On 15th September, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Bishop Nicholas Hudson celebrated Mass at St Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, Archway. The Mass marked the unveiling of a new painting of Our Lady of Sorrows, by Alexander Talbot-Rice, which was gifted to the parish by Cardinal Vincent Nichols.
As Bishop Nicholas explained at the beginning of his homily, ‘Alexander offered it to the Cardinal as a gift; and the Cardinal was clear it should reside here in this beautiful church. As soon as I discussed it with the priests, we knew where it must hang, right here above the shrine of your great patron, the holy St Gabriel. Because no one has ever had a greater devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows.’
In his homily, Bishop Nicholas spoke about the life of St Gabriel, the parish’s patron, and his devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows: ‘It’s interesting to know he learnt his devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows from within his own family.
‘It was when he contracted Tuberculosis in his last year at school that he got an inkling of his calling: he promised God that, if he recovered, he would enter religious life. He got better but didn’t act on his promise. It was when his sister died of cholera that it brought home to him the precariousness of life. He decided at last to join the Passionists.
‘After four years in the Order, he contracted TB again. He had to live as an invalid. He was deepening all the time in his prayer life and he received many spiritual favours from God and Our Lady. But he wanted to keep these secret; and succeeded in destroying all the notes he’d written about this before he died. What we do know is that he derived enormous strength, comfort and inspiration from meditating on all that Jesus’s mother suffered at the foot of the cross, as he prayed to Our Lady of Sorrows.
‘Gabriel’s devotion to Our lady of Sorrows must have prepared him for the suffering he would experience in his own illness, just as Mary found strength in her own hour of need through pondering on all that she saw happening to her Son.’
Bishop Nicholas also shared his own reflection on the painting: ‘The painting is truly eloquent. It shows us Mary clearly in distress at what she sees. The sorrow is palpable in her face. Alex has captured magnificently what we find written in the Passion of Luke, how, “the sun’s light failed, so that darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour”. More striking still is the way the darkness and light above her head actually seem to divide, as if to recapture what Luke then goes on to say, how, “the veil of the sanctuary was torn right down the middle”.’
Finally, Bishop Nicholas spoke about Mary’s strength: ‘It was surely pondering the whole mystery of her Son’s living and dying that gave her the strength to bear his death and also the strength to believe that he would rise as he had promised. This strength she communicated to the Twelve, helping them believe, as they gathered in the Upper Room, that all was not yet completed, that there was life on the other side of death.
‘Mary knew. She understood; because she had pondered all these things in her heart. This painting is nothing if not an invitation to us to ponder also. What does it mean for Gabriel to be called St Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows if it’s not that he, too, pondered, profoundly, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord through the eyes of Mary? This picture is an invitation for us to join him in that journey.’
The full text of Bishop Nicholas' homily is available here.
Photos from the celebration are available here.