The Holiness of the Lord

The scene that follows the announcement ‘holy, holy, holy’ is dramatic: ‘the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke’. Isaiah’s response is not worship, as we might expect. Instead, he exclaims, ‘Woe is me!’ Seeing the holiness of the Lord makes Isaiah aware of his own lack of holiness, and fearful: ‘a man of unclean lips’ should not (he thinks) behold ‘the King, the Lord of hosts’. God’s glory shows up all that is unworthy about us. Similarly Peter, in the gospel reading from a few weeks ago, responds to the miraculous catch of fish: ‘Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man’. Beholding the greatness of the Lord brings about a new, and unsettling, revelation of our own lack of sanctity. The response from on high is not judgement, however, but comfort. One of the seraphim brings a burning coal from the altar, touches Isaiah’s lips with it, and announces, ‘Behold…your guilt has been taken away, and your sin forgiven’. Likewise Jesus reassures Peter (in the same words the angel used to put Mary at ease): ‘Do not be afraid.’

Contemplating the holiness of God ought to make us mindful of the ways we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This is not the way into condemnation, though, but the door to forgiveness and new life. For both Isaiah and Peter, the recognition of his own unworthiness marks the beginning of a career (if we may call it that) in the service of God. Isaiah accepts the invitation to take God’s word to the people of Israel, and Peter becomes that rock on which the Church is built. Our own careers of discipleship may be less dramatic, but God nevertheless promises to draw us near and involve us in the real drama—the drama of our redemption and that of the whole world. We need not ask whether we are worthy; we need only allow God to make us so.

Part of a series by Medi Ann Volpe

Receiving Holy Communion

A request from the Parish Pastoral Council: if receiving Holy Communion, please approach the altar row by row, starting with the front row once the servers and choir have received. We hope this will make these moments before receiving the sacrament less “scrum-like” and more dignified and prayerful. Thank you for your co-operation!

RCIA Open Session – Moral Living

47cc8b81-6373-43c5-9456-c86a5c27df77This year’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) programme for those exploring the Catholic faith is nearing its conclusion, and some of the last few sessions are being opened to a wider audience. All are welcome to join the group in the Parish Room on Thursday 25 February at 7:00pm when fr. David will speak on A Catholic understanding of moral living.

Ushaw/CSTP Lecture: The Idea of Freedom

SenAs part of the Ushaw Lecture Series, a Catholic Social Thought and Practice Lecture will be delivered on The Idea of Freedom: Reading Amartya Sen from a Catholic Perspective on Thursday 25 February.

Speakers: Prof. Stuart Corbridge (Vice-Chancellor and Warden); Dr Séverine Deneuline (Universiyt of Bath), Dr Mark Hayes (St Hilda Reader in Catholic Social Thought and Practice, Durham) and Rev. Dr Augusto Zampini Davies (Theological Advisor, CAFOD).

5.30pm for drinks; lecture 6:00pm-7.30pm

Venue: Ushaw College, Exhibition Lecture Theatre

If you wish to attend the lecture you must register with Dr Hannah Thomas, or telephone Jane Lidstone on 0191 334 1656. If you need help with transport to and/or from Ushaw College, please mention this when booking.

College Mass – Hatfield

The first college Mass of term takes place at 7:00pm on Wednesday 24 February in the Chapel of Hatfield College (just next to the main college entrance on North Bailey).

All parishioners and University members are welcome and warmly invited to the Mass.

Because of the college Mass there will be no “holy half hour” of Vespers, exposition and confessions at St Cuthbert’s that Wednesday evening.

Calling the Diocese to Prayer

Bishop Séamus will lead Days of Prayer for Clergy and Laity, “Calling the Diocese to Prayer and to be Missionary Disciples” on Tuesday 23 February, at St Mary’s Cathedral, Newcastle and Thursday 25 February, at St Mary’s, Sunderland.

  • Reflection led by Bishop Séamus at 10:30am and 7:00pm
  • Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at 11:15am and 7:45pm
  • Concelebrated Mass at 12:05pm and 8:30pm
All are welcome.

‘With angels and archangels’: the Sanctus

seraphDuring Lent, we direct our attention to the holiness of God more than at any other time of year. Not only that: we strive to imitate that holiness. One of the ways the Church has called the holiness of God to our minds comes from the sixth chapter of Isaiah: the prophet sees the seraphim, who call out to one another: ‘holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’

The acclamation has been a part of the Church’s liturgy since the early part of the fifth century, though it was probably in use from even earlier times. (The Benedictus qui venit… was attached to the acclamation very early, and in future weeks we will look more closely at it.) For example, St Augustine would recognize the Latin text we sing, although the traditional Gregorian plainchant would not have been familiar to him. (What we rightly consider ancient—dating from the 8th century and widespread by the 11th—had not yet been developed in Augustine’s day!)

It is not just the antiquity of the text that ought to inspire us, however. The inclusion of the Sanctus in the Roman canon in the 5th century brought in the idea ‘that by joining the angels in their song we participate in the heavenly liturgy’ (Enrico Mazza, The Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite, p. 48). And this provides an important clue to the means by which we imitate the Lord’s holiness; by participation.

All our Lenten practices—prayer and giving, and giving up—do not work magic on their own. Rather, by them we join ourselves to the Lord’s suffering. It is his passion and death that worked for our salvation, and in his resurrection that we are raised to new life. So in all that we do this Lent, our aim is to make more space for our Lord, so that we can say with the apostle Paul, ‘it is no longer I who live, but he who lives in me.’ When we attend to the presence of God among us and in us, and we participate in him as he dwells in us, holiness will be ours as well.

Part of a series by Medi Ann Volpe.

CAFOD Lent Fast Day is Friday 19 February


This Lent Fast Day, we have an opportunity to come together as a Catholic community to ensure girls living in the world’s poorest countries are free to change their lives by getting an education. CAFOD is working with local expert organisations around the world to bring water to family homes, so girls who used to spend hours collecting it every day, now have time for school, study and to play with their friends.

Fast Days are our opportunity to support that vital work. Collect your Fast Day envelope from church this week, and remember to fast on Lent Fast Day.

And there is very good news: the UK government has promised to match every pound and penny you give this Lent!

Please give as much as you can, so that more girls around the world are able to live lives free from the burden of the long walk for water.

For more information, see

Friars Preachers Newsletter

The latest edition of the “Friars Preachers” newsletter is being distributed with the bulletin at Masses on Sunday 14 February, full of news from Dominican Friars across the Province of England. Please do take a copy home with you to read at your leisure!

Durham Churches Together AGM

Durham Churches Together holds its Annual General Meeting at 7:00pm on Monday 22 February at Antioch House, Crossgate.The evening will include a talk by Peter MacLellan (of Durham County Council’s Humanitarian Committee) entitled, When you were a stranger: Durham County’s response to asylum seekers. All are welcome for the meeting and talk.

Church Flowers

A very big “Thank You” to those who contributed so generously towards the cost of the Christmas flowers. Your generosity means that the cost of the flowers etc. was covered by donations. As Easter is only seven weeks away please keep the black box in the porch in mind towards the cost of these flowers. Would you like to sponsor an arrangement in memory of a loved one, a special birthday or anniversary or indeed any occasion special to you? If you have any ideas/suggestions which you would like to make please contact Cliona Kear on 0191 386 3400 or e-mail

Visiting Preacher – Abp Patrick Kelly

Archbishop-Patrick-Kelly_largeThis Sunday, 7 February 2016, we welcome as celebrant and preacher at the 10:00am Parish Mass and the 6:30pm Student Mass the Most Rev. Patrick Kelly, Archbishop Emeritus of Liverpool.

Archbishop Patrick was Bishop of Salford from 1984 before moving to Liverpool in 1996; as Archbishop of Liverpool he was our Metropolitan in the Northern Province, and Chair of the Trustees of Ushaw College, Durham. He stepped down as Archbishop in 2013 and now enjoys an active retirement with a particular passion for the Holy Land.

Ash Wednesday

fasting-ash-wednesday-2015-4Wednesday 10 February is Ash Wednesday. Masses will be at 12:15pm (said) and 6:30pm (sung); the Chaplaincy Choir will sing at the evening Mass and the music will include Allegri’s Miserere during the imposition of ashes.

Vespers will be at the slightly earlier time of 6:00pm.

Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving


An early Easter this year means an early Lent… and a timely shift to a penitential mode. Once again, in the words of the Collect for Ash Wednesday, we take up the “weapons of self-restraint” in our “battle against spiritual evils”: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Perhaps these weapons have been sitting in a spiritual cupboard for a while; it’s now time to get them out and dust them off!

In Lent we lift up our hearts and minds to God in more intense prayer: as well as our own private prayer, why not make an effort to get to Mass or Divine Office during the week? During Lent there will also be Vespers and Stations of the Cross from 6:15pm each Friday.

Lent is a time we practise fasting: the Church requires those aged 18-58 to fast on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday, though many extend that to other days in Lent (e.g to CAFOD’s Lent Fast Day, coming up on Friday 19 February). Fasting means having just one modest meal per day, with two light “collations” to keep us going, but no snacks! Those aged 14+ are also required to practise abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays throughout the year. During Lent we offer a simple soup lunch after the Friday 12:15pm Mass, which enables us to observe this small penance together.

Fasting and abstinence remind us of our dependence on God’s providence, but also our obligations to those less fortunate than ourselves: that is, our practice of almsgiving. What we save through more modest eating, and ideally more besides, can be used to combat poverty both at home and abroad. As a parish and chaplaincy community we continue to support CAFOD, and more locally NEPACS working with prisoners’ families; but there are many other ways that each of us can help in need, by giving money, time or talents.

Through all these observances may we be bound closer together as a community, closer too to our brothers and sisters in need, and above all closer to God, as we prepare for the annual commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection.

And, especially in the Year of Mercy, may we make good use of the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) in the coming penitential season; confession is available from 6:30pm on Wednesdays except Ash Wednesday, from 9:45am on Saturdays, by appointment or usually on call.

Catholic Theology Research Seminar: History and Church in Augustine’s understanding of self

AugustineSelfFr. Luigi Gioia (Pontifical University of S. Anselmo, Rome) will speak on “History and Church in Augustine’s understanding of the self” at the Catholic Theology Research Seminar on Tuesday 9 February.

5.15pm for drinks; seminar 5.30pm-7.00pm
Venue: Seminar Room C, Abbey House.

A group will share a meal afterwards at a local restaurant.

All are welcome to attend. Please email or call 0191 334 1656 if you wish to attend, noting whether or not you wish to dine afterwards.

Time to Reflect: Lenten weekend for lecturers

BoarbankThe dreaming spires have long disappeared. Today’s university lecturers are fighting exhaustion and overwork, and rarely have space to ponder, to potter or to pray. Here is the chance to enjoy a bit of space from the pressure, with like-minded colleagues, and to reflect at a deeper level on why the job is worth doing, and on how we ought to be doing it.

The Augustinian Sisters of Boarbank Hall offer Time to Reflect over the weekend of 11-13 March 2016. The weekend will include talks and discussion, time to walk or sight-see, the opportunity for shared prayer, with time to relax and reflect in beautiful and peaceful surroundings.

The weekend is aimed in particular at university and college lecturers who are Christians of any persuasion. Anyone with teaching experience in higher education who is sympathetic to its general aims would also be welcome to come. For more details see or contact Sr Margaret Atkins OSA on or 015395 32288

Prayer for Peace

Hear my voice,
for it is the voice of victims
of all wars and violence
among individuals and nations.

Hear my voice,
for it is the voice of all children
who suffer and will suffer
when people put their faith
in weapons and war.

Hear my voice
when I beg you to instill
into the hearts of all human beings
the wisdom of peace,
the strength of justice
and the joy of fellowship.

Hear my voice,
for I speak for the multitudes
in every country and in every period of history
who do not want war
and are ready to walk the road of peace.

Hear my voice
and grant insight and strength
so that we may always respond to hatred with love,
to injustice with total dedication to justice,
to need with the sharing of self,
to war with peace.

O God, hear my voice
and grant unto the world
your everlasting peace. Amen

A prayer for peace by John Paul II that can be used to pray for an end to the war in Syria and for peace for the Syrian Refugees fleeing violence.

Voices of Mercy

“Visit the Imprisoned” will be held on Wednesday 24 February at 7:00pm, in St Mary’s Parish Centre, Bridge Street, Sunderland. On this evening we will be listening to the voices of people who visit the imprisoned, and have an opportunity to reflect on what this means for us. No booking required. For further information please contact Department for Spirituality telephoning 0191 243 3302, or email

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