On Monday morning at six o’clock I left home in Germany for a day’s driving of just under a thousand kilometres through four countries (Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg and France).
My first port of call was the Abbey of Saint Maurice in Clervaux, Luxemburg. I have corresponded a couple of times recently with Dom Charles Gilman, OSB, a former Anglican priest and now monk and priest of the Monastery of St-Benoît-du-Lac in Quebec, Canada. You will remember that Fr. Charles has recently been given faculties to celebrate Mass according to the Ordinariate Divine Worship.
In one of our eMail exchanges Father Charles informed me that several houses of the Solesmes Benedictine Congregation, to which his monastery belongs, have already had close connections with the Ordinariates. He had read about this in the Congregation’s annual journal “In Vinculo Fraternitatis” and advised me, if there was a Solesmes Monastery in my vicinity, to ask if I could see the last two editions.
Well, there is no Solesmes monastery in Germany, the closest being Clervaux in Luxemburg, and since I was planning to drive down to Aix-les-Bains, Clervaux was en route. So I telephoned the Abbey and the Father Librarian was kind enough to have the editions for 2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 waiting for me when I arrived, admittedly one and a half hours later than planned.
After a couple of weeks of sunshine and the hottest July weekend in recent memory, Monday turned out to be the worst possible day to travel (in fact most of the way to France I was driving through torrential rain and in the Ruhr District of Germany traffic jams were so bad that it took me a hour to cover 5 kilometres).
After a very interesting read and even a photocopy of one of the most informative pages, I took part in the community’s midday prayers and then got back on the road. The weather was not suitable for picnics, so I ate my packed lunch and drank my cola (to keep me awake) in the car.
It was eight p.m. when I arrived in Bourg-en-Bresse for my overnight stop. Bourg is famous for the magnificent late Gothic royal monastery of Brou – and for chickens.
The following morning, after briefly visiting the city, I was under way by 10 a.m. and arrived in Aix after 1,150 kilometres just before midday, in time to eat a tasty lunch and have a chat about the Ordinariate with the parish priest and the curate, Fr. Clément, who had invited me to take part in the “Halte spirituelle” the following day, Wednesday.
In the afternoon we drove to Pugny-Chatenôd, one of the eleven villages which, with Aix-les-Bains form the Parish of the Twelve Apostles. Pugny is the home of two communities of sisters who live in houses made famous by Father Fernand Portal: the site of an orphanage which he was closely involved with and now his burial place at Les Corbières and the Maison St. Vincent, which belonged to Fr. Portal and where some of the orphans lived and some schooling took place.
It was at the Maison St. Vincent that the four lovely sisters of the Community of Christ the Redeemer kindly put Father Jean-Baptiste, our priest affiliate from Grenoble, and me up for the night.
At three o’clock we were at the Monastery of Our Lady of Unity in Les Corbières to visit the Church of Unity and pray at Father Portal’s tomb.
We were also shown around the monastery shop full of products made by sisters and brothers of their congregation throughout the world (the Community of Bethlehem), from natural products (jam and soap, etc.) to beautiful pottery and magnificent hand-carved wooden sculptures and icons in all sizes. I was truly flabbergasted!
The sisters live the life of Carthusian hermits, each having their own little house spread down the side of the mountain through the forest. Their habit is also reminiscent of Carthusians and in the chapel each sister has her own stall with separating screens. As a result I did not meet quite as many sisters as I had anticipated.
The prioress, Sister Odilia, tried to muster together some of the sisters, but in the end it was only with her alone that Father Clément and I sat and discussed Father Portal and the Ordinariates, although it was a very interesting conversation and she promised to talk about it to the other sisters. I handed Sister Odilia the greetings which Mother Winsome and the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary had sent through me, explained also the role played by our Sisters of Our Lady of Reconciliation in Walsingham – I had already arranged for a mounted print of the icon of Our Lady of Walsingham as Our Lady of Reconciliation, painted by the late Father David of Walsingham’s Orthodox monastery and now hanging in the Chapel of Reconciliation at the Catholic National Shrine, to be sent to the sisters – which I am afraid was rather a meagre offering, having seen the splendid icons “written” by the sisters and brothers of the Community.
From there to the church of Saint Mary Magdalen in one of the other villages, which was celebrating a well-attended and very musical Mass on this their patronal feast day. Father Clément introduced me to the congregation and after Mass I was able to mingle with them at a patronal picnic or “apéritifs” outside the church. I was to see at least one of the ladies again the following day.
The day ended with a wonderful evening meal with the four sisters, Father Jean-Baptiste and Father Clément at the Maison St. Vincent, where I (not forgetting poor Father Clément) was able to have my third talk of the day on the Ordinariates and Anglican patrimony. Father Jean-Baptiste and I then chatted for ages outside the front door and finally got to bed after midnight.
On Wednesday morning after breakfast Father Jean-Baptiste and I said Morning Prayer from the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham in the sisters’ oratory, and then drove down to Aix to do a rehearsal of the Ordinariate Use Mass, which the Ordinary, Monsignor Newton, Father Jean-Baptiste’s bishop in Grenoble and the local Archbishop of Chambéry had given Father Jean-Baptiste extraordinary permission to celebrate at the end of the Halte spirituelle at 4 p.m.
It was at St. Swithun’s Church that a group of between thirty and forty people met for the morning session. St. Swithun’s is a former Anglican Church built in 1870 and attended several times by Queen Victoria, who actually donated the church’s reredos. It is now the oldest church in Aix-les-Bains but since there is no longer regular Anglican worship in Aix, the church is now used as an ecumenical and cultural centre, looked after by the Friends of the (fine, English) Organ of St. Swithun’s with their president, John, who was there to open the church for us and greet us.
Claire (a former teacher of English) and Josephine (an Englishwoman living in Aix) gave us an introduction to St. Swithun’s and then led us on an interesting and unusual walking tour of Aix-les-Bains in the footsteps of Queen Victoria. Claire and Josephine have together written an illustrated book on “Queen Victoria in Savoy”, for which they were allowed (unusual) access to Queen Victoria’s private journals at Windsor Castle, armed only with a pencil and some sheets of paper, onto which they meticulously copied interesting sections, like the monks of old, Josephine said. Queen Victoria apparently wrote between two thousand five hundred and three thousand words a day for her whole life. (In comparison this post only counts 1,250 words up to this point.)
There followed a picnic in the Old Mill and after rummaging through the parish church sacristy to find all the necessary equipment for Mass later that day we made our way heavily laden back to St. Swithun’s.
I began the afternoon session at 2 p.m. with a brief introduction of myself and then a summary of the early history of Anglicanism as an orientation for most of the participants who had little idea of our former denomination. I then spoke for about an hour on some aspects of the role of the Holy Spirit in the Anglican tradition. Father Clément’s motivation in choosing this topic came from the fact that the seven gifts of the Spirit are written around the arch at the top of the East wall, together with the sentence from Galatians 5: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit”.
I spoke a little about the individual charisms of all members of the Christian community and handed the visitors a questionnaire which I had found on an Anglican Cathedral website in Canada with 90 questions on fifteen different spiritual gifts helpful in building up and animating the Christian community, so that each of the participants could discern for themselves which the particular gifts are which they have received and can hopefully put them to use in their Christian lives. I also spent some time explaining the role that Scripture plays in Anglican spirituality and particularly in discerning the genuineness of spiritual and charismatic experiences. Finally I pointed out how good works can be seen as a result of the inpouring of the Spirit: works as a consequence of gifts of the Spirit rather than as a condition for attaining Paradise.
The next section of my talk was on the Ordinariates. Linking in with Fr. Fernand Portal and the Malines Conversations of the 1920’s, I explained the ecumenical ecclesiology of Vatican II and the ensuing relations with the Anglican Church, including the historic meeting of Pope Paul VI with Archbishop Michael Ramsey and the visit of Pope John Paul II to Canterbury Cathedral in 1982. I briefly described the ARCIC dialogues and the genuine hope and expectation that many in the C of E, especially Anglo-Catholics, had of some form of real unity in our time.
These hopes were only to be dashed by the C of E’s decision to ordain women priests in 1992, when the traditional consensus of the churches was broken and the idea of reunion with the See of Peter at any time soon became illusory, so that hundreds of priests and thousands of lay faithful joined the Catholic Church individually, with no provision made for them maintaining their Anglican patrimony.
I then explained how in the new millennium a second wave of Anglicans and Continuing Anglicans sought a way of entering into full communion with the Holy See as groups with their pastors and bringing with them important elements of their patrimony. The reaction of Pope Benedict XVI was truly enexpected. With the Apostolic Constitution “Anglicanorum Coetibus” he not only equalled Pope John Paul II’s generosity in the US Pastoral Provision of the 1980’s but created a completely new structure, the Personal Ordinariate, which is like a diocese with its own hierarchy as well as its own practices and liturgy.
I spoke at some length about the treasures of the Anglican patrimony which are being shared with the Catholic Church and the ecumenical role of the Ordinariate. Then the two priests and I introduced the special features of the Ordinariate Use liturgy which Father Jean-Baptiste was about to celebrate (making it very clear that this was a Catholic Mass – as it turned out there were no Anglicans present, although a couple of Protestants, who of course did not take communion).
After a short break in which we prepared for Mass the liturgy began with a rousing entrance hymn (“All people that on earth do dwell”, with verses in French and English).
Celebrating the Mass in this former Anglican Church where a Queen had worshipped frequently and in front of a reredos donated by her with an Agnus Dei bearing the banner of St. George, was an uplifting experience for the celebrant and the people alike.
Fr. Jean-Baptiste said that during his homily he could imagine Queen Victoria sitting there listening. The reading was made from a 150 year old eagle lectern. The singing, although no organist was able to be present, was as enthusiastic as in any Anglican or Ordinariate church on a good day. And although there were no kneelers or benches (Fr. Jean-Baptiste joked that the sisters had been so busy providing hospitality for us that they hadn’t been able to sew the hassocks!), making kneeling well nigh impossible, many people actually did kneel, some of them going into the aisle to do so. And although the responses and prayers were all in English I was not the only one speaking, not by a long chalk.
I myself acted as MC and read the responsorial psalm, and kneeling at the side of the altar was able to lead the congregation in the the Confiteor, Prayer of Humble Access and the Thanksgiving, etc.. This was an important experience for me, as I felt I was representing those in the congregation who because of the language were unable to participate fully in these prayers.
At the end of a very fulfilling Mass we gave the congregation a further 15 minutes to ask all sorts of questions about what they had experienced. It was obvious that many people were truly moved.
In conclusion, I will just quote from an eMail sent to me after Wednesday from one of the participants:
Thanks again, it was an unusual and most pleasant day today! Working towards Church Unity in the long run is certainly a noble project. I was not aware of the importance of the new Ordinariate at all. I often think how surprising it is to find St Swithun’s Church , a corner of England, right in the middle of Aix-les-Bains. I’m pleased it was used today the way it was.”
With responses like that (and there were several), I feel that all the effort involved in preparing this day and all the kilometres I drove were well worthwhile.