Stabat Mater Menevia

Stabat Mater Menevia
We praise you O Lord and we bless you, for by thy Holy Cross thou hast redeemed the world

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Notes from A Reluctant Sinner

A Reluctant Sinner is arguably, the UK's leading lay blogger and is from Anglesey.
He now lives in London and acts as a volunteer at Westminster Cathedral.
He has kindly given SM permission to reproduce some of his posts.

Here is the first to be may wish to visit his blog at

Today, Pope Benedict XVI will visit Benin, a small West African country bordered by Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Niger. During his visit, the Pope is expected to reflect on economic justice, the need for peace as well as the important role Africa has to play in securing Christianity's global future. He will also sign an Apostolic Exhortation on Africa in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Ouidah. This important document is the culmination of the 2009 African Synod, which was held in Rome.

The logo created for the Pope's visit to Benin is highly symbolic, and is therefore well worth dwelling upon. For those who can read French, there is an informative explanation of the logo in the missal provided for the visit. What I have written below is my interpretation of the logo's meaning, based upon the official literature.

For me, one of the most interesting things about the image used for the Apostolic Visit to Benin is the fact that the blue dove, which is also an illustration of the continent of Africa, is heading towards the East. According the official handbook for the journey (pp 13 - 14) , this dove, which is primarily a symbol of peace, "is the perfect illustration of the central theme of the Pope's visit in Benin." The fact that the dove is seen soaring towards the East is of primary importance, for "[t]he East in the Holy Scriptures symbolizes the place of God's presence." The handbook goes on to say that following the ancient customs and traditions of our faith, "Christian[s] ... turn to the East to pray," and by doing so they choose to face "Jesus Christ, source of all light."

By now we are all aware of the fact that Pope Benedict XVI wishes Christians to (re)direct their worship ad orientem, towards the East. Sadly, the Church seems to have forgotten why we should all face eastwards, towards the Risen Christ, during our common worship - especially so during the celebration of Mass. Writing in his excellent book The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius 2000), the future Pope Benedict XVI reminds us why celebrating the Mass ad orientem is so important: -
"Despite all the variations in practice that have taken place far into the second millennium, one thing has remained clear for the whole of Christendom: praying towards the East is a tradition that goes back to the beginning. Moreover, it is a fundamental expression of the Christian synthesis of cosmos and history, of being rooted in the once-for-all events of salvation history while going out to meet the Lord who is to come again. Here both the fidelity to the gift already bestowed and the dynamism of going forward are given equal expression..."
"...[A] common turning to the East during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of something accidental, but of what is essential. Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. It is not now a question of dialogue, but of common worship, of setting off towards the One who is to come. What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle, but the common movement forward expressed in a common direction for prayer." (emphases mine)
Bearing this in mind, and aware that the liturgical literature surrounding the Papal visit to Benin refers explicitly to the ancient custom of praying towards the East, one wonders whether the Pope might be subtly using his visit to invite all African Catholics to start worshipping ad orientem once more?

The dove in the logo creates a trail of colours: green, yellow and red. These represent both the flag of Benin, as well as Africa as a whole - for green, yellow and red appear in the flags of most African countries. The cross that forms the heart of the continent of Africa in the Papal visit's logo is coloured gold and white, to symbolise the papacy and the Holy See. Gold is also symbolic of the Resurrection, and points to the Christian hope that one day the whole of Africa, which is a continent well accustomed to suffering, will be filled with that true joy and salvation which the Risen Prince of Peace brings.

Benin itself is also coloured white in the logo, which represents the Pope's presence amongst that nation's people. It also symbolises purity, which it is hoped will spread throughout the whole of Africa both during and after the Apostolic Visit. The West African country is also depicted in white to remind us that Christ is the light, the new dawn, who has overcome darkness, death and sin. In the words of the official missal, it is hoped that "[t]he Pope's visit will rise over Africa from Benin," and will prove to be "the dawn of a new world of reconciliation, justice and peace."

The three arches that flow from the dove represent a rainbow, reminding us of God's covenant with Noah (cf Genesis 9). The rainbow in the logo is comprised of three colours, which speak of reconciliation, justice and peace - all of which will be important themes during the Papal visit. The logo's predominant colour, though, is blue - which is the colour chosen to represent both the dove and the African continent. Blue, of course, reminds us of Our Lady, whose prayers and motherly protection are constantly invoked by her African children, whom she loves dearly.

One has to concede that the logo for Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Visit to Benin is most instructive, and those who designed it are to be congratulated for their efforts. In fact, meditating on this logo seems to have given me more insight into the nature and purpose of the Papal visit.

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