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

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February 2021 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 8 February 2021

Happy New Year! It is still all right to say this, since there hasn’t been a Universalis newsletter since before Christmas.

It has mostly been steady progress without anything spectacular, but here are some points worth reporting.

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December 2020 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 9 December 2020

Happy Advent, and happy Christmas in advance!

There are no new features this month, and no new bugs, so this newsletter is devoted entirely to what so many of us are thinking about at the moment: Christmas presents.

It has been an odd year, and it will be an odd Christmas too. We may well not be seeing a lot of people we do see usually, and even Christmas shopping isn’t the same when one may not be able to get out and do it. So here are some ideas for Christmas presents from Universalis

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November 2020 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 18 November 2020

This is the time of year to be thinking about books. Advent is round the corner, so if you get the annual or semi-annual e-books for the Amazon Kindle or some other e-book reader, now is the time to be getting the next one. Christmas is round the corner, so if you enjoyed last year’s “New Every Day” e-book, or gave it as a present to a friend, now is the time to do something about that.

But before getting on to these I would like to focus on the other “book thing”, because it is new this year. The Daily Books feature was added to the iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) and Windows versions of Universalis a couple of months ago, and now it has come to Android as well. We were a little anxious about it to start with, as with all new features – was this a genuine benefit to everyone, or just a fun thing to program? – but we were reassured by the many emails of appreciation and gratitude. So if you haven’t tried it yet, do.

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October 2020 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 9 October 2020

Today is a day to felicitate our readers in England and Wales. Saint John Henry Newman was canonised a year ago, and this year, for the first time, he is celebrated as a Feast in the English and Welsh calendars. Our apps and programs have been updated accordingly.

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July 2020 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 21 July 2020

As this strange time grinds on there seems to be less and less that one can actually say about it. But it is encouraging to hear that Universalis is still being a help and a support. People are reading more, and many of them are listening more, as well. It is good to be able to help.

There is one big new feature this month. It is rather speculative. Perhaps it will fall into the category of “How could we ever have done without it?”, perhaps into the category of “Whatever is the point of it?”. Perhaps it will end up half way between these extremes, as most features do. In any case, if you are using Universalis on iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch or Windows, do give it a quick look.

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June 2020 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 19 June 2020

We are just coming to the end of the brief but intense “theological season” which began with the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, and took us through a whole series of highlights: Mary, Mother of the Church, Jesus the Eternal High Priest, the Trinity, the Body and Blood of Christ. These feasts remind us that Christianity has both Jewish and Greek roots: as Jews, we live a continuing encounter with God; as Greeks, we aren’t satisfied with something being true – we also want it to make sense.

But we mustn’t let ourselves over-intellectualise, so at the end of it all the Church brings this short season to an end with two feasts not of the mind but of the heart: the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They remind us that life is not only about understanding but about living and feeling, and that our Saviour himself was not some Buddha-like figure floating in serene detachment above it all. He plunged into our world and was happy and sad, lived and loved: all of them, things of the heart. We need to emulate him and his Mother, even if most of us would find serene detachment be a lot more comfortable.

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May 2020 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 8 May 2020

He is truly risen, alleluia!

We are heartened to see how helpful Universalis has been to you all at this time. Some of you have taken to the Hours more seriously, and often you are listening to the spoken versions through our apps. Other people use Universalis to follow one or other of the streamed online Masses. It will be interesting to see how daily Mass-going takes off once the churches are open again. Meanwhile, we are happy to continue being of help.

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Easter 2020 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 15 April 2020

He is truly risen, alleluia!

It has been a strange time this year. Everything familiar has been abolished or at least rearranged. But perhaps if you stare at it hard enough, the very strangeness of this time can itself be a gift and a renewal. Holy Week and the Triduum are so much part of the rhythm of our lives that it is easy for them to solidify into an unvarying pattern as the years go by. I narrate the Passion on Palm Sunday because I always do; we bag good places for the Easter Vigil extra early because we always do; the children negotiate how late they are allowed to stay up that night, as they always do, and then, as they always do, end up making their way to bed before the end.

There is nothing intrinsically bad about habit – it is one of the ways that we, as beings embedded in time, can experience something like the timelessness of eternity – but all the same, habit does have a certain anaesthetic quality as well. We end up doing habitual things not for a reason, not because of what they really are, but simply because we have always done them.

So the kind of shake-up we are all having this year can (painful though it is) bring some reconnection and clarity. When we watch across the Internet the Pope and a mere dozen people going through a ruthlessly abbreviated Easter Vigil in the middle of an empty St Peter’s, this is nothing like what we are used to: any of us. Even the tiniest parish church could do better! But put that to one side and look at what you are experiencing: the fire is kindled, the praises of the Easter candle are sung, the Red Sea is safely crossed and the stone is rolled away from the tomb. In the end, what else matters apart from that? Nothing.

That is one bit of spiritual exercise we can get out of this unusual Easter.

I am glad, also, that Universalis has played its part in all this, and that through it so many of you have got closer to the liturgy every day.

Easter Week

If you are new to the Liturgy of the Hours, you may find one aspect of it a little alarming this week. The great thing about the Hours is that they are new every day; but this week, they aren’t. The psalms and canticle for Morning Prayer on Easter Monday are the same as they were on Sunday and the same as they will be on Tuesday, on Wednesday, on Thursday, on Friday, on Saturday, and even next Sunday. Something seems to have got stuck. Sometimes people think it is the software that has got stuck and they kindly write to us about it, but it isn’t the software, it is the Church. The Church is so dazzled by the Resurrection that, having celebrated it on Easter Sunday, she cannot think of anything to do the following day except celebrate it again; and again; and again and again and again and again. The celebration of the Resurrection lasts a whole week.

The same thing applies to Evening Prayer: the whole week is one long celebration.

If, being human, you would like a little variety added, then you might try looking at the Office of Readings this week. This does change every day. This week’s Second Readings are among the most ancient we have, and from Thursday onwards they are from the Jerusalem Catecheses, which are teachings addressed to the newly baptized in late 4th-century Jerusalem. And you might also take a quick leap backwards to last Saturday morning, to that dazzling passage from an unknown author of the 2nd century who imagines Jesus’ visit to the underworld before his resurrection: what Jesus said to Adam and what Adam replied. It is stark and moving, and you can listen to it here.

The Schola Cantorum of the London Oratory School

If you have one of the Universalis apps then you may well have bought their Sung Latin Compline in the Night Prayer page. (It is a wonderful thing to fall asleep to). But whether you have or whether you haven’t, they have sent out an Easter present to everyone. It is their recording of Byrd’s Haec dies: “This is the day which the Lord has made: let us rejoice and be glad, Alleluia”. You can listen to it on YouTube.

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March 2020 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 23 March 2020

In many parts of the world this is a strange and disturbing time. Everyone’s situation is different, everyone’s needs are different. It is impossible to say the right thing to everyone (or even to anyone) in a newsletter that is sent out to thousands of anonymous addresses. But let me say two things.

First, at a time when populations are being epidemiologically added, multiplied, counted, almost (it seems) weighed, remember that you are not “1.0 units of population”. You are a person called into being uniquely by God because without you, the masterwork of Creation in all its splendour would have had something missing.

Second, you have been anointed a priest, and anointed a prophet, and anointed a king. It took place a long time ago at your baptism and you were probably not paying attention, but it did happen and now is the time to live those anointings.

As priest, you can open yourself to those you come across, and bear witness to the infinite value of their being and to the love of God for them. You can be there for them and with them, you can be quiet together, or even listen. There is nothing like an open heart and a safe pair of ears.

As prophet, your voice must not be embarrassed to tell of the wonders of the Lord. Do not keep the truth of your faith secret for fear of derision. As long as people do not feel they are being preached at, you will find them remarkably tolerant. Do not expect the seed to grow before your eyes – that is God’s job done in God’s time – but do at least sow and scatter it.

As king – to see how to live your anointing, see first what a king is. Think of a gardener who is at the service of his plants and his crops, which he feeds and weeds and waters; then think of a king who at the service of everybody, keeping them safe and orderly free from want. The gardener serves whoever owns the garden; the king serves whoever owns the universe. Whoever and wherever you are, you are in some sense king of something. And we are all of us servants of each other. The more we do it, the easier it becomes.

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February 2020 newsletter

Posted by universalis on 11 February 2020

The 40 days of the Christmas season finished just over a week ago, and the 40 days of Lent are already getting near. Remember, if you have the kind of people around you who compare notes about Giving Things Up: the point of Lent is not only penance and repentance but also an increase in joy. Giving up bad things is no doubt good for you; but giving up good things is even better. It means that you can give thanks to God for them and rejoice when he gives them back to you at Easter. In some moods we need to be reminded that God made the whole world and saw that it was very good.

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