Saturday, December 5, 2009

Extraordinary form Weekend in rural France: Part VI - First Sunday in Advent - The second Mass and Confession

Hard to believe it is a whole week ago today since the alarm woke me to the same thoughts and prayers as had been in my heart and on my lips when sleep had overtaken me a few hours earlier. After the morning offering and getting ready for the day, the impulse to run upstairs to the chapel was almost overpowering, but we had agreed on Father's having a lie-in and disturbing him could not be risked - the chapel is directly over his bedroom - a good place for a priest to sleep, directly at Our Lord's feet, so to speak. And before Father came down for breakfast there was kitchen work to be done. Vegetables had to be prepared and a huge loin of pork put in the oven for lunch.

By 10.30am he and I were upstairs before the altar having finished practical preparations for the Mass and so there was time for recollection and prayer beforehand. At 11am Father went to vest. I wasn't as nervous as I'd been the previous day but every bit as concentrated. It would be slightly different today because of the additon of the Creed, so I must keep alert. The little entrance bell rang once more, and the second Mass began in our little chapel of the Sacred Heart and St. Thomas More.

Again I felt the totally unmerited privilege of what was happening, of what was being given to me, and expected of me as I contemplated the ineffable mystery of the Sacrifice being enacted before me.

Now is not the time to enter into a comparison between the Usus Antiquior and the Novus Ordo of the Mass, which on the two occasions described in these posts would most definitely favour the former. I will however share a few thoughts which occurred to me during the Masses themselves or during subsequent reflection. Firstly the age, ambience, smallness of the place of celebration, and intimacy of the occasions, seemed to cry out for the older form. Spiritually and aesthetically, it answered that call perfectly. I was close enough to the altar to be able to hear the whispered Canon and even the spoken parts were sotto voce. Anything more would have been a jarring and inappropriate discomfort. Secondly, during the Epistles and Gospels I was listening to the same ones as were heard by our Martyrs of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The old Mass is immutable, day in day out, year in year out until the end of time. Thirdly, I realised how much I appreciated the doing and saying of things twice or three times in the old Mass. This for at least two reasons. First because it allows the priest his own 'Confiteor' and 'Domine non sum dignus'. To me this is profoundly important because he is in a totally different relationship to Christ than are we the laity. But second, for us, it gives time for the reality of what is being prayed to sink in. The 'Domine non sum dignus' for instance, was a particular case in point for me this last weekend. 'Lord I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof........'

I am quite willing to concede that my love for the old Mass stems from the fact that first hearing it fifty years ago, played a significant part in my conversion from fairly low Anglicanism to Catholicism. Under a decade was to pass between my reception into the Church, and as it turned out, the widespread and quite brutal removal of the 'Mass of Ages', 'the most beautiful thing, this side of heaven'. It will always be those things to me. I have been obedient to the 'Novus Ordo', although I'll admit that for many years I was spoiled by being a member of a Latin church choir which sang Gregorian Chant and Renaissance polyphonic settings of the Mass uninterruptedly (and still does), even though after the 'changes' it was to the new rite in Latin, in itself, probably one of the best-kept secrets of the post-conciliar period! And so for the past forty years whenever I have been at an EF Mass, it has been as if to greet a beloved friend and to feel immediately at home and at peace with it.

The Mass of the first Sunday of Advent was obviously different from the Saturday Mass in many respects. A personal difference was that when Mass ended the previous day, there was still so much to look forward to, including this Mass which was now proceeding to its inevitable conclusion. At least three powerful responses were in my soul and I could almost feel it being expanded to make room for them all so that they would not conflict - sorrow for my own inadequacy and sinfulness; dread of the yearning, aching void that would come after Our Lord had left us; and yet faith, hope and firm expectation of His coming again to us, here in this house if it is His will; and of course in His Second coming at the end of time...............

At the end of the Mass, Father handed me the lit candle and I preceded him down the stairs as he took the Blessed Sacrament to Colin, waiting in the kitchen. He was given the Host that had been in the monstrance at yesterday's Holy Hour, and as Father prepared the ciborium, I felt the expected stab of acceptance that once we left the chapel Our Lord would no longer be in it, not until the next time............. In the kitchen I knelt on the tiled floor whilst Colin received.
Afterwards Father apologised for not having already asked us if we would like Confession. I accepted and we went upstairs again.

After Confession I lit the candles at the little shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes and offered my penance. Before leaving the chapel, I asked Father to extinguish her candles when he came down to lunch, and then went down to finish getting it ready. As I descended it occurred to me that I had probably earned a plenary indulgence during the weekend and offered further thanksgiving for that.

In poor words I have tried to share some of the joy, wonder and awe of that weekend. Of course I was doomed to failure from the outset, but I pray that a little of the truth of it has somehow been conveyed and that at least you all agree that the Oasis has indeed lived up to its name. Truly, it was the best beginning to Advent that I have ever experienced.

Next post: Acknowledgements ; the Future: Canon Law, the Bishop and Byrd-song?


pelerin said...

No you have not failed at all Jane. On the contrary you have succeeded in conveying the awe, wonder and beauty of your weekend perfectly to your readers.

Your comment on the intimacy of your small chapel was very understandable. I felt that way a few months ago when our weekday Masses had to be celebrated (ad orientem) in the Presbytery dining room due to the work being carried out in the church. I could not help thinking of the Masses having to be celebrated in secret in Britain during the reformation in similar rooms by courageous Priests whose lives so often ended in martydom. Those few days were very special...

Thank you again Jane for sharing your weekend with us in this way.

Jane said...

Thank you Pelerin. I felt exactly the same as you when I saw the picture of Father's sideboard on his blog some time ago. I think they call it 'folk memory' but it is indelibly deep in us Catholics.

God bless. Will email soon.
Love and prayers,

pelerin said...

On the subject of more recent history Jane have you managed to read yet the book 'Le Horsain' by P. Bernard Alexandre? It is a beautifully evocative autobiography of a country priest in post war rural Normandy.

Mind you when he lists the differences between 'Hier' and 'Aujourd'hui' in his parish it
is heartbreaking to see what has been lost.

The patois of the Pays de Caux is fascinating (the Priest/author does translate the bits in patois!)

I found the book on a Paris market stall for a couple of euros. My copy is in a book club edition by Librairie Plon. I do hope you can find a copy.

Jane said...

Thank you for the book tip Pelerin. I'll have a look on French Amazon. In return have you read 'Une Spoupe aux Herbes Sauvages' by Emilie Carles? It's the autobiography of a Frenchwoman born in 1900 and brought up in the south-east in the Hautes Alpes region. It goes up to 1977 when it was published and also is movingly evocative, sadly so when she gets to the changes that had begun to take effect in the latter part of the book.. My copy is hardback and was published by Editions G.P., Pairs, although I should imagine you may pick up a paperback copy in Paris. It's also available in English as 'A Wild Herb Soup'. My copy is a paperback edition published 1996 by Indigo ISBN 0575
40053 6.

Happy bibliohunting! I'll let you know if I find a copy of 'Le Horsain'.


pelerin said...

Thanks Jane - no I have not read the book you mention but it does sound just up my street. I hope to be in Paris in January and shall try in FNAC. I was able to order a book there last year and pick it up on a following visit. And the book market at Vanves often yields books I have been looking for though it's a bit chilly there in January!

Jane said...

Have just ordered 'Le Horsain' from
7.50 euros incl. postage. Could have got it cheaper, but preferred a new copy rather than d'occasion. Anyway a lovely little 'stocking filler for myself and Colin! Thanks again for the tip!

I checked 'Une Soupe.........' and that's also available, but knowing you, I expect you'll want to trudge round the markets!