Archive for November, 2012

Sacraments explored

On Sundays in Advent we will reflect on the seven Sacraments. 

Confirmation Candidates October 28th 2012

ADVENT 1:  Sacraments of Initiation
ADVENT 2: Holy Eucharist
ADVENT 3: Healing & Absolution
ADVENT 4: Marriage & Ordination
James Jackson, recently confirmed sets the scene for us

Reflections on Confirmation or, How I Learned to Trust the Sacraments

I must admit I felt very little at the moment of my Confirmation. The Bishop had raised his hands and invoked the Holy Spirit upon us candidates (thirteen in all), and then came to each of us in turn. Placing his hands upon my head, he called me by name, blessing me and anointing my forehead with oil, sealing me – my baptism, my life in Christ so far, my fears and doubts, my relationship with our risen Lord – with the Spirit of God.

Earlier at the font where two other candidates were baptised I welled up with tears. Here, with the Bishop softly tapping my cheek, I was merely peaceful. But the Sacraments need not provoke an intense emotional experience, at least not in all believers at all times. It is an easy thing to ‘validate’ a Sacrament by reference to our personal response, but how much harder to trust in a promise unfelt? And how much more trusting to rely on the Church, the Body of Christ, to dispense those promises in a very real and physical way?

Around a year ago I chose to reconcile myself to Christ in the Sacrament of Confession. Of course it was greatly humbling to work through my life in preparation and identify the countless ways in which sin has marred the kinship with Christ – however imperfect – to which we are called. More humbling still is to ‘lay your cards on the table’ with someone you respect and before whom you will be acutely embarrassed!

And yet for me Confession – a ‘rebaptism in the tears of repentance’ – did not recreate the emotion I feel when I witness a Christening. I walked out of my first confession wondering ‘is that it?’. I had spoken for three quarters of an hour about a lifetime of sin, and after some words of comfort and suggestions for penance – thanks be to God – I was absolved.

After some thought, I realised ‘that’ was all ‘it’ needed to be. While the sacramental Grace of God is truly conferred through the action of the Bishop or his priest, nonetheless it is God who has worked in you to bring you to the point where you can trust in the promises of Christ and His body, and put yourself forward to receive that Grace.

I struggled to trust. Yes, I was reconciled to Confession and the awesome power Christ trusted to the Church, but understanding Confirmation was an entirely different matter. My questions were various: why is it administered separately from baptism in the West, but granted freely to infants in the East? Is it linked to our ability to reason? Is the Grace of God linked to a positive choice on our part? Is our baptism somehow ‘incomplete’ prior to Confirmation?

Above all, what exactly is Confirmation for?

These are all valid theological questions, but I discovered they were missing the point of what this Sacrament meant in God’s plan for me. It was in an e-mail exchange with an Orthodox priest that I suddenly saw the wood for the trees. Very cogently – almost brutally – he wrote that the East doesn’t understand the Sacraments in terms of Hooker’s formula, ‘visible sign of an invisible grace.’ My correspondent then turned the questions on its head.

“Listen to what the Bishop prays,” he wrote, before quoting the words of the prayer of Confirmation:

‘Confirm, Lord, your servant James, with Your heavenly grace, and anoint him with your Holy Spirit; empower him for your service and keep him in eternal life.’

“Are those words you can believe in?” In effect, can you trust the Church with this?

Over this summer I came to believe that yes, I could trust the Church. I trust the irresistible Grace of God that brought me to holy baptism as a babe in arms, raising me to new life before I was aware of it. I trust in holy matrimony, my wife and I reborn in one flesh. I trust in the forgiveness of sins confessed, and I trust in the presence of my Lord in His Body and Blood before me each week. How could I not trust in the sealing of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation?

No, I did not feel any great swell of emotion as I stood before the Bishop. The Holy Spirit can come as a great rushing wind, or as a quiet whisper. He blows where He will, and we are called to trust in His presence. And that is why my memory of Confirmation will primarily be one of peace.

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Advent Jesse Tree

This year , to compliment our Tree of Jesse , we are planning to create an Advent Jesse Tree at St Mary’s. 

A Jesse Tree tells the story of Jesus’ family in the Old Testament—Jesse himself was the father of King David and traditionally the ‘tree’ grew out of Jesse’s side with his descendants on branches of the tree and Jesus at the top. So the Jesse Tree is really an Advent Tree, anticipating the coming of Christ.

The word ‘Advent’ means ‘coming’ and during the weeks leading up to Christmas we look forward to His birth. An Advent Jesse Tree uses symbols of the story of God in the world, from the creation to the nativity, to mark the days and weeks before the celebrations on Christmas Day. It tells the story of salvation history, of how the coming of Christ was foretold in the Old Testament.

These symbols are added to the Jesse Tree, which will be in South Transept, by our Jesse figure and can represent one of the ancestors, or prophets, or a prophecy telling of Christ.

 For an idea of what to make, why not read the Scripture verses for the day? Then pick out one or two short verses that give the main idea. Copy these verses on the back of the ornament, if your design allows. By this time you will probably be thinking of various ways to illustrate your Scripture verses.

There are all sorts of ways to make an ornament—you can use one of the patterns in this pack, colouring it in and sticking it on card. You can use pictures from magazines or old greetings cards. Or draw pictures or symbols yourself. You could make models, use material or even metal. Don’t forget to make sure you make a hole and thread ribbon or string through so it can be hung on the tree.

When an Advent Jesse Tree is made at home, one symbol is put on the tree each day from December 1 to 24. We’ll be putting them on during the services at St Mary’s each Sunday of Advent, starting on December 2.

So for the services on December 2, why not make a symbol of creation or the story of Adam and Eve? For the services on December 9, choose something from the first week of Advent (the fall of Man to Moses); for the service on December 16, make a symbol from the second week (Moses to Mary); and on December 23, choose a symbol from the third week (Jesus is Wisdom to Jesus is Emmanuel).

Then, on Christmas Eve, at the Christingle service, symbols of Jesus as the light of the world will be put on the tree.


JESSE TREE SCRIPTURES (The symbols are only suggestions)

December 1 Creation: Gen. 1:1-31; 2:1-4 Symbols: sun, moon, stars, animals, earth

First Sunday of Advent: December 2 Adam and Eve: Gen. 2:7-9, 18-24 Symbols: tree, man, woman


December 3 Fall of Man: Gen. 3:1-7 and 23-24 Symbols: tree, serpent, apple with bite

December 4 Noah: Gen. 6:5-8, 13-22; 7:17, 23, 24; 8:1, 6-22 Symbols: ark, animals, dove, rainbow

December 5 Abraham: Gen. 12:1-3 Symbols: torch, sword, mountain

December 6 Isaac: Gen. 22:1-14 Symbols: bundle of wood, altar, ram in bush

December 7 Jacob: Gen. 25:1-34; 28:10-15 Symbols: kettle, ladder

December 8 Joseph: Gen. 37:23-28; 45:3-15 Symbols: bucket, well, silver coins, tunic

Second Sunday of Advent: December 9 Moses: Ex. 2:1-10 Symbols: baby in basket, river and rushes


December 10 Samuel: 1 Sam. 3:1-18 Symbols: lamp, temple

December 11 Jesse: 1 Sam. 16:1-13 Symbols: crimson robe, shepherd’s staff

December 12 David: 1 Sam. 17:12-51 Symbols: slingshot, 6-pointed star

December 13 Solomon: 1 Kings 3:5-14, 16-28 Symbols: scales of justice, temple, two babies and sword

December 14 Joseph: Matt. 1:18-25 Symbols: hammer, saw, chisel, angle

December 15 Mary: Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38 Symbols: lily, crown of stars, pierced heart

Third Sunday of Advent: December 16 John the Baptist: Mark 1:1-8 Symbols: shell with water, river


On December 17, the Church begins to intensify the preparation for Christmas with the use of the “O” Antiphons during the Liturgy of the Hours. The symbols for the Jesse Tree from December 17 to 23 are based on the “O” Antiphons.

December 17 Jesus is Wisdom: Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus in old Bibles) 24:2; Wisdom 8:1 Symbols: oil lamp, open book

December 18 Jesus is Lord: Ex. 3:2; 20:1 Symbols: burning bush, stone tablets

December 19 Jesus is Flower of Jesse: Isaiah 11:1-3 Symbols: flower, plant with flower

December 20 Jesus is Key of David: Isaiah 22:22 Symbols: key, broken chains

December 21 Jesus is the Radiant Dawn: Psalm 19:6-7 (in older Bibles this will be Psalm 18) Symbols: sun rising or high in sky

December 22 Jesus is King of the Gentiles: Psalm 2:7-8; Ephesians 2:14-20 Symbols: crown, sceptre

Fourth Sunday of Advent: December 23 Jesus is Emmanuel: Isaiah 7:14; 33:22 Symbols: tablets of stone, chalice and host


December 24 Jesus is Light of the World: John 1:1-14 Symbols: candle, flame, sun

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Opera at the Priory

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Every month we go back to our roots at St Mary’s Priory and the follow the Prayer pattern of the Benedictines.

You do not need to book , just come along, unless you want to stay for lunch, then call 01873 853168.


9.30am Terce
10.00am Holy Eucharist
12.30pm Sext
12.45pm Free
1.00pm Lunch
2.30pm None
2.45pm Free
4.30pm Tea
5.30pm Choral Vespers
7.00pm Choral Compline
7.30pm Healing Liturgy

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We will remember them

A serving Marine and Veterans from previous conflicts laid the wreaths at St Mary’s Priory today.

In his address Fr Mark called on us to remember those w ho gave their lives, and those who have been seriously injured in the cause of justice and peace.

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We’re really pleased to be one of the three causes being supported by Waitrose this month. When you are next shopping there please remember to use your token to support St Mary’s Priory.

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Gwent Bach Choir’s performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah was performed to a packed house at St Mary’s Priory on Saturday, November 3rd. The Choir was accompanied by Musical & Amicable Society Orchestra with soloists Kathryn Jenkin (Soprano), Gaynor Keeble(Contralto), Gareth Treseder(Tenor) and Greg Skidmore(Bass)

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One of the Community Matters charities this month at Waitrose, Abergavenny is the Vicar’s Epiphany Lunch.

In fulfilment of Jesus’ command in St Lukes Gospel, we are holding a lunch for those from Abergavenny who are less fortunate than ourselves.

He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

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