August 2nd, a Service of Benediction, St. Julian’s

St. Julian's sanctuaryI was here a year ago. I think on that day we arrived a little late and missed part of Evensong, I don’t even remember having a service book. I suppose I must have had one, but all I remember is being unsure of what I was attending. Yesterday evening I was back, and it was such a different experience.

St. Julian’s is a Church of England church, but very much an Anglo Catholic one. Around the walls are the Stations of the Cross, there is a statue of Our Lady where you can light candles, there is a lot of incense.There is also a lot of genuflecting, people crossing themselves, chanting and traditional language. Just a few years ago this would all have had me running for the hills.┬áBut my faith has changed shape and now this all seems a lovely way to worship.

Here is something I have had to unlearn: Anglo Catholics are not snooty people, not aloof or puffed up in any way. On the contrary, the people I have met at St. Julian’s are some of the friendliest, most gentle and humble people you could ever meet. For some reason I thought for the longest time that Anglo Catholics would be hi-fallutin’, perched up on their smugness. How wrong I was.

St. Julian’s is not just another church that I visit sometimes. Two years ago I became a Companion of Julian of Norwich and so make a kind of pilgrimage here in the summer, to spend time at the Julian Shrine (attached to St. Julian’s) and to see the people here, to reconnect. I wonder how much difference that makes to how welcome I feel, since I am, in some ways, coming home. People ask me, are you a visitor? Yes, I am, but I am also a Companion of Julian, I belong here.

Yesterday evening I was made welcome, and given all the books and sheets of paper I needed. The wife of one of the priests made sure I knew what was needed when. I sat for a while before the service and looked through the service book. Although it was traditional language and more would be chanted than I was used to, it was familiar enough. It was a regular service of Evensong, with the Benediction after that.

A Service of Benediction. Amazingly simple, but also potentially mind-bogglingly perplexing. I suppose the crux of it is, do you believe in transubstantiation? Do you believe that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ? Or do you believe that they are symbols of the same? Believe the former and a Service of Benediction is for you. Believe the latter and I don’t know what you make of it.

This has been part of my journey, too. Not so long ago I would have said that the bread and wine are symbols of Chirst’s body and blood. But in Tokyo I serve as a Lay Eucharistic Minister (LEM) and administer the chalice at the Eucharist. Some Sundays I look into the chalice and see that the wine has become blood. I have seen that. I can’t explain it, but I look into the chalice and it’s no longer wine. I drink, and it’s still wine, but in my heart I know it’s not.

At a Service of Benediction, a consecrated host (wafer) is put in a monstrance, which is an elaborate and beautiful container for the host. A monstrance is usually round, almost like the sun, with rays radiating out from its centre. It is on a stand, which is first on the altar, and then lifted by the priest to bless the people.

I attended the service last year, and went back to Tokyo perplexed. It was a consecrated wafer. On one level I knew that it was the body of Christ, but on the other . . . really? I asked my priest, if that is how we can be in the presence of the consecrated host, then surely at every Eucharist we should be beside ourselves? Yes, he said.

St. Julian’s has a Service of Benediction at 6:30pm on the first Sunday of every month. I timed my arrival so I could attend. I wanted to try again. I had spent the last year thinking over what I had seen at the Service of Benediction, I felt better prepared, ready. Evensong was beautiful, the sanctuary was full of incense, the canticles were lovely.

The Benediction.

Both priests (one the parish priest, the other a retired priest) knelt before the altar, offering more incense. The parish priest was wrapped in a further vestment before he picked up the monstrance. We were already on our knees. As he held up the monstrance, we bowed our heads. With tears in my eyes all I could do was repeat the Jesus Prayer. In the presence of such holiness, what else can you do? I totally got it. I loved it.

After the service, someone approached me and asked if I was a visitor. When I told him I was, but that I was also a Companion of Julian, he told me that he had noticed me and wondered if I would know what to do ‘but you knew how to do everything’.

Yes. Yes I did. Because now I am Anglo Catholic too.

I know there is a Service of Benediction once a month in Tokyo, and I’m going to find out where it is. I don’t want to wait another year.

 

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My seventh Julian

Revelations:S Upjohn

I bought this translation while I was in Norwich last summer. It is published by the Friends of Julian, has a forward by Robert Llewelyn, and is translated by Sheila Upjohn. It is arranged as daily readings, with most chapters set out over two or three days. I really wanted to like this translation very much, but in the end was a bit disappointed by it.

My first experience of Julian’s writing was the small Enfolded in Love book, and I have always loved the way the words flowed. For a long time I didn’t realise that it was Sheila Upjohn who had done the translation, I was more aware of the fact that Robert Llewelyn had been the editor of that and the other books in the series. When I found out that there was a longer translation available I was excited to read it, and I must say that the translation itself is wonderful, but there are other things which don’t work for me.

First of all, this is not a complete translation. Most of the text is here, but it is not all here, and unfortunately for me, some of my favourite passages have been omitted, so as I read I was very aware that some things were missing.

Like the Grace Warrack translation, this is quite a sparse version, with no footnotes and no headings. The chapter numbers are printed at the bottom of the page, but that is all. I usually read two chapters of Julian every evening, and so this format didn’t really work for me, I suppose because I was not using it in the way it was intended.

In the end I had very mixed feelings about this book, but in large part I think this is due to the way I read Julian and the structure of the book being incompatible. The translation is wonderful, and if you are looking for a structured text for daily meditation, maybe a step on from Enfolded in Love, then this might be the translation for you. However, if you are familiar with the full text then this will seem a little lacking, and if you read it in any way other than the one for which it was intended then it will feel a little disjointed.

My sixth Julian

Revelations:G Warrack

I believe this is the oldest of the modern translations of Julian, and was recommended to me by an OJN oblate. It was originally published in 1901, and first brought recognition to Julian in the twentieth century. I believe there are a number of different editions of this translation, and the one I read was published by Wilder Publications in the US. It is a little larger than a standard paperback, but also quite a slim volume, containing only 107 pages.

Compared to most of the other translations I have read, this one uses more traditional language. It preserves more of the archaic vocabulary and, like the translation by Fr John Julian contains many short paragraphs, often beginning with a conjunction. I have not read Julian’s original Middle-English work, but I believe this is a reflection of how the Revelations were originally written.

Apart from chapter numbers, there are no headings or footnotes, so if you are looking for a version which is only the bare bones, this is a good one to use. There is nothing to distract you from the text. This lack of any headings, however, means that it is difficult to locate a passage unless you already know the entire text well.

I found the traditional language beautiful at times, but also quite a challenge. More modern translations are easier to understand, but for some people I think the beauty of the language will be worth the effort. If you enjoy reading the King James Bible, or the traditional language of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, then this might be the translation for you.

I was glad I had read this translation, and found quite a lot to underline in it, but also found myself thinking that I was glad that I had read more modern translations before this one. If I hadn’t I think I might have found parts of it very difficult to understand. It’s an important part of the history of Julian translations. Not a place to start, but somewhere to go when you know something of Julian and would like to read a different version her words. I am thankful that this book started the modern popularity of the Revelations; without it, there would not have been the interest which has led to so much more.