Bishop Alan Williams, Emeritus Bishop of Brentwood, Thomas McMahon, canons, priests and seminarians came together yesterday for a concelebrated centenary Mass in Pugin’s beautiful chapel at St Edmund’s College, Ware. The feast of St Edmund of Canterbury (or Abingdon), a secondary patron of the Diocese of Brentwood, was carefully chosen for the occasion and the location was also meaningful. The college is closely associated with the first Bishop of Brentwood, Bernard Ward, as the place where he was born, educated and spent most of his priestly life.
Brentwood was formed from Westminster a century ago and the attendance at the Mass of members of the Westminster Chapter of Canon emphasised the close relationship between the two dioceses. Diocesan staff also attended the Mass, in recognition of the service given by those in post currently and their predecessors over previous decades.
The service was enhanced by the singing of the Loyola Prep School choir and soloists from Brentwood Cathedral, while sunlight filtered through the chapel’s wonderful stained glass windows, gilding the statue of St Edmund and the vestments of the priests.
Coincidentally, in his homily Bishop Alan emphasised the need for clarity of vision – a parting of the clouds which prevent us from seeing heaven. He spoke about his recent holiday in the Hebrides. “When you are walking in the mist and clouds of Skye, you would not imagine that there are mountains there – but then the skies clear and you see wonderful mountains. And the best place to be is on the top of them.” In the same way, he said, in human life we spend lots of time unaware of where we are. “We need to see heaven if we are to understand earth. As earthbound people we can miss the point. In the reading Jeremiah says to God, I am a child – with nothing to offer, nothing to say. And St Paul – although writing as an experienced Christian – says I am unqualified, a man full of weakness and confusion. Then we hear about Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John – we see their unreadiness and inadequacies in the Gospels.” St Edmund, he said, the patron of the College and the Diocese, was wonderfully qualified and educated and yet, when he became Archbishop of Canterbury he spoke of his inadequacy. “Yet, they were all sent by God. So we need to be unafraid: we must try not to think in earthbound terms. We have to look beyond the mist and clouds heavenwards as all our qualifications come from God.”
He quoted an anonymous 14th century mystic who said that we need ‘a sharp dart of longing love’ to pierce those clouds and enable us to see the light of Christ. “We lose sight of so much else unless we look heavenward. So as we end our centenary celebration today, let us glimpse the real face of God, beyond the mist. God gives us the grace and qualifications that we need and hope for.”
He concluded: “We look back over the last century with gratitude and commend the next 100 years to the grace of God – because we have nothing else. It is reality. One day for all of us the mist will clear and we will meet God face to face – and all will be well and all manner of thing will be well.”
At the end of the Mass, Bishop Alan led the canons into the Shrine Chapel, where Bishop Ward’s tomb lies to the left of the altar. There they sang Salve Regina.