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Gardening for God

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My very dear friend, author Jane Mossendew has written a little jewel of a book, just in time for spring and summer garden work: Gardening for God is available from the Catholic Truth Society. Jane had the exquisite kindness of dedicating Gardening for God to Monsignor Guido Marino, Papal Master of Ceremonies . . . and to me!

The CTS announcement of the new publication has this to say:

Gardens have always occupied an important place in Holy Scripture, from the garden of Eden to the many horticultural images used by Christ himself.
This booklet is an invitation to remember God when we head out of our back door. It shows how we are brought closer to God through being surrounded by, and helping to grow, His creation.
From the different flowers that accompany us throughout the liturgical year, to the importance of making time for reflection, a garden has an eloquent language that this text helps to unpack.
Jane Mossendew was raised as an Anglican and converted to Catholicism in 1959. In 2006, after a career in education, Jane retired from London to her garden in the south of France.

Winter Reading

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What are you reading during these dark winter days? You may think me a glutton for gloom, given recent events in the land of my forebears, but I decided that I needed to read and reflect on The End of Irish Catholicism by Father D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D. In fact, there is nothing gloomy about Father Twomey's book. I haven't finished reading it yet, but what I have read of it is shot through with hope. Although written seven years ago, it remains pertinent and prophetic.

The Sacred Liturgy

Among the compelling theses of the book is Father Twomey's conviction that the restoration of Catholic life in Ireland will be brought about, principally, through the restoration of the sacred liturgy. It takes courage to affirm this in the face of so many other pressing challenges and calls for action and reform. Father Twomey writes:

There is a need to become aware again of the importance of ritual (rubrics), namely the regular performance of the predetermined small gestures and words of infinite significance, and the rhythm of ritual movement, which is not dependent on the whim of the celebrant.... The minimalist legalistic mentality, which, it seems to me, dominated and still dominates liturgical celebration in Ireland, has even dispensed with many of the rubrics as not being absolutely essential or strictly 'obligatory', for example the position of hands, blessings, kneeling, pause, the use of vestments of a certain kind and colour, and so on. Indeed, ritual movement has been effectively reduced to standing at the ambo or altar or sitting on a chair. To make up for the present sterility of so much liturgical celebration, all kinds of secondary elements have been introduced as substitutes.... But we have to ask whether or not they are perhaps more a distraction from the solemnity and real beauty of the liturgy.... Do they simply entertain, or do they promote a true sense of the sursum corda?
It may seem superfluous to mention such apparently trivial things as the need for clean altar linen, chalices of artistic merit, as well as missals, lectionaries, and sacred vestments that truly worthy of the divine service. In recent times, these sacred instruments and cloths tend to made of cheap materials, and are often in poor condition, torn, unwashed. In a word, they are not exactly edifying. While the modern world is discovering the magic of candles, the Irish Church has reduced them to a minimum (usually of inferior quality, even imitation candles or a flickering electric light instead of a sanctuary lamp). The liturgy is about great events taking place by means of small gestures, where everything used takes on infinite significance. Careful attention to the details (linen, candles, vestments, etc.) expresses the celebrant's awareness of the great mysteries for which he is responsible and conveys to others present something of the awesome presence in the Sacrament. Despite his poverty and his care for the poor (such as the orphanage he ran), the Curé of Ars procured the richest of vestments and most elaborate sacred vessels he could find in the city of Lyons for his humble, rural parish church.

Father Twomey discusses the perennial value of devotion to meet the people's affective religious needs. He recognizes the worth of the parish-based Gaelic Athletic Association, from the ranks of which came countless fine priests. Passing in review such traditional practices as the Pattern Days (patronal festivals), penitential pilgrimages, he outlines his vision for the revitalization of a Catholicism that, long before the clerical scandals of recent years, had become a matter of dreary routine and minimalistic compliance.

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Consecrated Life

Turning to the decline of consecrated life in Ireland, Father Twomey's insights can be applied to the same problem in the United States and Canada. His remarks are nlot without relevance to certain concerns being addressed by the Apostolic Visitation of Women Religious that is underway in the United States.

The diocesan structure of various Irish-founded congregations has tended to be replaced by a national (and international) structure, with the accompanying tendency to concentrate authority on a newly established central authority, a superior-general or provincial and their councils (or 'leadership teams').... The paradox is that the conscious effort within religious orders (especially of women) to try to abolish all figures of authority, now seen increasingly as one of the last vestiges of patriarchy, is accompanied by even greater institutionalization -- and endless meetings.
It is evident that each religious congregation must have its own structure of authority and decision-making. Once (and, to some extent, still) the responsibility was invested in someone known personally to each member, who was elected by the community, and lived within the same community. But now it can happen that decisions affecting communities and the lives of individual religious are made by managerial-type boards (sometimes including total outsiders as experts or advisers). The decisions are those of the quasi-anonymous 'leadership team' -- and are often the cause of considerable personal suffering to the individuals affected. Anonymous decision-making, whether within religious congregations or within the bishops' conference, though sometimes necessary, can often be a mask behind which moral weakness and lack of real leadership take refuge. Demoralisation is the result. It is time to change.

From the beginnings of the Church in Ireland, the monastic ideal set the general cultural pattern of Christianity. The renewal of the life of the modern Catholic Church will depend in the final analysis on the extent to which that monastic ideal once again ignites the imagination of the present generation.

The recovery of the various traditions of consecrated life, in particular those devoted to teaching and health care, is greatly needed to promote a genuine plurality of spiritualities and ministries within the Church. There is an urgent need for religious sisters and brothers to witness to Christ, to be the human face of the Church in the schools and in the hospital wards. All religious houses should become once again oases of prayer, personal and communal, within the desert of the modern city. The more strictly contemplative orders (male and female Cistercians, Benedictines, as well as female Dominicans, Poor Clares, Redemptorists, etc.) remain the primary witness to the unum necessarium because of the radical nature of their enclosed way of life. Such orders have often been the pioneers in the liturgical renewal. From the beginnings of the Church in Ireland, the monastic ideal set the general cultural pattern of Christianity. The renewal of the life of the modern Catholic Church will depend in the final analysis on the extent to which that monastic ideal once again ignites the imagination of the present generation.

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Beyond Church and State

Father Twomey's discussion of Church--State relations entails, necessarily, an exploration of the immutability and objectivity of natural law, morality in public life, democratic pluralism, and relativism. The following analysis is, to my mind, spot on:

...Partly in reaction to the various ideologies, which in the twentieth century caused such havoc and suffering to millions of people throughout the world, there is an understandable tendency today to shun anything that might smack of ideology, intransigeance, or the 'imposition' of any particular value system. The only option worth considering, it is claimed, is a pluralism not only of various cultural traditions but even a pluralism of what are misleadingly called 'moral values'.... Morality, in the final analysis, it is claimed, is something subjective, even irrational, and thus can be reduced to personal preference or sincere 'feelings', which must be consigned to the private sphere (provided that they cause others no harm). Such subjective 'feelings', obviously cannot be 'imposed' on society as a whole. But moral relativism, as even secular commentators are coming to recognize more and more, is a serious threat to democracy and the moral health of the political community.

I haven't yet finished the book, and if I continue giving copious extracts from the text, I risk violating some sort of copyright law. You don't have to be Irish or Irish-American to benefit intellectually and spiritually from The End of Irish Catholicism. Father Twomey ends the book, however, with this anecdote, and I can't resist ending with it here.

An tAthair Peader Ó Laoghaire in his biography Mo Scéal Féin (p. 25) tells of his own experience in bringing the Viaticum:
When I anointed one of the old people and gave him the Sacred Body and then when he would say, 'My Lord Jesus Christ is my Love! My lasting love is He!' my breath would catch, my heart beat faster and tears pour down from my eyes, so that I would have yo turn aside a little.
This is the 'soul' of the Irish Catholic tradition, the spark that kept the embers glowing in the centuries that saw the destruction of its cultural richness. May it be rekindled among us! Come, Holy Spirit...

In Time for Christmastide Reading

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Just published by Zacchaeus Press!


I recommend The Mystery of Joseph to every reader of Vultus Christi. Part One of the book reflects on the life of Saint Joseph as revealed in the Gospels: his role in the New Covenant, his espousal of the Virgin Mary, her Motherhood and his trial of faith, the Nativity, Presentation, slaughter of the Innocents, Flight in Egypt, return to Nazareth, and hidden life. It considers the finding of Jesus in the Temple, and Saint Joseph's death after years of a hidden life at Nazareth. Finally, the author treats of Saint Joseph's royal priesthood, and presents him as a model for deacons.

Part Two presents Saint Joseph as worker, as spouse of Mary, as a man in the service of authority, a man of prudence, and a just and God-fearing man. The last two chapters of Part Two speak to me in a special way: "Man of Silence, Patriarch of the Monastic Life," and "Saint Joseph and Saint John."

An appendix offers the reader an excerpt from Pope Leo XIII's Encyclical Quampluram pluries, on the place of Saint Joseph in the economy of salvation, as well as the Litany of Saint Joseph and a selection of prayers to him.

Père Marie-Dominique Philippe's book allies the tenderness of one who has tasted the mysteries of God with a Dominican clarity of thought and theological rigour. I recommend the book to all who desire a clearer understanding of manhood sanctified in various states of life: in marriage, in the diaconate, in priesthood, and in the grace of monastic consecration. At this hour of the Church's earthly pilgrimage, more, perhaps, than ever before, we are in need of the mystery and the intercession of Saint Joseph.

If you enjoy reading Vultus Christi, you will savour and delight in The Mystery of Joseph. Here is a telling excerpt from this wonderful book:

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The great grace of the Second Vatican Council was perhaps to make us discover, or rediscover, the unity that exists between the Christian household and the monastic life, and to show us that there is no separation between the two. There is a distinction, obviously, but a distinction for the purpose of a much deeper unity, because we are all tending towards the same holiness, towards the same intimacy with Christ, with Mary, with Joseph. It is very important that the spirituality of the family today not be separated from monastic spirituality. and that there are profound exchanges in the order of fraternal charity (in the order of agape) between Christian households, and monastic households -- spiritual and contemplative households which are totally consecrated to God. The latter remain linked to temporal households and to families, and must help them to go further.
For all Christians the fundamental requirement is to live by adoration, "in spirit and in truth" and then, stemming from this adoration, to live by a thirst for contemplation -- and to do so in a world in which the utilitarian aspect is so important and where everything is judged according to criteria of efficiency and utility. Faced with this state of affairs, Christians need to affirm, more than ever, the primacy of the gratuity of love. We live by this in adoration, and adoration increases our desire to know God -- "And this is eternal life: that they know Thee, the only true God . . ." --and to contemplate Him, that is, to live by His life.

Christ in His Mysteries

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A Book for Advent and for the Whole Liturgical Year

Advent is but a fortnight away. For many years I have had the practice of choosing an Advent book, to prepare myself for the Nativity of the Lord and for the entire liturgical cycle. This year, for those who would like to do the same, I can recommend nothing better than Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion's classic Christ in Mysteries, recently published in a clear new English translation by Zacchaeus Press.

A Trilogy

Christ in His Mysteries, first published in 1919, is part of three volume trilogy that, endorsed by the Popes and by the last century's most eminent masters of the spiritual life, has lost nothing of its value and nothing of its appeal. The other two volumes in the trilogy are Christ, the Life of the Soul, first published in 1918 (also available from Zacchaeus Press), and Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, which appeared in 1922.

Blessed Columba Marmion's trilogy, as well as the many other works collated from his correspondence and spiritual conferences (e.g. Union With God; Christ, the Ideal of the Priest; Sponsa Verbi, the Virgin Consecrated to Christ), are numbered among the classics of Catholic spirituality.

The Pure Doctrine of the Church

Pope Benedict XV kept the writings of Blessed Columba Marmion on his night table. In recommending them to the Servant of God Metropolitan Andrew Szepticky (1865-1944), the Pope said, "Read this: it is the pure doctrine of the Church." Cardinal Mercier said: "Dom Columba makes one touch God."

Blessed Marmion and Saint Paul

This new edition of Christ in His Mysteries is especially relevant to the Year of Saint Paul. No one did as much to mine the riches of Saint Paul's writings for the benefit of the God-seeking faithful as did Abbot Marmion. The Irish Benedictine was steeped in the Christology and mysticism of the Apostle to the Nations. It is this constant, living reference to Sacred Scripture that gives his writings their distinctive "unction."

A Mystagogical Guide Through the Liturgical Year

I was introduced to Christ in His Mysteries over forty years ago and have returned to it time and time again, often using it as a "mystagogical guide" through the liturgical year. The volume is divided into four sections. In the first, Preliminary Talks, Blessed Marmion introduces his reader to the Mysteries of Christ and to our assimilation of the particular graces that ever flow from them. In the second, he invites his reader to contemplate Christ: the Eternal Word, the Incarnate Son, the Saviour and High Priest. The third section, following the liturgical year, enables the reader to "pray his way" through the mysteries of Advent, Christmastide and Epiphanytide The fourth section pursues the course of the liturgical year, treating of Our Lord's Baptism and public life, of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and of the feasts of the Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, the Sacred Heart, and All Saints.

Blessed Marmion's Way of the Cross

Do I have my favourite pages in Christ in His Mysteries? I do. Blessed Abbot Columba's Way of the Cross (pp. 312-327) is extraordinary. His meditations are full of compunction and, at the end of each "station" he offers a prayer that sums up and asks for the grace proper to the corresponding moment in Our Lord's Passion. Blessed Abbot Marmion made the Way of the Cross every day of his life with the exception of Easter Sunday. In Christ in His Mysteres he shares with us the fruit of his own daily contemplation.

Go to Zacchaeus Press

When you purchase your copy of this splendid new edition of Christ in Mysteries from Zacchaeus Press, be sure to let our friends there know that you read about it on Vultus Christi.

Ut gaudium meum in vobis sit

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At Today's Second Nocturn

This is what I read at the Second Nocturn of Matins this morning. It is a good example of what gives the writings of Blessed Abbot Marmion their distinctive unction. They have a comforting, penetrating quality that comes from His extensive use and repetition of the words of Sacred Scripture. In this brief passage of less than two pages, he quotes Sacred Scripture eleven times. Abbot Marmion had the habit of giving the same text twice, once in English (or French), and then in Latin, the language of the sacred liturgy in which the Word of God came to him by dint of repetition in the Mass and Divine Office.

Marmion and the Year of Saint Paul

Abbot Marmion is a worthy companion for this Year of Saint Paul. He, more than any other popular spiritual writer of the last century, made the teachings of Saint Paul come to life for his readers. Not surprisingly, Saint Paul and Saint John are the two biblical sources that appear most frequently in his writings; the Abbot knew them practically by heart.

A Reading from Christ in His Mysteries by the Blessed Columba Marmion, O.S.B.

Let us remain faithful to Jesus in spite of everything.
We have heard that He is the Son of God, equal to God;
His words do not pass away: He is the Eternal Word.
Now, He affirms that he that follows Him shall have the "light of life":
Habebit lumen vitae (Jn 8, 12).
Happy the soul that listens to Him, and Him only,
and listens always, without doubting His word,
without being shaken by the blasphemies of His enemies,
without being overcome by temptation or cast down by trial!
We know not, says Saint Paul, what a weight of glory is laid up for us
in return for the least suffering borne in union with Christ Jesus (cf. 2 Cor 4, 17).
"God is faithful" (1 Cor 1, 9; 10, 13, 2 Thess 3, 2);
and in all the vicissitudes through which a soul passes,
God infallibly leads her to this transformation
which makes her like unto His Son.

Thus our transformation into Jesus is inwardly brought about,
little by little, until the day comes when the soul will appear radiant
in that company of the elect who bear the mark of the Lamb,
those whom the Lamb transfigures because they are His own.

Our Lord Himself promised this to us.
"The world shall rejoice" (Jn 16, 20), He said before leaving us,
but here below you shall be in sorrow and trial as I was
before entering into my glory:
Opportuit pati Christum et ita intrare in gloriam suam (Lk 24, 26).

That is necessary, it is the way of My providence;
but remain steadfast.
"Have confidence," confidite (Jn 16, 33).
"I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Mt 28, 20).
Now your faith receives Me each day in the mystery of My self-abasement,
but I will come one day in the full revelation of My glory.
And you, My faithful disciples, shall share this glory,
for you are one with Me.
Did I not ask this of My Father when about to pay the price of it by My Sacrifice?
"Father, I will that where I am, they also whom Thou hast given Me
may be with Me; that they may see My glory which Thou hast given Me,
because Thou hast loved Me before the creation of the world":
Pater, VOLO ut ubi sum ego, et ill sint MECUM,
ut videant claritatem meam quam dedisti mihi (Jn 17, 24).

As for you whom I have called My friends,
to whom I have confided the secrets of My Divine life, as My Father ordained;
you who have believed, and have not left Me,
you shall enter into My joy, and live by Me.
Full life, perfect joy, because it will be My own life and My personal joy
that I will give you.
My life and My joy as Son of God,
Ut gaudium MEUM in vobis sit,
et gaudium vestrum
IMPLEATUR (Jn 15, 11).

Prayer Ever on Your Lips

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I first read the life of the heroic Father Willie Doyle, S.J. by Alfred O'Rahilly forty years ago. It was the summer of 1968, and the summer of Humanae Vitae. By God's sweet Providence, I am reading it again, this time with the experience of more than half a lifetime behind me. Father Doyle amazes me, comforts me, enlightens me, sets me straight on certain things, and confirms me in others.

One has to grow into certain books, and there is no growth without groaning. Now and then I will be sharing bits and pieces of this remarkable spiritual biography with you, dear readers of Vultus Christi. Father Willie Doyle was made of the stuff of the Desert Fathers. He is above all a master in the practice of the ceaseless prayer of the heart.

Do nothing without consulting Him in the Tabernacle. But then act fearlessly, if you see it is for His honour and glory, never minding what others may think or say. Above all, 'cast your care upon the Lord and He shall sustain you.' (Psalm 54, 23). Peace and calm in your soul, prayer ever on your lips, and a big love in your heart for Him and His interests, will carry you very far. (November, 1914)

Non in commotione Dominus. ('The Lord is not in the earthquake.' III Kings 19, 11). Labour, then with might and main to keep your soul in peace, but an unbounded trust in His loving goodness. If you live in Jesus and Jesus in you, striving to make each little action, each morsel of food, every word of the Office, etc., an act of love to be laid at His feet as dwelling in your heart, you will certainly please him immensely and fly to perfection. (January, 1912)

This morning during Mass I felt strongly that Jesus was pained that you do not trust Him absolutely, that is, trust Him in every detail of your life. You are wanting in that childlike confidence He desires so much from you, the taking lovingly and trustfully from His hands all that He sends you, not even wishing things to have happened otherwise. He wants you to possess your soul in peace in the midst of the many troubles, cares and difficulties of your work, looking upon everything as arranged by Him, and hence something to welcome joyfully. Jesus will not dwell in your soul as He wishes unless you are at peace. This is the first step towards that union which you desire so much -- but not so much as He does. Don't keep Him waiting, my child, but by earnest and constant efforts empty your heart of every care that He may abide with you for ever. (May, 1913)

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When I was a lad in New Haven, Connecticut, I had the privilege of knowing Father Philip T. Weller. He spent a year or two in residence at Saint Francis Parish. For a boy who spent his free time reading The Church's Year of Grace by Pius Parsch, meeting Father Weller and serving his Mass was a dream come true. Father Weller was gifted with a melodious voice and loved Gregorian Chant. He sang Mass with a quiet reverence, with loving attention to the rubrics, and with manly devotion. His preaching was outstanding. Father Weller was a shining example of priestly liturgical piety. For all of that, he was never stuffy or distant. I remember him once interrupting the distribution of Holy Communion to say to Mrs. Zullo, "Madame, you have a lovely voice!" I have never forgotten him.

Preserving Christian Publications has made Father Weller's classic Latin-English three volume version of The Roman Ritual for the traditional Roman Rite available once again. Published originally between 1946 and 1950, the folks at PCP have faithfully and handsomely reprinted all three volumes in simulated leather hardbound with gold-embossing, sewn binding, a marking ribbon, and as in the originals: red and black text throughout with plainchant notation! All three volumes are also completely indexed in both Latin and English!

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In his introduction to the books, Father Weller presents a mystagogical catechesis that is itself worth the price of the set. "Christ has sacramentalized the world," he writes, "and Christian man, therefore, is destined to live, and grow, and mature into Christian perfection chiefly by means of sacramental action. This is the ordinary way unto sanctification. . . . The true Christian spirit demands that man accepts the fact that supernatural life is concurrent with physical life, that spiritual contents are wed to material or external forms."

What treasures will you find in Father Weller's Roman Ritual apart from the rites of Sacraments and the Processions of the Liturgical Year? Here are just some of them:

— The Blessing of Holy Water
— The Blessings of an Infant, of a Child, and of Children
— The Blessing of Wine for Saint John's Day
— The Blessing of Chalk for the Epiphany
— The Great Blessing of Epiphany Water
— The Blessing of Homes
— The Blessings of Lamb, Eggs, Bread, New Produce, and Oil
— The Blessing of a Bonfire for the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
— The Blessing of Herbs on the Assumption
— The Blessings of Pilgrims, of Sick Pilgrims, of a Sick Adult, of Sick Children
— The Blessing of an Expectant Mother
— The Blessing of a Mother After Childbirth
— The Blessings of a Cross, of Sacred Images, of a Cincture, of a Votive Habit,
of Lilies in Honour of Saint Anthony of Padua, of an Organ, of a Church Bell, of Sick Animals, of Cattle and Herds, of Bees, of Silkworms, of Salt or Oats for Animals, of a Stable, of Linens for the Sick, of a Wheelchair, of Wine for the Sick, of Medicine, of Bread and Cakes, of Ale, of Cheese and Butter, of Fowl Meat, of Grapes, of a Fishing Boat, and of a Fire Engine.

There is so much more, including the blessings of devotional scapulars and other items at one time reserved to priests of particular Orders. I know of no other set of books containing so complete a collection of the sacramental rites of the Church.

Writing of the use of sacramentals (little sacraments), Father Weller says:

As he leaves the Eucharistic altar and banquet-table of the new Jerusalem, the Christian goes out, oftentimes into the atmosphere of a veritable Babylon. Fortified with Christ's kiss of peace, he launches the attack against Satan, using the auxiliary weapons which the Church, the worthy Spouse of Christ and our holy Mother dispenses with a lavish hand to her children. May the little sacraments treated of in this volume become powerful allies to the Holy Seven, to hasten our sacramental sanctification unto the full stature of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!

In their presentation of the The Roman Ritual, our friends at Preserving Christian Publications, affirm that Father Weller "prepared it for the clergy 'as a manual and reference' and for the laity's 'interest and enthusiasm for the rites and prayers of so important a part of the liturgical books of the Church.'"

Twentieth Century Martyrs

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One of the books on my summer reading list was The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century, A Comprehensive World History, by Robert Royal. George Weigel calls it, “essential reading for anyone who cares about the Church in the modern world.” More Catholics were persecuted, tortured, and put to death for their faith in the twentieth century than in any previous century. Naively, and sometimes blithely, we appraise the last century in terms of scientific and technological progress. We forget that a mighty river of blood courses through the twentieth century during which more than one million believers were killed for their faith. The passion and death of Saint John the Baptist was but the beginning of two thousand and more years of bloody persecution for the Friends of the Bridegroom and Witnesses of the Lamb. How many of these can you identify?

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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