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Last Sunday my fiancée and I were away from home – at least five dioceses* (or three countries) to be exact - so Mass was to be attended at an unfamiliar church in an unfamiliar language (well, at least partly). We opted for the Cathedral of St. Erik in Stockholm.

The cathedral is the mother church of the Diocese of Stockholm, which covers all of Sweden, and the seat of Bishop Anders Arborelius (who himself was in Rio when we visited his cathedral). It has been the cathedral since 1953, when Stockholm was established as a diocese, although it wasn’t consecrated until 1983.

As visits to other churches than my own, both in the Netherlands and in Germany, have made me a bit concerned about how the liturgy would be celebrated, I entered St. Erik’s with similar feelings. But, as it turned out, there was no need. The cathedral community and her priests understand liturgy and celebrate Mass as the Church requires. What they don’t do well, however, is architecture.

 St. Erik’s is divided in two parts. There is the original church, which is a perfectly fine 19th century building, with lots of woodwork, paintings, stained glass, statues and two altars. Much is made of the 1989 visit of Blessed John Paul II, and the cathedral is the proud owner of a relic of the soon-to-be saint. The patron, Saint Erik himself, is also in evidence, as is St. Bridget, patron of Sweden. No complaints with this part of the building, except that it contains a gaping hole.

There is no main sanctuary.

Instead, where the sanctuary once upon a time was, there is now a nicely arched entry into the second haf of the building: a standard hall-like structure of the style which suffices for a meeting hall, multifunctional school room or other spacious area where a large number of people can meet. But a space where the sacrifice of our Lord can become present? Not so much. The contrast between the two parts of the church is quite jarring. It is a sign of the power of good liturgy that it is able to transcend this contrast, but why someone once elected to remove a perfectly good sanctuary, designed to elevate the soul and make the sacrifice of the Mass visible to its deepest level, and replace it with a  brick room is anyone’s guess.

But not wanting to be a sour-puss, I’ll share some photos I took at the cathedral:

saint erik's cathedral

^The coat of arms of Pope Francis graces the front of the cathedral.

saint erik's cathedral

^The modern section of the cathedral, which does contain some positive elements: the tabernacle is impossible to miss, the altar has a Benedictine arrangement, and priests, deacons, acolytes and servers sit facing the tabernacle when not at altar or lectern.

st. eriks  cathedral, john paul ii

^A relic of Blessed John Paul II’s blood, in a chapel in the archway leading from the original church to the newer section.

st. eric's cathedral

^ From the old to the new: both parts of the church seen together.

Lastly, a church is also made up out of people. One of these was Blessed John Paul II. Another is the unknown lady who approached us and told us her story in Swedish (we were not able to follow it all). Her tears touched us, as did  her desire and hope for our future happiness. She gave us a tiny relic of the blessed Pope, a piece of fabric with his blood on it… **

*Seen from my home diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, these would be the Dioceses of Osnabrück and Münster, the Archdiocese of Hamburg, and the Dioceses of Copenhagen and Stockholm.

** And yes, it is official, containing an affidavit with Cardinal Vallini’s name and signature.

Because of a lack of words on the blog today, here are some photos of the last days, a period of farewell and gratitude:

benedict ash wednesday

Shaking hands with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, after the latter had given an emotional thank you message on behalf of the Curia.

benedict ash wednesday

And so, the last public liturgy of Pope Benedict XVI ends, as he is helped off the steps of the sanctuary on Ash Wednesday.

benedict vallini

Cardinal Agostino Vallini welcomes the Pope, father and teacher.

benedict vallini

Professor Pope. Benedict in his element, speaking to the priests of Rome about the Second Vatican Council, spontaneously and without prepared notes.

“At the moment of adoration, we are all on the same plane, kneeling before the Sacrament of Love. The common and ministerial priesthoods are united in Eucharistic worship. It is a very beautiful and significant experience, which we have experienced several times in Saint Peter’s Basilica, and also in the unforgettable vigils with young people – I recall, for example, those of Cologne, London, Zagreb, Madrid. It is evident to all that these moments of Eucharistic vigil prepare the celebration of the Holy Mass, prepare hearts for the encounter, so that it is more fruitful. To be all together in prolonged silence before the Lord present in his Sacrament, is one of the most genuine experiences of our being Church, which is accompanied in a complementary way with the celebration of the Eucharist, listening to the Word of God, singing, approaching together the table of the Bread of life. Communion and contemplation cannot be separated, they go together. To really communicate with another person I must know him, I must be able to be in silence close to him, to hear him and to look at him with love. True love and true friendship always live of the reciprocity of looks, of intense, eloquent silences full of respect and veneration, so that the encounter is lived profoundly, in a personal not a superficial way. And, unfortunately, if this dimension is lacking, even sacramental communion itself can become, on our part, a superficial gesture. Instead, in true communion, prepared by the colloquy of prayer and of life, we can say to the Lord words of confidence as those that resounded a short while ago in the Responsorial Psalm:

“O Lord, I am thy servant; I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid.
Thou hast loosed my bonds.
I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the Lord”
(Psalm 115:16-17).”

Pope Benedict XVI
Homily for Corpus Christi, 7 June 2012

Photo credit: author’s own, Father Hans Pauw displays the Blessed Sacrament for Adoration during a meeting of young people of the Archdiocese of Utrecht, 10 June 2012.

On Saturday I attended the ordination to the priesthood of Fathers Patrick Kuis and Geoffrey de Jong in the cathedral basilica of Saint John the Evangelist in ‘s Hertogenbosch. These were two of nine new priests that the Church in the Netherlands received on that day. 27-year-old Fr. Patrick is a personal friend, so the ordination was especially joyous.

Father Patrick will remain assigned to the cathedral parish in ‘s Hertogenbosch, a choice assignment in the largest diocese of the country in terms of the number of Catholics. He had already been in that parish since his ordination to the diaconate.

Father Patrick’s first Masses was celebrated in the the basilica, but he will celebrate a number of other ‘first’ Masses: in the cathedral of Sts. Joseph and Martin in Groningen, the parish church of St. James the Greater in Uithuizen and in the FSSP church of St. Agnes in Amsterdam.

This last Mass is of course of special interest to those traditionally-minded readers of this blog. Fr. Patrick will offer this Mass in the Extraordinary Form, which is quite unique for newly-ordained priest, certainly in the Netherlands. Recently, some note was made of the first Mass of a newly-ordained priest in New York who offered his first Mass in the Extraordinary Form (Father Z writes about that here), and I think that this fact is no less worthy of attention.

Congratulations to Fathers Patrick and Geoffrey, as well as the other new priests in the Dioceses of Roermond and Haarlem-Amsterdam, as well as to all the faithful they will serve in the many years to come!

The website of the seminary as an extensive photo gallery of the ordination here.

Photo credit: [1] Wim Koopman, [2] my own

Yesterday evening I attended an ordination. Although it wasn’t a person being ordained, and it wasn’t actually called an ordination, the Mass had the basic structure of a priestly ordination. The bishop did the honours, we prayed the Litany of All Saints, there was anointing and a first Mass. What ‘got ‘ordained’ then? A new people’s altar.

Together with a new ambo, it was a gift from the parish council to the parish on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the consecration of our cathedral, St. Joseph’s. The new altar replaces a fairly simple but heavy wooden table. This one is smaller and therefore makes the entire sanctuary appear bigger. With its flat stone surface and legs crafted into the symbols of the four evangelists, it matches the rest of the sanctuary well. The only distractions are the two candle holders. Blue appears nowhere else in the sanctuary, and although the candles are nice and big, there should be six of them. A minor complaint about an otherwise nice altar.

The smaller size of the new altar means that the number of concelebrants is practically limited. In yesterday’s Mass, the bishop concelebrated with his vicar general and the cathedral administrator, and other members of the cathedral chapter were attending in choir. It certainly makes the sanctuary look less crowded.

Why such an elaborate ceremony for what is, essentially, a piece of furniture, though? It shouldn’t be a surprise that in a Church, nothing is just a piece of furniture, especially when it’s in the sanctuary. That altar, in fact, is one of the most important elements in a church, perhaps second only to the tabernacle. It is where Christ becomes present for us, where His sacrifice and resurrection are made present again for us, from where we receive Him in communion. Everything we do, have and know in our faith comes from there. That is why a new altar needs to be changed from just a piece of furniture into a sacramental. It needs to be prepare for its holy service.

That is why it is anointed., which may be seen in the photo below: Bishop de Korte is anointing the surface of the altar. That is why we pray for the intercession of all the saints, just as we do when a man is ordained to the priesthood. Our prayers will aid in receiving and benefitting from what we receive from the altar. In the surface of the altar, relics are embedded, as an altar exists in connection with the graves of the martyrs and, eventually, with the altars that Abel, Noah, Abraham and other Old Testament Fathers erected. The consecration of an altar is also a public act, since the use of the altar is public: it will allow the community of faithful to receive the Eucharist, and thus be united in faith.

The altar is no longer just a piece of furniture. It is a tool towards our salvation.

A short bit of footage without much sound (to be found at the end of this post), courtesy of RKK, and a report on the Archdiocesan website are among the few news items concerning Cardinal Eijk’s taking possession of his title church in Rome, Last Thursday. There is also a photo report available here.

The small church of San Callisto was completely filled and the congregation included a large number of journalists. Cardinal Eijk called his reception “heartwarming”. Assistant Papal master of cermeonies Msgr. Konrad Krajewski presented and read out the papal bull granting the title church to Cardinal Eijk at the start of Mass. It was subsequently signed afterwards. The arrival of its new cardinal protector, prompted the caretakers of the San Callisto to install a new altar and refurbish the throne. In his homily, Cardinal Eijk spoke about Pope Saint Callistus I, to whom the church is dedicated. He called it:

“a magnificent place. The church lies in Trastevere, the beating heart of Rome the old city centre. But also because of the fact that Pope Callistus died a martyr’s death here – the well [in which he was thrown to his death - ed.] lies here in the church underneath the altar. So it is really a historical place. I consider Callistus an inspiring figure; in the lives of the saints there are parallels with our own lives, there are always things in their lives which can encourage you in your faith.”

Photo credit: Aartsbisdom.nl

Looking back at last Saturday’s pilgrimage to Warfhuizen - a visit to our heavenly Mother before visiting our biological mothers for Mother’s Day – I can safely affirm that it was once more a day of unexpected moments. Aside from the personal element which I will keep to myself, there was the wind preventing the use of banners in the procession, for example. First time that happened.

Before we processed to the hermitage and shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, cathedral administrator Father Rolf Wagenaar offered Mass in concelebration with Father Maurits Damsté at the church of St. Boniface in Wehe-den Hoorn, some two kilometers away. The procession had, as always, a very physical element: the distance is not long, but the wind made us put in some effort indeed. Personally, I find it a welcome element, although the prayers were all blown away from my ears. As we came closer to the hermitage, the church bells were victorious over the wind and welcomed us as we entered the village of Warfhuizen.

We spent about half an hour in Adoration and communal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Many candles were lit for all kinds of intentions. The afternoon’s devotions will, I expect, have its long-term effects over the coming days and weeks. I welcome those effects…

A few photos I snapped:

Her name includes the name of the month, so it’s only right that we devote May to Mary.

Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus, exsules filii Evae.
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.

Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos
misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.

Photo credit: Author’s own, statue of the Blessed Virgin at the Cathedral of SS. Joseph and Martin, Groningen

I received a letter yesterday, an invitation for the celebrations around the 125th anniversary, on 25 May, of the consecration of my parish church, the cathedral of Saints Joseph and Martin in Groningen . All ‘new Catholics’, people baptised or confirmed in the past ten years, received a similar invitation.

The parish website has the full schedule of events:

  • Wednesday 23 May, 8pm: Father Antoine Bodar speaks about the question of the relevancy of the Church: Should we just abolish the Church or take pride in our being Catholic. This talk is specifically aimed at students and young Catholics.
  • Friday 25 May, 2:30pm: Anniversary of the consecration of the church. For the elderly parishioners there will be a festive afternoon, and also the opening of a photo exhibit of the cathedral’s history. At 6:30pm the cathedral chapter will offer a Sung Vespers, and at 7pm there will be a High Mass during which Bishop Gerard de Korte will consecrate the new people’s altar.
  • Saturday 26 May, 2pm: An afternoon for young families, during which Ms. Carolijn van Voorst tot Voorst will speak about religious education in our time. Children will be able to go on a treasure hunt in the church.
  • Sunday 27 May, 11am: High Mass offered by Bishop de Korte and apostolic nuncio Archbishop André Dupuy. Mass will be followed by the official presentation of a memorial book of the church’s history. At 5pm there will be an ecumenical Vespers with the bishop and ministers of the various church communities in the city.
  • Friday 1 June, 5 pm: Official reception for all the volunteers of the parish.

I’m especially looking forward to Fr. Bodar’s talk, the photo exhibit, the new altar, the High Mass on Sunday and the book.

A church, especially the church where one was baptised and confirmed and received the other sacraments, is not just a building. It is a home of sorts. The home of Christ, certainly, but therefore also a home for us. With the other parishioners and the clergy attached to the church we form a family.  The cathedral in Groningen has been a home for me for more than five years now, which is nothing compared to the 125 years that it has been a home for others, but its celebration is also that of me and the parish I am a part of.

In a short message to the Pontifical Bible Commission (translation), Pope Benedict XVI addresses the topics of inspiration and truth in the Sacred Scriptures, and how both these elements are “constitutive characteristics of [their] nature”. He makes some very interesting points which we should keep in mind when reading the Bible and studying or applying the texts in it.

Photographed on the day he released his message, the Holy Father is seen, very fittingly, with the words "Verbum Domini" in the background.

First, there is the following statement:

“[T]he topic of inspiration is decisive for the appropriate approach to the Sacred Scriptures. In fact, an interpretation of the sacred texts that neglects or forgets their inspiration does not take into account their most important and precious characteristic, that is, their provenance from God.”

Essentially, what the pope seems to be saying here, is that the inspiration of a Biblical text, that is its origin and source, as well as the process by how it came into being, should dictate how we read those texts. Sacred Scripture ultimately finds its source in God. That is not the same as saying that He personally dictated the words to whichever scribe first committed them to paper, but He is behind it, so to speak. His truth is in those words. They are His Word, written down by man. It is not a thesis by which someone tried to defend his position or ideas. It is not a human construct, and neither is it academic. The texts in the Bible are grounded in historical reality, a reality in which God played an important part. The texts, in their nature, are characterised by that reality.

“Because of the charism of inspiration, the books of Sacred Scripture have a direct and concrete force of appeal.”

Their inspiration gives the books of the Bible their living authority. The Holy Father writes that their relevance did not end at the death of the last Apostle, but it continued through the constant proclamation and interpretation through the ages.

“For this reason the Word of God fixed in the sacred texts is not an inert deposit inside the Church but becomes the supreme rule of her faith and power of life. The Tradition that draws its origin from the Apostles progresses with the assistance of the Holy Spirit and grows with the reflection and study of believers, with personal experience of the spiritual life and the preaching of Bishop.”

This process of interpretation occurred within the framework of the Tradition of the Church which, the Holy Father notes, has progressed with the assistance of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost, and grows via four means: reflection, study, experience and preaching. ‘Reading the Bible’, then, engages the entire person, not just the intellect. We read or hear, we feel, think and, certainly not least, we experience.

The reference to “the preaching of the Bishop” is interesting in its own right. Just as the Apostles were the first to proclaim the Word of God in the Tradition that we still enjoy. This work was later performed by their successors: the bishops. Our Tradition is so much more than a collection of old habits and customs: it is a living organism built around the Word of God that we find in the Bible, but also in the Tradition, in its interpretation and truth.

“[I]t is essential and fundamental for the life and mission of the Church that the sacred texts are interpreted in keeping with their nature: Inspiration and Truth are constitutive characteristics of this nature.”

Photo credit: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

About this blog

I am a Dutch Catholic from the north of the Netherlands. In this blog I wish to provide accurate information on current affairs in the Church and the relation with society. It is important for Catholics to have knowledge about their own faith and Church, especially since these are frequently misrepresented in many places. My blog has two directions, although I use only English in my writings: on the one hand, I want to inform Dutch faithful - hence the presence of a page with Dutch translations of texts which I consider interesting or important -, and on the other hand, I want to inform the wider world of what is going on in the Church in the Netherlands.

It is sometimes tempting to be too negative about such topics. I don't want to do that: my approach is an inherently positive one, and loyal to the Magisterium of the Church. In many quarters this is an unfamiliar idea: criticism is often the standard approach to the Church, her bishops and priests and other representatives. I will be critical when that is warranted, but it is not my standard approach.

For a personal account about my reasons for becoming and remaining Catholic, go read my story: Why am I Catholic?

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The above means that I have the right to be recognised as the author of both the original blog posts, as well as any translations I make. Everyone is free to share my content, but with credit in the form of my name or a link to my blog.

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Over the years, my blog posts have been picked up by various other blogs, websites and media outlets.

A complete list would be prohibitively long, so I'll limit myself to mentioning The Anchoress, Anton de Wit, Bisdom Haarlem-Amsterdam, The Break/SQPN, Caritas in Veritate, Catholic Culture, The Catholic Herald, EWTN, Fr. Ray Blake's Blog, Fr. Z's Blog, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, Katholiek Gezin, Katholiek.nl, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, New Liturgical Movement, NOS, Protect the Pope, Reformatorisch Dagblad, The Remnant, RKS Ariëns, Rorate Caeli, The Spectator, Vatican Insider, Voorhof and Whispers in the Loggia.

All links to, quotations of and use as source material of my blog posts is greatly appreciated. It's what I blog for: to further awareness and knowledge in a positive critical spirit. Credits are equally liked, of course.

Blog posts have also been used as sources for various Wikipedia articles, among them those on Archbishop Pierre-Marie Carré, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Archbishop Sergio Utleg and Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki.

Latest translations added:

20 April: [English] Rainer Maria Cardinal Woelki - Easter message.

15 April: [English] Bishop Frans Wiertz - Homily on sexual abuse.

4 April: [English] Pope Francis - Interview with Belgian youth.

25 February: [Dutch] Paus Franciscus - Brief aan de Gezinnen.

24 February: [Dutch] Raymond Kardinaal Burke - De radicale oproep van de paus tot de nieuwe evangelisatie.
De focus van Paus Franciscus op liefde en praktische pastorale zorg in de grotere context van de Schrift en de leer van de Kerk.

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Sancta Maria, hortus conclusus, ora pro nobis!

Sancte Ramon de Peñafort, ora pro nobis!

Pope Francis

Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Rome, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the Servants of God

Bishop Gerard de Korte

Bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden

Willem Cardinal Eijk

Cardinal-Priest of San Callisto, Metropolitan Archbishop of Utrecht

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