The extraordinary scenes as they unfolded on the streets of London and Birmingham would disturb public opinion, shock media commentators and prompt a statement from the Prime Minister. I write to you today not of the rioting which brought violence to so many cities this summer but of the visit of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, twelve months ago. In cities where mobs momentarily brought fear, much greater crowds gave witness to their faith and joy with Pope Benedict. Today I wish to mark this happy anniversary of the Pope’s visit to our country and to draw inspiration from those days last September. Just as so many Catholics from many different backgrounds stood together in public witness with the Holy Father so this September in two small ways we are being called to stand together in that same witness of faith and unity.
From Friday this week, the Bishops of England and Wales have restored the practice of abstinence from meat every Friday. We are familiar with this act of penance on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday but now it is extended to every Friday other than Feast Days like Christmas Day.
For a number of years we have been asked to choose our own act of self-denial on Fridays to mark the day on which Our Lord gave His life for us. But we know this obligation has in practice been often forgotten. So abstinence from meat each Friday (and for those who do not eat meat, abstinence from some other food) will become a weekly reminder that we are a people called to penance and to conversion of life together. It will become a small but significant weekly witness to our Catholic life and identity. And so I wish us to embrace this in a positive way despite the practical difficulties we may encounter. The very fact this will be an act of penance shared by all Catholics will be a witness to our faith in the midst our working and family lives.
I am also conscious we have just begun to use the new translation of The Roman Missal which unites us in worship. At the heart of Pope Benedict’s visit to our country was always the Holy Eucharist celebrated with great dignity and adored with love and reverence. The Holy Father asked that the introduction of this revised English translation would be something more than simply a change of wording: “I encourage you now to seize the opportunity that the new translation offers,” he asked, “for in-depth catechesis on the Eucharist and renewed devotion in the manner of its celebration.” As we become more familiar with this fresh translation, I hope it will enrich our prayer and understanding, help us to recognise more clearly in the Liturgy the words and images of Scripture and, by the beauty and richness of its language, express our wonder at the mystery and reality of the Mass. I hope we will always go beyond the translated words to the reality they express at the heart of the Mass: Jesus Christ, His Sacrifice and His Real Presence with us as we come together with all the Church.
We recall a year ago those extraordinary moments in London’s Hyde Park when more than 80,000 people knelt with the Pope in silent adoration of Christ, God and man who, “makes himself wholly and entirely present,” in the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist (CCC 1374). “Together,” Pope Benedict invited us, “in the silence of common adoration let us open our minds and hearts to his presence, his love, and the convincing power of his truth.” May the newly translated prayers of the Mass be such an invitation for us; and may the renewed practice of Friday penance become a weekly reminder of the people we are called by daily conversion to be. In all our homes, working lives and communities, by coming together each Sunday in the Mass, may we always give witness to the unity and joy of our faith seen so wonderfully during Pope Benedict’s visit to our country twelve months ago.
Bishop of Shrewsbury
We thank God for Bishop Mark, and we pray that the Lord will continue to bless and strengthen this exemplary shepherd who leads us so well.