9 April 2008


Sancta Maria ad nives: After Cornwall, off with the Parish Pilgrimage to Walsingham as the trees in S Thomas's churchyard look totally magical in their filligree of April snow. And in Walsigham, the biggest snowflakes I have ever seen. But how well the Shrine looks; what a privilege to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at our Lady's feet in her Holy House. For our concluding Mass, I offered a votive of our parish patron, S Thomas of Canterbury, patron of the first Oxford parish in which the Catholic tradition of worship began to be restored. I pointed out that our Lady's image was crowned with the Oxford Crown, given to our Lady in the early days of the Shrine's restoration by Fr Roger Wodehouse, Curate of S Thomas's (he was responsible for our baroque altar and the picture within it of our Lady di Foligno) and then Vicar of S Paul's, one of S Thomas's daughter parishes in West Oxford. A century after Walsingham became a shrine, England's second great shrine grew out of the martyrdom of S Thomas and about this time our church was built. And so after Mass we made a pilgrimage to Canterbury: that is, to the chapel a few feet east of the Holy House where S Thomas is potrayed in the frescoes and a relic of him kept for veneration. We prayed here, remembering that as ours is a religion of God incarnate in a girl's womb, so also it was in the body that our Saviour won his Easter victory, just as in their bodies his martyrs by testimony came to glory and we ourselves hope at the last en somati to rise again. Then we each venerated the relic with a kiss.

My normal place of worship when in London being, of course, the Brompton Oratory, I have often taken part in the weekly veneration of the relic of S Philip Neri (who, curiously, shares the same chapel at Walsingham as S Thomas). After we have kissed the relic, the priest taps the heads of male but not female worshippers with the reliquary. On such excellent authority, I too did this.

But can anyone explain the reason for this custom? Is it because ... but no: I'll see what wiser heads can suggest.

1 comment:

Trulyroman said...

I can explain why this is done. It is assumed that ladies heads are covered, so the celebrant wouldn't be touching a ladies' head to bless her, but her mantilla, but he would be touching a man's head to bless him as a man is always bare-headed when in church. The fact that some ladies' heads are uncovered is purley academic as, in effect, they are covered, liturgically speaking. A further interesting point in the hierarchy of this matter is that though a man's head is touched with the foot of the reliquary, when a cleric is venerating a relic his head is touched with the aperture containing the relic, not the foot of the relqiuary. Having said all this I must point out that a minority of Fathers at the (Brompton) Oratory forget these rules from time to time and have to be reminded of them when they do.