Friday, July 2, 2010

Non-appearance of Doctor; report on Mass

We spent a most frustrating day yesterday, waiting for Doctor Derouet, who never arrived. We know he is under great pressure because his partner-in-practice has just retired. He is therefore trying to do the work of two men. He hasn't contacted us so we don't know whether to expect him today or not.

There were only ten of us at the Mass. This was disappointing but not unexpected. For one thing it was the hottest day of the year so far (33 in the shade); for another, many of those who attended in February are of 'a certain age' and are away staying with their younger family members. I had all of you with me in my heart and the thought was comforting that in this way you filled the church to overflowing. It was a quiet and very recollected Mass, lit by the evening sun and accompanied by the most melodious bird-song streaming in through the open west doors. The birds seemed to be concentrated round the church building and only fell completely silent at the Consecration.

Yesterday we were celebrating the feast of St. Cybard who is patron of our diocese and Protector of Angouleme. He was a sixth century Benedictine monk, thought to have been from the Perigord region. After profession at the Abbey in Angouleme that now bears his name, he spent 44 years as a hemit in a grotto beneath the ramparts of the city. One can still visit his grotto and the bishop offers Mass there every year on July 1st.

St. Cybard Abbey, close to the Grotto. is among the oldest in southwest France. One of the reasons why I love living here is that one has a really strong sense of connection with Christian antiquity. Of course the known history of the area goes back to before the first Christian evangelisation. Nevertheless it is through the many ancient abbeys and churches that St. Cybard and many other local saints come alive to us. They are not merely stone ciphers from a dead past. They are not cut off from us by the passage of centuries. They are like roots which reach deep deep down into the soil and soul of France and I love them both for themselves and for their achievements. It is because of this personal experience that I understand Pope Benedict in a very special way when he talks of need not to lose touch with 'the Christian roots of Europe'. To me it is not only a question of academic fact, but of the very air I breathe. To me those roots are spiritually tangible.

Of course, yesterday evening I could not forget that on July 1st the old calender celebrates 'The Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ'. In my old St. Andrew Missal the feast is introduced as follows:
"The feast............was instituted in 1849 by Pius IX and raised to the rank of a double of the first class by Pius XI on the occasion of the nineteenth centenary of our Saviour's death.
By reminding us of the scene of Calvary and of the blow from the lance which pierced our Saviour's side, the liturgy of this feast is at pains to emphasize the meaning and tremendous significance of this fact in relation with our salvation......our Redemption, effected by the Blood and the love of our Saviour."

I had assumed that Abbe Marchand would bring consecrated Hosts with him for the Communion at Mass. I didn't realise that he had reposed sufficient Hosts in the tabernacle of Our Lady's chapel. When he approached it and reappeared with the Ciborium my heart lurched and I almost didn't want our Lord to be taken from the safety and purity of the tabernacle. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion but in those moments I realised that He could and must be taken because He allows it............because of the indescribably, incomprehensibly great love He has for us. Then came a further inexpressible shock and joy.................... I was to receive a Host before Whom I had adored and prayed every day since Palm Sunday. Totally incapable of saying more I conclude here with the final prayer from the Litany of the Precious Blood, a Litany which I will pray every Friday from now on.

"Almighty and everlasting God, You have appointed Your only-begotten Son the Redeemer of the world and have willed to be appeased by His Blood; grant us, we pray, so to venerate the price of our redemption and to be defended by its power against the evils of this life, that we may enjoy its fruits for ever in heaven. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen."

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