The Archdiocese of Birmingham - The Parish of the Immaculate Conception

Saints and Feast Days this week.

Beginning Sunday, 11th February 2018 ~ sIXth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary - Sundays Year B, Weekdays Year 2.




Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, can be traced to the sixth century when its date was moved so that Lent would consist of forty days of actual fasting. By the eighth century, the Christian community in Rome was accustomed to making its way in procession to the first Mass of Lent, singing an antiphon that included the words, “Let us put on sackcloth and ashes.” The practice of penitents covering their heads with ashes can be traced back to the Old Testament (see 2 Samuel 13: 19 "Tamar put dust on her head, tore the magnificent dress which she was wearing, laid her hand on her head, and went away, crying as she went." or Esther 4: 1 "When Mordechai learned what had happened, he tore his garments and put on sackcloth and ashes.") - the words for "dust" and "ashes" are very similar in Hebrew and the ashes are taken to symbolise mortality, hence mourning and penitence; although in Rome at this time there was apparently no distribution of ashes. This practice seems to have originated in the Rhineland and is attested in a liturgical book written in Mainz in 960. By the beginning of the eleventh century in was customary, at least in England, for everyone to receive ashes. The practice became universal in the Church after the Synod of Benvento in 1091.

Lent originally seems to have lasted for only thirty-six days, from the First Sunday to Easter Day. The thirty-six days, making up almost a tenth part of the year and through observing a fast during this period, Christians were thought to render a penitential tithe to God. It is not known when the additional four days were added although a Capitulary of the Church of Toulon from 714 seems to indicate a practice of forty days much like our own. The addition of the four days making the total up to forty (excluding Sundays) accords with the fasts recorded of Moses, Elias and Jesus Himself. The words used at the imposition of the blessed ashes which are traditionally made by the burning of the palms from the previous year, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" come from the third chapter of the Book of Genesis when Adam and Eve have fallen from grace and are being expelled from the Garden of Eden. Since 1970, an alternative formula, "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" may be used.

The imposition of ashes was not originally made to all the faithful, but only to public penitents. These had to appear before the door of the church on the First Sunday of Lent dressed in penitential garb and with bare feet. There their penances would be imposed upon them and they were brought into the church and in front of the bishop, who would put the ashes on their heads with the words "Repent (or do penance) that you may have eternal life". He would then address them before solemnly excluding them from the church. Out of humility and affection the friends of the public penitents, although not in the same condition, would join themselves to the excluded in an outward guise of a similar contrition but in turn offering their own heads to be sprinkled with ashes. The number of these grew until, at length, the administration of the ashes was extended to the whole congregation and the rite took on the present form.

During the celebration of Mass on Ash Wednesday the penitential rite at the beginning and the creed are omitted and the blessing and imposition of the ashes takes place after the homily. The readings of the Mass: Joel 2: 12-18 "Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn, turn to the Lord your God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion, and ready to relent." and 2 Corinthians 5: 20-6: 2 ". . . and in the Name of Christ we appeal to you to be reconciled to God." are strong calls to penance and reconciliation while the Gospel from Matthew (6: 1-6, 16-18) "When you are fasting, do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they go about looking unsightly to let people know that they are fasting. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put scent on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you." warns that our almsgiving, fasting and prayer should be for the greater glory of God and not to make us look holy in the eyes of other people.

Almighty and ever living God, grant that as we begin this holy season that, through penance, fasting and almsgiving, we may take up battle against spiritual evils and may be armed with the weapons of self-restraint.

New Advent


17th February - Commemoration of the Seven Founders of the Order of Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Active: 13th century.

Devout Florentines on the thirteenth century and coming from some of the most famous families in the city, Buonfiglio dei Monaldi (Bonfilius), Giovanni di Buonagiunta (Bonajuncta), Amadeus of the Amidei (Bartolomeus), Ricovero dei Lippi-Ugguccioni (Hugh), Benedetto dell' Antella (Manettus), Gherardino di Sostegno (Sostene), and Alessio de' Falconieri (Alexius), were moved by the Cathar heresy and lax morality, joined a confraternity of the Blessed Virgin and began to lead a life of prayer, solitude and austerity on Monte Sennario where they built a church and a hermitage. Initially they refused to accept novices until the intervention of the Bishop and Cardinal Castiglione. After 1240 they adopted a way of life based on the Rule of St. Augustine and on the Dominican Constitutions and adopted a black habit. They made foundations at Siena, Pistoia, Arezzo, Carfaggio and Lucca while their most famous church, the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata in Florence is still served by the order. The new order was recognized in 1259 and was solemnly approved by Pope Benedict XI in 1304. A principal devotion of the Servites is of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin which grew out of the late medieval devotion to Our Lady of Pity offering a counterpoint to the Seven Joys of Mary. They were canonized in 1887

Butler has the following account of their lives: Between the years 1225 and 1227 seven young Florentines joined the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin—popularly known as the 'Laudesi' or Praisers. It was a period when the prosperous city of Florence was being rent by political factions and distracted by the heresy of the Cathari: it was also a time of general relaxation of morals even where devotional practices were retained. These young men were members of the most prominent families of the city. Whether they were all friends before they joined the Laudesi is not clear, but in that confraternity they became closely allied.

The eldest was Buonfiglio Monaldo, who became their leader. The others were Alexis Falconieri, Benedict dell' Antella, Bartholomew Amidei, Ricovero Uguccione, Gerardino Sostegni, and John Buonagiunta. They had as their spiritual director James of Poggibonsi, who was chaplain of the Laudesi, a man of great holiness and spiritual insight. All of them came to realize the call to a life of renunciation, and they determined to have recourse to our Lady in their perplexity. On the feast of the Assumption, as they were absorbed in prayer, they saw her in a vision, and were inspired by her to withdraw from the world into a solitary place and to live for God alone. There were difficulties, because, though three of them were celibates, four had been married and had ties, although two had become widowers. Suitable provision for their dependents was arranged, and with the approval of the bishop they withdrew from the world and betook themselves to a house called La Carmarzia, outside the gates of Florence, twenty-three days after they had received their call. Before long they found themselves so much disturbed by constant visitors from Florence that they decided to withdraw to the wild and deserted slopes of Monte Senario, where they built a simple church and hermitage and lived a life of almost incredible austerity.

In spite of difficulties, visitors sometimes found their way to the hermits and many wished to join them, but they refused to accept recruits. So they continued to live for several years,—until they were visited by their bishop, Ardingo, and Cardinal Castiglione, who had heard about their sanctity. He was greatly edified, but made one adverse criticism: 'You treat yourselves in a manner bordering on barbarity: and you seem more desirous of dying to time than of living for eternity. Take heed: the enemy of souls often hides himself under the appearance of an angel of light . . . Hearken to the counsels of your superiors.'

Again the solitaries gave themselves up to prayer for light, and again they had a vision of our Lady, who bore in her hand a black habit while an angel held a scroll inscribed with the title of Servants of Mary. She told them she—had chosen them to be her servants, that she wished them to wear the black habit, and to follow the Rule of St. Augustine. From that date, April 13, 1240, they were known as the Servants of Mary, or Servites.

They were clothed by the bishop himself, Buonfiglio being elected their superior. According to custom they selected names by which they should thenceforth be known, and became Brothers Bonfilius, Alexis, Amadeus, Hugh, Sostenes, Manettus and Buonagiunta. By the wish of the bishop, all except St. Alexis, who in his humility begged to be excused, prepared to receive holy orders, and in due time they were fully professed and ordained priests. The new order, which took a form more like that of the mendicant friars than that of the monastic orders, increased amazingly, and it soon became necessary to form fresh houses. Siena, Pistoia and Arezzo were the first places chosen, and afterwards the houses at Carfaggio, the convent and church of the Santissima Annunziata in Florence, and the convent at Lucca were established. Meanwhile, although the Servites had the approval of their immediate superiors, they had not been recognized by the Holy See. It was only in 1259 that the order was practically recognized by Alexander IV, and not until 1304 over sixty years after its foundation-that it received the explicit and formal approbation of Bd. Benedict XI. St. Bonfilius had remained as prior general until 1256, when he begged to be relieved owing to old age. He died on new year's night, 1261.

St. Buonagiunta, the youngest of the seven, was the second prior general, but not long after his election he breathed his last in chapel while the gospel of the Passion was being read. St. Amadeus ruled over the important convent of Carfaggio, but returned to Monte Senario to end his days. St. Manettus became fourth prior general and sent missionaries to Asia, but he retired to make way for St. Philip Benizi, upon whose breast he died. St. Hugh and St. Sostenes went abroad—Sostenes to Paris and Hugh to found convents in Germany. They were recalled in 1276, and, being attacked by illness, they passed away side by side the same night. St. Alexis, the humble lay-brother outlived them all, and he was the only one who survived to see the order fully and finally recognized. He is reported to have died at the age one hundred and ten.

Almighty and ever living God, impart to us by your kindness, the love with which the seven founders venerated devoutly the Mother of God so that through her many may come to the knowledge of your Son.

New Advent