Tuesday 4 May 2010

Michael Pearce 1947-2010

On 27th April, an old friend of mine died peacefully after a long struggle with cancer. I had the privilege of attending his funeral - a beautifully sung Solemn Mass in the Extraordinary Form celebrated on Monday 3rd May in St Mary’s Cathedral Sydney (see photograph at left). For 25 years, Michael Pearce has been a friend and a mentor to me. He taught me many things about the Sacred Liturgy and offered me hospitality at his Sydney home many times. He was a man of great learning, generosity, good humour and perseverance. He it was who first shewed me that remarkable book Vestments and Vesture by Dom Roulin OSB, which in many ways led me to the work I am now doing for the Church. Following the Mass, a splendid sermon was preached by Father Glen Tattersall of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, which I am pleased to publish here as a fitting tribute to Mr. Pearce. Requiescat in pace.

I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes in Me, although he be dead, shall live; and every one that lives, and believes in Me, shall not die forever. Do you believe this?

This question with which Christ challenged Martha in the midst of her grief over the death of Lazarus, her brother, Our Lord poses – in some sense – to every man born into this world.

Michael Pearce’s answer, in life and in death, was a resounding "Yes! I do believe!"

We are not here to canonise Michael. We all know he would wince at the suggestion. But he was a humble and faithful disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ – and therefore, a faithful son of the Holy Catholic Church which the same Lord founded for our salvation. Michael had a keen awareness throughout his entire life that Christ and the Church are inseparable realities: and therefore, that Christ cannot be found outside the Church. He was not blind to the weaknesses, sins and follies of Catholics – he knew his own weaknesses too well for that – but when he looked at the Church he looked beyond the merely human element of its personnel: he saw instead the sublime supernatural reality of Christ’s mystical body. He saw the mysterious Lover of whom David prophesied: “The Lord pours gifts on His beloved while she slumbers.” Michael could never be scandalised by slumberers.

Foremost among those gifts of Christ to His beloved, the Church, was the Divine Liturgy: above all, Our Lord’s gift of His very self and the perpetuation of his redeeming Sacrifice in the Holy Eucharist; and then the other sacraments. Even the Church’s response to this lavish dowry, the Divine Office – a perpetual song of love and praise – was also God’s gift. An unerring Catholic instinct placed sacramental practice – and love of the Sacred Liturgy – at the centre of Michael’s life. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Michael recognised the Lord “in the breaking of the bread”, that is, the Holy Eucharist. He never missed Sunday Mass in his entire life, unless constrained by serious illness. He was frequently at weekday and festal Masses. And he loved the Divine Office, which he rightly understood as something not meant only for clergy and religious, but as truly the prayer of the Church – the whole Church.

Michael began to serve here at St Mary’s Cathedral in 1955, at the age of 8. He became a senior server here, and eventually Master of Ceremonies: a position he held for some 10 years during the 1970’s.

Great changes were abroad at that time. Michael’s boyhood had known peace and triumphalism – but also, in Australia, complacency - in the reign of Pius XII; then the heady optimism that corresponded with John XXIII’s brief reign and the years of the Council, quickly dissolved, and turned to confusion, and in some quarters, dissolution.

By the time he was a young adult Michael was well read in the history and theology of the liturgy. He applauded the general principles laid down by the Vatican Council in its decree on the liturgy. Although in many respects the subsequent liturgical changes went well beyond what the Council mandated, Michael’s expert and steady hand ensured, as much as possible, continuity with tradition and a sense of the sacred, wherever the liturgy was conducted under his direction.

Here, I must record my own particular debt of gratitude to Michael: for it was at the annual conferences of the John XXIII Fellowship – later the Campion Fellowship – that I had my first real experience of the solemnity of the liturgy in the early 1980’s. These conference liturgies were celebrated substantially under Michael’s inspiration and direction. For me, these liturgies – Mass, Office, Benediction - were a revelation of the beauty and majesty of God, and a truly life-changing experience.

Michael greeted the retrieval of the classical Latin liturgy – what we now call the Extraordinary Form or More Ancient Use of the Roman rite – with joy and enthusiasm. This began modestly in 1984 with Pope John Paul’s indult, and gathered force with the Ecclesia Dei decree of 1988. From this point, Michael increasingly devoted his talents and energies to the traditional liturgical forms. He rejoiced at the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (a renowned liturgist) to the Papacy. The new Pope, Benedict XVI, would move swiftly to ensure an unassailable place of honour for the traditional liturgy. This the Pope achieved in his motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum.

Together with many of us here today, Michael was a founding member of the Ecclesia Dei Society; he was also a key collaborator in the foundation of the community at the Maternal Heart Chapel, Lewisham, where he gave many years of selfless service. At the same time, Michael never lost touch with the wider Church, and he continued especially his lifelong association with the Cathedral. On the Sunday before he died, he attended Vespers here. Just six weeks ago, when I met him here one Wednesday afternoon for Vespers, he told me of his excitement about the re-introduction of regular choral office at St Mary’s: “Just like Westminster!” he exclaimed, with boyish glee.

None of this was about “mere externals”: it was actually all about love of Christ and His Church. Just as the Lord intended, the liturgy formed and fed Michael’s daily Christian life: he was remarkable for his kindness and generosity, and was always ready to see the best in others, including wherever necessary furnishing excuses for them (sometimes these were as improbable as they were charitable). May it be to his eternal credit that he never burnt bridges, but always built them. In his battle with cancer over the last two and a half years, one sensed in Michael a deepened intimacy with Christ and a child-like confidence in the Lord’s gracious and particular Providence for him.

As a good Jewess – not of the party of the Sadducees – Martha already believed in the resurrection of the dead: “I know that he shall rise again in the the resurrection at the last day.” But more was asked of her: “Ego sum resurrectio, et vita…”. “I am the Resurrection and the Life”. The Resurrection is not simply something God does for us from above, as it were, by His serene power issuing from Heaven. No. The Resurrection is a person. Christ has come down from heaven, died and risen again by His own power, for us. As his disciples, our own suffering and death are united to his – in order that the victory of His Resurrection might be extended in us, so that we too might share the joy of His own boundless Divine Life!

Having received and nurtured the gift of faith, the priceless pearl, Michael was able to say with Martha: “Yea Lord, I have believed that Thou art Christ the Son of the Living God, Who art come into this world.”

We grieve Michael’s death, for death was never part of God’s plan: we weep, as Christ wept for Lazarus, though he was about to raise him from the dead! But as St Paul reminds the Thessalonians, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our hope is true, for it is based on a sure faith. And so, aware of our common frailty and sinfulness, in faith, hope and love we pray for our dear friend, Michael, that he may be freed and purified of whatever may yet detain him entering into the full and perfect vision and possession of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we entrust him to the Maternal Heart of Mary, Help of Christians.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.

Photographs from Michael Pearce's funeral, taken by Miss Tien Nguyen.

Procession into the Cathedral:

At the Absolution: