That Pink Candle

Thule as Tile on 16th Century map of Olaus Magnus – just how should it be pronounced?

In the middle of the 1982 Falklands conflict a series of letters in The Times debated the pronunciation of the name of the southernmost, uninhabited, icy island of the South Sandwich Islands, Thule, far away in the South Atlantic, yet a focus in the conflict.

I was reminded of this while reading recently Cyril Hare’s charming 1950’s crime novel An English Murder. The eccentric academic Dr Wenceslaus Bottwink, withdraws to a distant archives room in the country house where he is staying, and where murder has just taken place. He did so ‘in response to an instinct that drove him to seek refuge from the horrors and perplexities of the present.’

For Dr Bottwink, as for the correspondents to The Times writing on pronunciation, there was a need to find a moment of comfort and order, in a troubled time and place.

As the media in Britain argues about Brexit and puzzles over the pronouncements of the President of the United States I couldn’t help but smile as a group of clergy debated through social media when the pink candle of the Advent wreath should be lit. Although the Advent wreath is a relatively modern creation it has become quickly encrusted with a wide variety of traditions and words. For some it is an annual topic of discussion, some of it quite heated.

Several years ago I heard a surprisingly learned sermon on the topic! The preacher spoke of how light grows in the darkness of Advent towards Christmas and so we light more candles on the wreath and on the Fourth Sunday of Advent even the candle lightens to pink and then to white at Christmas. Others have said the pink candle represents Our Lady Mary, honoured on the Fourth Sunday. All this is totally anathema to many who talk about the pink candle of love or rose coloured (or pink) vestments, candles and even chair and book covers on the Third, Gaudete, Sunday.

Should rose coloured head dress be a feature of the third Sunday of Advent?

Whatever, perhaps like Dr Bottwink, we have an instrinct to withdraw for a while. We all have a need at times to allow ourselves space away from noise and strife, and have space to focus on smaller things. The liturgy of the Church rightly should have places for play, and not so serious debate.

Dr Bottwink returned to his archive room. Withdrawing for a while helped him solve the mystery. Hopefully in Advent or in the Christmas season we can find time to withdraw a little from the pressures around us at this season, focus on something different, perhaps eccentric, and find comfort, and renew our energies and hopes. If the pink candle reminds us to do this it has done a good job!


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Why Advent Candles?

In Advent at church, there is a wreath of three purple, one pink and one white candle placed together in a stand. During Advent as we enjoy our time together after Mass we gather around the Advent wreath to light first one candle, then the following week two, and so on. On the Third Sunday we light the pink one, and then on Christmas Day we light the white one in the middle of the wreath. By Christmas Day there are 5 bright candles burning with joy.

People attach all sort of different symbolism to this – and you can look that up for yourselves.  For me, and for many, it’s simply a countdown to the great feast of Christmas.

Week by week we light a candle and by the last Sunday in Advent we are left waiting to light the white one to remind ourselves of Christ’s shining Light of the World.

Advent is a time of looking forward – to Hope of Salvation and Eternity.

I don’t want to make this complicated – we remember the Prophets talking of Jesus Coming, John the Baptist preparing the way, Mary saying her great Yes to God, and Angels bringing the good news of Jesus – there’s four meaning for the candles which I think about.

Light is a feature of many Christian customs, for example on St Lucy’s Day about which  Hannah has written elsewhere on our church blog. As we light the Advent candles week by week we symbolise the gradual dawning of Light on the world in Jesus’ birth.  We are to shine out as beacons of light – and we are a people and faith of Light, of Love, of Joy and of Peace. 

As a boy I would be given an Advent Calendar to count down the days to Christmas, but now I make myself content with the Advent Wreath.

Fr Chris

This is one of several posts in which Fr Chris explains why we do what we do at St Chrysostom’s. Earlier posts include ones on incense, Walsingham, the Easter Candle, Ash, and lighting candles.

And for more on the Pink Candle click here.

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Many Cultures, Many Nativities

Look around St Chrysostom’s church congregation, look around in our schools, and you will see an amazing variety of people, young and old. I recently went to a coffee morning at St Chrysostom’s School. At the table of nine people at which I was sitting each person came from a different country: China, Congo, Pakistan, England, Iraq, Romania, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

The Nativities! display at Church emphasises this for me in a wonderful way. The nativities are so varied and representative of so many cultures. One part of the display draws this out very clearly. Children had discussed and researched how the birth of Jesus had been represented in different countries around the world and they collected different representations.Joined 1

The children were then invited to draw their own nativity scene. How would they represent the birth of Jesus? The results on display are wonderful, colourful and thought provoking.

Joined 2

We don’t know what Jesus, Mary and Joseph looked like. We can’t be sure of the colour of their skin or their physical appearance. Christian faith is concerned less with this and more with the wonderful truth that God comes to in human form, our form, and that form has many many different appearances.

Thank you to the children for reminding us, through their work and beautiful drawings, of the profound teaching of Christianity that our God is a God for all peoples, and how we ‘see’ God depends so much on our cultures and upbringing.

Fr Ian

A Prayer 

O God of the children of Somalia, Sudan, and Syria,

Of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and of India, Iraq, Iran, and Israel

Of the Rohingya and Romania, of Tanzania and Tibet,

Of Myanmar and Manchester and Dublin and Yemen

Help us to see you in them and love and respect and protect them all.

 O God of Black and Brown and White and Albino children and those all mixed together,

Of children who are rich and poor and in between,

Of children who speak English and Russian and Hmong and Spanish and
languages our ears cannot discern,

Help us to see you in them and love and respect and protect them all

(based on a prayer of Madeline Edelman, President, Children’s Defense Fund)

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Four Rs for Advent

I want to offer you four simple Advent words and to make life easy, they all begin with the letter ‘R’.

The first is Repent.    That’s the theme of the Advent prayer, ‘Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light’.    That’s the thrust of the preaching of John the Baptist, ‘Repent  for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’.    Turn from darkness, choose light. And so the call to repent.

My second word is Rejoice.    For centuries God’s people had looked forward to the coming of the Messiah.   The day seemed very slow in coming.   But now the ancient prophecies were about to be fulfilled.    ‘Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy’, said the angel to the shepherds at Christmas.  ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.”

My third word is Recognise.   One of the themes of Advent is that Christ is among us now.  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there are many people in Christian England who don’t know whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.   Some don’t see him – he’s buried under a mass of holly and mince pies and all the festive trappings.   Some see him, but don’t recognise him.    But you and I do know who he is.   We do recognise him.    Or do we?    We recognise him in the gospel story.    We acknowledge his divinity as well as his humanity every time we say the creed at Mass.   But do we always recognise his voice when he speaks to us in our hearts?   Do we recognise his voice when he cries out to us in those in need?    How tragic to prepare to celebrate Our Lord’s coming to us, yet not recognise Him in his daily presence.

My last word is Receive, and this follows on from recognise.    You can recognise someone, and run a mile from them.   You can recognise someone, but hope to goodness they don’t recognise you.   But to recognise someone you’ve been waiting for, to recognise someone you’ve been longing to meet, and who’s been longing to meet you, to recognise someone you love – that’s a very different matter.    You receive that person, you welcome that person, into your heart and your home.   Listen to those great words from St John’s gospel which we shall hear at Christmas, words full both of tragedy and promise, ‘He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God’.

Receiving Christ in our hearts and minds, we have a new and living relationship with God.   We know we are God’s children.

The summons of Advent;  Repent, Rejoice, Recognise, Receive.

This is a summary of the Sermon given by Fr Ian at Mass on Advent Sunday 2017
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Naming Mary’s animal companion

Can you help us please?

Mary, Joseph and their donkey journey around our local community during Advent visiting many different places in our wonderfully varied area. They get back to Church at Christmas to celebrate Jesus’ birth. The figures are small knitted figures made by Fr Ian’s mother, Mary. Their journey – we call it our Advent Posada – is a special one connecting church with different homes and places of our area.

This year the journey of the figures is shorter than usual as they will be visiting friends in our Nativities! exhibition in church. However, they will still be travelling – and in fact they’re hoping to visit one or two new places this year.

First of all, though, we have a traditional task, and we need your help. Each year we invite people to vote for a name for the donkey – Mary and Joseph’s animal companion of honour.

We always choose a female name and this year we have three very different names, from very different cultures.

Aoife (pronounced Eeffa) is an Irish name, meaning beautiful, radiant, joyful.

Lily, a popular name in many cultures, and chosen for us by a person from Hong Kong, is named from the lovely flower the Lily, a symbol of hope and new life for Christians.

Shakti, an Indian Hindu girl’s name, meaning strength, might, effort and also is the name of the goddess seen as the personification of divine feminine power.

So what a wonderful variety.

We can now announce the winner!

Aoife received 45% of the vote, Lily 32% and Shakti 23%

So this year the donkey is named Aoife.

Thank you to all who voted.

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Wonderful work was done in preparation for the Nativities! display in church. The enthusiasm, creativity and hard work by children and staff at St Chrysostom’s and St John’s schools is simply outstanding. The project has clearly grasped the imagination and thought of so many and great discussions about Jesus’ birth have been taking place, much of it while the artwork is being created:

What did Joseph look like? How tall was he?

Were there angels present when Jesus was born?

Why is his birth so special?

How old was Mary? Why is she so special?

Where would Jesus be born today?

The displays look fantastic. They are made in many different ways – painting on wood, special figures, clay models and more.

The project has engaged so many staff – not only children and teachers but assistants, office staff, management are also clearly inspired – and actually a little competitive about it! Parents are commenting too.

The enthusiasm hasn’t stopped at the schools, church members and other parts of the community are involved too.

Making room for the nativity

A staff member of Xaverian College, with students have made a lovely, and unexpected, nativity. Men who are victims of trafficking guided by Paul spent over a day collecting material and making a large stable for one of the church sets.

The display is simply Amazing!

So come and see!

The display, at Church, is open to all on Tuesday (5th) 11am to 5pm. On Wednesday to Friday, the display is open to all from 3pm to 5pm. School classes visit during the day on those days.

On Thursday evening there is a free short concert given by a piano trio from RNCM at 7.30pm with an opportunity to see the displays too.
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Shoes on the Danube Bank

A poignant memorial in Budapest has been visited by Sandra Palmer recently. She sends us this ‘postcard.’

Here I am on my annual trip to Budapest to visit family, but also places which have become old friends. I have to go to the market hall  and to the National Gallery …..and I have to pay homage at the monument on the east bank of the Danube to remember all those murdered by the fascist Hungarian Arrow cross men between December 1944 and January 1945.

The Arrow cross militia  rounded up Jews, including a cousin of my grandfather ,  in the closing days of ww11 , told them to remove their shoes , and shot them into the icy river to their almost inevitable death . About 3,500 were murdered, many of them Jews. The memorial, entitled Shoes on the Danube Bank was sculpted by the Hungarian sculptor Gyuler Pauer, and was put in place in 2005.  It consists of the cast of shoes of the period , the sort of shoes worn by the victims of the Arrow cross men. They are painful poignant reminder of man’s capacity for evil .

I look at these shoes , I pray for those  victims and I am disturbed by the thought of these mindless acts of violence perpetuated by men from a country with a proud cultural and intellectual history.

And I ask myself whether it is the destiny of humankind that each generation throws up its own equivalence of Isis.

Thankfully the majority of Hungarians condemned the acts , some put their own lives at risk to save the Jews.

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