The Archdiocese of Glasgow and the Jesuit Community of Glasgow joined together to mark the 400th Anniversary of the death of St. John Ogilvie on the vigil (9th March) of the Feast and the Feast day itself (10th March).
St. Aloysius, Garnethill, hosted an ecumenical evening service on the Vigil. It was a warm and inclusive celebration, and a wonderful testament to how far we have come together on our ecumenical journey, as we celebrated the memory of St. John Ogilvie in the context of all those holy men and women who have endeavoured to live in truth.
A piper greeted the congregation as it arrived, and inside the church the combined choirs of the St. Mungo Singers and the East End Deanery, with Dr. Noel Donnelly on harp, provided musical support both before and during the service.In the congregation were civic representatives, including Cllr Gordon Matheson, Leader of Glasgow City Council, and members of the family of the late John Fagan the man whose miraculous recovery from stomach cancer satisfied the final requirement for the canonisation of St. John.
Just before the service began, the choirs sang the hymn in honour of St. John written by his fellow Jesuit Fr. James Quinn. The beginning of the service was both moving and effective. As the clergy and church representatives processed to the sanctuary, the Litany of Saints was sung by cantor and congregation. The Litany ended with prayers of thanks for what we as Christians have in common, prayers for forgiveness for the times we have been selfish, and prayers that we might be filled with faith, hope and mutual love.Archbishop Tartaglia lit the candles at the lovely shrine to St. John Ogilivie as the choirs led the singing of “O Light from Light”. He then welcomed everyone to the service, noting how appropriate it was to begin the celebrations in this church of the Jesuit community in Glasgow. He reminded the congregation that it is of the nature of prayer that it begins from the present rather than the past, and he quoted Pope Francis’ recent reflection, when he met the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, on the martyrdom of the young Egyptian Copts, that it did not matter if they were Catholic or Orthodox. They were Christians, there is an ecumenism of blood, and martyrs belong to all Christians.
The Archbishop said it was this thinking which inspired this act of praise, and he welcomed the representatives of other churches, and of national and local ecumenical organisations and thanked them for coming. He offered John Ogilvie as a saint for Scotland and a martyr for all Christians. He went on to welcome Cllr Matheson and Mr. Fagan’s family. Finally he expressed thanks to Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the Cardinal Legate representing Pope Francis, who was accompanied by Mgr Javier Herrera Corona and Fr. Roger Reader. Fr. Reader now read a message from Pope Francis in which he greeted all the Christian faithful and imparted his Apostolic blessing to all who would participate in the services celebrating the 400th anniversary.
The service continued with the singing of Psalm 114 and the Canticle from Philippians. The accompanying prayers were read by a representative of the Church of Scotland and by the Episcopalian Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway Rt. Rev. Gregor Duncan. They were followed by a scripture reading, proclaimed by a representative of the Salvation Army.
The reflection was given by Fr. Dermot Preston SJ, the Provincial of the British Province of the Society of Jesus, who caught the attention of all immediately by presenting it in the form of a letter from St. John Ogilvie himself on the celebration. He opened with the thought that John Ogilvie would have expressed delight that so many representatives from different Christian denominations had come together for this service – remembering that he himself had shaken hands with his opponents after his trial, and he would have felt great joy that they were now able to meet in this way.For John Ogilvie, in his own time in prison, matters had simplified to what were the real priorities in life, and the recognition that fear and greed were two ravenous wolves which would devour people. John Ogilvie would tell us to focus not on the past but on the present. Millions perhaps have died for their faith – their names unknown or forgotten – and we are witnessing an upsurge today in the persecution of Christians. We must stand shoulder to shoulder.
His final thought might be on what it means to be a martyr. Today it is often a term misused by some who bring death and destruction, but a Christian martyr is someone who witnesses by giving up life that others may have life. The temptation to lash out leads to a cycle of vendetta which draws its lifeblood from all that is human, but we have the witness of Jesus’ response to his persecutors. Every act of love, he would say, contributes to redemption, and we must work for the time when people asking to see the martyrs and their witness can be shown ourselves and our joined congregations.
As the congregation meditated on this challenging reflection, Dr. Donnelly played quietly on the harp, and then the choirs sang the responsory “Istorum Enim”, an appropriate one for martyrs, using as it does the words from the Apocalypse relating to the martyrs who have washed their robes clean in the blood of the Lamb.
The Magnificat followed, sung by choirs and congregation to the tune of “Amazing Grace”, and Intercessions for the churches and communities of faith, for a growing awareness of human rights, for the Jesuits and all clergy in their ministry and those who are persecuted for their faith throughout the world, and in thanks for the witness of St. John Ogilvie and so many others.
Everyone joined in saying the Lord’s Prayer using the ELLC ecumenical text and the choirs sang a short blessing before the church representatives joined Archbishop Tartaglia in the final prayer of the service.
Before the final hymn, Cardinal Murphy O’Connor took the opportunity to express his thanks and sense of privilege at being present at the service. He knew that Pope Francis would have loved to have been present himself to honour a fellow Jesuit. He would have encouraged this renewal of faith and love and would have spoken of the mercy of God. He would have especially wanted to express his greetings to the other churches present – speaking the “language of the heart”, as he had said elsewhere, and would have asked us to look at what unites us not what divides, and give witness to Jesus.
After a final word of thanks from the Archbishop, the choirs led the singing of the final hymn – the lovely Canticle from Colossians “Let’s Give Thanks to God our Father” as the clergy processed from the sanctuary. The Jesuit community then provided generous hospitality for all in St. Aloysius College.