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The Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, and other things.

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Christmas 2018 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 18 December 2018

The last couple of newletters have been quite long. This one will be shorter. Its main purpose is to wish you a happy Christmas.

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November 2018 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 22 November 2018

The next great feast, only a few days away now, is the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. This is glorious. It is also a little embarrassing for those of us discreet Christians who like to present ourselves to others as “just as normal as everyone else except we go to this funny place called ‘church’ on Sunday mornings.” But there is no getting away from it: each of us has been anointed with holy oil at baptism, as priest, prophet and king. The feast of Christ the King is thus a good moment to reflect on our kingship and on what “kinging” means and how to do it.

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Early November 2018 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 2 November 2018

All Souls

Today is the second of November, the commemoration of All Souls, and this is providential in its way, since the big message this time is indeed about the dead.

All Souls is a little awkward for those of us not advanced in holiness. It is not neat and tidy the way most feasts are. Those all come packaged with the name of a saint and even an implication as to what we ought to be feeling when we commemorate him or her, but All Souls doesn’t. All Souls is not about this saint or that saint but about practically anybody, so there is no such automatic agenda. Even the tone is undefined. Should we be sorrowing, or sympathizing, or celebrating? Is that “black or violet” of the vestments a flat black of gloom or a rich velvet deepness of solemn glory? Surely it should be the latter, since the journey through death is the journey towards God, and the ones we celebrate today are one step ahead of us. Even astronomers will agree, since they tell us that the surface of the Moon is blacker than soot, and yet, reflecting the Sun, moonlight illuminates the night and stops us getting lost on our way.

Which is all very well and all very inspiring, but it still leaves us not quite knowing what to do about our dead, today and through the month of November. There is a sort of feeling one should feel sorry for them, especially for the “forgotten souls in Purgatory” who have nobody left to pray for them; but feeling gently sorry is neither accurate nor adequate. It will do for pagans, who believe themselves to crumble into dust or into a whisper blown away by the wind, but for us, for whom eternity is a grand building of which, in this life, we are building the foundations, it makes no sense at all. As C.S. Lewis put it (rather dramatically), “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit –  immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

Now, what ties all this in with Universalis is the idea that All Souls is not a feast for all of us but for each of us. When we celebrate St Peter Claver, we all celebrate the same saint. If we prefer St Basil to St Gregory, or St Gervase to St Protase or Cyprian to Cornelius or John Fisher to Thomas More, that doesn’t break the principle, it only stretches it a little. But my dead are not your dead and your dead are not mine. Our perspectives, now, are truly distinct, even if they are still perspectives on the same ultimate truth. Even more, there is a sense in which I am my dead and you are yours. That is why the young are so half-formed: having no dead of their own they cannot yet know who they themselves are. They are not themselves, yet. They are surrounded by unfinished music and are unfinished themselves; but we, as time goes on, are surrounded, are formed, by more and more music that is not still going on but is completed, definite, and real.

Remembrance cards

A feature was cleverly slipped into Universalis last month (or, to be honest, in September). It was this. If you were using an iPhone or iPad or iPod Touch, and if you labelled any of your contacts with a date of death, and if you told Universalis, in its settings, to take notice of this, then you would see reminders of the dead on their anniversaries: in the About Today page of the day, in the About Today page of the week, and (by special request) in the prayers and intercessions at Vespers.

Almost as soon as this feature was completed, and before Apple had even approved the update, we were aware that this was a mistake. Not the feature, but the manner of it. Not because it wasn’t a good thing, but because it was. It was too good to be hidden away in an ingeniously programmed corner where few would find it and still fewer would use it. It was just too clever.

Now, therefore – and this is what the long October silence has been all about – the creation of “remembrance cards” is accessible to anybody. Just tap in the middle of the screen in the usual way you do when you want the toolbar; tap on the circled ‘i’ in the toolbar to get the menu; and tap on “Remembrance Cards”. [This all works on the iPhone and iPad and so on, but we will extend it more widely in due course].

We call them remembrance cards because they are like the sort of thing you might stick in your missal. If a name and a date is all you have got, just put that; but the real value comes when you add a photograph or a few sentences to say how this person is important to you. Whatever you put, it will appear every year on the anniversary of that person’s death.

That is the dry description. Purely from having to put cards into the thing in order to try it out, I can testify that the power of the exercise is something far greater than anything that can be described. It is nothing like those necrologies in diocesan or monastic Ordos which list names dating back long before any of us was born – which makes them a list of names and not much else, because they are names of people we do not know and have not met. Compare that with seeing C., whom you were with as she died, or J.D.A., whom, now you think of him, you realise that you owe more than you had ever imagined. These all, each in their own way, were panes through which the light of God was refracted into your life and who now still refract that light, brighter than ever now, if you will only stopfor a moment and see it. And being reminded each year, you will see it. Commemorating these people is not an act of condescending kindness towards them: it is an act of thanks to God for what they have been for you and, more than mere thanks, it is an annual renewal of it. Perhaps they were friends, perhaps they were enemies; you may be sad they are dead, or glad; perhaps it was more complicated than that; but from now on you will see it, increasingly see it, in the light of eternity. Each year you will understand it better.

Do it yourself, and you will see. It is not hard, and the reward is great.

One final practical point arises. What to do about J.L., whose date you don’t remember, or P., whose date you never even knew but which (given her age) must be long in the past by now? Perhaps there is an authoritative answer, and perhaps the answer I am going to give is wrong for one reason or another. Still, here it is. The Queen, for reasons which from childhood I have never understood, has an Official Birthday on which various grand and ceremonial things happen. Perhaps the weather is better than on her real one, or perhaps the idea of monarchs’ birthday celebrations shifting as the monarchs change is inimical to the good order of the British constitution. Whatever the reason, it is an idea worth adopting. For J.L., and for P., and for anyone else I specially need to remember, I will not engage private detectives to look up official records, or waste too much energy on doing research. I will assign each of them an “official death-day” on one date or another in November, taking advantage of the whole month instead of trying to cram them all into the same day. And so, from year to year, November will become more and more a month to look forward to.

New Kindle e-books

The other thing about November is that Advent is nearly with us, so if you buy the ready-made Universalis e-books from Amazon, for the Kindle, then the old ones have nearly run out. The new season’s e-books are ready now: the Liturgy of the Hours for the half-year from Advent to next Pentecost, and the readings at Mass for a bit more than a year, from Advent to the end of next year. Our catalogue has links to all the available e-books. Of course you don’t need to buy from Amazon: if you have a Universalis registration code, you can make e-books for yourself whenever you want.

How to update

There are new versions of all the Universalis apps and programs, containing the usual corrections and completions and also, this time, one beautiful new feature in “About Today” which I shan’t mention because I don’t want to spoil the surprise of discovering it.

Updates are (or should be) automatic on Android and iOS, while on the Mac and Windows Universalis checks for updates from time to time and lets you know when one is available. In case any of this doesn’t happen, we have instructions for updating manually here.

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September 2018 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 18 September 2018

There wasn’t a newsletter in August, because so many people were away, but now everyone is back, so are the newsletters. Autumn is about to get into its stride, with the Office of Readings taking us through two weeks of Ezekiel, backed by St Augustine’s magnificent sermon On Pastors.

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July 2018 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 17 July 2018

The calendar clicks steadily on through Ordinary Time like the mileometer on a bicycle, but if you look closely enough at them, the weeks do each have their own character.

This week, in the Office of Readings, is the week of Elijah, while the Second Readings come from On the Mysteries, by St Ambrose. Addressed to the newly baptized, these readings go into depth on the symbolism of every part of the rite these people have just been through, and its connection to the salvation history of the Old Testament. Later in the week the focus moves on to the Eucharist. What adds freshness is that St Ambrose had only been baptized himself some thirteen years before writing this treatise. The story of how a catechumen, not yet baptized, was chosen against his will to be Bishop, baptized one week and consecrated the next, demands a lot more than a quick sentence in a newsletter. Even this About Today page in Universalis only scratches the surface.

Audio progress • Long passages • Invitatory Psalm • Hybrid Hours • Daytime psalms • How to update

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June 2018 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 17 June 2018

Recent newsletters have welcomed you to Lent, or said Happy Easter or Happy Ascension. Those were indeed glorious times. Now all we can say is, welcome to Ordinary Time!

It is true that Ordinary Time does not have much of a ring to it. When I was a child there was something desperately dull about the prospect of week after week of green vestments stretching into the future. But then, all human life is like that. After the party, or the holiday, or the exam success, or the victory in tournament or war, we come back in the end to the old routine of putting out the rubbish and making sure there will be milk for breakfast tomorrow. After the excitement of First Communion comes the second communion, and the third.

Theologically, of course, it makes sense. The Spirit, having come down on us, is now living in us and acting through us. But still we are human and miss the excitement.

It is a bit like that with Universalis this month. Just when thousands of you have very kindly pressed the button in the app and asked to be sent newsletters, there is no grand world-shaking news to convey. No stunning new features that will transform your spiritual life. The transformation now has to come from within, from you. As St Paul (who loved athletic metaphors) would put it: you have the home gym in your hand, so now use it!

All the same, I have a few things to report.


By the nature of things, most of you will be using Universalis in English (or Latin, since everything is now available in Latin as well: see the Settings screen in your app). On top of that, additional languages might seem to be of interest only to a minority. But out in the real world each of those minorities is still millions of people. Those extra languages matter and I am proud when Universalis can act as a channel to provide them. The latest steps forward are that we now have the major Hours in Irish Gaelic, and the Order of Mass in Setswana and (in a draft form) in Igbo. Apart from that, the provider of Mass readings in one of the tropical languages is now starting work on Compline, and there is every chance that Madagascar will have the whole Liturgy of the Hours in Malagasy soon: a draft version of Compline is in the apps and programs already.

The Office of Readings

The Office of Readings is the hidden gem of the Liturgy of the Hours. I have mentioned the Second Readings before, the ones from the saints and the Fathers of the Church. Now it is the turn of the First Readings. At first sight the idea of a daily “slab of Scripture” does not sound that special, but it is. As the General Instruction says, the Office of Readings is able to include longer and more “difficult” passages that wouldn’t fit well in Mass. What you don’t realise until you experience it is that the longer passages can actually make more sense. An isolated few sentences from the Second Letter to the Corinthians (such as we had at Mass on Sunday) are all very well, but they can’t convey a sense of what St Paul was really getting at as well as a complete chapter can. In this particular case, the whole chapter will turn up on the 27th of July. It is worth waiting for; although of course if you have an app or a program, you can cheat and look ahead.

Looking less far ahead, the story of Gideon is about to appear. Catch it on Tuesday, when Gideon tells the angel of the Lord that the Lord is not doing a very good job of protecting his people Israel, and on Wednesday, where Gideon expresses perfect willingness to act as God’s instrument for the rescue of Israel as long as God first proves who he is, and proves it twice. There is no way of cutting down that second story to be short enough for Mass and still make sense, and perhaps that is just as well. Perhaps one shouldn’t hold Gideon up as an example of how we ought to behave; but how magnificently human it all is! Do read those First Readings when they come.

More audio

Those of you who have been subscribing to what started as “Morning Prayer every day” but is now “Morning, Mid-Morning, Midday, Afternoon, Evening and Night Prayer” now have something more to look forward to. We are beginning work on the Office of Readings.

As you can imagine, this is an enormous project, about as big as everything else put together; but at least it is under way. For now –  as long as you have the latest version of the apps, and are subscribing to the spoken English Hours –  you can press the Play button in the Office of Readings page and hear the First Reading. Over the next month or two we will complete recording the First Readings, then record the Second Readings, and then record the psalms and so on; so that with any luck, before the end of the year you will be able to listen to the entire Office of Readings at home, or when travelling, or in your car.


To see the new content and hear the new audio, you need to have an up-to-date version of Universalis or Catholic Calendar. Updates ought to happen automatically but sometimes (especially on Android) they don’t. We have instructions for updating manually here.

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May 2018 Newsletter

Posted by universalis on 10 May 2018

Happy Ascension!

The solemnity of the Ascension marks a change of gear in the Easter season, which now dedicates itself to looking forward to the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. The Second Readings in the Office of Readings for the next ten days devote themselves to this theme, and it is worth following them even if, in general, the Office of Readings is not part of your daily practice. There is nothing wicked about just looking at the Second Reading and skipping the rest!

Updates • Grail psalms • Lectio Divina book

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April 2018 Newsletter

Posted by universalis on 12 April 2018

Happy Easter!

There is really nothing that can be added to those two words, in their fullest meaning. Easter is why we are Christians at all. Easter is why there is any point to the world. Some of our yearly Easters seem to pass without much happening, but when God chooses to use one of them to the full, what an Easter that is! So again, happy Easter. He is truly risen, alleluia!

Office of Readings • Study Hymns • Lectio Divina • New season’s e-books

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March 2018 Newsletter

Posted by universalis on 16 March 2018

By the time you read this, the moon will be either new or very young.

At this time of year, that is not a whimsical or irrelevant observation. From now on, the fuller the moon is, the closer to Easter we are. All we need to do to see how close we have got is to look up into the sky. When the moon is full, it is Holy Week.

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