Monday, November 30, 2009

An Extraordinary (Form) Weekend in Remote Rural France: The Oasis Lives up to its Name Part I

Last Friday evening an English priest came to spend the weekend with us. His visit had been planned for a long time and as my regular readers know, I have been busy getting ready for something very special over a considerable period and that the preparations have recently curtailed my blogging activities more than somewhat.

This is an introductory post to a series of reports on the events that took place during Father's stay. First however, so that you will realise just how extraordinary and historic a weekend it was, I need to give you a little description of our village, our house within it, and of our private chapel within that.

Before embarking on this, I must tell you that several photos were taken on Saturday and Sunday and that these will be published on this blog during the course of the coming week.

The Village:
When we first bought our house here in 1989 one of its major attractions was that the village Church is almost directly opposite. In those days there was Mass each Sunday and the bell rang the Angelus three times everyday. We had a Parish Priest then, but he had to serve nine parishes in the Canton. Not long after our present bishop arrived, around 1993, he issued a communique warning all the outlying villages that if they could not produce a regular Mass attendance of 13 souls, their weekly Sunday Mass would be discontinued. This village like 6 others could not fulfil these terms and so the Mass was lost to us. From then on there was only one Sunday Mass in the entire canton. This Mass alternated between the two largest parishes and still does. Both are difficult for us to get to as we gave up our car long ago. Financial constraints meant that moving house was out of the question. In any case there was the garden, which was the inspiration for my three published books that were in the process of being written, but that is another story. The Parish Church across the road is now used only for the occasional weddings and funerals, more funerals than weddings I'm afraid, and in 20 years I've never heard of a baptism there. Most of the time it is kept locked and the Blessed Sacrament is not reserved there.The Parish Priest who was based in the town 2kms away eventually retired and the Presbytery was sold to a lay buyer a couple of years ago. Then, early this decade the Angelus from our parish church ceased to ring. Fortunately I recorded it one summer afternoon when the windows were all open and its sonorous tones permeated the rooms and the woodwork of the house and its beams. But once the Angelus bell was silenced, the feeling of the village being cut off from the Church was/is almost total and this for me marked the end of an era in the village.. I would say that the last Mass celebrated in the village would have been at least 12 years ago, and as for the Old Latin Mass probably nearly 40 years, not that I ever heard it here.

Our house and how the chapel came to be:
The house is just over 300 years old and a lot of work had to be done before it was habitable. It is on four levels - cellar, ground floor, first floor which houses two bedrooms, bathrooms and a large library - and above the first floor and surrounding it on two sides is an L shaped mezzanine gallery. (This mezzanine overlooks the library as you will eventually see in the photos.) There are lots of exposed beams, in fact wood predominates. When in the early 90s I first saw that mezzanine space, cleared of rubble and ancient shelving, I knew that its furthest section which had a raised dais at one end, must be a chapel. Even then when it was completely empty, there was a recusant penal-times feel about it. Behind where the altar would eventually be, there is what appears to be a cupboard door. This leads into the roof space. Ever since that day I've always mentally and semi-seriously referred to this as 'the priest hole'. And on that day these reactions came naturally to an English Catholic who knows her history and who was by then accustomed, to singing Byrd's Masses, particularly for four voices (the Agnus Dei always wrings my Catholic soul), and who knew the places, numbers and dangerous circumstances in which he had composed them. When you see the photos I think you'll understand my feelings then and now. On that day I vowed to do everything possible to make that chapel, to eventually have Holy Mass offered there and if ever possible to have the Byrd for Four sung by a small schola with no more than two voices on each line. (Pray God if that ever happens I'll still be able to manage my accustomed alto line!) The vow I made to Our Lord that day is nearly 20 years old now but I've been working towards its fulfilment since it was first made. By the time it was only two or three years old, the chapel was fit to be blessed and dedicated to the worship of God and this blessing was carried out by a priest of the Salford Diocese who was visiting us in 1994.

Until the promulgation of the 'Summorum Pontificum' I had little real hope or expectation that any of my prayers for the chapel could possibly be answered, but thanks to our beloved Pope Benedict everything became very different following his initiative. Not only that, but my other dream of opening the parish Church for Mass again and of hearing the beloved Angelus ring out once more across the fields and woods, is by no means as remote as it was two years ago.

So with this background perhaps readers will imagine the joy and the nervous excitement that almost overwhelmed me during the weekend just past.

Tomorrow, I will take you through the events of Saturday just gone.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pope to Archbishop of Canterbury at their recent meeting in the Vatican:

Snippet at the end of their 20 minute conversation:
(Of course, it didn't happen. Just another of my flights of fancy.)

Pope: (having listened with the utmost patience and courtesy) Today, I only have time to correct you on one thing my dear friend.

Cantuar: Pray do tell.

Pope: In the Vatican these days, the only things we attempt to poach are 'Eggs Benedict'.

Cantuar: Is that supposed to be some sort of yolk? Ha! Ha!

Pope: Not at all. It's actually quite a hard-boiled statement of fact.

Cantuar: But when the raising agent is trying to egg the pudding, what can we do....?

Pope: As I have indicated there isn't time to enter into matters of such theological moment. I am happy to tread on the eggshells the Lord has sent me. I pray for you as you tread on the ones you have chosen.

Cantuar: (Sadly missing the point) Well I think it's time I scrambled.

Pope: Yes, un oeuf is un oeuf. (Aside to Georg) Please see him out. And be kind and gentle, I don't think he realises he has egg all over his beard.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

VIPs visit: Ten days to go!

I've already posted about this impending visit and matters have now reached the stage where blogging HAS to take a back seat. Therefore between now and the end of the month posts here will be brief and probably infrequent. After that I hope to be back to 'normal'. I promise a full report on 'the visit' (DV) during the first week in Advent. When you read that report you will understand my discretion up until its publication.

I have not forgotten the Una Voce Report, and Patricius, nor have I shelved that little 'roman business'! However, in the coming days, the demands of the ironing board and the need for rather a lot of metal to be polished, must take precedence over etymology, semantics and socio-linguistics.

God bless all here. Please pray for me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

News from the Edinburgh Schola

In Scotland, the Edinburgh Schola (founded this year, with the specific aims of rendering praise unto God, preserving the music of the Church, and promoting the use of Chant throughout the St Andrews and Edinburgh Archdiocese), goes from strength to strength. The Schola has sung Latin Vespers (Extraordinary Form) in St Mary's Cathedral on eight occasions. This has now become a monthly event, always accompanied by Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament - an unexpected blessing from Our Lord.

Members of the Schola also sang at recent Una Voce Scotland Masses at Seton Collegiate Church, the ruins of Cambuskenneth Abbey, and also at various Requiem Masses this month. Yesterday also saw the first Mass at Torphichen Preceptory, the ancient seat of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (Knights of Malta), since the Reformation - again organised by Una Voce Scotland.

Upcoming "Dates for your Diary" include:

  • Monday, 16 November, Vespers for St Margaret;
  • Monday 30 November, Vespers for St Andrew; and
  • Thursday 17 December, the first of the Great Antiphons: "O Sapientia" (Vespers).
All liturgies will start at 6:45pm in St Mary's Cathedral, Broughton Street, Edinburgh. It is also hoped to arrange extra Vespers in Glasgow at some point during Advent. Another commitment of the Schola is to regular Deanery Masses in the Ordinary Form (with the Ordinary sung in Latin Chant), which will be progressed in the New Year.

The Schola hopes to continue to swell its numbers, and all interested are invited to browse the Schola "blog" at or email edinburghschola at .

Friday, November 13, 2009

For 'Patricius': Apologies.

Running to stand still here. Will try to catch up over the weekend. Have a good one!


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Una Voce International Federation : 2009 Report on the implementation of "Summorum Pontificum" [updated]

Rorate Caeli is a very useful site, but I do wish that when they published extracts from this report last week that they had not interspersed it with commentary. As much as I wanted to read the report, I did not want someone else's interpretation. Let me read a thing first and look at the interpretations of others afterwards. For this reason I was extremely grateful to Mark for sending me the 14 out of the 95 pages of the report that are on public release, although not readily available. These 14 pages, I have now studied twice. I will record my reactions here as soon as possible.

Even before reading a word of it, one thing struck me forcibly about this year's report, and that is the way it was publicly presented to the Holy Father, compared with the rather low key almost secretive manner that characterised last year's presentation. This I suspected may have been due to personages within the Vatican itself, and certainly not to Una Voce whose delegation I understood was in Rome for a fortnight. At the time, I asked Zenit news agency if they had any reports on the 2008 presentation, and if memory serves correctly, offered my own translation which appeared on this blog in the days immediately following, but they never replied.

The way the first Una Voce report was handled, not by Una Voce, but possibly by the Vatican, left me with an uneasy feeling that maybe it never reached the Holy Father. He was supposed to have received it and we were told that it had gone to Ecclesia Dei and some of the dicasteries. Which ones?...... we were never told. At least with this second report we know the Pope did receive it. Leo Darroch gave it into his hands with the cameras on them both and a verbal report explaining what was happening.. One can only hope that Mgr Gänswein spirited the document away and locked it in the papal safe until such time as the Holy Father requests that it be brought to his desk. One thing that the public nature of this year's presentation suggests to me, is that Una Voce and all who support Pope Benedict's efforts towards the 'reform of the reform' are more confident than they were 12 months ago. And it is possible that it is the pro-Benedict Vatican personages who feel the most increase in such confidence.

Nevertheless, an upsetting statement in the Una Voce 2009 report (supported by 'naming of names and places' detail which the Holy Father will see in the report's unpublished Part III) appears at the beginning of its second paragraph:

"Perhaps the greatest reason for the current crisis in the Church is that too many people in the Church, particularly in senior positions, no longer accept the authority of the Pope."
It is quite right that this Part III remains unpublished. We, as ordinary faithful, do not want, nor do we need, to know its contents. But we, and particularly those of us who suffer in places where the bishop is opposed to 'Summorum Pontificum', yearn for the assurance that the Holy Father is able to know the truth of the situation. Seeing the report given into his hands is the nearest thing we can get to such an assurance, and it inspired a vastly more positive hope that he now has that ability, than it was possible to feel at this time last year.

Profound thanks are due to Una Voce and particularly to Leo Darroch, for all their hard work and devoted commitment. The International Una Voce Federation is the largest international voice of traditional lay faithful in the world. All who wish to see the proper implementation of Pope Benedict's Motu Proprio should support Una Voce and pray for its officers and their work.

Holy Michael, the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle!

Lord, uphold and strengthen Your chief shepherd, Benedict and have mercy on us all.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The English and Welsh Bishops show their colours in the UK Guardian

I was going to post fully tonight on the Una Voce Report but I came back at 7pm from shopping to find Laurence England's post about the Bishops' job advert in the Guardian, supposedly a quality newspaper, but certainly one of the most anti-catholic organs in the British 'print'. Damian Thompson has now picked it up on Holy Smoke. But to my mind, Laurence's post shows more genuine fire in the Catholic belly. See his blog 'That the bones you have crushed may thrill'.

I was appalled by the bishops' latest move. Laurence says most of the things I would say about this, but there is something else. The advert was published two days before the Aposolic Constitution on provision for the Anglicans. Was that a coicidence? I think perhaps not. In spite of the present chairmanship of Archbishop Nichols, thought to be more pro-Benedict than the body over which he presides, and in spite of some urbane remarks from the Cardinal emeritus Murphy-O'Connor, one cannot but imagine that perhaps this was part of a deliberate ploy to scare off the Traditional Anglicans. (I mean, they wouldn't want to join us would they, when this is how we run things?) The last thing wanted by the liberal leadership of the Catholic Church in England and Wales (note they seem to have dropped the word 'Roman'), is an influx of traditional Catholics, loyal to the Pope, and it hurts me to have to say it, but the majority in this Conference can not be counted loyal to him. One only has to look at the way they ignored and/or misrepresented the 'Summorum Pontificum'. (We come back to that chilling remark from the Una Voce report mentioned at the end of my last post on the matter.)

The terrible thing for traditional priests and laity, is that in many places all over the world it is no longer possible to do that most Catholic of things, namely to obey your bishop and the Pope at the same time. But one has to ask, who is preventing that most Catholic of responses? Certainly not the Pope. This represents a tension that rips me apart as day succeeds day. Nevertheless, it is possible, because the Internet ensures that Pope Benedict's every word is almost immediately available, to cling to our chief shepherd, to love him, to pray for him, to drink in his wisdom, and be inspired to love Jesus Christ as he does, and as the Lord whom he most humbly represents on earth. As long as he breathes, we will listen to him and benefit from his words and actions. At the same time we will pray for our bishops, particularly those who apparently have no ears to hear.

Friday, November 6, 2009

St. Romain: Two VIPs coming to spend the weekend with us at the end of this month...

And I assure you, they are VERY VIPs but I'm not yet at liberty to reveal who they are. However, preparations for their arrival, which, in spite of all the roof problems, have been in train for some time, must now take precedence. Therefore during the next three weeks, posts on this blog will only appear every other day.

God bless all here.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

All Souls Day 2009: In a rural French cemetery: Pt. 2 "My steadfast love shall not depart from you..."

I apologise for the delay in publishing this post. It's been a demanding week spiritually and temporally, not just in personal life but in everything one has had to deal with outside of that.

First, a note about the cedar tree which featured in the last post. Not long after I wrote about it in 2001, the news reached us in London that there had been a freak tempest in St. Romain which had done tremendous damage in the village and surrounding area. Our own house had not escaped. However, when I next went there, I discovered to my sorrow that the storm had been so powerful as to sweep away the cemetery bench, but worse, it had uprooted and destroyed the beloved cedar. In its absence the cemetery feels exposed and vulnerable. (The Commune has replaced it with two or three cypresses. It will never be the same again. Why could they not have been patient and planted another cedar?) But always, always when I visit the cemetery now, I close my eyes and remember the lessons taught by that old lost friend, and imagine it is still there.............

All Souls Day 2009

The weather had been foul, but today around lunch time the sky was blue with not a cloud in evidence. At around half past mid-day I tramped off up the road with the usual tools, and this year not the bouquet described in the earlier post, but a pot of densely flowering yellow button chrysanthemums. When I opened the iron gates, as I expected, a blaze of colour lay before me. As usual almost every grave had been adorned. The predominant colours this year were yellow and white with the occasional touch of penitential magenta or darker than that. As always I was comforted by the sight, even though I know that in many, if not most, cases the graves had not been decorated out of any religious impulse. But Iwas in for a surprise.

As I went down the central avenue I noticed that the wind had knocked many of the pots over and I stopped to prop them up before finally arriving at my mother's grave. She is buried next to our erstwhile next-door neighbour Madame M..... who was a dear friend to her and to me. And so visiting this spot is to revisit my entire life and particularly the French part of it.

I set to work on the grave, digging a hole in the gravel so that I could bury the pot of chrysanthemums up to the rim, thus making sure the wind would not be able to budge it. I thought I was alone, but it was not so. Turning suddenly, I saw Madame B..... two grave rows away. I hadn't seen her for years but I waved to her and she came over to me. We had a most wonderful conversation about Madame M., my mother and their friendship and about old St. Romain. I was aware throughout that she could not have had such a conversation with any other English person who now resides in the village, which we have known for 20 years. When we came, French attitudes were different. And we discussed all that. Then she told me something funny, well in a macabre way, about Madame M's husband who died in 1960, 31 years before his wife.

This is what Mme B told me: M. M..... was not a believer, and in fact was a bit of a provacateur. He insisted on eating meat on Good Friday. Mme M. who was not a Mass attending Catholic, nevertheless refused to cook it for him and told him to go off into the woods every Good Friday and cook and eat his entrecote there. He did this for years, and for the last time in 1960. Having relished his steak, he died on Good Friday night that year. Apparently one of his work colleagues who was of the same opinions and who liikewise indulged in the Good Friday woodland steaks also went to meet his Maker on Good Friday a couple or years later.

At one point during the conversation Mme B left me for a while and returned to her grave tidying so I was able to have peace with my mother for a while. By the time Mme B rejoined me the sky was threatening and we decided it was time to go. On the way back down the straight road to the village, we continued to chat as old ladies do about the old times, and managed to reach our homes before the heavens opened.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Souls Day 2001 and 2009: In a rural French cemetery: Part I. "My steadfast love shall not depart from you...."

Written during late Advent 2001 and extracted from "Gardening with God" (Jane Mossendew -Continuum 2002).

" 'My steadfast love shall not depart from you and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.........' (Is. 54: 10)

On a slight rise to the west of our house lies the village cemetery, and in it grows a cedar that must be at least two hundred years old. Whether in flesh or spirit I will, during the mild, cloudless clarity of a brief December afternoon, make my way up the straight road from the house carrying tools for grave tidying. and a bouquet of rosemary, bay, eucalyptus and tricolour sage.

Heavy iron gates closed behind me, the intermittent noises of the outside world are muffled and distant. In more ways than one I stand at the boundary separating two worlds. Ahead of me lies a wide gravelled avenue with the cedar in a central circular clearing. To my right and left are the graves, ornate and simple alike, strewn with the faded tributes placed on them at All Souls by fathful families. I pass across the ground beneath the cedar branches, bone-dry and comforting whatever the weather has been.

As I approach my mother's grave it seems to me that the tree is breathing out strength, security and tranquility. I settle to the work I have come to do, the prayer I have come to offer, and even though my sorrow for her suffering is undiminished, there is no morbidity in my regret, nor desolation in my loss.

An habitual memory comes of visiting the cemetery with my mother in the early 1990s. She confided that during my long absences at work in London, she would often come here after a hard stint of gardening, to rest and think, sitting on the bench in the lee of the cemetery wall. She had been a widow for fifteen years, and I asked her if she did not find the place depressing. 'No,' she said, 'I think of happy times with Daddy and you. The cedar makes it so peaceful. There is nothing upsetting here.' As I hugged her I am certain we both knew she would be buried here, close to the cedar. The thought was unspoken, but she seemed contented in the acceptance of this place as the edge of her eternity.

We were happy together that day, and I feel it is then that we said goodbye, not seven years later, when her mind had been destroyed by disease, nor when she could no longer swallow, nor just before she sank into a final coma...................Her grave now tidy, I rest on the bench and, looking toawards the cedar, as she so often did, begin the day's meditation.

The first prayer is of thanksgiving for the love of my parents for each otherand for me, which like the cedar was strong, wholesome and unshakeable. And then, what else has the tree to say on this late Advent afternoon? It speaks of Balaam's poem in Numbers 24: 'The tents of cedar trees beside the waters!...A hero rises from their stock, he reigns over countless peoples.' And Balaam prophesies, 'I see him, but not in the present. I behold him, but not close at hand - a star from Jacob takes the leadership, a sceptre arises from Israel' (24: 6; 17).

Balaam's eyes were opened, albeit dimly, but later in Matthew 21, it seems that those of the chief priests and elders are deliberately closed. They will not see and will not accept the authority of Jesus. He exposes the chicanery of their questioning and they remain in the dark. William de St Thierry (c. 1080-1148), in his Treatise 'On Contemplating God' shows how we should contemplate Him in love, not interrogate Him in arrogance. We should not ask Christ, 'What are your credentials for authority?' but, 'How are we to be saved?' He loved us first and although he is stern against obduracy, he is gentle if we respond to his sacrifice of love, with love.
I began by thanking God for human love, which is good, and capable of withstanding much, but the cedar has reminded me that it is but a shadow of the love God proclaims through Isaiah, and the merest tiny reflection of the love shown to each one of us in Christ's redeeeming death.

It is time to go. I pause beneath the tree and reflect that even the 'incorruptible' cedar will eventually know decay. But the decay of our dead is temporary. My mother has not fallen into a bottomless cavern of oblivion. She is somewhere sentient with all the dead waiting for this 'corruptible' to put on incorruption, and this mortal to put on immortality.' As I reluctantly reopen the iron gates, my heart echoes Isaiah and sings with joy for the living and the dead,
'He will not hide Himself. Your eyes shall see Him, your ears hear Him. Blessed are they who wait.' "