Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A Visit to Madonna House

It has been a great joy to visit Madonna House (MH) in Combermere  once again.  Over nearly forty years my wife, Jane, and I have had the privilege of sharing, from time to time, in the life of this remarkable Lay Apostolate which includes within its ranks many priests and associates.

I will not try to recount the history of the foundation of MH by Russian baroness Catherine de Hueck Doherty with her husband, a Melkite Rite Catholic priest, Fr. Eddie Doherty, from its humble beginnings in the 1940s. Let me refer you to the MH website and links to the history, various publications and ministries that MH has developed over the years and around the world.

The original MH Main House, modified through the years but largely the same.
I have been making a brief retreat at Carmel Hill staying in the MH St. John Vianney priest's residence. MH welcomes priests for short or longer stays (one priest from Denver is here for two months). Over the years MH has also kindly extended hospitality to Anglican priests some of us having now come into full communion.

As a priest in full communion I have, for the first time, been privileged to concelebrate Mass with the MH community over the past few days. At least one priest here, a former Anglican,  also celebrates the EF Mass regularly. We are hoping that he may be given faculties to celebrate the Ordinariate Use Mass when Ordinariate groups visit.

In addition to the Novus Ordo and EF weekday Mass, some with Eastern chants, the community celebrates the full Byzantine Rite Mass in English monthly on Sunday.  For the first time this past Sunday (fourth after Easter on the Eastern calendar) I concelebrated this liturgy in the Island Chapel of Our Lady of the Woods.
Our Lady of the Woods, MH, Combermere, Ontario

Interior of Our Lady of the Woods.  The Latin altar is moved for the celebration of the Byzantine rite.
To concelebrate this Mass in this way is truly to enter into another dimension of the Holy Eucharist. It is the understanding of the Eastern Church that we participate in the eternal liturgy whenever we celebrate Mass. This deep spirituality is made manifest when the people of God worship through this profound, historic and deeply communal rite.  

I cannot really express how different my experience was concelebrating the Byzantine rite with the MH priests compared compared with my previous impression of the rite. The iconostasis or screen which displays icons beyond which is the altar and tabernacle is not a barrier, as I had thought, but rather marks the entry into the glory of the liturgy.  By means of the several processions and entrances we are drawn into the gospel proclamation, offering, blessing and sharing in the holy communion of the Body of Christ.

The flow of the liturgy from chant to prayers with constant use of incense and signing of the cross (touching the floor as one makes the sign) engages all the senses as well as the heart and the entire body. The liturgy, even in its English translation, links one to the East and to the timeless past in a truly indescribable but very immediate way.

Much more to reflect upon as I thank those back home for their prayers and assure them that they were and are in my intention at the Divine Liturgy which never ceases.
A.J. Casson's painting of Kamaniskeg Lake, Combermere, ON

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