Monday, 23 August 2010

On the Worthlessness of Mary

Will great round to writing the next day of Downside up in the near future. In the meantime, here is a little something on our Lady- my first attempt at anything homiletic/ theological.

Our Lady has a great many, very beautiful titles: Mirror of Justice, Seat of Wisdom, Tower of Ivory, Ocean of Bitterness, House of God, Morning Star, Mother of Perpetual Help, and so on ad infinitum. For every conceivable aspect of human need, there is a title of Our Lady that we may name her, and beg her help and intercession and gain what we require, either for spiritual or material aid.

This is all well and good- I have an especial devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, who’s intercession I have sought a great many times, and never without success. She is also Patroness of my diocese (Middlesbrough) - but one title we never hear is “Mary most Worthless”. I was suddenly, through misreading “worthiness” struck by this; that Our Lady, the Mother of God, and Assumed and Glorious Queen of Heaven, conceived without sin, and first of all creation, is in fact, of herself of no worth.

Except for Grace.

Through the operation of Grace; that is through the loving kindness of our God; all generations call her blessed. It was Grace that rescued her from ever being in original sin, and from ever committing the slightest sin making her the fairest of all women. None of this is achieved by herself through her own merits. Without God deigning to bestow on her an infinite number of Graces, and making her the Theotokos, she would have been no better than she ought to be; just like the rest of us.

And yet she is just like the rest of us; she was created by God, in His image and likeness, as we all are; she is a God bearer- as we all are whenever we receive Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament; she is a recipient of God’s mercy and loving kindness; and many, many other ways.

I am nervous of the term which seems to be so prevalent among the Orthodox Churches of “Deification”. I don’t know why, it is a very good term for what God desires to happen to us, that over time, as with John the Baptist, He increases, as I decrease, we draw closer, and closer to the Godhead, until we become God: until we are so lost in God, so hidden in the face of the Almighty (to quote Bernard of Clairvaux) that all our flaws have been lost, even our littlest sins and peccadilloes are smoothed away that we achieve (I don’t want to use the phrase, but work with me on this) perfection- we become one with the Godhead.

This is what, I think, has happened to Mary; she has become so intimate and so close to God; not just because she bore Him for nine months in the womb, not just because she was the one who taught Him his religion, because our Lord says in response to “Blessed is the woman who bore thee”, “Nay, Blessed rather is he who hears the word of God and keeps it”. Would our Lady be so worthy of praise if she had not been the perfect example she was? What if she’d gone off the rails and hit the Gin? Who knows? Does it really matter? Probably not. I suspect that was nor part of the Almighty’s plan, to which she was utterly submissive.

But the impression I get is that she is worthy of praise and adoration because she is the most perfect follower of Christ, more so than for her having borne our Lord in the womb. But she did, and she is and she was, if that makes sense. And through this, through her pondering all things in her Immaculate Heart, she drew ever closer to God and closer and closer and closer, until she had diminished to the point where she only displays the will and love of God- can one think of Mary except as the God bearer? Would we think of her at all if she had not been the God bearer, if she had instead become a proud and domineering housewife, feared and respected in Nazareth? I suspect not; her name would have died with the last person who remembered her. So through her humility, through her utter obedience to God, through her loosing herself totally in Him, she has become Mirror of Justice, Seat of Wisdom, Tower of Ivory, Ocean of Bitterness, House of God, Morning Star, Mother of Perpetual Help, &c., &c. And not Mary most worthless, Mary most unremembered.

This may all be abundantly clear to everyone, but it had never really occurred to me.

Saturday, 21 August 2010


I love a certain type of technology, that which is operated by clockwork- you can see everything that goes on in it, and a man can usually be found, in adiscreet shop somewhere, who will call you "sir" and fix it for you if it goes wrong.

So today I trolled off into town to have a jacket adjusted, and my pocket watch repaired, it having stopped functioning some time ago, and I quite fancying having it functioning again. So along I went- just as I reached the counter, I took the watch out of my pocket, and dropped it on the floor, with a suitable gasp of horror, expecting springs to ping out of it and what have you; but no! It was now functioning perfectly! So the man gave it a little polish for me, in its workings, and gave it back to me for no charge.

I'm coming to the conclusion my guardian angel has a sense of humour...

Part 3: Downside Revisited

Day 3: Feria

By now I was getting nervous. We had a Bishop arriving, to sing Pontifical High Mass at the Faldstool. Well; maybe. A whisper had gone round the night before to say he hadn’t been on his plane; hope sprung eternal in my heart of hearts, that maybe we wouldn’t have to go through with all this after all. The Sacred Ministers and I had already had a rehearsal, which I was late for (disreputable clergy led me astray with Gin; which I grant is not a difficult thing: I was always a good Anglo-Catholic). Things had gone well-ish; thanks to the presence of Fr. Southwell, who was unique in having done this sort of thing before; though I must confess I was even more nervous after the rehearsal than when I started, with these sorts of things, one tends to feel more nervous when someone knows what you're supposed to be doing better than you do.

However, the day began much as before: masses of early Masses, then a substantial breakfast (there was bacon, joy of joys!) and first round of tuition, much of which was spent going through the pronunciation of the Mass responses: Latin with a Scottish accent is not something I’ve encountered before, I must say that people did pick things up fairly quickly. I finished early and went to steal servers from the advanced servers’ class to serve the Missa Cantata. This was very smooth and straightforward, but for the first time, I’ve been rumbled as an MC, because, for the first time, people could see my face during Mass, and the strange shade of puce I would turn as there were occasional slip ups; the reason being that the clergy were today in the Monastic choir, behind the Altar. However, there weren’t too many problems, and the celebrant was a friend of mine, Fr. John Cahill of Scunthorpe, who’s Mass I serve on a Sunday afternoon on a weekly basis, so we know each other well. All went smoothly.

After lunch, more tuition, and the next batch of private Masses. It was shortly after this I heard that His Excellency had arrived at the airport. We were back on for Pontifical High Mass at the Faldstool (hereinafter referred to as PHMaF, because I can’t be doing with typing the whole thing. Like the ceremony itself, it’s too much faff.) My heart sank; but I was glad to know his excellency wasn’t being held to ransom by a coalition of 70s liberals and fundamentalist Muslims (though the difference between the two is that at least one can negotiate with the terrorists), but would rather not have to go through with PHMaF (have you ever noticed how it's those who don't have to implement these things that have the bright idea? "Sergeant?" "Sir?" "Take that Command Post" "Yes Sir.")

I first saw Bishop Athanasius after dinner; when I was going to fetch something from the accommodation. He was coming down the stairs for his dinner with Fr. Southwell. I was duly introduced; quick genuflection (boy that was a refreshing change). He took me by surprise; he was wearing a black cassock, zucchetto and Pectoral Cross; he is not a tall man, and I think quite shy and retiring by nature. His English was very good, bearing in mind that he had flown in that day and was probably very tired. We exchanged a few words; he wanted to know if I was a seminarian; then we went our separate ways. I was then stood outside the accommodation about 10 minutes later, talking to some more disreputable clergy, when no lesser person than Leo Darroch (of Una Voce international) hailed me, and said “because you’ve got the youngest knees, we’ve decided you’ll serve the Bishop’s Mass” “Argh” said I; then I hurried off to learn how to serve a Bishop’s private Mass- very straightforward actually: just pass him the maniple at the indulgentium.

So, off I went to rehearse with the Fathers for the PHMaF for a bit (during which I remarked “I'm beginning to see why we had a Council; which elicited a Look from Fr. Southwell), then had to leave them to get ready the Altar where His Excellency would say Mass, which was the old high Altar, with the relics of St. Oliver Plunkett* situated next to them, in a very impressive reliquary- everything but his head is there.

All was readied, and I was vested and waiting nervously for His Excellency in the Sacristy and in he came at the allotted hour (which we had pre-arranged- typical German, he was on time to the second); I assisted his vesting- his patience was amazing, as I fussed round him, tidying him up, and adjusting the hang of his Alb, etc. as one is allowed to do for Bishops. He looked over the Missal, and I asked the magic question “do you need a card for the prayers at the foot of the Altar?” To which I received a firm “no”, which was encouraging.

So off we went to the Altar- the church was dimly lit, apart from our Altar, and we began- it was one of the most moving and beautiful Masses I have ever served- he was word perfect, and motion perfect, and the sanctity was palpable. He was slow and deliberate, but not the slowness of someone remembering what was coming next, rather then slowness of someone who knew what he was doing and knew it was worth doing well and taking time over. There is really nothing else I can say about this, he truly is a holy man, and the remainder of the time he was with us only confirmed this. And, what really impressed me was that he not only knew the Leonine prayers by heart, he knew them by heart in Latin. Now that is ‘igh!

Straight after assisting the Bishop to divest, I made my way to the chapel were we had been singing the office, for Compline. This is one of the highlights of the conferences for me, as it is, by tradition, my only singing part- I sing the lesson at the beginning of the Office: “Fratres, sobrii estoteet relinqua, which always makes me smile a little bit: the Gin flows freely. 5 minutes in the choir loft practising soon had me sorted (though I suspect I made all the same mistakes I usually make, no matter how much practice I have, though people are very kind and don’t mention it. A bit like my spiritual life, really). I love Compline anyway: it is so peaceful and simple- no cottas even, and reminds me of Wordsworth: “It is a beauteous evening, calm and free/ The holy time is quiet as a Nun/ breathless in adoration; the broad sun/ is sinking down in its tranquillity…” and the hush is wonderful as everyone slips out of church at the end, often pausing a few moments at the image of our Lady.

But the work wasn’t over yet, oh no. We still had a servers’ rehearsal for the PHMaF, which was a very fraught hour, during which I suddenly felt very tired, very ratty and very stressed, I must confess, and just wanted everything to be over. We made it as far as the Epistle in the space of an hour (!) and then called it a night, it being 10.30 by then, and some of us having Masses to serve in the morning. I was so tired I didn’t even stop downstairs for a Gin, but went straight to bed and knew no more until I realised I’d overslept the following morning.

If you’d like to see some photos of the Bishop’s Masses, they may be found here: courtesy of the good Dr. Shaw, who is on pilgrimage to Walsingham at present. On foot.

*A small aside. Whenever I hear the name of the last of the English Martyrs, I always think of a great priest of the Middlesbrough Diocese- also called Oliver Plunkett- better known as Ollie Plunkett. It was said that he was once doing a funeral in January, for a lapsed Catholic. The widow was stood next to him, shivering and remarked “ooo Father! It is cold”, to which dear Father replied “It won’t be cold where he’s going.” Gesturing to the coffin. This apparently true. So much for pastoral care. Now read on.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Downside Day 2: St Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

The morning dawned bright and early. Well, early, and it wasn’t quite dawn when I awoke at 4.50, after far to little sleep. I can never get to sleep on the first night I stay anywhere, and especially with the se conferences, as so much is churning through my mind: Where are the clergy in choir going to sit, how are we going to do such and such, who’s going to serve, etc, etc. Eventually at about 1.30am I got so fed up of tossing and turning that I got up and went downstairs to check on some bits, and who should I find outside the front door to our accommodation, in pyjamas and a cassock, but the illustrious Fr. Ray Blake of the gloriously outspoken blog St. Mary Magdalene, Brighton, so we stood and chatted for a while, on the funeral rites of a Cardinal, then I got what I needed, then headed up to bed and lay and read until about 2.30, when I finally dropped off to sleep, only to jerk awake five minutes before my alarm went off; it was still very grey outside, and freezing cold (I’d left my windows pen) so I hotfooted it to the bathrooms, hoping for a nice warming shower (I only have a bath at home, so showers are a real treat), only to find the showerheads had been removed, so one was hit in the stomach by a water cannon, with hot water for the length of a de profundis then it turned freezing cold, at which point, as they say, I made my excuses and left. Downside girls (for it was the girls’ house in which we were staying) are obviously made of sterner stuff than I am!

After performing my necessary ablutions in tepid water, I headed down, nice and early to the church, planning on getting before the start of Matins to potter round and sort things out. This was not an unmitigated success. It was raining, and I had many books to carry. I reached the church door to find it looked, so went round to the other door, to find that locked too. Oh the annoyance. So I took shelter in a handy awning for a while, then tried again at the other door. Success! But Matins had started, so I had to potter quietly. Thankfully, Dom Boniface had already done most of the work, so there was in fact very little to do, except see that I knew what was where, and able to answer questions of bleary eyed fathers coming to say their early Masses. I settled down in a corner and tried to say my own Office- halfway through the first psalm, I noticed a figure flitting around- the first ones were beginning to arrive. Blast! Close breviary, slink into sacristy, assist with vesting, and remind clergy to wait until the Office is finished before starting, I then went round and lit candles on Altars and headed back to find a priest to serve. By pure chance it was, once again, Fr. Blake, so off we went to an Altar and offered the holy Sacrifice. I am always very fond of private Masses, especially when many are said at once; it is very peaceful, and very Sacred. . Mascall makes the observation, in his book “Corpus Christi”: which emphasises the unity of the Mass? 20 priests around one Altar, or 20 priests at 20 different Altars all saying the same thing? He also points out that a Protestant could never understand this: why are all those clergyman conducting services with only one person present? However, the privateness, almost secretiveness of private Masses points to something outside ourselves, as the Holy Father points out in the Spirit of the Liturgy: it breaks the circle of our existence, and points to something that is “other” than us.

Anyway, first mass down, one to go; this time a friend of mine, who I know through the conferences- back to the same Altar to do it all over again. We then went off in search of breakfast, which took some doing- I always find the first morning is very fraught, what with sorting Altars and priests, and everything is new, and we always seem to take the catering staff by surprise.

After breakfast, the next thing looming on the horizon was the solemn Mass at 11. I must admit, if I could change one thing, it would be to start with a Missa Cantata- everyone is far more familiar with the ceremonies, and it needs much less rehearsal, and doesn’t cause my blood pressure to go through the roof, but ah well. As it was, it all went smoothly, all things considered, and rehearsal was fairly leisured, so I could practice things like the Gospel procession. Fr. Bede Rowe, LMS chaplain to the West (AKA the Patriarch of the West) celebrated, with the inimitable Fr. De Malleray, FSSP, who has been a great support to me in learning things like Mcing high Mass, and who is a very understanding clergyman in such things, was Deacon, and my friend Fr. Francis of Bury was subdeacon. We rehearsed thoroughly, but all were familiar with the ceremonies. This was the opportunity to see priests I’d not seen for many years- one who new me as a school boy in Leicester, one who could remember me as a babe in arms, as well as many other friends made on the conferences.

Luncheon was a little more organised. Well, a lot more actually. By which time other people had arrived, and food was prevalent. Meal times were lots of fun, and there were several clergy who it was always good to sit near, for the banter and comedy. It was all very unmonastic.

We then proceeded to be formally welcomed and have tuition groups sorted. As well as Mcing the week, I was also looking after a group with Fr. Francis, which was the beginners group- most of whom had never served the EF before, and one or two of whom had only been a couple of times., I’m rather proud of the fact that by the time we were done with them, all of them were capable of getting through Low Mass, possibly with prompting. All of them took a part in serving the solemn liturgies as well.

A final round of private Masses (my serving my fourth Mass of the day), then Vespers and dinner. I do enjoy being able to sing the Office in choir, but I do look somewhat out of place among the biretta’s clergy. One of the choir said I should have a biretta for the office, possibly with one blade, and no pom-pom, just to fit in.; which I was rather taken with.

Recreation following dinner was much fun, with much Gin to go with it, and then a not so early night, only to be ready to be back up at 5 for the next day.

Which I shall tell you more about another time; right now it is time for bed. Noctem quietam…

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Latin Mass Society summer conference: Downside, 2010- an MC's Perspective

This may turn into yet another long post, so bear with me.

This was the first southern conference I'd MCed for, but the third LMS conference- I'd done the two held in Ushaw Seminary this year and last year, and so have been getting into the swing of things, and learning a lot and gaining a lot of experience each time.

This was by far the largest one I'd done, and had the added terror of a visiting Bishop, which meant Pontifical High Mass. Anyway, I'll begin at the beginning.

Drove down with Paul Waddington, the organiser- a good smooth journey. Both of us had brought a lot of stuff: I had in my bag, as well as the things I would need for the week, a red High Mass set, borrowed fromt he parish, and a stunning Altar Missal, also borrowed. Hopefully photos will come to light, which will show them off. Also brought a set of three albs, as well as my own personal stuff, like cassock, cottas, etc. I could barely lift my bag: the things we do for Jesus.

Anyway, smooth drive down, arriving late afternoon, having picked up Leo Darroch (the illustrious president of Una Voce) en route. We gt ourselves sorted, and waited for others to arrive. These included many who I had met at Ushaw, as well as the legendary blogger Fr. Ray Blake, who was to be a constant source of entertainment throughout the week. Went over to Wells to visit one of the conference clergy, who has the next parish to Downside, and were taken out to a very nice little Italian restaurant. Then back, having borrowed some towels (some of us didn't realise they weren't provided), then back to the Abbey for bed.

I think I'll do this in stages. Will say soemthing about the first full day later