Monday, May 05, 2008


Yesterday, as we will be from now on in perpetuity I hope, we had our Mass at the village hovel and it was lovely as always. The priest who says the Mass for us is one of those sturdy and determined missionary types who has a full time and very busy position in a school on the continent and spends his weekends driving all over the northern end of Britain to make sure the sacraments are regularly available to us poor starving British Catholics who can no longer stomach the Novusordinariness with which we are surrounded. He is, in short, one of those heroes of the Faith who won't be known to the wider Church until all truth is revealed on the Last Day.

Yesterday, however, we were starting to worry about him. The weather was awful, pouring rain, and he had to drive down on a bank holiday weekend from Preston. The papers had been full of dire warnings about the wretchedness of traffic this weekend given that, yet again, the trains were going to be mostly non-functional (Hurrah for Blair's Britain). The Mass was scheduled to start at 12:15 and I showed up just barely in time, but there was no need to have hurried.

After half an hour, one of the local parishioners announced that things were going to be a little delayed because, well, there was no priest yet.

Waited some more.


Then I just couldn't sit in those wretched little chairs any longer (those who suffer in similar ecclesiastical circumstances will recognise the description of the little raffia-seated wooden seatlets designed to ensure that no one attending Mass in them is tempted to stay and meditate on the Mysteries afterward. They are the favourite furnishing of places built in the Golden Era of NovusOrdo hovel-building c. 1965-75.)

I went outside and waited with a couple of others in the pelting rain. We stood, chatted, peered down the road in both directions, joined occasionally by the altar boys in cassock and surplice, giving the little old lady across the way something interesting to gossip about. We called Father's mobile number several times, getting his French answering service.

Still no priest.

But I was perfectly content to stand about under the brolly, pass the time of day with the choir master and altar boys, listen to the birds twittering and the newly sprouted leaves fluttering in the damp wind.

Just as we were thinking of calling it off for the day, he rounded the corner, with the somewhat thunderous look of a man who had spent at least an hour in a traffic jam.

I beat a hasty retreat into the hovel where I found the Rosary in progress. They were just beginning the fourth decade of the Glorious mysteries as I sat down, automatically mouthing the responses.

It is a good job that getting to heaven has more to do with the grace and mercy of God than with our own level of religious fervour because it occurred to me that I am simply not terribly devout. There I had been, chatting and doing a little light socializing when the church was full of praying parishioners imploring the mercy of God, praying our heroic priest got there in one piece, for an end to abortion, for the conversion of Britain, for the restoration of the Church, for all manner of worthy intentions. But all I felt, truth to tell, was equal parts guilt and relief that I had missed the Rosary, a devotional practice for which I have little enthusiasm.

One of the things I am most grateful for is the free ride we get from God. It is one of the things that makes me think the Catholic religion is the true one: God knows our weaknesses and His Church, like a good mother, gives us what we need whether we deserve it or not. It is a good thing indeed that God has mercy on the less-than-devout, the lackadaisical, the inattentive, the bored, the half-hearted. Or even the cranky, the anti-social and the curmudgeonly. And it is also good to remember that just because a person is a "trad" doesn't make him necessarily devout or a "good Catholic".

Father arrived, the Mass proceeded about an hour behind schedule, and, when my mind was not wandering off to attend to profane trivialities, I tried to remember to thank God for bringing me to the Faith, for showing me the value of Tradition, and for having mercy on a wretched, inattentive, half-hearted sinner.


Mark S. Abeln said...

I used to have a problem with saying the Rosary (having been raised Protestant) until I was given a penance of 40 Credos, 240 Paters, 2120 Aves, and 240 Glorias, in other words, saying 5 decades of the Rosary each of 40 days.

I'm sure that the next time I go confess to that same priest, I'll have a penance of walking to Jerusalem and back on my knees, a tough thing to do when starting in North America.

Hilary Jane Margaret White said...

Yikes! Even the Oratorians only give you three hail mary's

What did you do? Blow up a busload of nuns?

Anonymous said...

Hilary, I'm disappointed that you didn't offer to lead a Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion.

Anonymous said...

I'm terribly unqualified. Don't know how to tap dance.

Mark S. Abeln said...

My sin, according to the world, wasn't serious! But this priest is an excellent spiritual advisor, who almost seems as though he could read my mind. He definitely found fault with my lackluster prayer life, hence the penance to say the Rosary daily.

Anonymous said...

that would put me right off confession.

Mark S. Abeln said...

I'm sure. My regular parish penances range from one to five Aves.