September 17, 2017
Categorised in: Sermons
Preached by Reverend Dr James Bradley, Priest-in-Charge of the Parish of the Holy Family, Southampton & Chaplain to the University of Southampton at Evensong on Sunday 17th September, the 14th after Trinity.
It is a very great joy for me to have been invited to preach this afternoon at a service with which I am most familiar, in a place with which I have a longstanding connection. My years as a chorister in this foundation were amongst the most formative of my life; a time in which the gentle music of centuries-old Christian prayer slowly but surely drowned out the noises of this world, not so much to make me deaf to the reality of this “vale of tears,” but rather to make sense of it. The texts and music that I learned in this place became, and remain, the language through which I grew to know God and, in time, to find the fullness of His life and love in the Church. So I not only remain very grateful to God for my time in this place, but I also carry the gift entrusted to me here, each and every day.
The privileged position of sacred music in the cathedrals and major churches of this land is a jewel in the crown of our Christian heritage, and is rightly admired throughout the world. What we experience here this afternoon, and indeed almost every day of the year for now hundreds of years, is not music for music’s sake—no concert or mere performance—but rather music for the sake of worship, music for the sake of God. It is not an outdated vestige of a now embarrassing (if somewhat glorious) past, but a living tradition that is an integral part of what that great luminary of English spirituality, Richard Hooker, rightly described as “the splendour and outward dignity of our religion, forcible witnesses of ancient truth, provocations to the exercise of all piety, shadows of our endless felicity in heaven, on earth everlasting records and memorials, wherein they which cannot be drawn to hearken unto that we teach, may only by looking upon that we do, in a manner read whatsoever we believe.”
What I think Hooker identifies in Christian worship is that ability to communicate in ritual and ceremony the faith we profess. It is his way of putting that age-old adage attributed to Saint Prosper of Aquitaine, Lex Orandi, lex credendi —the law of prayer is the law of belief. This is because, in essence, authentic Christianity is cultic by nature. We can say: “The Christian cult conforms to the sacramental economy by being attentive to the outward and visible signs of its celebration, because it is the archetypal exercise of the virtue of religion.”
This, the virtue of religion, is that subset of the cardinal virtue of justice in which man gives to God that which is His due; in which man renders to God fitting worship. Saint Augustine of Hippo describes religion, understood in this way, as that which binds us to the one Almighty God. This is of course fundamentally true, because in and through the sacrament of baptism we are joined to Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the God-Man. By that union with Christ, and thus also with His Mystical Body, the Church, we are at once caught up in His life and His eternal action: the offering of worship by God the Son, to God the Father, in and through God the Holy Spirit. We are, in fact, through baptism bound in an altogether novel way to Almighty God, and our worship of Him is the logical outcome of that new supernatural union.
Knowledge of this truth puts pay to that excuse of many in contemporary society: “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” But there is nothing new under the sun. Saint Thomas Aquinas, writing in the thirteenth century, responds to complaints such as this by referring back to that principle we have already affirmed: religion is a matter of justice. He writes: “it is evident that to render to anyone his due has the aspect of good.” So to be good at all is to be religious, and to be religious is fundamentally to be a person engaged in the Christian cult, engaged in worship.
Faithful worship, then, is not simply the reserve of the pious, but the foundation of an orthodox and lively faith, and a training ground for beatitude, for the eternal happiness of heaven. Acts of worship that speak plainly of this reality by tangible signs are, by a process of simple logic, more fully and completely revealing of the action of Jesus Christ, the One Who is the principal protagonist in every true act of worship, and thus such worship is more fitting of those who profess to live the life of Christ.
Why is any of this of important, however, in our own day? What relevance might it have? I should like to offer two brief thoughts. First, as we engage in what the Catholic Church has for several decades called a “New Evangelisation”—mission to those who have become disconnected from their historic faith—it is essential that all Christians keep sight of the purpose or end of this work. This is, quite simply, the salvation of souls, and it is achieved in the first place by the incorporation of persons into the life of Christ in His Church. Christian concern for social causes is of course essential, but it ceases truly to be Christian when such concerns are divorced from the life of grace; separated from worship, separated from the cult. Christian worship is the principal, primary, and privileged place of encounter with Jesus Christ, and so forms of worship that explicitly seek to orient us to God, are better placed to enable Christians to fulfil the vocation of their baptism, and thus to carry out works of service and charity. Worship that points us beyond ourselves and our daily experience is thus not only a corrective to contemporary man’s anthropocentric fetishism but, by its nature, a call to know and to love God in an altogether more radical way.
Secondly (and this is important), because worship oriented toward God is necessarily oriented toward beatitude, toward heaven, and is furthermore oriented toward the full unity of Christians for which we earnestly long, and which is the explicit will of Christ (cf. Jn 17:21). If worship provides, as Hooker has it, “shadows of our endless felicity in heaven,” then worship is also the place in which we are most dramatically called to full union with the author and protagonist of that worship, Jesus Christ, and His Mystical Body, the Church.
This does not mean that unity already exists in the worship of separated communities, but rather that worship is, again, the principal, primary, and privileged place of encounter with Jesus Christ, who calls us to be one not just at the end of time, but now. In fact, in our worship the divisions that exist between us are all the more acute, which is perhaps why common acts of prayer and the desire for actual sacramental communion are so deep and profound.
All of this was I think the reason for the great project of ecclesial renewal undertaken by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, a renewal in fact less concerned with liturgical minutiæ than identifying worship as an essentially ecclesial act, and thus a signpost for ecclesial unity. In Pope Benedict’s desire to provide “concrete gestures,” as he put it, toward the actual unity of Christians, he identified and honoured those “many elements of sanctification and of truth” found outside the visible structure of the Catholic Church, claiming them “as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ” and “forces impelling toward Catholic unity.” It is beyond reasonable doubt that the music that continues to echo through the triforia and transepts of this magnificent edifice, for example, points man to heaven, and thus to that unity which we are bound ardently to pursue.
So to those who sing the praises of God in this and other places I would like to conclude by saying this: the work you perform is an essential service, in which you not only direct our hearts and minds to God, but also transcend the noise and clamour of this world to call us to the sanctification necessary to reach the kingdom of heaven, the world to come. May this long continue that, in the words of John Milton, “we [may] soon again renew that song, / And keep in tune with Heav’n, till God ere long / To His celestial concert us unite, / To live with Him, and sin
 Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V (London: Macmillan and Co., 1902) 433.
 Robin Ward, On Christian Priesthood (London: Continuum, 2007) 97.
 S. Augustine of Hippo, De Vera Relig. 55.
 S. Thomas Aquinas, ST Q81, A2
 In particular, see S. John Paul II, encyclical letter Redemptoris missio (7 December 1990) 33: AAS 83 (1991) 278-279.
 See Codex Iuris Canonici auctoritate Ioannis Pauli PP. II promulgatus (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1983), Canon 1752: “In causis translationis applicentur præscripta canonis 1747, servata æquitate canonica et præ oculis habita salute animarum, quæ in Ecclesia suprema semper lex esse debet.”
 See Benedict XVI, Pontificatus Exordia (20 April 2005) AAS 97 (2005) 694-699. English translation in Origins 34, no. 45 (2005) 723-725; Epistle Ad Episcopos Catholicæ Ecclesiæ Ritus Romani (7 July 2007) AAS 99 (2007) 795-799.
 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Lumen Gentium (21 November 1964) 8: AAS 57 (1965) 5-67; Benedict XVI, Pontificatus Exordia, 5; apostolic constitution Anglicanorum cœtibus (4 November 2009) III: AAS 101 (2009) 985-900; Ad Plenariam Sessionem Congregationis pro Doctrina Fidei (16 January 2010) AAS 102 (2010) 97-100. English translation in Origins 41, n. 36 (2012) 584-585; Ad Congregationis pro Doctrina Fidei Sessionem Plenariam (27 January 2012) AAS 104 (2012) 108-111.