Once the date for the weekend was fixed I was solemnly and acutely aware of the holy privilege we were to be granted, and also of the grave responsibility I had accepted. It had been decided that my husband and myself would, on this first occasion, be the only ones present at the Masses. This was sad on the one hand, but as the time drew nearer I became quite grateful for the privacy this promised. During the time of preparation I felt the double demand of Martha's anxieties and Mary's concerns and prayed constantly for help in achieving the right balance between them.
We did not know for certain until Father arrived which form of Mass he would prefer. He had already said that he favoured 'ad orientem' and I had told him that it was as well because the sanctuary is not big enough for 'versus populum'! I was very happy when he elected the Extraordinary Form for both Masses. And yet it increased my relief that there would be no-one else present. For those readers not old enough to remember, the rule for the Old Mass is that if there is no server and if there is no male in the congregation, then a woman can answer the Mass from the body of the Church. In my young days such a situation arose very rarely and the last time I did, it must have been nearly 50 years ago when I was a student!! Colin had not served an Old Mass since he was at school and has no experience at all of serving the Novus Ordo. Father had given me permission to answer both Masses. In recent weeks I had practised and studied, but 50 years is a long time. It was good in the end that there wouldn't be others present. I would be nervous anyway, and intensely disliked the idea of 'giving a performance' particularly one that might be littered with mistakes! Looking back, I think the Lord gave me that private and so quiet Mass as training for a future when I will now be better able to deal with the presence of others.
As it was, everything here was prepared according to Fr. O'Brien's 'In Sacristy and Sanctuary' published by Benziger Brothers in 1933, and which came into my hands several years ago. On the morning of Father's arrival I dressed the chalice, laid out the vestments , and remembered in affectionat and grateful prayer the nuns who taught me how to do these things oh, so long ago. And yet it was all so familiar, so comforting and so peaceful. The vestments were red because I had requested a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit in thanksgiving.
On Saturday morning, just before Father and I were about to go up to the chapel for final preparations for Mass, Colin called me back and said that he'd discovered that he couldn't make the stairs. He has not been upstairs since before he broke his leg in the summer. It was a great disappointment but not really a surprise. As we climbed the stairs I told Father why Colin would have to listen to the Mass from the kitchen. I followed Father up the chapel flight, my heart pounding and racing. Finally when all was ready he left me kneeling at my priedieu in the chapel and it was possible to calm down. Father went back to the kitchen again before finally coming up to vest. I was too preoccupied to guess why.
During those last moments of waiting alone for the Mass to begin I thought of all my many spiritual friends, - priests, brothers, religious sisters and laity, of all my blogging friends and followers, and especially of all my 'spiritual' sisters, who with me have embraced the vocation of spiritual motherhood of priests. Mac, I knew was in Church at Blackfen, Pat also in St. John Fisher Birmingham. Both were praying with me and for me, as were all of you who knew what was about to happen. I thought of our dear Holy Father and of Fr. Mark Kirby. I had so much thanksgiving to offer, so many supplications to make, so many reasons to beg mercy, both for myself and others. I thought especially of Neville and of Philip Johnson, of my Anglo-Catholic friends in Devon, and of all the priests and the aspiriant seminarian who have been entrusted to my maternal intercession. If you have not been mentioned here by name, it is not because I did not think of you during those minutes. All of you, especially my 'hidden ones' were remembered.
As I heard Father leave the vesting area and begin to make his way across the gallery, I bound you all together with me in one huge act of love and contrition, offering us all to Our Lord, begging His help that I may conduct my part of the coming Mass with as much dignity, reverence and love for Him as I am capable of demonstrating outwardly, and as few mistakes as my poor concentration would inevitably occasion.
Father rang the little entrance bell which hangs from one of the beams. As he entered the chapel, I rose shakily to my feet and the Holy Mass of Ages began in this humble, and from then on, especially blessed little place.
It's only possible to give an impression of the Mass itself. I am still internalising it myself. If it seems right, I will expand on it later.
I have never concentrated so hard in my entire life. But it was the concentration of absorption and not of forced effort. It was not just about what I had to do, but more about what was happening on the altar. It was truly as being in another dimension. There was nothing on earth outside and beyond that small white corporal upon which Our Lord would will to be. The holiness of the whispered canon held me transfixed. Just before the Consecration I had the time to acknowledge that I had done nothing, could never do anything to justify this Gift, this Grace, blessing and privilege. Quite the reverse. I had done everything in my life that would militate against it. And then He was there. The only possible response was Adoration and sorrow for sin.
I rang the bells gently. Clanging them loudly would have been inappropriate and unnecessary in that small place.
In one way the Mass lasted for an unquantifiable length of time, in another, to pass very quickly. Suddenly, it seemed, it was time for my own Communion. I couldn't move at first. Father waited patiently holding up the Sacred Host before me. At last I found my feet and went forward to the rail and kneeling, took up the communion plate and received my beloved Lord.
The Mass proceeded to its conclusion and the Last Gospel - always one of my favourite things about the Old Mass, the loss of which I mourn greatly in the Novus Ordo.
At last Father left the sanctuary and went to unvest. When he had done so he returned to the chapel wearing a stole. He asked for a lighted candle and said he would now prepare the ciborium to take Holy Communion to Colin in the kitchen. - So that was why he had gone downstairs again before Mass began - to find out whether Colin wished to receive. I was so stunned by the experience of the Mass and by the kindness of Father's act, that I didn't realise until afterwards that I should probably have preceded him with the candle. As it was I remained at my priedieu in the most profound thanksgiving I have ever offered since my First Communion.
Next post DV: report on the Holy Hour and Benediction of Saturday afternoon.