Fr.Tom Welbers will be the celebrant of the Annual Chaucer Mass. Some of you may know Fr. Tom from Facebook. Here are his thoughts about the significance of the event.
On Saturday, October 29, Our Lady of the Assumption Church will once again host an event that is probably unique in the entire world. One of a kind. I'm not exaggerating.
The year 2000 marked, among many other things, the 600th anniversary of the death of Geoffrey Chaucer, the first and only great writer in Middle English. It's a language that can be understood even today by an astute reader; with a little effort you soon begin to recognize familiar patterns of speech in Chaucer's Middle English.
He died on October 25, 1400. after a lengthy and diverse career in public service. He fought in the military, even spending time as a prisoner of war; he was sent on diplomatic missions; he oversaw public works and building projects; he even was a member of Parliament for a time. All this in addition to the prolific writing for which he is remembered.
Among many other short and long poems, his last, longest and greatest is one we all know, at least in name: The Canterbury Tales. Most of us read it, or crammed summaries in preparation for exams, when we were too immature to care. Few of us return later to The Canterbury Tales when we can understand and benefit from its message and meaning.
One who did, rather late in life in fact, is parishioner Dolores Cullen. After she had put the necessities of "youth"--family raising and things like that--behind her, she did something many people do: went back to school. She fell in love with Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales and studied and researched the poem, the author, and his life and times deeply and systematically. And in the course of her work, she discovered patterns in the Tales that seem to have eluded most professional academics.
Chaucer lived in times of political tension in England, especially between the King and the Pope, and, while England was still nominally Catholic, the seeds of Henry VIII's revolt against Rome were already being sown, and it was dangerous to be judged "too Catholic." Recall that any concept of separation of Church and State, which we take for granted now, lay at least 400 years in the future.
The Canterbury Tales is a series of individual stories, told in verse format, during a fictitious group pilgrimage from London to Canterbury, shared by the participants at the instigation of the inn-keeper of their first night's lodging, who is enigmatically referred to only as the Host. Dolores has uncovered many parallels with Catholic faith that lead her to maintain that the Tales is an extended allegory, systematically commenting on life in his perilous times from a perspective of Catholic faith that would have gotten him killed had he been more open. In our era of supposed "freedom of speech," it's difficult for us to imagine the pressure to communicate in this indirect way, although writers in the Soviet countries had to do so not that many years ago.
You can find more information about Chaucer and Dolores's three books, one of which is entitled Pilgrim Chaucer, on her website, CelebrateChaucer.com.
But why a special Mass for him now? At the end of The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer asks his readers to say a prayer for his soul. Perhaps he was aware of a special need for prayers as he faced eternity--as should we all. In 2000, Dolores approached me and asked if we could honor his request, and I enthusiastically agreed. This is something we all can learn from as we too follow "pilgrim Chaucer" on the journey through this life.
Who's to say that he doesn't still need our prayers even as he continues to illuminate our lives today through his Tales?
Join us in this special event at the 5:30 pm Mass on Saturday, October 29, with a reception in the hall to follow.
I love you all,
Fr. Tom Welbers
Causes dolores cullen Supports
Habitat for Humanity
The Smile Train