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…