Monday, 30 July 2012

The Head that once was crowned with thorns

This is another classic Protestant hymn to the Sacred Head that was written by Thomas Kelly 1769 - 1855, and is sung to the tune St. Magnus by Jeremiah Clarke.  Thomas Kelly was a Church of Ireland minister who later became a fervant evangelical preacher, and he was known as the Charles Wesley of Ireland. 

Thomas Kelly
1. The Head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now;
A royal diadem adorns
The mighty Victor's brow.

2. The highest place that heaven affords
Is His, is His by right,
The King of kings and Lord of lords,
And heaven's eternal Light;

3. The Joy of all who dwell above,
The Joy of all below
To whom He manifests His love
And grants His name to know.

4. To them the cross, with all its shame,
With all its grace, is given;
Their name an everlasting name,
Their joy the joy of heaven.

5. They suffer with their Lord below,
They reign with Him above,
Their profit and their joy to know
The mystery of His love.

6. The cross He bore is life and health,
Though shame and death to Him:
His people's hope, His people's wealth,
Their everlasting theme.

The church's current position on Teresa Higginson and the Sacred Head devotion

The cause of Teresa Higginson's beatification was opened by the Archdiocese of Liverpool in the 1930's by Archbishop Frederick William Keating, and his successor Richard Downey.  Hopefully in future another blog post will be written describing it in more detail!  Unfortunately on February 21st 1938 the Holy See declared Teresa's cause for beatification as 'Non Expedire' (not expedient) and asked the bishops of England and Wales to withdraw images of the Sacred Head from their churches, as well as the imprimatur from prayers and devotions associated with it.

However unlike what was to happen to the Divine Mercy devotion for 20 years in 1959, neither she nor the Sacred Head devotion were declared 'Reponatur' which means condemned, as no heresy or moral disorder was found in either, and the beatification while shelved can be reopened.  In February 1949 a letter from the then Congregation of Rites stated that there was no insurmountable obstacle to the cause.  In the succeeding years the successive bishops in Shrewsbury (in which diocese she is buried) and Liverpool (in which diocese she had her revelations) had not seen fit to reopen it: however the current Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury is known to be sympathetic.

Since 1938 the church's position on both Teresa Higginson and the Sacred Head devotion has remained substantively unchanged. While the faithful may still continue to practice devotion to the Sacred Head privately, the church currently does not sanction it as an official cult, and does not endorse the public celebration of the feast of the Sacred Head on the octave day of the Sacred Heart: there are no lawful mass propers and public prayers that can be used for it.  Hence this devotion cannot be practiced in an official public capacity in parishes.  Hopefully when God sees fit this will change.  The author of this blog is certain that Teresa, who was utterly obedient to the often misinformed ecclesiastical authority of her time, would not want us in any way to go against the church's judgement today.

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Litany of Blog Humility

This blog is one that has little to no hope of going viral, and its author is certain that Teresa would fully understand this litany.  Acknowledgements to the Curt Jester!

From the desire of my blog being read
Deliver me dear Jesus
From the desire of my blog being praised
Deliver me dear Jesus
From the fear of my blog being despised
Deliver me dear Jesus
From the fear of my blog being forgotten
Deliver me dear Jesus
From the fear of no page views
Deliver me dear Jesus
That other blogs may be loved more than mine
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it
That Nihil Obstat may find all my grammatical and spelling errors
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it
That Google may never list my blog
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it
That comments always be negative and abusive
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it
That my commenting system always say “commenting temporarily unavailable”
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it
That others may be pithier than I, provided that I may become as pithy as I should
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Teresa Higginson on Calvary

Another extract from the Passion of Our Lord that Teresa wrote to Fr. Edward Powell:

As Jesus is raised on the cross His Sacred Eye takes in at a glace every sinner from the first even to the last; then that the seamless robe is a figure of the unity of the Church, and Jesus saw every schism and heresy, every sin that should arise, every sacrilege that should be committed in or against His holy Catholic Church.  Then the vast numbers of souls lost to Him for ever, many and many of them often dyed deeply in that same most Precious Blood which He was shedding for them in vain...

Then an impetuous wave of infinite love swept over that sorrowful soul and rent it to pieces (as I may say) with an insatiable desire for souls...

...Then the sacred mind drank in that bitter torrent of doubt, caused by the sight of the impenitent thief and the incredulous Pharisees.  Will all this bitter Passion be of no avail?  Will all this love be in vain?  For so many?  And His Sacred Heart felt the keen smart of our cold indifference and ingratitude which pierced It far more deeply than the lance of Longinus.  Of course it was the human nature alone that was suffering or could suffer and His Holy Soul, Sacred Heart and adorable mind were all the time suffering an agony too awful for our puny minds to conceive..

...How can we picture the intense agony - the annihilation that Jesus suffered when He was forced as it were to cry aloud in anguish of soul: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"  This desolation commenced in the Garden of Olives and had been growing in intensity...

...This annihilation is the finger of God touching the soul and afflicting it beyond description.  Besides making atonement for mortal sins Jesus had to purchase grace to overcome temptations to each mortal sin.  He had an infinite atonement to make.  He had great heights of perfection to win, and each act of virtue must be purchased by distinct suffering of Jesus.  Here all consolations were cut off from the soul of our dear crucified Lord.  We speak of this as darkness, but it is not; the Light of lights could not for an instant be extinguished.  As we are blinded by looking at the sun, so it is here.  It is the perfect knowledge of clear light that is the cause of this excess of suffering...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The hymn O Sacred Head

The versions of the hymn 'O Sacred Head' are translations of the medieval poem Salve Caput Cruentatum.  There are two most well know versions: 'O Sacred Head sore wounded' by Robert Bridges and 'O Sacred Head ill - used' by Ronald Knox.  The poem was first translated into the vernacular in German by the prolific Lutheran hymnist Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676). Although Gerhardt translated the whole poem, it is the closing section which has become best known, and is often sung as a hymn in its own right. The German hymn begins, "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden".

Paulus Gerhardt

The music for the German and English versions of the hymn is by Hans Leo Hassler, written around 1600 for a secular love song, "Mein G'müt ist mir verwirret", which first appeared in print in 1601. The tune was appropriated and rhythmically simplified for Gerhardt's German hymn in 1656 by Johann Crüger. Johann Sebastian Bach arranged the melody and used five stanzas of the hymn in his St Matthew Passion, stanza 6 also in his cantata Sehet, wir gehn hinauf gen Jerusalem, BWV 159. Bach used the melody on different words in his Christmas Oratorio, both in the first choral (#5) and the triumphant final chorus. Franz Liszt included an arrangement of this hymn in the sixth station, Saint Veronica, of his Via Crucis (the Way of the Cross), S.504a. Here is a recording of from the St. Matthew Passion of J.S. Bach:

The hymn was first translated into English in 1752 by John Gambold (1711-1771), an Anglican vicar in Oxfordshire. His translation begins, "O Head so full of bruises." In 1830 a new translation of the hymn was made by an American Presbyterian minister, James Waddel Alexander (1804-1859). Alexander's translation, beginning "O sacred head, now wounded," became one of the most widely used in 19th and 20th century hymnals. Another English translation, based on the German, was made in 1861 by Sir Henry Baker. Published in Hymns Ancient and Modern, it begins, "O sacred head surrounded by crown of piercing thorn."

In 1899 the English poet laureate Robert Bridges (1844-1930) made a fresh translation from the original Latin, beginning "O sacred Head, sore wounded, defiled and put to scorn." This is the version used in the Church of England's New English Hymnal (1986) and several other late 20th-century hymn books.  The English Hymnal, 1906 has a translation atrributed to "Y.H.", referring to Bridges' translations for the Yattendon Hymnal, of which he was the editor.  This is the Robert Bridges version:

O sacred head, sore wounded,
defiled and put to scorn;
O kingly head surrounded
with mocking crown of thorn:
What sorrow mars thy grandeur?
Can death thy bloom deflower?
O countenance whose splendor
the hosts of heaven adore!

Thy beauty, long-desirèd,
hath vanished from our sight;
thy power is all expirèd,
and quenched the light of light.
Ah me! for whom thou diest,
hide not so far thy grace:
show me, O Love most highest,
the brightness of thy face.

I pray thee, Jesus, own me,
me, Shepherd good, for thine;
who to thy fold hast won me,
and fed with truth divine.
Me guilty, me refuse not,
incline thy face to me,
this comfort that I lose not,
on earth to comfort thee.

In thy most bitter passion
my heart to share doth cry,
with thee for my salvation
upon the cross to die.
Ah, keep my heart thus moved
to stand thy cross beneath,
to mourn thee, well-beloved,
yet thank thee for thy death.

My days are few, O fail not,
with thine immortal power,
to hold me that I quail not
in death's most fearful hour;
that I may fight befriended,
and see in my last strife
to me thine arms extended
upon the cross of life. 

 Robert Bridges

This hymn was a very popular staple of Protestant devotion throughout Europe and North America, existing in German, English, French and Dutch translations.  It would not have been heard in a Catholic church right until Monsignor Ronald Knox himself made a translation of the original Salve Caput Cruentatem that was to be published in the Westminster Hymnal of 1940: the version O Sacred Head Ill - Used.  Until the mid 20th century hymns of Protestant origin were completely forbidden to be sung in Catholic churches, and it is unlikely that Teresa would have heard it.

Monsignor Ronald Knox

O Sacred head ill-used,
By reed and bramble scarred,
That idle blows have bruised,
And mocking lips have marred,
How dimmed that eye so tender,
How wan those cheeks appear,
That angel hosts revere!

What marvel if thou languish,
Vigour and virtue fled,
Wasted and spent with anguish,
And pale as are the dead?
O by thy foes’ derision,
That death endured for me,
Grant that thy open vision
A sinner’s eyes may see.

Good Shepherd, spent with loving,
Look on me, who have strayed,
Oft by those lips unmoving
With mild and honey stayed;
Spurn not a sinner’s crying 
Nor from the love out cast,
But rest thy head in dying
On these frail arms at last.

In this thy sacred Passion
O that some share had I!
O may thy Cross’s fashion
O’erlook me when I die!
For these dear pains that rack thee
A sinner’s thanks receive;
O, lest in death I lack thee,
A sinner’s care relieve.

Since death must be my ending,
In that dread hour of need,
My friendless cause befriending,
Lord, to my rescue speed;
Thyself, dear Jesus, trace me
That passage to the grave,
And from thy Cross embrace me
With arms outstretched to save.

No doubt Teresa would have loved this hymn, so keen was she to spread devotion to the Sacred Head, and it would have been a consolation to her that it is now one of the most popular hymns to the Passion, when the devotion is still so little know of.  In her time the staple of Catholic hymns would have been the Crown of Jesus hymnal, a pretty nondescript collection of very sentimental verse and bad tunes, leaving much to be desired which has been the forerunner of the dreadful Celebration Hymnal and Hymns Old and New (or even Older..).  It is recorded that she had a a very sweet voice, and joined wholeheartedly in singing of devotional hymns.

Teresa was to state that the devotion to the Sacred Head would be the means to bring back England to the fold of the Catholic church.  Seeing that this devotion is one that is common to both Protestants and Catholics due to this hymn, she may well be proved right in the future.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Memorandum of Father Bertrand Wilberforce

Fr. Bertrand Wilberforce, a Thomist spiritual writer gave this testimony to Fr. Edward Powell about Teresa Higginson, her mysticism and the proposed devotion to the Sacred Head in this letter.

“NOV. 9 1882
“Opinion on the devotion to the Sacred Head of Jesus Christ.

“You ask me to express to you in writing my opinion regarding a volume of letters written by Miss T. H. containing among other matters an account of certain revelations which she considers to have been made to her by our Blessed Lord Himself, concerning devotion to the Sacred Head of Jesus as the Shrine of the Divine Wisdom. This would also include some opinion as to the spirit of the writer of these letters.

“I must first express the diffidence with which I give any opinion about matters so exalted in their nature and so widely removed from the beaten track of the spiritual life, especially as I have not any knowledge of the soul in question.

I. – As to the Devotion itself.

“The object of this, which in a certain sense may be called a new devotion, is the Sacred Head of the Divine Word Incarnate; but not simply that Sacred Head itself considered as the chief organic part of the material Body of Jesus Christ, but that Sacred Head considered as the Shrine or Tabernacle of the created Soul of the God Man, united as that soul is, in one Person, with the uncreated and eternal Wisdom of God the Son. Thus the Devotion bears a striking analogy to the devotion in honour of the Sacred Heart which beat in the breast of our incarnate God, yet not simply as a material object of worship but as the Shrine and symbol of the Love of Jesus Christ, love residing in the Soul which was united in one Person with the Son of God.

“There would appear to be no theological objection to a devotion in honour of the Sacred Head as the Shrine of the intellectual faculties and powers of the Soul of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the soul is the Form of the whole body, and therefore of the head, the principal organ of the body; and as the Soul of our Blessed Lord is united in one Person with the Godhead, His Sacred Head is manifestly divine and worthy of the highest adoration or the worship of Latria.

“St. Thomas (Summa. Pt. 3. Qu. 6 Art. 4) teaches that the Son of God assumed a created Soul and a created Intellect, and the holy Doctor quotes the words of St. Augustine who proves this truth from the teaching of Our Lord Himself. ‘Animam quoque’, dicit S. Augustinus, ‘se habere ostendit dicens Joan.’ X 18. ‘Ego pono Animam meam et iterum sumo eam.’ Intellectum quoque animae ostendit se habere, dicens Matt. xi 29: ‘Discite a Me, quia mitis sum and humilis cordis.’ Et de ipso per prophetam Deus dicit, Isa. lii. 13: ‘Ecce intelliget Puer Meus.’ St. Thomas then proceeds to prove this Catholic doctrine by three reasons against the Apolinarians and Arians.

“The same holy doctor (Sum. Pt. 3 Qu. 25. Art. 1) teaches that the Divinity of Christ and His Humanity are to be adored with one and the same worship. He quotes Canon 9 of the Council of Constantinople which defines the doctrine in these words: ‘Si quis in duabus naturis adorari dicit Christum, ex quo duae adorationes introducuntur, sed non una adoratione Deum Verbum incarnatum cum propria ipsius carne adorat, sicut ab initio Dei ecclesiae traditum est, talis anathema sit.’ Then the Angelic Doctor proceeds to show that, ‘ex parte Ejus qui adoratur’, there is only one and the same adoration of the two natures, because the Person is One; but on the other hand, ‘ex parte causae qua honoratur, we can admit that there is more than one adoration; for Christ is honoured by one adoration on account of His uncreated Wisdom, but by another on account of His created Wisdom.

“In the Devotion now being considered, when the Sacred Head is honoured, the Person is honoured, and as the Person is divine, the honour due to the Sacred Head is divine (vid. St. Thom. Sum. Pt. 3. Qu. 25. Art. 2). This being as above stated, in strict analogy to the worship of the Sacred Heart, needs no further proof to show its perfect harmony with the Catholic Faith.

“We may therefore conclude that the devotion to the Sacred Head, as the Shrine of the divine Wisdom, can be defended theologically and is in harmony with the teaching of the Catholic Church.

II. – On the fitness of the Devotion.

“Having thus shown that the devotion to the Sacred Head is not opposed to the teaching of Catholic Faith, the next question that arises may thus be put: ‘Is the Devotion a congruous one? Is there any special fitness in it? 1. In itself. 2. At this particular time?’

“1. – If we consider the Devotion in itself, it will be acknowledged that there is a certain special fitness in it as a Devotion to the Eternal Wisdom. In support of this view the teaching of St. Thomas can again be adduced. The holy Doctor (Sum. Pt. 3. Qu. 3. Art. 8) maintains that it was more fitting that the person of the Son of God should assume our nature than that either of the other Persons of the adorable Trinity should become Incarnate. One reason advanced by St. Thomas to prove this will throw considerable light on this devotion. 

Alio modo habet convenientiam specialiter cum humana natura ex eo, quod Verbum est conceptus Aeternae Sapientiae, a qua omnis sapientia hominum derivatur; et ideo per hoc homo in sapientia perficitur: quae est propria ejus perfectio prout est rationalis, quod participat Verbum Dei: sicut discipulus instruitur per hoc, quod recipit verbum magistri; unde Eccli. 1. dicitur: “Fons sapientiae verbum Dei in excelsis.” Et ideo ad consummatam hominis perfectionem conveniens fuit, ut ipsum Verbum Dei humanae naturae personaliter uniretur.’ 

St. Thomas therefore considers that it was more fitting that the Son of God should become incarnate rather than the Father or the Holy Spirit because to the Eternal Son is attributed Wisdom (1 Cor. i. 24), Christ the Wisdom of God. For as man sinned and perished by an inordinate desire of wisdom and knowledge, so it is especially fitting that he should be restored by Him to whom Wisdom is especially attributed. From this we may rightly proceed to conclude that a most fitting object of special devotion for man after being redeemed is that very Wisdom by Whom the redemption has been accomplished. Now the Shrine of that Wisdom, its earthly tabernacle, is the Sacred Head of our Lord Jesus Christ. The devotion therefore in itself is most congruous and fitting.

“2. – It will not be difficult in the second place to show that there is a peculiar fitness in this devotion to the age in which we live. In order to suit a particular time, a devotion ought to meet the special dangers of the day, supplying an antidote to prevalent spiritual diseases. Now the spirit of this age is evidently one of spiritual rebellion. The human mind, intoxicated by modern scientific discoveries, is inclined to cast off all restraint and to refuse any longer to remain subject to the sweet yoke of Faith. Rationalism, pure and simple, is the prevailing spirit of the day. This spirit is at once most injurious to God and especially to the Wisdom of God on high, the Fountain of Wisdom, because it causes man to love and value the foolishness of human wisdom, despising what they consider to be the folly, but which truly is the eternal Wisdom of God. Moreover this spirit is most destructive to souls who are induced by it to love the darkness rather than the light.

“Against this pernicious spirit of evil and its consequences the devotion to the Sacred Head is especially directed. For as it consists in the adoration and praise of the Sacred Head as the Shrine of Divine Wisdom, it is particularly adapted to be used in reparation for all the insults offered to that Divine Wisdom by the sins of infidelity and intellectual pride. Just as the devotion to the Sacred Heart met the error of Jansenism so destructive of the spirit of Love, so the devotion to the Sacred Head will oppose the blighting errors of rationalism and infidelity, so insulting to the infinite Wisdom of God incarnate.

“Moreover a fervent devotion to the Divine Wisdom and its earthly shrine will bring down on the Faithful, we most confidently hope, a special grace to preserve their faith intact and to spread that ‘precious gift’ among many still out of the fold.
“We may then conclude that this devotion is thoroughly theological, in strict harmony with the devotion, already so solemnly and frequently approved, of the Sacred Heart, most congruous in itself, and lastly peculiarly suited to the special needs of the age in which we live.

III. – What ought to be thought of the writer of these letters,
her spirit and the truth of her visions?

“I feel that in attempting to answer this question I am treading on delicate grounds, and it would be presumptuous to assume too much certainty in a matter of such gravity, without personal knowledge of the writer.

“Still, however, this much I can assert with confidence, that everything that has come to my knowledge, through her letters and accounts given me by her confessor of her acts and dispositions, all lead me to conclude, not only that she is in a high degree of holiness, but also that her mind is wonderfully illuminated by the Light of God.

“I will give shortly the reasons that lead me to form this judgment, speaking first of her holiness, then of the reasons that appear to indicate that her visions are the work of the Holy Spirit.

“In order to judge of the holiness of a soul, in other words of the degree of divine Charity with which that soul is endowed, we should examine the four test virtues of humility, patience, obedience and mortification.

“A soul pretending to very exalted gifts of contemplation and yet failing to practise these virtues in corresponding perfection, would almost certainly be in a state of delusion.

“Of her Humility. To judge from her writings, taking for granted that they reflect the true dispositions of her soul, the person in question would appear to possess this fundamental virtue in high perfection. It would seem that she thoroughly despises herself, is truly anxious to be despised by others, is free from that self-will which would make her desirous to guide herself instead of submitting to others, has a fear of delusion, yet with confidence in God: is anxious that divine favours should remain hidden, yet mentions them with simplicity under obedience. Of course the grand point is to prove that these written sentiments are genuine by the test of practical trial. This, I am told, has already been done, and that her calmness under sudden and violent reproof and even abuse remain unruffled. Her confessor has been unable to detect any difficulty in bearing these things which to a soul gifted with extraordinary contemplation ought to occasion lively joy and satisfaction. Her conduct under the trial of desolation of spirit also proves her humility.

“Her patience under the pressure of extreme mental and bodily suffering, to judge from her writings corroborated by particulars I have heard, is shown to be heroic, because, not only does she endure these things without repining, but she displays an ardent thirst for more numerous and more painful afflictions, in order to unite her soul to Christ crucified.

Obedience is proved by the promptitude and simplicity with which she lays bare her secret soul under authority in spite of all repugnance, and gives up at once any penance or exercise without agitation of mind when commanded. Moreover, her confessor after many trials is unable to detect any failing of obedience. The humble way in which she accuses herself of a very slight act of childish disobedience shows the light of the Holy Spirit and reminds us of St. Philip Neri.

“As to her spirit of mortification and penance, it would appear to be universal in extent and extraordinary in degree. Her penances from childhood have been extreme, and though undertaken without the sanction of obedience through simplicity of soul, she has never shown any disposition to persevere in them against the advice of her confessor, and since she understood that they ought not to be adopted without permission she never seems to have practised any exterior penance without leave. Her abstinence and fasting and the generosity with which she has mortified her sense of taste is, to judge from her letters, heroic, and by the testimony of her confessor, miraculous, but this she has ever striven to conceal.

The Visions about the devotion to the Sacred Head.

“Is there solid reason to place confidence in those visions as described in the letters under consideration?

“Before applying the ordinary tests prescribed by spiritual writers, I will make three preliminary remarks, suggested by the case.

“1. – The person has read no books of mystical theology, even the ordinary spiritual books common among the faithful, yet she describes most accurately and in most striking terms how a vision which is neither imaginary nor even intellectual is infused by the action of the Holy Spirit in the centre of the soul itself (vid. letter 34).1 It is impossible to avoid the impression that she is speaking from personal experience. ‘Our Lord’, she writes, ‘when He wills to infuse the knowledge of anything into the soul, places it in the very centre of the soul without any words or any image being formed.’ This description is decidedly in favour of the belief that the vision was from the Holy Spirit, whereas if she had described a vision seen by the bodily eyes or by mental images, the case would be more doubtful and she might mistake her own imagination for the working of God’s grace.

“2. – The theological way in which this simple and unlearned person explains the doctrine of the Trinity and Incarnation and speaks of the devotion to the Sacred Head is a decided indication of superior illumination.

“3. – The fact that this person is unlearned, has read no books, and has ever lived secluded, makes it unlikely that she should have invented herself a devotion so admirably suited to the times in which we live.

“Lastly, to apply the rules laid down by theology for distinguishing between true and false visions.

“I. – As to the vision itself (the ones instructing her as to the Devotion):
1. – As above proved, the vision contains nothing contrary to faith, but is entirely conformable to the traditions of the Church.
2. – Nothing unbecoming, trivial or irreverent can be detected in it. We may therefore conclude that that there is nothing in the vision itself to prove that it could not be from God, but all the circumstances are such as are found in approved visions.

“II. – As to the person to whom the vision is made.
1. – She is an orthodox thoroughly obedient Catholic.
2. – She is fervent and holy in life.
3. – Her humility, obedience, patience and mortification are heroic.
4. – Does she desire visions and favours? ‘Tale desiderium’, says St. Vincent Ferrar, ‘non potest reperiri absque radice et fundamento superbiae et presumptionis.’ I have seen no indication of this desire. On the contrary, she often humbly and lovingly expostulates with our Lord, reminding Him that by favouring so great a sinner in so extraordinary a way He may cause His gifts to be despised.
5. – She is no novice in spiritual life for she began very early to serve God and has persevered with the utmost fidelity in spite of all difficulties, desolation, etc. Moreover, a favourable sign is that in early life she was led to the solid virtues of penance, humility, obedience and hatred of sin and had no extraordinary favour till after these had become habitual m a high degree.
6. – Visions are certainly to be more cautiously received in the case of a woman, but manifestly, when other signs are satisfactory, the fact they have been vouchsafed to a woman is no sign of delusion. This soul has had diabolical visions and has detected them.

“III. – The effect of the vision.
1. – The visions seem to render the soul more humble by revealing to her the abyss of her own nothingness etc.
2. – She has always been directed by the vision to reveal all to her spiritual guide and to follow exactly what obedience prescribes, even when contrary to the vision itself.
3. – In this message to the confessor, if terms too flattering to himself personally had been employed there might be grounds for suspicion, but in this case all that is said is simply ‘tell my servant’. Now, as all priests are God’s servants, there is here nothing excessive coming from the human spirit of a devout woman. Some soul is spoken of who is to help the devotion and in this case terms of the highest praise are employed, but the name is not given. We may think it most probable that the soul is T.H. herself though she does not seem to suspect it.
4. – Another favourable sign is that these visions seem to excite a genuine and fervent desire to suffer for and with Christ and thus nourish the spirit of mortification.
5. – As to whether they promote the peace of the soul at least substantially, I do not know, but if divine, this ought to be their effect.
Lastly I might mention that I was deeply impressed by the application of the texts of the Apocalypse to the devotion (vide letter 48). It struck me as extraordinary as coming from the mind of so simple a person.

“Two points in conclusion I would suggest.
1. – That the confessor would do well to try this soul by the test of mental obedience while she is in an ecstatic state.
2. – That the matter of the Communions received by her from our Lord Himself should be carefully examined. Were these sacramental or only spiritual? Once or often in the day?

“I humbly submit this opinion to the judgment of the wise and learned and to the authority of superiors.
“Holy Cross Priory, Leicester.
“Nov. 9 1882.”

Holy Cross Priory church, Leicester

Monday, 23 July 2012

Fr. Bertrand Wilberforce OP 1839 - 1904

Father Arthur Henry Bertrand Wilberforce was the grandson of the evangelical abolitionist crusader William Wilberforce, and a convert Dominican who was learned in the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas.  He was called to give judgement upon the mysticism of Teresa and her devotion of the Sacred Head, and after subjecting her letters describing them to rigorous scrutiny according to the principles of Thomist theology, he was to become a very enthusiastic promoter of the devotion, a friend of Teresa and a consultant for her directors Fr. Edward Powell and Canon Alfred Snow.  The biography of his life and letters by Father Vincent McNabb OP is available online here.

He was born on 14 March 1839 at Lavington in Sussex and was later to be received into the Catholic church and become a Dominican priest, later becoming Preacher General.  He became a widely known spiritual director, missioner and writer on spiritual matters, giving missions and retreats around the country and was invited to preach at the opening of the church of St. Alexander, Bootle in 1867.  He was to give a retreat as a very sick man in 1904 at St. Scholastica's Abbey, Teignmouth (a community that alas ceased in 1986), when Teresa was only a few miles away in Chudleigh, and later was to die in Chiswick, London on December 14th, 1904, on exactly the same day that Teresa fell ill with a stroke that was final illness leading to her death.

He was to comment on her letters in 1882: "I think much of what she writes is, especially for a person of her education and little reading, very wonderful and that it shows great illumination of mind.  Her humility, obedience and mortification are wonderful, and, on reading the letters, my mind seems to feel that they are true."

He was in regular contact with Teresa when he was the chaplain to the Dominican sisters at Stone, Staffordshire, and when she was based six miles away at the mission school in Eccleshall, undergoing the terrible purifications and trials before her mystical marriage.  When it was to occur in October 1887, he was to say, "It is a high and wonderful mystery, and when the saints are favoured with the union of the mystic nuptials, it is the completion of in the highest way of that mystical union between Him and every soul in grace.  May His Name be ever praised for all His graces and for all He has done in the soul of His Spouse."

Friday, 20 July 2012

Teresa Higginson on judgement and purgatory: Part I

Fr. Edward Powell asked Teresa to describe purgatory and judgement in December 1880, and she did so in a series of letters.  This is the first.

Bootle, December 14th 1880

In the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary I will endeavour to explain what you desire to know concerning those things that our dear Blessed Lord has made me understand are really done in the soul generally after its separation from the body, though sometimes the purgatory of which I am going to speak is permitted to exist here, but I will first say what I have seen and know relating to a soul departed this life.

I have clearly understood for some time that all things are in God: I mean that there is so such thing as going to be judged, that we really are in God, as the fish in the water, surrounded by him, actually in Him.  Now when the soul leaves the body, I mean in the very instant of its separation there she sees in Him (as we might behold ourselves in a mirror) at a glance the whole - every action of her life, the good she might have done, all good and evil works that have been done, all the love of the Blessed Trinity towards her.  There I understand Jesus Christ allows her to know God as He is and see herself as God sees her; there is no accusation brought against her by anyone; she sees all her misery and sin at a glance, and after this look she forgets herself for ever.

She is ravished with an unspeakable love and burning desire to enjoy Him who is the essence of beauty and infinite perfection.  She sees His infinite wisdom, mercy and love, and feeling His awful purity she buries herself in his justice, that in the scorching fire which love has enkindled she may consume the veil which as a mist encompasses her.  This is not the guilt of sin, for that is forgiven at death by the last act of the will: I mean, there is not sin but only the effect of sin in the soul, the weaknesses caused by the inperfections and venial sins and that shade (or scars as it were) which are left after mortal sins forgiven and which prevent the soul from receiving the fullness of light which God pours into it.  These shadows, whether they rise from commissions or omissions, are equally opposed to God's justice and dreadful purity.

Of course God could take away this mist or rub out the scars in an instant if He so pleased, but it is in the order of His infinite wisdom that as they were contracted by degrees so they should be remitted by little and little.  The soul which is separated from the body has no further power of free will.  She loves whatever God appoints and ordains for her, and loves this consuming flame, for she knows it is the fire which purifies her and enables to see and enjoy Him more and more.

I will write tomorrow, please God, what the soul suffers, and the joy which she experiences as the rays of God's light shine in more and more as the mist evaporates (as it were).  I do not mean to say I will be able to express the excess and anguish of extreme pain which punishes her: no, for words are, as have said before, as so many ciphers; but with His help and in honour of the Seat of Divine Wisdom I will say something of what goes on in the souls in purgatory.

O infinite Beauty, Youth and Love, most amiable and merciful Lord, quench the flames that surround me with your Most Precious Blood.  Break, O my Spouse and my Treasure, this thread of mortal life that separates me from Thee.  O my Love, my Love, my Lord and my God, my Jesus, my God and my All.  O Jesus, Jesus, my dear Jesus.  Holy, pure and everlasting Lord.  O Mary help.

I will not read what I have written, but will try to continue in the morning.  Begging you prayers and your blessing, etc.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Twelve promises of the Sacred Head given to Teresa Higginson

These twelve promises given by Our Lord to those who practice the devotion to the Sacred Head are taken from the letters written by Teresa to her director Fr. Edward Powell.

  1. "Anyone who shall assist in furthering this Devotion shall be blessed a 1,000 fold; but woe to him that shall reject or go against My wish in this respect, for they shall be scattered in my wrath and shall know their place no more." (June 2, 1880) 
  2. Our Lord "would crown and clothe with a peculiar glory all those who further this devotion" to the Sacred Head. "He would clothe with glory before angels and men in the courts of heaven those who clothed Him in glory on earth and would crown them in everlasting bliss." (Sept. 10, 1880)
  3.  "We render a great homage to the ever Blessed Trinity by adoring our dear blessed Lord's Sacred Head as the 'Seat of divine wisdom'." (Annunciation 1881)
  4. Our Lord would bless "all who practice or further this devotion in any way." (July 16, 1881)
  5. "Untold blessings are promised to those who shall try to furher our Lord's wishes in spreading the Devotion." (Juni 2, 1880)
  6. "The more we practice devotion to the Sacred Head the more we must see of the working of the Holy Spirit of God in the human soul, and the better we will know and love the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost." (Juni 2, 1880)
  7. The "devotion and love to His Sacred Heart should be bestowed a hundred fold upon those who practice devotion to the Seat of divine Wisdom." (May, 1883)
  8. "Our blessed Lord said that all that He had promised to those who should worthily love and honor His Sacred Head should be poured out upon those who honoured it themselves or were the means of others doing so. Oh Sacred Head, may Thy Wisdom ever guide us, and the sacred tongue ever bless us and plead for mercy and pardon, and may we never hear the curse pronounced against those who shall hinder or despise this Devotion." (June 2, 1880)
  9. "To them that honor Me I will give of my might and I will be their God and they shall be My children and I will place my sign upon their foreheads and My seal upon their lips." (June 2, 1880)
  10. He gave me to understand that this wisdom and Light was the seal that marked the number of His elect and they shall see His Face and His Name shall be on their foreheads. (May 23, 1880)
  11. Our Lord gave her to understand that St. John referred to His Sacred Head of the Seat of Divine Wisdom "in the last two Chapters of Revelations and with this mark were sealed the numbers of His elect." (May 23, 1880)
  12. Our Lord shows her the great blessings and graces he has in store for all who shall further His divine Will to this end. (May 9, 1880) 

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Teresa Higginson on Our Lord's Agony in Gethsemane

This is an extract from a complete account Teresa wrote of Our Lord's Sacred Passion, which she wrote at the request of her director Fr. Edward Powell in Bootle.

How can I find words to express the overwhelming agony of soul, the anguish of heart and mental suffering, as mortal sin after mortal sin was presented to Thy gaze, and with Thy unsullied light of intellect Thou didst see each separate sin in all its filthy foulness, know all the horrors and the insult offered to the Almighty Creator, and feel the punishment to the full of each and every sin?

How couldst Thou bear them thus, knowing the ungrateful return that would be made Thee for loving us too much, and being thus clothed, Thou wert obliged to stand in the ineffable light of God?  For thou couldst not separate Thy human nature for an instant from the divine, hence this annihilation which forced the Precious Blood through every pore in Thy Sacred Body and laid Thee writhing on the ground.  For what human soul could stand in the awful purity of God with the light of the divinity shining on it revealing horrible mortal sins in all their heinous malice?

Friday, 13 July 2012


  Holywell in Flintshire, North Wales, has been unique as the one pilgrimage site that has continued  unbroken despite the reformation and the penal laws, and it was here by remarkable providence on May 27th 1844 that Teresa Higginson was born.  She was to be also baptised here on June 22nd 1844, feast of the martyrdom of St. Winefride, after a long hiatus due to the shortage of priests at the time.  Her mother Mary Higginson was ill when expecting her, and went on pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Winefride's well asking for the saint's intercession.   Teresa and her family all their lives had great devotion to St. Winefride, frequently coming again and again on pilgrimage, and it was in the well that her stigmata was first publicly noticed.

 St Winefride's Well first erupted at the spot where her would-be rapist Caradog cut off her head with his sword. Restored to life at the prayers of her uncle St Beuno, Winefride became a nun and abbess until her second death some 22 years later. The extraordinary and enduring personality of this 7th-century Welsh woman has meant that she has been venerated as a saint ever since the moment of her death. Since that time, too, her well at Holywell has been a place of pilgrimage, with many miracles of healing in the waters.  Above is the chapel and crypt that was erected in the early 16th century, and the more recent bath added.  Below is the statue of St. Winefride by the well.


During the reformation and penal times pilgrims surreptitiously came to visit and bathe at the well, despite the attempts of the authorities to stamp this out, making records of who came to stay at the local inns and why.  King James II and his wife came on pilgrimage here asking for the birth of an heir to the throne.  After emancipation the Catholic church was built a short distance from the well in the care of the Jesuits, and in the late 19th century it became a very popular pilgrimage site for Catholics in the Northern cities, coming over by the trainload, causing Holywell to be known as the Lourdes of Wales.

Unfortunately the shrine was to go into steady decline in the 20th century, and 1921 coal mining cut off the source of the spring.  A new source of water was found and to everyone's relief, miracles continued to happen as before.  To cater for sick pilgrims a hospice was opened in the the care of the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul.  This was to close in the 1990's, but thankfully the Brigittine Sisters took it over and restored it, where they now run an excellent guest and retreat house with daily mass, prayers and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.


The Catholic parish church is now in the care of the Vocationalist fathers.  The main pilgrimages are the official pilgrimage on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Winefride's martyrdom on June 22nd, and the Latin Mass Society pilgrimage around early July.

 Brigittine Sisters, Holywell

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Canon Alfred Snow 1845 - 1922

Canon Alfred Snow was Teresa's final spiritual director from 1883 right up until her death in 1905.  He was the parish priest of St. Mary's, Aughton in Lancashire and from 1902 Canon and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Liverpool, proving to be an extremely able and business like administrator.  He was a learned priest who on becoming her director undertook a thorough study of mystical theology, particularly that of St. John of the Cross.  He was born in c.1845 and died in 1922. 

Originally training for the legal profession he entered the priesthood training at St. Cuthbert's Seminary, Ushaw, County Durham.  He was a curate under Fr. Edward Powell at St. Alexander's, Bootle since 1874, before becoming parish priest of St. Mary's, Aughton near Ormskirk in Lancashire.  He took on the spiritual direction of Teresa in September 1883 with great diffidence after she came under the suspicion of Bishop Bernard O'Reilly of Liverpool, who ordered Fr. Powell to cease direction and for her to stop writing to him.  However he was to never regret the decision and as an old man after her death he was full of tears over his remembrance of the times, when he was the director of one he regarded as one of the greatest saints this land ever produced.

Teresa was profoundly grateful to him as a director, as he proved a most wise and learned confessor, and he was also to provide for her material needs.  His sister by remarkable providence was a Sister of Mercy and the mother superior of St. Catherine's Convent in Edinburgh, and by her Teresa was able to live in prayer and seclusion for 10 years.  

He never wavered in the slightest in believing in her sanctity and probity, even when she was to be greatly calumnated and many of his fellow priests turned against her.  On hearing of her dying he said the Te Deum, rejoicing that his work had been brought to a successful conclusion and knowing that she was going to her eternal reward.  Yet he did not seek to publicise her or advance her cause after her death, believing that God would do the work in his own time.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Father Edward Powell 1837 - 1901

Father Edward Powell was from 1866 to 1885 the rector of St. Alexander, Bootle, and from c.1879 to 1883 Teresa's spiritual director, to which she was under oath of obedience.  He was a most zealous, holy and learned priest given to mortification and asceticism.  It was largely due to him that Teresa wrote the extensive letters about the devotion to the Sacred Head and her mystical life, and that we know so much about her.  She was a most discrete and self effacing woman who utterly loathed to attract attention or talk about her spiritual and mystical life, and it was under his express orders that she wrote of the secrets of her soul, which was to cause her much pain.

He was born on September 25th 1837 in Wavertree near Liverpool to a family of corn merchants and educated in at St. Edward's College, Everton.  Under the influence of the scholarly Bishop Alexander Goss of Liverpool he underwent training for the priesthood in Bavaria and in Rome, becoming proficient in German, French and Italian, and winning a prize in Hebrew.  He was ordained priest in St. John Lateran in Rome on April 19th 1862, and at first was Bishop Goss's secretary.  He caught cholera in ministering to victims in an epidemic, and was to barely survive.  In 1866 he was dispatched to be rector of St. Alexander, Bootle, which at the time was undergoing severe difficulties, which he remained until October 1885, when he was moved to Lydiate on the outskirts of Liverpool due to the controversy that Teresa caused.  There he remained until his death on December 26th 1901, where Teresa came to nurse him in his illness.

Brian Honnor in his pamphlet Appreciations of Teresa Helena Higginson was to comment: 'He was a devoted shepherd to his flock - in the pulpit, at the altar, in the people's homes, with a zeal that drove him out to the highways and byways.  His piety was deep and his austerities included the discipline and hairshirt.  After his death his confessor declared his belief that he had never stained his baptismal innocence by any deliberate venal sin, and said that as a confessor and director of souls he had discharged his duties "to the utmost perfection of his gifts".'

In Lady Cecil Kerr's biography of Teresa it is claimed that he consulted the Cure of Ars St. Jean-Marie Vianney about the welfare his parish, as all his prayers and sacrifices were coming to naught.  The Cure it seemed suggested that he should try blood, and on Fr. Powell's death, it was found that he wore a hair shirt.  This however is very unlikely, as St. Jean-Marie died in 1859, and Edward Powell was unordained at the time.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Salve Caput Cruentatem

The poem Salve Caput Cruentatum is the original Latin version from which we derive the famous hymn to the Sacred Head, 'O Sacred Head sore wounded' and 'O Sacred Head ill used', depending on which translation we use!  The main text is the stanza Ad Faciem from the Medieval hymn Salve mundi salutare – also known as the Rhythmica oratio –, a poem ascribed to Bernard of Clairvaux, but also thought likely to have been written by Medieval poet Arnulf of Louvain (died 1250). It is divided into seven parts, each addressed to a different part of Christ's crucified body: feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart, and head.  Here is a video of Dieterich Buxtehude's version from his Membra Jesu Nostri BuxWV 75, a series of seven cantatas composed in 1680, performed by the Margaretha Consort and Choir:

Here is the text, with a literal English translation:

1      Salve, caput cruentatum,
Totum spinis coronatum,
Conquassatum, vulneratum,
Arundine sic verberatum

Facie sputis illita,

Hail, head covered in blood,
all crowned with thorns,
battered, wounded,
beaten in this way with a reed,
with your face smeared with spit.

     Salve, cuius dulcis vultus,
Immutatus et incultus

Immutavit suum florem
Totus versus in pallorem
Quem coeli tremit curia.

Hail, you whose sweet face,
changed and disfigured,
has lost its bloom
and turned completely pale,
-that face at which the court of heaven trembles.

     Omnis vigor atque viror
Hinc recessit, non admiror,
Mors apparet in aspectu,
Totus pendens in defectu,
Attritus aegra macie.

All strength and vigour
have left you – I am not surprised
death appears in your look,
as you hang utterly weak,
worn away, sick and thin.

     Sic affectus, sic despectus
Propter me sic interfectus,
Peccatori tam indigno

Cum amoris intersigno
Appare clara facie.

Treated in this way, despised in this way,
killed in this way on my account,
to a sinner so unworthy
with the sign of your love
show your clear face.

     In hac tua passione
Me agnosce, pastor bone,
Cuius sumpsi mel ex ore,
Haustum lactis ex dulcore

Prae omnibus deliciis,

In this passion of yours
acknowledge me, good shepherd,
from whose mouth I have fed on honey,
drunk milk sweeter
than all delights.

     Non me reum asperneris,
Nec indignum dedigneris

Morte tibi iam vicina
Tuum caput hic acclina,
In meis pausa brachiis.

Do not spurn me as guilty
nor disdain me as unworthy;
with your death near to you
turn your head towards me,
rest in my arms.

     Tuae sanctae passioni
Me gauderem interponi,
In hac cruce tecum mori

Praesta crucis amatori,
Sub cruce tua moriar.

In your holy passion
I would rejoice to take part,
to die with you on this cross.
Grant to one who loves your cross
that I may die beneath your cross.

     Morti tuae iam amarae
Grates ago, Jesu care,
Qui es clemens, pie Deus
Fac quod petit tuns reus,
Ut absque te non finiar.

For your death so bitter
I thank you, dear Jesus,
you who are merciful, holy God,
Grant what your sinner asks,
that I may not meet my end away from you.

     Dum me mori est necesse,
Noli mihi tunc deesse;
In tremenda mortis hora

Veni, Jesu, absque mora,
Tuere me et libera.

When I must die
do not fail me then;
in the terrifying hour of death,
come, Jesus, without delay,
guard me and set me free.

1     Cum me jubes emigrare,
Jesu care, tunc appare;
O amator amplectende,
Temet ipsum tunc ostende

In cruce salutifera.

When you order me to leave this world,
dear Jesus, then appear,
o lover whom I must embrace
then show yourself to me
on your cross that brings salvation.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The purpose of devotion to the Sacred Head

Our Lord asked Teresa that his Sacred Head be honoured as the seat of Divine Wisdom, of the Divine Memory, Understanding and Will, the shrine of the powers of his Holy Soul, most cruelly mocked, spat upon and crowned with thorns, as an antidote for the sins of intellectual pride and self will which so dominate our world.  We live in an age dominated by scepticism, scientific materialism, liberalism and militant secularism, under the conceit and illusion that it is more enlightened and wiser than any gone before. The myth of 'modern man' has developed, a superior class of human being that is emancipated from the yoke of moral conscience, natural law and any value or tradition: the Übermensch of Friedrich Nietzsche.

All these great evils were to be anticipated and atoned for in the Sacred Head in Our Lord's Sacred Passion.  The Divine Wisdom, infinitely greater than any human learning and the source of all creation far greater than any modern science, assumed our mortal human nature, a human mind, a human brain and a human soul.  Just as the Sacred Heart is the seat of Divine Love, the Sacred Head is the seat of Divine Wisdom.  God in his divine person understands us with a human mind, and loves us with a human heart.  O Wisdom of the Sacred Head, guide me in all thy ways!  O love of the Sacred Heart, consume me with thy fire!

For a militant secularism which denies Kingship of Christ and seeks to exclude the faith from public life, the Sacred Head was crowned with thorns.  For the existential angst, despair and horror that plagues modern art, literature and film, the Sacred Head was bathed with the sweat of blood in the garden of Gethsemane.  For a scepticism that denies and refuses truth with all its heart, the Sacred Head was blindfolded and asked to prophesy.  For those who consider themselves as 'modern men', superior to their forebears, emancipated from value and moral conscience and contemptuous of the Christian faithful as backward, regressive and ignorant, the Sacred Head was mocked, spat upon and struck with a reed.  For a self will that refuses to obey any higher authority or submit to any greater truth in the name of 'freedom', 'rights' and 'autonomy', the Sacred Head meekly bowed to the unjust judgement of Pontius Pilate.  For a scientific materialism that denies the creation of the world and any purpose or finality in it, the Sacred Head, seat of the Wisdom of God by which all things were made, was bowed to earth on the cross as he expired.