... because it's S Agatha's Day! So congratulations to the people of S Agatha's Ordinariate Church in Portsmouth, with their admirable Parish Priest Fr John Maunder and Mgr Robert Mercer, the great missionary Bishop of Matabeleland, now in Ordinariate 'retirement'. And the warmest assurance of prayers and love.
S Agata dei Goti is a unique church in Rome: it was once an Arian church. Perhaps S Agatha should be the patroness of those who rescue churches from schism, for Catholic use! Most readers will not need me to tell them that this is the Titular Church of Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, who is very unlikely to give it back to the Goths, whether or not they are still Arian.
Some years ago, when I badly broke my shoulder, I was in Rome and prevented by my accident from the pleasure of preaching in Cardinal Burke's titular Church. After my return to Blighty, I did preach in S Agatha's in Portsmouth: it was my first engagement after rising from my hospital bed. And (let the reader understand) one of our grandsons, a keen campanologist, was in the team ringing the bells.
I have, more than once, had the privilege of spending time with Cardinal Burke; he is the gentlest, kindliest man you could imagine; civilised and highly intelligent. He has worked valiantly for the Faith during these difficult times; it is very fitting that we should pray for him, and especially on this particular Day. The Sovereign Pontiff's public humiliations of His Eminence are, I think, among the nastiest things I know about PF.
S Agatha's in Portsmouth, of which the Ordinariate has the use, was sold off by the C of E as redundant. It is as unique as its sister church in Rome; it is the only place in England ... I think ... where you can see a church built by the Anglo-Catholics in the days of their high glory, full of the most exquisite artwork and shrines, now in Full Communion with the See of S Peter and offering worship in the finest tradition of triumphalist Anglican Catholicism. For some reason ... I wonder why ... the Anglo-Catholics liked to dedicate their churches to the Virgin Martyrs who feature in the Canon of the Mass (the then Vicar of S Agatha's, Sparkbrook, tried to persuade me to go there as a curate in 1967; and I think the congregation of the Precious Blood in Southwak are the transplanted congregation of S Agnes near the Oval).
Fr Maunder has added to the glories of his church by putting in place a neobaroque over-altar showing our Lady and S Agatha, granting Anglicanorum coetibus to Pope Benedict. It depicts the early Anglican parish priests looking on ... good and holy men who had prayed daily for the unity of Christendom with the Successor of S Peter.
Sancta Agatha, ora pro nobis.