sentiment comes across as the archbishop uses a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians to succinctly describe what a Church is.

“With joy Pope Francis took note of the 25th anniversary of the transferral of the venerable church of Saints Michael and Magnus in Borgo, the Church of the Frisians, as national church of the Netherlands.

As Church we are all “built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. Every structure knit together in him grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:20-21). May this certainty give strength to the faithful in their daily work and their witness of Christ, the Saviour. May they always be messengers of the joy of the Gospel to their neighbours.

Pope Francis wishes and prays that the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God and Mother of the Church, may accompany all visitors of Ss. Michael and Magnus with her loving support and gladly grants you, your eminence, as well as the honourable father rector and all who will take part in the celebration of the Eucharist and the festivities on the occasion of the anniversary, the Apostolic blessing.”

Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu
Substaitue for general Affairs, Secretariat of State

from Rome, 7 November 2014
the Feast of St Willibrord

For today’s feast: Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed

On this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, a photo of the shrine she is the patron of: Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed in Warfhuizen.
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The chapel recently gained a new addition in the form of a confessional, to the left of the statue of the Virgin, that may be used by visiting priests. The statue itself is now adorned with the heart that I wrote about earlier. It took about five weeks for the money to be raised through generous donations and the heart pierced with swords was installed and blessed in June.

Som other new additions and developments over the past year include a relic of St. Philomena, acquired through the generous offices of an unnamed Italian monsignor; French and English versions of the Fraternity website (the latter be your humble blogger); the official installation of two young (17 and 18) officials of the fraternity; renewed and increased social media activities and of course a rainy annual procession.

Far north among windy fields she may be, but even there the Blessed Virgin continues to lead people to her Son.

Sharing Christ in freedom – Pope Francis to 50,000 altar servers

They were 50,000 strong, coming from 26 dioceses in Germany and beyond, filling all of St. Peter’s Square for an encounter with Pope Francis yesterday. Young altar servers, accompanied by some of their bishops, on a pilgrimage to Rome. To their great surprise Pope Francis addressed them in German. In my translation:

“The words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians that we heard, make us sit up and listen. The time is right, Paul says. God is serious now. What God has always told the people through the prophets He now shows us with a striking example. God explains us that He is a good father. And how does He do so? By the fact that He made His Son man. Through this concrete human being Jesus we can understand what God really means. He wants human beings, who are free but know themselves always to be secure as children of a good father.

To release this, God needs only a man. He needs a woman, a mother, to bring His Son into the world as a human being. That is the Virgin Mary, whom we honour with these Vespers tonight. She was completely free. In her freedom she has said yes. She has done what is good for all time. That is how she has served God and the people. Let’s keep her example in mind when we want to know what God expects from us as His children.”

pope francis altar servers

After the Vespers, four altar servers asked questions to Pope Francis. The first question was about how young people could play a bigger part in the life of the Church, as suggested by the Holy Father in Evangelii Gaudium, and also what the Church expects from altar servers? The second server asked for advice in how to respond to friends who do not understand why anyone would want to be an altar server at the expense of other passtimes. Question three dealt with freedom, and how to experience, understand it in a life which has so many rules.

Pope Francis answered:

pope francis“Dear servers,

I thank you for this encounter on the occasion of your pilgrimage to Rome and I want to give you some food for thought related to the questions that your representatives have asked me.

You have asked me what you can do to  contribute more in the Church and what the Christian community expects from you as altar servers. Let’s first remember that the world needs people who attest to others that God loves us and that He is our father. Everyone in society has the obligation to serve the common good by contributing to what is essential: food, clothing, medical care, education, information, the legal system, and so on. As disciples of the Lord we have an additional task, namely to be the “channels”, the lines which pass the love of Jesus on to others. And in this duty you, youth and young adults, have a special role: You are called to tell your contemporaries about Jesus – not just in the parishes or organisations, but especially outside them. That is a task which has been especially entrusted to you, because with your courage, your enthusiasm, your spontaneity and your sociability  it is easier to reach the thoughts and hearts of those who have drifted away from the Lord. Many people of your age have an enormous desire for someone who tells them, with their lives, that Jesus knows us, loves us, forgives us, shares our problems and supports us with His mercy.

But in order to speak with others about Jesus, we must known and love Him, experience Him in prayer and in His Word. You have the advantage in that respect, because of your service in the liturgy, which allows you to be near to Jesus, the Word and the Bread of Life. Let me give you some advice: The Gospel reading you hear in the liturgy, read it again for yourselves, in silence, and apply it to your lives. And with the love of Christ, which you have received in Holy Communion, you will be able to put it into practice. The Lord calls each of you today to work in His field. He calls you to be happy players in His Church, willing to share with your friends what He has shared with your, especially His mercy.

I understand your problems of combining your service at the altar with your other activities, which are necessary for your human development and cultural formation. So you must organise a bit, plan things in a balanced way… but you are German, so that should be easy! Our life consists of time, and that time is a gift from God, so it must be used for good and fruitful things. Perhaps many young people waste too many hours with useless things: chatting on the Internet or on your mobile phone, but also with television programs. The products of technological progress, which should simplify life or increase its quality, are sometimes distractions from what is really important. Among the many things which are part of our daily routine, those that remind us of our Creator, who gives us life, who loves us and accompanies us on our journey through life, should have priority.

Because God has created us in His image we have also received from Him this great gift of freedom. But when we don’t use this freedom properly it can move us away from God, can let us lose that dignity which He has given us. That is why guidance, rules and regulations are necessary – both in society and also in the Church – to help us do the will of God and to live in this way according to our dignity as human beings and children of God. When freedom is not influenced by the Gospel it can turn into slavery, the slavery of sin. Adam and Eve, our first parents, moved away from the will of God and so fell into sin, and also into a bad use of freedom. Dear young friends, do not use your freedom wrongly! Do not waste your great dignity as children of God, which has been given to you. When you follow Jesus and His Gospel, your freedom will bloom like a flower and bear good and rich fruits. You will find true joy, since God wants us to be completely happy and fulfilled. Only when we immerse ourselves in the will of God, we can do what is good and be both the light of the world and the salt of the earth!

The Virgin Mary, who understood herself to be the “handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38), is your example in the service of God. She, our mother, will help you, young people full of hope and courage, to be workers for good and labourers for peace in the Church and in society.”